One lamentable feature of the contemporary West is the ruthless efficiency of the nanny state. It works overnight. You wake up, slouch over your coffee and corn flakes, and read of the new Bad Thing that must be stopped Right Now. In Britain, the latest activity slated for oblivion is smoking in public parks. Readers, I’m sure, do not need to be reminded that parks are outdoor places; the traditional excuse of “secondhand smoke” does not appear to apply (although it is possible to find “studies” on the dangers of “thirdhand smoke”).
Nevertheless, British officials moved quickly. In September 2013, the mayor of London, alleged conservative Boris Johnson, ordered a “major review of health in the capital,” according to The Independent. The results are already in: Lord Darzi, Britain’s former health minister and the appointed chair of Johnson’s special commission, has said smoking needs to be banned in London’s parks and public squares. There is news that ”councils throughout England are also understood to be analysing how the proposals could be applied locally, paving the way for potentially the biggest crackdown on smoking since the Smoke Free legislation of 2007.”
10. The “Teen Mom” story we don’t see on TV: Why high school students need birth control and parental leave
Check out the round-up of Last Week’s 125 Most Horrifying Headlines in this new PJ Lifestyle series juxtaposing high and low.
— Monica Lewinsky (@MonicaLewinsky) October 20, 2014
3. Joel B. Pollak: Extremists Like Ezra Klein Shouldn’t Offer Sex Advice
Though he acknowledges that the law creates “a haze of fear and confusion” around sex, Klein says that is really a good thing: “everyday sexual practices on college campuses need to be upended, and men need to feel a cold spike of fear when they begin a sexual encounter.”
A “cold spike of fear.” We are not talking about some kinky BDSM fantasy. We are talking about the most precious, exciting, intimate moment a loving couple can share.
It would be too easy to invoke the stereotype of the beta-male liberal–afraid of sex, afraid of football, afraid of adulthood.
Suffice it to say that Klein has joined those, left and right, who wish to use the state to intrude into personal lives. He is a totalitarian, and proud of it.
At the Daily Caller:
5. Lead Story: WEDDING BELLS OR JAIL CELLS: Idaho City To Christian Pastors: Perform Same-Sex Weddings Or Face Jail, Fines
Alkadi’s remains were discovered around midnight near Interstate 10 in Palm Desert, an upscale, miserably hot town in the Coachella Valley of Southern California,reports Los Angeles television station KTLA.
The electrical engineering student was last seen in his home on Sept. 17. His older brother, Ahmed Alkadi, said the younger Alkadi had sold his car the previous day. He had listed the Audi on Craigslist for $36,500.
Waynesboro police tell media outlets that 28-year-old Rachel Lynn Craig is accused of posting a nude photograph of another woman on Facebook.
Immediately after his sword falls, the Saudi Arabian executioner steps backwards to avoid soiling his clothes with the blood of the condemned man, whose headless body can be seen slumping over backwards in the shaky online film.
After perfunctorily checking the white folds of his robe for flecks of red, the executioner wipes his blade with a tissue, which he drops onto the corpse and walks away.
A sudden surge in public executions in Saudi Arabia in the last two months has coincided with a U.S.-led bombing campaign against Islamic State. This has led to inevitable comparisons in Western media between Islamic State’s beheadings and those practiced in Saudi Arabia.
At the PJ Tatler:
12. Susan L.M. Goldberg: College Students Can Now Get Schooled in “Rihanna Womanism”
13. Walter Hudson: Your Tax Dollars Fund Retired Nazis
Editor’s Note: This series attempts to juxtapose the high and the low, surveying each day’s trashy headlines and disturbing crime stories and comparing them with with the religious practices of nature-worshipping death cults. Yes — it’s celebrity gossip mixed with Bible verses and high brow philosophy. How to handle the culture pumped out by TMZ and the Daily Mail? With Maimonides, the Bible, and the great thinkers of Western Civilization along for the ride, lighting the way. Tweet your tips and suggestions to @DaveSwindle and tag @DaveSwindlePJM with suggested images on Instagram.
Is There a Connection Between Brigitte Bardot’s 100 Lovers & Her 4 Suicide Attempts?
Inaugurating a new feature to try to make sense of the trashier, darker side of the media and its predecessors in the ancient world.
