The media and war

Albert Einstein said "In two weeks, the sheep-like masses can be
worked up by the media into such a state of excited fury that the
men are willing to put on a uniform to kill and be killed for sake
of the worthless aims of a few interested parties."  

After almost 8 years?

, the lowest uninsured rate on record, falling poverty, the highest graduation rates on record, low gas prices, improved international prestige, and a relatively popular president (the CNN poll puts Obama’s approval rating at 55%, which ties a second-term high).

Hungry? Eat the mammals out of existence

Hundreds of mammal species - from chimpanzees to hippos to bats - are being eaten into extinction by people, according to the first global assessment of the impact of human hunting.

Bushmeat has long been a traditional source of food for many rural people, but as roads have been driven into remote areas, large-scale commercial hunting is leaving forests and other habitats devoid of wildlife. 

ADVERTISINGThe scientists behind the new analysis warned that, without action, the wiping out of these species could lead to the collapse of the food security of hundreds of millions of people reliant on bushmeat for survival.he work comes against the backdrop of the natural world undergoing the greatest mass extinction since a giant meteorite strike wiped out the dinosaurs 65m years ago, with species vanishing far more rapidly than the long term rate, driven by the destruction and invasion of wild areas by humans and their livestock and hunting.The researchers, whose study is published in the journal Royal Society Open Science, used the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) red listto identify the endangered land mammals that are primarily at risk from hunting for food. They found 301 such species, representing 7% of all the land mammals assessed by IUCN and about a quarter of all endangered mammals. Other mammals are threatened by habitat loss or hunting for other reasons, such as elephants which are poached for their ivory.
The mandrill is among the endangered land mammals primarily at risk from hunting for food.The mandrill is among the endangered land mammals primarily at risk from hunting for food. Photograph: Maren Reichelt/REX/ShutterstockThe 301 species include 168 primates, such as the lowland gorilla and mandrill, 73 hoofed animals, such as the wild yak and bactrian camel, 27 bats, such as the golden-capped fruit bat and the black-bearded flying fox, and 12 carnivores, such as the clouded leopard and several bear species.There are also 26 marsupials threatened by meat hunting, including the grizzled tree kangaroo, and 21 rodent species, such as the Sulawesi giant squirrel and the alpine woolly rat. All eight species of pangolins - scaly anteaters - are threatened and these species won top-level protection at the recent summit of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species.“There are a plenty of bad things affecting wildlife around the world and habitat loss and degradation are clearly at the forefront, but among the other things is the seemingly colossal impact of bushmeat hunting,” said Prof David Macdonald, at the University of Oxford and part of the international team that produced the research. “You might rejoice at having some habitat remaining, say a pristine forest, but if is hunted out to become an empty larder, it is a pyrrhic victory.”He said: “The number of hunters involved has gone up, and the penetration of road networks into the remotest places is such that there is no refuge left. So it becomes commercially possible to make a trade out of something that was once just a rabbit for the pot. In places like Cameroon, where I have worked, you see flotillas of taxis early in the morning going out to very remote areas and being loaded up with the [bushmeat] catch and taken back to towns.”The scale of the global bushmeat trade is difficult to measure but, in 2011, the Center for International Forestry Research estimated 6m tonnes of animals were taken each year. Another estimate indicates 89,000 tonnes of meat, worth $200m, is taken every year from the Brazilian Amazon. The meat is also smuggled abroad, with 260 tonnes of wild meat per year estimated to be hidden in personal baggage at just one European airport, Paris Charles de Gaulle
A truck loaded with passengers stops outside a restaurant serving bush meat, in the town of Epulu, Democratic Republic of Congo.A truck loaded with passengers stops outside a restaurant serving bush meat, in the town of Epulu, Democratic Republic of Congo. Photograph: Rebecca Blackwell/APNBushmeat is often caught using long lines of snares, which trap animals indiscriminately. Macdonald, who works with the lions in Hwange park in Zimbabwe where Cecil the lion lived, has seen lions killed by snares set for game spec“With this [hunting] trend, the loss of mammal populations thus affects the livelihoods and food security for hundreds of millions of rural people across the globe,” the scientists warned.Macdonald said: “You have got to distinguish between those people who have no choice but to eat bushmeat, and what is to be done for them, and people now living in towns who have a nostalgic memory for the time when they lived on bushmeat, but no longer need to, so it is a luxury.”The researchers said solving the problem of over-hunting will require greater legal protection for the species, empowering local communities to benefit from wildlife conservation, providing alternative foods and better education and family planning to curb population growth.
I love great Artists, no matter what the medium

Dylan's language

The Republican Congress has blocked Obama for 7 ½ years now. They are on the wrong side of history and are fiercely fighting change, full of fear because they are old white men who are losing their power to a new generation and new demographics. Or to put it another way:
Come senators, congressmen please heed the call
Don't stand in the doorway don't block up the hall
For he that gets hurt will be he who has stalled
There's a battle outside and it's ragin'
It'll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls
For the times they are a' changin'!

tRUMP voter revealed - long read - worth it!!

‘Finally. Someone who thinks like me.’

By Stephanie McCrummen October 1 

Melanie Austin sits at her kitchen table at her home near Brownsville, Pa., on Aug. 6. She is an enthusiastic Donald Trump supporter and is certain that he will win the election in November. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

In a living room in western Pennsylvania, the Republican National Convention was on TV, and Melanie Austin was getting impatient.

