Brain Region Linked to Metaphor Comprehension

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“Metaphors make for colorful sayings, but can be confusing when taken literally. A study of people who are unable to make sense of figures of speech has helped scientists identify a brain region they believe plays a key role in grasping metaphors.

Vilayanur S. Ramachandran of the University of California at San Diego and his colleagues tested four patients who had experienced damage to the left angular gyrus region of their brains. All of the volunteers were fluent in English and otherwise intelligent, mentally lucid and able to engage in normal conversations. But when the researchers presented them with common proverbs and metaphors such as ‘the grass is always greener on the other side’ and ‘reaching for the stars,’ the subjects interpreted the sayings literally almost all of the time. After being pressed by the interviewers to provide deeper meaning, ‘the patients often came up with elaborate, even ingenious interpretations, that were completely off the mark,’ Ramachandran remarks. For example, patient SJ expounded on ‘all that glitters is not gold’ by noting that you should be careful when buying jewelry because the sellers could rob you of your money.” (Scientific American)

Ramachandran is an astounding neuroscience thinker. I have written before about his thinking about “mirror neurons” and the extraordinary significance he — quite rightly — affords them in understanding human experience. Most neurologists are quite skittish about thinking about the neurological functions I consider nontrivial, things like thinking and feeling. If you have an interest in the relationship between the brain and the mind, forget the Mind Wide Open and Brain Hacks hyperbole and head straight for Ramachandran’s A Brief Tour of Consciousness and Phantoms in the Brain for more insights per square inch of printed page than you can handle. For a quick and dirty introduction, look at his 2003 series of five BBC radio lectures, The Emerging Mind (audio links and transcripts), to which I blinked when they emerged then.

Flu pandemic looms, experts warn world

Many millions could die if Southeast Asian bird virus mutates to easily transmitted form: “A lineup of leading infectious disease experts warned Wednesday that the world is unprepared for the health and economic consequences of an outbreak of pandemic influenza that could spring from a lethal strain of bird flu now ravaging poultry flocks in Southeast Asia.

In commentaries published in the British science journal Nature, doctors used some of the strongest language yet to suggest that the bird flu virus known as H5N1 could mutate into a form easily transmitted among people, creating a strain capable of killing millions.” (San Francisco Chronicle)

And:

U.S. unprepared against new flu -experts: “The United States still has no licensed vaccine to prevent avian flu and has nowhere near enough drugs to treat the sick if there is an epidemic, experts told Congress on Thursday.

Hospitals have too little capacity to deal with the huge numbers of people who would become sick and the U.S. Health and Human Services Department does not have a plan for dealing with an epidemic, the experts said.” (Yahoo! News)

R.I.P. Paul Ricoeur, 92

//mots.extraits.free.fr/paul_ricoeur1.jpg' cannot be displayed]Wide-Ranging French Philosopher Is Dead: “Dr. Ricoeur’s work concerned what he called ‘the phenomenon of human life,’ and ranged over an almost impossibly vast spectrum of human experience. He wrote on myths and symbols; language and cognition; structuralism and psychoanalysis; religion and aesthetics; ethics and the nature of evil; theories of literature and theories of law.

These diverse subjects informed his lifelong study of ‘philosophical anthropology,’ an exploration of the forces that underpin human action and human suffering.” (New York Times )

Bush’s war comes home

“President Bush’s drive for absolute power has momentarily stalled. In a single coup, he planned to take over all the institutions of government. By crushing the traditions of the Senate he would pack the courts, especially the supreme court, with lockstep ideologues. Sheer force would prevail. But just as his blitzkrieg reached the outskirts of his objective, he was struck by a mutiny. Within the span of 24 hours he lost control not only of the Senate but temporarily of the House of Representatives, which was supposed to be regimented by unquestioned loyalty. Now he prepares to launch a counterattack – against the dissident elements of his own party.” — good ol’ Sidney Blumenthal (Guardian.UK)

Think

“I was once offered a free psychic reading by someone who described herself as a ‘mystic’. We had met during a television debate and afterwards one of her satisfied customers told me of her amazing talent and assured me that a single visit would be enough to convince me of her abilities.

Accepting the offer, I made an appointment and visited the psychic at her home in Nottingham. I was ushered into a small room that was suitably festooned with mystical artifacts and adorned with books on tarot cards and astrology. During the reading my psychic used such ancient arts as numerology, astrology, palmistry, tarot cards and rune stones and even found hidden meaning in the colour of my tie. I remember that, amongst other things, she told me I was an only child and that I had four children the eldest of which was a boy. Both these statements are certainly true.

I can see how this might make an impact on many of her clients: the build up was superb and the ambience just right. But I was, and still remain, utterly unimpressed. The reason for my indifference was that I had studied many such psychic readings and understood how and why they worked.” — Tony Youens (Royal Institute of Philosophy)

Some Viagra users report blindness

“Pfizer on Friday acknowledged rare cases of blindness in men taking its impotence drug Viagra and said it is in talks with U.S. regulators to change the drug’s label.” (Reuters)

I know this is nothing to laugh about, but I was thinking that these must be the men who are using the Viagra for autoerotic activities, right? Maybe they are the men whose women partners take the pill:

Can taking the pill dull a woman’s desire forever? “Oral contraceptives may free a woman to have sex without fear of getting pregnant, but they could also extinguish her desire.

The pill has been associated with many side effects, including blood clots, migraines and weight gain. Perhaps least talked about is its tendency to dull libido by decreasing testosterone levels.” (New Scientist)

Listening to CDs with Joshua Redman

Playing the Diplomatic Changes: “Since at least 1996, when he released ‘Freedom in the Groove,’ Mr. Redman, now 36, has been advancing a theory of why jazz can and should share a space with pop. It has to do with sincerity as much as form: acknowledging what musicians truly listen to as they grow up and develop, as much as figuring out a way to make jazz phrasing fit over backbeats. Ultimately, he is playing what he likes and trying to make jazz records that in a gingerly way reflect advances in pop.” (New York Times )

I love the Times’ ‘Listening to CDs With…’ pieces. I would usually rather hear what a musician thinks of other music than a critic. (It might be the case that most critics would share that opinion…)

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‘No Kidding’ Dept.

U.S. ‘Thumbs Its Nose’ at Rights, Amnesty Says: “In coordinated broadsides from London and Washington, Amnesty International accused the Bush administration on Wednesday of condoning ‘atrocious’ human rights violations, thereby diminishing its moral authority and setting a global example encouraging abuse by other nations.” (New York Times )

Related:

Sanctity of All Life??

With the Gloves Off: “A photo of President Bush gingerly holding a month-old baby was on the front page of yesterday’s New York Times. Mr. Bush is in the habit of telling us how precious he thinks life is, all life.

The story was about legislation concerning embryonic stem cell research, and it included a comment from Tom DeLay urging Americans to reject ‘the treacherous notion that while all human lives are sacred, some are more sacred than others.’

Ahh, pretty words. Now I wonder when Mr. Bush and Mr. DeLay will find the time to address – or rather, to denounce – the depraved ways in which the United States has dealt with so many of the thousands of people (many of them completely innocent) who have been swept up in the so-called war on terror.

People have been murdered, tortured, rendered to foreign countries to be tortured at a distance, sexually violated, imprisoned without trial or in some cases simply made to ‘disappear’ in an all-American version of a practice previously associated with brutal Latin American dictatorships.” — Bob Herbert (New York Times op-ed)

And:

Just Shut it Down

“I am convinced that more Americans are dying and will die if we keep the P.O.W. camp at Guantánamo Bay open than if we shut it down.” — Thomas Friedman (New York Times op-ed)

Listen to My Wife

“In a world where most people are struggling, the search for ‘balance’ in high-powered jobs has to be counted a luxury. Still, there is something telling (if not downright dysfunctional) when a society’s most talented people feel they have to sacrifice the meaningful relationships every human craves as the price of exercising their talent.

Nowhere is there a greater gulf between the frustration people feel over a dilemma central to their lives and their equally powerful sense that there’s nothing to be done. As a result, talented people throw up their hands. Women are ‘opting out’ after deciding that professional success isn’t worth the price. Ambitious folks of both sexes ‘do what they have to,’ sure there is no other way. That’s just life.

