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Florida: Shoot First

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“This image obtained from the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence shows a poster which the Washington-based gun control group says it will use to ‘educate’ Florida tourists and potential Florida tourists that effective 01 October 2005.” (Yahoo! News)

From the website:

“On October 1, 2005, Florida becomes a more dangerous place. That’s when the Shoot First Law goes into effect, giving the people of Florida the right to use deadly force as a first resort when they feel threatened, even in a public place. But the Shoot First doctrine isn’t just staying in Florida — it’s about to become a national disgrace.”
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Serenity

New York Times reviewer writes: “It probably isn’t fair to Joss Whedon’s Serenity to say that this unassuming science-fiction adventure is superior in almost every respect to George Lucas’s aggressively more ambitious Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith. But who cares about fair when there is fun to be had? Scene for scene, Serenity is more engaging and certainly better written and acted than any of Mr. Lucas’s recent screen entertainments. Mr. Whedon isn’t aiming to conquer the pop-culture universe with a branded mythology; he just wants us to hitch a ride to a galaxy far, far away and have a good time. The journey is the message, not him.”
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That Famous Equation and You

“In the century since, E = mc² has become the most recognized icon of the modern scientific era. Yet for all its symbolic worth, the equation’s intimate presence in everyday life goes largely unnoticed. There is nothing you can do, not a move you can make, not a thought you can have, that doesn’t tap directly into E = mc². Einstein’s equation is constantly at work, providing an unseen hand that shapes the world into its familiar form. It’s an equation that tells of matter, energy and a remarkable bridge between them.” — Brian Greene, Columbia University mathematician and physicist (New York Times op-ed)
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Liars’ brains make fibbing come naturally

“The brains of pathological liars have structural abnormalities that could make fibbing come naturally.

“Some people have an edge up on others in their ability to tell lies,” says Adrian Raine, a psychologist at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. “They are better wired for the complex computations involved in sophisticated lies.”

He found that pathological liars have on average more white matter in their prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain that is active during lying, and less grey matter than people who are not serial fibbers. White matter enables quick, complex thinking while grey matter mediates inhibitions.” (New Scientist)

If liars have more white matter (not clear if it is cause or effect), do honest people succumb more often to the various neurological diseases that involve the CNS’ white matter? It seems to me, thinking back,. that the patients I have known with multiple sclerosis were all really good people. Someone should do the research…

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A Con by Any Other Name…

“With the indictment of Tom DeLay there can no longer be any doubt that with the Bush regime we are observing not a variation on politics but chronically criminal and corrupt behavior parading as ideology. This is not a movement but a mob and a disservice as much to conservatives as to progressives and moderates. The whole purpose of the Bush machine is to line its own pockets, increase its own power, and suppress any who would complain about it. For the media to treat what is happening as just another political discussion merely makes it a tool of the biggest fraud ever perpetrated on the American public. It is time the press learned to distinguish clearly between a con and a concept. – Sam Smith” (The Progressive Review)
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Food, Fasting and Fanaticism

A psychiatrist in Boston with whom I am fortunate to be acquainted, Ron Pies, writes about What Kafka’s “Hunger Artist” Teaches Us About Terrorists:

“Since the attacks of 9/11, a great deal has been written about fanaticism, terrorism, and religious extremism of all stripes. In an earlier essay in JMB (3), I described the terrorist mind-set in terms of three features: paradoxical narcissism, ressentiment, and schadenfreude. I argued that terrorists such as Osama bin Ladin demonstrate what Eric Hoffer called, ‘the vanity of the selfless’ (4). I further suggested that much of the animus of terrorists stems from a corrosive sense of hatred, envy, and impotent rage: what Nietzsche called ressentiment. Finally, I argued that the atypical behavior of the 9/11 terrorists just prior to the attacks–their eating out at pizza parlors and enjoying sexual favors from an ‘escort service’–represented a kind of ‘malicious joy’ (schadenfreude). I now want to link these aspects of the terrorist mind to Kafka’s ‘hunger artist’; and, much more broadly, to suggest that attitudes about food and fasting can teach us a great deal about fanaticism. And what could be more mundane–more ‘ordinary’ and ‘of this world’–than the way we feel about food?” (Journal of Mundane Behavior)
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U.S. Meteorologist Says Russian Inventors Caused Hurricane Katrina

“A meteorologist in Pocatello, Idaho, claims Japanese gangsters known as the Yakuza used KGB inventions to cause Hurricane Katrina, Wireless Flash reported Thursday.

Scott Stevens says after looking at NASA satellite photos of the hurricane, he’s is convinced it was caused by electromagnetic generators from ground-based microwave transmitters.

“There is absolutely zero chance that this is natural, zero,” Villagevoice quoted Stevens as saying after Katrina’s landfall, pointing out suspiciously rectilinear shapes in the satellite-photoed hurricane clouds

The generators emit a soundwave between three and 30 megahertz and Stevens claims the Russians invented the storm-creating technology back in 1976 and sold it to others in the late 1980s.

Stevens says the clouds formed by the generators are different from normal clouds and are able to appear out of nowhere and says Katrina had many rotation points that are unusual for hurricanes.

At least 10 nations and organizations possess the technology, but Stevens suspects the Japanese Yakuza created Katrina in order to make a fortune in the futures market and to get even with the U.S. for the 1945 bombing of Hiroshima. ” (MosNews)

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Anansi Boys

Neil Gaiman’s new book is out. It is set in the same universe as American Gods, in which the American ‘melting pot’ is also the melting pot for all the deprecated deities of our immigrant ancestors, living in exile and ‘retirement’ among us. Reading the blurbs about Anansi Boys, I am prepared to be disappointed and it will not leap to the head of the queue of books waiting to be read here, unlike what happens with the release of the latest book by many of my favorite authors. But then again, I was prepared to be disappointed by American Gods and didn’t buy it for a long time after its release, yet I ended up finding it an engrossing read some of whose images and conceits have stuck with me since. I am a follower of the trickster mythos (and related themes like the holy fool); perhaps Anansi Boys will please after all. Alas, I worry that Gaiman peaked with Neverwhere.

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Does eating organic cause Parkinson’s Disease?

“Neurologist J. Timothy Greenamyre has shown, in animal studies published in the journals Experimental Neurology and Journal of Neuroscience in 2003, that rotenone — a pesticide often used in organic farming because it is made from natural products — is capable of inducing protein aggregation, killing dopamine–producing neurons, inhibiting cellular energy–producing organelles, and causing subsequent motor deficits.

The question arises: is organic safer, or simply a more expensive way of getting sick?” [via bookofjoe]

Related:

Cancer and Diet: the links are still unclear. “…Cancer patients, doctors say, almost always ask what to eat to reduce their chances of dying from the disease.

The diet messages are everywhere: the National Cancer Institute has an “Eat 5 to 9 a Day for Better Health” program, the numbers referring to servings of fruits and vegetables, and the Prostate Cancer Foundation has a detailed anticancer diet.

Yet despite the often adamant advice, scientists say they really do not know whether dietary changes will make a difference. And there lies a quandary for today’s medicine. It is turning out to be much more difficult than anyone expected to discover if diet affects cancer risk. Hypotheses abound, but convincing evidence remains elusive… ” (New York Times )

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Reading Ed

From Ed Fitzgerald’s unfutz I learned that:

  • Michael Brown, who recently resigned as FEMA head in ignomy, has been rehired as a consultant to the organization to assess the disaster response. Ed comments, “Now, in the abstract, this is not a bad idea, making sure you get the value of an employee’s experience before they leave to go elsewhere. In this particular instance, though, one has to think What experience? ” If I am not mistaken, this is what is usually called a ‘golden parachute.’ However, in this case, it is not gold but excrement-brown.
  • The bus which caught fire killing twenty-three nursing home evacuees during the Houston evacuation was from a company which had had numerous difficulties with regulatory authorities in Texas and, according to a whistle blower, more serious problems with meintenance of its vehicles. “The bus, run by Global Limo of McAllen, Texas, was taken out of service in July after its registration expired. It was allowed back on the road because of a waiver signed last week by Gov. Rick Perry intended to make available as many commercial vehicles as possible for the hurricane evacuation.” Ed places this rightly in the broader context of Republican officials’ eagerness to set aside regulatory restrictions on business at any opportunity, which may be a bit of a reach here.
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Pentagon-developed killer dolphins may be loose in Gulf of Mexico after Katrina

“It may be the oddest tale to emerge from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Armed dolphins, trained by the US military to shoot terrorists and pinpoint spies underwater, may be missing in the Gulf of Mexico.

