6 Of Your Favorite Foods (That Have Horrible Secrets)

We don’t mean to overstate our case, but some might say that food is literally crucial to human survival. That’s why, over time, we’ve learned to stop eating random berries in the forest and pay attention to what exactly we’re putting into our food holes. But while we assume that our restaurants, grocery stores, and farmers are being honest about what they’re selling, the horrific truth is that what they’re truly feeding us are lies. Damn lies.

And sometimes mold.


Wineries Are Spiking Wines With Wood Chips And Grape Juice

Good wine, the kind that doesn’t come in boxes with a mascot on it, can get expensive. It’s made from the finest of grapes, and is then left to ferment in caskets made of rich oak. That’s why wines with a deep color and a slightly wooden taste are a surefire sign of quality. Except that wineries have found a much more efficient way of giving their wine its oaken flavor: They simply put wood in the wine.

Greece and Grapes“I’m getting hints of broken chair and old deck.”

Turns out that those barrels you saw on the tour of your local winery may have only been for show. Wooden barrels are now being replaced with steel vats, but to keep the wine’s expensive oaken taste, it gets mixed with “barrel alternatives.” That’s a fancy term for wood staves, chips, and even shavings thrown into a vat along with the wine. Why? Because using shavings shaves a dollar off the price of a bottle (on their end, of course, not ours), up until all those splinter-related lawsuits presumably start pouring in.

Carol Franzia/Bronco WineYes, this one has a very nice garden hose bouquet.

But that’s not the only way wineries are cutting corners. A lot of wine is made using something called “Mega Purple,” which sounds like the main villain in a coloring-themed manga. It’s a grape concentrate, or slurry, which big wine labels add to underwhelming red wine to intensify the flavor and color and sometimes even to mask spoilage. It’s estimated that over 25 million bottles get spiked with Mega Purple on a yearly basis. Many wineries rely so heavily on it that they have their own reverse-osmosis machines which let them make their own concentrates by extracting the alcohol from their shitty wines to pump up slightly less shitty wine. Yummy.

Andy Perdue/Great Northwest WineThe flavor of a thousand $3 wines.

And then there’s the migrant labor. California’s famous Napa Valley is heavily dependent on migrant laborers, to the extent that The New York Times wrote that “nearly every drop” of the wine depends on them. And lest you think they’re being treated well, that’s not how migrant labor works. Vineyards overwork their laborers, and often cheat them out of most of their paychecks through exorbitant living expenses, making it so that a typical worker might only earn $10 for ten hours of backbreaking work. It seems that from field to cellar, something other than grapes is being squeezed.


A Third Of All Fish Is Intentionally Mislabeled

Like most humans (except for those people who compulsively eat pennies), we’re very particular about the things we eat. As a result, “mystery meat” is regarded as less of a gourmet experience and more of a post-apocalyptic necessity. But in seafood restaurants, one out of three times, what you shovel on your fork might not be what you pointed at on the menu at all.

As we’ve mentioned before, the food industry has a long history of falsely labeling things to attract picky customers. However, when it comes to selling fish, mislabeling has become an epidemic. According to an investigation by Oceana, which tested 1,200 samples from supermarkets and restaurants across 21 states, it was discovered that 33 percent of fish were mislabeled. In South California, that number rose to an astonishing 52 percent, meaning there were more phony fish than the real McCod. Nowhere but LA could even their fish be mostly fake.

Yoon S. Byun/The Boston GlobeOne always lies about being tuna, the other always tells the truth. You may ask no questions.

The fish most likely to be counterfeit was red snapper. Of the 120 samples they tested, only seven were in truth red snapper, making them the rarest fish to spot, second only to the Loch Ness monster. White tuna also belongs on a milk carton, as 84 percent of its samples turned out to be escolar, which can cause nasty digestive problems. Other commonly mislabeled fish include halibut, grouper, cod, and Chilean sea bass. And it turns out that sushi restaurants also rest their sashimi on a bed of lies, because 74 percent of the samples from such venues were mislabeled, making your local gas station actually the safest place to eat sushi.

So for those of us who would like to know what sea monster we’re shoveling down our throats, here’s a helpful chart:

OceanaAnd the side of prawns you ordered are spray-painted cockroaches.

As you can tell, lots of these hidden fish don’t sound too tasty, and they’re also nowhere near as valuable as the listed fish. But even if they were as good (they aren’t), not a lot of people would pay the same for some slickback, toothfish, or weakfish … or giltheaded seabream, which sounds like one of Jethro Tull’s lesser albums. We’re most worried about the Asian “catfish,” but that’s because we don’t believe in eating food that comes with a garnish of quotation marks.


Farmers Markets And Farm-To-Table Restaurants Are Full Of Frauds

Tired of the faceless franchise eateries serving over-salted slop? The depressingly lit chain supermarkets selling you genetically modified, hormone-injected, battery-farmed zucchinis? Well then it’s time to put on your horn-rimmed glasses and plaid shirt and head on over to those quaint farmers markets and farm-to-table eateries for some wholesome, unmolested food. Except that the ethical side of food production isn’t all that ethical either, having been infiltrated by frauds and con artists. Who knew you couldn’t trust some random dude in overalls?

In California, farmers market cheaters are running rampant. Plenty of the state is farmland, so it’s easy to assume most of your food is coming straight from the field. However, when the NBCLA did an undercover investigation of farmers markets in the area, they discovered that many of them were clearly selling produces they hadn’t cultivated themselves.

See, in order to sell at a farmers market, you actually have to be a farmer — a verified one, with a pitchfork and everything. But when the NBCLA drove to the “farms,” all they found were a bunch of weeds / dirt fields. So unless these farmers were all part of some wizardly hippie collective magicking up their produce out of thin air, it’s safe to assume they were selling you the same stuff you could find at a Walmart at half the price. Fake farmers are popping up all over the country, some of them so brazen that they’ll specifically label their food pesticide-free while having no idea whether that’s true or not. How would they know? They’re not really farmers.

The same sort of chicanery goes on at farm-to-table restaurants. A series of exposes in The Tampa Bay Times revealed the myriad ways your favorite locally sourced hipster eating collective could be lying to you, from frozen food masquerading as fresh and buying pre-made dishes, to fish mislabeling and food marked as “organic” or “non-GMO” which was the exact opposite. As the owner of the famous Chino Farms noted: “Chefs will come, write down notes, leave without buying anything, and then say they’re serving our food at their restaurants.” They hypocrisy is so intense that one restaurant even had a “F**k Monsanto Salad” on its menu (along with truffle fries), but when a reporter confronted the chef about where he got his produce, he shrugged and said, “It’s really hard to find non-GMO produce.” But it’s so, so easy to lie.


Lots Of Craft Whiskey Labels Don’t Even Make Their Own Alcohol

Whiskey is the drink that breaks through all social barriers — and we don’t just mean that it’ll make you get naked in public. The brown stuff is famous for its variety in taste, each brand having its own distinct flavor profile. There’s a whiskey out there for everyone, almost literally these days. With the growing popularity of small batches, hundreds of artisanal whiskeys are bringing their subtly unique flavor to the masses. Well, not all that unique, really, as most American small batches all come from the same giant vats in Indiana.

Eagle Country OnlineYour typical seven-story startup.

While craft whiskeys like to pretend they’re all wholesome small businesses distilling hooch from an ancient family recipe, the sad truth that this is often a marketing stunt. To cut corners, many of these new artisanal labels buy their alcohol wholesale from a single factory distillery in Indiana. MGP (formerly Seagrams) mass produces all kinds of alcohol (including “food grade industrial alcohol”), and is known for its low cost and consistency in taste — the same consistency that then gets poured into dozens of differently labeled bottles, each boasting of their “individual and unique” taste. So if you ever wondered how you were able to buy 15-year-aged rye from a company that only started in June, there’s your answer.

