There was an interesting report last week on NPR's Short Wave. Here's how it opened:
EMILY KWONG, HOST:
You're listening to SHORT WAVE from NPR.
I am tearing into some Chinese takeout today for the sake of science. These are the goods we got from Panda Gourmet. Oh, my God. This looks great.
Ask anyone in D.C. - Panda Gourmet is an institution, a Chinese restaurant affixed to a Days Inn off a highway with a replica of a Xien terracotta army warrior out front. Their food is known for being authentic, delicious and, yes, spicy.
This is fish fillet with silk tofu in hot chili.
RUTH TAM, BYLINE: This is, like, one of my favorite dishes of all time.
KWONG: My dinner guest is Ruth Tam, a D.C.-based food journalist and co-host of "Dish City," a podcast looking at city change through the region's iconic dishes and cuisines. Ruth grew up eating Cantonese food in the Chicago area, but it wasn't all that spicy. She really got into spicy food when she moved to the district, though she's not the type to smother hot sauce on a dish just because.
TAM: Eating spicy food doesn't have to be, like, a competition, but so often I feel like spiciness gets used as, like, shorthand for how, like, tough you are and also, like, how culturally authentic something is. And I think that that's, like, so off-base.
KWONG: And yet, from the celebrity web series "Hot Ones" to condiments with names like California Reaper Rectum Wrecker, we treat spice like a badge of honor, even though, scientifically speaking, it is inducing in our bodies a pain response.
TAM: And I am curious if there are, like, different personalities that are drawn to spicy food and, like, why some people seem to be so sensitive to spicy food and others are able to build up their tolerance or maybe don't even have to build up a tolerance - they just can handle it.
KWONG: Today on the show, we answer Ruth's question. What's up with humans and spicy food? We are one of the very few known mammals in the world to deliberately seek it out. But why? We talk to scientists about what drives spicy-seeking behavior and what research suggests about whose personalities are reaching for the horseradish and habaneros the most. I'm Emily Kwong. And you're listening to SHORT WAVE, the daily science podcast from NPR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
KWONG: Let's dig into this.
So over a picnic blanket, with Pepcid on hand, Ruth and I dive into the spiciest food on Panda Gourmet's menu and trade opinions about the heat using the very scientific methodology known as, on a scale of 1 to 10 - 10 being inferno, I want to die, one being, meh, shrug emoji. We start with the shannixi cold-steamed noodles, pouring half a serving of chili oil on top.
TAM: So squishy and delicious.
KWONG: It's so doughy. Oh, this is so yummy. I would consider this heat, like, pleasant and pretty...
TAM: We could probably do a little more.
KWONG: ...Pretty mild. Should we just go for it and put it all in?
KWONG: Is this hubris...
TAM: We'll have to find out.
KWONG: ...On my part?
So in goes the entire container of chili oil, and I suddenly feel a pleasant sweat percolating. For Ruth, the noodles are a six - for me, a four. So we up the ante, breaking open that fish fillet with silk tofu floating in a bath of electric-red chili oil.
Oh, no, it's actually spicy. Oh...
TAM: That was so fast.
KWONG: ...Hold on.
TAM: Did you take a bite?
KWONG: No. My chopsticks were dipped in the sauce, and I felt an actual burning sensation.
OK, in my defense, spice is like this sometimes. Right? A dish that sets one person's tongue aflame is another person's no-big-deal. Ruth and I agreed this wasn't the spiciest food we'd ever eaten in D.C. and that our reactions to a truly hot dish induces a feeling unlike any other.
TAM: Like, your lips get tingly. They maybe swell. Like, your mouth is starting to, like, heat up, and you maybe start crying. Your face gets red, and all of a sudden you're, like, sobbing and, like, dry-heaving over a table. And, like, it legitimately is, like, an allergic reaction. And it's one that people seek out.
Listen to or read the report. It's interesting, especially if you like spicy food. And also be sure to check out Benjamin Mateus's piece at WSWS on monkeypox:
Under intense pressure by states, activists and health institutions to respond to the spread of monkeypox, the Biden administration yesterday afternoon declared the new pandemic to be a public health emergency.
On Tuesday, Biden appointed Robert Fenton, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) administrator for region nine, to be the national monkeypox coordinator. Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, who currently works at the Division of HIV Prevention of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), with clinical experience on health issues affecting the LGBTQIA+ communities, will serve as his deputy.
In an effort to appease public concern after weeks of official inaction and downplaying of the evolving crisis, the White House statement declared, “Fenton and Daskalakis combined have over four decades of experience in Federal emergency response and public health leadership, including overseeing the operations and implementation of key components of the Biden Administration’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and leading local and Federal public health emergency efforts such as infectious disease control and HIV prevention.” In other words, they are the president’s men and can be called to do the White House’s bidding, not to bring monkeypox under control, but control the messaging on monkeypox.
Despite the World Health Organization’s declaration of a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) nearly two weeks ago, the White House had resisted making a similar announcement even though the three hardest hit states followed en suite—New York, Illinois and California—to declare a state of emergency to obtain much-needed federal resources.
