AMERICAblog News A great nation deserves the truth // One of America's top progressive sites for news and opinion Thu, 31 Jul 2014 20:09:44 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Latest Ebola update from doctors on the ground in west Africa Thu, 31 Jul 2014 20:09:34 +0000 I’ve been following some first-hand reports from doctors on-the-ground in Liberia, who are trying to help contain the Ebola outbreak in west Africa, and the reports are somewhat different from what we are hearing from the media.  The outbreak has hit Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.

One doctor is a pediatrician and specialist in infectious diseases.  He has been sending back first-hand information, and things he’s gleaned from other health care professionals in the area.

There are also a few other doctors on the site who have been to Liberia recently, working in clinics there.  One just returned July 1st of this year.  So they’ve been adding their stories, as well.

They suspect that many of the Liberians may be avoiding getting medical treatment from doctors and hospitals.  One fear many locals have is that the foreign doctors have brought the virus with them, and that they will use it to kill Liberians and use their bodies as donors for transplantation of organs.  The fear is that possibly, up to 75% of people who may be having symptoms of a fever are staying home, possibly traveling to relatives or may be using local healers.  Of course, those with Ebola who do this can be spreading the disease to those that they come into close contact with.

Ebola virus, courtesy of the CDC.

Ebola virus, courtesy of the CDC.

One of the doctors points out that most Liberians have malaria, and an attack of malaria can present much like Ebola.  So when local health care workers, often nurses, see a patient with a fever, diarrhea and/or vomiting, they think of malaria and start malaria treatment.  They may also think of typhoid fever or gastroenteritis, also very common and try to treat those.  The point is, they are not thinking of Ebola.  And even if they do consider Ebola, there is only one lab, in each of the countries where the epidemic is occurring, that can test for Ebola.  And testing takes time.  A blood specimen has to be drawn in the clinic, transported to the central lab, the test set up and run, then the results have to be gotten back to the clinic.  If positive, the patient then has to be found and isolated.  It would be impossible to quarantine all of the patients who show up each day at clinics with symptoms that might be Ebola.  The clinics are usually fairly small, cramped, have very limited supplies and equipment.  Hospitals in the area are not much better equipped.  So even the patients who show up at a hospital with Ebola-type symptoms cannot all be effectively isolated.  This makes containment even more of a problem.

Other sources also show that the situation in this region continues to deteriorate.

Additionally, groups of local people have attacked and burned some of the clinics, because of their fear mentioned above, that the clinics and hospitals are spreading the disease.  At one point, police were called out to disperse a group by using tear gas on them.

Measures to prevent the spread of Ebola by screening travelers are not going as well as hoped. Some people are trying to get on flights (or find other ways out of the area via auto, boats, etc.) while avoiding screenings.  They may to slip past the screeners or bribe them.  Some airlines have stopped flights in to and out of the affected areas.  Med evac missions are also not allowed to leave the area.  So anyone who is ill with any problem, must be treated locally.

Local containment measures also include decontamination of reusable equipment (e.g., the boots that workers must wear). Bedding, clothes and other items that might be contaminated with Ebola need to be burned.  Body fluids and waste from victims has to be destroyed.  And the bodies themselves need to be handled appropriately to prevent spreading Ebola.  However, not all families are willing to forgo their own death and burial rituals that can lead to spread of the virus.

CDC, WHO and other groups say that the chance of Ebola spreading out of the region is low.  But they want health care professionals worldwide to be aware of Ebola symptoms, in case someone flies from Africa to another country and then falls ill. US doctors, for example, do not automatically think “Ebola” when a patient walks in with fever, diarrhea and vomiting.  Several US medical groups and societies have emailed their members with information concerning Ebola and its symptoms.  They want primary care doctors (family medicine doctors, internal medicine doctors, ER doctors and ICU doctors) to be aware of what is going on regarding the epidemic, the natural history of the disease, how to look for possible cases, testing options, etc.

One hospital emergency department in North Carolina responded appropriately when it thought that it might have gotten a patient who could have had Ebola.  They locked down the ER until they made sure that the patient was not at risk for having Ebola.

But vigilance is necessary.  The Liberian-American businessman who died of Ebola in Nigeria was planning to visit his family in Minnesota after he finished his business in Lagos.  It is possible for the outbreak to spread beyond Africa’s borders.

Public health officials think that should Ebola escape from Liberia-Guinea-Sierra Leone-Nigeria that it may show up in France first. There are many flights from Africa to France.  France, some French businesses and some French citizens have close ties to Africa.

One group of US healthcare workers that was planning to leave for the Ebola-infected area today, canceled its plans.  They are worried about the virus and the local conditions where health care workers may be assaulted. The Peace Corps is bringing all of its personnel out of the three countries where the epidemic is at its worst. There is some speculation that additional relief and medical works will not be allowed to enter these areas because of the danger from the virus and from some of the citizens.

I’ll update this information if I become aware of other developments.

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Hillary Clinton’s cynical religion Thu, 31 Jul 2014 17:56:20 +0000 In a June 15 interview with the New York Times, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had this to say when asked which book had been most influential to her:

At the risk of appearing predictable, the Bible was and remains the biggest influence on my thinking. I was raised reading it, memorizing passages from it and being guided by it. I still find it a source of wisdom, comfort and encouragement.

It’s a softball question, so it could be all too easy to brush off her softball answer with Gawker’s follow-up: “Sure, sure. How do you feel about bald eagles, though?” But let’s face it, even as canned answers go, that was pretty bad. Bad enough to make me a hair skeptical as to whether or not I’m supposed to be excited about Candidate and President Clinton. And that was before her interview on the Daily Show a few weeks later, where she all but announced that she was running.

hillary-clinton-book-photo-hard-choicesWhether or not the Bible really is Hillary Clinton’s biggest intellectual influence, this is the answer a generic Republican presidential candidate gives. And they give it because the Bible is the only book a Republican can call their favorite without offending the religionists that are at the core of their party.

And while her answer may not have offended the far right — though it’s unclear if anyone who thinks the Bible is the most important influence on their life is going to vote for a candidate named Clinton – she offended me. And here’s why. Her answer was either craven, defensive, intellectually-empty politics at a time when we need newer, bigger ideas, or worse yet, it was an honest answer indicative of a public servant with seriously problematic and contradictory views on citizenship, power and morality.

Hillary Clinton has a chance to be different, and she’s already blowing it

Let’s first consider the very likely possibility that Hillary Clinton’s answer was bs.

When she officially announces her candidacy, Mrs. Clinton will be the strongest non-incumbent presidential candidate since Eisenhower across just about every metric we use to handicap our political horse races.

Additionally, thanks to the GOP’s failure to learn much from the last two elections, and its inability to compromise its ethnically problematic values when it comes to immigration (and women, and gays, and pretty much everybody else), she will have a built-in advantage in the Electoral College that surpasses the ones President Obama enjoyed in his two campaigns.

This doesn’t mean that the 2016 election cycle has to be boring. On the contrary, it means that Hillary Clinton may be the first presidential candidate in a very long time who can be a real person and still win.

For the next two years, the American people will pay close attention to every single word that comes out of Hillary Clinton’s mouth. Then, barring something truly disastrous on her part (à la Rick Perry), they will elect her President of the United States. While she can’t burn a flag and get away with it, there are a lot of things she can say that other candidates simply can’t because it would be too risky. Not coincidentally, those things are, in many cases, things the American people need to hear. This should be good news for us: Hillary Clinton has the luxury of being able to be the kind of candidate everyone says they want. She can treat voters like adults instead of lying to them about things that don’t matter, like her favorite book. In fact, she may even benefit politically by doing so, setting herself apart as the leader she claims to be, in contrast to whichever clearly phony challenger the GOP throws her way. Instead, she’s sounding all too familiar, and that troubles me.

Take electoral reform. In a speech last August, Mrs. Clinton slammed voter ID laws and the long lines seen in majority-minority precincts on Election Day 2012. That’s great, but playing defense on voter ID and voting machine allocation are small ideas when it comes to reforming an electoral system that, if implemented in a developing democracy, probably wouldn’t pass muster with an American election observer. Repeating those ideas adds nothing to our poorly developed national conversation concerning how we select our representatives. Mrs. Clinton has no doubt heard arguments concerning universal voter registration, democracy vouchers and other improvements on the way we handle our elections – she may even privately endorse some of them. She’s going to talk a lot over the course of the next two years about how our system of government needs fundamental changes in order to modernize for the 21st Century; I’ll be more impressed – and pleasantly surprised – if she gets real about what those changes are.

Or what about foreign policy, which is supposed to be her best case for the presidency? In the aforementioned appearance on the Daily Show, the woman who until recently was America’s top diplomat got her chance to talk about impediments to American diplomacy. Her diagnosis of the problem? We “have not been telling our story well,” and we need to “get back to” telling it. She then said that it was a mistake to “[withdraw] from the information arena,” implying that if only we met Russian propaganda in places like Ukraine with propaganda of our own, à la the Cold War, we’d have more respect abroad.

But there’s another problem with the argument. Mrs. Clinton was just our Secretary of State – and a rather hawkish one at that. If America’s international messaging has gone awry, why didn’t she fix it while she was foreign-policy-messenger-in-chief?

There are more nuanced, more serious answers to our foreign policy dilemmas, and Hillary Clinton is in a unique position to provide them. Either she knows more than she’s letting on and she’s treating us like children, or she doesn’t, and we’ve got bigger issues to deal with. Many of our leaders – certainly not all – have more knowledge and insight than the liberty, freedom and generic goodness mad-lib we get at Miss America pageants. Hillary Clinton is one of the most well-travelled, well-connected people in the world; it’s obvious when she’s holding back. (To her credit, the extended, online version of the interview includes an unaired, detailed exchange concerning the mechanics of Israel-Palestine negotiations, but the conversation was still devoid of vision and solutions.)

I know, I know, Mrs. Clinton is worried that she might repeat the mistakes of 2008, when she assumed she was inevitable and got caught off-guard by an underdog who outworked her. But she currently looks so concerned about underestimating her opponent(s) at the outset that she’s trying to run out the clock with more than two years left to go. If Clinton spends that long refusing to dig in when it comes to the big ideas surrounding American governance, she will be transparently flimsy as a candidate and vulnerable to questions concerning her credibility. Even if they don’t sink her candidacy, those questions will affect her ability to govern. Perhaps just as distressing, the American people will have missed an opportunity to be addressed by their leader as if they are a country that deserves their leader’s full attention.

When Hillary Clinton announces her candidacy, the first question she should be asked is whether or not there’s an issue she cares about strongly enough to lose the election over. I care less about what the answer is so long as it’s genuine.

God is a flip-flopperand a terrible policy wonk

But what if the Bible was her real answer? What if I’m getting all worked up and idealistic over intellectual honesty in the public sphere when Mrs. Clinton was, in fact, being completely honest?

