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Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Oliver Sacks

“To be ourselves we must have ourselves – possess, if need be re-possess, our life-stories. We must “recollect” ourselves, recollect the inner drama, the narrative, of ourselves.” — Oliver Sacks, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales

SUNDAY, August 30, the brilliant and prolific Oliver Sacks died. Of his 13 books, I've only read two, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Seeing Voices. I'm said he's left us. I believe I'll read the rest of the books he's written.






In honor of his life and death, here's The New York Times article that ran the day he died:

Oliver Sacks, Neurologist Who Wrote About the Brain’s Quirks, Dies at 82
By Gregpry Cowles
August. 30, 2015

Oliver Sacks, the neurologist and acclaimed author who explored some of the brain’s strangest pathways in best-selling case histories like “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat,” using his patients’ disorders as starting points for eloquent meditations on consciousness and the human condition, died on Sunday at his home in Manhattan. He was 82.

The cause was cancer, said Kate Edgar, his longtime personal assistant.
Dr. Sacks announced in February, in an Op-Ed essay in The New York Times, that an earlier melanoma in his eye had spread to his liver and that he was in the late stages of terminal cancer.

As a medical doctor and a writer, Dr. Sacks achieved a level of popular renown rare among scientists. More than a million copies of his books are in print in the United States, his work was adapted for film and stage, and he received about 10,000 letters a year. (“I invariably reply to people under 10, over 90 or in prison,” he once said.)



Dr. Sacks variously described his books and essays as case histories, pathographies, clinical tales or “neurological novels.” His subjects included Madeleine J., a blind woman who perceived her hands only as useless “lumps of dough”; Jimmie G., a submarine radio operator whose amnesia stranded him for more than three decades in 1945; and Dr. P. — the man who mistook his wife for a hat — whose brain lost the ability to decipher what his eyes were seeing.

Describing his patients’ struggles and sometimes uncanny gifts, Dr. Sacks helped introduce syndromes like Tourette’s or Asperger’s to a general audience. But he illuminated their characters as much as their conditions; he humanized and demystified them.

In his emphasis on case histories, Dr. Sacks modeled himself after a questing breed of 19th-century physicians, who well understood how little they and their peers knew about the workings of the human animal and who saw medical science as a vast, largely uncharted wilderness to be tamed.

“I had always liked to see myself as a naturalist or explorer,” Dr. Sacks wrote in “A Leg to Stand On” (1984), about his own experiences recovering from muscle surgery. “I had explored many strange, neuropsychological lands — the furthest Arctics and Tropics of neurological disorder.”

His intellectual curiosity took him even further. On his website, Dr. Sacks maintained a partial list of topics he had written about. It included aging, amnesia, color, deafness, dreams, ferns, Freud, hallucinations, neural Darwinism, phantom limbs, photography, pre-Columbian history, swimming and twins.

“I am very tenacious, for better or worse,” he wrote in “A Leg to Stand On.” “If my attention is engaged, I cannot disengage it. This may be a great strength, or weakness. It makes me an investigator. It makes me an obsessional.”

He was also a man of contradictions: candid and guarded, gregarious and solitary, clinical and compassionate, scientific and poetic, British and almost American. “In 1961, I declared my intention to become a United States citizen, which may have been a genuine intention, but I never got round to it,” he told The Guardian in 2005.

To read the complete article, click here.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

American insanity #36

“The horror isn’t just one macabre double-murder, but the unrelenting toll of gun violence that claims one life every 16 minutes on average in the United States.” — Nicholas Kristof

AFTER the murder of two WDBJ journalists August 26 on live TV, I decided to walk back through Hey Look Something Shiny since it's inception to see how often I'd written about the firearm bloodbath in this country. In the two years between August 2012 (four months prior to the mass murder at Sandy Hook Elementary) and August 2014, I'd written about this national disgrace 35 times. 

What surprised me more than how often it had been my chosen topic, was the discovery that until today, I had not written about it at all in the last year.

