Month: April 2003

Music Swappers Get a Message on PC Screens: Stop It Now

“The record industry started another campaign yesterday aimed at making life more uncomfortable for online music-swapping fans.

Thousands of people trading copyrighted music online yesterday saw a message appear unbidden on their computer screens: ‘When you break the law, you risk legal penalties. There is a simple way to avoid that risk: don’t steal music.’

The messages, which seek to turn a chat feature in popular file-trading software to the industry’s benefit, reflect the latest effort among record executives to limit digital copying of their products.

The association plans to send at least a million warnings a week to people offering popular songs for others to copy. Operated by a company that industry officials declined to identify, the automated system uses a feature in both KaZaA and Grokster, free software commonly used to share music files, that was designed to let users communicate with one another.” NY Times

A modest proposal to end spam:

“It’s not every day people bet their jobs on the effectiveness of a law–let alone an antispam law. Many U.S. states have already enacted such e-mail laws, and spam keeps flooding in.

But that’s exactly what Larry Lessig, a Stanford University law professor and one of the most prominent liberal voices online, has done. A few months ago, Lessig made an unusual wager: If Congress enacts an antispam law that offers bounties for the reporting of spammers, and the law fails to “substantially reduce the level of spam,” he will resign from his dream job at a top law school.

Lessig is either extremely reckless or incredibly confident. He has asked me to be the judge of whether such a law proves effective in reducing the deluge of unsolicited e-mail that’s clogging our in-boxes, snarling mail servers and driving Internet service providers to distraction. I’ve accepted.” — Declan McCullagh, CNET

…not your friend in the void?

From The Null Device:

“Anti-US T-shirts seem to be all the rage in Canada, with Canadians eschewing peace signs for angrier statements, of the sort that might get one hospitalised south of the border.

Anti-war slogans seemed to be getting increasingly anti-American, with people going to everything from protests to the gym to trendy parties wearing tops that say Bush is a Terrorist or Twin Terrors above pictures of Bush and Osama Bin Laden.

…You know, one could probably make a killing selling shoes with American flag-patterned soles in the Middle East (where stepping on something is considered the most grievious insult).”

Pick up your very own “American Psycho” teeshirt here.

Bullying Pulpit;

playing in the Bush leagues:

“He cajoles. He coerces. And when all else fails, he punishes.

President Bush came to the White House promising to change the tone of politics in Washington. In one respect, he has.

Scholars and historians say the Bush administration has set a new presidential standard when it comes to playing hardball politics with Congress.” — Michael Collins, Scripps Howard News Service

Follow SARS around the globe:

If you are interested in in-depth coverage of SARS and related public health, epidemiological and emerging-disease news, look at Tim Bishop’s SARS Watch weblog.

Skip meals, live longer?

Day-on, day-off diet boosts health: ” Eating double portions one day and nothing the next delivers the same health benefits to mice as seen in animals whose lifespan has been extended by restricting their calorie intake.

No one is suggesting people adopt such a diet. But the study adds to the evidence that caloric restriction works by activating some kind of protective mechanism, rather than simply being a result of eating less and thus suffering less damage as food is metabolised. If this is the case, there may be ways to switch on the protective mechanism without going on a crazy diet.” New Scientist

The Lonely Pleasure:

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The dangers of self-abuse: An illustration from The Sexual System and Its Derangements, a popular medical book published in Buffalo in 1875. (‘Masturbators’ are on the left, ‘abstainers’ on the right.)

From Sin to Symbol

Thomas W. Laqueur is a scholarly gumshoe with a specialty in sex. His last book, Making Sex: Body and Gender From the Greeks to Freud (1990), was a highly original investigation of a tantalizing mystery he had stumbled on in the archives: Why did female orgasm, long considered essential to conception, all but disappear from the historical record during the Enlightenment?

Now, in Solitary Sex: A Cultural History of Masturbation, Mr. Laqueur, a professor of history at the University of California at Berkeley, tackles another enigma from the annals of sexual history: Why did masturbation, an activity regarded with benign indifference for millennia, provoke sweeping moral and medical panic around 1700?

Mr. Laqueur’s preoccupations are hardly the kind destined to endear him to the cultural right. In particular, his latest tome— which features a floating, naked woman wearing an expression of glazed-eyed ecstasy on its cover and a couple dozen graphic illustrations inside — seems designed to inflame critics convinced that the academy is populated by tenured radicals bent on selling students a morally suspect and intellectually trivial bill of goods. NY Times

Third Culture:

UCLA historian Jared Diamond (Guns, Germs and Steel) asks, “Why Do Some Societies Make Disastrous Decisions? What I’m going to suggest is a road map of factors in failures of group decision making. I’ll divide the answers into a sequence of four somewhat fuzzily delineated categories…” The Edge

Shift Left:

Researchers focus minds on mechanics of meditation: “A new study, accepted for publication soon in Psychosomatic Medicine, is a significant first step in understanding what goes on in the brain during meditation. The study was led by Richard Davidson, director of the laboratory for affective neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin, and Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.” Sunspot

And: Religion versus science might be all in the mind: “For years now, one small branch of science has been chipping away at the foundations of religious belief by proposing that “otherworldly” experiences are nothing more than the inner workings of the human brain. Many neuroscientists claim they can locate and explain brain functions that produce everything from religious visions to sensations of bliss, timelessness or union with a higher power.

These claims have been strengthened by the work of the Canadian neuropsychologist Dr Michael Persinger. By stimulating the cerebral region presumed to control notions of self, Persinger has been able to induce in hundreds of subjects a “sensed presence” only the subjects themselves are aware of. This presence, Persinger suggests, may be described as Jesus, the Virgin Mary, Muhammad or the Sky Spirit – depending on the name the subject’s culture has trained him or her to use.” Sydney Morning Herald

When All or Nothing Is What It Seems –

A NY Times review of the new ‘B’ movie Identity

The second-handness of the situation, and of the characters who inhabit it, is explained — or justified, if you prefer — by an enormous, gold-plated pretzel of a plot twist that I will not divulge, lest my own head end up in someone’s clothes dryer. I should note, however, that the television commercial in which Mr. Cusack is shown in conversation with Alfred Molina comes very close to spoiling the surprise, which is odd since without the surprise the movie would have no reason to exist.

Whether it has much of a reason to exist with the surprise is another question. Once it is clear you are no longer watching the movie you thought you were watching, there doesn’t seem to be much point in going back to the movie that you thought you were watching, which is nonetheless what happens. Still with me? When the revelation comes — the moment that explains why all these panicky people are running around in the rain miles from anywhere — it does administer a pleasurable jolt. You think: “Wow. Cool.”

But the impression of cleverness, and the filmmaking dexterity that created it, fades pretty quickly, and you are left thinking: “What? Wait a minute.”

In similar fashion, once it is clear you are no longer reading the review you thought you were reading, there doesn’t seem to be much point in continuing. Nevertheless the reviewer goes on and on writing, belaboring his point. We get it. It is not even that extraordinary for Hollywood to twist a plot so badly you feel manipulated and cheated, and for the movie to go on and on even after it has exhausted its one trick. Off the top of my head, there was M. Night Shyamalan’s critically acclaimed (largely because he fooled everybody so?) Sixth Sense several years ago, which probably did it much better than this.

Young Minds Force-Fed With Indigestible Texts –

The Language Police reviewed: “Diane Ravitch provides an impassioned examination of how right-wing and left-wing pressure groups have succeeded in sanitizing textbooks and tests.” NY Times The book arose from the author’s examination of the content guidelines of the major educational publishing companies as part of a Presidential committee on standardized testing during the Clinton Administration. She was amazed, incredulous, disheartened by the number of topics and terms that were off-limits in educational content (see examples in the article). It all comes down to the educational mega-corporations protecting their profitability. Their investment in developing a given textbook will be down the tubes if one of the larger states such as Florida or California fails to buy it because it offends somebody’s notion of political correctness. Likewise, a standardized test susceptible to challenge and possible invalidation because its content is too disturbing or noninclusive would not get bought.