“Who’s that guy?” she said, watching some billionaire talk about prosperity and tolerance. “Prosperity and tolerance? Forget that sh--.”

She lit a cigarette. Her boyfriend, Kevin Lisovich, was next to her on the couch, drifting to sleep, a pillow over his head. On the ottoman was her cellphone, her notes on the speakers so far — “LOCK HER UP!!” she had written — and the anti-anxiety pills she kept in a silver vial on her keychain.

She was a 52-year-old woman who had worked 20 years for the railroad, had once been a Democrat and was now a Republican, and counted herself among the growing swath of people who occupied the fringes of American politics but were increasingly becoming part of the mainstream. Like millions of others, she believed that President Obama was a Muslim. And like so many she had gotten to know online through social media, she also believed that he was likely gay, that Michelle Obama could be a man, and that the Obama children were possibly kidnapped from a family now searching for them.

“So beautiful,” Melanie said as Ivanka Trump walked onto the convention stage to introduce her father, and soon the soaring score of the movie “Air Force One” was blasting through the TV. Melanie sat up straighter. This is what she had been waiting for.

“Here comes Big Daddy,” she said, clapping. “The Donald. Big Daddy.”

Kevin was snoring.

“Here he is, babe,” she said. “Donald’s here, babe.”

Trump walked onto the stage, chanting “U-S-A! U-S-A!”

“That’s right, Donald — USA, baby,” Melanie said to the Republican nominee for president, who began his speech by marveling at all the Americans who had gotten him here.

“Who would have believed that when we started this journey on June 16th of last year we — and I say we, because we are a team — would have received almost 14 million votes?” Trump said, looking out on the cheering crowd.

“I would,” Melanie said to the TV. “I would, Donald.”

***


Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks July 21, the final day of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. (Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)

The first time she had seen him, at a rally in June, she was just beginning to realize how many people saw the world the way she did, that she was one among millions. At the time, her hips were still sore from a series of injections intended to calm her. She had gotten them in February, during a difficult time in her life, when she had been involuntarily hospitalized for several weeks after what she called a “rant,” a series of online postings that included one saying that Obama should be hanged and the White House fumigated and burned to the ground. On her discharge papers, in a box labeled “medical problem,” a doctor had typed “homicidal ideation.”

Melanie thought the whole thing was outrageous. She wasn’t a person with homicidal ideation. She was anxious, sure. Enraged, definitely. But certainly not homicidal, and certainly not in need of a hospital stay.

“It never crossed my mind that I’m losing it,” she said several months after her release, and a big reason for this conviction was the rise of Donald Trump, who had talked about so many of the things she had come to believe — from Obama being a founder of the terrorist group ISIS, to Hillary Clinton being a co-founder, to the idea that U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia may have been murdered in a White House plot involving a prostitute and a pillow.

“They say they found a pillow on his face, which is a pretty unusual place to find a pillow,” Trump had told the talk-radio host Michael Savage, who was using his show to explain the scenario to his 5 million weekly listeners, who then spread it on Facebook, where it wound up in Melanie’s feed.

To Melanie, this was the glory of the 2016 presidential election. The truth about so many things was finally being accepted, from the highest levels of the Republican Party on down to the grass roots of America, where so many people like her didn’t care what some fact-checker said, much less that one day Trump would suggest that Obama wasn’t born in America, and on another say maybe he was.

More and more, she was meeting people who felt the same as she did, joining what amounted to a parallel world of beliefs that the Trump campaign had not so much created as harnessed and swept into the presidential election. As Melanie saw it, what she had posted about Obama was no different from what a New Hampshire state legislator and Trump campaign adviser had said about Hillary Clinton, that she “should be put in the firing line and shot for treason.”

“If it’s time to lock me up, it’s time to lock up the world,” Melanie remembered thinking when she had heard that.

And so when she was released from the hospital with instructions to “maintain a healthy lifestyle,” she did what seemed to her not only healthy but also patriotic. She began campaigning for Trump.

“Trumpslide 2016!” she posted on Facebook a few days after she got home in March.

“Lets build a winning team and GREAT UNITED STATES OF AMERICA!! #Vote for #Donald #Trump for #President!” she posted in May. “#STOPHILARYCLINTON #STOPBERNIESANDERS #SHUTUPMITTROMNEY.”

In June, Melanie heard that Trump was holding a rally in an airplane hangar near Pittsburgh, so off she and Kevin went. On a blazing Saturday afternoon, her red “Make America Great Again” hat bobbed amid the thousands streaming past hawkers selling “Trump that Bitch” T-shirts and “Bomb the Shit Out of ISIS” buttons and a man handing out pamphlets about the apocalypse.

Are Trump supporters 'deplorable'? Here's what the data says

 
Play Video2:41
Hillary Clinton stirred controversy with her "basket of deplorables" comment on Sept. 9. But do Trump supporters actually agree with her specific claims? (Peter Stevenson/The Washington Post)

Melanie took one to fan herself, and she and Kevin found a spot in the crowd. She looked around.

“I feel so inspired and uplifted!” she yelled over the blasting music.

“We need hope!” yelled Kevin, and soon the “Air Force One” theme began swelling as Donald Trump’s Boeing 757 rolled into view.

“We want Trump! We want Trump!” the crowd began chanting.

