R.I.P. Katherine Hepburn

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Spirited Actress Dies at 96. An obituary and links to reviews of many of her films from the New York Times archives.

“She played sharp-witted, sophisticated women with an ease that suggested that there was a thin line between the movie role and the off-screen personality. The romantic comedy The Philadelphia Story and the screwball classic Bringing Up Baby were among her best, most typical roles. But through 43 films and dozens of stage and television appearances, she played comic and dramatic parts as varied as Jo in Little Women, the reborn spinster Rosie in The African Queen and Eleanor of Aquitaine in The Lion in Winter.”

Even though her on-screen romances with Spencer Tracy defined her and captivated American audiences, I actually prefer the gems she made with Cary Grant, to which I have introduced my children with success; we return to Bringing Up Baby over and over. And, oh, the chemistry with Bogart in The African Queen… Her screen presence was an icon of a generation of American womanhood, and her roles in old age made many wish she was everybody’s wise old aunt. We will truly miss you, Kate…


Say It in Quotes:

Bloggers Gain Libel Protection: “The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last Tuesday that Web loggers (sic), website operators and e-mail list editors can’t be held responsible for libel for information they republish, extending crucial First Amendment protections to do-it-yourself online publishers.

Online free speech advocates praised the decision as a victory. The ruling effectively differentiates conventional news media, which can be sued relatively easily for libel, from certain forms of online communication such as moderated e-mail lists.” Wired News

So I should take care that all my scurrilous comments appear inside quotation marks. Most readers get it, although once in awhile since I’ve enabled comments someone has gone off on me for an opinion I was merely excerpting from someone else. So I shouldn’t libel anyone likely to be clueless, reading FmH, that it was only a quote? It reminds me, loosely, of the neurolinguistic programming (NLP) technique called “speaking in quotes.” NLP is a body of subliminal — some would say manipulative — techniques for effecting behavior change, largely derivative of Milton Erickson’s hypnotic procedures. I cannot find a web reference to the technique but I recall reading about it in one of the books by NLP originators Bandler and Grinder, which were largely transcriptions of workshops they did. One of them got up and described how you can get away with expressing — and disowning — just about any outrageous opinion if you only ‘say it in quotes.’ For instance, if I wanted to insult someone I might say to them, “Now someone might say (staring deeply into the eyes of my interlocutor) ‘You’re a stupid fool!‘. Of course I wouldn’t say that, but someone might…” The message gets through, even though it is disownable…


Region of Fawners

Europe dignifies trashy American celebs: “American rock star Iggy Pop is known as ‘The Rock Iguana’ and ‘Grandfather of Punk.’ But as of last Saturday, to the French the 56-year-old is Officer of Arts and Letters. Officer Iggy was decorated over the weekend by the French Ministry of Culture, which formerly decorated such cultural notables as rocker Lou Reed, who wrote a hymn to ‘Heroin,’ Sylvester Stallone and Jackie Chan. As for Jerry Lewis, he outranks all of the above, of course, having been named a Commander of Arts and Letters by Socialist Culture Minister Jack Lang back in 1984.” WSJ Opinionjournal


Just one left standing:

The big media in my town, Boston, seem to have very little interest in the arts anymore, and I’m afraid it is part of a larger trend. Of the big-three network affiliate television stations, two have dismissed their arts and entertainment reporters, who for a number of years had been noticeably absent from local performances and other arts events anyway. Only Joyce Kulhawik, who is a three-time cancer survivor and whose name aptly means “one who limps” in Polish, remains on the local CBS affiliate. At ABC and NBC, arts coverage amounts to syndicated services featuring celebrity interviews and Hollywood news — or is it gossip? — instead. Not that I get any of my arts coverage from the network news broadcasts; I’m reading about this online.


Art attacks:

Has the world gone intervention crazy?: “In a number of recent and high profile instances, certain individuals, card-carrying artists and regular civilians both, have acted upon the urge to respond critically with a physical intervention into a piece of art.


It would appear that the art world has gone intervention crazy. You could blame it on Guy Debord and the Situationist International with their fondness for challenging the gallery environment with dynamic interventions. But that’s too obvious. As usual, I blame Brian Eno.” Telegraph/UK


A Mozart brainteaser:

Does listening to the master’s music make you smarter? “At the Neurosciences Institute, a concert series and lectures address the claim… ‘I won’t say that if you come to my concerts, you’ll have these brain-tightening and genius-inspiring moments,’ says Romero, who was motivated by a longtime fondness for Mozart’s music and his curiosity about its effect on the brain. ‘But I’m curious to know why his music grabs so many musicians, and non-musicians, in such an arresting way. Is it the simplicity, the childlike quality?'” Los Angeles Times


Hip-Hop Intellectuals:

“In ever-evolving forms, hip-hop rules planet Earth, or at least the global entertainment economy from Japan to Cuba. But is there something deeper going on than the flash of 50 Cent’s platinum chains and Eminem’s silver tongue? Where is hip-hop’s artistic vanguard, its intelligentsia? Wasn’t this $1.6 billion-a-year industry once rooted in resistance?

It was, and if you know where to look, it still is. Many of today’s most vibrant young artists — from rapper Jay-Z to solo performer Sarah Jones to novelist Zadie Smith — can best be understood through the matrix of hip-hop. Just as the jazz aesthetic birthed nonmusicians such as novelist Ralph Ellison, poet Amiri Baraka, photographer Roy Decarava and painter Romare Bearden, hip-hop has produced its own school of thinkers and artists. Call them hip-hop intellectuals: folks who derive their basic artistic, intellectual and political strategies from the tenets of the musical form itself — collage, reclamation of public space, the repurposing of technology — even if they’re not kicking rhymes or scratching records.” San Francisco Chronicle


Nino’s Opéra Bouffe:

Maureen Dowd with a withering putdown of Justice Scalia. Let’s see, “aesthete”, “real man”, “Archie type”, “homophobe”, “stegosaurus”, “nattering nabobo of negativism”, “fulminant”, “bloviator”. NY Times A very good job of it but I can still think of a few choice terms she forgot…


"…And the damn fools kept yelling to push on…."

Whiskey Bar has a wonderful collections of quotations from US officials grappling with the continuing armed resistance to US occupation of Iraq. They resort to semantic distinctions — is it or is it not to be called guerrilla war? combat activities or criminal activities? — to explain what for them is the unexplainable, that we are not loved by these people who are supposed to be fawning all over their liberators, defenders and promoters of democracy. It would be merely pitiful and laughable if it weren’t getting US soldiers, unprepared and misled, killed every day. Yes, I blame the US leadership as much, more, than the Iraqis doing the murdering. “We’re in it for the long haul,” a US official says, the American people have to realize. No, you’ve got to realize, the only problem you’ve got now is how to extricate yourselves from this latest “Big Muddy.”


‘Nothing like this will be built again.’

“I’ve just had a really amazing experience: a guided tour of the nuclear reactor complex at Torness on the Scottish coast. What made this tour unusual is that the tour guide in question, Les, happens to be one of the reactor engineers (as well as a friend) — and he showed me (and a couple of other friends) right around the plant over a period of several hours. This wasn’t the usual cheery public relations junket: it was the real thing. I got to crawl on top of, over, under, and around, one of the wonders of the modern engineering world: an operational AGR reactor. I got to look around the control room, be deafened in the turbine hall and steam-baked in the secondary shutdown test facility, gawp at the shiny bright zirconium tubes full of enriched uranium in the fuel rod assembly room, be subjected to the whole-body contamination detectors at the checkpoints, and boggle at the baroque masses of sensors and control racks that trigger a reactor trip if any of its operational parameters go out of bounds.” — Charlie Stross


‘Nothing like this will be built again.’

“I’ve just had a really amazing experience: a guided tour of the nuclear reactor complex at Torness on the Scottish coast. What made this tour unusual is that the tour guide in question, Les, happens to be one of the reactor engineers (as well as a friend) — and he showed me (and a couple of other friends) right around the plant over a period of several hours. This wasn’t the usual cheery public relations junket: it was the real thing. I got to crawl on top of, over, under, and around, one of the wonders of the modern engineering world: an operational AGR reactor. I got to look around the control room, be deafened in the turbine hall and steam-baked in the secondary shutdown test facility, gawp at the shiny bright zirconium tubes full of enriched uranium in the fuel rod assembly room, be subjected to the whole-body contamination detectors at the checkpoints, and boggle at the baroque masses of sensors and control racks that trigger a reactor trip if any of its operational parameters go out of bounds.” — Charlie Stross


Outcry as MP links gang rape to virility –

Japan has been appalled by the comments of a senior ruling party politician that gang rapists were ‘virile’ and ‘close to normal’.

