Category Archives: Society

Kalashnikov’s Remorse

The creator of the AK-47 assault rifle seeks mercy; regrets its use

66 years later, the Avtomat Kalashikova remains the world’s most ubiquitously used weapon, estimated in contributing – even in relatively “quiet” years – to the deaths of a quarter of a million of the world’s population per annum. Developed in the Soviet Union in 1947, used by its forces in 1949, the AK-47 assault rifle will undoubtedly endure for many decades more – a solemn fact that certainly contributed to its creator seeking mercy and forgiveness for his contribution to its existence. Mikhail Kalashnikov died late last month, two days before Christmas, at the age of 94. He lived to see and feel and weigh the horrors his invention was used to inflict; he lived with the astonishing fact that Kalashnikovs make up more than one in ten of all firearms, and are the weapon of choice for armies made up of drugged, deluded and manipulated child soldiers. In 2010, the then 91 year old Kalashnikov wrote the Russia Orthodox Church to ask a question I think he regrettably knew the answer to: was the blood shed by the weapon over the more than half a century since he created it, on his hands? “My spiritual pain is unbearable,” he wrote. “I keep having the same unsolved question: if my rifle claimed people’s lives, then can it be that I… a Christian and an Orthodox believer, was to blame for their deaths?”

The church told him not to dwell on the matter too heavily in his twilight years. Its press secretary, Cyril Alexander Volkov, wrote in a reply to Kalashnikov that, “The Church has a very definite position: when weapons serve to protect the Fatherland, the Church supports both its creators and the soldiers who use it.” The press secretary was later quoted as saying, “He designed this rifle to defend his country, not so terrorists could use it in Saudi Arabia.”

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The church’s position is, I think, correct. It’s difficult to impart much guilt on Kalashnikov for his creation, meant for the safeguarding of his country against the better-equipped Nazi invaders, especially since he could not have foreseen the abominable future misuse of it, and feels obvious regret and remorse for that misuse. It’s noteworthy to remind ourselves that Kalashnikov is not the first – nor will he be the last – weapon inventor who has expressed regret and remorse for their contributions. The namesake of the Nobel Peace Prize, Alfred Nobel, expressed similar remorse when his creation of dynamite – meant to be used as an instrument of peace – was used to wreak untold havoc throughout the breadth of the First World War. The nuclear scientists that developed the nuclear bomb(s) dropped on Japan during the Second World War pleaded with President Truman to not use the weapon to such effect. Even Albert Einstein, who famously consulted with President Roosevelt to urge his continued research on developing the bomb, expressed remorse: “Had I known that the Germans would not succeed in producing an atomic bomb, I would have never lifted a finger.”

Still, as RT.com notes, “AK-47s have caused more deaths than artillery fire, airstrikes and rocket attacks combined.” It’s easy then to understand why the man responsible for that creation feels such pangs about the millions who have lost their lives because of something he invented. In 2007, Kalashnikov was posed a question of the state of his conscience, and confidently replied, “I sleep well. It’s the politicians, who are to blame for failing to come to an agreement and resorting to violence.” It seems obvious that Kalashnikov is in some ways morally responsible for the weapon he created, but it’s perhaps unfair of us to depart on him much blame for the horrors perpetuated by the Avtomat Kalashikova. It was a weapon created for the defence of a people; it was meant for bringing about the end of a terrible war against a terrible foe. But wars were waged long before 1947, and will be waged for the entirety of our species’ time on this planet. We are all culpable for the millions who have given way to our frightful waging of war, not just Mikhail Kalashnikov.

Photo Credit: (Above) AK-47 assault rifle courtesy of Flickr user Brian nairB; (Below) Ethiopian National Defense Force 1st Lieutenant Ayella Gissa takes aim with an AK-47 assault rifle on a simulated enemy during a practical exercise as part of Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa’s train the trainer course in Hurso, Ethiopia, December 27, 2006, courtesy of wikicommons.

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Legalizing Pot Is Pretty Much The Most Popular Thing In America, Besides Freedom

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Yesterday, Gallup reported that for the first time ever, a solid majority of Americans (58%) are in favor of legalizing marijuana. For some perspective, consider that Gallup has been asking respondents about this question since way back in 1969, and never have they recorded a clear majority like this.

