Monday, February 29, 2016

The last thing we want is the truth

"We have to bring them to heel." — Hillary Clinton

I'VE MENTIONED before that blog posts of mine with racism as the primary subject matter are often some of the least read — that and ones with happy puppy and kitty videos. 

I'm not sure why that is. Either my liberal friends think they've heard and know it all, or my "conservative" friends — one wonders, do I have any — don't want to know, or worse, they actively agree with racist positions.

Charles M. Blow is one of The New York Time's writers whose work I admire. In the attached column, he describes a small act of protest, the extreme reaction it engendered and the larger issue that led to it in the first place.

Put me firmly in the I-think-Ashley-Williams-is-brave camp.

'I’m Not a Super Predator’

By Charles M. Blow 
February 29, 2016

Days before Hillary Clinton thundered to an overwhelming victory over rival Bernie Sanders in South Carolina — largely on the strength of black voters who supported her by an even higher percentage than they supported Barack Obama with in 2008 — a young, proudly queer, black activist, Ashley Williams, was in Charlotte, N.C., plotting an action that would make a statement of its own.

She was planning to attend a private Clinton fund-raiser in Charleston, S.C., and confront the candidate about her support of policies — specifically the 1994 crime bill — that contributed to the explosion of racially tilted mass incarceration in this country.

Williams and her friends decided to make a sign — but what to put on it? They toyed with phrases from a now infamous speech Clinton gave in 1996 — when the 23-year-old Williams was a toddler — in which Clinton said:

“We need to take these people on. They are often connected to big drug cartels. They are not just gangs of kids anymore. They are often the kinds of kids that are called super predators: no conscience, no empathy. We can talk about why they ended up that way, but first we have to bring them to heel.”

They settled on a phrase and over a couple of hours they blocked out the letters on a pillowcase. Williams practiced in a bathroom mirror folding the banner into her bra and whipping it out. (She figured that she’d have to hide it on her body so that it wouldn’t be confiscated before she revealed it at the fund-raiser.) But it was too thick. So she cut away the back half that had no writing. Perfect.

The night of the event, she nervously made her way through security with her secret banner hidden away, and took up position near where she assumed Clinton was to speak. As soon as Clinton descended the stairs of the mansion, took the microphone and began her remarks, Williams turned to the crowd and unfurled her banner. Then she turned to Clinton, who was confronted with her own worst words:

“We have to bring them to heel.”

On the video of the encounter, recorded by a friend of Williams who accompanied her to the event (After all, in this age, an action without a video is like a tree falling in the forest with nobody around to hear it), an exchange follows:

Williams: “We want you to apologize for mass incarceration.”

Clinton: “O.K., we’ll talk about…

Williams: “I’m not a super predator, Hillary Clinton.”

Clinton, obviously caught off guard, struggles to find an appropriate response as Williams continues to pressure her and the crowd begins to grumble, “That’s inappropriate,” and the Secret Service closes in on Williams.

Then Clinton says something about answering for her statement and mass incarceration in general that left me flabbergasted:

“You know what, nobody’s ever asked me before. You’re the first person to ask me, and I’m happy to address it, but you are the first person to ask me, dear.

Could this be true? How was this possible? How is it that of all the black audiences she has been before in the interceding two decades, and all the black relationships she has cultivated, no one person ever asked her what this young graduate student was asking?

In that moment, I knew that the people of my generation had failed the people of Williams’s. Her whole life has borne the bruises of what was done, largely by Democrats, when I was the age she is now.

For it, Williams has been viciously, and I believe, unfairly attacked as a political operative on a hit mission, all of which she denied to me in detail during our phone interview on Saturday. She also said that Sanders was wrong for actually voting for the bill.

Perhaps most stinging was Bill Maher, who used an expletive to call protesters like Williams “idiots,” and said: “People need to learn the difference between an imperfect friend and a deadly enemy. You want to tear Hillary Clinton down? Great. Then enjoy President Trump.”

But this is a false choice, one too often posed to young activists who insist on holding power accountable. It’s the same argument they hear from the police: Allow us to operate in your communities with impunity and abandon or the criminals will do so to even more devastating effect. Following this line of reasoning, silent absorption of pain and suffering is the only option. I wholly reject that.

After the encounter, Clinton said in a statement published by The Washington Post’s Jonathan Capehart: “Looking back, I shouldn’t have used those words, and I wouldn’t use them today.”

The statement isn’t really an apology for championing the bill itself, and as such, I find it wanting. But at least Williams’s action provoked a response that many of us who came before her failed to demand.

For that, Ashley Williams, and activists like her, should be celebrated for shaming silence.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

A pair of bullies fall in love

"I am proud to be here to endorse Donald Trump for president of the United States.” — Governor Chris Christie

BLIND AMBITION + mean-spirited, unmitigated self-interest = 2016's political bromance. 

Surely there's no question to whom I refer. And really, they have just so much in common! Donald Trump and Chris Christie are both bullies, pathological narcissists and inveterate liars. 

(My favorite headline that I've seen so far was from elsewhere: Fame-Seeking Loudmouth Endorses Vulgar Talking Yam.)

America, I can't believe we're even having to have this conversation!!

Below is a Feb. 26 editorial from The New York Times editorial board.

Donald Trump and Chris Christie Start a Bully Bromance

By The Editorial Board
February 26, 2016

Those who have witnessed Gov. Chris Christie’s performance both in New Jersey and in the national arena over the past couple of years almost could have seen Friday’s sweaty embrace of Donald Trump coming. Almost.

