A conversation between James Fallows and Ralph Nader in Slate starts out with this from Fallows:

‘I was among the Nader alums who admired your entry into politics but resented your effect on the last presidential race. There is nothing new to say on this subject. I will never get you to agree that those 90,000 Nader votes in Florida gave Bush the election. You will never convince me that they didn’t. So, I won’t reargue the point—and I’ll try to keep from asking, about each Bush appointee or policy, “Happy now, Ralph?” But since we’re old friends who haven’t actually spoken since the election, I put it on the record here.’

XP Updates Start to P.O. Users: ‘One of the purported user-friendly features of Microsoft’s new operating system is turning out to be user-annoying.

As many as three times a week, on average, XP users see a little window pop-up at the bottom of their computer screens announcing the availability of another new update for their system. This plethora of patches has left many users wondering whether their hard drives are big enough to handle “Trustworthy Computing.” ‘ Wired

Organ transplant advances:

Blood filtering allows unmatched kidney transplants: Remove the antibodies from a transplant patient’s blood and they can receive a new organ from any donor. More than a hundred patients, most of whom had been told they had no hope of ever receiving a kidney transplant, have been successful recipients with the new procedure, developed by a team at Johns Hopkins. And: ‘ Two Japanese researchers have revealed the first details of their claim to have grown tadpole eyeballs from scratch in the lab. They say the eyes are functional when they are transplanted into tadpoles, and even work when the tadpoles metamorphose into frogs.

“None of the eyes were rejected and none dropped out,” said Makoto Asashima, of the University of Tokyo. “All of the frogs can see.” New Scientist

Sound and Fury

Listening to: When I Was Cruel. He’s back! with 2/3 of the Attractions! “You don’t become more reasonable — you become less reasonable. But it’s expressed more as absurdity. It doesn’t have to be just fury and mindless insult. And on this album, most of the negative things are intended for myself.” Questions for Elvis Costello: “The musician on why he’s still angry, why he doesn’t make money on his records and why he can’t understand his own lyrics.”

Sometime last year, you reached a point where you’d been Elvis Costello for longer than you were Declan McManus. Did you mark the date?

No, I didn’t. I don’t see that as my identity. It’s not on my passport. It’s a show-business alias. Like Count Basie — he wasn’t really a count. Though my driver’s license might be Costello.

And your first wife goes by the name Costello.

Only professionally, though.

Hmm. This is beginning to sound like an Elvis Costello song. Have you written any lyrics that you read now and say, ”What does that mean?”

Oh, yeah. But you know Monet? I look at his paintings without my glasses and they’re in focus and 3-D. I think that about words.

NY Times Magazine

Actually, the recording does disappoint, after several listenings. I agree with this deflating review by Ira Robbins in Salon:

“Endurance presents a different challenge in rock than it does in jazz, blues or pop. Physicality, youthful allure and creative momentum are less relevant to the aging titans of those musics than to rockers struggling to beat the clock. Credible artistic careers of 30 or 40 years, the rule in many realms, are the exception in rock. Costello’s reinvention as a vocalist was a prudent move, and this belated attempt to have it both ways is proof. If he hasn’t lost the ability to rock with conviction, at the very least he’s shown that it’s no longer a simple matter of choice. “It was so much easier when I was cruel,” he sings, and he’s undoubtedly right.”

‘Prof. Harris Mirkin could not have devised a better test for his controversial theory of sexual politics.

In 1999, Dr. Mirkin published an article in an obscure academic journal likening the “moral panic” surrounding pedophilia to the outrage of previous generations over feminism and homosexuality.’ Scholar’s Pedophilia Essay Stirs Outrage and Revenge [as you might imagine…].

For the record, Dr. Mirkin, who has grandchildren 2 and 7, said he had never had sexual contact with a child. Incest and rape, he said, are always wrong. He agreed that priests and teachers who touched children sexually were abusing their authority.

But he questioned whether some people accusing priests these days were making up stories in search of a payday, and he said he believed that much of what was called molestation was really harmless touching.

He said he resented that teachers were leery of hugging children for fear they might be accused of abuse. He imagines, he said, most adolescent males have fantasies similar to his, as a 12-year-old delivery boy, of being seduced by a female customer, and he wondered whether it would have been so bad had it come true.

In the article, an 18-page essay with 38 footnotes published in the Journal of Homosexuality, Dr. Mirkin argued that the notion of the innocent child was a social construct, that all intergenerational sex should not be lumped into one ugly pile and that the panic over pedophilia fit a pattern of public response to female sexuality and homosexuality, both of which were once considered deviant. NY Times

Let’s Stop the Killing of an Innocent Person. South Carolina attorney Tom Turnipseed asks readers to write to the governor of South Carolina to ask for commutation of the death sentence, scheduled to be carried out on May 3, of a man convicted of a murder to which another person has confessed. One-click link to send email to Gov. Hodges. If you’ve got a weblog and you support this effort, isn’t spreading the word in this manner one of the ways the weblog community can be of distinct value??

WoT® News:

U.S. Blueprint to Topple Hussein Envisions Big Invasion Next Year: “The Bush administration, in developing a potential approach for toppling President Saddam Hussein of Iraq, is concentrating its attention on a major air campaign and ground invasion, with initial estimates contemplating the use of 70,000 to 250,000 troops.

The administration is turning to that approach after concluding that a coup in Iraq would be unlikely to succeed and that a proxy battle using local forces there would be insufficient to bring a change in power.” NY Times

Armed, Dangerous and Grandiose:

Bush Owes Presidency to NRA, NRA Says: ‘At their convention here Saturday, National Rifle Assn. leaders took credit for President Bush’s election, saying they’re taking aim next at unseating gun control advocates in Congress and defeating campaign finance reform in court.

“You are why Al Gore isn’t in the White House,” NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre told more than 4,500 delegates at the NRA’s 131st annual meeting.’ LA Times

Let’s Stop the Killing of an Innocent Person. South Carolina attorney Tom Turnipseed asks readers to write to the governor of South Carolina to ask for commutation of the death sentence, scheduled to be carried out on May 3, of a man convicted of a murder to which another person has confessed. One-click link to send email to Gov. Hodges. If you’ve got a weblog and you support this effort, isn’t spreading the word in this manner one of the ways the weblog community can be of distinct value??

danklife is an attractive and thoughtful weblog I just stumbled upon (“where life is a gift wrapped in yesterday’s newspaper…”).

Boy adopted by chimps

KANO, Nigeria: A disabled Nigerian boy believed to have been adopted and raised by chimpanzees for 18 months is in care in a specialist children’s home in this northern city.

Named Bello by nursing staff at the Tudun Maliki Torrey home in Kano, he was brought to them six years ago by hunters after being found with a chimpanzee family in the Falgore forest, 150km south of Kano, staff told AFP.

Believed to have been aged about two when he was taken in, Bello is probably the son of nomadic ethnic Fulani people who travel through the region, Abba Isa Muhammad, the home’s child welfare officer, said.

Mentally and physically disabled, with a misshapen forehead, sloping right shoulder and protruding chest, he was probably abandoned by his parents because of his disabilities, Isa Muhammad said.


