Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Ya think?!?

“It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.” — James A. Baldwin, American novelist, essayist, playwright, poet, and social critic

I WANTED to title this post "Duh," but I find that it's too similar to two other previous Hey Look posts, but if I don't say it, I'll likely burst so here it is: 

The US Justice Department has found a pattern of racial bias in the actions of the police in Ferguson, MO . . . uh, DUH!!!!

Below is an NBC News article about the DOJ report released today. Note this particular sentence in particular from the article, "The city may have to decide whether to enter some sort of settlement with the government to force reforms or face a civil rights lawsuit," and then pardon we when I say that I hope DOJ sues their ass.

U.S. Finds Pattern of Biased Policing in Ferguson
By Jon Shuppe
March 3, 2015

Clouded by racial bias and a narrow-minded drive for municipal court revenue, police in Ferguson, Missouri have habitually violated citizens' civil rights, with black residents bearing the brunt, a U.S. Justice Department investigation has found.

The probe, prompted by the shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white Ferguson police officer last August, uncovered a pattern of unfair traffic stops, questionable arrests, unreasonable use of force and interference with free speech, according to information provided to NBC News by a Justice Department official.

At the heart of the unlawful practices were racist attitudes that investigators found rampant in Ferguson officials' emails.

The result of all this, Justice Department officials said, was a profound erosion of trust between police and the public, particularly blacks. Critics have pointed to that lack of trust as one of the conditions that fueled the rioting and violent demonstrations following the Aug. 9 shooting of Michael Brown, 18, by officer Darren Wilson. A grand jury declined to indict Wilson in November, touching off another wave of unrest.

The events in Ferguson polarized the country and prompted a national debate on race, justice and use of force by law enforcement. That discussion continues to reverberate; on Monday, a task force appointed by President Obama to explore ways to improve relationships between police and the public released a report outlining a myriad of proposed reforms.

Ferguson officials, who spent Tuesday meeting with Justice Department officials, said they would speak publicly about the report when it is officially released on Wednesday. The city may have to decide whether to enter some sort of settlement with the government to force reforms or face a civil rights lawsuit.

The Justice Department examination found that Ferguson's black citizens, who make up about 67 percent of the city's 21,000 residents, were subject to 85 percent of traffic stops, and 93 percent of all arrests from 2012 to 2014. Black drivers were more than twice as likely as whites to be searched during traffic stops, but were less likely to be found holding anything illegal. Blacks were also the focus of 88 percent of instances in which police used force to subdue someone.

A similar pattern emerged inside Ferguson's municipal court, where data indicated that the town targeted blacks for arrests on outstanding warrants, the Justice Department said. From October 2012 to October 2014, 96 percent of those arrested during traffic stops solely because of an outstanding warrant were black, investigators found.

Blacks were also far more likely to be hit with petty offenses like jaywalking, disturbing the peace and "failure to comply," according to investigators. From 2011 to 2013, blacks accounted for 92 percent or more of people who faced such charges.

Blacks were also 68 percent less likely than people of other races to have their cases dismissed, the investigators found.

Seeking an explanation for those discrepancies, investigators from the Civil Rights Division blamed a sustained focus on generating revenue at the expense of citizens' constitutional rights of due process and equal protection. The charge that the city relied on more than any other was "failure to appear," meaning the person didn't show up for a scheduled court date. In 2013 alone, the court collected $442,901 in fines for that offense. That accounted for a quarter of the municipal court's entire revenue that year. The "failure to appear" charge was dropped by the city in September.

The burden of this misguided court operation fell disproportionately on the town's poorest citizens, many of whom fell into massive debt, lost their drivers licenses, could not keep a job, or ended up behind bars, investigators found. As of December 2014, 16,000 people had outstanding arrest warrants issued by the Ferguson Municipal Court, most of them for minor violations such as parking and traffic infractions.

Monday, March 2, 2015

And now the hot messes

“But the boy's remark, which had been heard by the bystanders, was repeated over and over again until everyone cried: ’The boy is right! The Emperor is naked!’” — Hans Christian Andersen, The Emperor’s New Clothes

AS usual there were more ordinary and awful dresses at the 2015 Oscars than there were beautiful and brilliant. Here's my personal list of the awfuls.