“There he is!” Melanie yelled as Trump stepped out of his plane. “Oh, yeah! Donaaaald!”

Her voice blended into the thunderous cheers, but as Trump began speaking, and people quieted down, hers became the lone voice calling out from the crowd.

Boo! Booooo!” she yelled when Trump referred to “Crooked Hillary.”

Traitoooor!” she yelled when Trump mentioned Obama.

And when Trump was saying how great it was going to be on Election Day — “If you pull the right trigger, we’re going to have fun together!” — Melanie was the one letting it rip from the back of the airplane hangar.

Yeeeeaaaah!” she yelled.

***


Kayakers row along the Monongahela River in front of Brownsville Marine Products, a barge factory in Brownsville, Pa., where Austin has spent most of her life. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

A month later, she was backing out of the driveway of her house, a gray-sided two-story, the same one in which she grew up. It was late afternoon, and her check-engine light came on.

“Oh, that’s all I need,” she said during another chaotic day.

Her morning had gone by in county court with Kevin, a onetime local council member and firefighter who was now a laid-off production-shift supervisor checking in with a judge about charges related to using someone’s car without permission.

“We had to sit through all these arraignments,” Melanie said of the parade of heroin addicts. “I couldn’t believe all the women they brought in. They had tattoos. Blue and green hair. These are zombies, is what they seem to be.”

After that they went to help Kevin’s son fix his decrepit van. “So we tied the muffler up,” she said, and that was her day so far. Zombies, a busted muffler and now a check-engine light as she was driving.

Through the windshield was a part of Pennsylvania that is more than 90 percent white, ranks among the worst in the state on indicators such as unemployment and premature death, and is near the top in support for Donald Trump, who got two-thirds of the GOP primary vote in April.

“My crappy little corrupt community,” was how Melanie described it, speeding past houses with roofs sagging, porches tilting and buildings rotting into overgrown grass. She slowed as she entered the tiny downtown of Brownsville, population 2,292 and shrinking.

“My workplace was right there to the left,” she said, pointing to where a railroad office once was. “It was a big red building. Bunch of offices. I don’t miss it one bit,” she said, speeding up again. “And I have unpleasant thoughts.”

She had spent her whole life here. She was raised in a family of coal miners and railroad men, graduated from a technical school, and had been working as a secretary when her sister became sick and asked her to take care of her son temporarily. Needing more money, she started working for the railroad, first as a crew dispatcher and eventually as an engineer, running trains full of coal and equipment.

She was usually the only woman on a crew, but she prided herself on being tough, so when she heard that some higher-up had called a colleague and asked, “What’s Austin wearing today, her green miniskirt?” Melanie laughed it off. She ignored the boss who she said left a Penthouse magazine on her desk. But then came the sexually explicit graffiti about her in the train toilets, and a male colleague’s calling her “psycho bitch” over the radio, and another male colleague’s flying her underwear like a flag off the train — all of which became part of a sexual-harassment lawsuit Melanie filed against the railroads. In 2002, a jury awarded her $450,000 in damages, a verdict overturned by a federal judge who did not question the facts of the case but decided that the matter had been handled appropriately.


Austin has come to blame President Obama for what she considers the decline of her community, the United States and the world. She has been deeply skeptical of him from the start. “Nobody knew him! I mean, ‘Dreams from My Father’ from Kenya?” she said, referring to Obama’s memoir. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

“The jury gave me my one moment in the sun as far as justice was concerned,” Melanie said. “But the politicians are never going to let a little girl slap two Class I railroads, and they didn’t.”

That was the moment when she began to see so clearly how the world worked, she said, and it wasn’t just about the judge. It was about a whole corrupt political system, starting with the governor at the time, Ed Rendell — “that dirty, filthy politician I call Swindell” — who she figured was in the pocket of the railroads and had influenced the judge.

And it didn’t stop there. Rendell was friendly with Bill Clinton, and Melanie was sure it didn’t help her case that Clinton was president and embroiled in sex scandals when she began filing complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. “To see Slick Willy’s photo all over, you just wanted to barf,” she said.

“What could I do?” she said, driving along. “Nothing. I’m just one little girl.”

Someone honked.

“Oh, be quiet!” she yelled out the window.

She was late taking her afternoon anti-anxiety pill.

“My anxiety’s through the roof,” she said, and then explained what came after the lawsuit. Her sister became ill with cancer. There were fights with doctors and insurance companies over bills. Her sister died. There was the housing collapse and the banking collapse, and her hours got cut back, and her colleagues were treating her as bad as ever.

“Every day was a different scumbum,” she said. “I couldn’t handle one more d---head.”

Her anxiety was getting worse and worse, and then one day in 2011, Melanie went to work, and in a moment she cannot recall clearly, ran her train through a red signal. No one was hurt, but she lost her job.

“I did cartwheels,” she said. “I didn’t have to endure this s--- one more day. Not one more creep crawling up on my engine. Still, it’s a hell of a transition from working woman, and then now to have to confront PTSD, anxiety and depression.”

She went on disability. After a while, she tried to get a job at the local firehouse but came to believe officials were stealing money. She tried to stay on top of her anxiety medication but thought her doctor was committing Medicare fraud. She joined a motorcycle club called Bikers for Christ but found the members to be just “filthy old men.” And every day there was Brownsville.

