Why All the Focus on Failed States?

“In a 2007 study on international state building, Ulrich Schneckener draws a clear distinction between failed states and failing states. Failing states like Colombia, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Georgia, and Nigeria are unable to completely control their territories, but they still deliver public services to the majority of the population and have some degree of political legitimacy. In failed states, however, none of the functions mentioned above is effectively performed. The most prominent example of a failed state is Somalia. Although I acknowledge that the breakdown of regional security might have serious repercussions on international security, I argue that ultimately, it is the failing state, not the failed state, that encourages international terrorism and organized crime. The failed state, in contrast, poses more threats to regional security than to international security.” — Stefan Mair, Director of Studies at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs

via Harvard International Review

What the data miners are digging up about you

“In today's technological world we leave electronic traces wherever we go, whether shopping online or on the high street, at work or at play. That data is the raw material for a new industry of number crunchers trying to explain and influence human behaviour, as Stephen Baker explains in his new book The Numerati.”

via New Scientist

The Intellectual Decline of the Presidency

Bush is my Hero

John McWhorter on Elvin Lim’s The Anti-Intellectual Presidency: The Decline of Presidential Rhetoric from George Washington to George W. Bush:

“…[This] is not one more rant about the limited cognitive abilities of George W. Bush but a brisk, methodical deconstruction of ‘the relentless simplification of presidential rhetoric in the last two centuries and the increasing substitution of arguments with applause-rendering platitudes, partisan punch lines and emotional and human interest appeals.’ “

via FIRST THINGS: A Journal of Religion, Culture, and Public Life

Patternicity

Finding Meaningful Patterns in Meaningless Noise: Historian of science and Skeptics Society foun...Michael Shermer

Michael Shermer: “…whenever the cost of believing a false pattern is real is less than the cost of not believing a real pattern, natural selection will favor patternicity.”

via Scientific American

By the way, I am enamored of the term apophenia for this phenomenon. Patternicity seems too cutesy. As a psychiatrist specializing in the treatment of psychosis, I think apophenic thinking is at the heart of the paranoid process and one of the core disturbances in schizophrenia. But Shermer’s argument that natural selection will favor patternicity when it has the best adaptive cost undercuts his crusade against irrational belief, doesn’t it? As I have previously pointed out in discussions of apophenia, finding patterns (in the sense of “believing superstitions“) has helped human groups to survive.

Spectacular Conjunction

“Dec. 1st is the best night of all. The now-15% crescent Moon moves in closer to form an isosceles triangle with Venus and Jupiter as opposing vertices. The three brightest objects in the night sky will be gathered so tightly together, you can hide them all behind your thumb held at arm’s length.

The celestial triangle will be visible from all parts of the world, even from light-polluted cities. People in New York and Hong Kong will see it just as clearly as astronomers watching from remote mountaintops. Only cloudy weather or a midnight sun sorry Antarctica can spoil the show.

Although you can see the triangle with naked eyes–indeed, you can’t miss it—a small telescope will make the evening even more enjoyable. In one quick triangular sweep, you can see the moons and cloud-belts of Jupiter, the gibbous phase of Venus 69% full, and craters and mountains on the Moon. It’s a Grand Tour you won’t soon forget.”

via NASA (thanks, abby)

Sophisticated Attacks, but by whom?

Now all the talk starts about who the attackers were. The “Deccan Mujahedeen”, a reference to the Deccan plains of the south of India, took responsibility. They are a previously unknown group and the pundits are “unclear whether it’s a real group or not”, etc. RAND corporation terrorism “experts” debate whether they style and targets suggest linkage to al Qaeda. Everyone opines that the degree of sophistication and coordination point to a broader organization behind the perpetrators. Discussion ensues about which precedent attack patterns can be discerned blended in the event.

This all seems so absurd to me, as it has ever since 9/11. Just as, during the Cold War, all our boogeymen were “Communists”, now we need desperately to figure out what the “al Qaeda” ties are. The most obvious, disastrous, consequence of that type of limited thinking was of course to justify the criminal invasion of Iraq but the fundaments of our approach to terrorism are shot through with this kind of thinking. There are (always, everywhere) a plethora of angry locally-rooted groups willing to sow terror with violent acts, and whether they have the “fingerprint” of al Qaeda or not does not determine whether they proclaim themselves to be allied with the supposed aims of al Qaeda. You choose the boogeyman you want to be as a function of what will have the maximum desired impact, and your victims choose the boogeyman they want to see to help them comprehend the incomprehensible. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. As I have already said, that is really all that “al Qaeda” is. The War on Terror is a war against smoke and mirrors. Pitiful how comforted we are by the meaningless exercise of giving a name to our terrors, even though it dies nothing constructive to help protect us.

via New York Times

‘Typealyzer’ on FmH

This is derived from an analysis of the content of FmH, knowing nothing else about me:

“The analysis indicates that the author of http://followmehere.com is of the type: INTP (“The Thinkers”), the logical and analytical type. They are especialy attuned to difficult creative and intellectual challenges and always look for something more complex to dig into. They are great at finding subtle connections between things and imagine far-reaching implications.

They enjoy working with complex things using a lot of concepts and imaginative models of reality. Since they are not very good at seeing and understanding the needs of other people, they might come across as arrogant, impatient and insensitive to people that need some time to understand what they are talking about.”

via Typealyzer

The Meaning of Psychological Abnormality

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorderADHD

Distinguished developmental psychologist Jerome Kagan argues that the current spate of childhood mental health diagnoses such as ADHD and bipolar disorder do not represent biological diseases but rather convenient explanations that get us off the hook by covering up social problems. He discusses social trends that may account for childhood behavioral difficulties.

via Cerebrum

I agree that childhood disorders are overdiagnosed and that, in general, we are in an era of overmedicalization of behavioral problems for a variety of reasons, not the least of them being the influence of Big Pharma. I hope no one thinks any longer that psychiatric diagnoses are immutable gospel truths. From revision to revision, the nomenclature changes. The boundaries of what is considered psychopathology expand and contract (in this era, mostly expand) and the internal pigeonholes are everchanging. Our research practices, supposed to contribute to “evidence-based” medical reasoning, compound the errors, because drug companies have a subtle and not-so-subtle vested interest in the results, they fund much of it, and there is an inherent bias against the publication of negative or disconfirmatory results.

On the other hand, let us not throw the baby out with the bathwater. We should be long past the need to debate nature vs. nurture in mental ilness, social context vs. biology. There are of course contributions of both, and Dr Kagan’s argument should not be seen as dismissing the biological bases of behavioral problems whole hog. I do agree with him, vehemently, though, that overdiagnosis and overattribution is rife, and that it is obscene when you look at the major consequences, the pathologizatioon and the foisting of enormous volumes of medication on our children and youth. A good psychiatrist’s role should be as much to take patients off medication as to get them on it.

Atlas of True(?) Names

“As reported by Der Spiegel and picked up by the New York Times blog The Lede, two German cartographers have created The Atlas of True Names, which substitutes place names around the world with glosses based on their etymological roots…”

via Language Log

Obituary: End of an aura

bushThe Bush administration ends January 20th, and Ann Wroe will miss Dubya’s flaring nostrils.

