First up, federal health authorities are working to reassure the public they're ready to contain the Ebola virus after the announcement that the first patient in the U.S. was diagnosed with Ebola—a man who traveled from Liberia to Texas. More on how prepared the U.S. is for this and other infectious diseases. Plus, students in suburban Denver were threatening to walk out of school today in an act of civil disobedience. One of the reasons: a proposal to de-emphasize civil disobedience from their history curriculum. The choice of day by the students may be strategic: Today's the day some parts of Colorado count heads in classrooms, which will determine future school funding. And Ford Motor Company warned about its future profits yesterday, a reminder that recall problems have not just been a General Motors issue. Ford stock fell more than 2 percent. For a long time, Ford owned Jaguar of Britain, but sold it at the height of the financial crisis. Under new management, Jaguar is showing new signs of life. But until now, Jag's been missing something.
Students in suburban Denver plan to walk out of school on Wednesday in an act of civil disobedience. One of the reasons is to protest a proposal that would, among other things, de-emphasize civil disobedience from their history curriculum.
If the students wanted to make a point, they couldn’t have picked a more significant day to do it. That’s because every year on October 1, Colorado schools count up the students who show up in order to figure out how much state funding each school district will get.
One school principal went on Facebook to ask students to show up to class on so-called “count day,” because anywhere from $4,000 to $6,000 in per-pupil funding from Colorado state is on the line.
“In the past, school districts have done everything they can to get kids to attend” on count day, says Michael Smith with the Denver-based national group Education Commission on the States. “So, they’ll have pizza for free, or they’ll have activities. They will send out notices to families.”
Nationwide, about half of school district budgets come from state funding. But only a minority of states use a single count day. It’s attractive because it requires less paperwork. But Jane Urschel of the Colorado Association of School Boards says her members want a different method.
“Years ago, we had two count days," she says. "So, it’s been an issue whether this is the best way. We know we need to make better policy on that” Urschel says.
Among other options is to count up the average number of students in school during the whole year, which is the most popular option among states.
Before he retired from the Navy Dental Corps, Dr. Larry Williams used to help sailors quit using tobacco. One reason he says they start smoking, chewing or dipping is peer pressure.
"The imagery, the socialization, the context of being able to be with people your own age and talk about things" is key, he says. But tobacco use trumps rank, and users can end up crowded together, forced to forget protocol for the tiniest of whiles.
"It’s the one opportunity you have," Williams says, "in the smoke deck, or the smoking area, that you can go as an E3 and stand next to an E6 and talk to them and learn things that other people might not be able to pick up."
Members of the military use tobacco more than civilians. Depending on the division and age groups you look within, Williams says, usage rates can be as high as 32 percent. In the military, tobacco can be hard to avoid. Take one of Williams' colleagues, a sailor working in a medical clinic, who alerted Williams that he was about to start smoking.
“I looked over at him and said, 'why?' And he said, 'Well, everybody else in the office smokes, and when the senior chief goes outside to smoke, they all go with him and they leave me behind to take care of all the work in the office.'”
Williams was raised on a tobacco farm. It was the experience of seeing relatives die from tobacco-related illnesses, like emphysema, lung disease and cancer, that steered him to his eventual career, he says. He's now a consultant to the National Development and Research Institute looking at the effectiveness of tobacco policy and cessation programs in the military.
Tobacco use, notes Williams, harms the health and readiness of troops and costs taxpayers billions.
“If you’re a smoker, your hospital stays are 20 percent longer," he says. "You have a double risk of postoperative infection from any surgery that you have.”
The defense department spends $1.6 billion a year on tobacco-related expenses, like treating chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
A discounted risk
Despite the numbers, members of the military get discounts on all kinds of products at military base stores, including tobacco—which the military sells a lot of. In the last year numbers were available, the Army and Air Force sold just under $400 million worth.
A new provision in next year’s spending bill for the Defense Department would eliminate that discount.
Williams says he also wants the discount ended. However, he says, doing so could be difficult.
“The profits from tobacco sales on the base—those are used by MWR—morale, welfare and recreation. It helps pay for the day care centers. It helps pay for the gymnasiums, for the clubs,” he says. So "any sale of tobacco is sort of a benefit. And that’s one of the things we need to remove—is any association between profits from items that cause health issues should be removed and that money come from another source."
The military has been struggling for years with how to address tobacco, but it keeps getting caught up in politics, says Erika Sward, assistant vice president for national advocacy at the American Lung Association. Sward calls the problem the "iron triangle."
"When the military has tried to do something," she says, "Congress has stopped them because of tobacco industry’s lobby and pressure."
"There’s a law that prohibits the Veteran’s Administration from making its hospitals tobacco-free," she says. "There's a constant back-and-forth between the tobacco industry and Capitol Hill."
Sen. Richard Durbin, chairman of the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, included a provision in next year’s Defense Department spending bill that would end the military’s discount on tobacco products. He notes that, according to DOD policy, tobacco may only be discounted 5 percent.
But via an emailed statement he said, "In practice, these discounts are much greater. A study comparing cigarette prices at 145 military retail stores and their nearest Walmart found that the average discount on Marlboro Red brand cigarettes was 25.4 percent."
Will removing discounts change habits?
When tobacco is cheap, people buy more.
"We know that one of the greatest ways to reduce tobacco use across the board," says Sward, "is to increase the price. But when the military is subsidizing the cost of tobacco use, or undercutting local prices, as a result it means that cheaper tobacco products are more available and more people are likely to use them among military personnel."
An amendment to the spending bill, introduced by California Rep. Duncan Hunter, would prevent restrictions on sales of any products currently in stock at base stores, including tobacco.