This would be worse than if she were lying, because it would mean that she isn’t cold and calculating, but that instead she is anachronistic and unfit for leadership in the 21st Century.

For a long time, Hillary Clinton’s consideration of politics’ relationship with religion has been murky at best. As profiled in Mother Jones back in 2007, “Clinton’s God talk is more complicated—and more deeply rooted—than either fans or foes would have it, a revelation not just of her determination to out-Jesus the GOP, but of the powerful religious strand in her own politics.” She has strong ties to The Family, a secretive organization – bordering on cult – whose membership is primarily, but not exclusively, limited to the Religious Right, and whose mission is an American government that is one part theocratic and one part aristocratic. The organization certainly doesn’t come across as a group that would welcome people who just want to brush up their religious resume, so Mrs. Clinton’s affiliation with them makes it at least somewhat plausible that when she promotes the Bible she really means it.

Hillary Clinton’s religion has never been seriously vetted. No Republican candidate would ever go after someone for having ties to Jesus-freaks, and then-Senator Obama avoided religion as much as he could after the Reverend Wright news cycle(s). Interestingly, though, in a campaign marked by nastiness, Hillary Clinton stayed relatively quiet during the Reverend Wright saga, only remarking that she was offended by his remarks and wouldn’t have had him as a pastor. The reason for her relative restraint probably had something to do with the fact that, as far as cultish religious extremism goes, The Family makes Reverend Wright look like a Unitarian. President Obama had the good sense to unequivocally repudiate his sketchy religious association; if we demand the same of Mrs. Clinton, will she oblige?

When other members of The Family – Rick Santorum, Sam Brownback, Tom Coburn, Jim Demint, etc. – say mind-bogglingly dumb things in the name of Christianity, we have no problem recognizing how absurd they sound. We already know that it is wildly negligent for our leaders – especially one as respected as Hillary Clinton – to propagate the idea that the Bible is good political guidance. The President of the United States deals with issues that overlap with Biblical doctrine every day, and on issue after issue the Bible offers astoundingly bad advice for the modern era.

Hillary Clinton talks to Ron Johnson Benghazi

Hillary Clinton talks to Ron Johnson about Benghazi.

The Bible is, at best, contradictory when it comes to power and authority, which are central to The Family’s religious doctrine. We all know Mark 12:17 (“render unto Caesar what is Caesear’s and God what is God’s”), and Hebrews 13:17 endorses state authority as well (“Obey your leaders and submit to them”). But what about “All authority in Heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18), and “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29)? Titus 3:9 suggests that one should avoid legislating altogether, reading “avoid foolish…controversies about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless,” but Proverbs 29:2 rejects this sentiment, reading: “When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice.” Daniel 2:21 tells believers that God is personally responsible for who is and is not placed in positions of authority, but Psalm 9:17 warns “nations that forget God” that they will be sent to Hell – presumably, God didn’t put their leaders there.

Of course, no citizen of the 21st Century strictly adheres to these anachronistic, mutually-exclusive commands and warnings, but that’s the point: either you adhere to them, or you aren’t really turning to the Bible for wisdom. The more seriously you take these verses, the less seriously you participate in modern society. Does Christian theology provide good guidance for forming agreeable, let alone sensible, policy when it comes to, say, marriage equality, an issue on which Hillary Clinton has been milquetoast at best? How about the Israel-Palestine conflict? Education? Will “do not take your own revenge… but leave room for the wrath of God” (Romans 12:19) square with America’s national security apparatus and commitments in a new Clinton administration? Of course not, and the success of a Hillary Clinton presidency – or any presidency, for that matter – depends on the degree to which this is recognized.

There isn’t a single political issue, domestic or foreign, that is in any way aided by reverence for the Bible. And, in most cases, belief only gets in the way. As someone who’s taken to saying – rightly, but very overtly – that she’s been to 112 countries in the past six years, in many cases for the purpose of ameliorating problems arising at least in part from policies motivated by religion, Hillary Clinton should know this as well as anyone. I hope she does. But then why is she saying what she’s saying?

Either way, I’m not impressed

So which is it? Did Hillary Clinton dumb herself down for Joe-the-Biblethumper, or is the Good Book really the greatest influence on her political decision-making process? Was her answer, as to which book most influenced her life, indicative of an intellectually dishonest politician or a dangerously honest religious powerbroker?

Hillary smacked Rumsfeld at today’s hearingNo matter which is the case, the need to express belief in order to be taken seriously as a politician can and does force otherwise smart people like Hillary Clinton to say profoundly and obviously dumb things. Mrs. Clinton has no need to sound like such a candidate, even when she is one, and yet she is already receding into a cynical, defensive political fetal position of empty patriotism and religion. She can do better, and we deserve better; especially if we’re going to be seeing a lot more of her for the next six years, if not the next decade.

While liberals around the country proclaim how #ReadyForHillary they are, they should be reminded from time to time that, aside from her gender, there’s nothing to be “ready” for. Hillary Clinton represents the same ideologies, dogmas and calculations that have marked mainstream politics for the last fifty years. So far, in her preliminary campaign, she has added nothing new to our collective conversation concerning how best to live together, and I see no reason to get my hopes up.

In the end, this all speaks to an insidious truth in American politics: America was ready for an African-American president, and it is ready for a female president. But it is not ready for an honest president, and it is not ready for an unbelieving president.

And I think that’s a damn shame.

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The Democratic party has lost its soul: Clinton, Obama and the victory of Wall Street Democrats Thu, 31 Jul 2014 14:25:30 +0000 A quick hit as we near the weekend. I thought you’d find this, about the soulless side of the Democratic party, a good and interesting read. (To jump to my Netroots Nation thoughts, click here.)

The piece is, in essence, about the neoliberal heart of the Democratic party, how it was born and grew. The author is Bill Curry. As the blurb says, he was:

White House counselor to President Clinton and a two-time Democratic nominee for governor of Connecticut. He is at work on a book on President Obama and the politics of populism.

Bet he doesn’t get invited to the next Clinton birthday party. Here’s Howie Klein on Curry (my paragraphing):

If you’re from Connecticut, you probably remember Bill Curry as a leader of the liberal wing of the Democratic Party and a two-time nominee for governor. Most Americans who know who he is, though, know him for his role as a domestic policy advisor to Bill Clinton.

I know the Clintons are very touchy about their sometimes tattered brand and I suspect Bill Curry won’t be invited to the Medici Palace when Hillary takes over the world. A look at the piece he wrote Sunday for Salon– My party has lost its soul: Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and the victory of Wall Street Democrats, makes you wonder if Curry will even be able to force himself to vote for her. When you say “Wall Street Democrats” you could be talking about Chuck Schumer or Joe Crowley or Steve Israel or Jim Himes but mostly you’re talking about Hillary Clinton’s soul being sold the the banksters.

That said, let me introduce you to the piece. It’s decently long, so this is just a taste or two. If you like it, head on over. I know this is up the alley of at least some of you.

Curry casts his opening by noting the success of one man, Ralph Nader, single-handedly the father of the modern consumer movement, who worked mainly through Democrats of that era. Then, starting around 1978 or so, the era changed, along with the Democrats.

This isn’t about Nader; it’s about the Democrats:

My party has lost its soul: Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and the victory of Wall Street Democrats
A former Clinton aide on how Democrats lost their way chasing Wall Street cash, and new populism the party needs

… For nearly 30 years Nader largely abstained from electoral politics while turning out a steady stream of testimony and books. But his influence waned. By the late ’70s the linked forces of corporate and cultural reaction we memorialize as the Reagan Revolution were gathering force. In 1978 Nader lost a pivotal battle to establish a federal consumer protection agency as key Democrats, including Jimmy Carter, whom Nader had informally blessed in 1976, fled the field.

In Reagan’s epic 1980 sweep the GOP picked up 12 Senate seats, the biggest gain of the last 60 years for either party. Nader had done his best business with Democrats, especially the liberal lions of the Senate; men like Warren Magnuson, Gaylord Nelson, Birch Bayh and George McGovern, all swept out to sea in the Reagan riptide. In the House, a freshman Democrat from California, Tony Coelho, took over party fundraising. It’s arguable that Coehlo’s impact on his party was as great as Reagan’s on his. It is inarguable that Coehlo set Democrats on an identity-altering path toward ever closer ties to big business and, especially, Wall Street.

In 1985 moderate Democrats including Bill Clinton and Al Gore founded the Democratic Leadership Council, which proposed innovative policies while forging ever closer ties to business. Clinton would be the first Democratic presidential nominee since FDR and probably ever to raise more money than his Republican opponent. (Even Barry Goldwater outraised Lyndon Johnson.) In 2008 Obama took the torch passed to Clinton and became the first Democratic nominee to outraise a GOP opponent on Wall Street. His 2-to-1 spending advantage over John McCain broke a record Richard Nixon set in his drubbing of George McGovern.

Throughout the 1980s Nader watched as erstwhile Democratic allies vanished or fell into the welcoming arms of big business.  By the mid-’90s the whole country was in a swoon over the new baby-faced titans of technology and global capital. If leading Democrats thought technology threatened anyone’s privacy or employment or that globalization threatened anyone’s wages, they kept it to themselves.  In his contempt for oligarchs of any vintage and rejection of the economic and political democratization myths of the new technology Nader seemed an anachronism.

As Klein points out, if you’re looking for an original sinner, look at Tony Coehlo, named above.

But Clinton and Obama took the ball and ran with it:

In the late ’70s, deregulation fever swept the nation. Carter deregulated trucks and airlines; Reagan broke up Ma Bell, ending real oversight of phone companies. But those forays paled next to the assaults of the late ’90s. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 had solid Democratic backing as did the Financial Services Modernization Act of 1999. The communications bill authorized a massive giveaway of public airwaves to big business and ended the ban on cross ownership of media. The resultant concentration of ownership hastened the rise of hate radio and demise of local news and public affairs programming across America. As for the “modernization” of financial services, suffice to say its effect proved even more devastating. Clinton signed and still defends both bills with seeming enthusiasm.

The Telecommunications Act subverted anti-trust principles traceable to Wilson. The financial services bill gutted Glass-Steagall, FDR’s historic banking reform. You’d think such reversals would spark intra-party debate but Democrats made barely a peep. Nader was a vocal critic of both bills. Democrats, he said, were betraying their heritage and, not incidentally, undoing his life’s work. No one wanted to hear it. When Democrats noticed him again in 2000 the only question they thought to ask was, what’s got into Ralph? Such is politics in the land of the lotus eaters.

