The return of politics

At last, Americans are asking whether their government did enough to protect them on September 11:

“Normal service has resumed. After eight months off the air, American politics is back. Republicans are once more hurling abuse at Democrats, Democrats are slamming Republicans, while Capitol Hill and the White House have returned to their traditional posture: at loggerheads. At long last, the September 11 bubble of bipartisan consensus – in which even to question the Bush administration’s war against terrorism was seen as unpatriotic – has burst.” Guardian UK

Infiltration must end to avoid war: Powell sees a way out of crisis: ‘The secretary said he could not predict how close Pakistan and India were to war, but “what we’re trying to do is make sure they never reach that point. We are pressing President Musharraf very hard to cease all infiltration activities on the part of terrorist organizations across the Line of Control, and we are asking the Indians to show restraint until we can determine whether or not that infiltration activity has ceased”.’  Pakistan Dawn

Eminem’s Martyr Complex:

With his new album, though, that mix of social realism and hyperbole?in his hands, an original and combustible compound?has given way to the paranoid delusional. The ranting and the essaying are no longer concerned only or even mostly with the middle-school id of his alter ego, Slim Shady, or with the troubled youth of Marshall Mathers and his issues with class, race, his ex, Kim, his father, and his mother (although the album’s only knockout song, “Cleaning Out My Closet,” is a howling lament about his mom). Now it’s largely about Eminem, the pop star, who seems to have confused celebrity with political and social potency. He would have you believe?he himself wants to believe?that he has such terrifying authority among the young and restless that mainstream America has got to bring him down. Eminem’s developed a martyr complex. Slate

Defense Secretary

The peculiar duplicity of Ari Fleischer: “…(W)hat Fleischer does, for the most part, is not really spin. It’s a system of disinformation–blunter, more aggressive, and, in its own way, more impressive than spin. Much of the time Fleischer does not engage with the logic of a question at all. He simply denies its premises–or refuses to answer it on the grounds that it conflicts with a Byzantine set of rules governing what questions he deems appropriate. Fleischer has broken new ground in the dark art of flackdom: Rather than respond tendentiously to questions, he negates them altogether.” The New Republic

Nicholas Kristof:

Liberal Reality Check: “It’s time for civil libertarians to examine themselves with the same rigor with which we are prone to examine others.

As we gather around F.B.I. headquarters sharpening our machetes and watching the buzzards circle overhead, let’s be frank: There’s a whiff of hypocrisy in the air.

One reason aggressive agents were restrained as they tried to go after Zacarias Moussaoui is that liberals like myself — and the news media caldron in which I toil and trouble — have regularly excoriated law enforcement authorities for taking shortcuts and engaging in racial profiling. As long as we’re pointing fingers, we should peer into the mirror…”

NY Times op-ed

"There is a firestorm coming…

…and it is being provoked by Mr Bush”, says Robert Fisk:

So now Osama bin Laden is Hitler. And Saddam Hussein is Hitler. And George Bush is fighting the Nazis. Not since Menachem Begin fantasised to President Reagan that he felt he was attacking Hitler in Berlin – his Israeli army was actually besieging Beirut, killing thousands of civilians, “Hitler” being the pathetic Arafat – have we had to listen to claptrap like this. But the fact that we Europeans had to do so in the Bundestag on Thursday – and, for the most part, in respectful silence – was extraordinary.

I’m reminded of the Israeli columnist who, tired of the wearying invocation of the Second World War to justify yet more Israeli brutality, began an article with the words: “Mr Prime Minister, Hitler is dead.” Must we, forever, live under the shadow of a war that was fought and won before most of us were born? Do we have to live forever with living, diminutive politicians playing Churchill (Thatcher and, of course, Blair) or Roosevelt? “He’s a dictator who gassed his own people,” Mr Bush reminded us for the two thousandth time, omitting as always to mention that the Kurds whom Saddam viciously gassed were fighting for Iran and that the United States, at the time, was on Saddam’s side. Independent UK

E-Mail Scam Cites Afghanistan Soldier. Just when I was getting comfortable waiting for my money to start rolling in from ‘the Nigerian email scam’ — these days I’m responding to two or three such opportunities I’m offered every week, all from relatives of deposed multimillionaire despots or at least oil ministers! — here comes an interesting, novel twist on the con…

Peter Erlinder, law professor and former president of the National Lawyers’ Guild, says that the Patriot Act’s supposed justification is gone and calls upon Congress for its repeal. This is the least tedious offshoot of the ‘Bush knew’ debate I’ve read yet. If the attacks should not have been ‘unexpected’ with existing intelligence practices, then the Justice Dept’s vast power grab at the expense of civil liberties to prevent future terrorist attacks is based on a lie.

Afghan Warlord Feared Teaming Up With Qaeda and Taliban: “Remnants of Al Qaeda and the senior leadership of the Taliban are trying to build ties to a warlord, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, with the goal of attacking American-led forces and undermining the interim government in Kabul, senior American and British military officials here said today.” Asked if the US would go after Hekmatyar, a senior military official simply reminded reporters that his commander-in-chief had said ‘that if you are supporting these organizations, you are against us’. There is evidence that the CIA had tried — and failed — to assassinate him with a missile from a pilotless drone several weeks ago. NY Times

A couple from Howard Kurtz: Journalists See An Alarming Trend In Terror Warnings:

“Journalists say the Bush administration has been pushing the recent spate of scary stories about possible new terrorist attacks.

