Apple launches iTunes for Windows

“Apple Computer unveiled the Windows version of its closely watched iTunes music jukebox software and song store Thursday, in a rare foray away from the Macintosh platform.

Like the iTunes Music Store service it unveiled for the Macintosh computer last April, the new jukebox software for Windows is free and offers a one-click access to downloads of an expansive music catalogue, with most songs priced at 99 cents. The company had promised to launch the Microsoft version, widely anticipated to be unveiled at Thursday’s event, by the end of the year.” —CNET


Fighting fashionable nonsense:

Paradigms U Like: “We want the freedom to believe what we like, ignore facts, sugar-coat reality, but then we have to recognize that there is a price to pay. If we abdicate reason and clear thinking and reality checks, the result is not only that pesky scientists can’t gainsay our beliefs–neither can we gainsay those of fundamentalists, theocrats, obscurantists, Nazis, Holocaust deniers. We have to choose, we can’t have it both ways, we can’t embrace irrational ideas we just happen to like and reject the ones we don’t. If you insist on setting sail for the realm of hunch and intuition and thinking with your gut, you’re likely to meet some fellow voyagers who are not all peace and love and light.” — Ophelia Benson, Butterfiles and Wheels



The fatal grandeur of the Golden Gate Bridge, “a threshold that presides over the end of the continent and a gangway to the void beyond.” The essay starts with an arresting story, as is often the case in New Yorker style, in which one of only twenty-six survivors of jumps or falls from the Golden Gate gets a second chance… to jump again. It goes on to discuss the romance of jumping from the bridge, as contrasted to its sister the Bay Bridge, to suicide from which is considered tacky.

“Almost everyone in the Bay Area knows someone who has jumped, and it is perhaps not surprising that the most common fear among San Franciscans is gephyrophobia, the fear of crossing bridges.” The notoriety of the bridge inspires a peculiar pride in those in the Bay area, the article suggests. Even after an atrocious incident in which a jumper first threw his three-year-old daughter over the railing before followiing her down, a majority of citizens oppose a longstanding suggestion that the low railing be augmented by an anti-jumping barrier. Despite evidence that barriers have substantially reduced fatalities at other famous locales of high elevation, the idea of a barrier is opposed on grounds of aesthetics, cost, the facile and misguided attitude I might call ‘jumpers’ rights’, and the idea that ‘the jumpers will simply go elsewhere.’ Although this notion makes common sense, it is not true. A 1978 study followed up on 515 people who had been prevented from jumping from the bridge between 1937 and 1971; 94% were still alive or had died of causes other than suicide. For the thirty or so jumpers who go over the railing each year, current intervention methods (surveillance cameras, emergency phones on the bridge, and alleged special patrol attention) catch fifty to eighty, by most estimates.

Many are surprised that in San Francisco, where every platform seems to have an audience, the concerns about the Golden Gate’s fatal attraction inspire apathy. Suicidologists see that as a reflection of the time-honored stigmatization and abhorrence of the suicidal. This has taken a perverse form in the Bay Area media’s ‘countdown fever’ to the milestone 500th (in 1973) and 1000th (in 1995) suicide from the bridge. Among others, the Marin County coroner’s office, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Association of Suicidology have pleaded with the media to downplay the suicides. While there is good evidence that media coverage can inspire copycat suicides, no one needs to publicize the Golden Gate as a venue; it is ubiquitous in the Bay Area. This may perhaps be part of the reason that several wrongful-death lawsuits brought by survivors of Bridge jumpers have been thrown out of court.

The essayist concludes that building an anti-suicide barrier

would be to acknowledge that we do not understand each other; to acknowledge that much of life is lived on …the far side of the railing. (Its designer) believed that the Golden Gate would demonstrate man’s control over nature, and so it did. No engineer, however, has discovered a way to control the wildness within. —The New Yorker

The article says that many who work on the Golden Gate Bridge deal with the constant presence of suicide by distancing themselves from it. ‘I don’t like those people, I’ve got my own problems’, one is quoted as saying. But from its non-technical perspective, this thoughtful essay joins the ranks of important psychiatric papers which urge that the only way those of us who deal with the suicidal can be of help is to embrace fully the dizzying encounter with what it means to be truly and poignantly contemplating ending one’s own existence. Boston psychoanalysts Dan Buie and John Maltsberger, for example, under whom I was privileged to study, in a classical paper in the Archives of General Psychiatry in 1974 which remains unsurpassed as a primer of suicide assessment and treatment (but do psychiatric or psychological trainees ever get exposed to it anymore??), suggested that we are faced with two typical potential reactions to the suicidal patient — hatred or avoidance. The impact of disgust or contempt for the patient is intuitively clear; what Buie and Maltsberger point out is the malignant effect of trying to avoid hating them by avoiding them or their issues. Most of us do not have the stomach for the discovery that the barriers between us and them are so slim and that, in getting to know them, we might be getting to know something horrifying about ourselves. This is, I fear, a large part of the societal stigmatization of the mentally ill and a contribution to keeping the jumpers going over the railing.


