Cancer, notification, unions, 'great bear,' the gulag, etc.

Ross Mackenzie
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Posted: Mar 17, 2006 12:05 AM

A late-winter mix of marvels and miscellany. . .

What a fabulous story about how far we have come in cancer. The latest data show that for the first time since 1930, year-to-year total U.S. cancer deaths in 2003 declined; percentagewise, cancer deaths per 100,000 have been dropping for more than a decade. The explanation: earlier detection, more effective therapies, and - regarding lung cancer - reduction in smoking.

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Medicine and medical science clearly are gaining on cancer. A multibillion-dollar genetic research enterprise soon will begin building a cancer genome atlas categorizing the hundreds of glitches that turn healthy cells into cancers. Completion of the effort - the most daunting genetic undertaking since the Human Genome Project - remains years away. Yet it likely will turn the developing victory over cancer into a rout.

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Also in the realm of marvelous news: British Columbia has announced the designation of a 4.4-million-acre park twice the size of Yellowstone. Running up the B.C. coast from Vancouver Island to Alaska, the Great Bear Rainforest will boast grizzlies, bald eagles, cedars that took seed in antiquity and staggering scenery. This is a victory, too - not least for future generations - and made possible by naturalists, businesses, native groups and governments working together.

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In case you missed it, the Supreme Court has given an unequivocal answer to the hoo-ha about whether states can legally require parental involvement before minor girls can have an abortion. Yes, said the court - states can require parental notification, as long as the law allows doctors to act without parental notification in medical emergencies. Sandra O'Connor, known increasingly as she approached the end of her career as a swing justice who could go either way on various questions, wrote the opinion - her last. The vote by an unequivocal court: 9-0.

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ABC's Bob Woodruff and cameraman Doug Vogt were severely wounded in Iraq, as is widely known. Less well known is this: The two civilians were medevac'd to Ramstein AFB in Germany, treated by American military physicians at Rar Landstuhl Regional Medical Center and subsequently were medevac'd to Andrews AFB in Washington for treatment by military physicians at Bethesda Naval Hospital. Questions: (1) Will ABC News reimburse the U.S. military for transport, supplies, treatment and meals; and (2) Will the care the two have received cause any re-evaluation of network television's too-often-negative coverage of the nation's military and its competence?

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Sweden, from which many sociological ecology luminaries say the U.S. should take its lead in nearly all things, has resolved to end its dependence on oil within 15 years. And why not? As President Bush has noted, the U.S. could meet a similar goal with a multifaceted approach comprising new technologies, hydrogen, coal, and nukes.

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Yet another poll has shown that ever more Americans are driving while roped to a cell phone. Which suggests again the remedy: (a) Require any driver (and not just teenagers) using a cell phone to use it hands-free; and (b) Require manufacturers to equip all new vehicles with hands-free systems. Then let the police start dispensing tickets to drivers using hand-held cell phones - as well as to those applying eyeliner or tying their shoes.

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Britain has enlisted in the European parade toward recognizing same-gender unions. In December it joined these countries with various contractual arrangements from partnership to marriage: Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, France, Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, and Spain - as well as, elsewhere, Canada and South Africa.

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Jews and others long have exposed the Nazi extermination camps. Now Gulag survivors are starting to expose another 20th century horror on a similar scale: the Soviet slave-labor camps of (principally) the Stalin era. (Other such camps persist around the world, mostly in countries grounded in Leninism such as China and Cuba.) Notes Alexander Solzhenitsyn's wife Natalya: "In our (Russian) society there is no acknowledgment and no repentance for what happened." The Solzhenitsyns are helping spearhead a drive to force Russians and their government to reconcile with this grimmest aspect of their history.

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Boarding-school enrollments are hurting (up just 2.7 percent in the past decade), while private day-school enrollments are soaring (up 15 percent in the same period). Down from a peak of 42,000 in the late '60s, "boarding-school enrollment stands at 39,000 for the 2004-2005 school year, and has barely budged in five years," according to The Wall Street Journal. Reasons, from this boarding-school alum: With the dismaying trends in - notably - sex and drugs, parents seeking a private-school experience for their children want them nearby in an eyes-on environment. There's also the financial factor, with boarding-school costs now running three to five times day-school tuitions.