Happy New Year!

This is my annual reprise of an FmH New Year’s Day post from years past:

Years ago, the Boston Globe ran a January 1st article compiling folkloric beliefs about what to do, what to eat, etc. on New Year’s Day to bring good fortune for the year to come. I’ve regretted since — I usually think of it around once a year (grin) — not clipping out and saving the article; especially since we’ve had children, I’m interested in enduring traditions that go beyond getting drunk [although some comment that this is a profound enactment of the interdigitation of chaos and order appropriate to the New Year’s celebration — FmH], watching the bowl games and making resolutions. A web search brought me this, less elaborate than what I recall from the Globe but to the same point:

[Image 'oro1.jpg' cannot be displayed]“Traditionally, it was thought that one could affect the luck they would have throughout the coming year by what they did or ate on the first day of the year. For that reason, it has become common for folks to celebrate the first few minutes of a brand new year in the company of family and friends. Parties often last into the middle of the night after the ringing in of a new year. It was once believed that the first visitor on New Year’s Day would bring either good luck or bad luck the rest of the year. It was particularly lucky if that visitor happened to be a tall dark-haired man.

“Traditional New Year foods are also thought to bring luck. Many cultures believe that anything in the shape of a ring is good luck, because it symbolizes “coming full circle,” completing a year’s cycle. For that reason, the Dutch believe that eating donuts on New Year’s Day will bring good fortune.

“Many parts of the U.S. celebrate the new year by consuming black-eyed peas. These legumes are typically accompanied by either hog jowls or ham. Black-eyed peas and other legumes have been considered good luck in many cultures. The hog, and thus its meat, is considered lucky because it symbolizes prosperity. Cabbage is another ‘good luck’ vegetable that is consumed on New Year’s Day by many. Cabbage leaves are also considered a sign of prosperity, being representative of paper currency. In some regions, rice is a lucky food that is eaten on New Year’s Day.”

The further north one travels in the British Isles, the more the year-end festivities focus on New Year’s. The Scottish observance of Hogmanay has many elements of warming heart and hearth, welcoming strangers and making a good beginning:

“Three cornered biscuits called hogmanays are eaten. Other special foods are: wine, ginger cordial, cheese, bread, shortbread, oatcake, carol or carl cake, currant loaf, and a pastry called scones. After sunset people collect juniper and water to purify the home. Divining rituals are done according to the directions of the winds, which are assigned their own colors. First Footing:The first person who comes to the door on midnight New Year’s Eve should be a dark-haired or dark-complected man with gifts for luck. Seeing a cat, dog, woman, red-head or beggar is unlucky. The person brings a gift (handsel) of coal or whiskey to ensure prosperity in the New Year. Mummer’s Plays are also performed. The actors called the White Boys of Yule are all dressed in white, except for one dressed as the devil in black. It is bad luck to engage in marriage proposals, break glass, spin flax, sweep or carry out rubbish on New Year’s Eve.”

Here’s why we clink our glasses when we drink our New Year’s toasts, no matter where we are. Of course, sometimes the midnight cacophony is louder than just clinking glassware, to create a ‘devil-chasing din’.

In Georgia, eat black eyed peas and turnip greens on New Year’s Day for luck and prosperity in the year to come, supposedly because they symbolize coppers and currency. Hoppin’ John, a concoction of peas, onion, bacon and rice, is also a southern New Year’s tradition, as is wearing yellow to find true love (in Peru, yellow underwear, apparently!) or carrying silver for prosperity. In some instances, a dollar bill is thrown in with the other ingredients of the New Year’s meal to bring prosperity. A similar New Year’s meal in Norway also includes dried cod, “lutefisk.” The Pennsylvania Dutch make sure to include sauerkraut in their holiday meal, also for prosperity.

In Spain, you would cram twelve grapes in your mouth at midnight, one each time the clock chimed, for good luck for the twelve months to come. The U. S. version of this custom, for some reason, involves standing on a chair as you pop the grapes. In Denmark, jumping off a chair at the stroke of midnight signifies leaping into the New Year. In Rio, you would be plunging into the sea en masse at midnight, wearing white and bearing offerings.

In China, papercuttings of red paper are hung in the windows to scare away evil spirits who might enter the house and bring misfortune.

Elsewhere: pancakes for the New Year’s breakfast in France; banging on friends’ doors in Denmark to “smash in” the New Year; going in the front door and out the back door at midnight in Ireland; making sure the first person through your door in the New Year in Scotland is a tall dark haired visitor. Water out the window at midnight in Puerto Rico rids the home of evil spirits. Cleanse your soul in Japan at the New Year by listening to a gong tolling 108 times, one for every sin. It is Swiss good luck to let a drop of cream fall on the floor on New Year’s Day.

However you’re going to celebrate, my warmest wishes for the year to come!


Mass burials do more harm than good: experts

“Irrational fears of epidemics have led to the unnecessary burial of …victims in mass graves, adding to survivors’ trauma and wasting precious resources, health and disaster experts said…

But health workers said it was a myth that dead bodies constituted an acute health risk after earthquakes.

‘As far as public health professionals have been able to determine, this concern has never been substantiated,’ Steven Rottman, director of the UCLA Center for Public Health and Disasters, told AlertNet.

Rottman said no scientific evidence existed that bodies of disaster victims increased the risk of epidemics, adding that cadavers in fact posed less risk of contagion than living people.

…’Indiscriminate burial demoralises the survivors and can lead them to be deprived of transferable pension benefits through failure to provide death certificates for pension holders,’ said David Alexander, a specialist in disasters and currently scientific director at the Scuola Superiore di Protezione Civile in Lombardy, Italy.” (ReliefNet via Polymorphously Perverse)

Has anyone read Mary Douglas’ classic, Purity and Danger? It is a treatise on the ways in which what is considered impure or contaminated is socially determined. The boundaries between purity and impurity serve symbolic purposes to maintain social order and coherency. The uncleanliness of the corpse is one of those things. The assertion after every mass disaster about needing to bury the dead rapidly to avoid disease is so automatic and unquestioned that it has always seemed to me that the public health need it meets is more likely in the emotional realm than the infectious disease one.


Tsunami Relief

Google has established a page of links to agencies providing disaster relief in the wake of the tsunami. There is a link to it front and center on their search page, if you haven’t already noticed. Rumor has it they have already raised $5 million from putting up this page. In general, online giving to tsunami relief has been of an unprecedented magnitude, far outstripping donations after 9-11 for example. People need to realize that the devastated areas will have relief needs for years to come, so give much but give often.


Parachuting to Titan

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‘Get ready for two of the strangest hours in the history of space exploration.

Two hours. That’s how long it will take the European Space Agency’s Huygens probe to parachute to the surface of Titan on January 14th. Descending through thick orange clouds, Huygens will taste Titan’s atmosphere, measure its wind and rain, listen for alien sounds and, when the clouds part, start taking pictures.

see captionNo one knows what the photos will reveal. Icy mountains? Liquid methane seas? Hot lightning? “It’s anyone’s guess,” says Jonathan Lunine, a professor of planetary science at the University of Arizona and a member of the Huygens science team. “We might not even understand what we see, not immediately.”‘ (NASA)


A ‘precious’ case

This ingenious article from the British Medical Journal is a formal case presentation, such as we write as a matter of course in medicine, of Gollum, discussing the differential diagnosis — psychiatric or medical? — of his behavioral disturbance. As it is a collaboration by a number of medical students and a lecturer from the Department of Mental Health Sciences of the Royal Free and University College Medical School in London, you can predict where their conclusions will lie.


Godel and Einstein:

Friendship and Relativity: “If Einstein succeeded in transforming time into space, Godel would perform a trick yet more magical: He would make time disappear. Having already rocked the mathematical world to its foundations with his incompleteness theorem, Godel now took aim at Einstein and relativity. Wasting no time, he announced in short order his discovery of new and unsuspected cosmological solutions to the field equations of general relativity, solutions in which time would undergo a shocking transformation. The mathematics, the physics, and the philosophy of Godel’s results were all new. In the possible worlds governed by these new cosmological solutions, the so-called ‘rotating’ or ‘Godel universes,’ it turned out that the space-time structure is so greatly warped or curved by the distribution of matter that there exist timelike, future-directed paths by which a spaceship, if it travels fast enough — and Godel worked out the precise speed and fuel requirements, omitting only the lunch menu — can penetrate into any region of the past, present, or future.

