Pro-Death Politics

William Greider: “Here is what I believe: The country has just witnessed an interlude of religious hysteria, encouraged and exploited by political quackery. The political cynicism of Republicans shocked the nation. But even more alarming is the enthusiasm of self-described ‘pro-life’ forces for using the power of the state to impose their obtuse moral distinctions on the rest of us. The Catholic Church and many Protestant evangelicals are acting as partisan political players in a very dangerous manner. Once they have mobilized zealots to their moral causes, they can expect others to fight back in the same blind, intolerant manner.” (The Nation)

The Perfect Prescription

//newyorkmetro.com/nymetro/health/features/pills050411_1_250.jpg' cannot be displayed]A School of Visual Arts Grad Remakes the Pill Bottle: “By the time an object, or an apartment, or a company hits the half-century mark, it’s usually been through a redesign or two. Yet the standard-issue amber-cast pharmacy pill bottle has remained virtually unchanged since it was pressed into service after the second World War. (A child-safety cap was added in the seventies.) An overhaul is finally coming, courtesy of Deborah Adler, a 29-year-old graphic designer whose ClearRx prescription-packaging system debuts at Target pharmacies May 1.

Adler grew up in a family of doctors in Chappaqua, New York, but escaped medicine for an M.F.A. at the School of Visual Arts. She was inspired to return, at least tangentially, after her grandmother Helen accidentally swallowed pills meant for her husband, Herman. The drugstore prescription bottle, it occurred to Adler, is not just unattractive, it’s actually dangerous. Statistics back her up: According to a recent poll conducted for Target, 60 percent of prescription-drug users have taken medication incorrectly.” (New York [via Amy’s Robot])

I like the flattened shape so it doesn’t roll and so that the entire label can be seen at once. It is quite smart to include a color-coded ring so one knows at a glance which family member’s medication it is. Adler has also considered including a magnifying strip, and a label that develops a big red ‘X’ across it when the medication expires.But the best innovation is, IMHO, the simplest, which is to print the name of the medication in the blodest, largest, most legible typeface. I have never been able to understand why even I, whose eyesight is unimpaired when I wear my reading glasses [g], has a challenge searching a conventional prescription label to find the name of the drug, and why the format from different pharmacy chains is different.

Neurology and the Novel

Count Dracula, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde: “This week, get the garlic and crucifixes out as Natasha Mitchell digs for more curious tales of narrative and neurology. The late 19th Century horror classics, Dracula and The Strange Case of Jekyll and Hyde, offer unexpected insights into developments in brain research at the time, and the controversies it provoked. From double brains and literary lobotomies, to brain stems and missing souls – Dracula and Dr Jekyll were as much characters of science as of great literature. ” (All in the Mind radio transcript)

Look out for giant triangles in space

[Image 'escher.jpg' cannot be displayed]“The search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) could be taking the wrong approach. Instead of listening for alien radio broadcasts, a better strategy may be to look for giant structures placed in orbit around nearby stars by alien civilisations.

‘Artificial structures may be the best way for an advanced extraterrestrial civilisation to signal its presence to an emerging technology like ours,’ says Luc Arnold of the Observatory of Haute-Provence in France. And he believes that the generation of space-based telescopes now being designed will be able to spot them.” (New Scientist)

Arnold does not make a compelling case, to my way of thinking, about why a civilization would go to the trouble (oops! it might be no trouble for them…) of doing this rather than merely broadcasting their presence. His argument seems to arise from nothing so much as that our telescopes have recently gotten powerful enough to spot a planet-sized object transiting a star.

‘Eat Right’ Enzyme Directs Healthy Eating

“We shouldn’t need our mothers to tell us to finish our vegetables — research shows our bodies are wired to let us know.

Neuroscientists working separately at the University of California at Davis and at New York University School of Medicine have revealed an ancient ‘switch’ in some mammals that signals the appetite to seek foods with perfect nutritional balance.

The mechanism has been found in rats, mice, slugs, even yeast and, the researchers say, there’s every reason to believe it also exists in people.” (ABC)

Born to Hypothesize?