Blanca Blanco's dress isn't awful. It's just that it could have
been truly stunning if only the designer hadn't added

 a saddlebag to the hip and made a messy, shapeless top.
There's nothing wrong with Dorith Mous' dress — except that she's 
wearing it. She's too skeletal for it, and the shoes are ridiculous.
Gayle King wearing a not very flattering wedding dress.
Solange Knowles: Being different for the sake of being different isn't
necessarily good. This dress looks a little too alien-outfit or Sprockets.
Carmen Ejogo grabbed her Victoria's Secret nightgown and wore it.
Nicole Kidman wearing bland, boring and unflattering by who-cares.
Brooke Anderson: Too costume-y and too much froo-froo.
Jennifer Lopez: We know you have breasts. You don't have to
keep showing them to us as a reminder.
Lady Gaga: What a gorgeous voice and gown. If only
she hadn't added the clown gloves.
Naomi Watts: Too much side boob plus it looked wacky from
the back. Too bad because the fabric is wonderful.
Although Emma Stone's dress made it on several best-dressed lists,
IMHO hardly anyone looks good in acid green, plus it wasn't
terribly flattering (two pictures down) except straight on.  
Jennifer Aniston: This dress of seven-veils landed Jen on many
best-dressed lists. Are you kidding me? It looks like all you're wearing is
Spanx and some curtain shears..
Neither woman shown to advantage by either dress.
Selma director, Ava DuVernay, made a great movie, but
chose a bad dress.
Jane Fonda: You're way past the point of wearing this, Jane.
Andrea Riseborough's dress is so wrong in so many ways,
that one hardly knows where to begin.
Chrissy Teigen: Wear clothes, for heaven's sake.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Another reason to quit

“Smoking is related to practically every terrible thing that can happen to you.” — Loni Anderson

I SUBSCRIBE to MedCity News, published by MedCity Media in Cleveland, OH, home of the famous Cleveland Clinic. It's an online newsletter that bills itself as "the leading online news source for the business of innovation in healthcare."

I came across a February 27 MedCity article that was sourced from the Huffington Post about a study conducted by the University College London and the British Heart Foundation that links smoking to anxiety and depression. Just in case you need any additional encouragement to quit smoking — or better yet, to not take it up in the first place — below is the Huffington Post piece.

Smokers Are More Likely To Suffer From Anxiety And Depression
By Lindsay Holmes
February 25, 2015

If you're looking for another reason to quit, here it is: Cigarettes may be a sign of mental health problems.

Contrary to the perception of cigarettes as a stress reliever, smokers are 70 percent more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression overall compared with non-smokers, according to a new British study.

Research from the University College London and the British Heart Foundation examined nearly 6,500 people over the age of 40 in the United Kingdom on their smoking habits and mental health. More than 18 percent of smokers in the study reported having anxiety and depression, compared to just 10 percent of non-smokers and 11.3 percent of ex-smokers.

What's more, the smokes may be the source of some anxiety. The study also found that long-term ex-smokers (those who had kicked the habit for more than a year) had anxiety and depression profiles similar to participants who had never smoked. This finding suggests that quitting smoking may actually be the way to boost mental health.

"The perception of a cigarette relieving stress is a misinterpretation of what's actually happening -- what you're really experiencing when you light up a cigarette is the early signs of withdrawal," Mike Knapton, associate medical director for the BHF, told The Huffington Post. "Those symptoms of withdrawal are very similar to stress ... The cigarette will relieve those symptoms, and you think that it's making you feel better, but all it's doing is abolishing the early signs of nicotine withdrawal. Then of course this cycle goes on cigarette after cigarette."

According to Knapton, a BHF survey conducted last year found that a third of U.K. smokers claimed they couldn't quit the habit because they believed in the anxiety-reducing effects of smoking.

"If you think the smoking is managing your stress, it isn't -- it's making it worse," he said. "This report abolishes that myth."

