Sunday, April 30, 2017

Research every prescription you take

"The antibiotic-treated mice exhibit impaired anxiety-like and social behaviours, and display aggression." — John Bienenstock, Distinguished Professor of Pathology and Molecular Medicine and Director of the Brain Body Institute at McMaster University

DO YOU listen to podcasts at all? Paul introduced me to a few several years ago that I follow to some extent, but there's one in particular that I never miss. Produced in the UK, it's called The Naked Scientists Podcast — "naked" because it's science "revealed". 

On a recent episode Dr. John Bienenstock, considered one of the fathers of mucosal immunology, discussed research he's conducted showing that low doses of antibiotics given to pregnant mice result in the pups being born with unfavorable long-term behavior traits: anxiety and aggressiveness. 

Not something you'd ever anticipate, huh! Antibiotics aren't psychoactive drugs, they're for killing bacteria, right??

I can relate. I have my own story of inexplicable, unintended consequences of a prescription medicine. About a year ago I went through a period when I was suddenly depressed and hyper-emotional. I vacillated between wanting to scream at people or crying over almost anything.

The final straw was breaking down in tears during the middle of a business meeting with someone I actually had been looking forward to meeting. You can imagine how completely humiliating that was! 

On the drive home from work, tear-stained and crumpled in the corner of the front seat of the car, I cried out to Paul in desperation, "What's wrong with me?!?" 

I felt absolutely crazy! It was as though I'd lost all ability to control my emotions. Nothing had changed in my life; nothing was any different than it had been. Why was life so suddenly utterly hopeless? 

I wracked my brain, and then I began connecting the dots. I realized that the start of this uncontrollable emotional volatility and severe depression had coincided with a prescription I'd been given for an anti-viral medication.

"Paul! Look up this drug and see if it causes depression!" 

And there it was. Possible side effects included depression and extreme suicidal thoughts! Googling it produced all sorts of horror stories from people who'd been on it.

I stopped taking it, and my temporary insanity — which is what it felt like — left.

Would you ever in the wide world think that something designed to help wrestle down a virus would or even could cause potentially disastrous mental health consequences?

The moral of the story is that it's vital to read all the possible side effects of anything you take. And not just what the drug company lists. Googling the name of whatever it is may reveal all sorts of real-life outcomes other people have experienced.

My interest was piqued by The Naked Scientist interview with Dr. Bienenstock enough to look up this article about his research. From Science Alert, first  published in Nature Communications.

Evidence Suggests Early Exposure to Antibiotics Might Lead to Long-Term Behavioural Changes

The mice showed increased anxiety and aggression.

By Jancinta Bowler

April 8, 2017

Researchers have found that giving low doses of a common antibiotic to pregnant mice and their babies results in long term behavioural changes.

This is a pretty big deal, because if the results are replicated in humans it could mean that antibiotics taken during pregnancy could influence the child's development.

"Statistics from North America suggest that 70 percent of all children have received at least two courses of antibiotic before the age of two," one of the researchers, John Bienenstock, from McMaster University in Canada, told Katherine Lindemann at ResearchGate.

"These experimental results add to the list of concerns about the use and abuse of antibiotics in terms of long-term effects."

Although antibiotics are often necessary to keep us alive, there have been growing concerns about what they do to our microbiome - the harmless microbes such as bacteria that live on and in our bodies, and can often provide us with unexpected benefits.  

On top of that, our overuse of antibiotics is causing many bacteria to become resistant to the drugs we have available, something that scientists are calling one of the biggest challenges of the 21st century.

Plus it's also quite difficult to not consume them – even if you don't want to.

"There are almost no babies in North America that haven't received a course of antibiotics in their first year of life," says Bienenstock.

"Antibiotics aren't only prescribed, but they're also found in meat and dairy products."

The researchers investigated 12 pregnant mice until after they gave birth – providing five with just water, four with water laced with the antibiotic penicillin, and three with penicillin-laced water and a probiotic called Lactobacillus rhamnosus.

When the mice gave birth, the researchers ended up with 72 pups and they found that those who were given the antibiotic had long-term changes in both their behaviour and their gut bacteria.

"We find that penicillin has lasting effects in both sexes on gut microbiota, increases cytokine expression in frontal cortex, modifies blood–brain barrier integrity and alters behaviour," the researchers wrote in the paper.

"The antibiotic-treated mice exhibit impaired anxiety-like and social behaviours, and display aggression."

But this isn't the end of the world, because the group given a probiotic as well had most of the effects of the antibiotic reduced.

Bienenstock told Lindermann that their research flags antibiotics "possible long-term negative effects, especially if given in early life, and identify the possibility that an appropriate probiotic taken twice a day may lessen such detrimental effects."

But we have to be careful here – this result has only been observed in mice studies. We'll need further proof in humans before we can say for certain that antibiotics are having an impact.

However, there has been lots of research linking antibiotic-use to change in gut bacteria, leading to an increased risk of a number of diseases.

"Epidemiological studies in humans are suggesting that antibiotic use, and especially long-term use, may be associated with a number of gut conditions including celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, colorectal cancer and obesity," Bienenstock added.

Just another reason to only use antibiotics when they're required. Your gut microbes will thank you for it.

The research has been published in Nature Communications.  

Friday, April 28, 2017

National Crime Victims' Rights Week

“We have to change the culture. And we’re not going to change that culture until not a single woman who is abused ever asks herself: ‘What did I do?’” — Joe Biden, 47th Vice President of the United States in a January, 2016 speech at the World Economic Forum

APRIL IS National Sexual Assault Awareness Month; April 2 - 8 was National Crime Victims' Rights Week. As the founder of Helen's Pajama Party, a not-for-profit that collects and distributes new pajamas to domestic violence shelters, it's an obvious fit for me to be a member of the Iowa Organization for Victim Assistance (IOVA) and serve on the Iowa Department of Corrections (IDOC) Victim Advisory Council (VAC).

