Sunday, August 30, 2015

American madness #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 Bd 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.” (, 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.

Below is the intro to a discerning piece written by Mike Taibbi for Rolling Stone in which, unfortunately, my state of Iowa comes off really, really badly thanks to two atavistic, antebellum, isolationists: Representative Steve King and talk radio host Jan Mickelson . . . who wondered aloud, "What's wrong with slavery?"

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.

Click here to read Matt's article in its entirety. 

Friday, August 21, 2015

Ashley Madison (sucks if that's your actual name)

“Hold faithfulness and sincerity as first principles.” ― Confucius, The Analects

WELL WELL. The Ashley Madison hack that exposed the identities of 37 million users of this "dating" website is all the talk! As you know, unless you've been hiding out in a cave somewhere (tempting though that sounds, I must say), this "dating" website caters to those who are married or in an otherwise committed relationship who want to hook up to have an affair. 

BTW: I bet any young women who happen to be named Ashley Madison (christened as such by mothers who simply couldn't resist being sooo trendy) are hating it right about now. The teasing they're likely having to endure!

One of my virtual village residents made the point that other people's sexual proclivities aren't anyone else's business unless they've sort of built their brand, so to speak, on they're Christian "morality." On the other hand, eeewwww.

Apparently, the highest concentration of "users" (ooo, good word) are in the Washington DC area.

Sent to me by several virtual village residents!

This from the Washington Post.

Rich D.C. residents like to cheat on their spouses, according to dating Web site for cheating spouses

By Perry Stein
May 20, 2015

The District once again lives up to its TV drama-concocted reputation.

The city topped a list ranking the country’s most adulterous cities for the third year in a row. The dubious title comes courtesy of, a dating Web site for married people looking for extramarital affairs, which culled through its membership data to determine which cities have the most members per capita.

Ashley Madison claims to have more than 59,000 people registered on the site with a D.C. Zip code. (Note: This does include people who register for the site while visiting D.C. using a city Zip code.)

And the neighborhood with the most cheaters? Capitol Hill, the land of politicians, staffers and lobbyists.

The dating Web site says 10.4 percent of Capitol Hill residents are registered on the Web site. Tenleytown and Takoma Park finished second and third, respectively. With the exception of Capitol Hill, all of the top 10 D.C. neighborhoods are in the Northwest portion of the city, with the majority of the neighborhoods in affluent upper Northwest.

Where D.C.'s adulterers reside

Membership to the Web site is free for women and costs men $49 for 100 credits on the site. Those credits are then used as currency to do things on the site like send a custom mail-message, initiate a chat session, send a priority message, and send virtual gifts.

Back in 2012, Noel Biderman, chief executive of Avid Life Media, which owns Ashley Madison, told The Wahington Post that he saw a correlation between much of the professional success on Capitol Hill and adultery.

“First, most people who achieve a level of success do so from taking professional risks that for the most part pay off, and this underlying personality trait may then lead these individuals to take personal risks, as well,” he said at the time. “Second, cheating is directly correlated to opportunity. The more successful you are the more you tend to travel for work and pleasure, and more often removed from your family, interacting with individuals with whom commonalities surface.”

Nationwide, Pittsburgh and Austin finished second and third on the list of cheaters.

Here are the 10 cities with the highest rate of membership on the site:

1. Washington, D.C.

2. Pittsburgh

3. Austin

4. New York

5. Boston

6. Los Angeles

7. Las Vegas

8. New Orleans

9. Houston

10. San Diego

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Three times more likely to be murdered

"Officers are three times more likely to be murdered on the job in high gun ownership states in comparison with low gun ownership states. That was the big wow for me." — David Swedler, Research Assistant Professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago

IT'S AN issue of public health. If a viral epidemic were killing a particular group or class of Americans, children or police officers for example, immediate action would be taken to end the scourge. But no. We've let a bunch of extremists who misread the Constitution bully us into the insane (and insanity it is) circumstance of having more guns than sense, life or health.

Even bona fide evidence fails to penetrate the minds of the obdurate. This article is from NBC News.

More Police Are Killed in States With More Guns, Study Finds

By Maggie Fox
August 14, 2015 

Police officers are most likely to be killed in states where the most people own guns, a new study finds.

The report is sure to be controversial, but it adds a new dimension to a conversation that's recently been focused more on police shootings of unarmed Americans.

This study looks at who's killing the cops, and it's overwhelmingly people with private guns, David Swedler of the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health found.

"If we're interested in protecting police officers, we need to look at what's killing them, and what's killing them is guns," says Swedler.