Despite the ever-rising tally of dead and maimed, despite the mass murders in malls and theaters, despite the repeated incidence of children shooting other children (or themselves) to death — for example when 3-year-old Dalis Cox was accidentally shot to death by her 7-year-old brother July 29 in Washington DC — I wrote nothing. I'd given up. 

Dalis Cox

When I began writing about our American gun insanity back in 2012, with each passing tragedy I'd think, "Surely this will open people's eyes." Then it became, "What is it going to take?" And then I stopped talking about it altogether. Despair had gotten the better of me.

The same day that television reporter Alison Parker and cameraman/ videographer Adam Ward were murdered on-air, WalMart coincidentally (and believe me, WalMart is going out of its way to make sure  we understand that their actions have nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that the type of guns they sell have been used to kill 12 and wound 70 in the Aurora, CO theater shooting and 26 children and adults in Sandy Hook) announced that it would stop selling semi-automatic rifles. 


Alison Parker and Adam Ward

WalMart spokesperson Kory Lundberg said that the company's removal of AR-15s and other semi-automatic weapons from its shelves is purely an issue of supply and demand; sales of military-style guns have fallen, and getting rid of them will make more space for better sellers.

One of my New York Times writer-heroes is Nicholas Kristof. Below are his thought on the WDBJ killing.

Kristof: Lessons From the Virginia Shooting
By Nicholas Kristof
August 26, 2015

The slaying of two journalists Wednesday as they broadcast live to a television audience in Virginia is still seared on our screens and our minds, but it’s a moment not only to mourn but also to learn lessons.

The horror isn’t just one macabre double-murder, but the unrelenting toll of gun violence that claims one life every 16 minutes on average in the United States. Three quick data points:

■ More Americans die in gun homicides and suicides every six months than have died in the last 25 years in every terrorist attack and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq combined.

■ More Americans have died from guns in the United States since 1968 than on battlefields of all the wars in American history.

■ American children are 14 times as likely to die from guns as children in other developed countries, according to David Hemenway, a Harvard professor and author of an excellent book on firearm safety.



Bryce Williams, as the Virginia killer was known to viewers when he worked as a broadcaster, apparently obtained the gun used to murder his former co-workers Alison Parker and Adam Ward in response to the June massacre in a South Carolina church — an example of how gun violence begets gun violence. Williams may have been mentally disturbed, given that he videotaped Wednesday’s killings and then posted them on Facebook.

“I’ve been a human powder keg for a while … just waiting to go BOOM!!!!,” Williams reportedly wrote in a lengthy fax sent to ABC News after the killings.

Whether or not Williams was insane, our policies on guns are demented — not least in that we don’t even have universal background checks to keep weapons out of the hands of people waiting to go boom.

The lesson from the ongoing carnage is not that we need a modern prohibition (that would raise constitutional issues and be impossible politically), but that we should address gun deaths as a public health crisis. To protect the public, we regulate toys and mutual funds, ladders and swimming pools. Shouldn’t we regulate guns as seriously as we regulate toys?

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has seven pages of regulations concerning ladders, which are involved in 300 deaths in America annually. Yet the federal government doesn’t make what I would call a serious effort to regulate guns, which are involved in the deaths of more than 33,000 people in America annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (that includes suicides, murders and accidents).

Gun proponents often say things to me like: What about cars? They kill, too, but we don’t try to ban them!

Cars are actually the best example of the public health approach that we should apply to guns. Over the decades, we have systematically taken steps to make cars safer: We adopted seatbelts and airbags, limited licenses for teenage drivers, cracked down on drunken driving and established roundabouts and better crosswalks, auto safety inspections and rules about texting while driving.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Throat bacteria and schizophrenia

“The ever quickening advances of science made possible by the success of the Human Genome Project will also soon let us see the essences of mental disease. Only after we understand them at the genetic level can we rationally seek out appropriate therapies for such illnesses as schizophrenia and bipolar disease.” — James D. Watson, co-discoverer of the structure of DNA

PAUL found this intriguing article about a potential breakthrough in diagnosing and treating schizophrenia on the Popular Science website. Dr. Watson, the non-fictional one, may have his prediction proved right after all.