Two years in a row, Karl Schilling, President of IOVA, and Mary RocheDirector of Victim Programs for the IDOC and leader of VAC, and I have teamed up, applied for and received grants from the federal Office of Justice Programs/Office for Victims of Crime to honor, support and advocate for victims and survivors of violent crime. This year's theme was Strength. Resilience. Justice. — "reflecting a vision for the future in which all victims are strengthened by the response they receive, organizations are resilient in response to challenges, and communities are able to seek collective justice and healing."

My part of the process is producing deliverables (banner graphics and branded keepsake items), designing billboard art and securing placement (two locations each in Des Moines, Waterloo, Davenport and Council Bluffs) and arranging interviews and press coverage (we got air time on all three Des Moines networks: NBC, CBS and ABC).

Below are photos, a brief clip from WHO's Channel 13 News coverage of the moving IDOC NCVRW event in Des Moines that Mary Roche organized and produced, and a priceless gem from Tracey Ullman. Be sure and watch it!

Karl Schilling, Mary Roche and I were the Three Musketeers this year and last.
(Banners in the background.)

Take Back the Night held at Blank Park Zoo 
was sponsored by Polk County Crisis 
and Advocacy Services.
The statistics are staggering.

Karl represented IOVA and the Iowa Victim Assistance Academy
at Take Back the Night

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Dan Johnston

"It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate." — Abe Fortas, United States Supreme Court Justice in Tinker v. Des Moines, 1969

DAN JOHNSTON was a hero of mine. When he was just a year out of law school, he argued and won a landmark United States Supreme Court. The 1969 case, Tinker v. Des Moines, affirmed the First Amendment free-speech rights of two Des Moines public school students who had been suspended from school for wearing black armbands to protest the Vietnam War.

Dan died this past October, 2016. 

I believe Dan counted Michael Gartner, co-owner of Big Green Umbrella Media, publisher of the weekly Des Moines newspaper Cityview, as a personal friend. Michael wrote a fitting and touching tribute to Dan on the day he died; I've been meaning to share it ever since. 

Toward the end of the article, Michael mentions a poignant detail of Dan's later life; Michael often saw him eating lunch alone at the Cub Club. By chance, that was his circumstance the last time I saw Dan: he was having lunch by himself at Taste of Thailand. I'm glad I took the time to go over to his table and chat with him. I hope I told him how much I admire him. I think I did. I certainly should have; he deserved to hear it from me and legions of others.

I only knew Dan slightly, but he always struck me as both a gentleman and a gentle man. He also seemed to me to carry a perpetual air of quiet sadness about him.

In preparing to write about Dan, I looked to see what Wikipedia had to say about him. There wasn't a a great deal there; what there was unsurprisingly concerned his famous case and Dan's subsequent legal and humanitarian career. However, there was a brief section under the heading entitled Personal Life, and the last of the three sentences concerning his relationship with Norman Jesse, who Dan referred to as the love of his life, twisted my heart:

"Johnston was gay; his partner for more than 35 years was Norman Jesse, who also served in the Iowa House. Neither Johnston nor Jesse was publicly out as gay during their careers in politics. They maintained separate residences across the street from each other and rarely spent the night together in the same bed."

I don't think I was imagining the aura of sadness. 

Dan Johnston in younger days

Dan Johnston

By Michael Gartner

October 21, 2016

Dan Johnston leaves two legacies.

As a 30-year-old lawyer in 1969, he argued and won a United States Supreme Court case that ensured the free-speech rights of students. “Students do not shed their Constitutional rights at the schoolhouse gate,” Justice Abe Fortas wrote in the 7-to-2 decision involving the rights of students in the Tinker family to wear black armbands to schools in Des Moines to protest the Vietnam War.

Though the decision has been diluted over the years, it was and remains a great victory for freedom in America.

And as a still-young lawyer in 1972, he argued an Iowa Supreme Court case that led to new rules for apportioning state legislative districts — a system now viewed as a model for American states.

He was equally, and rightfully, proud of both.

He was a smart and complicated man. Raised in Marshalltown, he graduated from Drake Law School in 1964 and was elected to the Iowa House in 1966 after a stint as an assistant Iowa Attorney General. Two years later, he won a three-way primary to get the Democratic nomination to run for Attorney General, but he lost to Dick Turner by more than 100,000 votes in a million-vote election. Backed by organized labor, he was appointed Polk County attorney in 1977, when Ray Fenton was appointed to the bench, and he won a full term in 1978. He was re-elected in 1982.

At the time of his elections, he was a closeted gay and the subject of whispering campaigns. He recalls ducking the issue on a radio call-in show, but others say the caller in effect outed him before the 1982 election. Though he won handily each time, he remained in the background as the gay-rights movements began to sweep the country following the Stonewall Riots in New York in 1969.

He left as county attorney in 1985 and moved to New York, where, among other things, he became a strong advocate for gay rights. He moved back to Iowa about 10 years ago.

In his retirement speech from Polk County, he acknowledged his homosexuality.

“I made three points in that speech,” he said the other day from his hospital bed. He spoke out against the death penalty, he recalled. He said there was “no inconsistency between law enforcement and civil liberties,” he said. And, he recalled, “I said I had stood up for children and immigrant farm workers, but never for the group whose oppression I know the best — my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.”

He had a 35-year love affair with Norman Jesse, whom he met at Drake Law School and who served in the Iowa Legislature for 12 years. They lived apart but were often together in a relationship that became increasingly open. Jesse, who died in 2000, was “the love of my life,” Johnston said.

