My family and I will be off in parts unknown, and I will be away from the keyboard, through Labor Day, so no new posts here until then. Enjoy the rest of your summer and, as always, thank you for your patronage.


"There’s real concern in the West Wing that the President is losing it…"

Is Bush Out of Control? “Buy beleaguered, overworked White House aides enough drinks and they tell a sordid tale of an administration under siege, beset by bitter staff infighting and led by a man whose mood swings suggest paranoia bordering on schizophrenia.

They describe a President whose public persona masks an angry, obscenity-spouting man who berates staff, unleashes tirades against those who disagree with him and ends meetings in the Oval Office with “get out of here!”” — Doug Thompson (Capitol Hill Blue)

Thompson is not much of a diagnostician, and he legitimizes alot of his psychiatric namecalling by invoking the deprecated psychoanalyst Justin Frank, author of Bush on the Couch, who many of us feel violated an ethical canon of the field by diagnosing sight unseen (although I feel the the potential impact of the President’s mental stability or lack thereof on every living soul on the planet makes him fair game in a different way even than other public figures whose behavior is under scrutiny). Thompson’s other claim to the authority to bandy about the labels is his own status as a recovering alcoholic with 11 years sobriety. (“I know all too well the symptoms that Dr. Frank describes and, after watching Bush for the past several years, I have to, unfortunately, agree with him.”) Diagnostic acumen apart, if Bush’s behavior is really as Thompson’s putative White House sources describe it, we had better hope he is being attended to by a good psychopharmacologist. Not that we would ever know, since evidence bearing on the President’s mental health is a state secret, unlike the public status of the results of his annual physical. I would argue that the public has even more of an abiding interest in knowing about the President’s mental health than his physical, and that, if there is not, there ought to be some sort of periodic checkup in this sphere as well, the results being made public. (Bush’s own white paper on reforming the mental health delivery system in the United States, which I read in detail and wrote about in FmH last year, comes close to suggesting a mandatory annual mental health checkup for every citizen, in the interpretation of some, by the way…) Of course, someone as beady-eyed, petty and defensive as Dubya (and, uhh, that’s no psychiatric diagnosis, in case you were wondering) would take exception to such a requirement and fire any White House mental health professional who took their job responsibilities too seriously.


Explaining Those Vivid Memories of Martian Kidnappers

Review of Abducted: How People Come to Believe They Were Kidnapped by Aliens by Susan Clancy. Harvard University Press, $22.95:

“People who have memories of being abducted by aliens become hardened skeptics, of a kind. They dismiss the procession of scientists who explain away the memories as illusions or fantasy. They scoff at talk about hypnosis or the unconscious processing of Hollywood scripts. And they hold their ground amid snickers from a public that thinks that they are daft or psychotic.

They are neither, it turns out, and their experiences should be taken as seriously as any strongly held exotic beliefs, according to Susan Clancy, a Harvard psychologist who interviewed dozens of self-described abductees as part of a series of memory studies over the last several years.

In her book Abducted, due in October, Dr. Clancy, a psychologist at Harvard, manages to refute and defend these believers, and along the way provide a discussion of current research into memory, emotion and culture that renders abduction stories understandable, if not believable. Although it focuses on abduction memories, the book hints at a larger ambition, to explain the psychology of transformative experiences, whether supposed abductions, conversions or divine visitations.” (New York Times )


Soul of a New Machine

IBM brains capture a PC’s soul: “Researchers at IBM are testing software that would let you tote your home or office desktop around on an iPod or similar portable device so that you could run it on any PC.

The virtual computer user environment setup is called SoulPad, and consumers install it from a x86-based home or office PC. SoulPad uses a USB (universal serial bus) or FireWire connection to access the network cards for connecting to the Internet, the computer’s display, the keyboard, the main processor and the memory, but not the hard disk.

After the person disconnects the system, SoulPad saves all work to the device, including browser cookies or other digital signatures that a PC keeps in its short-term memory.” (C/NET)


Piano Man: Sham or Shame?

“The mysterious Piano Man has finally broken his silence after more than four months – and has been exposed as a fake.

What is more, the man thought to be a musical genius can hardly play a note on the piano, according to latest reports.” (Nirror.UK)

I wrote about this story when it first broke in May and felt that the British mental health system was markedly remiss in terms of the lack of resources they devoted to his care. For someone the only clue to whose mysterious identity was that he appeared to be a composer and performer of captivating piano music to be treated by a staff whose knowledge of music could be summed up in statements like “I know it’s classical music, that’s all” (to paraphrase) and then to be transferred for internal reasons to a facility that did not even have a piano appalled me.

Now, at least according to a pulp tabloid ‘exclusive’, mental health treaters are reduced to name-calling. ‘Fakery’ is not a useful term to employ in this situation. We use the term “malingering” in psychiatry when a person deliberately, with conscious decision and purpose, simulates psychiatric symptoms for specific advantage. But it is a very difficult diagnosis to make, and one of last resort, even acknowledging that someone who malingers will always have the healthcare system (that is biased in favor of taking patients’ displays or reports of their distress at face value) over a barrel.

This patient’s actions over the ensuing months in the hospital themselves would seem to confirm, rather than disconfirm, that he is quite disturbed. Naive untrained staffs in mental health facilities often try to sort patients with disturbing behaviors into those who “can’t help it” and those who are “doing it deliberately” (so does the legal system when dealing with deranged behavior, trying to determine whether someone is “not guilty by reason of insanity” or “criminally responsible”) instead of realizing that there are all sorts of gradations of intentionality and all sorts of disturbances of the will. Instead of thinking about suing him for wasting their time, officials should examine their own seeming ineptitude in embodying that naiveté and in not getting to the bottom of this sooner. “Physician, heal thyself”, the saying goes, and also “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”


Killers in the Neighborhood

“A murder spree has erupted in … countless neighborhoods across Baghdad. Death squads, which tend to move in Opel sedans, are entering what once were tight-knit communities and killing ordinary citizens, apparently to stir up sectarian hatred. The goal: to incite a civil war that each side hopes will give its sect dominance over the other. In Baghdad, a city of more than 5 million, there were at least 880 violent deaths last month, according to Faiq Amin Bakr, director of the Baghdad central morgue. (In New York City, with a population of more than 8 million, the total number of homicides for all of 2004 was 571.) And the figure for Baghdad excludes those killed by car bombings and suicide attacks, which, if included, would add nearly 100 to the total.” (Time)

Walking the Wrong Way

“The Bush administration has announced plans for a Freedom Walk on Sept. 11, which will start at the Pentagon and end at the National Mall, and include a country music concert. The event is an ill-considered attempt to link the Iraq war to the terrorist attacks of 2001, and misguided in almost every conceivable way. It also badly misreads the public’s mood. The American people are becoming increasingly skeptical about the war. They want answers to hard questions, not pageantry.” (New York Times editorial)

Assault and Batteries

Just changed and upgraded my iPod’s battery. Trepidations about popping the case, but an easy five-minute procedure. Painfree. Cute little 40-gig drive inside. If that ever failed, it would be deadly easy to replace too. Does anyone know if there is a program to format a naked drive for an iPod? If so, it would be easy to upgrade to a larger drive as well if a person wanted to, for example to clog the iPod up with podcasts as well as music…


Hagel Says Iraq War Looking Like Vietnam

“A leading Republican senator and prospective presidential candidate said Sunday that the war in Iraq has destabilized the Middle East and is looking more like the Vietnam conflict from a generation ago.

Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel (news, bio, voting record), who received two Purple Hearts and other military honors for his service in Vietnam, reiterated his position that the United States needs to develop a strategy to leave Iraq.” (Yahoo! News)

And: Army Planning for Four More Years in Iraq (Yahoo! News)


Farmers’ Almanac

Although this Leaf Chronicle article stays superficial (the lead is about whether the residents mind being called hippies), it is a good update on what has happened to The Farm, an enormous intentional community in Summertown, Tennessee started in 1970 and going through changes but still going strong. I have long had an interest in what they were doing and spent some time visiting there during the summer of 1980 when I was a medical student volunteering in rural Tennessee as part of the Appalachian Student Health Coalition. The Farm was already legendary in countercultural circles by that time. However, I had lost touch with what was happening there in the last decade or so and, frankly, expected it not to have survived. Good to hear otherwise.