Mental health experts strongly advise against using addictive vices to help patients cope with anxiety and depression. While many people are under the assumption that cigarettes and alcohol can take the edge off, Michael Roizen, M.D., Cleveland Clinic's chief wellness officer and author of This Is Your Do-over, says the opposite may actually happen. The key is adopting other, healthier behaviors that activate the same reward system in the brain.

"That 'high' you get from cigarettes isn't useful because it's destructive to your body," Roizen told HuffPost. "You want to figure out what will give you a 'high' that isn't damaging or contributes to disease. Do that by finding a passion you love, whether it's exercise, talking with a friend or cooking. That's going to help, particularly when it comes to depression."

The new findings are hardly the first that support the idea of extinguishing cigarettes once and for all. Smoking causes one of every five deaths in the United States each year, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The habit can also lead to lung cancer, heart disease and other potentially-fatal ailments.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Party of two

“Fashion is a language. Some know it, some learn it, some never will — like an instinct.” — Edith Head

PAUL and I had our traditional annual Oscar party for two at home last Sunday night. We had shrimp from Waterfront Seafood, spaghetti, onion rings, a green salad with Gino's creamy garlic dressing, and K-Too gluten-free fake Oreos — which I swear are better than the real ones. 

It's a tradition that I started well before I met Paul, but he makes sure we do it every year. Click here to read the story of how it started. He said next year he believes he'll wear his tux. 

And naturally I have to rag on about the rags on. Here are my faves from the night:

Octavia Spencer.

Most becoming for the 57-year-old Melanie Griffith.
Too bad she's ruined her face.
Behati Prinsloo with Adam Levine. Great dress,
but could you possibly not look so bored and condescending?
I don't like Gwyneth Paltrow, but I liked her dress.
Anna Kendrick.
Sienna Miller.
Reese Witherspoon.
Kelly Ripa: Old Hollywood glamour.
Nancy O'Dell: Not an A-lister, but an A-list dress, IMHO.

I thought this dress worn by Laura Dern was ingenious.
I loved the art deco look of Julianne Moore's dress.
Rita Ora: Old Hollywood meets 2015.
Marion Cotillard always makes striking, creative choices.
Simple, stunning. Cate Blanchett never makes a mistake.
This was my favorite dress of the night, worn by Rosamund Pike.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

SS Chris Christie hits the New Jersey shoals

"And on this you have my pledge - unlike in the past, when you stood up and did what was right, this governor will not pull the rug out from underneath you - I will sign strong reform bills." — Governor Chris Christie

IF WE'RE lucky, that pop riveted, blunderbuss of a shipping tanker, the SS Chris Christie, has run aground. 

Those of you who read Hey Look on even a semi-regular basis, know that I'm no fan of his. More accurately, he is IMHO a bully, an opportunist, a pompous, self-aggrandizing, narcissist, and above all, a lying liar who lies. 

On the other hand, I'm a loyal fan of witty New York Times writer Gail Collins, she who specializes in unmasking those of Mr. Christie's ilk. 

Adieu, Chris Christie, Adieu
By Gail Collins
February 26, 2015

Chris Christie is political toast.

Cause of his charred presidential prospects: an unreformed state pension system. I know that’s disappointing. Not nearly as exciting as the political near-death experiences that went before. We were hoping the next disaster would be something like Governor Yells at Elmo. Or a reprise of the day he chased a guy down the boardwalk while waving an ice cream cone, this time maybe featuring Tom Hanks or Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Fixing New Jersey’s pension system was supposed to be Christie’s signature achievement. He explained it in his keynote speech at the Republican convention in 2012, right after he told us about his mom, his dad, his wife, his children and his love of Bruce Springsteen. “They said it was impossible to touch the third rail of politics,” he bragged.

By this point some of his listeners were wondering when he’d get to Mitt Romney. But Christie went on about how he had saved New Jersey workers’ pensions and staved off fiscal disaster. Thanks to shared sacrifice and “politicians who led instead of politicians who pandered.”