People With Schizophrenia Have Different Throat Bacteria
THIS COULD BE HELPFUL FOR NEW TREATMENTS, FASTER DIAGNOSES, AND FIGURING OUT WHAT CAUSES THE DISEASE IN THE FIRST PLACE
By Alexandra Ossola
August 26, 2015

The colonies of bacteria living in our throats could indicate whether or not a person has schizophrenia, according to a study published yesterday in the journal Peer J.

No one is quite sure what causes schizophrenia, but for decades scientists have been looking at the link between schizophrenia and the immune system. The immune system appears weaker in schizophrenic patients, but researchers didn’t really understand how the two were connected. Recent research into the microbiome—the colonies of bacteria that live in and around our bodies—has shown that these bacteria play a surprisingly large part in all sorts of functions, including regulating our moods and modulating our immune systems.

So a team of researchers from George Washington University decided to investigate which bacteria make up the microbiome in patients with and without schizophrenia. They took throat swabs of 32 patients, half of whom had schizophrenia and half of whom did not, and sequenced the genes of the bacteria they found there. They looked at which types of bacteria they were, and their concentrations.

The researchers found that the bacteria living in the throats of schizophrenic patients were very different from those in the control patients. Control patients had different concentrations of commonly found bacteria, and they also had a greater diversity of bacterial species. Schizophrenic patients had more lactic acid bacteria, which could indicate an imbalance in their micro biomes.


The study has limitations. The study didn’t look at fungi or viruses living in the throat that also make up the microbiome. 32 patients is too small a sample size to make a larger generalization about the microbiomes of all schizophrenic patients. Plus, the study only addressed the bacteria in the throat microbiome, not those living in the intestines, mouth, colon, ears, or on the skin—the researchers hope to do this in future studies. There were also lots of other variables that could have affected the microbiome population, such as whether or not the patients smoked—the researchers tried to account for this, but it’s not clear that they were fully able to do so. And researchers still don’t understand the mechanisms by which bacteria affect the brain.

Even so, the study is an interesting exploration into a factor of schizophrenia. If future studies reveal specific, universal differences between schizophrenic and non-schizophrenic patients, doctors could find biomarkers in the microbiome to diagnose patients more quickly and accurately. If researchers can also understand the mechanisms for how the bacteria cause or exacerbate the disease (uncovering causation, not just correlation), they could also find new treatments for schizophrenia.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Did I wake up in a comic strip

“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best — they’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems … drugs … crime … rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” — Donald Trump

THAT Donald Trump can amass more than five supporters is the stuff of nightmares or some freaky, satirical comic strip. 

But no!!! This is real life in real America, chock-ablock with astoundingly, blazingly, horrifically-ignorant vacancies . . . oh, I meant people.

New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow writes about it better than my poor powers permit. I'm too shell-shocked by the state of my state and the state of my country to even string words together.




Enough Is Enough
By  Charles M. Blow
August 27, 2015


When Donald Trump’s security escorted the Univision anchor Jorge Ramos out of a news conference on Tuesday, I decided that I was officially done.

Maybe I should have been long before that.

Maybe I should have been done the one and only time I ever met Trump and his first words to me were a soliloquy about how black people loved him, and he was the most popular white man among black people.

Maybe I should have been done when Trump demanded to see the president’s birth certificate.

Maybe I should have been done any number of times over the years when Trump made any number of racist, sexist comments.

Earlier this month, Politico rounded up 199 of his greatest — and vilest — hits. Here are just a few from the magazine:

9. “I have black guys counting my money. … I hate it. The only guys I want counting my money are short guys that wear yarmulkes all day.” (USA Today, May 20, 1991)

23. “Oftentimes when I was sleeping with one of the top women in the world I would say to myself, thinking about me as a boy from Queens, ‘Can you believe what I am getting?’ ” (“Think Big: Make it Happen in Business and Life,” 2008)

32. “… she does have a very nice figure. I’ve said if Ivanka weren’t my daughter, perhaps I’d be dating her.” (ABC’s “The View,” March 6, 2006)

35. “If Hillary Clinton can’t satisfy her husband what makes her think she can satisfy America?” (Twitter, April 16, 2015)

117. “Rosie’s a person that’s very lucky to have her girlfriend. And she better be careful or I’ll send one of my friends over to pick up her girlfriend. Why would she stay with Rosie if she had another choice?” (“Entertainment Tonight,” Dec. 21, 2006)

121. Arianna Huffington is “a dog.” (Twitter, April 6, 2015)

Need I go on? (Thanks, Politico!)

