Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Gimme A Dose Of Li, But Hold The Side-Effects

Today, Jaime Lowe tells a tale of the devastating effect of bipolar disorder and the side effects of the lithium which she has taken to control her manic episodes. If this is a (fair & balanced) profile in courage, so be it.

[x NY Fishwrap 'Zine]
I Don’t Believe In God, But I Believe In Lithium
By Jaime Lowe

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The manila folder is full of faded faxes. The top sheet contains a brief description of my first medically confirmed manic episode, more than 20 years ago, when I was admitted as a teenager to U.C.L.A.’s Neuropsychiatric Institute: “Increased psychomotor rate, decreased need for sleep (about two to three hours a night), racing thoughts and paranoid ideation regarding her parents following her and watching her, as well as taping the phone calls that she was making.”

I believed I had special powers, the report noted; I knew ‘‘when the end of the world was coming due to toxic substances’’ and felt that I was the only one who could stop it. There was also an account of my elaborate academic sponsorship plan so I could afford to attend Yale — some corporation would pay for a year of education in exchange for labor or repayment down the line. (Another grand delusion. I was a B-plus student, at best.)

After I was admitted to the institute's adolescent ward, I thought the nurses and doctors and therapists were trying to poison me. So was the TV in the rec room. I warned my one friend in the ward that its rays were trying to kill him. The generator outside my window was pumping in gas. The place, I was sure, was a death camp.

I refused meds because they were obviously agents of annihilation. It took four orderlies to medicate me: They pinned me to the floor while a nurse plunged a syringe into my left hip. Over time, I became too tired to refuse medication. Or perhaps the cocktail of antipsychotics started working. The Dixie cup full of pills included lithium, which slowly took hold of my mania. After a few weeks, I stopped whispering to the other patients that we were all about to be killed. Eventually, I stopped believing it myself.

Mark DeAntonio, the U.C.L.A. psychiatrist who was treating me, said I had bipolar disorder. Here’s the phrasing from the National Institute of Mental Health: ‘‘unusually intense emotional states that occur in distinct periods called ‘mood episodes.’ Each mood episode represents a drastic change from a person’s usual mood and behavior. An overly joyful or overexcited state is called a manic episode, and an extremely sad or hopeless state is called a depressive episode.’’ The generic definition doesn’t quite cover the extremes of the disease or its symptoms, which include inflated self-esteem, sleeplessness, loquaciousness, racing thoughts and doing things that, according to the Mayo Clinic, ‘‘have a high potential for painful consequences — for example, unrestrained buying sprees, sexual indiscretions or foolish business investments.’’

I was only 17, young at that time to receive a bipolar diagnosis. Most of the teenagers on the ward were there for eating disorders or depression. I had to eat my meals alone because my food intake wasn’t restricted or monitored, as it was for everyone else. I made moccasins in occupational therapy and played volleyball with the eating-disorder girls in recreational therapy. I went from being locked in solitary confinement, clawing at the soft brown walls, to being granted TV privileges. I was even allowed to hold the remote and choose the channel. Visitors came and left presents and balloons and a big get-well note on poster board signed in puffy paint and Sharpies by all my high-school friends.

Lithium, a mood stabilizer that can help stop and prevent manic cycles, is usually the first medication tried with bipolar patients; it’s effective for most of them. Including me. I was discharged and sent back to high school with an apple-size bruise on my hip. For two decades since then, I have been taking lithium almost continuously. It has curbed my mania, my depression and, most significant, the wild delusional cycles that have taken me from obsessing over the value of zero to creating a hippie cult (my uniform: bell-bottoms, psychedelic sports bra and body glitter, head to toe). As long as I take those three pink lithium-carbonate capsules every day, I can function. If I don’t, I will be riding on top of subway cars measuring speed and looking for light in elevated realms.

The use of lithium as a therapy for mental illness goes back to at least Greek and Roman times, when people soaked in alkali-rich mineral springs to soothe both ‘‘melancholia’’ and ‘‘mania.’’ In the mid-1800s, lithium was thought to cure gout and sometimes ‘‘brain gout,’’ a lovely description for mania, extending the notion of swollen joints to a swollen brain. The element gets its name from lithos, the Greek word for stone, and lithium is indeed found in granite — and in seawater, mineral springs, meteorites, the sun and every other star and all humans. It is classified as a metal on the periodic table of elements. It was first identified as a solid in the form of petalite ore on the Swedish island Utö in 1817. A year later, scientists found that lithium, when ground into powder, turned flames crimson red — it’s the key ingredient in red fireworks. Fiery and unstable, lithium somehow calms emotional states often characterized in the same way.

Despite the fact that people have benefited from its use for millenniums, how lithium works upon brains is largely unknown. ‘‘It has so-called trophic or fertilizing activity on the brain — that is, it stabilizes membranes,’’ says James Kocsis, a professor of psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York and an expert on lithium. But the actual mechanics are a mystery. One way to think about its effect, though, is suggested by a 2007 UCLA study that found that bipolar patients taking lithium had significantly more gray matter than their counterparts, especially in the region associated with a person’s capacity to maintain attention and emotional control.

One of the first references to lithium in a neurological context appears in 1870, by a neurologist in Philadelphia named Silas Weir Mitchell, who recommended the compound lithium bromide as an anticonvulsant and a hypnotic for epileptic patients. But by the turn of the century, medical lithium had largely been supplanted by other treatments. Then, in 1947, John Cade, a psychiatrist working in a hospital outside Melbourne, Australia, rediscovered its medicinal potential. Cade was among the first to conclude that mental illness included bodily manifestations and thus should be treated with medication, not just talk therapy. ‘‘It required a change in how people understand mental illness,’’ says Robert Beech, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Yale University who conducts studies of medical lithium. He describes this insight as a shift from ‘‘more psychological, Freudian explanations to a biological explanation.’’