Diminutive, but perfectly formed: “Umberto Eco explains why short forms of modern communication can be simply irresistible.” An appreciation of a new book edited by Isabella Pezzini, Trailer, spot, clip, siti, banner: Le forme brevi della comunicazione audiovisiva [Trailers, Ads, Clips, Websites, Banners: The Short Forms of Audiovisual Communication]. Guardian UK

One ring to rule them all: ‘From post-“Bridget” fiction to ABC’s frightening “The Bachelor,” the wedding porn genre mates emasculated Mr. Rights with soulless, life-size Barbies.’ Salon

Egypt ready to wage war on Israel … for $US100 billion: ‘ “Let the Arab world give $100 billion from Arab funds deposited around the world. Let it say to Egypt: ‘This is a budget for confrontation. This budget is at your disposal. Undertake confrontation,’ ” (Egyptian Prime Minister Atef Ebeid ) said.’ Sydney Morning Herald

Where did it all come from?

Guth’s Grand Guess: ‘In December 1979 Guth, then 32 and an obscure physicist at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, emerged as the first scientist to offer a plausible description of the universe when it was less than one-hundredth of a second old. During an unimaginably explosive period between 10-37 second and 10-34 second after its birth, Guth said, the universe expanded at a rate that kept doubling before beginning to settle down to the more sedate expansion originally described by the Big Bang theory.

Guth’s theory of inflation—the name he coined for this superfast early-universe expansion—has since vanquished every theoretical challenge and grown stronger with each new cosmological finding, including the latest, largest one: that the universe’s expansion rate, long thought to be slowing, is actually accelerating. “There’s no competition, but that’s not for lack of trying,” says cosmologist Alexander Vilenkin of Tufts University. “Many people have tried to develop a model that addresses the same problems, and they have failed.” Guth’s reputation has ascended with the theory: He has gone from an underemployed postdoc to cosmology’s leading man. In April of last year, he received the Benjamin Franklin Medal in physics, often a precursor to the Nobel Prize.’ Discover


The goal here is to do for email (starting with your personal mailbox)

what Google did for the web… The Google principle: It doesn’t matter

where information is because I can get to it with a keystroke.

So what is Zoe? Think about it as a sort of librarian, tirelessly,

continuously, processing, slicing, indexing, organizing, your messages.

The end result is this intertwingled web of information. Messages put in

context. Your very own knowledge base accessible at your fingertip. No

more “attending to” your messages. The messages organization is done

automatically for you so as to not have the need to “manage” your email.

Because once information is available at a keystroke, it doesn’t matter

in which folder you happened to file it two years ago. There is no

folder. The information is always there. Accessible when you need it. In


Practically Speaking: Zoe is a email client. It’s also a email server. And a long term

archive. And a search engine. And an application server. All that at

once on your desktop. Or server. Or both. Or it doesn’t matter because

client and server are the same.

Science And Consciousness Review: “…is an up-to-date resource for everyone interested in scientific studies of consciousness. We will not publish primary empirical articles, but will focus on interpreting the rapidly growing scientific literature, from sources like Science, Nature, Consciousness & Cognition, and Psyche.

The scientific study of consciousness is a rediscovered enterprise, and does not yet have the institutional underpinnings of other topics in psychology and brain science, fields like memory, perception, and attention. Yet consciousness is an unavoidable ingredient of all those fundamental topics. Today we have a fast-growing body of new evidence. Our notion is to make the new evidence easily available to interested people, no matter what their background.”

Annals of Depravity (cont’d.):

Teen-ager who survived suicide pact with her husband is charged with a sex crime

A teen-ager who tried to kill herself as part of a suicide pact with her husband has been accused of a sex crime against a 14-year-old girl, officials said.

Jennifer Holey, 19, was charged Thursday with first-degree criminal sexual conduct for aiding her husband, Patrick Holey, in the alleged assault at the couple’s home April 1, assistant prosecutor Joyce Draganchuk said.

Apparently despondent about the investigation into the assault, the couple tried to commit suicide together April 9 by swallowing painkillers, authorities said. Patrick Holey, 19, died but his wife survived.

Patrick Holey’s mother, Kathleen Holey, faces two charges of assisted suicide for allegedly helping the couple carry out the pact.[emphasis added — FmH] SF Chronicle

Limits: Interesting argument by Peter Beinart, editor of The New Republic, that the Church pedophilia scandal is a challenge for the opinion industry “because they have so little to say.”

The Boston Globe and The Boston Herald have called on Bernard Cardinal Law to resign. But you can’t declare someone unfit for their post without having an opinion about the requirements of the post. And you can’t have an opinion about the requirements of the post without having an opinion about the mission of the institution as a whole. Newspapers can call on a politician to resign because they have legitimate opinions about the purpose of the government in which he or she serves. They can demand that a cardinal who shields pedophile priests go to jail because they have legitimate opinions about criminal justice. But they can’t legitimately call on a cardinal to resign because they can’t have a legitimate opinion about the purpose of the Catholic Church. You can’t weigh Law’s cover-up of pedophilia against his work serving the poor, or opposing abortion, or bestowing the sacraments, or espousing the gospel, without making a judgment about the relative value of those endeavors, and that judgment is inescapably theological. It is a judgment about the best way to incarnate the revelation of Jesus Christ–and that’s not a judgment for The Boston Globe.

Heal Me, Father: Portrait of Dr. Thomas Plante, chair of the psychology department at Santa Clara University and editor of the book Bless Me Father For I Have Sinned: Perspectives on Sexual Abuse Committed by Roman Catholic Priests, who screens potential priests and nuns for emotional problems when they’re applying to take their vows and has treated about 50 priests accused of sexual misconduct, including those charged with pedophilia or sexual abuse. He says that the proportion of pedophiles among the clergy is much lower than among the general American populace; that around 20% of sexual abuse accusations against clergy are untrue, and that he finds it relatively easy to recognize prospective candidates who will ‘sin’ in this way but has ‘no responsibility’ for what the Church does with his findings. AlterNet

The Ugly Europeans:

Jean-Marie Le Pen, Jörg Haider, and other xenophobes:

“After Sept. 11, many observers predicted that the ugly side of the American character would soon reveal itself. Xenophobia and nativism would flourish. Ominous reports of widespread violence against Arab-Americans would surface. A few hysterical doomsayers worried that it was only a matter of time before Muslims would be placed in internment camps. Despite those fears, none of the Ugly American predictions came to pass. Instead, 9/11 cemented an altogether different phenomenon: Ugly Europeanism.

Jean-Marie Le Pen’s strong showing in the French presidential election is only the latest in a string of successes by anti-Muslim political parties across the Continent.” Slate

“This decision is an essential first step in restoring stability and sound management to this very important organisation.” — US State Department spokeswoman.

Chemical weapons body sacks head: Thanks to Colin Green for pointing me to this; put it together with my post several days ago noting that the UN high commissioner for human rights Mary Rogers is stepping down because of US pressure for a new, 21st century take on The Ugly American.

The body that polices the ban on chemical weapons has ousted its chairman, after the United States threatened to withhold funding.

The US objected to Jose Bustani’s plans to encourage Iraq to join the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

Mr Bustani believed it would be a means to carry out new arms inspections in Iraq.

