Month: March 2005

An Early Wartime Profile Depicts a Tormented Hitler

“He was a feminine boy, averse to manual work, who was ‘annoyingly subservient’ to superior officers as a young soldier and had nightmares that were ‘very suggestive of homosexual panic.’ The mass killings that he later perpetrated stemmed in part from a desperate loathing of his own submissive weakness, and the humiliations of being beaten by a sadistic father.

What is believed to be the first psychological profile of Hitler commissioned by the Office of Strategic Services, a predecessor to the Central Intelligence Agency, was posted this month by Cornell University Law Library on its Web site (www.lawschool.cornell.edu/library/donovan/hitler/). Although declassified some years ago, the report, written in 1943, has not been widely cited or available to the public, historians and librarians at Cornell say.” (New York Times )

Strains on Nature Are Growing, Report Says

“Humans are damaging the planet at a rapid rate and raising risks of abrupt collapses in nature that could spur disease, deforestation or ‘dead zones’ in the seas, an international report said Wednesday.

The study, by 1,360 researchers in 95 nations, the biggest review of the planet’s life support systems ever, said that in the last 50 years a rising human population had polluted or overexploited two-thirds of the ecological systems on which life depends, including clean air and fresh water. ‘At the heart of this assessment is a stark warning,’ said the 45-member board of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. ‘Human activity is putting such strain on the natural functions of earth that the ability of the planet’s ecosystems to sustain future generations can no longer be taken for granted.'” (New York Times )

Tell Pharmacy Chains to stop discriminating against women!

Action alert: “In as many as 20 states pharmacies are able to refuse to fill women’s prescriptions for contraception, including the morning-after pill.

When a woman and her doctor decide that a prescription for contraception is in the woman’s best interest, a third party has no right to override that decision. Pharmacies must ensue that patients get their doctor-prescribed medication without delay or inconvenience. Join NARAL Pro-Choice America in telling our nation’s biggest pharmacies (Wal-Mart, CVS, Rite Aid, Walgreens, and Eckerd) not to stand between a woman and her physician.” (Act For Change)

‘We urge you to reject that nomination…’

59 Ex-Diplomats Oppose Bolton for UN: “Challenging the White House, 59 former American diplomats are urging the Senate to reject John R. Bolton’s nomination to be the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

‘He is the wrong man for this position,’ they said in a letter to Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Lugar has scheduled hearings on Bolton’s nomination for April 7.” (Washington Post)

‘Predictable If Ghoulish’

List of Schiavo Donors Will Be Sold by Direct-Marketing Firm: “The parents of Terri Schiavo have authorized a conservative direct-mailing firm to sell a list of their financial supporters, making it likely that thousands of strangers moved by her plight will receive a steady stream of solicitations from anti-abortion and conservative groups.

‘These compassionate pro-lifers donated toward Bob Schindler’s legal battle to keep Terri’s estranged husband from removing the feeding tube from Terri,’ says a description of the list on the Web site of the firm, Response Unlimited, which is asking $150 a month for 6,000 names and $500 a month for 4,000 e-mail addresses of people who responded last month to an e-mail plea from Ms. Schiavo’s father. ‘These individuals are passionate about the way they value human life, adamantly oppose euthanasia and are pro-life in every sense of the word!'” (New York Times )

What’s Going On?

Paul Krugman: “America isn’t yet a place where liberal politicians, and even conservatives who aren’t sufficiently hard-line, fear assassination. But unless moderates take a stand against the growing power of domestic extremists, it can happen here.” (New York Times op-ed)

New England Seceding

Dear President Bush:

Congratulations on your victory over all us non-evangelicals. Actually, we’re a bit ticked off here in New England, so we’re leaving.

New England will now be its own country. And we’re taking all the Blue States with us. In case you are not aware, that includes Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, all of the North East and California.

We spoke to God, and she agrees that this split will be beneficial to almost everybody, and especially to us in the new country of New England. In fact, God is so excited about it, she’s going to shift the whole country at 4:30 pm EST next Friday. Therefore, please let everyone know they need to be back in their states by then.

So you get Texas and all the former slave states. We get stem cell research and the best beaches. We get Elliot Spitzer. You get Ken Lay. We get the Statue of Liberty. You get OpryLand. We get Intel and Microsoft. You get WorldCom. We get Harvard. You get Ole Miss. We get 85% of America’s venture capital and entrepreneurs. You get all the technological innovation in Alabama. We get about two-thirds of the tax revenue, and you get to make the red states pay their fair share.

Since our divorce rate is 22% lower than the Christian coalition’s, we get a bunch of happy families. You get a bunch of single moms to support, and we know how much you like that. Did I mention we produce about 70% of the nation’s veggies? But heck the only greens the Bible- thumpers eat are the pickles on their Big Macs.

Oh yeah, another thing, don’t plan on serving California wine at your state dinners. From now on it’s imported French wine for you. Ouch, bet that hurts. Just so we’re clear, the country of New England will be pro- choice and anti-war. Speaking of war, we’re going to want all Blue States citizens back from Iraq. If you need people to fight, just ask your evangelicals. They have tons of kids they’re willing to send to their deaths for oil. And they don’t care if you don’t show pictures of their kids’ caskets coming home.

Anyway, we wish you all the best in the next four years and we hope, really hope, you find those missing weapons of mass destruction. Seriously. Soon.

Sincerely,

New England [thanks, lorraine]

Official: 50 dead on island after quake

Just last week, I was reading reports that some geologists think the massive December 26th Indonesian quake that triggered the catastrophic tsunamis had not relieved the tension in that seismically active area but, counterintuitively, made a subsequent earthquake more likely. Now come reports of a ‘great’ quake, estimated at magnitude 8.5-8.7 on the Richter Scale, along the same fault. (CNN) What amazes me is that authorities are essentially guessing that there will be no appreciable tsunami from this quake because no one has reported one yet. That is the best we can do.

A Tragedy Compounded

New England Journal of Medicine editorial on the Terry Schiavo case by Dr. Timothy Quill, in .pdf format. As Quill points out,the medical facts are incontrovertible. The deprivation of oxygen to her brain after a 1990 cardiac arrest caused by complications of her eating disorder has left Terry Schiavo in a persistent vegetative state, in which,

“…during the subsequent months, she exhibited no evidence of higher cortical function. Computed tomographic scans of her brain eventually showed severe atrophy of her cerebral hemispheres, and her electroencephalograms have been flat, indicating no functional activity of the cerebral cortex. Her neurologic examinations have been indicative of a persistent vegetative state, which includes periods of wakefulness alternating with sleep, some reflexive responses to light and noise, and some basic gag and swallowing responses, but no signs of emotion, willful activity, or cognition. There is no evidence that Ms. Schiavo is suffering, since the usual definition of this term requires conscious awareness that is impossible in the absence of cortical activity. There have been only a few reported cases in which minimal cognitive and motor functions were restored three months or more after the diagnosis of a persistent vegetative state due to hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy; in none of these cases was there the sort of objective evidence of severe cortical damage that is present in this case, nor was the period of disability so long.”