Godel, the union of Einstein and Kafka, had for the first time in human history proved, from the equations of relativity, that time travel was not a philosopher’s fantasy but a scientific possibility. Yet again he had somehow contrived, from within the very heart of mathematics, to drop a bomb into the laps of the philosophers. The fallout, however, from this mathematical bomb was even more perilous than that from the incompleteness theorem. Godel was quick to point out that if we can revisit the past, then it never really ‘passed.’ But a time that fails to ‘pass’ is no time at all.

Einstein saw at once that if Godel was right, he had not merely domesticated time: He had killed it. Time, ‘that mysterious and seemingly self-contradictory being,’ as Godel put it, ‘which, on the other hand, seems to form the basis of the world’s and our own existence,’ turned out in the end to be the world’s greatest illusion. In a word, if Einstein’s relativity theory was real, time itself was merely ideal. The father of relativity was shocked. Though he praised Godel for his great contribution to the theory of relativity, he was fully aware that time, that elusive prey, had once again slipped his net.

But now something truly amazing took place: nothing. Although in the immediate aftermath of Godel’s discoveries a few physicists bestirred themselves to refute him and, when this failed, tried to generalize and explore his results, this brief flurry of interest soon died down. Within a few years the deep footprints in intellectual history traced by Godel and Einstein in their long walks home had disappeared, dispersed by the harsh winds of fashion and philosophical prejudice. A conspiracy of silence descended on the Einstein-Godel friendship and its scientific consequences.” (Chronicle of Higher Education)


Exploding the Self-Esteem Myth

This Scientific American piece reviews research challenging the commonsense notion that self-esteem is good for you and that low self-esteem is the root of many problems in functioning. Quite the converse may be true; I have previously written about the insidious effects of our society’s encouragement of narcissism, and the skeptical research findings here support a revisionist approach. This has many implications for us who are mental health practitioners. I have followed thinking on the evolutionary value of depression, for example; under certain circumstances, a pessimistic, unambitious stance may be adaptive, self-protective… and more realistic. Should it necessarily be abolished with treatment in all instances?


Common Denominator?

“Using sophisticated mathematical models, a group of four economists has proven that a country’s legal history greatly affects its economy. At least they think they’ve proven it. How their sweeping theory has roiled the legal academy.

According to research published by a group of scholars beginning in 1998, countries that come from a French civil law tradition struggle to create effective financial markets, while countries with a British common law tradition succeed far more frequently. While the scholars conducting the research are economists rather than lawyers, their theory has jolted the legal academy, leading to the creation of a new academic specialty called ‘law and finance’ and turning the authors of the theory into the most cited economists in the world over the past decade.” (Legal Affairs)


Viktory Over Alarmism

“It’s perhaps fitting that dioxin was used in the attempted political murder of Ukrainian presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko. That’s because dioxin is the most politicized chemical in history. It’s notorious for its role at New York’s Love Canal and Missouri’s Times Beach, but primarily as an ingredient in the defoliant Agent Orange. Yet Yushchenko is alive because what’s been called ‘the most deadly chemical known’ is essentially a myth.

Dioxin is an unwanted by-product of incineration, uncontrolled burning and certain industrial processes such as bleaching. It was also formerly in trace amounts in herbicides and liquid soaps. We all carry dioxin in our fat and blood. But Dutch researchers said Yushchenko’s exposure, probably from poisoned food, was about 6,000 times higher than average. So why, as the Munchkin coroner said of the Wicked Witch of the East, isn’t Yushchenko ‘not only merely dead’ but ‘really most sincerely dead’?” (Tech Central Station)

I suggested in my earlier piece on Yuschenko’s poisoning that the assertion that those who perpetrated the dioxin poisoning were seeking to kill him rapidly is a red herring issue. That dioxin does not induce death throes rapidly does not mean it is not an incredibly toxic and, untimately deadly, chemical. The hidden agenda in this specious argument against its ‘politicization’ is an ignorant attempt to undermine public policy meant to address environmental toxins.


Ten myths about assisted suicide

The campaign for assisted suicide seems to be picking up a head of steam in the UK with the Mental Capacity Bill…: “It is certainly a step in the direction of the legalisation of assisted suicide, despite the protestations of its defenders. According to some readings of this bill, a patient may request that he or she is deprived of food and water in certain circumstances, and a doctor must obey this request or face a possible five years in prison. In addition to this, Lord Joel Joffe’s Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill is currently under review in the House of Lords.

It is worth picking apart some of the arguments for assisted suicide.” (spiked)


Where Are All the Dead Animals?

“Giant waves washed floodwaters up to 2 miles inland at Yala National Park in the ravaged southeast, Sri Lanka’s biggest wildlife reserve and home to hundreds of wild elephants and several leopards…

Sri Lankan wildlife officials are stunned — the worst tsunami in memory has killed around 22,000 people along the Indian Ocean island’s coast, but they can’t find any dead animals.” (Yahoo! News)

Explanations invoke the often-noticed ability of animals to sense danger. At first blush, you don’t need to invoke a ‘sixth sense’ here; it is easy to imagine animals’ alarm when the earth moves beneath their feet in an earthquake. But what would lead them to expect a tidal wave and move to higher ground? Certainly it could not be accounted for on the basis of natural selection, as such a disaster does not happen frequently enough to exert selective pressure. There are more things in heaven and earth…


R.I.P. Jerry Orbach

//graphics8.nytimes.com/images/2004/12/29/arts/orbach-la-portrait.184.jpg' cannot be displayed]Star of Law & Order Dies at 69. Those who, like me, revelled in his rough-hewn idiosyncratic performance as wry New York City detective Lennie Briscoe whenever I happen to run into Law & Order onscreen may be surprised that he has also been a Broadway baritone in a rather traditional mode. The lights on the Great White Way are dimming in his honor. (New York Times)



Because of changes in the logical directory structure at my webserver, you will get unpredictable results if you use the older form of the URL for FmH, of the form “http://world.std.com/[some subdirectories here]/followme.html”.

Please check your bookmarks, blogrolls, etc., and make sure you are using either of the following two (equivalent) URLs instead:

I would prefer it if you would use the “…gelwan.com” version, as that will still work if I change hosts at some point in the future, rather than requiring a redirect.


R.I.P. Susan Sontag

//us.news1.yimg.com/us.yimg.com/p/afp/20041228/thumb.sge.sgl95.281204234441.photo00.photo.default-256x384.jpg' cannot be displayed]Writer and Critic Dies at 71: “Author and social critic Susan Sontag, one of the most powerful thinkers of her generation and a leading voice of intellectual opposition to U.S. policy after the Sept. 11 attacks, died on Tuesday at a New York cancer hospital. She was 71.

Sontag, who had been suffering from cancer for some time, was known for interests that ranged from French existentialist writers to ballet, photography and politics. She once said a writer should be ‘someone who is interested in everything.'” I will remember Sontag for her fierce intellectual courage and unwavering voice of human response to wars ranging from Vietnam through the Balkans to Afghanistan and Iraq. As a psychiatrist, I have been profoundly influenced by her Illness as Metaphor, a philosophical dissection of the ‘sick role’ and its impact on identity and social interaction. I have wondered where she stood on the nature of her suffering as she struggled with cancer for the past several years.


Blogs provide raw details from disaster scene

“…(T)he technology proved a ready medium for instant news of the tsunami disasterand for collaboration over ways to help.” (ZDNet)

Urge Bush to Increase Aid for Tsunami Victims:

“Just today, December 28, the United States announced it has more than doubled its preliminary pledge of aid from $15 million to $35 million. However, preliminary estimates of the need are far greater, and Secretary of State Colin Powell and UN representatives have already stated that billions may be needed in what could be the costliest disaster in human history.” (ActforChange)

Death Toll Climbs to 63,000 (Yahoo!)

A Third of the Dead in Undersea Quake Are Said to Be Children: “Survivors arranged for mass burials and searched for tens of thousands of the missing in countries thousands of miles apart.” (New York Times )

Here are some resources for disaster relief, to which you can contribute:

[I cribbed most of these from another site where the author had the temerity to copyright the list. More concerned about getting a feather in their cap for righteousness than disseminating the information broadly and sharing it freely, I guess…]













“””””””BOAS FESTAS”””””””











“””””””‘N PRETTIG KERSTMIS”””””””
























The Game is Afoot

Rick Perlstein: The Case of the Ohio Recount: “If everyone in the country voted under the same rules of residency and eligibility, their votes counted the same way, using the same equipment, it would be a lot harder to hide needles in haystacks. Getting rid of the current flawed system, ultimately, has to be the long-term strategy—but it is hard to get good answers from recounters, lawsuit-filers, and hearing-holders about how that long-term strategy could come together.