Once upon a time, the governor put his state first, for good and ill. Today, he is driven by twin demons: national political ambition and vengefulness. By cozying up to Mr. Trump, he feeds both.

Having staked his presidential hopes on the New Hampshire primary only to finish in sixth place, and facing the end of a so-far disastrous second term as governor, Mr. Christie needs a new job. Perhaps he’s hitching his ambitions to Mr. Trump because he’s promised to make him a winner, like Mr. Trump promises America. Mr. Trump, at least, has managed to do what Mr. Christie couldn’t: hoodwink his way to the front of the Republican presidential pack.

Consistency has never been Mr. Christie’s strong suit, and that showed in his endorsement on Friday. During the final days of his failed campaign, Mr. Christie said this of Mr. Trump: “We are not electing an entertainer in chief. Showmanship is fun, but it is not the kind of leadership that will truly change America.” On Friday he said of Mr. Trump: “He’s a good friend. He’s a strong and resolute leader and he is someone who is going to lead the Republican Party to victory in November.”

Mr. Christie’s good friend is the enemy of his enemy. Marco Rubio’s attack ads helped Mr. Christie along to defeat. He started to take his revenge on the debate stage in New Hampshire by savagely mocking Mr. Rubio for his robotic performance. Now Mr. Trump, embarrassed by Mr. Rubio’s slashing ridicule in Thursday night’s forum, is giving Mr. Christie a chance to finish the job. They lost no time about it on Friday, spinning up a medley of playground insults toward the Florida senator.

The bombastic governor may not fully realize that while he damaged Mr. Rubio in New Hampshire with his attack, it also showed voters who Mr. Christie really is. He may help his new best frenemy forever take Mr. Rubio down, but it’s near certain that Mr. Christie will further cement his national reputation as a venal, vindictive political bully in the process. His endorsement has already demonstrated that Mr. Christie will say anything in service of his ambition. Asked what he hopes to get in return, Mr. Christie played coy, saying that after his term ends in 2018, he wants to “go into private life and make money like Trump.”

After his performance on Friday, Mr. Christie had better hope that Mr. Trump, wherever he winds up, can find a little something for his new apprentice to do. If Mr. Trump should win the presidency, he might want to consider Mr. Christie for transportation secretary, since he already knows so much about traffic patterns on commuter bridges.

Friday, February 26, 2016

TCJO honors Billie Holiday

“If I'm going to sing like someone else, then I don't need to sing at all.” —  Billie Holiday

GOOD ADVICE for us all, Billie.

Turner Center Jazz Orchestra, the 17-piece Big Band that Paul and I and Richard Early manage, held it's Jazz for Lovers and Friends valentine concert, February 11. 

This one was my concert. 

When Annick told me about the paintings she'd made (this will make sense when you read the text below the screen cap), it was apparent to me what an exceptional opportunity we had to create a unique concert experience. 

The boys, however, even Paul, were all like, "Paintings? Huh? What?" 

I had to wait a year to get it on the schedule, but schedule it, I did. To promote it, I arranged a TV studio interview and wrote an article that ran on the front page of the Iowa Bystander the day before the concert. 

(I screen capped the Bystander article, but the type is too small to read, so I retyped it in a readable point size and added it at the bottom. I also a attached a picture from that night.)

To make the run-up even more complicated, Annick's husband, Craig, and I hatched a plan to commission TCJO musical director Andy Classen to write an original composition entitled Je t'aime Annick. The goal was to debut the tune as a surprise for her at the valentine concert where her paintings would be hung. 

Although the Bystander article and TV interview announced that the program included the first performance of an original composition, the title and subject were absolutely classified, and the band sworn to secrecy at rehearsals. 

But . . . the bass player told his 10-year-old son, who just happened to be . . . best friends with Craig and Annick's 10-year-old son . . . to whom he immediately spilled the beans. However, trustworthy young gentleman that their son proved to be, he kept the secret! Pretty amazing for a 10-year-old.

Andy did a superb job on the composition — it's a beautiful ballad, Tina Haase Findlay was flawless as usual, Annick was stunned almost senseless and the concert was completely sold out

Turner Center Jazz Orchestra Honors Bille Holiday with an Evening of Jazz and Art

By Kelly Sargent
February 8, 2016

Legendary jazz singer Billie Holiday was born 100 years ago this past April, and Thursday, February 11 Turner Center Jazz Orchestra (TCJO) will dedicate their annual valentine’s concert to her. Tina Haase Findlay, who has earned a legion of fans in her own right, will be singing Billie Holiday classics to honor Lady Day.

Tina, originally from Algona, Iowa, has been a fixture of the Des Moines music scene for over 30 years. She began performing publicly at age three and has gone on to make her musical mark in the fields of jazz, blues, rock, soul, gospel, commercial jingles, musical theater and beyond. Tina has been the leader of the award-winning bands, The Groove Merchants, Lady Blue, Bella Soul and her current blues band, Diva and the Deacons. Tina and her husband, Brandon Findlay, are the 2015 Iowa Blues Challenge Solo/Duo Champions.

To further mark the occasion, a painting of Billie Holiday by sculptor/painter Annick Ibsen will be unveiled. In 2014 Annick attended her first TCJO concert and was so impressed by the music and venue that she went back to her studio and created two large paintings based on what she'd seen and heard. These paintings, plus the new one honoring Billie, will be shown for the first time.

