Shady Supplements

Don’t believe the labels:

Many pills and capsules sold as herbal “supplements” contain little more than powdered rice and house plants, according to a report released Monday by the office of New York state attorney general Eric Schneiderman. An investigation found that nearly four of five herbal supplements do not contain the ingredients listed on labels, and many supplements—tested from among leading store-brand products sold at GNC, Target, Walmart, and Walgreens—contain no plant substance of any kind at all. …

None of this is to imply that were these products 100 percent pure and unadulterated, they would be of any benefit to most people. In terms of health benefits, the evidence for talking a powdered-rice supplement is essentially as compelling as any other. The one thing that supplements do offer is a placebo effect, which can be very real and effective. Unfortunate as it is if today’s news deprives anyone of that benefit, better that institutionalized fraud is addressed.

A Reader And Me

Here’s a little blast of Dishness over the years. A reader just emailed me her latest missive in a correspondence between us that goes back to 2008. Here’s the eight-year exchange:

I just started reading your blog a few weeks ago and I have to thank you.  It gives me something more intelligent to do when I’m wasting my employer’s time than looking at captioned cat pictures. I know you get this all the time but even though I don’t always agree with you, I do always appreciate the thoughtfulness and intelligence that you bring to a topic.  There’s not nearly enough of that in the world.

That said, do you ever take a day off from this? Isn’t it exhausting to constantly serve up content to those of us too lazy to find it ourselves?  I know that you had someone filling in for you when you were very ill, but still, it’s the weekend! Go to the park, take a nap, read a book in the bathtub or whatever! The rest of us can fend for ourselves for a while.

I replied:

i’ll rest when this comes to some kind of lull.

Two years later, after I said I’d no longer be blogging Saturday and Sunday (which lasted maybe a couple of weekends):

Finally, two years later and you’re taking my advice. I’m very happy to hear that you’re going to be taking weekends off. Somehow your readers will muddle through. Somehow.

Then four years later, earlier today:

Finally, after 6 long years, you’re taking my advice. I’ll miss the shit out of you, but I love that you’re taking care of yourself finally.

I love you guys.

Suicide Leaves Behind Nothing, Ctd

A reader revives the debate over whether killing yourself is selfish:

I don’t really understand it. I guess people are motivated by loyalty or empathy to stick up for the deceased.  But if we try to think of any reasonable definition of selfishness, say “putting one’s own needs and desires before those of everyone else,” we have to concede that suicide is selfish by definition.  The person committing suicide is ending their own pain, at the cost of substantially increasing the pain of everyone around them.

I went to the funeral of a brilliant young student who took his own life, and the black hole of devastation surrounding his mother was almost unbearable. Even thinking of her face now makes me flinch.  I suppose maybe it is possible that a person can be so depressed that this selfish act can be justified, but I’m very reluctant to accept that.

Another isn’t as reluctant:

Is it selfish? Probably. What isn’t?  Are the people left behind hurt? Absolutely. What death doesn’t produce some approximation of that? Our society says No and so we fall in lockstep. No one gets out of this alive. No one. If someone chooses an exit by their own hand, so be it. Suicide laws are the most egregious examples of government overreach. Do we really believe we can stop them? Let’s approach each suicide the way we approach each patient who, after years of agony and struggle, decides to stop fighting. Then let’s grieve their loss and move on with our lives.

Another reader:

I figure since you are probably closing the site down, or making drastic changes, I should send an email. I’ve been reading your stuff religiously for ten years; I think you were the first blog I found after college.

I’ve been with my fiancé for a little over five years now, and she tried to kill herself last year.

Other than the day my good friend told me she was going to die and my mom told me she had cancer for the first time (she’s still going, guilting me with impunity), it was pretty much the worst day I have experienced. I was working at home and enjoyed the lax schedule of waking up whenever I felt like it. Things had been getting progressively worse, her behavior had gotten more erratic. She was always drinking, trying to hide it and play it off, but I knew. I didn’t know what to do, other than encourage her to go to therapy and talk to someone. When she finally did, the therapist told her to check herself into a hospital. I didn’t know that, of course, because she told me after this whole ordeal.

I woke up and found all of her stuff still in the house, but the car was gone. There was an empty bottle of vodka, and she wouldn’t answer her phone. Eventually she called me, delirious, telling me she didn’t want to hold me back anymore, that she was a burden, that she just didn’t want to hurt – things that are, after reading your extensive thread on this topic, common.

