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31 posts from October 2010

October 31, 2010

A Different Breed of Cat

By  Elaine Viets       DSCN0027_0006

My cat Harry is asleep by my feet as I write this. When I go to bed, he will sleep on my feet. Harry is a striped brown-and-black tabby. That cat follows me everywhere.

Even when I leave home, I see versions of Harry.  Harry look-alikes sell cat products. 
Cat bed model 
And cat bookmarks.                                                      Cat litter. Litter-harry

Even Christmas cards. Harry christmas
I saw so many tabbies posing for and pushing products, I seemed to have the only cat on the planet who wasn’t working.

Don’t get me wrong. Harry is a fine feline companion. But other folks enjoy their cats and put them to work. Harry needed to pull his weight – all ten pounds. He was a real success story: Some sub-human shot Harry’s family. A better person brought Harry to my vet’s office. I was mourning the loss of my gray cat, Montana and my vet knew I was a cat short. He said there was no obligation to adopt Harry. I could just look at him.

One look, and I had a new cat. Harry overcame his fear of humans and became a member of our family.

I’ve finally found Harry a job. He’s the cat in my Josie Marcus mystery shopper books. Single mom Josie has a ten-year-old daughter, Amelia. She adopted a cat who looks – and acts – like Harry. He’s even named Harry.

In "An Uplifting Murder," Amelia had to do a report on cats for school. Thanks to her, I learned not all tabbies are alike. There are actually four types: classic, mackerel, spotted and ticked.

The classic tabby – that’s Harry – is more than the sum of his stripes. He also has a butterfly pattern on his shoulders and swirly bull’s eye on his side.

A mackerel tabby has an M on his forehead, like a McDonald’s M, and straight stripes down the Mackerel tabby sides. This cat is legendary. One story says it kept the infant Jesus warm in the manger and a grateful Mary marked the cat’s forehead with an M.

Another tale says the cat-loving Mohammed gave mackerel tabbies that M.

Mackerel tabbies go back even further – to ancient Egypt, where they were worshiped as deities. Some believe cats never got over that. The wily Egyptians didn’t let those cats sit around all day in shrines. They had to catch mice in the granaries.

The spotted tabby is the third type. Spotted tabby These cats are well . . . spotted like Ocicats and American  Bobtails.

The ticked tabby, like this Abyssinian, has bands of color on each hair.

 Ticked tabby

 Ticked tabbies are not to be confused with this cat, which is plain ticked off.

 Ticked off cat 

Harry, my classic tabby, is not losing any sleep over his new job in "An Uplifting Murder." He gives Josie a clue to solve a murder, and that saves someone Josie cares about.

Now only one mystery remains:             

Will the IRS let me deduct Harry’s upkeep as a business expense? That cat has the appetite of a mountain lion.


Read the first chapter of "An Uplifting Murder" here: http://tinyurl.com/3x3jqwz    AnUpliftingMurder

Check out my signing schedule here: http://tinyurl.com/3yyvcsd

Enter my Uplifting Contest to win a $100 gift certificate here: http://tinyurl.com/2c4hkp9



October 30, 2010

Happy 20th Birthday, Mystery Lovers Bookshop!

Happy 20th Birthday, Mystery Lovers Bookshop!

MLB Raven Logo copy Today, we salute our dear friends at Mystery Lovers Bookshop - they are beating the odds by celebrating their 20th birthday this weekend!

Here are the three things you really need to know about MLB - followed by 17 more.

Help all of us celebrate our friends-and-family supported business by ordering all of your tart books, holiday gifts, and all your reading needs from: Mystery Lovers Bookshop!!

1.  MLB supports authors and readers by not only providing great books, but bringing real live authors to the store's events!  That's right - no cheesy holograms.  Real live people who write books - perhaps an endangered species.  So really, it's saving the earth, which is so hot right now.

2.  MLB won the Raven Award - which is a big-ass thing for everyone who loves books, so they have that goin' for them, which is nice.

3.  MLB's Festival of Mystery is like a big family/class reunion where 50 authors gather to meet hundreds of fans every spring - so mark you calendars for MAY 2, 2011 and BE THERE!  It's worth a trip just to see people lined up to buy books, rather than crack or knock-off t-shirts celebrating some cretin.  Seriously.

4.  Richard and Mary Alice are the very cool owners of MLB - they have helped hundreds of authors and thousands of readers meet in person or on the page - kind of like Book Yentas.

Mlb group 5.  MLB's staff rocks!  Margot, Buff, Kathy, Vicki, Judy, Martha, and the rest of the gang are the best in the biz.  They are also nice people and not the kind of jagoffs you'd like to punch in the face.  Plus, they do Staff Picks every month and they let me put in my picks too because I bring wine.

6.  When authors visit, they sign the bathroom wall.  No kidding.  You need to see it to believe it!

7.  MLB can order ANY book in print for you!

8.  Free shipping for books - ya can't beat that!

9.  MLB's birthday is on HALLOWEEN - I mean it doesn't get any more fabulous than that.  Unless you show up in a costume. which makes it double-fab.  And you bring candy, which is like, totally over the rainbow.

10.  MLB's window displays have won actual awards with real prizes and everything.  Plus, the store decorates for holidays - wait for it- but not until the actual holiday!  Can you believe the chutzpah?!

11.  MLB's Newsletter is the best guide around for new books - and the reviews are actually written by literate humans who read actual books! 

12.  MLB is right across the rail road tracks from the Oakmont Bakery, which is a destination in and of itself.  They have gobs. Just saying.

13.  Like you need another reason to visit Pittsburgh?!

14.  All of the Book Tarts have been there - which means the joint totally has class, right?  No velvet ropes there, obviously. heh.

15.  Legend has it that on Harry Potter nights, the actual characters apparate right in the store Owl  (for real, I've been there.)

16. All these great photos were taken by a guy named Steve.  And no, we don't think he is one of Her, Margie's Steves, but we are actually afraid to ask, because we are running out of room in the margins for more Steves.  Margie, it would seem, is a very friendly sort.

17. MLB's logo has a cat in it.  I don't have cats, but a lot of you do, so unless you hate cats and dogs, you have to shop there.  Now who can hate a little kitten or a puppy?  Why would you even think about that?  That's just mean.

18. Free parking.  And not the Monopoly kind, which can bite you in the ass if you are there because of jail.

19. MLB donates thousands of books to local projects and libraries through the Angel Fund, funded by customer donations and store contributions too. That means they walk the walk as well as talk the talk, and when is the last time you met anyone who did that during election season?

20.  Do I really need to spell it out?  Come to the Festival, and you can see ME, their biggest fan!





October 28, 2010

Overheard at the Opium Den

Overheard at the Opium Den

by Diane Chamberlain

 Head in coffee beans         

 It all began years ago when I decided to rent a room in my house to a young couple. They were delightful tenants, but I found it challenging to write when they were around. One evening, I escaped to the only place that was open nearby: Starbucks. I studied the menu board, feeling awkward. I wasn't a coffee drinker, so I wanted to order a small decaf, but the word 'small' was nowhere on the menu. I saw Tall. And Grande. And whPoisonat on earth did Venti mean? A kindly barista gave me a tall decaf that tasted like poison and pointed me in the direction of an inviting red velvet chair, which turned out to be every bit as cushy as it looked. I'm one of those people who actually uses her laptop on her lap, so the chair was perfect for me.

  Di starbucks
 Activity swirled around me. I lived in Northern Virginia at the time, DC right outside Washington, DC, and the evening crowd at the Starbucks consisted of foreign students hunched over textbooks, self-conscious couples on Match.com dates (I was soon to become one of them), young people--pierced, tattooed and adorable--socializing with one another, and a large group of middle-eastern men who sat near the front door. At first, it was hard to concentrate on writing because the people-watching was too seductive, but I gradually tuned out everything around me and lost myself in my work.

Ten o'clock, closing time. The hours had flown by and I'd written fifteen pages! If I worked so efficiently at Starbucks in the evening, why not try it in the morning as well?