How can it be, however, that the article mentions the spiritual godfather of The Farm, Stephen Gaskin, only once, and spiritual godmother Ina May Gaskin not at all? Her midwifery values were at the core of The Farm’s philosophy and activities. It was well-known that down-and-out expectant mothers from anywhere could come there to give birth and, if I remember correctly, have their children raised there instead of aborting their pregnancies. I wonder where Ina May and Stephen are. Stephen Gaskin, if he is still alive, is 70 now. This online resumé has not been been updated since 1995, but I noted his presence on the scene as recently as 2000 in FmH, when I linked to this R.U. Sirius interview with Gaskin. Gaskin was desultorily seeking the Green Party nomination during the 2000 Presidential campaign. Unfortunately, Sirius asked Gaskin little else about what he was up to back then, preferring to gossip with him about how much pot Al Gore smoked.

Here is a Smart Communities Network entry for The Farm with more details about what they are up to. Again, there is little mention of the Gaskins except in a historical vein. Could they have parted ways with The Farm community or departed the planet? Do any FmH readers know?

Part of the triviality of the Leaf Chronicle article lies in its focus on The Farm’s drift toward some private ownership of property from its stringently communitarian beginnings. Mainstream press coverage of intentional communities has always focused (often triumpally) on this prevalent trend as if it is proof of failure (and somehow a part of the global defeat of Communism?) when in reality it is merely an epiphenomenon of the ongoing compromises and struggles needed to balance right livelihood and principled vision on the one hand with accommodating to the pressures of the real world on the other. What would have been more appropriate would have been a greater focus on the good works of what was and is, after all, an idealistic community which has done an enormous amount to put its principles into action! One aspect of The Farm’s activities which drew my attention was the Plenty Project, a Gaskin-led charity bypassing government structures to offer direct international development assistance, including (if I remember correctly) owning their own freighter to ship relief aid, building materials, grain and seed, farming implements etc. abroad. Plenty International’s website was updated as recently as the tsunami disaster of last winter. It appears as if its scope has, not surprisingly, narrowed, but not its vision.

One of The Farm’s offshoots, the Ecovillage Network of North America, “an effort to link a wide variety of green communities, Eco-City projects and ecovillages, and to encourage a transition from the traditional Western consumer lifestyle to one of sustainable development,” sounds interesting.

Related: The Hippie Origins of PCs, a mini-review of What the Dormouse Said by John Markoff:

“The surprising countercultural roots of our essential technology is not only an amazing hither-to untold tale (laid out with fast-paced charm by the New York Times‘ chief technology reporter), it also remains a pertinent lesson to anyone hoping to use technology to remake society: First, feed your head! The money will come. What a wonderful story!” — Kevin Kelly (Cool Tools thanks to walker)

A Curriculum for Cybernetics and Systems Theory

Alan B. Scrivener begins by reflecting on Charles Dodson / Lewis Carroll:

Humpty Dumpty: [Having just proved it is 364 times better to celebrate your un-birthday] There’s glory for you!

Alice: I don’t know what you mean by ‘glory.’

Humpty Dumpty:
Of course you don’t — ’till I tell you. I meant ‘there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!’

Alice: But ‘glory’ doesn’t mean ‘a nice knock-down argument.’

Humpty Dumpty:
When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.

Alice: The question is whether you can make words mean so many different things.

Humpty Dumpty:
The question is which is to be the master — that’s all.”


If these walls could talk, they would whisper

“Silence holds a paradoxical place in science and in human consciousness. In science, the quietest conditions that modern technology allow are invariably used to research sound. And our own search for ‘peace and quiet’ never extends as far as wanting no noise at all. Real silence is strange and disturbing, not relaxing. Most people cannot sleep without at least some background sound.

The closest humankind can get to complete silence is the inside of a heavily soundproofed anechoic chamber, a handful of which exist in universities and labs across Britain. These are used for a range of interesting research – but they also have a profound effect on the people who go into them.” (Guardian.UK)


Relieved it is over…

I am relieved that the evictions from Gaza have been achieved so much more rapidly and efficiently than had been expected. As a child growing up Jewish, I recall my visceral revulsion about the culture of victimization that seemed to be the sole source of Jewish identity in the secular Jewish community to which I was exposed. It was important to remain a Jew, the message went, because these were the people who had endured such perennial anti-Semitic persecution and its apotheosis in the Holocaust. I thought it was pitiful that that was all there was to modern Jewish identity and I questioned whether that was a sufficient way of being Jewish.

Of course it wasn’t sufficient, and it isn’t really all there is to being a secular Jew in the contemporary world, but it seemed so. I have been reminded of that pitiful victim stance by some of the shrill extremist settlers’ outcries this week. “How can a Jew do this to a Jew?” “We have nowhere to go, we’ll be homeless!” And, predictably, the ultimate perversion of the memory of the Holocaust, “The Israeli government is treating us just like Hitler did.” I am grateful this particularly egregious sentiment will fade from the front page.

Most group hatred seems based on a tribal mentality in which core identity is maintained by desperate measures to distinguish insiders from outsiders, like from unlike, by construing the foreign as dangerous. This may be hardwired into human neurobiology and is inherently at odds with a world in which we commune with those who are heterogeneous. Those who appeal to our tribal instincts — which, by the way, is the unconscious message upon which the American Republican party’s appeal is built, I am convinced — are appealing to our basest, most reptilian perversion of the yearning for community which functions as little more than a justification for continuing violence and victimization.


"…one of the most disgusting experiences in my life…"

Cindy Sheehan describes her June 2004 meeting with Bush. Valuable to have a description of this pitiful deficient and inherent deceitful little man first hand, since his handlers usually do such a good job keeping him away from anyone perceptive.

“…(W)hat she encountered was an arrogant man with eyes lacking the slightest bit of compassion, a President totally ‘detached from humanity’ and a man who didn’t even bother to remember her son’s name when they were first introduced.

Instead of a kind gesture or a warm handshake, Sheehan said she immediately got a taste of Bush arrogance when he entered the room and ‘in a condescending tone and with a disgusting loud Texas accent,’ said: ‘Who we’all honorin’ here today?’

‘His mouth kept moving, but there was nothing in his eyes or anything else about him that showed me he really cared or had any real compassion at all. This is a human being totally disconnected from humanity and reality. His eyes were empty, hollow shells and he was acting like I should be proud to just be in his presence when it was my son who died for his illegal war! It was one of the most disgusting experiences I ever had and it took me almost a year to even talk about it,’ said Sheehan in a telephone conversation from Washington D.C. where she was attending a July 4th anti-war rally.

Sheehan said the June 2004 private meeting with the President went from bad to worse to a nightmare when Bush acted like he didn’t even want to know her name. She said Bush kept referring to her as ‘Ma’ or ‘Mom’ while he ‘put on a phony act,’ saying things like ‘Mom, I can’t even imagine losing a loved one, a mother or a father or a sister or a brother.’

‘The whole meeting was simply bizarre and disgusting, designed to intimidate instead of providing compassion. He didn’t even know our names,’ said Sheehan. ‘Finally I got so upset I just looked him in the eye, saying ‘I think you can imagine losing someone. You have two daughters. Imagine losing them?’ After I said that he just looked at me, looked at me with no feeling or caring in his eyes at all.’

Sheehan said what really upset her about the meeting is that Bush appeared to become annoyed and even angry at her daughter Carley, 25, who also attended the White House get-together.

‘My daughter said to him directly ‘I wish I could bring my loved one back’ and he said something like ‘so do we.’ Later she told me that after he made his remark he gave her one of the filthiest looks she had ever had gotten in her life.

‘I just couldn’t believe this was happening. It was so surreal and bizarre. Later I met with some of the other 15or 16 families who were at the White House the same day and, sure enough, they all felt the same way I did.

