Blogs

Pi Day Health News

| Sat Mar. 14, 2015 11:38 AM EDT

Well, a miracle happened. Last Monday, the 2nd, I fell off a deep cliff. For no apparent reason, I was sleeping very poorly and I spent entire days in a miasma of lethargy so great I was nearly debilitated. Twice things got so bad that I went to the ER.

Then, yesterday, suddenly I climbed back on the cliff. I woke up feeling perfectly normal. A little tired, perhaps, but that's normal for post-chemo recovery. In all other respects, I'm human again.

So what happened? Theory 1: We'll never know. Stuff happens for mysterious reasons. Theory 2: It was depression, and it eventually worked its way out of my system. Theory 3: My physician prescribed a different set of sleep meds on Thursday, and I slept better that night.

It's all very weird, and hopefully it will last. In another week or two the Effexor should kick in, and hopefully that will boost my mood (and improve my sleep) as well. The timing is welcome, since I have a busy few weeks of tests and procedures ahead of me.

So that's that. I'm still not in tip-top condition or anything, but I'm basically OK for the first time in two weeks. It's amazing.

POSTSCRIPT/BLEG: My new sleep meds work better than the old ones, but they still aren't ideal. My doctor mentioned the possibility of trying a med like Lunesta, which I gather is a time-release formulation. Does anyone with moderate-to-severe insomnia have any experience with this? Does it really keep you asleep for a full night? Any personal experiences welcome.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Will Obama's Ag Chief Wimpify the 2015 Dietary Guidelines to Please Big Meat?

| Sat Mar. 14, 2015 6:00 AM EDT

Should the new Dietary Guidelines—the advice the federal government issues every five years on what constitutes a healthy diet—include recommendations about what makes for a healthy planet? The meat industry sure doesn't think so.

The industry started flipping out when it saw some of the language in the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee's February report: "Consistent evidence indicates that, in general, a dietary pattern that is higher in plant-based foods...and lower in animal-based foods is more health promoting and is associated with a lesser environmental impact (GHG emissions and energy, land, and water use) than is the current average US diet."

Big Meat takes issue with two main things:

1) That the committee's scientists dared to comment on environmental sustainability issues in a nutrition report.

2) That the report said (elsewhere) that a healthy diet should be lower in red and processed meats.

The North American Meat Institute, a massive trade association, retaliated this week with a "Hands Off My Hot Dog" petition on Change.org, a flurry of tweets about saving the Ruben sandwich, and this short film, starring plastic-wrapped packages of raw beef:

The film focuses on the health merits of meat, arguing that it trumps other foods because, unlike plants, "animal proteins are considered complete proteins, or ideal proteins." Never mind that plenty of other accessible and cheap vegetarian foods, including rice and beans, or buckwheat, also provide complete proteins.

One calorie of beef requires 18 times the amount of fuel to produce as one calorie of grain.

But the video does not try to refute the notion that meat's environmental footprint is cause for concern—the UN argues, for instance, that livestock produce 14.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. The Dietary Guidelines' committee points out that producing one calorie of beef requires 18 times as much fuel as producing one calorie of grain.

It's no coincidence that the committee chose to flag the carbon footprint of our food: The guidelines are ultimately about people's relationship with food, and the deterioration of the environment's health is a blow to our food security. "Meeting current and future food needs," the committee notes, will depend on changing the way people eat and developing agricultural and production practices "that reduce environmental impacts and conserve resources."

So will the Dietary Guidelines retain this responsible language when they are officially published this fall by the departments of Health and Human Services and Agriculture? On Wednesday, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said that he could not rule out the chance that the final version will mention sustainability, but he implied that he would steer clear of doling out environmental advice. He told the Wall Street Journal:

"Our job ultimately is to formulate dietary and nutrition guidelines. And I emphasize dietary and nutrition because that's what the law says. I think it's my responsibility to follow the law."

The law or the money? The AP has reported that meat processing and livestock industries spent $7 million on lobbying and donated $5 million to members of Congress during the last election cycle.

