Threat of ‘dirty bomb’ softened; Ashcroft’s remarks annoy White House:

‘Attorney General John Ashcroft on Monday overstated the potential threat posed by ”dirty bomb” suspect Abdullah Al Muhajir, Bush administration and law enforcement officials said Tuesday.

Ashcroft’s remarks annoyed the White House and led the administration to soften the government’s descriptions of the alleged plot. ”I don’t think there was actually a plot beyond some fairly loose talk and (Al Muhajir’s) coming in here obviously to plan further deeds,” Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz told CBS on Tuesday.’ USA Today

Party Animals?

Harold Meyerson: Greens to Liberals: Drop Dead!: “Ask any liberal to identify the force in American politics most intent on destroying progressive prospects and causes and you’re sure to hear that it’s the Bush administration or the Republican right or some such reactionary power. Let me gently suggest, however, that a very different force has wormed its way onto this list, and may indeed be right at the top: the Green Party.” The American Prospect

Scenes From a ‘Weird’ Tech Fest:

“…(W)ith speakers like famed British physicist Freeman Dyson, singing robotic birds, techno DJs, a bring-and-buy market of ancient computer parts, Moroccan tea with free baklava and curries served by an Indian couple, London’s Extreme Computing weekend seemed more Woodstock for the geek generation.

Billed as the “Festival of Inappropriate Technologies,” the one-day extravaganza packed several hundred attendees into Camden Town Hall in the center of the city. Instead of name badges, people wrote the domain name of their e-mail address on the badge and were supposed to try and guess names.” Wired

Money and madness:

“A child who doesn’t like doing math homework may be diagnosed with the mental illness developmental-arithmetic disorder (No.315.4). A child who argues with her parents may be diagnosed as having a mental illness called oppositional-defiant disorder (No.313.8). And people critical of the legislation now snaking through Congress that purports to “end discrimination against patients seeking treatment for mental illness” may find themselves labeled as being in denial and diagnosed with the mental illness called noncompliance-with-treatment disorder (No.15.81).

The psychiatric diagnoses suggested above are no joke. They represent a few of the more than 350 “mental disorders” listed in the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), the billing bible for mental disorders which commingles neurological diseases with psychiatric diagnoses. (Click here to see more examples of the mental disorders listed in the DSM-IV.) Whether the described diagnoses are real diseases or subjective speculation, science is at the heart of the debate about whether lawmakers will require employers and insurers to cover mental illness on the same level as physical disease…” Insight

I agree with the dubious basis of oppositional-defiant disorder. A preponderance of the following evidence, I teach medical students and psychiatric residents, is necessary for something to qualify as a psychiatric disease: (a) genetic component; (b) demonstrable anatomical, neurochemical or physiological alteration; (c) nonrandom association with other conditions demonstrated to have a physiological basis; (d) response to medication, and degree of response correlates with extent of correction of neurochemical/physiological alterations by the medication; (e) exacerbation of dysfunction when administered agents demonstrated to worsen neurochemical/physiological alterations; (f) animal model with analogous behavioral disturbance may exist, and abnormalities in anatomy, neurochemistry or physiology readily demonstrable in affected animals. A number of the “non-diseases” — by which Insight seems to mean anything treated by psychiatrists — you’ll find if you follow their invitation to “click on” are in fact well-established disease entities. These people are still having difficulty, apparently, accepting that mind and body interact. While I have doubts about conduct disorder, pedophilia disorder, and, as I noted, oppositional-defiant disorder, the remainder on their list are as much diseases, in my opinion, as diabetes or hypertension.

The Problem of the Soul: Two Visions of Mind and How to Reconcile Them by Owen Flanagan:

“The illusions we must give up–concerning free will, personal identity, and the existence of the soul–and the (surprisingly rich) ideas we can keep.

Traditional ideas about the basic nature of humanity are under attack as never before. The very attributes that make us human–free will, the permanence of personal identity, the existence of the soul–are being undermined and threatened by the current revolution in the science of the mind. If the mind is the brain, and therefore a physical object subject to deterministic laws, how can we have free will? If most of our thoughts and impulses are unconscious, how can we be morally responsible for what we do?