Cade, whose father was also a psychiatrist, was at first simply trying to isolate the cause of mania. Having noticed that the urine of manic patients was unlike that of his stable subjects, he figured the distinguishing component, uric acid, was responsible for the mania. Seeking to produce that mania in his animal subjects, guinea pigs, he needed a solution in which to supply the uric acid to them, and he chanced to use lithium urate (and later, lithium carbonate). But his guinea pigs became lethargic; instead of inducing mania, he had accidentally discovered a treatment. Cade became convinced lithium could cure many of his patients experiencing symptoms we now associate with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and dementia. To test its safety, he ingested lithium himself; later, he began a trial with 19 patients. The 10 manic subjects [PDF] experienced a significant shift in mood and function, but Cade’s timing was unfortunate. One of his subjects died, probably from a high dose. And toward the end of the ’40s, lithium’s use as a table-salt substitute for congestive heart patients in the United States proved lethal in at least two instances.

But even as these outcomes hindered the widespread application of lithium, studies continued in a number of countries. Gradually, after dosages approached uniformity and careful monitoring became routine, lithium in various compounds was recognized as an acceptable treatment. Lithium gluconate was approved in France in 1961, lithium carbonate in Britain in 1966, lithium acetate in Germany in 1967 and lithium glutamate in Italy in 1970. Among the drug’s champions was an American medical resident named Ronald Fieve, who began experimenting with lithium in 1958, after his adviser at Columbia University returned from Australia with tales of Cade’s experiment. ‘‘It was so effective,’’ Fieve told me, that he was ‘‘treating the most severe bipolar 1 patients, and this lithium brought them back to normalcy in 10 to 15 days.’’

It was not until 1970 that Fieve, now a doctor, and four other psychiatrists successfully lobbied the Food and Drug Administration to approve lithium as a psychiatric medication. ‘‘The F.D.A. was reluctant,’’ he says, ‘‘but we brought enough data that this was a new superb drug for bipolar and that if it was monitored properly, it would be safe.’’

Fieve says that lithium hasn’t been extensively tested as a treatment for other conditions in part because it’s a natural substance: Elements on the periodic table can’t be patented. Pharmaceutical companies therefore have little incentive to promote lithium or develop other uses for it, despite its potential. It has shown promise as a therapy for Alzheimer’s, for example. A study in Japan has shown a sample population to be less likely to commit suicide after drinking tap water containing lithium. In the ’30s and ’40s, 7-Up included lithium citrate as a mood-booster. There were ‘‘lithia beers’’ and a lithium version of Coca-Cola. As recently as last fall, a psychiatrist posed the question on the Op-Ed page of The New York Times: ‘‘Should we all take a bit of lithium?’’

Despite its widespread use as a mood stabilizer, only 5 percent of all lithium production is devoted to medication. The rest goes into things like ceramics, glass and batteries. The tech and electronics industries especially are becoming dependent on the element. A new highway soon to be built will connect the only American lithium mine in operation, Rockwood Lithium, in Silver Peak, NV, to the northern part of the state, where Elon Musk is currently constructing a billion-dollar ‘‘gigafactory’’ to manufacture lithium-ion batteries for his Tesla automobiles.

Rockwood is probably where my pink pills come from. In May, I visited Silver Peak, where David Klawitter, a mechanic at the mine, showed me his swollen red hands. ‘‘The lithium burns sometimes,’’ he said. ‘‘It eats sockets, though, rusts them up solid. You can see what it does to the trucks.’’ In the mid-’60s, Rockwood’s predecessor company, Foote Mineral, located its plant in this mineral-rich wasteland after establishing a method to extract lithium from underground brine. ‘‘We make medical-grade lithium here,’’ Klawitter said. ‘‘We’re processing a pure form of lithium, the purest.’’

Along a dusty road not far from Silver Peak is Alkali Hot Spring, once the bathing grounds for tent-city miners and frontiersmen like the Earp brothers who prospected for gold at the turn of the last century. Hoses now bring lithium water, at about 100 degrees Fahrenheit, from the springs to two tubs where the locals still take the waters.

An even larger deposit of lithium, an estimated 50 percent of the world’s supply, lies beneath the Salar de Uyuni in southern Bolivia. The increasing global demand for lithium has prompted many proclamations, including claims by Bolivians that the landlocked socialist country will become the ‘‘Saudi Arabia of lithium.’’ Economists have been forecasting a lithium economy for decades, and it may well be that someday every car, computer and wearable electronic device — not to mention our energy storehouses — will depend on lithium batteries the way I’ve relied on medicinal lithium for the last 20 years.

By 2000, I had gone seven years without a manic episode. I graduated from the University of California-Davis, with degrees in English and art. I moved to New York and was leading what seemed like a regular life, writing about music for The Village Voice and painting. I went to work every day and paid my rent. If you had met me on the street, I’ll bet you would have thought: This person is normal, has normal problems, approaches the world in a normal way. I decided, along with my psychiatrist of a couple years, Henry Schwartz, to taper off the lithium. Possibly I had been given the wrong diagnosis as an adolescent. Maybe I was past the point of having manic episodes.

