Big Box Implosion
Knustler holds forth on the coming collapse of the "big box" marketing model, albeit using some shaky assumptions along the way. Bottom line: chain stores go away and the local economy returns.
Knustler holds forth on the coming collapse of the "big box" marketing model, albeit using some shaky assumptions along the way. Bottom line: chain stores go away and the local economy returns.
January 14, 2013 |
Future generations of Americans can expect to spend 25 days a year sweltering in temperatures above 100F (38C), with climate change  on course to turn the country into a hotter, drier, and more disaster-prone place.
The National Climate Assessment, released in draft form on Friday  , provided the fullest picture to date of the real-time effects of climate change on US life, and the most likely consequences for the future.
The 1,000-page report, the work of the more than 300 government scientists and outside experts, was unequivocal on the human causes of climate change, and on the links between climate change and extreme weather.
Climate change is already affecting the American people, the draft report said. Certain types of weather events have become more frequent and/or intense including heat waves, heavy downpours and in some regions floods and drought . Sea level is rising, oceans are becoming more acidic, and glaciers and Arctic sea ice are melting.
The report, which is not due for adoption until 2014, was produced to guide federal, state and city governments in America in making long-term plans.
By the end of the 21st century, climate change is expected to result in increased risk of asthma and other public health emergencies, widespread power blackouts, and mass transit shutdowns, and possibly shortages of food.
Proactively preparing for climate change can reduce impacts, while also facilitating a more rapid and efficient response to changes as they happen, said Katharine Jacobs, the director of the National Climate Assessment.
The report will be open for public comment on Monday.
Environmental groups said they hoped the report would provide Barack Obama with the scientific evidence to push for measures that would slow or halt the rate of climate change – sparing the country some of the worst effects.
The report states clearly that the steps taken by Obama so far to reduce emissions are not close to sufficient to prevent the most severe consequences of climate change.
As climate change and its impacts are becoming more prevalent, Americans face choices, the report said. Beyond the next few decades, the amount of climate change will still largely be determined by the choices society makes about emissions. Lower emissions mean less future warming and less severe impacts. Higher emissions would mean more warming and more severe impacts.
As the report made clear: no place in America had gone untouched by climate change. Nowhere would be entirely immune from the effects of future climate change.
A heatwave swept across the US in 2011, with temperatures reaching over 110F (43C). Photograph: Timothy A Clary/AFP
Some of those changes are already evident: 2012 was by far the hottest year on record, fully a degree hotter than the last such record – an off-the-charts rate of increase.
Those high temperatures were on course to continue for the rest of the century, the draft report said. It noted that average US temperatures had increased by about 1.5F since 1895, with more than 80% of this increase since 1980.
The rise will be even steeper in future, with the next few decades projected for temperatures 2 to 4 degrees warmer in most areas. By 2100, if climate change continues on its present course, the country can expect to see 25 days a year with temperatures above 100F.
Night-time temperatures will also stay high, providing little respite from the heat.
Certain regions are projected to heat up even sooner. West Virginia, Maryland and Delaware can expect a doubling of days hotter than 95 degrees by the 2050s. In Texas and Oklahoma, the draft report doubled the probability of extreme heat events.
Those extreme temperatures would also exact a toll on public health, with worsening air pollution, and on infrastructure increasing the load for ageing power plants.
This 8 November 2011 image shows a storm bearing down on Alaska. Photograph: Ho/AFP/Getty Images
But nowhere will see changes as extreme as Alaska, the report said.
The most dramatic evidence is in Alaska, where average temperatures have increased more than twice as fast as the rest of the country, the draft report said. Of all the climate-related changes in the US, the rapid decline of Arctic sea ice cover in the last decade may be the most striking of all.
Other regions will face different extreme weather scenarios. The north-east, in particular, is at risk of coastal flooding because of sea-level rise and storm surges, as well as river flooding, because of an increase in heavy downpours.
A flooded farm along the Mississippi River is seen in Cairo, Illinois. Photograph: Stephen Lance Dennee/AP
The north-east has experienced a greater increase in extreme precipitation over the past few decades than any other region in the US, the report said. Between 1958 and 2010, the north-east saw a 74% increase in heavy downpours.
The midwest was projected to enjoy a longer growing season – but also an increased risk of extreme events like last year's drought. By mid-century, the combination of temperature increases and heavy rainfall or drought were expected to pull down yields of major US food crops, the report warned, threatening both American and global food security.
