10 ways tech makes life easier for new parents

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(Credit: Robert Kneschke via Shutterstock)

I didn’t expect parenthood would rekindle my relationship with — of all things — my phone. But there I was, with a tiny human attached to me for countless hours a day, my mind swirling with tasks to be done and questions about how to ensure my baby’s safety and health.

I needed to talk to my mom, I needed to chat with my friends, I needed advice from an expert, I needed to buy more diapers! My phone allowed me to do all these things (mostly) in silence, one-handed, at all hours of the day and night. Before you say anything, yes, I spent tons of time tech-free, just breathing in that baby smell. But I also embraced the wealth of sanity-saving, stress-reducing resources that make parenting a little bit easier. Hopefully they’ll help you, too.

Keep track of all the details

  • Sprout Baby + ($4.99). Are you a baby-data geek (or just a typically sleep-deprived new parent who needs lots of help remembering things)? This app lets you log diaper changes, naps, feedings, doctor appointments, milestones, and more. A sharing function allows multiple users to see information on the same kid.
  • WorkFlowy. There’s so much to think about and remember when caring for an infant, it’s common for new parents to become a little forgetful. This tool lets you make and manage lists that sync across all your devices. Jot notes about baby’s firsts, make grocery lists, and check off your to-dos.
  • BabyStats. If you have a Google Home or Amazon Alexa home assistant, you can log everything by voice command while leaving your hands free to take care of baby. You can play back the day’s activities, which is especially helpful when you’re tracking medicine dosages or other times when you need precise information.

Find reliable breastfeeding advice and manage pumping, nursing and mealtimes

  • KellyMom. If you have questions about breastfeeding (and what breastfeeding mom doesn’t?), this is the go-to resource for reliable information on nursing.
  • Baby Nursing — Breastfeeding Tracker (iOS, free) or Milk Maid (iOS, $2.99). To log nursing sessions or keep track of how much you’ve pumped, these apps are my favorites. Google Play also has a lot of options for Android phones as well.
  • Weelicious.com. When baby is ready to transition to solid foods, Weelicious is a great destination for feeding tips and recipes like quinoa banana mash.

Get the low-down on what you do and don’t want to find in baby’s diaper

  • The BabyCenter Poop Guide. This full-color guide isn’t for the squeamish. But if you’re fretting about baby’s ever-changing output, you’ll find that the Poop Guide is a reassuring reference tool.

Buy groceries and eat well when you have no time or energy

  • Instacart. Partner/spouse out of town? Fridge empty? With a growing team of personal shoppers working in 27 states across the U.S., Instacart lets you shop your local grocery store online, and it delivers the same day.
  • Hello Fresh and Blue Apron (nationwide) offer menu planning and deliver pre-prepped ingredients right to your door.
  • And there’s always Eat24, GrubHub, or Seamless (available in most U.S. cities) for food delivery from your favorite restaurant.

Regain your sanity, get reassurance, have a laugh

  • Mom and Dad Are Fighting, Slate’s parenting podcast. Hear different views on hot topics in parenting, and get tips for common parenting hurdles. Hosts Rebecca Lavoie, Gabriel Roth, and Carvell Wallace are lighthearted and frank about their own challenges as parents.
  • The Longest Shortest Time: The Parenting Show for Everyone. From childbirth recovery to talking “birds and bees” with an 8-year-old, topics span a variety of parenting issues. Host Hillary Frank offers a compassionate, thoughtful perspective.

Find out what’s going on with baby while you’re at work

  • Baby Connect (iOS, Android, $4.99). Leaving baby with a caregiver is never easy. Thankfully, an app such as Baby Connect can ease the transition back to work. Caregivers log information about feedings, naps, diapers, and more, and parents receive push notifications on their phones.

Connect with other parents for advice, recipes, and face-to-face meet-ups

  • Facebook mom groups and Google Groups for parents. The support of family and friends is huge when you’re a new parent. But sometimes you just need to hang with other parents who can relate to what you’re going through. Maybe you’re a parent of twins or have an adopted kid; online groups can remind you you’re not alone.

Talk to family members who live across the country

Get that kid to go to sleep (so you can, too)

  • White Noise (iOS, Android, $1.99) or White Noise Free (iOS/Android). Pretty much since his birth, we’ve relied on the White Noise app’s “shower” setting to lull our son to sleep. Great for traveling or for sleepovers at Grandma’s.
  • Soundscapes Relaxation Sleep Mix. Check out the Soundscapes audio tracks on YouTube for ambient music that will put both you and baby in a sleepy mood. And since the tracks are 10 hours long, there’s no worry about a sudden silence waking up your little one.

Share kids’ photos privately

  • Flickr. With 1 TB (that’s 1,000 GB!) of free storage on Flickr, you’ll never have to worry about running out of space. You can create albums and set viewing permissions to friends and family only, so there’s little worry about oversharing or your kids’ bathtub pics going public.
  • iCloud Photo Library. Do you text a zillion photos to your partner or mom? When you add a photo to a shared album in the iCloud, everyone with access gets a notification on his or her iOS device. You get 5 GB free, and plans range from 50 GB for $0.99 a month to 1 TB for $9.99 a month.

Source: New feed

Social media helps officials spot public health threats — but only for the rich?

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(Credit: Kostenko Maxim via Shutterstock)

Think of the last time you had food poisoning. Did you tweet about it? Did you Google your symptoms? Or did you write an angry review on Yelp? The Conversation

Every day, people use the internet to seek and share health information. This opens up exciting new ways for scientists to study the health of a population, an approach known as digital epidemiology.

But, in most cases, we do not know much about the individuals who post this information. We don’t know if the data include people from poor households, or how the data break down according to race, gender or age group. We also don’t know if they include those who are most vulnerable to the disease of interest in a particular study.

Before we can start addressing disparities in digital data, we need to show that these disparities exist. Our study of more than one million Yelp reviews suggests that poorer populations are being left out of digital data used for disease surveillance.

Data detectives

Since digital data are generated in nearly real time, they can be a valuable way for researchers to track disease trends.

For example, health departments in New York, Las Vegas and Chicago can now choose which restaurants to inspect by tracking reports of food poisoning on Twitter and Yelp. They also use the data to monitor disease outbreaks from contaminated food.

However, the evidence suggests that these cutting-edge techniques overlook a major segment of the population. For example, in 2015, a research team led by biologist Samuel Scarpino brought together digital and nondigital data sources to model influenza – from Google searches to ILINet, a nondigital government project that monitors outpatient health care providers.

ILINet might not cover lower socioeconomic populations, Scarpino told me. Adding social media data into his model didn’t seem to mitigate these disparities in representation. The team discovered they could accurately predict influenza hospitalizations for wealthier zip codes in the U.S., but not for poorer ones.