Experts who have studied the US navy’s cetacean training exercises claim the 36 mammals could be carrying ‘toxic dart’ guns. Divers and surfers risk attack, they claim, from a species considered to be among the planet’s smartest. The US navy admits it has been training dolphins for military purposes, but has refused to confirm that any are missing.” (Guardian/Observer.UK)

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Bush plea for cash to rebuild Iraq raises $600

“An extraordinary appeal to Americans from the Bush administration for money to help pay for the reconstruction of Iraq has raised only $600 (£337), The Observer has learnt…

…It is understood to be the first time that a US government has made an appeal to taxpayers for foreign aid money. Contributors have no way of knowing who will receive their donations or even where they may go, after officials said details had be kept secret for security reasons.

USaid’s Heather Layman denied it was disappointed with the meagre sum raised after a fortnight. ‘Every little helps,’ she said.” (Guardian/Observer.UK)

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The myth of Iraq’s foreign fighters

“The US and Iraqi governments have vastly overstated the number of foreign fighters in Iraq, and most of them don’t come from Saudi Arabia, according to a new report from the Washington-based Center for Strategic International Studies (CSIS). According to a piece in The Guardian, this means the US and Iraq ‘feed the myth’ that foreign fighters are the backbone of the insurgency. While the foreign fighters may stoke the insurgency flames, they make up only about 4 to 10 percent of the estimated 30,000 insurgents.” (Christian science Monitor)
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Who’re you gonna believe, the BBC??

Hurricanes and global warming – a link?: “The latest to succumb was the British newspaper The Independent, which screamed on its front page: ‘This is global warming’, above an alarmingly portentous graphic of Hurricane Rita’s projected path.

But is it global warming? What is the evidence that the growing concentrations of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are changing weather systems in such a way that hurricanes become more powerful, or more frequent?” (BBC)

There have been 270% the average number of intense storms expected by this date in the hurricane season, but it is certainly rash to draw conclusions from a given year. The formation of tropical storms over the Atlantic runs in phases, and we are in the midst of a several-decade active phase. However, we are almost certainly seeing an effect, from the warming of the average surface water temperature in the Gulf of Mexico, on the storms that cross the Gulf.

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At ABBA, Go Left to SpongeBob

The robotic exploration of Mars is coming up with so many features to name that scientists go wild:

“Like European explorers who named the New World after their homes in the Old, the Mars scientists have filled the strange landscape of the Red Planet with a mishmash of modern life on Earth.

The twin rover missions have forced scientists to come up with more than 4,000 names to mark everything from the majestic Columbia Hills to a few pebbles in the sand.

The result is an extravagantly labeled map punctuated by the scientists’ ever-changing preoccupations with history, holidays, monkeys, ice cream, cartoon characters, sushi, Mayan words, Scandinavian fish delicacies … the list goes on and on.

It hasn’t been easy.

Sometimes a rock gets named twice. Sometimes the names run afoul of the official naming protocol. Sometimes a team member doesn’t like the theme for an area.

And sometimes team members get desperate.” (Yahoo! News)

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‘Of all the nightmares during Hurricane Katrina, this must be one of the worst…"

Human Rights Watch: New Orleans Prisoners Abandoned to Floodwaters: “As Hurricane Katrina began pounding New Orleans, the sheriff’s department abandoned hundreds of inmates imprisoned in the city’s jail, Human Rights Watch said today.

Inmates in Templeman III, one of several buildings in the Orleans Parish Prison compound, reported that as of Monday, August 29, there were no correctional officers in the building, which held more than 600 inmates. These inmates, including some who were locked in ground-floor cells, were not evacuated until Thursday, September 1, four days after flood waters in the jail had reached chest-level.

“Of all the nightmares during Hurricane Katrina, this must be one of the worst,” said Corinne Carey, researcher from Human Rights Watch. “Prisoners were abandoned in their cells without food or water for days as floodwaters rose toward the ceiling.” “

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R.I.P. Serge Lang

Gadfly and Mathematical Theorist Dies at 78: “Serge Lang, a leading mathematical theorist who became better known for his academic jousts with nonmathematicians on social and political issues than for his work in geometry and the properties of numbers, died Sept. 12 in Berkeley, Calif. He was 78.

…Throughout his life, Dr. Lang railed against inaccuracy and imprecision and felt that the scientific establishment unfairly suppressed dissident ideas. Beginning around 1977, he adopted a more activist approach, writing letters and articles – sometimes even buying newspaper advertisements – to challenge research that he considered unscrupulous or sloppy. He would pull together his writings and add news articles, Congressional testimony and other documents into what he called files and mail the compiled documents to scientists, journalists and government officials.” (New York Times )

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This Band Was Your Band, This Band Is My Band

The New York Times writes about all the old dinosaur bands resurrecting themselves with new lead singers these days. The focus of the article seems to be whether, with such a profound change, a band is justified in continuing under the same name. The more profound issue is why so few acts let themselves die a dignified death anymore. One needs to wonder what it is about rock musicianship that prevents members of dinosaur bands from ever evolving any new chops and moving on and what it is about rock consumers’ sensibilities that encourages the musicians to do the same old things over and over again ad nauseum. And why in the world the New York TImes covers the phenomenon in an equally shallow manner.

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In Plans to Evacuate U.S. Cities, Chance for Havoc

“The chaotic evacuations of New Orleans and Houston have prompted local officials across the country to take another look at plans for emptying their cities in response to a large-scale natural disaster or a terrorist attack. What they have found is not wholly reassuring.(New York Times )

The absurdity of the fact that there was no provision to ensure gasoline supplies to motorists along the clogged evacuation routes was just the tip of the iceberg. It is not a matter of individuals’ panic or ill-will but partly the lack of centralized planning and partly just the nature of things. Large cities are located at unique geographic points — that is why their precursor settlements were sited there in the first place — which often translate into bottlenecks even in a normal rush hour, not to mention a mass evacuation.

Prepearedness is not the issue. In fact, if anything, it appears to me that part of the problem in the Texas evacuation resulted from overpreparedness. Not only was there several days’ notice of where Rita was headed and approximately how strong it would be but people were more obedient than they would otherwise be to directives to evacuate because of the memory of Katrina. In most of the disasters that will call for mass evacuation, even with disaster authorites operating effectively, that combination of circumstances is not likely to recur.

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At ABBA, Go Left to SpongeBob

The robotic exploration of Mars is coming up with so many features to name that scientists go wild:

“Like European explorers who named the New World after their homes in the Old, the Mars scientists have filled the strange landscape of the Red Planet with a mishmash of modern life on Earth.

The twin rover missions have forced scientists to come up with more than 4,000 names to mark everything from the majestic Columbia Hills to a few pebbles in the sand.

The result is an extravagantly labeled map punctuated by the scientists’ ever-changing preoccupations with history, holidays, monkeys, ice cream, cartoon characters, sushi, Mayan words, Scandinavian fish delicacies … the list goes on and on.

It hasn’t been easy.

Sometimes a rock gets named twice. Sometimes the names run afoul of the official naming protocol. Sometimes a team member doesn’t like the theme for an area.

And sometimes team members get desperate.” (Yahoo! News)

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Not so fast:

Why Your Doctor is a Skeptic: “Perhaps this has happened to you: There’s a news report in the paper about a new drug that sounds great, seems safe, works well and is intended for symptoms you have, such as arthritis, heartburn or allergies. At your next doctor’s visit, you bring in the article, fully expecting to get a prescription for it.