In a Funk Over the No-Nobel Prize

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“As the Nobels have been unveiled all week, reporters have been calling up laureates every day and asking where they were when they heard the news, and how does it feel to be a winner. But what about the losers? Where were they and how did it feel?” —Washington Post Of course, the Post chooses the most controversial no-Nobel laureate in recent years, because of his unpopularity among scientific colleagues he has alienated with his narcissism and his Creation-science viewpoint.


The novelist and the animals

“Coetzee’s new novel, Elizabeth Costello, published this week, follows a celebrated but self-doubting novelist as she travels from Amsterdam to South Africa to Massachusetts to the very gates of Heaven for a series of addresses on topics ranging from literary realism to the problem of evil to the fate of the humanities.

Coetzee has long been hailed as a powerful and controversial, if often oblique, commentator on the ravages of apartheid. But Elizabeth Costello, which was long-listed for this year’s Booker Prize, reveals little of Coetzee’s views on South Africa’s continued reckoning with its past. It does, however, raise another unsettled and unsettling question that is likely to make some readers deeply uncomfortable, even angry: By raising billions of animals a year in often squalid conditions before brutally slaughtering them for their meat and skin, are we all complicit in a ‘crime of stupefying proportions’?

Those words are Elizabeth Costello’s, whose two lectures on animal rights — ‘The Philosophers and the Animals’ and ‘The Poets and the Animals’ — make up the longest section of the book. But the preoccupation is very much Coetzee’s own, and one that has moved increasingly close to the moral center of his work.” —Boston Globe


Testosterone patch boosts women’s sex lives

A skin patch that boosts the ‘male’ hormone testosterone markedly improves the sex lives of women suffering from a loss of sexual desire, following the removal of their ovaries. Testosterone increased desire scores and sexual activity in these women by about 40 per cent compared to a placebo.

The international team of researchers tested the patch in European and Australian women who had suffered early menopause due to the surgery and developed hypoactive sexual desire disorder. The disorder is the most common female sexual dysfunction and can be caused by depression, medication or natural menopause.” —New Scientist


Gizmodo trendiness:

“Flattered though we are that Wired Magazine would borrow from Gizmodo to publish an email newsletter, this analysis by Adweek is blushmakingly over the top. ‘Although it’s rare for any publisher to do a press release about an e-mail newsletter — much less throw a launch party for it at New York’s Starfoods restaurant — the Gizmodo relationship will provide Wired with an extra dose of East Coast media credibility.’ So let’s get this straight. Wired defined web culture, it’s owned by New York’s most illustrious magazine group, and it’s relying on a blog to make it hip. Sure.


Justices Say Doctors May Not Be Punished for Recommending Medical Marijuana

“The Supreme Court, in a silent rebuff on Tuesday to federal policy on medical marijuana, let stand an appeals court ruling that doctors may not be investigated, threatened or punished by federal regulators for recommending marijuana as a medical treatment for their patients.

As a result, doctors in California and six other Western states where voters or legislators have approved marijuana for medical uses like pain relief may now discuss it freely with their patients without fear of jeopardizing their federal licenses to prescribe drugs. Advocates of medical marijuana greeted the court’s action as a significant and surprising victory.” —New York Times


‘Ugliest End-of-Life Case Ever’ Enters Its Final Days

The court-ordered removal of a feeding tube from a woman in a vegetative state upholds the wishes of her husband and legal guardian, pitted against her parents and siblings who insist that she wishes to live in a bitter and heart-wrenching battle. (Note to self: execute living will.)

