E-voting given go-ahead despite flaws

“A US electronic voting system which sparked alarm in July when experts suggested it could subvert an election outcome, has been given the go-ahead.

Faulty software underpinning a touch-screen voting system used in past US elections has been revamped substantially and will be used by Maryland voters in the next US elections, says a report published by the Governor’s Office of Maryland on Wednesday.

But the lead researcher on the original study showing that serious bugs in the software might allow one person to cast many votes, was sceptical.” —New Scientist [thanks, abby]


Right-Wing Punditry’s Reaction to the Valerie Plame Affair:

An Internal Dialogue:

“Why would master do this? Why he tricks us, and betrays us?

No, it couldn’t have been master! Master is good and kind, and gives us wriggly fishes from his table, so juicy sweet! No, no, never master!

But why would the names of lady spiesies be in the newspapers? It’s so confusing, it makes our brainses feel all swirly and bad!

No, master never said those nassty things! Never! It was the lady spysy herself who did it, never master! Gollum! Gollum!

It must have been … libruhlss!! Yes, libruhs, all conspirings and scheme-ings! Tricksy, sneaksy, and false! Libruhls have always hated the precious! They want to destroy the precious! But we won’t them, will we, precious! We will wring their necks!” —The Poor Man [thanks to walker]

I am really going to enjoy the dysadministration’s twists and turns on this one, and those of the warbloggers.


The Most Insidious of Traitors

William Rivers Pitt: “The White House has denied the allegation, and promises a full investigation. A great many people find it laughable to believe this White House is capable of investigating itself, and are demanding an independent investigation. A quick look at the White House telephone logs will reveal who called whom, and when. It may well be the case that Rove was not involved; there are several administration officials – Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Perle, Rice, Card – along with a constellation of administration associates and media mouthpieces, who had a vested interest in shutting Ambassador Wilson’s mouth. The White House phone logs will be revelatory. If this administration fails to hand those logs over, they will stand in taint of high treason.

J’accuse.” —truthout


A monster awakens?

“…(W)e may well be on the brink of the biggest catastrophe the modern world has ever witnessed“, according to this (alarmist?) report. Increased geothermal activity beneath Yallowstone National Park, which at first blush appears to be of concern only to potential visitors to the park, may herald the impending eruption of “one of the most destructive natural phenomena in the world: a massive supervolcano“, one of only a handful known to exist in the world. Listen to this scenario:

…(W)hen one erupts the explosion will be heard around the globe. The sky will darken, black acid rain will fall, and the Earth will be plunged into the equivalent of a nuclear winter. It could push humanity to the brink of extinction….

Bill McGuire, professor of geohazards at the Benfield Greig Hazard Research Centre at University College London, says that America’s Yellowstone Park is one of the largest and most dangerous supervolcanoes in the world. “The Yellowstone volcano can be likened to a sleeping dragon,” says Professor McGuire, “whose slow breathing brings repeated swelling and sinking of the Earth’s crust in northern Wyoming and southern Montana.”

Professor McGuire went on to explain that: “Many supervolcanoes are not typical hill-shaped structures but huge, collapsed craters called “calderas” that are filled with hot magma and are harder to detect. The Yellowstone supervolcano was detected in the Sixties when infra-red satellite photographs revealed a magma-filled caldera 85km long and 45km wide. It has been on a regular eruption cycle of 600,000 years. The last eruption was 640,000 years ago, so the next is long overdue.”

Volcanologists have been tracking the movement of magma under the park and have calculated that in parts of Yellowstone the ground has risen over seventy centimetres, almost two and a half feet, since 1923, indicating a massive swelling underneath the park.

“The impact of a Yellowstone eruption is terrifying to comprehend.” says Professor McGuire. “Magma would be flung 50 kilometres into the atmosphere. Within a thousand kilometres virtually all life would be killed by falling ash, lava flows and the sheer explosive force of the eruption. One thousand cubic kilometres of lava would pour out of the volcano, enough to coat the whole of the USA with a layer 5 inches thick. The explosion would be the loudest noise heard by man for 75,000 years.”

The long-term effects would be even more devastating. The thousands of cubic kilometres of ash that would shoot into the atmosphere would block out light from the sun, making global temperatures collapse. This is called a nuclear winter. A large percentage of the world’s plant life would be killed by the ash and the drop in temperature. The resulting change in the world’s climate would devastate the planet, and scientists know that another eruption is due – they just don’t know when.