Maybe I should have been done when Trump announced his candidacy this year with an attack on Mexican immigrants, saying:

“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best — they’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems … drugs … crime … rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

The Ramos episode wasn’t worse than these; it was just the last straw. A member of the media who dared to raise a truly substantive issue, even out of turn, was dismissed and removed. And yet the band played on. The live coverage continued. In that moment, I was disgusted at Trump’s contempt and the press’s complicity in the shallow farce that is his candidacy. Trump is addicted to press, but the press is also addicted to him, and the entire spectacle is wide and shallow.

(Ramos was allowed back in and permitted to ask his question. I had to see this later, because when he was ejected, I stopped watching.)

Yes, the Republican Party created this Frankenstein of hatred, hubris, narcissism and nativism, but the media is giving it life.

The never-ending, exhaustive, even breathless coverage of every outrage that issues forth from this man’s mouth is not news. Every offense and attack is not news.

Every morning that Trump rolls out of bed and calls in to a news show is not news.

Covering a political phenomenon as news is one thing. See the coverage of Bernie Sanders. Creating a political phenomenon and calling it news is quite another.

I reasoned in a 2010 column that Sarah Palin was no longer an elected official and wasn’t seeking elected office, and was therefore not worthy of constant attacks. But more important, the attacks were elevating her profile, not diminishing it. As I wrote:

“This is it. This is the last time I’m going to write the name Sarah Palin until she does something truly newsworthy, like declare herself a candidate for the presidency. Until then, I will no longer take part in the left’s obsessive-compulsive fascination with her, which is both unhealthy and counterproductive.”

I kept that promise. The only other time she appeared by name in one of my columns was in a passing reference to her speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2013. This column is only the second reference.

The same is true of Trump. The constant harping on him only helps him.

He is different from Palin in 2010, however. He is not only running for office, he’s leading in the polls among Republican candidates. He can’t be ignored. But coverage is not the same as drooling over the daily shenanigans of a demagogue.

I will cover Trump as he addresses issues with specific policy prescriptions and details, like answers to the question Ramos asked.

Until then, this man is not worthy of the attention he’s garnering. We in the media have to own our part in this. We can’t say he’s not serious and then cover him in a way that actually demonstrates that we are not serious.

Is he an easy target for righteous criticism? Of course he is. But is he aware that criticism from the mainstream media is invaluable among certain segments of the political right? Of course he is. Is he also aware that he’s getting more free publicity for being outrageous than he would ever be willing to buy? Of course he is.

The media is being trolled on a massive scale and we look na├»ve and silly to have fallen for it, even if he draws readers and viewers. When people refer to the press as the fourth estate, it shouldn’t be confused with a Trump property.

Allow me to share one more of Trump’s quotes from Politico:

89. “My brand became more famous as I became more famous, and more opportunities presented themselves.” (Amazon.com, 2007)

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

That's some hairball

“Time spent with cats is never wasted.” — Sigmund Freud

I KNOW I've used this quote before, but there is none more perfect.

Many of you were kind enough to be concerned about our, Miss Shiva, as she (and we) battled a mysterious illness. The happy news is that she continues to do well. We're thrilled, although I remain cautious. We've gotten her up to past eight pounds, but I won't rest easy until she's at least 8 pounds, six ounces.

Below are a few more pictures of the Divine Miss S, but a word of warning: there is a picture at the bottom (I'm giving you a heads-up so you can see the rest and avoid the last one) of a ginormous hairball from Shiva

It is NOT what was making her ill. She hacked this up about three years ago, but from looking at it — if you can stand to — you can see why our first guess when got sick was that she had a hairball. (BTW: She had never had one like that before and has not since, thank goodness, although she is hairball prone. The vet said that some cats just are, but we're now giving her anti-hairball medicine to be on the safe side.)