There is a way, though it will take some heavy lifting—a lot of heavy lifting. Representative Jesse Jackson Jr. has pointed out that Congress doesn’t even have the power to establish a nationally uniform system of voting—everything in the Constitution concerning presidential elections is mediated through the states, which is why every state (and within every state, every county) runs elections its own way. He’s proposed a constitutional amendment to right the wrong. Passing it is a daunting prospect, no doubt. But as strategy, it also has the makings of brilliance. Let the Republicans try to fight it. Put them on record as against the right to vote. Let them defend the process as it exists—where a figure like Blackwell can simultaneously be the captain of one of the teams and the game’s chief referee.

Then Americans will know where the Republicans stand.

Standing behind Jackson’s constitutional amendment would be a better application of progressive energies than the frenzied attempt every fourth December to chase down the horses after the barn door is closed. We should be working on political campaigns also—working on winning the next time around by wide enough margins to put the need for any kind of recount out of play. The Republicans lost a presidential election in 1992, remember. They didn’t waste their time trying to take it back. They took back Congress, instead. We’ve got 22 more months to try to do that ourselves. It’s December of 2004. Do you know who your congressional candidate for ’06 is?” (Village Voice)


Mystery Martian ‘Carwash’ Helps Space Buggy

“…(S)omething — or someone — had regularly cleaned layers of dust from the solar panels of the Mars Opportunity vehicle while it was closed down during the Martian night.

The cleaning had boosted the panels’ power output close to their maximum 900 watt-hours per day after at one stage dropping to 500 watt-hours because of the heavy Martian dirt.

By contrast, the power output of the solar panels of Mars Spirit — on a different part of the Red Planet — had dropped to just 400 watt-hours a day, clogged by the heavy dust.” Yahoo! News


Suicide mission

Final Unraveling? “To some military analysts, the fact that a suicide bomber could wreak so much damage inside a heavily fortified Army base suggests that the Iraqi occupation has sunk to a new level of chaos. The war in many parts of Iraq, they say, is apparently so out of control that we don’t even know what we don’t know. The lack of human intelligence is almost total. ‘The situation in Iraq is so confusing that I have no idea what is going on there, and anyone that tells you that they do is not telling you the truth,’ says Thomas Nichols, professor of strategy at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, R.I.” Salon

R.I.P. Seymour Melman

//media.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/images/I10957-2004Dec18L' cannot be displayed]Columbia Scholar Spurred Antiwar Movement (New York Times): I consider Melman to be one of the patron saints of the antiwar movement. He transformed opposition to the war with his concept of nuclear ‘overkill,’ his refutation of the simplistic assertions that war is good for the economy and his articulation of a roadmap for conversion of warfighting resources to peaceful uses. Perhaps his most powerful propaganda stroke was helping the public envision defense expenditures by describing them in terms of their equivalents in budgeting for human needs. Let us hope he can rest in peace after more than a half-century of struggling for peace, despite the state of the world…


Fetus Cases Show Signs of Similarity

“The reports coming out of Kansas over the weekend seem beyond grisly, as if pulled from a horror movie: a woman kills an expectant mother, rips a baby girl from the victim’s abdomen, then shows off the child to friends, neighbors and a pastor as her own.

…Although more than 1,000 pregnant women have been killed in the past decade, according to a Washington Post article published yesterday, experts say that in only a handful of these cases does the killer try to steal the unborn child. Each case is different, they say, but the psychological threads are similar…(New York Times )


Knowing What’s Good for Themselves After All?

Guard Reports Serious Drop in Enlistment: “In the latest signs of strains on the military from the war in Iraq, the Army National Guard announced on Thursday that it had fallen 30 percent below its recruiting goals in the last two months and would offer new incentives, including enlistment bonuses of up to $15,000.” (New York Times ) Unfortunately, enlistment bonuses or not, all this is going to lead to is acceleration of the stop-loss program and pressure for a draft…


The Yushchenko ‘Poison Plot’ Fraud??

A reader sent me this very different take on Yuschenko’s disfiguring ailment by Justin Raimundo. He claims we should not accept uncritically the universal conclusion from the press that Yuschenko was poisoned, especially because it comes from the administrative director of the Viennese clinic where he was evaluated, not the medical director, who resigned during the furor after reportedly having his life threatened for disputing the conclusions his boss had announced. Raimundo has little besides this circumstantial evidence, his instincts that something was funny about the ‘poisoned-by-the-bad-guys’ scenario, his mistrust of the mainstream media, and the assumptions he cites of several others to the effect that the story is anti-Russian propaganda spread by reactionary elements in the U.S. Just because a story fits the worldview of the powers-that-be doesn’t a priori mean it is false, it seems to me, although it makes it far more likely [grin]

A similar assumption that the mainstream media version is either “misinformation or disiinformation” appears here, although his piece is colored by the weblog’s a priori agenda of showing that the US press does not understand Europe.

Then there is this medical weblog which argues against the dioxin-poisoning assertions on two grounds. First, the weblogger does not think dioxin makes a good murder weapon because it takes so long to kill. This assumes the aim of the poisoner was assassination, which is not at all a given. Things in Slavic politics are inevitably more Byzantine and complex than we would assume them to be; perhaps grotesque disfigurement, making a mockery of visibility and popularity, and a slow gruesome death better serve someone’s needs…

Second is the medical dictum that ‘an uncommon presentation of a common disease is more likely than a common presentation of an uncommon disease’. The weblogger suggests that Yuschenko’s presentation is much more consistent with alcoholic pancreatitis and an alcohol-induced eruption of the skin disease rosacea than with the characteristic chloracne rash of dioxin poisoning. But like all good medical rules of thumb, this one must be evaluated thoughtfully. I think the explosive onset of Yuschenko’s disfigurement (if we are to take it as true that the ‘before’ and ‘after’ photos are only two years apart) would be such a stratospherically uncommon presentation of a common disease that the chloracne hypothesis is actually indeed more likely (although, I emphasize as a psychiatrist, it is a long time since I studied any toxicology). Now I do not know much about Viktor Yuschenko’s private life, but I hope that the assumption that medical complications of alcohol are a likely scenario for him reflects more than just a stereotypical prejudice about the likelihood that a Slavic male is a problem drinker…

Finally, let us be reminded that those who accuse others of being credulous leave themselves open to the same charge of credulity. Despite Raimundo’s take on it, it was not only the Austrian clinic that has concluded Yuschenko was dioxin-toxic. An independent analysis by a Dutch toxicologist found massive levels of dioxin in his tissue samples — “the second-highest level of dioxin poisoning ever recorded in a human – more than 6,000 times the normal concentration” (Guardian.UK), if the Guardian‘s reporting is not suspect.

Somewhere in my whirlwind tour through this issue, I saw a reader comment contrasting the mainstream’s readiness to embrace the poisoning theory in Yuschenko’s case with the scorn heaped on suggestions that Arafat was poisoned by the enemies of the Palestinians. I agree that the truth of a matter can be as easily obscured as elucidated by the reportage (and the weblogging) it receives; I would be interested in your comments on either or both of these issues.


McCain Voices Lack of Trust in Rumsfeld

“Senator John McCain said Monday that he had ‘no confidence’ in Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, citing the secretary’s handling of the war in Iraq and troop levels there that Mr. McCain deems insufficient.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Mr. McCain, an Arizona Republican who is a senior member of the Armed Services Committee, said his comments were not a call for Mr. Rumsfeld’s resignation. President Bush ‘can have the team that he wants around him,’ the senator said.” (New York Times )

McCain is clearly positioning himself to pick up the pieces of Bush’s failure in 2008. I read the “…have the team that he wants around him…” comment as being about letting him have enough rope. Unfortunately, whether it is McCain or a Democrat who will inherit the mess, as the Bush administration fails, so goes the country and the world in the meanwhile.



//graphics8.nytimes.com/images/2004/12/14/science/14sand.583.jpg' cannot be displayed]
Sand in This Physics Lab May Eat You Alive: “Beware of playing in any sandboxes you might find in the laboratory of Dr. Detlef Lohse.

Traditional deathtrap quicksand is a slurry of sand, water and clay. The water keeps the sand from sticking together to support weight, and a person who steps in slowly sinks.

Now Dr. Lohse, a professor of applied physics, and his colleagues at the University of Twente in the Netherlands show that it is possible to vanish into a pile of completely dry sand as well. Worse, their sand looks the same as the normal, weight-supporting variety.” (New York Times )


Offended by the Bush Monkeys

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“Twenty-three-year-old painter Christopher Savido poses with his painting ‘Bush Monkeys,’ a portrait of U.S. President George W. Bush, at the Animal gallery on New York City’s lower east side. Curator of the show Bucky Turco said that Savido’s painting of Bush was removed from an art exhibit at the Chelsea Market in Manhattan over the past weekend after the director of the market protested the content of the painting of Bush, which is made of tiny images of chimpanzees in a marsh-like landscape.” (Yahoo! News)

6th Century BC Indecency?