‘With Jimmy Carter it was the teeth, big, straight and white as a set of country palings. With Richard Nixon it was the eyebrows, surely brooding on Hell. Abe Lincoln had the ears (and the beard, and the stove-pipe hat); Bill Clinton had a nose that glowed red, almost to luminousness, as his allergies assailed him. But George Bush’s most extraordinary feature was his nostrils, and they will be missed.

It is not just that they were large, and lent his face a certain simian charm. They were also uncontrollable. When the rest of the presidential body was encased in a sober suit, and the rest of the presidential face had assumed an expression appropriate to taking the oath of office, or rescuing banks, or declaring to terrorists that they could run but they couldn’t hide, the nostrils would suddenly flare and smirk, as if Mr Bush was about to burst out with something outrageous or obscene, or flash a high-five, or hail his deputy chief of staff as “Turd blossom”.’

via The Economist

Alone Together

Under neon loneliness...

“Manhattan is the capital of people living by themselves. But are New Yorkers lonelier? Far from it, say a new breed of loneliness researchers, who argue that urban alienation is largely a myth.”

via New York Magazine

The author argues that loneliness is relative. Just as widows do better in a housing development with alot of widows, people living alone do better in New York, with the largest proportion of single-person households in any major city (around 1:2). And suicide rates, which since Emile Durkheim‘s classic sociological study Suicide have been tied to loneliness and isolation, run at a lower rate in New York than other urban areas.

America’s Anthropological President

Barack Obama and Maya Soetoro w...Barack Obama and Maya Soetoro with their
mother Ann Dunham and grandfather Stanley Dunham
in Hawaii (early 1970s).

Ruth Behar, a filmmaker, poet, and anthropologist based at the University of Michigan, offers an interesting take on the fact of Obama’s anthropological matrilineage — and uses that fact to make a policy plea:

“The fact that Barack Obama’s mother was a cultural anthropologist has been noted with curiosity and amusement. A few commentators dismiss her anthropology credentials by describing her as part of a radical American fringe, while others represent her favorably, but as ‘unconventional’, ‘free-spirited’, or ‘bohemian’. That reputation is based on her two brief (and interracial) marriages and her wanderings through Javanese villages in an era when the stay-at-home mom was the public model of the American mother. Many now find it difficult to comprehend her passion for her adopted culture and her desire to live for years among the subjects of her research and advocacy work, though what she did was nothing out of the ordinary within anthropology.

“As a cultural anthropologist, I think Obama’s family background is something to celebrate. But even more important, I think the time is ripe for cultural anthropology to become a fundamental part of American education and public culture. Anthropology needs to be taught alongside math, science, language arts, and history as early as elementary school and definitely throughout the high-school years. Its insights about the perils of ethnocentrism, racialization, and exoticized stereotypes need to become part of our everyday vocabulary.” ‘

via Chronicle of Higher Education

Did his mother’s anthropological roots contribute to Barack Obama’s thoughtfulness and genuinely multiracial embrace? Arguably; and I agree with the implication that anthropology, often dissed as the stepchild social science because of its jargon, politicization and general self-indulgence, should be a core part of education, given its potential to impart cultural sensitivity and an appreciation of relativism. My undergraduate degree was in social anthropology (as I have written here before I was lucky enough to live in several indigenous cultures doing ethnographic fieldwork for my undergraduate thesis) and I think it has shaped my thinking in a pivotal way, informing my cosmology, spirituality, epistemology, and politics as well as my practice of psychiatry (which in some ways I approach as a cross-cultural exercise).

Lebensraum, 21st Century Style

Seoul is a leading financial center in Asia an...Seoul, Korea

“Rich countries launch great land grab to safeguard food supply: Rich governments and corporations are triggering alarm for the poor as they buy up the rights to millions of hectares of agricultural land in developing countries in an effort to secure their own long-term food supplies.

The head of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, Jacques Diouf, has warned that the controversial rise in land deals could create a form of “neo-colonialism”, with poor states producing food for the rich at the expense of their own hungry people.

Rising food prices have already set off a second “scramble for Africa“. This week, the South Korean firm Daewoo Logistics announced plans to buy a 99-year lease on a million hectares in Madagascar. Its aim is to grow 5m tonnes of corn a year by 2023, and produce palm oil from a further lease of 120,000 hectares (296,000 acres), relying on a largely South African workforce. Production would be mainly earmarked for South Korea, which wants to lessen dependence on imports.”

via Guardian.UK

Holocaust: Get Over It

Masada, Southern Israel 1978Masada, Southern Israel 1978

Israel is “held hostage by memory” and should get over the Holocaust, a former speaker of the Knesset says. In a column and a new book, he says Israelis are so bent on “never again” becoming victims that they’ve become blind to injustice or suffering that does not involve Jews. What about Israel’s humanistic founding values?

via Los Angeles Times

I rebelled against the Judaism I was taught in my youth precisely because of the meaninglessness of a religious identity that, as far as I could see, was grounded on nothing but having been victimized.

Hubble Captures Stunning Views of Mammoth Stars I

“In this image released by NASA, a dust ring, seen in red, surrounds the star Fomalhaut. The star resides at the center of the image and is not visible to the human eye in this image. The Hubble telescope discovered the fuzzy image of a new planet, known as Fomalhaut b, which appears as no more than a white speck in the lower right portion of the dust ring that surrounds the star.”

via ABC News

Florida Gay Adoption Ban overturned

Gay Adoption Map North AmericaGay Adoption Map, North America

A Miami judge ruled to permit a gay couple to adopt their two foster children, finding that the 30+-year ban on gay couples adopting in Florida violated their right to equal protection under the law. “Expert” testimony from a psychologist on the instability of homosexuals and the poor outcomes when they raise children was deemed not credible. This is not the first gay adoption that has been permitted in Florida in contravention of the state law, but in the previous case the state decided not to contest the ruling. In the current case, the attorney general has already indicated that Florida will appeal. The wingnuts are already talking about “a classic case of judicial activism,” which is a four-letter word.

via Florida Baptist Witness

FDA Scientists Revolt Against Corrupt Food and Drug Administration Officials

An overview of the structure of DNA.

‘A group of scientists working in the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health division has revolted against the corrupt managers of its own department, accusing them of committing crimes by claiming, “There is extensive documentary evidence that managers at CDRH have corrupted and interfered with the scientific review of medical devices.”

The letter from the FDA’s own scientists goes on to say, “It is evident that managers at CDRH have deviated from FDA’s mission to identify and address underlying problems with medical devices before they cause irreparable harm, and this deviation has placed the American people at risk.” ‘

via Natural News

Wall of shame, psychiatric version

{{w|Skeletal formula}} of {{w|risperidone}}. C...Risperidone

These are some of the most influential men in psychiatry. Trainees have been taught to reference their journal articles as authoritative. And, I believe, this is just the tip of the iceberg:

Five Physics Lessons for Obama

Chandra X-ray image of the supernovas remnant ...

“Everyone expects the U.S. president to know the difference between Sunni and Shiite, or understand the causes of the financial meltdown. But in today’s high-tech world, many critical issues have more to do with electrons than economics. Here are five short physics lessons for President-elect Obama from the author of Physics for Future Presidents.”

via Foreign Policy

Pro-Life = Pro-Choice?