My cushy red chair (yes, I'd already come to think of the chair as mine) Red velvet chair was vacant the following morning, but the crowd was entirely different. A laptop on nearly every table. People with phone buds in their ears, sitting alone, talking to the air. Consultants--the DC area is awash with them--meeting with their clients. Flow charts spread out on tabletops. Again, I wrote pages upon pages. This time I had caffeinated coffee. It was morning, after all. When I went back that evening, I decided to try a latte. And a blackbottom cupcake. Already, I was hooked. I quickly dubbed Starbucks "The Opium Den" believing there is an addictive substance in the lining of their cups that is activated by heat. Otherwise, why would I crave coffee that is so bitter and burned tasting that the first time I was served it, I thought there was something wrong with it?

Years later, I am still hooked. Addicted woman  My addiction costs me more than four dollars a day, but for that four dollars I receive far more than a coffee high, breakfast (cinnamon scone), an expanding waistline and an office away from home. The truth is, I've been touched, enlightened and enriched by things I've overheard in the Opium Den.

It's my duty as a novelist to gather stories wherever they can be found, right? Megaphone The first time I eavesdropped in the O.D. was when two men sat down at a table near my chair. It was clear from their conversation that they were discussing theTeen boy   welfare of a teenage boy.  As a former psychotherapist specializing in adolescents, I'm a sucker for teenagers. I'm sure the men thought I was deep in my work, but I was actually glued to their conversation.

The blond truck driver was the boy's father; the dark-haired born-again Christian, his stepfather with whom the boy lived. It was clear the men were meeting to find a way to help the boy cope with social and family issues. Obviously, there'd been some ugliness between the men in the past and I could tell they had very different approaches to child rearing. Yet their love of the boy was deep, transcending those differences as they explored solutions to help him.   When their conversation was over, the men stood and embraced, touching me with their caring and nobility. As they walked out of Starbucks, I reread the scene I'd been working on and knew it lacked the emotional depth I'd just had the honor of witnessing. I deleted the scene and started over again.

That was the first time customers at the Opium Den inspired my writing, but it wasn't to be the last. There was the day two unsuspecting women gave me the gift of an idea for a novel. 

Women in coffee shop 

          "Did you hear about Sharon Smith?" the brunette asked her friend as she sipped her Venti Americano.  "Her ex and that bitch he married were awarded custody of her son!"

        "You're kidding!" responded the redhead with the Grande Latte. "Why would a judge take a child away from his mother?"

        "Her ex and the bitch are both lawyers, that's why. Sharon didn't stand a chance."

        "If that happened to me," said the redhead, "I'd change my name, take my kid, and disappear."

Voila! I had my character and the core of her dilemma. I gave her a used computer filled with information that would allow her to save many lives—if only she would turn herself in to the  authorities--and my novel, The Escape Artist, was born.

Does my eavesdropping sound--I don't know--creepy? I don't go out of my way to listen in, but I'm interested in people and apparently, I have very good hearing. Ears Sometimes, though, my hearing ability doesn't matter.


   Not long ago, I was sitting in my comfy chair at the O.D., typing my manuscript as I sipped my Grande half-caf-with-steamed-milk.  Sharing the leather sofa across from me were three women, and I couldn't take my eyes off them. Legs on couch

My best guess was that they were two middle-aged daughters sitting on either side of their elderly mother. They were speaking a foreign language–-Middle Eastern, I thought, although I couldn't hear them well. The two younger women looked very American, but it was the elderly woman who had caught my attention. Her face was incredibly lined. I’d never seen so many crinkles and wrinkles in one place, and she was absolutely beautiful. She was tiny and she wore a little beige hat that looked hand-knit. On the side of the hat was a small, floppy, coral-colored flower. I was pretty sure she was on to me and my snooping, so I tried to stop staring at her but didn't do a very good job of it. Her face was like a magnet for my eyes. I wanted to get up and hug her.

The younger women, soft mirrors of their mother, had a few lines on their faces too. They clearly loved their mother. They talked non-stop and seemed to be explaining something to the older woman, using their hands to help in their descriptions. Their mother didn't say much. She nodded and said “oh” from time to time, a tiny smile on her face as she sipped from her Starbucks cup–which somehow looked incongruous in her hands. Old lady hands I noticed she wore identical rings on the ring finger of each hand. Each gold ring held a single pearl in a large, round beaded setting, and I wished I knew the significance of those rings.

The younger women were oblivious to me, but the old one was not. I felt her eyes on me and wondered who or what she saw in me. A third daughter? One who was missing? I glanced at her one more time and suddenly understood my attraction to her. In her face, I saw both of my grandmothers, long gone. I saw my mother, who had never looked this old, although she lived to be eighty-eight. I saw all of them in her, and I felt the yearning for people I loved but could no longer talk to or touch. 

It was time to leave. I turned off my laptop and slipped it and my notecards into my carry-all. I got up and walked past the leather sofa, but impulsively turned back and stepped in front of the women.

“I’m sorry I’ve been staring at you,” I said to the elderly woman, not knowing if she understood me or not. “It’s just that I think you’re very beautiful.”

The younger women smiled and translated for their mother, who laughed and said "thank you.” One of the women said, “She’s our mother,” with more pride in her voice than those three little words could possibly hold. I was a little weepy by the time I reached my car. I wished I could take my mom to Starbucks. Mom 4th teeth

I thought of how lucky I am to have my office away from home. Writing is so isolating. I need to be around people even if I'm not directly interacting with them. It all comes back to replenishing the creative well, and there's only so much well water my home office can hold, even though I have a great house. It's over 4000 square feet of space. I can work in my office or in the sunroom or on the screened porch or at the dining room table. But you won't find me in any of those rooms in the mornings. You'll find me in a cushy chair at the Opium Den. I expect that I'll be there for many years to come--or at least for as long as they continue to put that coating on the inside of the cups. 

  How about you? Do you have an office away from the office, and if you do, what draws you there?



I Didn't Want That A

By Elaine Viets

Now they tell me. When it’s too late.                                            AnUpliftingMurder

The average bra cup size is C.

Here’s more news I could have used in high school. Women change breast sizes at least six times. Pregnancy, nursing, weight gains and losses, exercise, birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy can make a difference. So can breast implants.

I needed this news when I was sixteen. Instead, I found it out now, when I’m grown up and bra sizes are – well, no big deal.

I’ve been researching lingerie – $200 worth – for "An Uplifting Murder," my new Josie Marcus Mystery Shopper novel.

This time, Josie mystery-shops a lingerie store. Her favorite high school teacher, the woman who saved her from the mean girls, is now working as the shop manager. Frankie, a high school acquaintance Josie hoped she’d never see again, turns up and is murdered at the mall. Josie’s teacher is the main suspect, and her alibi is flimsier than the lingerie she sells. Josie has to save the woman who helped her when the murder becomes a tempest in a C-cup.

Josie learns the lesson we all know. You never get out of high school.

Meangirls In high school, I was an A – and I’m not just talking about my grades. I didn’t understand that a bigger future was waiting for me. If I did, I would have ignored the mean girls in gym class who joked about the "bug bites" on my chest. Okay, I would have tried to ignore them. I could have avoided countless tears and endless conversations with my best friend, Sue.

In high school, I didn’t listen to my mother. She said if I had a flat chest at 16, I’d have less sag after 40.

I thought her advice was stupid. Forty was so old, nobody would care what I looked like.

Mother also said I should find a man who would appreciate my fine mind.

I ignored that advice, too. Men could admire my fine mind after I was 40 and too old for sex.

I did listen to Mom’s bra advice once. She caught me trying to bust out of the house without a bra. I figured since I had a flat chest, no one could tell. Mom could. She pulled out a National Geographic with photos of topless tribal women. Their bare breasts were 36 Long.

"That’s what happens when you don’t wear a bra!" she said. Mom didn’t mention that these women had also endured poverty, poor nutrition, and many pregnancies.

One look and I got the picture. The bra went back on.

Today’s women are better endowed than my generation. Some experts say a D-cup is now the average size for young women.  One of those experts is bra fitter Susan Nethero, who wrote "Bra Talk."

Young frankenstein But girls with generous builds suffer, too. They endure the crude taunts of teen-age boys. Busty women hate that line from the old movie, "Young Frankenstein." You know the one I mean and you know how the scene is played.

A girl walks down the school hallway when some twit yells "Great knockers!" If any teachers are around, he makes a big show of pretending to admire the school doors.