Clash of Civilizations Dept. –

Bush had better make his rumored proclamation that the hostilities in Iraq are ‘officially’ over soon, before U.S. forces do any more killing like this Yahoo! News or this Christian Science Monitor.

And: Iraqis target Gen. Franks for war crimes trial: “Iraqi civilians are preparing a complaint to present in court in Belgium accusing allied commander Gen. Tommy Franks and other U.S. military officials of war crimes in Iraq, according to the attorney representing the plaintiffs.” Washington Times

From Many Imaginations,

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One Fearsome Creature: “Dragon images have been found on the Ishtar Gate of Babylon, on scrolls from China, in Egyptian hieroglyphs and Ethiopian sketches, on the prows of Viking ships, in bas relief on Aztec temples, on cliffs above the Mississippi River and even on bones carved by Inuits in climates where no reptile could live.

Now scholars drawing on primitive art, fossilized bones and ancient legends are struggling to explain how cultures that had no contact with one another constructed mythical creatures so remarkably similar. And why did dragons persist so long?” NY Times A fascinating question; an unsatisfying article.

The North Korean Solution –

What’s so bad about Kim’s latest offer?: “It would be worth Bush’s while to consider the possibility that Kim’s desire for a non-aggression pact is sincere and his desire for nuclear weapons, short of such a pact, might be rational. Bush, after all, listed North Korea, along with Iraq and Iran, as a member of the ‘axis of evil’. He pointedly refuses to exclude military force as a possible way to deal with North Korea’s threat. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, a few months ago, sent F-117s to the U.S. base in South Korea and B-1s to Guam as an explicit counterthreat.” — Fred Kaplan, Slate.

Nicholas Kristof makes a similar argument in his op-ed piece in today’s New York Times. Both point out that Kim may indeed be blackmailing the U.S, but that he may have us over a barrel. Even if armed with 1950’s-vintage Soviet weaponry, taking on the North Korean army on the ground would be formidable. Pushing them to use their nuclear ace-in-the-hole would be, of course, devastating, and easy to do. Destroying North Korea’s nuclear capabilities with our ordnance would shower fallout all over the peninsula.

Gibson Kicks the Blogging Habit.

//' cannot be displayed]“Writing novels is pretty solitary, and blogging is very social…” “I think it’s in its last couple of weeks. I do know from doing it that it’s not something I can do when I’m actually working. Somehow the ecology of writing novels wouldn’t be able to exist if I’m in daily contact. The watched pot never boils.” Wired.

Pattern Recognition was a brilliant distillation of the zeitgeist. I actually didn’t find the weblog that compelling.. So if it’s a shooting match between that and his next novel, you know where I stand.

Fuzzy Math on Iraq:

“There has been a lot of talk in Washington about refashioning Iraq into a prosperous, tolerant democracy that can serve as a model for the Middle East. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been much plain speaking about how much that is going to cost. That’s because the honest answer isn’t something American taxpayers want to hear. The hard numbers just don’t support the White House’s rosy claim that once this year’s American aid package of $2.5 billion is paid out, Iraq’s oil sales will pay all the bills.” NY Times editorial

Fury as U.S. Strips Thieves:

America was at the centre of a new human rights row last night after four alleged Iraqi thieves were paraded naked in a Baghdad park by US troops.

The degraded prisoners had the words “Ali Baba, Haram” – “Thief, Unclean” – scrawled in Arabic on their chests.

The humiliating spectacle of young men running to hide their shame was captured by a photographer for Norway’s Dagbladet newspaper, which quoted a US officer as saying the deterrent was effective.

Last night Amnesty International in London criticised the inhumane treatment and promised to raise the matter urgently with the United Nations next week. Mirror/UK

Rolling Back the 20th Century

George W. Bush, properly understood, represents the third and most powerful wave in the right’s long-running assault on the governing order created by twentieth-century liberalism. The first wave was Ronald Reagan, whose election in 1980 allowed movement conservatives finally to attain governing power … Reagan unfurled many bold ideological banners for right-wing reform and established the political viability of enacting regressive tax cuts, but he accomplished very little reordering of government, much less shrinking of it. The second wave was Newt Gingrich, whose capture of the House majority in 1994 gave Republicans control of Congress for the first time in two generations. Despite some landmark victories like welfare reform, Gingrich flamed out quickly, a zealous revolutionary ineffective as legislative leader.

George Bush II may be as shallow as he appears, but his presidency represents a far more formidable challenge than either Reagan or Gingrich. His potential does not emanate from an amiable personality (Al Gore, remember, outpolled him in 2000) or even the sky-high ratings generated by 9/11 and war. Bush’s governing strength is anchored in the long, hard-driving movement of the right that now owns all three branches of the federal government. Its unified ranks allow him to govern aggressively, despite slender GOP majorities in the House and Senate and the public’s general indifference to the right’s domestic program.

The movement’s grand ambition–one can no longer say grandiose–is to roll back the twentieth century, quite literally. That is, defenestrate the federal government and reduce its scale and powers to a level well below what it was before the New Deal’s centralization… — William Greider, The Nation

Greider goes on to analyze the appeal and the danger of this wacky, simplistic but insidious grand agenda, the failure of the left-liberal camp to take it seriously or mount a reasonable response, and what might be done in answer.

Related: A War on Enlightenment:

“After more than a century of expansion of the concept that everybody deserves human rights, we now seem to be — temporarily, at least — slipping backwards.” — Adam Hochschild, AlterNet

American Power Moves Beyond the Mere Super:

…The global arms race is over, with the United States the undisputed heavyweight champion. Other nations are not even trying to match American armed force, because they are so far behind they have no chance of catching up.The great-powers arms race, in progress for centuries, has ended with the rest of the world conceding triumph to the United States.

Now only a nuclear state, like, perhaps, North Korea, has any military leverage against the winner.

Paradoxically, the runaway American victory in the conventional arms race might inspire a new round of proliferation of atomic weapons. With no hope of matching the United States plane for plane, more countries may seek atomic weapons to gain deterrence.” — Gregg Easterbrook, senior editor of The New Republic and a contributing editor of The Atlantic Monthly, NY Times

Rx for Music Industry:

Seek Out the Old Geezers:

The industry line has been that file-sharing caused these declines. Others point to the fact that boomers may have finally bought, on CD, copies of all the music they had already purchased on vinyl. And Andreas Schmidt, of the music giant Bertlesmann, said the unsayable: “We didn’t put that much good stuff out.”

Nobody, let’s remember, twisted the arms of the record and movie industries into focusing their product and their marketing muscle almost single-mindedly (if that’s not being too generous) on people in their teens and early 20’s.

They seemed like a great market: easily persuaded, with the free time and the free-floating enthusiasm to see films repeatedly and line up at midnight for sneak releases of “hot” new recordings.

As events have proved, there is one crucial problem with this demographic cohort: it has much more time than money. And, if these music lovers are enrolled at a university, they probably also have access to a superfast Internet connection, which makes the usually cumbersome process of downloading music files as easy as checking your e-mail.

Many people over the age of 25 have been moaning for years, correctly, that nobody is putting out records for them. These people have families, church and community meetings to attend, golf to play and cooking to do. They have careers and disposable incomes. All this makes them far more likely to opt for the convenience of stopping by the record store than trying to figure out how to work Kazaa or Gnutella or any of the other strangely named avenues of Internet commerce avoidance. — Harry Shearer, NY Times

Happy birthday, Mark.

