Does Rove’s Executive Privilege Persist Under Obama?

Karl Rove

“After Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) re-subpoenaed Karl Rove, former aide and adviser to President George W. Bush’s, to testify before Congress on his role in the Bush administration’s politicization of the Justice Department and prosecution of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman (D), Rove’s lawyer Tuesday asked the Obama White House for guidance, The Huffington Post reports.

Does Rove’s past claim of executive privilege, which Bush backed, still exist under the new administration?” via The Washington Independent.


Supreme Court Steps Closer to Repeal of Evidence Ruling

President George W. Bush announces from the Ov...
“In 1983, a young lawyer in the Reagan White House was hard at work on what he called in a memorandum “the campaign to amend or abolish the exclusionary rule” — the principle that evidence obtained by police misconduct cannot be used against a defendant.

The Reagan administration’s attacks on the exclusionary rule — a barrage of speeches, opinion articles, litigation and proposed legislation — never gained much traction. But now that young lawyer, John G. Roberts Jr., is chief justice of the United States.

This month, Chief Justice Roberts, writing for the majority in Herring v. United States, a 5-to-4 decision, took a big step toward the goal he had discussed a quarter-century before. Taking aim at one of the towering legacies of the Warren Court, its landmark 1961 decision applying the exclusionary rule to the states, the chief justice’s majority opinion established for the first time that unlawful police conduct should not require the suppression of evidence if all that was involved was isolated carelessness. That was a significant step in itself. More important yet, it suggested that the exclusionary rule itself might be at risk.

The Herring decision “jumped a firewall,” said Kent Scheidegger, the general counsel of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, a victims’ rights group. “I think Herring may be setting the stage for the Holy Grail,” he wrote on the group’s blog, referring to the overruling of Mapp v. Ohio, the 1961 Warren Court decision.

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. joined the Herring decision and has been a reliable vote for narrowing the protections afforded criminal defendants since he joined the court in 2006. In applying for a job in the Reagan Justice Department in 1985, he wrote that his interest in the law had been “motivated in large part by disagreement with Warren Court decisions, particularly in the areas of criminal procedure,” religious freedom and voting rights.” via NY Times


R.I.P. John Martyn

“John Martyn, a Scottish singer and guitarist whose gentle mix of folk and jazz and innovative use of electronic effects have influenced a broad range of musicians since the 1970s, died on Thursday in Kilkenny, Ireland. He was 60.

The cause was complications of pneumonia, said Jim Tullio, his longtime record producer.

Mr. Martyn emerged from the London folk scene of the mid-1960s with a crisp and distinctive guitar style, but he had his greatest impact in the ’70s with albums that took that sound in new directions. Inspired in part by the slow-burning, mystical jazz of the American saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, he devolved a keen sense of texture and atmospherics, transforming ballads into sensuous rhapsodies.

Making novel use of the Echoplex and other devices in songs like “Glistening Glyndebourne” (1971), he manipulated the sound of his acoustic guitar, making it pulse and throb hypnotically, an effect widely imitated throughout the ’70s and ’80s.

Although his music never had a wide appeal, Mr. Martyn released more than 20 albums and has been emulated by generations of musicians.” via NYTimes Obituary.

Solid Air and Grace and Danger have always been in heavy rotation in my listening. Today, they will be on continuous shuffle…

Let’s Get Animal

One-legged duck on a stone - Ouchy - Switzerland

‘ “Souvenir de Chine,” a video by the Swiss electronic duo Larytta, features mice, ducks, chickens, and parakeets: We assume that none of them were injured along the way. But, like us, they must have been mighty confused.’ via Very Short List.

Street with a View

“On May 3rd 2008, artists Robin Hewlett and Ben Kinsley invited the Google Inc. Street View team and residents of Pittsburgh’s Northside to collaborate on a series of tableaux along Sampsonia Way. Neighbors, and other participants from around the city, staged scenes ranging from a parade and a marathon, to a garage band practice, a seventeenth century sword fight, a heroic rescue and much more…

Street View technicians captured 360-degree photographs of the street with the scenes in action and integrated the images into the Street View mapping platform. This first-ever artistic intervention in Google Street View made its debut on the web in November of 2008.” via STREET WITH A VIEW: a project by Robin Hewlett & Ben Kinsley.

The Pedestrian Project

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Eerily familiar...