The New York Times cover page from January 23,...Roe v. Wade headline, 1973Hendrik Hertzberg:

“…here is Kathryn Jean (K-Lo) Lopez, head honcha of National Review Online, explaining why Governor Palin is her leader:

What is it about Sarah?

For many folks on the Right, she represented an influx of social conservatism in the campaign. All she had to do was arrive at the scene with her son Trig to demonstrate her pro-life bona fides. Some estimated 90 percent of Americans faced with the knowledge that they might give birth to a child with Down Syndrome wouldn’t have made the choice she and her husband, Todd, did to let the child live.

I detect some assumptions here. (1) Palin’s carrying Trig to term was a choice. (2) The choice was hers and her husband’s to make, not God’s or the government’s. (3) She deserves praise for having chosen the choice she chose.

But if Palin (and Lopez) were truly “pro-life”—if they truly believed that abortion, especially elective abortion in the first trimester, is murder or at least unjustifiable homicide—then having Trig was not a choice. It was a simple matter of obedience to God’s law, which is infinitely more sacrosanct than man’s law. Palin no more deserves praise for it than I deserve praise for not having lately gunned down any friends, colleagues, or strangers.

What this demonstrates is that even in the minds of anti-abortion zealots, abortion is now implicitly viewed in the same light as divorce: an unfortunate choice, a reprehensible choice, a choice that may even contravene the will of God, but still a choice. And, again implicitly, the choice that Sarah Palin had every right to make. In both directions.

This is why, even if Roe v. Wade is eventually overturned, it will always be legal to get an abortion somewhere in the United States of America.”

via The New Yorker

Why mailmen don’t deliver the mail

Ma and Gary

“The recent discovery in Bonny Doon, Calif., of a former mail carrier’s old stash was not exactly unprecedented. There’s also the recent arrest of a Detroit postal carrier who squirreled away 9,000 pieces of mail into a storage locker, a work dodge worthy of a Seinfeld plot. A week earlier, a postman was nailed for hoarding 27,000 letters in Leeds, England; the week before that revealed a postal hoarder with 20,000 letters in Frankfurt, Germany. (“[He] didn’t deliver mail addressed to himself either,” a police statement dryly noted.) And all of them were dwarfed by the North Carolina postman who admitted in August to filling his garage and burying in his backyard nearly a tractor trailer’s worth of undelivered junk mail.”

via Slate

Fossils Are Fine; a Live Beastie Is Better

Neanderthal

“A researcher at Pennsylvania State University, Stephan Schuster, said in the journal Nature last week that he might be able to regenerate a mammoth from ancient DNA for just $10 million. Given that Chicago’s Field Museum, with the help of McDonald’s and Walt Disney, recently paid $8.36 million for an especially fine Tyrannosaurus rex fossil, Dr. Schuster should be able to sell a pack of live mammoths to zoo managers around the world.

For making the past come alive, a mammoth is a good start, but it’s just a hairy elephant. What other extinct species would be good to have around again? Herein, a wish list.

via NY Times

Christians AGAINST Cartoons!

A clay animation scene from a Finnish TV comme...A friend (thanks, julia), who herself happens to be a cartoonist, forwarded a link to this site to me and also mentioned she knows the writer of Pharyngula and had sent it his way. (Coincidentally, Pharyngula is on my reading list and I had already seen the blink to the CAC site there.) With Pharyngula having a much larger readership than FmH (or at least a more vocal readership), there have been in excess of a hundred comments to the post over there. Like my take on it, opinion is running in favor of its being a parody. Especially telling is that one reader tracked down the registered owner of the CAC domain and reports that it belongs to an animation studio! In any case, I learned a new, very useful, concept from the comments — Poe’s Law.

It’s beginning to feel alot like Christmas…

Best of 2007…and the end-of-year best-of lists are starting to appear. I won’t even try to point to individual lists because in this weblogging era so many come tumbling out every day. The best aggregators are Largehearted Boy, for music, and Fimoculous, for everything. If you like that sort of thing, bookmark them and check back with them frequently, as they do obsessional running updates from now into early next year.

This Is Change?

U.S. President Geo...

Jeremy Scahill: 20 Hawks, Clintonites and Neocons to Watch for in Obama’s White House

via AlterNet

How much solace, and for how long, will we continue to take from the ‘better than Bush’ sentiment?

How to Run a Con

La ragazza con la valigia. Verso il '68.

“The key to a con is not that you trust the conman, but that he shows he trusts you. Conmen ply their trade by appearing fragile or needing help, by seeming vulnerable. Because of THOMAS, the human brain makes us feel good when we help others–this is the basis for attachment to family and friends and cooperation with strangers. “I need your help” is a potent stimulus for action.”

via Psychology Today

Related:

Candace Gingrich: A Letter to My Brother Newt Gingrich

Former Republican Spea...

“Dear Newt,

I recently had the displeasure of watching you bash the protestors of the Prop 8 marriage ban to Bill O’Reilly on FOX News. I must say, after years of watching you build your career by stirring up the fears and prejudices of the far right, I feel compelled to use the words of your idol, Ronald Reagan, “There you go, again.”

However, I realize that you may have been a little preoccupied lately with planning your resurrection as the savior of your party, so I thought I would fill you in on a few important developments you might have overlooked…”

via Huffington Post

The Secret

Anna as Denise Levertov

Two girls discover
the secret of life
in a sudden line of
poetry.

I who don’t know the
secret wrote
the line. They
told me

(through a third person)
they had found it
but not what it was
not even

what line it was. No doubt
by now, more than a week
later, they have forgotten
the secret,

the line, the name of
the poem. I love them
for finding what
I can’t find,

and for loving me
for the line I wrote,
and for forgetting it
so that

a thousand times, till death
finds them, they may
discover it again, in other
lines

in other
happenings. And for
wanting to know it,
for

assuming there is
such a secret, yes,
for that
most of all.

— Denise Levertov

Housekeeping

Does FmH render any faster on your browser since I switched to WordPress? Any layout problems?

ISS over NYC, 11/21/08 by abby

The International Space Station passes through the New York night sky, 11-21-08.

The International Space Station passes through the New York night sky.

My friend abby said:

“I tried (you only really get one try) to get a picture. Not great, but it’s that faint streak going vertically in the middle… [ISO 50 (that was the mistake), 165 seconds, f/11, 20mm]”

Adultery for heroin users

Heroinheroin

“A list of ingredients found by chemical analysis that have been used to cut street heroin sold in New York City from 1991 to 1996.

