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Tony Gwynn's Death From Chewing Tobacco Saved Chris Sale's Life

Mon, 2016-07-11 17:14

Chicago White Sox pitcher Chris Sale, the American League’s starter for the Tuesday’s 2016 MLB All-Star Game, started chewing tobacco back in 2007. But in June 2014, he quit, and he did so for a very particular reason: the death of MLB Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn from oral cancer. 

On Monday, Sale revealed to reporters that he quit the day Gwynn died and hasn’t touched chewing tobacco since. Nine years after quitting, Sale made clear just how much Gwynn’s death affected his life. 

“To say that he saved my life, I don’t think it’s an understatement,” Sale said.  

The revelation surely wouldn’t offend Gwynn. Before his death, Gwynn publicly discussed the negative effects tobacco had on his health, attributing his cancer to a decades-long addiction to chewing tobacco. When he died, however, Gwynn’s doctors wouldn’t definitively say that tobacco was to blame. Even still, he remained convinced that decades of chewing tobacco caused his fatal cancer. Since his death, Gwynn’s family has fought to prove Gwynn right, filing a wrongful death lawsuit against tobacco companies in May 2016. 

Up until Gwynn’s death, chewing tobacco remained entrenched as a baseball player tradition ― a common sight at ball games for over a hundred years. The percentage of MLB players who used it fell from 50 percent in 1994 to an estimated 33 percent in 2014, according to Professional Athletic Trainers Society estimates in line with the MLB’s own numbers.

“When I first started playing, everybody did it,” Red Sox veteran slugger David Ortiz said to The Boston Globe in March 2014. “Now you see fewer guys because everybody knows it’s bad for you.”

Gwynn’s death spurred increased awareness of smokeless tobacco’s dangers, ultimately resulting in MLB banning it from ballparks in March 2016 after years of pressure from anti-tobacco advocacy groups. Because of nicotine addiction and players’ habitual use of chewing tobacco as a playing stimulant, it’s been a hard ban for some players to swallow.

Sale is not alone in his reasoning behind why he quit. In death, Gwynn’s influence as a smart, technical hitter has been overshadowed by what his name now means to anti-tobacco advocates and MLB personnel who want smokeless tobacco out of the game. As Sale knows by now, lives are at stake.

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America: We Are Never, Ever, Ever, Ever Getting Back Together

Mon, 2016-07-11 15:30
I'm embarrassed. I'm sick. I'm an ashamed American with a black son. I have an almost indescribable feeling in my stomach. I want to force myself to puke, in a vain attempt to rid the stomach of these aching feelings of tightness, outrage and dread.

The recent, in a long shameful line, of killings by police of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling has once again ignited my social media feeds with expressions of horror and various contagious hashtags. We've seen it all before and we'll continue to see it. The political classes have no will, or even more tragically, no ability to make changes to this systematic race and class oppression, which has been the basis of American democracy since its birth 240 years ago.

It took me having my own black son to actually feel the injustice that I always knew was there. I look at him and experience legitimate adoration. I'd literally do anything for this kid, even though he is a category 5 tornado of destruction. He is what fuels my understanding of the concept of love; a word, which has unfortunately become almost banal, thanks to marketing and terrible "art."

If you take a Marxist perspective on history and society, which I obviously kind of do, you'll realize that the major function of the police is, and has always been, the protection of the establishment and of the system of capitalism itself. The police must make sure us wage slaves don't comprehend our condition. The police must also make sure the bourgeoisie "feel" protected from the "dangers" of the poor and "criminal" classes.

You can't really blame individual police. Most are victims to their culture and often pulled from the lower classes themselves. What you can, and should, blame them for though, is the way they immediately close ranks and put their hands over their ears and eyes when something like this surfaces. Why wouldn't they want to get rid of these fucking awful people, who dirty all their names with this kind of behavior? This kind of expected brutality has always happened, but now everyone has a camera in their pocket.

I've lived in other counties, specifically England and the Marshall Islands, where I know this shit doesn't happen. Which proves that it doesn't have to be this way. We don't have to have 1 in every 110 people locked in prison. We don't have to have vast swathes of no-go, no-prospect areas in all our major cities, which are full of only black and brown faces. We don't have to agree with those who pretend lacking empathy is a positive character trait.