Well, after getting off the phone with her I did the only responsible thing: called 911. And I waited. The cops were very helpful, and after a few hours of sitting on the couch staring at the wall and petting our dog, they found her. Where? Trying to buy a dress so she could “look pretty” when they found her. It turned out she drank way too much vodka and took a whole bunch of Xanax. She then got in her car, drove to a department store and wandered around aimlessly before buying a few shirts that didn’t fit. I’m pretty sure the most dangerous part of her adventure was getting into the car at all.

So after two weeks in a detox and addiction center she was diagnosed with bipolar and PTSD (from severe trauma as a child) and alcoholism. She has been sober for seven months as of yesterday and properly medicated, and we are working extremely hard so she can figure out who she really is, now that she can see life clearly for, effectively, the first time ever, at 30.

I don’t know if there is any advice I can give anyone, but I know her attempted suicide was not a selfish act. She genuinely believed that she was suffering and that her suffering was making me suffer. And to an extent she was right. I was spending all of my energy trying to hold her together that I was incapable of doing almost anything else for myself. I take pride in being a strong communicator, but there are only so many tools you can be given in life to deal with situations like this.

I am very fortunate to live in a city was strong mental health resources (Boston), and she was very fortunate to have decent health insurance. Our relationship has gotten stronger, and she is able to enjoy activities I had written off years ago. We did have one slight relapse, and that’s kind of the point that I wanted to get to.

A few months ago there was some confusion between her psychiatrist and the pharmacy and her medication got screwed up. She ran out of pills, and was so embarrassed that she didn’t do anything about it. She didn’t tell me, of course, and I only noticed when she had a full on breakdown in the apartment because we were going to go and see people, and she just couldn’t handle the stress of it. The drastic change I saw, over those few days (I think she was off her meds for a week) was overwhelming. She went from this fun, bright, excited woman to a shell of a person. It reminded me of all of that sadness rolled in to all of those days before she tried to kill herself.

As far as I see it, selfishness is not the reason for suicide (at least not for her attempt). It’s fear, and it’s sadness, and it’s an unending sense that you are letting everyone around you down over and over again. To diminish that and wrap it up as selfish just dismisses the complex reality of our relationships with each other.

Another reader is on the same page:

I’ve tried several times to write in about this thread, but if I succeed this will be my first time actually pressing “send.” I’ve survived several suicide attempts, the most recent last August. (Though I am no longer suicidal – my doctor and I finally figured out a combination of medication that works for me. For anyone reading this, KNOW HOPE. No matter how bad it is, it really can get better.)

The “suicide is selfish” line really grates on me. For those left behind by suicide, I absolutely understand why they might feel this way, but for someone who has survived a suicide attempt, this line sounds like an accusation. Trust me, when you’re suicidal, you think you’re doing the world a favor – your decision couldn’t feel farther from “selfish.” Furthermore, a suicidal person hearing “suicide is selfish” just feels even more like a failure, like a fuck-up, like a person who doesn’t deserve to be alive.

I absolutely agree that portraying suicidal as inevitable is exceedingly harmful, but, in the end, a suicidal person needs to realize that she wants to live. Keeping yourself alive for someone else may be a great temporary fix (speaking as someone who once aborted an attempt because I realized that the last person I had spoken to was a lovely young co-worker who didn’t deserve the guilt I’d be placing on her – hey, silly, but it worked), but eventually that won’t be enough. The battle is always going to be between you and your demons; others in the equation don’t stand a chance, and telling a suicidal person “stay alive for me” just makes it worse for the person left behind.

But that approach has worked for this reader thus far:

From 2000 – 2003, three things kept me from killing myself (or so I thought at the time): my mom, my dad and my dog.  When my dog died, I felt that much closer to giving myself permission to leave.  But I promised myself that I would never, ever put my parents through the experience of losing me.  I was willing to live in misery to save them that horror.  It’s 2015, my parents are still alive and so am I.  I no longer suffer from suicidal depression thanks to medication, counseling and a 12 step program.  Maybe I wouldn’t have committed suicide under any circumstance.  But at the time, it was helpful to know that there were three things standing in the way.

We’ve all been there to some extent in our lives. Know hope.

