Bloody Brilliant

Apr 18 2014 @ 7:29am

A team of researchers that has been growing red blood cells from pluripotent stem cells has received a grant to trial the cultured cells in humans. Victoria Turk has the details:

The first three volunteers will receive some of the lab-cultured red blood cells before the end of 2016, and the goal is to eventually go mainstream. Think full-scale “blood factories,” according to the Telegraph. I spoke to Jo Mountford, one of the scientists working on producing the cells at the University of Glasgow who also works with the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service. She explained that their aim had been to create red blood cells that were “the closest thing possible to a red cell you would take from a donor,” but made in a dish rather than taken from someone’s arm.

Liat Clark looks at the potential advantages of manufactured blood cells:

Read On

The Best Of The Dish Today

Apr 17 2014 @ 9:30pm

I figured I’d post the above video to dispel some of the misconceptions about the pill that can prevent you from getting infected with HIV. Some readers wanted expert medical advice rather than my links to studies – and the video should help. You’ll note that the volunteers in the study do not come across as reckless “whores”, as some have so depressingly called them. They are rather sane, smart, responsible gay men trying to minimize their risks of infection. If you’d not think twice about getting vaccines if you were taking a trip to the tropics, why would you think twice about taking a pill that can protect you if you are in a demographic at high risk of HIV infection?

And after the ugliness of a few trying to claim exclusive credit for a movement they only joined in the last few years, it’s great to read this wonderful story:

The lawyer who defended California’s ban on gay marriage in front of the Supreme Court is now helping his daughter plan her wedding to another woman.

If you want to know why marriage equality is on a roll, it’s not because of one credit-grabbing Chad Griffin’s unique genius, but because so many human beings from all walks of life opened their hearts and minds to their fellow citizens, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, over the last two and a half decades, and saw the morality of affirming the love of one person for another. That’s what began this revolution and what will, I hope, one day end it.

The most trafficked post of the day – and week - is my initial takedown of Jo Becker’s travesty of a book. Read all of our related coverage here, including Becker’s dissembling response to the widespread criticism today. Meanwhile, the view from my Obamacare sparked the first wave of your stories. Feel free to leave any unfiltered comments at our Facebook page or @sullydish.

Some reader updates you might have missed: supplemental info for “The View From Your Obamacare” and a classic YouTube that one reader calls “perhaps my favorite Dish video of all time.” I watched it again today, and yeah it’s hilarious.

It was a great day for subscriptions: 37 more Dishheads signed up. You can join them here.

And see you in the morning.

Resegregation In The South

Apr 17 2014 @ 8:40pm


Nikole Hannah-Jones reports on it:

[Tuscaloosa, Alabama’s] school resegregation—among the most extensive in the country—is a story of city financial interests, secret meetings, and angry public votes. It is a story shaped by racial politics and a consuming fear of white flight. It was facilitated, to some extent, by the city’s black elites. And it was blessed by a U.S. Department of Justice no longer committed to fighting for the civil-rights aims it had once championed.

Certainly what happened in Tuscaloosa was no accident. Nor was it isolated. Schools in the South, once the most segregated in the country, had by the 1970s become the most integrated, typically as a result of federal court orders. But since 2000, judges have released hundreds of school districts, from Mississippi to Virginia, from court-enforced integration, and many of these districts have followed the same path as Tuscaloosa’s—back toward segregation. Black children across the South now attend majority-black schools at levels not seen in four decades. Nationally, the achievement gap between black and white students, which greatly narrowed during the era in which schools grew more integrated, widened as they became less so.

