Larry Womack: The Face Police

Larry Womack: The Face Police 2014-04-24

Please repeat after me: it is never OK to publicly say an unkind thing about another human being's face. "You have a bad face," no matter how it is phrased or framed, is never really constructive criticism. I know, I know. It seems strange that anyone should have to say this to adults. Yet, here we are.

At the same time, it also feels strange that more people haven't said it in recent months. Following the Academy Awards, we were deluged by wave after wave of ugly, inappropriate comment. The first was the most mean-spirited and puerile: "What happened to her face?" Next came, "Poor thing," and "She deserves better." (Which implies that there are faces that do, in fact, deserve to be shamed.) Finally, we arrived at, "But we loved you just the way you were!"

Did you? Did you really? Because it seems to me that media (and overall human) ageism and superficiality are pretty pervasive. Even the positive comments are so rooted in a culture of negativity that there's a certain darkness just around the edges.

Finally, last week, the most prominent victim called out the bullying for what it was. Yet another reason to love Kim Novak. Still, this week, I've seen headlines like, "Over the Hill at 24: the aging of the twentysomethings" and, "In Defense of Aging." So it seems the Novak experience wasn't exactly a eureka moment for all of western civilization.

It's easy (unless you're the victim,) to condemn a handful of offenders in one particularly egregious example of brazen nastiness. The fact is, when it comes to appearances, society is cruel, and in spite of everything we know, it isn't getting any less so. There are people out there who actually believe it is their job, as professionals, to inform you when someone else has a sub-par face. As if the world needs face police.

I understand that people are programmed to react to physical appearance. It is, to some degree, a natural instinct. I also understand that almost all people turn to one another at home and comment about how everyone looks. I get it. I do it. It's all in good fun, I suppose. I sure as hell do it. What I don't understand is why people would think it is okay to air negative opinions about someone's face in a public forum.

Actually, I think I do. It's a hacky means of getting a lot of attention and a little applause. It doesn't even have to be clever; just mean enough to shock. And maybe, if we're all very lucky, the target will actually change their face, so that we can make fun of them for that, too. We're all just children on a playground, really.

I suppose that I do grant a pass to comedians. Maybe I shouldn't. But most of the time, when a comedian makes a joke about someone's face, it doesn't feel especially hurtful or damaging, because it isn't serious. It challenges us to take a joke.

But when allegedly serious people think it's appropriate to comment publicly about the quality of someone's face, we as a society have a problem. And a lot of allegedly serious people do. Always have, it seems.

We should know better now, though, shouldn't we? We've gone through the second and third waves of feminism. We've lost countless people to eating disorders. We've seen people commit suicide simply because they were afraid of looking old. We've driven teenagers to Botox.

Yet, it seems that all we've learned is how to wrap our superficial digs up in positive things like body acceptance or feminism, so that they can be passed off as progressive social commentary. As if more body-focused negativity will somehow yield body positivity. In reality, "She's telling little girls it isn't okay to age," really means, "I don't like her face." "I liked how she looked before," implies, "I don't like her face, now."

How about, oh, I don't know... just holding your damn tongue?

I mean, does anybody seriously believe that when a woman reads something negative about her face in the Daily Mail she swears off plastic surgery for good? Or picks up the magic wand that can instantly undo what has already happened? No. She calls her surgeon, sobbing, and asks how to fix it. She feels compelled to change her face, again, to please others.

And arguing that other people should look and age the way you want them to is not going to spare little girls the social pressures that lead to plastic surgery. It is, however, going to show them a woman -- usually a capable, successfully one -- once again being judged on the basis of her physical appearance.

So, if you want women in Hollywood to stop getting plastic surgery, maybe you should just stop saying negative things about their appearance, period.

On that topic: it also isn't your face. It's hers. Her face is not your bitch. Call me a boring old believer in bodily autonomy, but I think a person's face is theirs to do with as they please. If cosmetic surgery makes someone feel better about him or herself, it is no one else's duty to tell them that it shouldn't. If slicing up their bodies and spending hours a day at the gym also doesn't appeal to them, catty comments about their aging process will not slow your own.

I understand, of course, that to some degree the demand for attractive young actresses is just plain biological: we'd rather look at pretty people. That will never change. Marilyn Monroe was a hell of a performer, but would she have become Marilyn Monroe without the aid of cosmetic surgery? There are leading ladies in Hollywood who are one hairline adjustment away from being uncastable.

The men aren't spared, either. The night of the Oscars, I read a press release for the previous year's Razzies. It described Adam Sandler as an "aging, schlubby comic..." The man had just made Jack & Jill. It has a 3% on Rotten Tomatoes and a perfect zero among top critics. I felt personally demeaned by the trailer. But the worst things the meanest award committee in Hollywood could say about the film was that it starred a man who is unattractive and subject to natural law. Why is that what they felt most comfortable commenting on? Again, it's easy applause.

I think it's safe to say that nature is no longer dictating our standards of beauty. Our own childish insecurities are. And we have to stop using our voices to reinforce this insane, unnatural standard of beauty that has developed. Have you seen this? Someone gave somebody else a collection of photos of one of the most beautiful women in the world and said, "Fix everything." Surgeons in West Hollywood and Beverly Hills get that same request every single day.

They've been doing it for decades. Figure artist and historian Jim Silke is one of the world's most prominent admirers of Bettie Page. He once observed that, "If Hollywood... had not rejected Bettie Page because of her Southern accent, it would have because of her lazy right eye, too thin upper lip and too defined rib cage."

He's right. Bettie Page, one of the greatest sex symbols of the 20th century, rose from obscurity to superstardom based solely on the power of her image on film, but she didn't have the rib cage for Hollywood. Hollywood was looking for a very particular type: Kim Novak. Studios became infamous in the '50s for turning away any girl who could not be made to look like Kim Novak, circa 1955.

How was this ideal attained?

"Cohn put Novak on a stringent diet, all the while calling her 'that fat Polack' (Novak's background is Czech) behind her back. She followed an exercise regime. She was assigned a make-up artist. Her teeth were capped. Her hair was dyed blonde, then rinsed to make it gleam lavender in the light."

Before the 2014 Academy Awards, Novak, now universally admired as an exceptionally gifted actress, fasted for three days.

These days, that isn't enough. Things are getting worse -- and it isn't biology that's driving it.

Marlee Matlin: Closed Captioning Finally Enters Digital Age

Marlee Matlin: Closed Captioning Finally Enters Digital Age 2014-04-24

It started with the Yellow Brick Road.

One evening in 2009, I sat down on my living room couch with my family to watch "The Wizard of Oz" on Netflix. It was all up there on the screen in my living room: Dorothy, the farm in Kansas, Toto, the twister. Only one important thing was missing for me. The closed captioning.

Perplexed, I took to Twitter to express my disappointment. My frustration resonated with others who felt left out by new technologies that didn't take the rights of the deaf and hard of hearing into account. I worked with the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) to send a letter to Congress demanding companies that offer streaming and online video stop excluding the 30 million Americans who are deaf and hard of hearing.

It didn't end there. In 2011, the NAD sued Netflix for failing to provide closed-captioning on most of its streaming content. We weren't going to let the future of entertainment pass us by. Netflix settled this lawsuit by promising to have all of its shows subtitled by 2014. Thankfully, all video streaming companies including Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and others have to offer closed captioning by April 30, 2014 or else be subject to the same fines as traditional broadcast television.

But there's still more than we can do to make closed captioning and subtitles available to those who need them. On Feb. 20, 2014 the FCC outlined new rules requiring improved accuracy in closed captioning, an initiative ten years in the making, according to the Los Angeles Times.

