The Therapy That’s Helping People Suffering From Food Allergies

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— Is it possible to get over a peanut allergy? In Stanford Medicine Magazine, Melanie Thernstrom reports on how oral immunotherapy (OIT) is helping to fix food allergies. Thernstrom’s son Kieran was allergic to eggs and nuts before going through OIT, and now can eat the foods without his parents worrying:

“For everyone who has stayed in the study, the treatment has been 100 percent successful,” says Nadeau. “It turns out that everyone’s immune system is capable of adapting — and surprisingly, it is as true of adults as children.” She and her team now have an eight-year study of OIT — the longest record in the United States — in which they found that everyone who was compliant with the treatment and continued to eat the foods has kept their allergies from returning.

What happens if the patients stop eating the foods altogether? Nadeau recently published the results of a withdrawal study, where 20 formerly peanut-allergic patients who had completed two years of OIT and were able to eat a full serving (1 tablespoon of peanut butter or 20 peanuts) without any reaction stopped eating peanuts altogether. After three months, more than half (13 out of 20) had regained the allergy to peanuts, although their reactions were no longer as severe. By six months, almost everyone (17 of 20) had regained the allergy.

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Photo: Daniella Segura

The Lives of Nuns: A Reading List

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Life inside the cloister is fascinating. Poverty, silence, chastity, obedience: these are not characteristics most of us would devote our lives to. These women find freedom in strictures and structure. What is it like inside the convent walls? Here are five pieces explore the lives of nuns and those inspired by their works.

1. “The Secret Life of Nuns.” (Alex Mar, Oxford American, August 2013)

Alex Mar moves into a Dominican order in Houston: “I traveled here, arriving just yesterday on an early flight, to answer a question that I’ve had for years: Why would a woman make the very specific choice to marry God? […] Why would she choose to live with his many brides and very little privacy and pooled resources; to abandon any and all romantic partners, along with the possibility of ever again touching someone else’s naked body; to set aside every personal need and closely held ambition in favor of the needs of others? I wanted to understand who this woman was—call her a nun or a sisteror a woman religious—and why I’ve harbored a fantasy about her since I was a young girl.”

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When Content Moderators for Social Media Sites Experience PTSD

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— In Wired, Adrian Chen travels to the Philippines to talk to employees who work at content moderation companies that do outsourced work for companies in the U.S., scrubbing objectionable content (sexually explicit images, gore, racism, solicitation of minors) from major social media sites. It’s a difficult job:

In Manila, I meet Denise (not her real name), a psychologist who consults for two content-moderation firms in the Philippines. “It’s like PTSD,” she tells me as we sit in her office above one of the city’s perpetually snarled freeways. “There is a memory trace in their mind.” Denise and her team set up extensive monitoring systems for their clients. Employees are given a battery of psychological tests to determine their mental baseline, then interviewed and counseled regularly to minimize the effect of disturbing images. But even with the best counseling, staring into the heart of human darkness exacts a toll. Workers quit because they feel desensitized by the hours of pornography they watch each day and no longer want to be intimate with their spouses. Others report a supercharged sex drive. “How would you feel watching pornography for eight hours a day, every day?” Denise says. “How long can you take that?”

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Photo: Ervins Strauhmanis

‘Spanglish Is Not Random’

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Spanglish is not random. It is not simply a piecemeal cobbling-together, a collecting of scraps of random vocabulary into a raggedy orphan of a sentence. It has logic and rules, and more interestingly and importantly, it embodies a constantly shifting and intimate morphology of miscegenation. It is the mix of my husband’s innate Mexicanness and my innate Americanness, of my adaptive Mexicanness and his adaptive Americanness, in Spanish and English morphemes that come neatly together and apart like so many Legos into new and ever-changing constructions.

Linguist Richard Skiba breaks down the average usage of Spanglish into percentages: 84 percent of the time, Spanglish speakers employ single word switches; 10 percent of the time, phrase switches; and 6 percent of the time, clause switches. The vast majority of the time, to use Spanglish is to slip in a Spanish word for an English one, or vice versa: Estábamos llendo por el highway cuando de repente vimos un deer. Spanglish also involves affixation and suffixation: applying the morphological characteristics of one language to another. This could mean tacking on Spanish’s beloved diminutives (a little sock becomes sockito), assigning gender (the dog becomes el dogo), or modifying verb endings (takeando un bath; mopeando el piso). Finally, it includes calques (this term itself a French loan word in English, which originally means “trace” or “echo”): direct or literal translations that impose one language’s syntax on the other. For example, one might say te hablo p’atrás—I’ll call you back—as opposed to te devuelvo la llamada, which is the typical phrasing in Spanish. Or perhaps tener un buen tiempo—to have a good time—as opposed to pasarla bien, which is more correct. This is not random; it is not haphazard. Rather, to mold phrases in this way requires a firm grasp on the morphology of two languages, not to mention an instinctive creativity and openness in slipping and sliding between the two.