Pollution Is For Poor People

Apr 17 2014 @ 8:10pm

Emily Badger flags a new study adding to the large body of evidence that environmental problems disproportionately affect poor and minority communities:

[R]esearchers at the University of Minnesota, writing in the journal PLOS ONE, have created a sweeping picture of unequal exposure to one key pollutant — nitrogen dioxide, produced by cars, construction equipment and industrial sources — that’s been linked to higher risks of asthma and heart attack. They’ve found, all over the country, in even the most rural states and the cleanest cities, that minorities are exposed to more of the pollution than whites. …

Read On

Seeing Blue

Apr 17 2014 @ 7:43pm

Rosie Blau (as our German readers chuckle) looks at how light affects our health:

In the morning, high concentrations of blue occur naturally; by dusk we are left mostly with green and bluered. The blue light has the greatest impact on our circadian system, telling the brain that it’s morning and time to be alert, and setting our clock for the day. That is important because we sleep soundly, and our brain and body function better, when the internal signals of the body clock are in sync with external cues of day and night.

The problem is that artificial light does not replicate the colours of the natural world. Much electric light has high intensities of blue, so it deceives our brains into thinking that it’s daytime even when it isn’t. Just ten minutes of regular electric light can make some changes to our internal clock. “We evolved to be blue-sensitive, we need it,” says [professor Satchin] Panda. But many of us get an awful lot of it, particularly in the evening: when we get home we spotlight the kitchen so we can make the dinner, and then plug into our laptops, tablets or smartphones, which beam blue light into our eyes at close range. So we … lessen the contrast between light and dark that our circadian system relies on to work well. All of which makes us more prone to insomnia or disturbed sleep in some way.

But artificial light isn’t all bad:

Read On

The War Over The Core, Ctd

Apr 17 2014 @ 7:25pm

With Indiana recently becoming the first state to repeal the Common Core State Standards - and opposition to the standards rising in Louisiana, Oklahoma, and several other states - Jay Greene worries that Core supporters “made some of the same political mistakes that opponents of gay marriage did”:

They figured if they could get the US Department of Education, DC-based organizations, and state school chiefs on board, they would have a direct and definitive victory. And at first blush it looked like they had achieved it, with about 45 states committing to adopt the new set of standards and federally-sponsored standardized tests aligned to those standards. Like opponents of gay marriage, the Common Core victory seemed so overwhelming that they hardly felt the need to engage in debates to defend it. But in the rush to a clear and total victory, supporters of Common Core failed to consider how the more than 10,000 school districts, more than 3 million teachers, and the parents of almost 50 million students would react. For standards to actually change practice, you need a lot of these folks on board.

And he doesn’t see that happening anytime soon:

Read On

Hathos Alert

Apr 17 2014 @ 7:01pm

It’s an independent Tea Party commercial designed to oust Thad Cochran from the Senate. Brace yourself, Thad.

Update from a reader:

Well, it says something that Abraham Lincoln is being used an appeal to conservative Mississipians. You wouldn’t have seen that very long ago.

John Roberts And White Supremacy

Apr 17 2014 @ 6:40pm

A potent read from Tom Levenson, in the wake of Ta-Nehisi’s powerful writing on the subject. Money quote:

Political money and hence influence at the top levels is disproportionately white, male, and with almost no social context that includes significant numbers of African Americans and other people of color.

This is why money isn’t speech. Freedom of speech as a functional element in democratic life assumes that such freedom can be meaningfully deployed. But the unleashing of yet more money into politics allows a very limited class of people to drown out the money “speech” of everyone else—but especially those with a deep, overwhelmingly well documented history of being denied voice and presence in American political life.

Making good on one of his campaign promises, Mayor de Blasio has shuttered an infamous police unit:

Referred to as the “Demographics Unit,” the unit, advised by an official from the Central Intelligence Agency, had engaged in broad surveillance of Muslim communities, such as neighborhoods, mosques, businesses in New York and New Jersey, without specific evidence of criminal behavior. Testifying under oath, an NYPD official admitted that the program had not lead to a single terrorism investigation. Nevertheless, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg had defended the unit’s operations, saying, “We have to keep this country safe.” The unit was first revealed as part of a Pulitzer prize-winning investigation by the Associated Press.