The report is the most ambitious scientific exercise ever undertaken to catalogue the real-time effects of climate change, and predict possible outcomes in the future.
It involved more than 300 government scientists and outside experts, compared to around 30 during the last such effort when George W Bush was president. Its findings were also much broader in scope, Jacobs said.
There were still unknowns though, the report conceded, especially about how the loss of sea ice in Greenland and Antarctica will affect future sea-level rise.
Campaign groups said they hoped the report would spur Obama to act on climate change in his second term. The draft assessment offers a perfect opportunity for President Obama at the outset of his second term, said Lou Leonard, director of the climate change programme for the World Wildlife Fund. When a similar report was released in 2009, the Administration largely swept it under the rug. This time, the President should use it to kick-start a national conversation on climate change.
However, the White House was exceedingly cautious on the draft release, noting in a blogpost : The draft NCA is a scientific document—not a policy document—and does not make recommendations regarding actions that might be taken in response to climate change.
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Although we’ve always known that Alzheimer’s disease is typically associated with numerous tangles and plaque in the brain, the exact cause of these abnormalities has been hard to pin down. Now, we may be closer to an answer.
In many respects, Alzheimer’s is a brain form of diabetes. Even in the earliest stages of disease, the brain’s ability to metabolize sugar is reduced. Normally, insulin plays a big role in helping the brain take up sugar from the blood. But, in Alzheimer’s, insulin is not very effective in the brain. Consequently, the brain cells practically starve to death.
How is that like diabetes?
These days, most people with diabetes have Type 2 diabetes mellitus. Basically, cells throughout the body become resistant to insulin signals. In an effort to encourage cells to take up more sugar from the blood, the pancreas increases the output of insulin. Imagine having to knock louder on a door to make the person inside open up and answer. The high levels of insulin could damage small blood vessels in the brain, and eventually lead to poor brain circulation. This problem could partly explain why Type 2 diabetes harms the brain. In Alzheimer’s, the brain, especially parts that deal with memory and personality, become resistant to insulin.
Why does the brain need insulin?
As in most organs, insulin stimulates brain cells to take up glucose or sugar, and metabolize it to make energy. Insulin also is very important for making chemicals known as neurotransmitters, which are needed for neurons to communicate with each other. Insulin also stimulates many functions that are needed to form new memories and conquer tasks that require learning and memory.
Where does the insulin come from in the brain?
Very sensitive tests showed that insulin is made in the brain. It’s made in neurons, and the hormone made in the brain is the same as that produced in the pancreas. This point may seem surprising, but if you consider the fact that every other gut hormone is also made in the brain, it only makes sense that insulin would be among them. Insulin that’s made by the pancreas and present in blood does gets into the brain as well.
Are people with diabetes more likely to get Alzheimer’s?
Absolutely. Their risk is doubled, at least. Obesity also increases the risk of cognitive impairment, or mental decline. This doesn’t mean that everyone who has diabetes will develop Alzheimer’s or that all people with Alzheimer’s have diabetes. The important thing to recognize is that there is considerable overlap between Alzheimer’s and diabetes.
I’ve never heard that. Is this idea new?
In reality, before about 1980, there was very little overlap between Alzheimer’s and diabetes. In fact, up until about 1980, deaths from diabetes were declining in the United States. That’s probably because of the improvements in medical treatment. But, between 1980 and now, the deaths from Alzheimer’s and diabetes have skyrocketed at alarming rates. The diabetes story is especially frightening because, everyone agrees that today we have much better medical treatments for diabetes than we did in the 1960s and 1970s – so, why should the death rates be so high now?
Maybe people are just living longer. Isn’t that the case?
People are living longer, but more important, they are surviving with various diseases that used to be fatal. On the surface, this argument might explain the increasing death rate trends for diabetes and Alzheimer’s. But, closer examination of the data demonstrated something entirely different and, in fact, surprising.
We compared the Alzheimer’s death rates in 1980, to those in 2005, but instead of looking at the entire population as a single group, we examined the death rates according to age group. We looked at Alzheimer’s death rates in people between 45 and 54 years old, 55 and 64, 65 and 74, and so on. We found that within every single age group, the Alzheimer death rate was much higher in 2005 than it was in 1980. In other words, deaths from Alzheimer’s were considerably higher for 60 year olds in 2005 than they were in 1980. Worse yet, over that time period and until these days, the Alzheimer’s death rates continued to climb, year by year. Diabetes death rates increased sharply within each age group, just as they did for Alzheimer’s.