Which have push bars.

Size matters for girls, too. The pain of those insults lasts a lifetime. They might be funny once we’re adults, but we never forget those old feelings. Hopefully, we outgrow them.

Help me celebrate the publication of "An Uplifting Murder" with an Uplifting Contest. Win a $100 gift certificate for books – or lingerie – at your favorite store. Gentlemen, I don’t discriminate. You can upgrade your under-duds, or give the certificate to the woman in your life, from your mother to your significant other. Don’t forget your cross-dressing cousin.Ed Hardy bra

Go to my website at www.elaineviets.com and click on Contests.




October 27, 2010


Margaret Maron

Okay, let’s go back to the beginning.


100_1194 I didn’t get any for the first year of my life.  See this picture of me with my brother at not quite 3?  My hair was so straight and fine (and non-existent) that the ribbon in the picture was held in place with Scotch tape.  My mother used to flinch every time someone told her what cute little boys she had.

My cousin had luxurient dark curls before her first birthday.  I was insanely jealous. 100_1198

When I turned twelve, I told my mother that the only present I wanted was a permanent.  The curls straightened out even before I washed my hair the first time. After that, Mother, who had her family’s beautiful curly hair, gave me a series of Toni home permanents. Remember “Which twin has the Toni?” Tonis may have 
DownloadedFile worked for those twins, but I spent most of my teen years sleeping with hair pins and tissue paper so that my straight hair would curl under at the ends.  Remember those enormous rollers?

Straight hair didn’t become hot till after I had come to terms with mine but at least I never had to iron it or sleep on juice cans. 

Why do we women spend so much time on our hair?   My husband’s had the same haircut for most of his life, and I bet most men can say the same.

Not all, though.  I began cutting our son’s hair when he was a toddler because the barber shop terrified him.  I was his barber for the next 13 years.  Once he hit high school, though, Mom wasn’t good enough.  He wanted salon cuts and was willing to shell out his own money for them.  Unfortunately, my husband was perfectly happy for me to keep on cutting his hair every six weeks.

Images_2 As for my still-straight hair, I’ve had it short, I’ve had it long, big, small and everything in between. Wouldn’t you know it though?  Long straight hair is still Images hot and my adolescent granddaughter now spends a lot of time with her ceramic hair straightener, trying to flatten the thick curly hair she inherited from my daughter-in-law.

For her sake, I hope the fashion pendulum  swings back to curls while she's young enough to enjoy it.

What's your hairiest story?






October 26, 2010

Running Her Mouth - All the Way to the Bank

By Sarah

Life was getting mighty dull in the news world until I picked up the New York Times last week and read about Justice Clarence Thomas's wife, Ginny, calling up Anita Hill and leaving the following message on her Brandeis University answering machine:

“Good morning, Anita Hill. It’s Ginny Thomas. I just wanted to reach across the airwaves and  the Ginny years and ask you to consider something. I would love you to consider an apology sometime and some full explanation of why you did what you did with my husband. So give it some thought, and certainly pray about this and come to understand why you did what you did. Okay have a good day.”


Okay, all of you who went to a crappy public school with mean girls. Raise your hands if this behavior seems familiar. It's the "have a nice day" tone that's priceless, the hubris of asking for a prayerful apology and coming to understand why Anita Hill did what she did that had me smiling. Maybe, if you say you're sorry, we won't dump salt on your lunch, but you're still not on our volleyball team. No way!

All Ginny needed were a few friends to flip their hair and their fingers on the way out. As if anyone could intimidate Anita Hill. 

I'd hoped that maybe Ginny was drunk, but no dice. The call came at 7:30 a.m. on a Saturday, exquisitely calculated timing. At least if she'd been drunk we might have understood why, after so many years, she stirred up the creek bottom. Unless she was on a bender, in which case she probably wouldn't remember anyway.

Softer pundits have proposed that Ginny, nearing the anniversary of her husband's hearing on Capitol Hill, had sat up all night stewing about Anita Hill. Others posited that perhaps this was her awkward way of reaching out, that maybe her marriage was in trouble, that this had been eating away at her all these years.

Oh, please.

Ginny doesn't care about Anita Hill or her husband's reputation - such that it is. Ginny cares about money. And nothing brings in the big (anonymous) donors to her conservative Liberty Central like reminding the wing nuts that one of their own was once - almost - undone by an honest woman.

Let's remember that Anita Hill did not volunteer to testify at Clarence Thomas's hearings; she was Anita subpoenaed. For serving her civic duty honestly by testifying that Thomas repeatedly dropped sexual innuendos and reference to porn in the workplace (in the federal office mandated to oversee such harassment), she was vilified, ridiculed, and compared to passages in the Exorcist by a bunch of moronic white men out to save their own collective asses.

Yup. No women on that Senate Judiciary Committee. All men peering down at Anita Hill and the women who testified against her. It is a moment worth revisiting - and mourning - and celebrating Hill's bravery.

Because she was right. Thomas was into porn big time - or so says an ex girlfriend who was forbidden from testifying by our current vice president, Joe Biden. So what? For all I care, Thomas can own the entire Penthouse After Dark Sticky Fingers catalog and I wouldn't care. Just leave that crap at home, okay?

But he didn't because Thomas couldn't and that's why Hill testified. If anything, HE should be the one on his knees thanking God for letting him slip by. HE should be the one apologizing and explaining why he did what he did "with" her. (Does anyone else think that's an interesting preposition to choose?)

HE should have been the one making the call.

Instead, Ginny Thomas comes off like the bitchy girlfriend defending her loser of a boyfriend. It brings to mind what my sister in law, the former high school English teacher, told me about the favorite phrase among troubled girls - "running her mouth." As in, "I had to punch her 'cause she was running her mouth."

It is my fondest hope that there was another reason behind this phonecall besides drumming up more anonymous donors for Ginny Thomas's Liberty Central, whose mission, supposedly, is to thwart the "hard left" of the Obama Administration. (If that's a hard left, I'd like to see Obama pull a U-ey). 

I do hope that this has been eating away at Ginny for over a decade, that in going to bed each night while her husband ogles the jiggling boobs on his office computer, she lies awake and asks herself why she doesn't come forward, why she doesn't just leave the bum once and for all.

And then, in a fantasy too far stretched for even Clarence Thomas's online porn pass, I dream that Ginny, suitcase in hand, will put in another call to Anita Hill, this time asking if she has a couch where she can crash and a shoulder to cry on. Then the women stay up all night in their pjs, drinking pinot grigio and eating guacamole and bitching about something else besides one another, something they both have in common, that creep who nearly ruined both their lives.

You Know Who.




October 25, 2010

Who Are You Going to Be?

by Hank

Who doesn’t want to be a princess? When you’re six at least. And since my mother had insisted to my sister Nina and me that we definitely, truly, really had not been secretly deposited on her doorstep by some royal family who was going to come back for us, some day, I had to be satisfied with showing my princessy heritage for Halloween. This, Mom agreed to.

It’s the first Halloween costume I remember. Mom took a big piece of silver poster board, and twisted it into a cone. She punched a tiny hole in each side, and ran a thin black elastic strip through the holes. The she got some kind of scarf, a long floaty princessy scarf, and poked it through the hole at the top of my cone hat.

 Hat-pink-princess I was enchanted, entranced. Here I was, a chubby little girl with dark curly hair, transformed, transformed, into a princess, with the perfect pointy princess hat with the scarf that would trail glamorously behind me.

But that was not all. My fabulous costume also included a shiny pink shower curtain, a translucent sheet of thin plastic with a twisty raised pattern of huge pink roses. My mother stapled a pink ribbon in two corners, and tied the ribbon around my neck. (Yes, no, this would not have happened much later than the fifties, but obviously I didn’t choke and die.)

 With my fabulous pink cape and my fabulous pointy hat with the floaty scarf, I swooped around the neighborhood, door to door, collecting--what? Beemans Gum, and what was that other kind? Teaberry! And Chuckles, and Butterfingers, and those candy bars that had five separate different kinds of fillings. And they were called…ah. Can’t remember.

Anyway, the years went by, the candy became less important, but the costumes became more important. There was a big too-cool lull in high school, sneery and dismissive when my little brother and sister dressed up.