The debate centers around the opacity of the so-called ‘persistent vegetative state’, unanswered questions about how much cognition and awareness, if any, people experience when in that state, and how irreversible it is. I have previously written about studies visualizing brain activity in such states and the promise they have of addressing these questions. In the meanwhile, what we’ll have to settle for is the vivid imagination of family members clustered around her whose wishful thinking expresses itself as reading intention and meaning into her spontaneous moans and reflexive gestures. And the grandstanding of a former Operation Rescue anti-abortion luminary who promises that her presence will attract media attention with comments like, “This is someone who’s cognitive, folks…”

Mrs. Schiavo’s situation is not nearly as cut and dried as some other right-to-die cases, because she is not elderly, comatose or hooked up to a respirator. And most of the facts are in dispute. Mr. Schiavo says his wife once told him that she would never want her life prolonged artificially; he believes doctors who have testified that Mrs. Schiavo is in a persistent vegetative state, unable to think or swallow food. A doctor appointed by the court supported this finding, as did those hired by Mr. Schiavo.

But other doctors have testified that with intensive therapy, their daughter could eat and perhaps even speak.

…Dr. Goodman said that disputes as intractable as the one between Mrs. Schiavo’s husband and parents were extremely rare, and that the animosity was turning the situation into the “ugliest end-of-life case ever.”

The Schindlers use the word “hate” to describe their feelings toward their son-in-law. They even theorize that Mr. Schiavo strangled their daughter that night in 1990, pointing to at least one doctor’s finding that she had a rigid neck when she arrived at the hospital. Shortly before her brain damage, Mrs. Schiavo, who her family described as shy and insecure, told them she wanted a divorce.

The Schindlers also question why Mr. Schiavo did not spend the $1 million he won in a medical malpractice suit on rehabilitative therapy for his wife.

Mr. Schiavo’s lawyers have suggested that the Schindlers wanted custody of their daughter just to get some of the malpractice money. On Tuesday, George Felos, Mr. Schiavo’s lawyer, repeated what his client had said all along: that he loves his wife and is simply carrying out her wishes. —New York Times


The Frame Around Arnold

UC-Berkeley linguist George Lakoff focuses on how language shapes political discourse and manipulates the political sentiments of the voters. He suggests a method of analyzing the rhetoric around the Schwarzenegger victory that indicates the peril the Democrats are in. “Newspaper and TV reporters require a story. Each story requires a frame. How was the election of Arnold Schwartzenegger framed? Here is a selection…

It is a general finding about frames that if a strongly held frame doesn’t fit the facts, the facts will be ignored and the frame will be kept. The frames listed above don’t do very well at fitting the facts – though each has a grain of truth. Let’s look at the facts that each frame hides…

…(M)uch of what occurred in the recall election is the same as what has been going on for some time in American politics. The Schwartzenegger election, I propose, should not be seen as an entirely unique event, despite having unique elements, but rather part of the overall political landscape…

In short, Arnold’s victory is right in line with other conservative Republican victories. Davis’ defeat is right in line with other Democratic defeats. Unless the Democrats realize this, they will not learn the lesson of this election. And indeed, conservatives are busy trying to keep Democrats from learning this lesson…

The Democrats ignore the power of framing at their peril.”


‘A mature democracy is in danger of turning itself into a military state…’

George Monbiot writes in the Guardian as to why Appeasing the Armed Forces Has Become a Political Necessity for the American President: “…(W)hile we are slowly becoming aware of the corporate capture of our governments, we seem to have overlooked the growing power of another recipient of this back-to-front lobbying. In the United States, a sort of reverse military coup appears to be taking place.

Both the president and the opposition seem to be offering the armed forces, though they do not appear to have requested it, an ever greater share of the business of government.

Every week, the state department makes a list of Mr Bush’s most important speeches and visits, to distribute to US embassies around the world. The embassy in London has a public archive dating from June last year. During this period, Bush has made 41 major speeches to live audiences. Of these, 14 – just over a third – were delivered to military personnel or veterans.

Now Bush, of course, is commander-in-chief as well as president, and he has every right to address the troops. But this commander-in-chief goes far beyond the patriotic blandishments of previous leaders. He sometimes dresses up in the uniform of the troops he is meeting.

He quotes their mottoes and songs, retells their internal jokes, mimics their slang. He informs the ‘dog-faced soldiers’ that they are ‘the rock of Marne’, or asks naval cadets whether they gave ‘the left-handed salute to Tecumseh, the God of 2.0’. The television audience is mystified, but the men love him for it. He is, or so his speeches suggest, one of them.

He starts by leading them in chants of ‘Hoo-ah! Hoo-ah!’, then plasters them with praise and reminds them that their pay, healthcare and housing (unlike those of any other workers in America) are being upgraded. After this, they will cheer everything he says. So he uses these occasions to attack his opponents and announce new and often controversial policies.