Political Filtering:

Forest Service Blocks E-Mail Comments: “In a move criticized by both environmentalists and business groups, the U.S. Forest Service is rejecting public comments on proposed rule changes when they come from certain e-mail servers or on preprinted post cards.” ABC News I’m of two minds about this. While one-click opinionation certainly indicates some interest or passion, taking the trouble to formulate and articulate your own position leads to a more meaningful public discourse. Of course, such filtering would have to be applied fairly…

After warblogging:

Paul Hoffman with a useful terminological suggestion: “Now that even the Bush administration agree that this is an occupation, not a liberation, we need to change our vocabulary a bit. From here on out, blogging about the US and British occupation of Iraq is occublogging, not warblogging. It is likely that occublogging will last much, much longer that warblogging did…” Lookit

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“From phrenology to polygraphs, criminal investigators have long been obsessed

with the idea of ‘reading’ an individual’s expression or character. Paul Ekman,

described by Oliver Sacks as the most astute analyst of emotions since Darwin,

tracks the history of uncovering truth in gestures, and suggests some methods

of his own.” Guardian-Observer

‘Iraq has fallen. So — can we, like, go home now?’

The Empire Slinks Back: “Why Americans don’t really have what it takes to rule the world.” — Niall Ferguson, professor of financial history at the Stern School of Business, New York University, senior research fellow of Jesus College, Oxford, and author of Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power, NY Times Magazine Ferguson ends:

So long as the American empire dare not speak its own name — so long as it continues this tradition of organized hypocrisy — today’s ambitious young men and women will take one look at the prospects for postwar Iraq and say with one voice, ”Don’t even go there.”

Americans need to go there. If the best and brightest insist on staying home, today’s unspoken imperial project may end — unspeakably — tomorrow.

For him, this appears to be an exhortation that we accept our manifest destiny and go forward boldly to build the American empire. Could he still be reeling from the collapse of enlightened, superior, civilized and civilizing British empire?

The Rorschach Test —

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What’s Wrong With It?

Last month, a quartet of academics published ”What’s Wrong With the Rorschach?” — attacking a test administered to more than a million people worldwide each year. According to recent surveys by the American Psychological Association, 82 percent of its members ”occasionally” and 43 percent ”frequently” use the test, in which subjects speculate about five colored and five black-and-white inkblots. Test-givers in turn interpret the answers to diagnose mental illness, predict violent behavior and reveal suppressed trauma. Their conclusions are applied to everything from child-custody disputes to parole reviews. According to James M. Wood, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Texas at El Paso and one author of the book, tarot cards would work almost as well.

Wood and his colleagues level basic criticisms against the inkblot test’s foundations. They say it lacks accurate norms to serve as benchmarks for comparing healthy and sick patients. Reliability is also at issue, because many scores are determined by test-givers’ subjective interpretations. And last, they contend that virtually none of the scores are scientifically valid, because they neither measure what they claim nor can be consistently correlated with other tests or diagnoses. The Rorschachers simply harbor a ”romantic” devotion to the test’s efficacy, Wood says, one based on ”an uncritical, even gullible, acceptance of ridiculous claims that the Rorschach is like a medical test, a sort of brain scan.” NY Times Magazine

As a psychiatrist, I am sometimes considered old-fashioned for my appreciation for, and frequent recourse to, “projective tests” such as the Rorschach which, by asking the patient to interpret ambiguous stimuli, bypass the usual censorship they apply when explicitly questioned about their mental contents to reveal unconscious content. Since I usually deal with severe, often psychotically, distressed patients, one might question whether one need use a test to get at subtle underlying unconscious processes at all when the dramatic findings are right out front. And one might wonder if my appreciation for the Rorschach is biased by the fact that psychotic thought disorder shows the most consistent relationship with Rorschach findings. The answers — yes and no, respectively. First, psychosis is not a yes/no question but a matter of degree and quality of “reality-testing” . It has urgent diagnostic and treatment implications but may be a subtle finding, not necessarily evident. Secondly, even in dramatic psychosis, the data derived from testing not about the presence or absence of a psychotic thought disturbance but about underlying character structure, personality patterns, and characteristic ways of doing business with the world (coping strategies, dynamics and defense mechanisms) is equally important, if not more.

To dismiss the methodology of projective testing because its interpretation is subjective is emblematic of the reductionism that castrates the field of psychiatry and the realignment of expectations of its practitioners in the eyes of its payors, corporate clients and to some extent, the public — that they be something more akin to technicians than artists or artisans. Throughout medicine, most so-called objective measures such as radiological findings or blood test results require subjective interpretation by someone who is clinically astute and familiar with the individual’s condition, unless the diagnostic question at hand is answered by a simple yes/no finding. Psychological testing can be good or bad depending on the training, experience and thoughtfulness of the testing psychologist. I’ve seen both insightfully good and uselessly bad test reports. My challenge has been to know how to be an intelligent consumer of these tests, weighing them in the balance. I would venture to say that most critics of the Rorschach are not challenged daily to care for desperately ill patients, needing to draw inferences from inherently faulty and partial data, and can safely criticize from a theoretical vantage point.

Indeed, despite its name, psychological testing is less like laboratory testing than it is like another time-honored aspect of medical treatment — that of the second opinion or consultation with a specialist. One hardly expects that to be “objective”; in fact, trusted consultants are sought precisely for their subjectivity. Moreover, since in psychiatry in particular the bodily systems in question are precisely those of thinking, feeling and relating, only a subjective relationship can get at the clinically pertinent parameters of the patient’s function and dysfunction. Let us hope I can remain old-fashioned, having skilled psychological test consultants to rely upon, as long as I continue to practice…

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“If you were a White House hardliner and you wanted to make life intolerable for a moderate Secretary of State who’s been semi-miserably soldiering on in a sad attempt to wait out a foreign incursion until it’s politic to resign, who would you bring back from the dead to sic on his ass? That’s right, it’s disgraced far-right poster boy and zombie hatchetman Newt Gingrich. Let the good times roll!” — Bill Barol

Rise of Conscientious Objection:

“Although only a handful of them have gone public, several hundred U.S. soldiers have applied for conscientious objector (CO) status since January, says …The Center on Conscience and War (CCW), which advises military personnel on CO discharges…

The military granted 111 soldiers CO status in the first Gulf War before putting a stop to the practice, resulting in 2,500 soldiers being sent to prison, says Bill Gavlin from the Center on Conscience and War, quoting a report from the Boston Globe newspaper.

During that war, a number of U.S. COs at the U.S. Marine Camp LeJeune in North Carolina were “beaten, harassed and treated horribly,” Gavlin says. In some cases, COs were put on planes bound for Kuwait, told that they could not apply for CO status or that they could only apply after they’d already gone to war. ” AlterNet [via Brooke, who shares my sense of the importance of tracking this underreported trend]

Administration moves ahead on nuclear ‘bunker busters’: “Demonstrating a significant shift in America’s nuclear strategy, the Bush administration intends to produce — not just research — a thermonuclear bunker-busting bomb to destroy hardened, deeply buried targets, the Pentagon has acknowledged for the first time.

The weapon — known as the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator — would be a full-power hydrogen bomb that would throw up enormous clouds of radioactive dust while wreaking large-scale damage and death if used in an urban area. It would be thousands of times more powerful than the conventional ‘bunker busters’ dropped on Baghdad in an attempt to kill former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.” San Jose Mercury

GOP letting Santorum twist in the wind?

“National and statewide Republican officials willing to comment are supporting U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., as he defends comments equating gay relationships with bestiality and with priests molesting teens.

His remarks stirred a public furor. Some Democrats, liberals and gay rights groups have called for Santorum’s ouster as third-ranking Republican in the U.S. Senate leadership. Critics also said his remarks were inappropriate, coming from the state’s most powerful Republican.

But Santorum’s defenders are under a gag order. Officials at the White House and Republican National Committee told GOP insiders yesterday, by conference call, voice mail and e-mail not to comment about Santorum’s comments, letting him speak for himself.”

I ‘m sure many GOP fellow travellers believe much the same as Santorum, but are starting to realize how unclever it is to let on in public until you’ve assured yourself none of the infamous, reviled ‘liberal press’ are there to hear.

