Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Excited Delirium

It appears I've never mentioned excited delirium in all my years of blogging, despite its role in the police killings of George Floyd, Elijah McClain, Manny Ellis, and many other Black men. Maybe I haven't talked about it because it just seems to be such obvious white supremacist b.s., like drapetomania, though it has all too real effects.

Today I learned from Radley Balko about the man responsible for it.

He was a medical examiner named Charles Wetli, and Balko wrote today about Wetli's 2020 obituary in the New York Times:

[Wetli] claimed a series of deaths of black sex workers were caused by a condition unique to black women in which they just drop dead after mixing sex and cocaine. They were actually murdered by a serial killer.

Wetli would later expand the condition to include black men, whom he theorized might have a genetic condition that causes them to (a) assume superhuman strength and imperviousness to pain, and (b) spontaneously die while in police custody.

Wetli's new diagnosis both gave cops a reason to be especially aggressive with black men, and provided an excuse when that aggression led to unnecessary death. He became a consultant for Axon (Taser) and a frequent expert defense witness for cops accused of abuse.

It's remarkable that none of this made his obituary. It's an incredibly destructive legacy.

As people pointed out in the comments, the police claims of excited delirium continue to this day, though it is mostly medically discredited. Older cops say they were trained to believe in it, if nothing else, so how can they be blamed if they act as if it's real? That was part of what happened in the Manny Ellis and Elijah McCain cases.

Other commenters noted that if police are aware that Black people supposedly are particularly susceptible to harm in a certain set of circumstances, then police should have an extra responsibility of care, not less of one. 

But that's not how things work in white supremacy, of course.

Monday, February 26, 2024

The Little Crystals Can Get You

A few days ago I learned, from the Vital Signs column in Discover magazine, why it is that mega-mega-doses of vitamin C are dangerous.

I've known for a while that plants that contain oxalic acid are both edible (and tasty) and toxic if eaten in high enough amounts. The common weed yellow wood sorrel, Oxalis stricta, which has a pleasant sour taste, is a good example. The more obviously culinary French sorrel, Rumex acetosa, has the same property.

But I didn't really know why.

Well, it turns out vitamin C itself has the same property, and in the same way, the danger is in the dose. It has to do with how our kidneys work.

After filtering out waste, the part of the kidneys called tubules return blood back into circulation. Those tubules are pretty narrow. 

When vitamin C (ascorbic acid) gets to the kidneys, it's transformed into oxalate — a derivative of oxalic acid — and the reason oxalate is dangerous to us is because it takes the form of tiny sharp-edged crystals. When there are enough of them, they block the kidneys' tubules.

I hate to say it, but I liked this explanation because it was so mechanical and simple: I could visualize it. 

The only mystery is how much oxalate it takes to cause a problem, and it seems as though no one knows exactly. Many cultures eat foods made with plants that have oxalic acid in them, and obviously vitamin C also. Our bodies need vitamin C.

The patient in the Vital Signs column had been mega-dosed intravenously with 100 grams (grams!) of vitamin C — 50 times the recommended dose. So that was clearly beyond the pale.

But for someone eating wood sorrel from their yard, or cooking with French sorrel, how much is too much? It sounds as though it's partly a balance with how much liquid you consume, and that rather than destroying your kidneys in the long run, it might lead to kidney stones. 

Which are clearly not a great outcome, but they're better than dialysis or worse.

But one thing to remember: if something is good for you (like vitamin C), more is not always better.

Common wood sorrel in bloom. Photo from the Wikimedia Commons by Cbaile19


Sunday, February 25, 2024

Learning About Blutmai

So far I've learned from Babylon Berlin that my American education did not teach me nearly enough about Weimar Germany, and I'd be willing to bet that I already knew more about that period than 99.x% of Americans.

I had never heard of Blutmai (Bloody May Day), when Berlin police killed more than 30 people who weren't even involved in the 1929 May Day protests. The write-up on Wikipedia seems pretty good. This article on Jacobin also seems fair.

The thing I wasn't understanding while watching the show, since I didn't have enough knowledge of Weimar-era politics, is that the German government in 1929 was controlled by socialists (social democrats, the SPD), but who saw themselves opposed to the farther left party, the KPD (the Communists, essentially). The SPD was working with more center-right parties, and the KPD thought they were sellouts. And the Berlin police — big shock — had elements of the ex-military within their ranks.

Meanwhile, all of us with hindsight know what was coming up behind those social democrats who thought they could work with reasonable people on the right. This is from the Jacobin article:

Unable to recognize the mortal threat posed by Hitler’s men, both workers’ parties seemed more preoccupied with stopping one another from potentially sabotaging the working class’s ascent to socialism, which each identified with its own leadership. The internal logics ... ultraleftism on the one hand and the SPD’s hyper-accommodating incrementalism on the other made any other outcome virtually impossible....

