Day: April 7, 2004

Trumpeting Mediocrity

Trumpeting Mediocrity – Was Wynton Marsalis ever that good? Thank you, Fred Kaplan, for articulating what I have felt for a long time — that Marsalis (along with Ken Burns) has been one of the unfortunate things to happen to jazz in America in the past decade or so. The occasion of a stupifying new album after his much-ballyhooed signing with Blue Note should prompt an overall reappraisal of his overblown bandleading, writing and, yes, playing chops, Kaplan writes. —Slate

Kerry-McCain ’04?

Take a Stand on VP Choice: “There is a sound and simple reason why John McCain should not be John F. Kerry’s running mate on the Democratic ticket in November. He is a Republican.

The distinction still matters, even in an era when both major political parties are fixated on the nonpartisan, centrist, independent voters who political consultants insist determine the outcome of federal elections.

Reports that many on Kerry’s campaign staff are smitten with the idea of the Massachusetts Democrat naming his Republican colleague from Arizona as his vice presidential choice make for amusing chatter in this long lull between the presidential primaries and the party nominating conventions. It is still a fundamentally foolish idea.

Far from elevating Kerry as a bold, bipartisan thinker, the choice of McCain would enshrine forever Kerry’s reputation for political equivocation. The question his campaign has spent months sputtering to answer (what does John Kerry stand for?) would only be amplified by such a selection.” —Eileen MacNamara, Boston Globe [via CommonDreams]

Sicilian Blazes Put Science to the Test

“A series of spontaneous fires started in mid-January in the town of Canneto di Caronia in about 20 houses. After a brief respite last month, the almost daily fires have flared up again — even though electricity to the village was cut off.

An endless flow of scientists, engineers, police and even a few self-styled ‘ghostbusters’ have descended on the town searching for clues to the recent spontaneous combustion of everything from fuse boxes to microwave ovens to a car.” —Reuters [via dangerousmeta]

Spontaneous combustion and its most vexing variant, spontaneous human combustion, are a puzzling and, I am convinced, real phenomenon. Perhaps the urgency of such a prodigious clustering of these events will provide the impetus for fruitful investigation and some clues to the phenomenon’s cause.

Diet of worms protects against bowel cancer

“Regular doses of worms really do rid people of inflammatory bowel disease. The first trials of the treatment have been a success, and a drinkable concoction containing thousands of pig whipworm eggs could soon be launched in Europe.

The product will be called TSO, short for Trichuris suis ova, and will be made by a new German company called BioCure, whose sister company BioMonde sells leeches and maggots for treating wounds.” —EurekAlert [via boing boing]

For any of you who know the reference, I’m sure you’ll agree; the rest of you, ignore this — I couldn’t help thinking of how this utterly vindicates Phil ‘n’ Lil’s culinary tastes…

Hey, Mr Lingerie Man . . .

“Asked in 1965 what might tempt him to sell out, Dylan replied: ‘Ladies undergarments’. Now the the Woodstock generation has been jolted by the sight of rock’s most enigmatic performer appearing alongside model Adriana Lima as she slips into something sheer to cavort in the Palazzo of Venice.” —Telegraph.UK

Microsoft Deletes 2 Characters from Office Font

In what it is ramming down the throats of most users by calling it a ‘critical update’, Microsoft eliminated the swastika and the Star of David from its Bookshelf Symbol 7 font last month. Memory Hole comments:

“…(A) ‘Critical Update’… is supposed to mean that it is important for the stability or security of the operating system. A simple font change does not qualify, so it’s obvious that they wanted to force this update upon their users. A system set up with Automatic Windows Updates (which is most newly installed ones) will have this pushed down by default, and most users will see ‘Critical’ in the name and accept it based on that. This is an insidious form of censorship, as Microsoft decides for its users what symbols they should be allowed to have in their fonts. This should have been published in the ‘Recommended Updates’ section, where you would have to read each update and decide for yourself.”

Buffalo Bill’s

Buffalo Bill’s


who used to

ride a watersmooth-silver


and break onetwothreefourfive pigeonsjustlikethat


he was a handsome man

and what i want to know is

how do you like your blueeyed boy

Mister Death

Best Treatment May Be No Treatment At All

“The biggest myths of modern medicine were challenged in a new guide for patients launched yesterday that sets out the best treatment for 60 of the commonest medical conditions.

Instead of claiming miracles, the guide admits that often the best treatment is no treatment. Devised by the British Medical Journal (BMJ), it is based on evidence from thousands of research studies and is being made available through the NHS Direct website, the advice service for patients.