The politicians in question would be Chris Christie, who appeared to be referring to himself with the royal “we.” No matter. It was still a very big deal because there are crisis-ridden pension plans all over the country in need of rescue.

This is the kind of problem that can be fixed only if both sides agree to sacrifices they’d much rather avoid. That’s particularly problematic in American politics because pandering candidates often promise that they can make the pain go away. (When he first ran for governor, Christie sent out an “Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ” denouncing rumors that he might “attempt to diminish or take away teachers’ pensions and benefits. Let me be clear — nothing could be further from the truth.”)

As soon as he was elected, Christie began negotiating on a law that would, um, diminish the benefits. It also required the state to raise its own pension contributions until the whole system was healthy. Bipartisan agreement!

“He was looked at nationally as a hero,” recalled Stephen Sweeney, the Democratic State Senate president, who had been working on the problem for years. “It was my pension plan he was touting, but anyway ...”

Pop Quiz: After the Legislature passed the agreement, the workers started seeing smaller paychecks. What did Chris Christie do to keep his side of the bargain?

A) Found the money to make the higher payments no matter what the political cost, because he’s that kind of guy.

B) Found the money for the first two years when the price tag was low, then punted.

C) Chased the state workers down the boardwalk while waving an ice cream cone.

Yes! He punted in Year 3. Which was, to be fair, after the Republican National Convention.

In order to ease the transition, the law allowed New Jersey to ease into its new big pension payments. Christie came up with the first relatively small bill. And then the second year’s. But, by Year 3, there just wasn’t enough money. The State Legislature passed a budget that paid for the pension contribution with tax increases, including one on incomes over $1 million.

Christie vetoed the taxes, and he reduced the new pension contribution to less than half of the target. Nobody’s going to give you the Republican presidential nomination if you raise taxes on rich people. The unions went to court. This week, on the eve of Christie’s budget address, a judge told him to pay up.

“We don’t need a judge to tell us we have a problem,” the governor said, somewhat inaccurately.

This was during the budget address, which Christie devoted almost exclusively to pensions, in a tone that suggested he was the real victim. (“I have stood behind this podium for five years talking about this problem.”)

Well, it certainly is a mess, and the workers probably aren’t done sacrificing. But it’s hard to imagine this governor luring them to the table. “You can always go back to people when you’re living up to your obligations. But you can’t go back to people when you basically break your word,” said Sweeney.

For the rest of us, the news is that Christie is now about as serious a presidential prospect as Donald Trump. The Republicans certainly aren’t going to nominate him because of his in-depth experience in foreign affairs. And if they just want to pick a governor, they’ll probably lean toward one whose administration has enjoyed fewer than eight credit downgrades.

Sure, there’s Christie’s tough-talking, truth-teller thing. But the idea was that his in-your-face style pushed New Jersey to reform. If there’s no reform, you’d have to presume that the American people are just hungry for a president who will yell at members of the audience during the State of the Union address. 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Teenage fathers pass on more mutations

"The mutation rate is high in teenagers. It goes lower in the young adults and then rises again after 35." — Dr. Peter Forster, geneticist

TEENAGE psyches are seldom mature enough to take on parenthood. Now there's a study conducted by the University of Cambridge in Britain and the Institute for Forensic Genetics in Munster, Germany indicating that teenage DNA isn't either. 

Below is an NBC article about the study.

Teen Dads Pass Mutations to Their Kids
By Maggie Fox
February 17. 2015

Here's another reason to discourage teen sex: teenage fathers pass along six times as many genetic mutations to their kids as do teenage mothers.

Researchers who looked at the DNA of more than 24,000 parents and their children found that when the father was 20 or younger, the children had many more mutations than did children of older dads, as well as many more mutations than the offspring of teen mothers and adult dads.

It might be that there's something wrong with the sperm of younger men and boys, says Dr. Peter Forster of the University of Cambridge in Britain and the Institute for Forensic Genetics in Munster, Germany, who led the study.

"The mutation rate is high in teenagers. It goes lower in the young adults and then rises again after 35," Forster told NBC News.