If Jesse was the love of his life, civil rights came in a close second. He had an unshakeable belief in the equality of laws and the dignity of man — for a while he was a staff lawyer for the Iowa Civil Liberties Union. And he had an unbreakable faith in unions — though as county attorney he stood with police during the bitter, 19-month Delavan strike by the Auto Workers in 1978 and 1979 to ensure that non-union replacements could safely cross picket lines; he also believed in law and order.

He never made any money — he got no fee for the Tinker case, though Joe Rosenfield picked up the $500 in expenses — and in recent years he had a spartan life style. He mentored young lawyers who shared his beliefs and took great pride in their efforts and accomplishments. At lunch, he always talked more about them than about himself, about their cases and about how they were fighting the good fight for the good cause.

He often ate lunch alone, at a high table at the Cub Club at Principal Park, and, wan and slow-moving and a bit disheveled, at times he seemed almost a ghost from the past as he stopped by to talk with judges and lawyers and others lunching there. But his mind was always in the present — expressing outrage at this injustice or disbelief at that absurdity. More recently, he was astonished by the presidential race. His final request to a kind nurse who watched over him at Iowa Methodist was to take him downtown to the Election Office to vote. She did, on Oct. 10. The next day, he was moved to Kavanagh House to die.

He was 78 and riddled with cancer when he died there on Oct. 21.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017


 “There are two seasons in Scotland: June and Winter.” — Billy Connolly, Scottish comedian, musician, presenter and actor

I'M RECOMMENDING a television series to you. Called Shetland, it's a BBC police drama largely based on the novels of Ann Cleeves. It stars Douglas Henshall as Detective Inspector Jimmy Perez, and takes place mostly on the Scottish archipelago that the series is named after. 
I'm suggesting it because it's so well done. 

I have a hard time sticking with any series. There are only a few that haven't worn me out after the first season or even a few episodes of the first either because they're too formulaic, repetitive, implausible or over-the-top violent, and sometimes D) all of the above. The list is long of the ones I couldn't abide. The list is short of the ones that seemed worth my time. And it's a relief, I must say, to have a main character not be a tortured, troubled antihero. 

Available on Netflix, I think you'll like it. 

Monday, April 24, 2017

Good news/bad news

"We will no longer allow the Confederacy to literally be put on a pedestal in the heart of our city." — Mitch Landrieu, mayor of New Orleans

NOLA, I feel so much better about you. Mr. Landrieu, count me as a fan. 

This is a good news/bad news story from the AP — good that the City of New Orleans is taking steps, literally visible ones, to redress the dally insult of monuments lauding 'heroes' who are celebrated for their efforts to preserve a way of life built on the backs of slaves, and bad . . . shockingly bad that the workers carrying out the removal of these Confederate statues have to wear bullet-proof full-body suits and helmets to protect themselves while they work and scarves and masks to do conceal their identity. What's wrong with the rabid, 19th-century anachronisms they have to safeguard themselves from? Oh yeah, I forgot. They're racists.

New Orleans takes down white supremacist monument 

By Jesse J. Holland and Gerald Herbert 

April 24, 2017 

Workers dismantle the Liberty Place monument Monday, April 24, 2017, which commemorates
whites who tried to topple a biracial post-Civil War government, in New Orleans.
(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A monument to a deadly white-supremacist uprising in 1874 was removed under cover of darkness by workers in masks and bulletproof vests Monday as New Orleans joined the movement to take down symbols of the Confederacy and the Jim Crow South. 

The Liberty Place monument, a 35-foot granite obelisk that pays tribute to whites who tried to topple a biracial Reconstruction government installed in New Orleans after the Civil War, was taken away on a truck in pieces before daybreak after a few hours of work. 

In the coming days, the city will also remove three statues of Confederate Gens. Robert E. Lee and P.G.T. Beauregard and Confederate President Jefferson Davis, now that legal challenges have been overcome. 

"We will no longer allow the Confederacy to literally be put on a pedestal in the heart of our city," Mayor Mitch Landrieu vowed. 

The removal of the obelisk was carried out early in the morning because of death threats and fears of disruption from supporters of the monuments. The workers wore military-style helmets and had scarves over their faces. Police were on hand, with officers watching from atop a hotel parking garage. 

"The statue was put up to honor the killing of police officers by white supremacists," Landrieu said. "Of the four that we will move, this statue is perhaps the most blatant affront to the values that make America and New Orleans strong today." 

Citing safety concerns, the mayor would not disclose exactly when the other monuments would be taken down, except to say that it will be done at night to avoid trouble. He said the monuments will be put in storage until an appropriate place to display them is determined. 

Nationally, the debate over Confederate symbols has flared since nine black parishioners were shot to death by an avowed racist at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015. South Carolina removed the Confederate flag from its statehouse grounds in the weeks after, and several Southern cities have since considered removing monuments. The University of Mississippi took down its state flag because it includes the Confederate emblem. New Orleans is a mostly black city of nearly 390,000. The majority-black City Council voted 6-1 in 2015 to take the monuments down, but legal battles held up action. 

Landrieu, a white Democrat, proposed the monuments' removal and rode to victory twice with overwhelming support from the city's black residents.

Opponents of the memorials say they are offensive artifacts honoring the region's racist past. Others say the monuments are part of history and should be preserved. 

Robert Bonner, a 63-year-old Civil War re-enactor, was there to protest the monument's removal. "I think it's a terrible thing," he said. "When you start removing the history of the city, you start losing money. You start losing where you came from and where you've been." 

The Monumental Task Committee, which sued to preserve the memorials, condemned the middle-of-the-night removal as "atrocious government." The Liberty Place monument was erected in 1891 to commemorate the failed uprising by the Crescent City White League. Sixteen White Leaguers, 13 members of the white and black Metropolitan police force and six bystanders were among those killed in the bloody battle down Canal Street. 