1. At the Daily Mail today, as referenced in the above video introducing this new series: “EXCLUSIVE: Brigitte Bardot had 100 lovers – including women – and four husbands, but fame led to despair as she tried to end her life four times and abandoned the only child she ever had, reveals new book”
Bardot didn’t get the assignment but she and Vadim instantly fell madly in love.
‘He made on her the impression of a ‘wild wolf’’ Bardot wrote, ‘he looked at me, scared me, attracted me, I didn’t know where I was anymore’, writes the author, Ginette Vincendeau. ‘She wanted him’.
Vadim introduced Bardot to his friends in the media, to books such as Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex and to sex.
They became lovers meeting secretly and then openly against the wishes of her parents, who threatened to send their daughter away from Vadim to England.
They relented only when she tried – for the first and not the last time – to kill herself, but decreed that they could not be married until Bardot was 18.
Depressed by the thought of not seeing her lover, Bardot turned on the oven and buried her head inside to be discovered in time by her parents.
A few more examples of popular stories grabbing people’s emotions with the shocks of sex and violence. From last week’s NY Daily News:
“I guess I lost my virginity to a dead corpse,” Davis told police.
Davis told police he had violent sexual fantasies that included both his mother and sister, the Caller-Times reported.
Davis also planned to kill his sister, Desirae Hill, but gave up and rode off on his bicycle when she didn’t show up at the family’s Corpus Christi home.
Four headlines juxtaposed together today at the New York Post: Sex, Sex, Violence, Death:
3. Cocaine, sex tips and more from Amy Poehler’s new book
4.Facebook, Apple will now pay for employees to freeze their eggs
5.Flag-toting drone causes massive brawl in Euro qualifier
6. Ebola death rate hits 70%
Fox News: Sex, Death, Sex:
7. ‘Set your girls free’: Monday is National No Bra Day
8. Chris Brown calls Ebola a form of population control
9. Cameron Diaz: People have seen my butt
10. And in ISIS news, from the National Post: “ISIS jihadists offer Islamic justification for taking thousands of Yazidi women as sex slaves”:
When stories of mass murder and enslavement first emerged in August there were suggestions they might be exaggerated.
Now, however, researchers who have talked to survivors and imprisoned women on hidden mobile phones believe that up to 5,000 men may have been shot dead and bulldozed into mass graves, and 7,000 women held in detention centres to be offered as slaves.
Bakat Khalaf, 60, another refugee in Ba’adre, said his 13-year-old niece had escaped seven weeks after being “taken away” but had so far been too distressed to describe what had happened to her. “She just cries when she tries to speak,” he said. Others escapers have told of being “married” to older jihadi leaders, in some cases raped, and made to watch acts of barbarity. Such stories have been confirmed by researchers from the United Nations. Matthew Barber, a scholar of Yazidi history at the University of Chicago who was in Kurdistan as the assaults happened, said he had a list of 4,800 names of women and children being held captive.
From Judges chapter 2, the names of the ancient gods now appearing again in our postmodern world:
The hippies started small:
That guy who invented Earth Day killing his girlfriend, hiding her body in a wall and taking off for France.
(Remember: More people died in Ira Einhorn’s apartment than at Three Mile Island.)
The stupid Weathermen succeeded mostly in blowing themselves up.
Then it eventually dawned on hippies (probably during some pot-fueled rap session):
They needed to think big, like their totalitarian heroes — Mao, Che, Castro.
Forget this penny-ante nihilism and creative destruction.
Sure, the Bible might be mostly b.s., but that stuff about the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse was trippy:
Pestilence, War, Famine and Death.
My PJ colleague Walter Hudson published a compelling argument regarding physician-assisted suicide in response to the ongoing dialogue surrounding terminal cancer patient Brittany Maynard. His is a well-reasoned argument regarding the intersection of theology and politics, written in response to Matt Walsh’s Blaze piece titled “There is Nothing Brave About Suicide.” Both pieces are a reminder that, in the ongoing debate over whether or not Maynard has the right to schedule her own death, little has been said regarding the role the medical profession plays in the battle to “Die with Dignity.” Walsh argues:
None of us get to die on our own terms, because if we did then I’m sure our terms would be a perfect, happy, and healthy life, where pain and death never enter into the picture at all.
It’s a simplistic comment that ignores a very real medical fact: Death can come on your own terms. And that doesn’t have to mean suicide.