There are over 7,000 languages spoken in the world - why shouldn't we all be able to take part in each other's culture? Sharing the things that make us laugh, think and cry can unite us and shine a light on what we have in common rather than what makes us different. Stories about love, honor and family show us how alike we are at heart, no matter what language we speak.

Marlee Matlin is an Oscar-winning actress and the foremost advocate for closed captioning. She is expanding her work worldwide. She is currently working on the Billion Words March with global TV site to help translate and subtitle TV shows and movies into 200 languages -- making TV entertainment more accessible to everyone.

Adam Levin: The 4 Laziest Ways To Improve Your Credit

Adam Levin: The 4 Laziest Ways To Improve Your Credit 2014-04-24

There are people out there who expend a lot of energy in the quest for a totally meaningless perfect credit score, which I've written about elsewhere. Most people know it's important to have good credit, but they don't want to spend too much time worrying about it. The good news is that you can be pretty lazy and still improve your credit.

The difference between having good credit (generally from 700-749) and bad credit (anything below 620) can mean the difference between getting the car you want versus the car with monthly payments you can afford. A well-managed credit history can make home ownership possible years before a poorly managed one, while really bad credit could cause you to lose a rental apartment to someone more vigilant about their personal finances.

Credit is an investment that accrues value through behavior. If you do the right things, your score will increase. Like an investment portfolio, your credit portfolio can improve your quality of life. But just like any investment, a credit portfolio requires some basic knowledge and maintenance.

Here are four very easy things you can do to start improving your credit.

1. Let Your Accounts Get Older

The age of your credit history accounts for roughly 15 percent of your overall credit score. In the same way car insurance companies use age to predict how risky it is to insure a driver, the three credit bureaus use the age of your credit as a way to determine your likely behaviors.

The older your credit history, the more information the bureaus have about your habits, and account age goes to predictability. Would you rather lend money to someone who has kept an account in good standing for 12 years or 1 year?

While most blots and blunders on your credit report fall off after seven years -- they have their own credit score silo -- the age of your credit continues to positively affect your score. The best part? You just have to keep doing what you've (hopefully) always done and keep using credit responsibly.

2. Stop Searching for New Credit

Every time you apply for credit, a lender makes a hard inquiry into your credit. The number of inquiries can have a big impact on your credit, accounting for 10 percent of your overall score. Inquiries remain on your credit reports for two years, but only those within the past year count, at least with the majority of credit scoring models. And certain types of loan shopping -- for auto, student loan or mortgage loans -- will result in only one inquiry on your credit report if you shop within a short window (two weeks is safest).

Not shopping for credit until you really need it is a simple strategy that requires you to do nothing, and can be a good thing for your score over time.

3. Ride the Coattails of Someone With Good Credit

This trick doubles as a training tool. Parents often add their teenage children as an authorized user on a credit card to teach them about using credit responsibly.

There are other situations where becoming an authorized user on an account owned by someone with a strong credit history can be a good idea. Specifically, if a family member, spouse or significant other has bad credit, you can let them "piggyback" on one of your accounts. For the authorized user, this is the ultimate trick because it requires no effort at all. As long as the account remains active, the authorized user doesn't even need to use the credit card and can benefit from the positive credit history. Many people employing this strategy opt to cut up the authorized user's card so he or she isn't tempted to use it.

While this is a lazy trick for one party, the person helping out might want to put in a little extra time making sure nothing crazy happens on their credit accounts. If you are an authorized user, make sure the account you're added to is in good standing, and stays that way. Any mistakes made by you or the primary user can make this tactic counterproductive to your credit building efforts.

4. Let Your Bank Make Payments for You

Paying your car loans, mortgages and credit accounts on time is the single most important factor in determining your creditworthiness. Thirty-five percent of your score is based on this one factor. Since you are going to pay these bills anyway, set them up for autopay through your checking account.

The peace of mind you will get knowing every bill is being paid is so much more valuable than the time you need to invest making sure there's enough money in your checking account to cover expenses.

Managed correctly, your credit portfolio is a guaranteed way to get the things you want in life. You don't need to obsess over getting a perfect score, you just need to work on making it better. And building credit doesn't have to be a complete mystery; you can watch your credit scores improve for free every month on

John Feffer: Earth: Game Over?

John Feffer: Earth: Game Over? 2014-04-24

Video games usually provide you with multiple lives. If you step on a landmine or get hit by an assassin, you get another chance. Even if such virtual reincarnation is not built into the rules of the game, you can always reboot and start over again. You can try again hundreds of times until you get it right. This formula applies to first-person shooter games as well as simulation exercises like SimEarth.

The real Earth offers a similar kind of reboot. Catastrophe has hit our planet at least five times, as Elizabeth Kolbert explains in her new book, The Sixth Extinction. During each of these preceding wipeouts, the planet recovered, though many of the life forms residing in the seas or on land were not so fortunate ("many" is actually an understatement--more than 99 percent of all species died out in these cataclysms). As Kolbert points out, we are in the middle of a sixth such world-altering event, and this will be the first -- and possibly the last -- extinction that we will witness as human beings. The planet and its hardier denizens may soldier on, but for us it will be game over.

A subset of environmentalists is already preparing for the end game. In the latest New York Times Magazine, Paul Kingsnorth -- the author of the manifesto Uncivilization -- confesses that he has given up trying to save the planet. He rejects false hopes. "You look at every trend that environmentalists like me have been trying to stop for 50 years," he says, "and every single thing had gotten worse." He's heading to the wilderness of Ireland to grow his own food, homeschool his kids, and prepare for the difficult days ahead.

Survivalism: it's not just for right-wing wackos any more.

Meanwhile, the rest of us are still trying to figure out how to avert disaster. The United Nations recently released another in its series of reports on climate change. This one tries to put a price tag on what we need to do over the next 15-20 years to stop the global mercury from rising.

To implement the recommendations of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), governments must dramatically increase their investments in low-carbon energy sources. Each year, governments will have to spend an additional $147 billion on such renewable sources of energy as solar and wind power. On top of that, governments need to put $336 billion each year into greater energy efficiency in public and private infrastructure. If we follow all the IPCC recommendations, we can expect to save about $30 billion from eliminating subsidies to industries in the dirty energy sectors.

That still leaves an annual bill of more than $450 billion. This is probably a lowball figure, given the commitment that the industrialized world has made to help the developing world continue to grow economically without expanding its carbon footprint. This figure also doesn't cover current climate change costs associated with extreme weather events, droughts in food-growing areas, the preservation of coastal areas, and other catastrophes in the making. The bill for upgrading U.S. infrastructure alone will run into hundreds of billions of dollars each year.

If you're planning to remodel your kitchen, you're supposed to get a couple of different estimates. So, with a task as large as saving the world, it's probably wise to check in with a couple other sources.

But those looking for salvation on the cheap are going to be disappointed. The International Energy Agency, an intergovernmental organization connected to the OECD, estimates that the world needs to invest a trillion dollars into clean energy--every year between now and 2050. Then there was the Stern Commission report on the economics of climate change that came out in 2006. At the time, Nicholas Stern estimated that stabilizing the current level of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere would require an investment of 1 percent of global GDP, which at the time was a little more than $300 billion. He revised that up to about $600 billion a couple years later, though nowadays he's talking more in the trillion-dollar range as well.

Of course, these costs should be compared to the price tag for not addressing climate change quickly and resolutely. This, Stern estimated, would add up to 20 percent of global GDP. At some point, of course, we will hit a tipping point at which no amount of money can turn back the clock.

Where will the money come from? A "climate security" tax on military spending would make sense, forcing governments to turn swords into windmill blades. We're currently wasting over $1.7 trillion a year on the enormous potlatch otherwise known as the global military budget.

