Thursday, October 30, 2014

Stay safe, women; vote blue

"Even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, it is something that God intended to happen." — Richard Mourdock, 2012 Republican candidate for the US Senate from Indiana

WHEN will women in America get it that although the Republican party ballyhoos women like Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann and Joni Ernst, it's camouflage for extremist, vicious, anti-woman ideology. 

Today someone sent me a graphic with five other quotes in addition to the one at the top of this post by Republican officeholders and candidates. I had verified some of them before, but I checked them all out again on the myth-busting site,, and all of the quotes are legitimate. 

(By the way, if you have some lovely, sensible grandparents who have traditionally been Republicans, and you're having trouble believing that they would ever have countenanced such awful views as you'll find below, you're right; this isn't what the Republican party used to be like, say, in the days of President Dwight Eisenhower and Iowa Governor Bob Ray, but it's what the party is now.)

Today isn't the first time, and unfortunately it's not likely to be the last, I've written on this topic. I went back through my blog history to find a chart from two years ago that, sad to say, is still relevant. 

I've attached it below as well, all of which leads me to urge this: if you're a woman, or are married to a woman, or are a parent of a woman or girl, or have a mother or sister, or like and care about women in general or in particular — vote BLUE.

This button says it all. 

I want this on a T-shirt!! I'm seriously thinking of making some.

"Rape is kinda like the weather. If it's inevitable, relax and enjoy it." — Clayton Williams ( R–TX)

"If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down." — Todd Akin (R–MO)

"Rape victims should make the best of a bad situation." — Rick Santorum (R–PA)

"In the emergency room they have what's called rape kits where a woman can get cleaned out." — Jodie Laubenberg (R–TX)

"If a woman has [the right to an abortion], why shouldn't a man be free to use his superior strength to force himself on a woman? At least the rapist's pursuit of sexual freedom doesn't [in most cases] result in anyone's death." — Lawrence Lockman (R–ME)

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Michael Brown and the militarization of the police

“There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.” ― Elie Wiesel

AMONG ALL the hoopla and frenetic activity surrounding the midterm election in Iowa and nationwide, I'm still thinking about the death of Michael Brown

Friday, October 24, Amnesty International released a report critical of the police department in Ferguson, MO

Below is a New York Times article with details. I've also attached some photographs taken in August by Robert Cohen for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and AP and by Scott Olson for Getty Images that appeared on the ABC News website as a reminder of what's wrong with too much of law enforcement in this country: the militarization of the police.

Amnesty International Report Faults the Police in Ferguson, Mo.
By Julie Bosman
October 24, 2014

The police in Ferguson, Mo., violated the rights of protesters during demonstrations after the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown in August, according to a report issued by Amnesty International on Friday.

The human rights group said the Ferguson Police Department should review its standards, practices and training to ensure that they “conform fully to international standards.” And investigations into Mr. Brown’s death should be transparent and concluded as quickly as possible, the 23-page report said.

Amnesty International said it witnessed protests in Ferguson from Aug. 14 to Aug. 22. Mr. Brown was shot on Aug. 9.

Among the offenses police committed, according to Amnesty International, were using tear gas and curfews to quell protests, and arresting journalists who were covering demonstrations. Protesters who gathered in Ferguson were intimidated by officers who used unnecessary force to control and disperse them, the report said.

“Irrespective of whether there was some sort of physical confrontation between Michael Brown and the police officer, Michael Brown was unarmed and thus unlikely to have presented a serious threat to the life of the police officer,” the report said.

Asked to comment on the report, Brian Schellman, a spokesman for the St. Louis County police, said: “The St. Louis County Police Department and the unified command had one mission, and that was the preservation of life.”

Mr. Brown’s killing is under investigation by the St. Louis County police. A grand jury has been hearing evidence in the case since late August and is expected to return sometime in the next month.

The Justice Department is investigating to determine whether Officer Darren Wilson, who shot Mr. Brown, knowingly violated Mr. Brown’s civil rights when he shot and killed him.

