Young women were the 'foot soldiers' of the anti-abortion movement and 'morally bankrupt' Trump

In order to understand how we got here with the stripping of reproductive health care, we need to understand the people who made it happen. It's a journey through a pivotal year in the anti-abortion movement, seen through the eyes of three of its youthful female leaders. There's never been a documentary quite like "Battleground," which premiered recently at the Tribeca Film Festival.

Its Emmy-nominated director and producer, Cynthia Lowen, spoke to me on "Salon Talks" shortly before the overturning of Roe v. Wade about the women at the forefront of the anti-choice crusade, and where we go from here. Watch our episode here, or read a Q&A of our conversation below.

The following conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

There is a moment early in the film that defines it. A bunch of young women from Students For Life are in a room. One of them says, "People think that it's all just old white men telling us what we can do with our bodies. It's not. This is about young people in the movement. This is about women." This is about even Democrats. What are we getting wrong when we think about the face of the anti-choice movement, Cynthia?

Going into making this film, I had a lot of those notions that the anti-abortion movement was – as the girls in the hotel room say – old white men. I was really surprised to learn in making this film that the anti-abortion movement, they're young women by and large. The movement has its eye very much on the next generation of anti-abortion activists. They're really cultivating young people to be at the vanguard of the next stage of the movement. You hear these young people saying a lot, "We are the post-Roe generation," and they're taking on this identity of coming of age in a post-Roe America.

"The anti-abortion movement, they're young women by and large"

Kristen Hawkins, one of the women in the film who's the president of Students for Life, says, "People used to say I was crazy when I was trying to tell people that I'm building a post-Roe organization." Here we are. We're on the absolute precipice of Roe being overturned. What we have is that the movement is building.

It's building its foot soldiers. It's building that next generation of people, because I think the movement tends to be forward-looking. They're very much trying to build up single issue voters. Something else that they say is, "Look, you don't have to be a conservative. You don't have to be a Republican. You just have to be a single issue voter for this."

One of the chilling shots of the film is where there's a sign from a Students for Life of America advocate who's saying, "I'm so pro-life that I'm going to vote for a candidate I don't like." Because I'm putting that anti-choice position ahead of actually what I think of a candidate.

That's what they're doing. They're really trying to build up this single issue voter block, as well as positioning themselves and appropriating a lot of the language from left-leaning social justice movements to appeal to young people.

Let's start with that single issue voter idea, because I think those of us on the more progressive side have really been bitten by that idea of, "If a candidate is not my perfect unicorn, if I don't like Hillary, then I'm not going to vote."

We see where that leads. Some of us on the progressive side have this idea the movement is old white men or guys in red caps who are storming the Capitol. It's not people who say, "You know what? I don't like Donald Trump. I didn't like him." And a lot of these people are saying that. How did that relationship evolve? Trump and the anti-choice movement made some kind of relationship happen that surprises everyone.

The film brings you behind the scenes into that actual transaction happening. The film opens with this meeting of leaders of the Christian right. Many of the people in that room have been featured in recent articles about how there's a real white evangelical nationalist movement that is under a lot of the dynamics that we're having come out now.

"I was honestly surprised at the candor and the willingness of these anti-choice leaders to say, 'We don't like [Trump]. We know he's morally bankrupt. We know that, but this is our issue. This is our single issue.'"

You see in this meeting that was secretly recorded between Trump and leaders of the Christian right in the lead-up to the 2016 election. They are fully aware that he is not a conservative. He's not a Christian, he's not an anti-choice person. They say, "Look, if you come down hard on this, if you do what we want you to do, which is advance anti-choice policy and nominate anti-choice judges, we will get our people to the polls."

On the flip side, you have Steve Bannon saying, "Get your people to the polls and we will do your bidding." At the end of the film, it comes full circle where you have Marjorie Dannenfelser, the leader of the Susan B. Anthony List, one of the most powerful anti-choice lobbying organizations in the country saying, "Pence and I joke that Donald Trump fulfilled even more promises than he made."

He went so above and beyond what the anti-abortion movement expected of him. It was a very transactional relationship. As Marjorie says, "We didn't like him." I was honestly surprised at the candor and the willingness of these anti-choice leaders to say, "We don't like him. We know he's morally bankrupt. We know that, but this is our issue. This is our single issue. He's going to do what we want him to do. And it's a purely transactional kind of relationship."

It's important for those of us on any side of a conversation to understand what our opponents look like, what they think like, how they are strategizing. It is easy to turn on the news and think that it's just a guy in a Viking hat, storming the Capitol. That it's a cult. It's subtler and requires more thought to show a group of young women who look like they could be your neighbors, your friends, who are soft-spoken, who are polite, who are articulate, who are educated.

Do you think in that kind of space of understanding each other, is there room for us to have productive conversations? Is there a possibility of any kind of compromise in this, around this issue? When we look at the post-Roe generation and the progressive side, is there a space for us to come together?

What's interesting about the film is that it's kind of one of the only spaces that I think I've seen those two divergent perspectives kind of coexisting. In the majority of the pro-choice advocates that we filmed within the film, most of them come from communities and backgrounds that they were raised anti-abortion. They were raised by "pro-life communities."

They were in pro-life churches. Their families are very much anti-choice. I think they have a lot of understanding for how one would come to that position if you are a young person and your family's very involved in your church community. Your whole church community is anti-abortion. That's your social outlet. That's where you go after school. It's where you go on weekends.

It's how they organize. It's such a big part of so many Americans lives. [Rape survivor and advocate] Samantha Blakely, who was in the film, really came out of a community that was very conservative; the cost of speaking up was huge. The alienation you are likely to experience if you are the one person to raise your hand and say, "Hey, isn't that wrong to make women who don't want to be pregnant carry a child to term? Isn't that wrong?" can't be underestimated. That's why sharing stories and sharing life experience is so important. For many of the young women that you hear in that hotel room, they have come to their beliefs for a whole series of reasons, but not because I think they want to harm others.

It's part of just the worldview in which they were raised. They haven't had that life experience yet to understand why abortion access is so fundamental. Having people who come from those communities who say, "I get it. I get the world and the context you were raised in. But when life and pregnancy and unanticipated pregnancy and pregnancy complications come your way, it changes how you feel about this issue."

The opportunity with this film is to respect that people may come to an anti-abortion perspective for many reasons, but to be able to say, "Look, there are so, so, so many reasons why this just needs to be the choice of the pregnant person. Period. Let's talk about that."

I want to talk about something else also though. What is going on is that there are young people like you see in that hotel room who have come to their anti-choice perspectives for whatever reason. Then you have the politicians.

"Passing anti-abortion legislation ... in America is not leadership. It is betrayal of your constituents."

What you have here is politicians who are just using those people and using those perspectives and using those beliefs for their own political power and for their own political gain. I really separate out the people who have come to that personal perspective and those politicians who are just using those single issue voters to advance the will of the minority to consolidate minority rule and to deny their responsibility for governing on all the other elements that their citizens need good leadership on.

Passing anti-abortion legislation, being in the race to pass the most extreme anti-abortion legislation, in America is not leadership. It is betrayal of your constituents.

A vast majority of Americans support choice. How did we get to this place where such a tiny group on one issue is wielding so much power over the bodily autonomy of half of the citizens right now?

That was the question that really drove me to make this film. I was genuinely really curious to understand, how are they doing this? The vast majority of Americans support access to abortion. How is this minority of people imposing their will over the entire country at the Supreme Court?

What you see is this combination between using gerrymandering to undermine our democracy, then using these voters to tip the balance in certain places where it's very narrow to begin with, and then having so much stigma in these places that are passing these anti-abortion bills. The lawmakers in Texas, in Alabama, they're not paying the price politically locally because the stigma locally to come out and march against that and speak against is so high.

I think that's changing. Samantha Blakely, a pro-choice advocate who lives in Alabama, has been saying that since the Alito leak and the ramping up of the anti-abortion, she's been seeing more actions, more marches, more people speaking out.

That's what it's going to take, because the policy makers are taking advantage of the enormous stigma to escape any kind of accountability for passing laws that are just horrifyingly harmful to their constituents.

"There's a scene in the film where Students for Life does a 'Black Pre-Born Lives Matter' rally ... It's grotesque because the anti-abortion movement targets and harms women of color so disproportionately."

This movement has also been able to co-opt the rhetoric of progressive movements — Black Lives Matter, feminism. What does that strategy look like? How are you seeing that then play out in these populations, and particularly in these young people's groups?

It's really part of this attempt to mainstream what is a minority rule movement. To mainstream this anti-choice perspective, which is certainly not what the majority of people believe, and to co-opt the language of left-leaning progressive social justice movements. There's a scene in the film where Students for Life does a "Black Pre-Born Lives Matter" rally. It's grotesque. It's grotesque because the anti-abortion movement targets and harms women of color so disproportionately.

It's this shameless co-opting of other progressive social justice movements. The theme at the 2020 March for Life that we filmed was "Pro-Life is Pro-Woman," trying to parse being pro-life as being feminist.

What's happening is normalizing and mainstreaming what is and has been an extremist position and appealing to young people who see themselves as fighting for the right thing. There's a scene with a young man canvassing in Arizona with a young woman for the Susan B. Anthony List. They're going door to door and they're trying to get people to vote anti-choice.

He says, "There was World War I, World War II, and this is the fight of my generation." When you get people who have a mindset like that, who have absorbed this false narrative that they're fighting for justice and they're fighting for the right thing and the equality of all life — equality meaning fetal equality — they see themselves as doing the right thing.

The hope for this film is to educate people that think they're doing the right thing and to expose them to the ramifications of these actions and that this is not justice. This is not equality. It's the opposite.

These are hard things for me as a viewer to witness, to hear. I can't even imagine what it must have been like for you as a filmmaker to be in those spaces, and yet have them clearly feel that they were safe with you and that you were going to be fair to them. I want to know how you were able to create that trust and to create a film that really is honorable in its execution in that way.