Seiichi Ota, a former cabinet minister and member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, made the comments at a forum on Japan’s declining birthrate, held by the national kindergarten association.


The Japanese news agency Kyodo reported that Mr Ota, 57, said the fall in the birthrate was because of the lack of courage among Japanese men to marry.

The moderator of the debate then made a perplexing reference to a notorious case of alleged gang rape earlier this month, where five students from prestigious universities were arrested for gang raping a female student.

In an equally bizarre comment, the moderator reportedly asked if men should gang rape ‘if they don’t have the courage to make a marriage proposal’.

‘Gang rape shows the people who do it are still virile, and that is okay,’ Mr Ota said. ‘I think that might make them close to normal. I know that I would be criticised for saying these sorts of things.’

Sydney Morning Herald


US push for global police force:

“The United States would train and lead an international police force, bypassing traditional peacekeeping bodies such as the United Nations and NATO, under a proposal by the Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld.

The plan, involving thousands of Americans permanently assigned to peacekeeping, would also be a major reversal by the Bush Administration, which has strongly opposed tying up its troops in such operations.” Sydney Morning Herald Of course, why bypass the traditional peacekeeping vehicles unless you have some ulterior desire to continue not to play by the rules of the civilized world?


Reuters AlertNet:

“AlertNet provides global news, communications and logistics services to the international disaster relief community and the public. Reuters 150 years’ experience reporting from disaster zones around the world allows AlertNet to give disaster relief organisations reliable information, fast.

Anyone can access the public pages, which have a live news feed from Reuters together with articles describing how relief agencies are responding to the latest humanitarian crises.”


Contaminated nuclear barrel swap launched in Iraq:

“Environmental group Greenpeace launched a campaign on Saturday to give Iraqis clean water barrels in exchange for contaminated containers they have been using which were looted from a nuclear complex.” Reuters AlertNet Readers of FmH know how concerned I have been about the underreported story of the looting of the contaminated barrels in Tuwaitha and the dumping of the nuclear material into the local ecosystem. This was a function of weeks of negligence by occupying American forces who had been alerted to the potential for disaster at the unguarded nuclear facility. US officials downplayed the danger until it was publicized that Iraqis were using the containers to store food and water. They have offered to buy the barrels back for $3 each but, according to Greenpeace, the US offer is useless as a replacement barrel would cost a family the equivalent of around $15.



Are you an e-bore? “Do your friends nod off or walk away when you start talking about ASP, HTML or CPM? Is the local Starbucks still the only place you can properly brainstorm with your colleagues? Are you onto your 4th PDA?

If so, you might be suffering from e-bore Syndrome. But the only way to find out is to consult the e-consultancy e-bore-ometer…” It tells me:

You’re pretty balanced all in all, but you could find yourself getting excited about bandwidth before long and it’s only downhill from thereon in.


Counselling can add to post-disaster trauma:

“The counselling routinely offered to people in the immediate aftermath of a disaster seldom protects them from developing post-traumatic stress – and it could even delay their recovery.

This is the conclusion of a comprehensive review of the ‘single-session debriefings’ offered to victims straight after an incident. In single-session debriefings, a counsellor talks to a victim to help them learn about and prepare for any psychological problems they might encounter later.” New Scientist


The New Gloomsayers:

Is there any reason to think they’ll be right this time?

The bearers of bad news are back. The headlines may tell of American military victories overseas, but everywhere warnings are proliferating of troubles ahead. Most of the forecasts concern the allegedly dire consequences of the victories themselves: chaos or worse in Iraq, permanent disaffection in Europe, mounting enmity elsewhere. But a spate of new hooks point to deeper structural dangers–dangers that are said to be lurking beneath the surface of our global pre-eminence and that are mostly of our own making. Taken together, these works constitute the largest chorus of foreboding since the appearance 15 years ago of the prophets of American decline.” — Joshua Muravchik, Barrons

Mr. Muravchik, of the conservative thinktank the American Enterprise Institute, concludes, “Had we heeded the declinists of the 1980s, we might not have won the Cold War. If today we heed the advice of those offering tendentious and pejorative interpretations of our effect on the world, the results could be no less calamitous.” No big picture for him and others in what I cal the ostrich mode of political analysis, from the fabled tendency of the ungainly and vulnerable birds to stick their heads in the sand so that the threats they do not see do not exist…


Beyond the Fringe –

A Talk with Jonathan Miller:


Being as passionate about the subject of philosophy as you are, how does it enter into your work as director?


It comes into it all the time, in that I’m watching people behaving intentionally. I keep asking myself, What do they intend by what they are doing? Are they fully aware of their own intentions? What is it that motivates Hamlet? How much does he know what he is doing?

I am less interested in the Freudian unconscious than in another form of unconscious about which I have written recently, which is what I call the Enabling Unconscious. We can, for example, go to sleep with a problem in our mind and wake up with a clear solution. There are deep levels of capability which don’t reach consciousness and yet deliver their results into consciousness. This is again where science is so much better than metaphysics. There were people in the nineteenth century who began to see this; in fact, most philosophers have had vague intuitions, but they were not smart enough to think clearly about it. The reason they now think about it is because we have a device which enables us to do so—the computer. The computer gives us a metaphor to consider what it is to have mental activities we are not aware of. We once thought that chess was a high-level spiritual capability which only human beings possessed. We now get machines which are better at it than we are. Once we examine how machines do it, we get a pretty good idea how our brains might do it. These are profitable questions because there are procedures you can follow to produce an answer. The questions which you say won’t go away—metaphysical ones—are like flies which won’t go away. But it doesn’t mean that they are interesting.” Paris Review


‘Polypill’ has risks, some physicians say.

Pill blending 6 drugs said to prevent heart attacks. Misgivings, sometimes vehement, are emerging within the medical community to this novel concept about which I posted below. Sentiments expressed include:

  • It “might be dangerous for healthy people and not strong enough for those with heart trouble”
  • “It also could also lull some people into persisting with life-threatening habits”. (This one doesn’t hold water. With an aging population, much of modern medicine is devoted to protecting people against chronic problems which have a lifestyle aspect. Should we treat no one until they stop smoking, drinking, lose weight, begin exercising, reform their dietary approach, treat their domestic partners better?)
  • “the people you save by preventing heart disease and stroke (by giving aspirin to the general population) is offset by the number of people you kill by causing bleeding”. Although I haven’t researched the matter recently (and medical thinking goes through fads and fancies just as any other discipline), it is my impression that this opinion is not borne out by public health research suggesting the routine use of aspirin is valuable.
  • “the “one-size-fits-all” idea runs counter to the way medicine is headed in the future, which is toward personalized medication based on an individual’s genetic profile”

Fresno Bee


Analysis: End to Iraqi disarray sought –

‘There is no longer anyway to tap dance around the responsibility of the administration for what more and more looks like a monumental bog up,’ Thomas Houlahan, told UPI. Houlahan is the Washington-based director of a military assessment program for James Madison University at Harrisburg, Va. He is also a former paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division and staff officer with the 18th Airborne Corps.

The planning for Operation Iraqi Freedom, Houlahan says, ‘was very slipshod and not up to the standards of the U.S. Army.’

Timothy Carney, a former U.S. ambassador who has just returned from two months in Iraq, has said much the same thing.

Carney, with long experience in post-conflict zones, told the British Broadcasting Corp. that the White House failed to think through post-war plans and that there was a lack of resources and of priority for reconstruction efforts. UPI

These analyses, however, miss the boat because they accept the fundamental premise of US adventurism. We didn’t just miscalculate the extent of Baathist resistance or the costs of civil reconstruction or policing efforts. We are facing not isolated sniping from foreign elements or scattered residual Baathists but a broadbased spontaneous resistance against an imperious occupying force.


