The Case Against Cars
The look on the receptionist’s face told me I had said something wrong. It was a maternal expression, like that of an elderly woman who has found her grandkid outside in the cold with a runny nose but no jacket. There was genuine concern in her eyes, but her pursed lips suggested a certain annoyed disbelief: Just what were you thinking, if you were thinking at all?
“You don’t have a car?” she asked, accusingly.
“I don’t have a car,” I replied.
It was my first day at a new job, and I had taken the bus that morning. That bus took me to a subway—a futuristic train that goes underneath Los Angeles in order to get from one place to another—so I didn’t need a car, just like I didn’t need the people’s history of the local parking situation she had graciously given me. Seriously, the subway is, like, right over there.
She nodded her head and forced a smile the way tourists do when they don’t understand a word you are saying.
This happens almost daily: We, the car-less of Los Angeles, must confess our lack of an automobile as if it were a character defect on par with betting on dogfighting. You risk being judged not only at your workplace but at the supermarket, where the teenage bagger asks if you need any help carrying those boxes of generic cereal out to your four-wheeled expression of self. Having a car shows that you have the financial means to own a car. Not having a car makes people assume you live at home and have an unhealthy relationship with your mother—and as sexy local singles say, that’s a deal-breaker.
So it’s a bit heretical when I say I like not having a car. It’s actually rather nice to leave the driving to someone else and not have to worry about steering your personal air-conditioned death box at 70 miles an hour on a freeway full of idiots—and hundreds of thousands of people in the LA metro region agree with me on this. Sure, it takes a bit longer to get somewhere—30 minutes instead of 15—but you also don’t have to spend 20 minutes circling the block for parking whenever you go out. And there are buses and trains that go almost anywhere, and by taking them you free yourself from worry about car payments, parking tickets, and DUIs.
You also don’t need to worry about getting mutilated in a horrific car accident. According to the US government, more than 2.3 million people were injured and 33,500 died on America’s roads in 2012. For people in the US between the ages of one and 44, motor vehicles are the leading cause of death. Avoid driving on a freeway and you significantly reduce your chance of being injured or killed on one.
We’ve republished 13 old-timey medical illustrations and turned them into a multiple choice test that will challenge your knowledge of terrible diseases. It’s like a BuzzFeed quiz with syphilis!
“It was like a David Lynch movie through the prism of Satan’s asshole. The anti-Galápagos. Darwin in reverse.”
Watch Snake Island, Part Two
"Place is fucked. No one is allowed there for a reason. Don’t ever go."
We went to Snake Island
"Place is fucked. No one is allowed there for a reason. Don’t ever go."
We went to Snake Island, which is exactly what it sounds like: An island off the coast of Brazil that’s full of deadly snakes who can “liquefy your insides” with one bite.
Watch Snake Island, Part 1
Death’s Messenger: One Soldier’s Job Delivering the Worst News Imaginable
“There’s still a war going on,” Captain Richard Siemion began. “There are still people dying—not as many as before—but it’s still happening. And when it does, the Army sends somebody like me to break the news.”
Captain Siemion was recently honorably discharged but was one of several casualty notification officers serving in upstate New York. Whenever a soldier’s death was reported, the CNO on duty would have four hours to track down the deceased’s family and deliver some of the worst news they would ever hear.
CNOs have been the focus of some interest over the last decade of American war. In 2006, the now-defunct Rocky Mountain News published a Pulitzer Prize–winning series about the Marines tasked with the same job as Captain Siemion, and in 2009 Woody Harrelson starred in the independent film The Messenger. He played a CNO.
I sat down with the 31-year-old Siemion to talk about his first-hand experience telling families of active-service soldiers that their loved one have died in action.
VICE: Did you volunteer for the job?
Captain Siemon: We call it being voluntold. I had just gotten back from my first tour in Afghanistan when my Battalion Commander sent me to the training course.
What did you learn there?
You learn that there’s no right way to tell someone that their loved one is not returning from war, but there are a lot of wrong ways to do it. If you look at history, the way they used to tell families about a death: You had telegrams, you had taxi drivers paid to ring doorbells, you had word of mouth. Through trial and error, the United States Army got it as close to right as they can. I was always the kind of leader who didn’t go 100 percent by the book, but in this case, I went right by the book, because there is a reason why they have it the way they do. Not much room for creativity.
What do you think they got right?
One thing is the idea that no job is more important than this job. So, if you’re in the middle of an important brief with a Colonel and you get called to give a notification, you say, “Gotta go.” Another thing is that you go in person. It shows the importance. Obviously you’re never going to see that individual again, or be their best friend, but if my brother died, I’d rather have it straight—face-to-face.