Another "simple" answer is to not only remove subsidies from dirty energy but to tax it as well. In this way, governments discourage the use of coal and oil and raise the revenue necessary to invest in clean technologies. It seems an elegant solution, except that the energy companies and their political representatives have bitterly fought against carbon taxes. In 2011, the Labor government in Australia pushed through a carbon tax and established a $10-billion "green bank" to support sustainable energy projects. That hasn't lasted long. The new center-right government has vowed to repeal the tax, but the Australian parliament has so far turned back the government's repeal effort.

Denmark offers a less fractious alternative. The country is currently planning to unshackle itself completely from fossil fuels by 2050. And it plans to do that without relying on nuclear power. The country has invested heavily in wind power, and last year, for the first time, wind supplied more than 50 percent of the country's energy consumption for an entire month. How much will this 40-year transition cost? The estimate is roughly 1 percent of the country's GDP. By the end, Denmark will have cut its carbon emissions by 80 percent.

The Denmark model requires a few caveats. The entire scheme involves significant investment in new technologies and infrastructure upgrades. It also depends on a critical variable--the increasing cost of fossil fuels. If oil and gas and coal remain cheap, capital will not flow into the new technologies. In other words, the possibility of the earth burning up is not sufficient to concentrate our minds and mobilize our efforts. It comes down to a pocketbook issue. Only astronomical prices at the gas pump will force us to change our behavior, individually and collectively.

We could wait for the market to push up these prices, but that will likely be too late. Instead, we need to artificially raise the costs of fossil fuels, and that brings us back to some form of carbon tax. Another part of that strategy would be to leave some of that ancient, liquefied plant and animal matter in the ground and at the bottom of the ocean, forgoing deep sea drilling, refusing to rip up forests for the treasures beneath, and leaving the tar sands be.

But perhaps the most important caveat is this: Denmark will only succeed if we are all on board. We don't have the luxury of sitting back, seeing if the calculations involved in Denmark's fossil-free scenario work out, and then following suit if we like the results. By that time, it would be too late.

As with our individual lives, there is no reset button for the human race (Noah's flood notwithstanding). Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska put it well in her poem "Nothing Twice" (translation by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh):

Nothing can ever happen twice. In consequence, the sorry fact is That we arrive here improvised And leave without the chance to practice

Even if there is no one dumber, If you're the planet's biggest dunce, You can't repeat the class in summer: This course is only offered once.

If humanity fails this particular science class, we're done. It doesn't matter whether we're straight-A students from Denmark or flunkards like congressional climate change denier James Inhofe. We won't be given another chance at the global joystick.

Earth: game over. For us at least.

Crossposted with Foreign Policy In Focus.

Bob Cesca: Antonin Scalia Suggests A 'revolt' Against The Government In Respon

Bob Cesca: Antonin Scalia Suggests A 'revolt' Against The Government In Response To Tax Hikes 2014-04-23

It's not 100 percent clear the extent to which Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia meant what it sounded like he meant, but tossing around the word "revolt" in the context of a discussion of the U.S. government is never a smart nor rational idea. And it's especially a bad idea when it's invoked during an era when armed revolt against the government is being taken very seriously.

During a speaking engagement last week at the University of Tennessee College of Law, Scalia discussed how it's constitutionally permissible for Congress to impose taxes on citizens. Fair enough. However, Scalia added, "if it reaches a certain point, perhaps you should revolt."

The word "revolt" carries with it a very specific definition: "to break away from or rise against constituted authority, as by open rebellion; cast off allegiance or subjection to those in authority; rebel; mutiny." Not a lot of gray area there.

The only thing that might cast doubt on whether Scalia meant "revolt" to mean an armed rebellion is that later while answering a question about his decision to uphold the constitutionality of flag-burning, the justice said:

"You're entitled to criticize the government, and you can use words, you can use symbols, you can use telegraph, you can use Morse code, you can burn a flag."

While this could, maybe, possibly mitigate the severity of what he said, it's important to reiterate that he had apparently moved on to a completely different topic. By the way, a telegraph? Morse code? Was he drunk? Nevertheless, Scalia isn't known for soft-pedaling his language or mincing words, so it's reasonable to assume Scalia was suggesting a literal revolt against the government.

It appears as if we're in the midst of an upswing in popularity for anti-government revolution. Call it Rebellion Chic. The buzz has been gradually amplifying over the last five years, beginning with vague hints at secession and eliminationist rhetoric several years ago, but it's never been so openly embraced as it's been for the last two weeks. Formerly inconceivable, especially following the disastrous results for the old Confederacy, rebellion seemed like fever-dreams for a few revolutionary cosplayers and militia gun hoarders. But ever since the Bundy Ranch stand-off began in Nevada it's become a very real, very tangible option for the radical far-right, considering how a group of mounted hooples got away with marching in a line of battle toward several Bureau of Land Management rangers -- and were backed up by at least one armored yokel crouched in a sniper's perch, aiming an assault rifle in the direction of the government officials.

On top of the actual event, Fox News Channel and almost all of AM talk radio, minus Glenn Beck amazingly, has been cheerleading the Bundy Ranch militia, encouraging them to hold fast. For example, here's Sean Hannity floating the idea that the government wants to assassinate Bundy:

And here are the talking monkeys at Fox & Friends openly weaving into the story a silly conspiracy theory about President Obama mustering a citizen army to serve as another Nazi-style SS:

We've come to expect these kinds of crowd-pleasing rebellion fantasies to be marketed by the usual suspects. But when joined by elected officials and especially a Supreme Court justice, it takes on a patina of serious legitimacy. In Scalia's case, it's even worse given his status as one-ninth of a full third of the U.S. government.

And for the sake of what? A tax increase? Scalia should be old enough to remember take rates during the Eisenhower era when the top tax marginal tax rate was 90 percent, with effective tax rates for the super-rich in the upper-30 to middle-40 percentile, far above what it is today. Yet returning to those rates would ostensibly be enough to justify a revolt, so says a Supreme Court justice -- and a revolt, incidentally, that would precipitate the obvious death and imprisonment of most the people involved with attempting to overthrow the government.

Seriously, whatever happened to the reputation of the Republican Party and the conservative movement as the law and order people? It appears as if Obama Derangement Syndrome, with three years still left to go, has boiled over, squelching rational debate and confounding traditionally conservative values. Imagine, for a moment, if the Bundy Ranch people where Muslims and the guy who was perched on the overpass with his rifle was, instead, wearing a turban and sporting a C-4 vest strapped to his chest -- all mustered against the government during, say, the Bush/Cheney administration. It'd be called jihad, and, with the support of Fox News and Sean Hannity, the outcry for summary execution of the so-called jihadist ranchers would be swift.

Instead, Bundy is in clear violation of the law by not paying taxes or fees, and yet he's a hero to the former law and order crowd who's vocally encouraging him in his militantly traitorous endeavors. Likewise, a Supreme Court justice thinks it's unfair to be subjected to higher taxes but it's perfectly fair to revolt against the government.

I honestly didn't foresee the far-right careening this far off the rails, but there appears to be plenty of crazy-strength left in its tank. We've gone from the days of announcing a legislative agenda designed to make Obama a one-term president to considering the option of armed revolt. Can you imagine how over-the-top insane it'll be come next year or the year after?

"There's no earthly way of knowing... Which direction they are going... There's no knowing where they're rowing..."

Cross-posted at The Daily Banter.

Click here to listen to the Bubble Genius Bob & Chez Show podcast. Blog with special thanks to Seth Okin.