The Grim Reapers, Killing Time in a Waffle Shop

It looks as if the Showtime team responsible for Dead Like Me took a seminar in just what elements are required to build a cutting-edge series, from theme and tone to which brand names to drop. ‘Six Feet Under‘ was essential viewing, as were clever group shows from ‘Seinfeld‘ to ‘Friends.’ Which still left time for literature, chiefly Alice Sebold’s best seller, ‘The Lovely Bones.’ NY Times

There’s been alot of buzz about this series. Curious, my wife and I took in the debut last night. It is a clever blend of comedy and fantasy although, yes, derivative. [Other names dropped in the review include Buffy, Sex and the City, and the Sopranos, more of a reach.] It is hard to see how its premise can fuel an entire season, though. And let’s hope it doesn’t take its Seinfeld and Friends influences as seriously as its Sebold or Six Feet Under ones…


A Seeker of Music’s Poetry in the Mathematical Realm

“I am sorry now that I did not write an opera with her every year,’ Virgil Thomson once wrote about Gertrude Stein. ‘It had not occurred to me that both of us would not always be living.’

More and more, I am reminded of that sentiment, most recently last month, when I heard about David Lewin’s death at age 69.

His name does not spur widespread recognition. Obituary notices after he died of heart disease on May 5, tended to be of the paid variety. And the area in which he displayed incomparable mastery is the most esoteric branch of a rarefied subset of a specialized discipline.

David Lewin was a musical analyst— a specialist in the theory of how musical compositions are constructed. The compositions to which he devoted attention tended to be 20th-century works with an already limited following; he wrote essays on such exotica as Dallapiccola’s “Simbolo” and Stockhausen’s Klavierstück III. And his own work was an attempt to construct a mathematical theory of musical composition, drawing on fields in higher mathematics, including group theory, algebraic topology and projective geometry.” NY Times


Mr. Diversity:

Bill Keller writes on the New York Times op-ed page:

‘A cynic,’ protested The Wall Street Journal, ‘might conclude that yesterday’s decisions mean universities can still racially discriminate, as long as they’re not too obvious about it.’ Yes, just so. The editorial might have added that this is pretty much what the first President Bush did when he appointed a black jurist of questionable distinction to the Supreme Court, insisting all the while that it had nothing to do with race.

I believe in affirmative action as meeting worthy societal goals, but its point is not that it promotes the less worthy, rather that it remedies longstanding and deepseated social barriers to those whose worthiness is less likely to be discovered and recognized. That is not Clarence Thomas. Thomas is not a failure of affirmative action principles; he is a failure of a Republican caricature of affirmative action.


The Home Horror Movie:

Questions for Jesse Friedman:

“You were thrust into the spotlight recently when Capturing the Friedmans, the documentary movie about your family and the conviction of you and your father on charges of sexually abusing students who came to your house, had its premiere in New York. How is all this sudden attention sitting with you?” NY Times Magazine

CtF was one of the most devastating films I’ve seen in a long time. It is not really about a pedophile as much as a graphic examination of how failures of community morés, family cohesiveness and judicial protections can erupt spontaneously in a sad, sick society.


Food Fight –

Here’s a beauty: to vote or not to vote, to favor or not to favor the Medicare Prescription Drug Bill?

Theoretically, everybody’s in favor of a plan to help senior citizens with prescription drug costs, which are truly appalling. Many seniors literally have to choose between their meds or food. Everyone agrees it’s awful — the question is whether the bills currently in the House and Senate are actually an improvement.

Those of you who make up your minds based on the if-he’s-for-it, I’m-against-it method (quite a few people seem to be doing that these days) are in deep doo-doo on this one. True, Ted Kennedy is for it, and The Wall Street Journal is against it. On the other hand, the White House is for it, and pretty much everyone on the left except Kennedy is against it. The press is helpfully wringing its hands and announcing, ‘This is soooo complicated.’ ” — Molly Ivins, syndicated


Strom Won’t Be Missed,

South Carolinian Christopher George writes.

“Well it finally happened. My home state of South Carolina’s most famous (or is that infamous) political figure died at the age of 100.


As might be imagined, he is being remembered as a hero in his home state. The local media would have you believe that the earth itself spun only because he willed it to. We have a tendency, as a people, to not speak badly of those who have passed away, but it’s important to remember people for who they actually were, not some rose-colored vision of who they were, or pretended to be.

It’s with that in mind that I want to paint a picture of what Strom Thurmond really stood for. He was a racist. No amount of sugarcoating or excuse-making can change that. In fact, he was one of the most important figures in the history of the Segregated South.

I’ve had my fill of people telling me that he was a product of his times and the views he held were almost universally held in the South back then.” AlterNet


Help Save the Whole Earth –

I’ve been a subscriber to Whole Earth Magazine/Whole Earth Review/CoEvolution Quarterly since shortly after its inception. Many of the contemporary social-cultural-political thinkers who have resonated with and shaped my thinking have graced their pages through the years. Although it less often shines with the luminosity it once did these days, resources or — more important — revelations still tumble densely from each issue. From b0ing b0ing (because Cory Doctorow has an article in it) I learn that the publication of the forthcoming issue, a special one on the Singularity, is delayed because of lack of funds. The Whole Earth website has a sampling of articles from the delayed issue to entice you, and they are soliciting immediate financial support to remain afloat (as they have had to do several times in the past).


Thousands of children dying in Congo’s civil war,

says Canadian aid worker:

“Tens of thousands of children in war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo are being slaughtered, raped or enslaved to fight in rebel armies in what aid agencies are calling one of the largest humanitarian emergencies in the world.

‘The situation is nothing short of genocide, with over three million people killed since 1998 – many of these women and children,’ says David Agnew, president of UNICEF Canada, who just returned to Toronto from a week in the central African country.

Agnew said the deaths do not represent only those killed directly in battle, but also millions who died in massacres or from disease and hunger.” canadaeast.com [via walker]

Isn’t there enough natural wealth or geopolitical advantage to justify a Bush cabal ‘humanitarian’ intervention in the DRC?


Alex blogs:

An FmH reader sent me this blink to her son’s website, for any hoops fans out there. Alex says, “I just turned 10 years old on June 20th and some people call me the world’s youngest blogger. I will share my feelings and opinions about my favorite sport, basketball.” His mother says,

If he could get into the NBA now, he would. But if he doesn’t make it, perhaps he’ll turn out to be a sports writer. Alex provides his insight into the game, the players and some NBA history. Please check it out. He loves to hear from people.

Best of luck, Alex. The future looks bright for you…


Most likely to succeed:

“When the 317,647 ballots in MoveOn.org’s online Democratic primary were totaled Friday afternoon, none of the other eight candidates came close to Howard Dean. With nearly 44 percent of the virtual vote, Dean fell short of the majority necessary to garner MoveOn’s influential endorsement and the millions in campaign cash that would likely come with it. But as the clear victor in a cluttered field of contenders, he proved, at the very least, that he is the top pick of well-educated, cyber-savvy Democratic activists who are registered with MoveOn, an organization that claims 1.4 million members in all. Behind Dean in the Internet voting were Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, with around 24 percent, and Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., with a disappointing 15.7 percent.” Salon



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“Slung below its equally innovative mothership dubbed White Knight, SpaceShipOne rides above planet Earth, photographed during a recent flight test. SpaceShipOne was designed and built by cutting-edge aeronautical engineer Burt Rutan and his company Scaled Composites to compete for the X Prize. The 10 million dollar X prize is open to private companies and requires the successful launch of a spaceship which carries three people on short sub-orbital flights to an altitude of 100 kilometers — a scenario similar to the early manned spaceflights of NASA’s Mercury Program. Unlike more conventional rocket flights to space, SpaceShipOne will first be carried to an altitude of 50,000 feet by the twin turbojet White Knight and then released before igniting its own hybrid solid fuel rocket engine. After the climb to space, the craft will convert to a stable high drag configuration for re-entry, ultimately landing like a conventional glider at light plane speeds.” Astronomy Picture of the Day


Canada Plans Injection Site for Addicts –

North America’s first legal safe-injection site for addicts will open later this year in Vancouver under a federally funded mandate that will help protect IV drug users from overdoses and diseases spread by needle-sharing. Can you imagine such a compassionate approach south of the border?

(John) Walters, the White House Director of National Drug Control Policy, said in a telephone interview Thursday the program shows an appalling indifference to addiction.

“Drug abuse is a deadly disease,” Walters said. “It’s immoral to allow people to suffer and die from a disease we know how to treat.”

He also called the concept “a lie,” saying “there are no safe injection sites.”

This comes on the heels of Canada’s decriminalization of the possession of small amounts of marijuana, another move that met with irritation from the people in Washington who feel it will jeopardize homeland security®.