Michael Rampino, a geologist at New York University, quoted in a BBC Horizon documentary on Supervolcanoes three years ago explained: “It’s difficult to conceive of an eruption this big. It’s really not a question of if it’ll go off, it’s a question of when, because sooner or later one of these large super eruptions will happen.” —Online Journal [via Medley]


The Presidency Wars

“The quintessential new warrior scans for confirmation of the president’s villainy, avoiding facts that might complicate his hatred.” —David Brooks, NY Times. [I posted a blink to Todd Gitlin’s appraisal of Brooks here.]

This sounds suspiciously like a right-wing echo of the ‘echo chamber’ conversation I had several weeks ago with Rebecca Blood and Lyn Millett, both on FmH and continuing over on Lyn’s Medley. Brooks makes the fundamentally flawed argument that, just because there is another side to the argument, harebrained as it might be (in this case, to suggest that Bush is anything less than inept and craven), one can be impeached for having some confidence in a firmly held conviction (in this case, that Bush is nothing but inept and craven). It is a tactic of the right to suggest that criticism is merely ideological bias (or, to Brooks, worse than passionate ideological difference: “The culture wars produced some intellectually serious books because there were principles involved. The presidency wars produce mostly terrible ones because the hatreds have left the animating ideas far behind and now romp about on their own.”); look for it and you’ll see this rhetorical argument throughout their discourse. Me, I still prefer dismissing and excluding the harebrained.

Brooks casts this as an extension of the ‘culture wars’ of the ’80’s, in which ideological and ethical gaps were unbridgeable. They remain so (sorry, Rebecca) no matter how much we style ourselves a pluralistic democratic society in which people are entitled to their opinions. But Brooks, aspiring to be the clever new kid on the op-ed block, has to take it further, suggesting that the ‘presidency wars’ are a new phenomenon beyond culture differences. He is wrong on two counts.

First is the newly fashionable observation (how many times have you read or heard it in just the last two weeks?) that the left’s Bush-loathing is ‘just like’ the right’s Clinton-loathing during the last administration. On the surface of it, this is an appealing tack. I heard a poignant piece from some NPR commentator last week who used her contempt for Bush as a vehicle to a new empathic connection to her mother, whose Clinton-bashing she had endured through the second half of the ’90’s. We all do it, its one of our cherished little foibles, Brooks says. Only consider the asymmetry.

Clinton-bashing from the right was not met with uncritical kneejerk contravention from the left. Clinton often offended the left mightily. Progressives did not so much like the man or support him as much as they argued the irrelevancy of the right’s attack on a deeply morally flawed man to his fitness to govern. As much as I agree that I would probably hate Bush if I got to know him personally, I would probably hate the smarmy Clinton as well. In contrast, have you ever heard an apologist for the current administration, an ideological conservative, acknowledge Bush’s personal flaws? This may be firmly embedded in, rather than transcending in any way as Brooks attempts to suggest, the ‘culture wars’ (rigid and moralistic thinkers with an inherent bias toward respecting authority and a difficulty distniguishing the man from his privilege and title vs. moral relativists whose belief in the corrpution of politics and government makes them nonplussed by the idea of a moral failure as President).

In a second sense, the ‘presidency wars’ are a perfect reflection of the ‘culture wars’ rather than something different. Bush-hating is merely the latest, greatest fruition of anti-elitist progressive bitterness at the failure of the meritocratic ideals on whose promise they were raised.

Jonathan Chait’s New Republic piece Mad About You, the case for Bush hatred, which takes some jibes at David Brooks and to which Brooks’ piece seemes to be a reply, does an excellent job establishing the significant differences between Bush hatred and Clinton hatred; in comparison, Brooks’ column is empty handwaving in feeble response. Chait finds Bush hatred entirely justified on ideological grounds alone, although he warns of the rabid fringe of Bush haters whose rage gives voice to ill-thought-out conspiracy theories (we invaded Iraq just to boost Halliburton’s profits; oh, that’s Cheney’s motivation, not Bush’s [joke…]) and worries that Democrats blinded by their hatred will choose a Presidential candidate merely on the basis of his ability to vent their rage for them (a vast misintepretation of what Dean’s appeal is all about, IMO) rather than one who can beat Bush. (Dean may not be able to appeal to the vast heartlands who would have to vote Democratic, but it is not so much because they are on the other side of the ‘presidency war’ as that they are across the ‘culture war’ gulf…). By the way, the companion New Republic piece by Ramesh Ponnuru, Hate Crimes: the case against Bush hatred, also does little more than agree with Chait that Bush hatred may lead Democrats to strategic mistakes.