Not so fast. Your doctor raises one eyebrow and seems unimpressed and begins a speech that sounds like it’s been delivered many times before, about why that drug isn’t for you, how an older, generic medicine might work just as well, or how you really don’t need a medication at all. And so you wonder: Are you getting the latest and best treatment? Why was your doctor reluctant to prescribe the medicine?” [via Shrinkette]

Of course, this essay appears at the website of a health insurance company, which has a vested interest in consumers not being prescribed the latest (and most expensive) new medications. But I largely agree, and I both regularly educate my patients and have written here at FmH in the past about the opposite trend, prescribers whose only source of information about the medications they prescribe is the manufacturers who profit from their use, and the questions you should ask your prescriber when s/he proposes a change to a newer medication because it is supposedly “better.”

I sit on the pharmacy and therapeutics committee of my hospital, where decisions about what medications the hospital will have in its formulary are made. This week, we discussed in exasperation the growing pressure from patients and families who demand to be treated with a new asthma medication they have seen advertised on television, which is 7-10 times more expensive than the standard of care, and according to the scientific literature is no more effective and no more tolerable. It is not only credulous doctors you have to worry about, but consumer-driven prescribing pressures.

People should be aware of one particular pharmaceutical industry scam which is increasingly widespread and insidious. Many medicinal copmounds have molecules with chirality, i.e. they are asymmetrical and thus exist in several different isomers which differ only in which way the bonds within the molecules twist. Often, the different isomers differ in biological activity. Thus, for example, 20 mg. of an antidepressant might contain around 10 mg of the leftward-twisting (levo- or L-, also referred to as S-) version of the molecule and around 10 mg of the dextro- or D-isomer. One of them is biologically active and the other is essentially an inert ingredient. So a company figures out how to efficiently separate the two isomers and patentsa a new medication consisting of one of the stereospecific forms. It is easy to see that 10 mg of the new medication is for all intents and purposes equivalent to 20 mg of the old one (and will probably be a pill of about the same size, by the way!), yet it will be marketed as new and improved, as more effective or more side-effect-free. It obviously sounds like a more powerful drug to a lay person, because 10 mg does what it took 20 mg of the old drug to do. And it costs some multiple of the cost of the old drug, as well as being protected by patent rights for many more years while the older drug enters the public domain where generic versions can be offered. One example of this is the antidepressant Lexapro, which is escitalopram (“S-citalopram”), the S-isomer of citalopram, which is the older antidepressant Celexa. Lexapro has been around for a few years now and is shaping up to have no advantages over Celexa, except in profit margin to the manufacturer.

It seems to me that the trend of capturing and maintaining market share with stereoisomeric forms of older medications is all the rage in Big Pharma these days; in fact, that is the case with the asthma medication we discussed in P&T this week. And I am sure we should believe the manufacturers’ claims in some instances that the ‘inert’ ingredient in the mixed version was not inert at all, but contributed to side effects or changes in the metabolism of the drug in comparison to the stereospecific form. But the literature, when you can get an unbiased study not paid for by the interested industry party, often says otherwise.

So…not so fast.

PS: the P&T committee voted to add the new asthma medication because the pulmonologists swear they would not be able to handle the P.R. fallout from not meeting patient requests for it, and don’t have the time or the inclination to better educate the public about its lack of advantages over the older medication it is meant to supplant. Supposedly, patients will have to jump through hoops, such as nonresponse to other measures and prior approval by a ‘gatekeeper’ specialist, to get the new drug. We’ll see how firm and how long the gates stand…

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Mike S. Adams: How I cured adult ADHD

“One of the toughest things about being a teacher is dealing with all the latest “syndromes” in our culture of victimization. Whenever a real problem like racism diminishes, there is always someone willing to redefine the problem to help maintain the population of “disadvantaged” Americans. This is usually followed by the invention of a new problem that actually increases the population of “disadvantaged” Americans. Consequently, victimization has become a growth industry that supplies more jobs for social workers despite their increasing irrelevance in relation to the real problems of modern society.

Often those fictional problems take the form of “disorders” like adult ADHD. I always know which of my students have been told that they suffer from adult ADHD. They are often late and sometimes leave class early to go potty, unlike most students who go potty before class begins. They blurt out the answers to my questions constantly – always without the courtesy of a raised hand. And, usually, they fall asleep in class (probably from exhaustion) after the fifteenth or twentieth interruption. Later, they are awakened by the cell phone they forgot to turn off before arriving in class.

After being diagnosed with ADHD, two things usually happen to the newly “disadvantaged” student. First, a psychologist tells the victim that he cannot pay attention nor control various impulses. Next, he is given a dosage of drugs. Neither one of these responses actually works. In fact, telling him that he cannot pay attention – rather than that he simply does not pay attention – usually reinforces the problem. The drugs don’t work because, again, the disorder is fictional.

But, fortunately, I have discovered a cure for students with this so-called disorder, which I am now sharing (free of charge, mind you) with my readers. Here’s how it works.

(…)

Psychiatrists, psychologists, sociologists, and social workers around the world will surely be angry with this present column – largely because it provides a rather simple solution to a rather simple problem. They will no doubt also be angry over my seemingly calloused attitude towards those who suffer from adult ADHD. But I choose not to pay attention to them – remember, paying attention is a choice for adults – until they answer a few simple questions. For example:

1. Why did my solution work so immediately and so effectively after, presumably, years of therapy and drug prescriptions failed?

2. Will you continue to use the term “irresistible impulse” to describe what is obviously merely an impulse not resisted?

3. Are you at all concerned that other fictional disorders will be exposed by other equally simple experiments?

4. How can one be a part of a helping profession, if he does not, first and foremost, help people to help themselves?

5. And, finally, what will happen if you ever win your war upon free will? Will you protect people from the prospect of failure? Or will you deprive people of the prospect of success? “

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Shark Repellent Wet Suit Shocks and Awes

“Finally, now I can swim in shark-infested waters like I’ve always wanted. A bright fellow called Vladimir Vlad has filed a patent for a shark-repellent wet suit that creates an electrical field. The idea is that sharks have sensitive receptors in their noses which would normally help them track prey, but when faced with an especially strong electrical field, they will back off. This wet suit would be made of metal and neoprene, with thin piezoelectric ceramic fibres woven in. Voltage is then delivered by the fibres depending on their length. The suit continually generates several volts which flow through the water, and the faster you swim, the higher the voltage…” (Gizmodo)
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UN urges N. Korea to keep taking aid for children

North Korean Deputy Foreign Minister announces N. Korea will stop accepting food aid at the end of this year, both because its food production has increased adn because the US is politicizing the process by linking aid to human rights issues. UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland asserts that 7% of North Korea’s population of 22.5 million are starving and 37% chronically malnourished. “According to U.N. statistics, 40 percent of North Korea’s children suffer from stunted growth, 20 percent are underweight for their age and 8 percent are wasted, meaning their weight is too low for their height. The average boy of 7 is 7 inches shorter and 20 pounds (9 kgs) lighter than the average 7-year-old in South Korea, the world body said.” (Yahoo! News)

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It’s Worse Than You Think Under the Republicans

False claims about poverty abound in the media, and RNC tTalking points are to blame for the distortion: “…CNN contributor Joe Watkins and Fox News host Bill O’Reilly both made false comparisons of the poverty rates under President Clinton and President Bush. Since then, similar false claims about poverty have appeared in other news outlets.

The Washington Post claimed in an editorial that ‘Since 1999, the rate has been edging steadily, and disturbingly, upward.’ After Media Matters pointed out that, in fact, the poverty rate declined from 1999 to 2000 (as it went down every year of the Clinton administration) before increasing from 2000 to 2001 (and every year of the Bush presidency), the Post corrected its error. Media Research Center president L. Brent Bozell III used his nationally syndicated column to dismiss as ‘comical’ Clinton’s claim that his administration ‘moved 100 times as many people out of poverty in eight years as had been moved out in the previous 12 years.’ In fact, Clinton was understating the disparity, as Media Matters noted: ‘The presidencies of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush actually saw a dramatic net increase in the number of impoverished Americans, whereas Clinton’s presidency witnessed an even more dramatic net decrease.’