“Right now they’re putting out all these warnings to change the subject from what was known prior to September 11 to what is known now,” says CBS’s national security correspondent, David Martin.” .”

Sept. 11th Blame Game Intensifying:

“It’s come to this: finger-pointing about the finger-pointing.

That is, an argument over whether the Democrats are or are not benefiting from their attacks on the White House for mishandling intelligence before Sept. 11.

Only in Washington could a debate about the most vicious terrorist attack in American history turn into partisan score-keepingWashington Post

Hoover Redux:

F.B.I. Given Broader Authority to Monitor the Public


The Justice Department said today that it would immediately loosen restrictions on the F.B.I., giving the bureau broad new powers to go after terrorists without violating the United States Constitution.

Rules That Limited F.B.I. Domestic Spying Were Rooted in Earlier Era, Not in Law

Smile, you’re on candid camera — permitting the FBI to monitor the internet is one of the central features of the new rules.

With the substitution of the Internet for the newsstand, that is essentially what Attorney General John Ashcroft now proposes to allow the Federal Bureau of Investigation to do.

If the Supreme Court was unwilling to bar a similar practice in 1972, there is little reason to think a challenge would succeed today.

Indeed, the restrictions under which the F.B.I. has operated for three decades were self-imposed. Congressional pressure, lawsuits, scandals and a public outcry played a role in the bureau’s vow to limit domestic surveillance to situations in which criminal conduct was suspected. But the restrictions were not enforceable in court and were grounded in what might be called constitutional values, rather than actual law.

Civil libertarians largely acknowledge that the Justice Department is free to revise its own guidelines, but they say that the knowledge that political activity is being monitored by the government will chill the kinds of unrestrained discussions that are central to American democracy, with no appreciable benefits. NY Times

Shortlist for annual Turner Prize for art is published: “The nominees announced Thursday for the $30,000 annual award are Fiona Banner, Liam Gillick, Keith Tyson and Catherine Yass, all Britons. In keeping with the Turner Prize’s taste for the avant-garde, all are conceptual artists working with a range of unusual media. The prize has regularly been criticized for overlooking more conventional art forms. Some of the more unusual entries in recent years have included a soiled bed, a pickled cow and an elephant dung painting. This year, as in recent years, there was no painter among the finalists.” National Post

On this day of the ceremonial end to the cleanup and recovery at the World Trade Center site, I sat down with this moving, painful chronicle of the final 102 minutes of the WTC from last Sunday’s New York Times, compiled from 157 accounts from survivors and friends’ and relatives’ accounts of last phone and email contacts with those lost in the attack. I would not be surprised if this is old news for you, and if it had been blinked to by numerous other weblogs last week while I was away, but I couldn’t let it pass, brutally uncomfortable as it is to take in.

All cultures are not equal

This belief that modernism lies at the root of all evil is so pervasive that only right-wing reactionaries, like Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, former UK prime minister Margaret Thatcher or the late Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn, it sometimes seems, are willing unreservedly to defend (CLR) James’ belief in the superiority of ‘the learning and profound discoveries of Western civilisation’ [‘The Making of the Caribbean People’, in Spheres of Existence: Selected Writings (London: Alison and Busby, 1980)].

So the real question to ask in the wake of 11 September 11 is not, as many have suggested, ‘Why do they hate us?’, but rather ‘Why do we seem to hate ourselves?’. Why is it that Western liberals and radicals have become so disenchanted with modern civilisation that some even welcomed the attack on the Twin Towers as an anti-imperialist act? spiked

Contrast with this review, from The Economist. of Will Hutton’s The World We’re In:

America has become a danger to us all, according to a British bestseller. Can such a view honestly be sustained? … George Orwell said that some ideas and opinions were so foolish that you had to belong to the intelligentsia to believe them. Will Hutton is a left-wing British journalist who took time off in mid-career as a visiting fellow at Nuffield College, Oxford, to become an intellectual. On the evidence of this book, he has succeeded brilliantly in proving the wisdom of Orwell’s remark.

The reviewer holds up the following excerpt from Hutton’s discourse to prove to readers of the review that he is not exaggerating in concluding that Hutton is inane:

“This, then is contemporary America. If it is rich and entrepreneurial, it is also economically volatile, profoundly unequal and nothing like as productive as it could be…Its democracy, one of the great Enlightenment triumphs…now resembles pre-Enlightenment Europe in its dependence on money and private power. This is the orderly country whose citizens routinely shoot each other. This is where worship at church is rivalled only by worship of the shopping mall. It is becoming a land of individual strangers questing for their inner happiness because the public realm is so corrupted and depleted. It is a country that has burst its limits; an economy that is on the edge. And the whole is overshadowed by a tenacious endemic racism that is the still unresolved legacy of slavery and the civil war.”