But in a sense Brooks is right that Bush-hating transcends mere principled ideological dispute, as did Clinton-hating. It is no mistake that observers discern ‘presidency wars’ in the furor over the past two presidents. It is not, however, so much because of any essential change in the tenor or nature of political discourse, but because of a run of inappropriate choices we have faced for the presidency. Brooks does not seem to have noticed, but I would cite the beginnings of this landscape of contempt when a two-bit actor ascended to the throne more than twenty years ago. No, let me go even further back, to the worst 20th-century president, Richard Nixon, who inspired visceral rage and contempt quite apart from his dirty campaign tricks and his despicable conduct of the war in Indochina. I recall my terrifying introduction to Nixon and a new dimension of political rage in a piece profiling him, long before his election, in the first issue of Ralph Ginsburg’s short-lived (1968-71) “post pyrotechnic, futuristic bimonthly of intellectual pleasure” Avant Garde — the article, whose author I no longer recall, was responsible for my taking out a charter subscription. [With the input of the likes of Herb Lubalin and Milton Glaser, Avant Garde is remembered these days, when it is, for its graphic and typographic design, rather than its content…] Nixon, Reagan, Clinton, Shrub, were in their own ways mediocre men who by rights should have been recognized as unfit to govern (although of course I am reminded of the maxim that a nation gets the leader it deserves). If the tenor of the criticism has become more shrill, it is because the unfitness is more evident and the stakes higher. Here is Chait again, on:

… the oft-posed question of why liberals detest Bush more than Reagan. It’s not just that Bush has been more ideologically radical; it’s that Bush’s success represents a breakdown of the political process. Reagan didn’t pretend to be anything other than what he was; his election came at the crest of a twelve-year-long popular rebellion against liberalism. Bush, on the other hand, assumed office at a time when most Americans approved of Clinton’s policies. He triumphed largely because a number of democratic safeguards failed. The media overwhelmingly bought into Bush’s compassionate-conservative facade and downplayed his radical economic conservatism.

Chait shares my vehemence about Bush’s intellectual unfitness to govern, which longtime FmH readers know has been one of my trademark rants since Bush’s early public appearances during the 2000 presidential campaign. As Chait points out, however, it has become taboo as a subject:

Just as mainstream Democrats and liberals ceased to question Bush’s right to hold office, so too did they cease to question his intelligence. If you search a journalistic database for articles discussing Bush’s brainpower, you will find something curious. The idea of Bush as a dullard comes up frequently–but nearly always in the context of knocking it down. While it’s described as a widely held view, one can find very few people who will admit to holding it. Conservatives use the theme as a taunt–if Bush is so dumb, how come he keeps winning? Liberals, spooked, have concluded that calling Bush dumb is a strategic mistake.

Yes, it took me awhile, but I realized eventually that it was not just that the idea of the president-as-dullard did not seem to concen the voting public; it was downright appealing.

Knee-jerk loyalty to the current president is so out of touch with reality that it would be laughable if it hadn’t turned the country over to Bush’s authoritarian handlers, corporate rapists and world hegemonists, behind the smokescreen of apologistics.

Brooks tries to disarm his critics with facile suggestions that he is ecumenical about his concerns and above the ideological fray:

And for those who are going to make the obvious point: Yes, I did say some of these things during the Clinton years, when it was conservatives bashing a Democrat, but not loudly enough, which I regret, because the weeds that were once on the edge of public life now threaten to choke off the whole thing.

Indeed; but you supported Clinton’s impeachment wholeheartedly. Nice try, David, but no go. Your slip is showing…

Related: What is David Brooks talking about?

We couldn’t help but be a little confused by David Brooks’s New York Times column this morning. The premise of the piece is that the culture wars of the 1980s and early ’90s have evolved into the “presidency wars” of the late ’90s and the present–by which Brooks means that we’ve stopped debating large principles and started acting out our visceral dislike of the other side.

This much we get. But Brooks loses us when he cites a quote from a recent piece by our colleague Jonathan Chait–and, by implication, holds Chait up as the epitome of the presidential warrior. —The New Republic

Addendum: Here, Chait responds to Brooks and others. “A recent article of mine in TNR defending Bush hatred seems to have worked like some kind of conservative dog whistle, silently summoning drooling right-wingers out of their lairs to bay at the moon…Wait. Did I just lump David Brooks together with a bunch of incoherent right-wing knuckle-draggers? I suppose I did. That’s probably not fair, given that Brooks is intelligent and an excellent writer. But of course that’s precisely what he does to me in his column.”