But the US said the inspections envisaged by the Brazilian director-general would be too lenient. BBC

The Anti-American: Ian Buruma reviews a new collection of political essays edited by the mercurial Arundhati Roy and suggests that her “preposterousness” may undermine the causes she adopts, quoting a critic who says she ought to stick to novels. But Buruma reserves his sharpest teeth for novelist John Berger, who writes the introduction to the essay collection. The New Republic

‘Exact uncertainty’ brought to quantum world: “Exact uncertainty sounds like a contradiction in terms, but that is what governs the quantum world, according to a theoretical physicist who has created an improved version of the famous Heisenberg uncertainty principle.” New Scientist

Innateness and the Structure of the Mind: “This interdisciplinary conference will investigate the nature of the innate capacities, processes, representations, biases, and connections in the human mind. What elements of the mind are plausibly innate? How do these innate elements feed into a story about the development of our mature cognitive capacities? Which of these elements are shared with other members of the animal kingdom? What is the structure of the innate mind?” Part of a three year interdisciplinary project sponsored by the Arts & Humanities Research Board of the UK.

Following many years of neglect, nativist theorizing is now thriving. This resurgence owes much to the pioneering arguments of Noam Chomsky, which have stimulated a great deal of productive work in linguistics and cognitive psychology. But nativist theorizing has also received a powerful impetus from work in genetics and evolutionary biology, as biological thinking has begun to permeate psychology and philosophy of mind. As a result of these influences, there has been a huge amount of work in the cognitive sciences inspired by nativist theorizing in the past 15 or 20 years.

The roster of participants is a roll-call of luminaries in cognitive science, evolutionary psychology and philosophy of mind. University of Sheffield (UK) Dept. of Philosophy

We’re Younger Than We Look: “Put away the wrinkle cream: The universe is only 13 billion years old,

scientists now believe. That’s a little younger than previous estimates.” Wired

‘Magic’ Mushrooms to Be Outlawed: ‘Japan’s Health Ministry said on Friday it would outlaw hallucinogenic “magic” mushrooms from June, plugging a legal loophole that has allowed the mind-altering fungi to be openly sold without penalty.’ Reuters

Is Taking a Psychedelic an Act of Sedition?

“The very idea of going off on a psychedelic “head trip” in this hour of national crisis might be seen as self-indulgent folly, or worse, an act of cerebral sedition. Yet a cold and sober look through the smoldering smoke of Ground Zero leads me to believe that, depending on individual circumstances, of course, there are now even more compelling reasons to sanction the practice of judicious psychedelic use.

If combat readiness is an issue, if your function is to evacuate a building in a hurry, screen airline passengers, detect the presence of microscopic pathogens, analyze forensic evidence that could lead to the apprehension of culpable or would-be terrorists, or execute a commando raid on an Afghan mountain, this is probably not the season for psychedelics. But if you’re not sure who the real enemy is, if you’re inclined to ask more questions about the nature of the reality that’s just swung out into a broad new arc, or if you’re seeking solace and healing from trauma or debilitating stress, it could well be the time to venture out into new psychical frontiers by means of certain time-tested plants and chemicals. In fact, for some especially scarred, it might even be foolish not to, given that there might not be as much time to lose as we thought we had.” — Charles Hayes, Tikkun

Who is Charles Hayes?

From Poet Anne Waldman:

My first experience of lysergic acid, in the summer of 1965, conjured an archetypal vision that illuminated both my past history and my future development.

I was twenty, a student at Bennington College in Vermont, and had decided to travel out West to the now-celebrated Berkeley Poetry Conference. A great number of poets I refer to as “the outrider tradition” ‑- major visionaries and mavericks, including Charles Olson, Robert Duncan, Robert Creeley, and Allen Ginsberg ‑- were gathering to hold panels, present their work in public readings, and interact with students and passionate readers of poetry. The atmosphere surrounding the event was highly charged and magical. The Conference was a major congregation for disparate avant garde literary artists – including the Beats, the San Francisco Renaissance, the New York School, and Black Mountain – to come together and feed off of each other’s energy. The aggregate voltage of their nexus sent shock waves through the literary establishment.

Those who convened at Berkeley were poets and writers in the prophetic tradition, many of whom were experimenting with psychedelics. There was a legend about the night when Charles Olson, who’d been head of the Black Mountain College, gave a very shamanic poetry reading during which he literally came apart on stage. The story was that he’d taken some psychedelic the week before and it had had this effect on him. His wife had just died. On acid, as I would soon learn myself, things come apart and then reforge. Tripping: An Anthology of True-Life Psychedelic Adventures ed. by Charles Hayes


[This read dramatically with slow crescendo, building as it moves.]

You loathsome miserable draconian TV patriarchs,
obsolete Senators,
questionable House of Reps,
lie-of-the-land Admirals,
perjuring Lieutenant Colonels,
dishrag attorney generals,
namby-pamby political pentecostals,
macho drug smugglers,
killer arms dealers,
consultant traffickers in blood money,
multimillion dollar-fraud Pentagon schemers,
techno-military-industrial-complex corrupt Wedtech lowlifes,
Silverado mainliners,
slimy presidential wannabes

Not a woman amongst ya!

Ye lily-livered walloping big wheels

Judges of my world?

I'll make your semen dry up


— Anne Waldman, Kill or Cure

Crimes of Big Tobacco: “Big Tobacco’s multibillion-dollar profits rest on a global

underground network of smugglers and money launderers. A

six-month investigation follows the paper trail of this illegal trade.” The Nation [via AlterNet]

Hunger affects school, psychosocial develoment: ‘Hunger and poverty in the United States are severe enough to significantly impair the academic and psychosocial development of school-age children and adolescents, according to two studies at Cornell University.

“The level of food deprivation in this wealthy nation puts millions of children at risk for multiple developmental problems,” says Katherine Alaimo…’

Call for re-think on eugenics:

The condemnation of eugenics went too far and it needs reassessment, a leading

scientist is arguing.

Eugenics is the science of using genetics ostensibly to “improve” mankind.

The idea that this was a good thing had wide currency throughout the early part

of the 20th century.

However, the concept got a bad name in the 1930s when the Nazis determined that

they would use it to create a “master race”.

Now Richard Lynn, Emeritus professor of Psychology at the University of Ulster,

has written a book in which he says it is time for a re-think.

He told the BBC that advances in medical technology, such as the pre-natal

diagnosis of pregnant women for genetically disordered foetuses, meant that in

a sense eugenics was already being practised.

“The general principle of eugenics, that we could improve the genetic quality

of the population need taking seriously.

“The new medical technology of eugenics is going to take off, because it

satisfies the needs of individuals, both for themselves and as parents. BBC

Activists demand lawyers for chimps: “The Chimpanzee Collaboratory says that chimpanzees are so close to humans – sharing 98.7% of our genetic make-up – that they deserve to get the same kind of legal representation as children. Campaigners say this would let activists act as legal guardians for the chimps, potentially lodging law suits against researchers and animal entertainers. ‘A minimum level of autonomy is sufficient to justify the basic legal right to bodily integrity.’ — Lawyer Steven Wise.” BBC

N.C. linguists trying to quantify ebonics: “Rural African-Americans increasingly speak the urban-sounding dialect called ebonics, even when their grandparents sound like their white neighbors.

That helps explain how the distinctive tongue is spreading nationwide, two N.C. State University linguists say.” The Nando Times

Hackers turn tables on file-swapping firms:

For the past several weeks, the pseudonymous programmer, who says he’s a male college student and declines to give his real name, has been releasing versions of popular file-swapping programs online with the advertising and user-tracking features stripped out.