Clearly A Cult, Ctd

A reader is on to us:

Charismatic, bearded, and sometimes hysterical leader?  Check.  Devoted followers hanging on his every word and begging him to take their money?  Check.  An unaccountable leadership cadre controlling all communications among the group?  A hefty dose of religious mumbo-jumbo?  A whole coded in-group language?  Check, check, check.  The Dish is clearly a cult.

Busted With An Eggcorn, Ctd

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For the seemingly never-ending thread, a reader sends the above hathetic spelling for colitas – Mexican slang for marijuana buds:

I happen to be karaoking tonight in Korea Town for a friend’s birthday and we happened on what I think is a brilliant new subgenre: the karaoke eggcorn! Of course, we couldn’t let that go without thinking of Andrew and the rest of you at The Dish. “Warm smell of colitis?!!!”. I’m pretty sure that’s not what Don Henley and the rest of the Eagles were thinking when they wrote “Hotel California”.

Anyway, it made us double over with laughter and we hope it does the same for you guys. See? Where else would I be able to send these great gems that make you and my fellow Dishheads smile? #KeeptheDishgoing

Update from a reader, who sees that mondegreen differently:

For the record, my brother’s eggcorn for Hotel California was:

On a dark desert highway
Cool wind in my hair
Warm smell of coitus
Rising up through the air

I lost a couple of hours of sleep because I couldn’t stop laughing at this, particularly the visual it provoked for me of dark California roadways lined with people having intercourse.

Another reader points to this supercut on YouTube:

I don’t think it’s been mentioned yet, but the Canadian TV show Trailer Park Boys is a treasure trove of eggcorns. There are way too many to list, but Ricky (one of the main protagonists) has a few gems like “survival of the fitness” and “her mating name” (you know, the name she had before she started mating).

Another notes, “The recent eggcorn you mentioned (black ice/black guys) was actually the subject of a hilarious Key and Peele sketch.” An American history teacher writes in:

We were talking tirelessly of JFK and the 1960s. After a test, an essay I was grading pointed out how influential President Jay F. Kay was.

Another from the classroom:

When I was in first grade back in the ’60s, I missed several days of school and was concerned about returning, in anticipation of potentially embarrassing urgent visits to the bathroom. My mother instructed me to tell the teacher a specific phrase, and this would explain everything, problem solved. You can imagine the confusion experienced by that poor teacher when I whispered that I should be allowed to leave the classroom whenever I needed to because I had LOOSE VOWELS.

I do recall her as a very kind person, our Miss Grey.

Another childhood story:

When I was small, I was not the least bit interested in eating, particularly breakfast. But at my granny’s house there was a cow and freshly-made butter, every day, which I loved with toast. I was so enamored with her butter, and butter in general, that I heard “Row, row, row your boat” this way for years and years:

Row, row, row your boat,
Gently down the stream.
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,
Life is butter dream.

The Arc Of The Dish 2000 – 2015

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One of the minor reasons I decided to stop blogging is that, it seems to me, there is an arc to the story of the Dish and the world this past decade and a half; and there is something about this moment that seems as close to closure as history will ever get.

I began blogging in the elysian, if increasingly polarized, days of the late 1990s. When Robert Cameron and I brain-stormed what the Dish could be – on a train ride from London to Oxford in the summer of 2000 – the question was merely what America would do next in an era of prosperity, peace, and smug. Gore looked pretty much invincible; Bush seemed a milquetoast moderate; and my most intense blogging was defending Gary Condit’s right to be considered innocent before being proven guilty.

wtc1chrishondrosgetty.jpg9/11 changed the world and also the blogosphere. The Dish was instantly transformed. There was an urgency and immediacy and passion to those days that gave blogs a sudden new-found relevance because we needed solidarity, we needed each other, and the intimacy of the thing really deepened. And, of course, it led to my own traumatized loss of judgment (and some shameful outbursts)  in the aftermath, born of shock and grief and sorrow. My readership back then was all over the map, but it included a large number of Bush administration officials and Republican voters, as well as hawkish Democrats. The Dish became a war-blog for a while as the events swirled and as the US found itself hurtling toward a new war in Iraq, one I pounded the drums for. And then, quite quickly, as the reality of the actual war came into greater focus, I began to realize my colossal failure of judgment. The incompetence was one thing; the war crimes quite another. I recanted.

