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Pitches of the week: Climate, Native Americans, chronic fatigue

One of our biggest stories from last week — which we covered in two articles and a podcast with Michael Mann, the “Climategate” scientist who was the target of a (now dismissed) fraud probe by the Virginia attorney general’s office — came directly from a Pitch Room suggestion! So keep the ideas and the feedback coming! Here are some of the pitches we’ve been receiving lately — what would you like to hear more about?

A story about the global grassroots movement Next worldwide event is scheduled for 10-10-10. Started by Bill McKibben author, activist, environmentalist two years ago. 350 is the parts per million of carbon in the atmosphere that is considered safe by many scientists. We are currently at 392.

- Joyce Gralak

Native Americans in the U.S.

My suggestion for the “Pitch Room” is to cover the state of our Native Americans or Indigenous People’s across our American Nation. From shore to shore to cover the struggles be they: humanitarian, economic, political, and especially moral. The suicide rate amongst Native American male youth is climbing. If we believed the climate is stacked against African-Americans is horrible, than for Native Americans its double or triple those numbers across the board.

Reservations or tribal lands are like third-world nations within our borders. Be it housing stock, lack of heating during the harsh winters (e.g. the Lakota), or unemployment rates soaring beyond depression era rates of over 50%.

Tiokasin Ghosthorse, would be an excellent point man to discuss this at great lengths. He hosts a radio show called “First Voices Indigenous Radio” for Indigenous people for nearly across the globe, although mostly for the Americas.

It seems in discussion of race in America from Whites, Hispanics, Blacks, and Asians. That Native Americans are always left out of the discussion.

- Ivan Pozo-Illas

LGBT dictionary

We all know that people dress a certain way to identify ourselves to others. But we speak differently, too. I work at a community college, and we have set up a Safe Spaces program to aid our at-risk LGBT students. To that end, we are creating the first searchable, comprehensive list of LGBT terms — in 3 different languages. I have a great group of LGBT college-aged students contributing to it, and getting authorship status. The point is that we recognize that to engage in a culture, or to understand why a student is being hurt by certain words, you need to have access to those words.

So that’s practice. But the reality is that we want to present a dictionary to those who are new to the gay community. We want to help them learn the lingo, and we want to make that lingo mainstream to help end the ‘ick factor’ and discrimination.

All of this opens up the very interesting question: How are language and culture related? What pictures are made when speakers use or are exposed to certain words? The Department of Defense issued a survey to troops regarding their perceptions of gays serving openly in the military. But instead of ‘gay’, they used ‘homosexual’, which has known connotations. The point is that they were priming negative perceptions, and manufacturing negative replies.

- Elise (via email)

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (We had quite a few requests for stories on this topic, and about the XMRV virus associated with the condition)

I would like to see a program on Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia, and Multiple Chemical Sensitivities. A significant number of people who have CFS have all three of these disorders. Having multiple conditions is not surprising when people are chronically ill. Most people who have an immune or an “autoimmune” illness have multiple illnesses. But what is unique about these illnesses is that the sick person has been blamed to such a degree that the average person out there may very well believe that the illnesses are not physiological. Indeed, I’ve read that over half of all doctors still don’t believe in CFS and the WHO and CDC both recognize it as a real physical illness.

There are plenty of studies that now show that these illnesses are real. Indeed, just recently a French research team has proved Dr. Martin Pall’s NO/ONOO theory (pronounced No Oh No) as to the physiological changes that go on with folk who have CFS, FMS, MCS, and PTSD among people who are diagnosed to have MCS. As far as I know, this is the first time that folk with MCS have been shown to be physiologically different from “normals.”

At any rate, people with these illnesses have been shunned and left to cope with lives that have essentially crashed and burned, ignored by many in the medical community, ignored by family, ignored by friends. If having support is essential to good health, then our larger community has certainly done all it can to keep us ill. Thank goodness for online support groups and the cyber world in general.

- Claironess

A matter of degrees: a debate over higher education

Not long ago, there was a lively discussion brewing on Sal Gentile’s article about the U.S. falling behind its rivals in college degrees. Readers weighed in about the ills of the country’s educational system, high school graduates’ lack of preparedness for the rigors of college-level work, and most of all, the fact that college graduates can face stratospheric levels of student debt without any guarantee of full-time employment. Given the state of today’s economy and the uncertainty that belies the job market, it’s no real surprise that the topic would generate a wealth of diverse opinions. One reader, Anna, said that college freshman are woefully unprepared for college life:

Colleges pack in large freshmen classes with students that are not prepared for it. Everyone in America now expects their kids to attend college, but a lot of them don’t understand that it involves hard work, sacrifice and dedication. Therefore, students are coming underprepared to college in increasing numbers. There is plenty of fault to go around on this one.