“The Pedestrian Project consists of several performers wearing entirely black custom-made costumes modeled after the generic images of men, women, and children seen on public signs. Mimicking the lives of everyday people, the roaming sculptural forms inspire the imaginations of onlookers, who often find themselves mesmerized as these familiar icons assume busy lives of their own.” via The Pedestrian Project | Trend.Land.

Bush Policies Will Blow Through Nat’l Parks for Years

Old logo for the U.S.

“Views of spacious skies and purple mountain majesties in US national parks may soon be interrupted by industrial roads and power lines, after years of Bush policies that pushed commerce over conservation, reports the Los Angeles Times. And unlike the many decisions that President Obama can quickly reverse, the changes looming for national parks may be difficult or impossible to prevent.

Moves like greenlighting a uranium mine on the Grand Canyon’s doorstep or auctioning oil leases next-door to Arches National Park were met with near-universal dismay, but a “culture of fear” and “ethical failure” within the Interior Department quashed opposition…” via Newser.


The Famous Fingers Were Live, but Their Sound Was Recorded

Musicians Itzhak Per...

“The somber, elegiac tones before President Obama’s oath of office at the inauguration on Tuesday came from the instruments of Yo-Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman and two colleagues. But what the millions on the Mall and watching on television heard was in fact a recording, made two days earlier by the quartet and matched tone for tone by the musicians playing along.

The players and the inauguration organizing committee said the arrangement was necessary because of the extreme cold and wind during Tuesday’s ceremony. The conditions raised the possibility of broken piano strings, cracked instruments and wacky intonation…” via NYTimes.

What was in the envelope?

“Prior to leaving the White House for the last time, George Bush left an envelope in the oval office for Barack Obama. Here in the New York bureau, I’ve asked my colleagues to guess what was inside. This is what they’ve come up with so far:

  • anthrax
  • a photocopy of his butt
  • increasingly smaller envelopes
  • Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction
  • a copy of the Constitution: “Turns out to be a really good read! -GWB”
  • “The Official Preppy Handbook”
  • a scrawled note, short and sweet, good for all occasions: “Let Freedom reign!”
  • pages and pages of “All work and no play makes George a dull boy”
  • take-out menus—you know, just basic Chinese, maybe pizza and a wings place or two
  • This drawing:”
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via Democracy in America |

Henry Louis Gates: ‘Read It’

Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

‘To those who found President Obama’s speech underwhelming, Henry Louis Gates Jr. has some advice in The Root: Read it.

“We tend to forget that Lincoln’s most famous speeches-Gettysburg and the second inaugural-read much better than they sounded,” he writes. He admits, upon hearing Obama’s speech, that he found it “less moving as a rhetorical statement than I had expected.” Upon reading the speech, Gates Jr. found “plenty of grand significance. And as I reviewed the speech, Obama’s rhetorical strategy clearly revealed itself, a strategy brilliantly calibrated between progressive chords and conservative ones, revealing him to be the president of all the people, words designed to show that, as he put it, ‘What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them-that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply.'” ‘ via The Daily Beast.

Wired‘s February Issue Is 3 Millimeters Thin

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“More evidence of the abominable ad market: Wired’s February issue is so thin, its binding is thicker than its actual pages. It feels startlingly flimsy to the touch. The issue numbers just 113 pages in total. Wired’s January issue contained 128 pages; the December issue, 231 pages.

Of those 113 pages, only 31.5 are ad pages. That’s miserable. The usual ratio between editorial and advertising hovers around 1:1.

31.5 ad pages is a 27% decline from the January 2009 issue, which itself was a 47% decline from January 2007.” via Silicon Alley Insider.

Obama to Bush: I Can Release Your Records. Don’t Like It? Sue.

Vice President Dic...

‘On his first day in office, President Obama put former president Bush on notice. His administration just released an executive order that will make it difficult for Bush to shield his White House records–and those of former Vice President Dick Cheney–from public scrutiny by invoking the doctrine of executive privilege.

…”[Obama]’s putting former presidents on notice that if you want to continue a claim of executive privilege that [Obama] doesn’t think is well-placed, you’re going to have to go to court,” says Anne Weismann, the chief counsel for Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington (CREW).

Obama’s executive order not only revokes “Bush’s infamous Executive Order 13233, which gave current and former presidents and vice presidents, along with their heirs, unprecedented authority to block the disclosure of White House records,” but also redefines executive privilege with a much more rigorous standard…’ via Shakesville: Suck It, Bush.