The marines were the first to be told about his interstate electricity grid; he instructed the American Legion about the reform of the Medicare program; last week he explained his plans for the taxation of small businesses to the national guard. The troops may not have the faintest idea what he’s talking about, but they cheer him to the rafters anyway. After that, implementing these policies looks like a patriotic duty.

This strikes me as an abuse of his position as commander-in-chief, rather like the use of Air Force One (the presidential airplane) for political fundraising tours. The war against terror is a feeble excuse. Indeed, all this began long before September 2001; between February and August that year he gave eight major speeches to the military, some of which were stuffed with policy announcements.

But there is a lot more at stake than merely casting the cloak of patriotism over his corporate welfare programs. Appeasing the armed forces has become, for President Bush, a political necessity. He cannot win the next election without them. Unless he can destroy the resistance in Iraq, the resistance will destroy his political career. But crushing it requires the continuous presence of a vast professional army and tens of thousands of reservists.” [via CommonDreams]


Israel Ups Ante With Subs

“The United States long has winked at Israel’s policy of ambiguity about its nuclear weapons. American leaders have turned a blind eye to the Israeli program ever since President Nixon struck a deal with Prime Minister Golda Meir in 1969 that the U.S. wouldn’t insist on inspections as long as Israel did not go public about nuclear weapons or test them openly. Now, the disclosure by senior Bush administration and Israeli officials that Israel has modified U.S.-supplied cruise missiles so they can carry nuclear warheads from submarines is a dangerous step.

This is a hostile move aimed at intimidating Israel’s neighbors. But it won’t deter countries such as Iran from developing their own weapons; instead it will only encourage them to move ahead.” —LA Times editorial [via CommonDreams]


Tokyo on One Cliché a Day

Dispatch from the front lines of travel: “I am terrified of offending the person I’m about to meet, as it has become clear to me that ‘on time’ here 1) means 10 minutes early; and 2) is a religion. Well then, you say, I really should have planned ahead. Yes, but can I explain to you how fricking hard it is to find anything here? This is the place where, quite literally, the streets have no name. I’m not sure why they still haven’t bothered to name them, but they haven’t. Seems not to be a priority. Consequently, people don’t give you addresses here to find things (because there are no addresses). They give you schematics.

(Note to self: Develop proposal for Japanese government, whereby I become minister of street naming…)” — Seth Stevenson, Slate


Guantanamo Bay prison recreated as northern art

Manchester (UK) citizens can volunteer to spend twenty-four hours as simulated Camp X-Ray internees at facsimile of the jewel in the crown of the US WarOnTerrorism®:”This is performance art with a mission to dump state terrorism on the doorsteps of the inner city. It is meant to shock. ‘As art goes, it is pretty straightforward,’ said its creator, Jai Redman, speaking in his guard’s uniform from the other side of locked steel gates.

‘There is nothing complicated about it. This is a fully-operational miniature version of the US internment camp at Guantanamo Bay. What is the point of painting a picture of it or showing photographs or a video of it? People have seen those and are immune to them.

‘I wanted to create a mirror image of the site and place it in the community which is the home of Ron Fiddler [known as Jamal Udeen], one of the British prisoners in the camp, and see what local reaction would be.'” —Guardian.UK


‘I am not proud of what I have done’

Reformed cocaine addict is £50,000 Booker winner: “DBC Pierre, the unexpected winner of the £50,000 Man Booker Prize last night, promised to use his entire winnings to pay back some of the debts he ran up during a nine-year period as a cocaine addict and heavy gambler.

The virtually unknown author, who won for his debut novel, Vernon God Little, turned last night’s prize-giving ceremony in London into an astonishing exercise in self-pity.” —Telegraph.UK

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In a surprise decision that confounded all predictions, a little-known Australian writer named D.B.C. Pierre was awarded the Man Booker prize for his novel Vernon God Little at a gala dinner in London last night.

“Unbelievable!” said Toronto bookseller Ben McNally, who each year puts together a Booker-themed window display at Nicholas Hoare Books on Front St. E. “I don’t have any copies.” —Toronto Star

Anybody out there read this yet? Do you intend to?


Patriot Act Curbing Data Retention

“Could the Patriot Act threaten the growth of e-commerce?

That is the question being raised by some online booksellers and e-tailing analysts, who suggest that the Patriot Act, passed in October 2001 to give the government new counterterrorism capabilities, has already changed the way some companies and consumers do business online. For some consumers, it has meant fewer online purchases of politically incorrect books. For the Web sites, it has meant changes to privacy policies and marketing strategies, among other things.” —New York Times