Schiavo’s parents’ objections to terminating life support seem to be dually based. Against the consensus of all relevant medical parties, they sentimentally refuse to accept the diagnosis of persistent vegetative state which, after fifteen years, is irrefutably irreversible. But that they appear not to understand or accept this is understandable; Dr Quill says he is not surprised that some might interpret her “apparent alertness and movement as meaningful”. But, at every stage in the subsequent morass of legal proceedings, courts have ruled that, by the standard of “clear and convincing” evidence, the diagnosis of persistent vegetative state is warranted.

But this is not just a difference of opinion on diagnosis or prognosis. The Schindlers also have attempted to subvert the central legal and ethical principle by which decisions about terminating life support must be made when the patient herself is incapable of expressing a preference and has not left any advance directives. This is the so-called standard of substituted judgment. The family member with decision-making authority is obligated to make not the decision that is best for the family or the one that they want for their loved one but the one, as best can be inferred, that the patient would want for herself. As Dr. Quill describes it,

“If the patient could wake up for 15 minutes and understand his or her condition fully, and then had to return to it, what would he or she tell you to do? If the data about the patient’s wishes are not clear, then in the absence of public policy or family consensus, we should err on the side of continued treatment even in cases of a persistent vegetative state in which there is no hope of recovery.”

I myself think the principle of substituted judgment is normally honored more in the breach than in the observance. However, this is frequently not a problem when the interests of the decision-making party and of the patient are essentually congruent and there is no substantial dissent from other stakeholders. Only in such a rancorous case as Schiavo’s must the courts become involved. And here they have; and have ruled that the evidence Michael Schiavo has presented about his wife’s own preferences meets the standards, and makes prolongation of life both “unethical and illegal.” Dr. Quill concludes by hoping that Schiavo’s case reinvigorates our determination to put aside distractions and self-interests that interfere with this purified focus on what the patient wishes. It probably bears mentioning again, as Dr. Quill does, that Schiavo is not suffering with the withdrawal of feeding, as she no longer has the mental activity to experience distress. Dying in this way can be a “humane, natural process (humans died in this way for thousands of years before the advent of feeding tubes).”

But this case is more than just a challenge to us to rededicate ourselves to upholding the ethical and legal principle of substituted judgment. The tragedy is more compounded than Dr. Quill’s editorial conclusions would suggest. As I have written before, part of the problem is the limited definition of death to which we cling as a society. Despite lip service to the concept of ‘brain death’, our commonsense notion of death requires the cessation of all biological activity. As a resident early in my career I had a macabre moonlighting job in which I was called in to a nursing home to pronounce death; it is the doctor’s task in ‘pronouncing’ to be sure there is no heartbeat, respiration etc. But, especially with the rapid growth in sophisticated neurological tools and tests for assessment of brain activity, this is an increasingly inadequate notion of death. The Schindlers’ objections at every stage that she might recover, and her supporters’ talk about Michael Schiavo and the medical establishment ‘killing’ her, certainly makes sense if one thinks she is still alive and the withdrawal of life support is shortening her life. But, conceptually, she might better be thought of as no longer alive. It is just that the process of her dying has so far been measured in decades instead of the more usual span of moments, and all that we are doing is needlessly prolonging her dying further, prolonging the meaningless heartbeat in an assemblage of organs, tissues, protoplasm … not in a person. I find the lack of recognition of this distinction troubling and not just a little pitiful.

Culture Jammers Dept.

“The images above – exclusive to the Wooster site and provided by Banksy – are of Banksy installing four pieces in New York’s most prestigious museums — The Brooklyn Museum, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Museum of Modern Art, and the Museum of Natural History.

Dressed as a British pensioner, over the last few days Banksy entered each of the galleries and attached one of his own works, complete with authorative name plaque and explanation.” (Wooster Collective)

Diagnose Me, Dr. Frist!

Senate Majority Leader and physician Bill Frist claims to be confident that Terry Schiavo is not in a persistent vegetative state from viewing a digital video of her. It is a relief that he is in the Senate where the ethical standards are far more lax than they are with respect to diagnosing sight unseen in the practice of medicine. Here is a proposal to compile readers’ digital pictures or videos of their medical problems and send them to Frist to diagnose and recommend treatment. He could single-handedly contain the nation’s healthcare cost crisis with his far more thrifty manner of practicing! Aren’t there some other physicians in Congress who could pitch in and finally fulfill the civic duties they took on when they ran for office? ‘Howard Dean might have brought us the “ah-ha!” moment in politics and the Internet. Dr. Frist is now pleased to present us with the “Kodak” moment.’ [via boing boing]

New Details on FBI Aid to Saudis After 9/11

“The episode has been retold so many times in the last three and a half years that it has become the stuff of political legend: in the frenzied days after Sept. 11, 2001, when some flights were still grounded, dozens of well-connected Saudis, including relatives of Osama bin Laden, managed to leave the United States on specially chartered flights.

Now, newly released government records show previously undisclosed flights from Las Vegas and elsewhere and point to a more active role by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in aiding some of the Saudis in their departure.” (New York Times )

For Army Recruiters, a Hard Toll From a Hard Sell

“The Army’s recruiters are being challenged with one of the hardest selling jobs the military has asked of them in American history, and many say the demands are taking a toll.

A recruiter in New York said pressure from the Army to meet his recruiting goals during a time of war has given him stomach problems and searing back pain. Suffering from bouts of depression, he said he has considered suicide. Another, in Texas, said he had volunteered many times to go to Iraq rather than face ridicule, rejection and the Army’s wrath.
An Army chaplain said he had counseled nearly a dozen recruiters in the past 18 months to help them cope with marital troubles and job-related stress. ” (New York Times )

Just as GIs are starting to opt out, so I think should recruiters, for the good both of their physical and emotional health and that of their country.

Diagnose Me, Dr. Frist!

Senate Majority Leader and physician Bill Frist claims to be confident that Terry Schiavo is not in a persistent vegetative state from viewing a digital video of her. It is a relief that he is in the Senate where the ethical standards are far more lax than they are with respect to diagnosing sight unseen in the practice of medicine. Here is a proposal to compile readers’ digital pictures or videos of their medical problems and send them to Frist to diagnose and recommend treatment. He could single-handedly contain the nation’s healthcare cost crisis with his far more thrifty manner of practicing! Aren’t there some other physicians in Congress who could pitch in and finally fulfill the civic duties they took on when they ran for office? ‘Howard Dean might have brought us the “ah-ha!” moment in politics and the Internet. Dr. Frist is now pleased to present us with the “Kodak” moment.’ [via boing boing]

Is This A New Dark Age?