IMHO, the reviewer is hoist on his own petard; it’s a pretty cogent thesis, if the excerpt is representative…

Take Action:

Senate Bill Introduced to Preserve Antibiotics: “Human health is threatened by the overuse of antibiotics in animal agriculture. Urge your Senators to support S. 2508 which will protect these vital medicines. Today, farm animals are routinely fed antibiotics for growth promotion and to compensate for crowded living conditions. Such misuse contributes to the dangerous growth of antibiotic-resistant bacterial strains that cause serious illness in humans.” Center for Science in the Public Interest

Change Your Mind

Be There Now: “According to Buddhist sages of another millennium, the age of Buddha would end 1500 years after his death. That was probably never meant to be taken literally, as Buddhists are given to sliding ages inside seconds and worlds within grains of sand. But the historical Buddha died in about 486 B.C.E., so I wonder what the wise ones would have made of Internet directories listing hundreds of dharma centers teaching various streams of Buddhism all over the world, the great fame of the Dalai Lama, or the hundreds of books on Buddhism published in recent years for an eager audience.” Village Voice

A Washington DC psychiatrist and former FBI behavioral consultant argues that the President’s annual physical exam ought to include a mental health checkup.

“Historians tell us that while they were in the White House, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan all suffered from brain disorders. Not one of them appears to have been evaluated by a psychiatrist. If they were, that information was kept from the American public

(…)

My experience tells me that had Lincoln, Roosevelt or Reagan gone through a thorough modern psychiatric exam during certain periods of their presidency, their mental impairments could have been easily and clearly diagnosed, and perhaps even treated. Thanks to advances in psychiatry, we can do better. We all deserve the assurance that our highest elected official is of sound mind, as well as body.” Washington Post [via the Spike Report]

Reminds me of when, during Ronald Reagan’s 1984 reelection campaign, I was one of a group of medical interns and residents demonstrating in our white coats at a Boston campaign stop. Singled out for a radio interview about the rationale for our protest, I laid out my concerns about his mental fitness for another term and suggested that he was developing Alzheimer’s disease. Didn’t stop him from being reelected…

Airport Face Scanner Failed: “Facial recognition technology tested at the Palm Beach International Airport had a dismal failure rate, according to preliminary results from a pilot program at the facility.

The system failed to correctly identify airport employees 53 percent of the time, according to test data that was obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union under Florida’s open records law.” Wired

Hot on the Contrails of Weather — meterological researchers who have long suspected that airplane contrails form large cloud banks that can substantially alter the atmosphere’s heat balance were given a unique opportunity to test the proposition when the FAA imposed a three-day ban on commercial flights after 9-11 — and found that “the American climate was indeed noticeably different” during the interval. Wired

‘Lifters’: An Idea in the Clouds: ‘Antigravitational devices developed by a computer geek could eventually change the world as we know it.

Or they may just blow a few holes into some barn roofs.

The devices are known as “lifters.” When charged with a small amount of electrical power, they levitate, apparently able to resist Earth’s gravitational forces.’ Wired

A Beautiful Illusion

Alan Stone, distinguished Harvard psychiatrist, considers John Nash and the Hollywood romance with mental illness:

“If I were a Hollywood actor, I would be calling my agent to be on the lookout for roles in which I could play a mentally troubled character. Kathy Bates earned her Oscar playing a madwoman in Misery in 1990; the next year, Anthony Hopkins earned one for the role of cannibal Hannibal Lecter; in 1993 Holly Hunter was the mute heroine of The Piano; 1994 produced Tom Hanks as the strange but winning Forrest Gump; in 1995 there was the alcoholic Nicholas Cage of Leaving Las Vegas; Geoffrey Rush won the Best Actor award for his 1996 performance as schizoaffective pianist David Helfgott; 1997 was Jack Nicholson’s turn for doing obsessive compulsive disorder; James Coburn picked up his Oscar as the sadistic paranoid father in 1998’s Affliction; and in 1999, Michael Caine was a narcotics addict and Angelina Jolie co-starred as the sociopath of Girl, Interrupted. That’s ten Oscars in ten years and I am not counting the borderline cases like Jessica Lange who is half mad in most of her movies and has already collected two Oscars.”

Stone’s comments about the Russell Crowe portrayal (or was it the script?) capture some of the discomforts I felt with the film’s view of schizophrenia, patients with which I work every day, as well:

Life is uglier and more complicated than movies. The screenwriter did find an imaginative way to capture Nash’s claim that he cured himself with reason. There is a moment in the movie when Nash suddenly has the insight that his roommate’s niece never gets older—a logical proof that allows him to recognize that his mind has been playing tricks on him. He is a problem-solver and so he solves this problem slowly—to use his analogy—like an overweight person who sticks to a diet. The other half of his cure—the movie myth that his wife’s love rescued him—is also fiction and the emotional high point of the movie. In an imagined Nobel speech, he is shown speaking to dignitaries gathered from around the world. He explains that he has explored the physical and the metaphysical, logic and reason, but what is real is love, and he learned that from his wife. This Hollywood redemption speech puts the face of humility on Nash’s unyielding egocentricity and arrogance. It brings tears to ones eyes, even when one knows better.