PBS Facebook fan Jean  agreed, but argued that the lack of high school academic preparedness makes a college education more important:

College provides what high schools USED to provide, so it is even more necessary than ever. OR until such time as high schools stop churning out people who have no respect for education. Ignorance is not bliss, it is merely the sad state of affairs in our current educational system.

Another reader, Tammy, faulted the ever-rising cost of higher education, suggesting that we take tips from other countries that expedite the college graduation process (perhaps a worthy topic for a Need to Know Web feature?):

The cost of higher education in this country is a travesty. It would be interesting to know the percentage of kids attending college in these rival countries, as well as the cost to attend university as a percentage of annual income. In England, a bachelor’s degree is typically earned in three years rather than the four years it takes here. A master’s degree typically takes one year rather than two. That alone significantly reduces costs for a student. American higher education is a business like any other, and students and families would be wise to shop around for the best value.

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‘Mama grizzlies,’ unemployment and the Serengeti

We’ve been ecstatic to see that our initial call for submissions has brought in a flurry of news pitches and story ideas from readers! The environment (especially food and agriculture-related stories) and unemployment seem to be at the forefront of topics that concern our audience, and we received some interesting suggestions outside those areas. We’ve rounded up some of the pitches we found particularly interesting below. Which of these would you most like to hear more about on Need to Know? Leave your vote in the comments!

Political rhetoric around the world:

With the recent introduction of “Mama Grizzlies,” I am curious about the rhetoric used in other cultures. Around the world, when people want to be taken seriously as leaders of their countries, what allusions, references, or metaphors do they apply? Do other countries pay attention to these kinds of descriptions — do they impact the perception of that leader across cultures? How personal do campaigns become in other countries? For example, when a woman wants to be a political leader in Australia would she want to be considered separate from her role within her family, would she make that demand at the same time she makes direct allusions to her role within her family, and what are the expectations of the people? – Jessica Curall

Artifical sweeteners and the food industry:

My idea is to interview Professor Carolyn de La Pena, UCDavis, PhD, regarding her new book about how the chemical industry took over the food industry; Americans’ love affair with artificial sweetners. I read the galleys, and it is a fascinating read and important information.

- Catherine Vade Bon Coeur

Long-term self-employed:

I would like to see a story on long-term self-employed who are now struggling in the new economy, but are not reflected in any of the unemployment numbers. When they don’t work, they don’t get unemployment. But they are not counted anywhere.

What are the actual unemployment numbers when this group are counted? Is there any process for tracking them? How do they affect the economy?  – Karen Laukkonen

Several wrote in to ask us to cover the potential threat of a newly proposed highway on wildlife in the Serengeti:

The President of Tanzania is determined to move forward with a plan to build a Serengeti Highway that will cut right through the migration corridor used now used by millions of wildebeest and zebra to search for water and green pasture land. This Great Migration is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a natural wonder of the world. Conservation groups and scientists have argued strongly against this proposed highway which will likely destroy the migration, the tourist livelihood on which the villages depend as well as the entire ecosystem of the Serengeti. We can only imagine the butterfly impact on the rest of the world, resulting from the loss of this vital ecosystem. – Sheila Wasserman

End-of-life care:

You need to do a show regarding healthcare and specifically the cost incurred by people in the last two months of their lives. Often times patients and families are totally unrealistic and afraid of death. Therefore huge costs are incurred to keep an 88 year old dad with end stage lung and heart disease alive. – Jana Bruenjes Gaffney

Welcome to the new (and improved!) Pitch Room!

Welcome to the new (and improved!) Pitch Room! This is a space where readers can submit tips and story ideas for the Need to Know staff to cover on the website or on our weekly broadcast.

Right now, it may look suspiciously similar to the previous incarnation of our Pitch Room, but this promises to be a much more dynamic space where readers and Need to Know staff can respond to each other’s ideas on a regular basis. Every week, we’ll facilitate an ongoing discussion of some of your topics, and also highlight some of the more intriguing conversations going on in the rest of the site.

So tell us: What issues do you think should be explored, dissected, exposed and reported right here? What are the conversations that we ought to be having? Drop your idea in the comments below or email us at