‘It’s interesting that they put us each in separate rooms. I heard this was done to prevent any type of group outburst and since it’s easier to control a situation when people are separated. Looking back, all I can say is that the meeting with Bush was one of the most disgusting experiences in my life.

‘And I even asked him: ‘Why did you even bother to bring us here when I didn’t vote for you and don’t support the illegal nature of your war?’ He said it wasn’t political but I know it was just another one of his lies, as he probably wanted to be able to say out on the political stump that he wasn’t afraid to meet with families who lost loved one’s in the war.'” (Lewis News)

However, her observations stand in stark contrast to how she described her meeting before her current media visibility:

“Sincerity was something Cindy had hoped to find in the meeting. Shortly after Casey died, Bush sent the family a form letter expressing his condolences, and Cindy said she felt it was an impersonal gesture.

‘I now know he’s sincere about wanting freedom for the Iraqis,’ Cindy said after their meeting. ‘I know he’s sorry and feels some pain for our loss. And I know he’s a man of faith.'” (Vacaville (CA) Reporter)



The Pleasures of Literary Hoaxing: “…(T)he long and distinguished history of literary hoaxes shows that the average reader is often willing to put up with a lot as long as it is in the service of a good piece of writing. But hoaxes, with their vanishing authors, broken faiths, and disingenuous territories, can also be deeply disturbing, going beyond the mere ”gotcha!’ to trouble our more basic ideas about truth, lies, and literature.

In recent years, scholars have begun pursuing a more nuanced approach to discussing literary hoaxes than the knee-jerk disgruntlement of a reader scorned. Instead, literary scholars like Ohio State University professor Brian McHale and the Australian critic K.K. Ruthven are concentrating on the productive and beautifully unpredictable effects of hoaxing. Are all hoaxes the same? Should they all be judged by the same ethical standards? Do some hoaxes rise above being trifling pranks or bogus facsimiles to become serious acts of cultural criticism? What of an author’s intentions?

And finally what separates an artful hoax from an authentic piece of literature? As Ruthven wrote in his 2001 study ”Faking Literature,’ ”Literary forgery is a sort of spurious literature, and so is literature. Consequently, when we imagine the relationship between literature and literary forgeries, we should not be thinking of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde but rather of Tweedledum and Tweedledee.'” (Boston Globe thanks to walker)


Blogger for Word

Google unites Blogger and Microsoft Word: “Blogger for Word is a free downloadable plug-in that enables users to easily save a Word document as a post to their Blogger blog without having to open a browser, as well as save drafts of blogs and edit their work offline for later posting.

…Apparently, Google got the idea from watching those pioneering, prolific bloggers try to post their writings online during the Democratic National Convention last year.

‘Many were using Microsoft Word to post their reports. It was a multi-step process that didn’t look like fun, but for citizen journalists, punctuation, spelling and grammar are important,’ Product Manager Jason Shellen wrote in a Google blog on Tuesday. ‘That got the Blogger team thinking about how to help Word users to become bloggers.'” (C/NET)

You can get the download here.


Maybe You Figgered This Out Before I Did

Have you ever wanted to search back for something you read in the past on FmH? Many of the site-specific search strategies don’t work because Follow Me Here doesn’t have its own domain and gelwan.com, which you may use to get here (http://gelwan.com/followme.html) is just a virtual domain pointing to http://theworld.com/~emg. So Atomz, which I used to use here, has stopped indexing FmH posts properly. You could use the syntax that limits Google’s search to one domain by adding “site:theworld.com” into your search box, but you would have to wade through content at all the other pages hosted by The World which are not mine, since all FmH posts are at http://theworld.com/~emg/ and you can’t put a subdomain (i.e. you can’t use “site:theworld.com/~emg”) into Google’s ‘site:’ specifier, only a top-level domain. But, duh, I just realized there is a simple solution. Putting “~emg site:theworld.com”, along with your search phrase, into the box, works fine.

Update: Actually, and I can’t figure out why, you do much better if you use The World’s parent domain, std.com. For example, I get 13 hits if I search in Google for “Iraq ~emg site:theworld.com” but 53 hits if I search for “Iraq ~emg site:std.com”. I get 18 hits on “Bush ~emg site:theworld.com” but 61 for “Bush ~emg site:std.com.” This is even though DNS translation of std.com and theworld.com (and world.std.com) all go to the same IP address. Next question: I’m sure I have referred to Iraq in more than 53 posts here, and Bush more than 61 times (even if you allow for the fact that I usually use an epithet instead of his proper name…). Anyone able to illuminate me on any of this?


Health Mystery in New York

Heart Disease: “Death rates from heart disease in New York City are among the highest recorded in the country, and no one quite knows why.”

‘Some speculate about the potential role of stress. It is widely believed that life in New York is more difficult, and stress has been linked to higher heart disease mortality. A 1999 study showed that people were more likely to die of a heart attack in New York City than elsewhere. The authors suggested stress could play a role because the excess death rate affected both visitors and residents; they found no other explanation.

“There’s an acute effect of being in New York,” said Nicholas Christenfeld, a psychologist at the University of California at San Diego who did the study. “You’re wired the whole time.” But stress is difficult to measure, and there is no proof that life is more stressful in and around New York, despite the popular notions.

There is also a growing volume of research showing that heart disease death rates are higher in places with big gaps between the rich and the poor. Metropolitan areas with less income inequality – Seattle, Minneapolis, Salt Lake City – have lower heart disease death rates. New York’s metropolitan area ranks at the top in income inequality.

“There’s something about inequality in communities that affects all residents, not just the poor,” Dr. Strogatz said. But the studies, while tantalizing, have not yet explained why there is a connection. Are there psychological issues that increase stress in places with unequal income distribution? Are there fewer services available to the poor in places with more income inequality? The answers are not clear.’ (New York Times )

WWASS? (What would Andrew Sullivan say?)


Good knight

Donald Berwick recognised by the Queen. I know I am usually expressing cynical sentiments about the state of modern healthcare and its practitioners; you may be pleased to know I recognize that there are exceptions. I’ve just read Tracy Kidder’s Mountains Beyond Mountains and am tremendously inspired by Paul Farmer’s work; with his quirkiness and idiosyncracy, he’s no saint but perhaps the closest one can come in the modern world. Although I have never run across his work before, here is another Boston-area physician, Donald Berwick, who seems to be doing real good. If not sainthood, at least knighthood…


True to Life

A review of philospher Michael Lynch’s True to Life: why truth matters:

“Truth is objective. It is good to believe what is true. Truth is a worthy goal of inquiry. Truth is worth caring about for its own sake.

These are simple statements but they don’t express the principles that most of us follow in our private lives. They aren’t followed in culture and politics, and have been unpopular in the history of philosophy. Few people are constantly, absolutely, painfully truthful. Many people are careless with the truth in many of their words and deeds. Most people don’t trust politicians, advertisers, friends, and lovers to be truthful all the time. There are several lines of philosophical theory that have been skeptical of the possibility of knowing the truth, or cynical about the value of knowing the truth. These academic notions have penetrated popular culture and affect the way people act and talk. Many of the people who have had the benefit of a modern education have adopted post-modern theories that postulate that truth is simply an aspect of a story or theory (a narrative or meta-narrative), and that truth only exists if you choose to live within such a story.” (Blogcritics )

Lynch argues that we should be far more concerned that we are slipping in our commitment to truth.


Warning: Outsider Art

“An increasingly popular movement in the visual arts prides itself on picturing everything that is the raw, untutored, and irrational. ” (WBUR) I don’t know about popular, but I have long been an observer and sometimes collector of raw art, in part because of my work as a psychiatrist. One idea in art brut is that the often compulsive and spontaneous artistic production of “outsiders” (i.e. those disconnected from exposure to the artistic conventions of the cultural mainstream, and certainly untutored in artistic technique, including the mentally ill and developmentally disabled) has an often overwhelming power and pathos, as well as a grace and subtlety, of unmediated and unshaped expressiveness. By the way, if you are ever in Lausanne, do not miss a trip to the Collection de l’Art Brut, the museum of outsider art started by Jean Dubuffet.