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“The Federal Communications Commission has asked for a tape of NBC’s broadcast of the opening ceremony of the Summer Olympics after it received at least one indecency complaint. The Aug. 13 tape-delayed broadcast, featuring the history of Athens and Greece, also included male performers representing ancient Greek Kouroi, life-size stone figures of naked young men dating to the sixth century B.C. It wasn’t clear whether the images were broadcast. ” (Yahoo! News )

Democrats: Get ready to offend the ignorant

“As several small nations prepare to evacuate because of rising ocean levels, and the Pentagon draws up arms-transfer scenarios after India’s fall to climate change, Americans prefer to believe that all of this is simply the product of left-wing lunacy. My “problem with authority,” is difficult to overstate, but even I have to admit that these people clearly have their reasons.

So I wonder: Exactly how much evidence does it take for Americans to be convinced that a thing is true? And how much evidence to the contrary does it take for Americans to abandon an established belief? When I look at America’s widely held beliefs on subjects like global warming, drug safety, or even evolution, the only answer I can come up with is, “An arkload.”

I hate to break this to whoever the much-needed new leadership at the DNC, but it might take more than four years of deprogramming to make any rational view acceptable in American political discourse. The good news, I suppose, is that there isn’t even going to be an opportunity to re-take the Senate for at least ten years. So, feel free to spread the truth, and piss some people off, starting now.” — Avery Walker (Raw Story via wood s lot)


Richard Dawkins on George Bush

From the Sunday Times of London:

“I’m not particularly proud of being visceral, but I am admitting it. My attacks on George Bush have nothing to do with science or the scientific method. I just can’t stand the man’s style, the way he swaggers and struts and smirks and the way he looks sly and deceitful and the way Americans can’t see it. I’m irritated by the way they think he’s just a regular guy you can have a drink with.” [thanks, abby]


Whacked! Another HBO Main Player Meets His End

Spoiler alert: If you are a fan of The Wire and have last night’s episode on TiVo and haven’t watched it yet, don’t read any further, and certainly don’t read the New York Times story to which the blink points. Not only does HBO seem to have no compunctions about killing off major characters in many of its dramatic series, but the actors seem to find out only when they get the scripts for the episode in which they meet their end. [As to the details, I actually thought Stringer Bell wwas going to get whacked by crony Avon Barksdale, not Omar.]


Friends say Sherlock Holmes fan based own death on fictional case

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“The mysterious death of Britain’s leading Sherlock Holmes expert appears to have been a bizarre suicide plot deliberately based on one of the cases tackled by the fictional detective himself, a report said.

According to friends of Richard Lancelyn Green, he appears to have dressed up his suicide as murder in an attempt to get at an enemy from beyond the grave, a notion lifted from one of Holmes’s adventures, the Sunday Times said.” (AFP via Yahoo!)


Have a Blue Christmas

Buy Blue: “You may have voted blue, but were you aware that every day, you unknowingly help dump millions of dollars into the conservative warchest? Simply by buying products and services from companies which heavily donate to conservatives, we have been defeating our own interests as liberals and progressives on a daily basis.

Buy Blue is a concerted effort to educate the public on making informed buying decisions as a consumer. We identify businesses which support our ideals and spotlight their dedication to progressive politics. In turn, we shine that spotlight on unsupportive businesses in the form of massive boycotts and action alerts.

Currently, we are developing an extensive and interactive website which will soon allow you to find out exactly where your money goes when you make purchases, and participate in a dynamic community which constantly monitors corporate activity. There will be Blue alternatives to offending companies, and by making a decision to buy from these businesses, you are helping stimulate the growth of Blue-friendly economics. We are aiming for complete corporate responsibility.”


Mad or Bad? Puppets or Free Agents?

“In 1995, the Supreme Court of Georgia heard a lawyer make a novel argument. He had read a study describing violent behavior shared by several generations of men in a Dutch family. Scientists had identified a mutated gene shared by all the violent men, and that’s what got the lawyer’s brain ticking.

The accused, argued the lawyer, might carry a gene — like the men in the Dutch family — that predisposed him to violence. (The lawyer’s client was on trial for murder.) Therefore, went the argument, the accused did not have free will, was innocent of the murder and should be acquitted.

The defense, an attempt at legal trickery remarkable even for a lawyer, failed. However, scientific discoveries, particularly advances in neuroscience, are nevertheless having profound consequences for legal procedure.” (Wired News)

The article discusses the ‘insanity defense’, which has been based on 19th century science bearing on individual responsibility for one’s actions.

“The problem with the reliance on M’Naghten is that modern findings by neuroscientists suggest that damage to the prefrontal cortex of the brain can produce individuals who are able to tell right from wrong but are organically incapable of regulating their behavior.”

The insanity defense has fallen into disfavor because of the public perception that it is abused, especially since the acquittal of John Hinckley in his attempt to assassinate Ronald Reagan. But, as a neuroscience-grounded psychiatrist (it is forensic psychiatrists who evaluate and testify on the criminal responsibility of criminal suspects), I grapple with questions of whether my patients have the ability to conform themselves to standards of right and wrong all the time. I support a modern, scientifically-informed insanity defense as much as I decry its abuse as a slick defense tactic. Those who are legitimately not responsible for their actions are entitled to the defense and ought not to be penalized because others will misuse the insanity plea. On first blush, there is nothing special about the insanity plea in this regard. The burden of providing opportunities for justice inevitably leaves loopholes in many areas. The answer is to close the loopholes rather than throwing out the baby with the bathwater. But there is something special about a plea of insanity, which is the public’s lack of understanding of the nature of mental illness (and, for that matter, of free will). In general, psychiatric disturbance is stigmatized and its bearer is seen as ‘bad rather than mad’. Much as there is a special burden on the court system not to err against suspects of color because of the historical reality of racism in our society, there ought to be a parallel burden not to err against mentally ill suspects.


How the Justice System Criminalizes Mental Illness — Brent Staples (New York Times op-ed)


In a timely coincidence comes this story in which it is suggested that bizarre and dangerous behavior not otherwise easily understood (although not in this case direct violence towards others) may relate to the relapse of a disease process. (Yahoo! News)


R.I.P. Gary Webb

//www.sacbee.com/ips_rich_content/966-1212webb01.jpg' cannot be displayed]Steve Silberman sent me word of Webb’s death. You may recall the story; Webb authored an explosive San Jose Mercury News series in which he claimed that the crack epidemic had its origins in the CIA’s efforts to fund the anti-Sandinista Contras in Nicaragua. The story galvanized community anger. His reporting was eventually questioned, the story was repudiated by the paper and Webb’s career went into a tailspin from which he never recovered. Sad indeed.

Prize-winning investigative reporter dead at 49: “Gary Webb, a prize-winning investigative journalist whose star-crossed career was capped with a controversial newspaper series linking the CIA to the crack cocaine epidemic in Los Angeles, died Friday of self-inflicted gunshot wounds, officials said.

Mr. Webb, 49, was found dead in his Carmichael home Friday morning of gunshot wounds to the head, the Sacramento County Coroner’s Office said Saturday.” (Sacramento Bee )


A reader sent me this link to <a href=”For his brave reporting at the San Jose Mercury News, Webb paid a high price. He was attacked by journalistic colleagues at the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the American Journalism Review and even the Nation magazine. Under this media pressure, his editor Jerry Ceppos sold out the story and demoted Webb, causing him to quit the Mercury News. Even Webb’s marriage broke up.

On Friday, Dec. 10, Gary Webb, 49, died of an apparent suicide, a gunshot wound to the head.

Whatever the details of Webb’s death, American history owes him a huge debt. Though denigrated by much of the national news media, Webb’s contra-cocaine series prompted internal investigations by the Central Intelligence Agency and the Justice Department, probes that confirmed that scores of contra units and contra-connected individuals were implicated in the drug trade. The probes also showed that the Reagan-Bush administration frustrated investigations into those crimes for geopolitical reasons.” title=””>Robert Parry’s thoughts on Consortium News about Webb’s death:

“For his brave reporting at the San Jose Mercury News, Webb paid a high price. He was attacked by journalistic colleagues at the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the American Journalism Review and even the Nation magazine. Under this media pressure, his editor Jerry Ceppos sold out the story and demoted Webb, causing him to quit the Mercury News. Even Webb’s marriage broke up.