My mother was a nurse for 20 years. During that time she worked in a variety of settings, from hospitals, to private practice, to nursing homes. Much like Jennifer Worth, the nurse and author of the Call the Midwife series, my mother practiced at the end of Victorian bedside nursing and the dawn of Medicare. As a result, the abuses she witnessed in the name of insurance claims were grotesque. For instance, if a patient required one teaspoon of medication, an entire bottle would be poured into the sink and charged to that patient’s insurance company. This was just the tip of the iceberg of unethical practices that would become priority in the name of the almighty “billing schedule.”
Conservative columnist Ross Douthat has declared his love for Lena Dunham. It hardly comes as a surprise that a New York Times writer, even one who dwells to the right of the aisle, would find the Girls prodigy appealing. What makes Douthat’s devotion disturbing is that he has managed to transform a goddess chained to a slew of liberal causes into a sacrificial lamb for conservative culture. In his struggle to do so, his misses the mark in what could have been one of the most culturally relevant critiques of Girls to date.
The critic defends Dunham’s showpiece Girls, writing,
She’s making a show for liberals that, merely by being realistic, sharp-edge, complicated, almost gives cultural conservatism its due.
It’s a seemingly ironic observation, based in the idea that Girls “often portrays young-liberal-urbanite life the way, well, many reactionaries see it…” That is, a subculture on the verge of self-destruction due to excessive amounts of what sociologist Robert Bellah dubbed, “the view that the key to the good life lies almost exclusively in self-discovery, self-actualization, the cultivation of the unique and holy You.”
In other words, as Gawker so simply put it:
He likes watching the show because it allows him to feel superior to Dunham and her fellow sluts.
By employing a rote, traditionalist perspective, Douthat argued himself into a hole, turning his love into judgement and burying his point in poorly-worded theory and equally bad theology.
So the Jews did it after all.
OK, scratch out that pluralizing “s.”
Not that it will make any difference to diehard antisemitic conspiracy nuts – “the men who taste Jews in their sandwiches.”
Those types must have squirmed with glee when the Daily Mail reported that Jack the Ripper’s identity had finally been revealed thanks to DNA testing.
The mentally deranged Kosminski was 25 years old, an immigrant (likely from Russia’s Pale of Settlement), a sometime-hairdresser – and a Jew.
I pushed off the idea of writing this article when I first heard that Joan Rivers, one of my comic icons, was rushed to the hospital after a botched outpatient procedure last week. I didn’t want to think about having to say goodbye to Joan, to bid farewell to yet another icon of an age gone by, a powerhouse who managed to be a cultural force until her last breath. The only solace we can muster is in knowing that, for these ten reasons at least, Joan’s memory will be a blessing.
10. Joan never grew old or gave up.
At 81, she was as attuned to pop culture, politics, and current events as a 20 year old. A self-made fashionista, the comedian never retired, sat in a chair, or gave in to technology. Joan will forever be a role model to women who refuse to trade style for a shapeless moo-moo and an office chair for a rocking chair. In her later years she paired up with Melissa, illustrating that mothers and daughters really can work together and get along. She was a modern Bubbe, surrounded by her children and grandchildren as she took the world by storm.
Genie, you're free. pic.twitter.com/WjA9QuuldD
— The Academy (@TheAcademy) August 12, 2014
1. Matt Walsh at his eponymous blog: “Robin Williams didn’t die from a disease, he died from his choice“
I’m not normally one to write a blog post about a dead celebrity, but then I suppose there is no such thing.
There are only living celebrities, not dead ones. In death, wealth and prestige decay and we are brought into a new reality, the only reality there is or ever was — one which, for much better or much worse, doesn’t care at all about our popularity or our money.
The death of Robin Williams is significant not because he was famous, but because he was human, and not just because he left this world, but particularly because he apparently chose to leave it.
A terrible, monstrous atrocity. It disturbs me in a deep, visceral, indescribable way. Of course it disturbs most people, I would assume. Indeed, we should fear the day when we wake up and decide we aren’t disturbed by it anymore.
We tend to look for the easiest answers. It makes us feel better to say that depression is only a disease and that there is no will and choice in suicide, as if a person who kills themselves is as much a victim as someone who succumbs to leukemia.
2. Jim Geraghty at National Review: “Robin Williams and Our Strange Times: Does our society set the stage for depression?”