I lost about half my readership, and the pledge drives I used to finance the thing dried up. I could have doubled down on the war, I guess. Many others did. I could have quit (and maybe should have). But I hung in and blogged through the very-gradual-changeremorse and shame. In some ways, I think the Dish after that moment was one long attempt by me to make up for the first phase. It made me much more open to dissent, to alternative views, to opposing arguments. In time, the collective mind of the readership was an indispensable corrective to my own flaws; and as I got my first interns at The Atlantic, I asked them to counter me in their research and interests, rather than be mere echoes.

And so began the journey toward endorsing John Kerry, and then to search for a candidate for 2008 who might be able to bind up the wounds I had helped open up. That led to the second big transformation here – my 2007 Atlantic cover-story “Why Obama Matters“, and the constant follow-up on the blog. I’d been following Obama for some time before that, and doing some due diligence on his potential. In May 2007, I wrote this post:

I went to see Obama last night. He had a fundraiser at H20, a yuppie disco/restaurant in Southwest DC. I was curious about how he is in person. I’m still absorbing the many impressions I got. But one thing stays in my head.

This guy is a liberal. Make no mistake about that. He may, in fact, be the most effective liberal advocate I’ve heard in my lifetime. As a conservative, I think he could be absolutely lethal to what’s left of the tradition of individualism, self-reliance, and small government that I find myself quixotically attached to. And as a simple observer, I really don’t see what’s stopping him from becoming the next president…

I fear he could do to conservatism what Reagan did to liberalism. And just as liberals deserved a shellacking in 1980, so do “conservatives” today.

As soon as Iowa happened, the Dish more than doubled its traffic and kept at it. We became part of the Obama obamasignsjeffhaynesafpgetty_1.jpgrevolution – and that 2008 campaign against first Clinton and then McCain was one of the more exhilarating rides any blogger could dream of. The drama of the fall – the crazy stories of Palin that the press wouldn’t touch, the financial collapse, the mobilization of an entire generation to repair the damage of Bush-Cheney – gave the Dish an energy and vibrancy that it never lost.

And then the Obama presidency – its ups and downs, its emotional highs and deep lows – interrupted by the Green Revolution in Iran, when we innovated the kind of immediate, bloggy, provisional, breaking-news coverage that is now commonplace across the media, and when the Dish trio of Patrick, Chris and me fused into one collective mind.

You know the rest, but it’s worth recalling the causes and ideas the Dish championed from the outset and how, over these fifteen years, so many have surprisingly been resolved.

First, of course, marriage equality. I began the Dish as a veteran of the movement. People refer to my one first cover-essay on it, but don’t see that the TNR cover-story in 1993, “The Politics of Homosexuality“, was much more important in sketching the case, and that Virtually Normal was the most comprehensive argument for marriage equality yet written. I followed it with an anthology and hundreds of speaking gigs and radio and television appearances. In 2000, gay marriage remained a pipe-dream or an oxymoron for many. No one was legally married in America. In 2015, 70 percent of Americans live in states where marriage equality is the law of the land. If this blog had as one of its main weddingaislecampaigns the fight for marriage, then it can end with a note of real amazement.

Then the battle for openly gay servicemembers, another cause of mine from the early 1990s. By 2010, done. The HIV travel ban that threatened my very staying in this country? Finished. On this blog you can read the moment when Bush’s endorsement of a Federal Marriage Amendment threatened to up-end the entire movement, and when Massachusetts made it legal in 2004, and when the Windsor case came to its climax. I’m now legally married and aiming for full citizenship by next year. The arc is almost full.

Then the Church. The Dish coincided with the worst scandal in memory: the rape of countless children, the cover-up of the crimes, and the scapegoating of gay people. My faith has long been such a deep part of me I couldn’t ignore its own narrative in these years. After all, I first quit blogging in 2005, and only relapsed when Joseph Ratzinger became Pope, because I knew very well what his vision of Catholicism was – and it sure wasn’t mine. These were dark, dark days. But by 2015, a miracle had happened. Pope Francis emerged – my Deep Dish essay on him is now available for anyone to read – and a new window opened. Who could have hoped for such a thing five years ago? And yet the Church seems to have turned a corner, and Francis appears as a potentially world-historical figure.