My impetus to make this film was just really, I'm genuinely curious. How is this happening and who are you? And what do you believe? What's going on here? What I said to the anti-choice subjects was that I felt like the influence of the anti-abortion movement on American policy, legislation, and culture was a fact. It is what it is.

Putting aside one's personal perspectives on abortion, the influence of the anti-abortion movement on American politics is something that's worth understanding and I would depict their perspectives and their work and their goals accurately, and as completely as I could. That was the pledge that I made in filming with these subjects. That's the film that has emerged from that approach.

Since the completion of the film, a lot has changed in our country. It's hard to feel hopeful. It's hard to continue to feel motivated. You end the film with an invitation for us to get involved. It feels like a juggernaut at this point that everything is going to get taken away. What would you recommend we do next?

"It impacts every single American if Roe is overturned. All of us need to understand that no one is safe."

We had our world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival and were joined by Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. She was saying that they were up against the believability gap, that so many people just didn't believe that it was possible that Roe would be overturned. I still hear that. I still hear from people all the time and this decision's coming down any day.

Really? You really think that's going to happen? Really? It's happening. The other thing that I hear after that often is, "Oh, well we live in New York. It's not going to affect us here."

We live in the United States of America. It impacts every single American if Roe is overturned. All of us need to understand that no one is safe. No one is safe from Roe being overturned. It's not only about Roe being overturned, but it's about anti-abortion, extremist and dangerous anti-abortion policy being used and leveraged to consolidate minority rule.

We need to get out and vote on issues of abortion, issues of women's rights. We need to get involved. What you see here is a level of involvement. There's many levels of involvement. There's involvement in protests. There's involvement in legislation. There's involvement in school boards, sex education, who is advertising.

I get emails from Students for Life saying, "This college campus lists Planned Parenthood as one of their resources. We need to go out there and shame them and get them to remove it." We need to be out there saying that we support abortion, and particularly supporting those voices who are seeing it in places where the stigma is so high.

We need to acknowledge that you know or love or are somebody who has had an abortion, and many people who had life-threatening complications during pregnancy wouldn't be here had they not been able to access abortion care. Those stories are being shared and the stigma is being broken in places where politicians have used the fear and silence of populations around this issue to pass these extremist policies. We need to talk about it.

Why everyone on the internet suddenly hates seed oil

I've been slowly poisoning my family. And myself, apparently. Sorry, I just found out.

Maybe it's because I avoid social media, but I somehow only recently learned there was an entire anti-seed oil discourse. I can barely keep track of whether grains are good or bad today, or if protein is overrated.

I didn't even know what "seed oil" was. "Is that, like… sesame oil?" I naively asked a colleague. And then I promptly flung myself down a Google rabbit hole of memes, Joe Rogan references, words like "evil" and "toxic," and a lot of absolutely wild YouTube videos. And now I know, if you want something to blame for everything from cancer to heart disease, dementia to age spots, there are a whole lot of people out there who will tell you the culprit is lurking in your pantry, ready to fry your dinner in sizzling malevolence.

The term "seed oil" usually refers to the refined cooking oils like corn and canola that many of us keep on hand in our kitchens. They also frequently show up in products like salad dressings and fast food. As Andrew Zaleski explained in GQ last year, they're a relatively modern creation, a product of 20th century processing innovation that generations of us grew up referring to as "vegetable oil" and associated with the lighter, healthier connotations of those words.

Today, you can find #seedoilfree memes and recipes, often from self-proclaimed seed oil "disrespecters," all over social media.

That image has, in recent years, undergone a shift, thanks in no small part to a 2020 appearance on Joe Rogan's show by Dr. Paul Saladino. Saladino — who, despite having the word "salad" in his name, goes by "Carnivore MD" — told Rogan that there were "negative effects of eating too many plants." Saladino uses highly technical language in his discourse with Rogan: "the Nrf2 system," "environmental hormesis," and other ten-dollar words, which I had to Google to try to figure out what any of this has to do with Wesson oil.

In any case, the interview with Saladino resonated with Rogan's curious, hungry, and enormous audience. Today, you can find #seedoilfree memes and recipes, often from self-proclaimed seed oil "disrespecters," all over social media. In my research, I stumbled upon a seemingly miraculous before and after photo of a woman emancipated from her seed oils, to which one blunt Redditor commented, "Girl you just lost weight because you stopped eating fried dogsh**t."

There seems to be overlap between the seed oil disrespecting community and the COVID vaccine-skeptical one.

Yet you can also find plenty of anti-seed oil traction on more conspiracy-minded corners of the internet — there seems to be overlap between the seed oil disrespecting community and the COVID vaccine-skeptical one. Recently, Vice also pointed out the surprising connections it also has to, of all things, Bitcoin influencers. I honestly can't tell how much among any of this is irony versus sincere crackpottery (or, perhaps, legitimate health research).

What's truth and what's hype here? Maybe we start by agreeing that eating lots of fried, processed foods is never going to be good for you, regardless of which oil you're frying it in. Beyond that, though, there are compelling reasons to think twice about commercial oils, most notably those with an abundance of omega-6 fatty acids in them.

As Jesse Feder, a personal trainer and registered dietitian with StrengthWarehouse USA, explains: "When it comes to all seed oils, they get a bad reputation for the high amounts of omega-6 fatty acids compared to omega-3 fatty acids. A lot of the processed foods we eat have high amounts of these oils, which usually gives us way more omega-6 than we need. When you have a diet high in omega-6 and low in omega-3, inflammation and increased cholesterol can occur. However," he adds, "this does not mean seed oils are bad. We still need omega-6 fatty acids in our diets."

The reason omega 6 fatty acids have been linked to inflammation is that one omega-6 fatty acid, called omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acid arachidonic acid (ARA), is a "precursor" to other compounds that promote inflammation. A 2018 research study noted that this relationship is why it is "commonly believed" that eating more omega-6 fatty acids will increase inflammation. Yet they caution that studies in humans have not found that increasing consumption of such compounds leads to an increase in inflammation. "The interaction of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids [...] in the context of inflammation is complex and still not properly understood," that study, which was published in the journal "Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes and Essential Fatty Acids," concluded.

The lack of clear science here hints that the bigger picture — overall oil consumption — is more telling when it comes to health. "The main component of seed oils, like many other oils," Feder explains, "is fat. The most important thing is the type of fat and the quantity that is being consumed when determining if an oil is good or bad for you."

"Using the highest quality, virgin, cold-pressed oils you can find will ensure you are getting the most nutrition per teaspoon possible for that kind of oil."

That seems logical. I recently saw a social media post with the hashtag #seedoilfree — it was was a photo of a sausage pizza. Then there was another one, of a bag of olive oil potato chips. I'm not a food scientist, but I'm pretty sure a diet rich in these kinds of foods isn't the best plan.

Some cooks say that the devil is in the details of how the oil is processed, which is perhaps more crucial than the type of oil. Sylvia Fountaine, a Spokane chef and CEO of Feasting at Home, said she was cognizant of the "debate over the dangers and benefits of seed oils," and suggested looking for oils that had been processed in specific ways. "Using the highest quality, virgin, cold pressed oils you can find will ensure you are getting the most nutrition per teaspoon possible for that kind of oil," she said. "Using each oil appropriately so it doesn't burn, and in moderation, is probably the best choice if you want to consume oils consciously. Be intentional about your sources of oil . . . Local oils that are organic and cold pressed will usually have a better nutrient profile than the bulk jug of vegetable oil you can find at Costco."

And Dr Ritesh Jain, a consultant respiratory and sleep medicine physician at WhatASleep, offers a similar perspective, noting, "One truth is that the nature of the oil depends on the way it is processed." Jain worried about polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) in oils like sunflower and sesame, warning that they would cause "inflammation and toxin accumulation," yet I could find no scientific literature that seemed to confirm this statement. If anything, polyunsaturated fatty acids seem to be relatively benign.

As in all things, common sense, moderation, and a skeptical but not paranoid attitude are a pretty healthy, livable approach to life and food. The majority of my everyday cooking requires modest portions of my favorite olive oils and butter, so I'm probably not actually poisoning anybody. I do still like to fry up some hush puppies or churros now and then, and knowing what I know now, I'll probably in the future splurge for a quality unrefined vegetable oil with a higher smoke point to do the job. But I'm definitely not going to stress out, or demonize any one category of foods I consume. Maybe that just makes me a seed oil disrespecter disrespecter.

Why teens are self-diagnosing on TikTok

We were a year into the pandemic when a friend's teenaged daughter announced decisively that she had ADHD and needed medication. Her mother had shared the news with me during an anxious, socially distanced morning walk — along with her private concern that it wasn't the correct diagnosis. The girl, however, was convinced. She'd been researching it online, and she see the need to entertain any other possibilities.

This article first appeared on Salon.

American teenagers and college students are facing a deluge of mental health crises unprecedented in modern history. Contrasted with the clenched determination of prior generations to never admit when there's a problem, Gen Y's hunger to identify and treat its emotional challenges isn't just understandable, it's pretty commendable. It's vital, however, for them to be able to distinguish between self-labeling and professional help, especially because neither is 100% accurate or effective.

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Humans are highly suggestible creatures — as we have all learned from two years of nervously swabbing the insides of our noses. It doesn't negate the reality of what we may be feeling at any moment; it does however create a need to understand that sometimes belief can create or accelerate symptoms that defy diagnosis. And that adolescents, with their developmentally appropriate need for peer group identification and their upwards of seven hours a day spent on social media, are unique.

In a recent post for Banner Behavioral Health Hospital, psychiatrist Dr. Adeola Adelayo noted a striking rise in "physical and verbal tics" in teen girls. "We've seen an explosion of Tourette-like tics in our unit and every single case has been linked with watching countless TikTok videos about people with Tourette syndrome," she said. "These kids don't have Tourette's, but they aren't pretending either. They have a functional movement disorder as a result of stress, and possibly underlying anxiety or depression, which may or may not have been properly diagnosed."