My unreasonable wife rejects this choice. If the most interesting and powerful jobs are too consuming, Jody says, then why don’t we re-engineer these jobs – and the firms and the culture that sustain them – to make possible the blend of love and work that everyone knows is the true gauge of ‘success’? As scholars have asked, why should we be the only elites in human history that don’t set things up to get what we want?” — Matt Miller (New York Times op-ed)

While I agree, I also question the premise that the ‘talented’ people — the term he repeatedly uses — are confined to those who have made the devil’s bargain he posits, or that the thoughtful and caring among us opting out of the high-powered jobs is necessarily a tragedy we should restructure society to strive to prevent.

Das Keyboard

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Show Your Disdain for Qwerty: “In the programming world, only the strong survive. But what about the smug? A new product, Das Keyboard, seems to have both in mind. It’s a regular 104-key keyboard – except that nothing is printed on the keys.

‘It’s really for geeks,’ said Daniel Guermeur, the creator. ‘They can already touch-type without looking. They feel a little bit superior. The keyboard is a statement.'” (New York Times )

Other Perils of Overweight

“…After several years in which the surgery was seen as the last best hope by many obese people, a growing array of scientific data shows that the risks are greater than patients realized. One new study reported that almost one in 5 patients had complications after surgery. For one in 20 patients, the complications were serious, including heart attacks and strokes. Another recent study said the mortality rate for the most common type of bariatric surgery, gastric bypass, was one in 200 – a rate higher than for coronary angioplasty, which opens blocked heart vessels.” (New York Times )

Also:

Study Tying Longer Life to Extra Pounds Draws Fire

“The new federal study suggesting that people tend to live longer if they are slightly overweight was challenged yesterday by scientists from the Harvard School of Public Health and the American Cancer Society as well as a heart disease researcher.

But authors of the federal research said in interviews that they stood by their conclusions and that the criticisms were based on misrepresentations of what they had done.” (New York Times )

Modest Win for Bush…

…But More Tests Lie Ahead: “On the plus side for Mr. Bush, the bipartisan agreement among 14 centrist senators expressly called for up-or-down votes on three of his nominees to federal appeals court seats, all but ensuring their confirmations, though it left in limbo the fate of two more.

By explicitly exempting from the agreement two additional judges opposed by Democrats, it did not meet Mr. Bush’s oft-stated demand that all his nominees get a vote, and it did not foreclose the possibility that Democrats could block an eventual nominee to the Supreme Court, a matter of intense concern to the White House. The split-the-baby outcome, moreover, did little to resolve a rolling series of challenges to Mr. Bush that in coming days and weeks could do much to set the tone for his second four years in office.

On Tuesday, the House is to vote on a bill that would defy Mr. Bush and lift restrictions on federal financing of stem-cell research, legislation that stands a good chance of passing.

In the days and weeks that follow, Congress will confront a proposed trade agreement with Central America, the confirmation of Mr. Bush’s embattled choice as to be ambassador to the United Nations, an effort to rein in government spending and the first legislative steps toward overhauling Social Security – all topics on which Mr. Bush faces excruciatingly close votes in Congress, where Democrats are generally united against him and his own party is splintering around the edges.

Although the deal on judges announced by the 14 senators fell well short of the principle set out by Mr. Bush that all nominees get a vote on the Senate floor, the White House said it viewed the development as positive. Mr. Bush has always tried to create an atmosphere within the White House that takes the day-to-day bumps in stride and focuses on winning in the long run.

But Monday evening’s partial victory was hardly a display of overwhelming political strength. Beyond the judicial nominations, administration officials and their outside advisers recognize that the convergence of so many high-stakes issues in such a short period will shape public perceptions of Mr. Bush’s power at a time when his approval ratings are already lackluster and his signature domestic initiative, remaking Social Security, is in trouble.

To some degree, the confluence of disparate issues is coincidence. But in another way it is the logical consequence of Mr. Bush’s decision to expend his political capital, as he put it immediately after his re-election, to push through initiatives that he suggested voters had endorsed by putting him back in the White House. ” (New York Times news analysis )

. . . And Fear of the Unknown

Michael Kinsley, who has Parkinson’s Disease, on the Korean stem cell breakthrough:

“Leon Kass, chairman of the President’s Council on Bioethics, greeted this thrilling news with his usual fatuous call for a ‘moratorium’ on the research that produced it while we think through the morality and all that. Kass seems to imagine bioethics researchers beavering away toward a moral breakthrough even as scientists beaver away at a medical one. All he asks is for the scientists to take a break and let the bioethicists catch up.

But no crash research program is going to produce some dazzling bioethical principle we never thought of before. We know all that we’re going to know about the moral issues, and we just have to decide. There are three issues…” (Washington Post )

BTW, here is a page that will remind you of the many notables who have made their Parkinson’s Disease diagnoses public.

Sek Man Ng’s Xanga Site

This shy 18 year-old Queens College (NY) student and his older sister were murdered last week by his sister’s ex-boyfriend, who was implicated in the crime by Ng’s last weblog entry, written on May 12th while his killer waited in the other room. “Hopefully he will leave soon…” Here is New York Daily News coverage. At Ng’s site, hundreds of readers left comments to the post expressing their condolences to him and his sister for their murder.

Leave My Child Alone!

I have written about this provision of NCBA before. It is good to see someone organizing around it:

“Did you know that the infernal Leave No Child Behind Act has a sneaky Pete section requiring high schools to turn over student information to military recruiters?

1. SIGN ON as a citizen co-sponsor of US Representative Mike Honda’s Student Privacy Protection Act.

2. OPT OUT your own child, or learn how the process works so you can tell your friends.

3. ADOPT-A-SCHOOL-BOARD by downloading the Working Assets AASB toolkit: everything you need to know to help your local schools do it right.

4. ATTEND A HOUSE PARTY or Meetup with Leave My Child Alone actions on Wednesday, June 1st.

5. SEND an email to friends and family telling them how to Opt Out.” (A Family Privacy Project of Working Assets, the MMOB, and ACORN)

Can You Catch Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?

“To suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder, many patients say, is to ”know you are crazy.” Other forms of psychosis may envelop the sufferers until they inhabit the delusion. Part of the torture of O.C.D. is, as patients describe it, watching as if from the outside as they act out their obsessions — knowing that they are being irrational, but not being able to stop. They describe thoughts crowding their minds, nattering at them incessantly — anxious thoughts, sexual thoughts, violent thoughts, sometimes all at the same time. Is the front door locked? Are there germs on my hands? Am I a murderer if I step on an ant? And they describe increasingly elaborate rituals to assuage those thoughts — checking and rechecking door locks, washing and rewashing hands, walking carefully, slowly and in bizarre patterns to avoid stepping on anything. They feel driven to do things they know make no sense.

There are researchers who believe that some of this disturbing cacophony — specifically a subset found only in children — is caused by something familiar and common. They call it Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated With Streptococcal Infection, or, because every disease needs an acronym, Pandas. And they are certain it is brought on by strep throat — or more specifically, by the antibodies created to fight strep throat.