But then college. And the opportunity for revealing and inappropriate outfits disguised as perfectly-acceptable Halloween costumes began to present itself. One particular college year’s Halloween party had been deemed a “dress-as-your-favorite song” event. I thought about dyeing a sheet black and wearing it, ghost-like, and going as “She’s Not There” (Who sang that? Anyone?)


But in the end, Marjorie Hallihan and I put on black tights and black leotards (a key element of the innocent “it’s just a costume” excuse—you saw Mean Girls, right?) and attached handprints all over us. What song were we? Touch Me, by the Doors.

 Oh, we were subtle college girls.


My mother does not know about this, even now, so please don’t mention it.

There was another big Halloween lull as I entered the real world of work. Perhaps the job of dressing for real work every day was daunting enough. But eventually, this dressing up for Halloween thing seems somehow to have returned, at my work and in my outside-of-work life. (And apparently in others peoples’, too, since I read somewhere that adults spending for Halloween has skyrocketed in recent years.)

 Several years ago—gosh, no, it was longer ago than that-- I convinced my boyfriend at the time that we should go as Edward VII and Wallis Simpson. I wore a long navy blue dress, and he wore a dark suit and we both had red-ribbon sashes (like beauty contest sash, you know?) with a glittery brooch-like thing holding them together at our waists. I had a tiara. (I always grab any excuse to wear a tiara.) I thought this was a terrific idea, cool and subtle, but of course we spent the entire evening explaining who we were.


 And even then, partygoers then being who they were, even when we explained it, they still often had no idea. Fine. I liked it. (Thinking about it now, maybe it was the wannabe-a-princess thing again.)











Another year, I did the leotard and tights thing again—but brown. I took a plastic dry cleaning bag, and filled it with torn up pieces of brown and orange paper. Then I stepped into it, and tied it around my neck. (Anther motif, I now see.) I got some markers and a piece of shirt cardboard and made a tag, put it on a string, and attached that round my neck, too. (ooh.)

Tea bag

I was a teabag.

(Constant Comment, which my boyfriend-at-the-time mentioned (a few too many times) he thought was appropriate.)

 Oh, another year, my then-boyfriend (a different one) and I got several pieces of poster board, and made a huge cone. The hole in the top of the cone was big enough to put both our heads through. Then we took some pieces of two-by-fours, and made a table-like thing, which we covered with a red and white checked cloth. We put the cone on the cloth. Covered the cone with cooked spaghetti (a long and complicated story that has to do with glue and thread.)

 So are you with me here? It looked like a huge plate of spaghetti on a table in an Italian restaurant. (Sort of.)

 Then we got cotton balls, and covered two paper bags with them. Then we spray-painted the ball-covered bags with red and brown spray paint. We punched two eye-holes in each bag, put them over our heads, tied them around our necks (ooh) and put the whole spaghetti shebang over us.

So we were a plate of meatballs and spaghetti on a table.

 How we got this contraption TO the party is way too long to discuss. Suffice it to say it consisted of a lot of rope, the top of a car, and some very slow driving. Dancing at the party was  essentially impossible.

No pictures exist.

 A couple of years ago, Jonathan and I went as the Arks,  Joan and Noah. Some people got it, some people didn’t.

I do have photos of that. Alas, lost. But imagine me in chain mail (sequins) (and a leotard (ooh) and boots and big gloves and a fleur de lis flag) and Jonathan in a shepherd-looking hood robe (okay, fine it was a monk's robe) carrying a staff and a lot of stuffed animals. Two of each kind.

The next year, we were pressed for costumes, so Jonathan added a cowboy hat and a red neckerchief,   I added the neckerchief and changed my flag --we were Noah and Joan of Arkansas. 

 This year, seeing as how I am on page 108 of my new book, and was also on page 108 last week, we are not dressing up for Halloween. I hear cute 5-year old Molly next door is going to be a princess.

Ah. That is how it all starts. And I am going to see if I can help with the hat.

 What’s your favorite costume ever? Who are you going to be this year? There’s still time…

(PS: Holly! I love the banner! Thank you!)



October 24, 2010

Four cops, Two paramedics, One Mystery Writer

by Vicki Delany

Vicki Delany - cropped

(a note from Louise Penny.  I asked Vicki to join us today because she's not only a fabulous writer, she's hilarious - and kind.  Two great qualities, in my book.  She's published by Poisoned Pen and her latest is a Constable Molly Smith novel called NEGATIVE IMAGE)

Negative Image


Four cops, two paramedics, one mystery writer - 


That's how many people it took to wake one man up to go to work. 

After I’d published two novels of standalone suspense with Poisoned Pen Press my editor, Barbara Peters, and I decided it was time to try a series.  I knew right away that I wanted to write the type of series I like most to read: the traditional British-type police procedurals. 

But first, I had one problem: I have no experience in law enforcement whatsoever.  I used to be a systems analyst at a bank. Not a lot of gun battles or drunk-and-disorderlies in that job. We didn’t even have a jail in the office basement. 

I knew that if I was to create a reasonably realistic police series I would need some help. 

I’ve been very lucky and there are now four novels in the Constable Molly Smith series set in the fictional town of Trafalgar, British Columbia, Canada. 

 Everywhere I’ve been I’ve found police officers to be more than helpful in talking to me about the ins and outs of their job.  I have a detective constable who enjoys answering all my questions and will look things up, or ask the department lawyer, if he doesn’t know the answer to any one of them.  I’ve toured police stations, met many officers, been out on ride-alongs and walk-alongs, talked to the dog handler and met his dog, been to watch in-service training, been to the firearms training course (where they didn’t let me touch a weapon, you’ll be pleased to hear). 

I’ve had some really boring nights too.  As I try to explain when the nice officer assigned to take me out apologizes because nothing at all happened, if I want to see a gun battle or a bank robbery in progress, I’ll watch TV.  It’s the everyday details of the ordinary cop’s job that I’m interested in seeing first hand, that I want to give veracity to the books. The protagonist of the Constable Molly Smith series is young, green, a bit naïve.  When the series begins, in In the Shadow of the Glacier, she is still on probation.  She walks the beat on a Saturday afternoon, attends fender-benders, throws drunks into the drunk tank, tells people to empty out their cans of beer, helps confused old ladies cross the street, answers domestic disturbances, and stands outside crime scenes not letting anyone in.   

This is the detail of day-to-day policing I’m trying to get right for my books. That as well as the way the officers relate to each other, the jokes they tell, how they balance families and young children, how they train (or not). My books are about murder and kidnapping and tragedy, yes, but they are also about people and relationships.  

One thing I'm learning from the ride-alongs I've been on over the past two years, is that there can be a lot of humour in a cop’s job. It's a tough, often unpleasant, job and they put their lives on the line every day. But boy, do they get a good laugh some times. 

Recently, the car I was in was called to a home where a man wasn't answering the door to his friend who had come to take him to work. It was the usual time and the usual routine, and the friend was worried because the man had a medical condition. He had hammered on the door, tried to peer in windows, even climbed a tree to get a peek inside. But no answer and no movement. 

When we got there, the officer banged on the door, and bellowed, and peered in windows, and banged and bellowed again. He called for an ambulance. Reinforcements arrived, including the sergeant. Someone crouched down and yelled into the cat door. (And took a sniff - ug). Eventually there were four cops, two paramedics, and one mystery writer gathered at the top of a rickety set of stairs leading to the upstairs apartment. Permission to knock down the door was given, the door was kicked in, and everyone rushed in. Everyone, that is, save said mystery writer, who hung behind not wanting to see anything yucky. Then I heard a shout, "XX, what are you doing still in bed? Aren't you going to work?" 

So I also wandered into the apartment to have a look. 

Yup, the guy was tucked up in bed. Didn't feel like going to work, didn't bother phoning in, and didn't particularly want to get up and open the door.  Out we all trooped, one mystery writer, two paramedics, four cops, leaving XX in bed and a broken door swinging on its hinges. 

Here is a picture of one of the handsome officers I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. 



October 23, 2010

A Shot in the Dark

A Shot in the Dark

This is a blog post that I originally put up on Naked Authors two years ago. There've been some interesting updates to the sage recently, so I hope you'll excuse me for reposting here...

