No Surprises for Rice

“Lugar Offers Rice a Head Start: Condoleezza Rice should expect few surprises when she faces the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Jan. 18 and 19 for confirmation hearings on her nomination to be secretary of state. Committee Chairman Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.) and other GOP members have agreed to submit in advance the questions they plan to ask her, a decision some Democrats find surprising.

Lugar will give Rice the questions he plans to ask orally because he feels she should be fully prepared to answer without delay, said Lugar spokesman Andy Fisher said. ‘This is not a pop quiz,’ he said.” (Washington Post)

Our government becomes more and more an outlandish caricature of a ludicrous semblance of a contemptible simulacrum of democratic process. [Sorry, I seem to be compelled to use the same adjectives over and over again. Probably the only one in the previous sentence that doesn’t really apply is ‘democratic’…]


CIA Veteran: Let bin Laden Stay Free

“The world may be better off if Osama Bin Laden remains at large, according to the Central Intelligence Agency’s recently departed executive director.

If the world’s most wanted terrorist is captured or killed, a power struggle among his Al-Qaeda subordinates may trigger a wave of terror attacks, said AB “Buzzy” Krongard, who stepped down six weeks ago as the CIA’s third most senior executive.

“You can make the argument that we’re better off with him (at large),” Krongard said. “Because if something happens to Bin Laden, you might find a lot of people vying for his position and demonstrating how macho they are by unleashing a stream of terror.”

Krongard, a former investment banker who joined the CIA in 1998, said Bin Laden’s role among Islamic militants was changing.

“He’s turning into more of a charismatic leader than a terrorist mastermind,” he said. “Some of his lieutenants are the ones to worry about.” (Sunday Times of London)


First direct sighting of an extrasolar planet

“Astronomers have directly observed an extrasolar planet for the first time, but are at a loss to explain what they see.

More than 130 planets have been detected orbiting stars other than our own, the Sun. But because the stars far outshine the planets, all of the planets were detected indirectly – by how much they made their host stars wobble or dim, for example.

Now, astronomers say they are almost certain they have snapped an actual image of an extrasolar planet. It was first seen at infrared wavelengths with the Very Large Telescope in Chile in April 2004, and announced at the American Astronomical Society annual meeting in San Diego, California, US on Monday. It appeared alongside a brown dwarf – an astronomical object with a mass inbetween that of a planet and a star.” (New Scientist)


The New Heart Disease Threat

“The evidence has gotten much stronger that a substance known as C-reactive protein may be every bit as important as cholesterol in the diagnosis and treatment of heart disease. Back in 2002, a thought-provoking study found that a blood test for C-reactive protein, called CRP, was actually better than the standard cholesterol test at predicting the risk of a heart attack or a stroke. Now two studies published in The New England Journal of Medicine have shown that drugs that reduce the levels of that protein in patients with severe heart disease can slow the progression of atherosclerosis and prevent heart attacks and cardiac-related deaths.

Although the studies came laced with caveats, their cumulative impact suggests that cardiology is in the midst of a revolutionary shift in understanding the causes of heart disease. After years of focusing on the role of cholesterol in clogging arteries, researchers now recognize C-reactive protein, a measure of inflammation in artery walls and elsewhere, as a prime risk factor in its own right.” (New York Times )


Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da, Amygdala

Word as Earworm: “Can a word be an earworm? An earworm is a tune that lodges itself in the brain and will not be moved. Songs like “It’s a Small World” or “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” can become earworms. In a different class, “Là ci darem la mano,” from Mozart’s “Don Giovanni,” might insinuate itself into every waking moment, although it seems wrong to compare such a lovely aria to an invertebrate.” (New York Times )