If they are right, it is a compelling breakthrough, a map of the link between bacteria and at least one subcategory of mental illness. And if bacteria can cause O.C.D., then an antibiotic might mitigate or prevent it — a Promised Land of a concept to parents who have watched their children change overnight from exuberant, confident and familiar to doubt-ridden, fear-laden strangers.” — Lisa Belkin (New York Times Magazine)

Not a promising beginning. The reason sufferers know that they are being irrational in this ‘form of psychosis’, Lisa, is that it is not a psychosis. And PANDAS does not represent a link between a bacterium and a mental illness, but rather between autoimmune-mediated brain damage and a mental illness. Despite the effort to sensationalize it as a ‘compelling breakthrough’, this is neither new news nor monumental if put in the proper context. It is often the case that injury to certain brain regions causes behavioral disturbance. The author goes on to posit a false dilemma — “do these children need penicillin or Prozac?” — although it might not be either-or but both. If the streptococcal connection is true and patients may benefit from antibiotics, they may also benefit from the medications that help control obsessional thoughts and the resultant compulsive behaviors. Besides, as I understand it, if the theory that PANDAS is mediated by an autoimmune reaction (in which antibodies raised to react against strep cross-react against some brain tissue that is misrecognized by these antibodies) is correct, it ought not respond to antibiotics at all, since the presence of the bacteria is no longer necessary to fuel the continuing immune response once the body has mistakenly recognized the brain tissue as foreign. It may be a coincidence that some cases have responded to antibiotics, continued use of which is not a benign treatment, and no one has been able to advance a consistent theory of why it should work. While I have an open mind, I think it is much more likely that, as with other psychiatric illnesses, preexisting symptoms are exacerbated by an illness. Kids with OCD symptoms frequently test positive for strep because, well, kids frequently test positive for strep. Belkin, although trying to impute ponderous import to this controversy by throwing in overblown comments about how science thrives on disagreement, etc., actually does better in the second half of the piece describing the dilemmas children, families and treaters face when premature conclusions are drawn as to whether a condition has a psychological or a physical cause. Where she should have gone with that, if she really wanted to draw ponderous conclusions, would have been to indicate that that distinction itself is a specious one.

The trigger is pulled — 72 hours to save the courts

“I just signed MoveOn PAC’s emergency petition to stop the ‘nuclear option’, the far right wing’s plan to seize absolute power to stack our courts -– and I hope you will sign too.

Starting Monday, the petition will be delivered straight to Congress every three hours until the final vote, and many of our comments will be read aloud on the Senate floor.

Please sign right now at:

http://www.moveonpac.org/nuclear

Why is this an emergency?

This Tuesday, the Senate will vote on Republican Leader Bill Frist’s ‘nuclear option’ to break the rules of the Senate and give the Republican Party absolute control over appointing federal judges.

For 200 years the minority’s right to filibuster has kept our courts fair, by making sure that federal judges needed to get at least some support from both sides of the aisle before they were given life time appointments.

If Frist eliminates the filibuster, his next step would be to force far right partisan judges onto the powerful U.S. Courts of Appeals. The real targets, however, are the four seats on the Supreme Court likely to become vacant in the next four years.

With that much power on the Supreme Court, the far right could strike down decades of progress on labor rights, environmental protections, reproductive rights, and privacy.

The ‘nuclear option’ will live or die by a final vote, probably on Tuesday, and the vote is still way too close to call. There are at least 6 moderate Republicans still on the fence and only 3 more votes needed to win. If we can get enough of our voices into congress and into the streets in the next 72 hours, we can still save our courts.

Please take a minute to join me and sign the emergency petition today.

http://www.moveonpac.org/nuclear

F.D.A. Considers Implant Device for Depression

“The Food and Drug Administration may soon approve a medical device that would be the first new treatment option for severely depressed patients in a generation, despite the misgivings of many experts who say there is little evidence that it works.

The pacemaker-like device, called a vagus nerve stimulator, is surgically implanted in the upper chest, and its wires are threaded into the neck, where it stimulates a nerve leading to the brain. It has been approved since 1997 for the treatment of some epilepsy patients, and the drug agency has told the manufacturer that it is now ‘approvable’ for severe depression that is resistant to other treatment.” (New York Times )

Can You Catch Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?

“To suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder, many patients say, is to ”know you are crazy.” Other forms of psychosis may envelop the sufferers until they inhabit the delusion. Part of the torture of O.C.D. is, as patients describe it, watching as if from the outside as they act out their obsessions — knowing that they are being irrational, but not being able to stop. They describe thoughts crowding their minds, nattering at them incessantly — anxious thoughts, sexual thoughts, violent thoughts, sometimes all at the same time. Is the front door locked? Are there germs on my hands? Am I a murderer if I step on an ant? And they describe increasingly elaborate rituals to assuage those thoughts — checking and rechecking door locks, washing and rewashing hands, walking carefully, slowly and in bizarre patterns to avoid stepping on anything. They feel driven to do things they know make no sense.

There are researchers who believe that some of this disturbing cacophony — specifically a subset found only in children — is caused by something familiar and common. They call it Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated With Streptococcal Infection, or, because every disease needs an acronym, Pandas. And they are certain it is brought on by strep throat — or more specifically, by the antibodies created to fight strep throat.

If they are right, it is a compelling breakthrough, a map of the link between bacteria and at least one subcategory of mental illness. And if bacteria can cause O.C.D., then an antibiotic might mitigate or prevent it — a Promised Land of a concept to parents who have watched their children change overnight from exuberant, confident and familiar to doubt-ridden, fear-laden strangers.” — Lisa Belkin (New York Times Magazine)

Not a promising beginning. The reason sufferers know that they are being irrational in this ‘form of psychosis’, Lisa, is that it is not a psychosis. And PANDAS does not represent a link between a bacterium and a mental illness, but rather between autoimmune-mediated brain damage and a mental illness. Despite the effort to sensationalize it as a ‘compelling breakthrough’, this is neither new news nor monumental if put in the proper context. It is often the case that injury to certain brain regions causes behavioral disturbance. The author goes on to posit a false dilemma — “do these children need penicillin or Prozac?” — although it might not be either-or but both. If the streptococcal connection is true and patients may benefit from antibiotics, they may also benefit from the medications that help control obsessional thoughts and the resultant compulsive behaviors. Besides, as I understand it, if the theory that PANDAS is mediated by an autoimmune reaction (in which antibodies raised to react against strep cross-react against some brain tissue that is misrecognized by these antibodies) is correct, it ought not respond to antibiotics at all, since the presence of the bacteria is no longer necessary to fuel the continuing immune response once the body has mistakenly recognized the brain tissue as foreign. It may be a coincidence that some cases have responded to antibiotics, continued use of which is not a benign treatment, and no one has been able to advance a consistent theory of why it should work. While I have an open mind, I think it is much more likely that, as with other psychiatric illnesses, preexisting symptoms are exacerbated by an illness. Kids with OCD symptoms frequently test positive for strep because, well, kids frequently test positive for strep. Belkin, although trying to impute ponderous import to this controversy by throwing in overblown comments about how science thrives on disagreement, etc., actually does better in the second half of the piece describing the dilemmas children, families and treaters face when premature conclusions are drawn as to whether a condition has a psychological or a physical cause. Where she should have gone with that, if she really wanted to draw ponderous conclusions, would have been to indicate that that distinction itself is a specious one.

Gore Values

Review of Chuck Palahniuk’s Haunted: “Opinion is still divided as to whether his oeuvre amounts to a tenacious attempt at reinventing the Gothic tradition for the 21st century, or a sustained, career-long attempt to put you off your lunch.” (New York Times )

Annals of the Invasion of Privacy (cont’d.)

“The ACLU has evidence that the FBI and local police, working together through so-called Joint Terrorism Task Forces, are gathering information and collecting files on environmental, anti-war, political, and faith-based groups and centers of worship.

Could you be a target, too? Answer these 6 quick questions to find out!(ACLU).

It is actually not hard, if you already hold our government’s behavior suspect, to realize you are a suspect. I suppose that is why most of my commenters sign their posts with pseudonyms. Is it too late, do you suppose, or should you do something like join the ACLU? I have been a card-carrying member for a long time.

Koreans Report Ease in Cloning for Stem Cells

The new technique promises to make creation of a cloned line of stem cells efficient enough that it can be reliably developed for any patient who might have the need. (New York Times ) What is as interesting as the therapeutic advance is the tapdance around terminology and spin. This is “therapeutic cloning” but both “therapeutic” and “clone” are loaded buzzwords to be avoided.

A Critic Takes On the Logic of Female Orgasm

“Evolutionary scientists have never had difficulty explaining the male orgasm, closely tied as it is to reproduction. But the Darwinian logic behind the female orgasm has remained elusive. Women can have sexual intercourse and even become pregnant – doing their part for the perpetuation of the species – without experiencing orgasm. So what is its evolutionary purpose?