This suggests that other public health surveillance systems powered by digital data likely suffer from the same problems. We wanted to see if similar patterns were reflected in data from Yelp.com, and to better understand what factors are most correlated with U.S. restaurant reviews.

Our study

Yelp provided us with more than 1.5 million reviews posted between 2004 and 2014 for food service businesses in Oregon, Massachusetts and Georgia. We looked at how the volume of reviews changed with seasons and day of the week. We also studied the most recent data, from June 2013 through May 2014, to assess food poisoning reporting at the county level.

Since the Yelp data included both good and bad reviews, we built a machine learning algorithm to extract the bad reviews that talked about food poisoning. Next, we estimated the correlation between reports of food poisoning and various socioeconomic factors, demographic factors and the geographic concentration of food service establishments.

We discovered that traits typically associated with higher socioeconomic status (such as high percentage of residents with higher education or higher income) were consistently positively correlated with reports of food poisoning. For example, the strength of the relationship between the percentage of residents with a bachelor’s degree and reporting of foodborne illness was 0.44, where 0 indicates no association and 1 is a perfect association.

Meanwhile, people who were unemployed, didn’t have health insurance or were living in poverty were less likely to report food poisoning from restaurants.

Our models suggested that counties with a high concentration of restaurants and people with bachelor degrees were most likely to report food poisoning on Yelp.

However, this does not imply that these counties have higher incidences of foodborne illness or outbreaks. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest that populations of low socioeconomic status have higher incidences of foodborne illness. The disparities in reporting of illness could be explained by differences in access to the internet or health and computer literacy.

Dealing with disparities

If we do not monitor populations of low socioeconomic status, then we cannot adequately address their public health concerns.

While these studies hint at disparities in digital data, we need additional demographic data to properly quantify the representation of different populations.

Knowing the demographic and socioeconomic breakdown of the data can inform us about its biases toward particular groups. That can shape how we design research studies and public health surveillance systems.

It can also help us to develop methods to address data limitations, so that we do not continue perpetuating existing health disparities due to poverty, educational inequalities and other factors.

Elaine Nsoesie, Assistant Professor of Global Health, Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, University of Washington

Source: New feed

In the Saudis’ den of extremism, Trump trades advanced weapons for a $200 billion re-election fund

Saudi Philippine

(Credit: Saudi Press Agency via AP)

President Donald Trump’s nine-day-long “tolerance tour” will continue this Friday with a visit to Saudi Arabia. The junket offers Trump a brief respite from the suffocating atmosphere in Washington, where he faces a mounting campaign fueled by anonymous leaks from intelligence officials that is aimed at nothing less than his impeachment and replacement by a more supplicant Republican.

Trump’s ties to Saudi Arabia run deep. During the campaign, even as Trump blamed the Saudi royal family for the 9/11 attacks, he registered eight companies connected to hotel interests in the kingdom. Once Trump was inaugurated, the Saudis returned the favor, paying for rooms at his Washington, D.C., hotel through Qorvis MSLGroup, a Beltway lobbying firm. The rooms were reserved for a group of veterans flown into town by Qorvis to lobby against the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA) congressional legislation that would allow the bereaved family members of 9/11 victims to sue the Saudi government for its alleged role in the attacks.


	
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Many of the veterans had no idea they were acting on behalf of Saudi Arabia, and some, like Tim Cord, staged an open revolt when they realized they had been deceived. “We’re sitting in a room full of retired generals, colonels, men who gave 25 years of their life to this country and they’re being lied to by a bunch of young punks who are using the vet angle to make themselves sympathetic. Why do you think a 60-year-old general would want anything to do with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia?” Cord, a veteran of the Iraq war, complained to the website 28pages.com. “I mean, that’s a pretty heavy thing to assume we’re all going to be cool with.”

Throughout his chaotic tenure, Saudi Arabia has proven to be Trump’s most durable foreign ally, even providing him with political cover after the fallout from his Muslim travel ban. Following a White House meeting this March with Trump and his national security team, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman hailed the president as “a true friend of Muslims who will serve the Muslim World in an unimaginable manner, opposite to the negative portrait of his Excellency that some have tried to promote.”

Ahead of the White House meeting, the Saudis hired a D.C.-based consulting group, Booz Allen Hamilton, to compose a special presentation for the president. Prince Salman walked Trump through the Powerpoint slideshow the firm prepared, outlining a plan to invest at least $200 billion in American infrastructure and open up new business opportunities for U.S. companies inside the kingdom. In exchange, Trump was asked to ink the largest weapons deal in history, forking over the advanced missile defense systems and heavy weapons the Obama had administration had refused to sell. The weapons would then be used to pulverize Yemen.

Trump reportedly accepted Salman’s pitch, but only on the condition that Saudis plow their infrastructure investments into the Rust Belt swing states—Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin—that held the key to his 2020 presidential victory. So far, Trump’s foes in the Democratic Party and the organized liberal “resistance” have shrugged at the reports of his collusion with a foreign theocracy to secure re-election, obsessing instead over nebulous claims of his illicit ties to Russia.

When Trump arrives in Riyadh this week, he plans to deliver a speech that will “demonstrate America’s commitment to our Muslim partners,” according to his National Security Council Director, Gen. H.R. McMaster. The address will likely have less to do with tolerance than with interests that converge around hostility to Iran, the drive to destroy a government in Yemen that is seen as its proxy, and selling the tens of billions in weapons the meat grinder operation requires. The spectacle will nevertheless give the president the chance to bask in the admiring glow of a Muslim ally, countering his image back home as a glowering bigot.

The 31-year-old aide who composed Trump’s speech is Stephen Miller, an ultra-conservative operative who entered the administration under the watch of Steven Bannon, the former Breitbart News editor-in-chief. A key author of Trump’s legally nullified Muslim ban, Miller was at the vanguard of a generation of right-wing activists that cohered around the post-9/11 politics of Islamophobia. Orchestrated with the full cooperation of the Saudi royal family, the spectacle of Trump’s speech will represent Miller’s crowning moment, helping him paper over his anti-Muslim past and consolidating his role as one of the president’s most trusted spin artists.

The Islamophobia Industry’s Alex P. Keaton

During his days at Santa Monica High School, a bastion of coastal liberalism, Miller distinguished himself as a hyper-active conservative troll in the mold of Alex P. Keaton. The adolescent activist frequently phoned in to the right-wing Larry Elder Show to complain about multiculturalism and the persistent presence of undocumented immigrants, leading to his discovery by David Horowitz, the radical leftist-turned-extreme right provocateur.