Loyal Catholics Will Surely Shoot the Messenger…

…since it is The Guardian reporting that:

“lawyers for Pope Benedict XVI have asked President Bush to declare the pontiff immune from liability in a lawsuit that accuses him of conspiring to cover up the molestation of three boys by a seminarian in Texas, court records show.

…Joseph Ratzinger is named as a defendant in the civil lawsuit. Now Benedict XVI, he’s accused of conspiring with the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston to cover up the abuse during the mid-1990s. The suit is seeking unspecified monetary damages.

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Gerry Keener, said Tuesday that the pope already is considered a head of state and automatically has diplomatic immunity. Keener said Benedict doesn’t have to ask for immunity and Bush doesn’t have to grant it.”

(If you’re supposedly Papally infallible, why do you need to ask for immunity, by the way??)


Crocodile blood may yield powerful new drugs

“Scientists in Australia’s tropical north are collecting blood from crocodiles in the hope of developing a powerful antimicrobial drugs for humans, after tests showed that the reptile’s immune system kills


The crocodile’s immune system is much more powerful than that of humans, preventing life-threatening infections after savage territorial fights that often leave the animals with gaping wounds and missing limbs.

‘They tear limbs off each other and despite the fact that they live in this environment with all these microbes, they heal up very rapidly and normally almost always without infection,’ said U.S. scientist Mark Merchant, who has been taking crocodile blood samples in the Northern Territory.” (Yahoo! News)


‘I don’t know what the milk will be like after this.’

“Russia’s long winter will just fly by for a herd of Russian cows which, a newspaper reported on Tuesday, will be fed confiscated marijuana over the cold months.

Drug workers said they adopted the unusual form of animal husbandry after they were forced to destroy the sunflowers and maize crops that the 40 tonnes of marijuana had been planted among, Novye Izvestia daily reported.

‘There is simply no other way out. You see, the fields are planted with feed crops and if we remove it all the cows will have nothing to eat,’ a Federal Drugs Control Service spokeswoman for the Urals region of Sverdlovsk told the paper.” (Yahoo! News)


It’s a wonderful life

This incredible (in the literal sense of the word, as in “unbelievable”) argument by Andrew Sullivan posits that “American society has rescued itself from what seemed to be terminal decline caused by family breakdown.” He goes on at length about how the cause was the cultural degeneracy of the ’60’s and ’70’s. Between my reaction to this and the smears on the anti-war movement I discuss below, why do I feel I am the sole defender of the legacy of the counterculture?

I have a hard time with both sides of his argument — his notion of the causes of societal breakdown and his sense that things are better — and his use of the term ‘pessimist’ as an epithet to dismiss most thoughtful social criticism that doesn’t proclaim the ‘good news’ as fervently as he would like. Funny, I’m a traditionalist too in some senses, and I think that social anomie and cultural distress relate to loss of community structures, family values and meaningful interpersonal relatedness, that modernity is a disease humans did not evolve to live with from either a mental or a physical standpoint. But it is a question of which conditions of modernity are the destructive ones. It is just that it turns things entirely on their head to say that neoconservative social policy is part of the solution instead of part of the problem. Sullivan may be right to argue that an open society can self-correct more rapidly because of the free flow of information. It is just an incredible illusion to think that that’s what we have here in American society despite the stories we tell ourselves. It is increasingly tiresome to hear people continue to cite the drop in crime, when sociologists have no consensus that it is even a real or enduring trend. Sullivan even cites the claim that cancer rates are down and cure rates are up, while most perspicacious medial observers who know what they are talking about have no such faith for cancer overall, although there have been modest gains with isolated specific tumors.

What planet is he living on when he asserts that he is talking about “a society that its biggest health problem is obesity and its biggest environmental problems are cars that are big enough for our grandparents to have lived in”? Every tired old saw is trotted out, uncritically, from Reagan’s ‘achievement’ in “defining government as part of the problem” to Clinton’s in “abolishing welfare-on-demand.” It is, at least, nice to hear him concede that it is not that the U.S. doesn’t have any social problems left; they are just in “isolated pockets” and he is sure we will eradicate them soon. Sullivan is writing in the Times of London for a British reading public that is several decades behind the US in adoption of neocon ignorant authoritarianism. Woe to those who listen to this pap.


Electronic skin to give robots human-like touch

“A flexible electronic skin that can sense when something is too hot to handle or is being squeezed too hard could give robots an almost-human sense of touch. Takao Someya and colleagues at the University of Tokyo in Japan embedded electronic sensors in a thin plastic film flexible enough to wrap around an egg.” (New Scientist)

Here’s a loose association, but has anyone seen Crash? This brutal (and somewhat over-the-top) film about a variety of pathologies in human interaction starts with a memorable voiceover monologue by Don Cheadle during the opening credits about how the problem with LA is that everyone is enveloped in steel and glass and isolated from the normal experience of interpersonal contact as they travel through the urban world.


Counterfeit goods rock virtual world

“As if battling dragons, goblins and orcs was not enough of a challenge, avid online computer gamers now face an even scarier menace – rampant inflation.

Players who immerse themselves in the hugely popular online fantasy game EverQuest2 last week saw the price of everyday goods – like the Wand of the Living Flame and the Dark Shield of the Void – plummet after some participants discovered a way to duplicate valuable items for free.

The replication trick was made possible by a bug in the software that underpins the game. By running through a few simple processes, the players found they could miraculously generate two items out of one. Before the bug could be stamped out, the resulting glut of “counterfeit” goods swamped the game’s internal market and drove inflation of its currency up by 20%.” (New Scientist)


In the Hospital, a Degrading Shift From Person to Patient

“Entering the medical system, whether a hospital, a nursing home or a clinic, is often degrading. At the hospital where Ms. Duffy was a patient and at many others the small courtesies that help lubricate and dignify civil society are neglected precisely when they are needed most, when people are feeling acutely cut off from others and betrayed by their own bodies.

Larger trends in medicine have made it increasingly difficult to deliver such social niceties, experts say. Many hospital budgets are tight, and nurses are spread thin: shortages are running at 15 percent to 20 percent in some areas of the country. Average hospital stays have also shortened in recent years, making it harder for patients to build any rapport with staff, or vice versa.” (New York Times )

Yes, but don’t stray too far from identifying the central factor — the erosion in bedside manner on the part of physicians, which is a result of productivity pressures but also deficiencies in curriculum design in medical schools and, indeed, in the criteria used to select medical students in the first place. These failings, in turn, reflect the depreciation of compassion as a societal value and the impact of that change on shaping aspirations to and expectations of a medical career.


Have You Heard?

Gossip Turns Out to Serve a Purpose: “Gossip has long been dismissed by researchers as little more than background noise, blather with no useful function. But some investigators now say that gossip should be central to any study of group interaction.

People find it irresistible for good reason: Gossip not only helps clarify and enforce the rules that keep people working well together, studies suggest, but it circulates crucial information about the behavior of others that cannot be published in an office manual. As often as it sullies reputations, psychologists say, gossip offers a foothold for newcomers in a group and a safety net for group members who feel in danger of falling out.” (New York Times )


Terry Gilliam’s Feel-Good Endings

Tideland … will have its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival next month. Meanwhile, the director has another movie, The Brothers Grimm, starring Matt Damon (with 19th-century bad hair) and Heath Ledger, opening in this country next week after more than a year of disputes and postponements. Together, the two films mark the end of the longest dry spell in Mr. Gilliam’s 31-year career.” (New York Times )


FmH’s host was unreachable for about the past twenty-four hours or so, so welcome back, readers, I missed you (both of you). I haven’t contacted my web host yet to figure out what happened, but this followed a lightning storm again. Could the microwave internet link atop the Prudential Tower have gotten hit again, as it did several weeks ago?

Can anyone suggest a way that I could set up automtaic monitoring of my website so that if it is unreachable I could receive an email, a text message or something?