Patricia Leavy, Phd: Our Brains On Art

Patricia Leavy, Phd: Our Brains On Art 2014-04-23

I am a sociologist by training. I come from academic world, reading scholarly articles on topics of social import, but they're almost always boring, dry and quickly forgotten. Yet I can't count how many times I've gone to a movie, a theater production or read a novel and been jarred into seeing something differently, learned something new, felt deep emotions and retained the insights gained. I know from both my research and casual conversations with people in daily life that my experiences are echoed by many.

The arts can tap into issues that are otherwise out of reach and reach people in meaningful ways. This realization brought me to arts-based research (ABR). Arts-based research is an emergent paradigm whereby researchers across the disciplines adapt the tenets of the creative arts in their social research projects. Arts-based research, a term first coined by Eliot Eisner at Stanford University in the early 90s, is based on the assumption that art can teach us in ways that other forms cannot. Scholars can take interview or survey research, for instance, and represent it through art. I've written two novels based on sociological interview research. Sometimes researchers use the arts during data collection, involving research participants in the art-making process, such as drawing their response to a prompt rather than speaking.

The turn by many scholars to arts-based research is most simply explained by my opening example of comparing the experience of consuming jargon-filled and inaccessible academic articles to that of experiencing artistic works. While most people know on some level that the arts can reach and move us in unique ways, there is actually science behind this.

Beginning with the power of fiction, there is a growing body of scholarship on the relationship between neuroscience and literature, often referred to as literary neuroscience. It is actually worth noting that Silas Weir Mitchell (1824-1914), one of the founders of American neurology, was also a fiction writer who published an astonishing nineteen novels, seven poetry books, and many short stories. Many of his works of fiction were linked to patient observations made during his clinical practice and centered on topics dealing with psychological and physiological crises. One wonders if we are only now beginning to understand what Mitchell might have really been on to. Here's a snapshot of recent research.

Natalie Phillips (2012) used the fiction of Jane Austen in a study about how reading affects the brain. The preliminary results of this work have been revealing. Phillips and her colleagues found that the whole brain appears to be transformed as people engage in close readings of fiction. Moreover, there appear to be global activations across a number of different regions of the brain, including some unexpected areas such as those that are involved in movement and touch. This research helps to explain how we become immersed in novels, actually feeling as though we are within the story and that the house could burn down and we wouldn't notice. We actually place ourselves in the story. Research in this area seems to be taking off. For another example, Gregory Berns (2013) led a team of researchers in a study published in Brain Connectivity that suggests there is heightened connectivity in our brains for days after reading a novel.

Research on other art forms has similar implications. For example, Daniel J. Levitin (2007, 2009) has written extensively about the cognitive neuroscience of music. He suggests that music is distributed throughout the brain, in both hemispheres. Further, he argues that, in essence, music is hardwired into our brains and listening to certain kinds of music, like Mozart, can actually make us smarter.

There is an emerging field called neuroaesthetics that considers how our brains make sense of visual art. Nobel laureate Eric Kandel (2012) explains that visual art activates many distinct and at times conflicting emotional signals in the brain which in turn causes deep memories.

While the preceding examples focus on consuming or experiencing the arts, it is important to note that recent research on the activity of art-making has yielded similar results. For example, there is a growing relationship between art therapy and neuroscience. Many in the field now suggest that both hemispheres of the brain are involved in art making and are necessary for artistic expression. There is clinical research on drawing as well. A study by Rebecca Chamberlain and colleagues in the journal NeuroImage (2014) debunks right-brain and left-brain thinking to argue that those with visual artistic talent or who identify as visual artists have increased amounts of grey and white matter on both sides of the brain.

So whether we are consuming art or involved in art-making ourselves, art impacts us in profound ways not previously understood. There are serious implications for how we might teach, learn, conduct and share research most effectively. These are primary drivers of the arts-based research movement.

In 1963 famed sociologist Lewis A. Coser, far ahead of his time, published a book titled Sociology through Literature which he deemed "experimental." Coser believed that novelists were uniquely able to tap into and describe human experience, which could be of great value to teaching in the social sciences, but he knew others were not yet ready to follow suit. I recently read an op-ed by Gregory Currie published in the New York Times that suggested literary fiction may actually improve our moral sensibility and social intelligence.

A good novel can make us smarter and more compassionate. I think Lewis A. Coser would have enjoyed that article. Considering the scope of what we know now about how the brain works, which no doubt merely scratches the surface, it seems clear that the move to the arts in social research opens limitless possibilities.

Patricia Leavy's is the author of Method Meets Art: Arts-Based Research Practice andFiction as Research Practice. Visit for more information.

George Hobica: The Airline With The Rudest Flight Attendants Is...

George Hobica: The Airline With The Rudest Flight Attendants Is... 2014-04-23

You're probably not going to be terribly surprised by the results of the latest reader poll.

The truth is, at least in my experience, most flight attendants are "nice" at least if you're nice to them. Pour on the charm, and they'll respond. That's not always the case, but here are some tips.

We polled 3,400 people, and by a wide margin, Southwest and Alaska were voted as having the nicest flight attendants and Spirit the worst, followed by Air Canada. We adjusted the results by the number of passengers carried between January and October 2013 in order not to skew the results based on airline size (the more people who fly an airline, the more flight attendants they encounter).

The results of the worst flight attendant poll:

Spirit - 26% Air Canada - 14% Frontier - 11% Virgin America - 9% Allegiant - 8% United - 7% US Airways - 7% American - 5% AirTran - 3% Delta - 3% Hawaiian - 3% JetBlue - 3% Alaska - 1% Southwest - 1%

Since most people seem to love Virgin America (and it is indeed a pretty cool little airline) you might be surprised as I was that it came in 4th in the worst poll, even worse than tiny Allegiant. As I've noted elsewhere, I never have problems with flight attendants because I treat them with excessive courtesy but the only time I had a really bad one was in first class on Virgin America. The dude just went AWOL and when he finally showed up at the end of the flight I asked what happened, "Where'd ya go, was there an emergency back in coach?" he said "Is there a problem? That's what the call button is for." Maybe he knew I had upgraded my $150 fare with a last minute $350 upgrade and wasn't entitled to a second drink.

Harrumph. More reading: How to make your flight attendant like you.

Annalee Newitz: Are We In The Early Stages Of A New Mass Extinction? It's Comp

Annalee Newitz: Are We In The Early Stages Of A New Mass Extinction? It's Complicated 2014-04-23

If you stay awake at night wondering about the worst thing that could ever happen, I have an answer for you. It's called a mass extinction. Basically, it's a real-life apocalypse, where over 75 percent of all species on the planet die out over a million years -- a blink of an eye in geological time. Now there's mounting evidence that we're entering a new mass extinction today.

Over the past half-billion years that life has wandered across our planet, we've already suffered through five mass extinctions. You've probably heard about the most famous mass extinction, which happened about 65 million years ago at the end of the Cretaceous period when an asteroid smashed into the planet and wiped out most of the dinosaurs. In previous mass extinctions, however, there were equally impressive natural disasters, ranging from rapid ice ages and continent-wide wildfires, to mega-volcanoes. In each of these catastrophes, most life in the world died out, replaced over the next few million years by whole new ecosystems of animals and plants. No matter how much of the planet burned or was buried in ice, life rose again.

When I was researching my book, Scatter Adapt and Remember: Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction, I talked to a lot of scientists about a fundamental mystery -- how any did any animals and plants make it through these devastating times? Their answers gave me a window on what it would have been like to live through one of these mass extinctions. What became clear right away was that these disasters all have one thing in common. No matter what their initial causes, they ultimately killed so many life forms with climate and habitat changes. Even the asteroid that took out the dinosaurs did most of its damage to life not from an instant flash-cooking of the planet, but during the long nuclear winter that followed. All the debris from the meteor impact shot into the upper atmosphere, creating thick clouds that blotted out the sun and decimated plant life. And that changed ecosystems all across Earth.