In 2007, while Miller was a sophomore at Duke University, Horowitz was busy spreading his “Islamofascism Awareness Week” to campuses across the country. Speaking before College Republican chapters, and often flanked by a cavalcade of grim private security guards, Horowitz railed against Islamic extremism and Islam in general, helping to popularize the narrative of creeping Sharia that paints Muslim immigrants to the West as a radical fifth column.

Horowitz’s national campaign provided a new generation of right-wing activists like Miller with a flood of outside resources and the sense that they were leading a transcendent civilizational mission. At Duke, Horowitz recruited Miller to establish a “Terrorism Awareness Project” that aimed to correct what he saw as academia’s insufficient interest in “Islamofascism.”

“American kids attend school in an educational system corrupted by the hard left. In this upside-down world, America is the villain and Jihadists the victims of our foreign policy, Miller wrote at the time. “Instead of opening eyes, we are fastening blindfolds.”

As an advisor to the Duke Conservative Union, Miller worked closely with a rising right-wing activist named Richard Spencer. The duo organized screeningsof anti-Muslim propaganda films and brought the white nationalist pundit Peter Brimelow to campus for a “debate” on immigration. After graduation, Spencer emerged as the poster boy of American white nationalism, promoting discredited theories of race science in glossy mainstream magazine spreads. Miller went a more mainstream route, taking a job in the office of Sen. Jeff Sessions, where he helped his boss stifle a plan to put millions of qualified undocumented immigrants on the path to citizenship.

During his days at Duke, Miller got in touch with what he saw as his Jewish roots thanks to Rabbi Ben Packer, an open supporter of the Jewish fascist warlord Meir Kahane and the self-proclaimed “rabbi on campus.” Packer invited Miller on a trip Israel through the Birthright Israel program, which provides all-expenses-paid tours to young Jewish adults across the West. As soon as Miller arrived, Packer took him straight to the religious nationalist settler communities that surrounded the occupied West Bank city of Hebron.

“Stephen [Miller] thanked me for my efforts to show them around and remarked that ‘putting on the Tefilin [Jewish holy phylacteries] at Machpelah was one of the most spiritual experiences of my life,’” Packer recalled. [Packer, Arutz Sheva] [Michael Brown, EI]

Next, Packer tapped his contacts in Jerusalem to link Miller with a filmmaker who was building on the close bond between the pro-Israel lobby and the new generation of right-wing activists in the West. He was Raphael Shore, a Canadian-Israeli activist who worked at Aish HaTorah. Housed in a giant complex in Jerusalem’s occupied Old City, Aish was a cipher for millions in donations from wealthy supporters of Israel. The center coordinated directly with Israel’s Foreign Ministry to amplify Israel’s public relations across the West. At Aish, Shore oversaw the creation of a film company, the Clarion Project, that became one of the central nodes of Islamophobic propaganda.

During the 2008 American presidential election campaign, Shore’s Clarion Fund distributed 28 million DVDs of a film called “Obsession,” slipping it into newspapers as inserts that reached residents of swing states around the country. Obsession introduced viewers to the self-styled experts of the Islamophobia industry, from Steven Emerson to Robert Spencer, and to the narrative of creeping Sharia. The mass mailing also capitalized on an ongoing right-wing disinformation effort to portray the Democratic Party’s nominee, Senator Barack Obama, as a secret Muslim born outside the United States — a Trojan Horse for a foreign Islamic agenda.

By introducing Middle America to the politics of Islamophobia, Shore had accomplished what Steven Bannon had tried and failed to do when he shopped a script for a documentary about a Muslim takeover of America called the “Islamic States of America.”

Partners in Extremism

Given Miller’s role as a pioneer of Islamophobic politicking, it might seem ironic that he has been tapped to compose a speech promoting friendship between Washington and the “Muslim world.” From the Saudi standpoint, however, geopolitical imperatives have always superseded any concern for the wellbeing of Muslims or Arabs outside its immediate ambit. Since the high colonial days, the House of Saud has functioned as a handmaiden of Western imperial powers, assisting their longstanding goal of undermining Arab nationalism, protecting Israel and stifling the spread of communism.

During the covert war the U.S. waged against Afghanistan’s Soviet-backed government, Saudi Arabia matched each dollar the CIA spent on the arming and training of the Afghan mujahedin. As Saudi Arabia pumped tens of billions of dollars into propagating its ultra-sectarian strain of Wahhabi Islam across the Middle East, it directed its most zealous citizens into Afghanistan through the Services Bureau funded by private Gulf donors like Osama bin Laden. The covert war contributed directly to the fall of the Soviet Union and simultaneously turned loose the scourge of international jihadism.

The architect of the “Afghan trap strategy,” former National Security Director Zbigniew Brzezinski, freely acknowledged that the demands of empire outweighed any consideration he might have had for national security. “Compared to the Soviet Union, and to its collapse,” he commented to the filmmaker Samira Goetschel in 2006, “the Taliban were unimportant.”

During the Arab Spring, the Saudi military directly intervened to crush a citizen uprising in Bahrain. Thanks to the kingdom’s critical assistance, the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet was able to hold on to the base that represented the most important American military asset in the Persian Gulf. Next, the Saudis shelled out millions to prop up Abdel Fatah el-Sisi’s military junta in Egypt, crushing the country’s first democratically elected government and putting the January 25 revolution to bed once and for all. Across the region, meanwhile, the Gulf monarchy cranked up its private media megaphone and activated Wahhabi religious proxies to drown out the cosmopolitan, reformist politics of the Arab Spring’s youth activists with regressive, sectarian messaging.

In Syria, Saudi Arabia has reverted to the role it played in Afghanistan, partnering with Washington to propel a proxy war aimed at weakening a Russian ally. Thanks to the flow of arms from Western and Gulf powers, Al Qaeda’s local affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra, has taken control of large swaths of territory and appeared on the battlefield with sophisticated American weaponry. The Syrian rebel group that has received the bulk of Saudi support, Jaysh al-Islam (the Army of Islam), currently controls the city of East Ghouta, where it has paraded captive Alawite soldiers and their wives in cages, using them as human shields. In a video message to his supporters, the group’s late leader, Zahran Alloush—the son of a Saudi cleric — pledged to ethnically cleanse Syria of religious minorities: “Oh, you enemies of Islam… we will step on your heads,” he rumbled into a camera.

In Yemen, the special relationship between Washington and Riyadh has helped generate perhaps the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Thanks to the extensive assistance provided to the Saudi military by both the Obama and Trump administrations, Yemen now faces a rapidly spreading cholera epidemic while child malnutrition is at an “all time high,” according to the UN. By reducing the country to a failed state, the U.S. and its Gulf allies have provided a critical shot in the arm to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

In a report published this February, the International Crisis Group concluded, “The Yemeni branch of al-Qaeda (AQ) is stronger than it has ever been. As the country’s civil war has escalated and become regionalized,” the international conflict resolution group found, “its local franchise, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), is thriving in an environment of state collapse, growing sectarianism, shifting alliances, security vacuums and a burgeoning war economy.”