Similarly, a December Wall Street Journal feature explored why "Doctors around the country say they're seeing more teens coming in with self-diagnoses derived from TikTok," including rare mental health issues like borderline-personality disorder and multiple-personality disorder. Evan Lieberman, a Minneapolis clinical social worker, also noted another aspect of the phenomenon. "There seems to be a trend," he said, "of using mental-health diagnoses as a social currency."

When the algorithm rewards even a casual search for information with recommendations for more and more of the same, within a system that is rife with a mix of legitimate and dubious self-described mental health influencers, it can be tricky for anybody to differentiate between what's real and what's the so-called "horoscope effect" of taking generalized information as personal insight. And the fact that the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders — the Bible of psychiatry from which most of our modern terminology springs — is a wildly imperfect, frequently arbitrary document only adds to the potential confusion here.

RELATED: Parenting a teen is intense. Why don't we talk about it more?

Among professionals, opinions about the convergence of social media and mental health are mixed. Dr. Michael J. McGrath, a psychiatrist and the medical director of the Ohana Luxury Alcohol Rehab in Hawaii, says, "Self-diagnosing a mental health disorder based on social media is a very dangerous trend. Many mental health disorders can lead to fatal outcomes if not diagnosed and treated properly. A person should never use information that they see or read about online to determine if they have a mental health disorder or to determine what treatment they need."

He adds, "It's great that there are online creators who are shining the spotlight on mental health conditions. That is great to raise awareness and reduce the stigma associated with mental health conditions. However, it's vital to regard the information that you see or read as informational only."

But Manhattan psychotherapist Z Cordero points out that access to resources varies incredibly, and notes the "lack of readily available appropriate and inclusive information" for many. "Visits to therapists, psychiatrists, and neurologists take time, money, and transportation access," says Cordero, "all things that teens and college students may not have readily available to them. A lot of mental health providers do not accept insurance, and that number will probably grow. Even if young people have access to all these resources, the professionals that they can work with may not be the right fit for them. Is the young person Black, Indigenous, Queer, Trans? What is the professional's level of cultural awareness around these areas?"

And Dr. Holly Schiff, a doctor and licensed clinical psychologist in Greenwich, Connecticut, advises everyone to be a smart consumer. "Usually the credibility of the source is your first clue to whether the advice will be helpful versus something that has no merit or that could potentially be harmful," she says. "There are some users that are part of a community that actually encourages unhealthy behaviors and they share tips and tricks of how to self-harm and hide it from others, or strategies to maintain your eating disorder and lose weight faster. These are dangerous and harmful and can be triggering for those who come across these posts. If they don't have any credentials or their posts are sponsored or they are partnered with brands and products, I would be wary of any advice they post. Social media is a complex tool that can exacerbate anxiety or promote unhealthy habits, but it also positively contributes significantly to the ongoing dialogue surrounding mental health." She advises, simply, "Don't try everything you see!"

Of course, it's not just teens and college students who are self-diagnosing, and it's not just for mental health or neuro-developmental conditions. I recently attended a medical conference, and one of the biggest frustrations doctors there expressed had to do with adult patients who arrive in their offices certain about both their pre-existing conditions and current complaints, without prior testing or confirmation. We all could use regular reminders that the internet is just a component of information gathering and support, just as providers — and parents — could frequently do a better job of building collaborative, empathetic treatment plans together.

When it comes to talking to our kids, the most important thing is keeping an open mind. If your kid comes to you with a concern or even a strong declaration of apparent fact, start first by taking it seriously. You want to build a trusted team of helpers, not shut down a line of inquiry. When I asked my own teen why she thinks so many teens are self-diagnosing on social media, she told me bluntly, "Because adults don't believe them." That strikes me as incredibly sad — and wildly dangerous.

A full dozen years ago, Dr. Srini Pillay warned in Psychology Today that that "One of the greatest dangers of self-diagnosis in psychological syndromes is that you may miss a medical disease that masquerades as a psychiatric syndrome. Thus, if you have panic disorder, you may miss the diagnosis of hyperthyroidism or an irregular heartbeat. Even more serious is the fact that some brain tumors may present with changes in personality or psychosis or even depression."

In addition to keeping the lines of communication open, we can remind our kids and ourselves that having a word for something is less significant that having a plan for addressing it. Author Sarah Fay recently reminded in a Salon interview, "There isn't a single DSM diagnosis that has an objective measure." And a 2021 Psychology Today feature on the rise of TikTok diagnoses pointed out the need to be mindful of "the central idea of traits and states, with the former being more stable and enduring and the latter a temporary way of being." A teen may be eager to lay claim to an "I am ___" identity without considering the possibility of being more in an "I currently have ____" situation. That doesn't diminish the reality of anxiety or depression or distraction, it simply reframes them as not always chronic or defining.

I don't know if my friend's daughter has ADHD, or even if she ever got a professional diagnosis. Shortly after that conversation, we lost touch. I do know the girl was wise enough to recognize she was struggling with something, to seek information, and that she had enough trust in her parents to talk to them. That's a better start than a lot of kids get. "Social media platforms offer a place for healing and fosters a sense of community, as well as reducing stigma," says Dr. Schiff. But she encourages young people to take the next step and "Tell an adult or talk to their parents. Seeking professional help," she says, "is the first step into figuring out what you are experiencing, and getting yourself on track to feel better."

The pain gap: Women (still) aren't taken seriously by doctors — and it's killing us

"I'm obsessed now with just hearing women's doctor stories," says Anushay Hossain. "Everyone has one."

The author of "The Pain Gap: How Sexism and Racism in Healthcare Kill Women" definitely has her own. After growing up in Bangladesh, the writer, podcaster and policy analyst felt "relieved" to be delivering her baby in the nation with "the best healthcare in the world." Instead, she almost died in childbirth, an experience that left her shocked at how ineptly her medical team had handled her pain and symptoms — and how uncharacteristically compliant she'd been in her vulnerability.

This article first appeared on Salon.

It was an ordeal that led Hossain to delve into the ways in which women are treated (and mistreated) in the American health care system, and "how misogyny in medical practice profoundly impacts women's health."

As she reveals, it's not about that one insensitive, inattentive doctor here and there. It's about the institutionalized forces that deeply influence how we treat heart disease, chronic pain, COVID, and every other physical condition that impacts women's health.

Salon talked to Hossain recently about why these inequities persist, why they're even more glaring for women of color — and what we can do, systemically and individually — to close the pain gap.

This conversation has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

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We cannot ever truly know what someone else's pain is. But you start out very early talking about pain that is unique to women.

Gabrielle Jackson, the author of "Pain and Prejudice," said something so true, which is women's that pain is at once expected and denied. It's like they expect us to have this really high threshold, but then they don't believe us when we say that we're in pain. What else is really interesting is that in addition to the pain gap, there's a credibility gap. There's a knowledge gap. Women don't have any credibility, and it's not just about pain. It's about our health. It's about our bodies. It's amazing what women don't talk about, and the stories they keep to themselves.

Where does that come from? Does it come from the fact that we're just so used to dealing with a patriarchal system regardless of who is working in healthcare, regardless of the number of women who are doctors, because the system is still patriarchal inherently?

I don't feel like the onus should be on women, obviously. But then there is a lot that we can do and a lot of things that are changing. I grew up in Bangladesh and I was just taught, you just never question the doctor. You definitely don't question a white man. Even after 25 years in America, the power balance is so off. This is not an anti-doctor, anti-medical establishment book. But I never knew that you have choices and that you can literally deny anything, refuse anything that you want, and you can switch doctors. You don't have to stick with them.

Another interesting thing that I've seen with women is we really do try to be the perfect patient. A good student, the perfect mother.

We want to be good at being sick.

We approach our healthcare as though the most important person in that team is the doctor. But your healthcare is actually a team effort, and the most important member of that team is you. And we never give ourselves that authority. We will say, "I feel like this," and the doctor will be like, "Oh, it's probably in your head." And most women are like, "okay, maybe."

Almost every woman has been told that it's all in her head or she's imagining it, and almost every woman was never imagining it. It was almost always something like endometriosis or cancer. This is another thing I would really like to just make as a public service announcement. Women are not going to the hospital or to the doctor and just making stuff up. I'm sure there's the odd one off, but most of the time, by the time we're at the hospital or at the doctor's office, we're not there to just make crap up and waste everyone's time. We have a lot to do. We're really busy. We really don't have the time to just like go to the hospital, make some s**t up. It's so offensive. It's so offensive and condescending.

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I wonder if part of that is because our bodies are not well studied. They are not as well documented.

It's infuriating to me, the standard of health in America is a middle-aged white man. And it hasn't improved. We have studies showing that women are still not being included in trials. It's dangerous. When they released Ambien, everything was great, and then women started having a lot of side effects, getting in to car crashes, and they found out that women take longer to digest the medicine.

About like 75% of people who suffer from chronic pain are women. But the tests are done overwhelmingly on male mice. There's even a mice patriarchy. My favorite example is heart disease, because we really think of that as a male disease, and it's actually one of the leading killers of women in America, and black women especially. We imagine heart attacks as a man holding his chest like this dramatic heart attack in a movie, but women experience it really differently. We get nauseous, we get pain in our necks. If you have in pain in your neck and if you're 55 and older, you're actually seven times more likely in America to be dismissed from the hospital mid-heart attack.

Tara Robinson works for the American Heart Association now. She's an advocate for them. She had three heart attacks in 48 hours, and the third time she went to the hospital, she was like, "I am not leaving." They kept sending her home like, "You're fine." Then she was like, "You don't understand the pain that I am in."

You also talk about violence in the book. Violence is a health issue. I am constantly amazed, when we talk about healthcare, that we talk almost exclusively about sickness.