Approaching Storm

dead leaves, some the color of cement if cement were
rust, scrape my knees on their way to the grave, buried
in gravity, the maple still full and maple leaves soft as
spring, drops begin their pattern on the pond, leaf rustle
hath a new inflection, foliate, smallest sunfish leap, dace
shimmer, scurry to every edge where arcs lap, cross, fade
back into pond, there is no pause, can be no interruption,
below words is sound, beneath sound, silence, then dark
cacophonies of need, a river, swells, above sound are the
sounds creatures make to each other by which they are
known, above these song, all this winding its way into
winter, time’s valance most acute in the fall, you’re over-
taken again, there’s nowhere to go except in, to listen as
Babels of rain sweep across the roof in a darkening room

— Skip Fox

via Realpoetik

Obama Cozies Up to McCain


‘How valuable of [sic] an ally will John McCain be to Barack Obama? According to The New York Times, “Over the last three months, Mr. Obama has quietly consulted Mr. McCain about many of the new administration’s potential nominees to top national security jobs and about other issues” in a courtship “that historians say has few modern parallels.” Lindsey Graham has said of McCain that “that many of these appointments he would have made himself.” When McCain returned from Iraq last month, Obama called him in order to hear his thoughts on the situation. And, tonight, McCain will be the guest of honor at a black tie celebration of Obama’s inauguration.’ via The Daily Beast.


Praise Song for the Day

Praise song for the day.

Each day we go about our business, walking past each other, catching each others’ eyes or not, about to speak or speaking. All about us is noise. All about us is noise and bramble, thorn and din, each one of our ancestors on our tongues. Someone is stitching up a hem, darning a hole in a uniform, patching a tire, repairing the things in need of repair.

Someone is trying to make music somewhere with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.

A woman and her son wait for the bus.

A farmer considers the changing sky; A teacher says, “Take out your pencils. Begin.”

We encounter each other in words, words spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed; words to consider, reconsider.

We cross dirt roads and highways that mark the will of someone and then others who said, “I need to see what’s on the other side; I know there’s something better down the road.”

We need to find a place where we are safe; We walk into that which we cannot yet see.

Say it plain, that many have died for this day. Sing the names of the dead who brought us here, who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges, picked the cotton and the lettuce, built brick by brick the glittering edifices they would then keep clean and work inside of.

Praise song for struggle; praise song for the day. Praise song for every hand-lettered sign; The figuring it out at kitchen tables.

Some live by “Love thy neighbor as thy self.”

Others by first do no harm, or take no more than you need.

What if the mightiest word is love, love beyond marital, filial, national. Love that casts a widening pool of light. Love with no need to preempt grievance.

In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air, anything can be made, any sentence begun.

On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp — praise song for walking forward in that light.

— Elizabeth Alexander, 01/20/09

The Inaugural Oath: Chief Justice Slip-Up

United States Constitution

I guess Chief Justice Roberts isn’t as much of a strict constructionist as we had all assumed:

‘The oath is contained in the Constitution: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

But when Roberts swore in Obama, he flipped some of the words, saying: “I will execute the office of president to the United States faithfully.” ‘ via ABC News.

A friend, after watching the flubbed oath yesterday, worried that some might challenge the legitimacy of Obama’s ascension to the Presidency given that he was improperly sworn in.

Obama Halts Bush Orders

{{w|Rahm Emanuel}}, U.S. Congressman.

“The new administration got right down to work on their first afternoon in the White House… Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel signed an order authorized by the new president freezing all new or proposed regulations at all government agencies and departments until the new administration can review them. The order puts the brakes on all the regulations the Bush administration tried to push through in its last days. But Bush can’t be mad: Obama’s taking a page from the former president’s own playbook—he did it to Clinton.” via The Daily Beast.

Extreme Psychology

Smoke billows from...

“For a small band of shrinks, intervening in catastrophic situations is an everyday event. But their experience at the edge has deep consequences for us all: It is altering our understanding of the true nature of human nature.” via Psychology Today.