Fox News contributor and former Clinton adviser Dick Morris also got in on the act. On Fox News host Sean Hannity’s nationally syndicated radio show, Morris made the highly misleading claim that the U.S. poverty rate is ‘two points lower than when he [Clinton] took office, and it’s lower in the midpoint of Bush’s term than it was at the midpoint of his [Clinton’s] term.’ That may be true, but Morris ignored the more important trend that poverty declined every year of Clinton’s presidency and has risen every year of Bush’s.

So where did this flood of misinformation about the Clinton and Bush records on poverty come from? Is it just an odd coincidence? Or is it a result of the recently revealed daily conference calls and emails through which the Republican National Committee gives marching orders to ‘about 80 pundits, GOP-leaning radio and TV hosts, and newsmakers’?” (Media Matters)

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FDA Commissioner Quits Unexpectedly

“FDA Commissioner Lester Crawford, D.V.M., resigned unexpectedly today. No formal reason was given immediately, but Dr. Crawford reportedly told his staff it was time to step aside.

Dr. Crawford was in the midst of a major controversy over the FDA’s repeated delays in making a decision on an application to approve the morning-after pill, Plan B, as an over-the-counter drug.

The delays finally led to the resignation of the FDA’s women’s health chief. Just this week, the editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, in a Perspective called A Sad Day for Science at the FDA, wrote that ‘this decision — or nondecision — deserves serious scrutiny, since it appears to reflect political meddling in the drug-approval process.'” (Medpage Today)

You know, of course, that the letters after his name stand for “Doctor of Veterinary Medicine.” And FDA stands for “Food and Drug Administration.” That’s human food and drugs. He was as qualified for his position as, say, Michael Brown, in case you were wondering wehther there is a pattern here.

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War Bonds

A modest proposal to finance Iraq and New Orleans efforts; an alternative to Bush’s psychotic “faith-based” accounting: “I like the idea of bringing back ‘bonds similar to World War II’s Liberty Bonds,’ but I wouldn’t use them to pay for the Katrina rebuilding. I’d use the war bonds to pay for the war. The war in Iraq has, coincidentally, cost about $200 billion so far. Where is that money coming from? According to the president, it’s more magic money — spent without offsetting spending cuts or tax increases.

I have little hope that our no-responsibility/no-accountability government is capable of launching (or administering) a 21st-century war bonds program. But that’s not the only problem.

I’m not sure the public could handle it either.

This is, after all, the same American public that thinks ‘support for the troops’ entails nothing more than putting a yellow-ribbon magnet on your car. These people can’t even make the kind of long-term commitment involved in an adhesive bumper-sticker. Magnets don’t jeopardize your paint job. And magnets can be easily removed should the political winds shift.

…If you’re not enlisted in America’s military, you’re not involved in the war in Iraq. You have neither the obligation, nor the opportunity to contribute to or sacrifice for the war effort. And your president insists that this is the way it should be.

The American public does not today have the character to support a new war bonds effort. (We don’t have the savings, either, since most of us are in debt up to our eyeballs. Our national savings rate is negative — and likely headed down once the housing bubble bursts. But bracket that for now.)

So here’s a modest proposal for a remedial first step: Have the USO start selling “official” versions of those @#&$ “Support the Troops” magnets. Full-sized ones would cost, say, $500. Smaller ones would cost $100. Whenever you spotted someone with one of the unofficial magnets, you’d be justified — even obliged — to mock them as a freeloading, fair-weather patriot until finally they were shamed into putting their money where their tailpipe is. ” (slacktivist via making light)

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An Ounce of Anthrax Prevention

“Why did Leahy decide to vote for Roberts? Maybe it has something to do with the fact that the person(s) who mailed weapons-grade anthrax to him and fellow Democratic senator Daschle in 2001 were never identified.

The curious lack of a perpetrator in the anthrax mailings — mailed exclusively to Democratic senators in powerful positions — is in some ways even more alarming than the fact that the same administration also managed not to catch Osama bin Laden. ” (skimble)

Scroll down the page abit further and you will also see a photo of a morgue full of Katrina victims’ corpses wickedly labelled “Bush’s Vacation Photo Album”, by the way. I love it.

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Should Mike Steal the Ticket?

Do the Right Thing: “In a world of religious wars, genocide, and terrorism, no one is naive enough to think that all moral beliefs are universal. But beneath such diversity, can we discern a common core—a distinct, universal, maybe even innate “moral sense” in our human nature?” (Boston Review)
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AI Naming Advice

“Find the perfect name for your business or product: Think all the quality domains are taken? Far from it – creativity produces quality results.

Let us know what you’re looking for in a name. Complete as much as you like of the form below, in any combination – no choice excludes another.

We’ll find the best available domains – all dot coms with no hyphens or numbers. We are experts at finding short, brandable names, business names, dictionary words, descriptive names, misspellings and more. We do NOT just combine keywords – as you can see from our For Sale domains and those RECENTLY FOUND.”

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NPR’s "Extremists"

In a story on NPR’s Morning Edition on 9/15, reporter Cory Flintoff noted that “some extremist groups say (the July 7 London subway bombings) were a response to the U.S. and British military presence in Iraq.” NPR has repeatedly featured Tony Blair’s characterization of such reasoning as “obscene.” Now, FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting is asking you to complain to NPR about the patently absurd suggestion that you would have to be an extremist to believe there was a link between the bombings and British participation in the Iraqi invasion. In fact, a majority of the public in the U.S. and the U.K. see the link, as well as a number of respected foreign affairs analysts. The extremist position, in reality, is that of Blair and Flintoff…

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New Vatican Rule Said to Bar Gays as New Priests

This is how the Nazi Pope thinks the Church can rebound from the clergy abuse scandal (New York Times ). In reality, of course, this will simply drive gay clergy deeper into the closet (if they were ever out), which will increase the prevalence of exploitative illicit solutions to sexual repression. At least, so far, there will not be a witchhunt for gays already wearing the cloth. While the Church insists this does not represent a change in doctrinal position, it is clearly a move from policing behaviors to thoughts and feelings. In explaining why those entering the priesthood will be targeted, a spokesman explains it is because of the unique temptation posed by the seminaries, even for those who are celibate, because one is surrounded exclusively by men. (So here’s an idea; solve the problem by admitting women to the priesthood…)

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Murder, They Wrote

“On Monday, the Washington Post’s Metro section reported on two murders that had occurred the previous Saturday night in the District. The victims were about the same age—34 and 32. They were killed at around the same time—10:45 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. They were both shot to death.

The differences: One was white; the other was black. One was killed in a long-since-gentrified neighborhood in Northwest, the other in a long-depressed section of Southeast.

Guess which crime got more ink in the Post.

…At the Post, there’s a longstanding news formula for deciding why one murder story merits 18 times the coverage of another…” (Washington City Paper)

…and it is not as simple as the race of the victim. [read on]

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It is Hard Not to Gloat…

…when even The American Spectator has That Sinking Feeling:

“…(A)t this stage of the game, barring some imaginative political moves that bear some resemblance to the Bush Administration circa 2002, Republicans on Capitol Hill and even some longtime Bush team members in various Cabinet level departments say this Administration is done for.

‘You run down the list of things we thought we could accomplish and you have to wonder what we thought we were thinking,’ says a Bush Administration member who joined on in 2001. ‘You get the impression that we’re more than listless. We’re sunk.'”

Related:

Bush-Bashing in Aspen

Robert Novak breaks the code of silence: “For two full days, George W. Bush was bashed. He was taken to task on his handling of stem cell research, population control, the Iraq war and, especially, Hurricane Katrina. The critics were no left-wing bloggers. They were rich, mainly Republican and presumably Bush voters in the last two presidential elections.

The Bush-bashing occurred last weekend at the annual Aspen conference sponsored by the New York investment firm Forstmann Little & Co. Over 200 invited guests, mostly prestigious, arrived Thursday night (many by private aircraft) and stayed until Sunday morning for more than golf, hikes and gourmet meals. They faithfully attended the discussions presided over by PBS’s Charlie Rose on such serious subjects as ‘global poverty and human rights’ and ‘the ‘new’ world economy.’ The connecting link was hostility to President Bush.” (townhall.com )

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Happy Equinox

“The Witches’ Thanksgiving and the second harvest. Day and night are of equal length, looking forward to the days’ shortening. The Autumn Equinox is the time of the descent of the Goddess into the Underworld. We also bid farewell to the Harvest Lord who was slain at Lammas. Welsh legend brings us the story of Mabon, who dwells, a happy captive, in Modron’s magickal Otherworld — his mother’s womb. Only in this way can he be reborn.”