The furor over Nader arose partly because issues of economic and political power had, like Nader himself, grown invisible to Democrats. As Democrats continued on the path that led from Coehlo to Clinton to Obama, issues attendant to race, culture and gender came to define them. Had they nominated a pro-lifer in 2000 and Gloria Steinem run as an independent it’s easy to imagine many who berated Nader supporting her. Postmortems would have cited the party’s abandonment of principle as a reason for its defeat. But Democrats hooked on corporate cash and consultants with long lists of corporate clients were less attuned to Nader’s issues.

Democrats today defend the triage liberalism of social service spending but limit their populism to hollow phrase mongering (fighting for working families, Main Street not Wall Street). The rank and file seem oblivious to the party’s long Wall Street tryst. Obama’s economic appointees are the most conservative of any Democratic president since Grover Cleveland but few Democrats seem to notice, or if they notice, to care.

Read the last sentence again:

Obama’s economic appointees are the most conservative of any Democratic president since Grover Cleveland but few Democrats seem to notice, or if they notice, to care.

That takes us through just the first section. Please, do read the rest. Here’s a tease for section two (my paragraphing):

There’s much talk lately of a “populist” revival but few can say what a populist is. … Meanwhile the populist revolt on the right persists. … Democrats aren’t even having a debate. Their one think tank, the Center for American Progress, serves their establishment. (Its founder, John Podesta, once Clinton’s chief of staff, is now counselor to Obama.) The last real primary challenge to a Democratic senator was in 2006 when Ned Lamont took on Connecticut’s Joe Lieberman.

They say the GOP picks presidents based on seniority. Two years out, Republicans seem headed for a bloody knife fight while Hillary Clinton may be headed for the most decorous, seniority-based succession in either party’s history. (If she loses this time it will be to herself.)

There’s a wonderful comparison of Barack Obama in the crisis of 2008 to FDR in 1933. Not that Obama did different things (he did), but that Obama saw different things. Both saw through Democrat’s eyes. What does that say about Obama-era Democrats?

I’ll add that Curry isn’t a doomist. He sees a great coalition within the party that’s unexpressed by its leaders:

If Democrats can’t break up with Obama or make up with Nader, they should do what they do best: take a poll. They would find that beneath all our conflicts lies a hidden consensus. It prizes higher ethics, lower taxes and better governance; community and privacy; family values and the First Amendment; economic as well as cultural diversity. Its potential coalition includes unions, small business, nonprofits, the professions, the economically embattled and all the marginalized and excluded. Such a coalition could reshape our politics, even our nation.

Here’s hoping.

Netroots Nation and the “professional left”

Which leads to some preliminary thoughts on Netroots Nation. I’ve been holding off my comments, but they’re coming. And I’m not the only one thinking these thoughts — or “havin’ them dreams” as Bob Dylan once wrote. Simply put, there are two kinds of “Democrat” — the kind that hates what Obama and Clinton (and next-Clinton) have done and will do to the country, and the kind that’s kinda sorta OK with that.

Yes, I know … Republicans. But if your argument is “Stop Republicans ‘cuz Evil Deeds” then you have to stop Democrats when they do evil deeds too — and with the same passion — not just go look for your next movement job once the last sorta-OK Dem took office with your help.

That passion does describe and infuse many “movement” progressive activists, but there are plenty it doesn’t seem to touch, except when they speak. For all the Warren Wing enthusiasm, there are many who will work for Hillary, then not work equally as hard to stop her once she gets power. As one writer said about this year’s Netroots Nation:

A more appropriate slogan for the event, at least for some attendees, might have been “I’m resigned to Hillary.”

Let’s say that differently. How can one be “Ready for Warren” and “Ready for Hillary” too? If you actually listen to Warren, you can’t, even if you’re Warren herself.

I’ll have more on Netroots Nation soon. I’m collecting not just my thoughts, but those of others as well. The soul of the article above touches the soul of that event, and modern “Democrats” should read this piece carefully, for the all-too-obvious reason.


Twitter: @Gaius_Publius
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Ebola scare grows in west Africa Thu, 31 Jul 2014 12:21:55 +0000 The news from Africa is growing worse by the hour. As we’d reported the other day, there’s a growing Ebola scare in a handful of African countries, and things seem to be getting worse, as the governments try to respond to the crisis, while the local freak out.

Among the latest news:

Top Ebola doctor in Sierra Leone dies of the disease.

Liberia has shut down schools, while the Peace Corps close down in three countries, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. Reportedly, two Peace Corps volunteers have been quarantined after being possibly exposed to Ebola, but neither has shown symptoms.

To make matters worse, locals in some areas are attacking hospitals and doctors — some hospitals and clinics have reportedly been burned down by mobs that are under the mistaken belief that foreign doctors and missionaries brought the virus with them, and are killing people on purpose in order to steal their body parts and then use them for transplants. By some reports, 75% (they believe) of people infected aren’t going to doctors.

The Daily Beast notes that the epidemic has been slowing spreading over 5 months now. So, fears about it spreading rapidly, and internationally, until now, were not taken seriously.  Now that might be changing:

The Ebola virus, courtesy of Shutterstock

The Ebola virus, courtesy of Shutterstock

According to The Daily Beast, naturalized American citizen Patrick Sawyer became ill on the plane after it left Liberia; once he landed, he went directly to the hospital, was isolated, and died soon thereafter. In response, the West African airline carrier he had used, ASKY, headquartered in nearby Togo, has suspended all flights into and out of Liberia and Guinea as well as Sierra Leone. Until Mr. Sawyer’s death, all 1,201 cases reported to the WHO through July 27, including the 672 deaths, had occurred in one of these three adjacent West Africa countries.

The single case ups the fear factor for one simple reason. The working hypothesis till now had been that Ebola would more or less stay put, spreading town-to-town, affecting only neighboring countries, exactly because it is so fierce. The time from infection to severe illness is typically so fast that it is unlikely that a person would be able to get it together enough to go to the airport while contagious—or else, would be so obviously unwell as to draw attention to himself.

Sawyer’s 1,000-mile flight changes this.

The WHO, and the CDC, are currently not advising any kind of travel restrictions to the region. But I’ve heard others voice concerns that immigrations agents in the countries affected are not sufficiently screening passengers getting on flights leaving the countries (and it’s questionable how well they can screen for symptoms that come across, in the early stages, like a flu).

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Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival thinks trans women aren’t real women, or something Wed, 30 Jul 2014 21:49:49 +0000 Far be it for me to be an expert on what it is to be transgender, but how hard is it to understand that a trans woman is a woman, and she should be allowed to do, you know, woman-things like attending music festivals for women?

Apparently, real hard.

The Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival is finding itself yet again in hot water for expressing its “intention” that only “womyn born womyn” attend the annual shindig.

We’ve written before about “safe women’s spaces.”  A friend of mine who is lesbian was uninvited from a women’s dance in San Francisco because her long-time once-lesbian partner had transitioned and become a straight man. And straight men weren’t permitted at the women’s dance, so a couple that had attended the dance for years was no longer welcome. And it hurt.

That situation isn’t entirely the same as this, but it still gets to the same issue about when safe spaces end up becoming so safe they’re dangerous.

Here’s the latest statement from the festival:

michigan-womyn's-music-festivalWe have said that this space, for this week, is intended to be for womyn who were born female, raised as girls and who continue to identify as womyn. This is an intention for the spirit of our gathering, rather than the focus of the festival. It is not a policy, or a ban on anyone. We do not “restrict festival attendance to cisgendered womyn, prohibiting trans women” as was recently claimed in several Advocate articles. We do not and will not question anyone’s gender. Rather, we trust the greater queer community to respect this intention, leaving the onus on each individual to choose whether or how to respect it. Ours is a fundamental and respectful feminist statement about who this gathering is intended for, and if some cannot hear this without translating that into a “policy”, “ban” or a “prohibition”, this speaks to a deep-seated failure to think outside of structures of control that inform and guide the patriarchal world.

Trans womyn and transmen have always attended this gathering. Some attend wanting to change the intention, while others feel the intention includes them. Deciding how the festival’s intention applies to each person is not what we’re about. Defining the intention of the gathering for ourselves is vital. Being born female in this culture has meaning, it is an authentic experience, one that has actual lived consequences. These experiences provide important context to the fabric of our lives, context that is chronically missing from the conversation about the very few autonomous spaces created for females.

As a guy, I’d always figured that the last people on earth to have a problem with trans women would be women who spell “women” with a y.  And the whole “you can come, but we really don’t want you” thing is rather lame.

Then there’s this notion that “being born female in this culture has meaning, it is an authentic experience, one that has actual lived consequences.” Yes, I suppose that’s true. So, does that mean trans men are welcome at the festival?  They were after all “born female” (let’s not get derailed by the semantics of that one) and had the “authentic experience” growing up with all the prejucice and experiences that born-women face. So would a post-transition trans man be welcome?  Does anyone doubt that the Womyn’s festival would have no problem declaring a 300 pound, beer-bellied — and bearded — trans man a “real” man, and quickly showing him the door?

It’s also interesting, in this discussion of intolerance and self-definition, that the Womyn’s festival statement mentions the term “cisgendered.” It’s something created by activists, and intended to describe people who aren’t transgender. It’s now used by the Advocate and HRC, among others. In addition to the fact that it’s not a real word, and that its intended scientific derivation is scientifically inaccurate, many gay people find “cisgendered” offensive, in part because it’s often used when strongly criticizing people who aren’t trans, and in part because it bears an uncomfortable resemblance to the anti-gay slur “sissy.” The overall connotation, for many, is decidedly negative.

If we as a movement are going to fight for the right to self-define, and if trans people in particular are going to fight for their right to be called some words and not others (that end in y), then that same right applies to the vast majority who not only never chose to be called “cisgender,” but many of whom find the label extremely offensive.

Truly liberal movements respect everyone’s self-identity. It’s a message the Womyn’s festival, and the “cissy” adherents, should both take to heart.

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Die Verdammte Spielerei (cute series of videos of some Belgian musicians) Wed, 30 Jul 2014 16:53:46 +0000 It seems that I’m on the verge of becoming an honorary citizen of Ghent, Belgium.

You see, my earlier photo-essay declaring Ghent to be quite possibly the most beautiful town in the world made it into one of the biggest papers in Belgium. And as a result, the post has now gone viral on Facebook, and the Ghentians have even found me on Twitter, where they’ve been quite appreciative. (It’s funny, but after ten+ years of blogging, it’s still neat to have things like this happen.)

In my piece, I posted a short video of a funny marching band that we stumbled upon, roaming the streets of Ghent. Well, someone tweeted me to let me know that they’re called “Die Verdammte Spielerei” (google translate suggests “The Damned Gimmick” – anyone have a better translation?), and they’re pretty damn funny.