Google AdSense:

Aaron Swartz describes a new Google program in which you place some HTML on your site which causes your readers’ browser to request ads from Google. Google, having analyzed your site, sends ads it thinks are particularly relevant to your content. In return for letting Google do this on your site, you get paid 50 cents every time one of your readers clicks on an ad. If you have a weblog or other website and are curious as to what ads Google would think are relevant to your content, Swartz has a gadget on his site that will tell you.

Swartz says that he made $100 from the program in one day and argues that this system might make small ‘labor of love’ weblogs viable. Nota bene: I won’t be implementing this system. This labor of love is a freebie for you.


American Apology Shirt:

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“I was preparing for an international trip, and I thought, ‘what can I do to tell as many people as possible in other countries that many Americans vehemently disagree with the policies of our own government?‘ So I made this shirt, and various wonderful people translated it into all of the official UN languages, Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Spanish, and Russian. Buy one for your own international travels. A domestic version (US$16), without English, is also available for those who want to make a statement, but not to monolingual locals.”


Can Bush Be Both Ignorant and a Liar?

Yes. There’s no reason for Bush-bashers to choose between the two.

…Can a false statement be a lie if the speaker is unaware it is a lie?… Why is the speaker unaware that his statement is a lie? In Bush’s case, the answer is painfully obvious. It’s because Bush is a functionally not-bright man. As Chatterbox has explained elsewhere, it’s impossible to tell—and, ultimately, of little interest—whether Bush lacks the necessary mental equipment, or whether he’s simply incurious. The end result is the same. Even Bush’s allies concede that Bush is strikingly ignorant. In the July Vanity Fair, Sam Tanenhaus quoted Richard Perle as saying that when he first met Bush, it was “clear” that “he didn’t know very much.” Perle went on to argue (with what he failed to recognize as condescension) that Bush is an eager pupil. But there isn’t much evidence to support even that.

It’s often said that Bush has the virtue of self-awareness, that he knows what he doesn’t know. That’s probably true. But if it is true, then Bush really oughtn’t to go around making sweeping statements that he hasn’t made any effort to verify. When these statements turn out to be untrue, Bush’s feigned certainty alone justifies calling these statements lies. — Timothy Noah, Slate chatterbox


National Registry for Blocking Telemarketer Calls Begins;

“…will open Friday for anyone who wants to block sales calls.

Officials at the registry also announced a number of new regulations today, including a requirement that telemarketers transmit their telephone numbers to caller-ID devices and that they have a live operator on the line within two seconds of the consumer’s picking up the phone.

Online registration will be available at www.donotcall.gov, officials said. The trade commission has staggered phone registration to handle the large volume of calls expected. Residents of states west of the Mississippi, including Minnesota and Louisiana, may register by phone starting Friday at 12:01 a.m.. The entire country will be able to register by phone as of July 7. The phone number is (888) 382-1222. The registry will go into effect Oct. 1.” NY Times


Once-a-day pill:

‘cuts heart attacks by 80%’:

“A once-a-day pill for everyone over 55 could undo some of the ill-effects of our sedentary, high-cholesterol, western lifestyle and slash the rate of strokes and heart attacks by more than 80%, doctors said yesterday.

The bold concept of the Polypill, made of a combination of six different drugs, was launched in the British Medical Journal by its inventors with the claim that it could have ‘a greater impact on the prevention of disease in the western world than any other known intervention’.

The editor of the Journal, Richard Smith, piled on the hyperbole, writing that: ‘It’s perhaps more than 50 years since we published something as important as the cluster of papers from Nick Wald, Malcolm Law and others.'” Guardian/UK

Curiously, the Guardian article does not go into precise detail about the proposed content of the PolyPill. This Washington Post article does:

The pill would include aspirin because it has been shown to reduce the risk for heart attacks, probably by limiting the formation of dangerous blood clots. It would also include the nutrient folic acid, which reduces a substance in the blood known as homocysteine, which has been strongly linked to heart disease.

Including one of the cholesterol-lowering drugs, known as statins, which millions already use safely, would be crucial. And finally, the polypill would include three different types of blood-pressure lowering drugs at half the usual doses. It would use three so that each could be given at the lower dose, minimizing side effects like lethargy.

All the components could be used in generic form, minimizing the cost, Wald said.

Under the proposal, the drug would be given to anyone with a known risk factor for cardiovascular disease and everyone age 55 and older, the age when most people begin to develop cardiovascular disease, Wald said. One of the most controversial aspects is that the pill would be given to people without first testing their blood pressure or cholesterol levels.


Ex-S.C. Sen. Strom Thurmond dies at 100:

“(The) one-time Democratic segregationist who helped fuel the rise of the modern conservative Republican Party in the South died Thursday.” (USA Today)

This occurs just nine days after he became a grandfather for the first time, (South Carolina State)

by the way.

Thurmond’s longevity, and his longevity in the Senate, are his most-cited virtues, but IMHO this is damning with faint praise. Remaining in the corridors of power seems to have been an end in itself for this Senator who, as one eulogist noted, has had more buildings named after him than bills sponsored by him. The voters of South Carolina, to their shame, knowing where the pork was coming from, continued to consider him fit to do what they knew was the primary role of their elected representatives even when at 94 he could no longer hear the testimony over which he presided in committee, and had to use index cards to counter his memory lapses in making even routine remarks on the Senate floor. And he for his part would do anything to remain in the Senate, a man with no principle except that of being re-elected. He was not even a principled bigot. Don’t believe he mellowed with the times; it was pure opportunism when he started to hire African American staffers and give large contributions to minority colleges à propos of the growing need for black votes. [Could it have been the Supreme Court’s decision upholding affirmative action, or the one overturning sodomy laws, that did him in?? —FmH]

I wonder whether the memorialization he receives with his passing will be as partisan as that which followed Paul Wellstone’s death; it ought to be, since only a Republican could truly appreciate him. It is the end of an era, and well-deserved in the passing. Oh, and even if I were inclined to do so, I’ll refrain from any laudatory comments about Thurmond. Webloggers are watching, and don’t forget they brought down Trent Lott for kissing up to Thurmond’s bigotry last year.


Supreme Court strikes down gay sex ban:

Sometimes the Supreme Court amazes me in its equity and fairness when I least expect it, such as this victory for people being allowed to do whatever they want when they are minding their own business and not impinging on anyone else. This was a 6-3 ruling with only the most unreasonable — Rehnquist and Scalia — and unqualified, braindead — Thomas — dissenting. Pathetic, repugnant attempt at counterargument from the state of Texas: “Texas defended its sodomy law as in keeping with the state’s interest in protecting marriage and child-rearing. Homosexual sodomy, the state argued in legal papers, ‘has nothing to do with marriage or conception or parenthood and it is not on a par with these sacred choices.'” Salon

Related: Sometimes even Texas can get it right: “FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — A jury took less than an hour Thursday to convict a former nurse’s aide of murder for hitting a homeless man with her car, driving home with his mangled body lodged in the windshield and leaving him to die in her garage.” Salon

The defense had argued that this was an accident instead of the pitiless, depraved, wanton destruction of a human life it was.


A way with words:

“Asked to name a linguist, most people come up with Chomsky or Pinker. But Larry Trask – an expert on Basque – deserves to be famous too.:

He’s working now on an etymological dictionary of Basque: his web page contains a trenchant denunciation of all the things that people believe about the language:

‘please note: I do not want to hear about the following: Your latest proof that Basque is related to Iberian/Etruscan/Pictish/Sumerian/ Minoan/Tibetan/Isthmus Zapotec/ Martian. Your discovery that Basque is the secret key to understanding the Ogam inscriptions/the Phaistos disc/ the Easter Island carvings/the Egyptian Book of the Dead/the Qabbala/the prophecies of Nostradamus/your PC manual/the movements of the New York Stock Exchange. Your belief that Basque is the ancestral language of all humankind/a remnant of the speech of lost Atlantis/the language of the vanished civilization of Antarctica/ evidence of visitors from Proxima Centauri. I definitely do not want to hear about these scholarly breakthroughs.’ “



‘We’ve missed the train to Oceania, and live today with stranger problems.’

William Gibson wishes George Orwell a happy hundredth birthday.

It is becoming unprecedentedly difficult for anyone, anyone at all, to keep a secret.

In the age of the leak and the blog, of evidence extraction and link discovery, truths will either out or be outed, later if not sooner. This is something I would bring to the attention of every diplomat, politician and corporate leader: the future, eventually, will find you out. The future, wielding unimaginable tools of transparency, will have its way with you. In the end, you will be seen to have done that which you did.