Book Review: Curious Minds: How a Child Becomes a Scientist. Edited by John Brockman. xii 236 pp. Pantheon Books, 2004. $23.95.

“What leads some children to become scientists? John Brockman, author, editor, literary agent and publisher, asked 27 prominent scientists what happened to them as children that might have led to their various careers. He invited his subjects to reflect on their parents, mentors, influences, epiphanies, mistakes and conflicts, seeking to elicit not only what called them to science in general but what led them to the specific path each took. The resulting book, Curious Minds, does not claim to be anything more than anecdotal, but there is a lot to be said for vivid stories.” (American Scientist )

The Long Goodbye

“Oddly, the senior journalists may be lingering on television precisely because of their networks’ desire to attract younger audiences. All of the network news divisions are desperate to capture the 18-to-34 set – their current audiences are literally dying off – but none has yet figured out how to create the next generation of anchors. Which may take quite some time. While the potential news stars of tomorrow – people like Anderson Cooper on CNN, Bob Woodruff on ABC and Mika Brzezinski on CBS – are being groomed, they do not (with the possible exception of Mr. Williams) have the star power of the familiar faces of news past. In contrast to the days when Mr. Brokaw, Mr. Rather and Ms. Walters climbed to the pinnacles of broadcast television, their successors must somehow distinguish themselves in a universe of several hundred cable channels and countless Internet news sites, as opposed to just three networks whose signals were easily attained through simple antennas. They must also persuade today’s viewers – who are far more skeptical than their parents about what they see and read – that they can be believed. So the senior generation has become something of a placeholder, keeping the network franchises together until the arrival of new faces and strategies.” (New York Times )

Kintana

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“First captive bred aye-aye, an arboreal nocturnal lemur, Daubentonia madagascariensis, a native to Madagascar, born in the United Kingdom. Bristol Zoo Gardens announced …that it is the first UK zoo to successfully breed and hand-rear an aye-aye, the largest nocturnal primate in the world and one of the strangest mammals on the planet.” (Yahoo! News)

There’s Nothing Deep About Depression

[Image 'pain.gif' cannot be displayed]Psychiatrist Peter Kramer is very tired of one objection raised to his notorious 1993 book, Listening to Prozac. Kramer had raised concerns that Prozac and the other SSRIs would usher in an era of ‘cosmetic psychopharmacology’, modifying personality traits in people who had never experienced a frank mood disorder. The book considered the ethical and policy implications and wondered how physicians should prescribe such drugs. (I have always agreed with Kramer’s concerns and both of have practiced long enough to see his worst fears come to pass, IMHO.) Kramer reflects on the question one variant of which was almost invariably asked when he gave talks on the themes of Listening to Prozac. “What if Prozac had been available in van Gogh’s time?” Especially in light of the compelling evidence of the last decade that depression is a progressive disorder and a neurodegenerative one which destroys nerve pathways as well as damaging the cardiovascular and endocrine systems, Kramer is compelled to remind us that the tortured artist’s genius must be envisioned to be despite rather than because of his/her mental illness. “Beset by great evil, a person can be wise, observant and disillusioned and yet not depressed. Resilience confers its own measure of insight. We should have no trouble admiring what we do admire — depth, complexity, aesthetic brilliance — and standing foursquare against depression.” (New York Times Magazine)

Down to the Wire

“In the first three years of the Bush administration, the United States dropped from 4th to 13th place in global rankings of broadband Internet usage. Today, most U.S. homes can access only “basic” broadband, among the slowest, most expensive, and least reliable in the developed world, and the United States has fallen even further behind in mobile-phone-based Internet access. The lag is arguably the result of the Bush administration’s failure to make a priority of developing these networks. In fact, the United States is the only industrialized state without an explicit national policy for promoting broadband.(Foreign Affairs)

Who needs broadband when you have got the new American Taliban theocracy?

Kintana

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“First captive bred aye-aye, an arboreal nocturnal lemur, Daubentonia madagascariensis, a native to Madagascar, born in the United Kingdom. Bristol Zoo Gardens announced …that it is the first UK zoo to successfully breed and hand-rear an aye-aye, the largest nocturnal primate in the world and one of the strangest mammals on the planet.” (Yahoo! News)