Barro went looking for some comparisons, to further emphasize the good news:

More Americans want to legalize marijuana than think President Obama is doing a good job (44%), want to keep or expand Obamacare (38%), favored attacking Syria (36%), support a 20-cent gas tax increase to pay for infrastructure (29%), or like the Republican Party (28%).

And legal marijuana has more than five times as many supporters as Congress does (11%).

Drum considers the shocking upwards trend of support for pot legalization, and marks 2020 as the date to look forward to (my italics):

I have a rule of thumb that favorability ratings need to reach about 65 percent before you hit a tipping point where a major social change starts getting codified into law nationwide. There’s nothing magic about this threshold. It’s just a general sense based on previous issues similar to this. And as you can see, public opinion isn’t merely rising on marijuana legalization, it’s accelerating. The rate of increase has gone from about 0.5 points per year in the 90s to 1.5 points in the aughts to 4 points so far in the teens. If this keeps up, we’ll pass the 65 percent threshold by 2016 or so.

And Andrew Sullivan – rightly – champions the news as further proof of societal norms “adjusted to empirical reality”:

Being gay went from being a crime to being a citizen in my lifetime. Now, smoking or vaping the harmless, ubiquitous drug, marijuana, is beginning to be thought of as indistinguishable from drinking the much more harmful, ubiquitous drug, alcohol.

What the two reforms also have in common, in my view, is adjusting our social norms to empirical reality. It was always absurd to think of gay people as somehow outside the norms of love, commitment and family. It is empirically insane to treat pot as having no conceivable medical use and classified in the most dangerous category there is. And yet our government proved itself incapable of adjusting to reality on both blindingly obvious questions, until the people long moved past it.

Well, Tocqueville is proven right again, isn’t he?

Indeed, he was.

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Theatre For The Absurd, By The Absurd

Tea Party Republicans Blame Obama for the Shutdown They Planned... Nice try Satan.

A Tea-Party rally posing as a veteran-rally, led by Senator Ted Cruz, Sarah Palin and Senator Mike Lee of Utah, pushed through the [admittedly nonsensical] barricades at the World War II memorial in Washington D.C. on Sunday, in what has to be the lamest attempt yet by Republicans to co-opt this entire government shutdown debacle in the hopes of coercing the uninformed that they are not singularly to blame for the impasse the country finds itself in.

Conor Friedersdorf shakes his head:

When the barricades are removed, whether because the Obama Administration is pressured due to the absurdity of it all or because the shutdown ends, conservatives will find a way to make Obama look bad in the next news cycle, and their political theater, whether successful or unsuccessful, won’t lead to any actual victories. They won’t marshall anything like the focus or grassroots passion that’s needed to actually improve the care of veterans in America or the degree to which our liberties are secure, because bettering governance is not their goal. Publicity stunts optimized for generating outrage in a given news cycle are all they’ve got, and even those haven’t been effective at winning converts.

And that’s the only motive here for these vandals posing as legislators and (in the case of Palin) patriots: their concern is how best to capitalise on the theatre of the absurd. But like Friedersdorf notes at the end of his piece, it might play well to the dying base of support they already enjoy, but they can hardly expect to win over any converts by staging this sort of inane political theatre.

At the rally in question, Sen. Cruz painted a picture of a malicious President hell-bent on using veteran misery to score political gains:

“Let me ask a simple question,” Cruz told the crowd. “Why is the federal government spending money to erect barricades to keep veterans out of this memorial?”

Sarah Palin was even more pointed in her comments:

“Our vets have proven that they have not been timid, so we will not be timid in calling out any who would use our military, our vets, as pawns in a political game,” Palin told the crowd.

But neither Palin nor Cruz went quite as far as Larry Klayman of Freedom Watch (though by their total refusal to distance themselves from his comments, one could argue they silently affirmed that which you’re about to read):

Larry Klayman of Freedom Watch, a conservative political advocacy group, said the country is “ruled by a president who bows down to Allah,” and “is not a president of ‘we the people.'”

“I call upon all of you to wage a second American nonviolent revolution, to use civil disobedience, and to demand that this president leave town, to get up, to put the Quran down, to get up off his knees, and to figuratively come up with his hands out,” he said.