As in the past, American foreign policy in the Middle East has sacrificed national security and human rights for the dubious pursuit of empire. The leading edge of its cynical project is Saudi Arabia, the Arab Spring’s destroyer, one of the world’s leading exporters of extremism and the top importer of American arms.

Trump and the Islamophobes he has empowered might be seen as the enemy of Muslims back home, but in Riyadh, they are received as natural partners in a geopolitical death dance that grooves to the drums of war.

Source: New feed

The best sex advice I never got

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(Credit: Getty/Golibo/Cosmopolitan)

As the daughter of a sex therapist, the question I am most often asked at cocktail parties and in the carpool line is: What was it like growing up with a sex therapist as a mom? The question comes with the supposition that my mother dispensed a lot of sex advice, and that growing up with sex as an everyday dinner table topic somehow unlocked a goddess-like sexual prowess. That knowing what was in the box of sex toys in the closet somehow translated to mad sex skills. That having a library of pornography in the family room made me weirdly sexually proficient (whatever that would mean) or taught me lots of sex tricks (whatever those might be). I wish I could say that I know the secret to having more orgasms, or better yet, superhuman orgasms. Or that I am a repository of sexual secrets that cannot be found elsewhere, not even on the internet. But truth be told, who needs sex talk at the dinner table when all the advice you need can be found online?

One just has to google “best sex advice” to see that women’s magazines and their online companions seem to have it covered. Redbook promises the “Hottest Sex of Your Life;” Cosmopolitan’s “50 Best Sex Tips” are as fun, raunchy and useful as ever. Marie Claire has eight tips for being the “Best He’s Ever Had.” Even Buzzfeed schools us with their best sex tips, the ones that are actually helpful. If women’s words were the ground out of which all advice grew, the internet now gives men advice in their own image. Thus, Esquire tells their brothers they are never too old to learn new tricks and Maxim reveals “10 Strangely Fascinating Sex Facts You Need to Know.”

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What to make of all the sybaritic possibilities unearthed online? How can we possibly feel adequate amid a world full of flashing fonts that look distinctly like body parts promising to increase our inner sex diva’s drive? Why even try to measure up when corporations pour billions into letting us know that when the moment is right you shouldn’t have to pause to take a pill or stop to find a bathroom?

All this might make you wonder whether there is any advice out there for us mortals. If you dig way down, like to the 84 millionth hit, you might come across a blog post like Psychology Today’s “Why Couples Have Sex Even When One Partner Isn’t in the Mood.” Dr. Sarah Murray notes that in the real world we don’t always get to have hot, raunchy, better-than-yesterday’s sex. And woe to the sap who thinks she’s an utter failure if she’s not quite grooving that way. In the Great Pacific Garbage Patch of internet sex advice, the notion that great sex is all about hallucinatory climaxes and Guinness World Record-breaking acrobatics can leave the rest of us questioning the efficacy of our perceptions and our gross motor skills.

What listicles and snarky sex advice stories rarely address is the cryptic convergences that go into great sex. Take Murray’s mind-blowing suggestion that there are countless reasons to have sex beyond just the desire to get off (she cites a study that found 237 unique reasons people report for getting down and dirty). All good for a Psychology Today blog post, but that headline — “6 Reasons Why Getting Off Isn’t All That” — probably won’t make the top 10-millionth hit on a Google search (although it may be found in the vicinity of “Top 10 Ways to Stop Being Too Tired for Sex”). But, sadly, none of that is as deeply buried in the cloud as my favorite sex advice listicle: “5 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Take Sex Advice from the Internet.” That one pretty much nails it.

Source: New feed

WATCH: Dutch film “The Dubious Friends of Donald Trump”: Connecting the dots on Trump’s ties with the Russian mob

Donald Trump

(Credit: AP/Getty/Salon)

As the U.S. continues its investigations into the Trump campaign’s possible collusion with Russia to influence the U.S. presidential election, the scandal has evolved into a potential global conspiracy and has generated widespread interest abroad.

A new Dutch documentary released earlier this month, called “The Dubious Friends of Donald Trump,” appears to provide the clearest thread to date between President Donald Trump’s business dealings and the Russian mob.

The two-part film, produced by the Dutch television documentary program Zembla, features attorneys, a senator and foreign intelligence analysts who are probing Trump’s past ties with Russians. Zembla has provided Salon an English-language version of the film.

The documentary explores how Russia could have damning intelligence about Trump and how President Vladimir Putin could use that information to compromise the White House.

“The danger plays into a well-established Russia toolbox of foreign influence,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse says in the documentary. “One of the ways in which the Russian government manipulates governments around the world is to build a network of people who they can control.”

“The Dubious Friends of Donald Trump” claims that Russia may already have compromising material on Trump related to his business partnership with the Bayrock Group, an international real estate company with alleged connections to the Russian mob. The Bayrock Group helped finance one of the Trump Organization’s crown jewels, Trump SoHo in lower Manhattan.

Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist Michael D’Antonio, who has written a book about Trump tells the filmmakers the sources of Trump’s wealth likely pose a big problem for the president. “He always says, ‘I have no business in Russia.’ He never says, ‘Russians have no business with me,’” D’Antonio says at one point in the film.

Also in the documentary, Malcolm Nance, a foreign intelligence analyst for MSNBC, offers this acute summation of Trump’s relationship with Russia: “If you are a gambling addict and you owe somebody a lot of money, you would never insult your bookie.”

Watch on Salon both segments of “The Dubious Friends of Donald Trump,” including “The Russians” and “King of Diamonds.”

Source: New feed

The Instant Pot cult is real

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(Credit: (CC) Flickr/mush m.)

This article originally appeared on TASTE, an online magazine for today’s home cook—reporting from the front lines of dinner.

TasteIt may seem surprising that in the 21st century, home cooks are going absolutely nuts for pressure cookers. Slow cookers, too, a Super Bowl party fixture and throwback to 1970s-era Crock-Pot dinners, are a top-searched term on high-traffic recipe sites like MyRecipes.com. But what attracted people to these kitchen appliances in the first place remains the allure today: convenience. The ability to make healthy meals on the cheap, and fast, in the case of the pressure cooker, or, in the case of the slow cooker, in absentia.

Enter the Instant Pot, a multiuse countertop cooker that may be the world’s first viral kitchen appliance. Version 1.0, introduced in 2010 by a company based in Ottawa, Canada, was created as an electronic slow cooker/pressure cooker hybrid, and it swiftly established itself as a culinary disruptor. Just like that, home cooks no longer had to choose between cooking slow food fast or setting it and forgetting it. They could do both, and with a foolproof electronic version, supervising a sometimes terrifying stovetop pressure cooker became a thing of the past.