Like so many problems in the "western world," these problems seem somehow unique to America. And while these problems continue to be not be addressed, discussed or even acknowledged, I will never live in that place, with my black son, ever again.

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Trans Folks Now Have A Safe Space To Recover From Gender Confirmation Surgery

Sat, 2016-07-09 11:27

An incredible new resource is in the works in Chicago, Illinois, that will be a safe space for trans masculine individuals who are in recovery following gender confirmation surgery.

Rhys’s Place is intended to be a location of all-inclusive surgery recovery for trans masculine identified individuals. Currently engaged in a GoFundMe campaign, Rhys’s Place will be an apartment where trans people post-phalloplasty surgery have a place to spend the long recovery period. The initiative is pioneered by Rhys Harper, a photographer who has spent the last several years creating portraits and telling the stories of trans and gender-nonconforming people through “The Transcending Gender Project.”

“I think the most important takeaway for people regarding this space is that many trans people are living in poverty and struggling to make ends meet,” Harper told The Huffington Post. “A space like this is truly groundbreaking -- it will be the first sliding scale place that exists, to my knowledge. There is a surgery recovery retreat called New Beginnings in Florida that hosts top surgery patients, and does provide some food, although it is not sliding scale. The vision for Rhys’s Place is that people will be able to come and access these services even if they cannot pay anything, at all.”

While not a medical facility, Harper told The Huffington Post that Rhys’s Place will function like a “specialized AirBnB.” There will be Netflix, Hulu and HBO, via Apple TV, high speed internet, nutritious meals and people who understand the experience of trans individuals -- all available and at the disposal of patients.

“A space like Rhys’s Place is desperately needed not just in Chicago, but all over. Specifically in regards to gender aligning surgery like phalloplasty, patients need to remain in the area on average for at least four weeks, and sometimes longer depending on surgical complications that may arise. “

The GoFundMe campaign is intended to fund the startup costs for the first year of Rhys's Place. Beyond that, payment for lodging at Rhys’s Place will operate on a sliding scale.

Thank you for this, Rhys.

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26 Illinois Schools Make Forbes' Top Colleges Ranking for 2016

Fri, 2016-07-08 13:16

Twenty-six Illinois colleges made Forbes' ninth annual ranking of the best colleges and universities in the country.

In collaboration with the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, Forbes used data from the U.S. Department of Education, Payscale and its own America's Leaders list to rank a total of 660 schools based on an institution's return on investment, or ROI.

As Forbes notes, its ranking differs from others because it focuses more heavily on what students are getting out of college rather than looking at metrics that got students into a school, such as ACT and SAT scores.

More from Forbes:

Like every college ranking, this list cannot quantify the mystery of picking a college: how it connects to a student's heart and ambitions. But what it does do is connect directly to those looking for a consumer guide to the ROI of every college. In the last four decades tuition and fees have risen 270 percent at public schools and 204 percent at their private counterparts. For those footing a higher ed bill stretching as high as $250,000, the only question is: Is my college worth the investment?

Among the factors Forbes used to calculate this year's ranking are: post-graduate success, student debt, student satisfaction, academic success and graduation rates (you can read more about the methodology here).

Of the 660 schools on the list, here are the 26 colleges and universities in Illinois that made the cut, with national ranks ranging from No. 15 to No. 643.

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Toxic Algal Blooms Aren't Just Florida's Problem. And They're On The Rise.

Thu, 2016-07-07 17:31

By now you may have seen the pictures coming out of many of South Florida’s coastal communities: Many miles of smelly, “guacamole-thick” algal blooms cropping up along beaches and rivers — blooms so big they can even be seen from space

Algal blooms like those currently fouling up many Florida waterways are caused, according to the EPA, by the buildup of nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus in water. This buildup is primarily the result of excess fertilizer being used in agricultural and home yard settings and then running off into local waterways following heavy rains. Improperly-functioning sewer and septic systems can also be a factor. 

The problem is massive and officials are calling it “unprecedented,” resulting in the closing of beaches and many water-dependent attractions at the height of the region’s busy tourist season. But it’s also something that has been some time in the making.