As reported in a 2000 review paper on trends in NYC heroin adulterants:

Acetaminophen (Analgesic)
Aminopyrine (Anti-inflammatory)
Amitryptaline (Anti-depressant)
Antipyrine (Body water measurement)
Benzoczine (Anesthetic)
Caffeine (Stimulant)
Cocaine (Stimulant)
d-metamphetamine (Stimulant)
Diphenhydramine (Anti-histamine)
Doxepin (Anesthetic)
Ephedrine (Stimulant)
Lidocaine (Anesthetic)
Hydroxyzine (Anxiety medication)
Methylparben (Chemical preservative)
Methocarbamol (Muscle relaxant)
Nabumetone (Arthritis treatment)
Nicotinamide (Coenzyme)
Phenylbutazone (Anti-inflammant)
Phenylpropanlamine (Dexatrim / caffeine)
Potassium chloride (Potassium supplement
Rocaine (Local anesthetic)
Propoxyphene (Analgesic – Darvon)
Sodium Bicarbonate (Acid indigestion)
Quinine (Malaria treatment)
Theophylline (Bronchial dialator)
Thiamine (Dietary supplement)
Thiopental (Barbiturate)
Thioridazine (Nausea medication)
Tripolidine (Allergy medication)
Disodium ethylenediame tetraacetic (Chelating agent for metals)

The study notes that the most common non-dope ingredients in street heroin are lactose, milk sugar, sucrose, cellulose, mannitol and other inert ingredients, but there is an increasing trend for heroin to contain psychoactive chemicals or additional substances to alter its effect through changing how it is absorbed into the body.

Interestingly, the paper also notes that professional heroin cutters are expensive, charging up to $20,000 for a kilo of heroin. This is likely due to the skill and knowledge needed to select ingredients that will have certain effects, which can be different for ‘smokers’, ‘snorters’ and ‘injectors’.

Ingredients that affect the vaporisation point of heroin will be more important for smokers, while adulterants that increase absorption through the nasal passages will obviously be more important for snorters.

For injectors, cutters need to be able to select ingredients that aren’t going to gum up needles or cause too much damage to the users’ veins.

Additionally, some ingredients are added purely for their psychoactive effect to give a different experience and ‘brand’ the dope.

However, owing to the cost of a professional cutter, some dealers just cut it themselves with whatever they think is reasonable, meaning all kinds of potentially fatal ingredients end up in the average bag of smack.”

Via Mind Hacks

Florida Teen Live-Streams His Suicide Online

‘A Florida teenager who used a webcam to live-stream his suicide Wednesday was reportedly encouraged by other people on the Web site, authorities told ABCNews.com.

Authorities say approximately 1,300 people watch as the boy takes his life.

"People were egging him on and saying things like 'go ahead and do it, faggot,' said Wendy Crane, an investigator at the Broward County Medical Examiner's office.

Abraham Biggs, 19, of Pembroke Pines, Fla., had been blogging on an online body-building message board and had linked to his page on Justin.tv, a live video streaming Web site, where the camera rolled as he overdosed on prescription pills, according to Crane.

Biggs, who had reportedly been discussing his suicide on the forums, also posted a suicide note on a body-building forum, which has since been taken down, in which he wrote, "I hate myself and I hate living." ‘

via ABC News

Deja vu tied to familiarity with past

The human brain

“In a report, published in Current Directions in Psychological Science, Anne Cleary of Colorado State University says deja vu may occur when aspects of a current situation resemble aspects of previously occurring situations — the more overlap between the elements of the new and old situations the stronger the feeling of familiarity”

via UPI

I haven’t read the research paper; just this account in the popular press. But it seems problematic. Most people I know can tell the difference between a deja vu experience and something reminding them of something from the past. The first response when something feels familiar is to ask what it could possibly be reminiscent of. The deja vu experience is so uncanny precisely because of that distinction — the nature of the situation promoting the sense of familiarity is one in which, after consideration, you know it cannot possibly be reminiscent of anything. It is more likely the case that deja vu represents a malfunction of the machinery of recognition or familiarity in the brain, in which the sensation of familiarity is too readily activated in inappropriate (i.e. novel) situations. This occurs, for example, in temporal lobe epilepsy, because the abnormal electrical activity autonomately activates areas of the brain associated with memory and recognition without the usual input. The research referenced here seems to misunderstand a fundamental aspect of deja vu, in short. This is my take on contemporary psychological research alot of the time. Hmmm, doesn’t that sound familiar?

Related:

Palin’s turkey pardon interview too grisly for some

Thanksgiving dinner FOR the turkeys, part 1

“Alaska Governor Sarah Palin pardoned a turkey Thursday ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday but another turkey didn’t fare as well.

Warning: video could be disturbing to viewers

The governor was being interviewed by a local television news station while the work of the Triple-D Farm and Hatchery continued. That’s when Governor Palin found herself in a less than desirable spot for the interview.

Just minutes after pardoning one turkey, a farm worker began processing another turkey just a few feet behind her, plainly visible in the background of the video.”

via kare11.com | Twin Cities [thanks, walker]

An Epidemic of Depression?

baldclutchIn an abbreviated version of the argument they expound in their book The Loss of Sadness: How Psychiatry Transformed Normal Misery Into Depressive Disorder, psychologists Allan Horwitz and Jerome Wakefield say that the epidemic of depression arises from changes in the definition of the disorder, and specifically the loss of context. There is a bereavement exclusion but it is the only place where psychiatrists recognize that there is a difference between a ‘normal’ reaction to a painful loss and a depressive disorder. In fact, in my training, the ‘naive’ comment, “You would be sad too if that was going on in your life” was presented derisively as the caricature of ignorance about depression. The ‘bible’ of psychiatric diagnoses, The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), currently in its fourth edition, devalued the time-honored recognition by physicians that the context in which symptoms arose was an important considderation in determining whether what the person was experiencing was normal. This goes hand in hand with other pressures in my field to medicalize and pathologize normal emotional reactions, of which I have written with concern here in the past.

via Psychiatric Times

How a camera can ‘steal’ your keys

What's On Your Keys?

‘Scientists in California have developed a software algorithm that automatically creates a physical key based solely on a picture of one, regardless of angle or distance. The project, called Sneakey, was meant to warn people about the dangers of haphazardly placing keys in the open or posting images of them online.

“People will post pictures with their credit cards but with the name and number greyed out,” said Stefan Savage, a professor at the University of California, San Diego who helped develop the software. “They should have the same sensitivity with their keys.” ‘

via MSNBC

The Cure Was Worse than The Disease

PyridostigminePyridostigmine

“The Gulf War illness was real and was caused by pyridostigmine bromide pills taken by U.S. troops to neutralize the effects of nerve gas attacks and by exposure to neurotoxic insecticides, according to a VA advisory panel.”

via MedPage Today

What Zawahiri’s Message Says About Obama and Al Qaeda

Ilan Goldenberg:Ayman Al-Zawahiri

“Al Qaeda’s narrative is now under siege and it’s clearly uncertain about how to react. The election of the first African American President, one with a Muslim father, flies in the face of this narrative. It shows America as an open and tolerant society – not the oppressive empire Al Qaeda would like to portray. In fact, the overwhelmingly positive international reaction to Obama’s election is proof of the the threat Al Qaeda faces. ..