Most people think Alzheimer’s is caused by a gene problem.
Alzheimer’s disease occurrences are not strictly genetic. In fact, the vast majority of Alzheimer’s occurs sporadically.
If it’s not genetic, what else could be the cause of Alzheimer’s?
Truly genetic diseases do not change over a 30-year period. That interval is too short to affect rates of genetic diseases that arise only in middle-aged or elderly people. The human breeding, growth, development and aging cycle is much longer than 30 years. In contrast, disease like HIV/AIDS and lung cancer are clearly exposure-related, so their mortality rates can be modified within a short period if the exposure to the disease-causing agents are reduced.
Could diabetes and Alzheimer’s be caused by some types of exposures?
We have reasonable evidence that human exposure to nitrosamines is at the root cause of not only Alzheimer’s, but several other insulin-resistance diseases, including Type 2 diabetes, fatty liver disease, also known as NASH, and visceral obesity.
The elimination of local farms in favor of mega-farms requires transport of food for long distances. To prolong shelf-life, preservatives are added. The problem is worsened with transport of “fresh” foods from across the Pacific Ocean. Nitrites are added to meats and processed foods for flavor and coloring. High levels of nitrates added to fertilizers can be incorporated into produce and then converted to nitrites and finally nitrosamines in the body.
Nitrosamines contaminate many processed foods, including fish, cheeses, hotdogs, ground beef, smoked meats like bacon, smoked turkey and ham, and beer. Originally, nitrites were added to food as preservatives to prevent salmonella infection from contaminated meet. The policy remains in place. Although efforts have been made to reduce the levels, nitrites are still added as preservatives. Over time, Western societies, particularly in the US, have been chronically exposed to increasing amounts of nitrosamines due to continuous consumption of processed foods.
Nitrosamines are well-recognized cancer-causing agents. In high doses, they cause cancers in many organs. One of the main toxins in tobacco is a nitrosamine. However, low chronic exposures have cumulative effects.
Years ago, a few scientists suggested that nitrosamines might cause diabetes. The concept was not pursued until now. We performed experiments in the laboratory and showed that very low, limited exposures to nitrosamines (the type found in food) cause Alzheimer’s-type brain degeneration, dementia, diabetes, fatty liver disease and obesity. Adding high fat to the diet made the disease-causing effects of nitrosamines much worse.
How were these findings reached?
We were working on the idea that insulin resistance in the brain was an important cause of disease and injected another drug into the brain to see what would happen. Instead of getting what we were looking for, we found Alzheimer’s. Very soon after that, I realized that the drug I used was a nitrosamine. A bell went off in my head and suddenly I understood the problem. All of the major diseases related to insulin resistance, which are now epidemic in the United States, could be caused by exposure to low doses of nitrosamines over a period of years.
How can I reduce my risk?
For now, the main message is to stop getting exposed. There are small steps and larger ones. Protect yourself by looking for sodium nitrite on food labels. Avoid processed foods. Eat organically grown foods. Push policies to return farming back to local environments to gain control over how food is produced and eliminate requirements for toxic preservatives. Educate children and provide only healthful food choices. Learn to cook and teach cooking in public schools. Pack a healthful lunch the night before for easy grab-and-go in the morning.
If you want to enter an alternative reality, all you need to do is type words like Jefferson , religion and history into Google. The American right wing's attitude to some aspects of science is deeply troublesome, but so too is their rewriting of their national history. The Jefferson Lies: Exposing the Myths You've Always Believed About Thomas Jefferson, by David Barton, is a case in point. It is endorsed by Glenn Beck despite enormous criticism from historians and publishers.
In July, readers of History News Network voted it the Least Credible History Book in Print for its distortion of history and of Jefferson's views. The particular issues are identified around religion, slavery and the relationship between church and state, which Barton presents among seven lies told about the third president of the United States.
Barton has little to say about Jefferson's intense interest in science. He would have done if Jefferson had lived a couple of generations later, as the statesman then might have accepted the geological evidence of the Earth's age (which he was not inclined to do in the first decade of the century, when there was much dispute among geologists) and Darwin's theory of evolution, and Barton might have had an eighth lie to deal with.
But there is little in established 18th and early 19th century science that the Tea Party would feel the need to reject. This is a reminder of the fact that in Jefferson's time there was no perception of a war between science and religion and, indeed, that the American right do not necessarily have a blanket anti-science approach, but theological, political and ideological issues with particular fields.