Paul, Boy Boy and Shiva having a Sunday afternoon nap weekend before last.


Shye and Shiva.

Shye, Boy Boy and Shiva.

This is it. I had to put my ruler down as proof.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Gender dysphoria

“In other words, it seems that Dr. Kranz may have found a neural signature of the transgender experience: a mismatch between one’s gender identity and physical sex.” — Richard A. Friedman, professor of clinical psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College 

THERE'S more research all the time into gender dysphoria. The below piece from The New York Times walks us through recent studies.




How Changeable Is Gender?
By Richard A. Friedman
August 22, 2015

THANKS to Caitlyn Jenner, and the military’s changing policies, transgender people are gaining acceptance — and living in a bigger, more understanding spotlight than at any previous time.

We’re learning to be more accepting of transgender individuals. And we’re learning more about gender identity, too.

The prevailing narrative seems to be that gender is a social construct and that people can move between genders to arrive at their true identity.

But if gender were nothing more than a social convention, why was it necessary for Caitlyn Jenner to undergo facial surgeries, take hormones and remove her body hair? The fact that some transgender individuals use hormone treatment and surgery to switch gender speaks to the inescapable biology at the heart of gender identity.

This is not to suggest that gender identity is simply binary — male or female — or that gender identity is inflexible for everyone. Nor does it mean that conventional gender roles always feel right; the sheer number of people who experience varying degrees of mismatch between their preferred gender and their body makes this very clear.

In fact, recent neuroscience research suggests that gender identity may exist on a spectrum and that gender dysphoria fits well within the range of human biological variation. For example, Georg S. Kranz at the Medical University of Vienna and colleagues elsewhere reported in a 2014 study in The Journal of Neuroscience that individuals who identified as transsexuals — those who wanted sex reassignment — had structural differences in their brains that were between their desired gender and their genetic sex.

Dr. Kranz studied four different groups: female-to-male transsexuals; male-to-female transsexuals; and controls who were born female or male and identify as such. Since hormones can have a direct effect on the brain, both transsexual groups were studied before they took any sex hormones, so observed differences in brain function and structure would not be affected by the treatment. He used a high-resolution technique called diffusion tensor imaging, a special type of M.R.I., to examine the white matter microstructure of subjects’ brains.

What Dr. Kranz found was intriguing: In several brain regions, people born female with a female gender identity had the highest level of something called mean diffusivity, followed by female-to-male transsexuals. Next came male-to-female transsexuals, and then the males with a male gender identity, who had the lowest levels.

In other words, it seems that Dr. Kranz may have found a neural signature of the transgender experience: a mismatch between one’s gender identity and physical sex. Transgender people have a brain that is structurally different than the brain of a nontransgender male or female — someplace in between men and women.

This gradient of structural brain differences, from females to males, with transgender people in between, suggests that gender identity has a neural basis and that it exists on a spectrum, like so much of human behavior.

Some theorize that the transgender experience might arise, in part, from a quirk of brain development. It turns out that the sexual differentiation of the brain happens during the second half of pregnancy, later than sexual differentiation of the genitals and body, which begins during the first two months of pregnancy. And since these two processes can be influenced independently of each other, it may be possible to have a mismatch between gender-specific brain development and that of the body.

Is it really so surprising that gender identity might, like sexual orientation, be on a spectrum? After all, one can be exclusively straight or exclusively gay — or anything in between. But variability in a behavior shouldn’t be confused with its malleability. There is little evidence, for example, that you really can change your sexual orientation. Sure, you can change your sexual behavior, but your inner sexual fantasies endure.

To read the entire article, click on this link.

Donald Trump and what's wrong with slavery

"What's wrong with slavery?" — Jan Mickelson, WHO Radio talk show host, August 17, 2015

WHY do the words we choose matter? Aside from having the power to wound or comfort, there are the less immediately obvious, but deeper, broader ramifications of our remarks. Every time we say anything that fails to accord full humanity to others, we're giving permission to anyone within earshot to do the same, and it ripples out from there. 

