Mike Wallace, whose 60 Minutes broadcast a tape of a mercy-killing by Dr Jack Kevorkian in 1998, won’t say how (Kevorkian, now serving 10-25 years in a Michigan prison, is forbidden to talk to the press) he obtained it, but he’s given a copy of a letter Chief Justice Rehnquist received from Kevorkian to the New York Review of Books, which published excerpts:

“As a secular profession medicine is relevant to the full spectrum of human existence from conception through

death. Any arbitrary legal constriction of that relevance is irrational, cruel, and barbaric. As guardians of

human rights, you and your colleagues have the authority, opportunity, and obligation to rid society of this

lingering medieval malady by using the Ninth Amendment to guarantee this most precious and humane

right of choice for all Americans. “ [thanks to David Walker]

Unknown poisonous spider invades bowels of Windsor Castle: “up to three inches long, venomous, and with jaws strong

enough to puncture human skin.

The arachnids were discovered last week in an underground

maintenance tunnel in Windsor Great Park, not far from the

Queen Mother’s weekend residence, Royal Lodge. They are

being examined by an entomolgist to try to identify them- they

could be either a new, underground-dwelling species or one

previously thought extinct.” The Guardian UK

Dotcom casualties litter skid row: “It’s always being thought that staff from failed e-commerce ventures

had gained marketable experience, however ropy the business plan

of the firms they worked for was.

However Associated Press has uncovered evidence to the contrary

after visiting the soup kitchens and homeless shelters that lie on the

flip side of the American dream. Depressed database programmers

and the like have joined drug addicts, alcoholics and the mentally ill

as society’s hard luck cases.

Nearly 30 unemployed high tech workers are among the 100 men at

shelters run in San Jose by charity InnVision, according to Robbie

Reinhart, director of the charity, who said the high cost of housing in

the area in contributing to the problem.” The Register

Found magazine. If you’ve every found anything that gave you an epiphany about the owner who lost it — “love letters,

birthday cards, kids’ homework, to-do

lists, ticket stubs, poetry on napkins,

telephone bills, doodles, anything” — Found wants to hear about it from you.

A compendium of news from the XVII World Neurology Conference:

  • Left-Right asymmetry found in emotion. “Theories that dubbed math- and

    art-types as left- and

    right-brainers have long grown

    out of fashion in academia, but

    new research suggests a

    surprising role for brain

    asymmetry in emotion.” Preeminent neuroscientist Antonio Damasio, a skeptic about emotional asymmetry, was surprised by his findings: essentially, the right hemisphere is more active in reacting to experiences with negative emotional valences and the left hemisphere to those that are more pleasant.

  • Mad leader disease threatens world: “Neuroscientists need to develop tools to identify mental

    illness in world leaders, the president of the World

    Federation of Neurology told thousands of neurologists

    assembled at the opening ceremony of the World Congress

    of Neurology last night.”

  • Putting numbers into words: “The brain circuits for

    mathematical approximations

    and for exact calculations

    have been shown to be

    separate and distinct. The

    architecture for the former is

    specialized and also appears

    to exist in monkeys, but the

    latter is embedded in language

    systems and may be uniquely


  • Lip service to phantom limbs: “German researchers

    may have found a way

    to prevent the cortical

    reorganization that

    occurs following

    amputation, and block

    the phantom limb pain

    associated with it.”
  • BioMedNet [registration required]

    Studying the Autoimmune Disease Puzzle:

    “For reasons that researchers are just

    beginning to understand, women are at a

    much greater risk than men of falling prey

    to an autoimmune disease, in which the

    body’s immune system turns paranoid and

    begins to attack one or more of the body’s


    The list of autoimmune diseases is long and

    varied, composed of more than 80

    disorders afflicting virtually every sector of

    mortal flesh and function: the liver, the

    kidneys, the adrenal glands, the ovaries,

    the pancreas, the skin, the joints, the

    muscles, the myelin sheaths that buffer the

    nerves, the salivary ducts that spit, the tear

    ducts that weep.”

    One recent finding that mother and fetus exchange body cells that can persist in each other’s circulation in a state called “microchimerism” may hint at the increased incidence of autoimmune responses in women, and in their children. DNA analysis of postpartum autoimmune disease victims indicates they have increased amounts of their child’s DNA in their system. It may be that, if a child’s histocompatibility genes (“tissue type”) are very different from the mother’s, her immune system cleans the fetal cells out with efficiency. The increased risk may be in the cases where the child is genetically just a little bit different from the mother, confusing the immune system about whether it’s recognizing self or other. And:

    Preliminary evidence even suggests that there is such a thing as multigenerational

    , in which a woman with an autoimmune disorder can blame both

    her mother and her children for her misery. In these bizarre instances, the woman

    harbors circulating cells from her mother and from her offspring that turn out to

    be more compatible in their HLA palette with each other than either is with the

    mother in the middle.