Annick was born in Paris and lived in Libya, Indonesia, Hong Kong, London and India before moving to Des Moines. Her work embraces the richness of a life lived around the world and draws on the symbolism of the diverse cultures she’s experienced. Her paintings aim to express the sculptural qualities of the human form, and a strong cubist influence reinforces the connection between figurative and sculptural art forms.

In addition, a new composition by TCJO musical director, Andy Classen, will be debuted that night. Andy is Professor of Trumpet and Director of Jazz Studies at Drake University. Andy is also principal trumpet of Orchestra Iowa in Cedar Rapids, an active jazz composer and regularly plays with touring Broadway shows performing in Des Moines. To make the experience even richer, throughout the evening Simpson College Professor of Music, John Benoit, will offer historical footnotes behind the music.

Tina Haase Findlay sings Billie Holiday with two of Annick Ibsen's painting hung at the back.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

The sanity of cats

“Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” — Donald J. Trump, December 2015

REMEMBER my last post, when I said I was going to blog about cats because what's going on in the world — and as it happens, my own state — is making me crazy? 

Well it isn't any better today, that's for darn sure.

In our quest to watch as many of the nominated movies and performances as possible before the Academy Awards Sunday night, Paul and I rented Trumbo. We got it started, but I had to suggest finishing it the following day, because I just can't take it right now. The similarity between the climate of the country then and now is too alarming and infuriating. 

And there was another mass shooting today!!! This one was in Kansas.

But the Republican-led Congress is way more up in arms (literally, as it happens) about making sure the next Supreme Court justice agrees with them about disenfranchising poor and non-white voters, denying access to reproductive services to disadvantaged — no, make that all women, and getting guns into everyone's hands, including children's.

Paul and I caught a little of The Nightly Show, and Larry Wilmore pointed out the irony of the government's frantic efforts to make Apple invent a work-around so they can hack into 
one Muslim terrorist's phone — make no mistake, it will eventually be all of our phones — while home-grown terrorists can buy as many assault weapons as they choose. 

Yup, it's cats tonight.

Definitely the map of our bed

In order from head to foot — literally. I'm the lump 
under the covers. Shye, Shiva, Boy Boy

Shiva is the co-author of Hey Look Something Shiny

She crawled inside his coat
Shiva likes sitting on her princess pillow, and she loves purses. These two are hilarious together. Boy Boy weighs twice what she does, but she's in charge!! She's extra smart and adventurous, and he, poor guy, just isn't very bright. He's always following her around, trying to do whatever she does. He even has a special meow that he only uses to call her to come and play. It happens to be a really loud and especially annoying voice he breaks out for that purpose, but he seriously only uses that particular call to ask her to play with him.

Shye says that she's ready for her close-up now, Mr. DeMille
Sweet little Miss Anaya

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

What could possibly go wrong?

“What this bill does, the bill before us, allows for 1-year-olds, 2-year-olds, 3-year-olds, 4-year-olds to operate handguns." — Iowa State Representative Kirsten Running-Marquardt

TWO THINGS are true in regard to this post; the first is that the bill discussed below that passed the Iowa House today, and other attempts by right-wing Republicans to drag the state of Iowa straight into the 1850's, goes way past disappointing all the way to lunacy; the second is that I'm doing a pretty lousy job of keeping on top of what's happening in my own state. 

I've been coming to terms bit by bit with the realization that large parts of the country are completely nuts, but I'm having a hard time grappling with the fact that my own home state is there amongst 'em.

Friend Liz Neff, who lives in California and knows more about what's going on here than I do — at least she did on this day — alerted me to what happened today about nine blocks from my office.

I think I'll blog about cats tomorrow, cuz' this makes my head hurt.

The article she sent me from the Daily Kos follows, and below it is a brief item from ABC News that is unfortunately kinda just another average day in the USA.

Iowa's House of Representatives just voted to allow children the right to possess a handgun

By Walter Einenkel  

February 24, 2016

Iowa’s House of Representatives voted 62-36 to allow children the right to possess “a pistol, revolver or the ammunition,” with parental supervision of course—what are we, animals?

The bill — which was debated among other gun proposals and is now headed to the Iowa Senate — has been a polarizing issue.

“What this bill does, the bill before us, allows for 1-year-olds, 2-year-olds, 3-year-olds, 4-year-olds to operate handguns,” State Rep. Kirsten Running-Marquardt (D) said, according to CBS-affiliate KCCI. “We do not need a militia of toddlers.”

When ISIS comes to Iowa, trying to behead ears of corn, you’ll be thanking Republican patriots like state Rep. Jake Highfill.

State Rep. Jake Highfill (R) said the new bill, which passed 62-36, “brings the code in line with long guns and shotguns” by allowing children to possess a firearm under direct supervision from a parent or legal guardian.

“Allowing people to learn at a young age the respect that a gun commands is one of the most important things you can do,” Highfill told The Washington Post. The alternative, he said, is “turning 18 with no experience.”

To be fair to Republicans, kids under 14 are already allowed to possess long guns or shotguns. State Rep. Highfill wants to give the power of death back to the parents of Iowa, where it belongs.

“It returns the power back to where it belongs -- back in the hands of the parents to make the decisions they are entitled to do instead of the government,” Highfill said.

Besides the fact that we all know parents with guns are responsible people one hundred percent of the time, there is the wisdom that every parent of young children (or teenage children for that matter) knows—young children are masters of their inner emotional states, always in control of their impulses and anger. 