Key Obama Adviser: "There’s Never Been a Time When We’ve Taken Progressive Action and Regretted It"

| Fri Mar. 13, 2015 5:33 PM EDT

Here to jump start your weekend is a "Quote of the Week," taken from Jonathan Chait's interview with longtime Obama adviser Dan Pfeiffer, who worked closely with president from the 2008 campaign until his resignation last week. Their conversation focused on the president's embrace of liberalism in the face of a staunch GOP-controlled Congress. Pfeiffer's choice quote:

Whenever we contemplate bold progressive action, whether that’s the president's endorsement of marriage equality, or coming out strong on power-plant rules to reduce current pollution, on immigration, on net neutrality, you get a lot of hemming and hawing in advance about what this is going to mean: Is this going to alienate people? Is this going to hurt the president's approval ratings? What will this mean in red states?

There's never been a time when we’ve taken progressive action and regretted it.

Happy Friday!

Why a German Court Just Ordered A Vaccine Skeptic to Pay $100K

| Fri Mar. 13, 2015 4:39 PM EDT

Four years ago, vaccine-skeptical German biologist Stefan Lanka posed a challenge on his website: Prove to him that measles is, in fact, a virus. To the first person who could do that, he promised a whopping 100 thousand Euros (about $106,000).

Despite loads of long-standing medical evidence proving the existence of the measles virus, Lanka believes that measles is a psychosomatic disease that results from trauma. "People become ill after traumatic separations," he told a German newspaper.

German doctor David Barden took him up on the challenge. Barden gathered six separate studies showing that measles is indeed a virus. Lanka dismissed his findings.

But today, a district court in southern Germany found that Barden's evidence provides sufficient proof to have satisfied Lanka's challenge. Which means Lanka now has to cough up the promised cash.

This issue has taken on new urgency due to a measles epidemic in Berlin that began in October. Health officials announced last Friday that 111 new cases had been reported in the previous week, bringing the total number to 724. The majority of those affected are unvaccinated; last month an 18-month-old died of the disease.

Lanka said he plans to appeal the court's decision.  

This Arizona Lawmaker Bravely Revealed Her Sexual Assault to Fight a Restrictive Abortion Bill

| Fri Mar. 13, 2015 2:18 PM EDT

Arizona state Rep. Victoria Steele (D) revealed during emotional testimony Wednesday that she was molested by a male relative when she was a young girl. Steele, who was speaking against a bill that would make it harder for women to elect abortion coverage in plans bought through the Affordable Care Act, hadn't planned to talk about her past abuse, she explained later. But when committee chair Kelly Townsend asked her whether she felt abortion was a medical service, she felt compelled to share her experience.

"When I was a child, I was molested for years by one particular person," Steele testified. "This is health care. Having the ability to get an abortion. This is health care. And that's why I see this as necessary."

Steele said she later found out there were multiple victims, one of whom told her their molester had told her he would "stick a pencil up there and take care of it" if she ever ended up pregnant.

After Steele's testimony, a state House committee approved the bill by a 5-3 party-line vote. The bill now faces a vote before the full House.

In an editorial for Cosmopolitan published on Friday, Steele said she expected the bill to survive further debate, but explained why she thinks it's  dangerous for women's rights:

I was sexually abused by an adult over a period of years when I was a young girl. My immediate family didn't know about this until long after I had grown up and left home. When I was a child, I thought I was the only one. Then I found out that this person had many victims.

What I want, what I'm really hoping will come of all of this is that people will realize that this bill will cause women who have been raped recently, who are now pregnant as a result of their rape, to have to tell their insurance panel, or even their insurance agent, about one of the most horrific things that can happen to a person in order to get the exception that this bill will allow.

Friday Hummingbird Blogging - 13 March 2015

| Fri Mar. 13, 2015 12:00 PM EDT

My physical collapse this week prevented me from taking any new cat pictures, and today I have a full day of workups in preparation for stage 2 of chemo. However, I did snap a new picture of our hummingbird babies yesterday. They seem to be growing nicely.