This is NOT what our country is supposed to be.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Finding a way in

“Have a heart that never hardens, and a temper that never tires, and a touch that never hurts.” — Charles Dickens

I’VE OFTEN passed along special articles and features about the autism spectrum when I’ve come across them. Many have been about the unique ways individual parents and families have found a way to reach a child who had disappeared into the spectrum. This story from The New York Times is about a father who connected to his son through photographing him.

Son and Father Pierce Autism’s Veil
By Jane Gross  
November 5, 2010

Neighbors, friends and teachers were dropping hints — some subtle, others pointed, even cruel — that something was not right with Timothy Archibald’s first child, Elijah.

The little boy seemed hypnotized for hours by certain objects: doors, mechanical gears, the vacuum cleaner hose. He mimicked electrical sounds, knew the time schedule of the Bay Area Rapid Transit system by heart and had epic tantrums. Mr. Archibald, 43, an editorial and advertising photographer whose commercial clients include a maker of artificial limbs and Skittles candy, remembers thinking, “I can’t raise this kid; I can’t relate to him at all.’’

The tension at home was all but unbearable. Every waking hour had to do with Eli, who was 5 at the time. Why was he this way? Why was he that way? Was he mentally ill? Should he be medicated? In retrospect, the evidence seems so unambiguous, particularly once there was a second child, Wilson, to compare Eli to. But nobody in the household had yet spoken aloud the word “autism.’’

That was the moment when Mr. Archibald decided to look for his son, in the most literal sense of the word — through the lens of his camera.

“My feeling of utter frustration and powerless started this project,’’ he said recently about “Echolilia,” a limited-edition volume with 43 photographs, mostly of Eli. (It was published in June by Echo Press.) The title is derived from echolalia, a technical term for the copying of sounds and sentences common in children who suffer from some form of autism, who include verbal children like Eli who attend regular public schools. “I knew he was tuned differently,” Mr. Archibald said, “and I needed to build a bridge, get inside his head, learn what made him tick.’’

This would not be a standard documentary project in which he turned his camera on the boy at any and every opportunity, to chronicle his life. Nor would he stage and shoot standard portraits.

Instead, man and boy, father and son, would collaborate, in formal shooting sessions that rarely lasted more than 5 or 10 minutes but were regularly scheduled and initiated by an object or notion that interested Eli. It was Eli’s idea to see if a very large manila envelope would fit over his head; Eli’s idea to blow into one end of a vacuum cleaner hose and hold the other end to his ear to hear the whoosh. It was Eli’s idea to see if he could curl up his body until it fit inside a clear plastic toy box, to flatten his features with a wide rubber band, to look through the wide end of a funnel that happened to be the same circumference as his face. “He has always fetishized objects,’’ Mr. Archibald said. “They are iconic to him.’’

With a digital camera, photographer and subject could examine each image immediately. Sometimes Eli would have an idea for a more interesting pose or setting. Mostly that was Mr. Archibald’s job. He might suggest that they try the shot again at a different time of day or in a place with different light. The collaboration “satisfied something deep inside both of us,” Mr. Archibald said. “We shared — I don’t know what — mutual respect?’’

Light mattered. And simple settings. And contrast. And composition. Take, for instance, the photo of Eli and the vacuum cleaner hose. It was on the living room floor when he came home from school one day because his mother had been cleaning. It riveted the boy. “This is cool,” he told his father. “Let’s make some photos.” First, they went outside, where the light would be better. But Mr. Archibald didn’t like the image of the boy seated, tube to his mouth and ear, amid the chalk scrawling on the driveway. They moved to the backyard. Mr. Archibald noted the dark expanse of dirt and wanted to see Eli’s pale skin against that background. On an impulse, he said, he asked his son to take off his shirt.

One photograph juxtaposes a page of notes Mr. Archibald took when Eli’s ailment was diagnosed with a child’s bandage. It’s meant to capture the specialness of this child, which exists side by side with the fact that he is a normal little boy who skins his knees. “I was looking for that push and pull,’’ Mr. Archibald said, “the flux between the two.’’

All the pictures are set at home, in El Sobrante, Calif., a working-class community in the East Bay, quite charmless with its unlandscaped lawns and commercial strips lined with muffler repair shops and the like. Why only at home? “That’s where the tension was; that’s where I was trying to be a parent and feeling I was doing such a bad job of it,’’ Mr. Archibald said. “This is not about Eli in the world.’’

