Bits ‘n’ Pieces

From east, west and beyond

By Lorraine H. Marie
Reader Columnist

East, west or beyond, sooner or later events elsewhere may have a local impact. A recent sampling:

Creating a microbiota vault: A program at Rutgers University aims to preserve ancestral microbes for future generations, so they won’t go instinct in light of modern-day diets. Most babies “inherit” their microbiome — a mix of bacteria, viruses, fungi and protozoa — from their mother’s birth canal. Yet, Time magazine reports that changes in today’s microbiome are linked to rises in obesity, asthma, food allergies and inflammatory conditions in the brain and intestines. 

Meanwhile, researchers at the University of Chicago released a study that suggests cancer immunotherapy success depends in part on a patient’s microbiome, and how it can — or cannot — enhance immune system response. The problem is that some antibiotics can destroy helpful microbes, and an immune system that’s over-stimulated can trigger autoimmune disease. Study authors noted that human microbiome studies can provide significant insights for cancer treatment.

In 2019, close to 40% of farm income came from the federal government — a portion from payments to offset China’s retaliatory tariffs. says the farm bailout cost more than double the 2009 auto industry bailout.

Move over bees: Neonicotinoid pesticides are blamed for the compromised health of honey bees. Now new research says neonics may also harm white-tail deer and migrating birds. The Environmental Working Group reports that scientists in South Dakota are suspecting neonics are causing birth defects in white tail deer. While the European Union has banned the pesticide due to concerns about impacts on pollinators, the EWG says the United States “is still caving to the pesticide industry.”

The New York City Bar Association has called for what seems to be a “first ever” for any bar association: asking Congress to investigate the U.S. attorney general. According to the NYCBA, U.S. Attorney General William Barr shows evidence of political bias, making him unable to “act impartially” as the nation’s top law enforcement official. Rather, Bloomberg reports, Barr is both enabling and encouraging “political partisans willing to use the levers of government to empower certain groups over others.”

From The Wall Street Journal: President Donald Trump told “associates” that he was pressured to “deal with” Iranian General Qasem Soleimani (whose assassination he ordered in early January) by Republican senators he regarded as significant to his expected impeachment trial in the Senate.

According to a report from The Washington Post, Microsoft tested a four-day work week in Japan and found that sales per employee rose 40%. What’s more, electricity use fell 23% and 94% of employees said they were satisfied with the change.

A Gallup poll released in September found that Americans rank the pharmaceutical industry as the “worst” of 25 major U.S. business sectors. 

The Trump administration’s planned cuts to food assistance are expected not only to affect recipients, but also the economy. The administration defends the cuts, saying they will save close to $8 billion over 10 years. But critics writing in The New York Times argue that does not take into account declines in “health and wellbeing of many of the country’s 14.3 million ‘food insecure households.’” Studies have linked use of food assistance with a $1,400 decrease in health spending annually per person as well as lower risks of hospitalization among Medicare and Medicaid enrollees.

At least 85 environmental regulations have been rolled back under the Trump administration, The New York Times reports, including standards for water pollution, toxic substances and factory farms.

Sandworm, Andy Greenberg’s non-fiction book about cyber security, reveals why knowledge of the topic is “necessary to civil literacy.” remarked that the book illustrates not just election hacking techniques, but how malicious software caused $10 billion in damages in 2017.

The House of Representatives, currently controlled by Democrats, passed 400 bills since 2018. But, according to, most have not received a vote in the Republican-controlled Senate. Of those that were voted on, 10 were for renaming federal facilities. In a typical year, Congress passes up to 250 bills.

Blast from the past: “The most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly and with unflagging attention. It must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over.” — Adolf Hitler, writing in Mein Kampf, 1925.

And another blast: “A time comes when silence is betrayal.” — Martin Luther King, Jr., in an April 1967 speech against U.S. involvement in Vietnam.

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