Mark Morford writes: Little proof to the contrary that we are indeed in a very long, bleak tunnel. Is there any light?: “Then come those times when you read about a 16-year-old girl slashing the throat of a 75-year-old woman for no apparent reason, a woman who was merely walking with her husband near a Berkeley public garden and it’s right next to the one about the 16-year-old kid smiling and waving and donning a bulletproof vest before shooting nine people and himself to death in a remote, poverty-stricken region of Minnesota and you can feel the numbness like a wave.

And alongside that is the morbid and insipid case of poor Terri Schiavo and the equally insipid Bush evangelicals who trumpet the backward morality of maintaining her vegetative brain-dead state and the sad, tormented parents who can’t face reality and the insidious GOP that has zero shame in using her decrepit body as a political football and that kowtows to its pseudo-religious contingency by making humiliating and rather illegal congressional maneuvers to try and keep a feeding tube in place and you just go, oh my God just stop already.” (SF Chronicle)

Just to make one thing perfectly clear — Blogger sucks these days. More often than not in the past month or so, I have not been able to post new posts, edit old posts or both. You have all probably noticed multiple copies of the same post in a row here; I am sometimes not reliably able to tell if something has published so I repeat myself. At other times the process appears to hang in the middle but unbeknownst to me has gone on to complete the publishing process somewhere in the dim shadows behind the bit bucket. You would think the Google takeover would give them the resources to have an adequate number of reliable servers…

Oh,well, this should be my worst anguish in life…

Who’s right in the Schiavo case?

Ours is an age in which the dictum that everyone is entitled to their own opinion is taken to a fault. Nevertheless, all strong opinions do not have equal validity and there is no inherent obligation to honor both sides of a story equally. Only the brain-dead (with apologies to Terry Schiavo) should do that. Here, Jesse Kornbluth makes the case that it is possible to discern the relative integrity of husband Michael Schiavo’s wishes for his wife Terry and those of Terry’s parents. As Kornbluth’s epigram for today, from Daniel Moynihan, states, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” (I hope readers will forgive Moynihan’s dismissal by omission of the opinions of half the world’s population…) If — and I concede this is a big ‘if’ — the facts Kornbluth observes here are correct, it seems incontrovertible that the Schindlers’ motives are far more suspect than Schiavo’s. Either they are exploiting the situation for their own selfish gain, or they are being exploited by the hypocritical agenda of the right-to-lifers, or both. And they are caught in their lies about it. Furthermore, as I wrote here long ago in reflecting on Terry Schiavo’s right to die, the Schindlers’ assertion of the reversibility of their daughter’s condition flies in the face of medical hope, even hope for a miracle. It is not a question so much of whether Michael Schiavo just wants to move on. It is much more one of whether Terry Schiavo will be allowed to move on. (BeliefNet [thanks to walker])

It also bears noting that constitutional scholars feel that Bush’s Congress had no standing to take the action it did this week in bringing the matter to federal court. Although they took pains to insist that this has no bearing on any case but Schiavo’s, don’t forget that Bush’s Supreme Court said the same thing in usurping the people’s right to elect their president in 2000.

It’s a Hit

“Any chimp can play human for a day.
Use his opposable thumbs to iron his uniform
and run for office on election day
fancy himself a real decision maker
and deploy more troops than salt shakers

But it’s a jungle when war is made
and you’ll panic and throw your own shit at the enemy
The camera pulls back to reveal your true identity
Look, it’s a sheep in wolf’s clothing
A smoking gun holding ape”

Small Study links Ritalin to increased cancer risk

“Health experts say the first human study linking Ritalin — the most popular drug used to treat attention-deficit problems — to a higher risk of cancer is raising alarms.

But they caution that more and larger studies should be conducted before pediatricians and therapists curtail prescribing Ritalin for the millions of children and adults in the United States who have benefited from its use for more than 50 years.

In a study to be published in Cancer Letters, Texas researchers found that after only three months, every one of a dozen children treated with Ritalin had a three-fold increase in chromosome abnormalities associated with increased risks of cancer.

‘This study doesn’t mean that these kids are going to get cancer, but it does mean they are exposed to an additional risk factor, assuming this study holds up,’ said Marvin Legator, an environmental toxicologist and principal investigator on the study by researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston and M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.” (Knight-Ridder)

I considered for a moment whether the study was funded by the makers of Adderall, the major competitor of Ritalin for the lucrative attentions of those prescribing for attention deficit disorder. I am being abit facetious but there is alot potentially at stake here, and I am not talking simply in financial terms. This finding ought to prompt a challenge to some of the conceptual assumptions and the intellectual laxness in mental health treatment.

The mental health field has gone rampant with the diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in both children and adults, with no discretion about the distinction between normal population variations in attentional style on the one hand and, on the other, disordered neural attentional mechanisms. I can’t tell you how many times, sitting in a discussion of a case, someone had the bright idea that, simply because the patient couldn’t concentrate or focus well, they ought to be considered for stimulants and diagnosed with an attention deficit disorder. People have decried the whole Diagnostic and Statistical Manual approach which dominates psychiatric diagnosis, but at least it requires a patient to meet stringent and well-defined criteria to be considered to have a given disorder. Certainly, in the DSM system the decision about what is a disorder and what is not is a work in progress but, especially as it is linked to the available data about biological abnormalities and treatment response in a given condition, it is certainly better than what I see throughout the field, which is diagnosing by got feeling. This is especially true when there is a distinction between a commonsense usage of a term and the technical sense in which it is used medically — for instance, “She’s been abused,” “He can’t pay attention,” “She appears anxious”, “He seems depressed” or “That’s crazy thinking.”

Yes, I am using commonsense usage when I say that classification based on the above kinds of observation is crazy; in other words, thoughtless diagnosis. Gregory Bateson said, “Information is a distinction that makes a difference.” Perhaps it should not be the case, but more thoughtful diagnostic distinction is needed when it makes a difference to treatment approach and the treatment is not benign. As a touchstone, consider the situation with antipsychotic medications. For forty years or more, the field has been cautious about diagnosing a psychotic condition because the earlier generation of antipsychotic medications had serious irreversible disfiguring neurological side effects (tardive dyskinesia) and other severe risks (neuroleptic malignant syndrome). Stringent legal protections were put into place before someone could be given these medications against their will or if they are not competent to make an informed decision with the ability to weigh the risks and benefits. Perhaps we will see some ramping down of the out-of-control rates of cavalier stimulant prescribing, particularly to children, if the cancer link is validated. IMHO, it ought not even to take that!

Small Study links Ritalin to increased cancer risk

“Health experts say the first human study linking Ritalin — the most popular drug used to treat attention-deficit problems — to a higher risk of cancer is raising alarms.

But they caution that more and larger studies should be conducted before pediatricians and therapists curtail prescribing Ritalin for the millions of children and adults in the United States who have benefited from its use for more than 50 years.