— Sarah Menkedick, in The Oxford American, in an essay about the origins and use of Spanglish among “middle-class and second-generation Latinos; artists, scholars, and writers; educated Mexican-American immigrants; Mexican immigrants who’ve returned to Mexico from the U.S.; and gringos who’ve somehow wound up straddling the border.”

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Photo: Beatrice Murch

Benjamin C. Bradlee: 1921-2014

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Legendary Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee, who led the newspaper for 26 years and oversaw coverage of the Watergate scandal that led to the impeachment of President Richard Nixon, died Tuesday at the age of 93.

“There is nothing like daily journalism! Best damn job in the world!” Ben Bradlee said, as he happily slammed a folded newspaper on his desk one morning in 1985 after I wrote a story that had his phone ringing off the hook.

Ben loved to stir things up, loved to get people talking.

— Some tributes: Editor Mary Jordan remembers what it was like to get praise from Bradlee. Former managing editor Leonard Downing reflects on working with Bradlee, and novelist Ward Just describes his relationship with Bradlee.

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Who’s Left After True Crime – Our College Pick

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Readers and writers love a good true-crime story. There’s plenty of intrigue and suspense and enough intimate details to give the audience a good shiver. Stories about crime victims, however, are more difficult to report and write. Readers don’t want to pity the victim of a crime as much as cheer her on. The reporter can’t ignore the details of the crime, but can’t weigh a story down with them, either. The journalist must get close to the subject to tell a good, true story while also maintaining professional boundaries and trying to be a human being first and reporter second. It’s a most uncomfortable assignment. During eight months of reporting about the life of a student whose father murdered her mother, Kathryn Varn did a lot of things right. The result is a compelling read about a young woman moving forward and carrying her burden along the way.

Staying Strong

Kathryn Varn | The Alligator | October 17, 2014 | 8.5 minutes (2,126 words)

When Oscar de la Renta Told Hillary Clinton Not to Wear Black

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“What’s Senator Clinton wearing?” the designer wants to know. It’s Inauguration Day and De la Renta is in his studio, too busy tweaking his new collection to attend the festivities. He is squinting at Chrissy Haldis, a tall, willowy, and by all accounts mannequin-mute brunette who has served as his house model for the past two collections. She stands rotating in slow circles, sheathed in rare, velvety Uzbekistani fabric that, when hemmed and cut, will become a long coat retailing in the neighborhood of $10,000. In De la Renta’s adjoining office, the inauguration is being broadcast over the Internet—there is Laura Bush, pert and stately in a pearly De la Renta cashmere dress, though the designer is currently concerned about the clothes another client, Hillary Clinton, has chosen for the event.

“She’s wearing black,” someone points out.

De la Renta frowns. “What?”

“It’s a black jacket, and a—”

He cuts her off. “Oh, I always tell Senator Clinton . . .” He pauses delicately. “Well, I mean, I’m sure she looks beautiful. Hillary is a beautiful woman. But I always tell her not to wear black. She looks tough in black”—he tenses his fists and jaw to illustrate his point—“and she is more than just a tough lady. The problem is that everything else she has, every other piece of clothing that’s not black, is mine, and with Mrs. Bush also wearing something of mine today . . . ”

After a moment, De la Renta simply laughs. The designer, who grew up under a dictatorship, seems to find politics most compelling, not as an engine of policy and social change, but as a theater of bombastic personalities kept in line by social formality.

“I’m a nonpartisan voter,” he says with a smile. “I vote for the man, not the party. I voted for Clinton, but I voted for Bush. I also voted for Reagan.” He pauses. “Black! I cannot believe she’s wearing black!”

— From a 2005 profile of Oscar de la Renta in New York magazine. The iconic fashion designer died yesterday at the age of 82.

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Photo: YouTube / Oscar de la Renta Film, Bill Clinton Presidential Library