In the most basic terms, a pressure cooker is a sealed vessel that holds steam during cooking. The pressure builds in the pot, increasing the temperature at which water boils. This raises the cooking temperatures of what’s in the pot, and subsequently decreases cooking time. Cooking stops when the pressure releases—the part that scares (and possibly scars) people. While new stovetop models are incredibly safe and the chances of them spewing like geysers are slim, there still is a negative stigma attached to these devices.

The pressure cooker has been a cooking implement since 1679, when the French physicist Denis Papin introduced “A New Digester or Engine for Sofning [sic] Bones.” The device, as Papin’s name suggests, lends itself to culinary miracles. Beans transform from dry to tender in 20 minutes without presoaking. A frozen hunk of meat melts into a rich stew in the same amount of time. Bone broth, which takes up to 24 hours on the stovetop, is done in two hours under pressure. “It’s what I call fast-forward cooking,” says pressure cooker guru Lorna Sass, the author of Pressure Perfect, who, for the record, has never used an Instant Pot. “You throw the dried porcini in, the risotto rice in, broth, you have a delicious risotto that’s maybe, start to finish, ten minutes.”

These days, pressure cookers are sophisticated. Like the iPhone, every year or so, Instant Pot releases updates, piling on features like Bluetooth connectivity in the Instant Pot Smart, which allows remote use with the help of an app. The Instant Pot 7-in-1 edition, released in December 2013, offers additional rice cooking, yogurt making, steaming, warming, and sauté functions (the latter allows you to brown ingredients in the same pot you’re cooking in, something a traditional slow cooker can’t do). This model is the #1 best-selling electric pressure cooker on Amazon, with other Instant Pot models occupying the top five slots in that category. At press time, Instant Pot electric pressure cookers are the fourth, fifth, and twelfth overall best-sellers in Amazon’s Kitchen & Dining department. Though Amazon wouldn’t disclose numbers, a press release from the online retailer stated that 215,000 Instant Pots were sold on Prime Day alone in 2016 (compared to only 90,000 televisions). A spokesperson for Instant Pot confirmed that 2016 marked yet another year of double-digit growth.

Instant Pot, which has a surprisingly primitive web site for an Amazon phenom, has limited its advertising to the social media variety, betting on the power of online word of mouth. According to a story on NPR, the company gave away more than 200 of its appliances to bloggers and “influencers” to encourage cyber-gushing in the form of recipes and testimonials. The Internet is flooded with videos by pros and amateurs alike created specifically for the device, leaving little guesswork when it comes to how to make, say, bouillabaise or ribs. Big-time blogs such as Nom Nom Paleo, the Martha Stewart of cave-person cooking, according to The New York Times, has an entire section of the site devoted to Instant Pot recipes. The affordable price point helps, too: The 7-in-1 Instant Pot costs around $99, versus almost three times as much for other highly rated electric pressure cookers.

The power of the Instant Pot is real. Nili Barrett, whose Instant Pot tutorials are among the most-watched on YouTube—with more than 132,000 views for her whole-cooked chicken—started her channel as a way to keep in touch with friends. When she began posting Instant Pot recipes, her star rose. “Instant Pot users would share my videos with their friends,” says Barrett. “That’s when my popularity grew.” Now she sees a spike in views and subscribers around Amazon Prime Day and Black Friday, when Instant Pots go on sale. “I’ve gotten 3,000 new subscribers since Black Friday, which is a 40 percent increase in the last three months.”

It’s hard to tell what came first—the pressure-cooked chicken or the pressure-cooked egg. Does the Instant Pot sell because of clamoring fans, or do the fans clamor once they’ve bought the device? It seems like one hand feeds the other. The official Instant Pot Community Facebook page, nearly 400,000 members strong, has become a pressure-cooking guild of sorts and home to some of the most die-hard members of the online community. When I joined the group to ask whether it was normal for the pressure release valve to come right off the lid of a new Instant Pot, I got 11 responses in 10 minutes. The users are so active, a lingua Instant Pot has even developed among them. NPR = natural pressure release. QR stands for Quick release. PIP is Pot-in-Pot cooking. “A lot of people are in what is called the Instant Pot cult,” says Barrett. “They want to make the only appliance in their kitchens the Instant Pot, and they want to make everything in there.”

But some people still prefer the straightforward slow cooker. “In the pressure cooker, as soon as you get it off to pressure, you can’t just pause it, open it and add something new,” says chef Hugh Acheson, a Top Chef judge and the author of a forthcoming book of slow cooker recipes. “In the slow cooker, you can add incrementally through the process.” With the Instant Pot, you can do both.

 

 

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Fearing deportation, parents worry about undocumented kids in medicaid program

Doctors Patients Firearms

(Credit: AP Photo/LM Otero)

Luz felt relieved and grateful when she learned that her 16-year-old son qualified for full coverage under Medicaid. Now, she worries that the information she provided to the government health program could put her family at risk of deportation.

Luz’s son is one of nearly 190,000 children who have enrolled in Medi-Cal — California’s version of the federal Medicaid program for people with low incomes — since California opened it to undocumented children last year. Luz, her husband and her son came to Merced, Calif., from Mexico without papers about 10 years ago. Luz asked that the family’s last name not be used, for fear of being identified by federal immigration authorities.

In the current political climate, immigration and health advocates worry that children, like Luz’s son, will drop out of Medi-Cal and that new kids won’t enroll out of concern that personal information may be used to deport families.

Luz would need to renew her son’s coverage in October, but she remains undecided even though the program paid for his hospital visit when he injured a foot. “I’m still thinking about it,” she said.

Last May, the state Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) implemented the new “Medi-Cal for All Children” law allowing California children under 19 to receive full Medi-Cal benefits, including dental care and mental health, regardless of their immigration status. Previously, undocumented children could receive only emergency care through Medi-Cal.

California followed Illinois, Massachusetts, New York, Washington and the District of Columbia in offering state-supported health coverage to children in the country illegally.

The federal government pays for a significant portion of California’s Medi-Cal program, as it does for all states. But expanded coverage for undocumented kids is funded by the state.

From last May through April 6, 189,434 undocumented children signed up for the program, according to the most recent state data. The health care services department estimates that another 61,000 children are eligible but not enrolled. Advocates say now is the time for a push to sign up these “harder-to-reach” children and to encourage those already in the program to stay.

Immigrant families have become more reluctant to share personal information with government programs because of the Trump administration’s planned changes in health care and immigration policies, according to a recent survey of 62 individuals working for pediatric practices, community clinics, local public health departments and hospitals serving immigrant communities throughout the state.

Immigrants are also increasingly skipping doctor’s appointments because of similar concerns, according to the survey, conducted in March by the advocacy group Children Now.