Having mulled the issue of a national declaration for more than a week—during which the president was quarantined with a COVID-19 infection—the White House eventually acquiesced, although it carefully crafted the messaging to reassure the financial markets.
The administration claims it remains in control of these developments and informed the public that they have released monkeypox vaccines to affected regions and increased testing capacity to 80,000 per week, albeit only recently. Notably, unlike COVID-19, where the test kits had to be manufactured from scratch, these tests have been available in the US diagnostic arsenal for decades but had not been acted upon based on early assessments that the monkeypox outbreak would be limited and quickly disappear “like the flu.”
This is C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot" for Thursday:
Turkish warplanes again launched an aerial attack on an area in the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region of northern Iraq, a fortnight after artillery bombardment against a tourist resort in the same district caused multiple casualties.
Kurdish-language media outlets reported that Turkish fighter jets targeted the Amadiya district in the northern Iraqi province of Dohuk on Wednesday.
Nearly 10 months on from the last elections, the country still has no government, new prime minister or new president, due to repeated squabbles between factions over forming a coalition.
In the latest political turmoil to strike the oil-rich but war-scarred nation, Sadr called for a "revolutionary and peaceful process, then early democratic elections after the dissolution of parliament".
His televised speech came as his supporters occupied parliament for a fifth consecutive day, in protest at a nomination for prime minister by Coordination Framework, a rival pro-Iran Shia faction.
However, parliament can only be dissolved by a majority vote, according to the constitution. Such a vote can take place at the request of a third of lawmakers, or by the prime minister with the president's agreement.
Officials in Iraq called on Wednesday for a national dialogue to end the country's political deadlock, Anadolu news agency has reported. President Barham Salih met with Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi in Baghdad to discuss the recent political developments.
According to a statement issued by the Iraqi president's office, the two men discussed the importance of ensuring security and stability, with a commitment to calm and reliance on a careful and responsible dialogue that addresses the crisis. The intention is to set out a clear roadmap and solutions to protect the national interest as a priority.
Salih has also met with the head of the UN Mission for Iraq, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, and discussed the latest political developments. "The circumstances in the country require a commitment to calm and to engage in an honest and careful dialogue that deals with the political situation in order to reach a clear roadmap," he told the UN official. In response, Hennis-Plasschaert stressed that the mission supports dialogue between all parties and access to paths that preserve security and stability and achieve Iraqi aspirations.
Al-Sadr also dismissed dialogue with his his political rivals in the Coordination Framework, an alliance of mostly Iran-backed parties. Al-Sadr said that talks in the past "didn't result in anything for us or for the country."
"There is no point of that dialogue, especially after people have spoken their free and spontaneous word," he said.
The Coordination Framework includes the Hashed al-Shaabi, a former paramilitary network now integrated into Iraq's security forces. Al-Sadr's longtime foe, former Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, is also part of the grouping.
The rejection of talks follows a growing chorus of calls for dialogue from outgoing Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, President Barham Saleh and Al-Sadr's foe al-Maliki, as well as international voices like French President Emmanuel Macron.
The United Nations also urged Iraq's political leaders to prioritize national interest and end the power struggle.
03 August 2022
Baghdad, 3 August 2022 - In recent months and weeks, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) has consistently called for dialogue as the most effective way out of the protracted political crisis.
Meaningful dialogue among all Iraqi parties is now more urgent than ever, as recent events have demonstrated the rapid risk of escalation in this tense political climate. While parties assert the importance of democratic basics such as constitutional compliance and respect for state institutions, these are increasingly not observed. Their failure to move forward has had a clear adverse effect on public trust.
No party or group can claim that the crisis does not involve them or affect them. The need to find solutions through an all-inclusive dialogue is evident. In its absence, the state of Iraq will continue to be dominated by competing interests, leading to further instability, with the people paying the price. Such a scenario is simply intolerable. Within this context, UNAMI welcomes recent calls for national dialogue, and commends the expressions of support from across the political spectrum. We appeal to all actors to commit, actively engage and agree on solutions without delay.
Moreover, moving from words to deeds will now prove essential. Iraq cannot afford another national dialogue to go in vain. Iraqis do not need continued power struggles or stand-offs. They need solutions, and a commitment to implementing them, to draw their country out of its political crisis.
Iraq is facing an extensive list of outstanding domestic issues: it is in desperate need of economic reform, effective public service delivery as well as a federal budget - to name a few. Hence, it is past time for political stakeholders to assume their responsibilities and act in the national interest.
The United Nations stands, as always, ready to support and assist.
Senator Murray Votes to Pass the PACT Act, a Historic Extension of Health Benefits to Veterans and Clears Path for Tri-Cities Veterans Clinic
Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), a senior member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, voted to pass the Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our PACT Act (PACT Act), sending it to the President’s desk. The PACT Act, which President Biden is expected to sign, will expand the toxic-exposure coverage for post-9/11 veterans and create a framework for coverage going forward. Last week, Senate Republicans blocked the PACT Act – a bill 25 of them previously voted to pass – as retaliation for Senate Democrats announcing the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022.