These guys just crack me up:

This one is pretty cute too. I totally want to learn to play an instrument now and move to Ghent. Perhaps we can blog in formation…

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Support Chang in HI-01 – Don’t let Dems elect a Koch-friendly pro-nukes oil-funded anti-choice candidate Wed, 30 Jul 2014 14:00:24 +0000 It’s definitely primary season here at La Maison, and as I’ve said many times, the election action on the Dem side is in the primaries. We don’t just have to defeat the Republicans. We have to defeat the Steve Israels of the world, as well as their Koched-up and corp-controlled candidates.

Thanks to all of you who are helping Nancy Skinner in MI-11 get her pre-election mailings out the door. If you haven’t done so already, you can donate here. Her election is Aug 5, precious few days away.

Support Stanley Chang in HI-01

Which brings me to the other House candidate I’d like you to support — Stanley Chang in Hawaii’s 1st congressional district. To go right to the support links, click one of these:

▪ ActBlue
▪ Stanley Chang campaign

To read why you should contribute, stay with us for a few more paragraphs — then please contribute.

The high-profile race in Hawaii is the Senate race, which pits true-progressive incumbent Senator Brian Schatz against “corrupt conservative New Dem” Colleen Hanabusa. (And yes, corrupt means what you think it means.) Hanabusa left her House seat in HI-01 to run against Schatz, which means there’s a race for the House in her old district. Here’s where it gets interesting — and ugly.

The HI-01 race on the Democratic side includes these three candidates:

Stanley Chang, House candidate in HI-01

Stanley Chang, House candidate in HI-01

Stanley Chang — The race’s only genuine progressive (see below)

Mark Takai — State senator who supports “imposing warrantless, suspicionless drug tests on anyone seeking public benefits” including veterans

Donna Kim — A “backward and reactionary” state senator opposed to marriage equality (yet endorsed by EMILY’s List)

It’s a deep blue district, so the Republicans don’t matter — unless you count the virtual Republicans running as Democrats.

The EMILY’s List–supported candidate is Donna Kim. The Democratic reaction against Kim was bad, however, and even many mainstream Hawaiian Dems couldn’t get behind her. RL Miller of the ClimateHawksVote SuperPAC says this (my emphasis):

[Donna Kim, a] right-wing, undeserving-of-the-label, Democrat-In-Name-Only is in a crowded Democratic primary. To prevent the DINO from being elected, progressives attempt to unify behind one of the several other candidates in the race. Political Science 101 suggests that they unify behind the most progressive alternative who represents the best chance of election.

In Hawaii’s deep blue and progressive First Congressional District, they’re about to do the opposite: unify behind [Mark Takai] a DINO-Lite instead of a viable progressive choice.

To get away from Kim, local newspapers have endorsed Mark Takai:

Hawaii newspapers have anointed Mark Takai as the other, more progressive front-runner in the August 9 primary. Mainstream groups such as the Sierra Club and Human Rights Campaign have endorsed him. But is he actually progressive or just a Kim-Lite?

The Hawaii Sierra Club endorsed Takai, but he accepted an oil industry-funded junket to Azerbaijan. Takai wants to cut Hawaii’s dependence on foreign fossil fuels by exploring nuclear power as a viable option.

The problem is that Takai is progressive only in his advertising:

Takai is way too cozy with Koch-affiliated groups. Hawaii has a Koch-affiliated think tank, the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, with a mission to “promote individual liberty, the free market and limited accountable government.” Takai calls its new president a dear friend and mentor.

Equality Hawaii endorsed Takai, but he voted no on civil unions twice, only reversing his position after deciding to run for Congress a few months ago.

He’s also made friends with the gun lobby and as we mentioned above, the nuclear industry. Howie Klein at DownWithTyranny adds all this up:

The progressive in the race is Stanley Chang and he’s being challenged by two conservatives, Mark Takai and Donna Kim. Back in May the Congressional Progressive Caucus endorsed Chang. Last week, Japanese-American congressman, Mark Takano, lied to his fellow caucus members and convinced them that his Japanese-American pal Takai is not really a conservative and railroaded them into making it a “dual endorsement.” They should have known better because Takano, one of the least effective and least trustworthy members of the CPC, also went to bat for corrupt conservative Pete Aguilar (a New Dem) on behalf of DCCC chairman Steve Israel (a Blue Dog who was behind both Aguilar and Takai).

Can you see what’s happening here? Because the mainstream Hawaii newspapers endorsed Takai, and the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) later “dual-endorsed” Takai and Chang — in effect, stupidly repudiating its earlier support for Chang — Takai has the upper hand. But not by much.

(By the way, the odd thing about Takano endorsing Takai, is that Takai is anti-gay, and Takano is gay. I’ll have more about Takano later; he’s not who you thought he was when the Grayson-Takano “No Cuts” letter was being circulated.)

Chang can win with your help

Here’s the polling on the race, taken by station KTIV after the recent televised debate (via email):

Stanley Chang — 48%
Mark Takai — 39%
Kathryn Xian — 5%
Donna Kim — 2%
Others & undecided — 5%

While not definitive, this shows that Chang and Takai are the top two candidates, and clearly in range of each other.

Here’s the money situation in the race, as of the June 30 quarter:

Kim — $201K
Takai — $199K
Chang — $145K

So, a winnable race — but Chang needs your support now. The primary is August 9, a Saturday very near you. Can you help? Here are those Contribute links again:

Stanley Chang campaign

I’ll let Stanley Chang have the next-to-last word:

Did I mention he’s strongly pro-climate? That’s why the Climate Hawks SuperPAC is strongly endorsing him.

Thanks for considering this. Again, the primary is August 9; not much time left to help.


Twitter: @Gaius_Publius
Facebook: Gaius Publi

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Larry King gets confused by Anna Paquin’s “non-practicing” bisexuality Wed, 30 Jul 2014 12:00:30 +0000 I know from bisexual friends that people who are bi often get a bad rap.

I’ve personally never understood the problem — some people are gay, some are straight, some are in between, so why can’t someone be exactly in between?

Nonetheless, the existence of bisexuality sows confusion among gays and straights alike.

Our own Becca Morn has written about the conundrum that is bisexuality:

Everybody assumes that either I’m actually a lesbian, or that I’m constantly jonesing to be with a man.

I’m not.

Unless that man is George Clooney, in which case all bets are off. (It’s written into our pre-nup.)

My wife’s lesbian friends warned her I couldn’t be trusted, that I’d leave her. They employed all the anti-bi stereotypes, including the notion there’s no such thing as an actual bisexual – rather, we’re simply people who like to experiment.

Stephen Moyer, Anna Paquin at the HBO's "True Blood" Season 7 Premiere Screening at the TCL Chinese Theater on June 17, 2014 in Los Angeles, CA. Helga Esteb /

Stephen Moyer and wife Anna Paquin at the HBO’s “True Blood” Season 7 Premiere Screening at the TCL Chinese Theater on June 17, 2014 in Los Angeles, CA. Helga Esteb /

And as I’ve said before, I know very few gay people who believe bisexuality even exists. When I bring up the topic, people usually roll their eyes, scoff, or make some comment suggesting bisexuals are confused, or lying, or something.

(And while some people who claim to be bi probably are gay, and simply using the bi label as a gateway-moniker before they’re fully comfortable admitting that they’re “gay.” But everyone? Doubtful.)

Well, “True Blood” star Anna Paquin (aka Sookie Stackhouse) was on Larry King’s show on the Russian state propaganda network the other day, and King asked her about being bisexual. It appears King was confused as to how Paquin could be bisexual, yet married to her male costar Stephen Moyer.

Larry King: Are you a non-practicing bisexual?
Anna Paquin: Well, I am married to my husband and we are happily monogamously married.
Larry King: So you were bisexual?
Anna Paquin: Well, I don’t think it’s a past-tense kind of thing. It doesn’t prevent your sexuality from existing. It doesn’t really work like that.

So many levels of wrong. One does not “practice” one’s sexual orientation, any more than than straight people are “practicing heterosexuals.” As for the confusion over Paquin marrying a man, well, yes, bisexuals like both men and women, so it’s entirely feasible for them to end up with, you know, a man OR a woman.

I don’t really fault King, here. He’s an admittedly older guy who’s not up on the lingo or the substance.  I’d have liked for Paquin to see this as an opportunity to explain what bisexuality — what sexual orientation is — and educate both King and an audience that might be just as confused as he was.

As I’ve argued before, if people aren’t filled with malice, and if they’re legitimately asking you a question and simply get the question (or the premise) wrong, don’t rip their heads off. Educate them. And for those who say “it’s not my job to educate them,” to the degree that you want things to ever change, it’s your only job.

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Nigerian doctors strike as Ebola descends on the region Tue, 29 Jul 2014 17:00:44 +0000 The first case of Ebola may have arrived, and died in Nigeria.

A Liberian national entered the country by air.  After landing, he became severely ill, began vomiting and sought medical aid.  He was admitted to a hospital, tested for a variety or diseases.  He appears to have had Ebola, pending confirmation from a WHO lab. He died a few days ago.

The government has tried to find and isolate everyone he was in contact with, a difficult task. Difficult for two reasons.  It’s very hard to find everyone who was in contact with a person, especially if that person was traveling through different countries by air.  The other problem is the doctors’ strike in Nigeria.

Young villagers carrying grain near Obudu Cattle Ranch close to the border or Cameroon and Nigeria. Lorimer Images /

Young villagers carrying grain near Obudu Cattle Ranch close to the border or Cameroon and Nigeria. Lorimer Images /

A large number of doctors from the Nigerian Medical Association have been on strike for a while. Apparently they are protesting the fact that the government wants to make non-MDs consultants.  Consultants are fully-qualified doctors who are in charge of patients in hospitals.  They diagnose, treat and direct the care of patients, somewhat like attending physicians or hospitalists in US medicine.  The doctor are protesting that others, less qualified, will be allowed to act as consultants.

As I wrote earlier, Ebola is spreading in the region.  These doctors could be working on educating the populace, preparing for any other Ebola cases that might develop, preparing isolation units, and more.  But apparently, negotiations between the government and the doctors’ group are strained, and have been for months.

The government appears unwilling to back down from its position, and the members of the doctors’ group are also adamant that they won’t call off the strike unless some progress is made.  Though the two groups are still meeting, it doesn’t seem like they are anywhere near a common ground.

Nigeria is a populous country, with limited infrastructure and inadequate health care facilities. Lagos, Nigeria has a population of about 21 million.

If Ebola takes hold there, the results could be disastrous.  The government and striking doctors need to bring this stalemate to a quick resolution.

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Support pro-climate House candidate Nancy Skinner – primary is August 5 Tue, 29 Jul 2014 14:00:37 +0000 I wrote earlier about a strong pro-climate candidate for the House, Nancy Skinner, a Democrat running for the MI-11 seat in the U.S. Congress. It’s an R+4 district that went for Obama in 2008 (+9) and Romney in 2012 (+5).