Michigan 3-Year-Old Shoots Mother in the Head

By The Associated Press

February 20, 2016

Police say a 3-year-old Michigan boy accidentally shot his mother in the head but she is expected to survive.

Kentwood, Michigan police told the Grand Rapids Press that the woman was shot in the back of the head. She was conscious and talking with first responders at the scene.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Paul and I sneak into the movies

“You know what your problem is, it's that you haven't seen enough movies. All of life's riddles are answered in the movies.” — Steve Martin

OKAY, don't laugh and don't bust me, but I unintentionally accomplished a small item on my bucket list: I snuck into a movie.

I'm guessing it's because I was so ridiculously, boringly good in high school — never broke rules or colored outside the lines . . . like ever . . . (my circuit consisted of school-church-home-school-church-home-school-church-home-school-church-home, rinse and repeat . . . you get the picture) — that I found the stories Paul told me about the pranks he and his high school buddies pulled so tantalizing.

Hugh Hawkins, Dave McMullen and Paul were The Three Musketeers, with Hugh decidedly the ring leader. They snuck into a particular hotel over and over again to use the jacuzzi. Much funnier is the way they did it: crawling on their bellies around and past the reception desk Mission Impossible style. 
They purloined raw steaks from Eddie Webster’s then went back to Dave’s house for a cookout. 

Paul used to slide down the escalator bannisters at Valley West Mall . . . until mall management caught on and installed metal protrusions to make the slide down painful enough to prevent it, and then there was the night they flew the Cadillac, but that's too complicated a story to tell. 

In what they considered to be a service to mankind, the crew surreptitiously snapped Kiss LPs in half at a particular record store. Their rationale was . . . Kiss had already made more money than they needed, the record label had already made more money than they needed, and the local store got reimbursed by the label for every damaged copy so the proprietor was out nothing . . . and humanity is spared.

The Musketeers also pranked the marching band's drum major . . . a lot. Paul was supposed to have been the drum major his senior year, but because he was such a strong trombone soloist, the band director told Paul he couldn't do without him in the line, so he and his band buddies retaliated by pranking David, Paul's replacement, mercilessly all year long. No need to worry that he was being bullied, though. All four guys were pals, and David's mom was even in on some of the jokes. 

Three or four times Paul and his cohorts picked up the VW Bug David drove, carried it off and repositioned elsewhere in the parking lot so David couldn't find it. Once they wedged his car into an outdoor atrium walkway in such a manner that it was impossible to remove without having it lifted out the same way it went in. 

From time to time Paul also put tiny pieces of paper between the points in the engine so his car wouldn't start . . . or he'd put a potato in the exhaust pipe to turn it into a cannon, and once the guys completely cocooned his VW in Saran Wrap.  

When Paul went to the University of Iowa, he found solo mischief. He glued a quarter to the sidewalk outside his favorite bar one day and sat in the window all afternoon watching people try to pick it up. When the quarter was finally dislodged months later by some combination of weather, shoveling, foot traffic or brute force, he glued another one down. There was a quarter stuck to that sidewalk for four years.

Paul also liked to climb the exteriors of multi-story buildings in Iowa City like Spiderman, but this next one is tied with the Saran-wrapped car for my favorite — he made maps of the U of I's traversable underground steam tunnels . . . and sold them.

Then there's me. I had to be coaxed and coaxed and coaxed by Paul — despite the fact that we were in a deserted shopping center with no witnesses, and we were even out of town — to get up the courage to run up a down escalator.

After hearing about Paul's exploits for all these years, is it any wonder that eventually 
I began imagining my own daring-do: sneaking into the movies.

I finally did.

I've mentioned in a couple of recent Hey Look posts that before I married Paul, I used to make a point of seeing most of the movies nominated for awards in any given year. This season I decided I wanted to try to do it again. 

We're aiming to see six of the eight movies (two of them, Mad Max and The Revenant don't interest us) that have received Academy Award best-picture nominations.

We saw Spolight and admired it greatly. 

We took in The Big Short and enjoyed it. 

We rented The Martian on Amazon. I liked it, but Paul probably more so because he's such a science geek. 

We rented Bridge of Spies which was suitably entertaining. Mark Rylance's turn as Rudolph Abel was outstanding.

We still have Room left (ha! there's a little pun there) which we'll see this week at a Des Moines theater showing pre-Oscar reruns of several of the nominees all in one night.

But the capper was this past Sunday when we snuck in to see Brooklyn.

We arrived for the 4:30 movie at like 4:32, so we were in a rush. I was just a little ahead of Paul in the sprint from the parking lot to the multiplex. I had my credit card out and in my hand ready to pay, but when I got to the long bank of box office windows, every one of them was vacant and bore a sign saying, "Excuse us while we remodel" with no instructions as to where to go to purchase tickets. 

I hustled through the glass doors into the lobby proper, but after an admittedly quick look around, I couldn't see where paying was supposed to happen. 
I thought surely the ticket takers would know where to go, but there were likewise no ticket takers, and so after a brief moment of hesitation, I legged it to the appropriate screening room. 

I had every intention of paying for our tickets, but it was either search and miss part of the movie or make a break for it. 

Afterwards Paul said, "Well, for a second I considered stopping you, but then I thought 'Shoot, this is a bucket-list goal. She finally snuck into the movies.'" 

As our then 14-year-old niece Darragh Bridson, once said to me, "C'mon Kelly, live a little."