“When I was a kid, at Christmas time, you’d have lights and a big ‘Season’s Greetings’ banner hung up here,” she said. “There is none of that now. I don’t see much pride in this town. I don’t see much pride at all.”


Austin often drives through Brownsville and surrounding Fayette County, where abandoned buildings and shuttered businesses abound, and where Donald Trump got nearly 70 percent of the GOP primary vote in April. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

What she did see more and more was not only a collapsing town, but also a collapsing country and world, and when she looked at President Obama, the person presiding over it all, what she saw was someone who seemed “to come out of nowhere.”

“Nobody knew him! I mean, ‘Dreams from My Father’ from Kenya?” Melanie said, referring to Obama’s memoir.

To her, the president seemed so far away, so oblivious to the decay she saw around her that when Donald Trump began suggesting that Obama was not American, it made sense. When Trump and others suggested that Obama was Muslim, to Melanie it seemed plausible. And when Obama started talking about, of all things, gay marriage and letting transgender people into bathrooms, it all came together: The president of the United States was a gay Muslim from Kenya working to undermine America.

The more she thought about it, the more certain she became, and with certainty came a feeling of confidence — a sense of liberation that culminated over several days in February, when she decided, “I’ve been pushed around all I’m going to be pushed around,” and began unleashing 20 years of feelings online.

“Melanie is taking the world by storm!” she wrote, alongside a cartoon of herself flying.

“Yippeeee!” she wrote when Trump pulled ahead in the South Carolina primary.

“Have a cup of shut up juice DemTARD!” she wrote during a Democratic forum.

“OUR NATION IS IN TROUBLE,” she wrote two days later. “WE ARE STARVING FOR GOOD, HONEST, CARING LEADERSHIP.”

She posted the name of a local firehouse official with a circle and a slash through it. She wrote to a local council member, “Buzz off blubberlips!” She wrote #hangslickwillynow, and in reference to Hillary Clinton, #hangtheskanknow, and then she turned her attention to Obama. The president should be hanged and the White House fumigated and burned to the ground, Melanie wrote, and soon after that, the state police were knocking on her front door.

She was in her nightgown. She was off her anti-anxiety medication. She thought that if she opened the door, the police were going to grab her, so she talked to them through a window.

“Oh, they were very placating. ‘Hello, Ms. Austin, how are you today?’ ” she recalled. “They couldn’t care less how I was today.”

The rest of the conversation was a blur, but Melanie remembered that she finally decided there was no use resisting, and as the police led her outside and into the hot back seat of a cruiser, she hummed the old hymn “Don’t Be Afraid” over and over. As she saw it, she was becoming a “political prisoner.”

Her neighbor John, a childhood friend who was watching the whole thing unfold from his yard, walked over and ducked his head into the police car. He was worried. Melanie told him not to be, that God was in control, and that “time will tell the truth.” She asked him to take care of her cat, and then the police drove her away.

***


Austin displays the nightgown she was wearing the day that police took her to a hospital after she had posted comments online including one saying that Obama should be hanged. She said her posting was no different from what she reads online all the time. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

Four months after that, the Republican convention was underway, and Melanie was online with her 2,795 Facebook friends and 1,430 Twitter followers and all the other people she was meeting every day across America.

She was in her garage, where she went most mornings at sunrise to say her prayers and check her social media feeds on her phone. She sat at a big picnic table set with some laminated Holy Land place mats she had gotten during a trip to Israel, and under the Christmas lights in the rafters.

“Oh, look,” she said, reading a headline. “‘A West Virginia member of the House of Delegates says Hillary Clinton should be tried for treason, murder and crimes against the U.S. Constitution and then hung on the Mall in Washington, D.C.’ ”

She scrolled.

“I want to find out if he’s going to the nut house because of it,” she said.

She lit a cigarette and squinted at the screen.

“Look at this,” she said, pointing to a photo of Michelle Obama with a caption suggesting she is a man. “It’s everywhere.”

And then she began explaining, step by step, how she had come to believe that the first lady might actually be a man named Michael.

She figured it started with the Christian televangelists she had followed since the 1980s. In particular, she loved John Hagee, who had said that the Antichrist would appear as a “blasphemer and a homosexual.” And Jerry Falwell, who had blamed the Sept. 11 attacks on “the pagans and the abortionists and the feminists and the gays and the lesbians.”

“Also,” Melanie said, “Falwell disclosed that the first Christmas Bill and Hillary spent in the White House, Hillary collected ornaments from homosexuals all over the world. And those ornaments were hung in the White House foyer.”

And if that wasn’t enough to prove they were “anti-Bible,” she said, the Clintons went on to support allowing closeted gay people to serve in the military, which she saw as a watershed moment when America began turning away from God.

Then came Obama — “Obama and his gay initiatives,” she said — and her suspicions about him deepened with each one. First he supported allowing gays to serve openly in the military. Then gay marriage. Then came the one that struck Melanie as the strangest and most sinister of all: allowing transgender people to use bathrooms matching their gender identity.

“It’s like he wants to classify us — alpha, beta, gamma, delta,” she said, referring to the dystopian future described in the novel “Brave New World.”

As she tried to understand it all, the best explanation she found was that Obama himself must be gay, a notion introduced and reinforced by all sorts of stories and photos and videos showing up in her Facebook feed. Of these, few were more convincing than a video of the late comedian Joan Rivers, which was what brought her to the matter of the first lady.