Normally the district goes Republican in House races. This year though there’s an big opportunity, but your support is needed now. Read on to see why.

To jump straight to Skinner’s “ask,” click here. The primary is just days away.

The Republicans have given themselves no good choices

The likely winner of the Republican primary is a known foreclosure meathead named David Trott, and he’s getting savaged by his Republican primary opponent, incumbent Tea Partier Kerry Bentivolio:

Incumbent teabagger Kerry Bentivolio is up against a fatally flawed eviction and foreclosurer specialist, Dave Trott, who is being financed by the corrupt Republican Establishment.

Here’s one of the ads running against Trott — who, note, is the likely Republican winner:

Your first take-awayTrott can be beaten by the Democrat. He’s hugely vulnerable. Howie Klein at Down With Tyranny on Trott and Bentivolio (my emphasis throughout):

[T]he Michigan and the Beltway Republican establishments are embarrassed as hell to have a babbling imbecile like Bentivolio representing the district and they have the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other Republican Party subsidiaries helping to finance a nasty primary by [Trott] the gentleman described in the ad above, of whom we’ve written before. Trott is very wealthy– foreclosing and evicting pay[s] well apparently– and has already raised $1,099,084 to Bentivolio’s $337,190. As of December 31, Bentivolio had $130,133 cash on hand and Trott was already sitting on $710,729.

The Republicans have two bad choices, and the way to attack the winner has been handed to us.

Trott’s opponent can be a strong-climate Democrat

On the Democratic side, there are three opponents, each vying to make it to the general in November. The choices are:

Dr. Anil Kumar, a self-funded doctor who supported Romney.

Bobby McKenzie, a DCCC-endorsed former CIA operative who is pro-fracking “if done right,” or words to that effect.

Nancy Skinner, a talk show host who has run before and is all about the climate.

Howie Klein on Kumar:

Kumar, who has never run for any office nor worked on campaigns, is barely a Democrat at all. Recent campaign reports show contributions of $3,000 to Rick Snyder (2010), $2,000 for Romney (2012), $500 to Mike Rogers (2010) and $375 to Rocky Raczkowski, the crackpot Republican who ran against Gary Peters in 2010.

Klein on McKenzie:

If he runs, the Republicans will talk about nothing but Benghazi for the entire campaign, while he turns off the Democratic base with the only issue he ever talks about, anti-terrorism tactics.

Here’s Skinner on McKenzie’s pro-fracking stance:

McKenzie (from the link above): “I agree with the Sierra Club that if fracking is continuing we should monitor the water, and if it’s contaminating the water, stop it.”

Skinner: “That’s like’s saying I agree with the American Lung Association which says keep smoking, just monitor your lungs, and if you get cancer, then quit.”

But Skinner’s not just anti-fracking. She’s strongly pro-climate, making that a centerpiece of her campaign. Climate scientist Michael Mann on Skinner:

Climate Candidate Nancy Skinner (MI-11)

Climate Candidate Nancy Skinner (MI-11)

Michael Mann, Director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State University, told ThinkProgress in an email that he was happy to learn of Skinner’s campaign.

“Nancy understands that unchecked climate change is the greatest threat we face–to our economy, out health, our national security,” he said. “I support her candidacy and I hope that it signals that more folks like her will be entering the world of politics, placing climate change action on the front burner.”

Your second take-awayMaking Skinner a winner on climate makes climate a winner. We need a climate advocate in Congress, one who gets  it, and we need a climate trophy in a Congressional race to show what can be done.

Support Skinner now — the primary is August 5 (this coming Tuesday)

The race is within reach. The Democrat who advances past the primary has a good shot at the seat. But Skinner needs support now. In particular, she needs your donations to get the next round of ads on the air.

August 5 is one week away. Do you have $11 (or $33) to contribute to a climate win? The day to click is today. Here’s Skinner’s donate link:

ActBlue on Skinner for Congress

And here’s her pitch — $11 for MI-11 and 1 climate candidate. Her “ask” is at the end:

This isn’t something to delay about if you’re at all inclined to put a little climate money on the line.

Let’s put Skinner in the general election by getting her past the primary. Her target is the August 5 primary election. Yours? Today would be good.

And thanks!


Twitter: @Gaius_Publius
Facebook: Gaius Publi

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An overview of the new, and serious, Ebola outbreak in Africa Tue, 29 Jul 2014 12:00:06 +0000 The Ebola outbreak in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia has been growing since the first case was detected months ago.

Most recent reports indicate that a total of almost 1,100 people have been either confirmed to have Ebola, or are strongly suspected of having it.  There have been about 650 deaths.  The cases and deaths are totals combined from all three countries.  So far Guinea has been the hardest hit.

Ebola has been known to have a fatality rate as high as 90%.  The rate in this outbreak is lower, but still chillingly high.

The symptoms of Ebola start with fever and malaise (general feeling of being unwell) that start abruptly. Other symptoms often seen are: headache, joint and muscle aches, diarrhea, vomiting, anorexia. Some patients experience sore throat, cough, chest and/or abdominal pain.  In severe cases, the patient may bleed from multiple internal organs and also from external sites (Ebola is a hemorrhagic fever).  The bleeding can lead to shock, organ failure and death.  Symptoms can develop quickly (as soon as a few days after exposure to the virus) up to about three weeks post-exposure.

There is no treatment other than supportive measures.  No vaccine is available.

In the past, Ebola has emerged, killed and then, suddenly, the epidemic would end.  Until the next time.   Then, at some later time, Ebola would re-emerge and repeat the above cycle.

A sign warns visitors that area is a Ebola infected. Signage informing visitors that it is a ebola infected area. September 27, 2013, Congo, Africa. Sergey Uryadnikov /

A sign warns visitors that area is a Ebola infected. Signage informing visitors that it is a ebola infected area. September 27, 2013, Congo, Africa. Sergey Uryadnikov /

The best techniques to prevent Ebola are to avoid close contact with people who have the disease. Those who get Ebola need to be isolated and those caring for them need to use strict isolation techniques and high tech isolation gear, which are very difficult to get and use in Africa.  Ebola can be spread by contact with fluids from sick people (blood or other fluids) or through sticks and nicks from contaminated needles, scalpels or other sharps.

Medical workers and family members of the ill can contract the disease relatively easily.  To date, several nurses and ancillary workers have become ill with Ebola, some have died.  A few doctors  been treating patients have contracted Ebola.  At least two have died.  One doctor who has Ebola is from the US.  As of this writing, he is ill, but still alive.  Another US citizen who was working in the area assisting with decontaminating used supplies, has also gotten Ebola.

There are some unique problems in these countries that may be aiding the spread of the disease. Some patients and their families believe that the disease was brought to the area by doctors and personnel from the World Health Organization, Doctors Without Borders and others.

Therefore, they are hesitant to seek treatment when they are ill, fearing that the medic may give them the disease. One family went so far as to kidnap a relative from the hospital fearing that she was getting worse there.  Her abduction set off a search to try to find her, since she was infectious.  It was later learned that she died as the family members were transporting her to another location.

Death leads to another problem.  In this area, often the family members prepare a body for burial. Preparation and cleaning the body may expose the relatives to Ebola.  The governments in the areas have been trying to make sure that family members are careful when preparing to dispose of the bodies of their kin so that the infection doesn’t spread.

Another problem is that some people in the area prefer to see local healers rather than go to medical doctors.  There is a concern that the local healers, by coming into close contact with Ebola victims can contract, and later, spread Ebola to others.

There may be a confirmed case, and death, due to Ebola in Lagos, Nigeria.  The man was a Liberian national who flew into Lagos, Nigeria.  He collapsed and sought treatment.  He was placed in isolation and died.  The government there has isolated those with whom he was in contact.

The government of Liberia has restricted land travel out of the country. Only three roads leading to the borders have been left open. One road connects to each of the three neighboring countries. Travelers are screened as they attempt to leave the country. Any who appear ill are turned back.

The President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, has also authorized the military to confiscate private vehicles to aid them with their operations. And she has placed restrictions on public gatherings, and increased outreach efforts to educate the populace. However, the airports in Liberia remain open and flights continue to come and go, risking further spread of the 90%-deadly disease.

In Nigeria, Arik Air, a local and regional carrier has voluntarily suspended flights to countries where the Ebola outbreak is continuing: Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. It is also calling for other airlines to do the same. Though the neither the Nigerian government nor the World Health Organization has called for airport closings or banning travel from affected countries, yet.

Outbound and inbound flights are still permitted from these countries.   The governments are screening passengers for signs and symptoms of Ebola in an attempt to try to halt the spread.  They are having them fill out questionnaires and checking their temperatures.  Those who have a temperature elevation will be screened for Ebola.

Vigilance to prevent the spread of Ebola outside of the confines of West Africa is important and necessary. Chances are that by taking appropriate precautions, the spread of Ebola can at least be kept limited. Patients are only contagious when they are actively having symptoms. The CDC is encouraging doctors in the US (and elsewhere) to be vigilant. The doctors should be aware of the symptoms of Ebola, to take a travel history from patients to see if they’ve visited an area where the epidemic is occurring, if they’ve had a known contact with someone who has had Ebola, if the patient is having any symptoms of Ebola himself, etc.

For the affected areas in Africa, travelers should be similarly screened for fever, other Ebola symptoms, close contact with someone who has had Ebola, etc. Anyone who has one or more of these factors, should be tested for Ebola and not allowed to travel. Essentially, the CDC and WHO are recommending watchful waiting along with using methods for diagnosis and isolation of people suspected of having Ebola.

(Here’s a brief reference to the CDC’s recommendations.)

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It’s not soft-porn if you’re British (video) Mon, 28 Jul 2014 19:30:18 +0000 Those crazy naked rower boys from the University of Warwick, in the UK, are back with a vengeance.

You might have seen one of their videos before. They’re a rowing club that fights homophobia by making really homoerotic soft-porn, for lack of a better description.

But hey, who am I to complain about a good cause?

And this one is really good.



It’s not porn, it’s puppies!



And everybody knows t’s not soft-porn if you make the gif go by really fast.


Here’s their promo. You can find out more about the boys and their cause here.

Warwick Rowers 2015 Crowdfunder

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GOP House member says colleague was paid $1200 for vote Mon, 28 Jul 2014 17:00:26 +0000 A Republican member of the US House recently claimed that a colleague was paid $1,200 by a lobbyist in exchange for his vote on an issue regarding the Bureau of Land Management.

The congressman, Rep. Vance McAllister (R-LA), says another House member told him he’d get a check for $1,200 if he voted “no” on the legislation, and that when McAllister later told the friend that he never received a check, the friend was surprised as he’d received his.

McAllister, who now refuses to identify the corrupt member of Congress, claims that he wasn’t suggested that he himself voted that way in anticipation of a payoff.