As for the why, start-up distilleries often use the same excuse. They do it as “a means to develop a brand and help fund the next step” of distilling their own alcohol. But it’s easier and cheaper and lazier, and often they never stop. Some craft labels even go as far as to create “Potemkin distilleries” — shiny distilleries that produce nothing but the appearance of self-sufficiency while the label keeps slinging their cheap factory booze. Even some pretty large labels cut the same corners, such as Bulleit, George Dickel rye, and Angel’s Envy, while other so-called craft labels are in fact owned by bigger, more mass-produced companies looking to upsell their leftovers. Most of them don’t even modify their factory booze before they pour it into their fancy bottles, which turn out to be the only things they put some effort into.

Knotter BourbonAt least these guys are upfront about it.

But if you really like MGP’s stuff (after all, you’ve probably already drunk loads of it without realizing), at least there’s one label that doesn’t lie to you. Knotter (as in “not our”) Bourbon markets its booze with the statement “We didn’t distill this bourbon. Nope, not a drop.” Now that’s the kind of straight-shootin’ honesty we like to see.


Licorice Causes All Sorts Of Medical Problems

Licorice is one of those divisive candies. Either you love ’em, or you’ve eaten the black ones. Its distinctive taste comes from the licorice root, a plant that shows nature can easily be a very boring Willy Wonka. But as is the case with any plant life, new biological discoveries can change the way we look at them each day. And unfortunately for licorice fans out there, licorice root is terrible for you.

Rik Schuiling/TropCrop – TCSAnd not just terrible-tasting.

In 2001, Finnish researchers discovered that licorice root is a complicating factor in pregnancies, leading to premature birth — so best not use it as a teething tool either unless you want your kid to stay under four feet. But the list goes on. The root can also be a contributing factor in kidney disease, breast malignancies, and (obviously) diabetes. It can also interfere with medicines such as blood thinners and insulin. It’s poison, is what we’re saying. Just be safe and eat sugar straight out of the bag.

But don’t worry about those little health niggles, as licorice can straight up kill you as well. Because it screws with your potassium level, the FDA has warned people over 40 that they can develop heart problems merely by eating two ounces of licorice candy daily for two weeks. The FDA even went so far as to say that everyone, regardless of their age or how healthy they are, should be careful consuming licorice. Fortunately, the problem is usually reversible if you stop eating the stuff. Great! It’s the cigarettes of sweets! Time for a whole new ad campaign.


The Best “Aged” Steaks Involve Mold

Aged steak is delicious. It’s so delicious that most of us never even question why on earth “aging” meat would be a good thing; it just obviously is. And for those of you who would like to keep living with that ignorant bliss, best you stop reading here and go enjoy a juicy Matrix steak right now.

Christopher Thomond/The GuardianBon appetit.

For the rest of you intrepid explorers … we don’t know how to sugar-coat this for you, so we’re just going to show you what your $80 dry-aged steak looks like 15 minutes before you put it in your mouth.

Men’s HealthBad appetit.

The somewhat-revolting truth is that steak gets aged by controlled rotting — like cheese, only made from the decaying carcass of a dead animal. Dry-aging beef, the old-school way of doing it, is done by placing the meat in an environment where the chef controls the temperature, humidity, and ventilation. This process causes the meat to dry in a way to increases its flavor while the beef slowly decays and becomes more tender. Meanwhile, the outer layer of the beef quickly transforms into a horrific crust of mold, which is then cut off right before you eat it, which means hobos eating out of the dumpster and people paying a few hundred dollars for a steak do have something in common after all.

Unfortunately, this fungus feast for steak lovers is only getting worse, as gourmet restaurants are starting a crazy arms race about it, trying to out-age each other like they’re bitter rivals who wound up in the same retirement home. 55-day steak, 100-day steak, 180-day steak … soon, you’ll have an aged steak that’s old enough to drive. The current winner appears to be the Dallas Chop House in Texas (where else) which served a 459-day steak. If they’d aged it any longer, it’ll look about as appetizing as a zombie from The Walking Dead right before it hits your plate.

Serious EatsAre we sure “aged” isn’t naturopath for “roadkill?”

So while the food industry is constantly lying to you about where and how your favorite eatings come into being, we guess the moral here is that sometimes, we should be grateful for the lies.

Dry-aging steak at home is actually still kind of a neat process to watch, try it yourself and see.

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Read more: http://www.cracked.com/article_25441_6-your-favorite-foods-that-have-horrible-secrets.html

“Ill Do It!”: 4-Yr-Old Hears Twin Brothers Are Dying, Tells Mom Hell Donate His Own Bone Marrow to Save Them

Bone marrow donation can be a painful and strenuous process for a full-grown adult, and much more so for a mere child. But that wasn’t enough to scare brave 4-year-old Michael Pownall from donating his bone marrow to save his twin baby brothers.

Five-month-old Santino and Giovanni were born prematurely at 33 weeks last October, after which they spent five long weeks in the NICU.

After only 10 days at home, the baby brothers were soon hospitalized again, when the Pownalls received the devastating news that they both tested positive for Chronic Granulomatous Disease (CGD). The rare immune disorder increases the body’s susceptibility to infections that are caused by certain fungi and bacteria.

CGD makes it much more difficult to fight infections that most healthy immune systems can ward off with ease. Amidst the deadliest flu season we’ve seen in years (claiming lives of those in perfect health), Santino and Giovanni’s lives were in even greater danger.

Without a bone marrow transplant, they may never get the chance to live a healthy, normal life.

The Pownalls are all too familiar with CGD, as their oldest son Dominick had also been diagnosed with the disease when he was younger. Now considered “cured” from the stem cell transplant he received at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) eight years ago, Dominick is back to full health. The Pownalls knew the same transplant would be the only hope for their youngest sons as well.

Amazingly, their middle child, 4-year-old Michael, turned out to be a perfect sibling bone-marrow match for both brothers.

“We told Michael he was the match and asked him if he would help us save his brothers’ lives,” Robin told Love What Matters. “Michael said, ‘I’m gonna give them with my bone marrow!’ I explained the entire process with him, how it may hurt, and that he will be getting a pretty large needle. He said, ‘Is it going to save them?’ We said ‘yes’ and he said, ‘Okay, I’ll do it then!’”


And he’s been resolute in his decision ever since! This brave older brother is sticking by his guns to endure the life-saving procedure, even though he was terrified as could be.

“He was scared initially as anyone would be,” said Robin. “But his courage is far more than one of a 4-year-old.”

“We are currently inpatient at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia,” she shared. “The twins are undergoing chemotherapy and will receive their transplant from their superhero brother Michael on March 8, 2018.”


“We are transferred to TRANSPLANT and everything is going according to plan!” Robin wrote in a Facebook update this week. “I’m a nervous wreck! Please pray and keep us close to your hearts.”

As for Michael, this proud mama couldn’t be more impressed with her son’s strength and selflessness throughout the process:

“Michael is proud to be saving his twin brothers lives. He is so brave, he leaves his arm out for the nurse to draw his blood. He knows what he’s about to do. It’s truly inspirational. He gives me strength just watching how strong he is…

I am so scared and nervous for all three of my boys, but when I look into their eyes, I see strength. I know everything is going to be okay.”

Read Next On FaithIt
Baby Rolls Off Couch Onto Heater—38 Yrs Later, She Gets a Shocking Message on Facebook…

Read more: https://faithit.com/4-year-old-donates-bone-marrow-twin-brothers/

Scott Pruitt Just Gutted Rules To Fight The Nations Second Biggest Toxic Pollution Threat

WASHINGTON ― The Environmental Protection Agency announced plans Thursday to scrap Obama-era rules tightening restrictions on disposal of coal ash, the toxic byproduct from coal-fired power plants that has caused major water contamination problems across the country.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt billed the new proposal as a bid to give states more independence over coal ash disposal, though he moved to reconsider the 2015 regulation in September at the request of fossil fuel utilities.

The EPA’s announcement makes no mention of the risks coal ash poses to human health and the environment. Rather, the agency justified its move by noting it is expected to save the utility sector between $31 and $100 million annually.

“Today’s coal ash proposal embodies EPA’s commitment to our state partners by providing them with the ability to incorporate flexibilities into their coal ash permit programs based on the needs of their states,” Pruitt said in a statement.