The constant online presence would lead to a world of nonstop instant reaction, where everyone could immediately transmit the first thought that popped into his head in response to news. Everyone’s first reaction would become his defining reaction, particularly if it’s dumb or knee-jerk. If it was racist, sexist, hateful, or obnoxious, even better. Those horrified would then share and retweet it to their friends and followers, spreading the perception that the world was overpopulated with hateful idiots, and that average Americans — or average human beings! – were rather nasty, ignorant creatures unworthy of respect or affection. Many people would quickly and easily forget that the people who comment on Internet websites represent a small slice of the population, a fraction predisposed to getting pleasure from posting shocking, obnoxious, or hateful material.
The widespread perception that almost everyone else was a moron — why, just look at the things people post and say on the Internet! – would facilitate a certain philosophy of narcissism; we would have people walking around convinced they’re much smarter, and much more sophisticated and enlightened, than everyone else.
3. Bryan Preston at the PJ Tatler responding to Walsh: “Chasing Shadows in the Death of Robin Williams”
Anyone who has seen true mental illness up close knows that the idea of choice gets bent and blurred.
I’ve seen Alzheimer’s Disease up close. It’s not depression, but it is a different disease of the same organ, the brain. Alzheimer’s sufferers do not choose to lurch from the present to three decades into the past in an instant. They don’t choose to forget who you are, what your name is, who they are, where they are, everything they have ever known and everyone they have ever loved. They don’t choose to become hostile to those they love who are caring for them. They are not choosing any of that. Yet what is happening in their brains impacts their behavior and can be incredibly frustrating and crushing for their loved ones. It’s heart-breaking, one of the most heart-breaking experiences a person can experience.
There is no more choice in that than there is choice to come down with cancers unrelated to behavior. There is no more choice in that than the choice to grow old, see your organs wink out one by one, as you approach the end. Did the boy who was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, an organ disease which will probably kill him in his 20s, choose that? Depression, like Alzheimer’s, is a disease of an organ, the brain. Where choice begins and ends in the mind of someone with clinical depression is quite blurry. I don’t pretend to know where it is. Depression is the ultimate mind game, only your own brain is working deviously against itself.
Inevitably, Robin Williams’ suicide saw the “raising awareness about mental health issues” camp fighting it out online with the “he was a selfish git” crowd.
When the latter reject the “disease model” of addiction and mental illness — people like Theodore Dalrymple — they do so prompted by a laudable instinct:
They think depressed people or addicts use the “disease” model to avoid taking responsibility for their actions.
This is a bit like the New Atheists’ concept of “God,” as “an old man in the sky.” They proudly and loudly reject that concept, seemingly unaware (despite their alleged sophistication and superior education) that so do most actual believers.
Likewise, few addicts who accept the disease model (and not all do) use it as a “get out of jail free” card.
It’s called “How It Works” not “How It Lounges on the Couch Eating Cheetos and Watching Judge Judy.”
“Some of us thought we could find an easier, softer way, but we could not…”
Making amends, taking inventory, doing service and even prayer and meditation are exercises in responsibility and action.
Robin Williams apparently did all those things and stayed clean and sober for 20 years.
Then he “went out” in 2006 and was never the same.
Or, as Catholics like to say when they can’t explain something: “It’s a mystery…”
(If you say it in a somber enough voice, and include the “…”, it sounds satisfyingly deep.)
No one could have predicted that Oscar-winning comedian Robin Williams would kill himself.
Or could they?
When someone commits suicide, the reaction is often the same. It’s disbelief, mixed with a recognition that the signs were all there. Depression. Maybe talk of ending one’s life.
Now, by studying people who think about committing suicide, as well as brains of people who actually did, two groups of genome researchers in the U.S. and Europe are claiming they can use DNA tests to actually predict who will attempt suicide.
While claims for a suicide test remain preliminary, and controversial, a “suicide gene” is not as fanciful as it sounds.
The problem is that suicide samples are small and I often wonder how much gender plays a role in the lack of studies and data on suicide:
“We seem to be able to predict suicidal behavior and attempts, based on seeing these epigenetic changes in the blood,” says Kaminsky. “The caveat is that we have small sample sizes.”
Kaminsky says that following the report, his e-mail inbox was immediately flooded by people wanting the test. “They wanted to know, if my dad died from suicide, is my son at risk?” he says….
The bigger problem, says Dracheva, is that there are simply not enough brains of suicide victims to study. Unlike studies of diabetes or schizophrenia, where scientists can call on thousands or tens of thousands of patients, suicide studies remain small, and their findings much more tentative.