If you were one of the animals who survived that catastrophic explosion and had to face the changes that followed, you would have seen a world that was dying with a whimper. Climate changes are devastating because they destroy the food webs that link every life form on the planet in a network of eaters and eaten. When sunlight was blocked by a cloud layer 65 million years ago, a primary source of food died with all those plants. Then the herbivores, plant eaters, began to starve; and the carnivores starved when their prey succumbed to famine too.

Among the survivors were animals who could adapt quickly to their new environments, spreading out into new territories unlike anything they'd dealt with before. Life would have been a series of constant, unpleasant surprises for the small, furry shrew-like mammals who made it beyond the Cretaceous. Part of their adaptability involved being able to eat a variety of foods. This trait would come in handy during an era when food sources were unstable and changing rapidly.

No matter what set off these mass extinctions -- and there's reason to believe that most of them had multiple causes -- they all ended the same way. Millions of species died because their habitats changed, which caused their food sources to disappear. Mass extinctions are nothing like the glorified super-cleanse of a mythical apocalypse. They are ugly, slow, and terribly complicated.

There are many signs today that we may be in the early stages of a new mass extinction. The climate is changing very rapidly, plus we're seeing an extraordinary number of extinctions among land animals. It's possible that this sixth mass extinction cycle began roughly 15,000 years ago, with the dieoffs of megafauna like mammoths and giant sloths in the Americas.

Are we doomed? I don't think so. Unlike animals who lived through previous mass extinctions, humans can actually see it coming. Using science, we can study previous mass extinction survivors and learn from them what we'll need to survive -- and perhaps even prevent the worst effects of the next catastrophic wave of extinctions. One of humanity's greatest strengths is our adaptability. We've spread out into every corner of the planet, making icy mountains and arid deserts into our homes. Best of all, we are capable of planning for the future, and making changes now that will benefit our species in centuries to come.

Given what we know of previous mass extinction scenarios, it's clear that our biggest dangers come from habitat changes that undermine food security. So our first step toward survival has to be exploring alternative fuels that don't load our atmosphere with habitat-changing carbon. In previous mass extinctions, volcanoes and fires did the work of our industrial revolution, raising temperatures and ocean acidity without any human intervention. This time around, we need to intervene, and fast. By reducing carbon emissions, we can slow down the changes that will eventually destroy our food supplies.

When thinking about the future of our survival, I often consider the words of one mass extinction expert I spoke with. A quiet man named Peter Roopnarine, he works at the California Academy of Sciences, researching now-extinct food webs. Essentially, he studies what happens when a mass extinction is making the world starve. He told me that death is what leads to death. The more life forms go extinct, the more knock-on extinctions you'll get from that fraying food web. He believes that maybe there's a tipping point, perhaps around the time when 40 percent of all species have died out, when the death toll rises in a sudden spike and hits that 75 mark that's the gateway to a mass extinction event.

Death is what leads to death. When animals and plants go extinct around us, each one causes more extinctions. But the flip side is also true. Mass extinctions do not happen overnight. Each step we take toward saving our environments and the lives in them, the closer we come to saving the world -- and ourselves.

I talk about the small (and giant) steps we can take to create a more survivable future for humanity in my book, Scatter, Adapt and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction.

Rob Greenfield: Lessons Learned From A Year Without Showering

Rob Greenfield: Lessons Learned From A Year Without Showering 2014-04-23

As of today it has been one year since my last shower. Yes, I know that sounds crazy and a year ago I would have agreed with you. I was a regular showering guy for the first 26 years of my life. Well, maybe not every single day, but just about.

So how does a regular showering guy end up going 365 days and counting without taking a shower? It started with a long bike ride across America to promote sustainability and eco-friendly living. I set a bunch of rules for myself to follow to lead by example. The rule for water was that I could only harvest it from natural sources such as lakes, rivers and rain or from wasted sources such as leaky faucets. And I kept track of exactly how much I used too, with an aim of showing just how little we need to get by.

I made it through the 100-day bike ride without taking a shower and for me that was quite the task in itself. But everything had gone so well that I decided to continue my showerless streak. I set a goal for 6 months and when that day passed I figured I might as well go a full year without a shower.

So here I am now, one year later, to tell you story of my year without a shower. I might as well bring this up right away. You think I'm really stinky right? You think I smell like some sort of Swamp Monster like this:

rob greenfield

Actually, nope. When I say that I haven't showered that doesn't mean that I wasn't bathing. I swam almost daily in places like this:

rob greenfield

And this:

rob greenfield

And showered in waterfalls like this:

rob greenfield

and I used eco-friendly biodegradable soap when I needed to.

rob greenfield

But I learned that by living naturally I didn't need cosmetic products anymore. I just used some soap, toothpaste and essential oils and found that to work real well. This compared to previously using colognes, deodorant, shampoo, lotions and all sorts of other products full of chemicals. And guess what? I had no lack of friends!

rob greenfield

In fact some even bathed with me.

rob greenfield

And I even had some romances in that year.

rob greenfield

Nobody thought that I smelled at all. And I surprised myself at how clean I was, just like everyone else.

rob greenfield

I realized that water doesn't have to come from a shower head to get me clean. You can wash yourself in lakes.

rob greenfield


rob greenfield

Or just by sitting in the rain.

rob greenfield

But when natural water wasn't available I found other places to clean myself without having an impact. Like this leaky fire hydrant in Brooklyn:

rob greenfield

Or this blasting fire hydrant in the Bronx:

rob greenfield

I learned that I can air dry rather than using a towel. And this meant less laundry, which saved even more water.

rob greenfield

And I also turned my shower time into a time to connect with nature. It became my favorite time of the day, when I would disconnect from the stresses of life and be present with my surroundings.

rob greenfield

Sometimes I jumped around before jumping in.

rob greenfield

And sometimes I just chilled out.

rob greenfield

Other times I contemplated life.

rob greenfield

And on occasion I'd have guests.

rob greenfield

I learned that the average American uses about 100 gallons of water per day. But I was able to use less than 2 gallons per day on my bike trip. That's just 8 Nalgene water bottles. (This was not including the natural water and leaky sources that I bathed in.)

rob greenfield

Most importantly I learned to really appreciate every last drop.

rob greenfield

Because water gives life to all of us and the animals too.

rob greenfield

When I got home from my bike trip I resumed life at home but managed to use just 10-20 gallons per day. That is 5-10 times less than the average American uses. I went another 8 months without showering and conserved over 5,000 gallons of water and had plenty of fun with friends at the same time!

rob greenfield

And when I didn't feel like swimming, but I needed to get clean, I just rubbed myself down with a cloth and a gallon of water. But most importantly, I learned that you don't have to stop showering to be a part of the solution. There are many easy ways to conserve water and most are really easy for any of us to do.

You can...

-Flush the toilet less often. -Take shorter showers or turn off the water while you're soaping up and scrubbing down. -Wash clothes less and in full loads -Turn off the faucet -Wash the dishes efficiently. -Install water efficient showerheads and toilets. -Get your leaks fixed. -Grow food not lawns. -Harvest rain.

How will you choose to conserve water? Start today by picking just one way to conserve and with time do more and more. You'll likely find it to be quite easy this way.

And if you do all of that, you might start feeling like this!

rob greenfield

Please share this story to inspire others to conserve water! Photography by Brent Martin

This post originally appeared here.