Thus, it’s not surprising that Zawahiri has resorted to calling Obama a “house negro” to try and paint him as just another American President. But this is clearly more a defensive and weak message than effective propaganda that might actually work.”

via Huffington Post

‘How Obama Got Elected’

“…a slick right wing site that claims the liberal media and ignorant voters are the only reason a guy with “limited experience, extreme liberal positions and radical political alliances could be elected President.” Are you serious? African chanting to start a video attacking Obama?! And then interviews with a handful of Obama supporters to “prove” they are ignorant? Why don’t we interview the millions of Americans who think Obama is a Muslim to prove the media has a right wing bias? Ignorance has no party allegiance.”

via BuzzFeed via walker

‘python bites fence’ photo

“Had previously seen this photo on TV but only recently found a version on the web. Apparently, the 4-m-long snake – which had recently eaten a female impala – is dead and died after trying to pass through the electric fence it is ‘attacking’. This all happened on Silent Valley Ranch in the Waterberg mountains of South Africa. A few photos exist showing people touching the dead snake, and it was cut open to reveal the impala inside [go here], so despite my initial scepticism I currently think all of this is true… Incidentally, rock pythons do sometimes swallow male impala, horns and all. What happens then? The antelope’s horns may fatally pierce the stomach and body wall (Mattison 1995), but such piercings are not always fatal: remarkably, the injuries may heal after the offending horns drop off as the prey’s body decomposes inside the snake (Isemonger 1962).”

via Tetrapod Zoology (ScienceBlogs)

The New Post Racial Politics

Sam Smith:

“With the resignation by Obama of his Senate seat we now find ourselves with our first black president-elect and not one black senator. If the Senate was representative of our national demographics, there would be 12 black senators. Over the past century there have been 78 years without a black senator. A reminder that breaking the glass ceiling does not necessarily unlock the doors.”

via Undernews

Paranoia on the rise, experts say

Paranoia

Paranoia, once assumed to afflict only schizophrenics, may be a lot more common than previously thought.

According to British psychologist Daniel Freeman, nearly one in four Londoners regularly have paranoid thoughts. Freeman is a paranoia expert at the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College and the author of a book on the subject.

Experts say there is a wide spectrum of paranoia, from the dangerous delusions that drive schizophrenics to violence to the irrational fears many people have daily.

“We are now starting to discover that madness is human and that we need to look at normal people to understand it,” said Dr. Jim van Os, a professor of psychiatry at Maastricht University in the Netherlands…”

via Las Vegas Sun

Midnight Hour

“Bush has entered into his own midnight period, and it promises to be a dark time indeed. Among the many new regulations—or, rather, deregulations—the Administration has proposed are rules that would:

  • make it harder for the government to limit workers’ exposure to toxins,
  • eliminate environmental review from decisions affecting fisheries,
  • and ease restrictions on companies that blow up mountains to get at the coal underneath them.

Other midnight regulations in the works include

  • rules to allow “factory farms” to ignore the Clean Water Act,
  • rules making it tougher for employees to take family or medical leave
  • and rules that would effectively gut the Endangered Species Act.

Most regulations are subject to public input; such is the sense of urgency that the Administration has brought to the task of despoliation that the Interior Department completed its “review” of two hundred thousand public comments on the endangered-species rules in just four days, a feat that, one congressional aide calculated, required each staff member involved to read through comments at the rate of seven per minute. “So little time, so much damage” is how the Times recently put it.”

via The New Yorker

Cortex, Volume 44, Issue 10 (November-December 2008)

Example of a subject in a Ganzfeld experiment.Ganzfeld experiment

This is a special issue on the ‘Neuropsychology of Paranormal Experiences and Beliefs’

Contents include:

  • The paranormal mind: How the study of anomalous experiences and beliefs may inform cognitive neuroscience (Peter Brugger, Christine Mohr)
  • Visual attentional capture predicts belief in a meaningful world (Paola Bressan, Peter Kramer, Mara Germani)
  • Sentences with core knowledge violations increase the size of N400 among paranormal believers (Marjaana Lindeman, Sebastian Cederström, Petteri Simola, Anni Simula, Sara Ollikainen, Tapani Riekki)
  • Apophenia, theory of mind and schizotypy: Perceiving meaning and intentionality in randomness (Sophie Fyfe, Claire Williams, Oliver J. Mason, Graham J. Pickup)
  • Believing in paranormal phenomena: Relations to asymmetry of body and brain (Günter Schulter, Ilona Papousek)
  • Paranormal experience and the COMT dopaminergic gene: A preliminary attempt to associate phenotype with genotype using an underlying brain theory (Amir Raz, Terence Hines, John Fossella, Daniella Castro)
  • Event-related potential correlates of paranormal ideation and unusual experiences (Alex Sumich, Veena Kumari, Evian Gordon, Nigel Tunstall, Michael Brammer)
  • The transliminal brain at rest: Baseline EEG, unusual experiences, and access to unconscious mental activity (Jessica I. Fleck, Deborah L. Green, Jennifer L. Stevenson, Lisa Payne, Edward M. Bowden, Mark Jung-Beeman, John Kounios)
  • Ganzfeld-induced hallucinatory experience, its phenomenology and cerebral electrophysiology (Jirí Wackermann, Peter Pütz, Carsten Allefeld)
  • Magical ideation and hyperacusis (Stéphanie Dubal, Isabelle Viaud-Delmon)
  • Psychological aspects of the alien contact experience (Christopher C. French, Julia Santomauro, Victoria Hamilton, Rachel Fox, Michael A. Thalbourne)

Highlights include:

  • part of the variance of strength of belief in paranormal phenomena can be explained by patterns of functional hemispheric asymmetry that may be related to perturbations during fetal development
  • an inconclusive attempt to correlate a specific phenotype concerning paranormal belief with a dopaminergic gene (COMT) known for its involvement in prefrontal executive cognition and for a polymorphism that is positively correlated with suggestibility.
  • a study concluding that (a) religious people have a stronger belief in meaningfulness of coincidences, indicative of a more general tendency to maintain strong schemata, and that (b) this belief leads them to suppress, ignore, or forget information that has demonstrably captured their attention, but happens to be inconsistent with their schemata.
  • electrophysiological findings suggesting that paranormalideation may be associated with alteration in contextual updating processes, and that nusual experiences may reflect altered sensory/early-attention (N100) mechanisms.
  • EEG patterns of subjects with high levels of belief in paranormal phenomena and more frequent unusual experiences were similar to those found in schizophrenic-spectrum disorders.
  • People reporting contact with aliens (‘Experiencers’), compared with matched controls, were found to show higher levels of dissociativity, absorption, paranormal belief, paranormal experience, self-reported psychic ability, fantasy proneness, tendency to hallucinate, and self-reported incidence of sleep paralysis.

Team of Frenemies

Maureen Dowd:

“Running for the Senate and the presidency, Hillary felt entitled to get money, endorsements and support because she was the wife of Bill Clinton — and at times the victim of Bill Clinton.

If she became secretary of state, she would be getting the job despite her husband — and because of her own transformation in the primaries from a legacy applicant to a scrappy one.”

via NY Times op-ed

Wrangling over psychiatry’s bible

Light bedtime reading

“Over the summer, a wrangle between eminent psychiatrists that had been brewing for months erupted in print. Startled readers of Psychiatric News saw the spectacle unfold in the journal’s normally less-dramatic pages. The bone of contention: whether the next revision of America’s psychiatric bible, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, should be done openly and transparently so mental health professionals and the public could follow along, or whether the debates should be held in secret.

