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The Magdalene Sisters

Controversy over Venice winner: ‘Scottish film director Peter Mullan has defended his film as based on “true events” in the face of strong criticism after winning the prestigious Golden Lion at the Venice film festival.

The Magdalene Sisters follows four promiscuous girls who were used as labourers by the Catholic church in Ireland in the 1960s and shows them being abused by nuns in the notorious asylums.’ BBC

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Did quark matter strike Earth?

“A group of researchers have identified two seismic events that they think provide the first evidence of a previously undetected form of matter passing through the Earth. The so-called strange quark matter is so dense that a piece the size of a human cell would weigh a tonne. The two events under study both took place in 1993.” Even those scientists who are dubious concede they have no alternate explanations for the seismic events. BBC

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A few good toys

The U.S. Army has some imaginative ways to annihilate the Saddams of the future.

As the U.S. Army prepares for war in Iraq (and beyond), it has been moving fast to transform itself from a Cold War relic into a deadly, rapidly deployable force. The last two major U.S. conflicts, Desert Storm and Kosovo, were largely won by the U.S. Air Force before the Army’s lumbering tanks ever got there. The Army used to be a sledgehammer; now it needs to be a cordless drill.” Forbes

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"The reign of the Mayberry Machiavelli’s…"

White House Decries Ex-Aide’s Criticism

President Bush’s spokesman dismissed as “baseless and groundless” a former aides’ criticism that the White House values politics over domestic policy and has failed to produce the president’s promised “compassionate conservative” agenda.

John J. DiIulio Jr., who quit his White House domestic policy post in August 2001, said in an interview with Esquire magazine: “There is no precedent in any modern White House for what is going on in this one: complete lack of a policy apparatus.

“What you’ve got is everything, and I mean everything, being run by the political arm. It’s the reign of the Mayberry Machiavelli’s,” he was quoted as saying. Washington Post

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Arrest after online ‘murder confession’?

A man was arrested in Concord NH for the murder of a California police officer nine days earlier after, bizarrely, making a confession in an online chatroom at the San Francisco Indymedia site. More bizarrely, he reportedly claimed it was a blow against corporate irresponsibility; indeed, he incorporated before doing the deed and therefore says he is not personally responsible for what is just one more corporate crime. Perhaps most bizarrely — while considering the possibility that the suspect is “a tasteless, publicity-seeking prankster who’s trying to use an unsolved murder to promote his cause”, The Register‘s reporter also wonders if the story might be “a psyops operation to discredit the burgeoning anti-globalization movement…”

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"Children have been expelled for less…"

Teachers’ chatroom death threats: ‘Teachers using an online “virtual staffroom” have been making death threats against the children in their care.

One fantasised about using “a large handgun … to blow the head off of the first pupil who has failed to shut up/do homework/sit properly at their desk/speak politely to me.”

Another wrote of her satisfaction at having “vengefully” reduced a six-year-old child to tears.’ BBC

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Face transplants ‘possible within a year’

“Face transplants will be technically possible within six to nine months – now the public must decide whether the procedure is ethically acceptable, says a leading UK plastic surgeon.

The issue will be debated during a meeting of the British Association of Plastic Surgeons starting on Wednesday. Peter Butler of the Royal Free Hospital in London will argue that face transplantation will be the only effective way of treating some severely disfigured patients, such as those who have suffered extensive burns or facial cancer.” New Scientist

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If TiVo Thinks You Are Gay…

…Here’s How to Set It Straight: ‘Many consumers appreciate having computers delve into their hearts and heads. But some say it gives them the willies, because the machines either know them too well or make cocksure assumptions about them that are way off base. That’s why even TiVo lovers are tempted to hoodwink it — a phenomenon that was also spoofed this year on another TV show, HBO’s “The Mind of the Married Man.” ‘ Wall Street Journal

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Deconstructing Modern Antidepressant Therapy?

Patch Raises New Hope for Beating Depression

It was the first type of antidepressant, and for many people the monamine oxidase, or MAO, inhibitor remains the best hope for relief from major depression.

The trouble is that the side effects can be so serious that MAO inhibitors are rarely prescribed. When taken with certain foods, for example, they may bring on sudden and severe hypertension.

The problems, however, may soon be resolved.