Dean Baker: Judith Rodin: Director Of The Day

Dean Baker: Judith Rodin: Director Of The Day 2014-04-23

Co-authored with Arthur Phillips, research associate at the Center for Economic and Policy Research

Directorships, 2008 - 2012: 3 Total director compensation, 2008 - 2012: $3,209,317* Average annual director compensation, 2008 - 2012: $641,863 Average compensation per full year of service as director: $229,237

Judith Rodin is president of The Rockefeller Foundation, which held $3.7 billion in assets as of its 2012 annual report. That year, the foundation distributed $130 million in grants and charitable activities while taking in a net investment income of $283 million. Previously, Rodin was the first woman to lead an Ivy League university as president of the University of Pennsylvania from 1994 to 2004. After leaving Penn, where she had earned her undergraduate degree, she was named President Emerita. She also served as provost of Yale University for two years.

Rodin's bio boasts participation in the World Economic Forum, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the Clinton Global Initiative. She also is a member of the White House Council for Community Solutions. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo named Rodin to co-chair the NYS 2100 Commission, whose mission is to improve the capacity of the state's infrastructure to withstand natural disasters. She chairs the commission with Felix Rohatyn, the former investment banker who in 1975 was picked by then-governor Hugh Carey to take over New York City's finances, a precursor to today's emergency managers in Detroit and elsewhere.

Rodin has been a director of Comcast, the world's largest media and communications company, since 2002. Over the past four years, 2010-2013, Rodin and the board paid CEO Brian L. Roberts, the son of the company's founder, just over $118 million. GMI Ratings, which publishes risk assessments of publicly traded companies, has found Comcast to be of "Very High Concern" regarding its executive pay. Rodin has chaired the company's compensation committee since 2005.

Rodin has also sat on Citigroup's board of directors since 2004. At the 2012 annual meeting, shareholders voted by a margin of 55-45 percent to reject the board of directors' CEO pay package. Less than 3.0 percent of CEO pay packages received a no vote from shareholders that year. Rodin, though not on the compensation committee, was the company's longest-tenured returning director at the time of the vote. Since the end of the recession, Citigroup's stock has performed much worse than the market average.

Rodin's other recent directorship was at AMR Corporation, the former American Airlines parent company, where she had served since 1997. In November 2011, AMR filed for bankruptcy and in 2013 merged with US Airways.

*Due to AMR's 2011 bankruptcy filing, the company did not file a proxy statement with the SEC for that year; therefore, Rodin's compensation totals do not include her 2011 compensation from AMR.

Soraya Chemaly: 10 Ways Society Can Close The Confidence Gap

Soraya Chemaly: 10 Ways Society Can Close The Confidence Gap 2014-04-23

Female lack of confidence is a big topic of conversation this week in the wake of the publication of Katty Kay's and Claire Shipman's new book, The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance.

The truth is, while I'm happy for any conversation about gender gaps that need closing, I'm not interested in teaching adult women how to become more confident. We've had decades, even centuries, of confident women. We aren't dealing with status and the fact that men, universally, have more of it. We aren't dealing with how our systems endlessly reproduce this reality, especially when we tell women to adapt to male norms of expression and behavior in order to be successful. I want women to keep the confidence they have as young girls. The confidence we, collectively, crush.

The benchmark for this female loss of confidence is eternal male overconfidence, and that overconfidence has real costs. Why do men assume they are so great? It's not our brain chemistry. It's not a confounding mystery. Men assume they are so great BECAUSE WE KEEP TELLING THEM THEY ARE. We know that overconfidence is an issue and that male disappointment in the face of unrealistic expectations is a big problem. Where are our best-selling books telling men to be a little more humble about their abilities? Or books discussing how widespread tolerance for men's overestimation of their own abilities may be detrimental to them and those around them? Including at school and work?

We've known about this gap for ages. "Something" happens to create it, roughly between the ages of 4 and 14. That "something" will not be significantly offset by individual girls and women pulling themselves up by the bootstraps. That "something" is good old-fashioned sexism expressed in gendered socialization and a default cultural preference for institutionalized male domination of public life. It starts when we are born and is cultivated in homes and in schools, on screens and on fields.

Girls are ceding public space before they even have a chance to engage. We don't call this a girl crisis when, quite clearly, it is. By the time boys and girls leave high school and enter college, boys are twice as likely to say they are prepared to run for office. As teenagers, girls are six times as likely to experience anxiety and depression. Probably because, in addition to a whole host of other things, it's seriously cognitively disjunctive to grow up hearing "girl power" marketing babble and have to terms with quite evident marginalization and historical erasure. The confidence gap is a symptom of a bigger rite of passage for girls: the inflection point when self-objectification and internalized sexism settle into a girl's psyche because, to put it in market terms, cultural capital is so unevenly distributed. That entirely gendered ceding of self is what all this confidence gap closing is about.

If we want adult women to be more confident; to negotiate for a job, equal pay and promotions more effectively; and to become leaders and run for office, her is what we need to do:

Stop telling girls to be "little ladies" and "good" girls who help with chores, wait their turns, do not display pride, express anger or be demanding as children.  Politeness and taking turns, two highly-ranked lessons we teach girls in particular, are not virtues in the public sphere.

Examine implicit biases and stop interrupting and talking over girls. This is something that parents and teachers do twice as often to girls as to boys. You know what this teaches? That girls' words and thoughts are not as important or valued. The most powerful illustration of the effects of gender on perceptions of importance, competence and speech are the experiences of people who undergo sex changes. In the wake of Larry Summers' "women can't do math" controversy several years ago, scientist Ben Barres wrote publicly about his female-to-male transition experience. After transitioning, he gave a well-received scientific speech and overheard a member of the audience explain that "his work is much better than his sister's," referring to when he was Barbara Barres. Notably, he concluded that one of the major benefits of being male was that he could now "even complete a whole sentence without being interrupted by a man."

Stop promoting the idea that masculinized expression is superior and that women have to emulate it to be successful. The expectation that women be gender bi-lingual, or code switch, is a function of being part of a muted group. The kind of confidence that many people advocate just means a woman has work very hard to overcome sexist gender incongruities to succeed. Nip American male "boys will be boys" entitlements in the bud by holding boys and girls to the same standards of self-regulation as children.

Understand that our country's early childhood math gap, an indicator of so much else in society and achievement of "success," is larger than others' and that is related not to girl's inability to do math, but to higher male status. I spoke to a boy crisis in education crisis author recently who revealed, despite writing several books, that he was had done no cross-cultural examination of math aptitude.

Don't be apathetic about challenging schools to teach women's history. Despite girls' higher academic achievements, girls are leaving schools feeling less secure in their abilities.  Girls go into our schools with assuredness and ambition, but they don't leave them that way. Boys however, suffer no degradation of confidence in school. All of this takes place in schools contorting themselves over misunderstandings of the boy crisis in education. Boy crisis in education proponents struggle to justify their concerns when they don't seem to correlate with men's higher levels of confidence, pay, political ambition or any number of other metrics that we gauge success by. The erasure of women's past accomplishments and struggles is depriving boys and girls both of the imagination to see women as powerful agents of change. By suppressing this history, we fail to prepare them for citizenship, we actively make them culturally illiterate, we undermine our ability to create an effective workforce that provides equal opportunity and leverages the talents of all people and we fail to grow adults who can think critically. Can you or children you know answer one or two of these six very basic questions pertaining to women's historic work. The "confidence gap" will never close until everyone is equally fluent in this history as they are with our male dominated one.

Don't tolerate the everyday sexism of male control of religious leadership. This alone would yield seriously positive results for girls and women's confidence. Why wouldn't you reject any notion of God that incorporates the idea that women cannot speak to and for God on equal terms as a man? What kind of ridiculous message is that to send children? There are alternatives everywhere if you want to find them.

Challenge institutions that employ sexual objectification. Not just the blatant sort in advertising and media, but the insidious kind that is part of conventional thinking. For example, dress codes and purity ideals.