I say “truths,” however, and not “truth,” as the other side of information’s new ubiquity can look not so much transparent as outright crazy. Regardless of the number and power of the tools used to extract patterns from information, any sense of meaning depends on context, with interpretation coming along in support of one agenda or another. A world of informational transparency will necessarily be one of deliriously multiple viewpoints, shot through with misinformation, disinformation, conspiracy theories and a quotidian degree of madness. We may be able to see what’s going on more quickly, but that doesn’t mean we’ll agree about it any more readily.

Orwell did the job he set out to do, did it forcefully and brilliantly, in the painstaking creation of our best-known dystopia. I’ve seen it said that because he chose to go there, as rigorously and fearlessly as he did, we don’t have to. I like to think there’s some truth in that. But the ground of history has a way of shifting the most basic of assumptions from beneath the most scrupulously imagined situations. Dystopias are no more real than utopias. None of us ever really inhabits either — except, in the case of dystopias, in the relative and ordinarily tragic sense of life in some extremely unfortunate place.NY Times op-ed


Iraq now:

20 questions: “Is there power? Health care? How many troops remain? How many people died? In Baghdad,… some lingering questions about the aftermath of the war in Iraq”. The Globe and Mail [thanks, walker]


Dynastic succession in the land of the free:

‘The once frowned-upon practice is no longer the exception but the rule,’ , argues Saul Bellow’s son, a writer himself. His upcoming book, In Praise of Nepotism: A Natural History argues that the US is undergoing a revival of the ‘hereditary principle’ — to put it more bluntly, nepotism — in areas as diverse as business, sports, entertainment, the arts, and politics.

Sean Lennon and Jakob Dylan have record contracts. Laila Ali is a boxer. Sofia and Roman Coppola make movies. Their cousin Nicolas Cage is an Oscar-winning leading man. Michael Douglas, the scion of another Hollywood acting clan, appears in his latest film, It Runs in the Family, alongside his father, mother and son. Susan and Ben Cheever write fiction.

For the first time in 20 years, a Ford – William Clay Ford Jr. – is in charge of Ford Motor Co. And presiding at the White House is a man whose father once held the position, too. (At The New York Times, the job of publisher has been reserved forthe job of publisher has been reserved for family members for more than a century.) International Herald Tribune

Does someone succeed in the profession of their accomplished forebears because their name brings added value in that field; because they are assumed in some sort of genetic paradigm to have more of the “right stuff” and thus given an ‘in’; or because they do in fact have some heritable endowment in areas pertinent to success in that field? Bellow feels the ‘new nepotism’ is only partially the social fiction it was in days of old, instead tempered by meritocratic factors, and that this paradigm should be considered a ‘great achievement’ of our society.

This is Bellow’s provocatively contrarian claim: Today’s nepotism is good because it combines an admirable devotion to family with a principled commitment to merit. Having the right blood ties might win you entrée in your chosen field, but if you fail to perform, you’re unlikely to last. Or as Bellow serenely put it: “A famous name gets your foot in the door, but if the door slams on your face, it’s you who says ouch.”

Others noting the dynastic trend have been less sanguine about it. Even, lo and behold, Andrew Sullivan, pondering the Bush succession, worried that the only other nations that have recently passed power from father to son have been North Korea, Syria and Jordan.

[Let us hope Michael Powell does not have a future in the Dept. of State…]


At least 17 senators and 11 members of the House have children, spouses or other close relatives who lobby or work as consultants, most in Washington, according to lobbyist reports, financial-disclosure forms and other state and federal records. Many are paid by clients who count on the related lawmaker for support. LA Times


Chip Off the Old Block?

What do Fascism’s belligerent founding father and our own democratically elected Prime Minister have in common? “Every now and again, as I wander about town, my mind drifts from Mussolini and Fascism, the subject in hand, to another matter: Tony Blair and New Labour. Odd, but I cannot help noticing that Blair and Mussolini have rather a lot in common. I am not saying that Blair has consciously copied Mussolini. But Blair, probably without even realising it, does seem to have imbibed quite a few things from the Duce.” Independent/UK


Bush Dominates a Nation of Victims.

“George W Bush is generally regarded as a mangler of the English language. What is overlooked is his mastery of emotional language — especially negatively charged emotional language — as a political tool. Take a closer look at his speeches and public utterances, and his political success turns out to be no surprise. It is the predictable result of the intentional use of language to dominate others.” — Renana Brooks, a clinical psychologist who researches the use of language for power and persuasion, writing in The Nation [via AlterNet]


Short: ‘I was briefed on Blair’s secret war pact’.

“Senior figures in the intelligence community and across Whitehall briefed the former international development secretary Clare Short that Tony Blair had made a secret agreement last summer with George Bush to invade Iraq in February or March, she claimed yesterday.

In damning evidence to the foreign affairs select committee, Ms Short refused to identify the three figures, but she cited their authority for making her claim that Mr Blair had actively deceived the cabinet and the country in persuading them of the need to go to war.” Guardian/UK This, to hearken back to Michael Kinsley’s comments about the search for the Weapons of Mass Distraction, is a more profound reason the question of whether we were lied to on that score is irrelevant. The real deceit was much more pervasive — the entire administration charade about deciding whether to go to war was a waltz around a foregone conclusion.


The great court shuffle that may not come:

“A funny thing happened on the way to World War III. It looks increasingly unlikely that any justice will soon leave, analysts say.

Some court watchers have long suggested it was a near certainty that Chief Justice William Rehnquist and perhaps Justice Sandra Day O’Connor would announce their retirements by late June. But other legal scholars have been just as sure that the justices are staying put. That view has gained momentum among court watchers in recent weeks.” Christian Science Monitor


Space impact ‘saved Christianity’:

“Did a meteor over central Italy in AD 312 change the course of Roman and Christian history?

A team of geologists believes it has found the incoming space rock’s impact crater, and dating suggests its formation coincided with the celestial vision said to have converted a future Roman emperor to Christianity.

It was just before a decisive battle for control of Rome and the empire that Constantine saw a blazing light cross the sky and attributed his subsequent victory to divine help from a Christian God.

Constantine went on to consolidate his grip on power and ordered that persecution of Christians cease and their religion receive official status.” BBC News


Brain imaging confirms that people feel pain differently:

“Brain imaging confirms that some individuals really are more sensitive to pain than others, report researchers from Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in this week’s on-line edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

‘We have all met people who seem very sensitive to pain as well as those who appear to tolerate pain very well,’ said Robert C. Coghill, Ph.D., lead investigator. ‘Until now, there was no objective evidence that could confirm that these individual differences in pain sensitivity are, in fact, real.'” EurekAlert!


Controversial Issues in Psychiatric Diagnosis:

Christian Perring, a philosopher, reviews Advancing DSM: Dilemmas in Psychiatric Diagnosis. Edited by Katherine A. Phillips, Michael B. First, and Harold Alan Pincus.:

Those interested in the philosophy of psychiatry will find much food for thought in the chapter by Wakefield and First, “Clarifying the Distinction Between Disorder and Nondisorder.” They explain that it is important to distinguish between mental disorders and other conditions including normal intense emotional reactions, social deviance, personal unhappiness, lack of fit between an individual and a specific social role or relationship or environment, and socially disapproved or negatively evaluated behavior in general.

This is especially motivated by concerns within the psychiatric profession and the general public that mental disorders are being overdiagnosed, and ordinary human problems are being medicalized. They call this the false-positives problem, and they spell out the wide range of clinical, research and social concerns that it raises. They examine the strengths and weaknesses of the current DSM-IV-TR definition, which have been discussed at length elsewhere.

Unsurprisingly, the authors are inclined to adopt Wakefield’s well-known “harmful dysfunction” account of mental disorder. It is disappointing that they scarcely mention the existence of a considerable body of literature that finds serious flaws in this account, although they do address some general sorts of concerns that have been raised. They suggest however, that the false-positives problem stems not so much from the defects of the current definition but rather a failure to abide by that definition in the DSM criteria sets. They examine a number of different cases to illustrate their claim here. For example, DSM-IV-TR would count someone who had just lost their job and had experienced 2 weeks of depressed mood, diminished pleasure in usual activities, insomnia, fatigue, and a diminished ability to concentrate on work tasks as having major depression. Wakefield and first argue that such symptoms are a normal reaction to such a loss, and do not give reason to believe that there is a psychological dysfunction. They argue that the criteria for adjustment disorder, substance abuse, acute stress disorder, conduct disorder and separation anxiety are also overinclusive, counting as mental disorders conditions that do not involve internal dysfunctions of individuals.