After a few months off lithium, I felt energetic, engaged, even electric. It’s hard to know if that feeling was just a ramping up toward mania again or if it was the lifting of a lithium fog. But this is what ended up happening: I turned down jobs and burned all professional bridges with sharp and illogical emails, many of them referring to Eminem; I kept a stash of homemade granola in my pocket to hand out to anyone who would accept a stranger’s dirty pocket granola; I developed an alter ego, a rapper named Jamya; I painted my face with spectacular green-and-gold eye shadow; I was kicked out of a bar without even drinking; I stood on my head every morning; my apartment burned down; I served as the sole witness to a stranger’s wedding on top of the World Trade Center; I wore 800 necklaces and spoke in a slow growl or sometimes a high-pitched squeal; I saved a corgi from being hit by a cab on Central Park West (on which occasion Ben Vereen stopped to call a dog ambulance); I spoke to strangers with the intensity of a car salesman stuck in a Mamet monologue; I preached about Jesus wherever I went, which for a Jew is unusual; I spent almost $700 on butternut squash and assorted seasonal gourds. My clothes smelled of fire, from the burned-out apartment. I scared the scary people on the subway. All that took place over two weeks, maybe three, as I made my way back and forth between Los Angeles and New York.

It was kumquat season and I wanted to be back in New York with Mike, a crush I met a month earlier. He worked in a start-up on the floor below my apartment. In the weeks after the fire, he followed me around with a video camera, mostly because I told him to. A few years ago, he sent me a few scenes on a VHS tape he had stashed away in his parents’ lake house. I watched it recently. I looked pretty and young and magnetic and so crazy. My face was less creased with worry and my hair was coiffed in a deep red Afro, framing perfectly shaped eyebrows. I was sporting my trademark manic style — about 100 sparkling necklaces, 14 layers of clothing in every clashing pattern possible, thick makeup and a pack of Fantasia cigarettes. My voice was hoarse and slow, like a ’40s-era lounge singer.

The video starts with us sitting on Mike’s stoop on Sixth Avenue and Garfield Place in Park Slope, talking with a group of moon-faced teenagers. I guess I already had the ‘‘marry Mike’’ campaign going because I got each of those kids to say, ‘‘You should marry Jaime.’’ In my hip-hop drawl, I started reciting lines from ‘‘Romeo and Juliet.’’ Then the kids chanted with me: ‘‘roses smelling sweet!’’ You can see they’re mesmerized and confused by this pseudo-adult, crazed, clad in a tutu. At the end of the exchange I said, ‘‘You babies are all right!’’ Then I jumped into some Eminem lyrics.

The next scene on the tape is me showing the camera different album covers and singing songs from each album. I’m wearing a cowboy hat, gold pants, a fluorescent flower skirt and all the necklaces in the world. I pause at ‘‘Sweeney Todd’’ and say, ‘‘Oh, this one’s about eating people, so, that’s cool.’’ Mike, off-camera, peppers me with questions, asking me to hold the albums higher or lower or to the side.

The next morning I set up the camera so the lens’s point of view shows what I’ve made — kumquat-and-avocado salad, cubed PowerBars and a glass of wine. I videotape Mike waking up. He negotiates for more sleeping time. I clearly hadn’t slept at all and was now wearing a silver-flecked red bra and a gold skirt. He finally acknowledges me by eating a PowerBar. I say Baruch atah Adonai over the cup of wine, borrowing from the Hebrew prayer. I whisper it as if my voice is a direct line to God. Mike asks me what I’m going to do today.

‘‘Today, I’m going to contact MTV to debate Gore, Bush or Tipper Gore. I hope it’s Tipper. I have a lot of work to do today.’’ Pause. ‘‘I have to change the world.’’

Mike asks me why I’m holding an avocado pit in my hand. ‘‘I saved the pit so we could plant it wherever we decide to land,’’ I say. Then I start talking about a singing toilet bowl, a scene from the musical I had written.

The last fragment of the tape captures that same day at dusk. The camera is pointed toward the floor, and I am dragging Mike up to the roof. You can hear the fatigue in his voice and the growing irritation. He’s resisting, while I’m guiding him upstairs. ‘‘Why are we going on the roof?’’ he asks.

We have to, I insist. He threatens to turn off the camcorder. I ask him to point it at me. Then, on bended knee, I ask him to marry me. ‘‘It’s all set up,’’ I say. The picture turns to snow.

After I watched the tape last year, I chatted with Mike, who is still a close friend. ‘‘I was always a little jealous of what you went through,’’ he told me. ‘‘You’ve had an experience that so few people have had. You’ve lost your mind entirely. It’s almost like you’ve been someone else.’’

What I saw was someone who resembled me, looked related to me, whom I remembered being. It was me without lithium.

After that episode, I went back on lithium and stayed on it, despite the health risks, which include increased thirst, weight gain and memory loss and, more rarely, thyroid deterioration, kidney dysfunction and the same dullness and lethargy experienced by Cade’s guinea pigs. I was scared by what happened when I went off it. Some people who take lithium feel robbed of their natural personality. But for me, at a certain point the mania takes over, and my actions become unbearable, to me and to others. Toward the end of my last episode, I was such a menace that my mother hired a minder to watch me, a Caribbean woman named Alma who would braid my hair into cornrows and take me to 99-cent stores.

I wanted a calmer life. So for the next 13 years, I took my three pink capsules and all was well. I wrote a book, I learned how to cook in an Italian-restaurant kitchen, I had a few relationships that lasted longer than a month, I wrote, I boxed, I traveled, I painted, I took my pills. I was fine.

Then, last fall, I saw my primary physician — and he sent me to the nearest emergency room. He was alarmed at my combination of high creatinine levels, damaged kidneys and heart-attack-level blood pressure (185/130). At Mount Sinai Hospital, my doctor’s fears were confirmed in a matter of days: My kidneys were irreparably damaged, an ‘‘uncommon but not rare’’ side effect of long-term lithium use. I was told I could phase out lithium and start another medication, or face dialysis and a kidney transplant in 10 years.