Rep. Vance McAllister (R-LA)

Rep. Vance McAllister (R-LA)

Rather, McAllister says, he simply wanted to show how corrupt Congress is. Which is interesting since McAllister witnessed what may in fact be a crime — and at the very least is something he himself considered corrupt — yet he’s now refusing to report the corruption to the authorities because it involved his buddies. Some would call that “corruption.”

CREW is calling for a DOJ and House investigation. Here’s CREW:

Trading votes for campaign contributions may violate bribery, illegal gratuity and honest service fraud statutes. House rules also prohibit members from accepting any campaign contribution in exchange for official action, from abusing their positions for their personal financial benefit, and from engaging in conduct that reflects discreditably upon the House. If Rep. McAllister, the unnamed member, or any other member exchanged a vote for a campaign contribution, or voted with the expectation of receiving a campaign contribution in reward, such conduct likely would violate federal law and House rules.

Ms. Sloan continued, “When a member of Congress has publicly proclaimed personal knowledge of members trading votes for campaign contributions, the question is not should DOJ and the Ethics Committee investigate, it is how is it possible that authorities haven’t already opened inquiries. What more would it possibly take to prod those charged with enforcing anti-corruption laws to act?”

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Who knew Ghent, Belgium was the prettiest city in the world? Mon, 28 Jul 2014 14:11:26 +0000 While admittedly your mileage may vary, I was surprised to find yesterday that the town of Ghent, in Dutch (Flemish) Belgium, is quite possibly the prettiest place I’ve ever visited.

The first thing you notice on entering Ghent is the guys (and gals). They’re kind of hot. Especially as compared to Brussels, which, coming from Paris, was a bit of a let-down on the personal beauty front. Ghentians (I made that word up) however are smoking. And they’re awfully nice too.

Putting aside for a moment the personal beauty of the locals, the town is simply gorgeous. Very Amsterdam-y, but even prettier IMHO. I mean, look at this — and the view just goes on and on and on for blocks and blocks and blocks. This is definitely one of those “I can’t believe people actually live like this” kind of towns.


I’m in Europe for my annual medical tourism (and for a variety of meetings for work), and decided to visit some old friends who are working in Brussels. They suggested we head to the town of Ghent for the annual festival, and boy am I glad they did.

Belgium, as you know, is split in two (ish), with a French half and a Dutch half. Brussels is French-speaking (though situated in the Dutch half, like Berlin of old), while Ghent is Flemish speaking.

Every year, Ghent has a rather large, and rather well-known, festival.  And the thing is huge.  It’s hard to describe how many people were there.  We walked for hours and hours and hours and the thing just goes on and on and on through much of the town. If this were DC, it would be like having a street festival that goes from Adams Morgan all the way down the White House. It’s just insane how big, and beautiful, this is.


Here’s a quick video of one of the many bands playing on the street. I wanted to give you a sense of what the town looks like.

As I mentioned, the town of Ghent has a lot of Dutch influence, and it has a very Amsterdam-y feel to it, in part because of the canals, and in large part because of those amazing skinny buildings with the cool pointed rooftops.



You can sometimes get the best shots from the bathroom.

Ghent has a sizable number of rather cool cathedrals. We went to see the Ghent Altarpiece yesterday, which I admittedly was previously unaware of. It’s pretty magnificent.


Just a cool top of a building facade.


The view of a canal from a restaurant during a rainstorm.


There were people all over town selling these small, conical-shaped, purple candy thingies. I have no idea what they were.  UPDATE:  A friendly Ghentian has written in to say that these are called “noses.” And they’re apparently insanely sweet and then filled with something insanely sweetre.


Now, one sweet I did try was a Belgian waffle. And let me just say, mother of God why did no one tell me about these things before? Imagine a big, warm, freshly made, gooey, thick whipped cream and dark drippy chocolate covered chocolate chip cookie. That’s what a Belgian waffle is.  It was funny, the woman handed me the thing, without any silverware, and I sort of looked around, confused, trying to figure out how exactly you were supposed to eat the beast.  I saw some mini-forks nearby, grabbed one, and figured I’d dig in.  It seems the waffle is made to fall apart along numerous fault lines, so it’s pretty easy to eat with the mini-fork. And oh my god, the name “waffle” doesn’t do this thing justice. “Fried chocolate chip cookie dough covered with something that puts the word ‘whipped cream’ to shame” starts to get you close. Next time you’re in Belgium, run, don’t walk, for one of these. (Then run a lot aftewards too.)


Some more stunning building facades. From what I’ve heard, this style is apparently very late 1600s (I think). At least the first pic is, the second might be older.

IMG_7574 IMG_7580

Lots of music, including the ever-popular lederhosen singing people.

Though these guys were my favorite. We were on our way out of town, to head back to Brussels, and we suddenly hear music approaching us.

Apparently, these marching bands are a big thing in Belgium. And, my host tells me, they’re apparently quite gay — as in, lots of gay men in the marching bands. (What queen doesn’t love a performance?) Oh, I found out who these guys are — they have a YouTube page with a ton of their videos. I picked out some of the funnier ones. And one of the guys in the band saw my post and messaged me on Facebook! (I’m still amazed by the small-worldness of the Internet sometimes.)

So this was fun. Apparently the kids, when they graduate (high school?) throw their shoes across the phone or power lines that hang over the street in one particular section of town. Which explains what happened to Luna’s shoes.


So this disturbed me, as I’d hoped they were just a bad memory from my youth studying in Paris. The dreaded, but efficient, public urinals. You just stand up there in front of everyone and do it.


This is just me being artistic with a self-portrait of sorts in a window of an art gallery:


Ghent had a number of funny signs and posters. Some unintentionally funny, like the “Nacht Winkel” signs, which meant “Night Shop” (or, shop open at night), and then there was this meatball restaurant:


Or this sign letting you know not to pee on the street. I particularly like how, in a nod to equal opportunity, they included a drawing of a woman peeing.


Then there’s this. I have no idea.


I just can’t say enough about Ghent. I’m told Bruges is pretty amazing too. It’s funny, but if you’ve traveled a lot, things start to become less exciting, less impressive, the older you get. Probably, and sadly, because you’ve done “it” before, even if the city or country you’re visiting is a new “it.” You sometimes lose a bit of that “oh my god, I’m going to Europe!”-ness that you had as a kid traveling abroad for the first time. Ghent, for me, brought some of that childish wonderment, and sadness (because you don’t live there), back to me.

If you’re ever in the area, visit Brussels for a day, maybe. Then head to Ghent.


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Obama leasing millions of Gulf acres for offshore oil & gas drilling Mon, 28 Jul 2014 12:10:09 +0000 More and more it’s looking like Obama’s global warming and climate change “initiative” is just a legacy play. He says the right words, then does the wrong deeds.

I can’t think of another way to describe what we’re watching. Would a man who believed these words do those deeds? Let’s look at each, the words and the deeds.

Words first

First the fine words. Here’s Obama speaking to the bright-eyed grads at UC Irvine just this summer:

[S]ince this is a very educated group, you already know the science.  Burning fossil fuels release carbon dioxide.  Carbon dioxide traps heat.  Levels of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere are higher than they’ve been in 800,000 years. …

We know the trends.  The 18 warmest years on record have all happened since you graduates were born.  We know what we see with our own eyes.  Out West, firefighters brave longer, harsher wildfire seasons; states have to budget for that.  Mountain towns worry about what smaller snowpacks mean for tourism.  Farmers and families at the bottom worry about what it will mean for their water.  In cities like Norfolk and Miami, streets now flood frequently at high tide.  Shrinking icecaps have National Geographic making the biggest change in its atlas since the Soviet Union broke apart.

So the question is not whether we need to act.  The overwhelming judgment of science, accumulated and measured and reviewed over decades, has put that question to rest.  The question is whether we have the will to act before it’s too late.  For if we fail to protect the world we leave not just to my children, but to your children and your children’s children, we will fail one of our primary reasons for being on this world in the first place.

That’s pretty definite, right? The problem isn’t “North American” carbon vs. “foreign” carbon. The problem is (again):

“Burning fossil fuels release carbon dioxide.  Carbon dioxide traps heat.  Levels of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere are higher than they’ve been in 800,000 years.”

Let’s now look at just the most recent deeds.

Now deeds

On the deeds side of the ledger, Obama has just opened millions of acres of Gulf of Mexico to oil exploration. Here’s Steve Horn writing at the invaluable DeSmogBlog:

Not Just the Atlantic: Obama Leasing Millions of Gulf [of Mexico] Acres for Offshore Drilling

Deploying the age-old “Friday news dump,” President Barack Obama’s Interior Department gave the green light on Friday, July 18 to companies to deploy seismic air guns to examine the scope of Atlantic Coast offshore oil-and-gas reserves.

It is the first time in over 30 years that the oil and gas industry is permitted to do geophysical data collection along the Atlantic coast. Though decried by environmentalists, another offshore oil and gas announcement made the same week has flown under the radar: over 21 million acres of Gulf of Mexico offshore oil and gas reserves will be up for lease on August 20 in New Orleans, Louisiana at the Superdome.

On July 17, the U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM)  announced the lease in the name of President Obama’s “all of the above” energy policy.

“As part of President Obama’s all-of-the-above energy strategy to continue to expand safe and responsible domestic energy production, BOEM…today announced that the bureau will offer more than 21 million acres offshore Texas for oil and gas exploration and development in a lease sale that will include all available unleased areas in the Western Gulf of Mexico Planning Area,”proclaimed a July 17 BOEM press release.

The release says this equates to upwards of 116-200 million barrels of oil and 538-938 billion cubic feet of natural gas and falls under the banner of the U.S.-Mexico Transboundary Hydrocarbon Agreement.  [...]

Here’s what’s being “leased” (sorry, given away for a pittance … sorry, monetized by the billionaire oil and gas kings):

Millions of acres off the Texas coast to be leased for oil and gas exploration (click to enlarge)

Millions of acres off the Texas coast to be leased for oil and gas exploration (click to enlarge)

Could this endanger tourism (not to mention livability) in the Texas coast towns of Port Isabel and South Padre Island? Horn again:

According to BOEM‘s Proposed Notice of Sale Package, dozens of blocks sitting in close proximity to both Port Isabel and South Padre Island will be auctioned off during the August 20 [2014] lease. Both Port Isabel and South Padre Island are vacation and tourist hot spots[.]

How should we think of this?

Does Obama think none of that oil and gas will be burned?

The question one almost has to ask is this — What does President Obama think will happen to the oil and gas extracted from under the Gulf?

That’s a serious question. Does he think it will not be monetized and burned, or that it will be monetized and burned? If it won’t be monetized, is he scamming the bidders? (But if so, where’s his plan for preventing what’s extracted from ending up in our air and some billionaire’s pocket?)

