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More Rx-Free Medications: “The Food and Drug Administration said Thursday that it would

consider making several kinds of drugs — from blood pressure

treatments to birth control pills — available without a doctor’s

prescription for the first time.”

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Mikhail Gorbachev Warns The US Of Its Dangerous “Superiority Complex” ‘and said that, if the 21st century became known as the second “American

Century”, the rest of the world would have suffered.

Speaking in New York, the former Soviet President criticised Madeleine Albright, the US

Secretary of State, for saying that there were exceptional circumstances in which the US

had the right to use military force unilaterally, even if other countries objected.’

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Top Internet Art Prize Goes to Science-Fiction Writer

Neal Stephenson, the only science fiction author to riffle my imagination seriously in the last few years, will receive the top

prize in the Internet category of the Prix Ars Electronica, the prestigious computer arts award. This is the second consecutive year that the award

has gone to something other than an online art work.

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As I said, I’m a psychiatrist who liked Wonderland. Now it’s been cancelled after just two episodes. Acclaim Couldn’t Assure a Home for Dark `Wonderland’

“ABC executives said that as proud as they

were of the unsettling series, “Wonderland” was simply rejected

by audiences, who probably found it too dark and harrowing.

Those executives said that viewers were turned off by the show

and that neither protests from mental health professionals nor

the skittishness of some advertisers had any bearing on their

decision. ABC had ordered eight episodes, which leaves six

unseen on television.” [New York Times]

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U.S. Says Russians May Want a Deal on Missile Defense

‘But they acknowledged that Foreign Minister Igor S. Ivanov and

the chief Russian arms control negotiator, Georgi Memedev, had

revealed no significant shift in their opposition to the missile

defense plan. “The Russians have shown a willingness to intensify

the process,” a senior administration official said. “But we’re not

seeing a huge shift.”‘

Sure, we’re not seeing a shift. That’s because the US wants to abrogate the ABM treaty to develop the Star Wars missile defense system. We say we’re trying to defend ourselves against rogue states’ or terrorists’ ballistic missile attacks. But because Russia can’t afford to build all the extra warheads that would be necessary to overcome our new defensive umbrella, the deterrence parity between our two nuclear arsenals would be lost. So, quite naturally, they don’t want to let us bow out of the ABM Treaty. I still say that the solution would be to develop anti-missile defenses jointly with the Russians.

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Peace, Love and Murder: Punk Rocker Stalks Killer Hippie for A&E: “I’m a short film maker. On the strength of one of my Super 8 films I was hired as a cameraman for a documentary

entitled Peace, Love & Murder–The Search For Ira Einhorn, that would be airing on A&E’s Investigative Reports. I

was sent by myself to France for a month, armed with my wits and a digital video camera, to shoot footage of Ira

Einhorn, a 60’s hippie leader from Philadelphia, who killed his girlfriend Holly Maddux in 1977 and has been

hiding in the south of France ever since.” [broken pencil]

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Two Pairs Beats All: Woman Gives Birth To Two Sets Of Twins. “The odds are one in 24 million, but a Groton, Mass. couple beat the odds when they became the parents of two sets of identical twins.

Cheryl Scammell-Battles gave birth to four boys by C-section at St. Elizabeth’s Medial Center in Brighton early Saturday morning.” My very best wishes to the Scammell-Battles!

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“Jailing a woman with a newborn baby for a traffic offense and allowing testimony from a 500-year-old spirit are just two stories

recounted in the National Law Journal’s ‘Stupid Judge Tricks,’ a compendium of injudicious judicial behavior.”

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Yahoo! News – Almost human: Completing the sequencing of the human genome is only the beginning. How to figure out what are the significant parts of the data derived, and how to use it? Sequencing the mouse genome may turn out to be the Rosetta Stone for understanding the human genome. “Both genomes have about three billion bases,

only about 3 per cent of which codes for functional genes–the other 97 per cent being “junk DNA”. In the many millions of years since

mice and humans diverged from a common ancestor, much of the important DNA has been conserved, while the “junk” has mutated

freely and is now very different. That means that simply comparing the two genomes will be an efficient way of identifying vital

stretches of DNA, including genes and sequences that regulate gene expression.