Swedler's team used the FBI's Uniformed Crime Reporting database to check on all homicides of law enforcement officers between 1996 and 2010. They used a giant survey called the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System to get data on gun ownership.

Their findings: The No. 1 cause of on-the-job death for police is motor vehicle accidents. But gun deaths came second, they reported in the American Journal of Public Health.

"We were not surprised to find that firearm ownership is associated with homicide rates," Swedler told NBC news.

"The big surprise finding to me was the differences in homicide rates among officers in states with the lowest gun ownership compared to states with highest gun ownership," he added.

"Officers are three times more likely to be murdered on the job in high gun ownership states in comparison with low gun ownership states. That was the big wow for me."

Police and sheriffs' organizations disagree on gun laws, gun control and gun ownership and whether limits would help reduce crime.

Swerdler's one of a group of researchers who want to see what the data shows, and who consider gun ownership and gun laws matters that can legitimately be studied and debated as public and occupational health issues.

"To me, an officer is a worker just like any worker in America. Workers have the right to come home from work at the end of the day," Swedler said.

"We in occupational health and safety look to protect the lives of workers."
His team found 782 homicides of police officers over the 15 years they looked. Of those, 716 were committed using guns and 515 of those with handguns.

On average, 38 percent of U.S. households have at least one gun, ranging from 4.8 percent of homes Washington, D.C. to 62 percent in Wyoming, the researchers found. This fits in with other studies.

Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Mississippi and Montana were the states with the highest rates of both gun ownership and for law enforcement killings. Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island had the lowest per-capita rate for both.

It's important to calculate the rates by per capita, said Swedler, because large states have more killings and more guns simply because they have more people.

Swedler said his team also made sure that police killings were not related to violent crime in general.

"Hypothetically, officers might be put at increased risk if they are more frequently encountering violent criminals, but our data doesn't find that to be the case," he said. "We find that officers are at an increased risk for being killed the more frequently they encounter guns in public settings."

One big driver of this: domestic violence.

"Research shows that responding to domestic violence calls are one of the most common situations in which officers are killed," Swedler said.

"In states where firearms are more prevalent, officers responding to reports of domestic violence are more often entering potentially lethal situations compared to officers responding to such calls in states with lower firearm prevalence," Swedler said.

Police need to understand this, Swedler said, and police department leaders should consider rates of gun ownership in training officers.

"How can we prepare our officers in light of the presence of guns in our state?" Swedler said.

And voters need to decide what to do about findings like his, he said.

"If people in the United States are concerned about the lives of police officers, think about the laws in your state regarding firearms," Swedler said.

"We didn't say one type of law is going to sentence officers to death, whereas another type of law is going to save all officers' lives. What we are saying is consider laws in your state about firearm possession."

But Everytown, an organization that groups Mayors Against illegal Guns, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and other advocates together, says its research shows that just enforcing existing gun laws can help.

"Original research Everytown recently published with the Major Cities Chiefs shows that more than half of law enforcement shot to death were killed by criminals who were barred by law from buying or owning guns but got them anyway," Ted Alcorn, research director for the group, said via email.

"Nothing does more to reduce these deaths than a strong background check system: FBI data shows that in states that require background checks for all handgun sale, blocking criminals from buying guns in unlicensed sales online or at gun shows, there are 48 percent fewer law enforcement officers killed with handguns," he said. 

Monday, August 17, 2015

President Obama's letter to the NYT

“Congress must restore the Voting Rights Act. Our state leaders and legislatures must make it easier — not harder — for more Americans to have their voices heard.” — President Barack Obama, August 12, 2015

I'M HOPING that some of you read a previous HLSS post called Systematic injustice and disenfranchisement. Those who read it know it was a reshare of a penetrating piece written by Jim Rutenberg for The New York Times

(I've mentioned before how unpleasantly surprised I am to find that posts about racial injustice tend to lag in readership, whereas my review of a mattress manufacturer gets at least 200 reads a month.)

In response to Mr. Rutenberg's piece, President Barack Obama wrote a letter to the NYT. I've attached it in full:

President Obama’s Letter to the Editor

August 12, 2015

(For the cover story of our Aug. 2 issue, Jim Rutenberg wrote about efforts over the last 50 years to dismantle the protections in the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the landmark piece of legislation that cleared barriers between black voters and the ballot. The story surveyed a broad sweep of history and characters, from United States Chief Justice John Roberts to ordinary citizens like 94-year-old Rosanell Eaton, a plaintiff in the current North Carolina case arguing to repeal voting restrictions enacted in 2013. The magazine received an unusual volume of responses to this article, most notably from President Barack Obama.)