Kelly Hardy, Children Now’s managing director of health policy, said some families even have sought to withdraw their children from the Medi-Cal program because they fear that their immigration status might be shared with immigration officials.

“Holding on to the kids who have recently enrolled is going to become critically important,” Hardy said. She said she hopes families will see that the coverage is a boon to their health and will not be scared away.

In an email last week, the DHCS reiterated to California Healthline that an applicant’s immigration status is “only used for the purposes of determining Medi-Cal eligibility.”

But that doesn’t eliminate the worry for some parents.

“This fear is horrible. We don’t know who to trust,” Luz said.

Before the coverage-for-all law took effect last year, undocumented children could get coverage through the Healthy Kids insurance program in some California counties. However, many of those children have been transferred to Medi-Cal, and the Healthy Kids programs are closing down.

Carlos Jimenez, a health policy advocate at the Mixteco Community Organizing Project in Oxnard, Calif., said the nonprofit doubled its enrollment assistance efforts after the law was implemented.

Community health educators known as promotoras, spread word about the new law in farm fields, in front of supermarkets and outside churches. Last year, enrollment counselors saw up to 400 people a month who had questions about Medi-Cal, the majority looking to enroll their children, Jimenez said.

But after the November presidential election, enrollment counselors at Mixteco saw the number of people seeking help drop by nearly half, Jimenez said. Staffers had expected more inquiries about renewals by now, he said.

Most people ask whether enrolling an undocumented child would bring any problems with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, Jimenez said. “We tell them their information is safe. But even then, they’re afraid.”

The Children Now survey showed that participants had questions about the future of Medi-Cal for undocumented children — in particular, whether it would continue if the Affordable Care Act were replaced.

In an interview with California Healthline in February, Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, who authored the Medi-Cal for All Children law, said there was no reason for people to be concerned about the program’s durability.

Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown continues to make this program a priority, Lara said, noting that California is spending $279.5 million to continue benefits for undocumented kids this year. That’s up from the $188 million it provided for the program last year.

Health advocates in California are hoping to extend the program to young adults. Earlier this month, the California Immigrant Policy Center and Health Access California, launched an online petition requesting that full Medi-Cal benefits be made available to people ages 19 to 26.

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Whose line is it anyway? Humor and hopelessness in “I Love Dick”

Chris Kraus

Chris Kraus

Seventeen years ago, the writer and filmmaker Chris Kraus and I did a reading together at Halcyon, a now defunct coffee house in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. Kraus’s first novel, “I Love Dick,” had come out a few years earlier to modest success, a reality which I found flabbergasting. The little yellow Semiotext(e) Native Agents paperback had changed the way I thought about writing and art. I spent an inordinate amount of time talking about “I Love Dick” and getting people to read it, including my mother, who informed me that Sylvère Lotringer, Kraus’s then-husband, a Columbia professor, critic and cultural theorist well known for introducing Baudrillard and Paul Virilio to U.S. intellectual types, wasn’t really French or even Polish but Hungarian! We argued back and forth about this. My mother won.

That night at Halcyon, however, Kraus read an excerpt from her second novel, “Aliens & Anorexia,” and I read a terrible scene from my first unpublished novel, “Whore of Babylon,” in which the protagonist goes for a hallucinatory run in Prospect Park.  Afterwards, Chris came up to me. She was with Sylvère and it was amusing to see this infamous academic and the author of “Overexposed: Perverting Perversions” standing next to a giant fuzzy lamp shaped like a banana as Kraus and I chatted about each other’s work. “I love what you read,” Kraus told me. “It was about running and rage.”

To understand the import of this moment, even “I Love Dick” finally being made into an eight-episode series on Amazon, co-created and produced by Jill Soloway (“Transparent”) who also directed two of the episodes, you have to go back in time. Not merely to the bygone era of Halcyon and the early days of still-affordable, gentrifying Brooklyn or even as far back as 1997, when I happened to meet Kraus through a friend of mine who was writing an article about “I Love Dick” for the Forward; or even to 1955, when Kraus was born in the Bronx; but to 1936 or thereabouts, when the French philosopher, activist and mystical anorexic Simone Weil was scribbling in the infamous notebooks which would posthumously form “Gravity and Grace” and cause many a depressed college student to lose their mind. Note: “Gravity & Grace” is the name of Chris’s failing but ultimately redemptive film in “I Love Dick.”

Weil herself, a classmate of Simone de Beauvoir, is also one of subjects in Kraus’s “Aliens & Anorexia.” If you’re a Krausologist, you know that her books are never about just one topic or person, rather they are a kaleidoscope of references both literary and cultural. Thus, Simone Weil the character, or in this case, the alien in question, becomes a living, breathing entity as well as the embodiment of the ideas she espouses: starvation and Marxism especially. “Anorexia is a violent breaking of the chain of desire,” Kraus writes, as she stares into her friend’s kitchen cabinets. Is this a serious moment of private reflection — Kraus’s writing is at once deeply personal and unfiltered — a theoretical construct or an inappropriate bon mot? Answer: d) all of the above.

You might ask, what’s so funny about a French mystical philosopher dying of anorexia during WWII? Or a then-little-known author with a case of Crohn’s and an eating disorder married to a schmucky academic and obsessing over a media theorist who doesn’t give AF? To the uninitiated, admittedly, not a whole heck of a lot. But to others, who see the human condition in all its disgusting, unfair, and ultimately humorous glory, Kraus is funny and perceptive above all else. Yes, of course she is a feminist and her writing is about gender, desire, power and agency, but what Jill Soloway and Sarah Gubbins (“I Love Dick” co-creator/writer/ producer) both understand innately about Kraus and her character Chris, played by the always amazing Kathryn Hahn ( “Transparent”), is that she’s every woman, only a funnier, more amped up, brilliant version — like Mary Tyler Moore if Mary Tyler Moore had been a stripper and read Flaubert.

“There’s no pretension in Chris, either the character or the author or artist,” says Sarah Gubbins. “It’s the language she speaks in her emotional and intellectual sphere. You can’t bifurcate the two of them. In the writers’ room, we were obsessed with picking up the book and reading from it every day. It was almost like a Bible group.”

“I didn’t start out writing ‘I Love Dick’ as a book necessarily,” Kraus tells me. “I intentionally wrote it as a comedy. I wanted it to be entertaining like ‘Dangerous Liaisons.’ It’s like what Tim Berrigan said: ‘Poetry must be amusing, like the muses, but also amusing.’ By the same token, writing a book is a seduction. You’re performing a seduction of the reader. In this sense, the reader is Dick, but he’s really a canvas. We project everything onto him and then we almost forget about him.”