He’s done Grokster and iMesh. And he’s not alone. His work, now available through the Grokster and iMesh networks themselves, joins that of other programmers who have previously “cleaned” programs such as Kazaa and Audiogalaxy in a campaign against “adware” and “spyware.”

“I’ve never been a big fan of large companies spying on their users,” Dr. Damn wrote in an instant messenger interview. “Especially me.”

The college student and his “Clean Clients” site form just one part of a growing backlash against the software now routinely bundled with free file trading programs. These piggyback software packages, which include Gator, Cydoor, and others, often track computer users’ activity online to show them targeted advertisements. In Altnet’s case, the add-on promises to turn users’ computers into links in a new for-profit peer-to-peer network.

Option Play

What we didn’t learn from Enron: “Enron hasn’t changed a thing in Washington: Bush is taking the side of business again, supporting companies’ right not to deduct stock options on their financial statements, while deducting them on their tax returns. But even more depressing is that key Democrats are taking big business’ side, too.” The New Republic

Oriana Fallaci on anti-Semitism

“I have never been tender with the tragic and Shakespearean figure Sharon. (I know you’ve come to add another

scalp to your necklace,” he murmured almost with sadness when I went to interview him in 1982.). I have often had disagreements with the Israelis,

ugly ones, and in the past I have defended the Palestinians a great deal. Maybe more than they deserved. But I stand with Israel, I stand with the

Jews. I stand just as I stood as a young girl during the time when I fought with them, and when the Anna Marias were shot. I defend their right to

exist, to defend themselves, to not let themselves be exterminated a second time. And disgusted by the antisemitism of many Italians, of many Europeans,

I am ashamed of this shame that dishonors my Country and Europe. At best, it is not a community of States, but a pit of Pontius Pilates. And even if all the inhabitants of this planet were to think otherwise, I would continue to think so. ”

The Education of Mary Robinson by Kareem Fahim:

“When Mary Robinson, the UN’s high commissioner for human rights, announced in recent weeks that she will leave her post in September, it was widely understood as the result of the Bush administration’s anger with her performance over the last year. She was criticized for her handling of the World Racism Conference in Durban last summer—which the United States, along with Israel, walked out of—and, perhaps fatally, for her very public concerns regarding the American war on terrorism after September 11.” The Village Voice

Rock ‘n’ Roll Grad School

From the first Pop Music Studies Conference in Seattle: ‘Yes, there were talks about the shape of poetry and the plundering of genres, about representation and signification and diaspora. But though it had its clunkers, the conference proved a real bust for those Casaubons who bought tickets to Seattle hoping to hear the kind of criticism they like—dated, labyrinthine, and wishbone dry. Instead they got Last Plane to Jakarta zine-ist and Mountain Goat John Darnielle dramatically reading Poison fan mail, New York Times wunderkind K. Sanneh’s VH1-smooth take-out on MCs who won’t admit they’re MCs, the dotcom delirium of Listen.com’s Tim Quirk’s wry memoir “Topless at the Arco Arena,” Joshua Clover defending sameness in a multi-tiered reverie-analysis over Bob Seger’s sibilant “Night Moves,” and Glenn Dixon’s exposé of Christ-rock God-lust, “Making It With the Man Upstairs.” ‘ The Village Voice

Abu Zubaydah says al Qaeda aims at building ”dirty bomb”: “Abu Zubaydah also told interrogators al Qaeda knew how the weapon could be smuggled into the United States. The network added that officials were unsure whether Zubaydah was ‘telling the truth or bragging.’

It said an FBI public warning issued on Friday to banks in the United States was based on a claim by Abu Zubaydah that al Qaeda was planning attacks on financial institutions.” Al Bawaba

White Dot is based in Chicago and Brighton. We seek to answer that ridiculous question: “What do you do if you don’t watch TV?” and we keep an eye on the television industry. We have also written the anti-TV survival guide, Get A Life, published in Britain by Bloomsbury Publishing. Find out why the Guardian said it “hums like a little intellectual buzz saw, slicing through the pretensions of all those who people the plastic box” and called it “the finest rant available between hardcovers”!’

Related: This is AdbustersTV Turnoff Week.

Al Qaeda Interrogations Fall Short of the Mark: “The effort to obtain information from al Qaeda and Taliban fighters detained at the U.S. Navy base in Cuba has been hampered by inexperienced interrogators and linguists, military bureaucracy and squabbles among private language contractors, according to sources familiar with the government’s mission there.” Washington Post The US ‘intelligence’ brought to bear on the Guantanamo detainees sounds as embarrassing as the proverbial gauche boorish American tourist abroad…

Dan Bricklin got to ride a Segway at a recent conference, logging more than two hours cumulatively over a two-day period. If you’re at all curious about the experience in more detail than the nightly news soundbites you’ve all seen, Bricklin describes it vividly and answers most of the questions I’d been curious about.

Powerful photo: ‘…(P)araplegics from the Lives in the Balance group “hang” around Thursday, April 18, 2002 during a demonstration to urge the Senate not to ban therapeutic cloning for stem cell research. The group believes that while Congress debates the issue, their lives and the lives of millions of Americans are “hanging in the balance.” ‘ Yahoo! News [thanks to Thomas Brock]

The Quicker Picker-Upper:

A Pill to Stretch Your Day: Modafinil (marketed under the name Provigil, short for prolonged vigilance) is a medication approved for narcolepsy (a disorder in which the regulation of alertness falls victim to sudden ‘sleep attacks’) but which, as the name implies, promotes vigilance and combats sleepiness under any circumstances. It is inherently different from caffeine, amphetamines and other psychostimulants which ‘jazz up’ the entire nervous system (whose effectiveness is accompanied by side effects such as jitteriness and muscle tension, a ‘crash’ as their effect wears off, and addictiveness). Modafinil seemingly restricts its actions to the reticular activating system, the part of the brain which keeps us awake and alert, and there does not appear to be ‘rebound’ fatigue or sleepiness when a dose wears off or withdrawal if a user is deprived of it after a period of consistent use.

Its maker is seeking approval for treatment of fatigue and somnolence caused by other medical conditions. The military is, predictably, quite interested in this drug for personnel on longhaul missions where sustained alertness and cognitive efficiency for long periods of time is required. Because somnolence or fatigue is a common side effect of medications used to treat severe psychiatric illnesses, and often limits patient acceptance of necessary medications, many psychiatrists are investigating its potential as a counteractive. Of course, the buzz is about using it in intentional sleep deprivation. I’ve seen a number of webloggers only semi-facetiously avowing, “That’s for me!” in pointing to this LA Times piece. If you thought the ‘cosmetic psychopharmacology’ revolution of ‘Prozac Nation’ was profound, wait until you see what impact this and similar medications coming down the pike might have!

But (as is the rule when you read about newly-developed psychoactive medications), you’ll soon enough find statements to the effect that “nobody really knows how this works” or what the long term consequences — of the medication per se, or of the prolonged sleep deprivation it may be used to facilitate — are. And the effects of the drug in unbalancing an essentially ‘normal’ brain (with regard to somnolence and alertness) may be inherently different from its effects in bringing an ‘unbalanced’ brain back into balance e.g. in narcolepsy, just as (I have long maintained) the effects of stimulants in rebalancing attentional processes in the unbalanced brain of a patient with ADHD are inherently different from their effects in unbalancing a ‘normal’ brain when used recreationally. I’m reminded of a prophetic science fiction story I read what must have been forty years ago in which a man submits to an experiment with a machine that eliminates his need to sleep. Predictably, it is not as pleasant as he had expected and, when he pleads with the investigator to terminate the experiment, things come to a horrific crash. [Does this description ring any bells with anyone?]