We never ever think about violence against women. It is a healthcare issue. They're calling it the shadow pandemic, because obviously it's just skyrocketing. Everything we do to isolate for COVID, self isolation, social isolation, lockdown . . . Imagine for a woman in a domestic violence situation or in an abusive relationship. Those stories stayed with me the most. Some nights I just couldn't go to sleep because it just made me think that there's such a gendered impact of COVID. It's also how intimately women experience the pandemic. So intimately, you couldn't even imagine.

I just can't imagine being beaten, abused, then isolated from your family. Wherever you go in the world, still it's happening. Domestic violence, forget that it's not being treated as a health issue. We still don't think that it's an issue that should be public. I feel like that silence is the biggest thing. We don't see it as a health issue, but also people are still hesitant to get involved.

Women are scared to ask for help. One woman I interviewed was like, "I was so scared," because any time she coughed or anything, her abuser would get really, really mad. He wouldn't let her out of the house. She was so scared that he was either going to kick her out or he was going to beat her to death. At the peak of lockdown, people thought that if you were just out on the street, you would die. There was a period where people were just not leaving their house.

A big thing around violence is more women have to say it. It is a health issue because the people who are killed the most in America through domestic violence are women and pregnant women.

I interviewed Shannon Watts from Moms Demand Gun Action, and she said what makes it so dangerous in America, more than any other country, is the access to guns. At one point in the pandemic, when they started opening things up, guns were deemed essential businesses. Gun stores opened up. I still can't believe that. And then of course these men are already under financial stress of the pandemic. They're buying guns, they're going home, taking it on their victims, on their partners. So many experts also said in the book that they're seeing more extreme wounds in domestic violence victims during COVID. Gun wounds, cigarette burns, all these things. It's a health issue, and we need to say that. We need to say that more.

Violence doesn't exist in its own lane. We think of violence as existing purely within the legal system and the judicial system and the justice system. We don't discuss it as within the medical system.

And violence against women, domestic violence, even rape, even today, is seen as the woman's fault. Rape culture is real. And what is rape culture? Every time I say this, people think I'm talking about like a culture that endorses rape. That's not what it is. Rape culture is when we blame women for men's sexual violence. We still do it. We might not say, "What were you wearing?" anymore, but we'll be like, "Oh, she was drunk." Or, you know, this, "What did you do to put yourself in that situation?" And women do this, too.

That's another thing that the book calls for. It's a cultural shift that we need. And one of the most radical proposals in the book is, can we believe women? Believe women.

You discuss in the book a new Marshall Plan. Tell me what that means.

Reshma Saujani, who founded Girls Who Code, has a whole movement around it, The Marshall Plan for Moms. We should give moms like $2,400. We should build back moms until they can rejoin the workplace. They can be at home, but they need money. 875,000 moms left the workforce summer of 2020.

America's fallback is women, unpaid labor, overworked women. The moms are not okay, and nobody gives a s__t. No one is coming to save us. It's crazy. We're burned out. We're overworked. It's going on and on. And nobody cares. It's so traumatic, and people don't realize what we're going through. I was just thinking about how we keep framing this in the news as a pandemic of the unvaccinated. Well, what about these kids? We're all like, "Oh, we have a vaccine for everyone," but it doesn't include the youngest children and pregnant women. Who are we? I just think it's crazy that nobody wants to know about it. And it's the moms' problem. Can you imagine what it's like when you know you can't protect your child, and then they get sick? I feel like it's because America doesn't value caretaking, and everything is falling on unpaid labor of women.

Meanwhile, we're getting sick.

That's another thing. Women's health is not an enigma. Where the F is the research? We have the money, we have the resources. Look at the controversy around insurance coverage for birth control and whatnot. We won't even get in to abortion. But do you know that insurance covers Viagra? Penis pumps?

There's the idea that our bodies are public property and are up for discussion, which is why then when we enter a healthcare situation, of course we feel disempowered. Of course we don't feel any agency, because we're used to having people who have opinions about our bodies tell us those opinions all the time.

All the time. Without bringing the whole abortion thing in, but just look what's happening with abortion. In the year 2022 It might be overturned. How is this happening in America? In the '60s and '70s, what were women saying? We can't be free without reproductive freedom. Reproductive justice. Reproductive control. Now it's happening again.

What really bothers me is that America was so instrumental in bringing these choices to women around the world. The UN Conference on Population and Development in the 1990's, initially started out very racist about population control. How did they intervene? They were like, "Oh, if you give women access to contraceptives and high paying jobs, guess what? They don't want to have 10, 12 kids and die by the time they're 20. They will actually choose to have smaller families themselves. Everybody benefits." We already have the data on this, and America's going to go backwards.

Tell me what we can do as patients in those dynamics that we are dealing with. How do we have that agency for ourselves as patients? We have to change ourselves.

We can change ourselves. The default now is not believing women, immediately. So I just ask to flip that. Just give her the benefit of the doubt and see where we go. That's the cultural shift that I'm asking for. Not only to believe women, but believing women of color who really have even less credibility. The other thing, and I really hate recommending this, but apparently it's very effective. Even Maya Dusenbery in her book "Doing Harm" said — women have said that when they bring in a male friend with them. The doctor is more likely to believe you. I wanted to say, bring a girlfriend with you, bring somebody with you. But apparently if he has a penis, it's more effective.

Because people, not just men, but women, hear men's voices.

And also do a lot of research. I think we also expect doctors to be magicians. Now you can be like, "No, this is my blood work. This is my family history." Research the provider. Read the reviews. Just like for everything else, when you're prepared and you've done your homework, you're more confident. You can ask more informed questions, and everybody benefits.

Something happened with my dad's endocrinologist, where he was like, "Oh, I don't know the answer to that." He had to do a little Google, too. I never thought about how hard it is for doctors to say, "I don't know." I don't think they're allowed to say that or encouraged to ever say that, and that freaks everybody out. But it's been happening a lot in the pandemic because nobody knows. We're all learning. I never even thought about that, because they just have so much power.

Pennsylvania deserves better than Dr. Oz

just can't shake the fear that one day in the not-so-distant future we'll be living under a GOOP administration. It seems weirdly possible, now that physician, erstwhile "Jeopardy!" host and world's biggest fan of unproven medical "miracles" Dr. Mehmet Oz is running for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania.

This article first appeared in Salon.

Oz, who is running as a Republican, threw his hat in the ring this month after Trump-endorsed candidate Sean Parnell withdrew in the wake of domestic abuse allegations. In his announcement, Oz struck his trademark authoritative tone, writing in the Washington Examiner:

During the pandemic, I learned that when you mix politics and medicine, you get politics instead of solutions. That's why I am running for the U.S. Senate: to help fix the problems and to help us heal. COVID-19 became an excuse for the government and elite thinkers who controlled the means of communication to suspend debate. Dissenting opinions from leading scholars were ridiculed and canceled so their ideas could not be disseminated…. Elites with yards told those without yards to stay inside, and the arrogant, closed-minded people in charge closed our parks, shuttered our schools, shut down our businesses, and took away our freedom.

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In his accompanying video statement, he echoed this sentiment, saying, "Washington got it wrong. They took away our freedom without making us safer." And in a move that can only be interpreted as shameless endorsement thirst, he also noted the pandemic's "moments of brilliance, such as the gift to the world of mRNA vaccines made possible by President Donald Trump's Operation Warp Speed."

If it seems strange for a doctor who thinks that mixing medicine and politics is a bad idea would suggest that the solution is for him to run for office, that's the exactly kind of contradiction that has made Mehmet Oz a star. From his earliest breakout stardom as one of Oprah's "experts," to his lengthly run on his eponymous daytime show, he has parlayed folksy charisma into dubious credibility. Oz, after all, has Ivy League cred up the wazoo — educated at Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania, residency and career at Columbia — yet positions himself as an advocate against "elite thinkers" (with yards!). He never lets you forget he's a man of medicine, the director of Columbia Surgery's Integrative Medicine Center, all while gently suggesting that you, average person, are the real expert here. In other words, he's a perfect representation of the overconfidence that characterizes our age of misinformation.

RELATED: Dr. Oz's MAGA campaign: He wants to get "tough on China" — but his products are made there

He's also a classic American success story of failing upward. Long ago, he was, perhaps, just another very smart doctor practicing at a very good hospital. He was even my father-in-law's heart surgeon back when he was still better known for his cardiac work than as one of People magazine's sexiest men alive. But over the years — at least in many legitimate medical circles — Oz's celebrity began to eclipse his credibility. Yet with every controversy, every challenge to his incredibly dubious claims, he seems to become more influential.

In 2012, Oz opened up his show to a "debate" on conversion therapy, asking, "Is there a gay cure?" and welcoming an "expert" from the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (now known as The Alliance for Therapeutic Choice and Scientific Integrity). He has in the past also given a platform to quackadoo extraordinaire Joseph Mercola, disagreeing with some of his ideas but praising his penchant for "defying convention and thinking largely outside the box." He has in the past said he's "rethinking tanning beds" after considering "a value of UVB radiation, not just for vitamin D but for other sources as well." Interestingly enough, the show's "gay cure" and Mercola content appear to have been quietly scrubbed from its site, just like the notorious episode on the "miracle" green coffee bean diet. (The "miracle" was based on a study the authors later had to retract. "Dr Oz" guest Lindsey Duncan later agreed to pay $9 milliion to consumers over false weight loss claims.)

His hyperbolic affinity for miracle cures and "the key to feeling decades younger" have landed him, repeatedly, in serious ethical trouble. In 2011, he was called out by the Food and Drug Administration after he claimed that five popular brands of apple juice contained arsenic. In 2014, he appeared before Claire McCaskill, chairwoman of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, who told him, "People want to believe they can take an itty-bitty pill to push fat out of their body. I know you know how much power you have. I know you know that." In 2015, ten of his peers — physicians, surgeons and professors — sent a letter to the dean of medicine at Columbia University expressing how they were "surprised and dismayed that Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons would permit Dr. Mehmet Oz to occupy a faculty appointment, let alone a senior administrative position in the Department of Surgery," asserting that Dr. Oz "has repeatedly shown disdain for science and for evidence-based medicine, as well as baseless and relentless opposition to the genetic engineering of food crops. Worst of all, he has manifested an egregious lack of integrity by promoting quack treatments and cures in the interest of personal financial gain."