In the specific case of Florida’s blue-green algal blooms, experts say the catalyst was nitrogen and phosphorous buildup traced back to pollution of Lake Okeechobee, the state’s largest freshwater lake. The lake flows into canals connected to coastal rivers like the Caloosahatchee to the west and the St. Lucie to the east, areas that have both been hit hard by the toxic blooms.

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Dr. Bill Louda, a research professor at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton who has been studying and testing the algae, put the situation’s root cause more bluntly: “Basically we’re fertilizing South Florida to death.”

The issue with the blooms isn’t just that they are unsightly and smelly, but also that the algae could be devastating for local economies and ecosystems alike. Algal blooms sometimes produce toxins that can sicken or kill both humans and animals and can produce “dead zones” where aquatic organisms die because the water lacks the oxygen they need to survive. 

“The impact is tremendous,” Louda told The Huffington Post. “We have to stop somewhere.”

Recognizing the gravity of the problem, Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) declared a state of emergency in four impacted counties — Lee, Martin, Palm Beach and St. Lucie — late last month.

On Wednesday, Scott announced that he would propose new funding to address the algal blooms through a grant program helping homeowners living near bodies of water to switch from septic tanks to sewer systems, in addition to supporting communities’ building of improved wastewater systems.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) added his support to Scott’s call for a federal emergency declaration Thursday, calling the situation “a health, ecological and economical emergency.” In a separate news release issued Wednesday, he asked the Centers for Disease Control to “remain vigilant” of the blooms and the impact they can have on the health of Florida residents and visitors, some of whom have already reported headaches, respiratory problems and rashes believed to be linked to the algae. 

Despite the alarm, experts say little can be done to address the problem in the short-term aside from continuing to monitor it.

“You could throw some nasty herbicides or synthetic inhibitors on top of it, but it would kill everything else too, the seagrass, the phytoplankton fish eat,” Louda said. “We just have to let nature take its course.” 

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has already reduced the flow of water from Lake Okeechobee in an effort to reduce the blooms. The USACE confirmed in a Thursday news release that it will continue to discharge water from the lake at its current, reduced rate as conditions in the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries have “shown slight improvement.” 

Meanwhile, the region’s “bloom response team,” including the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, five water management districts and the state’s departments of health, agriculture and fish and wildlife, told Huffpost via email that they will continue to respond to reports of blooms as they receive them. The team is urging residents to report blooms to the department either through its dedicated website or a new toll-free number. 

And while the effort to address the Florida blooms continues, the problem appears likely to crop up elsewhere this summer. In recent years, record-breaking blooms have formed in coastal areas of the Pacific Ocean, in Lake Erie, in the Chesapeake Bay and in the Gulf of Mexico, where a dead zone has grown to approximately equal the size of the entire state of Connecticut. 

Environmental advocates and scientists alike say the conditions are ripe for algal blooms to continue to become more common.

“No matter what part of the country you live in, there is probably a lake, a river or some body of water near you that will experience some form of harmful toxic algal bloom this summer,” Colin O’Neil, agriculture policy director at the Environmental Working Group, told HuffPost.

And while factors such as climate change are likely a big part of the reason why that’s the case, advocates point to the agricultural industry as the primary culprit.

In a new report released last month, researchers at Environment America, a Boston-based nonprofit, linked the growth of algal blooms and dead zones nationally to pollution caused by large agribusiness companies. 

The report estimates the “manure footprint” of five major agribusinesses — Tyson, Smithfield, Cargill, JBS and Perdue — at nearly 163 billion tons of manure annually. All that poop has to go somewhere.

“These factory farm operations generate so much manure they don’t know what to do with it. And the easiest thing to do is spread it around on crop land,” John Rumpler, the report’s author and senior attorney at Environment America, told HuffPost. “That runs off and can go into nearby rivers, lakes and streams.”

To reduce the amount of water pollution coming from these large farms, the EA report recommends using cover crops and buffer zones to reduce runoff from the growth of commodity crops, as well as using less fertilizer.

In addition, EA supports raising livestock in smaller-scale operations that minimize high concentrations of manure. All of that, Rumpler writes in the report, should be both regulated and incentivized by the EPA and other government agencies.

Until that happens, don’t be surprised if your favorite beach is suddenly closed next weekend.

“This is about where we swim, where we fish, where we draw our drinking water,” Rumpler said. “When you work that back up the chain, you see that the folks that are selling us our food are polluting our water.”

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