Wakefield and First also point out that the attempt to reduce false positives through requiring that symptoms be “clinically significant” is unhelpful because it is circular — the whole point of a definition of mental disorder is to explain the meaning of what should count as clinical significance, and so it cannot simply appeal to such a notion in its definition. They suggest that definitions of mental disorder should attempt to focus on the essence of the dysfunction that is the cause of the mental disorder.

Furthermore, they emphasize that there is a dysfunction when a person’s symptoms do not match the context. As they explain, “A dysfunction exists when a person’s internal mechanisms are not able to function in the range of environments to which they were designed to respond. Thus, one can construct a test for dysfunction by specifying an environment in which the function is designed to manifest itself; if the function is not manifested in that environment, there is likely a dysfunction” (p. 51).

Wakefield and First’s call to bring the DSM criteria for mental disorders in line with the DSM definition of mental disorder is certainly to be welcomed. It is likely that their emphasis on clarifying the distinction between normal reactions and internal dysfunctions could lead to improved formulations of psychiatric criteria in many cases. However, their reliance on a concept of dysfunctional mechanisms within a person, often supported by reference to functions of internal mechanisms as set out by evolutionary psychology, is problematic. As many critics have pointed out, evolutionary psychology is in no position to give us a clear picture of what counts as normal function, and it is debatable whether it ever will be. Furthermore, even if we did could use evolutionary psychology for this purpose, there are reasons whether it is appropriate to use the standards of evolutionary fitness for survival in conditions that existed long before the creation of any human civilizations of the last our thousand years for our standards of normality in the twenty-first century. (This point applies as much to standards of physical health as is does to mental health.)

Many will worry that the desire for DSM to clothe itself in the garb of scientific respectability will result in smuggling in a host of ideological and normative assumptions under the guise of scientific objectivity. A strong case can be made that rather than basing criteria for mental disorder on dubious science or pseudoscience, we be better served by encouraging an open public discussion of the normative bases of our psychiatric categories and with the aim of reaching broad agreement.


Brief, Bitter, Bierce —

Happy Birthday, Ambrose Bierce

Bierce’s father had the largest library in the county, and when Bierce dropped out of high school—he was not one for groups—he spent much time there. It is hard to disagree with a recent biographer who sees the library as having saved Bierce from being the serial killer type, or having turned him into the prose version of it.

The cap to Bierce’s legendary life is the drama of his mysterious death: at age seventy-one, he perhaps died while attempting to get close to Pancho Villa’s army in Mexico, perhaps as a suicide in the Grand Canyon. Either theory might convey the impression that the cynicism by which Bierce won fame also killed him.

Today in Literature


Top Iraqis Believed Targeted in U.S. Strike —

This story from the Washington Post contributes further to the impression that the administration believes Saddam Hussein survived this spring’s U.S. invasion. Anonymous administration sources confirmed that a U.S. strike last week on a fleeing Iraqi three-vehicle convoy near the Syrian border led to DNA testing of the remains to see if Hussein was among them. Pentagon sources were somewhat cagey but acknowledged that there had been good intelligence that “one or more high-value targets” might be found in the convoy. Sovereignty be damned: U.S. forces reportedly followed the convoy into Syria before destroying it there.


Genetic sexual attraction:

“You’re 40, happily married – and then you meet your long-lost brother and fall passionately in love. This isn’t fiction; in the age of the sperm donor, it’s a growing reality: 50% of reunions between siblings, or parents and offspring, separated at birth result in obsessive emotions. Last month, a former police officer was convicted of incest with his half-sister – but should we criminalise a bond hardwired into our psychology?Guardian/UK


How ‘The Simpsons’ helps us to understand the way we learn people’s faces:

“Characters from Irish soap operas and The Simpsons have been used in ESRC-funded research into how we get to learn people’s faces.

Observations during the 1970s of witnesses mis-remembering unfamiliar people from crime scenes has led to a lot of investigation into face recognition over the years. Today’s rapidly increasing use of CCTV images makes the subject as topical as ever.

Previous research has shown that comparing images of unfamiliar faces to see whether they show the same person is highly prone to error, even when the pictures are high quality and the faces are shown at the same time to avoid relying on memory. By contrast, recognising familiar faces can be highly accurate, even when the image quality is extremely poor.

The aim of a new study led by Professor Vicki Bruce, now at Edinburgh University, was to investigate how faces become familiar to us.” EurekAlert!


The future looks bright:

“Language can help to shape the way we think about the world. Richard Dawkins welcomes an attempt to raise consciousness about atheism by co-opting a word with cheerful associations“:

My favourite consciousness-raising effort is one I have men tioned many times before (and I make no apology, for consciousness- raising is all about repetition). A phrase like ‘Catholic child’ or ‘Muslim child’ should clang furious bells of protest in the mind, just as we flinch when we hear ‘one man one vote’. Children are too young to know their religious opinions. Just as you can’t vote until you are 18, you should be free to choose your own cosmology and ethics without society’s impertinent presumption that you will automatically inherit your parents’. We’d be aghast to be told of a Leninist child or a neo-conservative child or a Hayekian monetarist child. So isn’t it a kind of child abuse to speak of a Catholic child or a Protestant child? Especially in Northern Ireland and Glasgow where such labels, handed down over generations, have divided neighbourhoods for centuries and can even amount to a death warrant? Guardian/UK


Your Zoloft Might Prevent a Heart Attack:

New York Times commentary by Dr. Peter Kramer, psychiatrist and author of Listening to Prozac: Patients are beginning to treat depression with respect. Whether their doctors are ready to do so is less clear.

… A study in the current issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association finds that almost six in 10 Americans who suffer depression seek treatment in a given year. A decade ago, the figure was one in three.

But the researchers found that only about 40 percent of patients received what standard guidelines consider ‘minimally adequate medical treatment.’ Those criteria call for a month of antidepressants monitored in four office visits or eight half-hour counseling sessions.

There is a long tradition in general medicine of ignoring or undertreating depression. But a second article in JAMA suggested reasons that the pattern may change. That report described the largest study of psychotherapy ever conducted, sponsored by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

The study is a response to evidence, developed over the past decade, that depression, like diabetes and hypertension, is a risk to the heart. By middle age, studies show, depression triples or quadruples the risk of cardiac death. The most acute danger comes in the wake of heart attacks. After a first attack, depression raises the risk of recurrence dramatically. NY Times

Kramer discusses the intimate relationship — probably far more complex than you would have expected — between depression and cardiac disease in some detail. Antidepressants likely reduce cardiovascular morbidity and mortality by a combination of mechanisms both related to and distinct from their antidepressant actions.

Quite rightly. But, on the other hand, at this year’s American Psychiatric Association annual meeting, I noticed a new marketing trend in the big pharmaceutical companies’ exhibit booths. And, whenever I notice a new marketing trend in pharmaceuticals, I assume it has much much more to do with preserving or enlarging profits than with scientific accuracy… Increasingly, the promotional gospel is that depression is a systemic disease rather than simply one of the mind. Emphasizing its connection with bodily fatigue, chronic pain, gastrointestinal distress, immune dysfunction, cardiovascular effects etc., while probably scientifically accurate, seem to serve primarily profit-making goals for their manufacturers by enhancing the likelihood that an antidepressant will be prescribed in a given instance.

As I have often written here, for the past several decades they have attempted, and largely succeeded, in enlisting internists and other primary care specialists as prescribers of psychoactive drugs, displacing mental health specialists to the detriment of the patients and then ignoring the contribution of that trend to the adverse outcomes. This effort will be facilitated if non-psychiatric practitioners are persuaded to conceptualize their patient’s depression as a physical disease, and if they can envision prescribing an antidepressant as potentially addressing their patients’ vague bodily complaints they find so vexing and time-consuming a part of a primary care practice.

In addition to facilitating the shift of antidepressant prescribing to non-psychiatric practitioners, this emphasis on depression as a physical ailment can be expected in a similar manner to shift the overall response to depression toward the medication solution and away from non-medical solutions such as psychotherapy… or simply adequate time and attention in the busy internist’s schedule.

I am not suggesting that Kramer is a knowing tool of the pharmaceutical industry. But if the zeitgeist is changing we ought to recognize the full range of contributing influences.


Foreign Fighters Add to Resistance in Iraq, U.S. Says.