Even better, by “knocking out” selected genes in lab mice, we get a good idea of what they do. The equivalent genes in humans should

have very similar functions.”

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Toronto’s Homeless Live Longer Than U.S. Homeless

“Possible contributory factors include the effects of universal health insurance and access to health care in Canada, lower homicide

rates, particularly among young men, and the differential health effects of short-term versus chronic homelessness,” said study author

Stephen Hwang of St. Michael’s Hospital at the University of Toronto.

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Going Backwards: U.S. Nuclear Stockpile Plans Draw Scrutiny. >180 signatories to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty are critical of U.S. plans to refurbish and upgrade more than 6,000 deployed strategic warheads and decisions to maintain an “inactive reserve” of weapons withdrawn from deployment due to weapons reductions negotiated in disarmament treaties. [Washington Post]

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Send a free fax from the

ACLU website to your Senators, in opposition to the proposed “Victims’ Rights Amendment” to the Constitution.

This week’s Senate vote is expected to be

close as proponents have already lined up more than 40 co-sponsors. More than 20 senators still have not

indicated how they will vote on the proposed amendment.

Why on earth oppose victims’ rights?? In my opinion, as that of the ACLU, although victims should be heard and protected in

the criminal justice system, this proposed amendment would jeopardize the

principle of innocent until proven guilty and the right to a fair trail.

Amending the Constitution to allow victims to voice their opinions at every

step of a prosecution could undermine the foundation of our justice system

and the ability of the courts to operate in an impartial and fair manner.

In addition to Wendy Kaminer and other leading columnists, the amendment

has drawn the opposition of domestic violence groups and other victims

advocates, hundreds of law school professors, editorial boards from across

the country and more than 8,000 civil liberties activists.

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Drugging Elián: Was there a tranquilizer behind the blissful picture of Elian reunited with his father? Will Elian fall prey to the Soviet-style machinations of Cuban psychiatrists and be “brainwashed” into the desireability of Cuban life? Are U.S. psychiatrists their moral equivalents, having already started the process? [Slate] And here’s more discussion of the sensationalized photographs, by William Saletan.

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Swap meat: Salon profiles

David Schisgall’s “The

Lifestyle: Group Sex in the Suburbs,” a new documentary that

“explores the huge, secret, all-American world of suburban

swingers and finds that it does not resemble a ’70s porn movie

in the least.”

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In-Eliánable Rights: Slate reviews the European press’ reactions to the Elian affair. There seems to be a remarkable consistency behind sentiments like this:

In the Observer, Hugh O’Shaughnessy…described Cuban-American activists as “one

of the most unattractive group of voters on the US electoral

roll short of the Ku Klux Klan” and said that by teaming up

with “nationalist extremists such as Senator Jesse Helms in

Congress, the exiles have screamed and shouted and

flourished their voting power so that most US politicians have

quailed at the thought of crossing them….I certainly would not

want the six-year-old Elian—or indeed any of my own

grandchildren—to be constrained to grow up amid the

sickening lawlessness of South Florida.”

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The new Impressionists: “John Kennedy, a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, is busy showing

that paying close attention to the blind may tell us a whole lot about art, after all.

Over three decades of experiments, the Irish-born scientist has shown that the blind can

make and understand pictures in ways that no one had imagined. And that fact forces us

to rethink many of our preconceptions about representational art in general.”

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David Irving Unrepentant After Libel Suit Dismissed: “The worst was the way

he kept repeating in an insinuating manner that if he

were Jewish, he would be asking himself exactly what

his people had been doing for thousands of years to

make everyone hate them so much.

He was clearly trying to imply that the Jewish people

deserved what happened to them during the Holocaust,

and they should be looking to correct their errant

behavior and perhaps redeem themselves.” [Jerusalem Post]

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Genteel Auction Houses Turn to Hearse-Chasing: “Every weekday a list of rich New Yorkers who have died

recently is faxed to desks at the city’s dominant auction

houses, Christie’s and Sotheby’s. Compiled by an outside

service, it contains names of the deceased, the value of

their estates and names and addresses of relatives and

executors.” [New York Times]

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Feds Try Odd Anti-Porn Approach: “The U.S. Department of Justice is quietly recruiting critics of filtering software to help it

defend a controversial anti-pornography law in court.