Yet Mehmet Oz never stops, never slows down. He may sometimes have to stop touting one particular piece of questionable information, but there's always plenty more where that came from. To that end, the pandemic has been a real jackpot for him — he's been a vocal promotor of a "self-reported" hydroxychloroquine clinical trial, and in 2020 shocked viewers when he said on Fox that if "the opening of schools may only cost us 2 to 3 percent in terms of total mortality… it might be a trade-off some folks would consider." (He later claimed he simply "misspoke.")

His role as the darling of the conservative, medical freedom-fighting movement was carved out for him back in 2018, when Donald Trump gave him an appointment on the President's Council on Sports, Fitness & Nutrition. But it's one thing to have a standing invitation on Fox News, it's another to actually get elected to political office. And while America has never lacked for physicians in government — or physicians pretty much unqualified for public service — Oz may find himself caught between an ideological rock and hard place now that he will have to answer to voters on his seemingly very fluid beliefs.

In a recent interview for WGAL News, Oz, whose campaign site says "he has literally held a beating heart in his hands. He knows how precious life is and is 100% Pro-Life," qualified his position by saying, "I'm pro-life, with the three usual exceptions, especially the health of the mother, but incest and rape as well." In 2019, he was even more expansive, talking to the Breakfast Club about Alabama's abortion restrictions and saying, "I'm really worried about it… It's two weeks past your last period you'd have to decide by.... This whole thing about heart beating. There are electrical changes at six weeks, but the heart's not beating."

It's a similar story on gun rights. Oz calls himself "a firm believer in the Second Amendment and our constitutional right to bear arms for protection," yet has in the past had guests on his show discuss "Red Flag" laws and had fellow doctors talk openly about the "public health crisis" of gun violence. He claims he's "tough on China," but his merch is made there.

Dr. Oz has, for a very long time, been a source of exasperated fury for multitudes of Americans who care about things like medical ethics and public safety. But it's those moments in his career when he has spoken as someone who understands at least a little about science and humanity that may prove his political Achilles heel. You can't just delete your former statements from the public record. And all voters, regardless of their ideologies, deserve candidates who are honest about their positions — not to mention where they actually live. But Oz, a man noted by his own fellow doctors for his "egregious lack of integrity," has long reveled in his broad appeal, of being an icon to the yoga moms and MAGA hats alike. Now he has to decide, it not who he truly is, who he wants voters to believe he is. And while there is no shortage of charlatans succeeding in politics, "America's doctor" may soon discover that's good enough to be Pennsylvania's senator.

'Nobody joins a cult -- they join a group of friends': Inside the 'Sarah Lawrence cult'

What do you think of when you see the word "cult"? A bunch of Manson girls wending their way toward Cielo drive? A Peoples Temple flock forced into suicide in Jonestown? What you probably don't think of is a bunch of kids from a prestigious liberal arts college being manipulated by the dad of a fellow student.

When writers Ezra Marcus and James D. Walsh published "The Stolen Kids of Sarah Lawrence" in New York magazine in 2019, an immediate flurry of attention followed. The story — of a charismatic, just-released-from-prison parent who reportedly manipulated, blackmailed, abused and ultimately divided a group of friends — seemed like a tabloid-ready tale. But it was not sensational. It was instead an object lesson in the life cycle of an harmful relationship, and how vulnerable anyone can become.The story led to a development deal from Amazon, and an indictment for sex trafficking and extortion for the man at the center of it, Larry Ray.

And now, one of the former members of the group, Daniel Barban Levin, has written his account of what went on during those tumultuous, painful years of his young adulthood. It's an intense tale of coercion, humiliation, gaslighting and physical torment. It's also one of hard-won survival, and creating a life after the unimaginable. Salon spoke to Barban Levin recently via Zoom about writing his way to a new narrative, when he knew he had to walk away, why nobody sets out to join a cult — and what really happened at Slonim Woods 9, the name of a dormitory on Sarah Lawrence's campus from which Barban Levin took his memoir title.

As always, our conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

It takes a lot of courage to make yourself vulnerable again, to relive that experience writing about it.

The process of writing the book did a few things for me. I had gone through an experience that seems explicitly designed around telling a new story for me about who I was and what my memories even were.

The man who abused me was such a talented storyteller that he could convince you that something that wasn't real was real. Writing was not only about telling my story as I remember it and believe it. I spent a year writing this, and every day of writing it I had to make the claim that my account matters and is valid. I'm staking my flag in my own credibility, and I'm saying I trust myself. Then also even further, it's kind of an attempt to trust other people, just to give people my story and hope that they will believe me.

You talk about this man who was such a skillful manipulator and storyteller and disruptor of reality. When you think about him now, how would you answer the question "who is Larry Ray?"

That's a really hard question to answer. I will say that for a lot of the time that I was in his presence, that I was actively being tortured even, in those moments, I was asking myself that question. There were a lot of answers, and it was unclear to me where those answers were coming from and what was real and what wasn't. He was a father, he was supposedly a Marine, he was supposedly an intelligence officer. He had shown me photos of himself with George H. W. Bush and Gorbachev and they looked like pals, so there were all those things.

The process of trying to answer that question, to arrive at a clear definitive answer to who is this man, or even what are his intentions, was for me kind of a trap. If you spend your energy trying to figure out who your abuser is or if they're a good person, you're not leaving. The thing on the other side of the scale that outweighs everything is, he was the person who was hurting me and I didn't deserve that.

What this book illuminates so clearly to people who have not been in what we would characterize as cults, or in abusive relationships, is they don't start out abusive. You don't get into them because you think, "I would like to be tormented and abused." How did it start for you, where you became drawn in with this person?

Nobody joins a cult. They join a group of friends or they join a self-help group or whatever it is. But nobody says, "Oh, this is a cult and I can't wait to get involved."

In my experience, this is my friend's dad who just showed up at our dorm. We were on the meal plan, eating the not very good college food, and he showed up and was buying us fancy takeout. He said, "Come have some pasta," and that's hard to say no to and is innocuous. Then between there and me being in his apartment in Manhattan living there with all my friends and him torturing me is many, many steps. It's a slow burn, bringing out the frog in boiling water kind of thing. I tried to lay out in the book all of those steps, and how you get from A to Z . You don't encounter someone who's obviously an abuser and then stick around.

One of the first things that happens is building intimacy and building trust.

In some ways I think I was vulnerable to that kind of insidious intimacy because of my age. When you're 18, 19, 20, you're doing what you're supposed to be doing, which is questioning. You're looking back on where you grew up, how you grew up, what it means to be a person or be an adult, to make an impact in the world. You're questioning those roots and you're trying to grow your own branches. That's a really tender and potentially really productive place to be. But in this very specific instance, if someone wants to, they can slip in and leverage that vulnerability.

It's very common in abusive relationships in cults like this, or in any kind of a cultic relationship, for someone to do what's called love bombing, where they show up and then they make you feel fantastic, they make you feel relieved. All of your things that you were worried about, your questions — in my case about my masculinity, about my body, about my sexuality, about how to be a good person. This person was saying, "You don't have to ask those questions anymore or feel that you're shouting them into a void, because I will answer them." I also happened to grow up in a place where therapy wasn't really a thing that we would do, so I didn't feel that I had some nonjudgmental third party to go to, to ask these questions. He made himself that person.

That's how you get to this escalation of slowly changing your reality.

One of the things I came away with was an understanding of how tenuous our attachment to our reality is. We currently live in a world, in a country, where people believe very different versions of reality than we might believe. It feels it's conceivable that someone could think that clear historical events occurred completely differently than we think they did. This was an experience with a man who was able to make me question what had actually happened an hour ago, a year ago, ten years ago. Part of that was just that slow burn of manipulation and the pressure, the abuse. There was also peer pressure, and me seeing my social group believe these things made me want to believe them.

It reminds me of the dynamics in abusive families, where there is no one to check your reality against. You were going along with things and that part of your brain that was saying, "This is weird," wasn't speaking out.

It makes me wish that everyone had a version of that checklist that I just happened upon later on and to hold it up against not just if you're in an abusive group, but even in the abusive relationship or what you suspect might be. I had been able to say to myself, "Well, the fact that it feels impossible to question or dissent or talk about what's happening here, and that in itself is a real problem."

What I was thinking in my head was, "Okay, my friends are going along with this, they even seem to be supporting it as they're actively sitting around watching me be abused. Maybe it's supposed to be something that's good. At the same time, I also know that I've been in that position and I'm pretending I feel okay with what's happening. So are they doing that?" But it was impossible for us to check in because there was this constant fear that the other person wouldn't. The consequences were too high if they didn't agree with you and they would go straight to your abuser and say, "This person has turned against you."

You had situations where people, including you, were singled out, humiliated, attacked, confronted. I want to ask you about that, because there are so many choices that you had to make as a narrator. You, taking control of the story as an author, had to decide, "How do I tell this story?"

I decided early on in the process of writing this that shame is a tool that men like this use to keep people that they've hurt quiet. If I embraced who I was, who I am — which is someone who experienced this abuse, who survived and who is here now to stand by my account — if I took that shame and turned it inside out and made it my power, then I could live. But continuing to hide and to let the shame that was really him, that was his voice, dictate how I live my life and what story I told about myself, then I would never really get to fully live my own life.

It's about owning the story rather than rewriting it or reinterpreting it.

It's an act of trying to believe that if I tell people what happened to me, they won't look at me with disgust or hold me at arm's length. The people who love me now will still love me after they read the book. I am not alone, and in fact, after telling my story, maybe will be even less alone.

It has now been two years since this story first published. It had an immediate impact when it was published. It became a criminal investigation, a case that is still going on. What was the reaction directly to you after this came out?