Kos Asks ‘What Happens If Cindy Sheehan Goes to Washington, D.C.?’…

…and I’m exasperated. Excitement about a nascent anti-war movement is infused by naiveté, massively unwarranted assumptions, and derogatory misconceptions about the Vietnam era anti-war movement from people who weren’t there.

Kos speculates on the basis for Cindy Sheehan’s appeal, in part citing Jeff Feldman‘s contention that the ‘grieving mother’ meme has ‘captured the nation’s imagination’ and raises the possibility of “a visible anti-war movement centered around a broad-based unassailable concern, a mother’s concern for her children.” Kos suggests that “the country has turned against the Iraq Debacle” without the emergence of a visible anti-war movement and even gives the nod to the suggestion by atrios that this be attributed to the absence of a ‘Vietnam-style’ anti-war movement. He suggests that this family-centered concern might resonate “in a way a more traditional anti-war movement might not.” He is all aquiver over the possibility that this might be the strong breakthrough to the Heartland, and fingers as an aim “push(ing BushCo) toward accepting the reality of the demise of the neocon dream.”

There’s an awful lot of extrapolation, and ill-founded extrapolation at that, from the mere ‘possibility’ going on here. What I wrote below in my riff on the MSNBC piece about disengagement scenarios bears repeating; I think there is a great distance between the turning tide of public sentiment, as reflected in opinion polls, and any potential impact on neocon autocratic decisionmaking. This confusion is largely based on a somewhat naive and unwarranted faith in the so-called democratic political process which surprises me.

Furthermore, it is an utterly specious assertion to say that a ‘Vietnam-style’, ‘traditional’, ‘visible’ anti-war movement is a liability, or that the Vietnam-era movement did not appeal to family values, to families’ grief about the senseless loss of their children, or to the Common Good of our country. Soulsearching and sophisticated strategic thinking about how to build a mass movement and galvanize anti-war sentiment was a constant presence in the anti-Vietnam movement. One organizing strategy was to appeal to the, shall we say, selfish concerns about the domestic costs to the US (in terms of lives and dollars spent) to hook the Heartland, which Kos gushes over as a basis for organizing the anti-Iraq movement. But that was one component and one component only, of a movement with multifaceted appeal. As a sole organizing strategy it is IMHO a way to build a movement doomed to failure. I listen to NPR as my sole broadcast media source of news. Throughout the war, almost at random, they air features about this or that small town’s reaction to the death of a favorite son serving in Iraq. It is an attempt, to use a hackneyed media phrase, to put a human face on the war. I turn those features off in anger at our powerlessness to stop the senseless deaths and anger that there aer no profiles — from NPR or anybody else — of grieving Iraqi families whose children BushCo have murdered. But the Heartland, if they are even tuned to an NPR station in the first place, turns them off as well, and Cindy Sheehan is not going to change that. In fact, the Heartland is up in arms not with, but about, Sheehan.

The movement against the Indochina war, as I say, was much more than the selfish domestic concerns behind Kos’ ‘turning of the country against the Iraq Debacle’. It was about one of our finest human sentiments — global compassion, unselfish, without borders, feeling the pathos of the suffering we were inflicting on the people whose country we had invaded, who we were (literally) massacring, whose society we destroyed in the name of democracy. There were also significant ideologically- and spiritually-based pacifist and anti-imperialist strains melded into the struggle against the Vietnam war, and it was tied to a broader critique of the American projection of power and, indeed, the American way of life in ways that the cowed post-9/11 American public largely dare not utter. This is of course because the American countercultural critique of America parallels and aligns with the third world’s critique of America, including that which fuels extremist anti-Americanism and is, arguably, one of the reasons we are the terrorist target par excellence. Coalitions of widely varying concerns found common purpose in a shared endpoint, that the US rape of Indochina deserved to be zealously fought.

This may be the phobic avoidance behid atrios’ assertion that an anti-war movement today would succeed only in the absence of ‘Vietnam-style’ elements. Buying into the claims of supporters of the war that the anti-war movement gives aid and comfort to our enemies was always, and continues to be, a way of being manipulated into impotence. Of course there are some differences. While some in the ’60’s counterculture revered Ho Chi Minh as an inspiration or an ideological touchstone, I doubt there is any reverence for Saddam Hussein. (Besides, there’s no easy rhyme for his name, unlike that in ‘Hey hey Ho Chi Minh, the Vietcong are gonna win!’). And we live in a far more paranoid country now than we did then (although if you had asked me in the ’60’s I would have been hardpressed to envision the possibility) — while the in-your-face sentiments of wearing a teeshirt with the VC flag or a button saying ‘Cictory to Vietnam’ were everywhere, has anyone seen a ‘Victory to Iraq’ button yet? Can you imagine it?

Back from this digression: both atrios’ suggestion and Kos’s weaker assertion that it could succeed without them are, then, laughable. Any parallels one attempts to draw between the anti-war movement of then and the nascent or ‘potential’ anti-Iraq movement will have to do a far better job accounting for how the latter could succeed without:

  • a fervor and passion;
  • a morally-infused outrage;
  • boundary-less compassion that encompasses but transcends concern for the selfish domestic costs of the war;
  • embracing the spectrum of diverse opinions and positions that lead to opposition to the invasion, the occupation and US military adventurism in general;
  • a willingness to take substantial personal risks and sacrifices to stop the crimes against humanity that the US commits with impunity;
  • the proliferating, explicit centering of the political platforms of candidates for both local and national office around their opposition to the war;
  • a willingness to commit acts of civil disobedience and war resistance;
  • encouragement of significant resistance within the military itself (despite the fact that there is no military draft, there are significant conscription-like recruitment activities);
  • the growth of a panoply of charitable organizations raising money for both anti-war public relations campaigns and humanitarian aid for the war’s victims;
  • substantial involvement of the moral high-ground in the form of the clergy;
  • and indeed an entire strain of popular culture suffused with anti-war passion

One final comment. Even were a movement to gain the momentum and zeal of the Vietnam-era anti-war movement, “push(ing BushCo) toward accepting the reality of the demise of the neocon dream” is about as likely an outcome as the imam of a Washington mosque succeeding in converting Paul Wolfowitz or Dick Cheney to Islam. Don’t persuade them; disempower them, ignore and sidestep their contemptible agenda in an expression of the popular will. Don’t ask the President to end the war, tell him it is over. Stop cooperating with the war effort in all ways possible.


On the large-scale structure of the universe

David Weinberg: “Galaxies and large-scale structure form as a result of the gravitational amplification of tiny primordial fluctuations in the density of matter. The inflation hypothesis ascribes the origin of these fluctuations to quantum processes during a period of exponential expansion that occupied the first millionth-of-a-billionth-of-a-trillionth of a second of cosmic history. Experiments over the last decade have revealed the imprint of these fluctuations as part-in-100,000 intensity modulations of the cosmic microwave background (CMB), which records the small inhomogeneities present in the Universe half a million years after the big bang.” (Science Week)

On the large-scale structure of the universe

David Weinberg: “Galaxies and large-scale structure form as a result of the gravitational amplification of tiny primordial fluctuations in the density of matter. The inflation hypothesis ascribes the origin of these fluctuations to quantum processes during a period of exponential expansion that occupied the first millionth-of-a-billionth-of-a-trillionth of a second of cosmic history. Experiments over the last decade have revealed the imprint of these fluctuations as part-in-100,000 intensity modulations of the cosmic microwave background (CMB), which records the small inhomogeneities present in the Universe half a million years after the big bang.” (Science Week)

No clear finish line in Iraq

Timing is muddy for U.S. withdrawal: “Much of the public appears unconvinced. Just 38 percent of Americans in an Associated Press-Ipsos poll last week approved of Bush’s handling of the war, the lowest point yet in that survey. More than half of those interviewed in a USA Today-CNN-Gallup poll said they now believe that it was a mistake to send U.S. troops into Iraq and that the war has made the United States less safe from terrorism; 56 percent supported withdrawing some or all troops now.” (MSNBC)

Several thoughts on this MSNBC story. First, we’ve come a long way toward extrication when the mainstream media are asking when, not if, we are withdrawing. Framing it in terms of public opinion is problematic, though. My most potent reaction to the news that public support for the continuing US troop presence has fallen so far was to be enraged at the powerlessness of public opinion to have an influence even though Bush’s popularity is at a record low for this point in an incumbent’s second term (Yahoo! News) . One could argue that it is the numbers in the polls that are causing the Bush dysadministration to discuss their contingency plans for withdrawal at all, but this is a megalomanic leadership cabal with contempt for what the American people want… certainly when that is in disagreement with their own aims but even when the sheeple agree. Shouldn’t the withdrawal of public support turn into a demand to put a stop to the madness now? During the Vietnam era, as public opposition rose even to a far greater pitch than anything we have seen with respect to Iraq, we still had to blockade government buildings and troop transport trains and facilitate an underground railroad to spirit conscripts and deserters away to Canada to make the war stop. What is to be done simply because the tide has turned? Our elected representatives could at best waffle on appropriating funds for the war effort, but do you think that would stop the executive branch maniacs from finding a way to continue to prosecute their autistic intentions? Our ‘representative government’ is an oxymoron, it is clear.