Andrew Sullivan delivers a strong, well articulated response to Klayman’s racist, xenophobic assertions:

Let’s not be mealy-mouthed. This speaker, Larry Klayman of Freedom Watch, accuses the president of treason in this speech, of deliberately pursuing policies to kill members of the armed services, because he is an Islamist, and allegedly “bows to Allah”. What he is saying is the president is a deliberate mole of foreign agents determined to destroy the American way of life. And there is no pushback from the crowd and no pushback from GOP leaders.

This is what we’re dealing with. This is not an alternative budget; it is not another way of insuring millions and cutting healthcare costs; it is not a contribution to anything but to the logic of nullification of an election. It is yet another declaration of cold civil war – a call for a nonviolent refusal to be governed by a re-elected president because he is pursuing policies with which an electorally defeated minority disagree. Simply pursuing those policies has rendered Obama a “monarch” who is arguing “his way or the highway.” But all Obama is doing is implementing a campaign promise and settled law, while governing under a continuing resolution that reflects the sequester’s level of spending, a level agreed to by the Republicans. He wants a budget agreement between the House and Senate in a conference that the Republican House has long resisted entering. He has said that he is happy to negotiate with anyone on anything as long as the blackmail of a government shut-down and of a threatened global depression are ended. And his record shows that he has compromised again and again – as his own most fervent supporters look on in dismay.

In a few weeks, the government shutdown and [hopefully] the debt-ceiling debacle will be over. But the long term inadequacies of our political system will remain, and along with them these callous liars and disgraceful opportunists. We’re fortunate, though, that we live in a time and age where their exploits are documented by video evidence. We know exactly who and what we’re dealing with.

Photo: H. Michael Karshis

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Judgement Day

By Cato

Step 1: Turn on speakers
Step 2: Open this video in a different window.
Step 3: Read this news story while the previous link plays in the background.

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Forget The Pill, Meet The Pullout Generation

Suprise Yr Pregnant

Over at the Cut, Ann Friedman has a really great piece introducing us to something she calls the “pullout generation”, where large numbers of women — usually in their 30’s — are using the old school pullout method as their primary means of birth control:

These women describe a deliberate transition from the pill to the pullout. They buy organic kale and all-natural cleaning products, and so can’t quite get down with taking synthetic hormones every day. They are more driven by sexual pleasure — they see orgasms as a right, not a privilege — and hate the feel of condoms. They wouldn’t call themselves porn aficionados or anything, but they don’t think it’s demeaning to have a man come on them. They’re sick of supposedly egalitarian relationships in which they bear the sole responsibility for staying baby-free. They’re scared to stick an IUD up there, no matter how many rave reviews the devices get. And despite the fact that non-hormonal contraceptive options remain frustratingly limited, there are new tools at their disposal: With period-tracker apps, charting your menstrual cycle is no longer the domain of hippies and IVF patients. They know when to make him put on a condom. Plus, they can keep a packet of Plan B on hand at all times, ready and waiting should anything go awry.

Far be it for me to advise women how to go about not getting pregnant, but if you’re one of the women who prefers the pullout method, just know that you’re playing with fire — and by fire I mean you’re putting way too much trust and credit in the hands of your male counterpart, who probably has the tendency to forget what to do when the end draws near. If you’re totally certain that you don’t want to have a baby right now, the pullout method should rank pretty low (and I mean at the bottom) on your list of acceptable birth control regimens.

(Photo: Anthony Easton)

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You Have To Write Cold

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    “Don’t you drink? I notice you speak slightingly of the bottle. I have drunk since I was fifteen and few things have given me more pleasure. When you work hard all day with your head and know you must work again the next day what else can change your ideas and make them run on a different plane like whisky? When you are cold and wet what else can warm you? Before an attack who can say anything that gives you the momentary well-being that rum does?… The only time it isn’t good for you is when you write or when you fight. You have to do that cold. But it always helps my shooting. Modern life, too, is often a mechanical oppression and liquor is the only mechanical relief.”

    Ernest Hemingway, published in Ernest Hemingway: Selected Letters 1917–1961 (1981) edited by Carlos Baker.