There's a topic I've wanted to blog about here for a long time, but it's pretty heavy stuff--not exactly the bright and breezy fare most people want to skim through online while sipping their morning beverage of choice.

Over the last year or so, every time I said to myself, "hey, maybe this week, if I can just get my head around a way to make the info meaningful and compelling... to personalize it somehow so that it's not a complete drag to ingest, but yet not so bereft of necessary info that it's easy to blow off..." I'd end up scuppering the whole thing as impossible to convey.

I'm still not sure I can make a blog post out of this that won't put you to sleep, but something happened this month that makes me feel like it's really, really important that I give it my very best effort right now, okay?

I'm going to do my damnedest not to make this boring, or strident, or "you can save this child or you can turn the page"-esque.

In fact, I'm not going to start off with the topic itself. I want to just loosely float two ideas first--kind of a warmup. Anedoctal stuff.

The first thing is a story I read some years ago. I don't remember exactly when or where (the New Yorker? The Sunday New York Times?) It was just a snippet from an article about something else, but it's really stuck with me for a lot of reasons.

The gist of it is that there was this guy--a journalist--who happened to be friends with an astonishingly successful investor. This investor had made serious BOATLOADS of money in the stock market, and one day his buddy, the journalist dude, got curious about the way his own line of work might be tied into his friend's success, so asked him which news outlets he'd relied on for accurate information on which to base his buying and selling decisions. Newspapers? Magazines? Television news reports?

Here's what the investor said (I'm paraphrasing more, from here on out), "None."

How can that be? asked his friend, to which the gazillionaire dude replied, "I realized a long time ago that there are two subjects in the world about which I know a great deal. One is sailing, and the other is cabbage varieties. And about twenty years ago, it occured to me that every time either sailing or cabbages were discussed in the mainstream press, the writers got nearly everything wrong.

Well, after a while, I started to wonder why I believed them about things I didn't know about. I mean, what was the likelihood that they were conveying accurate, well-researched information on everythingbut boats and cabbage? So that's when I stopped relying on journalists' information as a basis for my business decisions. And I've made a great deal of money ever since."

So, my Nakeds, do me a favor and think about a subject you reallyknow by heart--I don't care what it is: your hometown, your favorite breed of pet, or classic muscle-car engines or ham radio...

...or a medical condition that you or someone near and dear to you has battled for a long time--something you have a bone-deep, working knowledge of.

Got it?

Now ask yourself... when there's an article on that topic in Time orNewsweek, or even the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal, do they get it right?

Or do you, like me, tend to read those pieces expecting to be disappointed, and sometimes skip them altogether because even theheadline is idiotic, because it's just such a goddamn drag to read the fulminations of some J-school grad who skimmed the clips file and/or gave the topic a desultory Google before banging together a cursory overview of same by deadline?

Yeah, I thought so. Please file that feeling away for a bit.

Which leads us to...

Which can basically be summed up: the older I get, the less faith I have in "Miracle Medical Breakthroughs!"

I mean, let's just look at the info propounded by "the experts" on the subject of diet and nutrition since I was in my teens: low-fat one decade, low-carbs the next...eggs will kill you, eggs will save you...Italians don't have heart attacks because they eat olive oil, French people don't have heart attacks because they drink red wine...

blueberries are God, dark chocolate may save your life, monkeys live twice as long if you cut their calorie consumption in half, people in the Caucausus live to be 150 because they eat yogurt, salmon will make you smarter, pregant women shouldn't eat tuna sandwiches because they have too much mercury in them...

And does anyone else remember those ubiquitous Seventies ads in the back of Cosmo and Seventeen about the kelp/B-6/cider vinegar/fourth-ingredient-I-can't-remember miracle weightloss program? That one sounded about as good as eating

I remember one stepfather in the mid-seventies who dumped wheat bran on whatever he ate, because it was supposed to cure everything.

Then after that he wouldn't eat salt. Then it was red meat. The year following was his swiss-chard period, I think. I was thank GOD away at school when he discovered high colonics, because he was also fond of lecturing all of us at the dinner table on the importance of whichever new thing he'd become a devotee of.

He was incredibly boring--not to mention cranky--most of the time.

And guess what? He died anyway, having arrived at the exact median age of life expectancy for an American male that year.

So, you know--all those medical breakthroughs! pronouncements! miracles!...? I tend to reserve judgment.

I'm not against western medicine--I love my penicillin and Excedrin and Motrin and Celexa and suture scars as much as the next person, and it's seriously wonderful that we've got smallpox on the run and don't have a whole lot of use for iron lungs anymore.

But... I also keep in mind the fact that western medical practitioners spent several centuries touting the benefits of leeches and "a good bleeding," while pooh-poohing the radical idea that one might want to wash one's hands (or one's saw) before performing, say, an amputation.

Let's take a look at another health issue that's seen a great deal of "expert" see-sawing over the course of, say, the last seventy years. Anyone remember these ads? I'm a little young to have run across them first hand:

How 'bout we zero in on smoking for a minute, okay? I'm going to cite some stats and a bit of a timeline, briefly (click here if you want backup)

The first study linking cigarettes to lung cancer was published in1939.

The first statement from the Surgeon General on the topic was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in November, 1959.

On June 7, 1962, another Surgeon General announced that he was establishing an "expert committee to undertake a comprehensive review of all data on smoking and health."

On January 11, 1964, after some 15 months of intensive study, this committee--half the members of which were smokers-- issued its unanimous report stating that "cigarette smoking is a health hazard of sufficient importance in the United States to warrant, appropriate remedial action."

The government recommended that a warning label be printed on all packs of cigarettes sold in this country as of January 1, 1965, and in all cigarette advertising six months later.

The tobacco industry then prevailed upon Congress to change the proposed wording from "Caution: Cigarette 'Smoking is Dangerous to Health. It May Cause Death from Cancer and Other Diseases" to "Cigarette Smoking May be Hazardous to Your Health," with the passage of the Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act of 1965.

This act also prohibited the Federal Trade Commission and state and local governments from requiring any other label on cigarette packages and any warnings at all in cigarette advertising before1969.

Okay, got that? A reputable, peer-reviewed study links cigarettes to lung cancer in 1939, no official statement was issued by federal health officials until 1959 AND the words "may be hazardous to your health" couldn't be included in cigarette ads--newspaper, magazine, radio, and television--until 1969.

A New York Times editorial called Congress's cigarette labeling and advertising act "a shocking piece of special-interest legislation--a bill to protect the economic health of the tobacco industry by freeing it of proper regulation."

An article in the Atlantic Monthly described the political maneuvering behind the legislation under the title "The Quiet Victory of the Cigarette Lobby: How It Found the Best Filter Yet--Congress."

Now let's take a look at current tobacco-based revenues, campaign contributions, and lobbying expenditures of America's three biggest tobacco companies (citation):

Altria Group (Philip Morris)

2006 Tobacco Revenues: $66.7 billion
2008 Election cycle political contributions
by Altria Group PAC: $986,500
2007 Lobbying expenditures: $7.2 million

Reynolds American (RJ Reynolds)
2006 Revenues: $8.5 billion
2008 Election cycle political contributions
by RJ Reynolds PAC: $770,500
2007 Lobbying expenditures: $1.95 million

Loews Corp (Lorillard)
2006 Tobacco Revenues: $3.9 billion
2008 Election cycle political contributions
by Lorillard PAC: $175,250
2007 Total Lobbying expenditures: $1.96 million

Overall Tobacco Industry Political Contributions since 1997: more than $34.7 million

Here endeth the second intro topic-- a recap: medical experts often reverse themselves over time, and it took the U.S. Government nigh on thirty years after the first study linking cigarette smoking to lung cancer to officially warn citizens about the dangers of smoking.

Enter topic the third...

If you think the tobacco companies spend a lot of money on lobbying and campaign donations, let's do a little comparison on how they rate compared to the pharmaceutical industry, in this country...

Tobacco (between 1997 and 2007): $34.7 million
Pharmaceuticals (for same period): $675 million

Oh, wait, those figures aren't exactly comparable... that second amount is for lobbying alone--it doesn't include the drug companies' political campaign contributions, in the United States.