One of the psychiatrists (former editor Robert Spitzer) wanted transparency; several others, including the president of the American Psychiatric Assn. and the man charged with overseeing the revisions (Darrel Regier), held out for secrecy. Hanging in the balance is whether, four years from now, a set of questionable behaviors with names such as “Apathy Disorder,” “Parental Alienation Syndrome,” “Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder,” “Compulsive Buying Disorder,” “Internet Addiction” and “Relational Disorder” will be considered full-fledged psychiatric illnesses.

This may sound like an arcane, insignificant spat about nomenclature. But the manual is in fact terribly important, and the debates taking place have far-reaching consequences.”

via Los Angeles Times

Choose nonviolence — it works best

“Nonviolent resistance is not only the morally superior choice. It is also twice as effective as the violent variety.

That’s the startling and reassuring discovery by Maria Stephan and Erica Chenoweth, who analyzed an astonishing 323 resistance campaigns from 1900 to 2006.”

via Green Change

God Angrily Clarifies ‘Don’t Kill’ Rule

A Palestinian...

‘ “I tried to put it in the simplest possible terms for you people, so you’d get it straight, because I thought it was pretty important,” said God, called Yahweh and Allah respectively in the Judaic and Muslim traditions. “I guess I figured I’d left no real room for confusion after putting it in a four-word sentence with one-syllable words, on the tablets I gave to Moses. How much more clear can I get?”

“But somehow, it all gets twisted around and, next thing you know, somebody’s spouting off some nonsense about, ‘God says I have to kill this guy, God wants me to kill that guy, it’s God’s will,'” God continued. “It’s not God’s will, all right? News flash: ‘God’s will’ equals ‘Don’t murder people.'” ‘

via The Onion

Say Goodbye to BlackBerry?

BlackBerry user Dou...

If Obama Has to, Yes He Can. ” ‘Sorry, Mr. President. Please surrender your BlackBerry.’ Those are seven words President-elect Barack Obama is dreading but expecting to hear, friends and advisers say, when he takes office in 65 days.

…[B]efore he arrives at the White House, he will probably be forced to sign off. In addition to concerns about e-mail security, he faces the Presidential Records Act, which puts his correspondence in the official record and ultimately up for public review, and the threat of subpoenas. A decision has not been made on whether he could become the first e-mailing president, but aides said that seemed doubtful.

For all the perquisites and power afforded the president, the chief executive of the United States is essentially deprived by law and by culture of some of the very tools that other chief executives depend on to survive and to thrive. Mr. Obama, however, seems intent on pulling the office at least partly into the 21st century on that score; aides said he hopes to have a laptop computer on his desk in the Oval Office, making him the first American president to do so.” (New York Times )

Smile, You’re Under Arrest

America's Meanest Sheriff

“The latest TV show planned for US cable network FOX has the working title of Smile, You’re Under Arrest, and involves wanted criminals being tricked into elaborate fantasy scenarios, at the end of which they are arrested.

One of three set-ups just shot in Arizona features the cops luring a criminal to a movie set with the promise of making him an extra and paying him a couple hundred dollars. An elaborate film set is staged and filming begins on a faux movie. The set-up continues as the director then gets mad at the lead actor, fires him and replaces him with the law-breaking extra.

The scene escalates with the fake director introducing the mark to a supposed studio mogul and continuing to create this dream-comes-true sequence. Finally, all the participants are revealed as officers of the law, and the criminal is apprehended (before signing waivers to let the footage be used in the show).

“If it were a regular person you’d feel bad for them, but they are all wanted by the law,” Darnell says. “It’s Cops as comedy and no one’s ever tried it before.”

How did FOX manage to get a police department to divert resources to such a programme? Well, the department involved is the Maricopa County Sherriff’s Office, run by Sherriff Joe Arpaio, whose spectacularly harsh treatment of offenders has made him the darling of America’s more brutally-minded. And now FOX, who are no strangers to brutality, are going to make him more of a star. Perhaps watching Jack Bauer torture Arabs doesn’t do it any more or something.

I half-wonder whether this is part of a strategy leading up to Arpaio getting on the Republican Presidential ticket for 2012. There were rumours that FOX was going to buff Sarah Palin’s image by giving her a national TV talk show, though if she looks too much like damaged goods, they could want another conservative firebrand who appeals to the culture-war conservatives.”

via The Null Device

McCartney wants world to hear ‘lost’ Beatles epic

“For Beatles fans across the world it has gained near mythical status. The 14-minute improvised track called ‘Carnival of Light’ was recorded in 1967 and played just once in public. It was never released because three of the Fab Four thought it too adventurous.

The track, a jumble of shrieks and psychedelic effects, is said to be as far from the melodic ballads that made Sir Paul McCartney famous as it is possible to imagine. But now McCartney has said that the public will have the chance to judge for themselves.”

via The Observer

Uncontacted Amazonian tribe victor in legal battle it didn’t file

“A small tribe of Indians in Paraguay who have had virtually no contact with the outside world won a legal battle this week when rights groups stopped a Brazilian company from continuing to bulldoze the forest to clear land for cattle ranches.

About 2,000 members of the Ayoreo ethnic group live in 13 settlements in Bolivia and Paraguay.

About 2,000 members of the Ayoreo ethnic group live in 13 settlements in Bolivia and Paraguay.

The Totobiegosode tribe, said to number no more than 300, is the last group of uncontacted Indians in South America outside the Amazon River basin, indigenous rights groups say.

The Totobiegosode, who are part of the larger Ayoreo ethnic group, are nomadic Indians who hunt and fish, as well as gather fruit and honey and cultivate small temporary plots during the rainy season. They live communally, four to six families to a dwelling, in the dense forests of northwestern Paraguay.”

via CNN

Has sci-fi got a future?

Taken during the Spook Country promotional tou...William Gibson

“These days, science can be stranger than science fiction, and mainstream literature is increasingly futuristic and speculative. So are the genre’s days numbered? We asked six leading writers for their thoughts on the future of science fiction, including Margaret Atwood, William Gibson and Kim Stanley Robinson.”

via New Scientist

Ancient Greeks pre-empted Dead Parrot sketch

John Cleese (right) attempts to return his dea...

‘ “I’ll tell you what’s wrong with it. It’s dead, that’s what’s wrong with it.”

For those who believe the ancient Greeks thought of everything first, proof has been found in a 4th century AD joke book featuring an ancestor of Monty Python’s Dead Parrot sketch where a man returns a parrot to a shop, complaining it is dead.

The 1,600-year-old work entitled “Philogelos: The Laugh Addict,” one of the world’s oldest joke books, features a joke in which a man complains that a slave he has just bought has died, its publisher said on Friday.

“By the gods,” answers the slave’s seller, “when he was with me, he never did any such thing”

In a British comedy act Monty Python’s Flying Circus sketch, first aired in 1969 and regularly voted one of the funniest ever, the pet-shop owner says the parrot, a “Norwegian Blue,” is not dead, just “resting” or “pining for the fjords.” ‘ (Reuters)

Sharing Their Demons on the Web

Eight women representing prominent mental diagnoses in the nineteenth century.

Eight women representing prominent mental diagnoses in the nineteenth century.