The American Character

Progress of America by Domenico Tojetti

“Obama’s popular narrative, and the way he has told it, promises to revive interest in what scholars term American exceptionalism — the idea that the American story is somehow unique. Attempts to define that quality have led foreigners to these shores, generated countless commentaries, and after World War II helped give rise to an entire academic discipline — American studies. But the topic has been notably out of fashion in the scholarly world. Now, from the well-known historian Simon Schama, we have a new, contrarian view that looks at what’s unique in the American character, putting our past in the context of the election of the new president we are just inaugurating.” via

How novels help drive social evolution

‘Boehm and Carroll believe novels have the same effect as the cautionary tales told in older societies. “Just as hunter-gatherers talk of cheating and bullying as a way of staying keyed to the goal that the bad guys must not win, novels key us to the same issues,” says Boehm. “They have a function that continues to contribute to the quality and structure of group life.”

“Maybe storytelling – from TV to folk tales – actually serves some specific evolutionary function,” says Gottschall. “They’re not just by-products of evolutionary adaptation.” ‘

via New Scientist.

How To Be A Local Character

“Almost every community has one or two of them: persons who everyone knows, even if you have never spoken to them. Some local characters have gained nationwide recognition via internet. If your neighborhood doesn’t have one, you can follow a character from somewhere else! Here are five basic examples of different types of local characters.”

via Mental Floss.

Reinventing the VW Microbus For the Eco-Age

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The Verdier

“Canadian designer Alexandre Verdier has given the cult-classic VW Microbus an eco-overhaul that tastefully updates the iconic breadbox on wheels. The result is a slammed diesel hybrid sure to make hippies swoon and make car camping a whole lot cooler.”

via Autopia from Wired.

I think what’ll make hippies swoon is the $129,000 price tag.

The High Priests of Snark

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The Hunting of the Snark

David Denby: “A strain of nasty, knowing abuse is spreading like pinkeye through the national conversation—a tone of snarking insult provoked and encouraged by the new hybrid world of print, television, radio and the Internet. This is about style and also, I suppose, grace. Anyone who speaks of grace—so spiritual a word—in connection with our raucous culture risks sounding like a genteel idiot, so I had better say right away that I’m all in favor of nasty comedy, incessant profanity, trash talk, any kind of satire, and certain kinds of invective. It’s the bad kind of invective—low, teasing, snide, condescending, knowing; in brief, snark—that I hate…

via The Daily Beast.

Vote on your favorite ‘BamBerry’ ad

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‘ “I'm still clinging to my Blackberry. They're going to have to pry it out of my hands.”

Obama uttered these now famous words – which might just be the mother all endorsements for Blackberry – in an interview with CNBC and the New York Times Wednesday.

It got us thinking, what a great ad campaign!

So we've gotten leading advertising firms to create hilarious, moving and altogether awesome ad campaigns around Bam's devotion to his Berry.’

via New York Daily News.

You Are Free To Leave…

Pedestrians head ...

Interactive graphic shows the percentage of the population issued passports in each of the fifty states. I am not surprised at the regional discrepancies, which sort with so many other measures of sophistication state-by-state. I am surprised by how low the percentages are across the board. Overall, less than five percent of the American public hold passports. If that doesn’t speak to our insularity… Update: As a reader points out (see the comments), it is likely that the statistic represents the percentage of Americans who were issued passports in just one year. A Google search on “percentage of Americans who have passports” comes up with a figure more like 20-30% instead.

via Good.

Bike Lane That Travels With You

A person rides a bicycle in a diamond lane in ...

“The system projects a virtual bike lane (using lasers!) on the ground around the cyclists, providing drivers with a recognizable boundary they can easily avoid.”

via Good.

‘I Liked Their Early Stuff the Best’

The burning man, from the Burning Man Festival

Heather Havrilesky is writing here about Battlestar Galactica, about which I do not share the fascination, but her introductory remarks may be worth pondering regardless:

‘I hate hearing, “I liked their early stuff the best.” Even if it’s true, there’s something about that sentiment that’s just so overused and predictable. “Of course you liked early R.E.M. best,” I want to say. “You were 17 years old and drunk on tequila and in love with a girl who didn’t know you existed, and ‘Harbor Coat’ summed up your melancholy mood like it was written just for you.”

The truth is, we all loved early U2 and early Genesis and early “SNL” and early “Sopranos” and early reality TV and the first season of “Lost” and early Modest Mouse and some of the first webzines and the first days of Burning Man (before it got so popular) and John McEnroe (before he was everywhere) and the Dead (before the frat boys caught on) and weed (when it was cheap, remember the dime bag?) and early David Foster Wallace and early Dan Clowes and early This American Life and early Spy magazine and early, early, early, early to the party, not late! Not like everyone else, the herds, the masses! I knew about it all first, I was there, goddamn it, I was right there, discovering it. Just me, me, me!