As a candidate, de Blasio had said that “we need to do a full review of all surveillance efforts, and anything that is not based on specific leads should not continue.” Yet the Center for Constitutional Rights and the Muslim civil rights group Muslim Advocates said they were uncertain whether the end of the Demographics Unit means the end of what they called “the practice of suspicionless surveillance of Muslim communities.”

Cue Pamela Geller, with the headline “De Blasio Surrenders New York To The Jihad.” But Rachel Gillum, the principal investigator of the Muslim American National Opinion Survey, explains how closing the unit might actually help anti-terrorism efforts:

Read On

 

Politico’s Dylan Byers managed to get an email from Jo Becker on her book. Here’s what she sent back (and it’s the same response she gave to HuffPo):

Many people have contributed to the success the movement has experienced. I have the upmost [sic] respect for all the people who contributed to that success. My book was not meant to be a beginning-to-end-history of the movement. It’s about a particular group of people at an extraordinary moment in time, and I hope that people will be moved by their stories.

My italics. It’s interesting that rather than defend her insane core thesis, she just lies about it. She claims that her book never pretends to be a beginning-to-end history of the marriage equality movement. And yet the book starts thus:

This is how a revolution begins … It begins with a handsome bespectacled thirty-five year old political consultant named Chad Griffin … on election night 2008.

Does she think we cannot read? The title of the book is “Forcing The Spring.” Not plucking the fruits of autumn. And if you think I’m just grabbing a few sentences, here’s how Becker introduces Evan Wolfson, the architect of the entire movement, just pages after she begins her cringe-inducing hagiography of Griffin. She frames him as an old, out-of-touch obstructionist who just never got it, unlike Hollywood’s Dustin Lance Black (!):

Hours earlier, Black had been confronted in the hotel’s courtyard by Evan Wolfson, the fifty-two-year-old founder of a group called Freedom to Marry and the primary author of the cautious state-by-state strategy that the gay rights movement had been pursuing. Wolfson had berated the younger man over his Oscar speech, explaining as though to a willful but ignorant child his on-going twenty-five year plan to build support for marriage equality nationwide. Twenty-five years? Black had practically gasped.

Get the picture? Black had to shove the cautious, delaying, hide-bound oldie, Wolfson, out of the way for the “revolution” to “begin”.  And look at the contempt in the notion that he had spent a quarter century building support and winning equality in several states by 2008. The movement before then – which had achieved extraordinary results against enormous odds – was marked, Becker has a colleague of Griffin say, by “political ineptitude and dysfunction. It was filled with impassioned activists, but what it needed, she believed, was skilled political operators like Chad.” If that’s respecting those who contributed to the success of the movement, what would be disrespect? And if she truly respects those who contributed to the movement’s success, why did she not call us and ask for our perspectives? Evan Wolfson and Mary Bonauto – critical figures in this struggle – got one brief call each. I got none.

And as the book continues, this framework of dissing the people who did the real work only deepens:

Wolfson was quietly seething. The idea that this newcomer thought his strategy timid and incremental infuriated him … “Chad was saying ‘Oh my God, we are going to be loathed and hated.” … If Griffin and Black proceeded, they would do so in the face of the full-throated opposition of the gay rights community. It was not the best of outcomes, but neither was it a real deterrent. They did not need the gay establishment. They had already put in place an organization with the wherewithal to go it alone.

If you don’t recall the “full-throated opposition of the gay rights community” to the Perry case, you aren’t alone. I don’t either.

Read On

A French Stereotype That’s True

Apr 17 2014 @ 5:14pm

Catherine Rampell charts a finding from Pew’s report on morality around the globe:

France Affairs

Dylan Matthews captions:

Basically everyone thinks it’s not cool to cheat on your wife. The only country surveyed where a majority did say cheating is acceptable was France; there, about 47 percent disapproved, 12 percent approved, and 40 percent said it’s not a moral issue at all.

The Economist highlights the same report:

Americans are far more likely to disapprove of adultery than people in other rich nations, especially the French. They have grown more likely to frown at cheaters over the years—in contrast to their attitudes to gay sex, which have softened enormously. The data on international attitudes come from an interactive report released this week by the Pew Research Centre. It looks at how 40 countries judge the morality of controversial issues from abortion and premarital sex to contraception and divorce.