The world will soon enough impinge, Mr. Archibald fears, when Eli, now 8 and in the third grade, hits middle school. For the moment, “quirkiness is accepted by the other kids,’’ he said. “There is no social big boot to crush him yet.’’ Mr. Archibald said Eli finds nothing embarrassing about the book, despite what he acknowledged might look like “feral” images to some viewers, including a number in which the boy is unclothed. “There is no adolescent body consciousness yet,” Mr. Archibald said.

His wife, Cheri Stalmann, objected to the project at first. She worried that Eli was being exploited to serve her husband’s need to make sense of his own suffering. Eventually, however, Mr. Archibald said she grew enthusiastic as she saw Eli’s pleasure in the work and the results.

When the book was published, the rest of the family celebrated. Eli seemed uninterested at first. Then he asked for his own copy, to keep in his room. There, happily thumbing through it with his father these days, Eli will come upon photos taken as long as three years ago. “Oh, I forgot about that one,’’ he says to his father. “Look how cool it is!”

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The family dynamic of a national disaster

“Some folks look at me and see a certain swagger, which in Texas is called walking.” — George W. Bush

I WON'T attempt to deny it. I thought (and continue to think) that George W. Bush was quite possibly the worst president in our nation's history. 

The reasons are many, but I'll toss out a couple.

1) During President Bill Clinton's administration, the federal deficit was eliminated and the federal budget was balanced. He gave us a $280 billion surplus that George Bush succeeded in replacing with a $6 trillion deficit.

2) George Bush and his minions (or puppeteers) lied and obfuscated about nonexistent weapons of mass destruction in order to justify the invasion of Iraq and two deficit-financed wars.

Here's how the above two truths intersect, explained simply and clearly by the Center of Budget and Policy Priorities:

"If not for the Bush tax cuts, the deficit-financed wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the effects of the worst recession since the Great Depression (including the cost of policymakers’ actions to combat it), we would not be facing these huge deficits in the near term. By themselves, in fact, the Bush tax cuts and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will account for almost half of the $20 trillion in debt that, under current policies, the nation will owe by 2019."

What I've never been able to grasp, though, is how we ended up with this frat boy failure.

In the October 25 addition of The New York Times, the brilliant Frank Bruni peers into the family dynamic that created George W. It's fascinating.

Fathers, Sons and the Presidency
By Frank Bruni
October 25, 2014

I’M always thinking back to that lunch in Kennebunkport, because I saw it all there: what drove George W. Bush toward the presidency; what shaped so many of his decisions in office.

I was interviewing his parents at the family’s compound on the Maine coast. The 2000 Republican National Convention was just weeks away, and Bush by then was a well-established political phenomenon. Even so, his father said that he remained amazed that George had made it so far. Never had George’s parents seen such a grand future for him.

Perhaps an hour into our conversation, George’s brother Jeb, the Bush boy who had been tagged for greatness, happened to join us. From that moment on, when I asked his father a question, he’d sometimes say that Jeb should answer it, because Jeb knew best.

And as he gazed at Jeb, I noticed in his eyes what George must have spotted, craved and inwardly raged about for so much of his life: an admiration that he had been hard pressed to elicit. Running for the presidency was his way of demanding it. Winning the White House was his way of finally getting it.

And he went on to govern in defiance of the father who had cast such a long shadow over him and nursed such doubts about him. He went on to show him who was boss. No matter the cost, he invaded Iraq and toppled Saddam Hussein, whom Dad had spared. No matter the tactics, he secured a second term, which Dad hadn’t.

Will he whitewash all of this in the tribute that he has written to his father, “41,” which is scheduled for publication right after the midterms? I’m guessing yes, but whatever the evasions or revisionism of “41,” it will be more than just a book. It will be the latest chapter in a father-son psychodrama that altered the country’s course.

And it will be a reminder of how many other father-son psychodramas did likewise.

While Bush is only the second child of a president to duplicate his dad’s ascent, he’s hardly the first occupant of the Oval Office whose career can be read as a response to his father’s dominance or disappearance, an answer to his father’s example. The history of American politics is a history of daddy issues, of sons who felt compelled to impress, outdo, usurp, avenge or redeem their fathers.