“Here we go,” she said now, finding it on her phone.

She read the headline out loud: “Joan Rivers died two months after calling Obama gay and Michelle a transvestite.”

And then she scrolled through one YouTube video after another, including a 13-minute 28-second one with more than 1.4 million views that she watched again now. In it, a reporter asks Rivers when America will have its first gay president. “We already have it with Obama, so let’s just calm down,” Rivers says as she walks away, adding, “You know Michelle is a tranny.” “I’m sorry, she’s a what?” the reporter asks. “A transgender,” Rivers replies. “We all know that.”

“So,” Melanie said, explaining why she thought Rivers was serious. “There are societies out there, especially in Hollywood, that we don’t know about. Joan is in the LGTB community; she’s steeped in it. I watch her stuff on E! Anyone knows that.”

“So,” she continued, “I think if she comes out and says we already have a gay in the White House and Michelle is a tranny, I mean, do you think she’s nuts?”

She took a drag on her cigarette.

“Well, I don’t,” she said, and turned her attention to the question of the Obama children.

“Let’s look,” she said, and began googling.

She started with mrconservative.com, where there was a story, headlined “Evidence Michelle Obama Never Gave Birth to Malia & Sasha,” that said: “We have seen pictures of Barack and Michelle dating back far before they had children, like shots from their wedding, but when it comes to what would have been Michelle’s childbearing years, there is absolutely nothing. Not one picture of her pregnant or with a newborn baby.” It continued: “Ancestry.com and GenealogyBank.com have no records of Malia or Sasha being born,” and also said that “Malia and Sasha [bear] little resemblance to their parents,” which “could very well be because the two girls were adopted, possibly from Morocco.” After reading that, Melanie scrolled through links to versions of the story on americasfreedomfighters.com and redflagnews.com and others among the dozens of similar websites that have proliferated in recent years and draw millions of visitors each month. She looked up from her phone.

“I think those kids were kidnapped,” she said. “We should be looking for those kids’ parents.”


Austin is online often, checking her Facebook and Twitter feeds for stories involving the Obamas and the Clintons, many of which come from conspiracy-theory websites. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

She kept scrolling for more evidence.

“Obama gay is on Infowars,” she said, pausing for a moment on the conspiracy theory website that now had more than 6.9 million U.S. visitors per month and a daily news program hosted by Alex Jones, who had interviewed Donald Trump. “I just want to finish by saying your reputation’s amazing,” Trump had told Jones in December. In May, Jones had devoted his show to “the possibility that Michelle Obama was born a man,” and as the Republican National Convention began, he had hosted a rally attended by Trump adviser Roger Stone. Melanie kept scrolling.

Obama Muslim. Obama ISIS. Christian beheadings. A link to an article on a website called commonsenseshow.com detailing how the U.S. government had imported 30,000 guillotines in preparation for martial law, and explaining that a single guillotine “reportedly can chop off the heads of about 100 people per hour,” so that “in one ten hour day, 30 million people could be executed.”

It was afternoon now, and Melanie got herself a glass of iced tea. She thought about the two legislators who had said Hillary Clinton should be executed, and all the memes, and all the stories on all the websites. The more she read, she said, the more certain she was becoming that she was not out of the ordinary, and that her hospitalization, for instance, was just one more example of an increasingly unjust world. She went over it again: the police cruiser, the injections, the medical bills after. Her hips still hurt. Her gait was off. She was almost out of cigarettes.

After a while, her next-door neighbor John stopped by.

“John,” Melanie said. “Do you remember when I was in the police car handcuffed and you came to talk to me?”

“Yeah,” said John, a laid-off coal miner. “I didn’t know what was going on, to tell you the truth. I said, ‘Well, something’s up. She’s pissed somebody off.’ ”

Melanie asked him, “Did you feel I needed to be committed?”

John looked at her.

“That’s what Randy thought,” he said, referring to a neighbor. “He’s the one that said being where you’re at is the best thing for you.”

John,” Melanie said. “I’m on the same meds today that I was on the day they took me out of my house.”

“Well,” John said. “Maybe they thought they had to settle your ass down.”

“There are a lot of people like me,” Melanie said. “What’s so special about Melanie Austin that she had to be hauled away to the nuthouse?”

John didn’t answer, and after he left, in the early evening, Melanie put on a CD of Chuck Smith, a 1970s preacher she’d long admired who was best known for converting hippies to Christianity.

“This is one of the last CDs he made, and it’s beautiful,” she said, turning up the volume on the classic gospel hymn “How Great Thou Art.”

“That’s the moment I’m living for right there, ‘When Christ takes me home,’ ” she said, referencing the lyrics. “I will say, ‘Thanks for remembering me.’ ”

She kept scrolling. Hillary Clinton murderer. ISIS chops off heads with dull knife.

“I do feel happy and blessed,” Melanie said, singing, reading on her phone.

She was looking for news about the death of Scalia. She googled “Scalia murdered by prostitute,” and soon she was awash in stories about secret White House plots and embalmed bodies and the murder of one of the nation’s most powerful people. “Like so many other people around Hillary Clinton,” she said. “What are we supposed to think?”

She finished her last cigarette and listened to a song about surrender. A fan was blowing. The lights were glowing.

“So you see, the media, everybody helped me get to February,” she said, referring to the day the state police took her off to the hospital. “I didn’t get there on my own. But I’m supposed to be the one to pay the price for it for mouthing off? I need to learn my lesson?”