Chait goes on:

Brooks has every right to disagree with me about the relative merits of Presidents Bush and Clinton, but he has no right to distort my argument or the nature of my writing. As a matter of fact, I spend far more time reading the conservative media–in addition to National Review Online, The Weekly Standard, The Wall Street Journal editorial page, and Andrew Sullivan’s website are all part of my daily fare–than I do reading liberal commentary. My piece on Bush hatred explicitly addressed the arguments of conservatives and mustered facts in rebuttal. And it explicitly compared Clinton–whom I have criticized in print many times before–with Bush. Moreover, I’ve also argued in that piece and elsewhere (a Washington Post op-ed entitled, “Blinded by Bush Hatred”) that liberals shouldn’t allow their distrust of Bush to lead to reflexive opposition to his policies–my primary example being the Iraq war, which I supported. After confessing my personal dislike for Bush, I proceeded to carefully explain why liberal hatred for Bush is understandable given the way he attained his office and has governed since.

The irony is that the exertions of the anti Bush-haters lack even an attempt at analytical rigor. Brooks does not even mention, let alone try to refute, my argument. Novak and Hewitt’s responses are on the level of discourse you’d find at a Howard Dean rally. Brooks’s sadness over the simplicity of the Bush-haters therefore rings a bit hollow.

Chait concludes by placing Brooks’ piece in context: “The timing of Brooks’s plea for civility is a tad suspicious. After Republican culture wars softened up Clinton, and tainted Al Gore, paving the way for Bush’s election, suddenly it’s time to declare president-hating out of bounds.” …as conservatives face the spectre of their new-found arrogant ascendency slipping through their one-term fingers because of the actions of their eminently hate-able man in the White House, too inept to keep pulling the wool over our eyes.


Outsourcing War

An inside look at Brown & Root, the kingpin of America’s new military-industrial complex:

“…The military police pried its driver, Fred Bryant Jr., from the wreckage and raced him to a military field hospital. Bryant, 39, died en route, the first KBR combat casualty since the Texas contractor was founded in 1919.

Bryant’s death underscores the U.S. military’s heavy reliance on private military companies, or PMCs, to wage war in Iraq. By most estimates, civilian contractors are handling as much as 20% to 30% of essential military support services in Iraq. Scores of PMCs are active all across the country, but KBR in particular has become indispensable to the global projection of American military might in this unsettled age. ‘It is no exaggeration to say that wherever the U.S. military goes, so goes Brown & Root,’ says P.W. Singer, a Brookings Institution fellow and author of Corporate Warriors. Widely known as Brown & Root, KBR is a unit of oil-services giant Halliburton Co. (HAL ) — Dick Cheney’s old company.” —BusinessWeek [via Interesting People mailing list]


Fan Friction

“Like cool kids angered that their favorite cult band had signed on with a major label and started churning out pop drivel, some former members of the Draft Clark movement are already charging the onetime general with selling out. His nascent campaign, they say, has been taken over by mainstream political operatives who are minimizing the influence of the draft movement, dismantling the draft sites and slowly destroying the Internet community that, for the past six months, served as an incubator for Clark’s then-hypothetical presidential bid. Even more disturbingly, others charge, the professional operatives may have been planning this all along.” The American Prospect


CIA seeks probe of White House

“The CIA has asked the Justice Department to investigate allegations that the White House broke federal laws by revealing the identity of one of its undercover employees in retaliation against the woman’s husband, a former ambassador who publicly criticized President Bush’s since-discredited claim that Iraq had sought weapons-grade uranium from Africa, NBC News has learned.

The former envoy, Joseph Wilson, who was acting ambassador to Iraq before the first Gulf War, was dispatched to Niger in 2002 to investigate a British intelligence report that Iraq sought to buy uranium there. Although Wilson discredited the report, Bush cited it in his State of the Union address in January among the evidence he said justified military action in Iraq.

The administration has since had to repudiate the claim. CIA Director George Tenet said the 16-word sentence should not have been included in Bush’s Jan. 28 speech and publicly accepted responsibility for allowing it to remain in the president’s text.

Wilson published an article in July alleging, however, that the White House recklessly made the charge knowing it was false.

…The next week, columnist Robert Novak published an article in which he revealed that Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, was a covert CIA operative specializing in weapons of mass destruction. “Two senior administration officials told me Wilson’s wife suggested sending him to Niger to investigate,” Novak wrote.