And if it will be monetized, what of his words, that “Burning fossil fuels release carbon dioxide.  Carbon dioxide traps heat.  Levels of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere are higher than they’ve been in 800,000 years”?

I honestly don’t know what to make of this drastic (and tragic, at least for us) disconnect, except to call it, as I did above, a “legacy play.” I did not want the first Black president in U.S. history to be one more sordid bringer of billionaire screwage — and world-historical screwage at that. But there it is.

The Obama Legacy Library

By the way, here’s what that screwage is buying. Bidding is now going on for Obama’s Legacy Library, with Chicago (natch) in the running. Here’s one proposal, by the Chicago architectural firm HOK (formerly Hellmuth, Obata + Kassabaum):

Obama's Presidential Library as envisaged by the Chicago firm HOK (view 1)

Obama’s Presidential Library as envisaged by the Chicago firm HOK (view 1)

So forward-looking, it could be Starfleet Academy (do click; you’ll be surprised). Here’s another view:

Obama's Presidential Library as envisaged by the Chicago firm HOK (view 2)

Obama’s Presidential Library as envisaged by the Chicago firm HOK (view 2)

See the peaceful happy people, playing in the Obama Legacy Library Park? You won’t see those faces on South Padre Island. And 20 years down the road, if Obama gets his way and Exxon gets its Obama-provided billions, those faces will look a tad bit more concerned than they do here. Here’s a hint of what’s in store for us if Obama and Exxon succeed.

Our Devolution Scenarios

Just a taste of where the descent from civilization, that gift of the narrow and stable Holocene climate, may take us. We start with our current civilizational state and work backwards:

The electronic age of wireless communication.

The electric age of power generation and transmission, including by coal and oil consumption.

The mechanical age of power generation, including by coal and oil consumption.

The animal age (beasts and slaves) of power generation.

The age of agriculture and small towns and cities.

The age of hunters and gatherers, our tribal past.

Extinction, as the planet sloughs us off.

As the social, economic and political stability of the planet degrades (if it does), where does our devolution stop? If carbon-burning never stops — and that’s clearly one of the choices on the menu — it’s hard to see our devolution stopping before we’re generating most of our power with our beasts and our backs.

Now consider, when the human world was young and we were coming from the Stone Age to the Iron Age and beyond, all the goods of the earth were close to the surface — iron, copper, tin. As we descend (if we do) to stone age living, where will we find these precious things again, to begin that long climb back? Perhaps only in landfills.

Time for Obama to take Obama seriously

All of which is meant to say — please, this really is a turning point and a tipping point in the economic, social and political world. Mr. Obama, take your words seriously and act as though you believe them. You can yourself stop many of those nasty carbon emissions from ever seeing the light of day.

▪ Stop selling coal leases on federal lands.

▪ Stop selling oil and gas leases off U.S. shores.

▪ Do these deeds now to demonstrate real commitment to limiting CO2 emissions. Control what you can control by your own unilateral action.

That’s the ask. Care to join me? Obama will have power for just a few years, and we have just a few years to use our power to influence him. In order to prevent him from destroying his legacy (and our American futures), he needs to know we’re watching.

Tell him we’re watching.


Twitter: @Gaius_Publius
Gaius Publi

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Who would find a daily pill to prevent HIV “too inconvenient” to bother? Fri, 25 Jul 2014 12:00:59 +0000 Much of the information presented here is from “AIDS 2014″ International AIDS Conference taking place in Melbourne, Australia.

iPrEx was one of the studies done on using the PrEP (Pre-exposure Prophylaxis) drug combination of tenofovir-emtricitabine. iPrEx OLE was an extension of that study.

IPrEx OLE is unusual in a couple of ways. In general, most research trials enroll a number of patients. About 50% of the enrollees are randomly assigned to be given the study drug, the other 50% get a placebo. Almost always, neither the patients nor the investigators know which patients are getting the drug and which are getting placebo.

In iPrEx OLE there were two important differences. About 1700 participants were enrolled worldwide. These were either men who had sex with men (MSMs) or transgender people who had sex with men. All participants were allowed to choose which arm of the study (medication or placebo) that they wanted to be in. About 75% chose to take PrEP and the remaining 25% chose to not take PrEP. So all of the volunteers and investigators knew who was getting the drug and who wasn’t. So they weren’t blinded to that fact.

Researchers monitored how frequently the participants used condoms. Interestingly, the non-PrEP group began to use condoms more frequently than they had before enrolling in the trial. And the group that was taking PrEP? They started using condoms more frequently, as well. So both those taking tenofovir-emtricitabine and those not taking the drug increased condom use. So, in spite of fears to the contrary, it seems that those who use PrEP also increase condom use, not decrease condom use as was hypothesized.

Researchers also found that the people who chose to try PrEP and took it on a regular basis (if not daily, as directed) had the following characteristics:

  • They tended to be older (not necessarily much older) than those who didn’t take PrEP.
  • They had more schooling.
  • They had a history of having more sexual partners.
  • They had a history of having had either herpes, syphilis of both.
  • They had a higher incidence of having been receptive to anal intercourse (they bottomed) without condom use.

Data from this, and a previous study showed that “effective” PrEP use was defined as volunteers taking their antiretroviral combination 4 or more days per week. So, even when patients didn’t take PrEP daily, as they should, most took it frequently so that they had high enough blood levels of the drug to prevent infection.

One other interesting fact. Investigators asked those who chose not to take PrEP, why they made that choice. About 50% said that they were worried about side effects of the drug. 14% said that they preferred other methods or prevention (e.g., condoms) — though the question remains, why did they prefer other methods? And about 25% said that taking a daily pill was too inconvenient.

After having seen the history of HIV/AIDS as it occurred I’m amazed that people would think that a single daily pill, that can prevent a terrible disease, would be “too inconvenient.” I can only imagine what those lived (or died) through the three decades when HIV was virtually unstoppable, would have given to have had access to an “inconvenient” medication like this.

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Scientists use virus to grow natural pacemaker from heart muscle Thu, 24 Jul 2014 18:02:49 +0000 Researchers have discovered a way to use a virus to re-program heart cells and create an all-natural pacemaker that might some day be able to take the place of mechanical pacemakers.

The heart’s normal rhythm is set by the sinoatrial node (SA node) located in the upper part of the heart. This area is known as the pacemaker.

It fires and sends electrical signals through other specialized cardiac cells that allow the heart to contract in its normal fashion. The cells in the SA node that do this job are called pacemaker cells, and they differ from the other cardiac cells, the cardiomyocytes, contract when stimulated and cause the pumping action of the heart.

If something happens to the SA node (disease, injury or something similar), other cells in the heart’s conduction system can take up the job and cause the heart to contract.  But the SA node can easily change the speed with which the heart beats, faster when exercising, slower when resting.

The size of a traditional pacemaker. (Via Shutterstock)

The size of a traditional pacemaker. (Via Shutterstock)

The cells that take over the task when the SA node is injured can often only cause the heart to beat at slower rates than normal, even during times of exercise or stress.  Sometimes they beat they generate is so slow that the patient is very limited in what he can do.  Essentially, the heart rate has an effect on blood pressure.  With a too slow heart rate (bradycardia), not enough blood gets pushed out to the areas of the body that need it most.  This can cause the patient to become faint or dizzy even at rest, depending on the heart rate that is being maintained.  If the patient needs to get up and walk, the remaining pacemaker cells can’t fire fast enough to maintain the perfusion of the tissues with blood.  The patient can become more symptomatic and may even die.

Decades ago, electronic pacemakers were developed to be implanted in these patients.  The pacemaker can produce a heart rate that can prevent symptoms from occurring.  It’s a real lifesaver for many patients.  But there are drawbacks.  Pacemaker leads (electrodes) have to be implanted in the heart wall.  And the pacemaker itself has to be placed in the chest wall surgically.  The pacemaker sometimes has to be reprogrammed, its battery may need replaced, the leads may need to be repositioned, and there are other technical problems that can occur.  Of course, having a natural pacemaker that can adjust the heart’s rate as needed would be better.

Researchers have now demonstrated that they can replace the damaged natural pacemaker with a pacemaker that is induced in the animal’s own heart.

Scientists damaged the SA node in a number of pigs.  This caused the pigs’ heart rates to drop from a normal, of about 100 beats per minute (BPM) down to about 50 BPM.  The researchers had engineered a virus that contained a gene (TBX18) that would cause cause cardiac myocytes (non-pacemaker muscle cells) to become pacemaker cells.  They injected the virus solution into the pigs’ hearts.  Within 48 hours the pigs started having more rapid heart rates.   The heart rate varied appropriately when the pigs went from resting, to eating to walking around.  So, in effect, the scientists effectively created new biological pacemakers in these pigs.  It seems, however that the pacemakers induced this way are temporary.  The pigs’ immune system will gradually attack the new pacemaker cells because the immune cells sense that the new pacemaker cells are infected with virus.  Right now, the investigators are seeing just how long they can maintain the induced pacemakers with repeated injections of the gene-virus combination.

If the rejection of the new pacemaker area can be prevented, this could allow for a patient to develop his own pacemaker and not have to live with a mechanical one.  But, even if the virus-gene induced pacemaker can’t be protected and eventually dies off, it can still be useful.  For example, in fetuses who have bradycardia and can’t be given pacemakers in utero.  Or take the case of young children, who need pacemaker changes because they are growing quickly.  This technique might prove valuable there.  Or in critically ill patients who might have increased risk for a pacemaker change until they become more stable.

The investigators will submit their results to the FDA, and if the FDA approves, they may be able to start human trials within a few years.

You can read more about this here and here.

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Greeks gone west: A video profile of Greek-Americans Thu, 24 Jul 2014 12:00:09 +0000 The US Embassy in Athens contacted me a few months about a neat project they were doing, in conjunction with the newspaper, Kathimeriniprofiling various Greek-Americans in various professions.  I made it on to the list, so they came over and interviewed me for an hour, and then crystallized the interview into the following 3 minute video.

They did a really good job. Hey, when you’re Greek, any interview that gets your last name right is well-done. :) (And I’m surprised I was speaking so slowly, maybe they drugged my drink, knowing how I normally speak.)

Here’s a pic of one of the outtakes when “someone” decided she had been left out of the picture a bit too long:


Here’s the description of the project:

“Greeks Gone West” is a series of video vignettes the US Embassy in Athens made about the world of work in the US. Through the prism of Greeks and Greek-Americans with interesting work lives, we hope to improve the understanding of US society and to show possibilities during a time, in Greece, when life seems full of limitations and frustrations.

Each video is roughly three minutes long and addresses how each of the 23 participants came to do what they do, whether a music supervisor, a film director, an HIV doctor, a restaurateur, an advertising guru, fashion designer and several other people, and what they plan to do next. We hear about their experiences and relations with Greece, but mainly we hear how they’ve pushed through the toughest parts of their journey. We plan to profile a pathologist, a music producer, a fashion designer, a chef, a video game designer, and several other people.