In a study to be published in Cancer Letters, Texas researchers found that after only three months, every one of a dozen children treated with Ritalin had a three-fold increase in chromosome abnormalities associated with increased risks of cancer.

‘This study doesn’t mean that these kids are going to get cancer, but it does mean they are exposed to an additional risk factor, assuming this study holds up,’ said Marvin Legator, an environmental toxicologist and principal investigator on the study by researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston and M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.” (Knight-Ridder)

I considered for a moment whether the study was funded by the makers of Adderall, the major competitor of Ritalin for the lucrative attentions of those prescribing for attention deficit disorder. I am being abit facetious but there is alot potentially at stake here, and I am not talking simply in financial terms. This finding ought to prompt a challenge to some of the conceptual assumptions and the intellectual laxness in mental health treatment.

The mental health field has gone rampant with the diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in both children and adults, with no discretion about the distinction between normal population variations in attentional style on the one hand and, on the other, disordered neural attentional mechanisms. I can’t tell you how many times, sitting in a discussion of a case, someone had the bright idea that, simply because the patient couldn’t concentrate or focus well, they ought to be considered for stimulants and diagnosed with an attention deficit disorder. People have decried the whole Diagnostic and Statistical Manual approach which dominates psychiatric diagnosis, but at least it requires a patient to meet stringent and well-defined criteria to be considered to have a given disorder. Certainly, in the DSM system the decision about what is a disorder and what is not is a work in progress but, especially as it is linked to the available data about biological abnormalities and treatment response in a given condition, it is certainly better than what I see throughout the field, which is diagnosing by got feeling. This is especially true when there is a distinction between a commonsense usage of a term and the technical sense in which it is used medically — for instance, “She’s been abused,” “He can’t pay attention,” “She appears anxious”, “He seems depressed” or “That’s crazy thinking.”

Yes, I am using commonsense usage when I say that classification based on the above kinds of observation is crazy; in other words, thoughtless diagnosis. Gregory Bateson said, “Information is a distinction that makes a difference.” Perhaps it should not be the case, but more thoughtful diagnostic distinction is needed when it makes a difference to treatment approach and the treatment is not benign. As a touchstone, consider the situation with antipsychotic medications. For forty years or more, the field has been cautious about diagnosing a psychotic condition because the earlier generation of antipsychotic medications had serious irreversible disfiguring neurological side effects (tardive dyskinesia) and other severe risks (neuroleptic malignant syndrome). Stringent legal protections were put into place before someone could be given these medications against their will or if they are not competent to make an informed decision with the ability to weigh the risks and benefits. Perhaps we will see some ramping down of the out-of-control rates of cavalier stimulant prescribing, particularly to children, if the cancer link is validated. IMHO, it ought not even to take that!

Un-Volunteering

Troops Improvise to Find Way Out: “One by one, a trickle of soldiers and marines – some just back from duty in Iraq, others facing a trip there soon – are seeking ways out.

Soldiers, their advocates and lawyers who specialize in military law say they have watched a few service members try ever more unlikely and desperate routes: taking drugs in the hope that they will be kept home after positive urine tests, for example; or seeking psychological or medical reasons to be declared nondeployable, including last-minute pregnancies. Specialist Marquise J. Roberts is accused of asking a relative in Philadelphia to shoot him in the leg so he would not have to return to war.” (New York Times )

I have been waiting for this trend to start being noticed; media coverage will encourage and embolden, hopefully. Like-minded people should be looking for opportunities to aid and support conscientious refusal to serve in America’s most recent dirty, immoral and illegal war.

Olfactory receptor cells may provide clues to psychiatric disease

Nose cells provide a window into the brain. “In the first study to examine living nerve cells from patients with psychiatric disease, scientists from the Monell Chemical Senses Center, the University of Pennsylvania, and collaborating institutions report altered nerve cell function in olfactory receptor neurons from patients with bipolar disorder.

Like other psychiatric and neurodegenerative disorders, bipolar disorder affects nerve cells in the brain, making it difficult to study underlying neurobiological causes of the disease during its actual course.

According to senior author Nancy Rawson, PhD, a Monell cellular biologist, “Previous studies have used non-nerve cells, such as fibroblasts or red blood cells, to examine how cells function in patients with bipolar disorder. But since this is a psychiatric disorder, we need to understand what’s going on in nerve cells.”

Olfactory receptor neurons (ORNs), located in a small patch of epithelium inside the nose, are nerve cells that contain receptors for the thousands of odorant molecules detected by humans. Easily obtained using a simple 5-minute biopsy procedure, ORNs share many characteristics with nerve cells in the brain. These features make ORNs a useful model to study the neural effects of psychiatric disease.” (Eurekalerts)

It wasn’t me, it was my mind

“The law distinguishes between madness and badness but, asks Steve Rose, why should that absolve criminals of responsibility for their actions?

Evil is in the air. It seems that a US psychiatrist, Michael Stone, has been studying serial murderers, such as Ian Brady and Fred West, and has decided that their actions defy psychiatric diagnosis: they are sane, but evil, as they killed for enjoyment.

Like Dr Stone, the Home Office has been interested in trying to determine what makes serial killers kill. David Blunkett was intrigued by the idea that one might be able to use brain imaging to identify “psychopaths” before they had committed a crime, with the aim of preventive incarceration. And thanks to the new anti-terrorist legislation, that power, which flies in the face of natural justice and indeed the Magna Carta, could soon be available to home secretaries. ” (Guardian.UK)

Soldiers Are Murdering Detainees in Cold Blood at an Astonishing Rate

U.S. Military Says 26 Inmate Deaths May Be Homicide: “At least 26 prisoners have died in American custody in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2002 in what Army and Navy investigators have concluded or suspect were acts of criminal homicide, according to military officials.

The number of confirmed or suspected cases is much higher than any accounting the military has previously reported. A Pentagon report sent to Congress last week cited only six prisoner deaths caused by abuse, but that partial tally was limited to what the author, Vice Adm. Albert T. Church III of the Navy, called ‘closed, substantiated abuse cases’ as of last September.

The new figure of 26 was provided by the Army and Navy this week after repeated inquiries. In 18 cases reviewed by the Army and Navy, investigators have now closed their inquiries and have recommended them for prosecution or referred them to other agencies for action, Army and Navy officials said. Eight cases are still under investigation but are listed by the Army as confirmed or suspected criminal homicides, the officials said.” (New York Times )

The other day, in my ‘hell in a Handbasket’ post, a commenter was non-plused. Acts of brutality happen during war, no big deal. I was amazed no one begged to differ in the comments section them. Bush and his cronies are heartlessly, brutally, twisting the psyches of a generation of young men and women, making them monsters. Don’t for a moment think that is limited to the 26 GIs who will be prosecuted and scapegoated for these atrocities. It is a condition created by subjecting hundreds of thousands to a twisted, unjust and pointless brutalization of another people.