However, where Barton does bring up science, he goes rather wrong. The main passage focuses on this Jefferson quote:
Bacon, Locke and Newton, I consider them as the three greatest men that have ever lived, without any exception, and as having laid the foundation of those superstructures which have been raised in the Physical and Moral Sciences.
Quite rightly, of course, Barton can point to the religiosity of these heroes of science, but he glosses over Newton's unorthodoxy, denies Locke's and presents this quote as part of his argument against the lie that Jefferson promoted secular education. This is quite bizarre, turning a blind eye to Locke's advocacy of religious tolerance and the separation of church and state. A quick read of Locke's A Letter Concerning Toleration would put him right.
An interest in science and advocacy of secularism in public life were, and are, by no means necessary bedfellows. Likewise, the interest of leaders and politicians of all stripes in many or most aspects of science and technology, which underpin national and military success in so many areas, goes without saying. Yet Jefferson's interest in science was part of his personal identity in a way that it is hard to imagine the likes of Glenn Beck celebrating.
This summer I visited the American Philosophical Society (APS) in Philadelphia, of which Jefferson was a key early member, to do some research into the Lewis and Clark Expedition across the American continent in 1804-06, a scientific and imperialistic venture that was Jefferson's pet project.
What I found fascinating in reading about this expedition was not just Jefferson's support for a prestige national project, but his close involvement in the scientific training of Merriweather Lewis, his secretary, in preparation, and ready input to discussions about instrumentation. Jefferson was, according to an article on the instruments of the expedition, inordinately fond of an equatorial theodolite he owned, made by London instrument-maker Jesse Ramsden, and thought they should take something similar.
At the APS I dipped into some of Jefferson's correspondence with Robert Patterson, the professor of mathematics at Philadelphia. More than once he wrote to thank Patterson for copies of the Nautical Almanac (the small books of astronomical tables for navigation published by the British Board of Longitude), as well as other scientific tracts, and for advice on buying and repairing instruments.
On 21 March 1811 he added:
before I entered on the business of the world I was much attached to Astronomy & had laid a sufficient foundation at College to have pursued it with satisfaction and advantage. but after 40 years of abstraction from it, and my mathematical acquirement coated over with rust, I find myself equal only to such simpler operations & practices in it as serve to amuse me. but they give me great amusement, and the more as I have some excellent instruments...
I don't suppose that there is anything here that would particularly challenge the Tea Partyers. It is not climate science or evolution, but an enthusiasm for tracking Jupiter's satellites. In any case, Barton's claims have already been thoroughly taken down by historians. And yet, throwing up an image of a Founding Father who enjoyed tinkering with precision instruments, perusing astronomical tables and corresponding with university professors seems as good a response as any to some of the painfully bad history being produced.© 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved.
The (Almost) Brilliance of Representative Dingell and His Friends
Can the longest-sitting member of Congress force the Supreme Court to reconsider its Citizens United decision?
Representative John Dingell (D-MI), the longest-sitting member of Congress, introduced a bill Thursday designed to force the Supreme Court to reconsider its Citizens United decision. Along with at least ten co-sponsors, Dingell's Restoring Confidence in Our Democracy Act, would ban corporations and unions from making independent political expenditures. It would also subject Super PACs to the same contribution limits that exist with other PACs. Dingell intends the bill to provide the factual record which details the negative effects of increased spending in our elections. That factual record, he hopes, will get the Court to reverse itself, and restore Congress' power to limit a form of spending that Dingell (rightly) believes has eroded even further America's confidence in our democracy.
Dingell's bill, however, is effectively two bills-- one that would require the Court to reverse itself, if indeed the new law were upheld, and the other that would not require the Court to reverse itself but would instead give the Court a chance to address a kind of corruption that so far the Supreme Court has ignored. It is unlikely (in the extreme) that the Court is going to reverse itself. But if framed properly, Dingell's bill could well map a way for Congress to staunch the corrupting influence of Super PAC spending without forcing the Court to eat its Citizens United words.
Despite all the ruckus, the holding in Citizens United is actually quite narrow. All the Court decided was that an (effectively) absolute ban on independent political expenditures by corporations could not survive First Amendment review, because nobody could believe that the speech that was being abridged was speech that betrayed quid pro quo corruption. Citizens United is a non-profit corporation. Its desire was to fund the distribution of a film about Hillary Clinton. The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act seemed to forbid such funding, at least from the corporation's treasury. The Supreme Court had to decide whether such an absolute ban should be permitted.