Over the last four decades, scientists have come up with a variety of theories, arguing, for example, that orgasm encourages women to have sex and, therefore, reproduce or that it leads women to favor stronger and healthier men, maximizing their offspring’s chances of survival.

But in a new book, Dr. Elisabeth A. Lloyd, a philosopher of science and professor of biology at Indiana University, takes on 20 leading theories and finds them wanting. The female orgasm, she argues in the book, ‘The Case of the Female Orgasm: Bias in the Science of Evolution,’ has no evolutionary function at all.

Rather, Dr. Lloyd says the most convincing theory is one put forward in 1979 by Dr. Donald Symons, an anthropologist.

That theory holds that female orgasms are simply artifacts – a byproduct of the parallel development of male and female embryos in the first eight or nine weeks of life.

…Dr. Lloyd said scientists had insisted on finding an evolutionary function for female orgasm in humans either because they were invested in believing that women’s sexuality must exactly parallel that of men or because they were convinced that all traits had to be “adaptations,” that is, serve an evolutionary function.

Theories of female orgasm are significant, she added, because “men’s expectations about women’s normal sexuality, about how women should perform, are built around these notions.” …Central to her thesis is the fact that women do not routinely have orgasms during sexual intercourse.” (New York Times )

Josh Marshall on the Nuclear Option

“You can think the filibuster is a terrible idea. And you may think that it should be abolished, as indeed it can be through the rules of the senate. And there are decent arguments to made on that count. But to assert that it is unconstitutional because each judge does not get an up or down vote by the entire senate you have to hold that the United States senate has been in more or less constant violation of the constitution for more than two centuries.

For all the chaos and storm caused by this debate, and all that is likely to follow it, don’t forget that the all of this will be done by fifty Republican senators quite knowingly invoking a demonstrably false claim of constitutionality to achieve something they couldn’t manage by following the rules.

This is about power; and, to them, the rules quite simply mean nothing.(Talking Points Memo)

The top ten filibuster falsehoods

“With Senate debate on two of President Bush’s most controversial judicial nominees beginning May 18, the heated rhetoric over the so-called ‘nuclear option’ to ban Senate filibusters on judicial nominations has reached its boiling point. The rules of the Senate thus far remain intact, filibuster opponents have pulled all rhetorical stops, advancing numerous falsehoods and distortions, and, as Media Matters documents below, the media have too often perpetuated that misinformation by unskeptically, and sometimes even deliberately, repeating it.”

Causation and Counterfactuals

Metapsychology Online Book Reviews: “Causation, it seems, is absolutely central. We will need to understand causation itself if we are to understand either causal theories in philosophy or the nature of the surrounding world.

Working through the papers in Causation and Counterfactuals will help us with this. The volume consists in eighteen cutting edge papers (twelve new, six previously published) by the best people in the field, as well as an editors’ introduction. Most are devoted to one leading view of causation — the counterfactual view. Hume articulated the basic idea this way: ‘we may define a cause to be an object followed by another . . where, if the first object had not been, the second never had existed.’ (An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Section VII)”

Even the captain was asking, "What just happened?"

Adrift 500 Feet Under the Sea, a Minute Was an Eternity: “Last week, Navy investigators reported that a series of mistakes at sea and onshore caused the 6,900-ton submarine, the San Francisco, to run into an undersea mountain not on its navigational charts. One crewman was killed, 98 others were injured, and the captain and three other officers were relieved of their duties as a result of the Jan. 8 crash, one of the worst on an American submarine since the 1960’s.

But what is becoming clear only now, from the first interviews with Commander Mooney and 15 other officers and enlisted men, as well as a review of Navy reports, is how much worse it nearly was, and how close the San Francisco came to being lost.” (New York Times )

‘Piano Man’ update:

Police aid mysterious ‘Piano Man’ case: “Police have offered to help solve the mystery of the ‘Piano Man’ by examining any new leads that may emerge as a result of a high-profile campaign to identify him.

Nearly 500 people have contacted a helpline over the last 48 hours, giving possible names, but so far none have led to his true identity.” (Scotsman)

Mime Artist Claims to Know ‘Piano Man’: “Many callers have offered information about the mysterious ‘Piano Man,’ including a mime who said he was a fellow street musician, but the hospital patient who loves to play Tchaikovsky has yet to be positively identified, officials said Wednesday.

Michael Camp, the man’s social worker, acknowledged claims by a Polish immigrant in Rome who believes the so-called ‘Piano Man’ is a street musician from France — but he said officials will continue to follow up on more than 600 calls they have received from as far away as Australia and Canada.” (LA Times)

50 Fun Things To Do With Your iPod

Sorry, but as an inveterate Palm and iPod user I find virtually nothing appealing on kottke’s list. An iPod makes a lousy information appliance, and a PDA is, compared to my iPod, a lousy mp3 player. Many of these suggestions thus end up being downright silly, and the potentially useful information-access exploits are handled far far better on my PDA and thus to utilize my iPod in these ways becomes an intolerable compromise when no compromise is needed. Until I can get one data-access appliance that does everything my Palm Tungsten does and more and has at least a 40-80 Gb micro-drive and a music player interface and performance at least as good as my iPod, I have no qualms about carrying around two four* small appliances. Besides, how much worse (oh, around twice as bad?) you would feel, if it were all in one package and you lost it, than if you just lost your iPod or your PDA?

*Let’s not forget about my cellphone and digital pocket camera, another two devices for which one will not do. And, hey, while we’re at it, there’s also my GPS.

Buchanan sees ‘war’ within conservatism

“Pat Buchanan speaks of American conservatism in the past tense. ‘The conservative movement has passed into history,’ (he says).” (Washington Times) Great lead sentence. However, I don’t think people should take heart, because what, in Robertson’s term, passes for conservatism these days has an unprecedented stranglehold on American political theater these days, even if Buchanan’s wing is going to fade out of the picture. And if you had any doubts about that, wait and see who is left standing tomorrow after the shootout over the filibuster.

Educational Failures Well Before Kindergarten??

Youngest Students Most Likely to Be Expelled: “Preschools are expelling youngsters at three times the rate of public schools, according to a nationwide study by Yale researchers, prompting concerns that children are being set up for educational failure at a very young age.” (Washington Post)

I thought, facetiously, to headline this post with something about how they had finally started to deal with the true juvenile delinquents, or something like that. But this is nothing to laugh about, and is an indication of the extent of the failure in our early education system rather than the fault of the children, of course. While it has been recognized that early group daycare and preschool help socialize children, the corollary is that entering preschoolers are still essentially unsocialized. You don’t expel them for their behavior, you teach them, competently, to behave differently. (We sometimes make the same mistake in my field, the treatment of the acutely mentally ill — demanding they change some troublesome behavioral symptom before we can treat them rather than remembering we must treat their illness before their behavior can change.)

If we are going to place more and more children sooner and sooner in childcare situations so their parent or parents can continue to work fulltime (to earn the money to afford childcare…), careers in early childhood education have to be socially valued, encouraged and supported rather than remaining a marginal afterthought. No disrespect, by the way, intended to the daycare workers and preschool teachers, who are usually dedicated and heroic and always undercompensated for what they do.

Silent ‘Piano Man’ whose only language is music

//news.ninemsn.com.au/img/world/1705_pianoman_a.jpg' cannot be displayed]From The Independent, this fascinating story of a man in his 20’s or 30’s found five weeks ago in dripping wet evening wear from which all the labels had been removed wandering near the Kentish seashore. Psychiatrically hospitalized, he has not said a word since and cowers in fright upon anyone’s approach. Left with pencil and paper, he produced a detailed sketch of a grand piano and, given access to a piano, he has played exquisitely for hours on end, including long pieces that appear to be his own compositions.

‘An unconfirmed report has it that he played a “beautiful” performance of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake.