But you weren’t alone, sugar plum. We were all there. We all liked the same crap, and then we didn’t like the stuff that came after that. And then we got fat and our hair started falling out and our backs started to hurt and we didn’t like anything at all anymore.’

…and, if you’re not there yet, take it to heart because you will be.

By the way, I beg to differ. I didn’t like the same crap, Heather. It is even more hip not to turn your nose up at things you and your crowd used to like but not to care for them in the first place. Things I never ever liked, even in their early days, include: Genesis, SNL, and especially reality TV and This American Life (and how could you forget Dave Eggers?) … And should I boast that I haven’t even heard of Dan Clowes. (You’re right about the Dead, though; I was as fanatic as they came, and I can’t listen to nearly anything past ’78.)

This is only peripherally related, I suspect, but writers on creativity have distinguished immature and mature varieties; immature creativity being brash and bold, energetic and iconoclastic, while mature creativity is more sober, reflective, integrative and synthetic. Psychologists have studied what makes some creative geniuses peak early and others continue to age constructively. As a culture, we increasingly favor the former and ignore, if not spurn, the latter (as our society does with the wisdom of age in general). I suspect the crowd-pleasers are largely of the brash variety. (It is sort of like drinking some Gallo to get smashed out of your mind as contrasted to appreciating a fine Medoc, isn’t it?)

via I Like to Watch, Salon Arts & Entertainment.

You are a hologram

Falling into a black hole
falling into a black hole…

‘According to Craig Hogan, a physicist at the Fermilab particle physics lab in Batavia, Illinois, GEO600 has stumbled upon the fundamental limit of space-time – the point where space-time stops behaving like the smooth continuum Einstein described and instead dissolves into “grains”, just as a newspaper photograph dissolves into dots as you zoom in. “It looks like GEO600 is being buffeted by the microscopic quantum convulsions of space-time,” says Hogan.

If this doesn’t blow your socks off, then Hogan, who has just been appointed director of Fermilab’s Center for Particle Astrophysics, has an even bigger shock in store: “If the GEO600 result is what I suspect it is, then we are all living in a giant cosmic hologram.”

The idea that we live in a hologram probably sounds absurd, but it is a natural extension of our best understanding of black holes, and something with a pretty firm theoretical footing. It has also been surprisingly helpful for physicists wrestling with theories of how the universe works at its most fundamental level.’

via New Scientist.

Bush Drops Fake Cowboy Shtick

(AFP OUT)  U.S. Pr...

‘George Bush bought his “ranch” down in Crawford in 1999 shortly before he started running for president. And now that he’s done with politics, he is moving out of there as soon as he possibly can. The Bushes have bought a new home in a tony neighborhood (and until recently a whites-only community) in Dallas. So, what happened to retiring down to the ranch?

Well, it’s what most of us suspected — all total bullshit. He was never a cowboy. That ranch had nothing on it. No cows, no farming, just a lot of bullshit brush that Bush pretended to clear (for what fucking purpose?). The ranch was always a political gimmick. It was purchased so that Bush could play the role of the Texas cowboy when in fact he has always been the Andover cheerleader.’

Cenk Uygur via HuffPo.


arboleda perdida

Have people noticed, toward the bottom of the sidebar on this page, the ‘Top Posts’ and ‘Top Clicks’ lists? I must say, to the extent that the ‘top posts’ really reflect relative interest of my readers, I’m surprised at what appears up there on the list.

Why Israel Can’t Make Peace With Hamas

The Hamas emblem consists of the Dome of the R...

“One irresistible reality grows from Hamas’s complicated, competitive relationship with Hezbollah. For Hamas, Hezbollah is not only a source of weapons and instruction, it is a mentor and role model.

Hamas’s desire to best Hezbollah’s achievements is natural, of course, but, more to the point, it is radicalizing. One of the reasons, among many, that Hamas felt compelled to break its cease-fire with Israel last month was to prove its potency to Muslims impressed with Hezbollah.

Another reality worth considering concerns theology. Hamas and Hezbollah emerged from very different streams of Islam: Hamas is the Palestinian branch of the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood; Hezbollah is an outright Iranian proxy that takes its inspiration from the radical Shiite politics of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. But the groups share a common belief that Jews are a cosmological evil, enemies of Islam since Muhammad sought refuge in Medina.