I was inspired to read about unsung American heroes like Rosanell Eaton in Jim Rutenberg’s ‘‘A Dream Undone: Inside the 50-year campaign to roll back the Voting Rights Act.’’

‘‘We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union. ...’’ It’s a cruel irony that the words that set our democracy in motion were used as part of the so-called literacy test designed to deny Rosanell and so many other African-Americans the right to vote. Yet more than 70 years ago, as she defiantly delivered the Preamble to our Constitution, Rosanell also reaffirmed its fundamental truth. What makes our country great is not that we are perfect, but that with time, courage and effort, we can become more perfect. What makes America special is our capacity to change.

Nearly three decades after Rosanell testified to her unbroken faith in this country, that faith was vindicated. The Voting Rights Act put an end to literacy tests and other forms of discrimination, helping to close the gap between our promise that all of us are created equal and our long history of denying some of us the right to vote. The impact was immediate, and profound — the percentage of African-Americans registered to vote skyrocketed in the years after the Voting Rights Act was passed.

But as Rutenberg chronicles, from the moment the ink was dry on the Voting Rights Act, there has been a concentrated effort to undermine this historic law and turn back the clock on its progress. His article puts the recent push to restrict Americans’ voting rights in its proper context. These efforts are not a sign that we have moved past the shameful history that led to the Voting Rights Act. Too often, they are rooted in that history. They remind us that progress does not come easy, but that it must be vigorously defended and built upon for ourselves and future generations.

I am where I am today only because men and women like Rosanell Eaton refused to accept anything less than a full measure of equality. Their efforts made our country a better place. It is now up to us to continue those efforts. Congress must restore the Voting Rights Act. Our state leaders and legislatures must make it easier — not harder — for more Americans to have their voices heard. Above all, we must exercise our right as citizens to vote, for the truth is that too often we disenfranchise ourselves.

Rosanell is now 94 years old. She has not given up. She’s still marching. She’s still fighting to make real the promise of America. She still believes that We the People have the awesome power to make our union more perfect. And if we join her, we, too, can reaffirm the fundamental truth of the words Rosanell recited.

President Barack Obama, Washington

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Heart safety warning for painkillers

"They used to say they might cause risk of heart attack or stroke. Now we are saying they do cause increased risk of heart attack and stroke." — Eric Pahon, FDA 

I CAME ACROSS this article on the NBC News website. It seems like important information.

FDA Strengthens Heart Safety Warnings on Painkillers

By Maggie Fox
July 9, 2015

The Food and Drug Administration is strengthening its warnings about painkillers like ibuprofen, saying they do raise the risk of heart attack or stroke.

People should think carefully about taking these drugs, both over-the-counter versions and prescription pills, the FDA says. It's asking manufacturers to change the labels.

"They used to say they might cause risk of heart attack or stroke. Now we are saying they do cause increased risk of heart attack and stroke," FDA spokesman Eric Pahon told NBC News.

The warning covers drugs called nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDS for short. They include ibuprofen, sold under brand names like Advil or Motrin; naproxen (Aleve), as well as prescription arthritis drugs known as COX-2 inhibitors, such as Celebrex. Tylenol, known generically as acetaminophen, is not an NSAID.

Cough and cold remedies can also contain NSAIDs as an ingredient.

"Because many prescription and OTC medicines contain NSAIDs, consumers should avoid taking multiple remedies with the same active ingredient," the FDA said.

"FDA is strengthening an existing warning in prescription drug labels and over-the-counter (OTC) Drug Facts labels to indicate that nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can increase the chance of a heart attack or stroke, either of which can lead to death," the agency said in a statement.

"Those serious side effects can occur as early as the first few weeks of using an NSAID, and the risk might rise the longer people take NSAIDs. (Although aspirin is also an NSAID, this revised warning doesn't apply to aspirin.)"

Last year, FDA said it was reviewing the safety of these drugs.

Some of the studies they looked at showed a clear pattern: people who took NSAIDS were more likely to have heart attacks or strokes.

"There is no period of use shown to be without risk," said Dr. Judy Racoosin, deputy director of FDA's Division of Anesthesia, Analgesia and Addiction Products.

"In the coming months, the FDA will request that manufacturers update the existing cardiovascular risk information in Drug Facts labels for over-the-counter (OTC) non-aspirin NSAIDs. Consumers and health care professionals should remain alert for the development of heart- and stroke-related symptoms throughout the time a consumer takes any NSAID," FDA said.