It’s because they don’t have DNA from enough people who committed suicide that researchers, including those at Hopkins and Max Planck, have had to try connecting the dots between DNA and whether or not people have suicidal thoughts. Yet there’s no straight line between the contemplation of suicide and actually doing it.
Of the more than 38,000 suicides in this country, over 30,000 are by men, yet the suicide studies remain small? Why?
image illustration via shutterstock / Youjin Jung
10. Written on the Wind (1956)
Douglas Sirk’s soapy melodramas had an element of tongue-in-cheek camp that later came to be appreciated as sly subversion, and in this one Bacall played along beautifully as a canny Manhattan career woman in the advertising business who marries the scion (Robert Stack) of a wild oil clan while secretly making time for the poor outsider (Rock Hudson) who has worked his way up in the family business.
10. Deconstructing Harry (1997)
Williams’ only Woody Allen film is essentially a series of sketches in which Allen works out his demons. Williams is in the film for only a few minutes but he makes them count in a brilliant bit part as Mel, a film actor whose life is such a blur that he has literally gone out of focus.
The world mourns the passing of one of the truest talents of all time – Robin Williams. The Juilliard-trained comedian and actor won an Oscar, two Emmys, five Grammys, and — dearest to me — became a Disney Legend in 2009. Williams made his struggles with depression and addiction public, yet he was unable to overcome them. But here at PJ Lifestyle, we’re going to celebrate his life. Here are Robin Williams’ ten best performances. I hope you’ll take as much comfort in these wonderful moments as I have.
10. The Crazy Ones (2013-2014)
One of the most underrated television series of the past season paired Williams with Sarah Michelle Gellar as father-and-daughter partners in an advertising agency. The Crazy Ones featured a terrific ensemble, sharp writing, and plenty of space for Williams to let loose. Williams had his best moments on the show when he had the chance to blend his trademark humor with sweet sentiment (as in the clip above). He couldn’t have a much better alter ego than the character of Simon Roberts — he and the writers even made recovery from addiction a huge part of the character. The Crazy Ones showed such promise, and it’s such a shame that CBS didn’t see fit to give it a second chance.
I know: with the Obama presidency unraveling in a disaster for America and the world, it seems absurd to waste a blog post on the death of actor James Garner. But bear with me. This is a blog on the culture. It was the culture, dominated by leftists, that helped make this catastrophic presidency possible. Garner’s death underscores part of what went wrong.
The star of the ’50s TV western Maverick and the ’70s private eye show The Rockford Files died at 86 over the weekend. He was a wonderfully charming and entertaining actor who made some fine movies (The Great Escape, The Americanization of Emily) but was only truly a star on the small screen. In this, he resembled two other favorites of mine, David Janssen, who starred in The Fugitive and Harry O and Darren McGavin, who starred in Mike Hammer, The Outsider, and The Night Stalker.
I’m not sure — no one’s really sure — what made an actor more suitable for the small screen rather than the movies back in the day, or why some could move comfortably between one and the other. Garner, Janssen and McGavin all had a limited range and a set number of out-sized mannerisms. But that was true of John Wayne and Clint Eastwood too, two of the biggest movie stars of all time. Maybe something about Garner and the others was just more recognizable and knowable and human than what we saw in movie stars when there actually were movie stars. Wayne, Eastwood — even more actorly stars like Brando and Pacino — all had something huge and iconic about them. No matter how well they played their parts, they were always more personae than persons. You could imagine hanging out with Garner. You could only dream about being John Wayne.
The distinction between what the law permits and what the law enjoins is often blurred. An absence of proscription is sometimes mistaken for prescription. The more the law interferes in our lives, the more it becomes the arbiter of our morality. When someone behaves badly, therefore, he is nowadays likely to defend himself by saying that there is no law against what he has done, as if that were a sufficient justification.
The recent Supreme Court decision in the cases of Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Burwell illustrates the difficulties when two or more rights clash irreconcilably. The complex issues involved were the subject of an article in a recent edition of the New England Journal of Medicine. The matter is still far from settled. It seems to me likely that the Supreme Court will one day reverse itself when its philosophical (or ideological) composition has changed.
The two corporations were owned by strongly religious people. Corporations of their size were enjoined by the government to provide their staff with health insurance which would cover contraceptive services. However, some contraceptive methods violated the religious beliefs of the owners of the companies. Did the companies have the right to except these methods from the policies that they offered to their staff (who, incidentally, numbered thousands, many of whom would not be of the same religious belief)?