There are striking leitmotifs. Neither Barack Obama nor Bill Clinton ever really knew his father, and it’s impossible to divorce either’s ambition from that absence. The two men have said as much themselves.

Clinton’s father died in an accident just three months before he was born, leaving the future president with “the feeling that I had to live for two people” and “make up for the life he should have had,” he wrote in his autobiography, “My Life.”

“And his memory infused me, at a younger age than most, with a sense of my own mortality,” he continued. “The knowledge that I, too, could die young drove me both to try to drain the most out of every moment of life and to get on with the next big challenge.”

Shortly after Obama’s birth, his parents separated. Obama saw his father only once subsequently, when he was 10 years old and his father traveled from Kenya to Hawaii for a monthlong visit. The brevity of that contact — the distance between father and son — informed the narrative and title of his memoir, “Dreams From My Father,” and was a principal engine of his accomplishments.

“If you have somebody that is absent, maybe you feel like you’ve got something to prove when you’re young, and that pattern sets itself up over time,” he said in an interview with Newsweek in 2008. It’s a pattern detectable in many presidents.

In a 2012 story for Slate titled “Why Do So Many Politicians Have Daddy Issues?” Barron YoungSmith wrote, “American politics is overflowing with stories of absent fathers, alcoholic fathers, neglectful fathers.”

To look back through the years is to see presidents in rebellion against their fathers and presidents in thrall to them, presidents trying to be bigger and better than the fathers who let them down (Abraham Lincoln, Ronald Reagan) as well as presidents living out the destinies that their fathers scripted for them (John F. Kennedy, William Howard Taft). It’s to behold the inevitably fraught father-son dynamic playing out on the gaudiest stages, with the most profound consequences.

Did Clinton’s unappeasable needs come from the enormous hole that his father left? Did Obama develop his aloofness early, as a shield against the kind of disappointment that his father caused him?

The particular imprints of fathers on sons have been conspicuous in the leading characters from the most recent presidential elections. Paul Ryan was just 16 when he discovered his father dead of a heart attack. He grew up fast, and became zealous about physical fitness. Mitt Romney was trying to complete his own father’s failed quest for the presidency, and at the start of debates where he was allowed notepaper, he’d scrawl “Dad” on the blank sheet.

Al Gore, too, was attending to the unfinished business of his father, who had made it to the Senate but never the White House. And John McCain, the son and grandson of four-star admirals in the Navy, was trying to do those generations of men proud.

The country’s presidents and presidential aspirants were of course also trying to please and honor mothers, and the presidency is perhaps just as much a history of mommy issues. But there’s something singular about the father-son face-off, as there is about the mother-daughter pas de deux. In the parent whose gender we share, we’re more likely to find our yardstick, our template, our rival.

And with fathers and sons, there’s a special potential for misunderstanding, for the kind of chasm in which resentments and compulsions flourish. Men aren’t socialized to express their feelings, to speak their hearts, to talk it out.

So sons and fathers often stand at the greatest remove, neither able to read the other. From what I’ve witnessed, from what I personally know, many men spend the early part of our lives misjudging our fathers, and acting out accordingly, and then the latter part finally coming to know them. It’s one of our longest journeys.

And maybe George W. Bush — who styled himself as the kind of folksy Texan that his father wasn’t — is at last completing his. Maybe he’s reached a point of uncomplicated appreciation. How different things might have been if he’d arrived there earlier.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Hog (and education) castration in Iowa

"I grew up castrating hogs on an Iowa farm. So when I get to Washington, I'll know how to cut pork. Washington's full of big spenders. Let's make 'em squeal." — Joni Ernst

PAUL AND I spent three and half hours today knocking on doors in support of Democratic candidates in Iowa, in particular Senate candidate Bruce Braley. Hog castrator Joni Ernst is running against him, and she is, in my opinion, desperately wrong for Iowa and the nation. 

Here's one of many reasons: she wants to close the US Department of Education because she finds the department unnecessary, believes states shouldn't have the federal government bothering them about education and thinks it will save money.