Boston Review

Bush warns Pakistan on Kashmir incursions; he says curbing militants more critical than stopping missile tests.” Read to the end of this San Francisco Chronicle piece, which is more about his conduct during a joint press conference with President Chirac than it is about the warning to Musharraf, for ongoing coverage of what a jackass we have for a President (if you still need convincing). He’s unconvincing in attributing his cognitive difficulties this time to jetlag.

Maureen Dowd in the NY Times is also still on his case, of course. This piece echoes my discomfort at how astonishingly rapidly “fighting terrorism” has become a platitude comparable in its emptiness to “fighting Communism” during the Cold War. If your thinking is as unnuanced and cognitively inflexible as Bush’s, you need meaningless stereotypes instead of concepts.

Like Ronald Reagan, W.’s appeal is that he is an All-American who believes what he believes. And he trusted his gut to create a new dynamic with a Russian leader. But such a lack of nuance over the long term could be worrisome. As Murray Kempton said, there is “the evil of lesser evilism.” The Bushes exhibit a moral myopia, thinking anything they do must be virtuous because they see themselves as virtuous.

I would, however, quibble with Dowd’s repeated description of Bush’s reign as a “Manichaean” presidency. Although the term is often applied to anyone who sees things as all black-and-white, good-or-evil, it is only dumb luck that the President’s conceptual limitations superficially echo a sophisticated worldview (and, ironically, one that was considered an anti-Christian heresy…)

The threat of radiological terror:

Not if but when: “All Sept. 11 did was turn a theoretical possibility into a felt danger. All it did was supply a credible cast of characters who hate us so much they would thrill to the prospect of actually doing it — and, most important in rethinking the probabilities, would be happy to die in the effort. All it did was give our nightmares legs…

The best reason for thinking it won’t happen is that it hasn’t happened yet, and that is terrible logic. The problem is not so much that we are not doing enough to prevent a terrorist from turning our atomic knowledge against us (although we are not). The problem is that there may be no such thing as ‘enough’. ”

The author comprehensively considers the risk of both the detonation of an atomic explosion and the non-explosive dispersal of radioactive matierals by terrorists. Uncharacteristically, he lapses into the first person toward the end of the article:

Fear is personal. My own — in part, because it’s the one I grew up with, the one that made me shiver through the Cuban missile crisis and ”On the Beach” — is the horrible magic of nuclear fission. A dirty bomb or an assault on a nuclear power station, ghastly as that would be, feels to me within the range of what we have survived. As the White House official I spoke with said, it’s basically Oklahoma City plus the Hart Office Building. A nuclear explosion is in a different realm of fears and would test the country in ways we can scarcely imagine.

I share this reaction; it’s the reason, as readers of FmH will recall, that I disapprove of referring to the WTC site as “ground zero,” a term whose connotations properly relate to the site of a nuclear blast. Most people have no idea how unimaginably worse a nuclear detonation in the midst of New York would have been, and we ought not use sexy linguistic hype to obscure that distinction:

As I neared the end of this assignment, I asked Matthew McKinzie, a staff scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, to run a computer model of a one-kiloton nuclear explosion in Times Square, half a block from my office, on a nice spring workday. By the standards of serious nuclear weaponry, one kiloton is a junk bomb, hardly worthy of respect, a fifteenth the power of the bomb over Hiroshima.

A couple of days later he e-mailed me the results, which I combined with estimates of office workers and tourist traffic in the area…

NY Times Magazine

The threat of radiological terror:

Not if but when: “All Sept. 11 did was turn a theoretical possibility into a felt danger. All it did was supply a credible cast of characters who hate us so much they would thrill to the prospect of actually doing it — and, most important in rethinking the probabilities, would be happy to die in the effort. All it did was give our nightmares legs…

The best reason for thinking it won’t happen is that it hasn’t happened yet, and that is terrible logic. The problem is not so much that we are not doing enough to prevent a terrorist from turning our atomic knowledge against us (although we are not). The problem is that there may be no such thing as ‘enough’. ”

The author comprehensively considers the risk of both the detonation of an atomic explosion and the non-explosive dispersal of radioactive matierals by terrorists. Uncharacteristically, he lapses into the first person toward the end of the article:

Fear is personal. My own — in part, because it’s the one I grew up with, the one that made me shiver through the Cuban missile crisis and ”On the Beach” — is the horrible magic of nuclear fission. A dirty bomb or an assault on a nuclear power station, ghastly as that would be, feels to me within the range of what we have survived. As the White House official I spoke with said, it’s basically Oklahoma City plus the Hart Office Building. A nuclear explosion is in a different realm of fears and would test the country in ways we can scarcely imagine.

I share this reaction; it’s the reason, as readers of FmH will recall, that I disapprove of referring to the WTC site as “ground zero,” a term whose connotations properly relate to the site of a nuclear blast. Most people have no idea how unimaginably worse a nuclear detonation in the midst of New York would have been, and we ought not use sexy linguistic hype to obscure that distinction:

As I neared the end of this assignment, I asked Matthew McKinzie, a staff scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, to run a computer model of a one-kiloton nuclear explosion in Times Square, half a block from my office, on a nice spring workday. By the standards of serious nuclear weaponry, one kiloton is a junk bomb, hardly worthy of respect, a fifteenth the power of the bomb over Hiroshima.