Government attorneys are asking librarians and academics who have published criticisms of the

controversial filtering products to testify in an expected trial over the Child Online Protection Act. The Justice Department’s reasoning is simple: If products like Cyberpatrol and Surfwatch are

so badly flawed that they don’t block what they should, then the judge in the case should

uphold a federal law making it a crime to post erotica online instead.” [Wired]

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FBI works to head off plans to pardon Leonard Peltier: ‘FBI officials across the nation are mobilizing to prevent a presidential pardon for Leonard

Peltier, the American Indian activist imprisoned for murder whose claim of innocence has inspired a two-decade protest movement in his behalf.

(Officials)… say they fear that Peltier, in prison for killing two FBI agents will be freed by President Clinton on his way out of office.

“Recently, information has been received to indicate that Leonard Peltier, who has been convicted for his direct participation in the murders of

two Special Agents of the FBI, will be considered for release from prison as a result of executive intervention,” David Williams, special agent in

charge of Milwaukee’s FBI office, wrote in a letter to the Journal Sentinel, one of a number of letters the FBI sent to newspapers around the

country….Amnesty International considers Peltier to be a political prisoner who should be unconditionally released. Gina Chiala, a coordinator for the

Leonard Peltier Defense Committee in Lawrence, Kan., said “the Justice Department has been pretty tight-lipped” about any possible plans for

Peltier’s release.

With Peltier’s growing status as a political prisoner in Native-American circles, the FBI appears to be taking the unusual step of entering into a

public relations battle to affect the possible actions of the executive branch. ‘ Fascinating development, as is the fact that for the first time an Administration might finally be listening to the longstanding fervent advocacy on Peltier’s behalf.

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Pot Calls Kettle Black: “They said they were going to do this in a sensitive way. What does this do to this little boy? What have

they done to this boy? He lost his mother, and now this.”

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I realize that I seem to be posting more stuff recently related to my interests as a physician. I’m thinking about recent days’ items such as the feuding addictionologists, the research findings about face recognition in autistic-spectrum disorders, and the comparative ratings of state medical boards. Is this stuff meaningful to you lay people or would you rather see it shifted to a second weblog geared more for medical or mental health professionals? I’ve toyed with the idea of separating it out. [Of course, then I could have two weblogs nobody reads instead of just one!] Comments?

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Showdown With The Pinkertons

“…Jim told me something I hadn’t quite grasped: the anonymous reporting culture is a growing

business, now deeply entrenched in the United States, a result of the victimization movement

and lawsuit epidemic rampant for nearly a generation. Encouraged by federal and local

governments, and many corporate and educational institutions, hotlines operate all over the

country to report date rape, sexual harassment, abuse, and other forms of brutality and

insensitivity. Since so many institutions in the United States are now presumed to be

unresponsive to the needs of one group or another, privately-administered anonymous

reporting hotlines are spreading. Pinkerton itself runs more than 800 such lines. It was

inevitable, said Jim, that they would move into schools…”

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[via Phil Agre’s Red Rock Eater News Service]: PRIVACY Forum: Massive Tracking of Web Users Planned — Via ISPs!. “Picture a world where information about your every move on the Web,

including the sites that you visit, the keywords that you enter into search

engines, and so on, are all shipped off to a third party, with the willing

cooperation of your Internet Service Provider (ISP). None of those pesky

cookies to disable, no outside Web sites to put on block lists–just a direct

flow of data from your ISP to the unseen folks with the dollar signs (or

pound, yen, euro, or whatever signs) gleaming brightly in their eyes behind

the scenes. You’ll of course be told that your information is “anonymous”

and that you can trust everyone involved, that you’ll derive immense benefits

from such tracking, and that you have an (at least theoretical) opt-in or

opt-out choice.”