“United States military commanders say foreign fighters are being actively recruited by loyalists to Saddam Hussein to join the resistance against American forces in Iraq, posing a new challenge to efforts to stabilize the country.” NY Times Several comments. First of all, this is predictable spin from an administration that wants to cast Iraq as part of a global terrorist conspiracy against us and is turning its sights to Syria, Iran and other demonized Islamic regimes. And, furthermore, it is an argument that clings to the pitiful fiction that we have ‘liberated’ the country and that, left to its own sentiments without the influence of ‘Baathist’ and “fundamentalist’ agitators, the Iraqis would be fawning all over their country’s liberators rather than killing them at an average rate of one American soldier a day NY Times.

Secondly, why in the world would we be surprised that our actions in Iraq recruited legions to the global fight against the American infidels or that they have failed to cease hostilities with the fall of Baghdad? Given that they had no loyalty to Saddam per se in the first place? Shouldn’t an effective American occupation have anticipated the need to close the porous boundaries if (as Maj. Gen. William Webster, deputy commander of the allied land command, is quoted as saying in a recent interview) “you have got Baath Party and regime loyalists west and northeast of the city who are calling buddies in foreign countries and getting fighters to come across the border” ?


Did Iraq have weapons of mass destruction? It doesn’t matter.

“Why are we even bothering to keep looking for those weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? At this point, what difference does it make whether we find them or not? Trying to find them serves two ostensible purposes: One is to prevent them from being used, and the other is to settle the argument about whether they exist. But neither purpose really applies any longer.” — Michael Kinsley, Slate

Kinsley argues that the people who would care that we were lied to about the justification for the war are already convinced. The bulk of the American public do not need proff, giving Bush a pass on this one. Even the administration has been retreating from the pretext, now saying the war was justified on purely humanitarian grounds.

I do differ from Kinsley on his other point, which is the irrelevancy of stopping any existing weapons from being used. He argues that without Saddam Iraq is not the rogue state we have to fear most, and there are other dangerous states out there more prone to use WMD against the civilized world. Now, I don’t believe the weapons were ever there, but if they were this argument would not hold water. Given the chaos that reigns in Iraq under US occupation, finding any WMD would matter not so much because there are government elements that represent a threat as because of the risk of diversion to unscrupulous — or even merely ignorant — elements. How can this risk be ignored given the (underreported) story last week from the Iraqi nuclear power facility at xxxx that radioactive uranium unguarded by occupying forces was dumped out onto the ground so the looters could use the barrels for food storage?

Kinsley’s essay veers off in a different direction, however, after considering these points. He wonders, as has been one of my recent preoccupations, why Americans are so ready to believe in WMD. I do agree that the phrase itself has become an incantation (‘”Weapons of mass destruction” are to George W. Bush what fairies were to Peter Pan. He wants us to say, “We DO believe in weapons of mass destruction. We DO believe. We DO.” ‘). Because he believes the debate is irrelevant, he is amazed how rarely people say they don’t know whether Iraq had WMD, the only correct answer. He seems to fault the confident naysayers like myself along with the credulous swallowers of every Bush lie, before wandering off into some unintelligible meditation on how many martinis it takes a pundit to form an opinion and how certain one has to be to believe anything. I suppose his point is to criticize pundit culture, but is he talking about the standards we ought to apply to political commentators or to the rest of us? It is a different but no less opinionated conceit, in a sense, to be the pundit of radical skepticism; I’m not sure the resurrection of the Know-Nothing Party is the answer for the crisis in political polarization in the U.S. today.


Genetic sexual attraction:

“You’re 40, happily married – and then you meet your long-lost brother and fall passionately in love. This isn’t fiction; in the age of the sperm donor, it’s a growing reality: 50% of reunions between siblings, or parents and offspring, separated at birth result in obsessive emotions. Last month, a former police officer was convicted of incest with his half-sister – but should we criminalise a bond hardwired into our psychology?Guardian/UK


Bush is a Coward:

Jack Balkwill:

“I am the one who took his place in Vietnam, so I should know.

Corporate media have convinced the masses of a fictitious warrior Bush, who is a hero. This has been effective, as a neighbor recently told me that “If Gore had been elected, he wouldn’t have had the guts to attack Iraq.” My heart sank when I heard that, as I cannot fathom how it “takes guts” to order bombs to be dropped on children. Only cowards can do such things. Cowards who desert from war themselves while insisting that the working class bleed and die for the excesses of their national security state.


The Democrats seem unable to locate an issue with which to oppose Bush, most having voted for everything he’s requested to date. May I suggest the truth? The single image Bush has promoted is flag-waving hero of the Republic. The evidence proves he is a coward.” Liberal Slant

Of course, this is just more preachng to the choir…


Hatch Site Hides X-Rated Link:

“Sen. Orrin Hatch’s Web woes just won’t go away. Until Friday, a link on the conservative Republican’s website led to a pornographic site.

As previously reported, Hatch’s website used unlicensed software for its menu system.

Earlier in the week, Hatch (R-Utah) suggested in Congress that people who steal copyright works off the Internet should have their computers automatically destroyed. Under such a scheme, Hatch’s own website servers probably would have qualified for the punishment.” Wired


Toxic metal clue to autism:

“A study of mercury levels in the baby hair of children who were later diagnosed with autism has produced startling results. The babies had far lower levels of mercury in their hair than other infants, leading to speculation that autistic children either do not absorb mercury or, more likely, cannot excrete it.” New Scientist


Hue and Cry on ‘Whiteness Studies’:

An Academic Field’s Take on Race Stirs Interest and Anger: “The privilege walk was part of a course in whiteness studies, a controversial and relatively new academic field that seeks to change how white people think about race. The field is based on a left-leaning interpretation of history by scholars who say the concept of race was created by a rich white European and American elite, and has been used to deny property, power and status to nonwhite groups for two centuries.

Advocates of whiteness studies — most of whom are white liberals who hope to dismantle notions of race — believe that white Americans are so accustomed to being part of a privileged majority they do not see themselves as part of a race.” Washington Post


Deconstructing Rowling:

“J. K. Rowling is an Inkling. That’s the well-argued thesis of John Granger’s fine book The Hidden Key to Harry Potter. Granger demonstrates the absurdity of the claim that Harry Potter is anti-Christian. And even if you’ve never worried about charges brought by misguided fundamentalists, The Hidden Key will substantially augment your understanding of what’s really at stake in Harry’s adventures.

The Inklings were originally a group of Oxford dons who wrote Christian fiction. The most famous of them are J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis. Lord of the Rings and the Narnia series never mention Christianity overtly, and in Tolkien’s books, religion itself is absent from the plot. Yet these mythopoeic books aim to ‘baptize the imagination’ of the reader — to teach her the importance of fighting for the right, no matter how powerful the forces of evil may appear.” National Review [via walker]

For those who follow the various series of children’s fantasies attracting attention these days, I found the following interesting:

The villain in Chamber of Secrets is Gilderoy Lockheart — the gilded, or false, king (“roi” in French) with a “locked heart.” Lockhart, best-selling author of a string of false books, is, Granger suggests, modeled on Philip Pullman, the militant atheist and best-selling real-life author of the Dark Materials children’s series — books that were written as a deliberate refutation of (C.S. Lewis’) Narnia.


Hussein Is Probably Alive in Iraq,

U.S. Experts Say:

American intelligence analysts now believe that Saddam Hussein is much more likely to be alive than dead, a view that has been strengthened in recent weeks by intercepted communications among fugitive members of the Saddam Fedayeen and the Iraqi intelligence service, according to United States government officials.

The officials said the recently obtained intelligence had re-intensified the search for Mr. Hussein along with his sons, Uday and Qusay. The search is being led by Task Force 20, a secret military organization that includes members of the Army’s highly specialized Delta Force and of the Navy’s elite counterterrorism squads, with support from the Central Intelligence Agency.

Intercepts of credible communications indicating that he is alive and must be protected have fueled this speculation. It is felt that if alive he would likely stay in Iraq rather than attempt to flee. Chalabi said more than a week ago that Saddam is in a loyalist area of Iraq with a remnant of his private fortune, offering bounties on American soldiers’ heads, but this was largely laughed off at the time. Could the continued loss of an average of one American soldier a day be contributing to a reevaluation of this intel, along with the inability to find any definitive physican evidence of his demise in the sites of our attempted assassinations?