The Social Democrats could not imagine a socialist order beyond their gradual modifications to the existing state, and the Communists could not entertain the notion that socialism would come from anything but their own revolutionary conquest. Blutmai reinforced those convictions.

In all this, I see actions that are all too familiar: the upfront repression of banning public protest, the police's lack of deescalation on May 1 — even shooting at people on the street, and the government's overall inability to see the real threat from the right. 

Saturday, February 24, 2024

Berlin, Maybe Too Much Babylon

Unfortunately someone told me about the German noir thriller show Babylon Berlin, set in 1929 Berlin, currently showing on Neflix for just the next few days. So I don't have time to think of a post after a busy day.

It's three seasons at least four seasons, and Netflix is removing it after February 28. I don't expect to get through more than the first season, but I do hope to finish the first season.

So far it seems like an interesting parallel to the Peaky Blinders, which took place in a similar time, except in England, and also had characters damaged by World War I.

Friday, February 23, 2024

Throwing the Booklet at Them

It's hard to take when the Right tries to make victims of the January 6 insurrectionists. From the beginning — when they were not arrested the same day — they have been treated very lightly. (Ashli Babbitt is dead because she was trying to climb through a window near where Congress members were fleeing from the mob that was trying to break down the doors. So she wasn't treated lightly, but she's about the only one.)

None of the people who were eventually tried have received the prosecutors' recommended sentence, from what I have seen in news coverage.  

The most recent example of those light sentences was in my local papers today: a Minneapolis man named Brian Mock, who was sentenced to two years and nine months, although prosecutors recommended nine years and a month. He was convicted of 11 counts, including felony assault, for attacking police that day. He's been in jail for the past year, so he'll be out in a year and nine months.

Mock's big reason to ask for leniency was that he didn't bring any arms or body armor. He claims he got "caught up" in the moment. But he clearly knew he would be in the midst of violence because he told his son he might die there. He posted online about the need for "total rebellion." The various ways he assaulted several cops are described in both of my local papers. He did use weapons; he just took them from the cops.

He has multiple violent incidents in his past: domestic assault, a weapons charge (when he threatened children, requiring SWAT response), and a restraining order from a second relationship. 

In his defense filings, he continued to question Biden's legitimacy as president.

And given all of that, Mock's inadequate sentence is bad enough, but the detail that gets me the most is this, from the AP story about his trial outcome:

The judge who convicted and sentenced Mock described some of his trial testimony as "silly," including his claim that he was referring to singer Nancy Sinatra — not then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi — when he posted a Facebook message on Jan. 1, 2021, that said " Well Nancy, that ain't the worst thing that's going to happen to you this week."

That is clearly perjury, but instead of charging him with an additional crime, the judge called it silly.

That's how lightly the insurrectionists are treated.

Thursday, February 22, 2024

Just a Joke

A friend on Facebook shared this recently:

I posted about this close to five years ago. That earlier post contains some good ideas about the best ways to approach conversations like this, especially if the person joking is young.

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Four Pins

I just realized I've been accumulating a small collection of multimodal-themed pins on my desk.

When I wear the green pedestrian pin, it's pretty common to be asked what it means. I think the icon-person in motion symbol is fairly well-known, so at first that question seemed odd, but now I take it as an opening conversation gambit. It's not a pin you see every day, after all.

I have an "I Love the Bus" sticker or pin somewhere too...

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Election Maps: New York and Wisconsin

I love maps, as anyone knows who reads this blog. And fair elections. So when maps and fair elections come together — that's a blog subject for sure.

Here's the new New York House of Representatives map:

...and how the Independent Redistricting Commission thinks the various districts lean:

As an Upstate New York resident originally, I see what's happening in some of the finer points north of the city. (I can't tell what's going on south of the Hudson Valley or on Long Island.) 

Tompkins County, where Ithaca is located, is an island of Democratic voters in mostly Republican rural Central New York. It has been attached to the 19th District, running all the way to the Massachusetts border. 

The 22nd, just north of there, splits Cortland County, putting the city of Cortland (and students at SUNY Cortland) with Syracuse, which is an interesting choice. I assume that puts relatively more Democrats in that bucket. Overall, they've left each of the Upstate cities and their inner ring suburbs as intact units, which pretty much guarantees a Democratic outcome, vs. cracking each of those with outlying areas in each direction, which is what Republican-controlled legislatures like to do (as in Texas and Tennessee). 

For the parts of the state I'm most familiar with, most of the jagged lines between districts look like county lines or other clear boundaries to me, which is a good thing.

Meanwhile, in Wisconsin, its new state legislature maps were just signed into law by the governor after a 13-year battle to rebuild democracy in that state. (Democracy, in this case, means having legislative bodies that don't have 2/3 of their members from a party that got significantly less than half of the total vote statewide.)