The White House has denied being Novak’s source, whom he has refused to identify. But Wilson has said other reporters have told him White House officials leaked Plame’s identity.” — MSNBC


Dying to Kill Us

“I have spent a year compiling a database of every suicide bombing and attack around the globe from 1980 to 2001 — 188 in all. It includes any attack in which at least one terrorist killed himself or herself while attempting to kill others, although I excluded attacks authorized by a national government, such as those by North Korea against the South. The data show that there is little connection between suicide terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism, or any religion for that matter. In fact, the leading instigator of suicide attacks is the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, a Marxist-Leninist group whose members are from Hindu families but who are adamantly opposed to religion (they have have committed 75 of the 188 incidents).

Rather, what nearly all suicide terrorist campaigns have in common is a specific secular and strategic goal: to compel liberal democracies to withdraw military forces from territory that the terrorists consider to be their homeland. Religion is rarely the root cause, although it is often used as a tool by terrorist organizations in recruiting and in other efforts in service of the broader strategic objective.” — Robert A. Pape, University of Chicago political scientist, NY Times op-ed


‘Mongol Hordes’ Return to Baghdad,

This Time as Peacekeepers:

“In 1258, the Mongol general Hulegu, a grandson of Genghis Khan, sacked Baghdad, killing 800,000 people and ending its primacy as the largest city in the Arab world.

This month, the Mongolians returned to Iraq. Ferried into the country on American military transports, 180 Mongolian Army soldiers — all male, all volunteers — are guarding pipelines and working on construction projects under a Polish command.


‘This is not like the 13th century,’ Col. B. Erkhenbayar, commander of Mongolia’s Peacekeeping Operation Battalion, said here, smiling so widely his eyes disappeared. ‘Then, we went to invade. This time, we are going to build Iraq.’

In the Bush administration’s roster of 34 nations serving in Iraq in the American-led ‘coalition of the willing’ about half are formerly Communist countries like Mongolia. Like many other normally overlooked nations that have sent soldiers to Iraq, Mongolia did so more out of geopolitics than concern for Iraq. Mongolia’s offer of troops surprised the American government because it had not asked Mongolia for help, said Steven R. Saunders, president of a private, Washington-based group promoting business ties with Mongolia.” NY Times


Don’t fear new bar codes

“”The risk it poses to humanity is on a par with nuclear weapons,” Katherine Albrecht says.

The deadly new threat Albrecht, the founder of Consumers Against Shopping Privacy Invasion and Numbering, is talking about: the latest development in retail technology, a new generation of bar codes called electronic product codes (EPC). These tiny bar codes send and receive data using radio waves, eliminating manual scanning.

This new technology will lower prices, improve selections and supplies, eliminate counterfeits (especially prescription drugs) and reduce theft. Eventually, it will help customers maintain and replace products from a carton of milk to the refrigerator that holds it.

The first generation of bar codes has helped do that for nearly 30 years. But if misguided privacy alarmists have their way, the benefits of the next generation of bar codes may be denied or delayed.

Privacy advocates are concerned that retailers and manufacturers will use EPC (also called radio frequency identification tags) to track our every purchase, monitor products after they leave the store and use that information without our knowledge.” USA Today

[When USA Today tells us not to be afraid of something, watch your back?]


What kind of thinker are you?

A quiz:

“Some people have a strong preference for one style of thinking, and find some skills come more naturally than others. Other people tend to adopt different thinking styles in different situations.

This test gives you an idea of what your current thinking style or styles are. But remember – the brain is a very adaptive organ. You should be able to improve your performance in any one of these categories with practice. — BBC/Leonardo [via Arthur Hlavaty]

I turned out to be an “Interpersonal Thinker”:

  • Like to think about other people, and try to understand them
  • Recognise differences between individuals and appreciate that different people have different perspectives
  • Make an effort to cultivate effective relationships with family, friends and colleagues

[No surprises there, right? Except maybe that part about trying to cultivate effective relationships with collleagues; I am at times too contrarian and inflammatory to be accused of that!]


Left-Handed Compliments

Can progressives love a military man? “As pundits pounce on Wesley Clark, his presidential campaign is beginning to look like a bubble on the verge of bursting. It remains to be seen whether Clark can connect with anyone who isn’t a political junkie. But one big surprise is how open progressives are to his candidacy. Not that they’re keen on falling for a four-star general, even one who calls himself a liberal. But interviews with black activists, feminists, anti-war activists, and left-wing intellectuals yielded a loose consensus that if it takes a warrior to beat George Bush, bring him on.” — Richard Goldstein, The Village Voice


A trend with legs:

Fiction book covers sprout appendages: “You can’t walk through a bookstore these days without seeing gams galore. Legs in boots, legs on roller skates and legs ending in bare feet abound, but stroll by the ‘new fiction’ table, and what you’ll see most often is a curvy set of legs in a sassy set of spike heels.” — Maureen Ryan, Chicago Tribune


Implications of Sept. 11 for emergency management studied:

“Within three days of the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center, university researchers joined emergency personnel at Ground Zero and other locations to begin studying the events’ aftermath and recovery efforts.