This doesn't mean people should just stop taking NSAIDS, FDA said.

"Take the lowest effective dose for the shortest amount of time possible," said FDA's Dr. Karen Mahoney.

The American Heart Association advises people to try acetaminophen (Tylenol) first.

"If you have heart disease or high blood pressure, consult a health care provider before using an NSAID," FDA added.

"Balance the benefits of NSAIDs with the possible risks and weigh your options. If you take low-dose aspirin for protection against heart attack and stroke, you should know that some NSAIDs, including ibuprofen and naproxen, can interfere with that protective effect."

And the agency gives advice on what symptoms to look for.

"Stop taking NSAIDs and seek medical help if you experience symptoms that might signal heart problems or stroke, such as chest pain, trouble breathing, sudden weakness in one part or side of the body, or sudden slurred speech."

Thursday, August 13, 2015

A day of homelessness

“You can spend the money on new housing for poor people and the homeless, or you can spend it on a football stadium or a golf course.” — Jello Biafra, former lead singer and songwriter for San Francisco punk rock band, the Dead Kennedys

TODAY, this Hey Look post comes to you via my special friend, Oregon resident Dale Case who had shared a Facebook post written by his friend, Renee Spears.

I spent Friday on the streets of Portland and learned so much. Here it is:

1. It's not a big deal to hold a sign asking for money because everyone ignores you. I found an unoccupied corner right off 405 and stood there for an hour holding a sign saying "Local business owner trying to understand our homeless problem. All funds to be donated." Nobody made eye contact with me. They fiddled with the radio, texted, looked everywhere else. I did make $25.52 in that hour thanks mostly to one woman that gave me $20. All the people that gave me money were women. I plan to donate $250 to Sisters Of The Road in honor of this experience.

2. Right after holding the sign, I met an 82-year-old woman sitting on her walker, holding a cup for money in front of Whole Foods. I asked if she sat out every day, and she said, "Only when my social security runs out and I need to eat." She wasn't interested in talking. I touched her arm when saying good bye and she teared up and said, "I can't remember the last time someone touched me." People just walked by ignoring her too.

3. I saw a man washing his clothes in the Saturday Market fountains. He then laid them out to dry in the sun. They looked great! I was impressed.

4. I had some wonderful conversations with complete strangers. I wore my Kindness Matters t-shirt. A woman commented that kindness is often mistaken for weakness, and we had a deep five-minute conversation on the philosophy of kindness as we stood on a street corner. I now also know everything about poodles, the breakdown of society in Somalia and the different types of immigrants (economic and political). These were deep, smart conversations. People are very lonely and just wanted someone to listen.

5. It's exhausting being homeless. My body hurts from walking and carrying a backpack. There's nowhere comfy to just relax. By 4:00 pm I was exhausted and took a nap on a park bench. All these years I thought people sleeping on the sidewalk in the daytime were just totally strung out druggies. I'm sure some are, but the people I met told me that they sleep during the day because it's safer. They can't rest as deeply at night, and they are tired! After one day out there, I was grumpy, tired and dehydrated. It sucks! I can't imagine the toll that a week out there would take on a body and spirit.

6. I only saw one policeman the entire time. He was harassing an old man in a wheel chair who was trying to sell some of his homemade stuff on the sidewalk. He told the man to move because he didn't have a permit.

7. Nobody tried to sell me drugs,  but three people asked me if I had some for sale.

8. I fell in love with Portland in a whole new way. This city is alive, and I felt alive in it. I saw a TV show taping, dancing in Directors Park, a dude playing a flute beautifully in front of Powell's, three different music acts at The Bite of Oregon, a miniature Stonehenge made out of bananas, numerous history plaques, another band and the movie "Grease" on Pioneer Square. I walked by hundreds of people on their phones missing the whole thing.

9. The line between the haves and have nots was very apparent. I was on the outside of the fence at The Bite while watching people pigging out on the inside of the fence. I was two feet away through a window from a delicious steak at Ruth Chris Steak House.

10. There are different groups of homeless. There are those interested in drugs down on the waterfront, there are those with mental illness wondering around everywhere, but most of those I met were having a crisis of spirit and trying to find themselves. There was an executive from Seattle whose life fell apart when his wife left him, and he is trying to pick up the pieces. There were many people here from other cities because Portland is a great place to be homeless. I understand this after spending a day falling in love with the city, too.

11. What can we as a city do? Clearly we need to address the bigger issues of poverty, mental illness and addiction but we can do better right now. We need more public restrooms. There aren't enough and they are too far apart. We need more water fountains. We need a public laundromat and bathing facility. We need a public place for people to come in from the elements and relax in safety. We need a place for people to store their belongings so they don't have to carry them around all day.