Apart from whether the people have a right to have a war stopped when their opinion turns against it, though, I struggle with the fact that attacking Iraq was no more justified when it was a glint in Baby Bush’s eye and more like 1% or 2% of us, not 30, 50 or 60%, were declaring that it was not in our names. The measure of this immorality is not really a matter of the weight of public opinion, ever, is it? And especially not when public opinion itself has been so debased, when the powers of propaganda are so refined and the public mentality so execrably malleable as they have become in 21st-century Amerika.

So if we can’t reasonably expect the arrogant and autistic Bush cabal to pay any attention to the polls, why bother? The simple answer — the voting public themselves should be chastened by their own shift in public opinion. As the saying goes, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” To put it another, oft-quoted, way — “a people get the government they deserve“.


Tony and David Jump Shark?

Tony Soprano and Crew Will Return for ’07 Season: “In a deal that will extend the run of the most successful series in the history of cable television for another year, HBO announced yesterday that The Sopranos will not end with its next season starting in March, but will continue with an additional eight episodes starting in January 2007.” (New York Times ) As a clue to what this is all about, it is in the business section of The Times, not the arts coverage. David Chase, guiding light of the show, had previously stated he felt he was nearing the end of his creative ideas for the show, but it became apparent it could be milked for substantially more…


"Sometimes inflammation is good"

“Nasal spray clears Alzheimer’s brain plaques: The treatment cleared over most of the plaques from the brains of affected mice – the technique will be tested in humans in 2006.” (New Scientist)

The spray comprises “glatiramer acetate (Copaxone), an approved MS drug that acts as a decoy for errant immune-system attacks, and Protollin, an adjuvant that stimulates innate immunity”. In essence, as I understand it, it provokes an immune response in the brain and endeavors to protect normal brain tissue from that response, so that only the amyloid plaques are scavenged.


Tipped Off

“When Thomas Keller, one of America’s foremost chefs, announced that on Sept. 1 he would abolish the practice of tipping at Per Se, his luxury restaurant in New York City, and replace it with a European-style service charge, I knew three groups would be opposed: customers, servers and restaurateurs. These three constituencies are all committed tipping – as they quickly made clear on Web sites. To oppose tipping, it seems, is to be anticapitalist, and maybe even a little French.

But Mr. Keller is right to move away from tipping – and it’s worth exploring why just about everyone else in the restaurant world is wrong to stick with the practice.” (New York Times via rc3)


Booker diary

Reading challenge: “Chris Loxley, 26, is reading all 17 books on the prestigious Booker Prize longlist in 28 days for BBC Four’s Bookered Out show. He is writing a diary of his progress for the BBC News website.”

Study of Voting Patterns Making a Splash

Much media buzz (Google News ) about a study by the Bay Area Center for Voting Research ranking the ‘most liberal’ and ‘most conservative’ cities in the US. Detroit and Provo Utah head the respective lists. Most local press coverage of the findings went no further than merely reporting on the ranking their own city received; top-10 or top-25 lists, or any broader perspective, are remarkably lacking, with a few notable exceptions which discuss the overall trends and comment on the methodology:

“The institute’s findings, particularly on the liberal list, challenged the preconceptions of those who expected either small, left-leaning university towns – such as Madison, Wis., Berkeley, Calif., and Ann Arbor, Mich. – or major metropolises, such as New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, to dominate the rankings. While Berkeley and Cambridge, Mass., came in at nos. 3 and 8 on the most liberal list, Madison and Ann Arbor were notably absent. Also missing from the top 25 list was Los Angeles, and other large cities ranked low, with Chicago coming in at no. 17 and New York appearing at no. 21.” (New York Sun )

It seems clear that ‘liberal’, for the purposes of this study, should not nearly be taken as synonymous with ‘progressive’ or ‘lefty’ and largely reflects the voting pattern of urban minority voting blocs. Here is the BACVR site where you can read more about the study and access overall lists of both ends of the spectrum, as Microsoft Word documents.


Meteor ‘Outburst’ Expected Friday Morning

“For as long as records exist, the Perseid meteor showers have always been strong. This summer’s Perseid shower will be exceptional. The moon is mostly out of the way later in the night, and higher-than-normal activity rates are expected over the United States.” (Yahoo! News)

If you are so inclined (I mean inclined away from your usual horizontal position at that time of night), get to a dark place outside after 4 a.m. Eastern time, 1 a.m. Pacific time tonight.


New Strategy Shows Promise in Treating HIV

Transformation to a curable infection? The problem with the current strategy, antiretroviral drug therapy, for HIV infection is that it only kills the virus when it is replicating, but a large pool of dormant infected cells in the infected patient’s body lie in wait. These periodicaly get reactivated and produce fresh virus. Thus, unless every last dormant HIV-containing cell is destroyed, the patient must take antiretroviral therapy for life to address any potential future recurrence of active infection.

Now it turns out that one of our mainstay anticonvulsant medications, depakene, is markedly effective at eradicating dormant HIV-infected cells. In the current study, three of four patients given standard concentrations of depakene for three months showed an average 75% reduction in the size of the pool of infected dormant cells. So far there is no good explanation fo why this should work, but there’s no looking a gift horse in the mouth in AIDS research. Finding strategies that work against the ‘dormant pool’ is a preoccupation of AIDS researchers these days, now that they’ve got the hang of current antiretroviral therapies; I think what researchers must be doing is throwing all sorts of pharmacological agents at the problem in hopes that something will serendipitously prove effective and safe, as depakene seems to promise to be.

As a psychiatrist, I am intrigued by this finding because there is a pool of HIV-infected patients who have already been receiving therapeutic doses of depakene for many years; namely, those HIV (+) patients who have bipolar mood swings or any of a variety of other conditions with mood lability or instability I treat. (Apart from those who come by their HIV infection and their mood instability independently, the infection itself can promote an organic mood disorder. I was for a time earlier in my career the psychiatric consultant to a major urban HIV clinic, so I have seen many such patients.) Depakene and its derivatives are mainstay mood stabilizers in the psychiatric pharmacopoeia. Furthermore, I am sure there are a significant number of HIV (+) patients who receive depakene for seizure disorders, either related or not to their immunodeficiency disease. Someone ought to look back at the depakene-receiving patients’ viral loads and survival rates as compared with those receiving different mood stabilizers, other psychiatric therapies or no psychopharmacological therapy at all.


Air Force Colonel Accused of Anti-Bush Vandalism

“An Air Force Reserve colonel could face criminal charges for allegedly vandalizing cars at Denver International Airport bearing pro-Bush bumper stickers.

Lt. Col. Alexis Fecteau, director of operations for reserve forces at the National Security Space Institute (search) in Colorado Springs, is believed responsible for defacing at least 10 parked vehicles between December and June, police spokesman Sonny Jackson said Tuesday.