A couple of days later he e-mailed me the results, which I combined with estimates of office workers and tourist traffic in the area…

NY Times Magazine

My family and I will be away vacationing for two weeks. Please come back and visit Follow Me Here again beginning on Memorial Day (to you non-U.S. readers: May 27th). If you need a reminder when FmH becomes active again, click on the “spy on this page” link in the sidebar.

As always, please consider supporting the other fine weblogs in the sidebar by following me there both in my absence and after my return. And don’t feel inhibited about continuing to send me interesting blinks even while I’m away. I enjoy coming back to a mailbox bursting at the seams…

Rolling Stone‘s “50 coolest records” — I own eight, I’ve never heard of the artists of six, and I disagree with, oh about half. And Rolling Stone‘s “50 uncoolest records (that we love)” — I own none of these but have to admit that in years past I had two of them on vinyl. Again I have to disagree with many of their choices — these are not uncool records you should love and covet. They’re just plain uncool…

Michael Kinsley: Answering Sharon – Look, are we at war with terrorism or are we not? Not.

“The Bush folks should not have needed the annoying Sharon to remind them that the facile absolutist rhetoric of the weeks after Sept. 11 was unwise. Bush’s oil buddies the Saudis believe that dealing effectively with terrorism itself requires dealing financially with terrorists. Appeasement is not a very attractive anti-terrorist tactic, but Bush was never prepared to call them on it because even his more bellicose and principled approach needs Saudi official backing.” Slate

KartOO: novel new web search engine. I don’t have a sense yet of how good their spidering and indexing are, but their interface is nifty. Instead of a listing of ‘hits’ on a search term, what pops up here is a map of webspace depicting the datapoints and their linkages. Click on a point on the map to drill deeper into your search. Worth playing with.

Pediatric Psychiatric Illness in the Emergency Department—An Ignored Health Care Issue

Abstract: “Objectives: To examine the differences in the care of children with a psychiatric illness and all other children in the emergency department (ED). Methods: One-year cross-sectional retrospective chart review of children <18 years of age admitted to the ED… Conclusions: These data suggest a gap in the health care system that is perhaps mostly due to inadequate recognition of the magnitude and severity of the problem. Children with psychiatric illness often become “stuck” in the ED or on the pediatric inpatient ward for prolonged periods of time because there are inadequate inpatient or outpatient services to care for them.” Academic Emergency Medicine

What’s in a name?

The evolution of the nomenclature of antipsychotic drugs (.pdf) —

Abstract: “Objective: Psychiatry as a science and psychotherapy as an art thrive on words, words that were often

coined arbitrarily and that are often used idiosyncratically. This article examines the origins, progenitors and

usage of the word “antipsychotic” and explores its ramifications. Methods: Original publications from the

1950s onward, beginning with the report of the discovery of chlorpromazine, were sought for their specific

references to the terminology of drugs used to treat psychotic disorders. Preferences for individual words,

debates surrounding their adoption and changing trends in their use are reviewed from scientific, clinical and

social perspectives. Results: Over the past 50 years the drugs used in the treatment of schizophrenia and

other psychotic disorders have been variously labelled “tranquillizers,” “neuroleptics,” “ataractics,” “antipsychotics”

and “anti-schizophrenic agents.” These terms, coined out of necessity, were quickly accepted with little

debate or due consideration of their clinical, personal and social implications. The development of a new

generation of antipsychotic drugs as well as the prospect of treatment strategies with diverse mechanisms of

action highlight the need to re-examine the issues involved in the naming, classification and labelling of psychotropic

drugs in general and of “antipsychotics” in particular. Conclusion: This historical overview of the

labelling of drugs used in the treatment of psychoses reflects the confusion and controversy surrounding the

naming and classification of drugs and diseases in general. It also illustrates the dynamic interplay of personal

beliefs, rational thinking, practical considerations and societal values in shaping the scientific process.” Journal of Psychiatry & Neuroscience

A close look at Southern Poverty Law Center and “hate groups”: thanks to David Walker for directing me to this discussion of the SPLC’s “perfidy” in aggressive solicitation, based on “careful reporter” (says Declan McCullagh, on whose Politech mailing list this discussion occurred) Ken Silverstein’s dissection of their fundraising efforts in a Harper’s Magazine piece reprinted here. I’ve given money to the SPLC for years and have been edified by Morris Dees’ achievements in breaking the backs of hate groups in litigation. I’m certainly concerned that the American Institute of Philanthropy gives the SPLC low marks, and have certainly noticed the frequency of  its direct-mail solicitations — although they are not distasteful, as the genre goes. But on the other hand, if the flagbearers of this critique are Alexander Cockburn and the “Counterpunch folks”, who too often discredit their political credentials by leading with hysteria without following through with thoughtful analysis, IMHO concerns can be discounted… ‘Wads of cash’ raised by direct mail are not necessarily evil if they do good works…

New journal supports the null hypothesis: “It’s disappointing to conduct a study and find the statistics to be insignificant. But a new journal, the Journal of Articles in Support of the Null Hypothesis, makes insignificant results somewhat significant by publishing them.” APA Monitor

Review: The Art of Suicide by Ron M. Brown: “Reaktion publishes books integrating history and images. Brown’s punningly titled volume both divides suicides into sinful and heroic, and also surveys their images in European art.” British Medical Journal

Scientific Precision:

Scientists Describe New Form of Life as ‘Weird Bug’: “Scientists have discovered an entirely new type of creature–one that does not fit into any previous category of life–lurking in an undersea vent north of Iceland.