She got up from the table.

“It’s not that I’m some whacked-out whatever,” she said. “I had a lot of help.”

It was almost dark.

“Heaven forbid you should get pissed off and say, ‘Up yours,’ ” she said.

She was hungry and thinking about making dinner.

“I wonder if Kevin has a cigarette,” Melanie said, and went back into the house.

***


Austin comforts Kevin Lisovich, a onetime local councilman and firefighter, after he became upset talking about all the reversals of fortune he has faced in recent years. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

In the living room the next night, the Republican convention was on the TV.

Kevin was asleep on the couch with a pillow over his head, and Trump was on the television accepting the Republican nomination for president.

“Praise the Lord,” Melanie said.

The crowd roared.

“Finally,” she said. “Someone who thinks like me.”

Trump began talking about lawlessness, crisis, “terrorism in our cities” and how any leader who doesn’t grasp this horror “is not fit to lead our country.”

“Amen,” Melanie said, clapping quietly on the couch. “They’re traitors.”

“Safety will be ...” Trump said.

Restored,” Melanie finished.

“We cannot afford to be so politically correct anymore,” Trump said.

“That’s right; cut the crap,” Melanie said.

“Killings have risen,” he went on.

“Mmm hmm,” Melanie said.

“Illegal immigrants … innocent young girl. … Her killer … now a fugitive,” he said.

Kevin jerked awake.

“You all right, hon?” Melanie said.

“Yeah, I was dreaming,” Kevin said.

“One more child to sacrifice on the altar of open borders,” Trump said.

“I was kicking someone’s ass,” Kevin said, and drifted back to sleep.

“Our roads ...,” Trump said.

“Are a mess,” Melanie finished.

“Hillary Clinton…,” Trump said.

Lock her up,” Melanie finished.

“Death, destruction, terrorism and weakness,” Trump said.

Kevin jerked awake again.

“You still fighting?” Melanie said to him.

“Yeah,” he said, groggy.

“You winning?” she said, but Kevin was drifting off again, and as Trump went on about “how the system is rigged,” and “wounded American families” and “our own struggling citizens,” Melanie said yes, yes, yes, over and over again, until Trump reached the final three words of his speech.

“I love you,” he said.

“He really does love us,” Melanie said, and soon, the balloons were dropping, Trump was waving to the crowd, and she was switching off the television. She didn’t need to hear any more.

“It’s finished,” she said of the 2016 presidential election, in which she was sure Trump would triumph and more and more people across the country would at last see the truth. “In my head, anyway.”

Robin William's Widow and his Disease

    • Special Editorial

    The terrorist inside my husband's brain

    1. Susan Schneider Williams
      I am writing to share a story with you, specifically for you. My hope is that it will help you understand your patients along with their spouses and caregivers a little more. And as for the research you do, perhaps this will add a few more faces behind the why you do what you do. I am sure there are already so many.

    This is a personal story, sadly tragic and heartbreaking, but by sharing this information with you I know that you can help make a difference in the lives of others.

    As you may know, my husband Robin Williams had the little-known but deadly Lewy body disease (LBD). He died from suicide in 2014 at the end of an intense, confusing, and relatively swift persecution at the hand of this disease's symptoms and pathology. He was not alone in his traumatic experience with this neurologic disease. As you may know, almost 1.5 million nationwide are suffering similarly right now.

    Although not alone, his case was extreme. Not until the coroner's report, 3 months after his death, would I learn that it was diffuse LBD that took him. All 4 of the doctors I met with afterwards and who had reviewed his records indicated his was one of the worst pathologies they had seen. He had about 40% loss of dopamine neurons and almost no neurons were free of Lewy bodies throughout the entire brain and brainstem.

    Robin is and will always be a larger-than-life spirit who was inside the body of a normal man with a human brain. He just happened to be that 1 in 6 who is affected by brain disease.

    Not only did I lose my husband to LBD, I lost my best friend. Robin and I had in each other a safe harbor of unconditional love that we had both always longed for. For 7 years together, we got to tell each other our greatest hopes and fears without any judgment, just safety. As we said often to one another, we were each other's anchor and mojo: that magical elixir of feeling grounded and inspired at the same time by each other's presence.

    One of my favorite bedrock things we would do together was review how our days went. Often, this was more than just at the end of the day. It did not matter if we were both working at home, traveling together, or if he was on the road. We would discuss our joys and triumphs, our fears and insecurities, and our concerns. Any obstacles life threw at us individually or as a couple were somehow surmountable because we had each other.

    When LBD began sending a firestorm of symptoms our way, this foundation of friendship and love was our armor.

    The colors were changing and the air was crisp; it was already late October of 2013 and our second wedding anniversary. Robin had been under his doctors' care. He had been struggling with symptoms that seemed unrelated: constipation, urinary difficulty, heartburn, sleeplessness and insomnia, and a poor sense of smell—and lots of stress. He also had a slight tremor in his left hand that would come and go. For the time being, that was attributed to a previous shoulder injury.

    On this particular weekend, he started having gut discomfort. Having been by my husband's side for many years already, I knew his normal reactions when it came to fear and anxiety. What would follow was markedly out of character for him. His fear and anxiety skyrocketed to a point that was alarming. I wondered privately, Is my husband a hypochondriac? Not until after Robin left us would I discover that a sudden and prolonged spike in fear and anxiety can be an early indication of LBD.