Thursday, February 18, 2016

More scary news about heartburn medications

“Medicine is a science of uncertainty and an art of probability.” — William Osler, Canadian physician and one of the four founding professors of Johns Hopkins Hospital

ON THE HEALS of a recently released report warning that taking heartburn drugs such as Prilosec, Nexium and Prevacid may increase the risk of chronic kidney disease, now there's another study indicating that those same drugs may cause as much as a 44 percent higher risk of dementia. 

Yikes! From CBS News.

Popular heartburn drugs linked to risk of dementia

By Dennis Thompson 
February 15, 2016

A popular class of heartburn medications might raise a senior's risk of dementia, a new study suggests.

Called proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), this group of drugs includes Prilosec, Nexium and Prevacid. They work by lowering the amount of acid produced by the stomach.

But German researchers found that people 75 or older who regularly take the medications had a 44 percent increased risk of dementia, compared with seniors not using the drugs. The study only found an association, however, and not a cause-and-effect link.

"To evaluate cause-and-effect relationships between long-term PPI use and possible effects on cognition in the elderly, randomized, prospective clinical trials are needed," said corresponding author Britta Haenisch, from the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases in Bonn.

In the meantime, "Clinicians should follow guidelines for PPI prescription, to avoid overprescribing PPIs and inappropriate use," Haenisch said.

The report was published Feb. 15 in the journal JAMA Neurology.

The results are surprising enough that at least one leading expert on aging, Dr. Malaz Boustani, plans to share the findings with older patients who are using PPIs.

Boustani said earlier studies have linked another type of antacid, H2 blockers, with an increased risk of dementia. Up to now, he's recommended that patients use PPIs to treat acid reflux and steer clear of H2 blockers like Tagamet, Pepcid and Zantac.

"I'm going to disclose the finding to my patients and then let them decide whether they will take the risk or not," said Boustani, a professor of medicine with the Indiana University Center for Aging Research and a spokesman for the American Federation for Aging Research. "On Monday I have clinic, and if I have patients taking a PPI or an H2 blocker I will tell them exactly what I'm telling you, and then they can decide."

More than 15 million Americans used prescription PPIs in 2013, at a total cost of more than $10 billion, according to a report by the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics. Several popular PPIs -- Prilosec, Prevacid and Zegerid -- also are available over-the counter, further boosting their use.

Concern has been increasing that Americans might be overusing PPIs to treat minor cases of heartburn or acid reflux.

As many as 70 percent of PPI prescriptions in the United States have been inappropriately handed out by doctors, and 25 percent of long-term users could stop taking the medication without suffering increased heartburn or acid reflux, according to a study published in January in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

Overuse of PPIs could have drastic effects on health, that study found. For example, the medications have been linked to a 20 percent to 50 percent higher risk of chronic kidney disease.

And now the German researchers report there also is some evidence that PPI use might affect a person's ability to reason.

PPIs appear to effect levels of amyloid beta and tau, which are proteins associated with Alzheimer's disease, the German authors said. PPI use can also lead to vitamin B12 deficiency, which has been associated with cognitive decline.

To test the possible association between PPIs and dementia, the German researchers collected data from a large German health insurance firm on almost 74,000 seniors aged 75 or older. The data ran from 2004 to 2011, and included diagnoses and drug prescriptions.

About 2,950 patients regularly used PPIs, which for this study was defined as at least one PPI prescription in each quarter of an 18-month interval.

Regular users of PPIs had a 44 percent increased risk of dementia compared with those not receiving PPI medications.

However, the study doesn't make clear whether PPIs are also available over the counter in Germany, as they are in the United States, said Dr. Arun Swaminath, director of the inflammatory bowel disease program at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

If over-the-counter PPIs are available, then more people might have been taking them and the dementia risk described in this paper could be overestimated, Swaminath said.

"However, I think the point here is that for some patients, weaning off PPIs is reasonable and they should make this decision with their doctors," he said.

People who want to ease off PPIs can take a number of steps to reduce excess acid or prevent acid reflux, Boustani said. They can eat smaller meals, lay off chocolate and caffeine, and stay upright for a few hours following each meal.

Boustani added that his group has received federal funding to design clinical trials in which people would be weaned off PPIs, to see how it affects their ability to remember and think.

Dr. Gisele Wolf-Klein, director of geriatric education at North Shore-LIJ Health System in New Hyde Park, N.Y., added that even the researchers aren't sure why PPIs would affect the aging brain.

"We don't know what is causing the brain to deteriorate. Until we know this, there's no reason for people who are taking PPIs to be too concerned about that and stop taking those agents if they are needed," Wolf-Klein said.

Another expert agreed.

While the study is intriguing, it's not enough for doctors to warn patients off PPI use, said Keith Fargo, director of scientific programs and outreach for the Alzheimer's Association.

"It does not tell us anything that should change medical practice right now," Fargo said. "I don't think there's going to be an uprising among doctors telling patients not to take their PPIs. This doesn't rise anywhere near the level of evidence you would need for that."

One of the paper's main flaws is that researchers could not control for diet and body weight as risk factors, Fargo said.

"Both of those things, we know, are risk factors for developing cognitive decline and dementia in later life, and both of those are reasons why a person might need to take a proton pump inhibitor," Fargo explained.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The Big Short

"The major reform legislation, Dodd-Frank, was named after two guys bought and sold by special interests, and one of them should be shouldering a good amount of blame for the crisis." — Michael Burry

BEFORE I was married, I used to make a point of seeing most of the movies nominated for major awards. But then I met Paul, and life got much busier — better, but busier. 