President Ulysses Grant sent federal troops to take the city back three days later. However, the White League grew in power in New Orleans after the battle, with its members and allies taking over the city and state government after Reconstruction. An inscription added in 1932 said the Yankees withdrew federal troops and "recognized white supremacy in the South" after the uprising. 

In 1993, those words were covered by a granite slab with a new inscription, saying the obelisk honors "Americans on both sides" who died and that the conflict "should teach us lessons for the future." 

New Orleans removed the memorial from busy Canal Street during a paving project in 1989 and didn't put it back up until the city was sued. Even then, it was consigned to an obscure spot on a side street. Landrieu said the memorials don't represent his city as it approaches its 300th anniversary next year. Removing the monuments is "not about blame," the mayor said. Rather, it's about "showing the whole world that we as a city and as people are able to acknowledge, understand, reconcile and — most importantly — choose a better future, making straight what has been crooked and right what has been wrong."  

Jesse J. Holland covers race and ethnicity for The Associated Press. Associated Press writers Bernard McGhee and Jeff Martin in Atlanta contributed to this report.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Food, sex and silence by Frank Bruni

“Food is our common ground, a universal experience.” — James Beard

ONE IOWA held its annual gala on April 7. Paul and I bought tickets, but later he remembered that he had a gig on the same night, so friend Tonja Richardson was my date for the party. 

Some of you who've been reading Hey Look Something Shiny for awhile recall that the impetus for starting a blog was inspired in large part by the issue of marriage equality. I had been extremely proud of my state when the Iowa Supreme Court ruled unanimously in 2009 that denying gay couples the right to marry violated the equal protection clause of the Iowa Constitution. The following year, however, three of the justices came up for a retention vote and were booted out. I was beside myself with disappointment.  

In an effort to channel my frustration, I joined the Southern Poverty Law Center based on its long history of working against discrimination and bigotry across a broad front. Through it I learned that along with Barack Obama's election as President of the United States came an exponential rise in the number of hate groups. 

The thought that so many people actively hated him because of his skin tone and that the majority who voted to oust the three Iowa justices were so stingy-hearted as to deny approximately 300,000 of their neighbors an equal right to happiness and family made my head hurt. I dragged out my laptop and started typing.

Clearly I'm no brave and pioneering champion of marriage equality. Consciousness raised a the turn of the millennium makes me very late to the party. However — although I'm sometimes slow to figure a thing out, once I do, I really, really get whatever it is down to the ground.

 A really out-of-focus picture of 
Tonja and me at the One Iowa gala.

Here's a New York Times piece by Frank Bruni, one of my all-time favorite opinion writers.

Food, Sex and Silence

By Frank Bruni 
April 22, 2017

James Beard was large. His obituaries told you so. “Portly” was how The Associated Press put it. The Los Angeles Times said that he was nearly 300 pounds at his apogee, though The New York Times clarified that a diet at one point “divested him of some of his heft.”

Nature divested him of his hair. He was bald, as all of those obituaries prominently noted.

James Beard

He was also gay. Good luck finding a mention of that.

Oh, there were winks. “A lifelong bachelor.” “An Oregon-bred bachelor.” Oregon-bred? Makes him sound like a dairy cow. Or maybe a mushroom.

But there was nothing in those remembrances about his 30-year relationship — at first romantic, then less so — with Gino Cofacci, who was provided for in Beard’s will. Nothing about Beard’s expulsion from Reed College in the 1920s because of his involvements with other men. This newspaper’s obituary simply called him a “college dropout.”

It was published in 1985. The world has changed. And that progress is reflected in a new documentary, “James Beard: America’s First Foodie,” that PBS will air next month as part of its American Masters series.

Like Beard’s obituaries, it shows how he towered over the country’s culinary landscape, pioneering the kind of food television that Julia Child would later do and doling out advice in newspaper columns much like Craig Claiborne’s. He towers still. One of the great honors that a chef can receive is an invitation to cook at Beard House in Greenwich Village, previously his home and now a shrine. The annual Academy Awards of the restaurant world are called the Beards.

The documentary also goes where the obituaries didn’t, describing him as an exuberantly gay man. Anyone who knew him well knew him that way, but during his lifetime, there was typically a difference between what was privately understood and what was publicly said. A cloud hovered over gay people. And if we’re honest about much of America and about many Americans today, that cloud hasn’t entirely dispersed.

The discrepancy between accounts of Beard up until his death and posthumous assessments like “America’s First Foodie” remind me of how often oppression is an act of omission rather than commission: not letting people give voice and vent to much of what moves them and to all of what defines them; not recognizing and honoring that ourselves.

I’m struck, too, by the nature of lies. They’re not just statements. They’re silences that fail to confront bad as well as beautiful things, often with grievous consequences.

We once turned a blind eye to child sexual abuse and rape, so we believed they rarely happened and weren’t adequately on guard. We once didn’t acknowledge the loving, nurturing relationships between two men or two women, so we deemed them freakish and weren’t sufficiently accepting. Our denial and ignorance kept bigotry in business.

One of the many arguments — no, imperatives — for recognizing same-sex marriage is that it’s the only telling of the full truth. Otherwise we erase whole chunks of people’s existences, and that’s as cruel and mistaken “as it would be to leave out someone’s life work or what country they lived in,” said Nathaniel Frank, the author of “Awakening,” a history of the marriage-equality movement that will be published this month.

The erasing of Beard’s sexual orientation was first brought to my attention by Ted Allen, an alumnus of the TV show “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” and the current host of “Chopped,” on the Food Network. In 2012, when he won two Beard Awards, he looked into Beard’s background, and was surprised and enraged that the gay part wasn’t accurately told in real time.