The Problem of the Soul
shows the way out of these seemingly intractable paradoxes. Framing the conflict in terms of two dominant visions of the mind–the “manifest image” of humanistic philosophy and theology, and the scientific image–renowned philosopher Owen Flanagan demonstrates that there is, in fact, common ground, and that we need not give up our ideas of moral responsibility and personal freedom in order to have an empirically sound view of the human mind.”

Are Girls Mean?

‘…The frenzy over so-called mean girls, the subject of (Rachel) Simmons’ book, Odd Girl Out, as well as a spate of other books just out (Rosalind Wiseman’s Queen Bees and Wannabes; Emily White’s Fast Girls; Phyllis Chesler’s Women’s Inhumanity to Women), is building. She recently appeared on Oprah — for the second time. Newsweek just put a mean girls story on the cover. And for the second week in a row, she was listed on the New York Times best seller list. (Last week she climbed to number 6.)

Buoyed by a wave she doesn’t entirely understand, Simmons has come to conclude that the interest in her topic is linked to the concern over adolescent bullying provoked by the Columbine high school shootings, whose perpetrators had been ostracized by their peers. While Columbine involved boys, Simmons says, “it was only a matter of time before girls were discussed.” ‘ Seattle Weekly [via AlterNet]

Psychobizarreness Theory??

Precis of The Rationality of Psychological Disorders: Psychobizarreness Theory:

“In his book, … (Yacov) Rofé reviews the three major schools of psychopathology and finds that they lack empirical validation and are unable to account for fundamental theoretical issues. Therefore, an integrative theory of psychopathology, termed Psychobizarreness Theory (PBT), was proposed. PBT defines neurotic disorders as bizarre behaviors, using five operational diagnostic criteria, and claims that these symptoms are coping mechanisms, which patients consciously and rationally select when confronted with unbearable levels of stress. Like psychoanalysis, PBT views repression as the key to understanding neuroses. However, in PBT repression is defined in conscious terms, in accordance with experimental and research data, and thus, the symptom constitutes a distractive maneuver employed to eliminate stress-related thoughts from attention. Hence, repression is the consequence rather than the cause of neurotic symptoms. Nevertheless, patients are unaware of their repressive endeavors due to sophisticated self-deceptive processes. Furthermore, PBT equates the process of symptom selection with economic decisions, whereby a certain ‘product’ is chosen according to the individual’s needs, available ‘merchandise’ and cost-benefit analysis. The theory also integrates the various forms of therapy into one theoretical model, accounting for their efficacy in conscious, rational terms. Overall, PBT synthesizes a large amount of research and clinical data and may settle the long and bitter dispute in the field of psychopathology.” CogPrints

You Know That Space-Time Thing? Never Mind

A New Kind of Science: “Among a small group of very smart people, the publication of A New Kind of Science, by Stephen Wolfram, has been anticipated with the anxiety aroused in literary circles by, say, Jonathan Franzen’s recent novel, The Corrections. For more than a decade, Wolfram, a theoretical physicist turned millionaire software entrepreneur, has been laboring in solitude on a work that, he has promised, will change the way we see the world. Adding to the suspense, the book has been announced and withdrawn as the artist returned to his garret to tinker, ignoring the bad vibes and hexes cast by jealous colleagues hoping to see him fall flat on his face.” NY Times Books

Experiment Offers Look Through Eyes of Autism: “Enlisting Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor and a high-tech eye-tracking device developed for the military, researchers at Yale ran experiments that came closer than anything yet to offering a look at the world as seen through the eyes of people with autism.

In one experiment, described in the current issue of The American Journal of Psychiatry, the researchers compared the eye movements of a highly intelligent autistic adult and a control subject of the same age, sex and I.Q. as they watched the relentless emotional conflicts of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

What the experiment showed was that the two subjects were seeing the movie in starkly different ways…” NY Times