As a gigging jazz trombonist, he plays many weekend nights, and although I could go to movies without him — once in a great I'll go with a friend — I prefer seeing movies together. If it ends up being a really good one, I’m just going to want to make sure he gets to see it anyway, so my preference is to wait until he's available.

Since I know we won’t be able to see many of them in the theater, we choose carefully. Weekend before last, we saw Spotlight, and it’s a must-see in my opinion as well as that of leagues of critics, reviewers, juries and award nominators.

This past weekend we saw The Big Short. I maybe didn’t like it quite as much as Spotlight by a fraction, but it’s still so well done with amazing performances that tell a gripping (and infuriating) tale.

If you haven’t heard anything about The Big Short, it recounts the behind-the-scenes story of a handful of rogue, prescient market analysts who saw the financial meltdown of 2008 coming. No one believed them.

Below is an interview from New York magazine with the real life Michael Burry whose voodoo vision plays a big part in the movie.

Real-life Michael Burry (left), and Christian Bale (right),
who played him in the film The Big Short

Michael Burry, Real-Life Market Genius From The Big Short, Thinks Another Financial Crisis Is Looming

By Jessica Pressler
December 298, 2105

If The Big Short, Adam McKay’s adaptation of Michael Lewis’s book about the 2008 financial crisis and the subject of last month’s Vulture cover story, got you all worked up over the holidays, you’re probably wondering what Michael Burry, the economic soothsayer portrayed by Christian Bale who’s always just a few steps ahead of everyone else, is up to these days. In an email, which readers of the book will recognize as his preferred method of communication, the real-life head of Scion Asset Management answered some of our panicked questions about the state of the financial system, his ominous-sounding water trade, and what, if anything, we can feel hopeful about.

The movie portrays all of you as kind of swashbuckling heroes in some ways, but McKay suggested to me that you were very troubled by what happened. Is that the case? 

I felt I was watching a plane crash. I actually had that dream again and again. I knew what was happening, but there was nothing I, or anyone else, could do to stop it. The last day of 2007, I couldn’t come home. I was in the office till late at night, I couldn’t calm down. I wrote my wife an email and just said, "I can’t come home; it’s just too upsetting what’s happening, and I didn’t want to come home to my kids like this." As for punishment of those responsible, borrowers were punished for their overindulgences — they lost homes and lives. Let’s not forget that. But the executives at the lenders simply got rich. 

Were you surprised no one went to jail?

I am shocked that executives at some of the worst lenders were not punished for what they did. But this is the nature of these things. The ones running the machine did not get punished after the dot-com bubble either — all those VCs and dot-com executives still live in their mansions lining the 280 corridor on the San Francisco peninsula. The little guy will pay for it — the small investor, the borrower. Which is why the little guy needs to be warned to be more diligent and to be more suspicious of society’s sanctioned suits offering free money. It will always be seductive, but that’s the devil that wants your soul. 

When I spoke to some of the other real-life characters from The Big Short, I was surprised to hear that they thought that financial reform was pretty effective and that the system was much safer.  Michael Lewis disagreed. In your opinion, did the crash result in any positive changes? 

Unfortunately, not many that I can see. The biggest hope I had was that we would enter a new era of personal responsibility. Instead, we doubled down on blaming others, and this is long-term tragic. Too, the crisis, incredibly, made the biggest banks bigger. And it made the Federal Reserve, an unelected body, even more powerful and therefore more relevant. The major reform legislation, Dodd-Frank, was named after two guys bought and sold by special interests, and one of them should be shouldering a good amount of blame for the crisis. Banks were forced, by the government, to save some of the worst lenders in the housing bubble, then the government turned around and pilloried the banks for the crimes of the companies they were forced to acquire. The zero interest-rate policy broke the social contract for generations of hardworking Americans who saved for retirement, only to find their savings are not nearly enough. And the interest the Federal Reserve pays on the excess reserves of lending institutions broke the money multiplier and handcuffed lending to small and midsized enterprises, where the majority of job creation and upward mobility in wages occurs. Government policies and regulations in the postcrisis era have aided the hollowing-out of middle America far more than anything the private sector has done. These changes even expanded the wealth gap by making asset owners richer at the expense of renters. Maybe there are some positive changes in there, but it seems I fail to see beyond the absurdity.

How do you think all of this affected people's perception of the System, in general? 

The postcrisis perception, at least in the media, appears to be one of Americans being held down by Wall Street, by big companies in the private sector, and by the wealthy. Capitalism is on trial. I see it a little differently. If a lender offers me free money, I do not have to take it. And if I take it, I better understand all the terms, because there is no such thing as free money. That is just basic personal responsibility and common sense. The enablers for this crisis were varied, and it starts not with the bank but with decisions by individuals to borrow to finance a better life, and that is one very loaded decision. This crisis was such a bona fide 100-year flood that the entire world is still trying to dig out of the mud seven years later. Yet so few took responsibility for having any part in it, and the reason is simple: All these people found others to blame, and to that extent, an unhelpful narrative was created. Whether it’s the one percent or hedge funds or Wall Street, I do not think society is well served by failing to encourage every last American to look within. This crisis truly took a village, and most of the villagers themselves are not without some personal responsibility for the circumstances in which they found themselves. We should be teaching our kids to be better citizens through personal responsibility, not by the example of blame.