12. What can YOU do? Remember they are people! Talk to them. Listen to them. Acknowledge they exist. Show some fucking compassion! They are tired, sore, thirsty, malnourished, ignored, and being out there takes a huge toll on your spirit. Put down your phone and pay attention to what is going on outside of yourself.

13. I ended up going home in the early morning hours. My intention was to learn from the people there and I did that. I didn't feel unsafe for one minute. I found the people kind and friendly. I wondered what would change if we all just opened our eyes to what is happening instead of ignoring it.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The pressure of perfection

“Many people suffer all their lives from this oppressive feeling of guilt, the sense of not having lived up to their parents' expectations. This feeling is stronger than any intellectual insight they might have.” ― Alice Miller, seminal Swiss psychoanalyst and psychologist

IF YOU have children, grandchildren, nieces or nephews or play other roles in young people's lives — or perhaps you could do with some reminding that it's a losing proposition to compare your insides to other people's outsides — this New York Times piece about the escalating incidence of young adult suicide is a must-read.

Having been raised by two grandmothers for whom the grades I earned and my appearance were always of much greater importance than how I was or how I felt — I get it.

Suicide on Campus and the Pressure of Perfection

By Julie Scelfo
July 27, 2015

A traveling exhibition by Active Minds, an advocacy group, consists of 1,100 backpacks representing the approximate number of undergraduates who commit suicide each year.

Kathryn DeWitt conquered high school like a gold-medal decathlete. She ran track, represented her school at a statewide girls’ leadership program and took eight Advanced Placement tests, including one for which she independently prepared, forgoing the class.

Expectations were high. Every day at 5 p.m. test scores and updated grades were posted online. Her mother would be the first to comment should her grade go down. “I would get home from track and she would say, ‘I see your grade dropped.’ I would say, ‘Mom, I think it’s a mistake.’ And she would say, ‘That’s what I thought.’ ” (The reason turned out to be typing errors. Ms. DeWitt graduated with straight A’s.)

In her first two weeks on the University of Pennsylvania campus, she hustled. She joined a coed fraternity, signed up to tutor elementary school students and joined the same Christian group her parents had joined at their alma mater, Stanford.

But having gained admittance off the wait list and surrounded by people with seemingly greater drive and ability, she had her first taste of self-doubt. “One friend was a world-class figure skater. Another was a winner of the Intel science competition. Everyone around me was so spectacular and so amazing and I wanted to be just as amazing as they are.”

Classmates seemed to have it all together. Every morning, the administration sent out an email blast highlighting faculty and student accomplishments. Some women attended class wearing full makeup. Ms. DeWitt had acne. They talked about their fantastic internships. She was still focused on the week’s homework. Friends’ lives, as told through selfies, showed them having more fun, making more friends and going to better parties. Even the meals they posted to Instagram looked more delicious.

Her confidence took another hit when she glanced at the cellphone screen of a male student sitting next to her who was texting that he would “rather jump out of a plane” than talk to his seatmate.

When, on Jan. 17, 2014, Madison Holleran, another Penn freshman, jumped off the top of a parking garage and killed herself, Ms. DeWitt was stunned. She had never met Ms. Holleran, but she knew the student was popular, attractive and talented. In a blog post soon afterward, Ms. DeWitt would write: “What the hell, girl?! I was supposed to be the one who went first! You had so much to live for!”

Despite her cheery countenance and assiduous completion of assignments, Ms. DeWitt had already bought razor blades and written a stack of goodbye letters to loved ones.

Ms. Holleran was the third of six Penn students to commit suicide in a 13-month stretch, and the school is far from the only one to experience a so-called suicide cluster. This school year, Tulane lost four students and Appalachian State at least three — the disappearance in September of a freshman, Anna M. Smith, led to an 11-day search before she was found in the North Carolina woods, hanging from a tree. Cornell faced six suicides in the 2009-10 academic year. In 2003-4, five New York University students leapt to their deaths.

Nationally, the suicide rate among 15- to 24-year-olds has increased modestly but steadily since 2007: from 9.6 deaths per 100,000 to 11.1, in 2013 (the latest year available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). But a survey of college counseling centers has found that more than half their clients have severe psychological problems, an increase of 13 percent in just two years. Anxiety and depression, in that order, are now the most common mental health diagnoses among college students, according to the Center for Collegiate Mental Health at Penn State.

Read the entire article here.