A spokeswoman for the West Kent NHS Trust said, “There was nobody he was with skilled enough to recognize the music, they just knew it was classical music and he played very well.” ‘

It is not clear whether he understands English, and he has not responded to entreaties in various Eastern European languages. Ironically, even though his caregivers have noted that “if you put him in front of a piano, his whole demeanour changes. He completely relaxes and is oblivious to people around him,” he has been moved to a different ward where there is no piano. He avoids television and radio and continues to produce his sketches of grand pianos. There has been an overwhelming response (BBC )to publication of his picture with requests for assistance from anyone who could identify him. However, curiously, his caregivers say they have not had the time to follow up on the most promising leads, and that they are not sure they will ever know who he really is. What’s up with that??

A number of theories about who is is, how he came to be found, and the nature of his distress are discussed in the article. He is such an enigma that the assumptions of those speculating about him may at this stage say more about them than about him. The extent of his fright and silence suggests traumatic amnesia to some, but I wonder about acute paranoia as well. The detail about his avoidance of t.v.’s and radios is something I have often seen in patients who are suffering an acute paranoid psychotic episode, who may feel that they are receiving messages through the media or that the devices can pick up and broadcast their thoughts. Of course, they don’t tell you that at the time; all you notice is that they avoid the media. Elective muteness is seen in acute psychosis as well, and I consider the deliberate obliteration of evidence of his identity (such as the removal of his clothing labels) more characteristic of a psychotic break than a post-traumatic condition. Several outlandish theories as to how he came to be in the ocean — e.g. that he was an asylum-seeker dropped off near the shore — are discussed, but without mention of the obvious possibility that he had attempted to kill himself by drowning. I hope those caring for him have also considered the possibility that his mutism, his possible amnesia, his acute fearfulness, his wandering, etc. are sequelae of a neurological rather than a psychological condition. I have at least one neurologist reader of FmH; I wonder what he thinks of the case. There are some conditions that would affect the so-called ‘speech centers’ of the brain but leave musical expression intact. A neurological workup would require procedures he may yet be too frightened to undergo, such as cerebral imaging studies and bloodwork.

We are hearing from his social worker and other ward staff; has his attending psychiatrist made any public statements? And why in the world don’t they (a) continue to facilitate his access to a piano; (b) bring in some people who know music better; and (c) get on the stick following up on those leads about who he is?

‘Confuzzled?’ You must be a ‘lingweenie.’

“The response from the ‘vocabularians’ was so ‘ginormous’ that the lexicographers let out a ‘whoot.’

…The editors of Merriam-Webster dictionaries got more than 3,000 entries when, in a lighthearted moment, they asked visitors to their Web site to submit their favorite words that aren’t in the dictionary.

…Some of the proposed words even gained multiple submissions so the editors came up with an unofficial Top 10 list.

First place went to ‘ginormous’ — bigger than gigantic and bigger than enormous — followed by ‘confuzzled’ for confused and puzzled simultaneously, and ‘whoot,’ an exclamation of joy. A ‘lingweenie’ — a person incapable of making up new words — placed 10th.” (Yahoo! News)

Let’s get serious. ‘Lingweenie’ is far more clever than the other examples, involving a double entendre as it does. IMHO, neither ‘ginormous‘, ‘confuzzled’, or ‘whoot’ really adds anything to the lexicon, since — duh — conveying that something is bigger than ‘gigantic’ means it is also inevitably bigger than ‘enormous’; usually, someone who is confused may be said to be puzzled too; and most joyful exclamations are both somewhat whoop- and hoot-like. Lingweenies indeed; it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to just conflate two synonyms… which is why, I guess, these words are not only not in the dictionary but probably will never be. I have never heard any of these terms used in conversation either — have you?That is possibly because I don’t hang with the right crowd, but I do hear my children and their peers do use ‘bazillion’ and ‘gazillion’, I’ll grant you that. You want neologisms by the bazillion, most of which are similarly destined for obscurity? See here.

I have seen far more clever word coinage compilations in The Atlantic‘s language columns in years past, BTW.

On a related topic, I heard an attorney interviewed on a radio broadcast today refer to her client, whom she felt had been unjustly accused, as an ‘escape goat’, and it didn’t sound as if she was deliberately trying to be clever. It really is a ‘doggy dog world’ out there for legal practitioners these days, isn’t it?

‘3rd Most Dangerous Volcano in the US’

“Scientists know Mount Rainier will eventually awaken as Mount St. Helens did in 1980. It could gradually build up and explode, or part of it may collapse. It could happen in 200 years, or it could happen tonight.

‘People get burned by these kind of events because they think it can’t happen in their lifetime,’ said Willie Scott of the

U.S. Geological Survey.

The agency ranks Mount Rainier as the third most dangerous volcano in the nation, after Kilauea on Hawaii’s Big Island and Mount St. Helens. Both are currently active.

Other studies call Rainier the most dangerous volcano in the world — not just for its explosive potential, but because of the 3 million people who live in the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue metropolitan area. At least 100,000 people live on top of Rainier mudflows that have solidified.” (Yahoo! News)

The Fat Lady Sings?

“Some prophets of doom swear that the end of recorded classical music is near. But they may be wrong.. With all these competing agendas, someone would have to choose what projects are recorded, or more accurately, what are not recorded. I am reminded of the wonderful scene in the movie ‘Amadeus’ when the Emperor tells Mozart that he didn’t like a certain piece because there were ‘too many notes.’ Mozart acidly replies ‘which notes would you like me to remove?’ Who plays the role of the Emperor in the recording business?” (WBUR)

Music critic Mark Kroll says the pundits may be wrong; that classical music fans may catch up with the rest of the music-listening public and avail themselves of internet-based music distribution. But his hopeful finish does not address some of the more serious concerns he raised earlier in the piece. If struggling American music companies are not subsidized like their European counterparts, they simply cannot afford to record much music (which they would have to do even with internet-based distribution), and the musicians cannot make a living. And American family life, community life, our pop culture and our educational system do not foster an appreciation of serious music — neither jazz or world music (except where they are assimilated into ‘crossover’ products), classical or so-called ‘new’ music.

The Fat Lady Sings?

“Some prophets of doom swear that the end of recorded classical music is near. But they may be wrong.. With all these competing agendas, someone would have to choose what projects are recorded, or more accurately, what are not recorded. I am reminded of the wonderful scene in the movie ‘Amadeus’ when the Emperor tells Mozart that he didn’t like a certain piece because there were ‘too many notes.’ Mozart acidly replies ‘which notes would you like me to remove?’ Who plays the role of the Emperor in the recording business?” (WBUR)

Music critic Mark Kroll says the pundits may be wrong; that classical music fans may catch up with the rest of the music-listening public and avail themselves of internet-based music distribution. But his hopeful finish does not address some of the more serious concerns he raised earlier in the piece. If struggling American music companies are not subsidized like their European counterparts, they simply cannot afford to record much music (which they would have to do even with internet-based distribution), and the musicians cannot make a living. And American family life, community life, our pop culture and our educational system do not foster an appreciation of serious music — neither jazz or world music (except where they are assimilated into ‘crossover’ products), classical or so-called ‘new’ music.

Announcing a New Dept. at FmH

I am pleased to note the burgeoning media attention to so-called “Rebuffs” to our valiant president’s efforts to save the world. Here is a Google search on “rebuff Bush” or “rebuffing Bush”, which I hope you will find edifying. Thus, it is with pride that I inaugurate the “Bush-Rebuffed” Dept. at FmH with what (below) is the first in an irregular but I hope steady stream of pertinent entries. Please feel free to watch the jargon and send me blinks. [thanks, abby]

Bush-Rebuffed Dept.

132 Mayors Embrace Kyoto Rules: “Unsettled by a series of dry winters in this normally wet city, Mayor Greg Nickels has begun a nationwide effort to do something the Bush administration will not: carry out the Kyoto Protocol on global warming.