…Jackson said Fecteau is suspected of blacking out the Bush bumper stickers and then spray painting an expletive and the president’s name on the vehicles.” (Unbiased Fox News )

I appreciate the sentiments, but he could have dramatized them more effectively…


Meth-mouth: the new epidemic

Methamphetamine use linked to tooth decay: “The growing use of highly addictive methamphetamine throughout the country is creating a prominent scar on an increasing number of users – rotting, brittle teeth that seem to crumble from their mouths.

Methamphetamine can be made with a mix of substances, including over-the-counter cold medicine, fertilizer, battery acid and hydrogen peroxide.

Together, the chemicals reduce a user’s saliva, which neutralizes acids and physically clears food from the teeth, said Dr. Eric Curtis, an Arizona-based spokesman for the Academy of General Dentistry.

‘When the saliva isn’t flowing, the bacteria build up a lot faster,’ said Dr. Darrell Morton, an Atlanta dentist.

Meth users also may neglect their teeth, or moisten their dry mouths with high-sugar drinks, and anxiety caused by the drug prompts them to grind their teeth, which speeds decay.

The problem is particularly noticeable among inmates, whose oral problems have some prison systems struggling to provide dental care.” (San Diego Union-Tribune)


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

Brit License Plates Get Chipped: “The British government is preparing to test new high-tech license plates containing microchips capable of transmitting unique vehicle identification numbers and other data to readers more than 300 feet away.

Officials in the United States say they’ll be closely watching the British trial as they contemplate initiating their own tests of the plates, which incorporate radio frequency identification, or RFID, tags to make vehicles electronically trackable.

…Proponents argue that making such RFID tags mandatory and ubiquitous is a logical move to counter the threat of terrorists using the roadways, and that it will scoop up insurance and registration scofflaws in the process.

…Privacy advocates are less enthusiastic about the technology. ” (Wired)

You don’t say…


The Fall of the House of Saud

Inevitable and imminent, says Robert Baer in The Atlantic:

“Signs of impending disaster are everywhere, but the House of Saud has chosen to pray that the moment of reckoning will not come soon—and the United States has chosen to look away. So nothing changes: the royal family continues to exhaust the Saudi treasury, buying more and more arms and funneling more and more ‘charity’ money to the jihadists, all in a desperate and self-destructive effort to protect itself.

The fact is that the West, especially the United States, has left the Saudis little choice. Leading U.S. corporations hire and rehire known Saudi crooks and known financiers of terrorism to represent their interests, so that they can land the deals that will pay the commissions back in Saudi Arabia—commissions that will further erode the budget and thus further divide the ruling class from everyone else. Former CIA directors serve on boards whose members have to hold their noses to cut deals with Saudi companies—because that’s business, that’s the price of entry, that’s the way it’s done. Ex-Presidents, former prime ministers, onetime senators and congressmen, and Cabinet members walk around with their hands out, acting as if they’re doing something else but rarely slowing down, because most of them know it’s an endgame too. But sometime soon, one way or another, the House of Saud is coming down.”


What’s wrong with public broadcasting?

James MacGuire, a former Corporation for Public Broadcasting executive, writes in New Criterion:

“Until public broadcasting signals that it can provide entertaining and demonstrably educational programming for television, the Internet, and the classroom, public broadcasting does not deserve to be treated as a sustainable enterprise. If it does rise to that challenge, reaching once again for the educational ideals that animated its founding, the public, corporate, and foundation monies it has been struggling to preserve for the last decade will be made available. And that, not partisan politics, is Patricia Harrison’s and public broadcasting’s real challenge.”

Jury says Atkins isn’t retarded

“Daryl Atkins’ fate has rested in the hands of a jury. Atkins, 27, sentenced to death in 1998, would’ve been removed from death row if the jury decided he was mentally retarded.

After about 15 hours of deliberation, the jury of six men and six women decided Friday that Atkins’ defense attorneys failed to show that he is retarded.

…During seven days of testimony, defense attorneys spoke of Atkins’ problems performing simple tasks, his inability to distinguish left from right or odd from even and his repeated academic failure. The defense argued that IQ test scores showed he had less intelligence than 96 percent of Americans.

Prosecutors contended that Atkins’ IQ scores showed he was a slow learner but not retarded and argued that he failed in school because he chose to abuse drugs, skip school and commit crimes.”

I have been following the Atkins case and related concerns. Ironically, one of the issues was whether the compelling stimulation of collaborating on his death sentence appeal accelerated his intellectual development out of the officially retarded range.


River flowing with cocaine indicates ‘vast’ drug use

“A “vastly larger” number of people than thought may abuse cocaine, suggest the results of a study measuring a breakdown product of the illegal drug in an Italian river.

Levels of a cocaine residue excreted in human urine were measured in the River Po, Italy’s largest river. The river has a catchment basin for about five-million people, with major cities like Turin and Milan situated in the valley.

The equivalent of about 4 kilograms of cocaine flowed in the river each day, say the researchers from Mario Negri Institute for Pharmacological Research in Milan, and the University of Insubria in Varese.

The analysis indicates that at least 40,000 packets of the drug are snorted each day – 80 times more than the official estimate of just 15,000 doses taken per month by people living in the area. If the study’s estimates are true, a staggering $150 million in street value of cocaine is dealt each year in the valley, say the researchers.” (New Scientist)


Monstrous waves were whipped up by Ivan

“Striking observations of the effects of Hurricane Ivan – which swept across the Atlantic in 2004 – reveals the 100-foot wave which ended the movie The Perfect Storm were no cinematic exaggeration. And new meteorological predictions warn that 2005 may be a bumper year for North Atlantic hurricanes.” (New Scientist)

The tsunami last December reawakened memories of a recurring nightmare I had as a child of fleeing a towering wall of water roaring toward me on the beach. But a tidal wave, as I learned in the aftermath of that disaster, while massive and deadly powerful, is not necessarily that towering. These ‘rogue waves’ in excess of 100 feet in height, on the other hand, are the stuff of my nightmares…


The Male Condition

Renowned autism researcher and theorist Simon Baron-Cohen writes in the New York Times:

“Two big scientific debates have attracted a lot of attention over the past year. One concerns the causes of autism, while the other addresses differences in scientific aptitude between the sexes. At the risk of adding fuel to both fires, I submit that these two lines of inquiry have a great deal in common. By studying the differences between male and female brains, we can generate significant insights into the mystery of autism.”

On ‘Six Feet Under,’ Grief and Authenticity…

…HBO-style: “In choosing among these idioms of mourning, Lionel Trilling’s great series of lectures, ‘Sincerity and Authenticity,’ published under that title in 1972, comes to mind. Sincerity – what Trilling calls ‘congruence between avowal and actual feeling’- once seemed (to the Romantic poets, say) like an exalted state of existence that could be achieved only with conscientious attention to the heart.

But the ideal of sincerity has long ago been devalued, rendered commercial or quaint. Today, for example, it is associated with Coldplay, mewling God-and-country Republicans and weepie cable-television dramas like Six Feet Under that appeal mostly to women and gay men.

Authenticity, on the other hand, is regarded as rougher stuff, a man’s job. Authenticity is gin to sincerity’s chardonnay. (Look for it on The Sopranos and Deadwood.) It suggests, as Trilling puts it, ‘a more strenuous moral experience’ than does sincerity, as well as ‘a less acceptant and genial view of the social circumstances of life.’ Authenticity, in other words, is a confrontation not with the self, which its practitioners regard as elusive and false, but with death, horror, being, nothingness.” — Virginia Heffernan (New York Times )


The Canaries Had Their Coal Mines

“…Mr. Evers, who is executive director of the BioDiversity Research Institute, a nonprofit research and education group in Gorham, Me., is looking for signs of mercury in the songbirds. He has a pretty good hunch that he will find it, as he has already found mercury in songbirds in the Adirondacks and in New England.

If substantial amounts of mercury show up in the blood and feathers he has collected, it could spell trouble for the watershed and, potentially, for the nine million people who rely on the New York drinking water that comes from here because it would mean that the toxin is present in ways that were previously unknown.” (New York Times )


Hiroshima bomb may have carried hidden agenda

“The US decision to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 was meant to kick-start the Cold War rather than end the Second World War, according to two nuclear historians who say they have new evidence backing the controversial theory.