When I was first contacted by the New York Magazine reporters, I had been hiding for many years, truly in fear that someone from this group would show up and try and bring me back or something. That fear, I managed to bottle up over time. At first, I was afraid every time I walked around the corner, and that got less severe.

I got contacted by these reporters, and I had told myself that surely the group — maybe it had fallen apart or it had changed. I was still afraid that Larry was around. They told me not only did it still exist, but that the story they were reporting at first was that my friend had apparently poisoned some people in our college. I think most people, if they got that call, would be shocked and wouldn't know how to react. But I knew exactly what they were talking about and that it wasn't true because I'd heard the exact accusation told many, many times when it was within that group.

It became my responsibility suddenly to protect my friends from the abuse leaking out beyond the confines of the room where it had always happened into the world and affecting her life. So I told the story to them and was candid about it. It felt like suddenly I was exposing myself. I was speaking out against the man who I had believed for a long time if I even said something negative about him in private, he would somehow know and show up and hurt me. It felt to me like if people don't believe me, then I've just fully put my head on the chopping block, but okay, I've protected my friend. If they do believe me, then in fact, I may be a little bit more safe.

When the indictment happened, it did feel at least partially an immense relief that something had come from this, that I had been believed not just by people but by maybe the justice system. It made me feel a little safer.

The narrative so often in stories of crime or abuse or cults is to look at the leader, to look at the perpetrator. You don't do that. You don't try to explain him or understand him or delve into the why of him. I'm sure that that was a choice.

I found for a long time that I could not engage with the type of content that I've seen out there, in which people depict cults and true crime things and thrillers that try to deal with this. My experience has been that our obsession with cult leaders, with the horrible, monstrous outliers of humanity, and our obsession with the abuse that the victims have suffered over the victims themselves, made it impossible for me in the process of coming out of this to see myself inside the word "cult." There are all these cultural connotations around what a cult is that that makes it very other. When we imagine a cult victim, we don't imagine a person really, or certainly not a person we know. I was so afraid to admit what had happened to me because it felt like I would become a freak, for lack of a better word.

I wanted to, as best as I could, normalize the experience and to expose how one gets pulled into this, how it's a result of not particularly unfamiliar social dynamics. I didn't want to put the abuser up on a pedestal and then say, "Oh, look at this," because people seem to do that with these people, like, "Look at how incredible and strange they are, In fact, he's just a sick human being who's very ill, you know?

It's been nine years. What is your life like now?

I was always a writer, and so the time in between, I was still writing. I lived in New York for a while. I got offered a job in New Hampshire taking care of Robert Frost's house and I did that for a while. Then I got into grad school and jumped at the opportunity to move as far away from the East Coast as possible. It has given me a breathing room to just have space. I went to grad school for writing out here in Southern California, and now I live in L.A. I'm very lucky to have a great group of friends out here and to have a pretty full life. A lot of the past couple of years has been living inside of the retelling of this story, which is its own kind of re-traumatization to weather and survive.

Are you following the case and the key people involved in it, or have you distanced yourself from that narrative?

It's hard to get away from, because there are all kinds of people in my life — well-meaning people — who will let me know when something's happening. I feel aware of the major things that have gone on. I'm certainly conscious of every time the trial is pushed back. A lot of space in my brain is taken up with just anticipating that trial and what it means.

This is not obviously a self-help guide, this is not a how-to. But I'm sure when you talk to people, they ask you, "What are some of the red flags that I should maybe pay attention to?"

There is a set of things if we're really just looking for red flags. We're talking about really familiar dynamics, but just taken to their most toxic extremes. What a cult is, it's many different things. It can be a group that's focused on a leader who's alive and that leader isn't accountable to a higher authority, but that can be what a political party is also, in its worst form. It could be just a group that's focused on bringing in new members, which sounds like a club, but if you push that too far, it's a cult. It could be a group that discourages dissent, but that could be the worst form of a government. Or it could claim an exalted status for itself and its leadership, which sounds like a religion, but again, taken to the extreme.

All of these things, they exist in other facets of our social lives, but it's just when they're turned so far that they wipe out every other aspect of just being a regular human being that they become this toxic thing.

It brings me to the question of, how did I answer that question for myself at the time? How did I feel that what was going on was wrong enough that I had a clear enough answer that I could step away?

I got into this because I didn't feel like I had any outlets where I could be really open and vulnerable about what felt to me like the messy questions that I had never gotten to talk about with anyone. If I could change the world, it would be to make a world where people feel like it's possible to be more open and that the people that they're open with will be compassionate and that shame will not come into the picture.

The way that I left was to finally arrive at trusting my body enough, that it was telling me I couldn't endure this anymore and it hurt. I had been ignoring myself for a very long time because I thought that this man knew me better than I did. Finally, the answer was just, I am right about me.

I would say to people, the best you can do is to just trust yourself. If it feels bad, step away and just try that out. If you feel like it's going to be a disaster for you to leave, then that's a pretty clear red flag that it's not a good situation. You should be able to leave. That's the best answer I can give to that, I think.

Shaving, nail clipping and beyond — What are the limits of public hygiene?

"You nasty, filthy, sloppy, disgusting, filthy f**king animal. You f**king pig, you should be ashamed of yourself." That was the response from actor and podcaster Michael Rapaport — and plenty of other similarly repulsed viewers — earlier this month when a video appeared to show former New York City mayor and self professed "normal" drinker Rudy Giuliani openly shaving his face in the dining area of the Delta One lounge at Kennedy Airport. Not that any sane person should take their grooming cues from a man who has been known to ooze dark fluid, but out here in the civilization we're attempting to maintain, personal grooming is generally expected to be confined to private spaces. What constitutes private activity, who has the privilege of said privacy and why these taboos exist at all, however, are incredibly subjective.

This article first appeared in Salon.

In 2018, a New Jersey Transit rider went viral after a fellow passenger filmed him giving his face a full Barbasol smeared shave during a commute. The clip was undeniably hypnotic, with the man casually flicking his foam onto the floor of the train. But after over 2.4 million views on Twitter and commenters calling him a "slob," the passenger came forward to reveal he had been traveling from a homeless shelter to see his brother, and wanted to look "presentable" for his family. "My life is all screwed up," he told the Associated Press. "That's the reason I was shaving on the train."

There is not a single personal activity that I haven't seen someone conducting in a public space. Yet despite years of eyewitness experience, I doubt I could tell the difference between a presidential cybersecurity adviser and a down-on-his-luck person just coming out of a homeless shelter. So while I'm firmly against recording and publicly shaming everyone who isn't Rudy Giuliani for their idiosyncratic personal upkeep rituals, I also would like to make a case for those of us who can to abide by some common sense etiquette. Basically, if it can leave behind debris from your body or creates an intrusive scent (like nail polish), try to do it somewhere else.

The least disputed versions of this rule of thumb include tooth flossing, hair plucking, earwax cleaning, pimple popping, shaving, spitting, nose picking and the classic — nail clipping. As artist Jason Shelowitz pleaded in his 2010 guerrilla New York City subway poster campaign, "Under no circumstance is the subway the right place for this. The sound is incredibly annoying and the little nail bits go flying all over the place. Keep it at home please. It's crazy that this even needs to be mentioned."

While the health risks are not comparable to those from sneezing or coughing, it's just logical to limit all potential exposure to infection. This means that things that might make you bleed — clipping, cutting — are best done in clean, controlled environments. British Columbia's HealthLink guide advises, "Blood and body fluids, such as saliva, semen and vaginal fluid, can contain viruses that can be passed on to other people." And though "The risk is low… body fluids, such as sweat, tears, vomit or urine may contain and pass on these viruses." (This is also another argument for wiping down your sweaty gym equipment, I beg of you.)

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Let's say I have a fresh cut on my elbow, and then I sit down at a restaurant table where the previous patron just nicked his face shaving. In an "ER or Not?" Interview for University of Utah Health, Dr. Troy Madsen noted that "Anything where the skin is not completely intact, if it's blood from a person where you don't know they could potentially have HIV or hepatitis, err on the side of caution."

Of course, the odds of getting hepatitis from the guy attending to his five o'clock shadow next to you at JFK are infinitesimal. But reasonable cleanliness and courtesy dictate that if you wouldn't sneeze on a stranger, maybe don't shave around them either. The lines get a little blurrier around less intimate — and more clearly gendered — acts of maintenance. Hair brushing and combing, with their obvious and inevitable leftovers of hair and dandruff, seem like no-brainers. A 2015 MTA campaign depicted subway riding figures attending to their nails and hair and advised, "Clipping? Primping? Everybody wants to look their best, but it's a subway car, not a restroom." Yet clipping is a far more clearcut action than "primping." I don't want anybody to go full DryBar on my commute, but I also know that no one with hair past their shoulders can avoid getting either in or out of a ponytail over the course of a day. I mean, my wrists exist to hold my Goody bands.

And what about makeup application, a seemingly victimless crime? In 2018, English journalist Nina Myskow sparked a fierce backlash for calling women "selfish" for doing their makeup on their commutes, demanding they "Get up earlier." Yet as Aditi Shrikant responded in Vox, "Expecting a person to groom before commuting is assuming they have time to do so, but time to yourself is a privilege." Courtesy is a dynamic process. We can endeavor to take care of our personal business before leaving the house for the sake of everybody who didn't sign up to be part of that process, and we can grant some space and kindness for others who don't have the same advantages. Which does not let the Guilianis of the world off the hook.

Offering the hottest possible take on all of this, The Independent's senior commissioning editor Rupert Hawksley this week cheekily defended Guiliani's bizarre shaving performance, observing, "Airports are hard enough without people judging your weird behavior. Things happen at airports that don't happen anywhere else. Normal rules do not apply…. Christ, if Rudy Giuliani wants to have a quick shave over his lobster bisque, let the poor man get on with it." I too have done things while traveling that can only be interpreted as a cry for help, but I'd like to think I was in those instances only hurting myself with that airport sushi.