Health Professionals Fear Web Sites That Support Theories on Mind Control (New York Times ). The internet may have fundamentally changed the experience of those who believe they are stalked or persecuted. Sites filled with stories from people calling themselves victims of “mind control” or “gang stalking” offer support and validation, in contrast to the isolation and pejoration with which they were treated in the pre-internet era. Many mental health professionals are alarmed that such sites encourage delusional thinking. The growth of such a community of sufferers with shared beliefs presents a fundamental challenge to the definition of delusions, as beliefs that are at odds with those shared by one’s culture or subculture.

The interest of law enforcement and government agencies in covert surveillance, mind-control and chemical interrogation techniques (cf. MK-ULTRA)is enough evidence to encourage such beliefs, and their dismissal by health professionals and others is seen as evidence of a cover-up of the truth.

However, others who see the isolation and quiet torment in which people with psychotic disorders live feel that the growth of a supportive community could be a good thing. In my own work with patients who believe they are subject to mind control or gang stalking, I do not find confronting and contradicting their beliefs is effective. In fact, I am sensitive to the ways in which it perpetuates the violence and persecution that has been done to them by other powerful individuals in their lives. Treatment, the aim of which after all is to relieve suffering, cannot be done in an intellectually dishonest way in which one acts out a charade of sharing the patient’s beliefs. But treatment must be experienced as a safe place in which to have one’s thoughts, whether agreed with or not. Contrary to the opinion of one psychiatrist interviewed for this article, who says that but for these internet sites reinforcing the thinking, it would fade away because never validated, the essence of delusional thinking is that it is logically self-validating. The sufferer has constructed an airtight explanation for disturbing experiences and perceptions they have, an explanation which is not falsifiable. Its assertions are self-fulfilling. That is the logic and, if you will, the beauty of delusional thinking. In my experiences, such thinking is not malleable and precisely does not fade away. To attempt to confront it is to invalidate the person in front of you, doing profound existential violence to an already quite vulnerable person. This is the essence of what I have always taught my students as a core approach to a psychotic individual.

This has been known for a long time in psychological circles, and it is merely the self-anointed but misguided role of mental health providers as arbiters of thought and vanquishers of mental illness that prevents our acceptance of immutable delusional thinking. My uncle, the psychologist Milton Rokeach, wrote in his 1964 book The Three Christs of Ypsilanti of an experiment in which he brought together three psychiatric patients each of whom believed he was Christ… sort of meeting irresistible force with immovable object. He hoped that the coexistence of logically incompatible beliefs would correct the delusions. He later wrote that he regretted the experiment, because as it turned out all that it had done had been to vastly amplify the distress and confusion of the three subjects.

In addition to my uncle, several of my mentors and teachers were influential in grappling with how to situate themselves properly with respect to the challenging beliefs of their patients, if they were neither to fraudulently say they agreed nor to contradict by brute force. R.D. Laing took a radical stance of refusing to make distinctions between ‘patients’ and ‘treaters’ as arbiters of the truth. This is an incredibly useful position to take, although I think Laing went too far in that the relationship is inherently asymmetrical; the patient is the one who comes to us with suffering, seeking guidance and succor. Leston Havens devoted himself to the technical craft of finding language and therapeutic stance that would allow the therapist to situate him- or herself as an ally, rather than an opponent, of people so difficult to ally with. John Mack’s work with alien abductees exemplified finding a way to be helpful with a subset of those sufferers whose beliefs are so at odds with prevailing notions.

It has been an area of my own fascination, teaching and research to watch how the lay public’s knowledge and beliefs about mental health issues are spread in the popular media, word of mouth and, more recently, the internet. These means of communication are not a cause of mental illness, but clearly important variables in shaping it. I wonder, WWLD (what would Laing do?) with the internet?

Burma activists sentenced to 65 years each in draconian crackdown

The 14 states and divisions of Burma.

“An internet blogger and a writer who disguised an attack on Burma’s dictator in the form of a love poem were among dozens of activists sentenced to draconian jail terms as the junta ordered a fresh crackdown on dissidents.

Nay Myo Kyaw, 28, who wrote blogs under the name Nay Phone Latt, was sentenced to 20 years and 6 months in jail by a court in Rangoon. The poet, Saw Wai, received a two-year sentence for an eight-line Valentine’s Day verse published in a popular magazine.” (Times of London)

Plan for new Maldives homeland

Location of Maldives

“The president-elect of the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed, says he wants to buy a new homeland for his people.

He says that the gradual rise in sea levels caused by global warming means the Maldives islanders may eventually be forced to resettle elsewhere.

The Maldives is the lowest nation in the world. Its highest land is little more than two metres above sea level.

The United Nations estimates that sea levels may rise globally by nearly 60 centimetres this century.” (BBC)

Spoof New York Times Proclaims Iraq War Over

A fake edition of The New York Times distributed Wednesday by left-wing pranksters delivered an unusual dose of extremely happy news.

The parody announced the end of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as progress toward reversing global warming and U.S. economic woes.

The activists behind the parody publication said they handed out 1.2 million copies of the 14-page paper, which was dated July 4, 2009.” (Wired News )

Related:

“Silent Soldiers on a silver screen
Framed in fantasies and dragged in dream
Unpaid actors of the mystery
The mad director knows that freedom will not make you free
And what’s this got to do with me
I declare the war is over
It’s over, it’s over

Drums are drizzling on a grain of sand
Fading rhythms of a fading land
Prove your courage in the proud parade
Trust your leaders where mistakes are almost never made
And they’re afraid that I’m afraid

I’m afraid the war is over
It’s over, it’s over

Angry artists painting angry signs
Use their vision just to blind the blind
Poisoned players of a grizzly game
One is guilty and the other gets the point to blame
Pardon me if I refrain

I declare the war is over
It’s over, it’s over

So do your duty, boys, and join with pride
Serve your country in her suicide
Find the flags so you can wave goodbye
But just before the end even treason might be worth a try
This country is to young to die

I declare the war is over
It’s over, it’s over

One-legged veterans will greet the dawn
And they’re whistling marches as they mow the lawn
And the gargoyles only sit and grieve
The gypsy fortune teller told me that we’d been deceived
You only are what you believe

I believe the war is over
It’s over, it’s over”

— Phil Ochs (December 19, 1940–April 9, 1976)

‘We Blew It’: PJ O’Rourke

A Garden hose.

A look back in remorse on the conservative opportunity that was squandered… [W]e’re doing good work on our final task–attaching the garden hose to our car’s exhaust pipe and running it in through a vent window. Barack and Michelle will be by in a moment with some subsidized ethanol to top up our gas tank. And then we can turn the key.” (Weekly Standard)

Is Detroit Worth Saving?

Economic bail-out plan

“If we are going to bail out Detroit, the deal has to be based on meeting the new fuel economy standards of 35 mpg by 2020, and meeting them increasingly with hybrids. The deal has to be for multiple plug-in hybrid car models. And most important, the deal has to include a management team that is wholly committed to that inevitable transition, a team that will not waste a penny of the taxpayer-funded bailout lobbying against the even tougher standards and regulations that will be needed to avoid the harsh consequences of global warming and peak oil.