U.S. Report Lists Possibilities for Terrorist Attacks and Likely Toll

“The Department of Homeland Security, trying to focus antiterrorism spending better nationwide, has identified a dozen possible strikes it views as most plausible or devastating, including detonation of a nuclear device in a major city, release of sarin nerve agent in office buildings and a truck bombing of a sports arena.

…They include blowing up a chlorine tank, killing 17,500 people and injuring more than 100,000; spreading pneumonic plague in the bathrooms of an airport, sports arena and train station, killing 2,500 and sickening 8,000 worldwide; and infecting cattle with foot-and-mouth disease at several sites, costing hundreds of millions of dollars in losses. Specific locations are not named because the events could unfold in many major metropolitan or rural areas, the document says.” (New York Times )

Manual for Destroying the Earth

“Destroying the Earth is harder than you may have been led to believe.

You’ve seen the action movies where the bad guy threatens to destroy the Earth. You’ve heard people on the news claiming that the next nuclear war or cutting down rainforests or persisting in releasing hideous quantities of pollution into the atmosphere threatens to end the world.

Fools.

The Earth was built to last. It is a 4,550,000,000-year-old, 5,973,600,000,000,000,000,000-tonne ball of iron. It has taken more devastating asteroid hits in its lifetime than you’ve had hot dinners, and lo, it still orbits merrily. So my first piece of advice to you, dear would-be Earth-destroyer, is: do NOT think this will be easy.

This is not a guide for wusses whose aim is merely to wipe out humanity. I (Sam Hughes) can in no way guarantee the complete extinction of the human race via any of these methods, real or imaginary. Humanity is wily and resourceful, and many of the methods outlined below will take many years to even become available, let alone implement, by which time mankind may well have spread to other planets; indeed, other star systems. If total human genocide is your ultimate goal, you are reading the wrong document. There are far more efficient ways of doing this, many which are available and feasible RIGHT NOW. Nor is this a guide for those wanting to annihilate everything from single-celled life upwards, render Earth uninhabitable or simply conquer it. These are trivial goals in comparison.

This is a guide for those who do not want the Earth to be there anymore.” [via Bruce Schneier’s Crypto-Gram]

Sticky Success

“According to competitors, Splenda fans have been duped. The maker of Equal, which is Splenda’s closest sugar-substitute rival, has sued Splenda’s marketers on the grounds that the ”made from sugar” claim tricks consumers into thinking that Splenda is all natural. And now the Sugar Association has added its own sour note by way of a Web site, truthaboutsplenda.com, with the kind of all-out assault on a rival that is almost never seen in consumer (as opposed to political) marketing. ”Splenda is not natural and does not taste like sugar,” the site charges. ”The sweetness of Splenda derives from a chlorocarbon chemical that contains three atoms of chlorine in every one of its molecules.” It goes on to say that Splenda consumers ”are actually eating chlorine,” suggests that the product is unsafe and has not been thoroughly tested and links to a statement from the Web site of the Whole Foods grocery-store chain, which refuses to stock anything made with sucralose. The Splenda camp has now sued the Sugar Association for making ”false and misleading claims.”

More interesting, perhaps, than the legal wrangling is the struggle for sweet virtue — Splenda as diet aid for the health-conscious or sugar as true product of Mother Earth. Should the clever consumer align with the trusted brand Whole Foods? Or the trusted brand Starbucks? Perhaps the confused sweet-seeker can find solace in the latest addition to the Splenda line: Splenda Sugar Blend for Baking. It is a mix of Splenda and actual sugar, and thus the best of both worlds — or, depending on how you look at it, the worst. ” (New York Times Magazine)

Under Bush, a New Age of Prepackaged Television News

“Under the Bush administration, the federal government has aggressively used a well-established tool of public relations: the prepackaged, ready-to-serve news report that major corporations have long distributed to TV stations to pitch everything from headache remedies to auto insurance. In all, at least 20 federal agencies, including the Defense Department and the Census Bureau, have made and distributed hundreds of television news segments in the past four years, records and interviews show. Many were subsequently broadcast on local stations across the country without any acknowledgement of the government’s role in their production.” (New York Times )

Via truthout, which labelled a spade a spade: forgery.

Sticky Success

“According to competitors, Splenda fans have been duped. The maker of Equal, which is Splenda’s closest sugar-substitute rival, has sued Splenda’s marketers on the grounds that the ”made from sugar” claim tricks consumers into thinking that Splenda is all natural. And now the Sugar Association has added its own sour note by way of a Web site, truthaboutsplenda.com, with the kind of all-out assault on a rival that is almost never seen in consumer (as opposed to political) marketing. ”Splenda is not natural and does not taste like sugar,” the site charges. ”The sweetness of Splenda derives from a chlorocarbon chemical that contains three atoms of chlorine in every one of its molecules.” It goes on to say that Splenda consumers ”are actually eating chlorine,” suggests that the product is unsafe and has not been thoroughly tested and links to a statement from the Web site of the Whole Foods grocery-store chain, which refuses to stock anything made with sucralose. The Splenda camp has now sued the Sugar Association for making ”false and misleading claims.”

More interesting, perhaps, than the legal wrangling is the struggle for sweet virtue — Splenda as diet aid for the health-conscious or sugar as true product of Mother Earth. Should the clever consumer align with the trusted brand Whole Foods? Or the trusted brand Starbucks? Perhaps the confused sweet-seeker can find solace in the latest addition to the Splenda line: Splenda Sugar Blend for Baking. It is a mix of Splenda and actual sugar, and thus the best of both worlds — or, depending on how you look at it, the worst. ” (New York Times Magazine)

The Message Machine

Birth of a Pundit: Reprint of a Chicago Reader profile by Christopher Hayes of a 19-year old aspiring right-wing demagogue at Northwestern University. As Hayes points out, it sheds light on the ways in which the conservative movement shapes the terms of political discourse in the country. (Campus Progress)

Hell in a Handbasket?

You don’t think this is the decline and fall? It just stuck me suddenly as I scanned the five top articles in the New York Times this morning:

  1. Two prisoners who died in U.S. custody in Afghanistan were beaten by soldiers in sustained assaults that caused their deaths.
  2. A man on trial for rape shot and killed the judge in his case, a court stenographer and a sheriff’s deputy in a courthouse rampage.
  3. Blood Ties: 2 Officers’ Long Path to Mob Murder Indictments
  4. Insurers, working with the F.B.I., said they have broken up an elaborate scam in which doctors filed more than $1 billion of fraudulent insurance claims.
  5. Drinking Game Can Be a Deadly Rite of Passage: The “power hour” tradition involves 21-year-olds going to a bar at midnight on their birthdays and trying to down 21 shots in the hour or so before the bar closes.