We are living through a moment of unprecedented, reckless selfishness. We are confronted daily with evidence of our fellow humans disregarding the most basic of boundaries, refusing to consider the comfort and safety of others for the greater good. Why be thoughtful? Why be decent? The world is your spittoon and hygiene is unpatriotic! That's why the sight of a prominent, privileged man treating an airport dining area like it's his private bathroom feels uniquely insulting right now. It's stubble as symbolism, a declaration of a certain class of individuals of their utter indifference to whatever mess they create and leave behind, for the rest of us to clean up.

Take it from a lab rat — you don't have to fear 'unapproved' vaccines

It's been a recurring argument of late — one seen in chilling newspaper stories and all over your extended family's Facebook posts — that the vaccines are too new, too untested; that we don't know the long term effects of these shots that have been authorized for emergency use. You can even now buy t-shirts, perhaps to wear to your next insurrection, that read "I'm not a lab rat" and feature a vaccine vial with a line through it. But may I suggest that an escalating pandemic that has already killed over 600,000 of your fellow Americans is not the best moment to develop such a unique position on bodily autonomy? Instead, take some advice from a real life lab rat: please don't be afraid of being a COVID vaccine lab rat.

This article first appeared in Salon.

Back in April, a CNN poll estimated that 26% of adults said they would not get the COVID vaccine. You'll never believe what happened next! The reasons for vaccine hesitancy are not singular or even entirely partisan. We are facing an onslaught of causes from misinformation to youthful hubris; as FiveThirtyEight reported last month, "the younger the age group, the less likely it is to be vaccinated relative to its share of the population." The are also entirely legitimate historical and contemporary reasons to be skeptical of our healthcare industry. It's not like the track record is so great here.

The US has committed atrocious acts in the name of scientific progress — the notorious Tuskegee syphilis experiments, the early combined contraceptive pill trials in Puerto Rico, the list goes on. Again and again, the most vulnerable have been treated with callous, intentional and often fatal disregard. And while those shameful acts are part of our past, we are living in a present day moment of reckoning over the opioid epidemic havoc wreaked from corporate pharmaceutical fraud.

And yet, you can be cautious and hold authority figures accountable and also minimize your chances of imminent death at the time. Those are all good goals. Urgent crises call for unprecedented measures. The rewards — not dying gasping for breath, unable to even hold a loved one's hand — outweigh the current risks. In extraordinary circumstances, being a so-called lab rat can be a pretty sweet deal.

I've been one for nearly a decade already. In 2011, I was diagnosed with metastatic melanoma and became one of the first ten people in in the world on a combination immunotherapy clinical trial. Of the 52 of us in the initial group, "adverse events of any grade, regardless of whether they were attributed to the therapy, were observed in 98% of patients," while "treatment-related adverse events were observed in 93% of patients." More than half of the patients experienced grade 3 or 4 (severe) treatment related adverse events. My own side effects included dizziness, rash, fatigue and not dying of cancer. Twelve weeks after I began the trial, I had no evidence of disease. Ten years on, analysis of over one hundred similar immunotherapy trials shows an estimated fatality rate "ranging from 0.36% to 1.23%." I'd take those odds.

Over the years, both of my daughters have also participated in trials, one for a mental health study and one for a device for a heart condition. Meanwhile, I have gone back to school to try to crack the code of making clinical trials more accessible and patient-centered. What I can tell you from my own experience and work is that the system is messy as hell and that we have to be able to trust and respect each other if we're going to survive. We cannot get to anything even resembling a new normal while those who have no compelling medical or accessibility excuse continue to, as Amanda Marcotte puts it, "selfishly refuse the shot." And it hurts my heart that there are people with life-threatening conditions right now pleading for access to unapproved treatments, while the willfully ignorant are fighting for their right to prolong a pandemic.

My friend Stacey, a yoga instructor in Manhattan, participated in one of the Astra Zeneca trials late last year. "I have a friend who's a nurse and works in drug trials at New York Presbyterian," she recalled recently. "He came to me in November and said, 'We're starting up again for the trial. I figured, if that means I get the vaccine early, that's good. That being said," she adds, "my teenage son wanted to do it and I wouldn't let him. I would've felt terrible if he'd had an adverse reaction."

My friend wound up getting the placebo, and was subsequently unblinded so she could go ahead and get fully vaccinated. Which she — and her son — did. "That's what all these trials are for," she says. "For about a year, people have been doing these trials. The people getting the vaccine now are not the first. Millions of people have gotten it. Some do have adverse reactions. But it's still a protection against something that could kill you, or affect the people around you."

Writing in Vogue last year, Molly Jong-Fast, who participated in the Pfizer trial, expressed a similar sentiment. "As someone who has struggled with health anxiety, being a medical-trial participant wasn't an obvious life choice. But I felt I had to," she said. "I am not a particularly brave person, but in a country with uncontrolled virus spread, I'd much rather take my chances with the vaccine than with the virus." That's a choice, she notes, that reduces the risks for others as well.

Nothing in life is guaranteed. I have to shake my head in amazement when I see commenters disingenuously protesting that we just don't know how these vaccines will affect us in ten or twenty years. There are people dying today. I took a chance on a clinical trial when I likely had a few months to live. Whatever long term effects that experience bought and whatever lifetime of monitoring I signed up for, it gave me these past ten years to raise my children. I went and got the Pfizer vaccine in March, spent a day feeling like hell and accepting that small price to pay for getting more days with my family. This is not abstract; this is the simple calculation that a majority of us can make. If something in my health goes sideways in ten or twenty years because I got vaccinated in 2021, I will consider myself extremely fortunate.

Last month, a neighbor and her entire family got breakthrough cases of the virus. It was a real dumpster fire. Her sister still refuses to get vaccinated. My friend told me a few days ago that she'd tried to explain to her sister that yes, they got vaccinated and they got sick, but nobody had to go the ICU. Nobody died. Your best option isn't always a perfect one. But the choice between making it better and making it worse, for everybody, is very clear. And right now, I'd much prefer to be a lab rat than a name on a headstone. Wouldn't you?

Can neurology tell us how to deprogram our radicalized loved ones?

Yelling at them doesn't work. Appealing to their empathy doesn't work. Rebutting their disinformation and conspiracy theories not only doesn't work, it actually just makes them dig in their heels more deeply. So rather than continuing to bang our heads against the wall, or simply throwing up our hands in despairing futility of talking to our radicalized relatives and neighbors, is there anything that does work to change anybody else's mind? Can we even, for that matter, change our own?

This article originally appeared at Salon.

It's not your imagination — we are living through an astonishingly polarized moment in history. A Pew Research report last fall painted a bleak portrait of "the increasingly stark disagreement between Democrats and Republicans on the economy, racial justice, climate change, law enforcement, international engagement and a long list of other issues." I've been spending my summer so far doing coursework in conflict resolution, and it's taught me the value of empathic listening — and the simple truth that you can't negotiate with anybody who won't sit at the table.

To understand how we can become less contentious (or if we even can), we have to recognize how we got to this place. No huge surprise here — as Robert Kozinets wrote for Salon back in 2017, social media has played an oversized role in rewiring our unruly, addiction-prone brains. "One of the most effective ways to achieve mass appeal," he observed, "turned out to be by turning to the extreme."

Who cares if it's even true? As "The Hype Machine" author Sinan Aral explains of his research, "Novelty attracts human attention because it is surprising and emotionally arousing.... False news was indeed more novel than the truth, and people were more likely to share novel information." The more extreme, the more arousing the information is, the brighter it lights up our brains.

That rush that social media provides also, unfortunately, creates what Facebook cofounder Sean Parker ruefully has called "a social-validation feedback loop ... exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology." We gravitate to the heady cocktail of reward and anxiety that our notifications provide, in that endless, agitating loop. But it's not just social media that's a problem: it's media media, as the multitudes of us who have "lost" family members to Fox News know.

Our minds are more vulnerable and our thoughts more untrustworthy when we're scared. And while the far right takes the gold medal for anxiety-stoking — there's scientific evidence that conservatives have a "greater gray matter volume in the amygdala"— we on the progressive side of the aisle are no strangers to fearmongering either, as my 3 AM doomscrolling can confirm. The trap here is that none of our brains are not super reliable about distinguishing perceived threats from actual and immediate ones, especially at 3 AM.

Dr. James Giordano, Professor of Neurology and Biochemistry at Georgetown University Medical Center, explains that we all have our own individual "peak performance" stress range.

"As stress levels get higher, we begin to fatigue not only biologically, but psychologically and socially, and we perceive the stress and perhaps the stressor as threatening," Giordano says. "The more vulnerable we feel, often, the more volatile we become. That volatility can be a prompt to aggressiveness and violence."

And it doesn't necessarily matter if the stressor is legitimate. "Perceived stress," he says, "is very important. A perceived threat can instill a sense of dread in an individual or group of individuals, and be very influential in guiding their thoughts, emotions and behaviors. Hence," he continues, "the effectiveness of propaganda in advancing ideas whereby a defined other, often also portrayed as 'inhuman,' is intrinsically threatening."

Dehumanization is a highly effective empathy killer. And while I'm not engaging in false equivalences by any stretch here, I can certainly cop to my own fears of the faceless enemies of my ideologies, and how far stuck they are in my own brain.

So before I can even hope to change anyone else's mind, I have to try to understand my own. Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, neuroanatomist and author of "Whole Brain Living: The Anatomy of Choice and the Four Characters That Drive Our Life," says, "Inside of our brain we have four distinctive characters. The better we get to know those four different characters, our two emotional and our two thinking, we can identify when we're being which, and then we can recognize that in other people."

She continues: "When we dig our heels into something that we are emphatic and passionate about, we are using our limbic system, our emotional system. The left hemisphere emotion is looking for our differences and it is bucking against our differences. This is our fear and our anxiety. The emotion in our right brain is connected to humanity, and is looking for how to collaborate and focus on our similarities. If we're recognizing someone else is in their emphatic, emotional, 'I need to be right, you're wrong' mind, I don't have to react with my comparable character. I can observe. I don't have to engage."