Nope, Still No Such Thing as a Fatal Marijuana Overdose
By all accounts, 31-year-old mother of three Gemma Moss recently smoked half a joint to help her sleep, and then she never woke up: a tragic passing that quickly yielded giddy tabloid headlines touting her as “the first woman in Britain to be poisoned to death by cannabis.”
As though some incredible sports record had just been achieved.
And really, the headlines could have gone even further, proclaiming poor Ms. Moss “the first person in recorded history to die of a marijuana overdose!” Which, given the fact that humans have been ingesting the plant in one form or another for more than 10,000 years, certainly sounds like a scoop. Especially when science had previously pegged the dose you’d need to ingest in order to suffer a fatal overdose at considerably higher than half a joint.
According to a 1988 ruling from US Drug Enforcement Agency administrative law judge Francis Young:
Drugs used in medicine are routinely given what is called an LD-50. The LD-50 rating indicates at what dosage fifty percent of test animals receiving a drug will die as a result of drug induced toxicity. A number of researchers have attempted to determine marijuana’s LD-50 rating in test animals, without success. Simply stated, researchers have been unable to give animals enough marijuana to induce death.
At present it is estimated that marijuana’s LD-50 is around 1:20,000 or 1:40,000. In layman terms this means that in order to induce death a marijuana smoker would have to consume 20,000 to 40,000 times as much marijuana as is contained in one marijuana cigarette…. A smoker would theoretically have to consume nearly 1,500 pounds of marijuana within about 15 minutes to induce a lethal response.
So if the rather notably anti-marijuana DEA considers fatally overdosing on chronic nigh well impossible, and if even the world’s most rabid drug warriors can’t point to a single previous medically confirmed OD, how the heck did we end up with last week’s definitive headlines? Is it possible that Gemma Ross rolled up a 3,000-pound joint and then consumed half of it in one sitting?
These French Tombstones Make Dying Fun
Maybe it’s because we just said goodbye to another year, or maybe it’s because I spent the past two weeks gazing into the creases of my grandmother’s face as she tried to remember my name, but I’ve been thinking a lot about death lately. Not in the half-assed New Year’s resolution way, where I’ll con myself into thinking I’m going to live life to the fullest, while simultaneously reaching for a bag of Cheetos and watching porn. I’m thinking more about the practical side—burial arrangements.
Let’s face it: graveyards are a bummer. And I’m not talking about all the dead mommies, daddies, and babies lying underground rotting—I’m speaking from a purely aesthetic standpoint. Most cemeteries are just a sea of boring gray, crumbly stone with a bit of marble thrown in here and there. At best there might be a statue of an angel crying or a cool spikey cross to mix it up, but generally speaking they’re not an exciting visual experience.
But why shouldn’t it be? When I die, I want my final resting place to be a monument to my own inflated sense of self-worth. And while some people have the fun coffin thing on lock, I think it’s time we paid more attention to what’s going on above ground. Thankfully there’s Funeral Concept.
I Got My Personal Genome Mapped and It Was Bullshit
Last Friday, the FDA forced personal genomics company 23andMe to stop marketing its tests to the public in their current form. Before the order came in, customers would send a spit sample to the firm, who would sequence the DNA and look for genes indicating a risk of up to 254 diseases and conditions, providing a breakdown of any issues.
The FDA cited a lack of supporting evidence for some of the claims made and expressed particularly serious concern over their assessment of the BRCA gene, which is linked to breast cancer, suggesting 23andMe’s tests might result in false positives that could lead to women undergoing traumatic and unnecessary surgery. The FDA’s actions have led to an explosion of opinion across the science blogosphere, but in all of that commentary a big question remains unanswered: What exactly is the point of personal genomics?
My first experience with the industry came about three years ago, when I was offered the chance to have a test done with Navigenics, a firm since taken over by a biotech firm called Life Technologies. Being a curious sort of guy, I jumped at the chance. A sample tube arrived via Fedex a few days later, which I duly spat into and sent back for analysis.
The results came back in the form of a sort of “wall of death”—a breakdown of all the things that might harm or kill me over the coming decades, detailing how likely I am to have each condition. Drilling into the figures, I can see that I have a higher risk of prostate cancer than 95 percent of the population and a 1 in 5 chance of developing Alzheimer’s—twice the average risk. So I’ll probably get cancer, but on the plus side I’ll be too forgetful to care about it.