This isn’t socialism. And it isn’t nationalization of the auto industry. It is immunization of the auto industry against the seemingly fatal disease of mental decay. And it is immunization of the nation against far graver threats. Indeed, the potential risks the bankruptcy of Detroit poses pale in comparison with the all-but-certain risks of continuing on our path of ever greater oil consumption and ever greater greenhouse gas emissions.” — Joseph Romm (Salon )

In a Novel Theory of Mental Disorders, Parents’ Genes Are in Competition

An MRI scan of a human brain. Many mental diso...

“…[S]weeping theory of brain development would change the way mental disorders like autism and schizophrenia are understood“. Essentially, the authors argue, it is competition between genes inherited from the parents which tips brain development in one way or another. A predominance of paternal genes confers autistic traits while a predominance of maternal genes a vulnerability to psychotic experience.

“In short: autism and schizophrenia represent opposite ends of a spectrum that includes most, if not all, psychiatric and developmental brain disorders. The theory has no use for psychiatry’s many separate categories for disorders, and it would give genetic findings an entirely new dimension.”(New York Times )

The article goes a little overboard in calling this “perhaps [psychiatry’s] grandest working theory since Freud”, which IMHO remains to be seen.

Darkness at Dusk

Republican presidenti...

“It’s only been a week since the defeat, but the battle lines have already been drawn in the fight over the future of conservatism.

In one camp, there are the Traditionalists, the people who believe that conservatives have lost elections because they have strayed from the true creed. George W. Bush was a big-government type who betrayed conservatism. John McCain was a Republican moderate, and his defeat discredits the moderate wing.

To regain power, the Traditionalists argue, the G.O.P. should return to its core ideas: Cut government, cut taxes, restrict immigration. Rally behind Sarah Palin.

…The other camp, the Reformers, argue that the old G.O.P. priorities were fine for the 1970s but need to be modernized for new conditions. The reformers tend to believe that American voters will not support a party whose main idea is slashing government. The Reformers propose new policies to address inequality and middle-class economic anxiety. They tend to take global warming seriously. They tend to be intrigued by the way David Cameron has modernized the British Conservative Party…” — David Brooks (New York Times op-ed)

Obama Joke by Premier Has Italy in an Uproar

Silvio Berlusconi shaking hands with George W....Berlusconi

‘Italians never quite know whether to laugh or cry at Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. But many reacted with incredulity and outrage after the prime minister, visiting Moscow on Thursday, amiably called the first African-American president-elect in United States history “young, handsome and suntanned.” ‘ (New York Times )

The Man Who Knows Too Much

“He exposed the My Lai massacre, revealed Nixon’s secret bombing of Cambodia and has hounded Bush and Cheney over the abuse of prisoners in Abu Ghraib… No wonder the Republicans describe Seymour Hersh as ‘the closest thing American journalism has to a terrorist’. Rachel Cooke meets the most-feared investigative reporter in Washington.” (Guardian.UK)

Hersh has long been one of my heroes.

The Other Winner

Howard Dean speaking at DNC event
“[If] election night stamped Obama indelibly into the pages of American history, then [Howard] Dean’s place in that history, too, should probably be revisited. Very nearly discarded by his contemporaries as a spectacularly flawed presidential candidate and a bumbling chairman, Dean may well be remembered instead as the flinty figure who bridged the distance between one generation of Democrats and the next, the man who first gave voice to liberal fury and tapped transformative technologies at the dawn of the century — and then channeled all of it into rebuilding the party’s grass-roots apparatus. Just as Ronald Reagan and the conservatives learned from Barry Goldwater, just as Franklin Roosevelt and the New Dealers took inspiration from reformers like Robert La Follette, so, too, did Obama and the new progressives in America evolve from Howard Dean.” (New York Times Magazine)

Obama Ready To Quickly Reverse Bush Actions

Mouse embryonic stem cells with fluorescent ma...

Mouse embryonic stem cells

“Transition advisers to President-elect Barack Obama have compiled a list of about 200 Bush administration actions and executive orders that could be swiftly undone to reverse White House policies on climate change, stem cell research, reproductive rights and other issues, according to congressional Democrats, campaign aides and experts working with the transition team.A team of four dozen advisers, working for months in virtual solitude, set out to identify regulatory and policy changes Obama could implement soon after his inauguration.” (Huffington Post)

Oxford Researchers List Top 10 Most Annoying Phrases

Oxford University 2
‘Though maybe “you could care less,” the scholars in question keep track of linguistic mangling and overused buzzwords in a database called the Oxford University Corpus. The voluminous record keeps track of books, magazines, broadcast, online media and other sources, watching for new overused, tiresome phrases and retiring those that fade from use (or misuse).

The great hierarchy of verbal fatigue includes:

  1. At the end of the day
  2. Fairly unique
  3. I personally
  4. At this moment in time
  5. With all due respect
  6. Absolutely
  7. It’s a nightmare
  8. Shouldn’t of
  9. 24/7
  10. It’s not rocket science’ (Wired News)

Northern Lights captured in 3D for the first time

November Aurora

Until I actually saw the Northern Lights in the flesh, I had always wondered about their 3-dimensional structure, sensing that 2-d photos do not do them justice. Now, a team has made a 3-d film (the kind you watch with those red and green goggles) of “the largest thing on earth you can visualize in 3-d”, filming at -40F with two cameras twenty miles distant in Lapland.

View a video on the expedition, with some footage from the film, here. (New Scientist)

Palin Calls Critics Among McCain Aides ‘Jerks’

Presumptive Republi...
‘Ms. Palin spoke out upon her return to the governor’s office here, defending herself from a barrage of criticism that has been aimed at her from unnamed McCain aides ever since the McCain-Palin ticket was defeated Tuesday.

The McCain campaign aides complained about the $150,000 that the Republican National Committee had spent on Ms. Palin’s clothes, the way a Canadian comedian was able to embarrass the campaign by calling her and pretending to be the president of France, and the political ambitions she seemed to harbor beyond 2008.

By the end of the week, their complaints had escalated considerably, with Fox News quoting unnamed McCain campaign officials as saying that Ms. Palin had not known that Africa was a continent, not a country, and claiming that she did not know which countries were covered by the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Ms. Palin told reporters in Alaska that the anonymous criticism was “cowardly,” and that she had discussed the campaign’s position on Nafta at her debate prep sessions.

“I remember having a discussion with a couple of debate preppers,” she said. “So if it came from one of those debate preppers, you know, that’s curious. But having a discussion about Nafta — not, ‘Oh my goodness, I don’t know who is a part of Nafta.’ ”

“So, no, I think that if there are allegations based on questions or comments that I made in debate prep about Nafta, and about the continent versus the country when we talk about Africa there, then those were taken out of context,” Ms. Palin said. “And that’s cruel and it’s mean-spirited, it’s immature, it’s unprofessional, and those guys are jerks, if they came away with it taking things out of context and then tried to spread something on national news. It is not fair and not right.” ‘ (New York Times )

[Thank heavens they were wrong when they predicted that we were not going to have Sarah Palin to kick around anymore after the election. If she did not exist, The Onion would have had to invent her.]