But if for some compelling reason I actually do want to engage, pediatric neuropsychologist and parent coach Dr. Sarah Levin Allen has some ideas. "Our brains compartmentalize and group 'like' information together to be more efficient," she says. "Then, we learn by connecting new information with what we already know. In order to change people's minds, you literally have to find what people already know and slowly connect the dots (or neurons — the cells in the brain) to the new information."

The challenge, as she acknowledges, is finding ways around the intense pressure and high reactivity many of us are facing, and looking for the right openings to approach.

"Most of the time, people whose brains aren't stressed with other things (like processing work or emotions) can find the thing that is 'like' the new information and begin to make the pathways themselves," she says, "thus creating a change of mind. When the new idea is too much of a deviation from what someone knows or when stress reactions block the ability to make pathways, brains need help. When trying to change the mind of someone who is stressed, we actually need to do one of two things: either reduce the stress hormone in the brain by making a connection and reducing negative emotion first or slow down the process delivering ideas in very short bursts that the brain can slowly process."

In other words, you don't have to love your enemies, but you're definitely not going to win them over to your ideas without first getting them to chill out.

Of course, belief and behavior are two separate entities. Your sister-in-law may believe that face masks cause demonic possession; she might still choose to wear one if she wants to go to Applebee's. A Florida man may believe he won a re-election, he still has to hand over the nuclear football. Ultimately, life affords us plenty of opportunities to settle for grudging acceptance, if not grateful conversion. (See: Everything you've ever browbeaten your children into doing.)

But in many spaces, we don't have to compromise; we don't have to find common ground. We can choose information — and disinformation — that affirms and exacerbates our deepest anxieties. We can stoke the fires of our amygdalas and never run out of fuel; that's totally an option. We can refuse to engage with those too far gone to reason with; that's often a healthy choice.

The harder work, if we want to take a swing at getting those who still have ears to hear us to listen and neurons to engage, is to consider Allen's advice. "Meet people where they are," she says, "and bring them to where you want them to be."

Here's the mysterious role blood type may play in the coronavirus pandemic

It was the first time the doctor and I had seen each other in a year. This was in December; I was in for my annual scans and blood work. We made small talk, catching up on the various ways 2020 had ravaged us both. I learned she'd been caught in the city's first wave of COVID-19 cases, back in March. She'd been seriously ill, and her sense of taste and smell were still not back to normal. Then she asked if I'd been sick. No, I told her. I'd stayed home, and I wasn't in a high risk group. "Well," she said, her eyes flicking down on the results of my latest labs, "and your blood type."

This article originally appeared at Salon.

I made it through nearly a full year of this pandemic before hearing the theory that certain blood types seem to be less susceptible to the coronavirus than others. Then again, I've never thought much about blood type at all. Until that recent day at the hospital, the extent of my understanding of my own blood — Type O negative — is that it's ineligible to donate, because I spent a college year in England. (Really.) Now, I admit I was intrigued that my blood type might make me at lower risk for severe COVID-19.

The search to root out mitigating factors for both vulnerability and resistance to the coronavirus started as soon as the crisis emerged. Back in March of 2020, early research out of China speculated on the "Relationship between the ABO Blood Group and the COVID-19 Susceptibility." Those researchers found that the number of COVID-19 patients with blood type A "was significantly higher than that in normal people, being 37.75% in the former vs 32.16% in the latter" . . . whereas the proportion of blood type O "in patients with COVID-19 was significantly lower than that in normal people, being 25.80% in the former vs 33.84% in the latter."

Other studies, from a variety of institutions, followed. A July report on the popular genetic testing site 23andMe updated the public on its own research, noting that "the preliminary data suggest that O blood type appears to be protective against the virus when compared to all other blood types. Individuals with O blood type are between 9-18% percent less likely than individuals with other blood types to have tested positive for COVID-19, according to the data." And an October update from the American Society of Hematology announced similar findings, stating that "Blood type O may offer some protection against COVID-19 infection."

But even in the most hopeful reports, the advantage of Type O blood appears to be slim. And the deluge of conflicting, inconsistent, misleading and constantly changing information out there about the virus makes that slight edge questionable.

There's another factor to consider, too, when looking at the virus across any population — the ways in which the pandemic has disproportionately affected different racial groups. 70 percent of African-Americans have type O and B blood. Yet the CDC reports that Black or African American, Non-Hispanic persons are 2.8 times more likely to die of COVID-19 than white people. Whatever advantage blood type may bestow, compared to socioeconomic factors, it doesn't seem to be making much of a dent in actual outcomes.

I spoke about blood types and COVID-19 with Michael N. Zietz of the Department of Biomedical Informatics, Columbia University Irving Medical Center. Last April, Zietz was a co-author on a study "Testing the association between blood type and COVID-19 infection, intubation, and death." The study, which reported "modest but consistent risk differences between blood types," had attracted my attention because it tried to separate out confounding variables in blood type studies. "Blood type frequencies vary across ancestry groups, so we evaluated the confounding effect of ancestry by adjusting for race/ethnicity," the study notes.

Blood is a fairly straightforward concept for those of us in the public to grasp, which is no doubt why mainstream media outlets like Reuters, AARP and Discover have all run stories on the potential blood type-COVID connection. But the deeper mystery — one of them, anyway — is in how it ties to our genes.

Zietz explained to me how blood type might relate to COVID-19 severity. "What I found helpful was thinking, let's just assume there are some associations between blood type and COVID, dying of COVID or contracting the disease. What mechanism potentially could underlie this?. … Blood type is determined by a few positions within a certain gene. It's possible that there are some true variants that are affecting COVID susceptibility within that gene. We don't definitively know that blood type itself is causal, but it's an indication something about this gene's function is causal." In other words, there's still a lot to learn here.

While I'd like to think that maybe my blood type means I have even one, paper thin extra layer of protection against the virus, I don't take my doctor's offhand remark too seriously. There's no magical protection spell, and until there is a solid, stable eradication of the virus I'll just keep washing my hands, wearing a mask and avoiding indoor gatherings. "We have very solid evidence that people of any blood type can get sick and die from COVID and be intubated," says Michael Zietz. "No one should think that they're immune on account of blood type. The differences that we see are not very large in the grand scheme of things. And compared to something like age or serious comorbidities, heart disease or something, it's not a large effect compared to those."

That WSJ op-ed about Dr. Jill Biden isn't just sexist — it's classist, too

When the Wall Street Journal ran a recent opinion piece criticizing incoming first lady Jill Biden for daring to use her honorific "Dr.," the pushback was swift and entirely justified. Of course, Joseph Epstein's tone deaf pronouncement that it's "fraudulent, not to say a touch comic" to call her "Dr. Biden" is easily shot-down sexist garbage that should never have been given a platform. But Epstein's tantrum over her form of address was only the second worst thing about the piece. What's even more offensive and dangerous is the WSJ's casual endorsement of the author's hostility to equitable, affordable higher education.

It's distracting, I agree, to sift through all the layers of condescension and offhanded misogyny at play in the story to get to the raging classism. But it's there! Get a load of this horse dung: "Your degree is, I believe, an Ed.D., a doctor of education," Epstein writes, "earned at the University of Delaware through a dissertation with the unpromising title 'Student Retention at the Community College Level: Meeting Students' Needs.' Epstein thinks he knows what Biden's degree is, but a man who concurs with the notion that "No one should call himself 'Dr.' unless he has delivered a child" can't be expected to know how to Google. (Wait till Epstein finds out how few Nobel Prize recipients in medicine are even clinicians, let alone obstetricians.)

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Catholics will control two branches of government. What does that mean for American Christianity?

Catholicism is rapidly declining in our country everywhere — except in our government. A full thirteen percent of Americans — including me — identify as ex-Catholics. Church attendance is dropping sharply. But just last week, the Supreme Court flexed its newly-enhanced Catholic muscle. In little more than a month, Joe Biden will become only the second Catholic president in American history.

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From pathological liars to Trumpian gaslighters, brain studies show why liars get better at lying with practice

The last five years have been a master class in gaslighting. For those of us who came into the Trump Era with some personal experience with narcissists, emotional abusers and flat out liars, it has been a jarringly familiar time.

For those who previously had the luxury of expecting honesty of others, this has been a sharp learning curve. We all now know exactly what it feels like to be on the receiving end of untruth so blatant and shameless it makes us question ourselves. We know what it's like to hear a falsehood repeated so insistently it almost becomes convincing. We get it from the highest levels of government, from cable news networks, from our radicalized relatives and neighbors. And we know the confusion, self-doubt and fear that come with long term exposure to what liars like to call "alternative facts."

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Like Trump, I was on monoclonal antibody drugs. This is what they do to you

After Donald Trump was hospitalized last week following a positive test for COVID-19, he emerged from Walter Reed with all the "Scarface" energy of one of his sons, declaring that, after "some really great drugs" he felt better than he did twenty years ago. Those drugs include Regeneron's REGN-COV2, a monoclonal antibody cocktail that is not approved by the FDA but was administered through a process known as compassionate use. (Regeneron's CEO, Dr. Leonard S. Schleifer, is also a friend of the Trump family.) Mainstream and social media quickly lit up over Trump's revelations, especially when he declared that the treatment "wasn't just therapeutic, it made me better. I call that a cure."

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These awesome two-ingredient brownies are one baking hack that doesn't sacrifice on flavor

What's in a name? We can only wonder if, in a different world, Larry Page and Sergey Brin would have had taken over the Internet with a search engine called BackRub, or if a singer called Stefani Germanotta would have sold ten million copies of "Bad Romance." One thing I am sure of, however, is that I would never take a bite out of something called a "chocolate omelette." Call it a two-ingredient brownie, however, and I'm already pre-heating my oven.

I discovered it, as I do most things, out of desperation and a limited cupboard. And now that every day feels like "Desperation and Limited Cupboard Day," I find myself returning to it time and again.

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