With the support of Kathimerini, you will be able to enjoy one video profile per day throughout the month of July.

Today’s video features John Aravosis, political consultant for the Democrats, writer, gay activist and blogger.

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If you want peace in Israel, evict God Wed, 23 Jul 2014 18:05:55 +0000 This weekend, I travelled to Philadelphia for my grandmother’s unveiling. What is an unveiling? One of the most pleasantly outdated religious traditions I’ve ever encountered.

According to Jewish law, when a person dies they must be buried as soon as possible – generally no more than a week after passing. However, during the early Diaspora it took longer than that to carve headstones or erect small monuments, around which multiple members of the family would be buried. This being the case, the funeral would be held sans-headstone and the family would reconvene at the cemetery some time later – usually a month – to “unveil” the headstone or monument and revisit the memory of their loved one.

In the present day, it doesn’t take that long to carve headstones. However, Jews still observe the practice of “unveiling” the headstone at a time when everyone in the immediate family is available. Because, really, why not?

Despite the tradition’s secular roots, the Jewish equivalent of bureaucracy has retroactively assigned religious justification to the fundamentally secular practice. Depending on which rabbi you ask, and I’ve asked a few, there are different scriptural and/or Talmudic injunctions mandating unveilings, along with mutually exclusive “correct” ways to carry them out. Sometimes a minyan (ten bar mitzvahed men) is required, sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes a rabbi needs to be there, sometimes they don’t. Et cetera, et cetera.

Israeli flag

Israel via Shutterstock

Every community and family seems to have a slightly different way of going about unveiling the headstones of their loved ones (I invite commenters to add their own experiences). If you assume secular origins, the tradition makes a great deal of sense; if you assume a religious mandate, this comes off as arcane and pedantic – why bother pretending that a practice borne out of necessity is a religious mandate? Either way, my family likes seeing each other, so we ironically don our yarmulkes and listen to the rabbi say Kaddish – or we skip the yarmulkes and say a few words in English without a rabbi – and then we go get lunch.

My experience with unveilings is, I think, indicative of the orientation that a lot of Millennial Jews such as myself have towards their Jewish heritage. And I use the word heritage instead of religion because a third of Millennial Jews, myself included, have no religion (noodle on that stat for a second) — for us, being Jewish is an ethnicity, not a religion. Sure, we observe the holidays (well, the ones we find it convenient to observe), we idolize Sandy Koufax and we go through the motions at our Bar Mitzvahs — partly at the behest of our families, and partly as a way to establish our identity in contrast to our goyish counterparts in middle school. We appreciate the excuses to get together with our loved ones, such as at unveilings, and we tense up when rabbis claim divine instruction for things that God is clearly agnostic about, like exactly when and how I look at my grandmother’s headstone.

Is it really so hard to believe that American Jews are keeping their culture and losing their religion? Of American adherents to the three monotheistic religions, we have the most educated population and the oldest/least evolved holy book. We debate, we criticize, we laugh off that part in Deuteronomy where it says that bastards and men “whose testicles are crushed” aren’t allowed to take part in religious services (the one part of my Bar Mitzvah Torah portion I remember). And, in the end, we acknowledge that Genesis simply doesn’t square with scientific consensus concerning how the world came to be. And why should it matter? We’ve got a culture that works for us, even if our religious texts are absurd.

The problem here is that, given our experience of Judaism in America, many of us have no idea what if feels like to be involved in a holy struggle, and we don’t understand why the Israel/Palestine conflict is treated as one. To us, the conflict comes off as a straightforward land dispute, and it doesn’t make any sense to us that the best minds in international relations haven’t been able to figure it out for over two thousand years – have we learned nothing from the Crusades? If it will save countless lives in the long-term, why can’t we give the Palestinians some land, especially if a majority of both Israelis and Palestinians support the idea?

I was, along with my peers, brought up sheltered from the idea of Jewish fundamentalism. For instance, it was conveniently omitted from our Hebrew School lessons that there are people in Israel who consider it a perfectly valid question as to whether or not the divine mandate to slaughter (or “smite” or “utterly destroy,” depending on your translation) the Amalekites applies to present-day Palestinians, or really anyone who lives in the area and deviates from a particular flavor of Jewish orthodoxy.

Furthermore, we can’t make sense of the fact that people who hold those opinions have to be taken at least somewhat seriously in Israeli politics. But if you want to understand what’s going on over there, you had better be able to make sense of them, because Israel’s religious right is both part of the Likud Party’s ruling coalition and one of the biggest roadblocks to peace in the region.

Growing up as an American Jew, none of my community leaders or family members had the understanding, or perhaps intestinal fortitude, to explain settlements and their religious justification to me, let alone how central they are to the Israel-Palestine conflict. Part of the reason for this omission, I think, is that American Jews don’t want to teach their children that people who share our heritage can be just as irrationally adherent to ancient, absurd texts, with similarly problematic consequences, as people of other faiths whose irrational adherence to ancient, absurd texts have been the cause of our continued persecution and near annihilation. On the one hand, who could blame them? It’s an uncomfortable subject. On the other hand, one of the measuring sticks of an enlightened culture is its ability to look inward and criticize itself.

In articles like this, the author is supposed to qualify their argument by acknowledging that, yes, there are a ton of people out there whose mission in life is to destroy Israel. However, I don’t think I need to tell an American audience how violent and evil Hamas is, and if anything Hamas’ religious dogmatism proves my point: This is a political problem that is being fought on religious lines. In any case, I think TalkingPointsMemo editor, and fellow cultural Jew, Josh Marshall got it right when he said, “Fight the occupation like there’s no Israel-haters, fight the Israel-haters like there’s no occupation.”

And while ardently religious Israeli settlers aren’t the only reason for the occupation, they’re a big one. As I referenced above, a majority of both Israeli and Palestinian citizens support a two-state solution, and the two sides have been close to an agreement on one before. One of the major sticking points? Settlers would have to move. Instead, they’re building residential infrastructure. As Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said recently, “The settlement enterprise is a security, economic and moral burden that is aimed at preventing us from ever coming to an arrangement.” The settlers know that they are standing between the body politic and a peace agreement, and they don’t care. And why should they? They have God – and, for the time being, Israeli law – on their side.

Settlements didn’t provide the introduction to this particular chapter in the Israel-Palestine conflict, but they are central to the backstory. In the short-term, this news cycle is about petty – and perhaps criminally negligent – politics. But in the long-term, extreme religion – and not just the kind we’re used to – is getting in the way of peace. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may have been alluding to Islamic fundamentalism when he hinted that a two-state solution is untenable from a security standpoint, and he may even be correct in thinking that’s the case, but it is Jewish fundamentalism that is preventing the two sides from reaching that bridge, let alone burning it. Until Israel and its citizens begin behaving as if the West Bank may not be theirs forever, Palestinians have no reason to take them seriously when they talk about two-state solutions.

And therein lies the rub: As long as blind religious adherence for adherence’s sake is a respected point of view – more specifically, as long as Israeli citizens can build neighborhoods on other people’s land because they think God told them to -  a rational, let alone agreeable, solution in the Middle East will be impossible. Religious zealots will always be able to point to their respective holy books and say, “No, look here, it says that…” to justify their actions on divine grounds. There isn’t any way to argue with that except to reject the premise that a religious text should be the basis for diplomatic arrangements. We have no problem rejecting this premise when the book in question is the Koran; we shouldn’t have a problem doing it when it’s the Torah, either.

Jews have always been strangers in strange lands, plucky underdogs with a dry sense of humor (As the old Jewish joke goes, Shlomo is walking down the streets of Kiev when he looks up at the heavens and goes, “Lord, I know that we Jews are the chosen people…but couldn’t you choose someone else, for a change?”). It is perhaps for this reason that the values and culture we have adopted neatly fit within Western liberal democracy: we value skepticism, inquiry, free expression and multiculturalism because we’re usually on the short end of the stick when it comes to repression and discrimination. On the other hand, when a cultural Jew/religious atheist like me looks to the Middle East and sees what our nominal counterparts are doing in the name of Zionism, they see the values of a people looking to assert divinely mandated dominance and strength. In short, they see religious bullies.

The Jewish experience in America is one where religion is more or less distinct from values and culture. We go to unveilings, but not to temple. We have 30-minute (okay, five minute) Passover seders and perk up when we recognize Yiddish – even if we don’t understand it. So when we are told to (or tell ourselves to) defend the behavior of the Israeli government and the particular segment of the Jewish community it can’t afford to upset, it’s a tough sell. Our values don’t match up with their actions. And when we are told to take God’s side in a foreign policy dispute, we find ourselves asking whether or not God really has taken a side, and whether he should be asked to take one in the first place.

In articles like these – where Jewish atheists such as myself lament Israel’s lost way during its occupation of Palestinian territories – it’s become traditional to invoke “the promise of Israel.” But I’m not entirely sure what people mean when they say “promise of Israel.” Does the promise vindicate Jewish values and culture, or is first and foremost religious? Was the country founded to be a homeland for the Jewish people, or the Jewish faith? The difference is small, but in it lies the difference between the secular, multicultural ideals of inclusivity and free expression embodied in my Jewish upbringing and the reactionary, increasingly violent impulses of Judaism’s worst representatives.

In Israel, as with the unveiling, what began as a secular idea seems to have been co-opted by religious dogmatism. As with my grandmother’s headstone, God apparently wants Israel to exist this way, not that, depending on who you ask. We can accept this dogmatism, or we can laugh it off and go get lunch together. I’ll have a bagel with lox.

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It’s time for my annual medical tourism trip to Europe Tue, 22 Jul 2014 19:16:17 +0000 It’s that time again. When I act like I’m from a small village in a developing country and fly to western Europe in order to buy my asthma drugs that are 5x cheaper in France than they are America.

Why are they cheaper in France?  Not because of government subsidies. But rather because international pharmaceutical companies charge you and me, in general, three to five times what they charge Europeans SIMPLY BECAUSE WE’RE AMERICAN.

So, in a way, you could say we’re number 1.


Advair costs 5x in America what is costs in France because the drug companies simply charge Americans more.

symbicort (1)

As I’d written before, at least US insurance companies are now cracking down on Advair, but they still seem to think that Symbicort is a good alternative. Yes, Symbicort that only gouges Americans by charging us 3.5x what they charge the French. That’s what counts as a “bargain” in Big Pharma -land.

My trip to France literally breaks even after I buy my Advair. It’s ridiculous. And offensive.

Maybe I’ll bring it back home in one of those big plastic colored oversized shopping bags that the old-world grannies use instead of suitcases!

Bon voyage.

(Someone is less than thrilled that I’m leaving her with mom.)


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