10. Water Fluoridation
Back in the 1950s water fluoridation was, for some, a big thing. A very big thing. We had the threat of communism. We had the threat of “The Bomb.” And then, according to some, we had the related threat of fluoridation.
It is not our purpose here to cover all the arguments pro and con that put this, or any of the other 10 “awful, terrible, frightening things that are going to kill us all,” on our list. But to point out that none of them yet has. There has to be a lesson (or maybe a few) in this.
One is that there are many things on this earth that are dangerous. As movie gangsters used to say, “No one gets out’a here alive!”
There are many things that are poisonous to us if we are exposed to them in large quantities. But, interestingly, some of those very same things prove beneficial when we are exposed to them in smaller amounts.
For example, swallow a whole bottle of aspirin and it will make you sick, or may even kill you. But taking a prescribed dose of two tablets after, say, a protracted discussion about the dangers of water fluoridation and the secret cabal supposedly behind it can do wonders.
(Okay, so where did I put that aspirin bottle?)
If the future were knowable, would we want to know it? When I was young, a fortune teller who predicted several things in my life that subsequently came true predicted my age at death. At the time it seemed an eternity away, so I thought no more of it, but now it is not so very long away at all. If I were more disposed to believe the fortune teller’s prediction than I am, would I use my remaining years more productively or would I be paralyzed with fear?
In a recent edition of the New England Journal of Medicine a question was posed about a 45-year-old man in perfect health (insofar as health can ever be described as perfect) who asked for genetic testing about his susceptibility to cancer, given a fairly strong family history of it. Should he have his genome sequenced?
A geneticist answered that he should not: to have his entire genome sequenced would lead to a great deal of irrelevant and possibly misleading information. But if the family history were of cancers that themselves were of the partially inherited type – more factors than genetics are involved in the development of most cancers – then the man might well consider having the relevant part of his genome, namely that part with a known predisposing connection to the cancers from which his family had suffered, sequenced.
This is not a complete answer, however. Two obvious questions arise: is additional risk clinically as well as statistically significant, and if the risk is known can anything practicable and tolerable be done to reduce it? There is no point in avoiding a risk if to do so makes your life a misery in other respects. You can avoid the risk altogether of a road traffic accident or being mugged on the street by never leaving your house, but few people would recommend such drastic avoidance.
Finding out the number of accidents and fatalities in our beautiful national parks isn’t easy. The National Park Service doesn’t want to scare away visitors so they don’t offer a handy guide to the number of tourists who fall, drown, are trampled, or are eaten while visiting our wild places. However there’s enough data in news reports and studies to come up with a top ten list of our most dangerous national parks. Which do you think tops the list? Yellowstone? Yosemite? Denali? Take a look and see if you’re as surprised as I was. Let’s start with number 10.
10.) The Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, New Jersey and Pennsylvania
This lovely river valley encompasses 67,000 acres of land on both sides of the Delaware River in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Varied species of birds, mammals and fish call this area home and nearly two million visitors a year come to the area to enjoy boating and water recreation sports.
That’s what’ll kill ya in the Delaware Water Gap, which begins our Top 10 Most Dangerous National Parks. Failing to wear a lifejacket while on the river is the number one cause of death. Adding alcohol consumption ups the risk. The Delaware River looks tranquil but can have unexpected currents which can overwhelm a swimmer. Keep the life jackets on and enjoy this beautiful (and only occasionally deadly) recreation area.
If a Martian were to land on earth to study humanity, one of the things that would no doubt surprise him about our race is the pleasure it takes in contemplating its own extinction by various catastrophic means: the crash into earth of a giant asteroid, climate change or the spread of new, virulent and untreatable diseases, especially caused by viruses that emerged from the African jungle.
Of all the viruses to have emerged of late, Ebola is the most frightening. It comes in several varieties of different virulence, with (according to a recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine) death rates from a “low” 40 percent to over 70 percent. Among monkeys the death rate can be 100 percent.
Before Ebola there was Marburg, so named because it was first recognized among laboratory workers in Marburg, Germany. This virus is spread from fruit bats to monkeys to humans, and I happened to be in Rhodesia (as it was then still called) when there was an epidemic there of the disease and 33 percent of the patients died. I remember the reaction in the hospital between panic and pride that it should be in the eye of a world-publicized storm. The question on everyone’s mind was whether it could spread on a large scale from Africa to Europe and North America. Could the virus escape its ecological niche?