Hunter declined an interview request, as did all but a few of the 53 of the 62-member Armed Services Committee who voted in favor of the amendment, effectively opting to continue the discount on tobacco.
Southern Mississippi Rep. Steven Palazzo, who served for eight years in the Marine Corps Reserves, and a member of the Armed Services Committee, cast his vote with the majority.
“What’s next? Are they going to not allow you to eat a cheeseburger?" he questioned. "Hey, caffeine is bad for you so no more coffee? No more Krispy Kreme doughnuts? You’re talking about a lance corporal in the United States Marine Corp that just got through two weeks of hellacious fighting—seeing his buddies basically blown to pieces in front of him in Fallujah and he wants to come back to the fort operating base and have a cigarette?"
Palazzo says he knows ending the discount isn't the same as removing tobacco products from base stores altogether, but he says doing away with the discount would represent "a slippery slope."
Besides, he says, why single out one product? Especially given the kind of work that soldiers do.
"The availability of tobacco products in a combat zone is not the threat. The threat is the bullets coming from the enemy," he says. "But you know, we’re not going to ban war, so why would we ban tobacco products for our military?"
A question Senate isn't currently facing. However, the issue of the military’s discount on tobacco products is expected to come before legislators this fall.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It's also National Physical Therapy Month, National Pharmacists Month, Down Syndrome Awareness Month and more than a dozen others. Other months of the year are similarly crowded. One online calendar lists more than 30 “months” for May alone.
How do all these months get scheduled?
It may have escaped your notice that October was Lupus Awareness Month. That’s “was,” past tense.
Lupus Month is now in May, but in 1994, when Duane Peters started working for the Lupus Foundation of America, it was October.
"We noticed that over the years the month became very crowded," says Peters, who is now the organization's senior communications director.
He won’t say breast cancer was the only big competitor, but that disease did lock up a lot of corporate support, which created awkward conversations.
"Certainly it would behoove us," he says, "not to put a company in that position where they say, 'Gee whiz, we already do something for breast cancer. We like lupus, we want to support it, but... '"
In 2003, the Lupus Foundation started looking seriously at May. It took years: first to decide, then to switch.
Other months are more straightforward. I asked Pam Paladin, who runs marketing for the American Association of Orthodontists, why October was National Orthodontic Health Month.
"As it turns out, the week following Halloween is generally the busiest week for orthodontists for emergency appointments," she says.
Caramel apples — not so kind to braces. Be aware.
But what about all those commemorative days?
Sure, you'll spend October being aware of all sorts of stuff, but if you're wishing there were more to commemorate in a more arbitrary way, the month is full of many obscure holidays. In fact, you could spend every single day in October celebrating something. Some of these days are more official than others, but no matter. We assembled the list with some help from Marketplace's professional datebook-er Michelle Philippe, who also reminded us that October is American Cheese Month.
October 9 — Leif Erikson Day
October 13 — National Kick Butt Day. Not to be confused with the anti-smoking Kick Butts day. Also happens to be Columbus Day.
October 16 — Take your Parents to Lunch Day and National Feral Cat Day
October 24 —National Food Day, kind of a catch-all. Not to be confused with...
October 25 —National Greasy Food Day
October 31 — National Breadstix Day. There's conflicting information on this one, but you should probably give your trick-or-treaters bread anyway.
If you were around during the '80s, you probably remember the Indiana Jones movies—the swashbuckling archaeologist traveled the world digging up ancient treasures.
If you were to go looking for a real-life, present-day Indiana Jones, you might get someone like Michael Toth. He travels with his teams around the world using modern technology—lasers, high-tech cameras—to unearth treasure. It's centuries-old writing that appears in very faint form on manuscripts called palimpsests. Along the way, they've discovered everything from lost languages to some very mysterious fingerprints.
You’re not discovering ancient manuscripts; you’re working to read what’s buried in them. Tell me a little about the work you do.
We work on a range of manuscripts—the earliest copy of Archimedes work, David Livingston’s diaries—and we use spectral imaging to reveal that text which is not seen by the naked eye.
Why isn’t that text visible? We’re talking about two different layers of writing here, right?
That is correct. It’s usually on parchment. And they’re written initially with an ink made out of the galls of oak trees, and that’s been scraped off and overwritten. And in doing so, it’s preserved that text underneath it.
And the process you use is something called spectral imaging. Tell me about that and what kind of technology is involved in that.
So we shine lights on the object to bring out that ink which responds best to, say, the ultraviolet in the case of iron gall, or a modern carbon black ink in the infrared.
You and I met in the Sinai Desert, when you were working at Saint Catherine’s Monastery to look at some of the ancient manuscripts that have been held in the library there for over 1,000 years. Tell me a little about the work you’ve done at Saint Catherine’s and some of the things you found.
Some are historical texts. Some are medical or mathematical texts. We’re still assessing what is underneath this rich trove and, ultimately, are going to make this available to the world.
Do you have a favorite moment of discovery?
Oh, yes. The work on Abraham Lincoln’s draft of the Gettysburg Address. And as we were imaging it, at the bottom, on a blank part of the paper, the ultraviolet light came on and there’s gemlike glow at the bottom. And we said, “Hey, we’ve gotta look at this,” and we saw a thumbprint. And then on the back three fingerprints. As if someone was holding that paper, which is folded in thirds, as if it’s in a coat pocket, had held it up to read.
And is it Abraham Lincoln’s fingerprints?
We don’t know. We know there’s enough of the whorls and loops to be able to assess the fingerprint. But of course there was no FBI fingerprint lab, much less West Virginia back then. So they are working with various forensics experts to try to assess that compared to other documents.