Mr. Nickels, a Democrat, says 131 other likeminded mayors have joined a bipartisan coalition to fight global warming on the local level, in an implicit rejection of the administration’s policy.” (New York Times via abby)

Try These Fun Hoaxes

Andy Borowitz: “Order a bowl of chili at a fast-food restaurant. When the chili arrives, angrily complain that there is no human finger in the chili, despite the fact that you specifically ordered one.” (New Yorker)

Learn to love the equation

“Look on the side of a bus at the moment and you might be rather shocked to see an onslaught of mathematical symbols. The conglomeration of cosines and Greek letters isn’t the outpourings of some disgruntled mathematician writing graffiti about his latest discovery across the nation’s bus network. This cryptic equation is part of an advertising campaign. Mathematical equations are now so cool – ice cool – that the drinks firm Diageo believes they can help sell Smirnoff Ice.” (Guardian.UK)

Parkinson’s patients with gambling problems sue

“An Ontario man who alleges he developed a gambling addiction as a result of using a Parkinson’s drug called Mirapex is the representative claimant in a national class action lawsuit.

The Toronto law firm Thomson, Rogers issued a statement Monday saying that plaintiffs are seeking millions of dollars in compensation from the drug’s Canadian manufacturer, Boehringer Ingelheim (Canada) Ltd., and two American corporations.

Gerard Schick, the plaintiff from Midland, Ont., says he began gambling compulsively after starting to take Mirapex and lost more than $100,000.

‘Some 100 or more Canadians are believed to have suffered a similar experience,’ said a statement from the law firm.

A study by a team at the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Research Centre in Phoenix, Ariz., published in the journal Neurology in 2003, found that of 529 patients who took pramipexole (brand name Mirapex), eight developed serious gambling addictions.” (C-Health)

Bombs Bursting on Air

“If a man-bites-dog story is news and dog-bites-man isn’t, why are journalists still so interested in man-blows-up-self stories?

I realize that we have a duty to report suicide bombings in the Middle East, especially when there’s a spate as bad as in recent weeks. And I know the old rule of television news: if it bleeds, it leads. But I’m still puzzled by our zeal in frantically competing to get gruesome pictures and details for broadcasts and front pages.” — John Tierney (New York Times op-ed)

Celebs to the Slaughter

“Judging from Monday’s horrific debut of the humongously pre-hyped celebrity blog the Huffington Post, the Madonna of the mediapolitic world has undergone one reinvention too many. She has now made an online ass of herself. What her bizarre guru-cult association, 180-degree right-to-left conversion, and failed run in the California gubernatorial-recall race couldn’t accomplish, her blog has now done: She is finally played out publicly. This website venture is the sort of failure that is simply unsurvivable. Her blog is such a bomb that it’s the movie equivalent of Gigli, Ishtar and Heaven’s Gate rolled into one. In magazine terms, it’s the disastrous clone of Tina Brown’s Talk, JFK Jr.’s George or Maer Roshan’s Radar.

No matter what happens to Huffington, it’s clear Hollywood will suffer the consequences. It seems like some sick hoax. Perhaps Huffington is no longer a card-carrying progressive but now a conservative mole. Because she has served up liberal celebs like red meat on a silver platter for the salivating and Hollywood-hating right wing to chew up and spit out. I hear that prominent liberals in L.A. and N.Y. and Washington D.C. are aghast not just that she’s encouraged jejune rants by their liberal brethren, but that she’s also provided yet another forum for select right-wing blowhards. They don’t understand why Arianna has saddled progressives with that ‘Hollywood elitist’ branding.

Only the fawning mainstream media didn’t see this coming. Instead, The New York Times, the New York Observer, the Los Angeles Times et al. were too busy breathlessly reporting Arianna’s big plans and bons mots to bother to do any reporting. ” (LA Weekly)

Nearly all murderers are mentally ill: Swedish study

“Some 90 percent of murderers are mentally ill, a higher percentage than believed previously, according to a Swedish study.

For the study in the scientific magazine ‘Forskning och Framsteg‘ — which has also been published by The American Journal of Psychiatry — researchers examined the court psychiatry records and other medical evidence for 2,000 people found guilty of murder, attempted murder, manslaughter or attempted manslaughter between 1998 and 2001 in Sweden.

The certified psychiatric illnesses include schizophrenia, personality disorders, anxiety, post-traumatic stress and depression.

…The Swedish situation is different from that in countries where organized crime, drug trade and easy access to weapons result in a higher percentage of murders committed by people who are not certifiably ill than in Western Europe, the study’s authors acknowledged. They cited as examples the United States, Bolivia, South Africa and the Baltic countries.” (Yahoo! News)

When psychiatric evaluations are done through the court mental health services, of course, diagnoses are arrived at with full knowledge of the crime the subject has committed. Arguably, this makes finding a “certified” psychiatric diagnosis more likely. Furthermore, some of the diagnosed conditions are personality disorders. One of these, antisocial personality disorder, has among its DSM-IV diagnostic criteria aggressiveness, reckless disregard for the safety of others, and remorselessness over mistreatment of others. (I like the ICD-10 criteria better, BTW.) It may be a bit of circular reasoning to diagnose many murderers with antisocial personality disorder.

Fair Game?

The Pope’s Sins of Omission: “Literary tradition holds that Dorothy Parker once aced an Algonquin Round Table contest to knock out the most sensational possible snap headline. Her winner? ‘Pope Elopes!’

She’d probably still win for pith. Who but historians familiar with the likes of Sergius III (904-11) — his mistress Marozia the Theophylact bore him an illegitimate son whom she later appointed as John XI (931-36) — would question the shock value? But international newspapers, if not the usual scaredy-pants American ones when it comes to the Roman Catholic Church, gave Parker a run for her money last month.

‘White Smoke, Black Past,’ trumpeted the headline in Israel’s Yediot Aharonot. ‘From Hitler Youth to … Papa Ratzi’ roared London’s Sun, indelicately describing Cardinal Ratzinger as an ‘ex-World War II enemy soldier.’ German papers proved harshest on his doctrinal present and personality. ‘Ratzinger is the Counter-Reformation personified,’ asserted the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Berliner Zeitung described his hold on the Vatican as ‘autocratic, authoritarian,’ deeming the new pope ‘as shrewd as a serpent.’ Die Tageszeitung described him as a ‘reactionary churchman’ who ‘will try to seal the bulkheads of the Holy Roman Church from the modern world…'” (The Chronicle of Higher Education)

Fall off a truck?

Jesse Kornbluth: “Remember at the Correspondents’ dinner how Mrs. Bush’s case made a joke about ‘Desperate Housewives’? Later, her press secretary said that Mrs. Bush had never actually seen the show, but was planning to watch the entire first season on a DVD she has at home.

Problem: The first season DVD of ‘Desperate Housewives’ won’t be released until September of 2005.

Possibilities: 1) There is no DVD. 2) There is a DVD and ABC sent it to the White House. 3) The White House rips and burns. If 3), where is that zero-tolerance Justice Department?” (Swami Uptown (Beliefnet))

Stranger Than Fiction

“When Bob Woodward asked President Bush if he had consulted with his father about the decision to go to war in Iraq, the president famously replied, ‘There is a higher father that I appeal to.’

It might have been better if Mr. Bush had stayed in closer touch with his earthly father. From the very beginning the war in Iraq has been an exercise in extreme madness, an absurd venture that would have been rich in comic possibilities except for the fact that many thousands of men, women and children have died, and tens of thousands have been crippled, burned or otherwise maimed.” — Bob Herbert (New York Times op-ed)

Gay Men Are Found to Have Different Scent of Attraction

…and they respond to sexual scents differently than straight men. “Using a brain imaging technique, Swedish researchers have shown that homosexual and heterosexual men respond differently to two odors that may be involved in sexual arousal, and that the gay men respond in the same way as women.

The new research may open the way to studying human pheromones, as well as the biological basis of sexual preference. Pheromones, chemicals emitted by one individual to evoke some behavior in another of the same species, are known to govern sexual activity in animals, but experts differ as to what role, if any, they play in making humans sexually attractive to one another.

The new research, which supports the existence of human pheromones, is reported in today’s issue of The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by Dr. Ivanka Savic and colleagues at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm.

The two chemicals in the study were a testosterone derivative produced in men’s sweat and an estrogen-like compound in women’s urine, both of which have long been suspected of being pheromones.

Most odors cause specific smell-related regions of the human brain to light up when visualized by a form of brain imaging that tracks blood flow in the brain and therefore, by inference, sites where neurons are active. Several years ago, Dr. Savic and colleagues showed that the two chemicals activated the brain in a quite different way from ordinary scents.