A Book Clubber writes:

I just want to say how fascinating I’m finding Ehrman’s book. Can hardly wait for the discussion!

Another:

Dear Professor: The book is great. I love it. But I haven’t had much time to read, what with work and house hunting and 420 coming up here in Denver. I bet we’d all appreciate one more week to read about the Jesus transformation. It will make a more lively debate and we’d all be so impressed by your leniency.

with 41% of the book read …

Heh. Well I just had to absorb the Becker book in around 24 hours … so I’m a little behind myself. I plan to post my review of How Jesus Became God next week, and start the discussion with readers thereafter, so buy the book here if you still want to join. There’s still time. Another reader:

I don’t have an e-reader, so I bought the hardbound book1/2 finished – a good read. How do I join the book club? I want to play too!

You join simply by reading the book, in any form, and participating in the reader thread next week, if you like. Another:

I suggest you refer your readers to Harper Collins’ companion/response book, How God Became Jesus. bookclub-beagle-tr It sounds like you could benefit from reading it yourself, after your somewhat surprising admission that Ehrman’s book “may not be the most spiritually sustaining text for Holy Week.” Seeing that the only reason Ehrman has been noticed in the popular realm is for his (somewhat tired yet passed off as something new) arguments denying the truth of traditional Christianity, I wonder exactly what you thought the book would offer. That’s not to say that Ehrman’s work shouldn’t be recommended or discussed, only that a more interesting conversation might come from providing your audience with a more comprehensive understanding of the subject and the arguments on both sides.  After all, I imagine that for many of your readers, the assumption is that Ehrman, like Reza Aslan most recently, is offering some fresh insight, when in reality, as Father Robert Barron notes here, it’s a more of the same old same old.

We actually made a quick mention of the response book in a previous post, but many readers may have missed it, so here’s the link to purchase that book as well, if you’re interested. Its counterpoints will certainly come up in the discussion thread, but the primary focus will be Ehrman’s book.

Update from a reader, who gets into the Book Club spirit already:

You quote a reader: “his (somewhat tired yet passed off as something new) arguments denying the truth of traditional Christianity.” I think you should encourage such responders (on both sides, of course) to cite specific instances from the book that support their charges.

Read On

Mental Health Break

Apr 17 2014 @ 4:20pm

A pop-culture sketchbook in motion:

The Griswolds – Red Tuxedo from Kristian Mercado on Vimeo.

The Putin Way Of War

Apr 17 2014 @ 4:00pm

Anne Applebaum outlines his innovative tactics, which she characterizes as “old-fashioned Sovietization plus slick modern media”:

Thirteen years ago, in the wake of 9/11, the United States suddenly had to readjust its thinking to asymmetric warfare, the kinds of battles that tiny groups of terrorists can fight against superior military powers. We relearned the tactics of counterinsurgency in Iraq.

But now Europe, the United States, and above all the Ukrainians need to learn to cope with masked warfare—the Russian term is maskirovka—which is designed to confuse not just opponents, but the opponents’ potential allies. As I’ve written, the West urgently needs to rethink its military, energy, and financial strategies toward Russia. But more specific new policies will also be needed to fight the masked invasions that may follow in Moldova or, in time, the Baltic states if this one succeeds.

Americans and Europeans should begin now to rethink the funding and the governance of our international broadcasters in order to counter the new war of words.

Kevin Rothrock points out how badly we are screwing up the information war:

Read On

Chart Of The Day

Apr 17 2014 @ 3:39pm

Uninsured Rates

Kliff relays Gallup’s latest numbers:

The polling firm’s data shows states that set up their own exchanges and expanded Medicaid had their uninsured rate fall by 2.5 percent, compared to a 0.8 percent drop in states that have opted out of at least one of the health law programs. Separate federal data has shown that states expanding Medicaid have had faster growth in the public program than those that have opted not to participate. States that do not expand Medicaid essentially leave those in poverty in a coverage gap because they are too poor to qualify for the private insurance subsidies offered to people above the poverty line.