Though many critics assert Kraus invented a new form with “I Love Dick,” this may be because they are uncomfortable with the book’s humor. True, there is an almost willy-nilly layering of many genres: literary fiction, essay, memoir, epistolary novel and art criticism to create something akin to autofiction — Kraus describes the genre as “Lonely Girl Phenomenology,” though Gubbins simply calls it “graphomania” —  yet the book flows seamlessly through “The Yellow Wallpaper” of Kraus’s emotional landscape to arrive at a well-placed punchline. That the writer herself is often the punchline of her own jokes is part of the Theater of Cruelty, an in-joke that perhaps only an Artaudian like Sylvère might get, but then again, it’s never clear for whom she’s writing the novel beyond the three people in her love triangle. Watching, the reader feels voyeuristic, as if laughter must be stifled. As though you’re privy to something oddly pure.

In the novel, Chris, a 39-year-old experimental filmmaker, has followed her husband Sylvère, a professor, to Southern California on his sabbatical, where after a single dinner and a group sleepover due to inclement weather, she develops a crush on Sylvère’s colleague Dick (Cal Arts professor Dick Hebdige IRL). Instead of getting upset at his wife’s crush, Sylvère suggests that Chris write Dick a letter to tell him she has the hots for him. She complies, first writing one, then countless letters that evoke a certain head-smacking, oh-no-she-didn’t catharsis. Even Sylvère joins in on the fun, and the the couple takes turns passing the laptop between them, dropping references to “Madame Bovary,” drinking coffee and laughing. They make love for the first time in long while. The game unites the couple, until, of course, it doesn’t. Shit gets crazy.

“I’m attracted to her bravery in her writing,” Gubbins says. “Her ability to act when she felt moved even when it was insane or embarrassing. It’s like that Samuel Beckett quote from ‘Endgame’: ‘Nothing is funnier than unhappiness.’”

What’s also remarkable about the book is not so much Chris’s seemingly relentless pursuit of Dick, a man she barely knows, or the more than 90 pages of single-spaced letters she writes and sends to him detailing her obsession, but the art she makes out of it regardless. Her marriage takes a downward spiral that is both her fault and not her fault. (Sylvère, a child survivor of the Holocaust, is less than the ideal, loving husband. You’d have to read “Torpor,” the stunning prequel to “I Love Dick,” to chart the real downfall of their marriage.)

“This book isn’t the first book to present a complicated female anti-hero,” Kraus says. “I just finished writing a biography of Kathy Acker and she writes herself all over the page as a convoluted, fucked-up girl, literally, philosophically and intellectually. One of the goals of feminism is to eliminate that very question in culture and art. Why isn’t Jonathan Franzen asked if he is a masculinist in his art? The underlying assumption is that women have failed to make universal art because we’re trapped in the personal, but the female experience is the universal experience. Why not universalize the personal and make it the subject?”

In fact, both “I Love Dick” the novel and the show also seek to flip the script on the male gaze and reify the narrative with the woman as subject. Just in case you never leave the house, the world is created by men, for men with their precious eyeballs in mind. Women are objects. Men are funny. This lens infiltrates our everyday lives and invades our thinking until we contort ourselves to fit into its narrative and get boob jobs. It’s why Lena Dunham’s ubiquitous vagina enrages us as much as Chris’s deliberate form of graphomania forces us to cringe in spite of our own similar late-night drunk-dials. Is “I Love Dick” an exegesis on schizophrenia written as a love letter or an unwitting trip up someone’s hoo-ha? Is this thing on?

When Chris Kraus and I said farewell that night in Halcyon, I remember feeling a sense of discomfiture. Had I sounded smart enough? Did I mispronounce Simone Weil’s last name? Did Chris like me? My friend and I were renting the house in Thurman, New York, that summer where much of “I Love Dick” had taken place and I was giddy about this, but something still felt incomplete. She understood my chapter! As she put on her jacket, I grabbed her by the arm and she turned her face, that Jewish face, toward mine. I can’t remember what I said, but I know I was the subject.

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Houston hospital is checking to see if patients’ cupboards are bare

vegan_vegetables

(Credit: leonori via Shutterstock)

Sherry King had lost her job as a dental assistant and was stretching her food, sometimes going without any fresh fruit or vegetables. But the suburban Houston resident didn’t reach out for any help — even from her own relatives, whom she didn’t want to worry.

Then she switched to a new doctor late last year. “They asked me, ‘Do I have enough food? Do I have access to nutritious food?’ ” the 51-year-old recalled. “When they asked me that, it made me cry.” That prompted the medical practice to take note of her situation, and a clinician soon introduced King to several local food banks that carry fresh produce and some meat, such as chicken.

Nearly 1 in 8 Americans live with some degree of food insecurity, according to the most recent data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Increasingly, doctors and nurses are realizing that they need to ask directly about food stress, said John Weidman, deputy executive director at The Food Trust, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit organization seeking to improve food access. “This is not naturally going to come up in conversations.” Otherwise, he said, patients with a near-bare cupboard might buy cheaper but unhealthful food or skimp on prescriptions or other medical care to avoid going hungry.

Starting in fall 2015, clinicians at Houston-based Memorial Hermann Health System began to examine the food struggles among patients at four medical sites, including the physician practice where King gets care, as well as emergency rooms and 10 school-based clinics in areas with high rates of poverty. They’ve asked patients two questions: Did you run out of food in the prior month, or did you think that you would? Depending upon the location surveyed, 11 percent to 30 percent said they did.

There’s been “some surprise at the numbers,” said Carol Paret, the system’s chief community health officer and a senior vice president. “That’s one of the things that the doctors have realized — you can’t tell this just by looking at somebody.”

This summer, clinicians at Memorial Hermann will expand their effort across the 15-hospital system, routinely asking hospitalized patients, along with patients seeking care at roughly 225 physician practices affiliated with Memorial Hermann, about their food supply, Paret said.

In the process, preconceptions are being debunked, Paret said. Even obese patients might be coping with food shortages or loading up on high-calorie foods during the limited stretches when it’s available, she said. Senior citizens barely eking by on a fixed income might wear their nicer clothes for an outing to the doctor’s office, creating the perception they’re doing fine financially.

Amid “the hidden pockets of poverty” in suburbia, someone who has been laid off might put every dollar into keeping their house and car, with little left to fill the refrigerator, Weidman said. The suburban practice where King is treated — staffed by more than 50 physicians and physician residents — is located southwest of Houston in Sugar Land, Texas. The median household income for the surrounding ZIP code is $92,000 annually, nearly twice the statewide median of $53,200.

Before asking patients about food insecurity, most of the doctors and nurses would likely have predicted that no more than 2 percent qualified, said Dr. Laura Armstrong, a family physician in the practice, Physicians at Sugar Creek. “Then it ended up being 11 percent, which was, I think, fairly shocking to most of us.”

