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.


Marilyn and Me:

Dealing With Illusions (or Life on a Parkinson’s Drug): “I was drinking coffee in the kitchen one night a few years ago when I heard, emanating from our stereo system two rooms away, the unmistakable voice of Marilyn Monroe singing “Happy Birthday, Mr. President.”

Startled, I asked my wife, Gina, what that recording was doing on our stereo.

“You’re hallucinating,” she said. “That’s the Grateful Dead. It’s not even close to ‘Happy Birthday,’ much less Marilyn Monroe.”” (New York Times)


Nuclear Transport

“For the first time in more than 20 years, U.S. nuclear-weapons scientists are designing a new H-bomb, the first of probably several new nuclear explosives on the drawing boards.

If they succeed, in perhaps 20 or 25 more years, the United States would have an entirely new nuclear arsenal, and a highly automated factory capable of turning out more warheads as needed, as well as new kinds of warheads.

“We are on the verge of an exciting time,” the nation’s top nuclear weapons executive, Linton Brooks, said last week at Lawrence Livermore weapons design laboratory.” (Oakland Tribune)


‘Mission Accomplished’ Dept., cont’d

Harvard study blasts Bush education policy: “President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind education policy has in some cases benefited white middle-class children over blacks and other minorities in poorer regions, a Harvard University study showed on Tuesday.

Political compromises forged between some states and the federal government have allowed schools in some predominantly white districts to dodge penalties faced by regions with larger ethnic minority populations, the study said.

Bush’s 2001 No Child Left Behind Act was meant to introduce national standards to an education system where only two-thirds of teenagers graduate from high school, a proportion that slides to 50 percent for black Americans and Hispanics.

But instead of uniform standards, the policy has allowed various states to negotiate treaties and bargains to reduce the number of schools and districts identified as failing, said the study by Harvard University’s Civil Rights Project.” (Yahoo! News)


The Secret Cause of Flame Wars

Egocentrism and the web: a recent study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests that, although people think they have correctly interpreted the tone of emails they receive 90% of the time, they have only random odds (50/50%) of being right. And people think that the tone they intend to use in sending a message will be sensed correctnyl by the receiver around 80% of the time. The researchers suggest that this is because of ‘egocentrism’:

“People often think the tone or emotion in their messages is obvious because they ‘hear’ the tone they intend in their head as they write,” Epley explains. At the same time, those reading messages unconsciously interpret them based on their current mood, stereotypes and expectations.

A better term, I think, is ‘subjectivity’. Perception is inevitably shaped by our mindset and expectations. Communicationon the web is quite prone to this trap, it seems. First of all, it is usually pithy and condensed, leaving fewer clues from context. It is a tenet of communication theory that redundancy improves the signal-to-noise ratio, yet those who include more explicit statements of their emotional state (which I find prescient anticipation of the fact that their tone would otherwise be opaque to their readers), such as smileys or written interjections such as “[grin]”, are considered kitschy. Keep watch — the temptation to add these extra clues varies inversely with the average size of a message, being greatest in instant messaging and SMS. In conditions of decreased certainty about the intentions of a stranger interacting with you, it makes evolutionary sense to assume hostility and respond defensively.

Web communication may be more susceptible to this problem for another reason. It is a stereotype of social psychology, although I believe it, that women are on the whole more sensitive nuanced communicators; web communication on the whole has been dominated by males. And recall the speculation several years ago that geekiness is a watered-down version of Asperger’s Syndrome? This is the autistic-spectrum disorder which comes without intellectual impairments and is characterized by some or all of the following: impairment in nonverbal behaviors and gestures to regulate social interaction; impairment in age-appropriate peer relationships; lack of social or emotional reciprocity; restricted, repetitive or stereotypical behavior patterns; etc. This might be a neurological basis for the predominant insensitivity to nonverbal factors in composing and interpreting web communications. (Wired News via walker)


Mind Control by Parasites

“Half of the world’s human population is infected with Toxoplasma, parasites in the body—and the brain. Remember that.

Toxoplasma gondii is a common parasite found in the guts of cats; it sheds eggs that are picked up by rats and other animals that are eaten by cats. Toxoplasma forms cysts in the bodies of the intermediate rat hosts, including in the brain.

Since cats don’t want to eat dead, decaying prey, Toxoplasma takes the evolutionarily sound course of being a ‘good’ parasite, leaving the rats perfectly healthy. Or are they?

Oxford scientists discovered that the minds of the infected rats have been subtly altered. In a series of experiments, they demonstrated that healthy rats will prudently avoid areas that have been doused with cat urine. In fact, when scientists test anti-anxiety drugs on rats, they use a whiff of cat urine to induce neurochemical panic.

However, it turns out that Toxoplasma-ridden rats show no such reaction. In fact, some of the infected rats actually seek out the cat urine-marked areas again and again. The parasite alters the mind (and thus the behavior) of the rat for its own benefit.

If the parasite can alter rat behavior, does it have any effect on humans?” (Yahoo! News)


Bottled water consumption is taxing the world’s ecosystem

In western countries, it is usually no safer than tap water but can cost 10,000 times more. The energy consumption, raw materials for the petroleum-based plastic bottles in which it is sold, and transportation costs associated with its production induce massive costs. Bottling water for export has also actually induced water shortages in some regions of the developing world. And increasingly, the bottled-water market has been taken over by the multinational beverage corporations. Even if you started drinking bottled water back when it was “spring water”, don’t imagine it is anymore. Much bottled water started out as tap water, often with minerals of dubious value added. In many places, the quality of drinking water is regulated more stringently than that of the bottled water people drink instead. A fool and his money are soon parted, the saying goes. If you are concerned about the health or the taste of your home water, a far better solution is at-home filtration; a matter of true trickle-down economics, it seems to me. (Yahoo! News)


The Lowdown on Sweet?

A seven-year study of aspartame (NutraSweet) comes down on the side of cancer risk. Unlike prior aspartame studies, Dr Morando Soffritti’s group from Bologna used dosage ranges in rats which, mg. per kg. were in the range of what a heavy diet soda drinker might consume… and these resulted in increased rates of leukemias, lymphomas and other tumors, although the New York Times piece does not say how much the relative risk was increased. Predictably, the Calorie Control Council — an artificial-sweetener industry trade group with the manufacturers’ interests, not those of consumers of low-calorie foods, at heart — objects. One of their points is that the rats exposed to the aspartame had been allowed to live until their natural deaths, longer than the two-year standard established by the United States government’s National Toxicology Program, so the cancers could have been from causes other than the aspartame. Pretty absurd objection, first, because I am confident that the methodology compared cancer rates with known background rates in rats. And many studies which are investigating subtly-developing delayed effects will appear to have negative findings if the duration of the study is arbitrarily limited.