On Friday, Dec. 10, Gary Webb, 49, died of an apparent suicide, a gunshot wound to the head.

Whatever the details of Webb’s death, American history owes him a huge debt. Though denigrated by much of the national news media, Webb’s contra-cocaine series prompted internal investigations by the Central Intelligence Agency and the Justice Department, probes that confirmed that scores of contra units and contra-connected individuals were implicated in the drug trade. The probes also showed that the Reagan-Bush administration frustrated investigations into those crimes for geopolitical reasons.” (thanks, joel)


Ha ha! You can’t insult Islam but I can

“Here’s a short Christmas quiz. Let me rephrase that. It’s a short Winterval quiz. I would not wish to frighten or alienate any Sunday Times readers by waving Jesus Christ in their faces.

Anyway, the first question is this. One of the two statements below may soon be illegal; the other will still be within the law. You have to decide which is which and explain, with the aid of a diagram, the logic behind the new provision.

a) Stoning women to death for adultery is barbaric.

b) People who believe it is right to stone women to death for adultery are barbaric.” [more] (Sunday Times of London)


Reimagined Math

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“It’s hard to imagine that these plaster forms, so starkly beautiful, were originally used to teach advanced students trigonometry. Called stereometric models, they were manufactured in turn-of-the-century Germany to help scholars grasp complex mathematical formulas. Last year, the Japanese photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto shot each object, the tallest of which is less than a foot high, from below at close range so that they appear monumental. His series of photographs, ”Mathematical Forms,” reimagine these scientific models as things of wonder. They embody Sugimoto’s belief that art is possible even without artistic intention.” (New York Times Magazine slideshow)

Google Suggest Fun

You know about Google Suggest by now, right? It is a page with a Google searchbox which drops down a list of autocompletions, based on popularity, of the search term you are starting to type into the box. Here is the Suggested Google Alphabet (he means the Google Suggest Alphabet, more properly):

“After reading about the exposed Google Suggest URL over at InsideGoogle and seeing the ABCs of Google posted by Hatta on Slashdot, I decided to automate the process. Each time you load this page, it checks the most popular keyword for each letter of the alphabet given by Google Suggest, and displays them here for your viewing pleasure.”

And Jerry Kindall suggests an ego-ranking based on Google Suggest. Every term gets a score x.y in which x is the number of letters you have to type in to get your name on the drop-down list, and y is the position of your name in the list when it shows up. Gelwan is 8.4 and Follow Me Here is 11.1, for example. Keep in mind, however, that those rankings change with the relative popularity of the search.


Why I’m a wolf man

George Monbiot: “If you genuinely value diversity, you should welcome the reintroduction of large predators.

It hardly compares in importance to the invasion of Iraq, or the fall of the dollar, or the outcome of the next election. But in some ways the decision that we are being asked to make will say more about us and the world that we choose to inhabit than any of the grand political themes.

Last week, a man called Paul Lister held a conference in Scotland. He explained that, if his plans are accepted by the public, within five years he will be able to reintroduce the wolf, the bear, the Eurasian lynx, the wild boar and the European bison to the Highlands. Similar claims have been made before, but Lister is the first enthusiast who can make it happen. He has millions of pounds and a 23,000-acre estate. He wants his land to become the core of a much larger conservation area. Another landowner, Paul van Vlissingen, has volunteered to add his 81,000 acres to the scheme. As animals such as the wolf and the lynx are smart and agile enough to escape from almost any large enclosure, this is in effect a proposal to repopulate Britain with its extinct native wildlife.” (Guardian.UK)


Better to kill themselves than be a burden, says Warnock

“Britain’s leading medical ethics expert has suggested that the frail and elderly should consider suicide to stop them becoming a financial burden on their families and society.

Baroness Warnock spoke on the eve of a Commons debate on the Mental Capacity Bill, which critics claim will allow ‘euthanasia by the back door’.

In an interview with The Sunday Times, she said:

‘I know I’m not really allowed to say it, but one of the things that would motivate me [to die] is I couldn’t bear hanging on and being such a burden on people.

‘In other contexts, sacrificing oneself for one’s family would be considered good. I don’t see what is so horrible about the motive of not wanting to be an increasing nuisance.

‘If I went into a nursing home it would be a terrible waste of money that my family could use far better.'” (Times of London)


Nominee’s Quick Exit Not a First for Bush

“If the quick appointment and even speedier exit of Bernard B. Kerik seemed familiar to veterans of the Bush White House, there was a reason: It was not the first time that haste made hash of one of Mr. Bush’s nominees.

In early January 2001, when Mr. Bush was assembling his first cabinet from offices in Austin, Tex., and here in Washington, a committed conservative, Linda Chavez, broke the unwritten rules of Washington by failing to disclose all during a very quick vetting process.

Mr. Kerik ran afoul the same way. White House officials said Saturday that they had asked all the right questions about the status of his domestic help – whether he paid taxes, whether anyone was in the country illegally. This is hardly a new line of questioning. Hiring illegal immigrants has been prohibited by law since November 1986, and it is the problem that tripped up the nomination of Zoe Baird for attorney general under President Bill Clinton. It was particularly important because Mr. Kerik, if confirmed, would oversee the enforcement of immigration law.” (New York Times )

I am surprised at The Times [or should I be?]. It is obvious that it was an appointment that was bound to run into confirmation difficulties from the inception, and not because of any domestic help issues. I imagine the Democrats signalled that his recent questionable performance in training security forces for our WoT®, which role Bush did not even mention in announcing the appointment, was not going to be passed over in the confirmation hearings. Then there are questions about shady financial dealings and rumors that high level Homeland Security staff were panic-stricken about the appointment. Hasty choice indeed.

It has been pointed out that the real loser in the Kerik debacle may be Rudy Giuliani. Kerik was his protegé and he was pushing for the nomination. What price will he pay for embarrassing the imperious Bush, who can never take responsibility for his own mistakes?


Skygazing Dept.

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“Comet Machholz (C/2004 Q2) has been nearing Earth for weeks and now it’s bright enough to see with the unaided eye. Look for it in the southeastern sky a few hours after sunset: sky map. The comet looks like a fuzzy 5th-magnitude star near the feet of Orion.” (spaceweather.com )

Sunset Ray

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“In Aruba, overlooking the Caribbean Sea, Michael Blevins was watching the sun set on Dec. 3rd when a dark blue ray lanced across the sky. ‘It lasted for an hour,’ he says.

What is it? Atmospheric optics expert Les Cowley explains: ‘The blue beam piercing the twilit sky is a cloud shadow, a form of crepuscular ray. Somewhere over the horizon a tall cloud is blocking the sun and casting its long shadow through the sky. The dark shadowed air allows us to see the deep blue of the upper atmosphere through it.'” (spaceweather.com )


The 2004 Geminid Meteor Shower

“Make hot cocoa. Bundle up. Tell your friends: the best meteor shower of 2004 is about to peak on a long cold December night.

It’s the Geminids. The best time to look is Monday night, Dec. 13th. Sky watchers who stay outside for a few hours around midnight can expect to see dozens to hundreds of ‘shooting stars.’

Where should you look? Anywhere. Geminids streak all over the sky. Trace some backwards: they all lead to a radiant point in the constellation Gemini. This year the radiant lies next to Saturn–a beautiful coincidence. Gemini and Saturn are high overhead at midnight, easy to find.” (NASA )


The Spin on Bush’s Annual Physical

Healthy But Laments ‘Too Many Doughnuts’: “A team of 10 doctors led by Dr. Richard Tubb, Bush’s personal physician, and Dr. Kenneth Cooper, head of the Cooper Aerobics Center, issued a statement saying they ‘find him to be fit for duty and have every reasonable expectation that he will remain fit for duty for the duration of his presidency.'” (Reuters) I continue to maintain that the public is as much entitled to an annual accounting of the mental health of its commander-in-chief as the physical, but apparently no evaluation was done and no conclusions drawn in this sphere. All we know is that he is a good liar and a sniggering smirker.


Proof of the Left Wing Conspiracy?

Martin Kelley, a Pennsylvania Quaker who edits Nonviolence.org, was called by a CBS publicist with a tip that CBS was “doing a program on an issue that’s central to Nonviolence.org’s mandate: conscientious resistance to military service.” He posted a brief entry on this, thinking it would interest his readers, but has been linked to by the “who’s who of blogging gliteratti” as exemplifying the vast left wing media conspiracy. Kelley begs to differ, and avows that the media court the top political weblogs all the time.