Where do we stand now, economically?

Well, we are right back at it: trying to stimulate growth through easy money. It hasn’t worked, but it’s the only tool the Fed’s got. Meanwhile, the Fed’s policies widen the wealth gap, which feeds political extremism, forcing gridlock in Washington. It seems the world is headed toward negative real interest rates on a global scale. This is toxic. Interest rates are used to price risk, and so in the current environment, the risk-pricing mechanism is broken. That is not healthy for an economy. We are building up terrific stresses in the system, and any fault lines there will certainly harm the outlook.

What makes you most nervous about the future?

Debt. The idea that growth will remedy our debts is so addictive for politicians, but the citizens end up paying the price. The public sector has really stepped up as a consumer of debt. The Federal Reserve’s balance sheet is leveraged 77:1. Like I said, the absurdity, it just befuddles me.

The last line of the movie, printed on a placard, is “Michael Burry is focusing all of his trading on one commodity: Water.” It sounds very ominous. Can you describe this position to me?

Fundamentally, I started looking at investments in water about 15 years ago. Fresh, clean water cannot be taken for granted. And it is not — water is political, and litigious. Transporting water is impractical for both political and physical reasons, so buying up water rights did not make a lot of sense to me, unless I was pursuing a greater fool theory of investment — which was not my intention. What became clear to me is that food is the way to invest in water. That is, grow food in water-rich areas and transport it for sale in water-poor areas. This is the method for redistributing water that is least contentious, and ultimately it can be profitable, which will ensure that this redistribution is sustainable. A bottle of wine takes over 400 bottles of water to produce — the water embedded in food is what I found interesting.

What, if anything, makes you hopeful about the future?

Innovation, especially in America, is continuing at a breakneck pace, even in areas facing substantial political or regulatory headwinds. The advances in health care in particular are breathtaking — so many selfless souls are working to advance science, and this is heartening. Long-term, this is good for humans in general. Americans have so much natural entrepreneurial drive. The caveat is that it is technology that should be a tool making lives better in the real world, and in line with the American spirit of getting better and better at something, whether it’s curing cancer or creating a better taxi service. I am less impressed with the market values assigned to technology that enhances distraction. We don’t want Orwell’s world, but we don’t want Huxley’s world either.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Acid reflux drugs linked to kidney disease

“The first wealth is health.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

THIS seems like potentially vital information especially for those with a family history of kidney disease. From NPR:

Nexium is one of several popular medications for heartburn and 
acid reflux called proton-pump inhibitors

Popular Acid Reflux Drugs Are Linked To Kidney Disease Risk

By Bob Stein
January 12, 2016

People who take certain popular medicines for heartburn, indigestion and acid reflux may want to proceed more cautiously, researchers reported Monday.

The drugs, known as proton-pump inhibitors (PPIs), appear to significantly elevate the chances of developing chronic kidney disease, according to a study involving more than 250,000 people.

An estimated 15 million Americans use PPIs, which are sold by prescription and over-the-counter under a variety of brand names, including Nexium, Prilosec and Prevacid.

"They're very, very common medications," says Morgan Grams, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Health who led the research, being published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

When PPIs were first approved in the 1980s, the drugs appeared to be very safe. Since then, concerns have been rising about their safety. Evidence has emerged that the drugs may increase the risk for a variety of problems, including bone fractures, infections and possibly even heart problems.

Grams and her colleagues decided to examine whether PPIs might increase the risk for chronic kidney disease. They examined the medical records of two groups of people: 10,482 participants in the Artherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study and 248,751 patients in the Geisinger Health System in Pennsylvania.

Among the 322 people using PPIs in the ARIC study, the 10-year estimated absolute risk for chronic kidney disease was 11.8 percent, the researchers reported. The expected risk would have been 8.5 percent. The 10-year absolute risk among the 16,900 patients using PPIs in the Geisinger Health System was 15.6 percent, whereas 13.9 percent would have been expected to develop chronic kidney disease.

Grams said it isn't possible from these data to determine who is at highest risk of developing kidney disease. The study looked only at whether someone had gotten a prescription for a PPI and did not look at how long someone may have been on the drug.

Grams also stressed that her study does not prove that the drugs can cause chronic kidney disease. More research is needed to explore the association she found, she says.

But the findings are worrying enough that people should use PPIs only when they really need them, she says.

"Given the fact that so many people use PPI medications, I think it is judicious to exercise some caution," she says.

Other experts agree.

"I think it's a pretty big concern," says Adam Schoenfeld, an internal medicine resident at the University of California, San Francisco, who co-authored an editorial accompanying the study.

Schoenfeld noted that other research has found that many prescriptions for PPIs are inappropriate.

"When they first came out they weren't associated with side effects, or we didn't think they were," Schoenfeld says. "So we put [people] on this medication thinking: 'It's a quick fix and they're very safe.' But in actuality they're associated with a range of side effects."

Schoenfeld says people should try other measures first to alleviate heartburn and indigestion. For example, people often feel better if they change their diet, stop smoking or reduce their alcohol consumption, he says.

"There's other ways that people can feel better with indigestion or heartburn. They can change their diet," he says.

Shots queried several companies that sell PPIs, including AstraZeneca, which markets Nexium. In an email to Shots, Alicia Dunn, a spokesperson for AstraZeneca, wrote:

"Patient safety is an important priority for AstraZeneca and we believe all of our PPI medicines ... are generally safe and effective when used in accordance with the label."