Andrew O’Hagan considers the question of drafting while inebriated:

George Best once said that the greatest disaster of his life was that everybody he met wanted to buy him a drink. You might say, in defence of a well-meaning public, that the disaster was compounded by Best’s inability to refuse. But drinking is in many ways a selfish art, and I say that as someone who likes drinking and who used to love it. There’s a world of difference between the drinker who always wants a companion and the drinker who yearns to drink alone. I’ve always been in the first category and that to me felt like an achievement: my family was riddled with people who died of drink or whose lives were totally unmanageable because of their addiction. They used to say it was an Irish thing or a Glasgow thing, but in fact it was a sad life thing, as if being numb was simply the best option.

Things that rely on disinhibition (dancing, charades, karaoke and fucking) can be improved with drink. But anything that relies on precision (fighting, writing) must be done cold, as Hemingway put it. There are writers who feel quite strongly that disinhibition is the essence of writing, that writing is a form of running naked through the streets. (Put it away, Allen Ginsberg.) My view would be that writing fiction is a form of inhibition made dense and technical. Other people might be freed by it, for a while, but the author is unlikely to be, and God help him if he isn’t sober for the time it takes to get the thing down.

(Photo: Bruce Tuten. Ernest Hemingway’s home Finca Vigia near Havana where he wrote Old Man And The Sea.)

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What The Rest Of The World Thinks Of US

U.S Military Forces in Bosnia - Operation Joint Endeavor

Paul Waldman provides timely perspective on how the rest of the world feels about U.S. military action since 1963:

Some of these operations worked out very well, others didn’t. And just to be clear, this history doesn’t tell us whether bombing Syria is a good idea or a bad idea. But if you’re wondering why people all over the world view the United States as an arrogant bully, reserving for itself the right to rain down death from above on anyone it pleases whenever it pleases, well there you go. It doesn’t matter whether you think some or even all of those actions were completely justified and morally defensible. From here, we tend to look at each of these engagements in isolation, asking whether there are good reasons to go in and whether we can accomplish important goals for ourselves and others. But when when a new American military campaign begins, people in the rest of the world see it in this broader historical context.

If you take a longer look at the list he provides (and do some basic math), you’ll find that the United States has launched one significant overseas assault every three years since 1963 — or every 40 months. Kevin Drum laments how little of this resonates with the American people:

Too many Americans have a seriously blinkered view of our interventions overseas, viewing them as one-offs to be evaluated on their individual merits. But when these things happen once every three years, against a backdrop of almost continuous smaller-scale military action (drone attacks, the odd cruise missile here and there, sending “advisors” over to help an ally, etc.), the rest of the world just doesn’t see it that way. They don’t see a peaceful country that struggles mightily with its conscience and only occasionally makes a decision to drop a bunch of bombs. They see a country that views dropping bombs as its primary means of dealing with any country weaker than we are.

Considering the rate at which we’ve launched bombs against foreign states the past 50 years, we’re actually ahead of schedule for the next round. It’s only been two years since Libya.

(Photo: U.S. military forces in Bosnia — operation Joint Endeavor, by Expert Infantry)

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Good News Of The Day: Men Are Just As Depressed As Women

dazzled maniac Jim Morrison drowns out the haunting whimper of a coyote dying on the road by his dreadful death-scream into the abyssal sun ... HWY 01:23:47

The LA Times has the welcome report:

Depression can look very different in men and women. And many of its hallmarks — rage, risk-taking, substance abuse and even workaholism — can hide in plain sight.

Now researchers say that when these symptoms are factored into a diagnosis, the long-standing disparity between depression rates in men and women disappears.

That conclusion overturns long-accepted statistics indicating that, over their lifetimes, women are 70% more likely to have major depression than men. In fact, when its symptoms are properly recognized in men, major depression may be even more common in men than in women, according to a study published Wednesday by the journal JAMA Psychiatry.

Take that, ladies.

(Photo: Karl-Ludwig G. Poggemann)

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Republicans Were Invited To Attend And Speak At MLK Ceremony. They Didn’t Show Up.

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Before Bill O’Reilly took to the airwaves to argue that “no Republicans and no conservatives were invited” to the 50th Anniversary of MLK’s I Have a Dream speech, I was really struck that out of all the speakers and attendees, not one was a representative of the GOP. Could he be right? Did the MLK family along with democrats purposefully ban conservatives from having a place at such an important, national ceremony?