“Their carefully-crafted fascade of snarkish independence would crumble if their phone logs were made public. They’re not really blogging in their pajamas, folks. By mentioning the existance of blog publicists, I’ve threatened to blow their cover. Pay no attention to the men behind the curtains: my social gaffe was in publicly admitting that the mainstream media courts political blogs.”

The site has thoughtful primers on the philosophy of nonviolence, its history, a ‘pacifist dictionary’, war tax resistance, conscientious objection, direct action, voluntary simplicity and resistance to the Iraq war and militarism in general. And he could use small PayPal donations.


Martin Kelley’s Ranter site is a ‘“blog” commentary on many topics, most notably Quaker theology & peace issues. If I had to be pigeon-holed I’d say that I’m a Post-Liberal Christian, a Hicksite Conservative Quaker, and an Emergent-Church curious Gen-Xer.”


U.S. Soldier Jailed for Murdering Iraqi Youth

“A U.S. soldier was sentenced to three years in jail for the murder of a wounded Iraqi teenager in Baghdad in August, the U.S. military said on Saturday.

… During the proceedings his action was described as a “mercy killing.” He shot a youth who had survived an attack by U.S. troops on a garbage truck which they suspected of being used by guerrillas during a Shi’ite uprising in Baghdad in August. U.S. officials have been quoted as saying six other Iraqis also died.

Local people say the men were innocent garbage collectors.

The trial, one of several brought against U.S. troops for murder and other serious crimes, including abusing detainees at Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison, is held up by U.S. commanders as a mark of good faith toward Iraqis that soldiers are accountable.” (Reuters)

Yes, ‘accountable’. Three years of his life (less time off for good behavior) = the lost fifty?sixty? years of his victim’s. That’s American accounting for you. And American ‘mercy’ as well.


The Spin on Bush’s Annual Physical

Healthy But Laments ‘Too Many Doughnuts’: “A team of 10 doctors led by Dr. Richard Tubb, Bush’s personal physician, and Dr. Kenneth Cooper, head of the Cooper Aerobics Center, issued a statement saying they ‘find him to be fit for duty and have every reasonable expectation that he will remain fit for duty for the duration of his presidency.'” (Reuters) I continue to maintain that the public is as much entitled to an annual accounting of the mental health of its commander-in-chief as the physical, but apparently no evaluation was done and no conclusions drawn in this sphere. All we know is that he is a good liar and a sniggering smirker.


Yushchenko Was Poisoned: Austrian Doctors

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“The Vienna doctors appeared to bear out Yushchenko’s long-stated allegations that he was poisoned as part of a plot to kill him. His illness kept him out of the early stages of the campaign and left his face bloated and pocked. ‘There is no doubt,’ Dr Michael Zimpfer, president of the Rudolfinerhaus clinic where Yushchenko is undergoing treatment, told a news conference in the Austrian capital.’ There were high concentrations of dioxin, most likely orally administered.’ He said the dioxin poisoning had been confirmed on Saturday by a laboratory in Amsterdam, which had analyzed a blood sample.” (Reuters)

Boston.com’s SnowPlow Game

“Boston.com launched a new game today, the Snowplow Game, as part of new promotional campaign tied to the holiday season.

Players steer a snowplow through Boston after a blizzard, whizzing by popular city landmarks such as Fenway Park, the Citgo sign, and the John Hancock tower, in a quest to clear the streets and accumulate points, peppermints and snowflakes before time runs out. The top ten scorers will be ranked publicly on Boston.com, allowing players to compete for top honors.

The game was created by The Barbarian Group, who also developed the popular Subservient Chicken online ad campaign for Burger King.” (CyberJournalist.net)


Who is Bernard Kerik?

“Over the last several years, former NYC police commissioner Bernard B. Kerik, President Bush’s nominee to be the next Secretary of Homeland Security, has become ‘a multimillionaire as a result of a lucrative partnership with former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani.’ Indeed, the New York Daily News suggests, Kerik’s selection was less based on merit than it was on Giuliani’s ‘pull within the White House’ and ‘Kerik’s work on the campaign trail’ for Bush. Kerik’s record, however, raises serious question about his motives, ethics and ability to defend America. Kerik abruptly quit a critical job in Iraq, mismanaged rescue efforts in the aftermath of 9/11, used his official posts for personal enrichment and has been plagued by serious scandals. Here is a detailed look…(The Progress Report – American Progress Action Fund)


On the 56th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, The Progress Report explores the US’s declining moral leadership.

“The Bush administration is sending mixed signals about its commitment to defending human rights at home and around the world. The White House is undermining America’s moral authority, as more nations begin to see the United States as a part of the problem instead of part of the solution. Moral leadership starts at home.”

School defends slavery booklet

“Critic says text is ‘window dressing’: Students at one of the area’s largest Christian schools are reading a controversial booklet that critics say whitewashes Southern slavery with its view that slaves lived ‘a life of plenty, of simple pleasures.’

Leaders at Cary Christian School say they are not condoning slavery by using ‘Southern Slavery, As It Was,’ a booklet that attempts to provide a biblical justification for slavery and asserts that slaves weren’t treated as badly as people think.” (Raleigh-Durham News-Observer)


Art Lab

“The Art Lab uses creative and artistic activities as research tools to gain an insight into people’s relationships with contemporary media culture. Instead of just talking to people in interviews or focus groups, these approaches get participants doing things, as a different way of getting inside their relationship to a particular topic.

…The Art Lab studies represent a new type of research in which media consumers’ own creativity, reflexivity and knowingness is harnessed, rather than ignored. In these studies, individuals are asked to produce media or visual material themselves, as a way of exploring their relationship with particular issues or dimensions of media. Examples, which appear in the projects section, include research where children made videos to consider their relationship with the environment; where young men designed covers for imaginary men’s magazines, enabling an exploration of contemporary masculinities; and where people drew pictures of celebrities as part of an examination of their aspirations and identifications with stars.”


Why Iraq Matters to You In the Holiday Season

“It may seem stupid to write so much about Iraq in this space. Most of you agree with me that this is an unwarranted, illegal, bordering-on-genocidal war that needs to end ASAP. Those who don’t… won’t be convinced by anything I write.

So why bang on?

I’ve just read a book called At Hell’s Gate: A Soldier’s Journey from War to Peace. It’s a memoir by Claude Anshin Thomas. At 17, he enlisted in the Amy and volunteered for service in Vietnam. His commanders told him he was bringing peace, but what he mostly did is kill:

…nearly every day that I was in Vietnam I was in combat. One of the many decorations I received was the Air Medal. To get an air medal, you must fly 25 combat missions and 25 combat hours. By the end of my tour, I had been awarded more than 25 air medals. That amounts to somewhere in the neighborhood of 625 combat hours and combat missions. All of those combat missions killed people….by the time I was first injured in combat (two or three months into my tour), I had already been responsible for the deaths of several hundred people.

When he came home, Thomas was still driven by rage. He joined the anti-war movement. He took drugs. He drank. He wanted to die. Then he cleaned up. But he was still tormented. Fortunately, he was invited to a retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh. Odd, he thought–my countrymen reject me, and yet this Vietnamese accepts me.

When Thich Nhat Hanh entered the room, Claude Thomas began to cry. ‘I realized for the first time that I didn’t know the Vietnamese in any way than as my enemy, and this man wasn’t my enemy.’

The first great lesson of this book is something Thich Nhat Hanh tells the veterans: ‘You are the light at the tip of the candle. You burn hot and bright. You understand deeply the nature of suffering.’

And then–and this is the part that has had me reeling for weeks–Thich Nhat Hanh goes on:

He told us that the nonveterans were more responsible for the war than the veterans. That because of the interconnectedness of all things, there is no escape from responsibility. That those who think they aren’t responsible are the most responsible.

Consider that: ‘Those who think they aren’t responsible are the MOST responsible.’

That’s every minister who presides over a service without mentioning Iraq. Every shopper who’s ‘in the holiday spirit’ and doesn’t want to be brought down by death and dying. Every parent who fails to talk about Iraq with the kids.

That’s you. And you. And you. And, sometimes, me. And that is why–even if I’m just touching base with the choir–I need to talk about this stinking war until, finally, we get it to stop.” (beliefnet via walker)


MoveOn to Democratic Party: ‘We Own It’

“Liberal powerhouse MoveOn has a message for the ‘professional election losers’ who run the Democratic Party: ‘We bought it, we own it, we’re going to take it back.’