Hello aliens, this is Earth calling

“A group of engineers has offered a solution for people who want a direct line to aliens – by broadcasting their phone calls directly into space.

People wanting to contact extraterrestrial beings through www.TalkToAliens.com can dial a premium rate US number and have their call routed through a transmitter and sent into space through a 3.2-metre-wide dish in central Connecticut, US.

The service, launched on 27 February, will cost users $3.99 per minute, says Eric Knight, president of the company. He says that a large radio receiver – like the Arecibo dish in Puerto Rico – situated on a distant planet might be large enough for an alien civilisation to receive the calls.” (New Scientist)

Charge a battery in just six minutes

“A rechargeable battery that can be fully charged in just 6 minutes, lasts 10 times as long as today’s rechargeables and can provide bursts of electricity up to three times more powerful is showing promise in a Nevada lab.

New types of battery are badly needed. Nokia’s chief technologist Yrj? Neuvo warned last year that batteries are failing to keep up with the demands of the increasingly energy-draining features being crammed into mobile devices…” (New Scientist)

Our Godless Constitution

“It is hard to believe that George Bush has ever read the works of George Orwell, but he seems, somehow, to have grasped a few Orwellian precepts. The lesson the President has learned best–and certainly the one that has been the most useful to him–is the axiom that if you repeat a lie often enough, people will believe it. One of his Administration’s current favorites is the whopper about America having been founded on Christian principles. Our nation was founded not on Christian principles but on Enlightenment ones. God only entered the picture as a very minor player, and Jesus Christ was conspicuously absent.” (The Nation)

When Torment Is Baby’s Destiny, Euthanasia Is Defended

“Babies born into what is certain to be a brief life of grievous suffering should have their lives ended by physicians under strict guidelines, according to two doctors in the Netherlands.

The doctors, Eduard Verhagen and Pieter J. J. Sauer of the University Medical Center in Groningen, in an essay in today’s New England Journal of Medicine, said they had developed guidelines, known as the Groningen protocol. The guidelines have been described in some news reports over the last several weeks, and the authors said they wrote their essay to address ‘blood-chilling accounts and misunderstandings.’

‘We are convinced that life-ending measures can be acceptable in these cases under very strict conditions,’ the authors wrote. Those conditions include the full and informed consent of the parents, the agreement of a team of physicians, and a subsequent review of each case by ‘an outside legal body’ to determine whether the decision was justified and all procedures had been followed.

Stephen Drake, a research analyst at Not Dead Yet, an organization based in the United States that views euthanasia and assisted suicide as threats to people with disabilities, said ‘there’s nothing surprising about the medical profession wanting to formalize and legitimize practices that have wide acceptance in the medical community worldwide,’ and added, ‘Obviously, we’re against that.’ The Groningen protocol, he said, is based on ‘singling out infants based on somebody else’s assessment of their quality of life.’

Doctors commonly abort fetuses when grave medical conditions like Tay-Sachs disease are diagnosed in utero, and after birth will commonly withdraw treatment from infants with no hope of survival, or even end the lives of some of those newborns. In a telephone interview, Dr. Verhagen said that he and Dr. Sauer were trying to bring a measure of accountability to acts that go on every day around the world. ‘Given the fact that it is already happening,’ he said, ‘we find it unacceptable that it is happening in silence.'” (New York Times )

The Pain of Being… Colicky

Read This Before Calling an Exorcist — Interesting New York Times article summarizes the medical dispute about the nature and meaning of colic. Not just an academic debate, this has desperate significance to all parents at their wits’ end with one of the one in five infants beset with the bouts of frantic inconsolable crying. It also might be interesting to the rest of you psychonauts, even with no involvement with parenting colicky infants.

Although it has been discredited, the belief persists that colicky babies are in pain — particularly digestive distress or teething pain. Anti-gas drops and gum salves are widely sold over the counter as remedies for colic. One of my medical school classmates was actually one of theprimary researchers establishing that colicky infants are not less well than comparison subjects. The backlash against that commonsense but inaccurate notion leaves some pediatricians going to the opposite extreme and asserting that colic is normal, so normal that in fact one should walk away from the crying infant if they cannot readily be soothed. Others, who note that a child won’t be labelled colicky unless its crying causes problems in the family or interferes with interactions with the child, suggest that it is thus the family that needs treatment, not the infant.

My daughter was protractedly colicky as an infant, and I came to believe that colic arises from the greater constitutional vulnerability to sensory overload some babies must have, starting from as soon as they become awake and alert enough to be bombarded by the unending, unfiltered barrage of sensory stimuli their brain is not yet mature enough to mediate or filter. As the brain and mind mature, one of the things that happen is that the experience of reality becomes more and more mediated, less and less raw. Prior to that, that rawness, I imagine, could be mighty painful for some… in fact, I do not understand why it is not distressing for all! (As an aside, I have often wondered if the recently popular concept of ‘sensory integration deficits’ in older children, if you are familiar with that, represents a vestige of the same phenomenon. Certainly SID children are those for whom run-of-the-mill sensory stimuli are unpleasant, and they work hard to avoid and limit stimulation and novelty. Someone ought to do the research to see if they are more likely to have been colicky infants, perhaps especially severely or protractedly. Or perhaps less likely; what if it is more that some babies work through that vulnerability during their infancy through the process of being colicky, while others remain vulnerable to sensory overload later on because they haven’t dealt with it effectively sooner?) I was only half-facetious when I wisecracked to sympathetic and often equally sleep-deprived parents that colic is the first version of existential angst, the pain of being. (I also sometimes discuss this notion of the meaning of colic when I give talks to families of those afflicted with Alzheimer’s dementia. I think that, ironically, the agitation in Alzheimer’s may arise from the same impingement by unmediated painful sensory overload as the deterioration in cognitive abilities removes alot of the mediating filtering functionality. Even further afield, I often think of the hallucinogenic experience, much as Aldous Huxley did, as one in which the decks are cleared of much or all of the artifices mediating between the mind and raw experience. The difference is that the hallucinogen-user has more-or-less intact cognitive machinery to process the experience and make sense of it, for better or worse. The breakdown in the cognitive machinery for making sense of various aspects of experience of course also plays a pivotal role in the mental illnesses I treat and study, particularly my fascination with schizophrenia.)

In any case, my approach to soothing my daughter was to swaddle her tightly (swaddling is a time-honored technique in diverse cultures which probably arose and persists because it works!), put her in a sling and go for long strolling walks. I imagined this was a simulacrum of the swaying, warm secure dark and swaddled prenatal environment.

Now comes pediatrician Harvey Karp creating a sensation with a five-step method he claims will calm babies — colicky or otherwise — in minutes. He says he is mobilizing a baby’s innate self-soothing instincts. The method is attracting testimonials from any number of parents who swear by it as well as from pediatric professionals, and it makes sense to me, perhaps because it is flatteringly congruent with what I figured out with my own daughter, although going further.