    Theoreticians also suspect a role for the reproductive hormones, given the correlation of risk with the childbearing years and the effects of the changing hormonal environment of pregnancy — sometimes ameliorating, sometimes exacerbating — on various autoimmune diseases. But hormonal treatments are not entered into lightly. Another exciting study succeeded in curing mice of Type I diabetes (the autoimmune kind) by injecting a substance that programmed the white blood cells involved in the immune response for cell death. My question: what happened to the mouse’s immune defenses after a treatment of such ferocity? New York Times

    Useful Legacy of Nuclear Treaty: Global Earphones: “Though the Senate voted two years

    ago to reject a treaty that bans

    nuclear testing, one of its provisions is alive

    and thriving: the global network of sensors

    meant to listen for clandestine nuclear blasts. Though still under construction, the

    International Monitoring System is already

    yielding a wealth of science spinoffs, detecting violent winds, volcanic eruptions

    and the crash of meteoroids from outer space.” New York Times

    “The advertising industry will shortly reveal how it’s going to bombard

    cellphone and PDA users with commercials
    . The Wireless Advertising Association convenes in downtown San

    Francisco on 26 June to unveil its technical infrastructure for

    beaming promotional material to handhelds and phones. The body

    has already produced metrics and definitions for adverts to GSM

    phones.” As The Register comments,





    Maureen Dennis et al: Understanding of Literal Truth, Ironic Criticism, and Deceptive Praise Following Childhood Head Injury. Abstract:

    “Children with closed head injury (CHI) … may have difficulty with comprehension tasks involving first- and second-order intentionality, such as those involved

    in understanding irony and deception. We studied how 6- to 15-year-old children, typically developing or with CHI, interpret scenarios involving literal truth, ironic

    criticism, and deceptive praise. Children with severe CHI had overall poorer mastery of the task. Even mild CHI impaired the ability to understand the intentionality

    underlying deceptive praise. CHI, especially biologically significant CHI, appears to place children at risk for failure to understand language as externalized

    thought.” Brain and Language 2001, 78(1)

    Genes link to social attitudes: ‘Attitudes to ethical issues such as abortion and the death

    penalty are partly determined by genes, researchers claimed


    It used to be thought that such attitudes were wholly learned

    from parents, friends, teachers and cultural environment. But the

    new study by Canadian scientists surveyed 336 pairs of adult

    twins and found a genetic influence in 26 of 30 subjects


    Genes appeared to be most influential in views on abortion,

    voluntary euthanasia, the death penalty and organised religion,

    racial discrimination, immigration and “getting on well” with

    others.’ The study used the tried-and-true method of comparing correlations between identical and fraternal twins. Since presumably all twins reared together share environmental influences, the closer concordance between identical twins is considered attributable to their identical genes. The Guardian UK

    Todd Gitlin comes closest to capturing the helpless alarm I feel at American disdain for intelligence, and the continual affront to a thinking person that comes with living in such an environment. This essay, The Renaissance of Anti-Intellectualism, is a thoughtful extension of the trends discerned in Richard Hofstadter’s 1963 Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, and their culmination in the ascendency of Duh-bya. I spent the whole interminable campaign, as my social circle and readers of FmH know, sputtering ineffectually about how the electorate had to see how stupid the man is, only too late coming to realize that they did, and love him for it.

    But the Bushes are men of social credentials who went to the right

    schools and passed through them without any detectable mark.

    They represent aristocracy with a populist gloss, borrowing what

    they can from the evangelical revival, siding with business and its

    distaste for time-wasting mind work, holding intellectual talent in

    contempt from both above and below. Pleasant enough for the

    pundits, they have been able to count on a surplus of populist

    ressentiment. That Bush fils, country-club Republican, could gain

    stature (and keep a straight face) in his presidential campaign

    for proposing an “education presidency” and denouncing an

    “education recession” tells us something about the closing of the

    American mind that Allan Bloom did not dream of. The Chronicle of Higher Education [via wood s lot]

    TaxRebatePledge.org: “The idea for this site is simple. Congress recently

    passed a tax cut bill that included a tax rebate. In the

    next few months, each taxpayer will be receiving a

    check from the government for $300. The only thing

    TaxRebatePledge.org is asking you to do is pledge that

    when you receive your tax rebate check, you will

    donate that money to an existing organization that is

    engaged in the fight against Bush and his agenda.

    That’s it. We don’t want you to send us your tax rebate.

    We don’t want to tell you who to donate your tax

    rebate to; we’ll leave that to you to decide. We just

    want you to promise that you will use this tax rebate to

    fund the fight against Bush and his agenda!”

    Barbelith: Books: Harry Potter and Capitalism:

    One of the things that reveals Harry Potter as pure escapist fantasy, rather than – as

    with the best (children’s or not) fantasy – an attempt to imagine a different

    organization of the world and our relationship to it, is the use of magical artefacts

    purely as commodities. The wizard world is our world, but with better stuff. The

    sweets are better. Football is better, because it’s on broomsticks. The postal

    service is better, because there are cute owls who don’t go on strike. This is not

    creating an alternative way of looking at the world; it’s inventing gimmicks. Just as

    some apparently anti-capitalist actions fall back into a capitalist model through a

    reliance on “ethical shopping”, Harry Potter is “magical shopping”.

    This is a little overblown; I would worry about the author if I thought it was likely she is actually reading children’s books with any real children. It reminds me of the scene in Jack the Bear (which I just watched with my son) in which the impeccably-credentialed grandfather (a blacklisted victim of McCarthyism) tortured his grandson, the main character, by refusing to let him win at chess ‘for his own good’, while the boy yearns for his absent father after multiple traumas and losses.

    The time my son and I have spent sharing the Potter books is not going to make him a good little capitalist consumer any more than it will make him a Satanist. Sounds pretty obvious to observe that the values don’t come so much from the specific books as the overall cultural and ethical context of the upbringing. For some more hopelessly earnest thoughts about the effects of children’s literature, see Herbert Kohl’s Should We Burn Babar? This, however, goes the extra distance with impassioned prescriptions for how to use storytelling constructively.

    The two child killers of toddler James Bulger, in a British case eight years ago that cut to the heart of that vertiginous feeling that the ‘civilized’ world is going to hell in a handbasket, are close to 18 and parole, with new identities planned to protect them from public sentiment which is overwhelmingly opposed to their release. BBC