Armstrong said she was taken aback upon learning that those without sufficient food included some patients who had jobs with insurance, as well as numerous seniors. The rates were even higher at the other locations that Memorial Hermann surveyed, including 30 percent at the school-based health clinics and 22 percent among the uninsured or otherwise vulnerable patients getting primary care in the system’s emergency rooms.

When feasible, Armstrong will switch patients who are experiencing food problems to a more affordable medication. In the case of diabetic patients, she might postpone adding a second or third drug, to see if some help with nutritious food might stabilize their blood sugars without the additional medication cost.

Some are trying to stay fed on astoundingly tight budgets. One patient, who has rescheduled a cancer biopsy because of finances, told Armstrong she has $26 available for food each week.

The practice has hired a community health worker to connect patients with food banks and brainstorm how to get better nutrition on a slim wallet. It also has planted a vegetable garden, so patients can literally grab some okra or collard greens on the way home, Armstrong said.

It’s easier for doctors and nurses to ask about food worries if they feel as if they can offer some options, said Chinwe Onyekere, associate administrator for Lankenau Medical Center, a 370-bed hospital just outside of Philadelphia. Since 2013, medical school student volunteers there have paired up with patients who report food difficulties on a social needs survey. (Food is the most common problem cited, surpassing transportation or housing needs.)

The students help eligible patients sign up for food stamps. Through an initiative with The Food Trust, Lankenau clinicians also can “prescribe” patients with diabetes and other chronic conditions coupons for produce at more than two dozen farmers markets, Onyekere said. The coupons are tracked through the electronic medical record system; to date, roughly one-third had been redeemed.

Since her food struggles were already on the table, King confessed to her doctor this spring that she had delayed filling two prescriptions, including a hormonal drug she takes since undergoing breast cancer treatment several years ago. That week, her grocery bill had been unexpectedly high. By the time King sought care, she wasn’t feeling well, and her doctor blamed it on having missed medication for several days.

King has since learned she can visit a food bank every week, alternating between sites, rather than every other week. If the practice had never asked, she believes she’d still be limping along with processed food and little else some days. “That’s something you don’t talk to your doctor about,” she said. “You don’t tell your doctor ‘I’m running out of food the last 10 days of the month.’ ”

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Notes from a trailing spouse: Just another alien invasive species

Woman; Dog

(Credit: Getty/Shutterstock/Salon)

A friend once said to me that he thought Washington, D.C., would make a great ruin. Stunning. Easily as captivating to future citizens as we find the Roman Colosseum or the Parthenon of Athens. Given the current administration, I wish it was already rubble. But even before Trump befouled the place, I couldn’t visit without imagining the White House a skeletal remains, or Lincoln toppled off his great chair, a tree now growing up through his noble head.

It’s weird how often I find myself thinking about the end of cities, especially since I am living in this newest of cities, Abu Dhabi. I wonder if that’s because, even as it’s madly being built up, there is this unease, this latent feeling that this too will all be gone sooner rather than later. And, paraphrasing the narrator at the beginning of “Rebecca,” by Daphne Du Maurier, “Nature will come into her own again and, little by little, in her stealthy, insidious way will encroach upon Abu Dhabi with long, tenacious fingers.”

But the funny thing about ruins, besides always twisting one’s ankle on age-worn steps and being wildly thirsty even if you try and beat the crowds and visit in the dead of winter, is that the lives once lived there are gone, really gone. Those bits of pottery, religious icons, mosaic sidewalks and cooking antechambers, evocative as they are, don’t truly manage to conjure up the lives of those who once used them.

This thought often occupies me as I make my thrice-daily walk with my dogs around the complex where we live. It’s new, but it feels like a ruin. I think that’s because it doesn’t make sense that anything and everything around me is here at all.

Take the bugs, for instance. There’s far too many of them. Which in itself is weird because most are invasive species that rode in on the coattails of the hordes of humans, who can’t leave anything behind. And I imagine that, for a bug, this man-made oasis must seem just grand. But sometimes I want to scream at the unsuspecting butterfly or spider, “If they turn off the water, Buddy, you’re toast.” Actually, most of them are toast anyway, since laying down poison seems to be a national obsession. On a side note, if I die far too young it will probably be because three times a day I walk on grass soaked through with insecticide.

In the strange dichotomy of there being too many insects that aren’t meant to be here, there’s a disconcerting absence of bugs that should be, given this jungle-like diorama. The swathes of lush, green lawns that my dogs gambol on, not to mention legions of kids, is laid on a hard-pack of desert sand. No rich soil sustains its growth. No worms or other earth burrowers aerate the earth. As they say, it’s dead from the neck down.

Most of the invasive species that are here, particularly birds — Indian crows, parrots, wood doves — are innocents abroad. And while they aren’t native born, it isn’t that jarring to see them flitting around the trees, or casting quick shadows as they fly over.

The same can’t be said for some of the dogs. Now I know humans love to push boundaries, own nature, ignore for their pleasure the comfort of the pet they claim to love. But, the fact, that the Husky is the number-one-selling dog in the U.A.E. just blows my mind. Really? A dog that likes nothing better than sleeping under a blanket of snow is the breed you just gotta have?

It’s horrible to see them panting away, their eyes bugging out of their heads, usually with some hapless Filipino maid in tow. An Australian Redback spider might not know it’s on the wrong side of the world, but a Husky isn’t so easily duped.

And if Huskies in the desert aren’t incongruous enough, how does a vast iceberg floating just off shore grab you? Believe it or not, at present there’s a plan afoot called the Emirate Iceberg Project. The idea is to haul a huge iceberg up from Antarctica so that the U.A.E, already suffering water supply stresses, can provide its people clean drinking water. According to a promotional video I saw, there it bobs in the warm Persian Gulf replete with penguins and polar bears (even though polar bears don’t even live in the Antarctica), while on shore happy Emiratis gaze adoringly at this one mother of an ice cube. What on earth will future archaeologists and biologists think was going on here when they stumble upon the ruins of this once big, if not great, city?

I was, as usual, pondering these imponderables, when, returning from my amble with the dogs last week, I heard a lot a frenzied activity coming from my neighbor’s apartment. There was banging and shouting and what sounded like furniture being thrown about. As I stood there wondering what the hell was happening, six men barrelled past me, all carrying canisters of insecticide. Gee, I thought, this guy must really hate cockroaches. Yet another guest to the barren shores of the U.A.E., but as a New Yorker I know perfectly well, water or no water, those suckers are here to stay. Being naturally curious I was about to knock on my neighbor’s door when he came charging out. He looked positively terrified. “A scorpion,” he cried. “Beware a scorpion.”

Ahh, I thought, finally a bug who’s supposed to be here.

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