It doesn’t really feel like an obvious choice; it just feels like two bad options. Switching meds might mean the return of cornrowed, Eminem-obsessed Jamya and many seasonal gourds. Yet tubing up and cleansing my blood until I get a stranger’s kidney quilted into the rest of my insides is hardly more appealing. Test results indicate that my kidneys are working about half as well as they should; Maria DeVita, a nephrologist at Lenox Hill Hospital, told me that if I am to switch to preserve the kidney function I have left, ‘‘the time to strike is now.’’

When I start tapering off lithium a month or two from now, Schwartz will prescribe Depakote, a medicine used to treat bipolar disorder as well as seizures and migraines. The only way to know whether it works is if I don’t have a manic episode. And the idea of waiting for that terrifies me. My boyfriend of three and a half years doesn’t know what I’m like when I’m manic. There’s nothing that I can say that will prepare him. If it happens again, I’m worried I’ll run off and ride the rails or that I’ll be accidentally unfaithful or that I’ll insist on wearing metallic unitards and Mexican wrestling masks or that, worst of all, I just won’t be me, and he won’t be able to remember who I am or that I’m in there somewhere. I worry that without lithium I will lose my job, my partner, my home, my mind … because I’ve been through all this. I don’t believe in God, but I believe in lithium.

Before leaping into the worrisome unknown, I decided to travel to one of the grandest, most delusional places of all, the world’s largest reserve of lithium, in Bolivia. I would make a symbolic pilgrimage to the wellspring of my sanity.

The vastness of Salar de Uyuni is intensified by its mind-bending, flesh-burning, breathtaking altitude. The salt flats spread out 12,000 feet above sea level and bring to mind the biggest, most perfect ice-skating pond imaginable. This part of southern Bolivia consists of 4,000 square miles of what were once prehistoric lakes, now dried up into crust and brine. Scientists say it took three minutes following the Big Bang, 13.7 billion years ago, for the first three elements to emerge — helium, hydrogen and then trace amounts of lithium, atomic number 3. Gazing out at the horizon here in Salar de Uyuni feels like looking back into those earliest moments of the universe. Nearby you can see natural hot springs and the Sol de Mañana, a geothermal spot pockmarked with steamy craters burping boiling mud. The place feels like a hallucination; there’s an island populated by century-old cactuses, a blood-red lagoon, flocks of hot pink wild flamingos and piles of a blindingly white crystalline substance.

There were tire tracks in the salt from four-by-fours. Off in the distance lay an isolated processing plant, christened in 2013 by the Bolivian president, Evo Morales. Evaporation ponds checkered the endless white expanse with shades of aqua.

I walked the crusted, jigsaw surface. I wanted to feel and taste its granularity and saltiness. The far-off Andean peaks floated dreamily, with no visible foundation. As I ran between the salt mounds, cracks accompanied each step. My hiking-boot footprints flooded with milky saltwater. I was so breathless, so thirsty, so thrilled. If ever there has been a perfect backdrop for a grandiose delusion, it is the Salar de Uyuni.

The lithium we have on Earth now — part stardust, part primordial dust and part earth dust — is a constituent part of our planet, one that sometimes shapes personalities. The thought occurred to me that maybe my taking lithium prophesied a lithium-dependent future, connecting it to a past when our world was birthed in fiery lithium explosions. Maybe that capsule filled with a salt, the one that allowed me to function, tethered past, present and future together. But then, extravagant prophecies built on the miraculous powers of a prehistoric element reek of mania.

After a few days of trekking, I stopped at a camp and slept in a building made of salt bricks — a lithium igloo. I sat in the nearby hot springs, in water naturally laden with high concentrations of lithium, and watched the steam rise on the moonshine horizon. If I soaked in this warm bath long enough, I thought, maybe it wouldn’t feel so bad to let go of my medicine. Ω

[aime Lowe is a freelance writer and fact-checker living in Brooklyn. She is the author of Digging for Dirt: The Life and Death of ODB (2008), a biography of Ol’ Dirty Bastard, a founding member of the Wu-Tang Clan. Lowe received a BA (English) from the University of California-Davis and also later attended The University of Edinburgh.]

Copyright © 2015 The New York Times Company

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Monday, June 29, 2015

For The Dumbo/Teabagger Campaign 2016 — A Petrological Solution!!

Welcome kiddies. It's the beginning of the week and it's time for the funny papers in this blog. However, sometimes they ain't funny. But, Tom Tomorrow's 'toons do provoke thought. While the main focus of today's toon is another chapter in the Klown Kar Kaper that masquerades as the Dumbo/Teabagger campaign of 2016. In the final panel, Tom Tomorrow introduces another possible winner for the Dumbos/Teabaggers — A Box O'Rocks For POTUS 45. What would be the campaign theme song for a Box O'Rocks? "We Will Rock You" would be inevitable. Slogan? "Rock On!." The opportunities have no limit. Tip to the Dumbos/Teabaggers: dump the Klown Kar Kaper and grab a Box O'Rocks. Hell, when you're dumber'n dirt, rocks are the next best thing. If this is (fair & balanced) political strategery, so be it.

[x This Modern World]
By Tom Tomorrow (Dan Perkins)

Tom Tomorrow/Dan Perkins

[Dan Perkins is an editorial cartoonist better known by the pen name "Tom Tomorrow". His weekly comic strip, "This Modern World," which comments on current events from a strong liberal perspective, appears regularly in approximately 150 papers across the U.S., as well as on Daily Kos. The strip debuted in 1990 in SF Weekly. Perkins, a long time resident of Brooklyn, New York, currently lives in Connecticut. He received the Robert F. Kennedy Award for Excellence in Journalism in both 1998 and 2002. When he is not working on projects related to his comic strip, Perkins writes a daily political blog, also entitled "This Modern World," which he began in December 2001. More recently, Dan Perkins, pen name Tom Tomorrow, was named the winner of the 2013 Herblock Prize for editorial cartooning. Even more recently, Dan Perkins was a runner-up for the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning.]