On America’s embrace of torture, this blog’s enduring, obsessive passion, we failed to get any real accountability from the powerful in American government who authorized it. But we did get that final Torture Report, and it is a real beginning in the search for truth. If I were to name one thing I’m proudest of at the Dish, it would be our absolute insistence that this not be ignored, and that it be ended. It was ended in 2009. And we have made the first step away from denial.

abu-ghraib-leash-SDOn prohibition, we now have legal weed in two states, with two more states and DC voting against it last election, and the collapse of the arguments against it. The Dish campaigned tirelessly on this – and The Cannabis Closet helped expose a new reality in America. Support has now gone above 50 percent nationally. On Israel, the battle to end the settlements and to expose a dangerously lopsided alliance, in which core American interests were continually disrupted by interest group lobbying, remains unresolved. The showdown will come soon over Iran, as Netanyahu, in open league with the Republican party, attempts to displace the US president in charting America’s foreign policy. I don’t know how it will end – I fervently hope for a reliable deal that prevents Iran from developing nuclear weapons – but I do know Obama has a chance. I also know that this blog helped end the lock-step policing of thought and writing on Israel, once enforced by the gate-keepers of the old media. And on Iran, this blog’s complete immersion in the revolution of 2009 made me see much more clearly the greatness of the Persian people in their fight against a murderous theocracy. The election of Rouhani suggests the hopes of 2009 may at some point soon come to fruition.

I could cite many more examples. My point is simply that in many of the formerly hopeless causes this blog championed, it’s remarkable how Kush_closemuch progress has been made. There were obvious exceptions. My case for a different kind of conservatism was met with derision and disgust on the right, and has failed to have any impact on Republicans. My campaign against sponsored content and the fusion of journalism with advertising has also met a wall of resistance that shows no sign of cracking. But on both these subjects, I am happy to have put down a marker, to have made a protest for the record. My book, The Conservative Soul, remains my core case on the former. And the simple example of the Dish as a blog that refused to give in is my case on the latter.

Of course, we were just part of enormous social change. We were one voice among many in all these shifts and currents and tides. But I can put down my blogging laptop with the comfort of knowing that the world really changed on our watch, and that many of the causes we championed prevailed, and that the narrative from 9/11 to Obama’s last two years is about as complete a circle as anyone in journalism or public life can hope for.

I fought the fight; we won so many battles. I walk away from this amazing little experiment not just knowing that it worked as an online entity, and as a business, but much more importantly, that we did something here that helped change the world and the minds that populate it. It was a joint effort, and I owe you and so many others so much in crafting my arguments and addressing new facts and confronting various contradictions. But I feel good about this country in a way I haven’t since 9/11, proud to have supported a president who helped make all of it happen, and humbled by how history does not always shock and surprise or humiliate us. History can also occasionally vindicate us.

Know hope.

Sunday’s Televised Brain Damage

Adam Chandler describes the latest incident in the concussion crisis plaguing the NFL:

During the fourth quarter of the [Super Bowl], Patriots receiver Julian Edelman took a vicious hit from Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor that rendered him dazed. As the replays spun, a former league official tweeted that Chancellor should have been flagged for a penalty for the helmet-to-helmet hit, a rule that the league has enacted to stem concussions. …

Edelman stayed in the game and a few plays later, got up looking a little less than steady after another catch. Birkett later wrote that even after the drive, which resulted in a Patriots touchdown, “a medical observer was overheard radioing someone a second time saying Edelman needed to be examined.” (On Monday, “a person with knowledge of the situation” told the AP that Edelman was later tested on the sideline although, unlike [another player who suffered a hit to the head during the game], Edelman never went to the locker room.) Edelman went on to score the game-winning touchdown.

In a post-game interview, Edelman was asked about the hit. “We’re not allowed to talk about injuries,” he told reporters.

Ian Crouch sees the incident as proof that in-game concussions routinely go undiagnosed:

Earlier this season, the Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles admitted that, despite experiencing one of the observable symptoms of a concussion, he had avoided a concussion exam because, he said, he felt fine and wanted to stay on the field. How many players make that silent decision each game? The concussion protocol may even have the indirect, and perhaps unresolvable, effect of perversely incentivizing the kinds of plays that cause concussions. Helmet-to-helmet hits draw penalties and fines, but those might be offset by forcing an opponent’s top player to be removed from the game for an exam, whether he is actually concussed or not. That’s what Jamaal Charles was talking about when he said he didn’t want to be tested—he and his team might not have liked the results. …

The biggest challenge for the concussion protocol is that it relies on the coöperation of people who are motivated by more than just player safety. The Patriots needed Edelman to move the ball. Edelman wanted to continue playing. Sometimes, someone has to yell, “Damn it, guys, it’s only a game!” Even at the Super Bowl.