A scathing e-mail from the head of MoveOn’s political action committee to the group’s supporters on Thursday targets outgoing Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe as a tool of corporate donors who alienated both traditional and progressive Democrats.” (Associated Press )


Psychiatrists’ Weblogs

[Image 'bla-bla-wo.jpg' cannot be displayed]Mental Notes is a weblog by a Texas psychiatrist. In his sidebar, he has compiled a list of other weblogs by psychiatrists. In addition to listing mine, here are his other links:

I have browsed them a little. It should not surprise you that they are quite diverse from both stylistic and content perspectives. Other than for completeness’ sake, some would never belong on any self-respecting blogroll of mine. Several are eloquent and fascinating. Please consider sending me any other links to psychiatrists’ weblogs you find, so I can keep the list up to date.


What’s a Blink?

Here’s what Donna Wentworth says in a recent post to her Copyfight weblog:

“What’s a blink? It’s a short, one-sentence blog post + a link, à la Kottke remainders… We’ll be using “blink” posts here at Copyfight to share links to articles, resources, and websites of interest that do not necessarily require paragraphs of context or analysis. Enjoy!”

Here is what I have said from the inception of FmH:

” A word about blinks, which are one of the things you’ll find Follow Me Here is full of — just as a blog is a weblog, a blink is a weblink. And, as a verb, just as we blog, we blink. Few have adopted this terminology, but it was suggested to me by a friend as I started FmH in 1999, and I’m stubbornly sticking with it.”

Early on, when it still seemed necessary to explain to people what this weblogging stuff was all about, this was on the main page of FmH. Now the link takes you to my “About FmH” page. My usage of the term was already old by 2001 when I revisited it in response to a reader’s question.

You will notice that I use ‘blink’ simply as a contraction of web+link, while Wentworth is making more of a distinction between the one-liners and the extended weblog entries. Perhaps she was not reading weblogs when almost all blinks were one-liners and weblogs were exactly that — annotated logs of one’s websurfing, so that others in your social circle could see what was interesting you. That’s what I saw when I woke up to the weblog phenomenon over the latter half of 1999, and that was the nature of the weblogs that directly inspired me — honeyguide, camworld, rebecca’s pocket, and the late lamented robot wisdom, for instance. While there were also online diaries or journals as well, the two phenomena did not converge for awhile longer. It was a long time before I dared to think readers would be receptive to any post longer than about a three-sentence paragraph.

The only notice my usage of the term ‘blink’ got was a peevish comment once on MetaFilter from someone who found it too cutesy. (I can no longer find it by searching MeFi, alas.) I couldn’t take too much umbrage at him, however, because his dig at me was in the context of trashing the fact that the word ‘weblog’ had universally been replaced by ‘blog’, a phenomenon about which I share his disdain. [I know, I know, I’m not being consistent. Maybe if ‘blink’ became overwhelmingly popular, I wouldn’t like it either. Story of my life… — FmH] And no one has even deigned to notice that I proposed using it as a verb as well.

Since to my knowledge the usage of ‘blink’ has so thoroughly failed to take hold, I wonder how in the world Bruce Umbaugh recognizes I should get the credit.


Notable People Who Don’t Have an FBI File

“When someone famous or otherwise notable dies, The Memory Hole often files a FOIA request for his or her FBI file. We post the ones we receive, but not everyone has a file. Mainly for the aid of other researchers, this page contains a running list of deceased people who are not the subject of a file, according to the FBI’s FOIA office.” (Memory Hole via pas-au-delà) [It’s a short list. — FmH]


Un-Alaskan Epic

Most of you have heard by now of the story of the potential oil spill from the breakup of a disabled Malaysian freighter in the Aleutians yesterday, and the Coast Goard helicopter crash during the attempt to rescue the stranded crew. I first heard coverage of this on NPR and puzzled over the name of the island where the calamity has ensued — Unalaska. At first I could not figure out, literal me, why they kept referring to this as an Alaskan story if it happened at an Un-Alaskan location. Does anyone know how Unalaska came by its name?

My prayers go out, by the way, for rapid containment of the oil spill. From what I understand, No. 6 fuel oil is nasty stuff, and there are 500,000 gallons of it on the foundering ship.

“A spill from the vessel could threaten Steller sea lions, sea otters, harbor seals and seabirds foraging in bays along the island’s west coast, said Greg Siekaniec, manager of the Homer-based Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge. Refuge biologists were traveling to Dutch Harbor Wednesday and planned to work with the Coast Guard to identify sensitive sites and figure out how to protect them if fuel starts leaking.

According to a federal hazardous materials fact sheet, the type of bunker oil on the ship is “a dense, viscous oil … (that) usually spreads into thick, dark colored slicks” when it is spilled on water.

“It’s a lot of heavy oil,” said Gary Folley with the state DEC. “What makes this one, I think, different, is the fact that if it does hit the beach … it’s an extremely difficult place to get to. It is chock full of sensitive areas and wildlife. There are no roads.” ” (Anchorage Daily News )

Another fascinating fact I learned in the NPR coverage was that the nearby town, Dutch Harbor AK, is apparently the US’ largest producer of processed seafood products (like the fish that goes into fast food fish sandwiches).


Gorillas hold ‘wake’ for group’s leader

“After Babs the gorilla died at age 30, keepers at Brookfield (IL) Zoo decided to allow surviving gorillas to mourn the most influential female in their social family. One by one Tuesday, the gorillas filed into the Tropic World building where Babs’ body lay, arms outstretched. Curator Melinda Pruett Jones called it a ‘gorilla wake.’

Babs’ 9-year-old daughter, Bana, was the first to approach the body, followed by Babs’ mother, Alpha, 43. Bana sat down, held Babs’ hand and stroked her mother’s stomach. Then she sat down and laid her head on Babs’ arm.

…Babs had an incurable kidney condition and was euthanized Tuesday. Keepers had recently seen a videotape of a gorilla wake at the Columbus, Ohio, zoo and decided they would do the same for Babs. Gorillas in the wild have been known to pay respects to their dead, keepers said.” (CNN via adam)

Adam, in sending me this poignant story, mentioned other anecdotes he has seen establishing that animals grieve their dead companions. This search (Google ) will be revealing if you want to pursue it further (although, sorry, because of the syntax I used, it includes some items about grieving for departed animals as well as grieving by animals). Some of what I find poignant in this article, however, lies in the anthropocentric attitude it betrays. An earlier version of the article actually had it in the headline; now it was altered (because of such criticism, I wonder??) but it is still the premise of the article that it is acceptable that the zoo keepers decided to allow the gorillas to mourn their loss. I know that in this instance, since Babs was euthanized, they had to deliberately determine to bring the body back into the gorillas’ enclosure for that purpose, but should it really be a matter for our discretion whether the animals we steward are allowed to grieve?


“Monkeys may visualise in response to calls. The primates may actually “see” a predator or food in response to calls from other monkeys, a brain scan study suggests.” (New Scientist )

Although it is not exactly clear that the mental activity detected represents images flashing through the monkeys’ brains, it is suggestive of being a precursor of conceptual representation and thus closer to human thought than many had appreciated. The human ability for empathy for others of our kind is built on our capacity for a ‘theory of mind’; we can conceive of the mental experiences that must go through another’s mind based on our sense of congruence with our own inner experiences, to which we have introspective access. Does this study help us to conceive better of what must be going through a monkey’s mind under certain circumstances, implying that we can begin to have a theory of monkey mind and thus a more empathic connection to our primate cousins than otherwise?


Rumsfeld `Cavalier’ on Iraq Gear, Dodd Says, Demanding Answers

“U.S. Senator Chris Dodd demanded answers on military preparedness from Donald Rumsfeld, describing the defense secretary as “cavalier” in his response to a soldier who said troops in Iraq are reduced to scavenging for materials with which to protect their vehicles.

… Rumsfeld yesterday told U.S. soldiers in Kuwait who are part of the military coalition in neighboring Iraq that “you have to go to war with the Army you have.” He was replying to Army Specialist Thomas Wilson, who asked, “Why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to up-armor our vehicles?”” Bloomberg

By the way. if Spec. Wilson is, as described in press coverage, “a disgruntled soldier,” there were hundreds or thousands gathered to hear Rumsfeld. What most of the media clips of this interchange did not include was the rousing wolf-whistles and cheers that went up from the assembled masses in response to his insolent question.


War, poverty and Aids causing half of world’s children to suffer

“…effectively denying them a childhood, according to a report today.

Unicef’s flagship annual study showed more than one billion children are being denied the healthy and protected upbringing promised by the UN’s 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child. Researchers found one in six (90 million) children is severely hungry, one in seven (270 million) has no healthcare at all and the report shows that nearly half of the 3.6 million people killed in war since 1990 have been children.” The Scotsman


Raw Eggs? Hair of the Dog?