I’ve also seen some of the same webloggers who are clamoring for modafinil hoping they can use the recently-publicized ‘magnetic thinking caps’ to expand their cognitive skills to savant-like levels. But scroll back several days in FmH to read my comments on transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) for some hints as to the price one has to pay…

Richard Reeves: Why Bush will be a one-term president

This was a day in the life of the president of the United States, Thursday, April 18, 2002:

  • The circumstances of endless savagery in the Middle East forced him to look into a television camera and tell the world that Ariel Sharon (news – web sites) is “a man of peace.”
  • Halfway around the world, on the West Bank, the U.N. peace envoy to the Middle East, a Norwegian hardly given to flamboyant language, one of the first outsiders to inspect Mr. Sharon’s recent work, looked into other cameras and said: “Horrifying, horrifying … Israel has lost all moral ground in this conflict.”
  • In Kabul and Washington, members of the forces commanded by President Bush (news – web sites) had to face the cameras and apologize for the killing of Canadian soldiers, our best friends, by American bombs in yet another friendly-fire incident of the kind that punctuates long-distance, high-tech warfare.
  • On Capitol Hill, it was Democrats who commanded the cameras, exulting in easily defeating Bush’s most important energy initiative, the drilling for oil and gas in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
  • Back on television, the president gave a lecture to the elected president of Venezuela, an incompetent, if charismatic, lefty named Hugo Chavez, who had been overthrown two days before with some help and cheers from the right-wingers running the middle levels of the Bush State Department. Bush warned Chavez that he better do more of what we consider the right things, or we’ll get his army after him again.
  • Up the road in New Jersey, which happened to be one of the 13 original United States, the federal Justice Department (news – web sites) issued directives to prevent the state from releasing the names of hundreds of people who have been held in five Jersey jails without charges for as long as seven months. The order from “Justice” reads: “It would make little sense for the release of potentially sensitive information to be subject to the vagaries of the laws of various states within which these detainees are housed or maintained.” Meaning no disrespect, I seem to remember we fought a revolution to protect the vagaries of state laws.
  • In England — now I remember that’s who we fought the revolution against — the ambassador from our favorite oily medieval monarchy, Saudi Arabia, has published poems he wrote about “God’s Martyrs,” the killers of Americans and Israelis at the World Trade Center and in shopping malls and restaurants.
  • Back close to home, The Washington Post is beginning to publish photographs of Taliban prisoners in liberated Afghanistan (news – web sites). They are starving. Teen-agers are weighing in at less than 100 pounds. Are they bad guys? Probably. But they look like Auschwitz. What the hell is going on out there?
  • And meanwhile, the president’s men and women are on the Hill testifying that such things as workplace injuries can more effectively be controlled by filing lawsuits than by rules and regulations. That may be true, but only if the injured are both rich and graduates of Harvard Law School.

That really is what it is like to be president of the United States. The job is so much more than one man can ever conceive of, much less “handle,” because all of these things are happening at the same time. And in some way, George W. Bush, former slacker, will have to do something about each of them. You can already see that in his face. It is not blank anymore.

[The blink is courtesy of BookNotes; I can only echo Craig’s comment, “Please God, let it be so…”]

It’s Chirac vs. the far right Le Pen in the runoff for France’s presidency. Tweedledum and Tweedledee Chirac and Lionel Jospin split the reasonable vote and gave the bigots second place. The Age [via dev.null]

Was Arafat the Problem? Those who despair at how far away from the Camp David accords we’ve drifted often conclude that Arafat, in rejecting Ehud Barak’s “so generous” proposals, was never really interested in a negotiated, two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Writing in Slate, Robert Wright (author of The Moral Animal and Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny) looks more closely at Arafat’s comportment at Camp David and Taba, and the supposed generosity of the Israeli offers, and finds this position insupportable (although it does appear to hinge abit much on an epiphany of dubious significance he recounts having in a conversation with Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek). Arafat’s failing has not been to be too aggressive, Wright says, but to lack the creative vision as a leader to steer his people effectively to a land-for-peace compromise. Succinctly echoed by Mitsu at Synthetic Zero: “What the Palestinians need is either Gandhi or Nelson Mandela. What they have is Zelig” ? By 2000, when Barak had allowed Sharon to visit Haram al-Sharif, igniting the intifada, and it was increasingly clear he would be succeeded by Sharon (and Clinton likewise by the hands-off stance of the Bush administration), it was probably too late.

President Carter writes an op-ed piece in today’s Times that captures the growing sense that Israel must return to its pre-1967 borders as a means to peace. He suggests joint administration of East Jerusalem and ducks the infamous issue of the ‘right of return’ to Palestinian lands inside the borders of Israel. He suggests that the US leverage the Israelis with the threat of withholding aid and enforcing a strict interpretation of the legal requirement that all US arms supplied to Israel be used for strictly defensive purposes. But he sidesteps the issue above of how Arafat might lead the Palestinians to accept less than their most intransigent segment demands, or control the factions that will never accept Israel’s right to exist.

Environmentalists are rejoicing as Senate Rejects Bush Drilling Plan [Associated Press] but beware, it was only because Republicans couldn’t muster the 2/3’s majority necessary to break a Democratic filibuster. Administration spokesperson warns that the fight will go on, and the project will probably become a high-priority reality if the Republicans regain control of the Senate in the midterm elections this fall. [Guardian UK] Of course, the Administration’s incoherent rhetoric attempting to link energy independence to the War-on-Terrorism® aside, the fist-in-glove relationship between the Administration and the energy industry is blatantly obvious, as highlighted in this double dose from the April 20th New York Times:

Bush Policies Have Been Good to Energy Industry
High Administration Officials Have Links to Energy Industry

And here, highlighted by the New York Times as well, is an oxymoron if I ever heard one — the ‘Task Force on Energy Project Streamlining’ is headed by the chairman of the ‘Council on Environmental Quality’ at the White House. Especially in the Rockies, these administration lackeys of the energy conglomerates have their eyes on numerous other sites on public land for giveaways:

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska was not the only place where the Bush administration was hoping to find more oil. It is also encouraging drilling at more than 50 new sites in the lower 48 states, particularly in the Rocky Mountains.

The energy bill passed last year by the House includes a provision directing the administration to make it easier for oil and gas companies to obtain federal leases and permits to drill for oil and gas. That version will have to be reconciled with the Senate’s.

The Bureau of Land Management is considering dozens of projects across the West. In addition, President Bush set up a task force last May to examine how to streamline the permit and leasing process. In doing so, Mr. Bush said that the “increased production and transmission of energy in a safe and environmentally sound manner is essential to the well-being of the American people.”