Copyright © 2015 Tom Tomorrow (Dan Perkins)

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Sunday, June 28, 2015

A Modest Proposal For The Current Flag Controversy

Here is a sensible solution to the flag brouhaha that has erupted following the Charleston Massacre of 2015. Textile artist Sonya Clark has partially unraveled the controversial confederate flag (lower case intentional to convey punctuational contempt) so that the unraveled threads appear to be blood streaks running down a white wall. The Southern scum then (1861-1865) and now (2015) are worthy of nothing but our loathing. Ditto for their fellow travelers in the ranks of the Dumbos/Teabaggers. If this is (fair & balanced) outrage at white privilege, so be it

[x MoJo]
Here's One Confederate Flag That Shouldn't Be Taken Down
By Gabrielle Canon

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In the wake of the tragedy in Charleston, South Carolina, one might not expect to see a Confederate battle flag solemnly hanging in the heart of New York City. But along with reflecting a history of hatred, racism, and violence, this particular flag—on display with tattered, red, white, and blue threads dangling—tells a different story.

Beside it sits the remnants of a separate flag, now reduced to red, white, and blue piles of fabric. The two pieces on display at the Mixed Greens gallery, called "Unraveling" and "Unraveled," were pulled apart by hand by artist Sonya Clark to symbolize the work needed to be done to undo the legacies of racism, prejudice, and injustice, emblemized by the flags.

"Sometimes it is really hard to undo cloth and sometimes it is a little easier," Clark tells Mother Jones. "But no matter what it is slow-going. That seemed to be a fitting metaphor for where we are. It is happening—but it is slow going. It is better now than it was—but it is slow going."

Clark, a textile artist who serves as the Department Chair of Craft and Material Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, often tackles issues of race and identity in her work. Compelled by the news of police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement, Clark was inspired to make a piece that would speak to both the current issues and the long history of racism in America.

Then, during a tour of the Museum of the Confederacy in Virginia, she came face to face with one of the original battle flags of the Confederacy. She took a photo of the tattered flag, capturing her own reflection in the protection glass—and it sparked an idea.

On April 9, on the 150 year anniversary of the end of the Civil War, she began pulling apart a Confederate flag. Piece-by-piece, string-by-string, she and her studio assistants undid the heavy woven fabric until it became something unrecognizable. The result, and the act of unraveling, serve as an important metaphor.

"We understand cloth in a way," she explains. "We are all wearing cloth. But we actually don’t understand how it is made. We live in the United States of America and we are used to a kind of injustice because it is part of the fabric of our nation. There’s a way in which unraveling a cloth—using that metaphor, using that sense that a material that we are so familiar with, but we don’t actually understand how it was constructed. Undoing it helps us understand that."

The fully undone flag, named "Unraveled," now reduced to piles of thread, sits next to "Unraveling," the flag that still remains mostly intact. That piece serves a related but separate purpose. It represents the collective work needed to be done to unravel racism, and the dialog that help will facilitate that work. Starting with a flag that had only partially been unwoven, 50 volunteers joined Clark in pulling apart the heavy cotton threads on opening night of the exhibit. In an hour and a half they were only able to dismantle about an inch, but Clark says the exhibit helped ignite important discussions.

"I don’t think we are going to get far in terms of undoing the deep history of racism and the legacies of prejudice and injustice without having dialog," she explains. "It allowed me to stand next to people who volunteered, to undo the flag together. One on one. So we were having conversations about the process, about our lives, about ourselves."

This isn't the first time Clark has used the divisive image to make a broader point. In 2010 she did her first Confederate-flag piece, to highlight the how the wealth of this nation was built on the backs of slave labor. Threads stitched into a confederate flag painted onto canvas, depict an overlaying American flag in cornrows and bantu knots.

"I used cornrows because they are of course African diasporic a hairstyling technique that is pretty traditional. But the cornrows themselves also refer to working the land and Bantu knots refer to a group of people that were enslaved and brought across during the transatlantic slave trade," she explains. "Even in the names of those hairstyles it refers to the people and the working of the land—the free labor that people of African descent provided."

Now, heartbroken by the news of the Charleston shooting, she hopes to expand the discussion. She already has plans for more "Unraveling" flags to give those interested the opportunity to participate.

"When I made this piece I certainly would not have foretold that there would have been people massacred in South Carolina. I am saddened of course by that fact," she says with a long pause. "But I do think that what has also happened is that, that awful tragedy has empowered this action of unraveling the confederate flag. It becomes another example of the work that we have to undo." Ω

[Gabrielle Canon is a writing fellow at Mother Jones. She has previously written for LA Weekly and the Huffington Post. Canon received both a BS (music) and an MA (journalism) from the University of Southern California.]

Copyright © 2015 Mother Jones and the Foundation for National Progress

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Saturday, June 27, 2015

Want To Contact A Racist? Find A Dumbo/Teabagger Under The Rock Of Your Choice

Mea Culpa: in yesterday's post, this blogger claimed that the SCOTUS had offered a trifecta of overdue decisions on Obamacare, same-sex marriage, and — erroneously — discriminatory elements of the Defense of Marriage Act. Duh, the SCOTUS dealt with the Defense of Marriage Act in 2013 — United States v.Windsor. However, the SCOTUS did offer a third decision that should have been included in the Dumbo Trifecta — Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project re-affirmed a federal law (Fair Housing Act) passed in 1968 to combat housing discrimination. There was a Dumbo Trifecta by the SCOTUS, but this blogger was in error for including the Windsor decision instead of the fair housing decision. This blog now stands corrected.