In the past, the Court had upheld limitations on political speech when they were necessary to avoid corruption or the appearance of corruption. So the question for the Court in Citizens United was whether every dollar spent by a corporation (independently of a campaign) to promote one political candidate over another was an instance of corruption.
The Court held -- and was right to hold -- that it wasn't. Not every independent political expenditure is evidence of a bribe or quid pro quo influence peddling. Sometimes, believe it or not, an independent expenditure is just an independent expenditure. So if the only basis the Court has for upholding a restriction on political speech is quid pro quo corruption, or the appearance of quid pro quo corruption, that ground is not solid enough to bear the weight of a complete ban on independent expenditures by corporations or by anyone.
The first part of Dingell's bill is inconsistent with this principle. But interestingly, the second part is not -- or at least, is not necessarily. And if effectively insulated from the constitutional taint of the first part, could provide a critical vehicle for reestablishing a power that Congress certainly should have.
The second part of Dingell's bill simply limits contributions to so called Super PACs, by requiring that they be subject to the same contribution caps that any other PAC must obey. Crucially, the justification for this limit need have nothing to do with quid pro quo corruption.
As I've explained on these pages again and again, the Framers of our Constitution gave us a Republic. By a Republic, they meant a representative democracy. And by a representative democracy, they meant a government that in the legislative branch at least was to be, as Federalist 52 describes it, dependent upon the People alone.
In the 225 years since, Congress has evolved a different dependence -- a dependence not upon the People alone but increasingly, a dependence upon the funders of campaigns as well.
But here's the obvious problem: the Funders are not the People. As I've written again and again, .26 percent of America gives more than $200 to any congressional candidate; .05 percent of America gives the maximum amount to any congressional campaign; .01 percent gives more than $10,000 in an election cycle; through February, .000063 percent of America -- 196 citizens -- gave close to 80 percent of Super PAC contributions. And according to U.S. PIRG and Demos, 1,000 citizens of the United States (or so we assume) have given more than 94 percent of Super PAC contributions so far.
No one could deny that politicians are dependent upon their funders. Nor could anyone believe these funders are a fair representation of the People. And thus, no one should doubt that we have allowed the system our Framers intended to be -- in a word -- corrupted. Ours is not a government with a legislature dependent upon the People alone. It is a government with a legislature dependent upon the People and upon a different and conflicting group -- the Funders.
That gap between the Funders and the People was large enough before Citizens United. It has only grown worse since. And it is this gap that constitutes the corruption of our political system. Not quid pro quo corruption but dependence corruption -- a type of corruption that was if anything more important to the Framers than the corruptions of Rod Blagojevich or Randy Duke Cunningham.
The way to attack this corruption is not to ban all speech by corporations, or unions, or individuals. It is instead to limit contributions that any individual or corporation can make, so that no one could reasonably believe that such contributions created a dependence that conflicted with a dependence upon the People alone. In my view, even that wouldn't be enough: We will end dependence corruption only when Congress enacts a system of citizen-funded campaigns. But Congress should be free to start somewhere, and beginning with the explosion of large and dominating independent contributions is a reasonable first step.
This is precisely what the second part of Representative Dingell's bill does: It doesn't purport to limit the spending of Super PACs; it instead limits the contributions made to Super PACs. And the justification for that limit, at least from the perspective of the Framers, could not be clearer: Congress is fully justified in limiting the role that contributors to Super PACs play, so that Members do not become dependent upon those contributors to Super PACs, and thereby less dependent upon the People.
Not because anyone need believe that Congress is being bought. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't, but that's not the point. The point is dependence: to assure our political system is not dependent on an influence that conflicts with a dependence upon the People alone. The conflict is a corruption. The First Amendment should permit Congress to remedy that corruption.
Dingell deserves real credit here. Among Democrats especially, all the action is either with the Disclose Act, or in the amend the Constitution crowd. But disclosure alone won't solve anything. And there's a better chance that I'd win a gold medal at the Olympics than that the United States Senate is going to muster 67 votes for any constitutional amendment. It takes insight and wisdom to see where reform might be possible -- something I missed in my recent testimony to the Senate. Let's hope it is a point more in the House, and at least 50 in the Senate, come to see.
Copyright 2012 The Atlantic Monthly Group
As parents, we all have that innate desire to protect and provide for our kids. Yet, at some point we must ask ourselves, are we doing too much for them? When do our actions cross the line from offering security and support to embarrassing them in front of their entire basketball team? The mis-attunement in this particular mother’s actions was clear in everything from her lack of pause to the odd choice of items she brought to soothe her son, whose minor injury doubtfully rendered him either thirsty or cold. However, we are all guilty of mild and extreme acts of over-protectiveness and over-parenting that can be very damaging to a developing child.