Unfortunately, Ms. Ernst misunderstands the roles of the federal government and states in education.

At a Republican primary debate Ms. Ernst revealed her goal of shutting down the federal Department of Education. Here's part of a June 27, 2014 article from the Pulitzer Prize-winning Tampa Bay Times written by Molly O'Connor:

(Ernst) called for "closing the doors to the Department of Education at the federal level. And not just because it would save taxpayer dollars, but because I do believe our children are better educated when it’s coming from the state."

We ran those comments by Ernst spokeswoman Gretchen Hamel, who said that Ernst wants to see power taken from Washington and put back in the hands of Iowans. 

According to the Education Department’s website the "federal role in education is (already) limited." States handle almost all education policy and issues. But, at the federal level, the Education Department takes on many tasks such as conducting research and overseeing state policy to prevent discrimination. It also awards and distributes federal financial aid in the form of loans and grants.

An ad for Bruce Braley says that if Ernst is elected, 213,000 Iowa students would lose their federal Pell Grants. According to federal numbers, that is the number of Iowans who received Pell Grants in 2011-12. We asked the Ernst campaign what her plan for Pell Grants is, but we didn’t get a response.

What would the ramifications of losing Pell Grants be? New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof explains the current state of higher education in the United States better than I can.

The American Dream Is Leaving America
By Nicholas Kristof
October 25, 2014

THE best escalator to opportunity in America is education. But a new study underscores that the escalator is broken.

We expect each generation to do better, but, currently, more young American men have less education (29 percent) than their parents than have more education (20 percent).

Among young Americans whose parents didn’t graduate from high school, only 5 percent make it through college themselves. In other rich countries, the figure is 23 percent.

The United States is devoting billions of dollars to compete with Russia militarily, but maybe we should try to compete educationally. Russia now has the largest percentage of adults with a university education of any industrialized country — a position once held by the United States, although we’re plunging in that roster.

These figures come from the annual survey of education from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, or O.E.C.D., and it should be a shock to Americans.

A basic element of the American dream is equal access to education as the lubricant of social and economic mobility. But the American dream seems to have emigrated because many countries do better than the United States in educational mobility, according to the O.E.C.D. study.

As recently as 2000, the United States still ranked second in the share of the population with a college degree. Now we have dropped to fifth. Among 25-to-34-year-olds — a glimpse of how we will rank in the future — we rank 12th, while once-impoverished South Korea tops the list.

A new Pew survey finds that Americans consider the greatest threat to our country to be the growing gap between the rich and poor. Yet we have constructed an education system, dependent on local property taxes, that provides great schools for the rich kids in the suburbs who need the least help, and broken, dangerous schools for inner-city children who desperately need a helping hand. Too often, America’s education system amplifies not opportunity but inequality.

My dad was a World War II refugee who fled Ukraine and Romania and eventually made his way to France. He spoke perfect French, and Paris would have been a natural place to settle. But he felt that France was stratified and would offer little opportunity to a penniless Eastern European refugee, or even to his children a generation later, so he set out for the United States. He didn’t speak English, but, on arrival in 1951, he bought a copy of the Sunday edition of The New York Times and began to teach himself — and then he worked his way through Reed College and the University of Chicago, earning a Ph.D. and becoming a university professor.

He rode the American dream to success; so did his only child. But while he was right in 1951 to bet on opportunity in America rather than Europe, these days he would perhaps be wrong. Researchers find economic and educational mobility are now greater in Europe than in America.

That’s particularly sad because, as my Times colleague Eduardo Porter noted last month, egalitarian education used to be America’s strong suit. European countries excelled at first-rate education for the elites, but the United States led the way in mass education.

By the mid-1800s, most American states provided a free elementary education to the great majority of white children. In contrast, as late as 1870, only 2 percent of British 14-year-olds were in school.

Then the United States was the first major country, in the 1930s, in which a majority of children attended high school. By contrast, as late as 1957, only 9 percent of 17-year-olds in Britain were in school.

Until the 1970s, we were pre-eminent in mass education, and Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz of Harvard University argue powerfully that this was the secret to America’s economic rise. Then we blew it, and the latest O.E.C.D. report underscores how the rest of the world is eclipsing us.