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Twenty-Five Macarthur Fellowship Recipients Announced

This Year’s ‘Genius Awards’ Reach Into Unusual Fields: “The 11 women and 14 men selected for their creativity and originality range in age from 33 to 66 and also include a violinmaker, a molecular biologist, a sculptor and a laser physicist. All the winners, known as fellows, receive annual checks for $100,000 for the next five years, no strings attached.” (New York Times )

The article lists all twenty-five recipients and their accomplishments.

Related:

It Isn’t Easy Being a Genius: “Let me begin by making something very clear: I’m not a genius. Tomorrow, 25 people are going to find themselves making similar protestations – at least most of them are – after the MacArthur Foundation announces its latest class of fellows for its so-called genius award. And as someone who once received one of those awards, here’s a little insight into what the new fellows experienced over the last few days and what they’re going to have to deal with.” — Jim Collins (New York Times op-ed; thanks, abby)

Are the Macarthurs controversial at all in any quarters? I mean, for example, has anyone seen any anti-elitist or anti-intellectual backlash anywhere in the media about them, or are the award-winners just celebrated unambivalently?

Addendum: I found this critique of the Macarthur approach. (marginal Revolution)

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Effectiveness of Antipsychotic Drugs in Patients with Chronic Schizophrenia

Abstract:

Background The relative effectiveness of second-generation (atypical) antipsychotic drugs as compared with that of older agents has been incompletely addressed, though newer agents are currently used far more commonly. We compared a first-generation antipsychotic, perphenazine, with several newer drugs in a double-blind study.

Methods A total of 1493 patients with schizophrenia were recruited at 57 U.S. sites and randomly assigned to receive olanzapine (7.5 to 30 mg per day), perphenazine (8 to 32 mg per day), quetiapine (200 to 800 mg per day), or risperidone (1.5 to 6.0 mg per day) for up to 18 months. Ziprasidone (40 to 160 mg per day) was included after its approval by the Food and Drug Administration. The primary aim was to delineate differences in the overall effectiveness of these five treatments.

Results Overall, 74 percent of patients discontinued the study medication before 18 months (1061 of the 1432 patients who received at least one dose): 64 percent of those assigned to olanzapine, 75 percent of those assigned to perphenazine, 82 percent of those assigned to quetiapine, 74 percent of those assigned to risperidone, and 79 percent of those assigned to ziprasidone. The time to the discontinuation of treatment for any cause was significantly longer in the olanzapine group than in the quetiapine (P<0.001) or risperidone (P=0.002) group, but not in the perphenazine (P=0.021) or ziprasidone (P=0.028) group. The times to discontinuation because of intolerable side effects were similar among the groups, but the rates differed (P=0.04); olanzapine was associated with more discontinuation for weight gain or metabolic effects, and perphenazine was associated with more discontinuation for extrapyramidal effects.

Conclusions The majority of patients in each group discontinued their assigned treatment owing to inefficacy or intolerable side effects or for other reasons. Olanzapine was the most effective in terms of the rates of discontinuation, and the efficacy of the conventional antipsychotic agent perphenazine appeared similar to that of quetiapine, risperidone, and ziprasidone. Olanzapine was associated with greater weight gain and increases in measures of glucose and lipid metabolism.” (New England Journal of Medicine via Paul)

One weblog commentator summarizes it thus:

“…the somewhat surprising result that the 2nd generation antipsychotics are only marginally better than the 1st generatio—or rather we should say that they suck marginally less. As someone who hasn’t been following this field, what’s surprising is how high the discontinuation rate: 74% overall and 64% for the best drug tested: olanzapine. Basically, if you’re schizophrenic, the options are not good.” (Educated Guesswork )

Treating psychotic illnesses, especially schizophrenia, has been an important part of my career, so I have alot of thoughts about this. I hasten to add that I haven’t yet read the article, just the abstract, so some of my questions might otherwise have been answered. It is not clear how the pts. were recruited, what inclusion criteria (including what definition of schizophrenia) and exclusion criteria were used. It is also not clear how dosages of the antipsychotics were determined within the ranges defined for each drug in the study; it would make a difference whether pts were at the top end which, for many of those drugs is arguably an excessive and poorly tolerated dose. Random assignment of medications to subjects will lead to higher discontinuation rates because of intolerance than careful match between patient and medication.

It is not clear what the balance was in the study of discontinuation because of ineffectiveness as opposed to discontinuation becuase of intolerability. My first take on the fact that patients continued with olanzapine, aripiprazole and perphenazine longer than they did with quetiapine and risperidone relates to the fact that risperidone is more poorly tolerated at therapeutic doses and quetiapine is, simply, a less effective medication at controlling schizophrenic symptoms. Let us drill down further into this concept of “ineffectiveness.” This can mean one of several things because there are several different symptom domains in schizophrenia. Different theoreticians and researchers parse them differently, but concepts of the disease include some or all of the following realms — ‘positive’ symptoms, cognitive symptoms, ‘negative’ or ‘deficit’ symptoms, associated depression and other mood symptoms, and aggression/hostility. Only some of these symptom realms are considered to be responsive to antipsychotics. If medication fails to control the torture of active psychotic symptoms, patients will not remain engaged with treaters, will not organize their behavior and follow through with plans, etc. But most pts with this disease, even with effective medication control of florid psychotic symptoms, do not necessarily develop much insight — acceptance of their illness and need for treatment — or improvement in the cognitive domain. Associated depression may not respond to antipsychotics although we are beginning to think that it may be a core domain of the suffering in the disease, in contrast to the older outmoded notion thatt there are thought disorders and mood disorders and never the twain shall meet. So discontinuation of an antipsychotic may not have related to the drugs sucking as much as the illness sucking.

What treatment context and psychosocial supports were used during the lengthy trial? Follow me here — if the study design includes drug discontinuation (for how long — a missed dose? a day? a week?) as a data endpoint, the findings are not surprising at all. In realworld biopsychosocial treatment of patients with schizophrenia, there are lapses, fits and starts in treatment continuity almost as a matter of course. But in realworld treatment, they are not endpoints. Supportive interventions often result in the restoration of interrupted treatment, or seamless change to a different medication if the prior one was ineffective, without the pt spiralling down into a fullblown decompensation requiring psychiatric hospitalization.

I firmly believe that the newer, so-called atypical antipsychotic medications are a treatment advance over the older first-generation antipsychotics (Thorazine and Haldol and their derivatives). They are far more tolerable, but I do not in the least believe the contention that they cause less side effects. Rather, they cause different ones. Unless a patient experiences morbid weight gain, the side effects of the newer agents, in contrast to the older ones, are not irreversibly damaging or disfiguring. And the newer drugs may have more effects in the mood and cognitive spheres, and even that of impoverishment and ‘negative’ symptoms, than the older agents. But they are not curative. Schizophrenia is such a devastating illness that, if someone is normalized with treatment, it is likely they did not have schizophrenia. Yes, it sucks. But medication treatment does not deserve to be slandered by an out-of-context interpretation of a non-naturalistic study with little bearing on how we treat individuals with the illness in the real world, in a multidisciplinary model with psychosocial support.

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"I’ve been firefighting for over 35 years and I’ve never come across anything like this"

“An Australian man built up a 40,000-volt charge of static electricity in his clothes as he walked, leaving a trail of scorched carpet and molten plastic and forcing firefighters to evacuate a building.

Frank Clewer, who was wearing a woolen shirt and a synthetic nylon jacket, was oblivious to the growing electrical current that was building up as his clothes rubbed together.

When he walked into a building in the country town of Warrnambool in the southern state of Victoria Thursday, the electrical charge ignited the carpet.

…’We tested his clothes with a static electricity field meter and measured a current of 40,000 volts, which is one step shy of spontaneous combustion, where his clothes would have self-ignited,’ Barton said.” (Reuters Oddly Enough)

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Shoreline Spotted on Saturn’s Moon Titan

“The idea of a large sea on Saturn’s moon Titan was all but ruled out after the Cassini mission found no evidence early in its mission.