The Soffritti study was motivated by inadequacies in the original pharmaceutical industry studies of the ’70’s used to establish the safety of the additive. Incidentally, for a decade encompassing much of the approval process for aspartame, Searle was headed by none other than Donald Rumsfeld. The FDA had found that the Searle studies had been so poorly conceived and executed that it had asked the Justice Dept. to open a grand jury investigation into whether they were fraudulent. Lo and behold, Samuel Skinner, the U.S. attorney handling the investigation, was hired by a law firm which had a plum contract with Searle and later appointed George W. Bush’s transportation secretary. The deputy who handled the investigation after Skinner left was also hired by the same law firm. A grand jury has never been convened. An independent panel reviewing Searle’s own data concluded that one of the studies had shown an increased incidence of brain tumors in rats fed aspartame and suggested that approval of the additive be withheld pending further studies. They were overruled by an FDA commissioner who granted approval to aspartame a short while after his appointment. Shortly after, he left and joined the public relations firm which represented Searle. But the Calorie Control Council says it is absurd to think that Searle was trying to influence government regulation with lucrative job offers. Looking at one five-year period of aspartame studies in medical journals, one critic found that, while 74 of 74 industry-funded studies found that the additive is safe, 84 of 92 independently funded articles identified health concerns.

In my own field of psychiatry, many practitoners feel that aspartame exacerbates mood and anxiety disorder symptoms and that treatment is easier if it is eliminated from the patient’s diet. Aspartame is made up of the two amino acids phenylalanine and aspartic acid, the former of which is speculated to upset neurotransmitter balance. The carcinogenicity studies speculate that the morbidity and mortality may be accounted for by the metabolism of aspartame to methanol and thence to the known carcinogen formaldehyde.

The abstract and full text of the Soffritti study are available here, from Environmental Health Perspectives.


Laura Bush: Hilary’s Criticism is Out of Bounds

Laura Bush, fed her lines on ABC News, responded that yes, indeed, Hilary Clinton’s criticism of her husband was “out of bounds”. She suggested Clinton exercise somewhat more empathy in light of her own experience as First Lady. What disingenuous hypocrisy. Susan G’s commentary on Daily Kos just about says it all:

“Mrs. Bush, forgive me if I think Mrs. Clinton faced a bit more personal humiliation and vitriol from the “compassionate conservative” side of the aisle during President Clinton’s term of office than your husband faces today (and with a lot more grace and class than he does, I might add). Her intimate life was combed over with glee by opponents during and after the Lewinsky scandal; she was – and remains to this day – the target of some of the most misogynistic, woman-loathing rhetoric on the American scene.

Many wives in Mrs. Clinton’s circumstances would have dumped their philandering spouses and slunk off to a corner of Montana to float the rest of their lives away in a lake of chardonnay. Instead, she ran for political office and won. She’s not a member of some mythical Former First Ladies Club in which you, Mrs. Bush, can call in chits, nor did she ever position herself to be.

She’s a working opposition senator, and calling your husband’s administration on its lies, deceptions and ineptitude is her job as part of those quaint checks and balances. She’s calling him to task for his public policies. It’s not, as you put it, “out of bounds,” as one could argue the details of her husband’s sex life were.

If she is made of sterner stuff than you or your husband, Mrs. Bush, well … if you can’t take the heat, get out of the national kitchen (please? Pretty please?). ” (Daily Kos)

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Laura Bush: Hilary’s Criticism is Out of Bounds

Laura Bush, fed her lines on ABC News, responded that yes, indeed, Hilary Clinton’s criticism of her husband was “out of bounds”. She suggested Clinton exercise somewhat more empathy in light of her own experience as First Lady. What disingenuous hypocrisy. Susan G’s commentary on Daily Kos just about says it all:

“Mrs. Bush, forgive me if I think Mrs. Clinton faced a bit more personal humiliation and vitriol from the “compassionate conservative” side of the aisle during President Clinton’s term of office than your husband faces today (and with a lot more grace and class than he does, I might add). Her intimate life was combed over with glee by opponents during and after the Lewinsky scandal; she was – and remains to this day – the target of some of the most misogynistic, woman-loathing rhetoric on the American scene.

Many wives in Mrs. Clinton’s circumstances would have dumped their philandering spouses and slunk off to a corner of Montana to float the rest of their lives away in a lake of chardonnay. Instead, she ran for political office and won. She’s not a member of some mythical Former First Ladies Club in which you, Mrs. Bush, can call in chits, nor did she ever position herself to be.

She’s a working opposition senator, and calling your husband’s administration on its lies, deceptions and ineptitude is her job as part of those quaint checks and balances. She’s calling him to task for his public policies. It’s not, as you put it, “out of bounds,” as one could argue the details of her husband’s sex life were.

If she is made of sterner stuff than you or your husband, Mrs. Bush, well … if you can’t take the heat, get out of the national kitchen (please? Pretty please?). ” (Daily Kos)

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Ex-U .N. inspector: Iran’s next

‘The only way to prevent a war with Iran is to elect a Democratically controlled Congress’. ““We just don’t know when, but it’s going to happen,” Scott Ritter said to a crowd of about 150 at the James A. Little Theater on Sunday night.

Ritter described how the U.S. government might justify war with Iran in a scenario similar to the buildup to the Iraq invasion. He also argued that Iran wants a nuclear energy program, and not nuclear weapons. But the Bush administration, he said, refuses to believe Iran is telling the truth.

He predicted the matter will wind up before the U.N. Security Council, which will determine there is no evidence of a weapons program. Then, he said, John Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, “will deliver a speech that has already been written. It says America cannot allow Iran to threaten the United States and we must unilaterally defend ourselves.”

“How do I know this? I’ve talked to Bolton’s speechwriter,” Ritter said.

Ritter also predicted the military strategy for war with Iran. First, American forces will bomb Iran. If Iranians don’t overthrow the current government, as Bush hopes they will, Iran will probably attack Israel. Then, Ritter said, the United States will drop a nuclear bomb on Iran. ” (Free New Mexican)

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Earth Alerts

“A Windows-based application that provides alert notifications and other information on acts of nature occurring anywhere within the United States, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Earth Alerts makes use of the resources from organizations like the National Weather Service and the U.S. Geological Survey, who are there to study and track these events of ‘Mother Nature’, as well as to warn us whenever the Earth starts misbehaving!

To use Earth Alerts, you simply select the specific locations you are interested in. The application will then automatically retrieve the latest information from various live data feeds on the Internet, and then present it to you. “


‘Beautiful madness’

‘“Psychiatric drugs restored Nia’s sanity and destroyed her beauty, and she doesn’t mind.” This narrative co-authored by a young psychiatrist depicts the poignancy of a 17 year-old young woman whose tormenting psychotic symptoms are treated with the antipsychotic drug olanzapine at the price of obesity. The psychiatrist is concerned, makes an unsuccessful attempt to switch the patient to a different antipsychotic drug, resulting in a reemergence of her symptoms, and reluctantly resumes the use of the olanzapine. He feels the patient is caught in a Faustian dilemma of being either ‘beautiful and mad’ or ‘fat and sane.’ This article is being savaged around the web as an illustration of the psychiatrist’s sexist attitude and a reflection of society’s prejudicial attitude about obesity. As a psychiatrist, I am feeling a wee bit defensive, and, with all due respect and support for the senses in which “fat is” indeed “a feminist issue”, I feel that is not a fair characterization of the article or its point.