In effect, the United States has become 19th-century Britain: We provide superb education for elites, but we falter at mass education.

In particular, we fail at early education. Across the O.E.C.D., an average of 70 percent of 3-year-olds are enrolled in education programs. In the United States, it’s 38 percent.

In some quarters, there’s a perception that American teachers are lazy. But the O.E.C.D. report indicates that American teachers work far longer hours than their counterparts abroad. Yet American teachers earn 68 percent as much as the average American college-educated worker, while the O.E.C.D. average is 88 percent.

Fixing the education system is the civil rights challenge of our era. A starting point is to embrace an ethos that was born in America but is now an expatriate: that we owe all children a fair start in life in the form of access to an education escalator.

Let’s fix the escalator.

Friday, October 24, 2014

When being positive is actually a negative

"Yesterday is not ours to recover, but tomorrow is ours to win or lose. — Lyndon B. Johnson, 36th President of the United States of America

WOW. This New York Times article by Gabriele Oettingen, professor of psychology at New York University and the University of Hamburg, might just spin your can-do head around as many times as it did mine. 

According to several studies, positive thinking can actually be a hinderance to achieving the wishes and goals you were thinking positively about! I'm going to have to ponder and process this for awhile before I can take it in enough to actually do me any good. 

The Problem With Positive Thinking
By Gabriele Oettingen
October 24, 2014

MANY people think that the key to success is to cultivate and doggedly maintain an optimistic outlook. This belief in the power of positive thinking, expressed with varying degrees of sophistication, informs everything from affirmative pop anthems like Katy Perry’s “Roar” to the Mayo Clinic’s suggestion that you may be able to improve your health by eliminating “negative self-talk.”

But the truth is that positive thinking often hinders us. More than two decades ago, I conducted a study in which I presented women enrolled in a weight-reduction program with several short, open-ended scenarios about future events — and asked them to imagine how they would fare in each one. Some of these scenarios asked the women to imagine that they had successfully completed the program; others asked them to imagine situations in which they were tempted to cheat on their diets. I then asked the women to rate how positive or negative their resulting thoughts and images were.

A year later, I checked in on these women. The results were striking: The more positively women had imagined themselves in these scenarios, the fewer pounds they had lost.

My colleagues and I have since performed many follow-up studies, observing a range of people, including children and adults; residents of different countries (the United States and Germany); and people with various kinds of wishes — college students wanting a date, hip-replacement patients hoping to get back on their feet, graduate students looking for a job, schoolchildren wishing to get good grades. In each of these studies, the results have been clear: Fantasizing about happy outcomes — about smoothly attaining your wishes — didn’t help. Indeed, it hindered people from realizing their dreams.

Why doesn’t positive thinking work the way you might assume? As my colleagues and I have discovered, dreaming about the future calms you down, measurably reducing systolic blood pressure, but it also can drain you of the energy you need to take action in pursuit of your goals.

In a 2011 study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, we asked two groups of college students to write about what lay in store for the coming week. One group was asked to imagine that the week would be great. The other group was just asked to write down any thoughts about the week that came to mind. The students who had positively fantasized reported feeling less energized than those in the control group. As we later documented, they also went on to accomplish less during that week.

Positive thinking fools our minds into perceiving that we’ve already attained our goal, slackening our readiness to pursue it.

Some critics of positive thinking have advised people to discard all happy talk and “get real” by dwelling on the challenges or obstacles. But this is too extreme a correction. Studies have shown that this strategy doesn’t work any better than entertaining positive fantasies.

What does work better is a hybrid approach that combines positive thinking with “realism.” Here’s how it works. Think of a wish. For a few minutes,imagine the wish coming true, letting your mind wander and drift where it will. Then shift gears. Spend a few more minutes imagining the obstacles that stand in the way of realizing your wish.

This simple process, which my colleagues and I call “mental contrasting,” has produced powerful results in laboratory experiments. When participants have performed mental contrasting with reasonable, potentially attainable wishes, they have come away more energized and achieved better results compared with participants who either positively fantasized or dwelt on the obstacles.