Periodically, advocates of negotiation suggest that the hostility toward Jews expressed by Hamas is somehow mutable. But in years of listening, I haven’t heard much to suggest that its anti-Semitism is insincere. Like Hezbollah, Hamas believes that God is opposed to a Jewish state in Palestine. Both groups are rhetorically pitiless, though, again, Hamas sometimes appears to follow the lead of Hezbollah.”

Jeffrey Goldberg, a national correspondent for The Atlantic and the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror, in New York Times Op-Ed.

Is it really bad to be sad?

“…Misery is inconvenient, unpleasant, and in a society where personal happiness is prized above all else, there is little tolerance for wallowing in despair. Especially now we’ve got drugs for it. …So it’s no surprise that more and more people are taking them.

But is this really such a good idea? A growing number of cautionary voices from the world of mental health research are saying it isn’t. They fear that the increasing tendency to treat normal sadness as if it were a disease is playing fast and loose with a crucial part of our biology. Sadness, they argue, serves an evolutionary purpose – and if we lose it, we lose out.

“When you find something this deeply in us biologically, you presume that it was selected because it had some advantage, otherwise we wouldn’t have been burdened with it,” says Jerome Wakefield, a clinical social worker at New York University and co-author of The Loss of Sadness: How psychiatry transformed normal sorrow into depressive disorder (with Allan Horwitz, Oxford University Press, 2007). “We’re fooling around with part of our biological make-up.”

Perhaps, then, it is time to embrace our miserable side. Yet many psychiatrists insist not. Sadness has a nasty habit of turning into depression, they warn. Even when people are sad for good reason, they should be allowed to take drugs to make themselves feel better if that’s what they want.

So who is right? Is sadness something we can live without or is it a crucial part of the human condition?

…there are lots of ideas about why our propensity to feel sad might have evolved. It may be a self-protection strategy, as it seems to be among other primates that show signs of sadness. …it helps us learn from our mistakes. …even full-blown depression may save us from the effects of long-term stress. Without taking time out to reflect, he says, “you might stay in a state of chronic stress until you’re exhausted or dead”. …By acting sad, we tell other community members that we need support….Then there is the notion that creativity is connected to dark moods. …There is also evidence that too much happiness can be bad for your career…” (More)

via New Scientist.

Posting articles on this theme is, readers may have noticed, a recurrent event here on FmH. I began to be introduced to this notion, that depression might serve a useful purpose and that we had to rethink our knee-jerk readiness to vanquish it (and normal sadness as well, which is difficult to disentangle from pathological depression) whenever we encountered it, early in my career. I think it has fundamentally informed my skepticism about the way we organize and administer psychiatric services in this society. In addition, there are concerns that too readily resorting to antidepressant therapy may reinforce future propensity for depressive reactions and need for medication (which I’m sure will please the pharmaceutical industry to hear). I have always said that getting people off of medications, or refraining from prescribing them, are equally important functions of a psychopharmacologist as is prescribing astutely.

R.I.P. Patrick McGoohan

RIP Patrick McGoohan

“Patrick McGoohan, a multifaceted actor who spun television legend by creating and starring in the 1960s program The Prisoner, a mysterious allegory about a mysterious man in a mysterious seaside village that became a cult classic, died on Jan. 13 in Los Angeles. He was 80.”

via New York TImes obituary.

High Caffeine Intake Linked To Hallucination Proneness

Chemical structure of Caffeine.

“High caffeine consumption could be linked to a greater tendency to hallucinate, a new research study suggests.

People with a higher caffeine intake, from sources such as coffee, tea and caffeinated energy drinks, are more likely to report hallucinatory experiences such as hearing voices and seeing things that are not there, according to the Durham University study.

‘High caffeine users’ – those who consumed more than the equivalent of seven cups of instant coffee a day – were three times more likely to have heard a person’s voice when there was no one there compared with ‘low caffeine users’ who consumed less than the equivalent of one cup of instant coffee a day.”

via Science Daily.

The end of the neocons?

Beavis & Butt-head as George W. Bush & Dick Cheny

“With the Bush Administration about to recede into history, a widely asked question is whether the neoconservative philosophy that underpinned its major foreign policy decisions will likewise vanish from the scene.