Addendum: It would seem Dubya is not so smart, in case you were wondering. Yahoo! News

On the other hand, my analysis may not be so astute. GOP officials may not feel that Santorum is in the same kind of trouble Lott was. They may be telling supporters to stay mum so they don’t cross a line that he stayed shy of. He’s safe, they should take care that they remain so too. That’s essentially what editor Dan Savage suggests in an op-ed piece in the New York Times the other day. Outrage about Santorum may be impotent rage.

Blair’s secret war meetings with Clinton:

“Tony Blair took repeated secret advice from the former American president Bill Clinton on how to unlock the diplomatic impasse between Europe and the US in the build-up to the war on Iraq, the Guardian can reveal.

In the crucial weekend before to the final breakdown of diplomacy in March, Mr Clinton was a guest of Mr Blair’s at Chequers where the pair discussed the crisis.

Mr Blair was battling to persuade the Chilean president Ricardo Lagos – a key figure on the security council – to back a second UN resolution setting a new deadline for Saddam to cooperate fully with the UN or face military action.

Three days after his Chequers meeting, Mr Clinton made a rare public appeal to his successor, George Bush, to give the UN weapons inspectors more time.

Mr Blair and Mr Clinton met at least three times to discuss the war, underlining the extent to which Mr Blair rates Mr Clinton’s analytical powers, despite the bond of trust he has also formed with the Republican White House.” Guardian/UK

Pale Riders Who Wear Black Hats:

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“In the old days, the good guys wore white. Now Hollywood’s villains are turning pale, and real-life albinos are crying foul as movies like The Matrix: Reloaded arrive with a fresh supply of pigment-challenged bad guys.

The silver-clad, dreadlocked Matrix villains known as The Twins are the latest Hollywood incarnations of pale-skinned people as evil incarnate, said Dr. Vail Reese, a San Francisco dermatologist and creator of, a cheeky website that examines skin disorders in film.” Wired

Northern Iraq: Civilian Deaths Higher Since War Ended

“The number of civilians killed or wounded since the war ended in northern Iraq is higher than it was during the conflict, Human Rights Watch said today.

Extensive research at five hospitals and morgues in Kirkuk and Mosul suggests that the high civilian tolls can be attributed to general lawlessness after the collapse of local authorities; the ready availability of weapons and ammunition; and the vast stores of ammunition and ammunition components left behind by the Iraqi military, including landmines, rocket-propelled grenades, and other explosives.

Many of the victims have been children who play with explosives or pick up unexploded ordinance (UXO) as toys and sustain serious injuries as a result.” Human Rights Watch press release

Kapor’s latest caper:

Peer-to-peer Outlook competitor released: “The embryonic software uses the information-sharing power of distributed networks to challenge Microsoft’s popular program.” New Scientist.

Here’s a link to Chandler, ver. 0.1, via the Open Software Foundation. “The 0.1 release is a very early, partial implementation of parts of Chandler… Release 0.1 is not intended to demonstrate a complete feature set, a final UI, security mechanisms, a final database or schema, or be ready for end-user deployment.”

Breastfeeding is now kiddie porn:

1-Hour Arrest: “Jacqueline Mercado, a 33-year-old Peruvian immigrant, took a few photos of her young children at bath time. A week later, Richardson police were rummaging through her house for kiddie porn, and a state child welfare worker came to take her kids away.” Dallas Observer [via walker]

The Silence About September 11:

“It is telling…that no one in that administration has made an effort to put 9/11 into the historical context to which it belongs. Why such an oversight? Perhaps the folks in the administration believe Americans too dull-witted to comprehend the complex Cold War motivations that gave birth to Osama bin Laden and the Taliban. Perhaps they are afraid to speak of such things, because it suggests that we inadvertently bought the trouble that came two Septembers ago to find us.

Then again, perhaps the administration was engaged in similar gamesmanship before 9/11. Perhaps they are afraid to address the issue at all. The nomination of Kissinger to the 9/11 committee certainly suggests a desire on the administration’s part to never, ever, ever have the facts of that attack come fully to light. They do not want people to know that Brzezinski’s actions in 1979, and the naiveté regarding the potential blowback from his decisions he displayed in 1998, was compounded by the actions of the Bush administration in 2001. Brzezinski asked in his interview what was more important in 1979: Ending the Cold War or creating the Taliban? In the early days of the Bush administration, a similar question was certainly asked – what is more important in 2001: Gaining access to an incredibly lucrative energy supply, or the dangers of threatening the Taliban?” — William Rivers Pitt, truthout

The Encyclopaedia of Stupidity

by Matthijs van Boxsel, trans. Arnold & Erica Pomerans,' cannot be displayed]


“Since the foolish outnumber the wise, the dominion of the dumb is assured. (the reviewer) would have enjoyed this inventory of idiocy even more were it not for some stupid oversights…” Independent/UK

The cult of Lacan:

The career of Jacques Lacan is one of the most remarkable phenomena in twentieth century intellectual history. Until 1966, when, at the age of 65, he published his Ecrits, very few people outside a small group of Parisian intellectuals were aware of his existence. Even within the psychoanalytic movement he was very much a minor figure, an eccentric psychiatrist with a taste for surrealism who had made no significant contribution to psychoanalytic theory and who was known, if he was known at all, for his stubborn refusal to conform to the therapeutic guidelines laid down by Freud.

During the 1960s, however, Lacan emerged from obscurity and began to be lionised by a number of French literary intellectuals. Although he remained virtually unrecognised by analysts outside France, his theories became immensely fashionable in university literature departments. By the 1980s Lacanian theory had become all but synonymous with psychoanalysis in countless humanities departments throughout Europe and America. In such academic departments Freud was studied, if he was studied at all, not so much because he was the originator of psychoanalysis but because he was the precursor of Lacan. Lacanian theory was regarded as the only modern and ideologically correct form of psychoanalysis and Freud was treated either as the inventor of a crude prototype or as a God who was to be revered in principle but ignored in practice. So massive was the prestige which Lacan had achieved outside the psychoanalytic movement by the time of his death in 1981 that psychoanalysts, who for a long time had continued to treat him as a marginal figure, were all but compelled to recognise his importance. For many literary intellectuals Lacan remains one of the greatest thinkers of the twentieth century. By some others the rise of Lacan is regarded as a shameful indictment of the intellectual standards which prevail in American and European universities and an affront both to science and reason.

I’ve always loved someone who can proclaim loudly how naked the emperor is, especially when I agree. I studied Lacan’s works as part of my training and thought I was simple because I could only grasp a few concepts in his whole body of theory — and found them trivial. As the essayist points out, this was often the experience of those who did not come under his electrifying spell by seeing him lecture ‘live.’ Should his ideas be coherent as they stand on their own in writing? Ultimately, I came to see most adherents as tragically misled or ridiculously pompous for the depths they imagine they saw in Lacanian theory. Freudian theory works this way too — or, I should say, works or does not work. Its value is not its truth but its nonfalsifiability. If the Freudian or the Lacanian can bring someone under their spell and enlist them in sharing their reality, the beliefs become self-fulfilling. Often this depends on the charisma of the theoretician. The beauty of this is that it turns the searching, doubting distress of the seeker into utter certainty that they have made, and will continue to make, coherent sense of their world. I suppose, when it does not work, there is a certain appeal to the idea that the theory may succeed in making utter nonsense of the world…

Don’t even think about it:

Book Review: “In Women Who Think Too Much (Henry Holt and Co., $24), author Susan Nolen-Hoeksema contends that overthinking — a psychological dysfunction residing somewhere between normal worry and obessive-compulsive disorder — wreaks havoc in the lives of many women (and more than a few men).” Dallas-Ft Worth Star Telegram

Words Get in the Way:

Talk is cheap, but it can tax your memory: “Law-enforcement officials typically solicit descriptions of criminals from eyewitnesses, often just after an offense has occurred. It stands to reason that thorough accounts by those who saw what happened will help investigators round up the likeliest suspects. Eyewitnesses can then pick the criminals out of a lineup. When crime-scene interviewing had its first brush with memory research in 1990, however, the results proved disturbing. A series of laboratory studies found that memories for a mock criminal’s face were much poorer among eyewitnesses who had described what the perpetrator looked like shortly after seeing him, compared with those who hadn’t.” Science News

Why women smile:

‘Women, as a rule, smile more than men, but the difference between the sexes disappears depending on the circumstances.