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This is seemingly one round fired in an internal battle between two luminaries in the addiction medicine field. Stanton Peele’s website attacks Doug Talbott’s Recovery Program by hosting the open letters of a disgruntled attorney who had a terrible experience under Talbott’s care and knows an ethical violation when he sees one. But, since you probably don’t care about Peele or Talbott, this is interesting to read as a good encapsulation of the clash of two treatment paradigms. Patients best understood as “dual-diagnosis” are often, in my opinion, ill-served and even damaged at the hands of rabid “recovery” proponents. [As an aside, Talbott’s Recovery Campus has been one of the flagship sites of Charter Behavioral Health Systems, the largest for-profit owner-operator of mental health care facilities in the country which is about to be liquidated under Chapter 11 bankruptcy. I’m currently acting as medical director of a psychiatric hospital that was until recently a Charter facility.]

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The Cosmos is Coming:

“When it comes online in six months to a year, Microsoft’s SkyServer will be the astronomical

equivalent of the company’s popular TerraServer, which catalogs aerial images of the Earth

and is one of the biggest databases on the Internet.

In the same way users of the TerraServer choose a region of the planet and drill down for

pictures of the ground at ever greater resolution, users of the SkyServer will be able choose

a region of the sky and probe deeper and deeper into space…

But unlike the TerraServer, which is essentially a collection of unprocessed pictures, the

SkyServer data will be somewhat ‘cooked’ –- analyzed and catalogued — allowing members

of the public to do science with the data.” [Wired]

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I just found out that Dave McReynolds, whose work for the New York-based pacifist organization the War Resistors’ League I’ve watched for more than thirty years, is running for President on the Socialist Party ticket.

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[Salon]:

“On the eve of the

Columbine massacre anniversary, stunning new allegations

about the killings emerged from long-expected lawsuits filed

by victims’ families late Wednesday. They include charges that

a law enforcement officer, not Dylan Klebold or Eric Harris,

killed student Daniel Rohrbough, and that officers knew early

on that Klebold and Harris were dead, and thus could have

saved teacher Dave Sanders, who bled to death four hours

after he was shot.”

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Born to pop pills:

“I was a Girl Scout in pursuit of my pharmaceuticals badge. I

was a walking medicine cabinet; I nearly rattled when I

walked. I trusted pills. I could have kissed the chemist who

created gel caps. Two blue-green gel caps — meditate on that. I

mean, was there any image more soothing? Not for me.” [Salon]

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Lies, Damed Lies Statistics and Yellow Journalism: Sure I’m defensive about this. The advocacy group Public Citizen has posted a report by Sidney Wolfe MD ranking the 50 state medical boards’ rates of serious disciplinary actions in 1999 and earlier years. My state, Massachusetts, rates near the bottom. Wolfe and Public Citizen imply that that means the medical board is lax, or that its members are covering for their inept colleagues:

“These data raise serious questions about the extent to which patients in many states with poorer records of serious doctor discipline are

being protected from physicians who might well be barred from practice in states with boards that are doing a better job of disciplining

physicians. It is likely that patients are being injured or killed more often in states with poor doctor disciplinary records than in states

with consistent top performances.”

But, at least for Massachusetts, couldn’t it mean that the quality of medical care is higher and the need for disciplinary action lower, as I think it might be? The state has four medical schools and an enormous proportion of its medical practitioners are medical faculty, leaders in their disciplines; another large proportion are researchers without enough patient contact to commit disciplinable offenses. Think about it: the four best-ranked states are AK, with a total of just 1160 physicians; ND, with 1596 physicians state-wide; WY, with 981; and ID, with 2278. Massachusetts had 27622 physicians in 1999.

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Why Web Journals Suck by Diane Patterson. Some of the comments are germane to weblogs too. There’s a section called “Hit Sluts” on how to attract more readers, with some thoughtful suggestions. One of them is to post a long diatribe about how web journals suck. Good work, Diane. Another is to link to other journals or weblogs, especially popular ones. Good work, Eliot. Let’s face it, I’m a hit slut too.