Here's another figure that might give a small idea of the pharmaceutical industry's global clout --the amount spent on marketing (and "administrative costs") by the 11 biggest drug companies in 2004:

$100 billion 

And here's what they reported spending on research and development that year: $50 billion.

When Dr. Marcia Angell stepped down from her post as the edtior-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine last year, she published therein a scathing parting-shot takedown of the pharmaceutical industry's impact on contemporary medical practice.

My favorite paragraph is the following, in which she says of the pharmaceutical companies' marketing budgets:

The industry depicts these huge expenditures as serving an educational function. It contends that doctors and the public learn about new and useful drugs in this way. Unfortunately, many doctors do indeed rely on drug-company representatives and promotional materials to learn about new drugs, and much of the public learns from direct-to-consumer advertising. But to rely on the drug companies for unbiased evaluations of their products makes about as much sense as relying on beer companies to teach us about alcoholism. 

It's not just doctors and consumers who may be lead astray by these expenditures, however, but the very state and federal regulatory agencies we rely upon to safeguard the public health.

Quoting from government transcripts obtained via the Freedom of Information Act, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. wrote in a 2005 article published in Rolling Stone that:

In June 2000, a group of top government scientists and health officials gathered for a meeting at the isolated Simpsonwood conference center in Norcross, Georgia. Convened by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the meeting was held at this Methodist retreat center, nestled in wooded farmland next to the Chattahoochee River, to ensure complete secrecy.

The agency had issued no public announcement of the session -- only private invitations to fifty-two attendees. There were high-level officials from the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration, the top vaccine specialist from the World Health Organization in Geneva and representatives of every major vaccine manufacturer, including GlaxoSmithKline, Merck, Wyeth and Aventis Pasteur.

All of the scientific data under discussion, CDC officials repeatedly reminded the participants, was strictly "embargoed." There would be no making photocopies of documents, no taking papers with them when they left.

The federal officials and industry representatives had assembled to discuss a disturbing new study that raised alarming questions about the safety of a host of common childhood vaccines administered to infants and young children. According to a CDC epidemiologist named Tom Verstraeten, who had analyzed the agency's massive database containing the medical records of 100,000 children, a mercury-based preservative in the vaccines -- thimerosal -- appeared to be responsible for a dramatic increase in autism and a host of other neurological disorders among children.

"I was actually stunned by what I saw," Verstraeten told those assembled at Simpsonwood, citing the staggering number of earlier studies that indicate a link between thimerosal and speech delays, attention-deficit disorder, hyperactivity and autism. Since 1991, when the CDC and the FDA had recommended that three additional vaccines laced with the preservative be given to extremely young infants -- in one case, within hours of birth -- the estimated number of cases of autism had increased fifteenfold, from one in every 2,500 children to one in 166 children.
Verstraeten wasn't alone in expressing concern. The transcripts record Dr. Bill Weil, a consultant for the American Academy of Pediatrics, as saying, "You can play with this all you want,... [The results] are statistically significant."

Dr. Richard Johnston, an immunologist and pediatrician from the University of Colorado whose grandson had been born early on the morning of the meeting's first day, said "My gut feeling? Forgive this personal comment -- I do not want my grandson to get a thimerosal-containing vaccine until we know better what is going on."

But the conversation didn't then turn to ways to ensure public safety. Dr. Robert Brent, a pediatrician at Delaware's Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children was more worried about the possibility that, "We are in a bad position from the standpoint of defending any lawsuits. This will be a resource to our very busy plaintiff attorneys in this country."

Dr. Bob Chen, head of vaccine safety for the CDC, chimed in with the assertion that, "given the sensitivity of the information, we have been able to keep it out of the hands of, let's say, less responsible hands."

Dr. John Clements, vaccines advisor at the World Health Organization, declared that "perhaps this study should not have been done at all," adding, "the research results have to be handled," that the results of the study, "will be taken by others and will be used in other ways beyond the control of this group."

Adds Kennedy, at this point:

In fact, the government has proved to be far more adept at handling the damage than at protecting children's health. The CDC paid the Institute of Medicine to conduct a new study to whitewash the risks of thimerosal, ordering researchers to "rule out" the chemical's link to autism. It withheld Verstraeten's findings, even though they had been slated for immediate publication, and told other scientists that his original data had been "lost" and could not be replicated. And to thwart the Freedom of Information Act, it handed its giant database of vaccine records over to a private company, declaring it off-limits to researchers. By the time Verstraeten finally published his study in 2003, he had gone to work for GlaxoSmithKline and reworked his data to bury the link between thimerosal and autism.

Vaccine manufacturers had already begun to phase thimerosal out of injections given to American infants -- but they continued to sell off their mercury-based supplies of vaccines until last year [2004]. The CDC and FDA gave them a hand, buying up the tainted vaccines for export to developing countries and allowing drug companies to continue using the preservative in some American vaccines -- including several pediatric flu shots as well as tetanus boosters routinely given to eleven-year-olds.

Former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who received $873,000 in contributions from pharmaceutical companies, slipped a "rider" into a Homeland Security bill in 2002, protecting vaccine manufacturers from lawsuits brought by those who suffer vaccine injury--this despite the fact that any vaccine-injury cases ALREADY have to be brought to trial in a special federal Vaccine Court.

Eli Lilly, the company that manufactures Thimerosal, contributed $10,000 to Frist's campaign fund the next day, then bought 5,000 copies of his book on bioterrorism.

Kennedy adds:

The measure was repealed by Congress in 2003 -- but earlier this year, Frist slipped another provision into an anti-terrorism bill that would deny compensation to children suffering from vaccine-related brain disorders. "The lawsuits are of such magnitude that they could put vaccine producers out of business and limit our capacity to deal with a biological attack by terrorists," says Dean Rosen, health policy adviser to Frist.

But wait, there's more... On five separate occasions, Frist has tried to seal all of the government's vaccine-related documents -- including the Simpsonwood meeting transcripts.

But what do we read about all of this in the mainstream press? Let's see, there was the study claiming that "autism is caused by drinkingduring pregnancy" this week, that got global play. Last year it was"autism is caused by watching television."

And there are countless articles in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal assuring readers that "all reputable studies prove there's no link between vaccines and autism," that "autism rates havenot gone down since ALL thimerosal was removed from ALL vaccines in 2001" and a great many characterizing concerned parents of autistic children as desperate for someone or something to blame for their children's condition or as lawsuit-hungry money grubbers.

Have autism rates gone down since thimerosal was phased out of vaccines, starting in 2001? Nobody knows. Can you believe that? Seriously, there's been no effort on the part of the CDC or any other federal agency to gather national data on that front.

California is the only state that keeps records of those receiving developmental disabilities services which are categorized by specific disability. It was California's numbers, in fact, which first confirmed what parents had long suspected---and "experts" long denied--that the rate of autism among young children in this country started skyrocketing in the 1990s.

If California's rates went down, that might be an indicator that removal of thimerosal was making some kind of a difference, right?

Let's just ignore the Associated Press article published in 2005 that announced "The number of new cases of autism in California has fallen for the first time in more than 10 years in what may be a bellwether for autism rates nationwide, according to new data compiled by the state Department of Developmental Services."

Everyone else ignored it, after all. And any parent who tries to bring it up is branded a crazed Luddite, or worse.

Michelle Malkin, with whom I don't always see eye-to-eye politically except on this topic, blogged "In defense of parents with informed vaccine skepticism" on March 24th:

The New York Times published a piece today about parents choosing not to expose their children to certain vaccines. This prompted blogger condemnations of those parents as “Bobo sociopaths” and a recommendation from Glenn Reynolds that“we should make clear that parents who, with no genuine medical reason, forego vaccinating their kids are bad parents, and bad citizens.”