Here are the new maps:

Part of the reason Republicans were previously able to get such disproportionate membership in the legislature was because they drew districts that selected the voters that worked them, sometimes down to individual houses. That sometimes meant drawing noncontiguous districts, which are prohibited by the state's constitution.

Here are a couple of examples of the extreme level of noncontiguous boundaries Republicans had resorted to in order to get the exact number of votes they needed to control the outcome of elections:

I saw a different example, zoomed in, where there was a square that held a single house and one business (with no residents) that was in a noncontiguous district, but I can't find it now. 

This is a trifecta of its own: maps to look at, fairer elections, and likely, therefore... fewer Republicans elected.

Monday, February 19, 2024

An Exemplar, But in a Bad Way

The other day, when Judge Engoron announced the fines in the Trump Corporation fraud case, I couldn't resist taking this manual screen snapshot from All In With Chris Hayes:

I don't remember if I wrote about this back in 2015 or 2016, but it never made sense to me that Donald Trump would want to run for president in any serious way. It seemed obvious he was opening himself up to way too much scrutiny, and at his age (even back then), it was clearly a lot easier to just coast on his celebrity.

Like a rational person, I assumed his clear violations of the rules from Day 1 — under the emoluments clause — would derail him legally. But the courts are both too slow and undermined by the Republican Party and the Federalist Society. He, his family, and other members of the administration acted with impunity throughout their four years. Impeaching him when he finally did something that was clearly far outside the bounds didn't work either. And then he tried a coup after he was voted out of office.

I don't like this game of chicken we're playing now with his many court cases, which may or may not come to trial before there's an election that his hypnotized and/or fascist followers will only consider legitimate if he wins. 

Trump is such an exemplar of everything that can go wrong in this country. 

The only good news is that he was ranked last in the newly released rankings by political scientists who specialize in presidential history. Worse than James Buchanan and Andrew Johnson, who have generally held the bottom — and it wasn't close, either.

Sunday, February 18, 2024

Billboards Are Bad Enough, But These...

The scammy St. Joseph's Indian School has not one but two billboards flanking each other on highway 280 in Saint Paul right now. 

This is the school that's known for mailing Chinese-made "dream catchers" to elderly people along with its fundraising letters. I know, because my mother-in-law had a whole bunch of their junk around her house, and she wasn't even Catholic. 

The current billboards are particularly sneaky because they don't use the school's name or anything that looks like their brand identity. Instead they just give a URL about "helping Lakota kids." (I'll try to get a photo of one of the boards when I get chance.)

I learned from the Charity Watch article linked above that religiously affiliated charities don't have to file a form 990 with the IRS, so these people can spend money however they want, essentially. What percent goes into actual program vs. fundraising? No one knows. They label the tchotchkes they mail out as "promotion of Lakota cultural heritage" and classify them as programmatic spending.

St. Joseph's is a school with about 200 students. Does that require the $100 million dollars they raised in 2020, for instance?

Where else does the money go?


Update: Here's a photo of one of the two billboards. They're identical, so it doesn't matter that it's just one photo:

Now that I have a photo, I realize the school's name is actually on there, fairly small. I never saw it when going past on the highway.


Saturday, February 17, 2024

Three Graphs, Some Perspective

These graphs give visual perspective on the relative risk of three common vaccines compared to the illnesses they prevent. 

The graphs are from this article in the New York Times, which is by Dr. Peter Hotez. The graphs are by the  Times staff. (Click any to enlarge for full readability — they're narrow and long.)

Good visualizations to have on hand when you need them.

Friday, February 16, 2024

Whose Voice Is That?

I've loved the song "I Think I Love You" since I was a pre-teen, and I watched The Partridge Family show when it aired originally. At the time, I either didn't realize or didn't think much about who was really playing the music and singing most of the parts in the songs.

I remember knowing that Shirley Jones was really a singer as well as an actor, and I knew that David Cassidy was singing, but I don't remember much about what I knew of the rest of the kids, or if I even thought about their abilities. I'm not the most music-literate person, I admit: listening to the song now, it's obvious the people doing the backing vocals are just Shirley Jones and one teen girl plus a couple of kids.

Today I discovered those singers were a group of studio musicians called the Ron Hicklin Singers. They were the voice of a number of other movie and television theme songs, as well as ad jingles. A couple of their best-known works are "Suicide Is Painless" from M*A*S*H and (conversely) the "You Deserve a Break Today" jingle from McDonald's. 

One of their members spent 40 years as part of Alvin and the Chipmunks. Another one wrote the Bobby Sherman hit single "Julie, Do Ya Love Me?" (Maybe it's my particular age and gender speaking, but I figure he made a few bucks on that.)

It seems to me as though they probably got the best of Hollywood: good residuals/royalties from their recordings, which allowed them each to be very well off, while still maintaining anonymity so they could be normal people. But I bet anyone who mattered to their careers knew who they were.