Another reason to watch the midterm Senate elections carefully, if you had any doubts…

Environmentalists are rejoicing as Senate Rejects Bush Drilling Plan [Associated Press] but beware, it was only because Republicans couldn’t muster the 2/3’s majority necessary to break a Democratic filibuster. Administration spokesperson warns that the fight will go on, and the project will probably become a high-priority reality if the Republicans regain control of the Senate in the midterm elections this fall. [Guardian UK] Of course, the Administration’s incoherent rhetoric attempting to link energy independence to the War-on-Terrorism® aside, the fist-in-glove relationship between the Administration and the energy industry is blatantly obvious, as highlighted in this double dose from the April 20th New York Times:

Bush Policies Have Been Good to Energy Industry
High Administration Officials Have Links to Energy Industry

And here, highlighted by the New York Times as well, is an oxymoron if I ever heard one — the ‘Task Force on Energy Project Streamlining’ is headed by the chairman of the ‘Council on Environmental Quality’ at the White House. Especially in the Rockies, these administration lackeys of the energy conglomerates have their eyes on numerous other sites on public land for giveaways:

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska was not the only place where the Bush administration was hoping to find more oil. It is also encouraging drilling at more than 50 new sites in the lower 48 states, particularly in the Rocky Mountains.

The energy bill passed last year by the House includes a provision directing the administration to make it easier for oil and gas companies to obtain federal leases and permits to drill for oil and gas. That version will have to be reconciled with the Senate’s.

The Bureau of Land Management is considering dozens of projects across the West. In addition, President Bush set up a task force last May to examine how to streamline the permit and leasing process. In doing so, Mr. Bush said that the “increased production and transmission of energy in a safe and environmentally sound manner is essential to the well-being of the American people.”

Another reason to watch the midterm Senate elections carefully, if you had any doubts…

Paul Krugman: Wealth Versus Health: “Last year the administration claimed that it could easily cut taxes without tapping the Social Security surplus. Those claims were false, but Sept. 11 provided cover: who cares about lockboxes when we’re in pursuit of evildoers?” NY Times

Selling Sickness:

A special issue of the British Medical Journal is devoted to the growing problem of ‘medicalisation’ — the burgeoning tendency to treat personal and social problems as if they were diseases or medical conditions. For example, one feature article deals with the important role of the drug companies in this process — The pharmaceutical industry and disease mongering:

‘There’s a lot of money to be made from telling healthy people they’re sick. Some forms of medicalising ordinary life may now be better described as disease mongering: widening the boundaries of treatable illness in order to expand markets for those who sell and deliver treatments. Pharmaceutical companies are actively involved in sponsoring the definition of diseases and promoting them to both prescribers and consumers. The social construction of illness is being replaced by the corporate construction of disease…

Disease mongering can include turning ordinary ailments into medical problems, seeing mild symptoms as serious, treating personal problems as medical, seeing risks as diseases, and framing prevalence estimates to maximise potential markets.’ British Medical Journal [thanks, Adam]

Incisive medical commentator Dr Michael Fitzpatrick, author of the 2000 book The Tyranny of Health: doctors and the regulation of lifestyle, many of whose views I share, responds to the BMJ‘s handling of ‘medicalization’ in Spiked!:

Many have welcomed this as a sign that the medical profession is waking up to the problems resulting from the spread of medical influence over wider and wider areas of life. A closer look reveals that the leading journal of British medicine is in a state of confused introspection rather than engaged in serious questioning of current trends in practice.

The feature that won wide attention was the BMJ’s list of the Top 20 ‘non-diseases’ – everyday problems that GPs are increasingly expected to deal with in their surgeries today. In fact, this feature reveals the journal’s difficulty with the subject of medicalisation.

The list includes boredom, bags under the eyes, big ears, grey hair, ugliness, freckles (indeed these are all in the Top 10). Now in my 20 years as a doctor, nobody has ever presented any of these as symptoms, never mind believing them to be diseases. The list does not seem to work as a joke – it also includes problems such as loneliness and unhappiness, which though not very amusing, do commonly bring people into doctors’ surgeries. Number 18 is pregnancy, which is perhaps the only condition in the list which could be considered a normal human experience that doctors have a tendency to treat as a disease. The Top 20 feature manages both to trivialise medicalisation while also avoiding the real issues at stake.

The BMJ’s Top 20 leaves out a wide range of conditions that in recent years have come under the medical umbrella, yet many would consider to be ‘non-diseases’. These include ME/chronic fatigue syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, whiplash, repetitive strain injury; syndromes such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder or social phobias; addictions to alcohol and drugs, and also to nicotine and gambling; teenage pregnancy, domestic violence, bullying. It is perhaps not surprising that the BMJ doesn’t consider these conditions within the framework of medicalisation: many have been promoted in recent issues of the BMJ.

It’s no accident that many of Fitzpatrick’s ‘top 10’, similar to the list I might make (my concerns with some of these conditions will be familiar to consumers of FmH as well as my academic teaching), are dealt with within my own specialty of psychiatry, since psychiatry is all about problems arising from the ways we see ourselves and the world. After a brief detour through the curious issue of the BMJ‘s resurrection of Ivan Illich and his Medical Nemesis, Fitzpatrick goes on to show how the BMJ critique misses the point, tries to be too facetious by half, and lacks a coherent critical viewpoint.

All wrapped up with nowhere to go:

Five ‘X-Files’ to go – Is the truth really out there? “Too bad all signs point to Chris Carter, the show’s creator, reneging on — or at least drastically fudging on — a promise he made when he decided to pull the plug on the show: to wrap up as many of the myriad loose ends as possible.” SF Gate As one of the only two things on commercial television (the other was Homicide) I had any compulsion to watch over the last decade, this might have distressed me if (a) the show hadn’t become such an unwatchable parody of itself in the last few seasons — even before the cast changeover; and (b) it was even barely plausible that Carter could wrap up the loose ends, which it isn’t. The scriptwriters’ greatest skill, with regard to the central conspiracy theme, has been obfuscation, leaving such a tangled web of self-contradiction that no resolution is even remotely possible. (“I want to believe” indeed…) The only things left to hope are that cocky Chris Carter has learned a lesson from all this, and that the anticipated return of David Duchovny’s Fox Mulder in the last episode (yes, I’ll watch if I can, for old times’ sake…) will not be a painful embarrassment.  

Many thanks for the numerous birthday wishes, in email and on your own weblogs, I’ve gotten in response to my Thursday post that I’ve hit the big five-oh. I’m especially appreciative to higgy, whose offers me (and everyone) constructive ways to celebrate one’s 50th.

The Molecular Expressions Pharmaceuticals Collection contains over 100 drugs that have been recrystallized and photographed under the microscope. Many of these are presented here and we hope that you enjoy your visit.” From Bruce Sterling, who asks, “Do drugs look anything like the way drugs feel?” Some of these are quite beautiful. You can download a Windows screensaver of these images too.

Microsoft mockup of a possible 3D successor interface for its OS. The desktop is replaced with “an entire office with an unlimited number of desktops. The screen becomes a long gallery with paintings on the walls that represent different tasks, and the user moves quickly and easily from one to another with a simple series of mouse and keyboard commands. We tried to make the illusion appeal to the lessons in navigating physical space that we learned as children, so that people would “get” the system intuitively without having to learn or adjust to it.”

Deep Linking Returns to Surface:

“Hyperlinks, the little bits of code that quickly whisk Web surfers from one site to another, may soon be forced to detour around legal and technical “No Trespassing” signs.