Allen thought about all the L.G.B.T. kids back then who were denied a role model. He thought about how the editing of Beard’s life shortchanged a minority group’s major contribution to American gastronomy. Claiborne, too, was in this minority, as the writer John Birdsall pointed out in a 2014 essay for the magazine Lucky Peach that was titled “America, Your Food Is So Gay.”

But Allen said that he thought in particular about all “the well-known people whose homosexuality was buried along with them,” and how that distorted and continues to distort our views of L.G.B.T. Americans.

Some obituaries of Claiborne in 2000 — though not The Times’s — left out his gayness. Some obituaries of the writer Susan Sontag in 2004 failed to mention her romantic relationships with women, including the photographer Annie Liebovitz. Some obituaries of the trailblazing astronaut Sally Ride in 2012 made scant, ambiguous reference to the fact that she was lesbian.

The list goes on. The reasons vary. Maybe a person’s survivors gave signals to obituary writers not to broach this subject. Maybe those writers were in the dark. Maybe they couldn’t ascertain by deadline what the deceased person would have wanted, and they erred on the side of saying nothing, a decision born of courtesy but steeped in prejudice.

All of this adds up to an incomplete picture of our society and who shaped it. It adds up to a lie.

When Beard died at the age of 81, he was working on a memoir in which he planned to make his sexual orientation abundantly clear to his fans. He tape-recorded reminiscences, used in 1990’s “The James Beard Celebration Cookbook,” that included the statement: “By the time I was 7, I knew that I was gay. I think it’s time to talk about that now.”

Why wasn’t it time when his obituary appeared on our front page? I went in search of its writer, Albin Krebs, and quickly stumbled across his own obituary in The Times in 2002.

I noticed that it said nothing about a marriage or children or any romantic life. I noticed that he died, at the age of 73, in Key West, Fla.

I tracked down a few journalists who remembered him, and then his nephew, a 68-year-old judge in Mississippi. My suspicions were confirmed: Krebs, a Mississippi native who served in the Air Force before his long and distinguished newspaper career, was himself gay.

And certainly by the last years of his life, as he bobbed in his pool with a glass of whiskey in his hand, “He didn’t give a damn what anybody thought,” the nephew, Robert Krebs, told me, adding that his uncle left much of his estate to an AIDS charity in Key West.

Beard wasn’t especially troubled by his sexual orientation, either, according to Birdsall, who is finishing a comprehensive new biography of him. But the mores of his day — the mores for so long — purged that part of many people’s lives from the official record.

He received tributes galore. They took ample stock of his dimensions. But they didn’t come close to rounding him out.

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Friday, April 21, 2017

The huckster in charge

“Where do the evils like corruption arise from? It comes from the never-ending greed. The fight for corruption-free ethical society will have to be fought against this greed and replace it with 'what can I give' spirit.” — A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, 11th President of India

LIKE MOST of you, I'm gobsmacked that #45 has gotten away with so much nefarious activity. Well . . . that and that he was "elected" in the first place. He's a national nightmare that we're all having to pay for — figuratively and literally  Below from The New York Times:

Credit: Jennifer Heuer
Mr. Trump Plays by His Own Rules (or No Rules)

By The Editorial Board
April 18, 2017

Anyone who has been paying the slightest attention knows by now that this president and this White House intend to play by their own set of rules — rules that in some cases come close to breaking the law and, at the very least, defy traditions of conduct and transparency Americans have come to expect from their public servants. We know that Donald Trump has refused, unlike other presidents, to release his tax returns; that his trust agreement allows him undisclosed access to profits from his businesses; and even that he clings to a profitable lease on a hotel only a stone’s throw from the White House when divesting himself of that lease is not only the obvious but the right thing to do.

But just when you think you’ve seen enough there’s more. On Friday, the administration announced it would no longer release White House visitors’ logs that have been available for years. (It cynically said posting these records would cost taxpayers $70,000 by 2020. Compare that with the multimillion-dollar tab estimated for every weekend trip Mr. Trump takes to Mar-a-Lago.)

Meanwhile, news trickled out that on the very day that two of Ivanka Trump’s and Jared Kushner’s children were serenading the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, at Mar-a-Lago, the People’s Republic of China approved new trademarks allowing Ivanka to peddle jewelry, bags and spa services to a nation of 1.4 billion where she is a role model for aspirational oligarchs.

In the great scheme of things, neither the visitor blackout nor Ms. Trump’s commercial coup seems a big deal. Yet both symbolize larger problems. One is an almost total absence of openness in an administration that is already teeming with real and potential conflicts and that has decided it can grant secret waivers to ethics requirements. The other is a culture of self-enrichment and self-dealing in which corporate C.E.O.s, lobbyists and foreign officials seeking the first family’s favor hold parties at Mar-a-Lago and at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, a couple of blocks from the White House. On Tuesday, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a government watchdog group, expanded a lawsuit charging that the hotel violates the Constitution’s emoluments clause, which prohibits the president from taking payments from foreign nations.

One has to ask when this seamless meshing of statesmanship and merchandising will stop, if ever. Mr. Trump struggled for years to close deals across the Middle East; now that he’s president, doors are opening. His family is seeking or holds trademarks in Egypt, Israel, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, where the president’s sons just opened a golf course in Dubai, and in Jordan, whose King Abdullah II just visited the White House to discuss joint efforts against ISIS.

But Americans who expect that their government will stop this grotesque flouting of rules and traditional norms have been deeply disappointed. The Office of Government Ethics received 39,105 public queries and complaints about Trump administration ethics over the past six months, compared with 733 during the same period eight years earlier at the start of the Obama administration. But the office has no investigative or subpoena power: Its authority rests on the willingness of a president to take transparency in public service seriously, which this president does not.

That leaves Jason Chaffetz, the Utah Republican who is chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which has the legal authority and the resources to investigate and hold the administration to account. Anyone familiar with Mr. Chaffetz’s record of partisan, ineffectual witch-hunting won’t be surprised to learn that he’s done nothing.