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HIV puzzle explored:

new report of an elderly patient

who has survived with the infection for about 15 years, untroubled by any virus-related complications,

according to a group of Italian physicians.

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Mounties Probe Fragrant Student

“A teacher (in Sheet Harbour, Nova Scotia) has asked Royal Canadian Mounted Police to investigate whether a student is ignoring the

school’s policy against wearing scented products and intentionally trying to cause her to experience allergic reactions.

If investigators deem the boy is intentionally trying to harm the teacher, the student could be charged with assault or mischief.”

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Can George W. Save Bill G.? by Ted Rose

Last week, the New York Times reported that George W.

Bush campaign consultant Ralph Reed was moonlighting for

Microsoft, lobbying Bush about the company’s antitrust case. Could

Bush really make a difference in the case if he assumed the

presidency in 2001? [Slate]

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Slate: Baby Needs a New Set of Genes – Everyone’s against genetic discrimination. Or so they think.  by Michael Kinsley

“So this ban on genetic discrimination that everyone seems

to be for would, if applied consistently, be an exercise in social

leveling like nothing since the Khmer Rouge turned Cambodia

into Kampuchea. That seems to leave only two logically

coherent positions, both intolerable: 1) level away; or 2) don’t

start down this road, because there’s no place to stop.” Does Kinsley really think we’ll stop and think just because we’re on a slippery slope??

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The scoop on The Copernicus Plot: Seven of the 260 surviving copies of Polish

astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus’ momentous 1543

book De Revolutionibus Orbium

Coelestium (On the Revolution of Heavenly Spheres)
, in which he argued that the Earth goes around the

sun and not vice versa, have been stolen from university

and scientific libraries worldwide over the past several

years. Worth $400,000 apiece but virtually impossible

to fence, why have multiple thieves, or one thief very

gifted at disguise, used various ruses to take the tomes

from cities as far apart as Krakow, Kiev,

Stockholm, St. Petersburg and

the University of Illinois? [Chicago Tribune]

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Old News: former

Washington Post pop-music critic Richard

Harrington filed suit in February alleging that

he had been demoted to a part-time job on the

weekend section as a result of his age.

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What is the link between depression and artistic genius?

An Oscar-nominated documentary about emotionally tortured concert violinist Nadia Salerno-Sonnenberg, Speaking in Strings, “looks at her difficulties

sympathetically but in the process may have turned her into the next David Helfgott as far as the public is

concerned. That’s unfair to Salerno-Sonnenberg, who is vastly more talented and capable than Helfgott,

the pianist whose story was chronicled in the movie Shine, and who was then exploited by his wife and

managers in a concert tour for which he was not fit. But it does raise a question: Do depression and other

emotional problems have a particular connection with artistic creativity?”

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Mixed signals

NPR says it supports low-power FM, a new standard for a class of 10- and 100-watt grassroots community stations. But it’s joining with industry lobbyists to gut the standard by claiming it fears interference with existing broadcasting signals. [Salon]

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Last fall, British and Danish investigative reporting sugggested that the US bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade had had a motive, contrary to NATO claims that it had been a terrible mistake based on outdated maps. Reportedly, NATO intelligence had discovered that the Chinese were helping Serbian military command broadcast to troops in the field. These reports were buried by the US media, but the New York Times now weighs in. After its full investigation, it can find no evidence for the British/Danish charges. “The bombing resulted from

error piled upon incompetence

piled upon bad judgment
in a variety of places – from a frantic

rush to approve targets to questionable reliance on inexpert

officers to an inexplicable failure to consult the people who

might have averted disaster, according to the officials,” writes

Steven Lee Myers.

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And this is all I’m going to say about this matter: “The notion that a 6-year-old child should somehow be paraded on TV as capable of determining whether he should stay or go is a tremendous distortion and at some level an abuse of the child,” child psychiatrist tells the Los Angeles Times. And: “The little kid from Cuba has overtaken some of the

biggest media feeding frenzies of the past decade,” according to Center for Media and Public Affairs analysis of network news

coverage. Bigger than Princess Di’s death, far surpassing JFK Jr., and if the debacle goes on for much longer, threatening to topple the ascendency of the OJ Simpson affair!