Make gender awareness and critical media literacy skills a priority in education. Media is a psychic gift to boys, especially, in the U.S., white boys. It's a lifetime legacy to look around and see yourself represented in diverse, multidimensional ways. Wearing clothes.

Stop focusing on individual women and their choices and spend time on what systemic change has to happen to close this gap. All the confidence in the world will change nothing fundamentally unless we have wholesale cultural will to create institutionalized parity. What too many people are choosing to infer from books like Kay's and Shipman's, or other such as Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In, is that women's lack of confidence is all in our heads. That is not the authors' intent, but it's a popular outcome.

The fact that our competence and credibility are questioned is not in our heads. It's in the workplace, in courts, in law enforcement, in doctors' offices, and in our political system. Women, even those with excessive belief in their own abilities, are expected to prove their qualifications and have more of them. We need more qualifications in order to be paid fairly and to succeed. People and institutions demand it. Managers overwhelmingly distrust women who request flextime. People don't trust women to be bosses, or pilots, or employees. In Pakistan, the controversial Hoodooed Ordinance still requires a female rape victim to procure four male witnesses to her rape or risk prosecution for adultery. That may sound extreme and "other," until you think about how our own rape shame trajectories work. When is the last time you saw sad news about a rapist killing himself out of shame? Of course, women are trusted to be mothers, the largest pool of undervalued, economically crucial labor.

Men wake up, look in the mirror and feel perfectly confident talking about virtually anything because they can. That's not a gross oversimplification.

Improving individual female confidence will not address the fact that when boys and men speak we think what they have to say is more important. Boys and men know this because we teach them, and everyone else, that what they do and say is more important. It's so easy to see. A study about gender and online interactions showed that on list serves, topics introduced by men have a much higher rate of response. On Twitter, men are retweeted two times more often than women. There's no shortage of confident women on Twitter.

I may have a great deal of confidence, but that does not mean the same thing as thinking others will as well. Nor does my confidence affect that of the boys and men around me. The amount of times I have been in meetings and had men talk over me, ignore me, interrupt me and repeat what I say as though I'd never uttered a word is genuinely staggering. I've had teenage boys write me to explain my area of expertise to me. Just now, a man I've never met stopped at my table, asked me what I was writing and made what he termed "helpful suggestions." It's why Rebecca Solnit's coining the term "mansplaining" resonated culturally. Every woman in the world has experiences this.

Telling women to operate more like men in the public sphere, change their speech, change their hair, change their clothes and change their style of expression will only amplify androcentric norms. If we want to close the confidence gap, of course it helps to talk to women about self-doubt, but really closing this gap, as with all the others -- pay, safety, rights -- requires structural changes in every institution we live with. That's a matter of collective will that we are still painfully lacking. I predict that feminism will die, well, at least a dozen more times before that happens.

Danielle Cadet: Why We Aren't Changing The 'once You Go Black' Headline

Danielle Cadet: Why We Aren't Changing The 'once You Go Black' Headline 2014-04-23

I work in the media and I write about race. It's a lethal combination that leaves me open to unsolicited feedback and criticism and, sometimes, racist attacks. But I do it because I've always thought race is one of those topics we still don't know how to discuss in this country, and I take great pride in being one of the people who is trying to figure that out.

But something happened yesterday that reminded me how incredibly complicated things can get when privilege and ignorance meet social media.

Last week, Black Voices published a story entitled "Proof That Once You Go Black, You Never Go Back," as a celebration of famous interracial couples and love in general, with a tongue-in-cheek headline. Yesterday, Salon writer Mary Beth Williams took issue with that headline and decided to make it her mission to publicly shame The Huffington Post for writing such a ghastly -- and in her opinion, racist -- story.

Jesus fucking Christ, HuffPo.

-- Mary Beth Williams (@embeedub) April 22, 2014

When friends of mine sent me the inevitable "Have you seen this?" chat, I initially wrote off Williams as a rabble-rouser who completely missed the point of the article and didn't deserve any further attention. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. But as the conversation continued, I realized she missed the mark entirely.

Williams has criticized The Huffington Post in the past, and sometimes rightfully so. However, she completely ignored the implications of the conversation she decided to take on; a conversation about a culture she obviously knows very little about but felt she could authoritatively police and discuss.

She wrote a piece titled "HuffPo's Worst Headline?" in which she offers a scathing review of the post and chastises the editorial team's lack of tact. Fair enough.

However, it's painfully obvious that not only is Williams unfamiliar with the "once you go black, you never go back" phrase itself, she's ignorant to the colloquial nature of the statement within black culture as a whole. She failed to do a little bit of research and understand that while the phrase may have origins in the blaxploitation era, it has evolved into an empowering statement that represents a prideful celebration of how wonderful African Americans really are. In short, black people are so great, once you love one of us you will love all of us. It is a phrase that celebrates blackness in the same way the phrases "black don't crack" or "black girls rock" do. People who use it are not looking to put other races down; they are simply complimenting a race that has historically been subjected to criticism for centuries.

Don't get me wrong, I'm totally aware that the statement could be misread and misconstrued. It could be seen as a fetishizing or over-sexualizing of African-American bodies, a challenge the community has grappled with since slavery. One could assume that we're reducing these loving relationships and these individuals to the single quality of their race. For the record, Robert De Niro is likely with Gloria Hightower because she's an incredible woman, not simply because she's black. The point is black men and woman can, in fact, be incredible -- a revelation some people in this country haven't come to accept or understand just yet.

Not only did Williams fail to offer any of those examples as a substantive reason for her argument, she fails to acknowledge the evolution of the phrase and how it can also be seen as a celebration of black beauty and interracial love. This is obvious in her literal interpretation of the phrase that not only has a white person who falls in love with a black person "gone black" but they are in fact "never going back." Let's be frank, plenty of white people go back to dating white people after dating a black person. It's not a hard and fast rule. It's a saying.

In her article, Williams fails to acknowledge that the post was specifically published in the Black Voices section of the site. However, she makes it a point to identify Jessica Dickerson, the writer of the article -- who in fact happens to be a product of an interracial marriage herself. Not only is Dickerson not clueless about race and the world, she is actually a perfect example of exactly "how beautiful love can be, no matter what the color of your skin is."

But despite all of these facts, Williams felt emboldened enough to authoritatively dictate and police the conversations in a community she apparently knows very little about. She uses a condescending tone, chastising our editorial team for playing off of a statement with a history she's seemingly unaware of. Her privilege has veiled her perspective so much that she doesn't even take the time to ask if black people are offended. Instead, she states that of course all people MUST be offended by such a ghastly statement.

Later, she pointed out that the headline hadn't been changed.

Pssst HuffPo still hasn't changed the headline. Enjoy the crazy now before they wise up!

-- Mary Beth Williams (@embeedub) April 22, 2014

But what she failed to realize is there is in fact no "wising up" that needs to take place. The story was intended for a community that understood the use of the phrase, and it was written in a way that celebrated love regardless of race. Changing the headline would only alienate the community Black Voices is serving, because, quite frankly, it made some white people uncomfortable. While we wholeheartedly acknowledge that on The Huffington Post platform, Black Voices stories are sure to appeal to non-black readers, we maintain that our audience should be our first priority and that we should draw the line between writing for our community and alienating it.

Every media outlet makes mistakes, and I'll be the first to acknowledge them when we do. However, I don't feel this was one of them. People of all races will differ in opinions, which they are well within their right to do. But opinions are served best when they are informed, and it is quite clear that Mary Beth Williams was not.