Today, Eags proclaims the Dumbos and their knuckle-dragging fellow-travelers to be racists. Today;s 'toon is right on as well. Abraham Lincoln would have his head in a barf bag if he could hear today's Dumbos/Teabaggers spoutng racist garbage while calling themselves "patriots." The Trickster implemented a "Southern Strategy" in his election wins in 1968 and 1972. The St. Dutch opened his 1980 campaign in Philadelphia, MS. Why did St. Dutch go to that out-of-the-way place? Hmmmm. Philadelphia, MS entered the racist pantheon in 1965 when three civil rights workers were murdered by white racists because the young men were attempting to assist African American residents of that area of The Magnolia State. St. Dutch was sending a coded message to racist voters everywhere. Then, St. Dutch was succeeded by this VPOTUS, Poppy — daddy of The Dubster and The Jebster and Poppy's campaign manager, the late Lee Atwater, perfected the use of dog-whistle slogans that audible (loud & clear) to racist voters. Now, the Dumbo media outlet, Faux News, is headed by Roger Aisles. Roger the Dodger was a media consultant for Republican presidents Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George H. W. Bush before Ailes took the helm of Faux News. Does anyone see a pattern here? If this is a (fair & balanced) revelation of the huge racist Fifth Column, so be it.

[x NY Fishwrap]
A Refuge For Racists
By Eags (Timothy Egan)

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In one of the little acts of subversion that creeps into “The Simpsons” every now and then, a helicopter from Fox News was shown in 2010 with a logo, “Not Racist, But #1 With Racists.”

So it can be said of the Republican Party, a shelter for the kind of dead-enders who used to be Democrats, then Dixiecrats, but have found a home of sorts in the attic of the Party of Lincoln. It’s encouraging to see some party leaders trying to sweep these dark-hearted elements out, but they have work to do yet — starting with Donald Trump.

The accused killer of nine black churchgoers in Charleston, S.C., Dylann Roof, appears to have been moved to mass murder by incendiary tracts turned out by a white supremacist group, the Council of Conservative Citizens. The leader of that same group, Earl Holt III, has donated more than $60,000 to various Republican office holders and candidates, including the presidential aspirants Ted Cruz, Rick Santorum and Rand Paul.

The candidates, of course, are shocked — shocked! [emphasis inserted] — that an extremist hate group would contribute to their cause, and most of them have now returned the money or given it to a fund for victims’ families. But it raises an obvious question: why would someone whose ideas belong in the graveyard of history contribute, across the board, to leading Republican conservatives?

Guilt by association can be unfair, or at least calls out for nuance. So let’s move on to a more overt racial firebomber in the party, Trump, who is polling second — just behind Jeb Bush — in one recent survey of New Hampshire Republicans.

Trump does not use dog whistles or code words. He’s blunt. And his wealth affords him a halo of respect in some circles that a low-rent racist would not get. In the spasm of surreal narcissism that was his presidential announcement earlier this month, Trump said some things you would expect to hear at a Klan rally — 20 years ago.

“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you,” he said. “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

Because Trump is a buffoon, a punch-line and a fact-checker’s full-time project, he gets away with things that more serious candidates cannot. So Mexicans — and by extension, all immigrants — are not “you,” but rapists, druglords and leeches in our fair land. Ha-ha. That Trump — what a straight-shooter.

For his “insulting remarks about Mexican immigrants,” Univision, the Spanish-language broadcaster, just dumped its relationship with Trump’s Miss Universe pageant. (He’s a part-owner.) Great. Now where are the Republican leaders — supposedly intent on trying to make the party something more than a collection of grievance-gorged old white guys – giving Trump a similar message?

Trump also has consistently challenged President Obama’s legitimacy as an American citizen, making a clearly racist play in his questioning of the president’s place of birth, even after the release of a long-form birth certificate.

Money insulates Trump. But the same cannot be said of Mike Huckabee, who also questioned the president’s American authenticity, concocting a lie about how “his childhood” in Kenya shaped his worldview. Huckabee sent a well-received video, in 1993, to the supremacist Citizens Council, though he later condemned the group.

Huckabee’s buddy — a “patriot and a friend,” in his words — is Ted Nugent, a raisined [?] rocker who often appears on stage with a Confederate flag, wrapped in it or wearing it. It was Nugent who called President Obama “a subhuman mongrel.”

Let’s yield to a British-born comedian, John Oliver, to set Lost Cause apologists straight: “The Confederate flag is one of those symbols that should really only be seen on T-shirts, belt buckles and bumper stickers to help the rest of us identify the worst people in the world.”

The House whip, Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana, has had trouble trying to explain why he spoke, in 2002, to a white supremacist group founded by the former Klan leader David Duke. Scalise now says he finds the group’s beliefs repugnant. But earlier this year, Duke told a radio interviewer that Scalise “agreed with all my ideas.”

The party label is meaningless. The white South was solidly Democratic after the Civil War, vowing never to vote for the party that liberated the slaves. A hundred years later, the white South changed allegiances with the advent of the civil rights movement. Richard Nixon then sealed the transformation with his Southern Strategy, which parked Southern whites firmly in the Republican Party.

For the many Republicans who believe in free markets, less government and the racial legacy of Lincoln, the question has to be asked: What do some of society’s worst elements see in their party? It’s the coded language, yes, the hard voices of its broadcast wing, but also actions. Of late, this is the party that has been behind restrictive voting measures aimed squarely at blacks. Don’t give racists anything to root for, and they’ll crawl back under their rocks. Ω

[Timothy Egan writes "Outposts," a column at the NY Fishwrap online. Egan — winner of both a Pulitzer Prize in 2001 as a member of a team of reporters who wrote the series "How Race Is Lived in America" and a National Book Award (The Worst Hard Time in 2006) — graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in journalism, and was awarded an honorary doctorate of humane letters by Whitman College in 2000 for his environmental writings. Egan's most recent book is The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America (2009).]