“For the first two weeks of life, Dr. Karp said, newborns sleep and eat. Then, over the next 10 weeks or so, they enter a state of quiet alertness. Their brains increase in size by 20 percent as circuits mature and make functional connections.

The infant’s job is to cry when it needs help, stop crying, stay awake and stay asleep, Dr. Karp said. Infants must learn to turn their attention on, so as to watch and learn, and turn their attention off, to recover and sleep.

Eighty percent of babies have no problem doing this, he said. They cry for a reason and then calm down.

But a subset of infants cannot stop crying. They cannot gather themselves. For them, the three months after birth is a tremendous challenge.”

Dr Karp’s solution is essentially a way of operationalizing the back-to-the-womb concept. He says the conditions in the womb essentially put the fetus into a calm trancelike state. But, interestingly, he challenges the notion that the womb is a quiet dark place and says that understimulation is distressing as well. According to Karp, in addition to being a place where the infant is packed tightly (thus swaddling), the experience of the womb is jigly and noisy, with the whooshing sound of blood flowing through the placenta right by the infants’ ears, ‘louder than a vacuum cleaner’. Thus, soothing the colicky child involves a swaddled, head-down posture, lots of jiggling, the caregiver making shooshing sounds right in the infant’s ear, and ‘nonnutritive sucking’, e.g. on a finger.

Probably not a bad program for those of us of any age who still suffer from the pain of being…

The World According to Bolton

“On Monday, President Bush nominated John Bolton, an outspoken critic of multinational institutions and a former Jesse Helms protégé, to be the representative to the United Nations. We won’t make the case that this is a terrible choice at a critical time. We can let Mr. Bolton do it for us by examining how things might look if he had his way…” (New York Times editorial)

As usual, the sole criterion Bush appears to use in his appointment choices is loyalty to him. I am sure there is a soundbite somewhere in which Bush fervently affirms his confidence in Bolton and asserts once more, as if saying it with his smarmy mock sincerity will make it so, how much you can trust his instincts. But there is more to this appointment. I find it impossible to believe there is not something deliberately, petulantly defiant in this, Bush giving the finger to the rest of the world. I for one hope they take all due umbrage, and that Bush pays for it.

Is Bush Right?

“In countries where President George Bush and his policies are deeply unpopular, online commentators are starting to think the unthinkable.

“Could George W. Bush Be Right?” asked Claus Christian Malzahn in the German newsweekly Der Spiegel. Essayist Guy Sorman asked last month in the Paris daily Le Figaro (by subscription), “And If Bush Was Right?” In Canada, anti-war columnist Richard Gwyn of the Toronto Star answered: “It is time to set down in type the most difficult sentence in the English language. That sentence is short and simple. It is this: Bush was right.”

The tipping point came last week when Lebanon’s pro-Syrian government fell. The international online media, much of which had been critical of Bush during his first term, had to acknowledge democratic developments on the American president’s watch. Many commentators also cited free elections in Afghanistan last fall, Palestinian elections in early January followed by the Jan. 30 Iraq elections. Then came local elections in Saudi Arabia and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s announcement of constitutional changes allowing his opposition to challenge him electorally.

Given Bush’s insistence that the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq would lead to a democratic political order in the Middle East, many Europeans are “somewhat embarrassed” by these developments, Sorman wrote in Le Figaro.” (Washington Post)

The CIA Chief Steps Into It …

… Yet Again: “Bush critics and veteran intel operatives alike were amazed when CIA Director Porter Goss, in a speech at the Ronald Reagan Library last week, apparently said he found his job overwhelming. The embarrassing report only reinforced the belief among some intel professionals that Goss’s tenure has been troubled. The controversy erupted after the Associated Press quoted Goss as saying, ‘The jobs that I’m being asked to do, the five hats that I wear, are too much for this mortal… I’m a little amazed at the workload.’ Goss also reportedly said there was such ‘ambiguity’ in the intel-reform bill that he didn’t know what his official relationship was supposed to be with John Negroponte, the newly named director of National Intelligence.” (Newsweek/MSNBC)

Now Back on Screen: The Big Bang Bangs

“There are not many stories you can do about the west that are any good,’ the director Howard Hawks once said in his shrewd and cranky old age. ‘The western is the simplest form of drama – a gun, death …’ Film Forum is putting this view of the genre to the test — calling Hawks’s hypothesis out into the street — in a series boldly titled Essential Westerns 1924-1962, which began on Friday and runs through March 31: that’s 37 simple gun/death dramas. It’s a long, dusty trail, crowded with trigger-happy young gunslingers, crusty codgers, nervous homesteaders, lily-livered townfolk, slick gamblers, greedy cattle barons, mean varmints of every description, and, of course, men who do what a man’s gotta do (and the women who love them). ” (New York Times )

Critic Terrence Rafferty says you can actually get the drift by seeing only a few of these. As a film buff who loved westerns in my youth, a couple of Rafferty’s four ‘essentials’ are surprising choices. I hadn’t even remembered My Darling Clementine, John Ford’s take on the OK Corral mythos. The series’ definition of Westerns seems to stretch the boundaries of the genre, including some films I have loved but never considered Westerns even though they take place in the West, for instance Bad Day at Black Rock. There is even a sense in which Treasure of the Sierra Madre isn’t really a Western in a classical sense. But, hey, let’s not quibble over semantics, let’s just go out and see ’em.

Shit Happens?

That’s essentially what Atrios said about the shooting of the Italians, shit happens in a war zone. Chalk it up to chaos. Readers comment here. The point he should have made: this is another graphic illustration of what happens when our little chimp of a president lies and overwhelmed little boys armed to the hilt end up in a warzone without a point to it, where they are beleaguered 24-7 and their twitchy trigger fingers will go off at the first sign of a speeding car bearing down on them. Although I hope this helps open people’s eyes (for instance, Berlusconi’s) about the quagmire, it is also a damnable shame that this is getting more attention than the myriad of similar incidents in which it is not white Europeans but Iraqis who are killed and wounded every week.

On the other hand, maybe this is even more insidious than it is being made out to be, and has been orchestrated by the same people who brought you Abu Ghraib, the coldblooded executions of Saddam Hussein’s sons, and hundreds of other war crimes they have lied about.

Bill O’Reilly is at it again

From Stay Free! :

“You’d think Bill O’Reilly and his goons would have learned something after the disaster of a lawsuit against Al Franken. But no, the company that syndicates O’Reilly’s column, is trying to bully a weblog into removing links to an O’Reilly column, under the guise of copyright violation. That’s right: Creators Syndicate has sent a cease and desist letter to Newshounds for merely linking to this column.

According to Lawrence Lessig, these threats have no basis in the law, thanks to a Ticketmaster ruling concluding that Hypertext Linking does not violate Copyright.