The estrogen-like compound, though it activated the usual smell-related regions in women, lighted up the hypothalamus in men. This is a region in the central base of the brain that governs sexual behavior and, through its control of the pituitary gland lying just beneath it, the hormonal state of the body.

The male sweat chemical, on the other hand, did just the opposite; it activated mostly the hypothalamus in women and the smell-related regions in men. The two chemicals seemed to be leading a double life, playing the role of odor with one sex and of pheromone with another.

The Swedish researchers have now repeated the experiment but with the addition of gay men as a third group. The gay men responded to the two chemicals in the same way as did women, Dr. Savic reports, as if the hypothalamus’s response is determined not by biological sex but by the owner’s sexual orientation.” (New York Times )

Low Cholesterol?

Don’t Brag Quite Yet: “Not all that long ago, a low cholesterol score was seen as a sign of relative good health and a low risk of heart disease.

But increasingly, doctors are identifying a group of people whose levels of L.D.L, the so-called bad cholesterol, are low, but who still appear to be at increased risk for atherosclerosis, heart attack and stroke.

They have a condition known as metabolic syndrome, a cluster of risk factors that include mild hypertension, elevated glucose levels, high triglycerides and low levels of H.D.L. cholesterol.

People with the syndrome also tend to have high levels of a protein, known as C-reactive protein, or CRP, which is released during inflammation and has recently been linked to heart disease.

‘By far, the people we’re seeing with heart disease are people with metabolic syndrome, because weight gain is the driving force and people are gaining weight,’ said Dr. Arshed Quyyumi, a professor of cardiology at the Emory School of Medicine.” (New York Times )

Cheating, or an Early Mingling of the Blood?

“Last month, when the champion American cyclist Tyler Hamilton was accused of blood doping, or transfusing himself with another person’s blood to increase his oxygen-carrying red cells, he offered a surprising defense: the small amount of different blood found mixed in with his own must have come from a ‘vanishing twin.’

Tyler Hamilton has been suspended from competitive cycling for two years.

In other words, his scientific expert argued, Mr. Hamilton had a twin that died in utero but, before dying, contributed some blood cells to him during fetal life. And those cells remained in his body, producing blood that matched the dead twin and not Mr. Hamilton. Or perhaps it was his mother’s blood that got mixed in during fetal life.

An arbitration panel did not believe those hypotheses and said there was a ‘negligible probability’ that Mr. Hamilton was anything but guilty.

The test, they concluded in a 2-to-1 decision, shows a blood transfusion and that meant that Mr. Hamilton was suspended from racing for two years, the first and only person convicted for that offense. At age 34, near the end of his career, it could mean his championship days are over.” (New York Times )

On Aborting Early Cancer

“Why human cancer is not more frequent remains a mystery, given our trillions of susceptible cells, each with many genes subject to mutations that could ignite uncontrolled cell proliferation. One intuitive concept — which has been in the spotlight for decades — is that normal cells can somehow perceive and arrest aberrant cycles of cell division that are triggered by cancer-promoting (oncogenic) stimuli, such as the inappropriate activation of oncogenes. But how cells might do so remains elusive.” (Scienceweek)

Beast’s real mark devalued to ‘616’

“Satanists, apocalypse watchers and heavy metal guitarists may have to adjust their demonic numerology after a recently deciphered ancient biblical text revealed that 666 is not the fabled Number of the Beast after all.

A fragment from the oldest surviving copy of the New Testament, dating to the Third century, gives the more mundane 616 as the mark of the Antichrist.

Ellen Aitken, a professor of early Christian history at McGill University, said the discovery appears to spell the end of 666 as the devil’s prime number.” (Religion News Blog)

Dead funny?

“On 8 March, as Pope John Paul II lay dying in the Vatican, Matt Taibbi, a columnist for the freesheet alt-newspaper New York Press and currently Rolling Stone magazine’s Michael Jackson trial correspondent, penned a piece entitled ‘The 52 Funniest Things About the Upcoming Death of the Pope’. It was emblazoned across the front page of the New York Press, tantalising readers with this strapline next to a picture of the Pontiff: ‘There’s Nothing Funny About This Man Dying… Or Is There?’

…One of the curious consequences of today’s emotionally correct atmosphere is the corresponding rise of a culture of offensiveness, a punkish, kneejerk reaction among what might be termed the Jackass generation against today’s emotional orthodoxy. Where world leaders say ‘The Pope was a good man’, they say ‘Dude, the Pope was an asshole.’ Yet this is a shallow rebellion; it takes the piss out of orthodoxies rather than challenging them. The inspiration of Beavis and Butthead seems to sum it up. Just as they sat around watching MTV, mocking the poncy rock acts, today some individuals watch Mourning TV (all channels) and feel able only to knock the weeping participants. Heh heh, indeed.” — Brendan O’Neill (spiked)

Taibbi’s article can be found here.

What Would Dewey Do?

Eric Alterman: “If you agree with John Dewey (and Jurgen Habermas) that democracy depends on a series of institutional arrangements that enable the public to form its own values and judgments on a variety of questions–and I do–then you cannot ignore the importance of civility in allowing these institutions to function. Without a foundation in civil society, the kinds of democratic exchange that allow a public to test its prejudices and, potentially, transcend them are literally impossible.

But the mores and institutions of civility can be a double-edged sword. By insisting on ‘keeping things civil,’ in polite society, repressive powers may suppress ugly truths about their conduct merely because raising them requires bad manners. I always thought it was a stroke of genius on the part of Robert McNamara to start crying at dinner parties in the late 1960s when someone raised the issue of Vietnam, as it pre-empted discussions of the deception and destruction for which he was responsible. Perhaps if McNamara had been confronted with some of the morally uncomfortable consequences of his policies, he might have worked harder to reverse them.” (The Nation)

Alterman’s focus in this piece is to castigate Robert Novak in preparation for their upcoming debate. However, the broader point bears repeating. The Bush dysadministration and the Rabid Right are conducting an unprecedented assault on the ability of the media to inform the public of their actions, and the media has largely caved to it. The unscrupulous always have those who still believe in respect and civility over a barrel. (So give it up?)

Saving PBS From the GOP

Jonathan Chait argues that a decade of liberal efforts to preserve government funding for public broadcasting has backfired; the only kind of free public broadcasting now, with the Rabid Right in power, will be public broadcasting free of government funding. (LA Times)

Making the Most of Mother’s Day

//www.sfgate.com/c/pictures/2003/12/30_t/ba_ruzicka02_t.gif' cannot be displayed]Following the example of Marla Ruzicka: “I grudgingly admit that the big things I wanted when I was a young adult were fame and fortune. Yes, I can rationalize that I wasn’t alone in my youthful lust for more, more, more for me, me, me. But then there’s the audacious northern Californian, Marla Ruzicka, whose stirring death in Iraq last month, at age 28, was an elegant reminder of how stuck we can be in our boundless self-interests.

It’s as if her bigger-than-life role as a long-time advocate for the victims of war was a giant finger poking at the tightly woven cocoon many of us have spun (consciously or not) that insulates us from acknowledging the ravages of armed struggle on the lives of ordinary people in other lands. Yes, she did the heavy lifting for a lot of us.” — Rebecca Ephraim (Alternet)

Annals of Depravity (cont’d.)

Couple faked death with stolen corpse: “Molly Daniels spent weeks surfing the Internet, gathering information for a bizarre and grisly plot of deception. She learned how to burn a human body beyond recognition. She sought clues on ways to deceive arson investigators, and took meticulous steps to create a new identity for her husband.

Daniels then dug up a woman’s corpse, staged a fiery car accident to fake her husband’s death, and had him re-emerge as her new boyfriend. Authorities say it was all to collect a $110,000 life insurance policy while hiding her husband, Clayton Daniels, from the cops.” (Salon News)

Brain candy

Book review: Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today’s Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter by Steven Johnson:

“Many video games, television shows, and other forms of popular entertainment may reek of sex and violence, but what about their benefits in developing American brains?

