Dispatches from a war against an abstract noun

Paul Raven @ 26-01-2011

Offered without any comment whatsoever [via Kottke.org]:

For the second year in a row, the U.S. military has lost more troops to suicide than it has to combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.


Better living through chemistry – lithium, for a saner society

Paul Raven @ 04-05-2009

water tapsI like to think I’m mostly over my twenty-something’s obsession with conspiracy theories and government-as-competent-ubiquitous-control-system paranoia… but stories like this still hold the power to make me start thinking about where I left the tin-foil. You see, it turns out that populations who drink tap water that contains lithium are statistically less inclined to suicide; so, why don’t we engineer a happier society by giving everyone lithium?

High doses of lithium are already used to treat serious mood disorders.

But the team from the universities of Oita and Hiroshima found that even relatively low levels appeared to have a positive impact of suicide rates.

Levels ranged from 0.7 to 59 micrograms per litre. The researchers speculated that while these levels were low, there may be a cumulative protective effect on the brain from years of drinking this tap water.

At least one previous study has suggested an association between lithium in tap water and suicide. That research on data collected from the 1980s also found a significantly lower rate of suicide in areas with relatively high lithium levels.

A spokesperson from a mental health charity points out that:

“… lithium also has significant and an unpleasant side effects in higher doses, and can be toxic. Any suggestion that it should be added, even in tiny amounts, to drinking water should be treated with caution and researched very thoroughly.”

Or perhaps simply deployed on the quiet for the good of the nation; after all, if you wait until after the lithium has been soaking into the population to tell them about, they’re less likely to get upset about it. It’s all for their own good, poor lambs; best to shelter them from the miseries of reality as completely as possible. Think of it as a method of extending governance beyond its traditional border – the oh-so-intransigent skull.

Yeah, I know, there’s probably no Western government that could get away with it… but you can’t try to tell me there aren’t certain elements in the halls of power who’d find it a very appealing prospect nonetheless. [via Jamais Cascio on Twitter; image by koshyk]


Who killed Thomas M Disch?

Paul Raven @ 22-09-2008

This week’s non-fiction piece over at Strange Horizons is by friend-of-Futurismic Sam J Miller; it’s a rumination on the recent suicide of sf writer and poet Thomas M Disch, and an attempt to divine what the trigger of the tragedy might have been. From Sam’s introduction:

Suicide is always a speculative matter. Even in a case like Tom’s, where a number of negative factors clearly contributed, the survivors are left to wonder. What was really going on? Where do we put the blame? What do we do with our grief? With our guilt? Murder and disease and acts of God give us something concrete on which to focus our rage and grief, but suicide thumps us over the head with the ugly truth about human mortality.

Grieving the death of a favorite writer is not so different from mourning the death of a friend: there’s the same sense of frustration and impotence, of loss and loneliness. Literature is a kind of intercourse, and we crave a closer communion with the writers who send those shivers up our spines. So I wonder: who killed Thomas Disch?

It’s an interesting and sensitively-written essay, and well worth your time – go take a look.

Disch is one of the ever-growing list of writers whom I’m painfully aware I should have read by now – are there any Disch fans among Futurismic‘s readers? If so, which of his works would you recommend as his best?