Look, I could run you through the flaws in the studies routinely cited in that type of article (the Danish one, the Israeli one, etc.), or the differences in the way ethyl and methyl mercury break down in the body (not many), or the still-toxic and untested preservatives that have replaced thimerosal in multi-dose vials of vaccines, or the study performed at Columbia on the aberrant behaviors of infant mice injected with thimerosal, or the similarities in symptoms betweenautism and mercury poisoning,

or the fact that among thousands of Amish people in Pennsylvania (virtually non-vaccinated, as a population) only a handful of kids were found with any form of autism--one who'd been adopted in China and three who'd received vaccinations--when the expected number per that population would be around 130 affected individuals, or the hypothesis that autistic kids may lack the proper metabolic apparatus to excrete heavy metals as quickly as "typically developing" kids, or statistics on how much mercury is still in a number of shots administered routinely to infants and children and pregnant women (flutetanusRhogam, etc.)--because that's my version of the genius investor's "cabbages and sailing," these days....
(please run your mouse over the text of the previous two paragraphs to click through to studies cited--for some reason the hyperlinks aren't highlighted)

But I don't want to bore you any more than necessary, and besides, as a "bad parent and bad citizen," I'll let Kennedy speak to the history of the issue instead:

During the Second World War, when the Department of Defense used the preservative in vaccines on soldiers, it required Lilly to label it "poison."

In 1967, a study in Applied Microbiology found that thimerosal killed mice when added to injected vaccines. Four years later, Lilly's own studies discerned that thimerosal was "toxic to tissue cells" in concentrations as low as one part per million -- 100 times weaker than the concentration in a typical vaccine. Even so, the company continued to promote thimerosal as "nontoxic" and also incorporated it into topical disinfectants. In 1977, ten babies at a Toronto hospital died when an antiseptic preserved with thimerosal was dabbed onto their umbilical cords.

In 1982, the FDA proposed a ban on over-the-counter products that contained thimerosal, and in 1991 the agency considered banning it from animal vaccines. But tragically, that same year, the CDC recommended that infants be injected with a series of mercury-laced vaccines. Newborns would be vaccinated for hepatitis B within twenty-four hours of birth, and two-month-old infants would be immunized for haemophilus influenzae B and diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis.

The drug industry knew the additional vaccines posed a danger. The same year that the CDC approved the new vaccines, Dr. Maurice Hilleman, one of the fathers of Merck's vaccine programs, warned the company that six-month-olds who were administered the shots would suffer dangerous exposure to mercury. He recommended that thimerosal be discontinued, "especially when used on infants and children," noting that the industry knew of nontoxic alternatives. "The best way to go," he added, "is to switch to dispensing the actual vaccines without adding preservatives."...

Rep. Dan Burton, a Republican from Indiana, oversaw a three-year investigation of thimerosal after his grandson was diagnosed with autism. "Thimerosal used as a preservative in vaccines is directly related to the autism epidemic," his House Government Reform Committee concluded in its final report. "This epidemic in all probability may have been prevented or curtailed had the FDA not been asleep at the switch regarding a lack of safety data regarding injected thimerosal, a known neurotoxin." The FDA and other public-health agencies failed to act, the committee added, out of "institutional malfeasance for self protection" and "misplaced protectionism of the pharmaceutical industry."

And now I'd like to quote some numbers recently put forth by a toxicologist named Michael F. Wagnitz, in a rebuttal letter to the editors of Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Wagnitz introduced his list by writing, "Parents get angry when they see the following numbers listed on the internet. These numbers have been out there for everyone to read for years."

Here are the numbers he cited:

0.5 parts per billion (ppb) mercury = Kills human neuroblastoma cells (Parran et al., Toxicol Sci 2005; 86: 132-140).

2 ppb mercury = U.S. EPA limit for drinking water http://www.epa.gov/safewater/contaminants/index.html#mcls

20 ppb mercury = Neurite membrane structure destroyed (Leong et al., Neuroreport 2001; 12: 733-37).
200 ppb mercury = level in liquid the EPA classifies as hazardous waste. http://www.epa.gov/epaoswer/hazwaste/mercury/regs.htm#hazwaste

25,000 ppb mercury = Concentration of mercury in the Hepatitis B vaccine, administered at birth in the U.S., from 1990-2001.

50,000 ppb mercury = Concentration of mercury in multi-dose DTaP and Haemophilus B vaccine vials, administered 4 times each in the 1990's to children at 2, 4, 6, 12 and 18 months of age. Current "preservative" level mercury in multi-dose flu (94% of supply), meningococcal and tetanus (7 and older) vaccines. This can be confirmed by simply analyzing the multi- dose vials.

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that Wagnitz has a conflict of interest: he's the father of an autistic child.

Way back near the beginning of this post, remember how I said that something happened this month which made me feel it was necessary to at long last write a blog post on, as it turns out, thimerosal?

Here's the event I spoke of: the government decided in favor of the plaintiffs in one of the first Vaccine Injury Court autism test cases to go to trial.

That's right, folks, a judge representing the United States government decided that the family of an autistic girl was entitled to a monetary award, because it indeed seens evident that her condition was caused by "routine childhood vaccinations."

The anti-vaccine-hypothesis gang got started on spinning the verdict immediately--most by claiming that the girl, Hannah Poling, wasn't "typical" of autistic children, in that she had a metabolic disorder exacerbated by vaccines, and that therefore the metabolic disorder is itself responsible for her "autistic symptoms."

There are still nearly 5,000 such cases pending in the special court. I would be cynical if I thought that might have something to do with the intensity of the spin.

And yet... the online version of Time magazine had the courage to look at the facts of the case without the disimissive attitude so many of us have come to expect from the "mainstream" media, in an article titled “Case Study: Autism and Vaccines.”

The piece opened as follows:

What happened to little, red-haired Hannah Poling is hardly unique in the world of autism. She had an uneventful birth; she seemed to be developing normally-smiling, babbling, engaging in imaginative play, speaking about 20 words by 19 months. And then, right after receiving a bunch of vaccines, she fell ill and it all stopped.

Hannah, now 9, recovered from her acute illness but she lost her words, her eye contact and, in a manner of months, began exhibiting the repetitive behaviors and social withdrawal that typify autism. “Something happened after the vaccines," says her mom, Terry Poling, who is a registered nurse and an attorney. “She just deteriorated and never came back."
Hannah Poling's father, by the way, is a neurologist.

Here's one official's response to the court's ruling in the Poling case:

"Our message to parents is that immunization is life-saving," Dr. Julie L. Gerberding, the CDC's director, said at a hastily convened conference call with reporters.

"There's nothing changed. . . . This is proven to save lives and is an essential component of protection for children across America and around the world."
Gerberding further commented:
“Let me be very clear that (the) government has made absolutely no statement indicating that vaccines are a cause of autism. That is a complete mischaracterisation of the findings of the case, and a complete mischaracterisation of any of the science that we have at our disposal today.”
The Time article, however, went on to say:
...there’s no denying that the court’s decision to award damages to the Poling family puts a chink--a question mark--in what had been an unqualified defense of vaccine safety with regard to autism. If Hannah Poling had an underlying condition that made her vulnerable to being harmed by vaccines, it stands to reason that other children might also have such vulnerabilities.
As blogger Kent Heckenlively wrote in response to the article "I found myself nodding along as I read, saying, 'Yes! Yes! They’re getting it!'”

"One of the final paragraphs [in the article] is a statement which shouldn’t be controversial," he continues, "but when our community has said similar things we’ve been treated like we were primitives who wanted to take public health back to the nineteenth century." (And/or "bad parents," "bad citizens," "Bobo Sociopaths.")
Here's the paragraph he's referring to:

It’s difficult to draw any clear lessons from the case of Hannah Poling, other than the dire need for more research. One plausible conclusion is that pediatricians should avoid giving small children a large number of vaccines at once, even if they are thimerosal-free. Young children have an immature immune system that’s ill-equipped to handle an overload, says Dr. Judy Van de Water, an immunologist who works with Pessah at U. C. Davis. “Some vaccines, such as those aimed at viral infections, are designed to ramp up the immune system at warp speed,” she says. “They are designed to mimic the infection. So you can imagine getting nine at one time, how sick you could be.” In addition, she says, there’s some evidence, "that children who develop autism may have immune systems that are particularly slow to mature.”

"It’s stunning to read a paragraph like the one above in a major publication like TIME magazine," says Heckenlively, "when it’s been part of the catechism of our movement for years. It’s as if we’ve been secret believers in God in some totalitarian state and the ruler just announced he’s considering a conversion."