First, let me say that the authors can certainly be faulted for the flavor of salivating over the young woman’s beauty, but they are partially depicting the way others in her life saw her. The psychiatrist, in puzzling over her Faustian tradeoff, is not so much imposing his feelings about the value of her physical attractiveness as he is curious about the fact that, when she responds to the medicine and puts the weight on, she does not seem to be bothered. The feminist critics assume that that is because her beauty is unimportant to her compared to her sanity, and fault the psychiatrist for being unable to accept that. But to my reading, he is troubled not by the fact that she accepts her weight gain but that she does not notice it.

The author may not have articulated it all that well, but speaking for him it seems that the issue is really that the impoverishment in schizophrenic illness is largely about a growing impairment in social reciprocity and empathic connection with others. One’s feelings about one’s attractiveness are essentially reactions, for better or worse, to an awareness of how others see us. It has been called The Gaze, the way men have of turning a woman into an object, a body. Consciousness-raising about fat and body image requires first that one be aware that one is reacting in a fixed way to societal attitudes and that one has the choice not to any longer. One has to be aware of The Gaze to protest against the objectification. But the faculties of social awareness and social discretion progressively wither as schizophrenic illness progresses. (That is why so much of the illness involves social inappropriateness or bizarreness, with apparent disregard for the effect one is having on others around one. Despite their characterization as irreverent and courageous icons unconcerned with the morés of society and willing to be iconoclasts, schizophrenics are not making a deliberate defiant countercultural statement, they are not being heroes in subverting the dominant paradigms of their society. They are hurting unbearably. They cannot help being unconcerned with social norms because their faculties for interpersonal perception and conformity with norms are progressively deteriorating. Most of them would like nothing better than to fit in. Was it James Joyce who said that the difference between his thought processes and those of his schizophrenic daughter were like the difference between swimming in a strong current and drowning in it?) The psychiatrist, seeing the patient’s apparent indifference to her weight gain, goes the distance in wondering if she is really as better as she is said to be, in the sense I have just laid out, not the sexist one.

A parallel way to understand the schizophrenic process is that the person comes to treat herself and her body as an object. How can a woman rebel against societal objectification if the disease is doing it to her?

One further point should be made. The reason for the prescriber to be leery of the effect a medication like olanzapine has, especially on a young adult, extends far beyond the vanity issue of body weight. The newer antipsychotics were developed to be “cleaner” medications free of many of the side effects of the prior generation of medications for psychotic illness. And, indeed, they do largely avoid the older drugs’ longlasting and disfiguring neurological side effects. But it became evident that many of the so-called benign newer drugs caused a rash of effects of which weight gain is just the tip of the iceberg. These include glucose intolerance, the development or acceleration of diabetes, lipid and triglyceride disturbances, and cardiac and endocrine complications. The article does a disservice by anguishing only over the patient’s weight gain, too inarticulately to convey a more thorough and sophisticated range of concerns, and leaving itself open to being a straw man for a well-intentioned but misguided feminist outcry.

Finally, the psychiatrist considers only a rather limited set of options for treating the young woman. There are other medications and other strategies that stand a chance of combining effective treatment response with avoidance of the metabolic effects the olanzapine had caused. On the other hand, there is an inescapable sense, for anyone who has practiced medicine for any length of time, that there is no free lunch. Treatment choices are almost always nuanced and poignant cost-benefit decisions without unambiguous answers for either the patient or the prescriber. That is where I thought the article in question was going when I began to read it. Sadly, it missed the opportunity to get that deep. (Prospect)


Where the Rich and Elite Meet to Compete

“What the Winter Games are not is a truly international sporting competition that brings the best of the world together to compete, as the promotional blather would have you believe. Unlike the widely attended Summer Olympics, the winter version is almost exclusively the preserve of a narrow, generally wealthy, predominantly Caucasian collection of athletes and nations. In fact, I’d suggest that the name of the Winter Games, which start Friday, be changed. They could be more accurately branded “The European and North American Expensive Sports Festival.”” — Paul Farhi (Washington Post opinion)

Mission Accomplished Dept. (cont’d.)

White House Knew of Levee’s Failure on Night of Storm: “But the alert did not seem to register. Even the next morning, President Bush was feeling relieved that New Orleans had “dodged the bullet,” he later recalled. Mr. Chertoff, similarly confident, flew Tuesday to Atlanta for a briefing on avian flu. With power out from the high winds and movement limited, even news reporters in New Orleans remained unaware of the full extent of the levee breaches until Tuesday.

The federal government let out a sigh of relief when in fact it should have been sounding an “all hands on deck” alarm, the investigators have found.” (New York Times)


"What next, bearded one?"

“”I feel offended.

Zealots are nailing veils onto the faces of my sisters in Afghanistan and Pakistan and are busy hanging women, homosexuals, adulterers and non-believers.

But human rights, women’s rights and the right to liberty are the most exalted in the history of humanity; this is the tradition in which I was raised. Values that make the world better and more peaceful.

I demand that the governments of Saudi Arabia, Palestine, Indonesia and Egypt apologise to me. Otherwise I am unfortunately forced to threaten, beat up, kidnap or behead their citizens. Because I am somewhat sensitive about my cultural identity.

I feel offended.

Fanatics are blowing up the Buddhas of Bamiyan, marvellous cultural monuments.

But art is an expression of universal beauty and innocence to me. It is a value that makes the world better and more peaceful.; this is the tradition in which I was raised.

I demand that Hamas, the spokesman of the French Muslims and the Director of the Al-Azhar-University apologise to me. Otherwise I will never spend a holiday at the Taj Mahal, I will call for a boycott of Palestinian fruit and I will set the embassies of Tunisia, Qatar and Bangladesh on fire.

I expect understanding for this at the very least – my feelings are absolute and must be expressed globally.

I feel offended.” (Sign and Sight)


Ex-CIA Official Faults Use of Data on Iraq

First time that such a senior intelligence officer has so directly and publicly condemned the administration’s handling of intelligence: “The former CIA official who coordinated U.S. intelligence on the Middle East until last year has accused the Bush administration of “cherry-picking” intelligence on Iraq to justify a decision it had already reached to go to war, and of ignoring warnings that the country could easily fall into violence and chaos after an invasion to overthrow Saddam Hussein.” (Washington Post)

Listen carefully to this, it is confirmationof what I have been saying all along. The dysadministration has largely succeeded, by repeating the lie often enough, in convincing the public that it was faulty intelligence about WMD that led us to war, and that it was the intelligence establishment’s failure. In reality, the intelligence analysts were marginalized and Cheney heard just what he wanted to hear and ignored the rest. I am no fan of the U.S.’s covert intelligence agencies, but in this case they are the aggrieved victims and honest speakers of truth to power. The real purpose of Porter Goss’ housecleaning at the CIA is to prevent some renegade career intelligence officers from turning their dirty tricks on the Bush Cabal in retaliation, and they would be justified to do so.