But a new image shows what scientists think is a shoreline with bays and channels feeding liquid into a possible sea.

Scientists have long speculated that Titan might contain liquid methane or other hydrocarbons. The chemistry resembles prebiotic Earth, but Titan lacks liquid water. Nonetheless, earlier this month another group of researchers speculated that Titan might actually harbor life today.” (Yahoo! News)

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The Big Here

“You live in the big here. Wherever you live, your tiny spot is deeply intertwined within a larger place, imbedded fractal-like into a whole system called a watershed, which is itself integrated with other watersheds into a tightly interdependent biome. (See the world eco-region map ). At the ultimate level, your home is a cell in an organism called a planet. All these levels interconnect. What do you know about the dynamics of this larger system around you? Most of us are ignorant of this matrix. But it is the biggest interactive game there is. Hacking it is both fun and vital. The following exercise in watershed awareness was hatched 30 years ago by Peter Warshall, naturalist extraordinaire.” (Kevin Kelly’s Cool Tools [via walker])
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Blair calls BBC coverage ‘full of hate of America’

Blair, ever Bush’s lapdog, is essentially complaining abut media coverage of the US government’s shortcomings in the aftermath of Katrina while at a conference on peace and development convened by Bill Clinton. Ever the diplomat, Clinton agreed, wishing the media had counterbalanced the no-holds-barred reportage on Bush’s failures with coverage of acts of individual heroism in the disaster response. No surprises. The only real bit of new news appears to be this conjecture:

“Blair’s remarks, as reported by Murdoch, are sure to aggravate the already difficult relations between the prime minister’s government and the BBC.

A government weapons expert, David Kelly, killed himself in 2003 after he was revealed as the source for BBC allegations that intelligence on the Iraqi threat was exaggerated to secure public support for the US-led war.” (Yahoo! News)

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Shoreline Spotted on Saturn’s Moon Titan

“The idea of a large sea on Saturn’s moon Titan was all but ruled out after the Cassini mission found no evidence early in its mission.

But a new image shows what scientists think is a shoreline with bays and channels feeding liquid into a possible sea.

Scientists have long speculated that Titan might contain liquid methane or other hydrocarbons. The chemistry resembles prebiotic Earth, but Titan lacks liquid water. Nonetheless, earlier this month another group of researchers speculated that Titan might actually harbor life today.” (Yahoo! News)

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Activist Jiu Jitsu Dept:

Hacking the Wingnuts: “Planned Parenthood in Philadelphia came up with an ingenious way to fight back against anti-choice fundamentalists who block clinic doors and harass workers and patients. The idea: hold a fund drive in which donors give cash for each protestor that shows up. The more there are, the more money Planned Parenthood receives. And, let the harassers know how much their presence is helping the clinic raise funds.” [via boing boing]
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Bill Maher’s Sept. 15th Open Letter to George Bush

“‘Mr. President, this job can’t be fun for you any more. There’s no more money to spend–you used up all of that. You can’t start another war because you used up the army. And now, darn the luck, the rest of your term has become the Bush family nightmare: helping poor people. Listen to your Mom. The cupboard’s bare, the credit cards maxed out. No one’s speaking to you. Mission accomplished.

‘Now it’s time to do what you’ve always done best: lose interest and walk away. Like you did with your military service and the oil company and the baseball team. It’s time. Time to move on and try the next fantasy job. How about cowboy or space man? Now I know what you’re saying: there’s so many other things that you as President could involve yourself in. Please don’t. I know, I know. There’s a lot left to do. There’s a war with Venezuela. Eliminating the sales tax on yachts. Turning the space program over to the church. And Social Security to Fannie Mae. Giving embryos the vote.

‘But, Sir, none of that is going to happen now. Why? Because you govern like Billy Joel drives. You’ve performed so poorly I’m surprised that you haven’t given yourself a medal. You’re a catastrophe that walks like a man. Herbert Hoover was a shitty president, but even he never conceded an entire city to rising water and snakes.

‘On your watch, we’ve lost almost all of our allies, the surplus, four airliners, two trade centers, a piece of the Pentagon and the City of New Orleans. Maybe you’re just not lucky. I’m not saying you don’t love this country. I’m just wondering how much worse it could be if you were on the other side.

‘So, yes, God does speak to you. What he is saying is: ‘Take a hint.’ ‘” (The Huffington Post)

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Secretary of State: It’s About the Lattes

Video:

Bill O’Reilly: “The truth of the matter is our correspondents at Fox News can’t go out for a cup of coffee in Baghdad.”

Condoleezza Rice: “Bill, that’s tough. It’s tough. But what — would they have wanted to have gone out for a cup of coffee when Saddam Hussein was in power?”

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The Shape of the New New Deal?

Ed Fitzgerald continues to do a great job thinking about the aftermath of Katrina. I particularly appreciated his pulling together some links and thoughts about whether New Orleans will, and should, be rebuilt. I am not sure I agree with his emphasis on it being largely a function of how much the residents want to return, however, both because of the environmental factors and the fiscal. While the pronouncements on the toxicity of the stew in which the city has been bathed and the residue that will remain on everything are so far more fraught with emotion and political agenda than scientific appraisal, I think it remains an open question whether we have the capability to make New Orleans safe to live in again. On the other hand, given the demographics of the displaced people, who will be the advocates for protecting those who wish to return from the environmental risks? And, of course, economic interests — both insurance industry and government budgetary concerns — mitigate against recreating the same diverse lively city. Despite Dubya’s glorious and empty vision of reconstruction, the people bringing you this project are the same people who tried to do the Iraq war on the cheap, with too few troops and too little armor to do the job (although giving plenty of funding to their cronies at Halliburton), and they still defend it in the face of the results coming home in the body bags every week. My guess is that this represents an unprecedented opportunity for the neocons to do a social experiment with wiping a city clean of an underclass that is in their minds a burden rather than a contribution; a shadow economy largely disconnected from their notions of the economic life of the city. In terms of the psychogeographical argument that New Orleans has a unique and irreplaceable place in the American psyche we cannot afford to lose, look for the rebuilt New Orleans to be a theme park caricature of itself. What else do you expect when the reconstruction effort is shaped by people who live a caricature of leadership?

Fitzgerald also published the text of Al Gore’s compelling Sept. 9th remarks to the Sierra Club on the moral choices facing us in the wake of the Gulf Coast disaster.

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//us.news3.yimg.com/us.i2.yimg.com/p/rids/20050914/i/r2587077477.jpg?x=380&y=217&sig=Hh355TcloLG7aLsST74eYA--' cannot be displayed] “U.S. President George W. Bush writes a note to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during a Security Council meeting at the 2005 World Summit and 60th General Assembly of the United Nations in New York September 14.” (Yahoo! News)
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America’s Battered Wife Syndrome

“Dear America:

As a friend of the family I can’t sit back and watch you do this to yourself without saying something. Consider this a long distance intervention.

Your man is no good. He treats you like crap, lies to you, abuses you, bullies you, exploits you, takes your money. As a friend I want to tell you that you deserve better. You deserve a person that treats you with respect, cares about your welfare, and your children’s welfare, but that’s not George and it never will be.

Do you tell yourself that he’ll stop, or that it won’t get worse? He won’t ever stop, every insult, injury and death he has caused are a line that once crossed will never be uncrossed. Forget the dream. You will never have the American dream with George. You have to forget about what might have been, what George might have been, and realise that at the end of the day you are what you do, and look at George’s track record.” [more] (12thharmonic)

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‘Human remains link’ to BSE cases

“The first cases of BSE or ‘mad cow disease’ could have been caused by animal feed contaminated with human remains, says a controversial theory.

Some raw materials for fertiliser and feed imported from South Asia in the 60s and 70s contained human bones and soft tissue, the Lancet reports. Bone collectors could have picked up the remains of corpses deposited in the Ganges river to sell for export.

If infected with prion diseases, they could have been the source for BSE.” (BBC)

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FU Cheney

See Movie, Buy Shirt: “In the past two weeks, Dr. Ben Marble of Gulfport, Mississippi, lost his house, saw his wife give birth by flashlight, and became an instant celebrity for telling Vice President Dick Cheney to go fuck himself.