Walter Shaub Jr., chief of the ethics office, and his team have been working nights and weekends trying to rein in what they can of the Trump entourage’s abuses, combing through the financial disclosures of administration appointees and ringing alarm bells. They’ve had a few successes: So far the Senate has refused to confirm nominees whose financial disclosures don’t earn approval from the ethics office, which has unearthed potential conflicts and led several nominees to shed assets that pose problems. But that’s hardly a match for an administration filled with people who seem determined to wring every last dollar and ounce of trust from the American people.

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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Definitely gloating

"I couldn't get over the fact that there was no difference between Sylvia's restaurant and any other restaurant in New York City. I mean, it was exactly the same, even though it's run by blacks, primarily black patronship.” — Bill O'Reilly, 2007, speaking on his radio show about eating dinner with Rev. Al Sharpton at a famed Harlem restaurant

WOO HOO!! I can't believe it's really happened! Bill O'Reilly has gotten the axe!!! One down, many to go, but nevertheless, it's a win.

I came across 
the AlterNet article I've attached a few days ago and thought about sharing it with you. Now seems like the appropriate time. I've edited it slightly for brevity, shortening the original list from 18 to 16. (FYI, hey Bill, patronship isn't a word, you duffus.)

But first, to get you caught up, here's a headline with accompanying bullet points from today's online edition (4/19/17) of the Daily Mail:

Bill who? Fired O'Reilly's name is ERASED from his own Fox show - which is now called The Factor - as his replacement gives a brief goodbye to the 'undisputed king of cable news'

— Bill O'Reilly is out at Fox News after 20 years on the cable news network

— Rupert Murdoch made the announcement in a letter signed by himself and sons James and Lachlan, who reportedly urged their father to fire O'Reilly

— Fox News announced that Tucker Carlson will move to 8pm, 'The Five' will move to 9pm and Sean Hannity will stay in his 10pm slot 

— On Wednesday, Dana Perino hosted the show, which is now called The Factor, and briefly told viewers that O'Reilly would no longer be with Fox News 

16 Reminders That Bill O'Reilly Is a Terrible Person

By Kali Holloway 

April 14, 2017

It's a given that Bill O’Reilly is a terrible person. Thing is, he’s been so thoroughly heinous for so interminably long, it can be hard to remember all the reasons why. Most recently, there have been new revelations about O’Reilly and Fox News paying millions in settlements to women who have been targets of his sexually inappropriate behavior. But reviewing O’Reilly’s history, there's a pattern of despicable behavior that goes back much further in time.

He's shown himself to be a raging racist and a bloviating bigot (for which Fox News audiences love him), a man who lies about his press credentials and morals in the same breath. He imagines himself a guardian of truth and the defender of American virtues being lost to brown, gay and godless hordes, when in fact, he's a huge dick.

Here are 16 reminders why Bill O’Reilly is a terrible person.

1. He made a racist and sexist joke about congresswoman and national treasure Maxine Waters.

It’s no secret that Maxine Waters has nothing good to say about Donald Trump, O’Reilly’s alleged-sexual-harasser-in-arms. During an appearance on “Fox & Friends” earlier this month, O’Reilly decided to return fire on his buddy’s behalf by going where so many racists and misogynists have gone before: Waters' appearance, specifically her hair. O’Reilly claimed he “didn't hear a word [Waters] said” in a recent anti-Trump speech because he “was looking at [her] James Brown wig”—a joke the male hosts of the show found very funny, because they are also garbage-based life forms. Hours later, O’Reilly issued a sorry-not-sorry non-apology which included a reference to Waters as a “congressman.”

2. He laughed at the sight of a man being violently removed from a United Airlines flight.

After airing a viral clip of Dr. David Dao being dragged, screaming and bleeding, from United Flight 3411, O’Reilly chuckled in a way that might seem inexplicable if he weren’t someone who could fill a listicle with the terrible things he’s done. “I shouldn't be laughing,” O’Reilly said, “but it's just so bizarre.”

3. He allegedly sexually harassed at least five women.

According to a recent New York Times investigation, “a total of five women...received payouts from either Mr. O’Reilly” or Fox News parent company 21st Century Fox “for agreeing to not pursue litigation or speak about their accusations against him. The agreements totaled about $13 million.” Allegations of sexual impropriety and other forms of workplace harassment against O’Reilly date back to 2004, when he was sued by “The Factor” associate producer Andrea Mackris. The complaint alleged that O’Reilly offered her unsolicited advice on masturbation, claimed women had been “amazed” by his “big cock,” bragged about participating in threesomes and told her he wanted to rub her genitals with a falafel. (He meant to say “loofah” except he’s an idiot.) In more than one case, women presented incriminating audio recordings of O’Reilly, according to the Times report, which concluded that “Fox News and Mr. O’Reilly adopted an aggressive strategy that served as a stark warning of what could happen to women if they came forward with complaints.”

4. He also allegedly sexually harassed a few more women.

The Times investigation of O’Reilly notes that “besides the women who reached settlements, two other women have spoken of inappropriate behavior by the host.” Former Fox News star Andrea Tantaros filed court papers last year accusing the network of pretending to be “a defender of traditional family values, but behind the scenes, it operates like a sex-fueled, Playboy Mansion-like cult, steeped in intimidation, indecency and misogyny.” Wendy Walsh, a recurring guest on "The Factor," says O’Reilly reneged on an offer to make her a high-paid Fox News contributor after she turned down an invitation to his hotel room.

Surveys have found that 60 to 70 percent of workplace harassment cases go unreported. An alleged serial sexual harasser such as O’Reilly, whose career in television spans more than four decades, may have countless more victims, since many may have kept silent. There’s no way to know the definitive number of O’Reilly’s targets, but the odds seem likely there are more.