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‘Walk again’ drugs to be tested on people

“Two antibodies that enabled the severed spinal nerves of rats to be regenerated are to be tested in humans.

The antibodies have helped rats with damaged spinal cords to walk again, by blocking the action of Nogo, a protein that stops nerve cells sprouting new connections. But there were concerns about whether blocking Nogo would lead to uncontrolled neuronal rewiring in the brain or spinal cord and it was also unclear how such a therapy could be given to humans.” (New Scientist)

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Listen to the Songbird

“Open Source iTunes Killer,” flies today: “A team led by ex-Winamp-er Rob Lord today released a preview edition of Songbird, a desktop media player that offers an open source alternative to services like Apple’s iTunes and the Windows Media Player. Instead of connecting to one locked store full of DRMmed goods, it can connect to any and all available music (and video) on the internet.

…Built on the same platform as Firefox, Songbird acts like a specialized web browser for music. It sees the online world through MP3-colored glasses — it looks at an archive of public domain ” (boing boing)

The download site appears to be overloaded, but here is a mirror, and here is another. This is really a buggy pre-release but you might be interested anyway.


Reinventing Reality (cont’d.)

Did Bush lie today about supposed foiling of LA threat?Today Bush said: Bush Touted Thwarting of Post 9/11 U.S. Terrorism Plot. “In a speech today, Bush told members of the National Guard Association of a foiled 2002 Al Qaeda plot to fly a plane into LA’s US Bank Tower, the tallest building on the West Coast. Bush said that the terrorist’s plan was put into place after 9/11 but “was derailed in early 2002, when a Southeast Asian nation arrested a key al Qaeda operative.” Bush added, “Subsequent debriefings and other intelligence operations made clear the intended target and how al Qaeda hoped to execute” the plot, and helped other allies capture the ringleaders.”” (Washington Post)

But in 2004: FBI Counterterrorism Official Said He Knew of No Thwarted Al Qaeda Attacks. “After a CIA official claimed last year that the government had “probably prevented a few aviation attacks against both the East and West Coasts” since 9/11, John Pistole, the FBI’s counterterrorism director, said he was “not sure what [the CIA] was referring to.”” – 9/11 Commission Testimony, 6/16/2004; New York Daily News, 6/17/04

Los Angeles Mayor knows nothing about the supposed threat: “Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said Thursday he was blindsided by President Bush’s announcement of new details on a purported 2002 hijacking plot aimed at a downtown skyscraper, and described communication with the White House as “nonexistent.” “I’m amazed that the president would make this (announcement) on national TV and not inform us of these details through the appropriate channels,” the mayor said in an interview with The Associated Press. “I don’t expect a call from the president — but somebody.”” (Yahoo! News )

(via AmericaBlog)

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FDA reports 51 deaths of attention drug patients

“Deaths of 51 U.S. patients who took widely prescribed drugs to treat attention deficit disorder prompted regulators to start watching for heart attacks, high blood pressure and other problems in 2004, a report released on Wednesday said.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration staff did not say the drugs were responsible for the fatalities, but they urged close monitoring for “the rare occurrence of pediatric sudden death during stimulant therapy.”” (Yahoo! News)

Compare this situation to that of antidepressants. On the basis of histrionics and flawed research design, the FDA urged that they not be used in children and mandated the dreaded ‘black box warning’ on the drugs’ prescribing information. I am not sure, but I fear these actions have had a discernible chilling effect on antidepressant prescribing rates, because doctors will be skittish about prescribing them to even urgently depressed patients, some whose lives are in jeopardy from their mental state.

Stimulants, on the other hand, are superfluously prescribed for a condition that is vastly, epidemically, overdiagnosed in a loosey-goosey, unsystematic, irresponsible way. Unlike antidepressants, anyone almost anyone prescribed a stimulant like Ritalin or Adderall, ADHD or not, will feel better and the shoddy diagnosis becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy because a medication is seen to have caused improvement. Again, unlike antidepressants, the drugs have enormous potential for abuse, diversion to the street trade, and addictiveness, because they feel so good to use. Tolerance accelerates use and creates escalating need for higher and higher doses over time. And the cardiovascular consequences, including sudden death, are far from trivial risks.

So one class of drugs with serious dangers prescribed for too little reason to far too many people, for which a ‘black box warning’ would almost surely be a public policy step in the right direction, and have the desireable effect of diminishing the volume of prescriptions, is given a free pass, while the applicability and acceptability of another urgently needed class of drugs for a life-threatening illness is hobbled needlessly. No matter how large the denominator, 51 deaths from stimulants certainly represents a much higher rate of morbidity/mortality than attributable to the antidepressants, and an effect magnified by the diminished necessity for and benefit of stimulants as compared to antidepressants.

: FDA Panel Recommends Warning on ADHD Drugs (New York Times )


The Democrats on the Judiciary Committee Should Have Walked Out. Period.

…As Soon as the Republicans Voted to Prohibit Gonzales from Testifying Under Oath About Illegal Wiretapping. “It was at that point, once again, that the Democrats became merely bit players in a script once again written by the White House. For many years, and most recently in several editorials, BuzzFlash has lamented that the Dems don’t understand that these hearings are soap operas — and that the Bush/Rovian propaganda staff writes very effective soap opera scripts.

In this case, the goal of the soap opera was to allow Gonzales not to testify under oath, so that he wouldn’t be likely to be charged with perjury. After that point, everything else just became a big muddle. And, the White House knows, in a situation like this, they win if the hearing turns out to be inconclusive and stalemated.” (BuzzFlash via seth)


"Those Cartoons"

A caricature of a political argument: “The row over the cartoons of Muhammad is itself a cartoon caricature of a political debate. Worse, it is a kiddie-cartoon, with the childish raspberry that those anti-Islamic daubs represent being met by an infantile tantrum of protests from Muslim groups. None of this has much to do with the arguments we ought to be having about free speech, or the sort of society we want.

Yet such is the febrile climate in which we live today, that what began as a local dispute over some drawings in Scandinavian newspapers of which few had ever heard has escalated into a global dispute, with everybody from the secretary-general of the United Nations to the American and British governments feeling it necessary to get involved.” — Mick Hume (Spiked)

Hume argues that Western societies encourage “all manner of groups to seek special status by defining themselves as victims and developing a heightened sense of grievance… Being offended or excluded in some way becomes a shortcut to claiming moral authority and demanding apologies and redress…” Hume suggests that the cartoons — admittedly offensive but obscure — were a convenient target for those looking for an occasion to become outraged.

And the protests have drawn their strength from the defensive reactions of the West. The reprinting of the cartoons in other European media, spun as arising from solidarity with the Danish paper, is less a principled stand on behalf of free speech than “another claim for victim status, this time on behalf of journalists.”