The finding may help explain why birth defects are more common among the children of very young parents, Forster said, although he noted that the overall risk of defects is very low.

"It increases the risk by 30 percent," he said. "For the individual, that means an increase from a 1.5 percent risk of having baby with birth defects to 2 percent, so the individual teenager shouldn't be too worried," he added. "However, for policymakers an increase in birth defects of half a percent across the population is a serious matter, and policymakers should continue to discourage teenage parenthood."

The study used an unusual group of parents: Austrian and German parents who were having paternity testing done, as well as immigrants to Britain from Africa and the Middle East who were seeking to prove family members were really related to them.

Some of the parents were very young. The youngest mother was 10 and the youngest father was 12. The oldest mother at time of conception was 52 and the oldest father was 70.

They looked for mutations in the children that weren't found in either parent. There were not very many, but 54 were traced to the mother and 297 to the father. When they broke these mutation rates down by age, they found that teenage fathers were more likely to pass along mutations than all but the oldest fathers.

It's well known that older fathers and mothers alike are more likely to pass along genetic defects to their offspring, from Down's syndrome to dwarfism. Forster's team didn't look at the types of genetic changes linked with these conditions, but at a part of the DNA called microsatellites. These microsatellites change every time a cell divides and can tell you just how many divisions there have been since a cell first split into two more cells.

Forster believes that whatever is going on in passing along these mutations first happens in the so-called germ cells — the eggs and sperm. Girls carry all the eggs they'll ever have from birth, while males make fresh sperm all along. But it's possible the mutations arise in sperm precursor cells, which may not be made anew but which may exist from early childhood, Forster said.

The mutation rates they found correlate with the idea of a female steady supply of eggs, but they don't match the idea that sperm are always made fresh. Otherwise, males should have higher mutation rates all along.
Instead, they start out high and drop as the teens hit their 20s, starting back up again at about age 35.

"The fathers' mutation rate then rises only slightly by age 50," the researchers wrote in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, a British scientific journal.

The next step will be to look at other types of DNA mutations in the children of teenage fathers specifically, and to see if they can be linked to specific birth defects, Forster's team said.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

New research on peanut allergies

“Peanut butter is the paté of childhood.” — Florence Fabricant, food writer

ABOUT two percent of American children are allergic to peanuts, a number that has more than quadrupled since 1977, and there have been big increases in other Western countries as well.

A study published February 23, 2015 in The New England Journal of Medicine indicates that the early introduction of peanut into infants' diets dramatically decreases the risk of developing peanut allergy. The NEJM editorial accompanying the study called the results "so compelling and the rise of peanut allergies so alarming that guidelines for how to feed infants at risk of peanut allergies should be revised soon." 

Below is an article from yesterday's 2/23/15 LA Times

BTW: For those who are already extremely allergic to peanuts, there is an alternative to hyper-abstinance. Read about it here at Help for the most seriously allergic.

Peanut allergies? For children, the best treatment may be peanuts
By Karen Kaplan
February 23, 2015

It seemed like a good idea at the time: With the incidence of peanut allergy climbing among children, the American Academy of Pediatrics advised parents in 2000 to keep peanuts far away from infants and toddlers who might have a life-threatening reaction to them.

But a new study suggests that advice did more harm than good.

A long-awaited clinical trial has found that small children who avoided peanuts for the first five years of their lives were up to seven times more likely to wind up with a peanut allergy than kids who ate peanuts at least three times a week.

The findings were presented Monday at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology and published online by the New England Journal of Medicine.

“The results have the potential to transform how we approach food allergy prevention,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in a statement. The institute helped fund the study.

The trial results offer fresh support for the so-called hygiene hypothesis, which ties the rise in allergies and autoimmune disorders to the ultra-sterile environment made possible by antibacterial soap, disinfectants and other cleansers that have become staples of modern life.

Indeed, a study published Monday in the journal Pediatrics found that children whose families used dishwashing machines were more likely to have allergies than kids whose plates were washed by hand.

All of this unnatural cleanliness robs the immune system of the opportunity to develop resistance to germs and other substances that humans used to encounter on a regular basis.