When it has become safe to denigrate a person or class of persons in speech, the next, not-too-far-a-reach is to let those words become actions in policy and deed.

It has nothing to do with being politically correct, but everything to do with being a mindful part of a just and civil world.

The below discerning piece comes to you courtesy of my excellent friend, Galen Floyd Brooks, who spotted it, Mike Taibbi who wrote it and Rolling Stone which published it. (Unfortunately, my home state of Iowa, comes off really, really badly at the hands of two of it's more infamous representatives.)




Donald Trump Just Stopped Being Funny
Win or lose, Trump's campaign threatens to unleash the Great American Stupid

By Matt Taibbi 
August 21, 2015

So two yahoos from Southie in my hometown of Boston severely beat up a Hispanic homeless guy earlier this week. While being arrested, one of the brothers reportedly told police that "Donald Trump was right, all of these illegals need to be deported."

When reporters confronted Trump, he hadn't yet heard about the incident. At first, he said, "That would be a shame." But right after, he went on:
"I will say, the people that are following me are very passionate. They love this country. They want this country to be great again. But they are very passionate. I will say that."

This is the moment when Donald Trump officially stopped being funny.

The thing is, even as Donald Trump said and did horrible things during this year's incredible run at the White House, most sane people took solace in the fact that he could never win. (Although new polls are showing that Hillary's recent spiral puts this reassuring thought into jeopardy.)

In fact, most veteran political observers figured that the concrete impact of Trump's candidacy would be limited in the worst case to destroying the Republican Party as a mainstream political force.

That made Trump's run funny, campy even, like a naughty piece of pornographic performance art. After all, what's more obscene than pissing on the presidency? It seemed even more like camp because the whole shtick was fronted by a veteran reality TV star who might even be in on the joke, although of course the concept was funnier if he wasn't.

Trump had the whole country rubbernecking as this preposterous Spaulding Smails caricature of a spoiled rich kid drove the family Rolls (our illustrious electoral process in this metaphor) off the road into a ditch. It was brilliant theater for a while, but the ugliness factor has gotten out of control.

Trump is probably too dumb to realize it, or maybe he isn't, but he doesn't need to win anything to become the most dangerous person in America. He can do plenty of damage just by encouraging people to be as uninhibited in their stupidity as he is.

Trump is striking a chord with people who are feeling the squeeze in a less secure world and want to blame someone – the government, immigrants, political correctness, "incompetents," "dummies," Megyn Kelly, whoever – for their problems.

Karl Rove and his acolytes mined a lot of the same resentments to get Republicans elected over the years, but the difference is that Trump's political style encourages people to do more to express their anger than just vote. The key to his success is a titillating message that those musty old rules about being polite and "saying the right thing" are for losers who lack the heart, courage and Trumpitude to just be who they are.

His signature moment in a campaign full of them was his exchange in the first debate with Fox's Kelly. She asked him how anyone with a history of calling women "fat pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals" could win a general election against a female candidate like Hillary Clinton.

"I've been challenged by so many people," Trump answered. "I frankly don't have time for political correctness. And to be honest with you, the country doesn't have time either….We don't win anymore. We lose to China. We lose to Mexico….We lose to everybody."

On the surface, Kelly was just doing her job as a journalist, throwing Trump's most outrageous comments back at him and demanding an explanation.
But on another level, she was trying to bring Trump to heel. The extraction of the humiliating public apology is one of the media's most powerful weapons. Someone becomes famous, we dig up dirt on the person, we rub it in his or her nose, and then we demand that the person get down on bended knee and beg forgiveness.

The Clintons' 1992 joint interview on 60 Minutes was a classic example, as was Anthony Weiner's prostration before Andrew Breitbart and Chris Christie's 107-minute marathon apologia after Bridgegate. The subtext is always the same: If you want power in this country, you must accept the primacy of the press. It's like paying the cover at the door of the world's most exclusive club.

Trump wouldn't pay the tab. Not only was he not wrong for saying those things, he explained, but holding in thoughts like that is bad for America. That's why we don't win anymore, why we lose to China and to Mexico (how are we losing to Mexico again?). He was saying that hiding forbidden thoughts about women or immigrants or whoever isn't just annoying, but bad for America.