New Options for the Besotted: “‘If you can find a remedy for hangovers, that would be great,’ he said, voicing a sentiment familiar to anyone who has imbibed just a little too much and was sorry about it the next day.

In fact, recent studies suggest that help for at least some aftereffects of intoxication may not be too much to ask for.” (New York Times )


String Theory, at 20, Explains It All (or Not)

“They all laughed 20 years ago.”

It was then that a physicist named John Schwarz jumped up on the stage during a cabaret at the physics center here and began babbling about having discovered a theory that could explain everything. By prearrangement men in white suits swooped in and carried away Dr. Schwarz, then a little-known researcher at the California Institute of Technology.

Only a few of the laughing audience members knew that Dr. Schwarz was not entirely joking. He and his collaborator, Dr. Michael Green, now at Cambridge University, had just finished a calculation that would change the way physics was done. They had shown that it was possible for the first time to write down a single equation that could explain all the laws of physics, all the forces of nature – the proverbial ‘theory of everything’ that could be written on a T-shirt.

And so emerged into the limelight a strange new concept of nature, called string theory, so named because it depicts the basic constituents of the universe as tiny wriggling strings, not point particles.” (New York Times )


‘Humans can learn to be nice’

In the ascendency of evolutionary psychology, recent decades have clarified how much influence one’s hereditary endowment exerts over behavioral factors. The current study focuses on socially responsible behavior, a.k.a. “being nice”, and finds the expected hereditary effect but also a robust influence of upbringing (New Scientist).

Does this surprise anyone, that one’s upbringing and, perhaps even more important, peer influences can affect one’s social competencies or kindness regardless of what temperamental variables one has inherited? The article phrases things interestingly in talking about genes for socially responsible behavior. Usually, it is expresed in the converse manner, that genes influence antisocial behavior or delinquency. Is this just a matter of semantics, or of the glass being half full vs. half empty? It seems to me something basic is at stake in conceptualizing what is commonly referred to as “human nature.” Are we inherently ‘good’, with flaws or lacks in our genetic makeup necessary to cause us to act in an antisocial manner? Or does it take something specific in our constitution to influence us to behave in a prosocial manner? Furthermore, there are implied notions of social structure in deciding what is antisocial. Prosocial behavior, as the evolutionary biologists grapple with it, has several distinct components that have to be explained separately. First there is cooperation and mutuality; it is rather easy to see how that conveys a selective advantage. But quite distinct from that as a foundation of the social contract is altruistic behavior (Google ), which has presented more of a challenge to explain evolutionarily.

I am actually surprised that a critic of the study is quoted as being surprised by the finding of an environmental impact on prosocial behavior. He comments that, if true, this is different from other personality variables. But it seems to me that prosociality or antisociality is not a personality variable, i.e. not a temperamental factor. It is rather, fundamentally, a way of behaving or a set of behaviors. It may be shoddy thinking to equate ‘niceness’ with social responsibility. Furthermore, antisocial behavior may not actually always be related to not being ‘nice’. The neurocognitive machinery for empathy may have alot to do with it as well or instead, and it is not a given that empathy and ‘niceness’ or kindness are conflated.



“Committed abstractionists are finding themselves irresistibly drawn to the figure… In today’s anything-goes atmosphere, switching camps—from abstraction to representation or vice versa—is not considered exceptionally radical, or even brave, but it still gives us pause. “People felt betrayed, as if I did it to them,” says (one artist) who shifted in the early 1990s from making abstract constructions to painting portraits and other representational images.” (Art News Online)

Huge no-fishing zones ‘offer only hope’ of saving marine ecosystem from disaster

“It has been invisible, so it has gone largely unheeded, but the wrecking of the seas is now the world’s gravest environmental problem after climate change, British scientists said yesterday.

Such destruction has been caused by over-fishing in the marine environment and only massive protected zones, where all fishing is banned, will allow the sea’s damaged areas to recover, members of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution said.” (Independent.UK)


Responsible Chefs Urge Consumers to Choose ‘Good’ Fish:

“While the scientists, the environmentalists, the fishing industry and the politicians wrangle over the future of the seas and oceans, where does this leave the consumer?

Yesterday’s message from the Royal Commission on environmental pollution could not be clearer. At a time when we want to eat more fish and, in particular, oily fish, as part of a healthy diet, there is now unprecedented alarm at the over-fishing of many of these species and the devastating effects of industrialised trawling on the environment. The days when the north Atlantic and the North Sea provided all the cod and plaice we could ever want to eat have long gone, possibly never to return.” (Independent.UK)


Very, Very Dirty Pictures

You want explicit? You want raw and uncensored and free of media bias? Here you go.

This is what you won’t see in the paper.

This is what you won’t see on CNN or on MSNBC or CBS News or on any major media Web site anywhere and especially no goddamn way ever in hell will you see it within a thousand miles of Fox News.

You aren’t supposed to see. You aren’t supposed to know. You are to remain ignorant and shielded, and, if you’re like most Americans, you have been very carefully conditioned to think Bush’s nasty Iraq war is merely this ugly little firecracker-like thing happening way, way over there, carefully orchestrated and somewhat messy and maybe a little bloody but mostly still patriotic and good and necessary and sponsored by none other than God his own angry Republican self.” — Mark Morford (San Francisco Chronicle )


Activists Dominate Content Complaints

The FCC crackdown on media indecency is fueled by a dramatic increase in public concern, right? The statistics would seem to say so, but apart from the public outcry after the Janet Jackson NFL debacle, more than 98% of indecency complaints to the FCC in the past two years have been from one advocacy group, the Parents’ Television Council. (Media Week) Should we let, essentially, 23 people dictate the ‘community decency standards’ by which the FCC is supposed to be governed?


`Best songs’ list shows its age

Rolling Stone magazine has put Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” at the top of its list of the 500 greatest songs of all time, which was published Friday.

They wish.

Disclaimer alert: Such lists mean absolutely nothing. There’s no mathematical formula based on sales, spins, notes, chords or the strength of the drugs the artists had or hadn’t taken while recording. These are totally subjective decisions made by a bunch of writers and editors.

So invite people over and argue until you can’t talk. Sever friendships, get divorced, write the kids out of the will. But in the long run, none of it matters. Because we’re all right. And we’re all wrong.

But really — what were these people thinking?(San Jose Mercury News)

The Rolling Stone list is here


Will a New Drug Melt Away the Pounds??

It May, but Doctors Urge Caution: “To people who have struggled for a lifetime to lose weight, the new drug called rimonabant sounds like a dream come true.

It will make a person uninterested in fattening foods, they have heard from news reports and word of mouth. Weight will just melt away, and fat accumulating around the waist and abdomen will be the first to go. And by the way, those who take it will end up with higher levels of H.D.L., the good cholesterol. If they smoke, they will find it easier to quit. If they are heavy drinkers, they will no longer crave alcohol.

…But many medical researchers say not so fast. While rimonabant may be intriguing, these experts say, the mythology in the making is hardly justified by what is known so far.

There are no published studies from clinical trials to justify any of the claims for what some patients are already calling a miracle drug. The data that the company has presented indicate that rimonabant is about as effective for weight loss in obese people as two other drugs already on the market. Nor are there any clinical tests to indicate how or whether it would work in people who are only moderately overweight, hoping to lose a few pounds after the holidays.” (New York Times )


Medicare Law Said to Trouble Nursing Homes

“A wide range of experts on long-term care express serious concern that the new Medicare law will be unworkable for most of the 1.5 million Americans who live in nursing homes.

Nursing home residents take large numbers of prescription drugs, an average of eight a day. But many have physical disabilities and brain disorders that impair their memory and judgment. So they cannot easily shop around for insurance plans to find the best bargains on their drugs, as other Medicare beneficiaries are supposed to do.” (New York Times )


A verifiable-voting insurgency

This is a commentary in Roanoke VA’s newspaper by poet Colleen Redman, whose poem My President Bush Dream appeared here on FmH last month.

“Just as the U.S. invasion of Iraq seemed over with the fall of Baghdad, so did the 2004 presidential election seem to end when John Kerry conceded. But the war was hardly over when Bush prematurely claimed victory, and the election isn’t over, either.

In fact, a new Harris Poll indicates that one in five Americans doesn’t believe the election was legitimate. The number of skeptics would probably be higher if more people were aware of the scope of voting irregularities that occurred. Unfortunately, the corporate-owned media have mostly fallen in line with the ‘powers that be,’ just as they did in the run-up to the war (something a few major newspapers later apologized for).” [more]