Chelsea Manning: A Statement On My Legal Name Change

Chelsea Manning: A Statement On My Legal Name Change 2014-04-23

Today is an exciting day. A judge in the state of Kansas has officially ordered my name to be changed from "Bradley Edward Manning" to "Chelsea Elizabeth Manning." I've been working for months for this change, and waiting for years.

It's worth noting that both in mail and in person, I've often been asked, "Why are you changing your name?" The answer couldn't be simpler: because it's a far better, richer, and more honest reflection of who I am and always have been: a woman named Chelsea.

But there is another question I've been asked nearly as much: "Why are you making this request of the Leavenworth district court?" This is a more complicated question, but the short answer is simple: because I have to.

Unfortunately, the trans* community faces three major obstacles to living a normal life in America: identity documentation, gender-segregated institutions, and access to health care. And I've only just jumped through the first one of these hurdles.

In our current society it's the most banal things, such as showing an ID card, going to the bathroom, and receiving trans-related health care, that keep us from having the means to live better, more productive, and safer lives. Unfortunately, there are many laws and procedures that often don't consider trans* people, or even outright prevent them from doing the sort of simple, day-to-day things that others take for granted.

Now I am waiting on the military to assist me in accessing health care. In August I requested that the military provide me with a treatment plan consistent with the recognized professional standards of care for trans health. They quickly evaluated me and informed me that they had come up with a proposed treatment plan. However, I have not yet seen their treatment plan, and in over eight months I have not received any response as to whether the plan will be approved or disapproved, or whether it follows the guidelines of qualified health professionals.

I'm optimistic that things can -- and certainly will -- change for the better. There are so many people in America today who are open and willing to discuss trans-related issues. Hopefully today's name change, while so meaningful to me personally, can also raise awareness of the fact that we trans* people exist everywhere in America today, and that we must jump through hurdles every day just for being who we are. If I'm successful in obtaining access to trans health care, not only will it be something I have wanted for a long time myself, but it will open the door for many people, both inside and outside the military, to request the right to live more open, fulfilled lives.

Thank you, Chelsea Manning

*Note: Chelsea prefers "trans*" (with an asterisk) to denote not only transgender men and women but those who identify outside a gender binary. For a better understanding of transgender people and the issues important to them, we recommend checking out GLAAD's "Transgender 101" blog.

For instructions on writing to Chelsea to tell her of your support, click here.

This post originally appeared on

Judge H. Lee Sarokin: My Friendship With A Convicted Murderer: Rubin 'hurrican

Judge H. Lee Sarokin: My Friendship With A Convicted Murderer: Rubin 'hurricane' Carter 2014-04-23

Rubin "Hurricane" Carter telephoned me a few days ago and said: "I want yours to be the last voice I hear before I pass away, because you were the one who gave my life back to me. I love you man."

We both cried. He died a few days later. Twenty-eight years ago, I issued an order freeing Rubin Carter from prison after he had served 19 years for murders that I am convinced he did not commit. His call in April came as a surprise to me, because he has called to thank me on November 7th every year -- all 28 years -- on the anniversary of his release.

His case came to me on an application for a writ of habeas corpus. Before my decision I never saw or met the man. But after the decision and the endless appeals by the prosecution -- ultimately to the United States Supreme Court, I came to know him. He is the greatest testament to the human spirit of anyone I have ever known. His conviction cost him his career as a boxer, his family and his freedom, and yet he never uttered a word of bitterness. Even facing death, he was upbeat and trying to cheer me up at the news of his terminal illness.

He devoted himself and his life to others who had been wrongly convicted. We spoke together at law schools and to a variety of audiences. He was always in good humor* and appreciative of whatever invitation or opportunity was presented to him to speak of the importance of habeas corpus review and the dangers of convicting the innocent. He never failed to carry with him and display the writ that had freed him. The movie about his life, The Hurricane, provided him with some notoriety, but he never lost his humility or his love for his new found freedom. He was always the messenger. His descriptions of the horrendous life of prisoners made listeners have empathy even for the guilty.

To the very end he was positive. He spoke only of his life after prison and what he hoped he had accomplished. There are books written about him and his resolve never to surrender his pride and dignity even while in prison. Despite repeated solitary confinements, he refused to bow to certain prison rules because it would have represented an acknowledgment that he belonged there -- something he refused to do. I know that there are still some out there that think he was guilty, but the man I knew was gentle, caring and courageous. I have often said that if he was lying to me over all of these years, he is a better actor than Denzel Washington. I was honored to know him and be his friend.

*As evidence of his sense of humor, he sent me a picture of a huge fish he had caught with the inscription: "Dear Judge -- Without you this fish would still be alive. Love Rubin"

Leanne Scorzoni: A Hymn To Boston

Leanne Scorzoni: A Hymn To Boston 2014-04-23

The Boston Marathon course is long. Hilly.

The first half rolls through sleepy towns most of us don't know exist. Past ponds and wetlands, train tracks and ice cream stands. Scenes of American life so perfect they look staged. Little girls in red wagons hand me orange slices. Bikers drinking beer astride their motorcycles give me high fives and scream my name plastered across my chest. We run past the man who blasts sports radio and writes out the current Red Sox score on a chalkboard for the runners.

I had grown up being a spectator so I knew how unpredictable the Boston course combined with New England weather could be. But I was not running for time, I was not in competition. My singular goal was to cross the finish line sprinting. After last year's bombing and all the precautions that came with it, my marathon mantra was simple: worst-case scenario for everything. I used layers of sunblock and Vaseline all over my body. Every downhill I pretended to run like I was on eggshells. Every uphill I bent my knees and leaned into it. When the temperature climbed, every two water stops I dumped water over my head. As arrogant as it sounds Heartbreak Hill was easy, but only because I was prepared for how bad it would be.

After the bombs went off last year I grieved long before my toes stepped to this year's starting line. I screamed with my relatives who grew up attending the marathon with me, all of us raging about the fact someone could do this to the people of our city. I cried with Muslim friends and spoke at masjids about why the marathon had such a special place in the hearts of Bostonians. I've never felt I was an ambassador for anything. I was only completing a personal dream and raising money to fight pediatric cancer. To be a representative for an entire religion is insulting to everyone that came before me. I simply told my own story as a Boston runner who happened to be Muslim. I spoke into microphones from Washington and Connecticut, smiled into cameras that broadcasted to Dubai, Amman and Jeddah. I made sure Fox News spelled my name correctly, and shook every reporter and cameraman's hand firmly enough to make an impression. With every quote, picture and publication I steeled myself for negative reactions that never came.

My feet crossed the finish line of the 118th Boston Marathon in a time of 5:14:17. I'm sure there have been people before me that have compared running a marathon to giving birth. The universal symbolism of a body and mind working together and locked in a bubble of pain and raw emotion. There is blood, sometimes a lot. Runners sob to the sky, others laugh hysterically as their mind starts to grow weak. A few weave and sway across the pavement as their legs give out for the first time, the final time, continuously. I was surprised to find none of that existed for me on Marathon Monday. All the pain sloughed off the further I ran. But what I felt as I gritted my teeth and sprinted the last 50 yards past the line on Boylston Street was the humanity all around me. In my final steps I saw my mother's tears and her pink jacket. My sunburned best friend hugging me, screaming without words. My friend from Saudi Arabia yelling my name and waving a water bottle over his head, liquid spilling down his shirt. The roar of the crowd, a living organism reaching out to wave, to touch, a mass of life emotionally present with me. The reverence of that. The gratefulness of that from one human to another.

As Bostonians we took back our city, we ran to heal and move forward. We did not run as men or women, Christians or Muslims, elites or Average Joes. We ran as a city, we ran as a collective of humanity in its finest hour. And I am truly humbled and blessed to say that this year out of all years, I am a Boston Marathon finisher, and I am Boston Strong.