…The incident, remarkable for an administration renowned for screening its audiences, was not only captured live on CNN but replayed on numerous websites and blogs, and even earned a Daily Show screening.

Marble, an emergency room doctor and indie rock musician who looks as though he were torn from the pages of Spin, said he doesn’t consider his actions heroic. ‘A lot of people are saying that. I was just mad and I lost my temper,’ he said.

Still, Marble hasn’t exactly been shy about getting his 15 minutes, either. HurricaneKatrinaSucked.com, a website Marble created to post pictures of the wreckage of his home and neighborhood, quickly sprouted a ‘Go fuck yourself Mr. Cheney’ link, complete with links to the Daily Show clip, a Cafe Press store selling ‘Go Fuck Yourself Mr. Cheney’ merchandise, and two eBay auctions, one selling permission to download his original 30-minute video for $20.” (Wired News)

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Killer Buzz Flocks to New Browser

“Perhaps the world does not need another web browser — but it may want Bart Decrem’s.

Decrem and a small cadre of programmers in Palo Alto, California, have spent this summer quietly readying Flock, an open-source browser, for an early October beta launch. Several members of the team, including Decrem, hail from the Mozilla Foundation, which produced the Firefox browser upon which Flock is built.

Flock advertises itself as a ‘social browser,’ meaning that the application plays nicely with popular web services like Flickr, Technorati and del.icio.us. Flock also features widely compliant WYSIWYG, drag-and-drop blogging tools. The browser even promises to detect and authenticate all those user accounts automatically. It’s a clear attempt to be the browser of choice for the Web 2.0 user.

It’s no coincidence that the buzz has built rapidly to a rolling boil. Blogger and tech pundit Robert Scoble simply calls it “awesome.” Given the recent swell of anticipation surrounding Flock, the preceding stealth period seems quaint by contrast. Since an August demo at Bar Camp, enthusiastic blog posts have amounted to love letters in their enthusiasm. ” (Wired News)

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Talabani Says Iraqis Could Replace Many U.S. Troops

President’s Claim About Major American Withdrawal by Year’s End Conflicts With White House Position: “Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said in an interview yesterday that the United States could withdraw as many as 50,000 troops by the end of the year, declaring there are enough Iraqi forces trained and ready to begin assuming control in cities throughout the country.

After the White House and Pentagon were contacted for comment, however, a senior adviser to Talabani called The Washington Post to say Talabani did not intend to suggest a specific timeline for withdrawal.” (Washington Post)

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End of the Bush Era

“The Bush Era is over. The sooner politicians in both parties realize that, the better for them — and the country.

Recent months, and especially the past two weeks, have brought home to a steadily growing majority of Americans the truth that President Bush’s government doesn’t work. His policies are failing, his approach to leadership is detached and self-indulgent, his way of politics has produced a divided, angry and dysfunctional public square. We dare not go on like this.” — EJ Dionne (Washington Post op-ed)

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All the President’s Friends

Paul Krugman: “…(w)hat we really should be asking is whether FEMA’s decline and fall is unique, or part of a larger pattern. What other government functions have been crippled by politicization, cronyism and/or the departure of experienced professionals? How many FEMA’s are there?” (New York Times op-ed)
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Midnight caller-foiler

Invention: “Ever been plagued by wrong numbers or midnight calls from far-flung time zones? No problem, says SK Telecom of Seoul.

Instead of the caller getting a standard brrrp-brrrp tone after dialling a number, their system allows subscribers to play a personalised message back to the dialler.

The approach works for fixed or cellphone lines, and the message heard by the dialler can be the subscriber’s number, name or nickname, interspersed with normal ring-tone and the time of day at the subscriber’s end. So anyone who has mis-dialled, or called from across the world and forgotten the time difference, immediately knows to hang up.” (New Scientist)

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‘Unbearable decision: we had to kill our patients’

“Doctors working in hurricane-ravaged New Orleans killed critically ill patients rather than leaving them to die in agony as they evacuated hospitals, The Mail on Sunday can reveal.

With gangs of rapists and looters rampaging through wards in the flooded city, senior doctors took the harrowing decision to give massive overdoses of morphine to those they believed could not make it out alive.

In an extraordinary interview with The Mail on Sunday, one New Orleans doctor told how she ‘prayed for God to have mercy on her soul’ after she ignored every tenet of medical ethics and ended the lives of patients she had earlier fought to save.

Her heart-rending account has been corroborated by a hospital orderly and by local government officials. One emergency official, William ‘Forest’ McQueen, said: ‘Those who had no chance of making it were given a lot of morphine and lain down in a dark place to die.'” (Mail.UK)

Given that euthanasia is illegal in Louisiana, the paper has concealed the names of the doctor. Morphine in escalating doses is often given as a ‘comfort measure’, even if it hastens the end, when a patient’s death is judged to be inevitable and imminent. In this case, however, the imminence and inevitability may have been a function of the government failure to respond to the disaster promptly. Would you have done differently under the circumstances?

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Saramago’s Blindness Revisited

The following was sent by Tobias Wolff to his father, Robert Paul Wolff, professor in the Afro-American Studies Department at UMass Amherst, and contains an eyewitness account of two paramedic friends of Tobias who were trapped in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. It is being forwarded around through email channels.

Sent: Tuesday, September 06, 2005 11:07 PM
Subject: Saramago’s Blindness Revisited — an eyewitness account from New Orleans

Hurricane Katrina — Our Experiences (Larry Bradshaw, Lorrie Beth Slonsky)

Two days after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, the Walgreen’s store at the corner of Royal and Iberville streets remained locked. The dairy display case was clearly visible through the widows. It was now 48 hours without electricity, running water, plumbing. The milk, yogurt, and cheeses were beginning to spoil in the 90-degree heat. The owners and managers had locked up the food, water, pampers, and prescriptions and fled the City. Outside Walgreen’s windows, residents and tourists grew increasingly thirsty and hungry.

The much-promised federal, state and local aid never materialized and the windows at Walgreen’s gave way to the looters. There was an alternative. The cops could have broken one small window and distributed the nuts, fruit juices, and bottle water in an organized and systematic manner. But they did not. Instead they spent hours playing cat and mouse, temporarily chasing away the looters.

We were finally airlifted out of New Orleans two days ago and arrived home yesterday (Saturday). We have yet to see any of the TV coverage or look at a newspaper. We are willing to guess that there were no video images or front-page pictures of European or affluent white tourists looting the Walgreen’s in the French Quarter.

We also suspect the media will have been inundated with “hero” images of the National Guard, the troops and the police struggling to help the “victims” of the Hurricane. What you will not see, but what we witnessed,were the real heroes and sheroes of the hurricane relief effort: the working class of New Orleans. The maintenance workers who used a fork lift to carry the sick and disabled. The engineers, who rigged, nurtured and kept the generators running. The electricians who improvised thick extension cords stretching over blocks to share the little electricity we had in order to free cars stuck on rooftop parking lots. Nurses who took over for mechanical ventilators and spent many hours on end manually forcing air into the lungs of unconscious patients to keep them alive. Doormen who rescued folks stuck in elevators.

Refinery workers who broke into boat yards, “stealing” boats to rescue their neighbors clinging to their roofs in flood waters. Mechanics who helped hot-wire any car that could be found to ferry people out of the City. And the food service workers who scoured the commercial kitchens improvising communal meals for hundreds of those stranded.

Most of these workers had lost their homes, and had not heard from members of their families, yet they stayed and provided the only infrastructure for the 20% of New Orleans that was not under water.

On Day 2, there were approximately 500 of us left in the hotels in the French Quarter. We were a mix of foreign tourists, conference attendees like ourselves, and locals who had checked into hotels for safety and shelter from Katrina. Some of us had cell phone contact with family and friends outside of New Orleans. We were repeatedly told that all sorts of resources including the National Guard and scores of buses were pouring in to the City. The buses and the other resources must have been invisible because none of us had seen them.