Coal-fired power plants in the United States produce roughly 140 million tons of coal ash per year, containing toxic heavy metals such as arsenic, lead, selenium and other carcinogenic substances. The waste product is typically stored in wet ponds, nearly 46 percent of which operated without liners to prevent hazardous chemicals from seeping into groundwater, according to 2012 data released by the EPA.

Living within a mile of a wet coal ash storage pond poses a greater health threat than smoking a pack of cigarettes a day, raising the risk of cancer to one in 50, an EPA study from 2010 found. Children are particularly at risk of learning disabilities, birth defects, asthma and cancer, with 1.54 million living near such storage sites, according to EPA data cited by the Sierra Club.

“This is the second biggest toxic pollution threat in our country, and we need to clean it up – not make things easier for polluters,” Earthjustice attorney Lisa Evans said in a statement. “People living near more than a thousand toxic coal ash sites are at risk. They face contaminated drinking water, toxic dust in the air, and serious health threats just because the EPA is choosing to side with polluters over the public.”

In 2014, the EPA catalogued 158 cases where coal ash compromised water quality, including 22 that involved recycled waste product. And a government study in 2012 estimated that the damage to fish and wildlife at 21 disposal sites came at a cost of more than $2.3 billion, “enough money to construct 155 landfills with state-of-the-art composite liners and leachate collection systems.”

The rule change marks the Trump administration’s latest rollback of clean water regulations  at a time when drinking water contamination crises are proliferating across the country. In February 2017, less than a month after taking office, President Donald Trump signed a bill to allow coal companies to dump waste into streams. In June, the EPA moved to repeal the 2015 Waters of the U.S. rule that extended 1972 Clean Water Act protections to roughly 20 million acres of wetlands and streams. The agency formally suspended the rule on Jan. 31.

Scrapping the only federal rules on coal ash presents a major problem  in the face of storms, floods and other extreme weather made more frequent and intense by climate change. When Hurricane Maria made landfall over Puerto Rico last year, flood waters swelled the river in the city of Guayama, wreaking havoc on the city’s 42,000 residents and distributing its five-story-tall tower of coal ash.

Coal ash in particular has long been a hot-button issue in the utility industry. In 2014, Duke Energy, one of the country’s biggest power companies, spilled nearly 39,000 tons of coal ash into the Dan River, causing one of North Carolina’s biggest environmental disasters in its history. In 2016, then Gov. Pat McCrory (R) signed a bill that dramatically watered down legislation forcing Duke to clean up its coal ash pits without requiring the company to excavate the waste or provide clean water to residents near the pond. Yet, two years later, the company is still battling environmentalists and regulators in the state as the utility seeks to pass the cleanup costs onto ratepayers in the form of a price hike.

In a separate legal fight over coal ash, the Tennessee Valley Authority, the nation’s biggest public utility, last month appealed a federal judge’s order to clean up decades of coal ash environmentalists say poisoned water in the Volunteer State. Eighteen states and an alliance of big corporate interests urged an appeals court to overturn the decision last month.

Gutting the EPA’s rules on coal ash pollution takes some pressure off the utilities, but thrusts the industry back into the sort of “regulatory uncertainty” Pruitt vowed to alleviate. In 2014, before the EPA passed its coal ash rule, the American Coal Ash Association, a trade group, complained about “regulatory uncertainty that has impeded the beneficial use of coal ash for half a decade.”

It’s unclear whether Pruitt’s new rule promotes recycling coal ash for other uses. Coal ash can be used to pave roads, though the environmentalists say even that poses pollution risks. And last year, Purdue University researchers announced new technology to sift rare earth elements ― highly-valued components used in electronics and renewable energy hardware ― out of coal ash waste.

Thomas Adams, executive director of the American Coal Ash Association, said he hopes the next part of the EPA’s announcement will include changing a rule that mandates companies to go through a risk evaluation when stockpiling more than 12,400 tons of coal ash for anything other than road projects. The EPA set the threshold in 2015 based on what Adams called an “arithmetic error” that he argued hurts the market for using coal ash in cement manufacturing or to fill structures such as building foundations. He said he hopes the EPA will raise the limit to 75,000 tons.

“It [the rule] depresses the market,” he told HuffPost by phone.

Thursday’s announcement is part of a broader effort by the Trump administration to end a perceived “war” on coal waged by the Obama administration. Last year, the Utility Solid Waste Activities Group petitioned the EPA to roll back the Obama-era coal ash rule, calling it ”burdensome, inflexible, and often impracticable.” The organization of some 80 utilities warned that regulating coal ash disposal would “result in significant economic and operational impacts to coal-fired power generation,” and could even force power plants to shut down.

The EPA did not respond to a request for comment.

Read more: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/epa-coal-ash-rule_us_5a999023e4b0a0ba4ad2e630

The CDC Can’t Fund Gun Research. What if that Changed?

America doesn't have good data on guns. Blame the Dickey amendment. First introduced in 1996, the legislation didn't ban gun investigations explicitly (it forbade the use of federal dollars in the advocacy or promotion of gun control), but Congress that year also cut the budget for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention by the exact amount it had previously devoted to firearm research. It's had a chilling effect on the field ever since. (While some states and private foundations are conducting peer reviewed studies on gun violence, the federal government has been AWOL.) That means policymakers in Washington have little information about what causes gun violence, how it can be prevented or reduced, and who is most at risk.

But that could change. The February 14 killings in Parkland, Florida led a bipartisan group of lawmakers to consider repealing the Dickey amendment and resuming government-backed gun-research. Which raises a pressing question: If the CDC were to resume funding studies on the epidemiology of firearm violence, what questions would they want to answer right now?

"We don't know enough about the risk factors, for either the perpetrators or victims of gun violence," says Garen Wintemute, an ER physician and director of the UC Davis Violence Prevention Research Program.

Wintemute says that one of the big predictors of future gun violence is a history of other forms of violence, like domestic abuse. But connecting the dots between prior behavior and future threat is difficult—especially on an individual basis. That said, researchers think that by identifying early signals and studying them more closely, they could help police and social service agents make better decisions about when to intervene.

He also wants to study the psychological impact that high rates of gun violence can have on communities. Does living in place where gunfire or gun violence is common make someone more or less likely to use a gun in the future? Social scientists say they don't know the answer yet.

As for preventing the next mass shooting, experts say they don't know enough about the effectiveness of proposed interventions. Take, for instance, the "gun restraining order" laws recently enacted in California, Oregon and Washington. Such regulations allow family members as well as law enforcement to ask a judge to confiscate guns from people deemed to pose "a serious risk of harm." (In San Diego County, ten gun owners recently received court orders to surrender their weapons under the new law.) It sounds like a good idea in theory, but to expand such laws to other states, or the federal level, policymakers would need to make a case for their effectiveness. And at least for now, the data on whether the laws have a measurable impact on either suicides or murders just doesn't exist.

“There isn’t any information other than anecdotal,” says Shannon Frattaroli, associate professor of health policy at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Gun Policy and Research.

Frattaroli says a key factor, when it comes to studying the effectiveness of firearm policies, is being able to follow weapons. One way to track how violence spreads is by tracing implicated weapons to their source. In big cities plagued by gun violence, these weapons are often bought and sold illegally. "We need to understand where guns are coming from, how they get from the legal market to the hands of people who are prohibited to purchase them," Frattaroli says. "That’s important to know if we want to get a handle on the flow of guns."

Doing so will require a lot more money, time, and resources than researchers currently possess. That’s where the CDC might serve as both a deep-pocketed grant-making agency, as well as a clearinghouse for various databases on gun violence and gun ownership. A boost in funding would also attract more and better scientists to the field, whose numbers have dwindled since the Dickey amendment went into effect. “As I recruit new investigators, it has been a critical question for applicants: 'Will I have a job in a couple years, or will I have to look for a job in another field because there’s no funding,'" Wintemute says.

Social scientist and ER docs like Frattaroli and Wintemute are encouraged by the possibility that Congress might direct the CDC to renew gun research. President Trump’s Secretary of Health and Human Resources, Alex Azar, said the day after the Florida shootings that he backs such efforts. But this shift might take a while. The agency has been without a leader since January, when director Brenda Fitzgerald resigned after news reports that she purchased tobacco stocks after taking office. Any big change in the status quo of the amendment—and more money for gun violence research—will probably have to wait for a change in control of Congress.