The opposing stance in the West, that of a politically correct condemnation of the offensiveness of the caricature, on the other hand, gives legitimacy to the protestors and actually fans the flames. Freedom of speech is not true freedom if only inoffensive speech is free, although on the other hand freedom does not oblige us to offend at any opportunity. Hume attempts to draw some distinctions, which I think don’t really work, about when it is worthwhile to be offensive, as opposed to merely frivolous or gratuitous: “For us, the right to be offensive is about the freedom to express ideas and opinions in which you believe, regardless of whether they offend existing orthodoxies or sensibilities. Cartoons like these, however, simply seem to cause offence as an end in itself.” In a sense, if we are to defend as fundamental the right of others to say things we do not like, far be it for us to judge if they are “just to offend” or said from conviction.

Islamic protestors have frequently drawn a contrast between the European toleration or (as it is viewed in more paranoid circles) encouragement of the anti-Muslim cartoons and the taboo against expressions of anti-Semitism. In the West, restriction of free speech, as e.g. prosecution of hate speech, has often been based on the principle that certain speech crosses the line to become action (“crying ‘Fire!’ in a crowded theater”). The history of persecution of Jews, including the West, means that anti-Semitic speech credibly creates a present danger of inciting violence. Especially in a society in which disenfranchised people seek opportunities to parlay trumped-up charges of victimhood into the advantages of the aggrieved, attempting to apply that litmus test seems worthwhile. I hope I am not being ethnocentric in saying that I am not sure the ridiculous Danish cartoons pass the test. I am closer to feeling, however, that some of the Islamic reaction does.

Related: “Iran’s largest selling newspaper announced today it was holding a contest on cartoons of the Holocaust in response to the publishing in European papers of caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed.” (news.com.au)

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Bushwhacked at King’s Funeral

“Today’s funeral service for Coretta Scott King would’ve been remarkable for just for bringing together four presidents-President Bush as well as past presidents Bill Clinton, George H.W Bush and Jimmy Carter.

But it was arresting to watch at times because critics of the current administration skewered President Bush as he sat just a few feet away, outside the White House bubble that usually protects sitting presidents, especially this one.

Rev. Joseph Lowery, former head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the group the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once led, spoke after President Bush’s brief remarks and with the freedom that comes from being 84 years old with little left to lose.

“How marvelous that presidents and governors have come to mourn and praise. But in the morning, will words become deeds that meet needs?… [Mrs. King] extended Martin’s message against poverty, racism and war. She deplored the terror inflicted by our smart bombs on missions way afar. We know now there were no weapons of mass destruction over there. But Coretta knew and we knew that there are weapons of misdirection right down here. Millions without health insurance, poverty abounds. For war billions more but no more for the poor.”” (Chicago Tribune)

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"as close to the Garden of Eden as you’re going to find"

“Lost world” found in Indonesian jungle: “Scientists said on Tuesday they had found a “Lost World” in an Indonesian mountain jungle, home to dozens of exotic new species of birds, butterflies, frogs and plants.

“It’s as close to the Garden of Eden as you’re going to find on Earth,” said Bruce Beehler, co-leader of the U.S., Indonesian, and Australian expedition to part of the cloud-shrouded Foja mountains in the west of New Guinea.

Indigenous peoples living near the Foja range, which rises to 2,200 metres (7,218 ft), said they did not venture into the trackless area of 3,000 sq km (1,200 sq miles) — roughly the size of Luxembourg or the U.S. state of Rhode Island.” (Yahoo! News)


The ‘Wiretap Hearing’

Lots of punditry here on the wiretap hearings, but it seems to me it obscures rather than clarifies the crucial facts. Torturer-General Gonzales spent most of his time on the stand not answering questions about the wiretapping program. He echoed Bush’s stance of being largely uninterested in seeking additional authority for the administraiton’s illegal actions. Everyone at the hearings was eager to establish that we are interested in knowing what is said if ‘U.S. persons’ are talking to foreign terrorists. While the Senate is certainly offended that they have been out of the loop on this, there seemed nonetheless to be offers on the table to extend additional authority to the administration if they would ask for it.

So why does the Bush cabal prefer to do it illegally? It seems clear that it has something to do with avoiding scrutiny or accountability of any kind, and precisely the desire not to have to report to the legislative or judicial branches. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that that is because the scope of the program is far broader than what they are willing to cop to. Perhaps we are seeing only the tip of the iceberg. Here’s hoping there are more leaks waiting to be sprung…


Inside the brain of an alcoholic

“We may never understand the mind of every alcoholic, but we are starting to learn more about alcohol’s specific effects on a region of the brain that regulates emotion and behaviour.

A team in Australia has found that alcohol dampens down the expression of hundreds of genes in the amygdala, which might account for why alcoholics suffer dysfunctional symptoms such as disrupted sleep and depression. It may also help explain why recovering alcoholics are prone to relapse.

The amygdala is a key structure in the brain’s emotional system that acts as an interface between incoming sensory signals and behavioural responses. It is believed to play a key role in drug-seeking. Brain images suggest it is more active in alcoholics, so Rosemarie Kryger and Peter Wilce at the alcohol research unit of the University of Queensland in Herston decided to investigate whether gene expression in the amygdala also differs between alcoholics …” (New Scientist)


US media at ‘all-time low’

“Arabic-language media have an unprecedented chance to take over as the world’s premier news source because trust in their US counterparts plummeted following their “shameful coverage” of the war in Iraq, a conference heard today.

The US media reached an “all-time low” in failing to reflect public opinion and Americans’ desire for trusted information, instead acting as a “cheerleader” for war, said Amy Goodman, the executive producer and host of US TV and radio news show Democracy Now!, at a news forum organised by al-Jazeera.” (Guardian.UK)


Media largely ignored Fitzgerald revelation that White House may have destroyed emails

“Few major news outlets have covered the fact — first reported by the New York Daily News — that in a letter to I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby’s defense attorneys, special counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald said that numerous emails from 2003 are missing from the White House computer archives.” (Media Matters)

Rumours mount over Google’s internet plan

“Google is working on a project to create its own global internet protocol (IP) network, a private alternative to the internet controlled by the search giant, according to sources who are in commercial negotiation with the company.

Last month, Google placed job advertisements in America and the British national press for “Strategic Negotiator candidates with experience in…identification, selection, and negotiation of dark fibre contracts both in metropolitan areas and over long distances as part of development of a global backbone network”.

Dark fibre is the remnants of late 1990s internet boom where American web companies laid down fibre optic cables in preparation for high speed internet delivery. Following the downturn in the technology sector during the early 2000s, the installation process for many of these networks was left incomplete. This has resulted in a usable network of cables spread across the United States that have never been switched on. By purchasing the dark fibre, Google would in effect be able to acquire a ready made internet network that they could control.

Late last year, Google purchased a 270,000sq ft telecom interconnection facilities in New York. It is believed that from here, Google plans to link up and power the dark fibre system and turn it into a working internet network of its own.