It's not exactly telling people to get out there and beat people with metal rods. But when your response to news that a couple of jackasses just invoked your name when they beat the crap out of a homeless guy is to salute your "passionate" followers who "love this country," you've gone next-level.
The political right in America has been flirting with dangerous ideas for a while now, particularly on issues involving immigrants and minorities. But in the last few years the rhetoric has gotten particularly crazy.

Texas Congressman Louie Gohmert proposed using troops and ships of war to stop an invasion of immigrant children, whom he described as a 28 Days Later-style menace. "We don't even know all of the diseases, and how extensive the diseases are," he said.

"A lot of head lice, a lot of scabies," concurred another Texas congressman, Blake Farenthold.

"I'll do anything short of shooting them," promised Mo Brooks, a congressman from the enlightened state of Alabama.

Then there's Iowa's Steve King, who is unusually stupid even for a congressman. He not only believes a recent Supreme Court decision on gay marriage allows people to marry inanimate objects, but also believes the EPA may have intentionally spilled three million gallons of toxic waste into Colorado's Animas river in order to get Superfund money.

Late last year, King asked people to "surround the president's residence" in response to Barack Obama's immigration policies. He talked about putting "boots on the ground" and said "everything is on the table" in the fight against immigrants.

So all of this was in the ether even before Donald Trump exploded into the headlines with his "They're rapists" line, and before his lunatic, Game of Thrones idea to build a giant wall along the southern border. But when Trump surged in the polls on the back of this stuff, it caused virtually all of the candidates to escalate their anti-immigrant rhetoric.

For example, we just had Ben Carson – who seems on TV like a gentle, convivial doctor who's just woken up from a nice nap – come out and suggest that he's open to using drone strikes on U.S. soil against undocumented immigrants. Bobby Jindal recently came out and said mayors in the so-called "sanctuary cities" should be arrested when undocumented immigrants commit crimes. Scott Walker and Marco Rubio have both had to change their positions favoring paths to citizenship as a result of the new dynamic.

Meanwhile, Rick Santorum, polling at a brisk zero percent, joined Jindal and Lindsey Graham in jumping aboard with Trump's insane plan to toss the 14th Amendment out the window and revoke the concept of birthright citizenship, thereby extending the war on immigrants not just to children, but babies.
All of this bleeds out into the population. When a politician says dumb thing X, it normally takes ‘Murica about two days to start flirting publicly with X + way worse.

We saw that earlier this week, when Iowa radio host Jan Mickelson blew up Twitter by calling for undocumented immigrants to become "property of the state" and put into "compelled labor." When a caller challenged the idea, Mickelson answered, "What's wrong with slavery?"

Why there's suddenly this surge of hatred for immigrants is sort of a mystery. Why Donald Trump, who's probably never even interacted with an undocumented immigrant in a non-commercial capacity, in particular should care so much about this issue is even more obscure. (Did he trip over an immigrant on his way to the Cincinnati housing development his father gave him as a young man?)

Most likely, immigrants are just collateral damage in Trump's performance art routine, which is an absurd ritualistic celebration of the coiffed hotshot endlessly triumphing over dirty losers and weaklings.

Trump isn't really a politician, of course. He's a strongman act, a ridiculous parody of a Nietzschean superman. His followers get off on watching this guy with (allegedly) $10 billion and a busty mute broad on his arm defy every political and social convention and get away with it.

People are tired of rules and tired of having to pay lip service to decorum. They want to stop having to watch what they say and think and just get "crazy," as Thomas Friedman would put it.

Trump's campaign is giving people permission to do just that. It's hard to say this word in conjunction with such a sexually unappealing person, but his message is a powerful aphrodisiac. Fuck everything, fuck everyone. Fuck immigrants and fuck their filthy lice-ridden kids. And fuck you if you don't like me saying so.

Those of us who think polls and primaries and debates are any match for that are pretty naive. America has been trending stupid for a long time. Now the stupid wants out of its cage, and Trump is urging it on. There are a lot of ways this can go wrong, no matter who wins in 2016.