For women, smiling is the default option. For men, the default is not smiling.

“If you don’t know what to do and you’re a female you smile because you know you’re not making a mistake. If you’re a man, you don’t smile,” says Marianne LaFrance, a psychology professor at Yale University.

In the largest analysis of smile studies ever done, LaFrance and her colleagues evaluated research involving nearly 110,000 people, finding many variations in smiling behavior.’

Top US State department official calls Gingrich an Idiot:

US Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Elizabeth Jones was asked to comment on Gingrich’s recent harsh criticism of her department’s Middle East diplomacy.

“Newt Gingrich does not speak in the name of the Pentagon and what he said is garbage,” US Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Elizabeth Jones told the Publico daily.

“What Gingrich says does not interest me. He is an idiot and you can publish that,” she added.

Gingrich called on Tuesday for dramatic change at the State Department, which he accused of backing Middle East dictators and undermining the policies of President George W. Bush… AFP/Yahoo! News [via truthout]

Another U.S. Diplomatic Triumph:

N Korea talks over: Powell

“They should not leave this series of discussions that have been held in Beijing with the slightest impression that the United States and its partners and the nations in the region will be intimidated by bellicose statements or by threats or actions they think might get them more attention or might force us to make a concession that we would not otherwise make,” he said. (Need I translate? Only the U.S. is permitted to attempt to intimidate with such bellicose threats, since we’re the only superpower.)

In Case You Were Wondering Dept. II:

Annan Labels Coalition ‘Occupying Force’: ‘U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan called Thursday on the U.S.-led coalition to respect international law as the “occupying power” in Iraq, drawing immediate ire from U.S. officials.

“I hope the coalition will set an example by making clear that they intend to act strictly within the rules” governing occupations, Annan told the U.N. Human Rights Commission.’ Seattle Post-Intelligencer

In Case You Were Wondering Dept III:

Corporate Vultures Swoop Into the Killing Fields: “Iraq is going to hell. Shiites are killing Sunnis, Kurds are killing Arabs and Islamists are killing secular Baathists. Baghdad, the cradle of human civilization, has been left to looters and rapists. As in Beirut during the ’70s, neighborhood zones are separated by checkpoints manned by armed tribesmen. The war has, however, managed to unite Iraqis in one respect: everyone loathes the United States.” — Ted Rail

The Fix Is In –

Programmers can stop Internet worms. Will they?

Building a brick wall for worms seems like an obvious improvement, but to make it work, de Raadt’s team had to rethink the entire way the operating system allocates and uses memory. It changes the way programs are compiled, and it slows down the computer’s performance (by only a few percentage points, de Raadt claims). Worst of all, it requires other techies to rewrite parts of mission-critical applications, update operating systems, and possibly reinstall the operating system on every one of their company’s computers in order to put the fix into place.

Such an upgrade could cost thousands of dollars for a small company, millions for a big one. Not to mention that any engineer knows that fixing one bug can introduce another, and “don’t break my applications” is an IT manager’s prime directive. That’s why no one’s bothered to stop buffer overflows—not even as an option—for the past 15 years. But the cost of refusing the cure keeps getting higher. In 1988, the Morris worm knocked out only a few geek enclaves. This past January, Slammer grounded airline flights, put 911 callers on hold, and shut down 900 computers at the Department of Defense.

That kind of threat led the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to underwrite a $2.3 million grant to OpenBSD in 2001 as part of a search for crack-proof computers. But DARPA withdrew its funding last week, allegedly because of an interview with the Globe and Mail in which de Raadt veered from explaining his team’s new code to call the war in Iraq an oil grab. Slate

Hu really runs China?

“…(T)he political crisis that erupted in China this week—the sacking of two officials for covering up the extent of SARS, the government’s admission that it had mismanaged the emergency, and its subsequent apology for doing so—taught China-watchers two lessons about Hu Jintao: He controls more of the Chinese Communist Party than many had previously believed, and he controls less of China than you may have thought.” Slate

‘Protest cola’ targets Muslims

Is it ‘the real thing’?

A Derbyshire company is launching a range of “Muslim-friendly” drinks as part of a backlash against American brands including Coca-Cola.

The Qibla Cola Company claims its products are an alternative for people who “reject injustice and exploitation” and as a means of protesting against what it calls the “colonial” administration of President Bush.

Its decision to launch a range of drinks comes months after a French company launched Mecca Cola in a bid to cash in on anti-US sentiment among Muslims. Guardian/UK

Spiritual Refugee:

Junko Chodos: “In a society that does not allow for the existence of individuality, the effort to become an individual invites persecution. Although this sort of persecution is not as visible as political persecution it is nevertheless fatal to one’s spiritual being, so the persecuted person becomes an exile. One usually goes into this sort of exile only after a sustained battle against the cultural system in which one’s whole life is wrapped up. The battle is painful. Wounded and bleeding, one becomes an exile. These people I call “spiritual refugees”; I consider myself one of them.” CrossCurrents

Weapons of Mass Confusion —

A Security Strategy Doomed to Failure: “Whatever the merits of the case for war against Iraq, the terms of debate about the Bush administration’s larger strategy are flawed. The new emphasis on WMD has not been accompanied by any serious public discussion of the differences among such weapons. A security strategy that fails to acknowledge those differences and their consequences for U.S. foreign and military policies is doomed to failure—in Iraq and elsewhere.” — Owen R. Cote, Jr., Boston Review

Also: Stakes high for White House in arms search: Too early for criticism, administration insists. DenverPost In other words: ‘Just you wait.’ I have said repeatedly that, if clandestine arms are found, the sociopathic dysadministration will announce their ‘discovery’ when it is coincidentally most politically opportune to deflect mounting denunciation.

Smart Heuristics:

“Isn’t more information always better?” asks Gerd Gigerenzer.

…Gigerenzer provides an alternative to the view of the mind as a cognitive optimizer, and also to its mirror image, the mind as a cognitive miser. The fact that people ignore information has been often mistaken as a form of irrationality, and shelves are filled with books that explain how people routinely commit cognitive fallacies. In seven years of research, he, and his research team at Center for Adaptive Behavior and Cognition at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin, have worked out what he believes is a viable alternative: the study of fast and frugal decision-making, that is, the study of smart heuristics people actually use to make good decisions. In order to make good decisions in an uncertain world, one sometimes has to ignore information. The art is knowing what one doesn’t have to know. The Edge

Eric Harris Admitted Homicidal and Suicidal Thoughts

To this day, the authorities want us to believe that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold showed absolutely no signs of being violent before they and others unknown (and officially unacknowledged) committed the Columbine massacre, the bloodiest school shooting in US history.

We’ve already seen that just two months before the killings, Harris turned in a graphic short story about a massacre as a school assignment.

The three documents below are from Harris’ juvenile diversion file. They were sent to The Memory Hole by Randy Brown, a Columbine parent and a member of the Columbine Records Review Task Force. In them, Harris tells the authorities that he has homicidal and suicidal thoughts, and his parents reveal that their son has suicidal thoughts. The Memory Hole

R.I.P. Nina

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Jazz great Nina Simone dies at 70: “Nina Simone, the jazz great whose rapsy, forceful voice helped define the civil rights movement, died Monday at her home in France, according to her U.S. booking agent. She was 70.