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Friday, June 26, 2015

How Many Dumbo Governators Can You Stuff Into The Dumbo Clown Car?

Early on in the reign of The Dubster, that frat-boy poseur nicknamed Maureen Dowd — "The Cobra" — for her poisonous commentary about him on the NY Fishwrap Op-Ed page. When Gail Collins later returned to the same Op-Ed page, this blog annointed her "The Krait" — for Collins' equally deadly commentary about The Dubster and his Dumbo successors. Today, The Krait reveals that the miracle-worker governors who create jobs right and left are nekkid as jaybirds. The Dumbo sumbitches ought to be dealin' 3-Card Monte instead of runnin' for POTUS 45.If that isn't dismal enough for Dumbo partisans, the SCOTUS handed down a anti-Dumbo Trifecta today: upheld Obamacare, made same-sex marriage the law o'the land, and overturned the odious portions of the Defense of Marriage Act that denied spousal benefits to same-sex marriage survivors. The weeks to come are gonna be a ton o'fun. If this is (fair & balanced) Dumbo-disdain so be it.

[x NY Fishwrap]
Poking The Republican Pyramid
The Krait (Gail Collins)

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Is it my imagination, or are half the governors in the country running for president?

On the Republican side they’re piling up like … those huge stacks of walruses we see off the coast of Alaska now that there’s global warming. A stack of governors! Different from the walruses only in 1) lack of tusks, and 2) failure to believe that melting ice floes are a serious problem.

This week Bobby Jindal (Louisiana). Next week maybe Chris Christie (New Jersey). Sometime in July, Scott Walker (Wisconsin) and probably John Kasich (Ohio). We’ve already got a bunch of former governors in the race, like Jeb Bush (Florida) and Rick Perry (Texas). The guys who are still in office have been stalling, attempting to disguise their total disinterest in their current jobs until a state budget is passed. Although Walker, in a stroke of true political genius, has decided that really means the day the budget is supposed to be passed.

That’s Wisconsin’s problem. Our question for today is what we can learn about our own national priorities from the governor-candidates God has given us.

Almost all governors brag about their economic development programs — hey, it’s economic development! But we could have an excellent conversation about how often these things really work. They’re frequently huge, thudding wastes of money. Louisiana, for instance, covers about a third of the in-state production costs for any movie that’s filmed there, a policy that will pay off only if it turns out that tourists visit New Orleans just because it was the site of “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.”

“Louisiana sank more into ‘Green Lantern’ than it is putting into the University of New Orleans this year,” a state paper noted in December.

Next door in Texas, then-Governor Rick Perry claimed that his Texas Enterprise Fund created more than 12,000 jobs with a $50 million investment in an institute for genomic medicine. It was actually more like 10 jobs once you stopped counting every single biotech job created anywhere in the entire state for the previous six years.

In Florida, when Jeb Bush was governor, he came up with a plan for biotech corridors that would spawn tens of thousands of jobs, transforming the state just the way Disney World did in the 1970s, except possibly without any pirates. Reuters studied the results and estimated that Florida state and local governments had anted up $1.32 billion and generated 1,365 jobs, or $1 million per new employee.

Often, the goal of these programs is to simply lure a business from one state to another. Then we get a battle of the tax breaks, creating a hole that will have to be filled by you, the ordinary taxpayer.

Ohio, home of potential presidential candidate John Kasich, offered Sears a $400 million deal to ditch Illinois and move to Columbus. Sears decided to stay put after the Illinois Legislature passed a super-emergency $275 million counteroffer. One economics professor suggested the company should pay Ohio a 10 percent commission.

“We’re disappointed that it didn’t work out,” Kasich said in a statement. “But it is very exciting that Ohio was in serious contention up to the very end, and that it took a special session of the Illinois Legislature to beat us.”

Honestly, this kind of thing ought to be unconstitutional.

The great irony here is that finding the lowest taxes generally isn’t a top business priority. What companies really want is to be near suppliers and markets. Maybe occasionally the C.E.O.’s house. “As a part of business cost structure, state and local taxes are about 2 percent,” said Greg LeRoy, the executive director of Good Jobs First, a nonprofit that tracks these programs.

But tax cuts do help make friends. In Wisconsin, the State Economic Development Corporation board — which Scott Walker used to lead — approved a $6 million tax credit for Ashley Furniture Industries, whose owners forked over $20,000 to Walker’s re-election campaign. As The Wisconsin State Journal reported, in return for the tax credit, Ashley Furniture promised to expand the company headquarters and keep at least half of its current jobs in the state for the next five years. Doesn’t that sound like a kind of low bar?

Under Chris Christie, New Jersey has handed out $630 million to get companies to move jobs to the woebegone city of Camden. Which would seem like a worthy goal, except that most of the jobs in question were already in the state — in fact, frequently in an adjoining neighborhood. “Most of the jobs coming to Camden are filled by existing employees who currently work just a few miles away,” reported The Associated Press. “Nearly all the recipients boast notable political connections.”

I think we have a topic. Nudge the governor pile and let the debate begin. Ω

[Gail Collins joined the New York Times in 1995 as a member of the editorial board and later as an op-ed columnist. In 2001 she became the first woman ever appointed editor of the Times editorial page. At the beginning of 2007, she took a leave in order to complete America's Women: 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates and Heroines. Collins returned to the Times as a columnist in July 2007. Collins has a BA (journalism) from Marquette University and an MA (government) from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. Gail Collins’s newest book is As Texas Goes...: How the Lone Star State Hijacked the American Agenda (2012).]