Causing a fission reaction in several kilograms of uranium and plutonium and killing over 200,000 people 60 years ago was done more to impress the Soviet Union than to cow Japan, they say. And the US President who took the decision, Harry Truman, was culpable, they add.

‘He knew he was beginning the process of annihilation of the species,’ says Peter Kuznick, director of the Nuclear Studies Institute at American University in Washington DC, US. ‘It was not just a war crime; it was a crime against humanity.'” (New Scientist)


CIA Commander: We Let bin Laden Slip Away

“In his book—titled Jawbreaker—the decorated career CIA officer criticizes Donald Rumsfeld’s Defense Department for not providing enough support to the CIA and the Pentagon’s own Special Forces teams in the final hours of Tora Bora, says Berntsen’s lawyer, Roy Krieger. (Berntsen would not divulge the book’s specifics, saying he’s awaiting CIA clearance.) That backs up other recent accounts, including that of military author Sean Naylor, who calls Tora Bora a ‘strategic disaster’ because the Pentagon refused to deploy a cordon of conventional forces to cut off escaping Qaeda and Taliban members. Maj. Todd Vician, a Defense Department spokesman, says the problem at Tora Bora ‘was not necessarily just the number of troops.'” (Newsweek)

Discovering That Denial of Paralysis Is Not Just a Problem of the Mind

“Dr. Berti, a neuroscientist at University of Turin in Italy, has had many such conversations with stroke patients who suffer from denial syndrome, a strange disorder in which paralyzed patients vehemently insist that they are not paralyzed.

This denial, Dr. Berti said, was long thought to be purely a psychological problem. ‘It was a reaction to a stroke: I am paralyzed, it is so horrible, I will deny it,’ she said.

But in a new study, Dr. Berti and her colleagues have shown that denial is not a problem of the mind. Rather, it is a neurological condition that occurs when specific brain regions are knocked out by a stroke.

Patients deny the paralysis because a closely related region of the brain that is still intact appears to tell them that their bodies are responding normally.” (New York Times )

Dr Berti’s study really has little to say to the medical community or even the lay public. Whoever will think this is news after being familiar with Oliver Sacks’ The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, published in 1986?! And psychiatrists have never felt that the denial (and the related phenomenon of neglect) seen in stoke victims was a psychological problem; it fits none of the characteristics of psychological denial. Furthermore, denial of illness and the need for treatment, even in the face of profound dysfunction and inability to care for oneself, is frequently seen in some of the more severe psychiatric illnesses, notably schizophrenic conditions. I suspect these supposedly psychological cases too are caused by dysfunction in the specialized parts of the brain necessary for the recognition of dysfunction and debility.


Discovering That Denial of Paralysis Is Not Just a Problem of the Mind

“Dr. Berti, a neuroscientist at University of Turin in Italy, has had many such conversations with stroke patients who suffer from denial syndrome, a strange disorder in which paralyzed patients vehemently insist that they are not paralyzed.

This denial, Dr. Berti said, was long thought to be purely a psychological problem. ‘It was a reaction to a stroke: I am paralyzed, it is so horrible, I will deny it,’ she said.

But in a new study, Dr. Berti and her colleagues have shown that denial is not a problem of the mind. Rather, it is a neurological condition that occurs when specific brain regions are knocked out by a stroke.

Patients deny the paralysis because a closely related region of the brain that is still intact appears to tell them that their bodies are responding normally.” (New York Times )

Dr Berti’s study really has little to say to the medical community or even the lay public. Whoever will think this is news after being familiar with Oliver Sacks’ The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, published in 1986?! And psychiatrists have never felt that the denial (and the related phenomenon of neglect) seen in stoke victims was a psychological problem; it fits none of the characteristics of psychological denial. Furthermore, denial of illness and the need for treatment, even in the face of profound dysfunction and inability to care for oneself, is frequently seen in some of the more severe psychiatric illnesses, notably schizophrenic conditions. I suspect these supposedly psychological cases too are caused by dysfunction in the specialized parts of the brain necessary for the recognition of dysfunction and debility.


Japan Remembers

Thousands of people in Japan marked the sixtieth anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. 140,000 were dead by the end of 1945 from blast and radiation, with a similar toll from the Nagasaki bombing three days after. The Japanses count the Hiroshima toll now as standing at 242,000. Neither the argument that it was not inherently more heinous than the impact of conventional weaponry such as the firebombing of Dresden nor the argument that it saved lives by shortening the war justify the unleasing of nuclear terror in these first and only uses of atomic weaponry against human targets. Hiroshima Day should stand as a ‘day of infamy’ just as we consider Pearl Harbor Day to be; Americans need to remember it with as much awe, revulsion and resolve as the Japanese do.

Related: Weblogger Susan Kitchens remembers too. She is ‘blogging like it’s 1945’, chronicling the dawn of the age of atomic war as if the events were happening now in realtime, just displaced by 60 years. (2020 Hindsight)


"Now I have three cars, I have two houses and I’m not looking for a job anymore."

A day in the life of a Nigerian scammer: “Why Nigeria? There are many theories. The nation of 130 million, Africa’s most populous, is well educated, and English, the lingua franca of the scam industry, is the official language. Nigeria bursts with talent, from former NBA star Hakeem Olajuwon to Nobel literature laureate Wole Soyinka.

But with World Bank studies showing a quarter of urban college graduates are unemployed, crime offers tempting career opportunities – in drug dealing, immigrant-trafficking, oil-smuggling, and Internet fraud.

The scammers thrived during oil-rich Nigeria’s 15 years of brutal and corrupt military rule, and democracy was restored only six years ago.

‘We reached a point when law enforcement and regulatory agencies seemed nonexistent. But the stance of the present administration has started changing that,’ said Ribadu, the scam-busting chief.” (Associated Press)


Remote-Controlled Humans

“Smiling nervously, the young woman walks forward in a straight line. Suddenly, she veers to the right. She stumbles and stops, attempting to regain her balance, and continues to walk forward. And then she veers off to the left.

No, she’s not intoxicated. The young lady’s vestibular system, which controls her sense of movement and balance, has been thrown off-kilter by two weak electrical currents delivered just behind her ears.

This sort of electrical stimulation is known as galvanic vestibular stimulation, or GVS. When a weak DC current is delivered to the mastoid behind your ear, your body responds by shifting your balance toward the anode. The stronger the current, the more powerful its pull. If it is strong enough, it not only throws you off balance but alters the course of your movement.

…At the 2005 SIGGRAPH computer graphics conference in Los Angeles this week, NTT researchers debuted a device designed to exploit the effects of GVS. Known as “Shaking the World,” the project is the result of research carried out by NTT researcher Taro Maeda. Maeda and his colleagues constructed a headphone-like apparatus to deliver the electrical current and a small radio control to direct the strength and direction of the signal. Whoever wears such headphones can be steered by remote control. ” (Forbes)


On Mars, Nobody Can Hear You Scream…

How do you get plants to grow on Mars? The first step: relieve their anxiety. “According to NASA’s Vision for Space Exploration, humans will visit and explore Mars in the decades ahead. Inevitably, they’ll want to take plants with them. Plants provide food, oxygen, companionship and a patch of green far from home.

On Mars, plants would have to tolerate conditions that usually cause them a great deal of stress — severe cold, drought, low air pressure, soils that they didn’t evolve for. But plant physiologist Wendy Boss and microbiologist Amy Grunden of North Carolina State University believe they can develop plants that can live in these conditions. Their work is supported by the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts.

Stress management is key: Oddly, there are already Earth creatures that thrive in Mars-like conditions. They’re not plants, though. They’re some of Earth’s earliest life forms–ancient microbes that live at the bottom of the ocean, or deep within Arctic ice. Boss and Grunden hope to produce Mars-friendly plants by borrowing genes from these extreme-loving microbes. And the first genes they’re taking are those that will strengthen the plants’ ability to deal with stress.” (NASA)