When we assume our children need more than they do, we are undermining their abilities and hurting their confidence. I first noticed this when I took my 4-year-old daughter to a dance class. When we got there, she happily changed into her outfit and removed her shoes, then asked me to put her hair in a ponytail before she trotted off to class. Moments later a classmate of hers arrived in a stroller, hugging a blanket, and sucking a pacifier. Her father helped her out of her seat, removed her shoes, assured her that her very own personal bag of snacks would be there if she got hungry, and she trotted off to class. That day, my daughter stumbled through the new steps taught in her class, while the other girl spun through the class with the grace and skill of a pro. When she returned to her father, she cried and complained for her pacifier and her snacks.
The scene reminded me that, as parents, we often fail to recognize how capable our children are. Little acts like pushing them in a stroller instead of letting them walk or giving them a snack before they even feel hunger teaches them to believe they need more looking after than they actually do. Society’s recent pro-parenting shift has its positives. Children are people, and they deserve to have a voice within their home. Parents should always aim to treat their kids with respect, interest, and consideration. However, the trend of helicopter parenting has been taken to extremes and, in that, we are also witnessing pro-parenting’s negative effects.
A 2011 PEW Research survey further found that “40% of 18- to 24-year-olds currently live with their parents, and the vast majority of them say they did not move back home because of economic conditions.” Young adults who move out then back in with their parents, whether for financial reasons or not, have led people to refer to them as the Boomerang Generation. Though reasons for this are in part economical and societal, I personally believe there is value in investigating how the raising of our children might play some part in their lack of independence in adulthood.
Many parents are willing to overextend themselves in catering to their children and excessively meeting their needs. They then feel surprised or resentful when their children grow up feeling unable to care for themselves. Doing too much for our kids teaches them to be dependent. Growing up, by its very nature, is a series of weaning experiences for children. From the moment a child is born, they are weaned from the comfort and safety of their mother’s womb. Learning the lessons of how to get their needs met then transitioning to meeting their own needs is not only essential to a person’s survival but to their psychological well-being.
Similarly, many parents tend to offer kids praise as a means of boosting their confidence. While acknowledging our children’s positive traits is healthy and beneficial to their development, offering them empty praise can be just the opposite. A study showed that kids who were rewarded or complimented for menial or unfitting attributes saw no benefit from the praise. Conversely, acclaim offered to kids for real characteristics did have a positive effect on their self-esteem.
Unsubstantiated appraisals only leave kids feeling the pressure that they need to be great all the time to live up to the buildup instead of feeling like they are okay just being who they actually are. We can help our children get a real feeling for themselves by offering them real love and affection, while equipping them with skills that help them feel competent.
A helpful way to look at this is to imagine taking your kids to the park. How much do you let them explore and play independently from you? How much do you interfere and direct their behavior? Are you overly cautious about their safety? Do you discourage them from venturing out on their own? Are you over-attentive to their fears or encouraging of their resilience?
The park example provides a good metaphor for how we raise our children. A parent should be a secure base from which a child can explore the world. At the park, we can let them be independent while always letting them know that we are there to help, support, and guide them in their own unique adventure. We can be standing by when they need us, and we can step aside when they do not. In doing so, we should allow our children to experience the world for themselves.
Often, the reasons it is difficult for us to let our kids explore and develop their autonomy has more to do with us than with our children. As parents, it is invaluable to be aware of when we are using our children to fulfill our own needs. How much does our desire to protect them come from them? And how much does it come from our own need to act a protector? How often are the hugs we give them to provide affection, and how often are they to take affection from them?
So much of parenting involves how we feel about ourselves. As psychologist and author Pat Love has said, the best thing adults can do as parents is to have their needs met by other adults and not by their children. Our kids need us to be the best, most developed, and most fulfilled versions of ourselves in all areas of our lives in order to feel independent and secure in theirs. That way, they can emulate and learn from us without feeling they must fill the voids we experience in our own lives.
When we give our kids too much power, we start to act like victims to our children instead of the teachers, caregivers, and role models we should be. Overindulging, over-rewarding, or babying our children actually serves as a sort of pressure for greatness and a set up for disappointment. The empty acts we mistake for nurturance are at best substitutes for real love and at worst forms of actual abuse. It’s no great coincidence that many of the children we see being spoiled or indulged also appear unhappy and dissatisfied. The most honest proof of good parenting is seeing our child doing well, showing interest, learning skills, finding contentment, and finding him/herself. What we can offer as parents is love, safety, support, and guidance, a strong security from which our children can confidently venture out and independently experience the world.