In the meantime, if you need a cat fix, my sister recommends this Daily Mail article about a human-cat translation device. Spoiler alert: it didn't go well.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

The NYPD Is Editing the Wikipedia Pages of Eric Garner, Sean Bell

| Fri Mar. 13, 2015 11:03 AM EDT

Edits to the Wikipedia entries of several high-profile police brutality cases, including those of Eric Garner, Amadou Diallo, and Sean Bell, trace back to the headquarters of the New York Police Department, Capital New York reports this morning. The pages have been edited to cast the NYPD in a more favorable light and lessen allegations of police misconduct. The edits are currently the subject of an NYPD internal review.

In the case of Garner, who died while placed in a chokehold by a NYPD officer last summer, the word "chokehold" was swapped for "respiratory distress" and the line "Garner, who was considerably larger than any of the officers, continued to struggle with them" was added. The changes ostensibly suggest Garner's death was his own fault.

Such modifications echo the views of NYPD supporters, including Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) who adamantly declared Garner would not have died had he not been so "obese." In August, the city's medical examiner officially ruled Garner's death a homicide due to the chokehold.

The Wikipedia activity brewing at 1 Police Plaza took a distinctly more bizarre turn with edits to the pages "Ice Cream Soda," "Who Moved My Cheese?" "Chumbawamba," and "Stone Cold Steve Austin."

Following Capital New York's story on Friday, the Twitter account "NYPD Edits" was created to keep tabs on any future changes authored by the NYPD.

Oklahoma's Football Team Protests the Racist Frat Video With a Moment of Silence

| Thu Mar. 12, 2015 8:11 PM EDT

The University of Oklahoma football team stood arm-in-arm in black shirts Thursday in silent protest of the now-infamous video showing members of the campus Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter singing a racist chant.

Quarterback Trevor Knight posted a statement on Twitter on behalf of the team, urging the university to continue its investigation and declaring that the team would not practice this week. "These types of incidents occur nationwide every single year, and our hope is to shed light on this issue and promote meaningful change at a national level," the statement read. 

While African American students make up only five percent of the university's student population, the perennial bowl contenders represent a high-profile and influential group of mostly black students. Shortly after the video went viral, senior linebacker and captain Erik Striker criticized "phony ass" supporters who cheer for the team while insisting racism doesn't exist. On Monday, highly rated high school football recruit Jean Delance decommitted from Oklahoma, citing the video. Then, on Tuesday, the university expelled two fraternity members and shut down the chapter. University president David Boren told USA Today he expected more students to be disciplined as the school continues to investigate.

Athletic director Joe Castiglione has promised that the athletic department and Boren will meet with the football captains after spring break to discuss the investigation. 

This Fake App Just Summed Up Everything That's Wrong With Silicon Valley

| Thu Mar. 12, 2015 6:08 PM EDT

In Silicon Valley, a group of mostly white, mostly male twentysomethings have built a multibillion-dollar empire of sharing apps: shared housing (AirBnB), shared cars (Uber), shared dog-sitting (DogVacay)…you get the idea. But the so-called "sharing economy" doesn't actually share equally with everyone. One fake app wants to change that.

WellDeserved is an app that helps you "monetize" your privilege—be it racial, gender-based, or socioeconomic—by sharing it (temporarily, of course) with other people. The fictional app was the winning entry at last month's Comedy Hack Day in San Francisco, where creative agency Cultivated Wit challenged contestants to come up with a comedic app idea and pitch it to judges, all in 48 hours.

The app's promo video will make you laugh and cry: A Google employee sells his free Google lunch to a guest for $10, a dude charges a black man $5 to hail a cab on his behalf, and another guy walks a woman home so she won't get catcalled, asking himself, "Why don't I walk with them, spare them the harassment, and charge 'em like five bucks?"

The creators' (fake) plan for making the (fake) app work is summed up perfectly: "Our business plan is that VCs will just give us money. Because this is San Francisco, and we have an idea."

This post has been updated.

One Thing I Wish Vox Understood About Wishes

| Wed Mar. 11, 2015 5:36 PM EDT

You can't wish...

...for more wishes.