Category: Culture

Billowing aerial sculpture flows over Boston park


AP Photo/Steven Senne

Aa colorful 600-foot sculpture by artist Janet Echelman is suspended between high-rise buildings above the Rose Kennedy Greenway in Boston. The sculpture, that is to remain in place through October 2015, is made from over 100 miles of twine and utilizes over half a million knots.

Pic of the day

Black Spring
Click to enlargeReuters/Eric Thayer

Demonstrators march in Baltimore, Maryland May 2, 2015. Thousands of people took to the streets of Baltimore on Saturday as anger over the death of young black man Freddie Gray turned to hopes for change following swift criminal charges against six police officers.

All of which points out the contradiction of American politicians and newspaper flunkies celebrating uprisings during the Arab Spring – but, when the same violence is visited upon communities in the United States controlled by racist police departments – shock and amazement fill the newspace.

No one recommends crime and arson as an antidote to racism, political and social repression. It still takes a special hypocrite to act surprised when violence is part of the response to decades of violence imposed by government.

One more “anti-gay conservative” forced out of the closet

anti-gay hupocrite

A conservative North Dakota lawmaker has come out of the closet after lewd texts he sent on a gay dating site were made public this week.

The randy red-state Republican, Rep. Randy Boehning, was outed Monday, more than a month after the Roughrider State legislator sent an unsolicited picture of his penis and several other messages to 21-year-old Bismarck resident Dustin Smith back on March 12 on the gay dating site Grindr…

Boehning, a 12-year veteran of North Dakota’s state assembly who has routinely voted against gay rights legislation, charged that the leaked messages were sent to media outlets in retaliation for his vote against Senate Bill 2279, which would have added sexual orientation to the state’s anti-discrimination law. For the third time since 2009, the bill was voted down by conservative North Dakota lawmakers, including Boehning.

But Smith, who first leaked the Grindr messages to The Forum, claims he simply wanted to reveal Boehning’s hypocrisy.

“How can you discriminate against the person you’re trying to pick up?” Smith told the local Bismark-area newspaper…

Boehning, 52 and unmarried, has been an active member of the site and conducted his affairs under the profile name “Top Man!,” Smith said.

“Seems I haven’t found mister right yet, so need to keep looking for and having fun on the way! Hit me up boys,” Boehning’s Grindr bio reads.

Another conservative who’s never going to make it into a Republican rewrite of Profiles in Courage. I wonder if he’ll have the ingterity – now – to change the way he votes on civil rights for LGBT folks.

How a cancer-fake hustler fooled folks – with lots of helpers


Belle Gibson, founder of The Whole Pantry app, and son Oliviersaid the caption at news.com.au

Boing Boing’s Xeni Jardin has a powerful post up about the news that Belle Gibson, a popular young Australian wellness blogger, has admitted to lying about having cancer. Gibson had convinced many people that she had “cured her terminal brain cancer by avoiding gluten and sugar,” as Jardin puts it — a claim that deserves to be treated with about as much merit as a report of a unicorn sighting. Gibson had used her story to help drum up her media profile and push her nutrition app, the Whole Pantry (the planned Apple Watch version of which disappeared from the app store about a month ago).

As Jardin, who has herself battled breast cancer, points out, we’ve entered the mass-shaming part of the story, with the predictable torrents of internet anger. It’s an understandable response, but it leaves out the complicity of many media outlets that should have known better.

Because sure, Gibson was embraced by many of the usual suspects — small health and wellness blogs with shaky-at-best understandings of science and bones to pick with processed foods and “Western medicine” — but a bigger part of the reason she was able to carve out a successful niche in the wellness world was that that mainstream outlets, particularly in her native Australia, offered her fawning coverage.

“The Whole Pantry founder inspires in the face of terminal cancer,” enthused a headline on news.com.au, a major outlet. “The Whole Pantry came out of Gibson’s determination not to be crushed by her illness and to find a way to help people like herself,” wrote the IT columnist at another. “The 25-year-old has turned her cancer diagnosis into a positive, believe it or not,” gushed an Australian Yahoo! TV host. Australian Women’s Health called her a “health game changer.” Thanks in part to all this attention, Gibson was able to expand her popularity to the States. As Jardin points out, Cosmopolitan even gave her a Fun Fearless Female award in the social media category.

It’s not reasonable to expect every single employee at every single outlet to be completely up to date on all the latest nutritional science, of course. But outlets do have at least some responsibility to not mislead their audiences. Gibson’s claims were, on their face, so outlandish that offering them a megaphone did real harm to readers and viewers: not just by encouraging them to follow a charlatan, but by potentially nudging them away from real, established treatments for diseases that can frequently be fatal. Gibson’s a liar, but she was only able to become a successful liar because so many people amplified her story without checking it first.

Bringing the question back to one we often confront: money-making journalism – the real deal – professionals who don’t do the rigorous fact-checking that is supposed to be required. Part incompetence; but, part laziness.

A PR release drops into your email inbox. Written well enough, the journalist and editor do their bit of tidying up and off it goes. I realize they’re conditioned by a fawning relationship with government and corporate overlords; but, that ain’t good enough. Cripes, at least look around, ask around online.