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Greenpeace USA

A peer-reviewed report commissioned by Greenpeace and released today by a team of

Swiss scientists reveals that tests submitted by the biotech companies Novartis and Mycogen to determine

whether their genetically-engineered corn could harm non-target insects were so poorly designed that there

was virtually no chance that adverse effects would be observed. Despite the flawed

methodology, EPA accepted the tests as scientific evidence that the gene-altered crop was

harmless to non-target insects, and continued to accept the same flawed testing

procedures for approval of other companies’ insect-resistant “biotech” crops.

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Clinton’s Cruel Decision On Land Mines Risks Too Many Lives: a recent editorial in the Seattle Post-intelligencer reminds us of U.S.’s shameful 1997 decision not to be signatory of treaty to ban anti-personnel land mines. “The global banning of a weapons system is rare but not unprecedented. Exploding bullets

were banned in 1863, fragmenting (so-called “dum-dum”) bullets in 1899, poison gas in

1925 and blinding lasers in 1995.”

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Jeremy Rifkin in the LA Times: It’s Death of a Salesman as Shared-Savings Catches On: “I have long been a skeptic when it comes to the prospect of persuading companies to take

responsibility for protecting the environment and public health. Yet now a revolutionary new

way of doing business called “shared savings” is changing the basic rules of commerce

and, in the process, making environmental protection and public health synonymous with

the bottom line. The implications are profound.”

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If you’re interested in cognitive neuroscience, keep following the leaps and bounds coming out of fMRI (functional MRI) studies. They are the most exciting window into the localization of function in the CNS we’ve had. For example, this: People with autism and Asperger Syndrome process faces as objects, Yale study of brain abnormalities finds. The study demonstrates reduced activity in the part of the brain subsuming facial recognition as well as increased activity in an adjacent area processing non-face objects.It seems to me that finding such an impairment in the neural substrate of a function so crucial to the essence of human interaction goes a long way to explaining the etiology of the profound social interaction deficits that characterize autism and other so-called “pervasive developmental disorders” such as Asperger’s Syndrome.

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Toddler diet influences adolescent test scores “Toddlers fed a wide variety of foods may have a long-term academic

edge over children fed more restricted diets, researchers conclude.

…(S)tudies have suggested that children fed diets consisting of only a few types

of food are more likely to be deficient in specific ‘micronutrients’ such as iron or zinc.”

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Several months ago it was a British laptop with British state secrets; now: FBI Looks for Laptop Missing With U.S. Secrets

“A laptop computer which may have held classified

information disappeared from the State Department about two months ago and the

FBI is investigating whether it was stolen, the State Department said Monday.”

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Probably everybody with a weblog is going to link to this: Game console ‘could be used in missiles’ “Japanese authorities have restricted the export of Sony’s new game

console, PlayStation 2, amid fears that it could be exploited for

weapons technology…The government’s concern centres on a powerful processor

responsible for the console’s realistic graphics. Experts believe this

could be converted for use in missiles that read visual information to

home in on targets. Sony said it did not expect the restrictions to

affect PlayStation 2’s release in other countries.” [The Telegraph]

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I’ve seen a couple of weblogs that linked to this with comments like, “I don’t believe it!” They obviously didn’t follow the directions to read all the way to the end of the page. (It’s easy to be smug, isn’t it?)

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Chipping Away at Leptin’s Effects

“Leptin is produced by fat tissue and secreted into the

bloodstream, where it travels to the brain and other

tissues, causing fat loss and decreased appetite.

Identifying genes regulated by leptin will improve

knowledge of how leptin causes its effects on weight

and appetite, and may also offer new targets for

drugs designed to stimulate weight loss.”

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Seven Die, 65 Hurt in Lisbon Disco Attack ( later reports say nine dead): two canisters of an unknown toxic gas were hurled into a Lisbon club crowded with immigrants from Portugal’s former African colony Angola. Police cannot comment on a motive but would you be surprised if it were a white-on-black attack?