Gun Shy

  • The United States has never funded a research center to study gun violence—so last year, California started one on its own.

  • If the CDC's commitment to gun violence research expands, it could be a surprise to these researchers, who raced to protect the little data they had from the Trump administration.

  • If it doesn't, though, researchers will continue to find novel ways to work around their utter lack of data, like this group that rifled through old gun magazines for information.

Read more: https://www.wired.com/story/what-if-the-cdc-could-fund-gun-research/

Florida Sheriff Rebukes NRA Spokeswoman Who Claims She’s ‘Fighting’ For Shooting Survivors

During a heated CNN-hosted town hall event on Wednesday night, National Rifle Association spokeswoman Dana Loesch told survivors of the Parkland, Florida school shooting that she was “fighting” for them. But Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel was quick to shut her down.

Interrupting Loesch’s response to a question about assault weapons, Israel stressed that she was “not standing up” for survivors of gun violence.

“I understand that you’re standing up for the NRA … but you just told this group of people that you’re standing up for them,” he said. “You are not standing up for them until you say, ‘I want less weapons.’”

The sheriff’s words were met with cheers and a standing ovation.

Loesch was roundly lambasted at the town hall and on social media for various comments she made about gun control, many of which were misleading.

She repeatedly said that 19-year-old school shooter Nikolas Cruz, who legally purchased an AR-15-style assault rifle and other weapons, should not have been able to buy the firearm because he was an “insane monster” and “nuts.”

“People who are crazy should not be able to get firearms,” Loesch said, echoing a common misconception that mental health issues are a primary cause of gun violence. Her remark also ignores the fact that the NRA has also vocally advocated against gun bans on people with mental illness.

Netizens took to Twitter to challenge her remarks.

Loesch was repeatedly booed by the audience at the town hall, including at this moment when she suggested that the legal age to buy a gun should not be raised so young people can protect themselves from sexual assault:

Loesch was also roundly criticized on social media for suggesting that  “fully-automatic firearms” existed during the time of the founding fathers.

Responding to a comment made by a grieving mother that the Second Amendment was written during a time of “muskets” and not the weapons of today, Loesch responded that “at the time there were fully-automatic firearms that were available, the Belton gun and the Puckle gun.”

Twitter did not hold back their ridicule.

Read more: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/scott-israel-florida-sheriff-nra-dana-loesch-cnn_us_5a8e50f4e4b0617d4639e009

Remingtons Bankruptcy May Be the Tip of the Iceberg

Firearms companies face declining sales, falling stock prices and tremendous debt. Gunmaker American Outdoor Brands Corp., formerly known as Smith & Wesson, has seen its stock plummet by almost half from 2017. On Monday, Remington Outdoor Co., an iconic, 200-year-old American firearms manufacturer, announced it’s planning to file for bankruptcy.  

With Republicans in control of Washington, there’s little chance of firearm regulation—even in the face of Wednesday’s massacre in Florida. When Barack Obama was president or Democrats controlled Congress, gun sales would generally rise after a mass shooting for fear of more restrictive laws. The gun lobby pushed these worries despite a lack of significant legislative effort by the Obama administration. Now that Donald Trump is in the Oval Office, fear of new gun laws has receded, industry executives have said. And so have sales, hurting both retailers and manufacturers such as Remington.

In December, James Debney, chief executive officer of American Outdoor, said “fear-based” buying of firearms had stopped. According to data collected by the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System, a barometer for firearms sales, January 2018 was the slowest in gun purchases since 2012. Even on Thursday, after gunmaker stocks rose in premarket trading, shares headed back down by afternoon. (The assault rifle used in the Parkland high school attack was a Smith & Wesson AR-15, police said.)

Following gun stores and manufacturers, the next victim of the industry’s political success could be distributors. Because most are privately owned, earnings data are hard to come by. Still, company debt can offer a glimpse into their financial health. The declining performance of a $140 million loan to distributor United Sporting Cos., for example, suggests there may be a problem. 

United is a private equity-owned holding company whose subsidiaries include Ellett Brothers and Jerry’s Sport Center, two gun distributors that work with more than 30,000 independent retailers across all 50 states (Sturm, Ruger & Co. says 15 percent of its sales are to the two subsidiaries). They distribute hunting and shooting-sports products, including handguns, ammunition, silencers and holsters. In 2016, Jerry’s was named “distributor of the year” by Marlin Firearms, a company owned by Remington.

A $140 million loan extended to United fell to less than half of its face value last year, according to U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filings by the loan’s holder, the business development company Prospect Capital Corp. 

Since Prospect makes loans to private companies but has issued shares to the public, it’s required to disclose its financials, even when the companies on the hook for the loan are not. In Prospect’s annual report for 2017, the company said a fair value of its loan to United was almost $47 million—about 33 percent of its face value. That was down from 94 percent in its report for the quarter ended March 31, 2017.

Michael Grier Eliasek, a director of Prospect, said in the securities filing that United had been hit by a cyclical slowdown in gun sales, as well as by the bankruptcy of a major customer, sporting goods retailer Gander Mountain. 

United and Prospect didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

“When there are elections that go a certain way, there tends to be a slowdown in sales to the firearms sector for the first six or nine months or so, and then there’s a more of a normalization thereafter,” Eliasek said in an August conference call when he was asked about the writedown, which at that time was 59 percent of face value. 

    Read more: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-02-16/remington-s-bankruptcy-may-be-the-tip-of-the-iceberg

    The Problem Isnt Just Trump. Its Our Ignorant Electorate.

    For many of us, mornings have taken on a certain nauseating sameness. We roll out from beneath the blankets and, before the scent of coffee has reached our nostrils, we are checking the news feeds for the latest semi-literate tweet coughed up by the ranting, traitorous squatter occupying the Oval Office.

    The rest of the day is spent in a kind of horrified suspension, holding our breath, waiting for whatever outrage will inevitably belch forth from the White Houseonce a bastion of seriousness and decorum, now ground zero for the demise of western democracy. How many lies will Trump spew today? Which dictators will he suck up to? Will he smear a Gold Star family? Attack a woman who dares to call out his smarmy predations? Unveil a puerile, racist nickname for a Senator or member of his own cabinet?

    As much as we loathe it, however sickening it might have become, every day seems all about him, a former game show host and real estate failure, a hawker of rot-gut vodka and bullshit degrees from a fraudulent University who once styled himself as the Donald. The cable news shows lead with his most recent flatulence, the op-ed pages brim with intimations of doom, late night comedians are having a field day.

    He is the president and, thus, bears watching. But we would be mistaken to think that he is truly the center of our universe, a man with a plan, commanding the heights, directing the action.

    Virulent as he may be, Donald J. Trump is a symptom not the disease. Without us, he would amount to nothing more than what he had always been before the bizzaro presidential election of 2016: a foppish narcissist desperate for any measure of affirmation; a joke; a nothing. He did not create his voters. They have been there all along, seething with sometimes justifiable anger and suffering their various insecurities. They created and enabled Trump. And make no mistake, in all their vulnerable humanity, they are us: Gullible, compliant, distracted, marinating in irony.

    At root, we the people are the problem.

    We are understandably reluctant to impugn the intelligence and integrity of our fellow citizens. It is arrogant, uncivil, bad form. Who are we, any of us, to hold ourselves superior? When Hillary Clinton referred to some Trump supporters as deplorables, she was roundly castigated on all sides. How dare she? Yet it is an uncomfortable reality that anywhere from a fifth to a third of our electorate can be fairly (if gently) described as low-information voters. If the results of numerous polls and questionnaires are to be trusted, they know very little about the world they inhabit and what they do know is often woefully incorrect.

    Surveys conducted every two years by the National Science Foundation consistently demonstrate that slightly more than half of Americans reject the settled science concerning human evolution. They are not unaware that virtually all credible scientists accept the overwhelming evidence that we evolved from earlier species. They simply choose not to accept that consensus because it doesnt comport with their deeply held beliefs. Many also embrace the absurd notion that the earth is only six thousand years old. Astonishingly, in the early 21st century, around a quarter of our citizenry seems unaware that said earth revolves around the sun.