5. He allegedly choked his ex-wife in front of his children.

In 2015, Gawker published transcripts from O’Reilly’s custody battle with his ex-wife filed in New York’s Nassau County Supreme Court. Among those papers was testimony from Larry Cohen, a court-appointed psychologist whose job it was to “interview and assess” each member of O’Reilly’s family during the court battle. Cohen told the court that O’Reilly’s 15-year-old daughter recounted “seeing an incident where...she said her dad was choking her mom or had his hands around her neck and dragged her down some stairs.” The psychologist also reported the teenager said O’Reilly had called her mom “an adulterer,” and said if his daughter “spends her time or more time at the mother’s home, it will ruin her life.”

O’Reilly ultimately lost that custody case, and again on appeal. In its decision, the Appellate Court panel wrote, “There is a sound and substantial basis for the Supreme Court's determination that it is in the best interests of the children for the mother to be awarded primary residential custody. Particularly relevant in this case are the clearly stated preferences of the children, especially considering their age and maturity, and the quality of the home environment provided by the mother.”

6. He yelled and swore at everyone on set because he’s confused by common phrases.

Maya Angelou once famously said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” Watching this footage you can just tell not only was this not the first time O’Reilly had a meltdown over nothing, it wasn’t even the first time that week. In fact, he was probably still getting over his last meltdown when this meltdown started. He’s probably having four simultaneous meltdowns as I write this.

Anyway, no one fired him right there on the spot, allowing him to have a four-decade career of inappropriate touching and red-faced spittle spraying.

7. He reportedly lied about being in the thick of the Falklands war.

O’Reilly has been an alt-truther since long before Kellyanne Conway entered our collective nightmare. In 2015, a Mother Jones investigation found that O’Reilly had at best exaggerated, and at worst lied, about being in a “combat situation” during the Falklands war. The magazine cited the numerous times O’Reilly referenced his time in the “war zone,” stories that often suggested he had put his life in danger for the sake of reportage. In one oft-recycled fable, O’Reilly lays it on really thick, painting himself as a selfless hero and not a common fanny-pincher.

"I was in a situation one time, in a war zone in Argentina, in the Falklands, where my photographer got run down and then hit his head and was bleeding from the ear on the concrete,” O’Reilly has repeatedly stated, according to Mother Jones. “And the army was chasing us. I had to make a decision. And I dragged him off, you know, but at the same time, I'm looking around and trying to do my job, but I figure I had to get this guy out of there because that was more important.”

Except that doesn’t jibe with anyone else’s recollection. Far more reliably honest, actual journalists lined up to pick apart O’Reilly’s claims, often pointing out that almost no reporters made it to the frontlines. In fact, O’Reilly’s own rediscovered reports conflict with his tales of bloody conflict and violence.

O’Reilly initially responded to the report by calling Mother Jones reporter David Corn a “liar.” He later simply denied he’d ever said what he said, despite all the proof he said it.

8. He said immigration should be 'capped' so white guys stay on top.

Here are O’Reilly and John McCain, just ahead of the election that put a black guy in the White House, talking about immigration as a threat to white male power. No comment needed here; the video and transcript do the job on their own. Bonus points to O’Reilly for getting McCain to agree that white power needs to be preserved.

O'REILLY: Do you understand what the New York Times wants, and the far left want? They want to break down the white, Christian, male power structure—of which you're part, and so am I. And they want to bring in millions of foreign nationals to basically break down the structure that we have. In that regard, Pat Buchanan is right. So I say that you've got to cap it with a number.

MCCAIN: In America today we have a very strong economy, low unemployment. So we need additional farm workers—including by the way agriculture—but there may come a time where we have an economic downturn, and we don't need so many.

O'REILLY: Okay, but in this bill, you guys gotta cap it. Because your estimation is 12 million, there may be 20 [million]. You don't know, I don't know. You gotta cap it.

MCCAIN: We do, we do. I agree with you.

9. He said America should keep the Electoral College to ensure white supremacy.

In a segment about efforts to scrap the Electoral College that arose following the disaster that was the election of Donald Trump, O’Reilly unwittingly admitted he opposes efforts to dismantle white supremacy.

“If the Electoral College were abolished, presidential candidates could simply campaign in the nation's largest states and cities—New York, LA, Chicago, Houston—and rack up enough votes to pretty much win any election,” O’Reilly stated. “That's what the left wants, because in the large urban areas and blue states like New York and California, minorities are substantial.”

“The left sees white privilege in America as an oppressive force that must be done away with,” O’Reilly laments:

“It permeates almost every issue—that white men have set up a system of oppression and that system must be destroyed....So-called white privilege bad; diversity good.

"The left wants power taken away from the white establishment. They want a profound change in the way America is run.”

O’Reilly recognizes the Electoral College elevates the votes and political power of whites. That’s why he defends the system, and with it, white supremacy.

10. He hypocritically went after every rapper for indecency.

At least 87 percent of O’Reilly’s career is built on scaring old white people about what the rappers are going to do to them. In the spirit of this ongoing mission, O’Reilly spends inordinate amounts of time talking about all the rapping and how it is causing problems, from causing crime (not true) to inventing racism (ha ha, okay). O’Reilly’s ridiculous rants against rappers—and inexplicably, Beyonce—have themselves become cultural touch points.

In 2002, O’Reilly suggested that viewers protest Pepsi for its advertising ties to the rapper Ludacris, whom O’Reilly described as a “man who degrades women.” The outrage-stoking worked: Pepsi dropped Ludacris, the ad was pulled and O’Reilly claimed bragging rights for the win on his TV show. You can watch him gloat about the whole thing in the segment below, which was presumably shot when he didn’t have more pressing sexual harassment duties to attend to.