It was also reported in November that Google was buying shipping containers and building data centres within them, possibly with the aim of using them at significant nodes within the worldwide cable network. “Google hired a pair of very bright industrial designers to figure out how to cram the greatest number of CPUs, the most storage, memory and power support into a 20- or 40-foot box<” Robert Cringely wrote. “The idea is to plant one of these puppies anywhere Google owns access to fiber, basically turning the entire Internet into a giant processing and storage grid.”” (Times.UK)


Betty Friedan, R.I.P.

//graphics8.nytimes.com/images/2006/02/05/national/05friedan2_184.jpg' cannot be displayed] “[T]he feminist crusader and author whose searing first book, The Feminine Mystique, ignited the contemporary women’s movement in 1963 and as a result permanently transformed the social fabric of the United States and countries around the world, died yesterday, her 85th birthday, at her home in Washington.” (New York Times)

Although gender inequality is of course still rampant if you bother to look, many who were not around for the women’s movement Friedan was pivotal in jumpstarting in the ’60’s have no context to appreciate the extent it reversed the egregious sexism previously built into the American social fabric. That the gains women have made remedying oppression since the ’60’s are taken for granted these days is a testimony to the now-unsung enormity of the movement’s achievements. Much as a fish is not aware of the water, feminist issues now fade into the background rather than remaining a foreground struggle — for better and worse.

This foreground awareness — “consciousness-raising” — was undergone and undertaken by men who were supportive of the feminist movement too, and it had a central role in redefining masculinity and modulating the destructive influence of testosterone in our society. As the women’s movement has faded into the background a generation later, this effect on men and maleness is going by the boards as well, I fear. As someone who tries to raise his son without his falling into conventional male stereotypes, even in a liberal community, it often feels like bucking a trend.

Friedan, it seems, grew to feel that the women’s movement was being hijacked by man-hating elements. From my perspective as someone who was a part of it, the consciousness-raising of the ’60’s or ’70’s male with feminist sensibilities inherently required a self-effacing and self-critical stance. This was supposed to be encouraged, supported and welcomed by women in the movement, but it made for a great deal of vulnerability to anti-male elements. In a curious way, this went some distance toward standing the old social order on its head, replacing the traditional oppression and self-loathing of women in our society with oppression and self-loathing of men, which I guess was the point for some. It seems to me that this played a great role in alienating male sympathizers and stemming the tide of the reform of maleness that many saw as a crucial part of the women’s movement.

Some in the movement, those with whom Friedan eventually broke, would of course disagree that the reform of male consciousness was germane at all, putting it that “a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle” (to continue with the fish motif). There’s that self-effacement again — having to correct myself if I dare to suggest that the feminist movement was as important to me as it was to women, needing to reassure that I don’t belong to the ‘Virginia Slims’ contingent of the movement threatening to co-opt it with a conventional male powerplay…


Linking You to the Here and Then

DNA Kits: “Several years ago, the Internet helped to encourage a greater American fascination with genealogy. Now DNA testing has added a new twist that has people… paying hundreds if not thousands of dollars to look at genetic information in order to uncover details about their heritage.

More than a dozen companies, like Family Tree DNA in Houston, Relative Genetics in Salt Lake City and African Ancestry in Washington, now sell home DNA tests; the prices range from $100 to $900 each.” (New York Times)


Rumours mount over Google’s internet plan

“Google is working on a project to create its own global internet protocol (IP) network, a private alternative to the internet controlled by the search giant, according to sources who are in commercial negotiation with the company.

Last month, Google placed job advertisements in America and the British national press for “Strategic Negotiator candidates with experience in…identification, selection, and negotiation of dark fibre contracts both in metropolitan areas and over long distances as part of development of a global backbone network”.

Dark fibre is the remnants of late 1990s internet boom where American web companies laid down fibre optic cables in preparation for high speed internet delivery. Following the downturn in the technology sector during the early 2000s, the installation process for many of these networks was left incomplete. This has resulted in a usable network of cables spread across the United States that have never been switched on. By purchasing the dark fibre, Google would in effect be able to acquire a ready made internet network that they could control.

Late last year, Google purchased a 270,000sq ft telecom interconnection facilities in New York. It is believed that from here, Google plans to link up and power the dark fibre system and turn it into a working internet network of its own.

It was also reported in November that Google was buying shipping containers and building data centres within them, possibly with the aim of using them at significant nodes within the worldwide cable network. “Google hired a pair of very bright industrial designers to figure out how to cram the greatest number of CPUs, the most storage, memory and power support into a 20- or 40-foot box<” Robert Cringely wrote. “The idea is to plant one of these puppies anywhere Google owns access to fiber, basically turning the entire Internet into a giant processing and storage grid.”” (Times.UK)


Not in the Mood

My fellow weblogger at Medley was lucky enough (?) to be called by a Democratic Party fundraiser at a crucial juncture:

“I said: ‘Actually – we’re really pissed off at the Democrats and the cloture vote yesterday, so we’re not in the mood to give the party any money right now.’ And then I hung up.

I have to run to something in 5 minutes or else I might have stayed on the line and ranted a bit longer at the poor volunteer.

Sorry, Howard – still love you, man, but your party has betrayed me, betrayed the country, and betrayed the Constitution and I won’t soon forget it.”


A Zombie Error

“So – are images of the Prophet Muhammad illicit in Islam? From what some people do and say you might think so.

Not so fast. This is a classic zombie error – a commonplace belief that will. not. die!

I am not a specialist in Islamic art, but I teach an occasional low-level survey of the field at these Colleges, where we have an excellent Visual Resources Collection for a school of our size, a collection which is unfortunately for your visual delight very observant of copyright laws, so I can’t post any pictures. I popped some terms into the search engine and came up with this list of paintings of the Prophet Muhammad executed by Muslims that we happen to own slides of; this is not an exhaustive list!

So, journalists, don’t tell us this is a taboo subject matter in Islam. The physical depiction of the Prophet Muhammad may be a taboo subject matter in some sects of contemporary Islam, but let’s all be clear — this is not a universal prohibition.

Here are LOTS of examples for you arranged in chronological order…” (The Cranky Professor via walker)

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Icy Ball Xena Is Larger Than Pluto

So Is It a Planet?: “A ball of ice and dust discovered last year in the outskirts of the solar system is 30 percent wider than Pluto, a team of German astronomers is reporting today.

The finding definitively makes the icy ball — temporarily labeled 2003 UB313 and nicknamed Xena — the largest known object to be discovered orbiting Earth’s sun since Neptune was identified in 1846, and adds to the debate over what should be considered a planet.” (New York Times)

//graphics8.nytimes.com/images/2006/02/01/science/01cnd-planet.184.jpg' cannot be displayed]

Evolution mystery:

Bacteria acquired gene for brown recluse spider venom: “It’s a case of evolutionary detective work. Biology researchers at Lewis & Clark College and the University of Arizona have found evidence for an ancient transfer of a toxin between ancestors of two very dissimilar organisms–spiders and a bacterium. But the mystery remains as how the toxin passed between the two organisms. Their research is published this month in the journal Bioinformatics, 22(3): 264-268, in an article titled “Lateral gene transfer of a dermonecrotic toxin between spiders and bacteria.”” (EurekAlert)


Paranormal investigation and protection services: “[We] offer a variety of discrete and personal paranormal protective services, ranging from cleansing houses/businesses of malign paranormal influences to curse protection and exorcism, combining tested ancient wisdom with modern scientific and philosophical perspectives, backed by over 20 years of practical experience in this unusual area of expertise.”