Though she remained a top concert draw in her later years, she was quite frail… At a 2001 concert at Carnegie Hall, she had to be helped to the stage, and was later seen sitting backstage in a wheelchair.” AP/Salon I listen all the time to a compilation CD I made from my scratchy Simone LPs on the very day I first learned how to burn CDs. From the joyousness of ‘Here Comes the Sun’ to the plodding, inexorable anguish of ‘Just Like a Woman’, Simone’s jazz chops were not at all trivialized by covering pop tunes, which coinhabit the Simone heights for me with ‘I Need a Little Sugar…’ and ‘Mississippi Goddamn’.

Also: Nina Simone: The End of an Era. BBC

Embedded in Washington:

When it comes to the mainstream media, embedded journalism is hardly a new phenomenon. In fact, collusion is its most essential nature, argues writer and editor Tom Englehardt in Mother Jones (in language that makes it sound inspired by the renewed fever over the Matrix sequel, it seems to me):

It may seem that the Pentagon invented “embedding” for the war in Iraq. The media has certainly reported the phenomenon that way. But it’s worth remembering how ordinary a phenomenon embedding actually is. The world is largely brought to us, here in these United States, by the deeply embedded, complete with a deeply embedded worldview and little consciousness of the rules by which the embedees live and work. It works so much better that way, when no one bothers to point out the problems, and no one even thinks that you might be an embedee.

And, speaking of the extent of collusion:

On April 21, New York Times reporter Judith Miller broke what appeared to be one the most important stories since the war in Iraq began. In a piece that ran on the paper’s front page, Ms. Miller reported that a scientist in Saddam Hussein’s chemical-weapons program, in speaking to U.S military investigators, had claimed that Iraq had destroyed illicit weapons in the days leading up the war.

The revelation was huge news because if the scientist’s claims were true, they supported President Bush’s stated rationale for the war: that Iraq was a menace to world peace because it was secretly harboring chemical and biological weapons.

But the deal Ms. Miller made to get her piece was wildly peculiar, and it provoked concern not only among the usual journalism ethics hand-wringers, but also among her colleagues at The Times. New York Observer

Cairo buzzes with rumors about Hussein

“He was spirited out of the country by the CIA, which agreed to alter his appearance and identity in exchange for a quick military surrender to U.S. forces.

The Russian ambassador ferried him to Moscow via Syria in a car, which could explain why U.S. forces reportedly attacked a diplomatic convoy headed to Damascus.

He made a secret deal with the Americans to trade his life and the lives of his family and top aides in return for the safe release of seven American prisoners of war.

Saddam Hussein has vanished, and his top deputies and their families have fled. With their whereabouts unknown, Cairo’s rumor mill is churning out conspiracy theories by the dozens, mostly involving clandestine plots with the U.S. government.” Sunspot

Related: Steve Perry: The Buyout of Baghdad?: “Tales of a secret arrangement between the Bushies and the Republican Guard persist.” From dubious sources, to be sure, but Perry feels suggestive evidence is beginning to accumulate.

What happened to Iraq’s army?

“The whole issue of Iraqi soldiers — how many died or were wounded, how many deserted or fought to the end, where they are now — is surrounded by a veil of secrecy. Neither the U.S. forces in Iraq nor the Iraqis themselves seem to be willing to delve into it too deep. As a result, conspiracy theories about Iraq’s defeat, involving either treason or the U.S. use of ‘low-level nuclear devices,’ abound.” Salon

For 2004, Bush’s Aides Plan Late Sprint for Re-election:

“President Bush’s advisers have drafted a re-election strategy built around staging the latest nominating convention in the party’s history, allowing Mr. Bush to begin his formal campaign near the third anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks and to enhance his fund-raising advantage, Republicans close to the White House say.” NY Times If this man’s insidious handlers succeed in co-opting the memory of the WTC victims for their purposes, it will rank as one of the most heartless maneuvers in the sordid history of American gutter politics. But will its hearlessness be matched by the Democrats’ gutlessness in failing to respond effectively?

Fellowship finances townhouse where 6 congressmen live:

“Six members of Congress live in a million-dollar Capitol Hill townhouse that is subsidized by a secretive religious organization, tax records show.

The lawmakers, all of whom are Christian, pay low rent to live in the stately red brick, three-story house on C Street, two blocks from the Capitol. It is maintained by a group, alternately known as the ”Fellowship” and the ”Foundation,” that brings together world leaders and elected officials through religion.” The Tennessean

In a chilling article from Harper’s, Jeffrey Sharlet (of killing the buddha) infiltrates the secret theocrats.

The Family is, in its own words, an “invisible” association, though its membership has always consisted mostly of public men. Senators Don Nickles (R., Okla.), Charles Grassley (R., Iowa), Pete Domenici (R., N.Mex.), John Ensign (R., Nev.), James Inhofe (R., Okla.), Bill Nelson (D., Fla.), and Conrad Burns (R., Mont.) are referred to as “members,” as are Representatives Jim DeMint (R., S.C.), Frank Wolf (R., Va.), Joseph Pitts (R., Pa.), Zach Wamp (R., Tenn.), and Bart Stupak (D., Mich.). Regular prayer groups have met in the Pentagon and at the Department of Defense, and the Family has traditionally fostered strong ties with businessmen in the oil and aerospace industries. The Family maintains a closely guarded database of its associates, but it issues no cards, collects no official dues. Members are asked not to speak about the group or its activities.

The organization has operated under many guises, some active, some defunct: National Committee for Christian Leadership, International Christian Leadership, the National Leadership Council, Fellowship House, the Fellowship Foundation, the National Fellowship Council, the International Foundation. These groups are intended to draw attention away from the Family, and to prevent it from becoming, in the words of one of the Family’s leaders, “a target for misunderstanding.”* The Family’s only publicized gathering is the National Prayer Breakfast, which it established in 1953 and which, with congressional sponsorship, it continues to organize every February in Washington, D.C. Each year 3,000 dignitaries, representing scores of nations, pay $425 each to attend. Steadfastly ecumenical, too bland most years to merit much press, the breakfast is regarded by the Family as merely a tool in a larger purpose: to recruit the powerful attendees into smaller, more frequent prayer meetings, where they can “meet Jesus man to man.”

Brian Doherty criticizes the article in Reason‘s online site both for its “imitable Harper’s style” and its suggestion that we should worry about The Family’s adulation for Hitler’s efficacy as an organizer. This, for me, is a red herring issue, since Bush’s forces have already proven themselves far more masterful at orchestrating — if you’ll pardon the mixing of the metaphors — an Unholy Alliance between the pitifully limited political vision of the Christian Right and the morally vacuous Machiavellian neocon pseudo-intelectuals.

A Nation Lost:

‘Beware of war as an organizing principle of society. It should be a source of alarm, not pride, that the United States is drawing such cohesive sustenance from the war in Iraq.

Photographic celebrations of our young warriors, glorifications of released American prisoners, heroic rituals of the war dead all take on the character of crass exploitation of the men and women in uniform. First they were forced into a dubious circumstance, and now they are themselves being mythologized as its main post-facto justification — as if the United States went to Iraq not to seize Saddam (disappeared), or to dispose of weapons of mass destruction (missing), or to save the Iraqi people (chaos), but ”to support the troops.” War thus becomes its own justification. Such confusion on this grave point, as on the others, signifies a nation lost.’ — James Carroll, Boston Globe [via CommonDreams]

Party Patrol:

A new anti-drug law could spoil your summer fun.

Two weeks ago, the House and Senate quietly passed the Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act of 2003—legislation aimed at quelling club drugs like Ecstasy and GHB. Ushered through with little fanfare, the act was piggybacked onto the AMBER Alert Bill, a package of child-safety laws with overwhelming congressional support. President Bush has promised to sign it into law in the upcoming weeks. But despite serious grassroots opposition spearheaded by organizations like the Electronic Music Defense and Education Fund, the bill passed without a Senate hearing. “It was backdoor legislation at its worst,” says William McColl, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, a group that lobbies for drug decriminalization.