Related: Captured Official Is Said to Tell U.S. Hussein Survived: ” top lieutenant to Saddam Hussein has also told American interrogators that he had fled to Syria with Saddam Hussein’s sons after the conflict.” NY Times


Saving Private Jessica —

“Pfc. Jessica Lynch did not mow down Iraqis until her ammo ran out, was not shot and apparently was not plucked from behind enemy lines by U.S. commandos braving a firefight. It looks as if the first accounts of the rescue were embellished, like the imminent threat from W.M.D., and like wartime pronouncements about an uprising in Basra and imminent defections of generals. There’s a pattern: we were misled…

None of this is to put down Private Lynch… Ms. Lynch is still a hero in my book, and it was unnecessary for officials to try to turn her into a Hollywood caricature. As a citizen, I deeply resent my government trying to spin me like a Ping-Pong ball

The Iraqis misused our prisoners for their propaganda purposes, and it hurts to find out that some American officials were misusing Private Lynch the same way.” —Nicholas Kristof, NY Times op-ed


Broadcaster apologizes for ‘completely unintentional mistake’ –

['Unintentional Mistake'??]TV graphic labels Bush ‘professional fascist’: “A graphic on an evening news broadcast identifying President Bush as a ‘professional fascist’ has touched off confusion, apologies and an investigation.

The estimated 360,000 viewers of New Zealand’s TV3 news program last night were ‘surprised and confused’ by the graphic, which was supposed to promote an upcoming weather report, the New Zealand Herald said.”


African hunt for stolen Boeing:

“The United States says it is working with African governments to try to find a stolen passenger jet that it fears may end up being used by terrorists.” BBC Several days ago, there seemed to be some premature reassurance about the whereabouts of this jet, but concerns have reemerged. Of course if it becomes too difficult to hijack a commercial flight, stealing a vulnerable jet from the ground becomes an attractive option.


Spike Lee vs. Spike TV:

In Spike War, Lee Takes Lead: ‘TNN has argued that the new name was inspired by the verb “spike” as opposed to the name “Spike.” “From day one, when we came up with the name ‘Spike,’ it was always thought of as an action word,” a spokesman said.

Nevertheless, network president Albie Hecht said in a round of press interviews in early April that Lee, as well as other figures such as director Spike Jonze, had at least partially inspired the name.’ Newsday


Men’s Genetic Essence Turns Out to be Mr. Fixit:

Silly headline but an important finding: “In today’s issue of the journal Nature, a 40-person research team describes in detail the ‘male-specific region’ of the Y, which makes up 95 percent of the stubby chromosome. The portrait they paint is of a Yoda-like entity that has physically shriveled over the eons but nevertheless has found a way to keep its unique powers.

Specifically, the Y chromosome has evolved a way to correct harmful mutations — or preserve and promote useful ones — without the benefit of having a nearly identical partner with which to trade DNA, as all other chromosomes do.

Study of the Y’s newly revealed genetic contents may eventually shed light on such broad mysteries as why male fetuses are more vulnerable and why men generally do not live as long as women. It may also help physicians better understand the cause and diversity of male infertility.” Washington Post


Developmental Milestone:

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix goes on sale tonight at 12:01, a fitting kickoff to the summer vacation season in my family, with the solstice upon us and school having ended for my 9-year-old son yesterday afternoon. He and I will be at the Children’s Bookstore for the Harry Potter gala tonight, culminating in a 12:01 trip to the cash register.

One of my recurring pleasures since the first Harry Potter book came out has been that we have read them aloud together, feverishly at times. But my son gingerly approached me this morning and let me know that he wants to read the book himself this time, he hopes I don’t mind. His rationale is that he will be able to read it more rapidly not having to wait for the limited evening-times we have to read together. The Artemis Fowl series, which we are reading aloud together, will go on hold (as Lord of the Rings did once, to my amazement, at my son’s receipt of a previous Potter release). There certainly is something bittersweet in this rite of passage. [Not to mention I will have to wait for him to be done with it before I can read it!]

Will the massive tome be worth the three-year wait? Literary critic Harold Bloom predicted the series will have no lasting appeal because it is atrocious writing. I have wondered whether, because of the phenomenal success of her film contracts and other tie-ins (Rowling is highly touted as now having a net worth greater than the Queen of England) the books would increasingly sacrifice subtlety for cinematic appeal. And, finally, I have misgivings about the remarkable growth in length from tome to tome (at this rate, the seventh book will have to appear in two volumes, someone quipped). Only exceptional books avoid collapsing under the weight of their own verbosity at this length; among recent ones, Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon, which I recommend to everyone as an engrossing and complex read, comes to mind. What could Rowling possibly have to say that would take more than 800 pages?

This book is such a potential bonanza for its publisher (if not booksellers, although on the basis of HPOP alone, it is reportedly like Christmas rush at amazon.com this week) that I am not sure I trust the gushing early reviews that have appeared today. But they are suggesting that Rowling’s writing has grown in nuance and sophistication as well as mere voluminousness. The book reportedly has a far broader geographic and emotional scope. This adolescent Potter, having grown a year from each volume to the next, is manifestly a much more tormented and angst-ridden character than the innocent wizard discovering his power and heroism my son and I had previously gotten to know. It would have been fun to read aloud and discuss with a quick-minded 9-year-old something with this depth…

As everybody knows by now, a major character is rumored to die in this novel. Rowling has undoubtedly made it difficult for Harry to bear, but my son and his peers have a good idea, from the buzz on the street, who it is and are prepared for the death, they say. Perhaps this too will be an important rite of passage experienced through the literary lens…


Iraq democratizing Iran?

“Real indigenous democracy does not seem to fit American plans for post-war Iraq – at least for now. Paul Bremer, the American proconsul, has said on the record that elections in Iraq are ‘premature’ – that’s how he justified his personal ban, last Saturday, on the election for governor of the holy city of Najaf, which was supposed to take place this coming Saturday and for which local political parties had been preparing for over a month. Bremer invoked technicalities, saying ‘there’s no electoral law’, ‘no ballot boxes’ and ‘no procedure’ in place. Bremer, a Pentagon favorite, former Henry Kissinger collaborator and specialist in counter-terrorism, has no Middle East – or democratic – experience.” Asia Times [thanks, walker]


Thank Allah for Little Girls:

Walker sent a link to this Seattle Catholic article, seeking refutations. I’ll forward them along if you send them to me here.

It is disturbing that many Catholics have adopted a philosophical preference for Islam over Judaism. Furthermore, in some instances, some prominent Catholics have even made the unfortunate suggestion that there is much commonality between the true Faith and the religion of Islam.

I have to believe that in doing so, they have little or no idea what Islam preaches or how its followers manifest their faith in the real world. It’s time for an expose of what the Koran and Islamic Law actually teach, and how that teaching is applied by its proponents.

It is not enough to simply say that life for Moslem girls is harsh and leave it at that. Catholics must come to some understanding of what life is really like for young girls in Islamic countries, so no reputable Catholic may ever again make the absurd claim of commonality between the Mohammedan religion and the one, true Catholic Faith.

The article goes on to characterize Islam as supporting forced genital mutilation of women, protection of men who violate women, ‘institutionalized pedophilia’ and ‘slavery’. [As contrasted with American Catholicism’s institutionalized pedophilia and protection of men who violate boys?] The logical fallacy of condemning Islam for what happens in Islamic nations goes entirely unexamined…


FDA : Stop Using Paxil for Pediatric Patients —

FDA Statement Regarding the Anti-depressant Paxil for Pediatric Population: “The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said today it is reviewing reports of a possible increased risk of suicidal thinking and suicide attempts in children and adolescents under the age of 18 treated with the drug Paxil for major depressive disorder (MDD). Although the FDA has not completed its evaluation of the new safety data, FDA is recommending that Paxil not be used in children and adolescents for the treatment of MDD. There is currently no evidence that Paxil is effective in children or adolescents with MDD, and Paxil is not currently approved for use in children and adolescents. Other approved treatment options are available for depression in children.” Also: Questions and Answers on Paxil. FDA/Center for Drug Evaluation and Research


US Troops Admit Shooting Iraqi Civilians:

“American troops today admitted they routinely gun down Iraqi civilians – some of whom are entirely innocent.

As distrust of the invading forces increases amongst the local population US soldiers said they have killed civilians without hesitation, shot injured opponents and abandoned them to die in agony.” Mirror.co.uk via Tom Tomorrow Read the unabashed merciless quotes from one Specialist Corporal Michael Richardson, and then keep telling me how little moral responsibility the grunts on the front lines have for their actions.