Fixing Windows with Knoppix

“Do you use Knoppix? This bootable Linux distribution that comes in the form of a CD or DVD can be a lifesaver when your computer goes awry. In this feature, we guide you through the process of fixing Windows with Knoppix, which includes resizing Windows partitions, solving key system file problems, and recovering data. This is a chapter from the ExtremeTech book Hacking Knoppix.” (ExtremeTech)

Revered as a feminist icon…

…and then she met Jesus: “Sitting on plump cushions in the faux drawing room of a London hotel, Naomi Wolf decides, for some reason, to talk about her epiphany. Wolf, the most widely read feminist of her generation, is fresh from a bruising radio encounter on Woman’s Hour with her own heroine, Germaine Greer.

It must have stung to be boxed around the ears by the matriarch icon who once described Wolf’s first book, The Beauty Myth, as the most important feminist tract since her own opus, The Female Eunuch. But Greer, like many other feminists, appears to have cooled towards 43-year-old Wolf since her 1991 polemic against the cosmetics industry radicalised a new generation of women.

Wolf’s follow-up books: Fire With Fire, on career success; Promiscuities, on sexual awakening; and Misconceptions, on marriage and childbirth – developed a feminist treatise from the mirror of her own experiences: what other feminists call an easy life.

Maybe it is an echo of Greer’s withering voice that spurs Wolf to open up for the first time in public about her spiritual awakening. Perhaps it is being asked once too often about the hitherto unexplained “mid-life crisis” that caused her to go off, in her early 40s, into the woods of upstate New York to write her latest book, The Treehouse. This self-help meditation on her father’s wisdom has drawn accusations that the author is embracing what she used to refer to as “patriarchy”.” (Sunday Herald)


The New Geopolitics of Empire

“What hope remains under these dire circumstances lies in the building of a new world peace movement that recognizes that what ultimately must be overcome is not a particular instance of imperialism and war, but an entire world economic system that feeds on militarism and imperialism. The goal of peace must be seen as involving the creation of a world of substantive equality in which global exploitation and the geopolitics of empire are no longer the principal objects. The age-old name for such a radical egalitarian order is “socialism.”” (Monthly Review)

The Moral Status of Animals

“In 2000 AD, the High Court of Kerala, in India, addressed the plight of circus animals “housed in cramped cages, subjected to fear, hunger, pain, not to mention the undignified way of life they have to live.” It found those animals “beings entitled to dignified existence” within the meaning of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, which protects the right to life with dignity. “If humans are entitled to fundamental rights, why not animals?” the court asked.

We humans share a world and its scarce resources with other intelligent creatures. As the court said, those creatures are capable of dignified existence. It is difficult to know precisely what that means, but it is rather clear what it does not mean: the conditions of the circus animals beaten and housed in filthy cramped cages, the even more horrific conditions endured by chickens, calves, and pigs raised for food in factory farming, and many other comparable conditions of deprivation, suffering, and indignity. The fact that humans act in ways that deny other animals a dignified existence appears to be an issue of justice, and an urgent one.” (The Chronicle of Higher Education)


Cookie Monsters of Death Metal

Curious parallels pursued by WSJ Opinion Journal: “While the extreme branch of heavy-metal music known as death metal is defined in part by often-vile lyrics about violence, catastrophic destruction, nihilism, anarchy and paranoia, its singing style is associated with a beloved goggle-eyed, fuzzy blue puppet.

Death-metal vocalizing is also known as Cookie Monster singing, if not in tribute to, at least in acknowledgment of, the “Sesame Street” puppet that blurts in a guttural growl, his words discharged so rapidly that they tend to collide with each other.

All this was news to people at Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit organization behind “Sesame Street.” “We have nothing to do with it,” said Ellen Lewis, vice president of corporate communications. “What is it?””


the social costs of dating

“…[T]he price for our liberation has been high. It has been: Dating. Has any generation before ever had to go on so many dates? The economies of major metropolitan centers are now almost wholly reliant on the dating industry—in the bistros, bars, nightclubs. At every turn, the dater finds himself flattered: advice books, reality television shows, an infinite selection of white striped shirts to wear untucked over jeans. The contemporary novel increasingly organizes itself around a series of dates.

Every culture produces its paradigmatic social situation, and the date is now ours. ” (n+1)


Pandora and Last.fm

Nature vs. Nurture in Music Recommenders. I recently wrote a post on FmH in response to reports about new software algorithms to pigeonhole the formal qualities of pieces of music to make recommendations based on analytic conclusions about your tastes. In short, I stated that a more subtle, sophisticated and ultimately more pleasing recommendation engine already existed — social recommenders like last.fm (audioscrobbler), which I use, which point you to new music based on the listening experience of a body of users whose tastes are similar to yours. Here is a more elaborate discussion of the strengths and weaknessess of the two approaches, which weblogger Steve Krause neatly contrasts as ‘nature vs. nurture.’


End of an Era

Western Union Stops Sending Telegrams: “After 145 years, Western Union has quietly stopped sending telegrams.

On the company’s web site, if you click on “Telegrams” in the left-side navigation bar, you’re taken to a page that ends a technological era with about as little fanfare as possible:

“Effective January 27, 2006, Western Union will discontinue all Telegram and Commercial Messaging services. We regret any inconvenience this may cause you, and we thank you for your loyal patronage. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact a customer service representative.”

The decline of telegram use goes back at least to the 1980s, when long-distance telephone service became cheap enough to offer a viable alternative in many if not most cases. Faxes didn’t help. Email could be counted as the final nail in the coffin.” (Live Science)


Preaching to the Converted

Ed Fitzgerald opines at unfutz: “I’m rather amazed at people around the lefty blogosphere spending so much time and effort debunking the claims and suggestions Bush made in the speech, I suppose because I take it for granted that pretty much everything he says will be a lie — or, to be scrupulously fair, everything will exist somewhere on a continuum between “deliberately misleading” and “outright falsehood”.

I guess someone has to say the obvious, but since most lefty blogs are preaching to the choir, and the mainstream media shows only limited interest in applying the only kind of “balance” that really matters — that between the maximum amount of truth and the minimum amount of misinformation — it seems somewhat like a waste of energy to me.” (unfutz)

Readers will notice that I had no commentary on the State of the Union. My reasoning is much the same as Ed’s. He and I share the dubious distinction, it seems, of being quite opinionated authors of weblogs with very small audiences and no broader notice (sorry, Ed!), a situation accentuating the concern about preaching to the choir. The polarization of the weblogging world, moreover, is just mirroring the process in society as a whole. Timothy Leary once said something like, “You are only as young as the last time you changed your mind.” However, call it arrogant or closeminded if you like, but I believe in my opinions, and I am confident that those who share my viewpoint have a monopoly on balance, as Ed defines it — maximal truth and minimal misinformation. Although I am sure the right wingnuts feel the same, I have no insecure need to entertain their madness politely. As someone once said, my mind isn’t so open that any ol’ thing can fly in.