By MOISES VELASQUEZ-MANOFF
Published: August 25, 2012
IN recent years, scientists have made extraordinary advances in understanding the causes of autism, now estimated to afflict 1 in 88 children. But remarkably little of this understanding has percolated into popular awareness, which often remains fixated on vaccines.Eleanor Davis
It starts with what scientists call immune dysregulation. Ideally, your immune system should operate like an enlightened action hero, meting out inflammation precisely, accurately and with deadly force when necessary, but then quickly returning to a Zen-like calm. Doing so requires an optimal balance of pro- and anti-inflammatory muscle.
In autistic individuals, the immune system fails at this balancing act. Inflammatory signals dominate. Anti-inflammatory ones are inadequate. A state of chronic activation prevails. And the more skewed toward inflammation, the more acute the autistic symptoms.
Nowhere are the consequences of this dysregulation more evident than in the autistic brain. Spidery cells that help maintain neurons — called astroglia and microglia — are enlarged from chronic activation. Pro-inflammatory signaling molecules abound. Genes involved in inflammation are switched on.
These findings are important for many reasons, but perhaps the most noteworthy is that they provide evidence of an abnormal, continuing biological process. That means that there is finally a therapeutic target for a disorder defined by behavioral criteria like social impairments, difficulty communicating and repetitive behaviors.
But how to address it, and where to begin? That question has led scientists to the womb. A population-wide study from Denmark spanning two decades of births indicates that infection during pregnancy increases the risk of autism in the child. Hospitalization for a viral infection, like the flu, during the first trimester of pregnancy triples the odds. Bacterial infection, including of the urinary tract, during the second trimester increases chances by 40 percent.
The lesson here isn’t necessarily that viruses and bacteria directly damage the fetus. Rather, the mother’s attempt to repel invaders — her inflammatory response — seems at fault. Research by Paul Patterson, an expert in neuroimmunity at Caltech, demonstrates this important principle. Inflaming pregnant mice artificially — without a living infective agent — prompts behavioral problems in the young. In this model, autism results from collateral damage. It’s an unintended consequence of self-defense during pregnancy.
Yet to blame infections for the autism epidemic is folly. First, in the broadest sense, the epidemiology doesn’t jibe. Leo Kanner first described infantile autism in 1943. Diagnoses have increased tenfold, although a careful assessment suggests that the true increase in incidences is less than half that. But in that same period, viral and bacterial infections have generally declined. By many measures, we’re more infection-free than ever before in human history.
Better clues to the causes of the autism phenomenon come from parallel “epidemics.” The prevalence of inflammatory diseases in general has increased significantly in the past 60 years. As a group, they include asthma, now estimated to affect 1 in 10 children — at least double the prevalence of 1980 — and autoimmune disorders, which afflict 1 in 20.
Both are linked to autism, especially in the mother. One large Danish study, which included nearly 700,000 births over a decade, found that a mother’s rheumatoid arthritis, a degenerative disease of the joints, elevated a child’s risk of autism by 80 percent. Her celiac disease, an inflammatory disease prompted by proteins in wheat and other grains, increased it 350 percent. Genetic studies tell a similar tale. Gene variants associated with autoimmune disease — genes of the immune system — also increase the risk of autism, especially when they occur in the mother.
In some cases, scientists even see a misguided immune response in action. Mothers of autistic children often have unique antibodies that bind to fetal brain proteins. A few years back, scientists at the MIND Institute, a research center for neurodevelopmental disorders at the University of California, Davis, injected these antibodies into pregnant macaques. (Control animals got antibodies from mothers of typical children.) Animals whose mothers received “autistic” antibodies displayed repetitive behavior. They had trouble socializing with others in the troop. In this model, autism results from an attack on the developing fetus.
But there are still other paths to the disorder. A mother’s diagnosis of asthma or allergies during the second trimester of pregnancy increases her child’s risk of autism.
So does metabolic syndrome, a disorder associated with insulin resistance, obesity and, crucially, low-grade inflammation. The theme here is maternal immune dysregulation. Earlier this year, scientists presented direct evidence of this prenatal imbalance. Amniotic fluid collected from Danish newborns who later developed autism looked mildly inflamed.