The answer is no. They were invited. Hell, they were pretty much ALL invited:

As many, many places had reported by yesterday evening, George W. Bush and his father were invited to the event, but declined for health reasons (Bush the Younger just had heart surgery). Jeb Bush was invited as the Token Bush, but also declined. John Boehner and Eric Cantor were invited to speak, but declined. John McCain was invited to speak even though he voted against Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and he also declined. Additionally, every member of congress was invited to attend the event.

Civil rights leader Julia Bond gave credit to Eric Cantor who actually did have somewhere else to be, since the leader tried to find a replacement speaker. The depressing part? He couldn’t. He couldn’t convince ONE conservative to take part.

(Photo: via wikicommons)

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Starbucks Is Better Than Your Local Coffee Shop. Deal With It.

We love Starbucks

When three anthropologists from West Virginia University set out to see how effectively three Starbucks locations in and around Boston matched up against three independently-operated coffee shops, in terms of providing a similar social environment that mom and pop coffee joints are usually attributed with, they probably didn’t expect the results they got:

The anthropologists conducted their observations at Pavement Coffee House in Copley Square, 1369 Coffee House in Central Square, Diesel Café in Davis Square, and in three nearby Starbucks locations. They focused their observations on five categories, derived by sociologist Ray Oldenburg, that describe how urban, social spaces function: how social and welcoming a place is; the arrangement of seating; the activities taking place there (work, socialization, leisure); amenities (like wi-fi and power outlets); and the overall atmosphere, as measured by music volume, volume of chatter, wall color, lighting, and décor.

The biggest surprise was that, on the whole, Starbucks actually provided a more welcoming environment than any of the three local coffee houses. They credited the Central Square Starbucks with having the most vibrant sense of community, and observed that the baristas there knew many patrons by name and could anticipate their orders. The anthropologists also noted that the Starbucks baristas were friendlier to new customers than the bespoke hipsters behind the counter at the local places: “The Starbucks baristas would help customers by explaining the many options available and even offering suggestions. In contrast, the baristas at the independently-owned coffee houses were more aloof and would just wait or sometimes stare at a customer, offering minimal assistance.” The Starbucks friendliness advantage was further accentuated by its greater amenities. In particular, the locally owned coffee shops were more restrictive with their Internet policies, either charging for wi-fi access (Diesel Café and 1369 Coffee House) or setting a cap on daily Internet use (Pavement Coffee House).

(Photo: MissTurner)

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How About Partial Student Loan Forgiveness For Living In Distressed Communities?

Don't Move to Portland

Garance Franke-Ruta comes up with a way to simultaneously decrease our burgeoning student-loan debt crisis, and help distressed American communities stave off pervasive cases of brain-drain:

Cities like Detroit, Cleveland, and Gary, Indiana, need people. Young people, college-educated people, people with an entrepreneurial spirit who might be willing to put down roots and pay local taxes and taken on renovation projects and bring new views and businesses and opportunities to distressed, underpopulated communities.

Debt-burdened recent college graduates, for their part, need cheap housing and to pay off their student loans. They need to live in a place they can afford, and they need some means of reducing the principal on their debt in a timely fashion so they can get on with their lives. Even the existing program that allows people to pay no more than 10 percent of their income on federal student loan debt isn’t enough, because as helpful that may be to those in the program, it does nothing about the real problem — enormous underlying principal balances, thanks to the massive ramp-up in college costs — for 20 years.

Sign me up. I’d happily live in a place like Cleveland for a set-amount of time in order to get out from spending the rest of my life — and probably my death — paying back Uncle Sam for going to college.

(Photo: Michael Cote)

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Here Are The Seven Worst Tweets About Bradley Manning Coming Out As Chelsea

In what was the most unsurprising announcement of the year, Bradley Manning’s lawyer revealed Thursday on NBC’s “Today Show” that his client would now like to live as a woman, and be referred to as Chelsea Manning going forward.

Manning, sentenced yesterday to 35-years in prison for leaking classified information to WikiLeaks, released a written statement that was read on the show:

    Subject: The Next Stage of My Life

    I want to thank everybody who has supported me over the last three years. Throughout this long ordeal, your letters of support and encouragement have helped keep me strong. I am forever indebted to those who wrote to me, made a donation to my defense fund, or came to watch a portion of the trial. I would especially like to thank Courage to Resist and the Bradley Manning Support Network for their tireless efforts in raising awareness for my case and providing for my legal representation.