Cohn adds:

As readers of this space know, the Gallup results are very imprecise, enough that nobody should take specific figures too seriously. And these aggregate totals surely mask all sorts of variation among the states. But the overall pattern—a sharp divergence between the two groups of states—is almost certainly real. It’s also very tragic.

Drum piles on:

Read On

Michael Brendan Dougherty notes the many differences between Israel’s and Russia’s predicaments and foreign policies, but he also sees a deep neocon dilemma:

For some neoconservatives, Benjamin Netanyahu is the totem of “moral clarity” on the international scene. And yet, these same writers will say that Obama is being played for a fool over Crimea. If Obama is a fool for not opposing Putin strongly enough, what does that make of Bibi’s moral clarity? Bill Kristol worries that Obama is placating Russia, and has said that Obama’s “weakness” has invited Russia’s aggression in the Ukraine. What has Israel’s silence done? When Kristol says that America should be making Putin’s friends pay a price, surely he doesn’t mean Israel.

Here’s a thought experiment. Imagine if France or Britain or Germany had abstained in the UN vote on the annexation of Crimea, and robbed the US of international support. Do you think Bill Kristol would not have mentioned it? Of course not. We’d be reading the umpteenth Weekly Standard piece on the feckless appeasers and ninnies of Old Europe. But when Israel does the same thing … crickets. Or even, in fact, lionization of Netanyahu as a strong figure on the world stage – compared, of course, with president Obama. After a while you notice something about this faction: when they are engaged on obvious inconsistency, Israel – not America – is almost always the reason why. And they will always, in that instance and that instance alone, blame America first.

Dissents Of The Day

Apr 17 2014 @ 3:00pm

A reader quotes me:

Even as the truth now is that no one with undetectable virus can infect anyone, and no one on Truvada can get infected. Instead of embracing that, we shy from it.

This seems optimistic to me in a way that borders on foolish. Where did you learn this?  I’d love to read the scientific papers or studies that come to that conclusion.  My memory of articles I have read about truvadaTruvada say that in the study group, it prevented infection at a percentage in the high 90s, which is pretty darn good.  But that doesn’t mean “no one on Truvada can get infected.”  I have no beef with anyone who wants to take it to reduce their risk, but you can’t make the claim that a very effective pharmaceutical can protect a person from infection in the same way that a physical latex barrier can.  (I’ve never agreed with your hatred of condoms and side with Dan Savage: If condoms break without people noticing, they can’t make that much of a difference.)

Not to mention that saying a person with undetectable viral load cannot infect anyone also sounds irresponsible at best.  From the CDC website: “However, sexual transmission of HIV from an infected partner who was on ART with a repeatedly undetectable plasma viral load has been documented.”

All that said, wider use of PrEP should be considered, but honesty and facts are called for in discussing its potential.  I think if it were true that no one on Truvada could get infected, you’d see every public health department clamoring to offer it to high-risk populations.

We’ve covered this ground already. Here’s the key study on the impact of undetectable viral loads in preventing transmission. Money quote:

Statistical analysis shows that the maximum likely chance of transmission via anal sex from someone on successful HIV treatment was 1% a year for any anal sex and 4% for anal sex with ejaculation where the HIV-negative partner was receptive; but the true likelihood is probably much nearer to zero than this. When asked what the study tells us about the chance of someone with an undetectable viral load  transmitting HIV, presenter Alison Rodger said: “Our best estimate is it’s zero.”