A study reported in November in The American Journal of Psychiatry suggests that by administering the MAO inhibitor selegiline in patch form, patients can receive the antidepressant benefits of the drug without the usual side effects. NY Times

Even without the patch formulation, the MAO inhibitors remain a woefully neglected powerful class of antidepressants. Both clinical lore and my own experience suggest they are useful for types of depression (more ingrained or severe; with ‘atypical’ features or comorbid with other conditions) which have not responded to more ‘modern’ (post-Prozac) agents. The risk of hypertensive reaction is highly overrated if the medication is given to patients who are competent to understand and motivated to comply with the dietary restrictions, and these restrictions (the so-called “MAO Inhibitor Diet“) are less draconian than the hysterics usually make them out to be.

True, a medication that involves “active” participation by prescriber and recipient will be inconvenient to some in comparison with the SSRIs (Prozac etc.), which have supplanted all other antidepressants due to the marketing claims that prescribing them requires “no muss, no fuss.” As readers of FmH know (because I hammer this point home whenever I have the opportunity), the well-publicized complications of rampant SSRI use (including successful litigation against the manufacturers for acts of violence, suicidality and discontinuation syndromes about which I’ve written here) result in large measure from the illusion that they are so easy to prescribe that they require no art to manage and thus may be given with less supervision than previous antidepressants, and often by nonpsychiatric prescribers. A further consequence of the ascendency of the SSRI and post-SSRI antidepressants may be an overall decrease in antidepressant effectiveness, both because of the lax supervision of their use; and (as readers of FmH may recall I and other psychiatrists suspect) because they are probably “watered-down” antidepressants which do not attack the ‘core symptoms’ of a depressive disorder but rather make sufferers feel better by controlling ‘downstream’ epiphenomena, symptoms which accompany depression. I don’t mean to be a psychopharmacological Calvinist, but sometimes I wonder if that isn’t precisely why they are so much easier to give. They have fewer side effects than older, more robust antidepressants because there is no free lunch, you get what you pay for.

My viewpoint may be jaundiced because, as a consulting psychopharmacologist and a hospital-based psychiatrist, I see the most truly ill of the depressed patients, the patients in whom I am concerned about the reduced efficacy of the SSRIs, rather than the ‘walking wounded’ who form so much of the modern market for antidepressants for whom an SSRI may be effective enough. (At one extreme, this latter class, of course, blend into those for whom psychopharmacology has famously been called “cosmetic” rather than therapeutic; another consequence of the scourge of the SSRIs.) So, in a number of senses — increased efficacy, mindful prescribing, the participation and responsibility of the recipient, filtering of recipients, etc. — the return of the MAOI is a welcome development, if the patch facilitates it. For technical reasons, however, selegiline, the MAOI about which they are talking here, is not the only one upon which I believe we should focus, however. Other, perhaps better, MAOIs go by the names of tranylcypromine (Parnate), phenelzine (Nardil), and isocarboxazid (Marplan). Selegiline, however, as the newest MAOI, still ‘belongs’ to a pharmaceutical company and generates profits, whereas the other, older agents are in the public domain and nobody’s cash cow. So industry interest in further promoting them is not as likely. Trivia: while this is still an unresolved point, (weak) MAO inhibition may in fact be the mechanism of action for St. John’s Wort‘s putative antidepressant effects.

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The Mombasa Bombing:

Al Qaeda claims responsibility for Kenyan attack. “An announcement attributed to al-Qaeda, in which the organization claims responsibility for last week’s terror attacks in Kenya, was released yesterday on the Internet. The announcement is signed in the name of Tanzim Qa’adat al Jihad – the political bureau of Osama bin Laden’s organization.

Experts in analyzing and assessing Internet messages said the announcement includes expressions, nicknames and definitions characteristic of the dialogue that has been conducted in recent months in the name of al-Qaeda.” Ha’aretz Police Close In on Owner of Terrorist Vehicle. “A Kenyan woman owned the Mitsubishi Pajero which was used by suicide bombers in the attack on Mombasa’s Paradise Hotel.

This revelation was made in the wake of intensified investigations that have brought together detectives from the Kenyan police and the military, Israel and the US.” East African Standard, Mombasa ” Kenya Police yesterday denied that there was a dispute between them and Israel detectives investigating the bombing of Mombasa Paradise Hotel.” East African Standard, Mombasa “Kenya’s security agencies were warned four times of an impending bombing a clear eight months before last week’s suicide attack near Mombasa, it can be revealed today.” The Nation, Nairobi Rafael ready to install anti-missile protection on civilian airliners: ‘Following the launching of Strella anti-aircraft missiles at an Arkia airliner taking off from Mombasa, Kenya, on Thursday, Rafael, the Israeli Armament Development Authority, has gone into emergency production of an anti-missile system for civilian aircraft. “We can fit aircraft with this system within months,” company officials said.’ Israel Insider