The act expands upon the so-called “crack house” statute—an ’80s law allowing prosecutors to go after the owners of “crack houses,” even if they’re neither dealers nor users. In 2001, the DEA broke ground by aiming the crack house statute at a new target—the owners and promoters of a concert venue, the State Palace Theater in New Orleans. A teenage drug overdose spurred the investigation, and the defendants were indicted for “knowingly and intentionally” allowing drug use to take place…A year later, a federal judge overturned the ban on the grounds that it violated First Amendment rights. Village Voice

The Ethics of Uplift:

“There is a slim window of opportunity somewhere in the next fifty years when we will either create entities more capable than ourselves or become them. If we close off the paths to superhumanity, others will take them or create beings to fill those opening niches. If we halt human genetic engineering, if we ban research into brain-machine interfacing, if we outlaw smart drugs and place restraints on intellectual collectives, then something without those restraints will expand into those niches. And they are not the small closed niches, the crevices in rocks or dark undisturbed caves. The only equivalent in evolutionary terms is the colonisation of dry land thousands of millions of year ago. The landscapes beyond humanity are empty now. Whatever colonises them will face immense challenges but will also have the space to expand to become whatever it wants.” — Philip Tung Yep

Dano, I Hardly Knew Ye…

Blogger’s been completely rewritten. This blindsided me; I hadn’t caught wind of this ‘Dano’ project and now it’s upon us. I remain dubious however. Although I have been wedded to Blogger (partly because my webhost doesn’t allow for Movable Type and I’m too lazy to switch hosts), I’ve been impatient with the bugs and the sluggish support. Even though I’m a paying (“blogger Pro”) customer (therefore supposed to get VIP treatment). Perhaps it has been because they were secretly devoting their time and energy to this new development project. Let us hope it is because of and not in spite of that… Let’s see how Dano’s shakedown cruise goes. (The FAQ doesn’t tell us where they got the name, though…)

The Other Future:

Via Danny O’Brien’s Oblomovka: “Trotskyist libertarian science fiction writer and Denis-Healey-level political bruiser Ken Macleod just got himself a blog. I’ve always said that if the neocons didn’t exist, Ken Macleod would have to invent them. I wonder what happens now they’re all in the same online novel?”


America: a country where ridiculous proportions of the population believe they were created by god, abducted by aliens, and attacked by Iraq. Also where some people believe that someone who burns a paper drawing of a US flag is as good as asking to be crushed under a bulldozer. It’s not just the Right. Every political persuasion in the US contains many more stupid people than it or its equivalent does in Europe. On the Left Bank of the Seine you see poststructuralists smoking, flirting, and eating veal. Poststructuralism in America gave us La-La Land liberal toytown totalitarianism. French Maoism gave us Sartre and Althusser. American Maoism gave us Klonsky and Avakian. (I could go on.)

I know, like, and respect lots of Americans. Most of the weblogs I follow are written by Americans. Many of the books I read are written by Americans. But this particular distribution curve has a long tail at the low end. Why? The answer I’ve come up with, after some agonising over that question, is this:

Not because Americans are more stupid than anyone else, but because there is no American party of the Left. There is no labour (labor) party. There is no liberal party. (On any scale that registers, I mean. There are Liberal and Labor parties here and there.) The Democratic Party isn’t a liberal party. It has liberals within it, which is a different thing. Nor is it a labour party, though it gets support from organised labour.

This means that the American Right can indulge in lying and character assassination with almost as much impunity as if it dominated a one-party state. And it means that the American Left either buries itself in the Democratic Party, where it’s treated as an embarrassment, or spins its wheels with a complete lack of social traction (in academia or in tiny irrelevant sects) and embarrasses itself.

GOP leaders furious with Frist

This could be an exciting sign of fractiousness in the Republican majority. Inexperienced Senate majority leader Bill Frist, eager to balance all interests and have the Senate start its Easter recess on time, not only accepted limits on Bush’s requested tax cuts but failed to announce it before taking off last week. He has raised the ire of Republican leaders in both the House and Senate and grassroots figures including freshman senator Lindsey Graham (R.-SC) who, in 1997, led the rebellion against House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Chicago Sun-Times

What might the universe have to say to Shrub right now?

Hint: It ain’t exactly fan mail

Let’s get to the point. All sources are telling me that you are more than a little outta control. Way out of line. Off-leash and lost and drunk on dreams of global supremacy and in deep need of major karmic spanking, a divine colonic. The various world deities are shooting me urgent e-mails left and right. We gotta have some words, brother. Are you sitting down? Thinking cap on? Pretzels out of reach? Excellent.

Word is you’re reborn Christian. Great. Didn’t quite get it right the first time, is what they say, what with all the inebriants and daddy’s silver spoon and dodging Vietnam and, hey, nothing snags those God-fearin’-fundamentalist votes more than claiming you rediscovered Jesus while recovering from another gin bender on Dad’s yacht, am I right? Fine and good. Whatever works, I always say.

Problem is, Jesus is a little piqued. He’s right here with me, right now, and he’s drumming his fingers on the table, eyes aflame. He has a question: “Just what in the heck do you think you’re doing in my dad’s name? Did you miss the part about ‘Thou shalt not kill?’ You dare invoke me and my father and call yourself a forgiving Christian and yet you stomp around the globe like you own it?” Christ, he is not happy. [more] — Mark Morford, San Francisco Chronicle [via walker]

Where’s bin Laden? Where’s Saddam? Where are the weapons?

U.S. digs, searches in vain for Iraqi chemical weapons Reuters

The American public doesn’t seem to care if there were ever any weapons, but finding them would sure be nice for American credibility in the eyes of the rest of the world. However, that doesn’t matter to the world’s only superpower anymore, does it?

Office workers give away passwords for a cheap pen:

“The second annual survey into office scruples, conducted by the people organising this month’s InfoSecurity Europe 2003 conference, found that office workers have learnt very little about IT security in the past year.

If anything, people are even more lax about security than they were a year ago, the survey found.

Nine in ten (90 per cent) of office workers at London’s Waterloo Station gave away their computer password for a cheap pen, compared with 65 per cent last year.” The Register [thanks, walker]

A new kind of literacy:

on the widening gulf between the science cognoscenti and Everyone Else : “Once we have a society where science is as exciting as football, and where attending a science lecture or debate is as relevant and fun as going to the cinema, only then will we be truly empowered as a society to harness science for what we want in life, rather than the other way round.” — Susan Greenfield, director of the Royal Institution and professor of pharmacology at Oxford University, Guardian/UK

Debunking the Beaver:

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“…(N)ostalgia buffs should look a little more closely before embracing the Cleavers as the ideal family they never had (and can’t hope to duplicate) because, when you penetrate the idyllic surface, it’s hard to imagine anyone really wanting to be like Ward, June and the boys. A close inspection reveals a familial purgatory worthy of Tennessee Williams–toned down for TV, certainly, but still consumed with rage, sexual turmoil and plain old mendacity. This family needs help.”

Annals of Depravity (cont’d.):

I’ll second what rebecca said:

‘Two California poultry farmers who fed some 30,000 live chickens into wood chippers will not face criminal charges because they had permission from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, prosecutors said on Friday.’ Brooke says it best:

Tell Ann Veneman, the head of the Dept. of Agriculture, that you think that’s deeply fucked up, won’t you? Call her at (202) 720-2791 or email her at

Update: DA to continue inquiry:

After receiving calls, letters and e-mails from across the country, District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis yesterday decided to continue investigating two poultry ranches where workers dumped thousands of live chickens into wood chippers.

Investigators will conduct additional interviews so Dumanis can decide whether to reverse an earlier decision not to prosecute ranch owners Arie and Bill Wilgenburg for animal cruelty.