The results of their studies were published this week by the Natural Hazards Research and Applications Information Center based at the University of Colorado at Boulder…

Topics of the 22 individual studies included creativity in emergency response to the World Trade Center disaster, corporate responses and interactions with the public sector, volunteer behavior, implications of the 9-11 events for federal emergency management, impacts on Muslim college students and risk communication and public warning…

Based on findings from these studies, the book includes numerous conclusions and recommendations for how public policy and disaster response can be improved. Some of the recommendations on ways to better cope with terrorist attacks include:

  • Law enforcement and investigative personnel need to be integrated into disaster planning, training and exercises because they will have a central role in terrorist disasters.
  • More media attention to the broader political, social, religious and other aspects of Sept. 11 and similar disasters could help Americans better understand the terrorism risk and the consequences of preventative actions the country might take.
  • Researchers and practitioners need to communicate information on the best protective actions that people can take in response to terrorism, so that proper warnings and instructions can be formulated.
  • A consistent policy is needed that balances the public’s and the research community’s need to know versus the need to keep information and databases about critical infrastructure systems secure.” EurekAlert!


Heading into difficulty?

“New soccer studies show short and long-term consequences of common practice”.EurekAlert!

It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to recognize that frequent heading might be dangerous to neurocognitive function. I don’t let my soccer-playing kids head the ball and have generally found their coaches sympathetic to not encouraging the practice. However, it is hard for soccer traditionalists to let go of. This should not be surprising; after all, there is a constituency for prizefighting despite the neurological violence that does, even with the prominent case of Muhammed Ali’s Parkinsonism (which has likely been induced by the blows he took to his head over his career) and the well-known condition called dementia pugilistica.


Brooks No Argument

Todd Gitlin: “Bobos unimpressed by Paul Krugman’s crusades will relish (David) Brooks’ new appointment as an op-ed columnist at The New York Times. Stationed at column right, he’s likely to outlast William Safire, whose career-long cover-up exercises on behalf of Richard Nixon, Ariel Sharon and various intelligence sources have made no small contribution to Republican morale over his 30 years on the page (though Safire has also broken ranks to display a tender spot for civil liberties). Brooks, despite his Washington years, probably won’t channel insider talk with Safire’s gusto. What besides good fun can he bring to his coveted niche?” The American Prospect


What if There Is Something Going On in There?

“To the medical world, …the hundreds of thousands of …Americans who suffer from impaired consciousness present a mystery. Traditionally, there have essentially been only two ways to classify them: as comatose (eyes closed and responses limited to basic reflexes) or vegetative (eyes opening and closing in a cycle of sleeping and waking but without any sign of awareness). In either case, it has been assumed that they have no high-level thought. But Schiff, Hirsch and a small group of like-minded researchers are studying (such patients) and finding that the truth is far more complicated. Their evidence suggests that even after an injury that leaves a brain badly damaged, even after months or years with little sign of consciousness, people may still be capable of complex mental activity. ”If I say, ‘Touch your nose,’ and you touch your nose, and then I say ‘Touch your nose’ six more times, and you don’t do it, how do we account for the one time you did?” asks Joseph T. Giacino, a neuropsychologist who collaborates with Schiff and Hirsch.

Last year in the journal Neurology, Giacino and 10 co-authors accounted for that touch of the nose — and other enigmatic hints of awareness they have observed — by proposing a new category of consciousness: the minimally conscious state. By their reckoning, a vast number of people who might once have been considered vegetative actually have hidden reserves of mental activity. And as the study of Rios suggests, brain scans may be able to help scientists eavesdrop on their inner world. ”It’s free speech for people who have no speech,” Hirsch says.