The brain-developing benefits of pop culture?

That the very question seems preposterous is the backdrop of Steven Johnson’s iconoclastic and captivating Everything Bad Is Good for You. In fact, he says, it’s the public’s overly righteous preoccupation with sexual and violent content that is diverting attention from pop culture’s important contribution to Americans’ cognitive development.” (Boston Globe)

And Malcolm Gladwell also reviews Johnson’s book in a New Yorker essay, curiously entitled “Brain Candy” as well.

A Short History of the Chinese Restaurant

From stir-fried buffalo to Matzoh Foo Young: “Would anyone have bet the bank on Chinese food (in the mid-19th century, when the first Chinese eateries sprang up in California to feed Cantonese laborers)? According to Chinese Restaurant News, there are now more Chinese restaurants in America than there are McDonald’s franchises—nearly three times as many in fact. In the 19th century, though, the Chinese were scorned as rat-eaters; nothing could have been more revolting than eating what they ate.” (Slate)

Of Two Minds

“The human brain is mysterious — and, in a way, that is a good thing. The less that is known about how the brain works, the more secure the zone of privacy that surrounds the self. But that zone seems to be shrinking. A couple of weeks ago, two scientists revealed that they had found a way to peer directly into your brain and tell what you are looking at, even when you yourself are not yet aware of what you have seen. So much for the comforting notion that each of us has privileged access to his own mind.

…It is sobering to reflect how ignorant humans have been about the workings of their own brains for most of our history. Aristotle, after all, thought the point of the brain was to cool the blood. The more that breakthroughs like the recent one in brain-scanning open up the mind to scientific scrutiny, the more we may be pressed to give up comforting metaphysical ideas like interiority, subjectivity and the soul. Let’s enjoy them while we can.” (New York Times Magazine)

Awake!

The big sleep: “There is a fascination with this deep state of unconscious, a ‘twilight zone’ between life and death and a place few of us ever explore.

Even fewer have lived to tell their stories, but two women in the UK who recovered after weeks in a coma give a rare insight.” (BBC)

Wave that Flag

Victory for Fair Use: “In a unanimous decision, the DC Circuit Court of Appeals tossed out the broadcast flag, the FCC rule that would have crippled digital television receivers starting July 1. The ruling came in ALA v. FCC, a challenge brought by Public Knowledge, EFF, Consumers Union, the Consumer Federation of America, the American Library Association, the Association of Research Libraries, the American Association of Law Libraries, the Medical Library Association, and the Special Libraries Association.

The court ruled, as petitioners argued, that the FCC lacks the authority to regulate what happens inside your TV or computer once it has received a broadcast signal. The broadcast flag rule would have required all signal demodulators to ‘recognize and give effect to’ a broadcast flag, forcing them not to record or output an unencrypted high-def digital signal if the flag were set. This technology mandate, set to take effect July 1, would have stopped the manufacture of open hardware that has enabled us to build our own digital television recorders.” (Electronic Frontier Foundation)

The Caesar’s Bath meme

Lots of people are paying attention to this meme, of which I learned from walker and which is doing the weblogging rounds:

Behold, the Caesar’s Bath meme! List five things that people in your circle of friends or peer group are wild about, but you can’t really understand the fuss over. To use the words of Caesar (from History of the World Part I), “Nice. Nice. Not thrilling . . . but nice.”

Poking into what people put on their lists is revealing. Although some people ignore the premise and simply list things they love to hate (for example, President Bush), it is more interesting if, as intended, you are attentive to what your social circle or peer group loves but you cannot get into (I feel really sorry for the Bush-hater who finds h’self embedded in a peer-group of Bush supporters!). Certainly, it is partly a question of how you define your peer group; most of the lists say much more about that than they do about your tastes and those of your social circle per se.. There are certain circles in which I hang out in which a list of five items wouldn’t begin to scratch the surface of our divergences (although I wouldn’t call them my close friends), and others in which I would be hardpressed to come up with five of any significance. How trivial or profound a difference of taste from your peers does your list embody? I mean, I hope you are going to differ from your peers with respect to some rock band or other, some TV show or other, and hopefully even on some of the books you have loved.

There are a number of entries that commonly appear — reality TV, drinking, spectator sports, NASCAR, Jim Carey, Seinfeld — or maybe I just notice them because they would all be on my list. If you can’t think of many items for yourself, I wonder — does it mean you are fortunate to share most of your preferences with your friends? unfortunate in that your circle of friends have very little stimulating diversity? or could it be you just don’t know your friends very well?

The game might be easier for someone — probably generally someone much younger — whose peer group have much more conformist needs. While this is abit stereotypical, the tastes of those of us who are older are probably generally less congruent with those of people we nevertheless call our close friends, perhaps because friendships are built more and more on shared history rather than shared preferences; people may remain friends even with drastic divergence of their cultural styles over decades. It may also be that people define who they are more securely and less on the basis of what they like, so even new friendships may be with more culturally dissimilar people. BTW, an interesting variant on this meme, for us older more settled folks, might be to “list five things that your spouse or life partner is wild about, but you can’t really understand the fuss over.”

And finally, it occurs to me that, because of the selection bias in this being a weblogging meme, there is one item that probably would appear on some lists which will not: weblogging.

The Time Traveler Convention – May 7, 2005

“Technically, you would only need one time traveler convention. Time travelers from all eras could meet at a specific place at a specific time, and they could make as many repeat visits as they wanted. We are hosting the first and only Time Traveler Convention at MIT on Saturday, and WE NEED YOUR HELP to PUBLICIZE the event so that future time travelers will know about the convention and attend. This web page is insufficient; in less than a year it will be taken down when I graduate, and futhermore, the World Wide Web is unlikely to remain in its present form permanently. We need volunteers to publish the details of the convention in enduring forms, so that the time travelers of future millennia will be aware of the convention. This convention can never be forgotten! We need publicity in MAJOR outlets, not just Internet news. Think New York Times, Washington Post, books, that sort of thing. If you have any strings, please pull them.”

They got their New York Times puff piece:

Time Travelers to Meet in Not Too Distant Future: “Suppose it is the future – maybe a thousand years from now. There is no static cling, diapers change themselves, and everyone who is anyone summers on Mars.

What’s more, it is possible to travel back in time, to any place, any era. Where would people go? Would they zoom to a 2005 Saturday night for chips and burgers in a college courtyard, eager to schmooze with computer science majors possessing way too many brain cells?

Why not, say some students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who have organized what they call the first convention for time travelers.

Actually, they contend that theirs is the only time traveler convention the world needs, because people from the future can travel to it anytime they want.

‘I would hope they would come with the idea of showing us that time travel is possible,’ said Amal Dorai, 22, the graduate student who thought up the convention, which is to be this Saturday on the M.I.T. campus. ‘Maybe they could leave something with us. It is possible they might look slightly different, the shape of the head, the body proportions.’

The event is potluck and alcohol-free – present-day humans are bringing things like brownies. But Mr. Dorai’s Web site asks that future-folk bring something to prove they are really ahead of our time: ‘Things like a cure for AIDS or cancer, a solution for global poverty or a cold fusion reactor would be particularly convincing as well as greatly appreciated.’

He would also welcome people from only a few days in the future, far enough to, say, give him a few stock market tips.”

When the President Talks to God

Kudos to NBC for allowing Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst to perform this song on Jay Leno’s show. It is worth it to see how flustered Leno is when he comes out to thank Oberst afterward (mentally running through his viewership numbers in the red states). The song, however, doesn’t impress me anything like the protest songs of the antiwar era it seems meant to evoke. If you like it anyway, you can have a free download from the iTunes store. [thanks, Joel] //www.salon.com/ent/audiofile/2005/05/06/bright/conor.jpg' cannot be displayed]

The Technium

Kevin Kelly: “This is a book in progress. I’m thinking and writing aloud. The origins and objective of the book are detailed here; please read this background before commenting. Since my posts are often long, only two will show on the front page. The rest I move quickly off to the side archive. There is no order to the postings; I’m just exploring here. Comments on particular posts welcomed.” [thanks, walker]