    He was tested for diverticulitis and the results were negative. Like the rest of the symptoms that followed, they seemed to come and go at random times. Some symptoms were more prevalent than others, but these increased in frequency and severity over the next 10 months.

    By wintertime, problems with paranoia, delusions and looping, insomnia, memory, and high cortisol levels—just to name a few—were settling in hard. Psychotherapy and other medical help was becoming a constant in trying to manage and solve these seemingly disparate conditions.

    I was getting accustomed to the two of us spending more time in reviewing our days. The subjects though were starting to fall predominantly in the category of fear and anxiety. These concerns that used to have a normal range of tenor were beginning to lodge at a high frequency for him. Once the coroner's report was reviewed, a doctor was able to point out to me that there was a high concentration of Lewy bodies within the amygdala. This likely caused the acute paranoia and out-of-character emotional responses he was having. How I wish he could have known why he was struggling, that it was not a weakness in his heart, spirit, or character.

    In early April, Robin had a panic attack. He was in Vancouver, filming Night at the Museum 3. His doctor recommended an antipsychotic medication to help with the anxiety. It seemed to make things better in some ways, but far worse in others. Quickly we searched for something else. Not until after he left us would I discover that antipsychotic medications often make things worse for people with LBD. Also, Robin had a high sensitivity to medications and sometimes his reactions were unpredictable. This is apparently a common theme in people with LBD.

    During the filming of the movie, Robin was having trouble remembering even one line for his scenes, while just 3 years prior he had played in a full 5-month season of the Broadway production Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, often doing two shows a day with hundreds of lines—and not one mistake. This loss of memory and inability to control his anxiety was devastating to him.

    While I was on a photo shoot at Phoenix Lake, capturing scenes to paint, he called several times. He was very concerned with insecurities he was having about himself and interactions with others. We went over every detail. The fears were unfounded and I could not convince him otherwise. I was powerless in helping him see his own brilliance.

    For the first time, my own reasoning had no effect in helping my husband find the light through the tunnels of his fear. I felt his disbelief in the truths I was saying. My heart and my hope were shattered temporarily. We had reached a place we had never been before. My husband was trapped in the twisted architecture of his neurons and no matter what I did I could not pull him out.

    In early May, the movie wrapped and he came home from Vancouver—like a 747 airplane coming in with no landing gear. I have since learned that people with LBD who are highly intelligent may appear to be okay for longer initially, but then, it is as though the dam suddenly breaks and they cannot hold it back anymore. In Robin's case, on top of being a genius, he was a Julliard-trained actor. I will never know the true depth of his suffering, nor just how hard he was fighting. But from where I stood, I saw the bravest man in the world playing the hardest role of his life.

    Robin was losing his mind and he was aware of it. Can you imagine the pain he felt as he experienced himself disintegrating? And not from something he would ever know the name of, or understand? Neither he, nor anyone could stop it—no amount of intelligence or love could hold it back.

    Powerless and frozen, I stood in the darkness of not knowing what was happening to my husband. Was it a single source, a single terrorist, or was this a combo pack of disease raining down on him?

    He kept saying, “I just want to reboot my brain.” Doctor appointments, testing, and psychiatry kept us in perpetual motion. Countless blood tests, urine tests, plus rechecks of cortisol levels and lymph nodes. A brain scan was done, looking for a possible tumor on his pituitary gland, and his cardiologist rechecked his heart. Everything came back negative, except for high cortisol levels. We wanted to be happy about all the negative test results, but Robin and I both had a deep sense that something was terribly wrong.

    On May 28th, he was diagnosed with Parkinson disease (PD).

    We had an answer. My heart swelled with hope. But somehow I knew Robin was not buying it.

    When we were in the neurologist's office learning exactly what this meant, Robin had a chance to ask some burning questions. He asked, “Do I have Alzheimer's? Dementia? Am I schizophrenic?” The answers were the best we could have gotten: No, no, and no. There were no indications of these other diseases. It is apparent to me now that he was most likely keeping the depth of his symptoms to himself.

    Robin continued doing all the right things—therapy, physical therapy, bike riding, and working out with his trainer. He used all the skills he picked up and had fine-tuned from the Dan Anderson retreat in Minnesota, like deeper 12-step work, meditation, and yoga. We went to see a specialist at Stanford University who taught him self-hypnosis techniques to quell the irrational fears and anxiety. Nothing seemed to alleviate his symptoms for long.

    Throughout all of this, Robin was clean and sober, and somehow, we sprinkled those summer months with happiness, joy, and the simple things we loved: meals and birthday celebrations with family and friends, meditating together, massages, and movies, but mostly just holding each other's hand.

    Robin was growing weary. The parkinsonian mask was ever present and his voice was weakened. His left hand tremor was continuous now and he had a slow, shuffling gait. He hated that he could not find the words he wanted in conversations. He would thrash at night and still had terrible insomnia. At times, he would find himself stuck in a frozen stance, unable to move, and frustrated when he came out of it. He was beginning to have trouble with visual and spatial abilities in the way of judging distance and depth. His loss of basic reasoning just added to his growing confusion.

    It felt like he was drowning in his symptoms, and I was drowning along with him. Typically the plethora of LBD symptoms appear and disappear at random times—even throughout the course of a day. I experienced my brilliant husband being lucid with clear reasoning 1 minute and then, 5 minutes later, blank, lost in confusion.