Inspired by this brouhaha, we were going to suggest that bloggers out there to find an O’Reilly column you really, really hate and link to it. But apparently Creators Synidicate has been so successful in keeping O’Reilly’s past columns offline (they’re available only to paid subscribers from O’Reilly’s website) that we can’t find many. So here’s the offending link again. Enjoy.”

I am posting this to join the ranks of those responding to the suggestion to link to O’Reilly in defiance.

Defying Experts, Insurers Join Medicare Drug Plan

“The new Medicare drug benefit passed a major milestone in recent weeks as a substantial number of big insurance companies said they would offer prescription drug coverage to Medicare beneficiaries next year, defying the predictions of many industry experts.

…Companies gave several reasons for moving aggressively to stake out positions in the Medicare market. They see a business opportunity, with the aging of the population. They say that heavy federal subsidies will minimize the financial risks, and they do not want to cede the market to their competitors. Moreover, some companies, having lobbied for the law, said they felt an obligation to help make it work.” (New York Times )

Now Back on Screen: The Big Bang Bangs

“There are not many stories you can do about the west that are any good,’ the director Howard Hawks once said in his shrewd and cranky old age. ‘The western is the simplest form of drama – a gun, death …’ Film Forum is putting this view of the genre to the test — calling Hawks’s hypothesis out into the street — in a series boldly titled Essential Westerns 1924-1962, which began on Friday and runs through March 31: that’s 37 simple gun/death dramas. It’s a long, dusty trail, crowded with trigger-happy young gunslingers, crusty codgers, nervous homesteaders, lily-livered townfolk, slick gamblers, greedy cattle barons, mean varmints of every description, and, of course, men who do what a man’s gotta do (and the women who love them). ” (New York Times )

Critic Terrence Rafferty says you can actually get the drift by seeing only a few of these. As a film buff who loved westerns in my youth, a couple of Rafferty’s four ‘essentials’ are surprising choices. I hadn’t even remembered My Darling Clementine, John Ford’s take on the OK Corral mythos. The series’ definition of Westerns seems to stretch the boundaries of the genre, including some films I have loved but never considered Westerns even though they take place in the West, for instance Bad Day at Black Rock. There is even a sense in which Treasure of the Sierra Madre isn’t really a Western in a classical sense. But, hey, let’s not quibble over semantics, let’s just go out and see ’em.

A Quest for a Restroom That’s Neither Men’s Room Nor Women’s Room

“‘Sir, I have no designs on your girlfriend.’ I just want to use the bathroom.’: …a new political frontier: the campaign to establish gender-neutral bathrooms in public places. The idea is to make sure that transgender people (an umbrella term that can include transsexuals, cross-dressers and those with a fluid, androgynous identity who do not consider themselves completely male or female) can use bathrooms without fear of harassment.” (New York Times )

The Court Takes Another Step in Reshaping Capital Punishment

“After a decade of relative quiet, the Supreme Court has in the last several years fundamentally reshaped the nation’s capital justice system.

It has narrowed the class of people eligible for execution, excluding juvenile offenders yesterday as it had previously the mentally retarded. It has rebuked lower courts for sending people to their deaths without adequate safeguards. And it has paid increasing attention to the international opposition to capital punishment.

…Supporters of the death penalty said they were braced for further, incremental attacks on the use of capital punishment – whether it should be applied to the mentally ill, older teenagers and defendants claiming racial discrimination.

‘The next battle is the mentally ill,’ said Prof. Robert Blecker of the New York Law School. Given the decisions on the mentally retarded and on juveniles, Professor Blecker said, ‘it has a certain appeal.’

Professor Blecker said he also expected opponents of the death penalty to try to move up the age separating juveniles from adults. In 1988, the Supreme Court set the line at age 16. Yesterday, it rose to 18.

‘The interim attack may be to go after the so-called teenage death penalty, so they’ll go after 19-year-olds,’ he said. ‘Then they will redefine juveniles to say it should extend to those under 21.'” (New York Times )

This is a good day for moral responsiveness. I continue to be amazed and puzzled that this court rules so justly on issues of capital punishment.This decision is particularly responsive to changing moral standards, the US being the only nation in the world (with the possible exception of Iran) to execute minors. International opposition to the juvenile death penalty was discussed at length in Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion. One of the grounds for the minority’s dissenting view was that the US should not be basing its judicial principles on unAmerican standards, essentially, and that the founding fathers did not want a relativistic morality that could change with the times and especially not with changing world opinion. Needless to say, this is brought to you straight from the Neanderthal cronies of the authors of Abu Ghraib. However, if we were to be swayed by the weight of world opinion, it would be more responsive to ban the death penalty altogether. It’s hard to like the company we keep with regard to those nations that kill their own citizens.

The projection that the age limit for execution may continue to rise even above 18 is a reasonable one, as the arguments about the immaturity of the adolescent nervous system and the consequences that has for responsibility for one’s actions certainly have no cutoff at the 18th birthday. Similarly, certain mental illnesses impair criminal responsibility in analogous ways. I would welcome a ban on executions of patients with major mental illnesses,, knowing full well that the public’s fear and loathing of psychiatric patients means there is far less of a constituency for such a restriction than there is for banning the execution of minors. Moreover, if we think we are opening up a pandora’s box of uncertainty in how to determine exclusion from the death penalty on the grounds of mental retardation, just wait and see how contentious an assertion of the mental illness exemption would be.

Although it would be perhaps the thorniest issue for the Court to grapple with, everybody knows the American justice system is inherently inequitable with regard to the race of the defendant. Let us hope that the current momentum translates into a fresh look at whether, as the Times article puts it, racial biases in applying the death penalty ‘offend the Constitution.’ Procedural safeguards, such as ensuring adequacy of representation and excluding prosecutorial misconduct in death penalty cases, need revisiting as well.

How to use your Gmail account as a personal file server

Finally, something useful to do with that Gmail account I’ve had lying around ever since that free offer to Blogger users way back when.

” This is a fairly simple and useful trick to score yourself a gigabyte’s worth of free online file storage. If you already have a Gmail account, you can use it as a central file server that is accessible from anywhere you can access Gmail.” (Engadget)

From time to time, I have signed up for free online file storage offers but they have never seemed convenient enough to actually use and, if I get around to needing them months later, they have either disappeared or are no longer free. This, on the other hand, is simple enough that I will probably take advantage of it — the Gmail shell extension lets you mount your Gmail account as a virtual drive in My Computer in Windows and drag and drop files to and from it.

Report Cards for Doctors?

Grades Are Likely to Be A, B, C . . . and I: “All doctors suffer from that ‘I’ disease to some extent: the success of the enterprise depends on it. Most, though, retain some necessary emotional distance as well – not only distance from tragedy and suffering, but also from the innumerable humdrum snafus, habits and idiosyncrasies that invariably stand between people and their health. When we start getting scores in health maintenance, that distance will be hard to maintain.” (New York Times )