Importantly, Senator Murray secured notable provisions to authorize and invest $36 million to lease a new VA clinic in the Tri-Cities area. This follows concerns raised by local veterans on the major challenges they have faced accessing the care and services they need. The provision would allow VA to replace and expand services currently offered through the Richland Outpatient Clinic to enhance outpatient services, close space gaps, and reduce strains on the Jonathan M. Wainwright Memorial VA Medical Center in Walla Walla. The facility would ensure veterans in the Tri-Cities region have greater access to primary, specialty, and mental health care. This new VA clinic would be critical to ensure patients can receive the health services they need from a VA provider closer to where they live, create jobs for more VA staff, and improve the level of care provided to veterans.
“With this bill, generations of toxic-exposed Washington state veterans will finally be able to get the high-quality care they need and have earned, and VA will get the resources needed to process claims efficiently and better serve our vets.” said Senator Murray. “There’s a lot we need to do to really make sure the VA works for veterans, but passing the PACT Act will make a difference and save lives.”
“Importantly, I’m glad I was able to secure $36 million in federal funding in this legislation to help build a new VA clinic in the Tri-Cities,” added Senator Murray. “I believe strongly that no veteran should be driving hours to get the care they’ve earned. Building a new VA clinic in the Tri-Cities is going to help reduce the strain on the VA in Walla Walla and really make a difference in the quality of care for our veterans right here in Central Washington.”
“It’s downright shameful that Senate Republicans blocked this from passing last week,” Senator Murray said. “Democrats voted to make sure veterans get the health care they’ve earned. Republicans did not. They decided to play political games at the expense of sick veterans – that’s wrong but I’m glad this bill is finally headed to the President’s desk.”
Among its many priorities, the Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our PACT Act of 2022 will:
- Expand VA health care eligibility to more than 3.5 million toxic-exposed Post-9/11 combat veterans;
- Create a framework for the establishment of future presumptions of service connection related to toxic exposure;
- Add 23 burn pit and toxic exposure-related conditions to VA’s list of service presumptions, including hypertension;
- Expand presumptions related to Agent Orange exposure;
- Includes Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Guam, American Samoa, and Johnston Atoll as locations for Agent Orange exposure;
- Strengthen federal research on toxic exposure;
- Improve VA’s resources and training for toxic-exposed veterans; and
- Set VA and veterans up for success by investing in:
- VA claims processing;
- VA’s workforce; and
- VA health care facilities.
As a voice for Washington state’s veterans in the Senate, Senator Murray has been consistently fighting to make sure our country fulfills its promise to our veterans and their families. Senator Murray recently spoke on the Senate floor calling for swift passage of the PACT Act. In May, she introduced the Helping Heroes Act, new legislation to support the families of disabled veterans, including children who take on caregiving roles. Senator Murray is also a cosponsor of the BUILD for Veterans Act, which would help VA build new facilities that would better meet the needs of current and future veterans – including women veterans, veterans in need of long-term care and veterans with spinal cord injuries and diseases.
Senator Murray has led the fight to ensure VA expands fertility treatment and adoption services for veterans and their families through her Veteran Families Health Services Act. She is pushing VA to prioritize the long-term care needs of all veterans—including women veterans, veterans of color, LGBTQ+ veterans, and veterans with disabilities. Murray has also authored legislation that will give servicemembers the tools they need to build real financial security into retirement.
Statement by President Joe Biden on Senate Passage of the Bipartisan PACT Act
While we can never fully repay the enormous debt we owe to those who have worn the uniform, today, the United States Congress took important action to meet this sacred obligation. The bipartisan Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our PACT Act of 2022 is the biggest expansion of benefits for service-connected health issues in 30 years and the largest single bill ever to comprehensively address exposure to burn pits.
I called for this legislation in my State of the Union address, as part of my Unity Agenda to help bring together our nation. Congress has delivered a decisive and bipartisan win for America’s veterans. I want to thank Chair Tester and Ranking Member Moran as well as Chair Takano and Ranking Member Bost for their tireless work to pass this major reform, and the courageous veterans and advocates whose tenacity and heart ensured this legislation got done.
For the millions of veterans who may have been exposed to harmful toxins, this bill means quicker access to health care services and other benefits. This could be the difference between life and death for many suffering from toxic related illnesses. For the spouse or child of a servicemember who died from toxic exposure, struggling to put their lives back together, this bill will be a lifeline. It means a monthly stipend for a surviving spouse and kids, and access to tuition benefits to help cover the cost of college. It means access to life insurance, home loan assistance, and help with health care. It matters.
I have long said we have a lot of obligations as a nation, but we have only one sacred obligation – to prepare and equip those we send to war and to take care of them and their families when they come home.
I look forward to signing this bill, so that veterans and their families and caregivers impacted by toxic exposures finally get the benefits and comprehensive health care they earned and deserve.