The implications of this research, both for medical ethics and practical policy, are potentially huge. Traumatic brain injuries are a significant health problem in the United States, but the study and treatment of them are clouded with a sense of hopelessness, a feeling that consciousness is too mysterious to be understood. When faced with patients in a vegetative state, doctors can do little more than wait to see if they wake up. No treatment has ever been definitively shown to help patients recover consciousness, and doctors can’t predict which patients will emerge from a vegetative state and which won’t. If patients don’t show signs of recovery in a few weeks, they usually wind up at home with their families or in nursing homes, and they rarely see a neurologist again. In 1976, in a famous court case, the parents of Karen Ann Quinlan, a woman who had been in a vegetative state for about a year, won the right to take her off a ventilator (after which she lived until 1985). ”There’s a point where people give up” and discontinue aggressive treatment, says Joseph J. Fins, chief of the division of medical ethics at Weill Medical College. ”The question is, Are we giving up too soon on the ones who might become more functional?” Schiff and his colleagues say that the answer, in too many cases, may be yes.” NY Times Magazine


The Ultimate in Self-Medication

Auto-analysis: “For what could be considered a form of psychotherapy, three New York therapists were shown pictures of the latest crop of speedsters, muscle cars and S.U.V.’s and asked to free-associate. It was a vehicular Rorschach test of sorts. The goal was to learn a bit about the positive and negative desires that motivate people to buy certain types of automobiles — is there a car for every midlife crisis? — and to uncover the tactics car designers use to lure customers. ” NY Times Magazine



I’m a genre reader and I didn’t know it! Bruce Sterling surveys the modern literary scene and proposes to define a new genre of fiction: “(T)his is a kind of writing which simply makes you feel very strange; the way that living in the late twentieth century makes you feel, if you are a person of a certain sensibility.” Scanning the list of ‘slipstream’ works he attaches to the column, I find many of the most memorable novels I’ve read in the last, oh, twenty years or so. Catscan


Weisberg Leads Slate to a Higher Place

“Replacing Michael Kinsley would have been a daunting task for anyone, but the online magazine’s veteran political correspondent has led it up the mountain to profitability and greater recognition…OJR Among other things. Weisberg talks in this interview about the controversial deal to bring Slate to NPR in the form of the co-produced show Day to Day, about which I just became aware (and which is not carried by either of my two local NPR stations).

I think there are a certain number of people who listen to NPR who are going to hear that a magazine owned by Microsoft is involved with NPR and then think, “My god, NPR is being tainted.” But if NPR is tainted, it’s tainted by all the funding sources it has to have, from foundations that have an agenda to various corporations that sponsor, including Microsoft. But the idea that partnering with an independent-minded magazine that happens to be owned by Microsoft somehow taints them in a way other things they do don’t doesn’t make any sense to me.

And, for those to whom this makes a difference, Doonesbury is now also on Slate.


Fan Friction

“Like cool kids angered that their favorite cult band had signed on with a major label and started churning out pop drivel, some former members of the Draft Clark movement are already charging the onetime general with selling out. His nascent campaign, they say, has been taken over by mainstream political operatives who are minimizing the influence of the draft movement, dismantling the draft sites and slowly destroying the Internet community that, for the past six months, served as an incubator for Clark’s then-hypothetical presidential bid. Even more disturbingly, others charge, the professional operatives may have been planning this all along.” The American Prospect


How to Beat the Verisign Redirect

“Verisign’s controversial new SiteFinder service replaces ‘Cannot find server or DNS error’ for missing domain names with results that may point to Verisign partners and now it has spawned a lawsuit by a competitor who alleges that the results could give Verisign and its partners an unfair advantage.

So while the litigation gets going is there no way for you to return your system to its former self. Will every ‘domain not found’ now result in a SiteFinder page? Maybe not. PC Magazine editors sat down this morning and hashed out an interim ‘fix’. All that’s required is a few simple adjustments to your system.”


Insurer Seeks Return of Fees for Therapy

“For years, health insurers have occasionally demanded a look at psychotherapists’ notes of their sessions with patients, to ensure that the care they were paying for was appropriate, or that it actually took place.

But now one insurer, Oxford Health Plans, is saying that in many cases, the notes are not enough evidence that the patients received what Oxford paid for. Oxford has audited hundreds of psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers in the New York metropolitan area, deemed their notes inadequate documentation of the sessions, and demanded repayment of thousands of dollars from each provider — in some cases, more than $100,000.

The therapists and their professional associations paint Oxford’s actions as another skirmish in a decade-long campaign by insurers to save money by denying coverage — but one that sets a new standard for aggressiveness. They say that no other insurance company has denied payment because session notes were not detailed enough or long enough…” NY Times

Let’s face facts: health insurers will do anything they can to deny coverage and save money. The only thing surprising about this maneuver is that it hasn’t been tried until now. You know that the rest of the industry will follow suit if this works. While psychiatry visit notes relating to the patient’s use of medications have to be detailed enough to show a thorough evaluation of medical factors, it is customary for a ‘talk therapist’s’ session notes to go no further than documenting that the patient was there, which billing category the visit fell under, and what diagnosis the patient carries (for insurance purposes; don’t get me started on the problems with this ‘pigeonholing’…). Anything more will have a chilling effect on the patient’s candor in the psychotherapy and set the therapist up in an open-ended fashion for an ethical violation of thier client’s privilege.