    It is a mistake to regard concern about such ignorance as effete snobbery or elitist condescension. While misapprehensions about basic astronomy, earth science and biology may have little impact on these folks daily lives, does anyone actually believe that similarly uninformed views arent likely to affect their grasp of policies regarding, say, climate change? Income inequality? Gun violence? Immigration?

    Profound knowledge gaps like the aforementioned reveal an inability to think critically and leave a person vulnerable to all manner of chicanery. We are all ignorant about many things. Dont get me started on my dismal grasp of mathematics! But the hallmark of a sound education is not glorying in what you think you know, but, instead, appreciating the vastness of what you dont know.

    If ignorance is the key that opens the door for charlatans like Trump, improved education, whether in school or in the public square, would seem to provide an obvious solution. But here we confront the perverse Dunning-Kruger Effect identified by psychologistsessentially, the less we know, the more certain we become of our superior knowledge. We have also discovered that exposure to facts and evidence does not always have the expected impact. Many people, when confronted by irrefutable proof that some core belief is incorrect, dont change their minds but dig in their heels. What feels right to them must be right and no amount logic and reasoning will dissuade them. Emotion trumps evidence.

    Not too long ago, I fell into conversation with a woman aboard an airplane. Our chat somehow turned to health care. She offered the opinion that people who couldnt afford health insurance didnt deserve medical services. Why should she pay for someones care when they were obviously too lazy to earn their own money?

    Because Im my own kind of fool, I rose to the bait. Did that mean they should be allowed to die in the street? I wondered. Well, no, she said. That would be inhumane. They could always go to an emergency room. So she was willing to pay for their care, I observed, but only in the least efficient, most expensive manner. This gave her momentary pause, but she quickly regrouped, simply repeating her prior assertion: Why should she pay? I didnt ask who she planned to vote for in the then-upcoming presidential election, but given that she had also voiced the opinion that women were, by virtue of their gender, unqualified to be news anchors, Im guessing it wasnt Hillary Clinton or Jill Stein.

    She is hardly the worst example of an unthinking voter. Bill Maher once invited onto his show former GM Executive Bob Lutz. One supposes that such a fellow has benefited from an adequate education and that hes open to reason. Yet, when the subject of climate change arose, Lutz denied it was happening. A bunch of nonsense as far as he was concerned.

    As it happened, Maher had also invited Neil deGrasse Tyson, an astrophysicist, educator and Director of the Hayden Planetarium. Tyson patiently explained why Lutz was misinformed. The planet was warming. Humans were largely to blame. This is how we know.

    You might expect an educated person to respond by at least engaging on the topic. Tyson was, after all, vastly more knowledgeable on the subject at hand. Had their roles been reversed, with the topic being cars, I have no doubt he would have deferred to the automaker, asking questions, trying to improve the state of his own knowledge. Not Lutz. You could see him shutting down before Tyson had even warmed to the topic (no pun intended). As Upton Sinclair famously put it, Its hard to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on him not understanding it.

    Anyone who has watched the focus groups of Trump voters has seen this sorry dynamic played out again and again. Everything, no matter how tawdry or malicious, is excused or minimized. You get the feeling these folks would accept the sexual molestation of teenage girls as a trade-off for Neil Gorsuch. In fact, many did in supporting Roy Moore.

    Welcome to the Post-Truth Era.

    Much has been written about the impact social media and the internet in general have had on how people receive and absorb information. By now, we are all familiar with bots, trolls, phony scandals and the tendency of folks to hunker down in their own info-silos. The old adage that a lie is halfway round the world before the truth gets its socks on has never been more salient.

    Consider the recent attacks on one of the young Parkland shooting survivors. A teenager who had just witnessed classmates being gunned down at his own school quickly discovered that speaking up for common-sense gun regulation resulted in vicious trolling and the viral lie that he was a paid crisis actor. This was similar to what befell the grieving families of the small children murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. Imagine waking one morning in a state of searing grief over the violent death of your baby to discover that some odious prankster like Alex Jones is telling his gullible audience that the whole tragic incident was staged, that your child was actually a paid performer doused in artificial gore and posed in a gruesome tableaux of death.

    That Jones and his ilk have not been thoroughly shamed and driven from the public sphere says a lot about our growing tolerance for vile nonsense.

    Trump did not invent Fake News. The Big Lie has been the stock in trade of con men and tyrants since time immemorial. But he understands its value. Alternative facts as his lickspittle factotum, Kellyanne Conway infamously put it, has long been his metier. Hes a bullshitter, a phony and now hes our president.

    This shouldnt have happened. But we let it happen, though Trump did have plenty of help

    Unsurprisingly, the Fox propaganda machine and any number of right-wing radio ranters enthusiastically clambered aboard the Trump Train. They were abetted by many in the mainstream media who, mindful that Trump lured eyeballs to advertisers and too timid to call him out as the carnival barker he so obviously was, went along for the ride. A number of Republicans in Congress dismissed him at first. But when it became clear he had a shot at winning and that his devotees comprised at least half of their party, they scurried to adopt him as their useful idiot.

    Its true that we are not all equally culpable. Roughly three million more people voted for Trumps chief opponent. But the right-minded among us didnt do enough to forestall the plainly looming disaster. The proof of that is the Trump presidency itself.

    So, if we in our various incarnations are the problem, then what is the solution? Is there any way out? Wed better hope so. Whats certain is that its on us. We made a wreck of our government and its up to us to fix it.

    There are positive signs:

    A once compliant media has begun to take the gloves off. Genuine conservatives, outraged that their movement has been hijacked by philistines, are sounding the alarm. People are rising up and calling BS. For every Sean Hannity there is a Rachel Maddow, Jake Tapper or even Shepard Smith (at Fox News, no less!). For every Paul Ryan, there is a David Frum or Max Boot. Frothing crowds at CPAC are countered by the #MeToo movement and impressively eloquent teenagers fed up with politicians of any stripe who cower before the gun industry. On a good day, a John McCain or Jeff Flake will stand up to the cringing accommodationists in their own party. And, of course, Donald Trump himself, along with his corrupt lackeys, face a formidable foe in the person of Robert Mueller.

    NSA Director Admiral Mike Rogers recent testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee should mark a turning point, though he merely confirmed what has been apparent for some time: that even as our nation is under attack from a Russia determined to subvert our democracy, the president has not directed any relevant agencies to defend the country. This is a violation of the oath Trump swore on inauguration day and smacks of treason. We have entered uncharted waters.

    Whats clear is that we need to use all non-violent resources at our disposal to rid ourselves and our country of the dangerous infection spreading from the White House into our body politic. These are not normal times and our usual reflexes will no longer suffice.

    Trump is a problem of our own creation. We must become the solution.

    Ron Reagan is an author and political commentator who lives in Seattle and Arezzo, Tuscany.

    Read more: https://www.thedailybeast.com/the-problem-isnt-just-trump-its-our-ignorant-electorate

    E-cig vapor tested positive for arsenic, lead, and other toxic metals

    E-cigarette vapor has tested positive for lead and arsenic.
    Image: Getty Images/EyeEm

    Bad news, vapers. Your e-cigs might not be the healthier alternative to cigarettes you think they are.

    A new study has found that vaping may be exposing e-cigarette users to harmful toxins and carcinogens, like lead, chromium, and even arsenic.

    The study, published Wednesday in the scientific journal Environmental Health Perspectives by researchers from Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health, sampled 56 vape devices. They gathered these e-cigs from actual vapers who they recruited for the study at smoke shops and vape conventions. Prior studies have only looked at newly purchased e-cigs, and the authors of this study wanted to test devices that people actually use for a more representative sample, since they often contain modifications and wear-and-tear.

    The study’s authors tested three elements of the e-cigs: the liquid itself, the liquid inside of the vape pen’s chamber, and the aerosol (or vapor). They were specifically interested in whether the metal coil that vape pens use to heat the liquid in order to turn it into vapor was leeching or generating toxic metals. 