When participants have performed mental contrasting with wishes that are not reasonable or attainable, they have disengaged more from these wishes. Mental contrasting spurs us on when it makes sense to pursue a wish, and lets us abandon wishes more readily when it doesn’t, so that we can go after other, more reasonable ambitions.

In a recent study on healthy eating and exercise, we divided participants into two groups. Members of one group engaged in mental contrasting and then performed a planning exercise designed to help them overcome whatever obstacles stood in their way. Four months later, members of this group were working out twice as long each week as the control group and eating considerably more vegetables. In other studies, we found that people who engaged in mental contrasting recovered from chronic back pain better, behaved more constructively in relationships, got better grades in school and even managed stress better in the workplace.

Positive thinking is pleasurable, but that doesn’t mean it’s good for us. Like so much in life, attaining goals requires a balanced and moderate approach, neither dwelling on the downsides nor a forced jumping for joy.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

New potential autism symptom relief

"I do not like broccoli. And I haven't liked it since I was a little kid and my mother made me eat it. And I'm President of the United States and I'm not going to eat any more broccoli." — George H. W. Bush

I'M ALWAYS fascinated about the ways that our brains work — the commonalities we all share and the differences, so from time to time I share interesting studies and stories about the autism spectrum. 

This ABC News article discusses a potentially new beneficial discovery to help those who struggle with autism.

Broccoli Sprout Extract May Help Curb Autism Symptoms

ABC News
By Dr. Crystal Agi  
Oct 13, 2014

A chemical derived from broccoli sprout could help treat symptoms of autism, according to a new study from Johns Hopkins and Harvard hospitals.

The study authors say it is an “intriguing” first step that could lead to a better life for those with autism spectrum disorders, which affect one in 68 children in the United States and currently have no cure or medical treatment.

“If you tell people that you’ve treated autism with broccoli, they would say that that is a very far-fetched idea,” said study author Dr. Paul Talalay, a professor of pharmacology and molecular sciences at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Talalay and his team treated 40 autistic boys and men with autism over 18 weeks.  Twenty-six of them took pills with sulforaphane, a broccoli sprout extract, and the rest received a placebo.

Study authors found that patients who took sulforaphane improved. Almost half of the patients treated with sulforaphane had “much improved” or “very much improved” social interaction and verbal communication, and more than half exhibited less aberrant behavior. When the patients stopped taking the extract, they returned to baseline levels for these symptoms within four weeks.

Those who took the placebo did not show any improvement, according to the study.

Talalay said the way in which this extract might work in autistic patients has yet to be fully understood, but past research suggests that sulforaphane can cause the body to react as it would to a fever. Since fevers have been associated with a temporary improvement of symptoms in about a third of autism patients, sulforaphane may work in a similar way, according to the study authors.

The findings appear in the October issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Autism experts not involved with the research said the findings are encouraging, but cautioned that there are still many unanswered questions.

“The trial needs to be replicated and evaluated in larger and more age-diverse samples,” Dr. Susan Hyman, chief of neurodevelopmental and behavioral pediatrics at the University of Rochester Medical Center, said in an email to ABC News. “But the data is certainly worth pursuing.”

Dr. Max Wiznitzer, a pediatric neurologist at UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio, agreed.

“The results are intriguing because there is an improvement in some of the subjects,” Wiznitzer said. “However, [the authors] have not shown that they have treated the core essence of autism.”

Still, Wiznitzer said these findings would be “fascinating if true.”

“It might give us a whole new group of treatments to use in these individuals,” he said.

Doctor’s Take

Given the lack of effective treatment options available for people with autism, the results of this study deserve a closer look. The good news is that sulforaphane is associated with very few side effects and is generally regarded as a safe chemical given its natural origins, according to Talalay.

But Hyman said she would not encourage families to administer sulforaphane without guidance from their doctor because it’s unclear whether there are potential drug interactions and long-term side effects.

So should parents force their kids to eat more broccoli? Not so fast.

“It’s very difficult to get this amount of broccoli in your diet,” Talalay said. “You have to know which broccoli you’re eating because the variability of [sulforaphane] is enormous.”

Instead, he said he believes that the study provides “insight” into the mechanism of autism.