    As I transition into this next phase of my life, I want everyone to know the real me. I am Chelsea Manning. I am a female. Given the way that I feel, and have felt since childhood, I want to begin hormone therapy as soon as possible. I hope that you will support me in this transition. I also request that, starting today, you refer to me by my new name and use the feminine pronoun (except in official mail to the confinement facility). I look forward to receiving letters from supporters and having the opportunity to write back.

    Thank you,

    Chelsea E. Manning

ThinkProgress compiled the “seven most ignorant reactions” — which were hardly unexpected — to Manning’s admission of being transgender:

https://twitter.com/AdamBaldwin/statuses/370526356997545984

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Fox News Blames Too Much Facebook And Abortion For Murder Of Aussie Baseball Player

You know the horrific story: three teenagers in some place in Oklahoma gunned down an Australian student on a baseball scholarship “for the fun of it”. Yesterday, prosecutors charged two of the teens with first-degree murder, and the third teen was charged with being an accessory to first-degree murder. With any luck, they’ll be kept in something resembling the Château d’If, never able to see the light of day.

Commentators everywhere have been looking for an angle here to spark a new debate, and on Fox News, they have no time for such paltry things as substantiated claims. Fox News contributor Keith Ablow, during an appearance on the show to discuss the tragedy, mused that there are three real reasons for why the three teenagers killed Christopher Lane: America’s disrespect for life, Facebook, and late-term abortions:

We have people on SecondLife.com simply adopting new identities and so we have a culture that is cheapening life, real life. And if in general, if you can’t outlaw third trimester abortions in every state, then you have part of the answer to why people don’t take life that seriously […] Facebook is the final common pathway for those people who are acting out in life and some of the people who are there are acting out their sexuality, other people are acting out how happy they are by posting all of these ridiculous pictures, where one is competing against the other to seem more content. But Facebook has become ground zero in the battle to either maintain our identities or to let them go into the web and these three became non people with no feelings for others and I wouldn’t be surprised if they were big users of Facebook and other things Internet-related.

Here’s the video:

And ThinkProgress has a good run-down of the other crazy things Ablow has said on Fox News:

Ablow, who is part of the network’s A-Team, has a long history of wild and unsubstantiated claims. He has previously said that enthusiasm of Anthony Weiner’s sexting partners can be blamed on feminists, access to contraception, and gender equality in the military, suggested that same-sex parents of transgender youth need “psychological evaluations” and charged that working moms are “anti-gender” and “despise the parts of themselves” drawn to motherhood.

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Stop Using Tanning Beds You Damn Fools!

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Whenever I go to the gym (hey, I do sometimes), I notice that a fair amount of people, usually young girls, make their way to a little corner shop dedicated to altering the color of one’s skin. I’ve never understood tanning booths, probably because I’m an olive-skinned-exotic-man (that’s right!), but here’s something all of you teenagers who use tanning booths should know: indoor tanning is horrifically bad for you. It’s not like, “oh man my skin feels icky” bad. It’s like, “oh man, I have cancer” bad.

Aaron Carroll has the goods: tanning before the age of 25 increases the probability of skin cancer by 50-100 percent, and melanoma (a type of skin cancer you DO NOT WANT) increases by almost 2 percent with each freaking tanning session. But take a look at the chart above and marvel at how many people still use indoor tanning salons! Seriously appalling:

    This is so, so, so, so, so, so, so bad for you. Why don’t I see rage against this in my inbox like I do for diet soda? Why can’t people differentiate risk appropriately?

    And who would fight a tax on this?

Who would fight a tax? Well, here’s a guess: it rhymes with schmepublicans.

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Read The Depraved Anonymous Letter Left For An Autistic Boy’s Parents

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An anonymous Canadian “mother” became the scorn of the Internet today by typing out and delivering some truly heinous thoughts about an autistic neighbor to the teenager’s parents. In the letter, meant for Karla Begley from Ontario, “one pissed off mother” actually wrote, “no employer will hire him, no normal girl is going to marry/love him, and you are not going to live forever! Personally, they should take whatever non retarded body parts he possesses and donate it to science. What the hell good is he to anyone!!!” It goes on, and gets worse.

The most gut-wrenching part is watching the boy’s mother react to the disgusting letter directed at her 13-year-old son, Max.

Hopefully the swine who wrote the letter can be found. Vermin like this need to be put out in the open.

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