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An American songfest

Thomas Hampson, one of my all-time favorite baritones, created and
hosted the PBS Great Performances special “I Hear America
Singing”
on American song and its
cultural contexts. The website is a marvelous and quite extensive
companion piece to the program, offering an abundance of digestible,
thoroughly explicated, and well presented information on the role of
music and song in American history. It also provides several RealAudio
sound and QuickTime video clips from the special for downloading.
This one
[ Editor's note: Requires some download time with 56K modem] is the
video introduction to the program. Several complete songs are available
as well, including Hampson’s rendition of “Beautiful Dreamer” and
performances by Frederica von Stade, Marilyn Horne and Dawn Upshaw. A
wonderful resource for students and teachers as well as lay (so to
speak) aficionados of musical Americana.

Passive smoking risk smaller than feared

It turns out the furor over the risks of passive smoking may have
been exaggerated — not completely, but significantly. (Passive smoking
is the rather panicky term used for the incidental inhalation of smoke
by a nonsmoker who spends a lot of time in the company of smokers.) A
reanalysis of the data from the studies on passive smoking finds
evidence of publication bias, suggesting that the real increase in
lung-cancer risk from passive smoking is substantially lower than the 24
percent usually quoted. (For comparison’s sake, real smokers suffer an
increase in lung-cancer risk of something more in the range of five
hundred or a thousand percent, depending on how heavily they smoke.) The
British Medical Journal
paper
is a bit heavy on statistical jargon, but the point is crystal.

In a same-issue
editorial,
interestingly, the journal recommends that smoking be considered and
treated as a drug addiction like any other, including, say, heroin
addiction. Smoking-cessation therapies such as nicotine replacement
should therefore be fully reimbursed in the interests of public health.
In Britain, of course, reimbursement means the National Health Service.
In the United States, it’s for the most part decided by individual
insurance companies and HMOs. My knowledge is incomplete, but I,
personally, know of no American HMOs that currently pay for nicotine
patches or gum, and most HMOs also refuse to pay for the drug bupropion
if it’s prescribed as an anti-smoking therapy. As usual, the social
punitive impulse tends to win out over public health considerations,
particularly when it’s conveniently in accord with the bottom line.

A safe space

We can always use another kid-friendly Web guide, so
Zompi.com is welcome to the pack. The good
selection and careful editorial here should earn it a bookmark on the
family computer. Sites like this are one of the best tools concerned
parents have for making the Internet a place their younger children can
explore in comfort and safety. A kid can look something up in the
Zompi.com search engine and no tricksy porn sites will muscle into the
resulting list of suggested links. Of course, he or she won’t find
certain kinds of information at all — “menstruation” produced no hits
– so I do urge parents of kids eight and over to seek out other
resources regarding the sort of delicate yet vital info kids often
prefer to look up in private, and place them on that bookmarks list,
too. Alas, nothing is simple in this world.

Yawn

Are you male? Are you ordinary? Are you boring? Are you comfortable
with your ordinariness and boringness? Do you resent attempts on the
part of others to disturb or eliminate these characteristics in you in
any way? Are you, in fact, a Dull Man? Take the
test
and find out. The Dull Men’s
Club
is ready to take you in and make you feel
right at home. You’ll find suggestions for Dull Activities, such as
tractor spotting, timing “60 Minutes” and watching the Weather Channel;
Dull Recipes; Dull Trivia; and lots and lots more in the same (dull)
vein. It’s all actually just a little more amusing than it ought to be,
considering. There are no women admitted to the Dull Men’s Club, by the
way, as women are not dull, but exciting. Really. That’s what the FAQ
says, and I will not be the one to gainsay it.

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