Most at risk of running headlong into virtual blockades are the “deep links” that bypass another site’s front page, leading users directly to specific content. Legal experts say that deep linking can violate U.S. and European copyright and trademark laws.” Wired

Kazaa Lite: No Spyware Aftertaste: “Kazaa users, angered by the network’s inclusion of secretly embedded spyware, can now connect to the peer-to-peer network using a hacked version of the application called Kazaa Lite.” Wired

In case any FmH readers were wondering how I’ve come by my opinionated gall, it may have something to do with the fact that I turn 50 years old today. (Others may be thinking I probably shouldn’t be doing this at my age…)

And my son turns eight today…

Rumsfeld Dismisses Report of Bin Laden Escape:

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on Wednesday dismissed a report that a U.S. decision not to put ground troops at Tora Bora last year let Osama bin Laden escape.

Rumsfeld bridled when asked whether U.S. Afghanistan war commander Army Gen. Tommy Franks had made a major mistake in his approach to the Tora Bora campaign, as alleged by unnamed U.S. government sources in a Washington Post story.

“My view of the whole thing is that until the lessons learned are known and have been developed — they’re still being worked on — I wouldn’t be able to answer a question like that, and it impresses me that others can from their pinnacles of relatively modest knowledge,” Rumsfeld said at a Pentagon briefing.

(This amounts to saying “I won’t know until I know (if ever)”, of course.)

Rumsfeld said he never has had any conclusive evidence of the whereabouts of bin Laden, whom the United States holds responsible for fatal Sept. 11 attacks at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania. “We have seen repeated speculation about his possible location,” Rumsfeld said. “But it has obviously not been verifiable. Had it been verifiable, one would have thought that someone might have done something about it.”

(It’s either ineptitude or ineptitude, it appears. We either had no idea where he was or, if we did, bungled it. Choose your poison…) Yahoo! News

Here’s the April 17th Washington Post story to which Rumsfeld is reacting: U.S. Concludes Bin Laden Escaped at Tora Bora Fight

Ex-Afghan King Makes Historic Return: “The historic return of the 87-year-old Zahir Shah, as an ordinary citizen who will not take back the throne, placed the ailing former monarch into a possibly significant political role. Yahoo! News

The Trouble with Trade:

Oxfam’s Make Trade Fair campaign is calling on governments, institutions, and multinational companies to change the rules so that trade can become part of the solution to poverty, not part of the problem.

We are targeting them with a report which analyses international trade rules, and presents a powerful case for change. We know that real change will only come when large numbers of people demand it – in rich countries as well as poor.

We want to work with the many organisations and individuals around the world who are already campaigning to ensure that trade makes a real difference in the fight against poverty. Together, we aim to build the kind of movement that has brought an end to apartheid, banned the use of landmines, and made real progress in reducing Third World debt.”

Return of the Guy:

“Men were pronounced economically and evolutionarily finished in the late 1990s.

But Charlotte Allen says that manhood is back in fashion“, especially since Sept. 11th:

Remember Brenda Berkman? You probably don’t, unless you’re a hard-line feminist or you live in New York City. In 1978 or thereabouts, Berkman filed a class-action sex discrimination lawsuit against the New York Fire Department, complaining that she and several other women couldn’t pass the physical fitness section of the city’s employment examination for aspiring firefighters. In 1982, in response to Berkman’s suit, a federal judge ordered the city to lower the physical standards, and Berkman and about forty other women who were now able to pass the new and easier test went ahead with their firefighting training. The overwhelming majority of them dropped out, deciding that they didn’t really want to be New York City firefighters after all. Since 1982, the city’s graduating classes for firefighters have contained only one or two wo-men each and, out of a force of about eleven thousand, there are currently fewer than thirty women.

After her hire, Berkman and some of her cohorts engaged in nearly two decades of guerrilla warfare against their male coworkers. The women charged that the men were committing a catalogue of horrors and hate crimes against them, including rape, tire-slashing, death threats, tear-gas assaults, urinating into women’s boots, and leaving a female firefighter alone in a burning house. None of these charges quite made it to the courts, or even to the serious union administrative stage. But they were reported in rich and credulous detail by feminist journalists and historians (one of them called physical fitness a “social construct”), and Berkman became a heroine on the websites of the National Organization for Women and groups of that ilk. She also became something of a political activist, snagging an appointment as a White House fellow during the Clinton years, and last summer she publicly backed Democrat Mark Green’s unsuccessful candidacy for mayor of New York.

Then this thing called September 11 happened. Independent Women’s Forum

Young Love May Hold Clues to Later Depression:

“New research suggests that teenage romance may have a profound influence on depression later in adolescence. In a small sample of eleventh grade girls, the risk of becoming depressed later in adolescence was related to the quality of the girls’ first romantic relationship, reported researchers… The results are based on a survey of 54 girls that focused on their current levels of depression, their age during their first romantic relationship, and the amount of intimacy and companionship they felt from that relationship. The authors found that girls who felt they had a less than ideal relationship based on measures of intimacy and companionship were more likely than others to be depressed during their late adolescence.” Yahoo! News

The Inner Savant: Physicist Allan Snyder’s new theory about the origins of the skills of autistic savants, covered here in this article from Discover, challenges the prevailing consensus that they are based on compulsive learning. He suggests that we may all have such latent abilities, but that it is some of the higher-order cognitive abilities we use most of the time, and in which people with autism are deficient, that interfere with the efficiency and rapidity of the brain’s natural processing powers. Some aspects of the theory account for thought-provoking phenomena — that there are cases of the spontaneous development of savant capacities after blows to the head; and that the deterioration of executive functions seen in frontotemporal dementia — which has an early, profound effect on linguistic competencies such as the naming of objects — can prompt the emergence of new interests and skills in music and art. By the way, I blinked to the BBC’s report of these findings in March, 2001.

Snyder is using transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to “temporarily (inhibit) neural activity” and stimulate the development of such nonverbal skills in nonautistic individuals; a reader asked me what I thought of the plausibility and risks of such a practice. Its plausibility will, of course, have to be established by more extensive double-blind and placebo-controlled clinical trials (the control subjects receiving sham TMS). TMS, which has attracted both research and incipient clinical attention over the past decade, does affect brain functioning in profound ways, and is being investigated as a treatment tool for a variety of CNS dysfunctions, especially depression. But, if it works to develop ‘savant-like’ skills, I suspect that conceptualizing it as ‘turning off’ certain frontotemporal regions and releasing untapped brain potential will turn out to be a hopelessly reductionistic oversimplification. The brain remains a ‘black box’; when we see a manipulation work (a psychoactive drug, electroconvulsant therapy, hypnosis, psychoanalysis, or TMS…), we spin yarns about what must be going on inside the box to account for it, beautiful theories — beautiful because they compellingly enlist us in believing in their explanatory power (until challenged by a counterexample), not necessarily because they have any relationship to reality. I would particularly like to see functional MRI (fMRI) studies addressing exactly what changes to cortical activity occur in subjects receiving TMS. 