The creatures are small spheres attached to other organisms and are so genetically strange and so tiny–smaller than a grain of sand and about the width of four human hairs–that they were invisible to traditional ecological survey methods.” Los Angeles Times

"un-Dutch":

The assassination of Pim Fortuyn has rocked the Netherlands and, as The Economist puts it, “given Europe’s extreme right a martyr.” The news coverage of Fortuyn is complicated, however; he’s clearly anti-immigration but the press attributes his opposition to Muslim immigrants in particularly as a function of their homophobia and misogyny. Fortuyn himself is gay. His newly-established party was predicted to capture 15% of the vote in the May 15th general election, making him a potential player in coalition politics. Chillingly, he predicted he would be killed and blamed Dutch prime minister Wim Kok for not providing him with any protection, taking no responsibility for garnering enmity himself due to the unpopularity of his position and his penchant for alienating and offending political opponents of all stripes with blunt dismissals. The Dutch government was quick to publicize the fact that the suspect they arrested was a “white Dutchman.” A number of news sources at which I’ve followed coverage of his assassination betray their flair for the dramatic by puzzling over his assailant’s motive, but some reports describe him as an extreme leftist. The Economist

U.S. Rejects All Support for New Court on Atrocities. In so doing, the US ignores the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, a 1969 agreement that requires states to refrain from taking steps to undermine treaties they sign, even if they do not ratify them. It would be fitting if such flagrant, contemptuous and contemptible defiance of international law comes back to haunt the Bush Administration in the form of international isolation, mistrust in Europe and the collapse of the “anti-terrorism coalition.” The winning faction in the Administration, led by Rumsfeld, puts themseelves firmly in the camp of the loonies who see black helicopters everywhere and fear a ‘new world order’ in which US sovereignty is subordinated to the UN’s rule.

Bioterrorism Update:

Anthrax Sent Through Mail Gained Potency by the Letter, according to Federal investigators;
For Anthrax Survivors, a Halting Painful Recovery:

Of the 11 people who came down with the deadliest form of anthrax after germ-laced letters were sent through the mail in October, six survived. Of those, one is well enough to return to work, even though the typical recovery period for a serious infection is three to six months. The others are caught in the limbo of recovery, grateful to be alive but wondering whether the aftereffects, both physical and psychological, will ever subside. Some have nightmares. One has begun seeing a psychiatrist to cope with flashbacks that transport him, without warning, back to intensive care. Others complain that they are tired, short of breath and plagued by losses of short-term memory, symptoms that puzzle their doctors, as well as government experts.

And: Washington Accuses Cuba of Germ-Warfare Research:

In a speech yesterday at the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington, John R. Bolton, the under secretary of state for arms control, publicly alluded to conclusions that American intelligence agencies have reached in recent months after protracted internal debate.

“The United States believes that Cuba has at least a limited offensive biological warfare research and development effort,” Mr. Bolton said, taking aim at the Communist government of Fidel Castro. Cuba, he added, has also “provided dual-use biotechnology to other rogue states.”

New enemies added to ‘axis of evil’ to rev up failing American fervor! NY Times

Tom Waits: A Poet of Outcasts Who’s Come Inside:

He hasn’t taken a drink, he said, in nine years, and his self-destructive alcoholic patches are two decades behind him. But from his first album, Closing Time (Asylum) in 1973, to the two new ones being released simultaneously on Tuesday, Blood Money and Alice (both on Anti), he has peered into dank recesses and populated his songs with drunks, hobos, prostitutes, carnies, transvestites, suicides and a few stray politicians.


In the songs, true love collides with callous fate and close observation dissolves into surrealism. The music drags hymns and parlor songs, blues and ballads into a sonic menagerie that, on the new albums, includes Swiss hand bells, calliope and a four-foot-long Indonesian seed pod, which is “as wide as a Bible,” he said, and has “seeds as big as CD’s.”


The tunes hold some Stephen Foster, some Kurt Weill, some Louis Armstrong, some Lightnin’ Hopkins, some Harry Partch, some Captain Beefheart and some circus music — clear points that Mr. Waits has connected into his own constellation. He doesn’t mind that his influences show. “Most songwriters, you can trace back what they’ve been listening to,” he said. “It’s like you can go through the entrails of any animal and tell what the last three days were like. How do you reconcile your irreconcilable musical desires and dreams and wishes and memories? You may not be able to make one thing out of it. I think I feel more comfortable trying to visit different places. I don’t know if I have anything that I’ve made that’s a synthesis of the things I love. I don’t think I leave it in the blender long enough.”

