Right Wing Rings The Wrong Bell

They should just rename Fox News the “Black Presidents Scare The Shit Out Of Us” network. If nothing else, Sean Hannity is consistent—he inundates the airwaves every day with “Obama is a Communist/Marxist/Socialist/SecretMuslim" practically every time he is on the air. The video Hannity “premiered” on his show had actually been shown on PBS years ago, albeit without the “solidarity man hug” Comrade Obama gave Comrade Bell. The occasion seems to have been a public protest at Harvard University to improve its faculty diversity.


Obama: “And I remember that the black law students had organized an orientation for the first-year students. And one of the — persons who spoke at that orientation was Professor Bell. And I remember him sauntering up to the front and not giving us a lecture, but engaging us in a conversation and speaking the truth and telling us that he [inaudible] to learn at this place that I’ve carried with me ever since. Now how did this one man do all this? How has he accomplished all this? He hasn’t done it simply by his good looks and easy charm — although he has both in ample measure. He hasn’t done it simply because of the excellence of his scholarship, although his scholarship has opened up new vistas and new horizons and changed the standards of what legal writing is about. Open up your hearts and your minds to the words of Professor Derrick Bell.”

Barack Obama, Harvard Law Review President, introducing Derrick Bell

Watch Obama Speaks at Harvard Law in '90 on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.

The thing that was the most interesting about the program was Hannity’s assertion that Derrick Bell was a “radical” of some sort for insisting that America had been founded on racially inequitable terms. I must be a radical of some sort myself for using quotes from one of Mr. Bell’s books last month to better illuminate an article I’d written on religion. Unless the history books modern day conservatives like Hannity consult have rewritten history, Derrick Bell’s assessment of how entrenched racial bias is in our American institutions is correct in many, many ways, beginning with the original Constitution itself, where only white males were considered to be full citizens of the country, even though the toil of blacks, Indians, and women contributed greatly to the success of what where then nascent American ideals.

In some ways, it is instructive to watch the way the entire Fox News ecosystem operates as a microcosm of the way millions of Americans think. The hosts on the Fox News channel choose to focus on race and perceived racial bias much more than any other news channel, yet insist that it is President Obama’s fault that they have to even deal with these kinds of issues. President Obama is routinely derided as “in over his head”, “incompetent”, “ineffective”, “lacking leadership ability” and then touted as a man to be feared because he’s “coming after whitey”, often in the same breath, as if he is a nonsensical combination of Stepin Fetchit and Nation of Islam’s Rev. Louis Farrakahn all rolled into one.

The thing about the Fox News is crowd is that they want to have it both ways. They want to complain if we black people don’t appear to be pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps, or claim that we are helpless victims. But if we attempt to organize ourselves, if we attempt to question and challenge the very practices and institutions that block full access to opportunity, we are somehow “radicals”, instead of American citizens who question and challenge the status quo  in the interest of becoming more self reliant.

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Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder found that the fatty 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid from the soil-residing bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae aids immune cells in blocking pathways that increase inflammation and the ability to combat stress.

The study's senior author and Integrative Physiology Professor Christopher Lowry described this fat as "one of the main ingredients" in the "special sauce" that causes the beneficial effects of the bacterium.

The finding goes hand in hand with the "hygiene hypothesis," initially proposed in 1989 by the British scientist David Strachan. He maintained that our generally sterile modern world prevents children from being exposed to certain microorganisms, resulting in compromised immune systems and greater incidences of asthma and allergies.

Contemporary research fine-tuned the hypothesis, finding that not interacting with so-called "old friends" or helpful microbes in the soil and the environment, rather than the ones that cause illnesses, is what's detrimental. In particular, our mental health could be at stake.

"The idea is that as humans have moved away from farms and an agricultural or hunter-gatherer existence into cities, we have lost contact with organisms that served to regulate our immune system and suppress inappropriate inflammation," explained Lowry. "That has put us at higher risk for inflammatory disease and stress-related psychiatric disorders."

University of Colorado Boulder

Christopher Lowry

This is not the first study on the subject from Lowry, who published previous work showing the connection between being exposed to healthy bacteria and mental health. He found that being raised with animals and dust in a rural environment helps children develop more stress-proof immune systems. Such kids were also likely to be less at risk for mental illnesses than people living in the city without pets.

Lowry's other work also pointed out that the soil-based bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae acts like an antidepressant when injected into rodents. It alters their behavior and has lasting anti-inflammatory effects on the brain, according to the press release from the University of Colorado Boulder. Prolonged inflammation can lead to such stress-related disorders as PTSD.

The new study from Lowry and his team identified why that worked by pinpointing the specific fatty acid responsible. They showed that when the 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid gets into cells, it works like a lock, attaching itself to the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR). This allows it to block a number of key pathways responsible for inflammation. Pre-treating the cells with the acid (or lipid) made them withstand inflammation better.

Lowry thinks this understanding can lead to creating a "stress vaccine" that can be given to people in high-stress jobs, like first responders or soldiers. The vaccine can prevent the psychological effects of stress.

What's more, this friendly bacterium is not the only potentially helpful organism we can find in soil.

"This is just one strain of one species of one type of bacterium that is found in the soil but there are millions of other strains in soils," said Lowry. "We are just beginning to see the tip of the iceberg in terms of identifying the mechanisms through which they have evolved to keep us healthy. It should inspire awe in all of us."

Check out the study published in the journal Psychopharmacology.