The result is less immune tolerance — and more allergies. About 3% of children in developed countries are now allergic to peanuts, the study authors say. The rate in the U.S. has tripled over less than two decades, according to figures from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Although allergies to eggs and cows’ milk are more common, peanut allergies are the most likely to be life-threatening and generally persist for a lifetime.

The alarming rise of peanut allergies has led to the banning of peanuts from schools, airlines and other venues.

Anecdotal evidence for the hygiene hypothesis came from a 2008 study of Jewish children. Some lived in Britain, where toddlers don’t eat peanuts until they are at least a year old. The others lived in Israel, where infants start eating foods made with peanuts when they are 7 months old.

Although both groups of children had a “similar genetic background,” the British children were 10 times more likely to have peanut allergies than their counterparts in Israel.

Some of the doctors and allergy experts who worked on that study set out to test the hygiene hypothesis.

They enrolled 640 infants in the Learning Early about Peanut Allergy trial — nicknamed LEAP. All the infants were deemed to be at risk of developing peanut allergies because they were already allergic to eggs or had severe eczema, a skin condition that can be caused by allergies.

All the infants were between 4 and 11 months old when they joined the study.
Researchers conducted a skin-prick test to see whether the infants had any sensitivity to peanuts at the start of the study. Then they were randomly assigned to either consume at least 6 grams of peanut protein per week — in the form of a smooth peanut butter or a peanut snack called Bamba — or to avoid peanuts altogether.

Children who showed some peanut sensitivity and were sorted into the peanut-eating group had to pass a peanut food challenge to make sure they could handle their assignment. Six who had a reaction to peanuts were reassigned to the peanut-avoidance group.

The researchers examined the children in two groups — the 85% who had no sensitivity to peanuts at the start of the study and the 15% who were already developing peanut allergies.

In both groups, the results were striking.

Among the children with no sign of peanut allergy at the start of the trial, 13.7% of those who avoided peanuts became allergic by the time they turned 5. But among the children who ate peanuts regularly, only 1.9% became allergic. That amounted to an 86% relative reduction in peanut allergy risk, the study authors found.

Peanut exposure was also helpful for kids who were already on the road to peanut allergies. Among the 5-year-olds, the allergy rate for those who avoided peanuts was 35.3%, compared with only 10.6% for those who ate peanuts. That worked out to a 70% relative reduction in allergy risk, according to the study.

Kids' food allergies cost U.S. nearly $25 billion a year, study finds
The researchers were able to collect dust samples from the beds of nearly two-thirds of the children at the end of the trial. Children who ate peanuts had a median of 91.1 micrograms of peanut particles in their bed dust, while their peanut-avoiding counterparts had a median of only 4.1 micrograms of peanut.

In addition, blood tests showed that the children who ate peanuts had higher levels of two types of peanut-related antibodies than the children who avoided the nuts.

Peanut exposure had its problems. Five types of side effects — upper respiratory tract infections, viral skin infections, hives, gastroenteritis and conjunctivitis — occurred more frequently among the peanut eaters than the peanut avoiders.

But the severity of these side effects tended to be mild or moderate, according to the study.

“This intervention was safe, tolerated, and highly efficacious,” the study authors wrote.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has already withdrawn its endorsement of peanut avoidance. And in the years after the study of Jewish children was published, researchers reported similar findings about allergies to eggs and cow’s milk.

Many questions remain, however. Among them: How much peanut protein do children need to eat to reduce their allergy risk? Will the protective effect wear off if kids stop eating peanuts?

The researchers plan to find out by tracking the study participants through a study they have dubbed LEAP-On.

In the meantime, two pediatric allergy specialists suggest that infants at risk for peanut allergy should try a similar regimen of peanut exposure.

“The results of this trial are so compelling, and the problem of the increasing prevalence of peanut allergy so alarming, new guidelines should be forthcoming very soon,” they wrote in an editorial that accompanies the study in the New England Journal of Medicine. “The LEAP study makes it clear that we can do something now to reverse the increasing prevalence of peanut allergy.”