In over 40,000 unprotected sex acts, no negative partner was infected by a positive partner with undetectable viral loads. A key Truvada study found more than 90 percent effectiveness in preventing HIV infection even among those not fully compliant with the one-pill-a-day regimen. Another study showed that “parti­ci­pants could re­duce their risk of HIV by 76 pe­r­cent tak­ing two doses per week, 96 pe­r­cent by tak­ing four doses per week, and 99 pe­r­cent by tak­ing se­ven doses per week.” 99 percent may not be 100 percent, but it’s pretty damn close. And it’s not that different from condom use in HIV prevention. Condoms are not 100 percent effective either; you need to use them correctly; they can break; and so on. Moreover, stopping sex and putting on a rubber in the heat of the moment may not be as easy as taking one pill a day outside the experience of sex.

Another reader is “horrified that you are using your influence to pass off opinion as science in regards to the prophylactic use of Truvada”:

I’m not an expert, a patient, an advocate, or a physician – I just work for the pharmaceutical industry and I sat through the FDA Advisory Committee hearing on Truvada PrEP in May 2012. I assure you that experts on that panel were concerned about Truvada and resistance – particularly when not taken as prescribed.

Read On

Maia Szalavitz works to debunk the study we flagged yesterday:

The 20 marijuana-smoking participants, who took the drug at least once a week, were deliberately selected to be healthy. If they had any marijuana-related problems—or any psychiatric problems or other issues—they were excluded from participating.

Are you beginning to see what’s wrong? Although the pot-smoking participants showed brain differences in comparison to the controls who were also selected to be normal— both groups were normal! If the smokers had any marijuana-related problems or any type of impairment, they would not have been included in the first place. Therefore, the brain changes that the researchers found were—by definition—not associated with any cognitive, emotional, or mental problems or differences.

Read On

Pushing The Envelope, Ctd

Apr 17 2014 @ 2:23pm

15artsbeat-finland-blog480

A reader: “Oh how I wish someone in Finland would help us mail protest letters to Putin using those stamps.” Another:

A friend from Finland writes:

Now there are two online petitions going on in Finland. The first, of course, is for banning these stamps. The other is for making a lick-able version, instead of the self-adhesive.

Heh. Another reader:

Despite philately‘s nerdy conservative image, homosexuality has always had a place in the stamp world. In the 1970s, a prominent collection that won numerous competitive exhibiting awards was called “Alternative Lifestyles”.  No one imagined that so many earlier stamps commemorated homosexual men and women, and for most of us (remember, 1975) this was our first awareness of the gay world. It is a tribute to philately, I think, that in this era, such a collection won such widespread praise and won so many national awards. And there was a strong group of prominent homosexual stamp dealers in the 1980s (who also went by the name “gay Mafia”) largely concentrated in the more philatelically arcane “postal history” fields and who were very successful and who threw the best parties. More on the history of gays and philately can be found here.

Marijuana Is Good

Apr 17 2014 @ 2:00pm

As pot becomes fully legal in some parts of the country, we may soon be better able to discuss its many positive benefits for both the individual and society. At some point, the cannabis movement, like the marriage equality movement in the 1990s, will get out of the defensive crouch (leave us potheads alone!) and into the much more interesting area of the tangible goodness and benefits of “God’s plant.” So herewith a couple of buds in the wind. Dan Savage picks up on the awesome Emily Yoffe’s recent piece on weed and sex:

I didn’t start smoking pot until I was 34 years old. (I was far too busy in my teens memorizing the lyrics to Stephen Sondheim’s shows to bother with weed.) So I had been sexually active for nearly 20 years the first time I smoked pot. Stoned sex was a Kush_closerevelation. For a guy like me—someone with their fair share of hang-ups, body image issues, and, yes, sexual inhibitions—pot was very freeing. It helped me to do something that I had never been able to do on my own: It turned off that voice in my head that said, “You’re not going to eat that, are you?

So, yeah, get high and have sex. It’s amazing—or it can be. Individual results may vary, of course, but pot can make you silly, it can make you playful, and it can put you in the moment. And, yes, it can give you the munchies. But chips aren’t the only things a high person can munch on for hours.

Whoopi Goldberg is now a pot-columnist for Colorado’s The Cannabist. Her first piece is on the wonders of the vape pen in calming her glaucoma-induced headaches:

Read On