Just as I become viscerally ill if I have to listen to Dubya for more than a soundbite’s worth of tortured incoherency, illogic and deception, I am relieved that I am barely exposed, except in the odd comment here and there, to rightwing dissent against my views (although, in another sense, I miss it, since, to coin a saying, the contempt of the contemptible is a compliment). I would love to hear if readers have any counterexamples of recent meaningful exchange across the ideological gulf, in the weblogging sphere or elsewhere — where they are listening to each other or perhaps (shudder) even influencing each other’s viewpoints…

Addendum: Dennis Fox responds, in part:

“…I try not to forget that other people reach different conclusions about complex issues without being idiots.

On the other hand, it’s also dangerous to let awareness of complexity prevent political conclusions and action, a topic I’ve blogged about before. The traditional academic objective style and the perennial recommendation that “more research needs to be done” strengthen the status quo. So does the related tendency of people who identify with the political middle to reject all nonmainstream input. Our goal should not be to oversimplify — which happens too often on the left as well as on the right — but to reach commitment and action despite awareness of complexity.

Forums for people who fundamentally disagree can be interesting, but I suspect not many underlying assumptions change. I’ve tried in the past to spur discussion across ideological lines, especially in the Israel/Palestine context, but I’m not sure how often that turns out to be useful. Dialogue groups that focus on this kind of exchange can increase understanding, empathy, and friendship — positive outcomes — but as far as I know they don’t routinely lead to effective action toward social change. When we think we are on the side of justice and equality, calls for dialogue and understanding can lead to expectations of compromise that mask rather than resolve justified grievances….”

Read the entire post.


Quote of the day

“”The important questions facing our society today are not republican or democrat, liberal or conservative, religious or secular. They are compassion or greed, domination or empathy, justice or abuse. I myself stand for compassion, empathy, and justice. I don’t see much of that in the halls of power and avarice, but I see plenty of it in my neighborhood, genuine acts of kindness and caring. Power and money corrupts while humility and gratitude enobles.” — Harry Holleywood” (Markham’s Behavioral Health) I believe this ‘Harry Holleywood’, by the way, is a fabrication of Markham. A Google search reveals that quotations on Markham’s site have been attributed to Holleywood on a number of occasions, but that Holleywood appears nowhere else ont he web except as a misspelling of ‘Hollywood’. Doesn’t chage the emrits of the quotation, IMHO…

Dept. of Solastalgia (cont’d.)

Seducing the Medical Profession: “New evidence keeps emerging that the medical profession has sold its soul in exchange for what can only be described as bribes from the manufacturers of drugs and medical devices. It is long past time for leading medical institutions and professional societies to adopt stronger ground rules to control the noxious influence of industry money on what doctors prescribe for their patients.” (New York Times editorial)

Leader’s Rise Reflects Growing Concern in Republican Ranks

“The surprise election of Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio as House majority leader was a cry of concern by an entrenched Republican majority, acutely worried that voter unease about corruption and partisan excesses could threaten its control of Congress this November.” (New York Times )

Concern in the Republican ranks?? So what do the Republicans do about it? They give you a new boss who’s the same as the old boss, just billing him as a ‘fresh face’ and a reformer. Boehner (and don’t you dare pronounce it ‘boner’) just weeks ago refused to give back #30,000 he had received from the Indian tribes at Abramoff’s behest; he was distributing checks from the tobacco lobby to members of Congress on the floor several years ago; and he is so intimately connected to the lobbyists that he sleeps with one. When René Magritte captured the essence of surrealism by hanging a picture of a pipe with the legend “Ceci n’est pas une pipe”, he created a profound sense of disquiet. When the Republicans do it, it is business as usual.


Gun-toting motorists more prone to road rage

“Gun lobbyists like to repeat the quote often attributed to American writer Robert Heinlein, that “an armed society is a polite society”. But this is certainly not true for motorists.

A survey of 2400 drivers carried out by David Hemenway and his colleagues at the Harvard School of Public Health shows that motorists who carry guns in their cars are far more likely to indulge in road rage – driving aggressively or making obscene gestures – than motorists without guns.” (New Scientist)

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What Really Happened

Cindy Sheehan: “As most of you have probably heard, I was arrested before the State of the Union address last night.

I am speechless with fury at what happened and with grief over what we have lost in our country.

There have been lies from the police and distortions by the press (shocker). So this is what really happened…” (TruthOut)


Representative Lynn Woolsey’s statement regarding Cindy Sheehan. “Much has been made of the arrest of Gold Star mother Cindy Sheehan before last night’s State of the Union address. Mainstream media coverage has made it seem as if Sheehan was in the balcony of the House of Representatives under false pretenses. In fact, she was invited. Representative Lynn Woolsey, Democrat of California, personally purchased a ticket to the speech for Sheehan. Rep. Woolsey today issued the following statement regarding Cindy Sheehan’s arrest in the gallery of the House of Representatives before the State of the Union address. (TruthOut):

“Since when is free speech conditional on whether you agree with the President? Cindy Sheehan, who gave her own flesh and blood for this disastrous war, did not violate any rules of the House of Representatives. She merely wore a shirt that highlighted the human cost of the Iraq war and expressed a view different than that of the President. Free speech and the First Amendment exist to protect dissenting statements like Ms. Sheehan’s last night.”

“Stifling the truth will not blind Americans to the immorality of sending young Americans to die in an unnecessary war, against a nation that posed no threat to our security. The President’s speech last night was yet another attempt to distort history, as he suggested – once again – that the 9/11 terrorists came from Iraq. Everyone knows this is not true. We must not be afraid to say that the emperor has no clothes. It’s time to bring our troops home.”

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The ‘Marlboro Man’ Marine Comes Home

“Remember the ‘Marlboro Man’ marine? He’s now 21, home from Iraq and suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

‘The photo of the ‘Marlboro Man’ in Fallujah became a symbol of the Iraq conflict when it ran in newspapers across America in 2004. Now the soldier has returned home to Kentucky,where he battles the demons of post-traumatic stress….The man in the photograph is James Blake Miller, now 21, and he is an icon, although in ways [Dan] Rather probably never imagined.
He’s quieter now — easier to anger. He turns to fight at the sound of a backfire, can’t look at fireworks without thinking of fire raining down on a city. He has trouble sleeping, and when he does, his fingers twitch on invisible triggers. The diagnosis: post-traumatic stress disorder. ‘

After returning home and being diagnosed with PTSD by a military psychiatrist, the military still wasn’t finished with him. They sent him to New Orleans to help bring law and order to the city in the wake of the Katrina disaster…” — Jeralyn Merritt (Huffington Post via walker)

…and that’s only the beginning