Nearly half a century ago, in 1965, the Rolling Stones wrote a song called Mother’s Little Helper. The words went:
Kids are different today, I hear ev’ry mother say
Mother needs something today to calm her down
And though she’s not really ill, there’s a little yellow pill
She goes running for the shelter of a mother’s little helper
And it helps her on her way, gets her through her busy day…
And if you take more of those
You will get an overdose
No more running for the shelter of a mother’s little helper
They just helped you on your way
Through your busy dying day…
The pill was valium (diazepam) and the yellow pill was 5 milligrams – as it still is. White is 2 milligrams and blue is 10.
The song was not great poetry, perhaps, but for pop music it was prescient pharmacovigilance, the epidemiological study of the adverse effects of drugs: though strictly speaking overdoses of diazepam are not dangerous. Many thousands of people have taken overdoses of diazepam in attempts to kill themselves with it, but few have succeeded unless they took something else with it.
However, it has long been known that diazepam and other similar drugs cause falls in the elderly, and such falls are often the precursor of death. It has also been suspected that, by some unspecified mechanism, diazepam (and sleeping draughts of all kinds) promote death.
A paper in a recent edition of the British Medical Journal compares the death rates of primary care patients who were prescribed diazepam-like medicines and hypnotics with those who never were prescribed them more than once (they excluded patients who had been prescribed them only once because it was possible that they had never taken them, which was unlikely if they were prescribed them twice). The authors compared the records of 37,000 of the former with 63,000 of the latter. They attempted to match them for such variables as age, social class, sex, and medical and psychiatric history. They followed the patients for an average of 7.6 years.
Noel Sheppard, prominent conservative media critic and one of the founding contributors and editors at Newsbusters, died of cancer March 28. He was 53 years old.
Newsbusters publisher Brent Bozell posted a short, elegant tribute to his friend and colleague:
Our Noel Sheppard passed away yesterday (Friday) morning at about 5:00 AM. Say a prayer for the soul of a man we’ll all miss professionally, and many, many of us will miss personally as well. Noel was not just a force of nature, he was a very good man.
How quickly this all happened. Just two months ago, Noel wrote about suddenly getting cancer at 53 called “Cancer’s Ray of Hope.” Nine days ago, he wrote us and said he was interested in writing about his “progress” — and he put “progress” in quotes. We were all wishing for better news, and really couldn’t imagine this was a battle that would end this way.
Noel joined us and was introduced to us by Matt Sheffield at the founding of NewsBusters in 2005, and he became our Associate Editor. It must be said that no blogger here was more prolific and more popular.
Matt Sheffield, one of Newsbusters’ founders, penned a tribute to Sheppard that describes why he will be missed so dearly:
Noel never intended to become a professional blogger once he began submitting pieces online. But just as America turned out to love reading blogs, Noel took to the new medium like a fish to water. Eventually, it became a full-time gig for him as he sold his financial planning business to pursue blogging full-time for us at NewsBusters as a mid-life career change.
It was a perfect combination. Noel loved attention and NewsBusters readers loved his work, making him by far the blog’s most popular writer. Very frequently, he single-handly brought in half of the site traffic each month.
In an earlier time, Noel would’ve been an ace reporter or well-known editor, such was his talent for spotting the hot story and writing about it in an engaging way. He also had the rare ability to make dry subjects interesting.
Sadly, Noel’s combination of brio, intelligence, and popular touch are all too rare in the conservative world. Noel and I spoke many times about the fact that too many conservatives and libertarians seem more interested in getting read by Republican congressional staffers than by millions of their fellow Americans. My upcoming book on the future of the American Right is inspired by many of these conversations. (For those interested in some of our preliminary thoughts on the topic, see this piece we published together in the American Spectator in 2012.)
Like everything he did, Noel threw himself into his career as a writer, literally blogging at least one post a day on NB before he fell ill to cancer and was admitted to the hospital in January. Weekend readers could always count on Noel to have something new and interesting for them to read.
Sheppard’s nose for news and his ability to distill the essence of a story into a few well written paragraphs that were enlightening as well as thought provoking is a rare combination. He will be missed at Newsbusters, but also around the right side of the internet.