There has been enough straightforward melody and romance to let some of Mr. Waits’s songs, like “Ol’ `55” and “Downtown Train,” be shined up and turned into pop hits by the Eagles or Rod Stewart. But others never will be. Blood Money starts with songs called “Misery Is the River of the World” and “Everything Goes to Hell”; Alice, a collection of songs written for a music-theater collaboration with Robert Wilson in 1992, is haunted by solitude and death. But both albums are bipolar, with deep-seated misanthropy and pessimism sitting alongside pure, unironic love songs like “Coney Island Baby” from Blood Money, on which he rasps, “All the stars make their wishes on her eyes.” NY Times

Wrecked Exotics: “If you’re tired seeing beautiful

and expensive cars buffed to an immaculate sheen, take a walk on

the wrecked side and check out when happens when good cars go

bad.”

Leave Our Kids Alone: “Some Palestinian groups have called for a ban on suicide bombings

by teenagers. If Palestinian families are finally speaking out

against manipulation of their youth by Palestinian officials, they

could bring new hope to the region.” — Andrew Friedman, AlterNet

Maureen Dowd: Boxers, Briefs, Mochas:

Bill should not be the next Oprah.

That’s silly.

He should be the next Ozzy.

After all, as one network executive says of the prolix ex-president: “How could he be an interviewer? He only wants to hear himself talk.” NY Times op-ed

Tom Waits: A Poet of Outcasts Who’s Come Inside:

He hasn’t taken a drink, he said, in nine years, and his self-destructive alcoholic patches are two decades behind him. But from his first album, Closing Time (Asylum) in 1973, to the two new ones being released simultaneously on Tuesday, Blood Money and Alice (both on Anti), he has peered into dank recesses and populated his songs with drunks, hobos, prostitutes, carnies, transvestites, suicides and a few stray politicians.


In the songs, true love collides with callous fate and close observation dissolves into surrealism. The music drags hymns and parlor songs, blues and ballads into a sonic menagerie that, on the new albums, includes Swiss hand bells, calliope and a four-foot-long Indonesian seed pod, which is “as wide as a Bible,” he said, and has “seeds as big as CD’s.”


The tunes hold some Stephen Foster, some Kurt Weill, some Louis Armstrong, some Lightnin’ Hopkins, some Harry Partch, some Captain Beefheart and some circus music — clear points that Mr. Waits has connected into his own constellation. He doesn’t mind that his influences show. “Most songwriters, you can trace back what they’ve been listening to,” he said. “It’s like you can go through the entrails of any animal and tell what the last three days were like. How do you reconcile your irreconcilable musical desires and dreams and wishes and memories? You may not be able to make one thing out of it. I think I feel more comfortable trying to visit different places. I don’t know if I have anything that I’ve made that’s a synthesis of the things I love. I don’t think I leave it in the blender long enough.”

There has been enough straightforward melody and romance to let some of Mr. Waits’s songs, like “Ol’ `55” and “Downtown Train,” be shined up and turned into pop hits by the Eagles or Rod Stewart. But others never will be. Blood Money starts with songs called “Misery Is the River of the World” and “Everything Goes to Hell”; Alice, a collection of songs written for a music-theater collaboration with Robert Wilson in 1992, is haunted by solitude and death. But both albums are bipolar, with deep-seated misanthropy and pessimism sitting alongside pure, unironic love songs like “Coney Island Baby” from Blood Money, on which he rasps, “All the stars make their wishes on her eyes.” NY Times

What attracts gay men to the Catholic priesthood? “It would be a good thing for the bishops to agree on a strict and enforceable national policy. But what many Americans are calling the ”crisis” of the Roman Catholic Church won’t be settled by an administrative proposal on the single issue of sexual abuse. The crisis is a big bundle of old questions about priestly sexuality and systems of Roman authority. Many church officers, here and in the Vatican, want to keep the larger questions out of the discussion, in particular the volatile question of priestly homosexuality.” — Mark D. Jordan, professor of religion at Emory University and author of The Silence of Sodom: Homosexuality in Modern Catholicism, Boston Globe op-ed [thanks, Rich]

“Memo indicates FBI was warned about Arab pilots: Two months before the Sept. 11 attacks, an FBI agent in Arizona alerted Washington headquarters that several Middle Easterners were training at a US aviation school, and recommended contacting other schools nationwide where Arabs might be studying.” Boston Globe

Planet Alignment Peaks Sunday and Monday: “The long-awaited gathering of the five naked-eye planets reaches its peak May 5-6 in the western evening sky. In a single glance you’ll be able to see all five planets, a feat not possible again for decades.

Further, three of the five planets will crowd into a small spot in the sky, making for a very distinctive formation — officially dubbed a “planetary trio” — that is sure to thrill skywatchers.” What to look for and when. Yahoo! News

Don’t really need to see photos from the party, but it’s got potential that Jacob Weisberg, whose insightful political musings are among the few Slate pieces I read and blink, is Slate‘s new editor.