We decided we had to save ourselves. So we pooled our money and came up with $25,000 to have ten buses come and take us out of the City. Those who did not have the requisite $45.00 for a ticket were subsidized by those who did have extra money. We waited for 48 hours for the buses, spending the last 12 hours standing outside, sharing the limited water, food, and clothes we had. We created a priority boarding area for the sick, elderly and new born babies. We waited late into the night for the “imminent” arrival of the buses. The buses never arrived. We later learned that the minute the arrived to the City limits, they were commandeered by the military.

By day 4 our hotels had run out of fuel and water. Sanitation was dangerously abysmal. As the desperation and despair increased, street crime as well as water levels began to rise. The hotels turned us out and locked their doors, telling us that the “officials” told us to report to the convention center to wait for more buses. As we entered the center of the City, we finally encountered the National Guard. The Guards told us we would not be allowed into the Superdome as the City’s primary shelter had descended into a humanitarian and health hellhole.

The guards further told us that the City’s only other shelter, the Convention Center, was also descending into chaos and squalor and that the police were not allowing anyone else in. Quite naturally, we asked, “If we can’t go to the only 2 shelters in the City, what was our alternative?” The guards told us that that was our problem, and no they did not have extra water to give to us. This would be the start of our numerous encounters with callous and hostile “law enforcement”.

We walked to the police command center at Harrah’s on Canal Street and were told the same thing, that we were on our own, and no they did not have water to give us. We now numbered several hundred. We held a mass meeting to decide a course of action. We agreed to camp outside the police command post. We would be plainly visible to the media and would constitute a highly visible embarrassment to the City officials. The police told us that we could not stay. Regardless, we began to settle in and set up camp. In short order, the police commander came across the street to address our group. He told us he had a solution: we should walk to the Pontchartrain Expressway and cross the greater New Orleans Bridge where the police had buses lined up to take us out of the City.

The crowed cheered and began to move. We called everyone back and explained to the commander that there had been lots of misinformation and wrong information and was he sure that there were buses waiting for us. The commander turned to the crowd and stated emphatically, “I swear to you that the buses are there.”

We organized ourselves and the 200 of us set off for the bridge with great excitement and hope. As we marched pasted the convention center, many locals saw our determined and optimistic group and asked where we were headed. We told them about the great news. Families immediately grabbed their few belongings and quickly our numbers doubled and then doubled again. Babies in strollers now joined us, people using crutches, elderly clasping walkers and others people in wheelchairs. We marched the 2-3 miles to the freeway and up the steep incline to the Bridge. It now began to pour down rain, but it did not dampen our enthusiasm.

As we approached the bridge, armed Gretna sheriffs formed a line across the foot of the bridge. Before we were close enough to speak, they began firing their weapons over our heads. This sent the crowd fleeing in various directions. As the crowd scattered and dissipated, a few of us inched forward and managed to engage some of the sheriffs in conversation. We told them of our conversation with the police commander and of the commander’s assurances. The sheriffs informed us there were no buses waiting. The commander had lied to us to get us to move.

We questioned why we couldn’t cross the bridge anyway, especially as there was little traffic on the 6-lane highway. They responded that the West Bank was not going to become New Orleans and there would be no Superdomes in their City. These were code words for if you are poor and black, you are not crossing the Mississippi River and you were not getting out of New Orleans.

Our small group retreated back down Highway 90 to seek shelter from the rain under an overpass. We debated our options and in the end decided to build an encampment in the middle of the Ponchartrain Expressway on the center divide, between the O’Keefe and Tchoupitoulas exits. We reasoned we would be visible to everyone, we would have some security being on an elevated freeway and we could wait and watch for the arrival of the yet to be seen buses.

All day long, we saw other families, individuals and groups make the same trip up the incline in an attempt to cross the bridge, only to be turned away. Some chased away with gunfire, others simply told no, others to be verbally berated and humiliated. Thousands of New Orleaners were prevented and prohibited from self-evacuating the City on foot.

Meanwhile, the only two City shelters sank further into squalor and disrepair. The only way across the bridge was by vehicle. We saw workers stealing trucks, buses, moving vans, semi-trucks and any car that could be hotwired. All were packed with people trying to escape the misery New Orleans had become.

Our little encampment began to blossom. Someone stole a water delivery truck and brought it up to us. Let’s hear it for looting! A mile or so down the freeway, an army truck lost a couple of pallets of C-rations on a tight turn. We ferried the food back to our camp in shopping carts.

Now secure with the two necessities, food and water; cooperation, community, and creativity flowered. We organized a clean up and hung garbage bags from the rebar poles. We made beds from wood pallets and cardboard. We designated a storm drain as the bathroom and the kids built an elaborate enclosure for privacy out of plastic, broken umbrellas, and other scraps. We even organized a food recycling system where individuals could swap out parts of C-rations (applesauce for babies and candies for kids!).

This was a process we saw repeatedly in the aftermath of Katrina. When individuals had to fight to find food or water, it meant looking out for yourself only. You had to do whatever it took to find water for your kids or food for your parents. When these basic needs were met, people began to look out for each other, working together and constructing a community.

If the relief organizations had saturated the City with food and water in the first 2 or 3 days, the desperation, the frustration and the ugliness would not have set in.

Flush with the necessities, we offered food and water to passing families and individuals. Many decided to stay and join us. Our encampment grew to 80 or 90 people.

From a woman with a battery powered radio we learned that the media was talking about us. Up in full view on the freeway, every relief and news organizations saw us on their way into the City. Officials were being asked what they were going to do about all those families living up on the freeway? The officials responded they were going to take care of us. Some of us got a sinking feeling. “Taking care of us” had an ominous tone to it.

Unfortunately, our sinking feeling (along with the sinking City) was correct. Just as dusk set in, a Gretna Sheriff showed up, jumped out of his patrol vehicle, aimed his gun at our faces, screaming, “Get off the fucking freeway”. A helicopter arrived and used the wind from its blades to blow away our flimsy structures. As we retreated, the sheriff loaded up his truck with our food and water.

Once again, at gunpoint, we were forced off the freeway. All the law enforcement agencies appeared threatened when we congregated or congealed into groups of 20 or more. In every congregation of “victims” they saw “mob” or “riot”. We felt safety in numbers. Our “we must stay together” was impossible because the agencies would force us into small atomized groups.

In the pandemonium of having our camp raided and destroyed, we scattered once again. Reduced to a small group of 8 people, in the dark, we sought refuge in an abandoned school bus, under the freeway on Cilo Street. We were hiding from possible criminal elements but equally and definitely, we were hiding from the police and sheriffs with their martial law, curfew and shoot-to-kill policies.

The next days, our group of 8 walked most of the day, made contact with New Orleans Fire Department and were eventually airlifted out by an urban search and rescue team. We were dropped off near the airport and managed to catch a ride with the National Guard. The two young guardsmen apologized for the limited response of the Louisiana guards. They explained that a large section of their unit was in Iraq and that meant they were shorthanded and were unable to complete all the tasks they were assigned.

We arrived at the airport on the day a massive airlift had begun. The airport had become another Superdome. We 8 were caught in a press of humanity as flights were delayed for several hours while George Bush landed briefly at the airport for a photo op. After being evacuated on a coast guard cargo plane, we arrived in San Antonio, Texas.

There the humiliation and dehumanization of the official relief effort continued. We were placed on buses and driven to a large field where we were forced to sit for hours and hours. Some of the buses did not have air-conditioners. In the dark, hundreds if us were forced to share two filthy overflowing porta-potties. Those who managed to make it out with any possessions (often a few belongings in tattered plastic bags) we were subjected to two different dog-sniffing searches.

Most of us had not eaten all day because our C-rations had been confiscated at the airport because the rations set off the metal detectors. Yet, no food had been provided to the men, women, children, elderly, disabled as they sat for hours waiting to be “medically screened” to make sure we were not carrying any communicable diseases.

This official treatment was in sharp contrast to the warm, heart-felt reception given to us by the ordinary Texans. We saw one airline worker give her shoes to someone who was barefoot. Strangers on the street offered us money and toiletries with words of welcome. Throughout, the official relief effort was callous, inept, and racist. There was more suffering than need be. Lives were lost that did not need to be lost.