    And it turns out, their hypothesis was right. There was not a significant amount of toxic metals in the e-cig liquid itself. But in over half of the e-cigs, the liquid inside the dispenser and the aerosol contained significant levels of chromium, nickel, and lead. According to the study’s authors, chromium and nickel have been linked to respiratory disease and lung cancer. And lead can cause neurotoxicity and cardiovascular disease — there is also no safe amount of lead exposure.

    “It’s important for the FDA, the e-cigarette companies and vapers themselves to know that these heating coils, as currently made, seem to be leaking toxic metals—which then get into the aerosols that vapers inhale,” study senior author Ana María Rule, PhD, MHS, an assistant scientist in the Bloomberg School’s Department of Environmental Health and Engineering, said in a statement.

    Troublingly, the authors also found arsenic in over 10 percent of the sampled e-cigs. Unlike the metals, arsenic was present in the liquid, liquid in the dispenser, and aerosol alike. While the study’s authors hypothesize that the metals appear in the e-cig vapor thanks to the metal coils, they do not know how arsenic apparently finds it way into the e-cig refill liquid itself.

    I asked some acquaintances who vape what they thought of these findings. These vapers, who preferred not to be named, used to be daily smokers. But they almost entirely vape now; vaping, they have said, is what allowed them to quit cigarettes. 

    “I’m not really surprised to be honest,” one vaper said. “I never expected them to be good for me.”

    “My question is why is arsenic a necessary ingredient,” said another. “I would love to understand why these toxins are remotely necessary.”

    Cigarettes, of course, also contain toxins including lead and arsenic — with the hugely unhealthy bonus of inhaling burnt tobacco, which itself is damaging to the lungs. And several studies have shown that vaping is far healthier than smoking. One showed that vapers have far fewer toxic substances in their bodies than smokers; another suggested that the cancer risk of vaping is one percent of smoking’s cancer risk. However, a study that claimed vaping was 95 percent healthier than smoking was widely criticized. And study author Dr. Ana María Rule sees a comparable risk in terms of metal exposure between e-cigs and cigarettes.

    “We found the emission rates were similar between cigarettes and e-cigarettes for elements like chromium, nickel, zinc, lead and silver (all toxic to the lung),” Dr. Rule told Mashble over email. “We found lower concentrations in e-cigarettes for cadmium and arsenic.”

    Plus, comparing e-cigs to cigarettes is complicated. Dr. Rule said cigarette risk is easier to quantify, because they can measure risk by cigarette. With e-cigs, risk is studied by a designated amount of puffs, which may or may not represent an accurate unit for any given user. 

    Furthermore, comparing vaping to cigarettes was not the study’s authors’ primary aim. 

    “We know there are many young vapers that have never smoked,” Dr. Rule said. “A better comparison for them is to breathing ambient air, so for them this represents an increase in risk.”

    The study’s authors hope that their findings will prompt the FDA to regulate e-cigs for the presence of these toxic chemicals, as evidence mounts that vaping is not a risk-free endeavor.

    “Our results add to the existing evidence that e-cigarettes are a relevant source of exposure to a wide variety of toxic metals,” the study’s authors write. “Due to potential toxicity resulting from chronic exposure to metals in e-cigarette aerosols, additional research is needed to more precisely quantify metal exposures resulting from e-cigarette use and their implications for human health, and to support regulatory standards to protect public health.”

    Read more: https://mashable.com/2018/02/23/e-cigarettes-toxic-metals-lead-arsenic/

    Inside the Mind of Amanda Feilding, Countess of Psychedelic Science

    Amanda Feilding, Countess of Wemyss and March, also known as Lady Neidpath, sits cross-legged on a bench on a tiny island at the center of an artificial pond in her English country estate, a 15-minute drive outside of Oxford. At her feet is a tiny pure-white cloud of a dog, which traipses around chewing on the grass, only occasionally coughing it up.

    Feilding is 75 years old. She wears a black skirt and knee-high boots and grips a tan shawl around her shoulders, on account of this being a gray November morning. From her ears hang jewelry that looks like green rock candy. Her light brown hair is frizzy but not altogether unkempt.

    In the distance, peeking over a towering hedge, is her castle, built in the 1520s. “In the ’60s we called it Brainblood Hall,” she says in a posh accent that periodically turns sing-songy and high, à la Julia Child. “We always saw it as the masthead from where this change would happen.”

    Feilding now lives in the castle in the English countryside where she was raised.

    Ren Rox for WIRED

    This change being the de-villainization of lysergic acid diethylamide, more commonly known as LSD. Feilding believes LSD has tremendous potential to treat maladies like anxiety and depression and addiction. The theory goes that the drug can manipulate blood flow in the brain to “reset” what you might consider to be the ego, allowing patients to reconceptualize their issues. Hence Brainblood Hall.

    If LSD is having its renaissance, Feilding is its Michelangelo. She works 15 hours a day, seven days a week, to coordinate—and contribute to—research on one of the most highly controlled substances on Earth. And not with any old dumpy university she can find—we’re talking big names, like Imperial College London. Study by study, each following rigorous research standards, Feilding is building a case for making LSD a standard weapon in the clinical fight against mental illness. It's a path, though, that's fraught with scientific pitfalls—researchers are just beginning to understand how the human brain works, much less the mechanisms behind psychedelics.

    The fact that psychedelics ended up as pariah drugs “is an example, in a way, of man's madness,” she says, toying with the edges of her shawl. “There are these incredible compounds that synergize amazingly well with the human body and can be used to have incredibly positive results. And what do we do? We criminalize it.”

    To change that, she won’t just have to upend decades of draconian drug policies. She’ll have to convince a public that has, for a half-century, been told that LSD is a great evil, a drug that makes people put flowers in their hair and jump out of windows. And Feilding will have to use science to convince policymakers that her hunch is right, that LSD and other psychedelics can be a force for good.

    Which would be hard for anyone to pull off, but Feilding faces the extra hurdle of not being a classically trained scientist. “Immediately if you say you left school at 16 and self-educated thereafter, people don’t believe you can do anything,” she says. “It's a funny thing.”

    Typical 12th-Century Stuff

    Feilding is a descendant of the Hapsburg family, a dynasty that rose to great power in the 12th century. I ask her how—typical 12th-century stuff? “Typical 12th-century stuff,” she laughs. “Duffing over someone”—a Britishism for giving a beating—“and, funny enough, someone did a family tree and the number of people, I keep meaning to underline them and put a little red star on the ones who had their heads cut off. There was really quite a lot of people having their heads cut off.”

    Feilding’s branch of the Hapsburg family tree wasn’t so much the let’s-rule-the-world-and-make-lots-of-money kind of royalty. More of a stick-it-to-the-man vibe. “One was going to be executed around the Gunpowder Plot, and then his wife went to visit him and they swapped clothes,” she says. “He got out the day before his execution. I mean, they were all rather nice antiestablishment personalities.”

    But they were not particularly doers, Feilding adds. And, generally speaking, to maintain a dynasty you have to at least care about cash flow. “If you spend 500 years kind of reading and doing interesting things and not making money, it tends to run out,” she says.

    Accordingly, Feilding grew up in a manor her parents couldn’t afford to heat. Her father liked painting during the day, which meant he needed to do farming and chores around the castle at night. “Cutting all those wretched hedges, he had to do himself,” she says. “And he was diabetic and he’d always do them just before meal time and pass out. He was always passing out.”

    Feilding adored her father and scrambled everywhere after him. “He never went by what an authority said. He always went with his own thoughts,” she says. “In a way he was quite a big guru to me. He was my main intellectual influence.”

    It was a loving yet isolated family that lived in difficult postwar times. Few visitors made the trek over bumpy roads to the edge of a marshland to appreciate the castle’s wall-to-wall artworks and exquisite furniture and precariously low door frames—at least by modern standards of human height. So Feilding immersed herself in reading and, as always, chasing after her father. She had mystical experiences, like imagining she was flying down the castle’s spiral staircase. But with no hot water or heating in the mansion, winters were brutal. “I suppose we were vaguely called impoverished aristocracy,” she says.

    Feilding grew up in a manor her parents couldn’t afford to heat.