40 years after fall of Saigon, the children of our soldiers are still there

Vo Huu Nhan was in his vegetable boat in the floating markets of the Mekong Delta when his phone rang. The caller from the United States had stunning news — a DNA database had linked him with a Vietnam vet thought to be his father.

Nhan, 46, had known his father was an American soldier named Bob, but little else.

“I was crying,” Nhan recalled. “I had lost my father for 40 years, and now I finally had gotten together with him.”

The journey toward their reconciliation has not been easy. News of the DNA match set in motion a chain of events involving two families 8,700 miles apart that is still unfolding and has been complicated by the illness of the veteran, Robert Thedford Jr., a retired deputy sheriff in Texas.

When the last American military personnel fled Saigon on April 29 and 30, 1975, they left behind a country scarred by war, a people uncertain about their future and thousands of their own children.

These children — some half-black, some half-white — came from liaisons with bar girls, “hooch” maids, laundry workers and the laborers who filled sandbags to protect American bases.

They are approaching middle age with stories as complicated as the two countries that gave them life. Growing up with the face of the enemy, they were spat on, ridiculed, beaten…They were called “bui doi,” which means “the dust of life.”

Forty years later, hundreds remain in Vietnam, too poor or without proof to qualify for the program created by the Amerasian Homecoming Act of 1987 that resettles the children of American soldiers in the United States.

Now, an Amerasian group has launched a last-chance effort to reunite fathers and children with a new DNA database on a family heritage website. Those left behind have scant information about their GI dads. DNA matches are their only hope.

RTFA for detail, anecdotes – even some good news. I’m not surprised the grunt side of the war is doing something to sort out what our nation “accomplished” in Southeast Asia.

I don’t expect today’s crew in Congress to do a damned thing?

A geneticist examines 10 studies “proving” GMOs are harmful

killer tomoatoes

Activists often cite the alleged potential health risks of genetically modified foods. One recent example of this—”10 Scientific Studies Proving GMOs Can Be Harmful To Human Health“, posted on Collective-Evolution.com—outlines many familiar concerns and points in each case to “credible scientific studies that clearly demonstrate why GMOs should not be consumed”.

Are these concerns credible? What do the studies cited actually claim?

1) Multiple Toxins From GMOs Detected In Maternal and Fetal Blood.

The blog post cites a 2010 study that alleges to show this danger. The authors identified the Bt protein Cry1Ab in maternal and fetal blood, a protein found in some GMOs, but also commonly used as a pesticide in organic farming. The paper is flawed. The researchers’ measurements were based on an experiment/assay designed to detect Bt’s Cry1Ab in plants, not in humans. As this post in Biofortified.org explains, the pregnant women in the study would have had to eat several kilos of corn in order to get the Bt measurements that were detected in their blood.

Additionally, there’s the “so what” factor. Humans lack the receptors for the protein, so it has no impact on us. Did you know that chocolate is toxic to dogs? Are you concerned that it might be toxic to you? Probably not (if you are concerned, then you’ve missed out on the greatest source of joy known to human taste buds…). Some chemical compounds behave differently among species, and both Bt‘s Cry1Ab and chocolate are examples of this.

2) DNA From Genetically Modified Crops Can Be Transferred Into Humans Who Eat Them

That’s not what the cited 2013 study concluded. The authors found that whole genes from our food can be detected in our plasma. That does not mean that they’ve integrated into our DNA; it means that they’ve been found floating in the space between cells. And that’s any food, not just GMOs. DNA from GMOs behave no differently than DNA from organic or conventional foods

If you aren’t concerned about the DNA from blueberries “transferring” into you, then you should not be concerned about DNA from GMOs either. The paper’s deepest flaw is that a negative control was not included in the sequencing experiments. Several recent papers…have outlined the importance of including a negative control in experiments where there is very little DNA to account for possible contaminants from the environment and reagents. (For a lay introduction to the concept of contaminants in sequencing, see here)…

RTFA for the rest. Unfortunately, folks I meet who are anti-GMO and only read ideologues, not peer-reviewed science – are not often as ignorant of fact as their peers who deny anthropogenic climate change. However, their unwillingness to examine real science is as faulty. Unless you care to limit your life to making decisions based on information akin to reviews at walmart.com.

In conclusion, despite the title of the article, none of these studies proves or even persuasively suggests that GMOs can be harmful to human health. The majority are either obviously flawed or are not scientific studies.

The current scientific consensus regarding GMOs remains unchanged: they are safe and do not pose a health risk to humans. However, a scientific consensus is subject to change if there is sufficient reproducible evidence that may impact it, but none of the studies reviewed here constitute such evidence.

Layla Katiraee’s credentials appear at the end of her article. The article has all the links you might wish to pursue to evaluate the studies on your own.

If you feel the topic is important enough to guide your own life [and society as a whole] then read the real science. I debated and questioned in public and private forums online for two years at the turn of the millennium before I made up my mind about climate change. Eventually finding truly persuasive research from the Max Planck Institutes – translated into readable english for a mono-lingual student like me. I revisit the topic periodically as our regular readers know.

I feel the same about genetics.