He also cites a report titled, "Vaccine Case - An Exception or a Precedent," from the CBS Evening News broadcast that aired on March 6, 2008, in response to the CDC having stated that Hannah Poling's case is "a singular event":

While the Poling case is the first of its kind to become public, a CBS News investigation uncovered at least nine other cases as far back as 1990, where records show the court ordered the government to compensate families whose children developed autism or autistic-like symptoms... including toddlers who had been called "very smart" and "impressed" doctors with their "intelligence and curiousity" . . . until their vaccinations.

But even if all those remaining cases pending in the Vaccine Court are ruled in favor of the plaintiff families, it doesn't mean that the families of the other estimated 500,000 kids with autism in this country will be able to sue for damages, under existing legislation. The federal government has set a three-year statute of limitations, dating from the first incidence of autistic symptoms in a child.

In light of that, I'd like to close this post with one more quotation from Dr. Marcia Angell's "farewell" editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine:

The pharmaceutical industry is extraordinarily privileged. It benefits enormously from publicly funded research, government-granted patents, and large tax breaks, and it reaps lavish profits. For these reasons, and because it makes products of vital importance to the public health, it should be accountable not only to its shareholders, but also to society at large.

May that sentiment go from Angell's lips to God's ears. And possibly Julie Gerberding's.

And look, maybe it's not the vaccines or the thimerosal that made the rate of autism go from one kid in 15,000 to one kid in 116. It could be some new additive in peanut butter, or exposure to wheat bran and Sea Monkeys.

I mean, until the mid-Seventies the "experts" claimed it was caused by overly intellectual, emotionally distant "refrigerator mothers."

We know, at least, that that last hypothesis is a load of crap. But we don't know anything else.

Isn't it time we expended a little more effort trying to really figure this thing out, and a little less of same calling the parents who are doing their best to make sense of and cope with the horrors of this disorder idiots?

I can't speak for anyone else, but I'm pretty fucking sick of being told how stupid I am.

I won't hold my breath waiting for that to change any time soon.

Meanwhile: smoke 'em if you got 'em.

Oh, yeah... conflict of interest: I'm the mother of a child who has autism

The updates since I first posted this?
According to CBS News:
The first court award in a vaccine-autism claim is a big one. CBS News has learned the family of Hannah Poling will receive more than $1.5 million dollars for her life care; lost earnings; and pain and suffering for the first year alone. 

In addition to the first year, the family will receive more than $500,000 per year to pay for Hannah's care. Those familiar with the case believe the compensation could easily amount to $20 million over the child's lifetime.

Hannah was described as normal, happy and precocious in her first 18 months. Then, in July 2000, she was vaccinated against nine diseases in one doctor's visit: measles, mumps, rubella, polio, varicella, diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, and Haemophilus influenzae. 

 Oh yes, and remember Julie Gerberding, head of the CDC? She was named the president of Merck Vaccines in December of 2009.

Read more: http://www.cbsnews.com/8300-31727_162-10391695.html?keyword=hannah+poling#ixzz1397KENiv

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October 22, 2010

Bearing Witness

from Jacqueline

I was going to write a completely different post today, but sometimes events emerge in the life of the writer that beg to be addressed in words.  Call it another way of dealing with life, call it what you will; but if I worked with wood, I am sure that this week I would be whittling away , and if I painted, my fingers would be stained with color. 

 Yesterday I received word that a family member had passed away in what I can only refer to as terrible circumstances.  I will not give her name – her immediate family have enough to deal with in the immediate aftermath, without seeing her name here.  I come from a large extended family – my mother was one of ten children, so I have lots of cousins – and though we all have our own lives and we’ve spread out over various continents, we keep tabs on each other through the family grapevine. You see, we remember. We remember those big family parties when we were kids, with dinner taken in two shifts to accommodate the children and the adults, where someone (usually the youngest cousin) always ended up sitting on an orange crate or toy box, and a few of us  had our meal dished up into cereal bowls – or (dare I admit it) spooned out onto a cookie tin lid when the dishes ran out! 

 As much as we dreaded it, my generation expected the older generation to go first, and we’ve lost a few, after all, they’re getting on in years. But this passing was not of that generation – in fact she was younger than me.  I have my memories of her, and have been cherishing them over the past couple of days; but more than anything, I have spent time on the telephone with her sister, who is having to deal with so much my heart just breaks for her.  And it brought me back to something I have been giving much thought to lately – the idea of bearing witness, especially when someone else is in the lonely place.

 What do I mean about “the lonely place?” you might ask.  We’re in the lonely place when what ails us cannot be helped by another – yet we are heartened by them just being there, bearing witness to our struggle in the eye of the storm. Sickness is a lonely place, so is grief.  All you can do, at the end of the day, is to bear witness to the person in the lonely place; you can only say, “I am here. I can hold you in my heart while you struggle.” Of course, you can bring  hot soup, you can do the tangible things that tell another that you understand, but you can’t alleviate the pain or take away the fear. 

 I’ve felt this keenly over the past few months. One of my very dearest friends was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer about five months ago.  We’re not talking about the pea-sized lump we’re told to look out for, but something the size of a small lemon that – literally – came up overnight (she’d only had a physical a few weeks earlier, plus a mammogram and there was no sign of this wicked little lemon).  Apparently, this type of cancer grows fast and furiously and really gets into your system.  Though an experimental drug plus chemo have diminished the tumor, my friend is still facing a double mastectomy plus more chemo plus radiation. Bearing witness seems to be filled with meaning and importance when a friend is facing such a trial by fire.  Of course, as I’ve said, there are the tangible things one can do, but then there’s that important role of staying in the picture, not drawing back, of saying, “I am here. I will not leave you, and I won’t try to give you false cheer.  But if you want to scream, I will hear you, and if you want to cry, I am your shoulder, and if you want to laugh – have I got a joke for you!”

 I think that, by a certain age, we’ve probably all been in the lonely place at one time or another, and we know what most helped us in those times.  No one can follow you into the room of illness – you have to leave them at the door, and only you know how you feel in that moment.  And only you know  your experience of grief.  But to have another person listen, or just to sit with you, or to offer some sort of acknowledgement can never be underestimated.  It’s not so much, “I feel your pain,” as “I can never know what you are feeling, but I am here.” Literally, to bear witness means “to provide evidence for. “ And though that sounds very lawyer-ish, I think it’s a good definition.  It means that when I talk to the bereaved sister, and listen to her recount each day’s challenges (from soothing a niece who has lost her mother, to dealing with her father who has lost his child, to untangling a skein of red tape, to choosing a casket….)  I know I can never understand fully what she is going through, but I can bear witness to her grief, to her exhaustion; I can counsel her to take time for herself, to sit down and have a cup of tea, to write down her feelings.   There’s a certain anguish that comes from not being able to take away the pain – and perhaps even a certain arrogance in thinking we might have the power to do just that, if only we hit upon the right thing to say or do.  As much as we love someone, are we expecting too much of ourselves if we try to take away the fear that comes with sickness or the deep pain of grief?  Perhaps bearing witness is the best we can do – along with hot soup – for we are only human, and we can only touch another and do our very best for them.

 As you can imagine from this post, I’m sorting through my feelings here. I’m wondering how best we can be of service to someone who is in the lonely place.  I know that if I look back on some of those times when I've been grieving, or have had health challenges, I have never felt so tightly held, simply knowing that my friends were there - they couldn't take away the pain, but they were present.  I remember once, when a friend was going through a really tough time, I said, “How can I support you?”  She looked at me and replied, “Just be you where you are.”  So I did just that.  And even though I say it myself, I make a really yummy butternut squash soup and I'm sure that helped too.

 This will be my last post for The Lipstick Chronicles.  The past year has turned out to be more demanding than I thought and something had to give.  I missed a post or two during my travels back to the UK or to book-related events, and dear Nancy Martin had to pinch-hit at the last minute, so I thought it best for me to hang up my lipstick for a while.   I was tickled pink to be asked to join the women who write for his blog – it doesn’t get much better to be listed alongside such an amazing group of writers.  And the comments!  Wow!  In my book every day this site offers one of the best conversations online.  Thank you to the women of The Lipstick Chronicles and deepest thanks to you wonderful readers who comment so thoughtfully.