Recently, Ludacris was asked to comment on the situation, and he took the high road. “It’s not my place to judge Bill O’Reilly the same way that he judged me,” the rapper stated. “That’s how I feel about it. It’s a lot of maturity and a lot of growth. I’ve moved on past it. I’m thriving in life right now, and all I can do is hope that Bill O’Reilly settles these issues and learns from whatever mistakes he may have made and also thrives. But it is definitely ironic that both Pepsi and Bill O’Reilly are both under fire right now.”

11. He suggested slavery was no biggie.

In her Democratic National Convention speech, then First Lady Michelle Obama said, “I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves, and I watch my daughters—two beautiful, intelligent, black young women—playing with their dogs on the White House lawn.”

Facts, right? Not a single person asked O’Reilly for his opinion on Michelle Obama’s remarks. But he used a show segment to offer his revisionist take on slavery, because O’Reilly apparently has a racism quota to meet and he was behind that month.

“Michelle Obama is essentially correct in citing slaves as builders of the White House,” O’Reilly said, thrilled at the chance both to mansplain and whitesplain the topic to FLOTUS. “Slaves that worked [at the White House] were well-fed and had decent lodgings provided by the government.”

White racists have always tried to make slavery seem less morally reprehensible and horrific than it was, even while slavery was happening. O’Reilly is unremarkable in that way, as in so many other ways. Plenty of slave narratives offer an unvarnished look at the horrors of slavery. So does the first-person account of Abigail Adams, the literal first lady to occupy the White House as it was being built, who described the enslaved people doing the landscaping work as “half fed, and destitute of clothing.”

Also, high-five to Shonda Rhimes for tweeting this response:

12. He used the term 'wetback' to describe Mexicans.

In 2003, during a conversation about border patrol agents with Texas Congressman Silvestre Reyes, O’Reilly reportedly let this one slip: "We'd save lives because Mexican wetbacks, whatever you want to call them, the coyotes, they're not going to do what they're doing now, so people aren't going to die in the desert.”

He later told the New York Times the utterance had been an accident, perhaps not recognizing the slip was a sneak peek at how he speaks about these matters off-air. “I was groping for a term to describe the industry that brings people in here,” O’Reilly said. “It was not meant to disparage people in any way.''

''Of course, he didn't intend to say it,” Reyes noted, in a retort that nails things on the head. “But the fact that 'wetback' is a part of his vocabulary and slipped out is a clear sign of where his views fall.''

13. By the way, that was actually the second time he used the word 'wetback' to describe Mexicans.

According to a report by FAIR, O’Reilly had used the term in a speech several months earlier, a fact cited by the Allentown, Pennsylvania, local newspaper The Call. In a January 2003 article, O’Reilly reportedly “criticized the Immigration and Naturalization Service for not doing its job and not keeping out ‘the wetbacks.'”

FAIR notes that “O’Reilly denied making the comment, but the reporter stands by his account.”

14. He blamed Trayvon Martin for his own murder.

For years, Tea Party ultraconservative Allen West has provided an indispensable service to white racists, parroting talking points about black-on-black crime, black pathology and white absolution whenever needed. In 2013, O’Reilly brought West on his show to help him in the cheap and dirty effort to turn Trayvon Martin—whose cause of death was murder by George Zimmerman—from innocent victim to deserving thug. Both men proved up to the task. O’Reilly got things started.

“The reason Trayvon Martin died is because he looked a certain way, and it wasn’t based on skin color,” O’Reilly said, smugly. “If Trayvon Martin had been wearing a jacket like you are and a tie like you are, Mr. West, this evening, I don’t think George Zimmerman would have had any problem with him," O’Reilly said. “But he was wearing a hoodie and he looked a certain way. And that way is how ‘gangstas’ look. And, therefore, he got attention.”

What O’Reilly really means is that Trayvon Martin got “what he deserved” for being in the wrong clothes, for being in the wrong neighborhood, for being black, for daring to be.

15. He managed to out-racist Donald Trump.

While he was still campaigning for a job he didn’t want in a sector he didn’t understand, Trump came on O’Reilly’s show to talk about all the employment opportunities he was going to bring to African-American communities, aka "the blacks." O’Reilly actually seemed increasingly impatient and annoyed during the exchange, not because of the lack of detail in Trump’s plan, but because he kept suggesting black people might ever hold jobs.

“How are you going to get jobs for them?” O’Reilly asked, one huff away from setting the huffiness record. “Many of them are ill-educated and have tattoos on their foreheads and I hate to be generalized about it, but it's true. If you look at all the educational statistics, how are you going to give jobs to people who aren't qualified for jobs?”

“You say you can bring jobs back. But if the kid isn’t qualified to do the job and can’t do the work—I mean, you’ve got to get into the infrastructure of the African-American community.”

16. He couldn’t believe black people are humans.

Al Sharpton and O’Reilly apparently have dinner together once a year, which, sure, whatever. In 2007, the meal took place at Sylvia’s, an iconic soul food restaurant in Harlem. Back at his radio show weeks later, O’Reilly decided to share a few insights from his visit. He could’ve just said, “I’m a huge racist” and saved us all a bunch of time, but instead he took the long way home.

"I couldn't get over the fact that there was no difference between Sylvia's restaurant and any other restaurant in New York City,” O’Reilly marveled, mind fully blown. “I mean, it was exactly the same, even though it's run by blacks, primarily black patronship."

There was also this: "There wasn't one person in Sylvia's who was screaming, 'Mother f**ker, I want more iced tea.' You know, I mean, everybody was—it was like going into an Italian restaurant in an all-white suburb in the sense of people were sitting there, and they were ordering and having fun."

Me again: Bye bye Billy. FYI: Paul is hoping for prison time for him, sharing a cell with a really big guy named Alphonso. Have you noticed that some people only learn through personal experience?