She added: "We encourage patients to work with their health care provider to determine the most appropriate treatment approach based on their individual needs."

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Scalia croaks and I get to be glad

"There are those who contend that it does not benefit African Americans to get them into the University of Texas where they do not do well, as opposed to having them go to a less-advanced school, a slower-track school where they do well." — Antonin Scalia 

YESTERDAY Paul called me from the checkout line to tell me that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia had gone on to present his case to the big judge in the sky. Actually, I don't believe in a big judge in the sky, but nevertheless, Paul was confident the news of his death would brighten my day. 

I immediately posted an alert on Facebook. Many people whooped, but some people scolded me, albeit gently, for "celebrating" his death.

I'm of the opinion that everybody gets to feel how they want about it. 

To those who believe I'm being unkind, ask yourself: Did you think it was a good thing when Osama bin Laden or any other malevolent force in the world bit the dust? 

If so, you don't actually believe that being relieved, perhaps even glad, when someone dies is wrong, as a moral absolute. You just think you should be the one who gets to decide which ones we're better off without.

A pair of comments seem too trenchant not to share. Lynda Blackburn said, "Why do people get so up in arms if others don't weep over someone's death? Death is inevitable; none of us survive it. He had a long life, and other than family and a few close friends, who will miss him? Certainly not the millions of people affected by his decisions. I'd say he's getting more respect than he ever gave anyone else."

And a FB friend of Galen Brooks, Courtnee Fallon Rex said, "Everyone dies, people. Dude kicked it sleeping in his bed after a lifetime of service to hatred and cruelty and abuse of power, and the seat he leaves matters. There is a reason you feel joyous or satisfied or relieved or excited right now, and it has nothing to do with some kinda random unspoken rule that you aren't allowed to continue to feel a way about a person after they're no longer the person they always were." 

And who he was, was an intolerant theocrat who thought that it was perfectly fine to hate people. In reference to gay people he said, "One could consider certain conduct reprehensible . . . and could exhibit even animus toward such conduct." 

Well, there you have it! I thought his conduct was often "reprehensible", so no, I don't feel sad he's dead. I'll even own up to animus. But don't blame me. He's the one who said it's okay. Permission granted by the man himself. 

Below are just some of Scalia's mean-spirited opinions as compiled by Elisha Fieldstadt from NBC News.

On Gay Rights:
From the point that the Supreme Court first ruled in favor of gay rights in 1996, when the majority ruled that states could ban discriminatory acts against gay people, Scalia's opinion on the subject had some cringing.

"Of course, it is our moral heritage that one should not hate any human being or class of human beings. But I had thought that one could consider certain conduct reprehensible — murder, for example, or polygamy, or cruelty to animals — and could exhibit even 'animus' toward such conduct," Scalia wrote in his dissent.

While speaking at Princeton in 2012, Scalia was asked by a student why he would compare laws banning homosexuality with laws against murder.

"It's a form of argument that I thought you would have known, which is called the 'reduction to the absurd,'" Scalia answered. "If we cannot have moral feelings against homosexuality, can we have it against murder? Can we have it against other things?"

"I'm surprised you aren't persuaded," Scalia told the student, who identifies as gay.

Also in 2012, Scalia said homosexuality should be illegal because it had been a crime for so long. "Homosexual sodomy? Come on. For 200 years, it was criminal in every state," he said.

On Affirmative Action:
In December 2015, when the Supreme Court heard arguments in a case about race-based admissions, Scalia suggested African-American students might fare better in a "slower-track school" rather than more competitive colleges.

"There are those who contend that it does not benefit African Americans to get them into the University of Texas where they do not do well, as opposed to having them go to a less-advanced school, a slower-track school where they do well," Scalia said

The comments were called "racist," "disgusting" and "insulting."

On Immigration:
In 2012, the Supreme Court struck down some provisions of a controversial Arizona immigration law.

Scalia argued in his dissent that states, in the 18th century, were able to decide what to do with "unwanted immigrants," including freed slaves.

"In the first 100 years of the Republic, the States enacted numerous laws restricting the immigration of certain classes of aliens, including convicted criminals, indigents, persons with contagious diseases, and (in Southern States) freed blacks," Scalia wrote.

"State laws not only provided for the removal of unwanted immigrants but also imposed penalties on unlawfully present aliens and those who aided their immigration," Scalia argued.

On Gun Control:
Shortly after 12 people were killed in the 2012 Aurora, Colorado, movie theater shooting, Scalia was asked on Fox News whether the Second Amendment allows for any sort of restrictions on gun rights.

"Obviously, the amendment does not apply to arms that cannot be hand-carried. It's to keep and bear. So, it doesn't apply to cannons," Scalia said.

"But I suppose there are handheld rocket launchers that can bring down airplanes," he said, adding that whether or not Americans could carry such weapons was open to interpretation. "That will have to be — it will have to be decided," he said.

On Gender Discrimination:
While speaking at the University of California's Hastings College of the Law in 2010, Scalia said the Constitution didn't specifically prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender or sexual orientation.

"If the current society wants to outlaw discrimination by sex, you have legislatures," he said.

On the Death Penalty:
In a dissent to a case when the Supreme Court decided that killers who committed their crimes when they were 16 or 17 years of age could not be executed, Scalia wrote in his dissent: "The Court thus proclaims itself sole arbiter of our Nation's moral standards — and in the course of discharging that awesome responsibility purports to take guidance from the views of foreign courts and legislatures."