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Thursday, June 25, 2015

Here's The Latest Iteration Of Our Great Evasion: Banning Flags Instead Of Banning Guns

Jessica Winter ends today's essay with the melancholy words "...We have given up [in preventing gun violence... ever]. The latest crazed gunman killed 9 people in Charleston with a gun, not a flag. The national media fixes on the removal of the symbol of the Confederacy — a treasonous flag — from public places. And little or no mention of the damned guns the whie supremacist used to kill 9 innocent people. The NRA should be identified as as terrorist organization and its members sent to Gitmo. In shackles and orange jumpsuits. If this is (fair & balanced) gun-repugnance, so be it

[x Slate]
Giving Up On Gun Control
By Jessica Winter

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Last weekend, the world saw white supremacist and mass murderer Dylann Roof posing stone-faced with Confederate flags and license plates. Sometime after the pictures were taken, Roof allegedly shot dead nine parishioners at a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina, using a legally acquired 45-caliber Glock handgun after passing a background check. On Monday, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley announced that the Confederate flag would be removed from State House grounds, calling it “a deeply offensive symbol of a brutally offensive past.” In the space of 24 hours, Amazon, eBay, Etsy, and Walmart all stopped selling products featuring the Confederate banner. Google stated Tuesday that it would scrub the flag from ads and Google Shopping. Several flag makers say they will stop manufacturing the flag. Today, the governor of Alabama has ordered the removal of the flag from state Capitol grounds.

Almost literally overnight, the chimera of consensus around the Confederate flag as a divisive but misunderstood symbol of “heritage” or “Southern pride” fell away, revealing the banner for what it is. The obscenity of the flag and the murderous racism it represents have dominated a national conversation about the American way of hate and violence for all the right reasons.

The flag has also dominated the conversation for a single wrong reason, which is that most Americans have given up on achieving meaningful gun control in their lifetimes or in their grandchildren’s lifetimes.

Up to and including the December 2012 mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, Americans could be certain that every time a crazed man emptied a weapon inside a church or movie theater or first-grade classroom, the aftermath would produce a national conversation—just like the one we’ve been having about Confederate symbolism—about strengthening America’s gun control laws. The conversation happened because we believed it would lead somewhere.

After Newtown, we realized that the conversation would never lead anywhere, and so we found other things to talk about.

In April 2007, when Seung-Hui Cho shot dead 32 people and injured 17 at Virginia Tech, we debated Virginia’s faulty background-check requirements—Cho passed two checks despite a record of mental illness.

In January 2011, when Jared Lee Loughner shot dead six people and wounded 13 at an event featuring Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) in Tucson, Arizona, the Cho debate effectively replicated itself, down to Loughner’s mystifying ability to come up clean on a background check for his legally acquired weapon of choice, a Glock Model 19 9mm pistol.

In July 2012, when James Eagan Holmes shot dead 12 people and injured 70 in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, the debate expanded to interrogate the legal status of the AR-15 assault rifle and 100-round drum magazine that Holmes legally purchased and that had been previously prohibited under the assault-weapons ban, which Congress let expire in 2004.

Five months after Aurora, in December 2012, Adam Lanza shot dead 26 people, including 20 6- and 7-year-old children, at an elementary school in Newtown using a legally acquired Bushmaster AR-15 assault rifle, a Glock 10mm, and a Sig Sauer 9mm. In the immediate aftermath of Newtown and with the memory of Aurora’s carnage still fresh, the momentum behind securing stronger gun control laws in the United States felt more palpable than ever.

Hours after the Newtown shooting, the website of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence crashed under the weight of new donations. Six states eventually adopted universal background checks. Colorado, site of the movie theater massacre, banned magazines that hold more than 15 rounds. Michael Bloomberg put $50 million of his own money behind the gun control advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety. President Obama signed three executive orders on gun violence. In the U.S. Senate, Sens. Joe Manchin, a Democrat, and Patrick Toomey, a Republican, worked on a bipartisan measure to require background checks for online and gun-show sales. Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein proposed reviving the ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. A Washington Post–ABC News poll showed over 90 percent support among Americans for expanded background checks; even among National Rifle Association members, support came in at 74 percent.

And then, nothing. Feinstein’s proposal fell away before it could even come up for a vote. The watered-down Manchin-Toomey bill died in the Senate in April 2013. In September 2013, voters in Colorado recalled two of the Democratic state senators who supported Colorado’s new gun control legislation. And in April 2015, as Holmes’ trial got underway, the Associated Press cited the NRA’s tally of “35 bills expanding gun rights that have been signed into law nationwide this year,” adding, “No legislation the NRA has opposed has become law.” The AP headline read, “As Theater Shooting Trial Opens, Gun Debate Dwindles.”

When 20 dead first-graders cannot result in new and meaningful national measures on gun control or even in weak and largely symbolic national measures on gun control, then perhaps—if you are of a certain cast of mind—that is the moment to retreat on gun control.

And we have. People will still talk about it. Michael Bloomberg will always have more money to spend on it. Karl Rove can propose the repeal of the Second Amendment. Manchin and Toomey can discuss reviving their push on background checks. Gabby Giffords can continue to fight, and when, say, North Carolina decides not to repeal permits for handgun purchases, she can treat this maintaining of the status quo as a victory—which, in its grotesque context, it is. Mostly, though, we find other things to talk about.

In May 2014, when Elliot Rodger shot dead six people and wounded 14 in Isla Vista, California, we talked about misogyny, and we coined hashtags like #NotAllMen and #YesAllWomen. Now, we’re talking about the Confederate flag.

And the next time a crazed man commits mass murder, and the next time, and the next time, we will talk about gun control a little, but we will also find a second conversation. Because those conversations are worthy and potentially fruitful, and also because we have given up. Ω

[Jessica Winter is Slate’s features editor. She received a BA (English) from Yale University as well as an MA (English) from University College London.]

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