    Ren Rox for WIRED

    At 16, Feilding was studying in a convent and wanted to pursue her interest in mysticism. The nuns declined her request and instead gave her books on art. She wouldn’t stand for this. So with her parents’ blessing, Feilding dropped out of high school and set off abroad to find her godfather, Bertie Moore, whom she had never met. She figured he could teach her about mysticism: He had been a spy catcher during the war, but at this point was a Buddhist monk living in Sri Lanka.

    Feilding headed toward Sri Lanka and ended up in Syria. Stuck at the border without a passport, a group of drunk, big-deal Bedouins came to her rescue. “We got into this Cadillac and all the people were completely drunk,” she says. “They asked me if I could drive it”—indeed she could—“and we drove out into the desert and then we went to encampments and they all brought out their cushions and feasts.”

    Feilding—photographed in 1970 with her pet pigeon, Birdie—began experimenting with LSD in the mid-1960s.

    Amanda Feilding, Countess of Wemyss

    She never made it to Sri Lanka to find Bertie, and after half a year abroad Feilding returned to the UK to study mysticism with Robert Charles Zaehner, the famous scholar, at All Souls College in Oxford. Before long she made her way to the swinging London of the Beatles, the Kinks, the mods, and the miniskirt. In 1965, Allen Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti crashed on the floor of her flat after the Wholly Communion poetry happening at Royal Albert Hall.

    Later that year, someone spiked the 22-year-old Feilding’s coffee with a massive dose of LSD. It nearly broke her. She retreated to the castle in the country to recuperate but returned to London a month later at the insistence of a friend.

    This is when Feilding met the man who would shape her thinking on LSD and consciousness and mental health: the Dutch natural scientist Bart Huges. The two fell in love and began experimenting with LSD, leading them to think about it in a fundamentally different way. The counterculture at the time had embraced the drug as a way to expand consciousness. All well and good. But Feilding and Huges wanted to go deeper, to explore the use of LSD as a kind of medicine for the brain. Even after the spiked coffee incident, Feilding grew fascinated with the physiological underpinnings of the drug, as well as its potential.

    “I thought that LSD had the power to change the world,” she says. “That was our work, understanding the ego and the deficiencies of humans and how one might heal and treat them with altered states of consciousness.” And not just with LSD, mind you, but also yoga and fasting, anything that would (in theory) manipulate blood flow in the brain. Including the ancient practice of drilling a hole in your skull.

    Blood Oath

    By the time Feilding discovered LSD, it had been around for decades—the Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann synthesized the drug in 1938. It wasn’t until five years later, though, that he would accidentally dose himself—he reckoned he absorbed the drug through his skin—and discover its profound effects on the mind. “In a dreamlike state,” he wrote to a colleague at the time, “with eyes closed (I found the daylight to be unpleasantly glaring), I perceived an uninterrupted stream of fantastic pictures, extraordinary shapes with intense, kaleidoscopic play of colors.”

    Hofmann wrote in his autobiography that he recognized both the drug’s dangers and its potential in psychiatry—very, very well-supervised psychiatry. But because LSD produced “unfathomably uncanny, profound effects, so unlike the character of a recreational drug,” he never fathomed that it would turn into the phenomenon that it did. “The more its use as an inebriant was disseminated, bringing an upsurge in the number of untoward incidents caused by careless, medically unsupervised use,” he wrote, “the more LSD became a problem child for me.”

    It also became a problem for the United States government. Even though early studies on LSD in the 1940s and ’50s hinted at its therapeutic potential—and, indeed, psychiatrists were already treating patients with it—the feds branded it a schedule 1 drug, the most tightly controlled category, and the world followed in its prohibition.

    “LSD getting out put the research back 50 years,” Feilding says. “I think there was misuse of it, and there were accidents, but, my goodness me, there weren’t many.”

    The drug’s dark ages, though, are now giving way to a new era of psychedelics research, thanks in large part to the efforts of the Beckley Foundation, a think tank that Feilding runs here in the Oxford countryside, as well as California’s Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, or MAPS. Both groups are not only pursuing the scientific research of psychedelics, but political action as well. That is, they advocate the worldwide relaxation of what they see as an unnecessarily restrictive grip on the use of potentially therapeutic drugs.

    Potentially. The problem with a psychedelic like LSD is you can show what it does to people—namely, it makes them trip, sometimes very hard—but science knows little about how these drugs produce those effects. One recent study found that an LSD trip can last a good long while because when the drug binds to serotonin receptors, a lid closes over it, trapping the molecules. All well and good, but the bigger picture is still a mystery: What does LSD do to the brain to induce something users call ego dissolution, a sort of breaking down of the self?

    Feilding advocates the worldwide relaxation of what she sees as an unnecessarily restrictive grip on the use of potentially therapeutic drugs.

    Ren Rox for WIRED

    Feilding believes the secret is the blood flow in what’s known as the default mode network, an interconnected group of structures in the brain. The thinking is that the DMN is what governs the ego, or the sense of self. “That’s where psychedelics come in and shake it up,” Feilding says, “reducing the blood supply to the default mode network,” thus releasing the ego’s grip on the brain.

    In 2016 Feilding coauthored a paper with scientists at Imperial College London showing the first images of the brain on LSD. And indeed, it seems the drug dampens communication between the components of the DMN, in turn dampening the ego to produce that feeling of “oneness with the universe” that LSD is so famous for. Or so the theory goes.

    But Feilding’s coauthor differs with her on the mechanism responsible for the effect. “I think blood flow is a little bit of a sideshow,” says Robin Carhart-Harris, a neuropsychopharmacologist at the Imperial College. “The brain doesn't fundamentally work through flowing blood. That’s part of it, but we know that the function is electrical, and so why don’t we measure the electrical signals?”

    Which is not to say blood flow isn’t a piece of the puzzle. In that study, the measurement of blood flow worked as a complement to measurement of electrical signals, the bit that Carhart-Harris is really after. “In our forthcoming studies we've decided to drop the blood flow because of this concern that I have that it can take you off the scent,” Carhart-Harris says. “I think it’s a primitive view of how the brain works.”

    But Feilding remains convinced that blood flow is the key to psychedelics. (Not that the electrical signals aren’t important. “I love neural patterns,” she says.) Recall that she works out of what in the ’60s she called Brainblood Hall. And blood is what drove her to undergo a bizarre and controversial procedure called a trepanation, in which you drill a hole in your skull to theoretically increase cerebral circulation. It’s an ancient practice that’s popped up across world cultures, usually for the treatment of headaches or head trauma. This, as you can imagine, is not backed by science.

    Most people, though, wouldn’t perform the procedure on themselves. But in 1970, Feilding sat in front of a camera and drilled into the top of her forehead. “I share the film now,” she narrates in the film of the process, “in the hope that it may attract the attention of some doctor able and willing to start the essential research into the subject, without which it will not become an accepted practice, available in the national health to anyone who wants it.” (Feilding implores people to never perform their own trepanation.)

    Five decades later, that research has yet to emerge, and trepanation is both unproven and dangerous, very much not a recommended practice among medical professionals. “I don't think it's a mad, scary thing,” Feilding says. “I think it's very likely to have a physiological base, which I'm going to research.”

    Why now and not decades ago? “Trepanation is more taboo even than LSD, so I'm going from the base to the top of the taboo ranking,” she says with a laugh.

    Three decades after her self-trenapation, a brain surgeon in Mexico performed another trepanation on Feilding. She admits the supposed effects it produces are subtle—a boost in energy, for example. “It could obviously be placebo,” she says. “How does one know? Placebo is so strong. But I noticed things like my dreams became less anxious.”

    The decor of Feilding’s cavernous mansion includes a human skull drilled through with six holes.

    Ren Rox for WIRED

    Really, trepanation is her sidequest, another way to approach the manipulation of blood flow in the brain. LSD is Feilding’s calling. LSD unleashed—not in the acid-in-every-liquor-store kind of way but, rather, as part of a new era of psychedelic therapy.