Gail Stewart, district attorney spokeswoman, said Dumanis decided to reconsider after she received a letter from the Humane Society of the United States. Sign On San Diego

The Second Superpower:

“As the United States government becomes more belligerent in using its power in the world, many people are longing for a “second superpower” that can keep the US in check. Indeed, many people desire a superpower that speaks for the interests of planetary society, for long-term well-being, and that encourages broad participation in the democratic process. Where can the world find such a second superpower? No nation or group of nations seems able to play this role, although the European Union sometimes seeks to, working in concert with a variety of institutions in the field of international law, including the United Nations. But even the common might of the European nations is barely a match for the current power of the United States.

There is an emerging second superpower, but it is not a nation. Instead, it is a new form of international player, constituted by the “will of the people” in a global social movement. The beautiful but deeply agitated face of this second superpower is the worldwide peace campaign, but the body of the movement is made up of millions of people concerned with a broad agenda that includes social development, environmentalism, health, and human rights. This movement has a surprisingly agile and muscular body of citizen activists who identify their interests with world society as a whole—and who recognize that at a fundamental level we are all one. These are people who are attempting to take into account the needs and dreams of all 6.3 billion people in the world—and not just the members of one or another nation. Consider the members of Amnesty International who write letters on behalf of prisoners of conscience, and the millions of Americans who are participating in email actions against the war in Iraq. Or the physicians who contribute their time to Doctors Without Borders/ Medecins Sans Frontieres.” — James Moore

Bright Light Exposure Increases Male Hormone:

‘Researchers at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) School of Medicine have found that the levels of a pituitary hormone that increases testosterone are enhanced after exposure to bright light in the early morning. The findings suggest that light exposure might serve some of the same functions for which people take testosterone and other androgens.

One of the study’s authors, Daniel Kripke, M.D. UCSD professor of psychiatry, added “the study also supports data that bright light can trigger ovulation in women, which is also controlled by luteinizing hormone (LH), the pituitary hormone we studied.” ‘ I wondered, reading this article (but not the actual scientific research paper) if the effect would persist with chronic rather than short term light exposure and whether, for example, there would be a biological difference between high-latitude and equatorial dwellers in this respect.

The impact of antisocial lifestyle on health:

A good summary of the current medical-psychological understanding of ASP (antisocial personality) and its consequences:

An antisocial lifestyle comprises a range of related behaviours that include violent and non-violent offending, substance misuse, truancy, reckless driving, and sexual promiscuity, some of which constitute self evident health risks. Overall, onset peaks at 8-14 years, prevalence peaks at 15-19, and desistance peaks at 20-29 years of age. Early onset predicts a long antisocial career. Since antisocial behaviour and risk taking is more prevalent in men, explanations may be biological as well as social. Antisocial individuals tend to be versatile in their behaviours, although early adulthood is characterised by a switch from group offending to lone offending. Overall, diversification in antisocial behaviours is seen up to the age of about 20, followed by gradual specialisation in particular types of antisocial behaviours, such as illicit use of drugs.

Independent precursors of an antisocial lifestyle include antisocial child behaviour, impulsivity, school failure, an antisocial family, poor parenting, and economic deprivation. Turning points away from an antisocial lifestyle include getting a job, getting married, moving to a better area, and joining the army. Weak bonds to society and individuals, self centredness, low empathy, and lack of religious belief are all associated with substance misuse and an antisocial lifestyle.

The impact of an antisocial lifestyle on health is increasingly well understood. For example, early contact with the police, truancy, school misconduct, and divorce are significant predictors of premature death. Higher death rates among offenders have been attributed largely to concurrent alcohol and illicit use of drugs. Impulsivity, aggression, alienation, and a tendency to experience anger and irritability in response to daily life hassles characterise those taking single health risks: rejection of social norms, danger seeking, impulsivity, and little need or capacity for relationships with other people have been found to characterise those taking multiple health risks. — Shepherd and Farrington, British Medical Journal 326 (7394): 834

Why the Web Will Win the Culture Wars for the Left:

“The architecture of the web, and the way users navigate it, closely resembles theories about the authority and coherence of texts that liberal deconstructionist critics have offered for thirty years. Deconstructionists believe that close analysis reduces any text — novel, statute, religious work — to meaningless blather. The popular response to deconstruction has always been that it’s counterintuitive, that no one reads that way, that it lacks common sense.

That will change. Like reading or breathing, web browsing itself is agnostic with respect to politics and culture. Unlike reading or breathing, however, surfing mimics a postmodern, deconstructionist perspective by undermining the authority of texts. Anyone who has spent a lot of time online, particularly the very young, will find themselves thinking about content — articles, texts, pictures — in ways that would be familiar to any deconstructionist critic. And a community of citizens who think like Jacques Derrida will not be a particularly conservative one.” — Peter Lurie, ctheory [via wood s lot]

What is Peter Falk Doing in Wings of Desire? I’m also indebted to Mark for pointing me to this delightful essay, re-enlivening one of my favorite films for me. Read it if you loved Wings… or if you’re prepared to.

We the Blog:

…in order to form a more artistic union — ‘a bold, new initiative to re-activate the ideals of democracy through discussion among artists, cultural critics and other creative people who are “repositioning themselves as new leaders in the governance of this planet, particularly in these times of crisis,” according to Founder Jeff Gates.’

“Perhaps the imagination is on the verge of recovering its rights.” — André Bréton

"Speech for the End of Time":

Secretary Randall M. Packer of the US Department of Art & Technology will conclude his nationwide tour at Johns Hopkins University in Washington, DC to deliver the “Speech for the End of Time.” The event will be a direct response to war cries from the Administration that are leading us quickly and inevitably down the path to a day of reckoning.

In Secretary Packer’s tour – which has included Los Angeles, Boulder, and New York City – he has announced the activation of the Experimental Party, the artist-based political party, the “party of experimentation,” and its latest initiative, “10,000 Acts of Artistic Mediation.”

In the “Speech for the End of Time,” Secretary Packer will call on coalition artists to “inspire other artists into action by undergoing aesthetic operation as a form of magic designed as a mediation between our strange hostile world and the human spirit.” For more than 100 years, the avant-garde has gone forth from its studios and garrets to fight for utopian aspirations and social transformation. Today’s artists have entered a fierce struggle against a grave danger, the existential darkness that has possessed our government, that grips its soul.

For according to William Burroughs, “Weapons that change consciousness could call the war game in question.”

Human clones doomed?

“Whether or not rogue scientists could clone a human is hotly debated. After 6 years trying, on over 700 monkey eggs, Gerald Schatten of the University of Pittsburgh says not.

The current technique, his team conclude, robs primate eggs of proteins they need to survive. The ‘nuclear transfer’ procedure used to create Dolly the sheep “paralyses the egg”, Schatten says. Key proteins are sucked out when the egg is stripped of its DNA to be replaced with genetic material from another cell.” Nature

Our ancestors had brains – for dinner.

Our ancestors may have eaten each other’s brains.

A new study has found genes that offer protection from prion diseases, such as Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD), in populations on four continents. This spread might be an evolutionary response to the dangers of cannibalism.” Nature

A new kind of literacy:

on the widening gulf between the science cognoscenti and Everyone Else : “Once we have a society where science is as exciting as football, and where attending a science lecture or debate is as relevant and fun as going to the cinema, only then will we be truly empowered as a society to harness science for what we want in life, rather than the other way round.” — Susan Greenfield, director of the Royal Institution and professor of pharmacology at Oxford University, Guardian/UK

The battle for American science:

“Creationists, pro-lifers and conservatives now pose a serious threat to research and science teaching in the US…

One of the first signs that something was changing came in March last year in the suburbs of northern Atlanta, when people started talking, a little more frequently than might be expected, about mousetraps…” Guardian/UK

Think Political News Is Biased?

Depends Who You Ask

Are the news media politically biased against people with “your” beliefs? If you’re a Republican, your answer depends on who you talk to, and how often.

That’s the finding of a new Ohio State University study: Republicans who frequently talk politics with other Republicans are more likely to believe that the so-called “liberal media” are biased against them than are Republicans who talk with like-minded people less often.