As Adam [thanks!] said in sending me a pointer to this story, ‘(Seymour) Hersh says we’re fucked’. I agree; in a rambling speech he gave last week transcribed here, he captures my worst post-Sept 11th political fears and makes them sound like the most likely realities. Read it and weep… or duck and cover. An invitation to you warbloggers out there — give it your best shot at rebutting Hersh’s assertions; I’d love it if you could reassure me just a little bit that any of this wasn’t in the offing… Chicago Magazine

Hubble’s Advanced Camera Unveils a Panoramic New View of the Universe:

[Stunning new Hubble ACS photos]

‘Jubilant astronomers unveiled humankind’s most spectacular views of the universe, courtesy of the newly installed Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) aboard NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope. Among the suite of four ACS photographs to demonstrate the camera’s capabilities is a stunning view of a colliding galaxy dubbed the “Tadpole” (UGC10214). Set against a rich tapestry of 6,000 galaxies, the Tadpole, with its long tail of stars, looks like a runaway pinwheel firework. Another picture depicts a spectacular collision between two spiral galaxies — dubbed “The Mice” — that presages what may happen to our own Milky Way several billion years from now when it collides with the neighboring galaxy in the constellation Andromeda. Looking closer to home, ACS imaged the “Cone Nebula,” a craggy-looking mountaintop of cold gas and dust that is a cousin to Hubble’s iconic “pillars of creation” in the Eagle Nebula, photographed in 1995. Peering into a celestial maternity ward called the Omega Nebula or M17, ACS revealed a watercolor fantasy-world of glowing gases, where stars and perhaps embryonic planetary systems are forming.’ STScI

Wittgenstein’s Curse: how bad academic writing is these days is a function of how seriously academics take themselves, and the author of this Wilson Quarterly essay blames it, only semi-facetiously as he says, on Wittgenstein:

Wittgenstein’s early philosophy led him to the conclusion that we cannot talk rigorously or precisely about most things that humans deem of ultimate importance: truth, beauty, goodness, the meaning and ends of life. We can speak precisely and meaningfully only about those things that objective science can demonstrate. In his view, philosophy was to be a helpful tag-along of science: It can paint clear verbal pictures of what science divulges. But even Wittgenstein recognized that this understanding of the limitations of language was too limiting, and he became more and more interested in the provisional and social character of language, and in how the mystery of meaning emerges out of the shared play of making worlds out of words. He was struggling beyond scientism, and his final book, Philosophical Investigations (1953), posthumously assembled, seems to point suggestively away from the narrowness and inconsequentiality of his earlier position.

But if Wittgenstein struggled against the conclusions of his early work, I fear that the Western academic world increasingly succumbed to a desire for the kind of dubious seriousness that enticed the young philosopher.

The Origin, and the Sickening, of Our Species: “If one of your hominoid ancestors hadn’t gotten a viral infection millions of years ago, you might look really, really different today.

In the beginning, before the first landlubbers crawled out of the murky ocean depths, viruses were everywhere. These parasites infected our earliest ancestors, and today, many millions of years later, bits of their genes live on in our genes.

For three decades, scientists have wondered whether the viral DNA within us is more than merely a vestige of our lowly origins. Could these infectious organisms have assisted in driving our evolution-by helping, say, to turn a foraging ape into a more cerebral toolmaker?” Popular Science

Cellphone radiation ‘trapped’ in train carriages: a Japanese study finds that you could be exposed to levels of microwave radiation exceeding the maximum recommended by the International Committee for Non-Ionising Radiation (ICNIRP) [what’s the ‘P’ for? — FmH] just by being packed into a train with a reasonable number of cellphone-users. New Scientist [via boing boing]

Why hasn’t the U.S. produced a Le Pen? asks New Republic editor Peter Beinart. “The answer is a happy and bipartisan story of political leadership by two men: Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.” I’ve always liked the Conan Doyle “curious incident” metaphor with which Beinart begins the essay.

Red Handed:

The deficit gets worse, and so does Bush: “The latest in what has become a steady stream of bad budgetary news arrived last Friday, when newspapers reported that this year’s deficit is estimated to be about $100 billion–twice as large as previous forecasts had suggested. President George W. Bush immediately offered a multilayered defense packed with jaw-dropping mendacity.” The New Republic

The Morning News‘ blistering take on two weeks in the Sun — the first two weeks of the much-anticipated New York Sun, that is: “Already in its third week of publishing, the Sun has yet to pass a single day without a major, basic-rules-of-journalism-violating mistake. Unsourced assertions, manipulated quotations and editorial infringement abound, not to mention the paper’s unrelenting support for charter schools, Israel, and Forgea, the dog trapped on an Indonesian freighter (a wire story that, inexplicably, ran front page for three consecutive days). It’s bad, and not simply in a beginner’s bad-luck sense of the word. We’re talking state-university-weekly bad.”

The Beat Movement as Lived by Ginsberg: “Allen Ginsberg was not only the Beat movement’s second-best-known luminary after Jack Kerouac; he was also its most assiduous visual chronicler. Ginsberg’s black-and-white photographs of Kerouac, Gregory Corso and others are definitive snapshots of an era.

Many photographs — as well as handwritten manuscript pages of Ginsberg’s poetry, audio clips, selected artwork, and video clips — are featured at www.allenginsberg.org, a Web site founded in March that is devoted to the life of the poet, who died in 1997 at age 70.

[AH]

A work in progress, the site includes a Flash-enabled timeline that allows the user to click and drag on a picture of Ginsberg and take a guided chronological tour of his life.” NY Times