Debate swirls around the reality of the autism phenomenon, and rightly so. Diagnostic criteria have changed repeatedly, and awareness has increased. How much — if any — of the “autism epidemic” is real, how much artifact?
YET when you consider that, as a whole, diseases of immune dysregulation have increased in the past 60 years — and that these disorders are linked to autism — the question seems a little moot. The better question is: Why are we so prone to inflammatory disorders? What has happened to the modern immune system?
There’s a good evolutionary answer to that query, it turns out. Scientists have repeatedly observed that people living in environments that resemble our evolutionary past, full of microbes and parasites, don’t suffer from inflammatory diseases as frequently as we do.
Generally speaking, autism also follows this pattern. It seems to be less prevalent in the developing world. Usually, epidemiologists fault lack of diagnosis for the apparent absence. A dearth of expertise in the disorder, the argument goes, gives a false impression of scarcity. Yet at least one Western doctor who specializes in autism has explicitly noted that, in a Cambodian population rife with parasites and acute infections, autism was nearly nonexistent.
For autoimmune and allergic diseases linked to autism, meanwhile, the evidence is compelling. In environments that resemble the world of yore, the immune system is much less prone to diseases of dysregulation.
Generally, the scientists working on autism and inflammation aren’t aware of this — or if they are, they don’t let on. But Kevin Becker, a geneticist at the National Institutes of Health, has pointed out that asthma and autism follow similar epidemiological patterns. They’re both more common in urban areas than rural; firstborns seem to be at greater risk; they disproportionately afflict young boys.
In the context of allergic disease, the hygiene hypothesis — that we suffer from microbial deprivation — has long been invoked to explain these patterns. Dr. Becker argues that it should apply to autism as well. (Why the male bias? Male fetuses, it turns out, are more sensitive to Mom’s inflammation than females.)
More recently, William Parker at Duke University has chimed in. He’s not, by training, an autism expert. But his work focuses on the immune system and its role in biology and disease, so he’s particularly qualified to point out the following: the immune system we consider normal is actually an evolutionary aberration.
Some years back, he began comparing wild sewer rats with clean lab rats. They were, in his words, “completely different organisms.” Wild rats tightly controlled inflammation. Not so the lab rats. Why? The wild rodents were rife with parasites. Parasites are famous for limiting inflammation.
Humans also evolved with plenty of parasites. Dr. Parker and many others think that we’re biologically dependent on the immune suppression provided by these hangers-on and that their removal has left us prone to inflammation. “We were willing to put up with hay fever, even some autoimmune disease,” he told me recently. “But autism? That’s it! You’ve got to stop this insanity.”
What does stopping the insanity entail? Fix the maternal dysregulation, and you’ve most likely prevented autism. That’s the lesson from rodent experiments. In one, Swiss scientists created a lineage of mice with a genetically reinforced anti-inflammatory signal. Then the scientists inflamed the pregnant mice. The babies emerged fine — no behavioral problems. The take-away: Control inflammation during pregnancy, and it won’t interfere with fetal brain development.
For people, a drug that’s safe for use during pregnancy may help. A probiotic, many of which have anti-inflammatory properties, may also be of benefit. Not coincidentally, asthma researchers are arriving at similar conclusions; prevention of the lung disease will begin with the pregnant woman. Dr. Parker has more radical ideas: pre-emptive restoration of “domesticated” parasites in everybody — worms developed solely for the purpose of correcting the wayward, postmodern immune system.
Practically speaking, this seems beyond improbable. And yet, a trial is under way at the Montefiore Medical Center and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine testing a medicalized parasite called Trichuris suis in autistic adults.
First used medically to treat inflammatory bowel disease, the whipworm, which is native to pigs, has anecdotally shown benefit in autistic children.
And really, if you spend enough time wading through the science, Dr. Parker’s idea — an ecosystem restoration project, essentially — not only fails to seem outrageous, but also seems inevitable.
Since time immemorial, a very specific community of organisms — microbes, parasites, some viruses — has aggregated to form the human superorganism. Mounds of evidence suggest that our immune system anticipates these inputs and that, when they go missing, the organism comes unhinged.
Future doctors will need to correct the postmodern tendency toward immune dysregulation. Evolution has provided us with a road map: the original accretion pattern of the superorganism. Preventive medicine will need, by strange necessity, to emulate the patterns from deep in our past.
Moises Velasquez-Manoff is the author of “An Epidemic of Absence: A New Way of Understanding Allergies and Autoimmune Diseases.”