    Prior history can also complicate a diagnosis. In Robin's case, he had a history of depression that had not been active for 6 years. So when he showed signs of depression just months before he left, it was interpreted as a satellite issue, maybe connected to PD.

    Throughout the course of Robin's battle, he had experienced nearly all of the 40-plus symptoms of LBD, except for one. He never said he had hallucinations.

    A year after he left, in speaking with one of the doctors who reviewed his records, it became evident that most likely he did have hallucinations, but was keeping that to himself.

    It was nearing the end of July and we were told Robin would need to have inpatient neurocognitive testing done in order to evaluate the mood disorder aspect of his condition. In the meantime, his medication was switched from Mirapex to Sinemet in an effort to reduce symptoms. We were assured Robin would be feeling better soon, and that his PD was early and mild. We felt hopeful again. What we did not know was that when these diseases “start” (are diagnosed) they have actually been going on for a long time.

    By now, our combined sleep deficit was becoming a danger to both of us. We were instructed to sleep apart until we could catch up on our sleep. The goal was to have him begin inpatient testing free of the sleep-deprived state he was in.

    As the second weekend in August approached, it seemed his delusional looping was calming down. Maybe the switch in medications was working. We did all the things we love on Saturday day and into the evening, it was perfect—like one long date. By the end of Sunday, I was feeling that he was getting better.

    When we retired for sleep, in our customary way, my husband said to me, “Goodnight, my love,” and waited for my familiar reply: “Goodnight, my love.”

    His words still echo through my heart today.

    Monday, August 11, Robin was gone.

    After Robin left, time has never functioned the same for me. My search for meaning has replicated like an inescapable spring throughout nearly every aspect of my world, including the most mundane.

    Robin and I had begun our unplanned research on the brain through the door of blind experience. During the final months we shared together, our sights were locked fast on identifying and vanquishing the terrorist within his brain. Since then, I have continued our research but on the other side of that experience, in the realm of the science behind it.

    Three months after Robin's death, the autopsy report was finally ready for review. When the forensic pathologist and coroner's deputy asked if I was surprised by the diffuse LBD pathology, I said, “Absolutely not,” even though I had no idea what it meant at the time. The mere fact that something had invaded nearly every region of my husband's brain made perfect sense to me.

    In the year that followed, I set out to expand my view and understanding of LBD. I met with medical professionals who had reviewed Robin's last 2 years of medical records, the coroner's report, and brain scans. Their reactions were all the same: that Robin's was one of the worst LBD pathologies they had seen and that there was nothing else anyone could have done. Our entire medical team was on the right track and we would have gotten there eventually. In fact, we were probably close.

    But would having a diagnosis while he was alive really have made a difference when there is no cure? We will never know the answer to this. I am not convinced that the knowledge would have done much more than prolong Robin's agony while he would surely become one of the most famous test subjects of new medicines and ongoing medical trials. Even if we experienced some level of comfort in knowing the name, and fleeting hope from temporary comfort with medications, the terrorist was still going to kill him. There is no cure and Robin's steep and rapid decline was assured.

    The massive proliferation of Lewy bodies throughout his brain had done so much damage to neurons and neurotransmitters that in effect, you could say he had chemical warfare in his brain.

    One professional stated, “It was as if he had cancer throughout every organ of his body.” The key problem seemed to be that no one could correctly interpret Robin's symptoms in time.

    I was driven to learn everything I could about this disease that I finally had the name of. Some of what I learned surprised me.

    One neuropathologist described LBD and PD as being at opposite ends of a disease spectrum. That spectrum is based on something they share in common: the presence of Lewy bodies—the unnatural clumping of the normal protein, α-synuclein, within brain neurons. I was also surprised to learn that a person is diagnosed with LBD vs PD depending on which symptoms present first.

    After months and months, I was finally able to be specific about Robin's disease. Clinically he had PD, but pathologically he had diffuse LBD. The predominant symptoms Robin had were not physical—the pathology more than backed that up. However you look at it—the presence of Lewy bodies took his life.

    The journey Robin and I were on together has led me to knowing the American Academy of Neurology and other groups and doctors. It has led me to discover the American Brain Foundation, where I now serve on the Board of Directors.

    This is where you come into the story.

    Hopefully from this sharing of our experience you will be inspired to turn Robin's suffering into something meaningful through your work and wisdom. It is my belief that when healing comes out of Robin's experience, he will not have battled and died in vain. You are uniquely positioned to help with this.

    I know you have accomplished much already in the areas of research and discovery toward cures in brain disease. And I am sure at times the progress has felt painfully slow. Do not give up. Trust that a cascade of cures and discovery is imminent in all areas of brain disease and you will be a part of making that happen.

    If only Robin could have met you. He would have loved you—not just because he was a genius and enjoyed science and discovery, but because he would have found a lot of material within your work to use in entertaining his audiences, including the troops. In fact, the most repeat character role he played throughout his career was a doctor, albeit different forms of practice.

    You and your work have ignited a spark within the region of my brain where curiosity and interest lie and within my heart where hope lives. I want to follow you. Not like a crazed fan, but like someone who knows you just might be the one who discovers the cure for LBD and other brain diseases.

    Thank you for what you have done, and for what you are about to do.