My greatest concern about TMS emanates from this rudimentary oversimplification about how it works and what it is doing in the brain. We have no way of knowing its longterm consequences, and the literature (which I have recently reviewed) is not extensive enough a body of knowledge to draw any reassuring conclusions. While several series have reported negative findings, there are case reports suggesting the induction of both absence (petit mal) and generalized (convulsive) seizures, the development of persistent memory deficits, and the induction of mania with repetitive TMS (rTMS). Most animal studies have failed to demonstrate tissue changes in lab animals exposed to TMS, but there is one study demonstrating brain damage in rats. Hearing loss in rabbits has been reported. Hormonal changes and changes in EEG brainwave recording indicative of alterations in brain function have not been found. You can do your own Medline search if you want to pursue this further. Here is similar BBC coverage of Allan Snyder and the ‘thinking cap’.

There are, of course, other techniques that arguably ‘turn off’ aspects of cortical functioning to defeat our conscious brain’s interference with more innate instinctual abilities. I’m reminded of the simple but powerful techniques for developing artistic skills pioneered in Betty Edwards’ 1989 book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. It appears from the article that similar techniques are being used by Snyder’s research group, seemingly uncredited to Edwards. Certain meditative and biofeedback techniques may also be analogous.

"Almost Famous":

“The rise of the “nobody” memoir: ‘This spring there are more memoirs than last spring by, for want of a better term, “nobodies,” those who are neither generals, statesmen, celebrities nor their kin. So many have appeared as to elicit a parody of the genre—Daniel Harris’s A Memoir Of No One in Particular: In Which Our Author Indulges in Naive Indiscretions, A Self-Aggrandizing Solipsism, and An Off-Putting Infatuation with His Own Bodily Functions.‘ Lorraine Adams shares my opinion of that epitome of the genre (and darling of many of the weblogging set), Dave Eggers, ” whose Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius is a pony-wide micron-deep curl of a pseudo-Joycean memoir about the death of his parents (almost at the same time!) and his raising (at the age of 21!) his brother (only 7!).”

To more carefully analyze the nobody memoir, I developed a taxonomy of sorts, and determined, after entering more than 200 memoirs into a spreadsheet, that almost every “nobody” memoir sorts into three types. The largest by far is the childhood memoir—incestuous, abusive, alcoholic, impoverished, minority, “normal,” and the occasional privileged. The second largest type is the memoir of physical catastrophe—violence, quadriplegia, amputation, disease, death. The third is mental catastrophe—madness, addiction, alcoholism, anorexia, brain damage.

My spreadsheet is more interesting for what it lacks. There are no memoirs of falling in love, marriages, weddings. There are no memoirs, as yet, of middle age. There are extremely few memoirs of careers. There are no memoirs of crimes. (The Son of Sam law effectively smothered that.) Memoirs of parenting are essentially memoirs of childhood, but only certain kinds—the impossible teenager, the child injured by genetic defects, disease, or accident. Abusive parents, sexual molesters, pedophiles—none have written memoirs. There are memoirs by teenage prostitutes, but not johns. There are memoirs by battered wives, but not batterers. There are no memoirs of revenge. There are no memoirs of jealousy. The prison memoir—a tradition still viable—is a disappearing species. The African-American memoir—while alive in the hands of Debra Dickerson or Henry Louis Gates—has tapered off from a heyday bookended by slave narratives and Nathan McCall’s Makes Me Wanna Holler. Washington Monthly

The Day Is Past and Gone: “The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater was once a vanguard of modern dance. Now it is a mouthpiece for identity politics.” — Jennifer Homans The New Republic (long)

No Sales Depression

“After more than a year’s delay, (Wilco)’s fourth album, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, will be released April 23. But impatient fans have not had to wait: Wilco offered the album for free on the Web six months ago, and it has since been vigorously traded on peer-to-peer networks, making it the best test to date of the Internet’s culpability in the current record-industry slump. If the album sells despite having been released online, the industry could lose its favorite scapegoat–and have to focus attention on other explanations for the current listless state of CD sales.” The New Republic

‘Liquid timebombs’:

Scientists warn of Himalayan floods:

‘More than 40 lakes high in the Himalayas, formed from rapidly melting glaciers, are expected to burst their banks in the next five years, sending millions of gallons of water and rock cascading on to settlements in the valleys below, scientists warned yesterday.

The lakes are growing larger and more unstable as rising temperatures in the world’s highest mountain range, caused by global warming, lead to “a geological crisis”, the scientists say.’ Guardian UK

US ‘gave the nod’ to Venezuelan coup — “The Bush administration was under intense scrutiny yesterday for its role in last weekend’s abortive coup in Venezuela, after admitting that US officials had held a series of meetings in recent months with Venezuelan military officers and opposition activists.” Not surprising; the only question is whether it was just a wink and a nod, or more substantive encouragement and assistance. Guardian UK

“A woman describes her ecstatic conversion to Christian fundamentalism and her slow, difficult journey out again” — review of This Dark World by Carolyn S. Briggs:

Briggs is also refreshingly open about the ways in which her faith was somewhat childlike and oversimplified: “I worried that God was mocked in some way every time I did not obey Him. And the opposite was true as well. Every time I obeyed God, the angels would fall at His feet in adoration. (‘Oh, God, you are truly great. Even Carolyn obeys you!’) I imagined the cosmos swirling about me, all eyes on the little gladiator of faith.” Salon

Your children as patent infringers:

Via Declan McCullagh’s PoliTech mailing list, the news that a patent has been issued for “a method of swinging on a swing… in which a user … induces side to side motion by pulling alternately on one chain and then the other. The patent description includes this gem: “Lastly, it should be noted that because pulling alternately on one chain and then the other resembles in some measure the movements one would use to swing from vines in a dense jungle forest, the swinging method of the present invention may be referred to by the present inventor and his sister as “Tarzan” swinging. The user may even choose to produce a Tarzan-type yell while swinging in the manner described, which more accurately replicates swinging on vines in a dense jungle forest. Actual jungle forestry is not required.”

Supreme Court Strikes Down Ban on Virtual Child Pornography: “The Supreme Court struck down a law banning virtual child pornography Tuesday, ruling that the First Amendment protects pornography or other images that only appear to depict real children engaged in sex.

The 6-3 ruling is a victory for both pornographers and artists such as moviemakers, who argued that a broad ban on simulated child sex could make it a crime to depict a sex scene like those in the recent movies Traffic or Lolita.

The court said language in a 1996 child pornography law was unconstitutionally vague and far-reaching.” NY Times

Researchers find 3,600-mile ant supercolony:

A supercolony of ants has been discovered stretching thousands of miles from the Italian Riviera along the coastline to northwest Spain.

It’s the largest cooperative unit ever recorded, according to Swiss, French and Danish scientists, whose findings appear in Tuesday’s issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The 3,600-mile colony consists of billions of Argentine ants living in millions of nests that cooperate with one another.

Normally, ants from different nests fight. But the researchers concluded that ants in the supercolony were all close enough genetically to recognize one another, despite being from different nests with different queens. CNN

Black Death and plague ‘not linked’. A US research team studied church records and other documents from the UK and concludes that, although it had similar symptoms, the Black Death was not a rat-borne disease but some organism spread by human-to-human contact. The plague was not accompanied by the enormous die-offs of rats which have historically accompanied epidemics of bubonic plague, and its pattern of geographic spread along roadways and waterways was not impeded by the kinds of geographic barriers to rodent movement. People died too rapidly for the infectious agent to be something that would first have to establish itself at high prevalence in the wild rodent population before spilling over to humans in a locality. BBC