Treatments are ranked according to effectiveness and the pros and cons of surgery are explained. In some cases the guide says it can’t recommend any treatment because there is no good evidence that anything works.” — Independent.UK

With regard to my specialty, mental health treatment, the guide casts aspersions on tranquilizers for anxiety disorders and treatments for anorexia nervosa. I certainly share the BMJ‘s skepticism about medical omnipotence, and particularly in the areas they single out.

"In my opinion, in 10 years we’ll be embarrassed by how much of this stuff we prescribed"

Nominal Benefits Seen in Drugs for Alzheimer’s: A major scientific conference reviewing the evidence for benefits from the Alzheimer’s medications on the market — Aricept, Exelon, Reminyl and Tacrine — found the benefits to be so modest as to leave most doctors unsure about prescribing them, especially given how expensive they are. In my opinion, there are two types of problems in asssessing the impact of these medications. First, statistically significant effects, which will make the case for FDA approval for a drug, are not the same as clinically significant benefit.

“You can name 11 fruits in a minute instead of 10,” said Dr. Thomas Finucane, a professor at Johns Hopkins and a geriatrician. “Is that worth 120 bucks a month?” —New York Times

More importantly, especially in a results-driven healthcare economy, it is difficult to see the benefit of medications which primarily slow an inevitable decline rather than causing improvement. The studies demonstrating that these medications have any substantial value, which I have examined carefully as the drugs were introduced, are prospective studies which follow patients and matched placebo control patients over several years. In other words, concrete benefits will not be apparent to an Alzheimer’s patient’s treating physician or family, and it takes a great leap of faith and a familiarity with the scientific literature to maintain a patient on such a medication. But surely delaying the need to place a patient in a nursing home for months or years, for example, when their decline becomes so profound that home-based care is no longer possible, is eminently desirable. Analogously, many, if not most, patients with cancer opt for far more invasive treatments to extend their lives at home wtih their loved ones for similar or lesser periods of time. It is important not to promote more magical, unrealistic hopes in either case. Moreover, these drugs are just a first iteration. More specific and more powerful medications working by different medications are in the pipeline; memantine, or Namenda, supposedly the first of these, has just arrived… and, so far, I am reserving judgment. The existing drugs, finally, may be even more useful in pre-Alzheimer’s conditions, i.e. as cognition- or memory-enhancers in more benign age-related cognitive decline (like the ‘senior moments’ I suffer…). [thanks, Jerry]

Soldiers Choose Canada

“Canada has a long tradition of providing safe haven for dissenting Americans: Loyalists during the War of Independence, refugees from the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, so-called “skedaddlers” deserting from Civil War battalions, and, most famously, some 60,000 men and women resisting the Vietnam War.

Unless there’s a draft, no one expects a flood at the northern border nowadays. But the trickle could certainly swell. According to a U.S. Army survey released last week, 72 percent of soldiers report that morale in their unit is low or very low. Meanwhile, the suicide rate among service members is at an all-time high. From April through December last year, 23 killed themselves while on duty in Iraq or Kuwait; at least seven more did so after their return home.

Thousands are seeking less dire means of escape. Calls to G.I. Rights Hotline, which answers questions from recruits trying to leave the armed forces, shot up to 28,822 in 2003, from 17,267 in 2001. Meanwhile, though the Pentagon will not confirm figures, military attorneys, activists, and the European press have estimated that 600 to 1,700 soldiers have fled to avoid service in Iraq. Most are likely living underground in the U.S.—going AWOL, even for long periods, is a far less serious offense than actually applying for refugee status in another country—which clearly demonstrates the intent to desert. Nonetheless, the peacenik grapevine in Canada began buzzing on Wednesday with news that a female deserter is on her way.

Canada itself has resisted the war in Iraq. Backed by overwhelming public sentiment, its government officially refused to join the “coalition forces.” But much has changed in the 35 years since a draft dodger or G.I. could simply present himself at Canada’s border and sign up for landed-immigrant status. “In the ’60s, we didn’t have a refugee determination system,” explains the former Immigration and Refugee Board member, Audrey Macklin, a professor of law at the University of Toronto. “The war resisters who came were not required to jump through any hoops. Now we have a rigorous one-by-one approach and more complex and narrow regimes for permitting entry.” —Alisa Solomon, The Village Voice

Discovering Dickens – A Community Reading Project

Dickens postcardStanford repeats the 2002 experience it engendered with Great Expectations; since January 2004 it has been sending out, on demand, weekly serialized mailings of facsimiles of chapters of A Tale of Two Cities, simulating the way the Dickens novel was originally released. Apparently, Stanford’s special collection includes a set of these original editions. Stanford is still accepting requests for enrollment in this program, or you can download .pdfs of the releases each week. As an inveterate fan of reading aloud with my family, their invitation to “join the world of family reading circles” is very appealing. We will wait expectantly for each week’s installment…