My family and I are leaving for distant lands. I will be away from keyboard and monitor for the rest of February. FmH will resume posts as of March 1st.

It often seems that some of the most compelling stories break while I am away from the media and the web. (Let us hope we have not nuked Iran by the time I return.) Please feel free to email me links to anything that pops up before I’m back, especially anything you think I might want to comment on here.

Enjoy the rest of February; see you soon.

Israeli Anti-Semitic Cartoon Contest

“The story so far: Danish paper publishes cartoons that mock Muslims. An Iranian paper responds with a Holocaust cartoons contest. Now, a group of Israelis announce their own anti-Semitic cartoons contest. Amitai Sandy, the publisher of Tel-Aviv, Israel-based Dimona Comix, and founder of the contest jokes, “We’ll show the world we can do the best, sharpest, most offensive Jew hating cartoons ever published! No Iranian will beat us on our home turf!”” (Drawn! via boing boing)

Ecstasy and loud music are a bad mix

“Partygoers who take the recreational drug ecstasy may face a greater risk of long-term brain damage if they bombard themselves with loud music all night long.

The warning follows experiments in rats that were simultaneously exposed to loud noise and MDMA, aka ecstasy. The noise both intensified and prolonged the effects of the drug on the animals’ brains.

Michelangelo Iannone of Italy’s Institute of Neurological Science in Catanzaro and his colleagues gave rats varying doses of MDMA while bombarding them with white noise for 3 hours at the maximum volume permitted in Italian nightclubs.

Those given the highest dose of ecstasy, equivalent to the average amount taken by a partygoer on a night out, experienced a slump in electrical power of the cerebral cortex for up to five days after the noise was switched off. Previous studies suggest that such loss of power is related to brain hyperactivity and can ultimately lead to depression.

Rats on high doses that were not exposed to noise, and those exposed to noise but given lower doses of MDMA, experienced equally large slumps in brain power, but these only lasted for about one day (BMC Neuroscience, DOI :10.1186/1471-2202-7-13).

Since the experiments were in rats, it is hard to work out what the results mean for humans, but they do suggest that we need to know more about how ecstasy users are affected by their environment.” (New Scientist)

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The Shooter-in-Chief

[This is an expanded and hopefully more coherent version, with the obvious advantages of some hindsight, of the nascent and inchoate reactions to Cheney’s ‘blunder’ I scribbled yesterday morning. — FmH] Of course the White House played the joke angle on Cheney’s shooting of his hunting partner. It was just a ‘minor’ load of buckshot birdshot and it caused just a ‘minor’ heart attack. If someone had written fiction revolving around the accidental shooting victim suffering a cardiac event, we would consider it too implausible to believe, an old-fashioned clumsy deus ex machina plot device. Just when the v.p. thought it was safe to come out of the brush and take his licks for “peppering” his friend in the face with a little birdshot, the guy has the nerve to have some cardiac ischemia and make it impossible to trivialize the event.

This was no trivial flesh wound, however, if the blast impelled a shotgun pellet all the way to the heart! And we have a White House so obsessed with secrecy and covering its tail that neither Cheney nor Bush made a public statement about the vice president’s crime until Cheney’s flip and blasé remarks on Wednesday. No wonder Scott McClellan was abit testy having sole accountability. What a lousy job, having to defend this dysadministration’s egregious failures! It is of course a tried and true administration tactic, with the footprint of Karl Rove all over it, to shift the blame onto the press for being too interested in an official’s failings, and to obscure the difference between prompt and full disclosure and the Bush cabal’s pitiful excuse for public relations. Sympathetic observers style Cheney as some sort of hero for not being responsive to the dictates of public opinion and not knwtowing to the press. In reality, he betrays his utter contempt for any accountability. “L’état, c’est moi” indeed.

As Sidney Blumenthal (who authored one of the best recent dissections of Cheney’s reign) points out in radio interviews since the shooting, the handling of this event is emblematic of the pathology in the way this administration, and particularly Cheney, exercises power. Blumenthal marvels at the fact that Cheney misled not only the press and the public but the White House as well. (Not that Bush would have done anything about it if he had learned the truth in a timely fashion…) If Bush were anything other than an ineffectual and clueless puppet, he would realize, in the light of this incident if he has not seen it before, that he is treated with contempt by his Shadow President and puppeteer-in-chief.

Another tried and true Rove tactic, of course, is to blame the victim. McClellan tried, obviously given his talking points. Unfortunately, even the hunting lobby, no enemy of the G.O.P., has put a stop to that with an outpouring of straight talk about the responsibilities of the gun user. Clearly, Cheney has no more attention or concern for the rules of gun handling than he does for the rules of anything else. For those who opine that this was “just an accident” and “not a crime”, my nonlegal opinion is that it fits the bill of criminal negligence, although it is somewhat a moot point given how unlikely it is that a prosecutor, a judge or a jury in the state of Texas would try or convict him.

Of course the real reason there was no notification to the press or local authorities until the next day, despite the v.p.’s paltry excuses about how he had no press attaché with him, was probably the scramble there on the ranch to get everyone’s stories in line and confer with Rove about how best to spin it. I imagine Cheney did his best to get someone else to take responsibility but did not succeed. And I imagine he had to wait for his blood alcohol level to zero out before he gave permission to his Secret Service blockade to allow local law enforcement through. The lady certainly did protest too much that there was “no alcohol involved” (later amended to “just one beer”). I found myself fantasizing that Armstrong had to call the local paper to tip them off about the event to preempt Cheney’s bullying everyone to tell a different version of the story, although most people think it was some sort of closing ranks. Blumenthal points out that both Rove and Cheney owe their fortunes to the Armstrong dynasty by the way — Rove’s original Texas consulting work having been bankrolled by Katherine Armostrong’s father, and Cheney being hired into Hallibutron by her mother.