    Bad Brains

    This is the future of therapy as Feilding sees it: You enter a clinic with your mind in a certain unwanted setting. Perhaps you’re ruminating over some kind of trauma. You meet with a therapist and do a relatively large dose of LSD, followed by smaller doses down the line, known as microdosing. (This has come into vogue of late, especially among Silicon Valley types who believe a minute dose of LSD makes them more creative without all the pesky hallucinations.)

    “You need the peak experience to break through and change the setting,” Feilding says. “And then the microdose experience can give a little booster along the way and make it more energetic and vital and a bit more lively.”

    Which sounds like something the authorities wouldn’t be so keen on. But medical officials in the UK and the US and elsewhere have actually been giving permission to study psychedelics of late. Still, the red tape is a nightmare, as are the costs. “There are three institutions in England which have a safe that can store psychoactive controlled substances,” Feilding says. “And then you’re meant to weigh them every week and have two people guarding the door. It's insane. But I think it's breaking down a little bit, and the more good results we can bring in, the better.”

    In the States, too, research on psychedelics is humming along. The MAPS organization, for instance, is entering phase three of clinical trials—tests on humans comparing the drug to a placebo—using MDMA to treat PTSD.

    What’s happening is the authorities in the US and UK seem to be coming around to the potential of psychedelics, probably because it’s too politically stupid not to. If MDMA does turn out to help treat PTSD, and indeed MAPS’ research so far suggests it does, opposing its use in therapy would be tantamount to opposing the mental well-being of veterans and active duty troops. (The thinking goes that MDMA lowers the fear response, allowing patients to reconceptualize their traumatizing memories under the supervision of a therapist.)

    Again, doing this research is still a tremendous pain, but at least scientists can do it. “Before I was limited by not being able to get ethical approvals,” Feilding says. “But now theoretically it’s possible—with great trouble and vastly extra costs. I mean, they are more carefully controlled than nuclear weapons. It is mad.”

    The Countess of Psychedelics

    In the cavernous living room of Feilding’s mansion—near the giant fireplace, on top of a beautiful cabinet, next to a still-more-beautiful cabinet of tiny drawers atop the main cabinet—is a human skull drilled through with six holes. It’s the remains of an ancient human who for whatever reason went through multiple trepanations.

    Feilding sits on a couch in front of the fireplace. An assistant comes in and asks if she wants hummus, and indeed she does, so the assistant returns with hummus. Feilding’s cook periodically pops in with updates on the imminence of dinner.

    In the early days of Beckley, Feilding’s husband, the historian and earl Jamie Wemyss, who belongs to a wealthy Scottish family, helped pay the Beckley Foundation's bills until Feilding got better at fund-raising. But all the while Feilding has worried about money for the foundation. Governments aren’t exactly lining up to fund research into psychedelics. Neither are pharmaceutical companies. So she relies on private donors, but that’s never enough for the scope of what Feilding wants to do—studies, studies, more studies, to convince the scientific community and the public that there’s promise in psychedelics. “I can put up 10, 20, 30 thousand, but I can't put up hundreds of thousands,” she says.

    Feilding has 50 years of experience using psychedelics. But she also thinks like a classically trained scientist.

    Ren Rox for WIRED

    Feilding occupies a strange niche as both a fund-raiser with specific policy goals and doer of science. She’s a co-author on all these papers that study psychedelics like psilocybin (the active ingredient in magic mushrooms) and LSD, but she sticks out. She's not a trained scientist. She doesn't have an undergraduate degree, much less a PhD. It’s not that she doesn’t belong, but she’s just not like everyone else.

    And yet: People have this conception of science as being 100 percent objective and sober. It’s not. Any scientist, whether studying psychedelics or global warming, comes to the table with opinions and preconceived notions. Does Feilding have a more pronounced political agenda than most? She sure does—that’s what sets her apart from other researchers in the field, who’d rather focus all their attention on mechanisms of action and the like.

    Feilding has 50 years of experience using psychedelics. But she also thinks like any of the classically trained scientists she authors papers with. “The real focus is not who is doing the study,” says Doblin of MAPS, “but how the study is being designed, and how sincere are the efforts to follow the gold standard scientific methodology.”

    And Feilding’s studies are great, he adds. “They're the epitome of neuroscience research these days.”

    Feilding comes from a long line of people who didn’t give a damn about societal norms. She sits next to the fireplace in a home her father tended at night, driving a tractor around in the darkness. Her ancestors plotted against the government. And now Feilding plots to upend not only the way humanity views psychedelics but how humanity treats mental disorders.

    “We’re depriving millions of people of a better life by not making use cleverly of what has been known throughout history,” she says. “These are tools to heal, to treat, to get to another level.”

    Maybe, though, the powers that be are willing to at least reconsider psychedelics. Maybe the hippies were on to something, and acid can change the world, but they just went about it all wrong. And maybe the breakthrough will one day come from a 16th-century mansion in the Oxford countryside, where the Countess of Wemyss and March toils.

    Read more: https://www.wired.com/story/inside-the-mind-of-amanda-feilding-countess-of-psychedelic-science/

    Atomwise, which uses AI to improve drug discovery, raises $45M Series A

    Atomwise, which uses deep learning to shorten the process of discovering new drugs, has raised a $45 million Series A. The round was led by Monsanto Growth Ventures, Data Collective (DCVC) and B Capital Group. Baidu Ventures, Tencent and Dolby Family Ventures, which are all new investors in Atomwise, also participated, as well as returning investors Y Combinator, Khosla Ventures and DFJ.

    This means Atomwise, which was founded in 2012, has now raised more than $51 million in funding. The company, which aims to reduce the amount of money and time researchers spend on finding compounds for medications, says it now has more than 50 molecular discovery programs. Atomwise’s technology is also being used to develop safer, more effective agricultural pesticides.

    In a press statement, Monsanto Growth Ventures partner Dr. Kiersten Stead said “We chose to invest based on the impressive results we saw from Atomwise in our own hands. Atomwise was able to find promising compounds against crop protection targets that are important areas of focus for agrochemical R&D.”

    Atomwise’s software analyzes simulations of molecules, reducing the time researchers need to spend synthesizing and testing compounds. The company says it currently screens more than 10 million compounds each day. Atomwise’s AtomNet system uses deep learning algorithms to analyze molecules and predict how they might act in the human body, including their potential efficacy as medication, toxicity and side effects, at an earlier stage than in the traditional drug discovery process.

    In an email, Atomwise chief executive officer Dr. Abraham Heifets told TechCrunch that the company’s vision “is to become one of the most prolific and diverse life science research groups in the world, working at a scale that is truly unprecedented. This is a large Series A and we will use these resources to grow our technical and business organization. We may eventually find ourselves simulating hundreds of millions of compounds per day. The ultimate upshot is more shots on goal for the many diseases that urgently need new treatments.”

    Lead optimization “has historically been the most expensive step in the pharma pipeline,” Heifets added, adding that it also has a very high failure rate, with “about two-thirds of projects failing to even make it to the clinic and it takes five and a half years to get that far.”

    When Atomwise launched six years ago, its technology seemed almost like something out of science fiction. Now there is a roster of companies using artificial intelligence and machine learning to analyze molecules and fix bottlenecks in the drug discovery process, including Recursion Pharmaceuticals, BenevolentAI, TwoXAR, Cyclica and Reverie Labs.

    Heifets said one of Atomwise’s main advantages is the large number of projects it has worked on, which in turn improves its AI systems. The company’s clients include four of the top 10 biggest pharmaceutical companies in the United States, including Merck, Monsanto, more than 40 major research universities (Harvard, Duke, Stanford and Baylor College of Medicine among them) and biotech firms.

    He added that Atomwise also differentiates in its focus.

    “There are two distinct problems in drug discovery: biology and chemistry,” he said. “If you’re working on biology, you’re trying to decide which disease protein is the best one to target.  A lot of AI companies in drug discovery are working on this target identification problem. Once you’ve chosen a target, you can start working on chemistry problems: how to deliver a non-toxic molecule that can hit the chosen disease protein. Atomwise is focused on these chemistry problems; specifically, Atomwise invented the use of deep neural networks for structure-based drug design.”

    Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2018/03/07/atomwise-which-uses-ai-to-improve-drug-discovery-raises-45m-series-a/