More Uses for Stimulant Endorsed

The modafinil saga continues: “An advisory panel to the Food and Drug Administration endorsed yesterday new uses for a stimulant that keeps people awake with fewer side effects than caffeine or amphetamines.

The panel said the drug, Provigil, now approved only for narcolepsy, could also be used to fight sleepiness in workers who cannot adjust to night shift jobs and in people who do not sleep well because of a breathing disorder known as obstructive sleep apnea.

But with some members expressing concern that the drug might be overprescribed, the committee did not endorse the request by the drug’s manufacturer, Cephalon, that it be approved for all sleep disorders.” NY Times


Novelist William T. Vollman’s New Math:

A Calculus of Violence: “…(O)ver the last decade and a half, Mr. Vollmann, 44, has pumped out thousands of pages of dark, difficult, scatological prose rife with all manner of violence and degradation. Thanks to books like Whores for Gloria, The Rainbow Stories and nearly a dozen other titles, he has earned a cult following and comparisons to both Thomas Pynchon and Céline.

His fascination with prostitutes, pimps, drug addicts and skinheads is legendary. As are his research methods. His quest for authenticity has led him to prowl war zones and bad neighborhoods, to sleep with streetwalkers, to smoke crack with junkies and to endure grueling physical ordeals. …(H)is enthusiasm for guns, it turns out, owes more to moral conviction than literary curiosity. It is a direct result, Mr. Vollmann says, of the research he undertook for his latest work: Rising Up and Rising Down, a 3,000-page meditation on the ethics of violence.

The book, which will be published in seven volumes by McSweeney’s in October (and in abridged form by Ecco next year), took him 23 years to write. A dense, meandering, amalgam of historical analysis, contemporary case studies, anecdotes, essays, theory, charts, graphs, photographs and drawings, it is Mr. Vollmann’s attempt to bring definitive resolution to a conundrum that has preoccupied generations of thinkers: under what conditions can violence be justified?

As he writes on page 291, when he finally gets around to explaining his intentions: ‘My own aim in beginning this book was to create a simple and practical moral calculus which would make it clear when it was acceptable to kill, how many could be killed and so forth.'” NY Times


Rummy, Anyone?

French card deck names ‘most dangerous’ U.S. leaders: “The ace of spades? Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld gets the honor in a new French deck of cards. President Bush is the king of diamonds and Osama bin Laden the joker.” CNN

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“Head of a baseball club and director of Salem bin Laden’s oil company (brother of Osama). Designated President of the United States by friends of his father at the Supreme Court before the vote count showed that he lost the elections.”


These monster trucks finding the family welcome mat

“Despite high gasoline prices and social pressure to drive more efficient cars, the best-selling vehicles in the United States this year are trucks by Ford, Chevy, and Dodge, all of which are being made larger, often with four doors, and marketed to families as lifestyle vehicles.” Boston Globe

And: The Pickup, A Love Story:

“If you sit behind the wheel of a 2004 pickup, it’s pretty hard to find the way back to that truck of yesteryear — with the plywood floors, the two-piece windshield and the hand-crank windows — the one that America first fell in love with. Dealer lots all over the country twinkle with full-size pickups that taunt us with awesome power that we will, very likely, never need and assuage us with deep pile carpet, countless cup holders, GPS guidance systems and power sunroofs. Truth be told, we would all find a long ride in the ancestral pickup less than enjoyable. But that doesn’t mean the roots of the pickup aren’t important. In fact, the history is essential to understanding how the pickup has come to represent a perfect marriage of our desire for frontier-style freedom and suburban-style comfort.” NY Times


R.I.P. Edward W. Said

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Polymath Scholar Dies at 67
: “He was an exemplar of American multiculturalism, at home both in Arabic and English, but, as he once put it, ‘a man who lived two quite separate lives,’ one as an American university professor, the other as a fierce critic of American and Israeli policies and an equally fierce proponent of the Palestinian cause.

Though a defender of Islamic civilization, Dr. Said (pronounced sah-EED) was an Episcopalian married to a Quaker. He was also an excellent pianist who for several years wrote music criticism for The Nation. From 1977 to 1991 he was an unaffiliated member of the Palestine National Council, a parliament in exile. Most of the council’s members belong to one of the main Palestinian organizations, most importantly to Yasir Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization, but some belonged to smaller organizations believed responsible for terrorist operations against Israelis and Americans, such as George Habash’s Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.” NY Times