…The safest bet… is that we can bid adieu to the neocons and leave their role to be adjudicated by history.

But the epitaph of neoconservatism has been written before – prematurely, as it turned out, in the 1980s.

…They themselves argue that they form part of the mainstream of American history. It seems more likely that they will come to be seen as an aberration.

Two things may change this. First, the flipside of neoconservatism is what might be called neo-humanitarianism. This is the idea that US military power should be used to intervene on the ground in crises like the Rwandan genocide or in Darfur.

Some Obama officials, for example Susan Rice at the UN, will be making this case. All indications are that the Obama administration will be cautious but, if not, US unilateral military deployment may be back on the global agenda.

Secondly, the Obama administration faces unsettled business on Iran.

The neocons are arguing that Iran is the defining issue for US foreign policy and that, short of an abandonment by Tehran of its apparent nuclear weapons program, the US must use force.

Once again, the early signs are that, for the Obama team, military force is well down the agenda and a new form of engagement is under consideration.

Should this change – possibly on the back of intransigence from Tehran – the neocons will be back in business and will crow that they have survived yet another premature obituary.”


Countries that will miss George Bush

Bush is my Hero

“As he leaves office with a record high domestic disapproval rate – 73%, according to an October ABC News/Washington Post poll – President George W Bush can perhaps take some comfort from the fact that this feeling is not uniformly shared abroad.

While the shoe-throwing incident in Iraq may come to symbolise the world’s opinion of a president who is often referred to as the worst in America’s history, some corners of the world will miss the 43rd president of the United States.

He has approval ratings of around 80% in Africa, according to some polls, and in Kosovo a main street was named after him to thank him for supporting Kosovo’s independence.

…Africa as a continent stands out as the main region in the world where Bush is most likely to be missed and where widespread support for the 62-year-old Texan mystified his critics.

…Finally, in their own way, leaders like Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, Cuba’s former president Fidel Castro and Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad may come to miss the man they loved to hate when they have to start dealing with his successor, the man that the world loves to love. “


The year’s weirdest animals

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'Horror frog' breaks own bones to produce claws
One of the best 10-best lists I’ve run across:

“From a sea-slug that runs on solar power, to a bug that lives in total isolation; from the world's smallest snake to a one-tonne rodent – here are the 10 oddest species from 2008.”

via New Scientist.

Living out the Truman Show


Truman Syndrome is a form of psychological delusion in which the patient believes that he or she is trapped inside in a reality television show, or that people are monitoring his or her every move. The name for this syndrome is a reference to The Truman Show, a 1998 film which revolved around a character who was living his entire life on camera without being aware of it. To those of sound mind, Truman Syndrome might sound a bit ludicrous, but not dangerous, although this is not, in fact, the case: this condition can actually be very dangerous for the people who suffer from it.

Psychologists have suggested that Truman Syndrome is a culture-based delusion, noting that it tends to arise in developed nations where there is a high level of surveillance, and where reality television shows are easy to access. Many people living in such societies have a certain amount of nervousness about being under surveillance or watched by the government, but people with Truman Syndrome take it to a whole new level, subverting very real concerns into a complex delusion.

Patients with this condition often specifically reference The Truman Show, along with other films and books with similar premises. They claim that they are living in an entirely artificial world where nothing is real and every action is carefully documented on a camera and watched by a television audience or government agency. Like the title character in The Truman Show, they think that they are slowly breaking through to the truth, but no one believes them.

Aside from the fact that delusions in general can be psychologically harmful, Truman Syndrome can also be dangerous. For example, people may think that specific actions will release them from the show, allowing them to win prizes, and these actions may involve dangerous activities. People may also become frustrated by the repeated denials of their delusions, lashing out at friends and strangers alike in an attempt to get people to admit that they are inhabiting an artificial world. Some people also have difficulty coping with real-life events, believing that these events were manufactured as part of the reality shows they inhabit.

Treating Truman Syndrome is complex. The use of anti-psychotic drugs and anti-depressants can help, but ultimately extensive talk therapy is the best option. Because the entire delusion rests on the premise that the world isn’t real, the treating psychiatrist or psychologist may struggle initially to be accepted, especially if he or she is confrontational with the patient, and this is a good thing to keep in mind.”

via Wisegeek.

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Hattie Carroll’s Killer Dies

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William Zantzinger, the white Maryland tobacco farmer immortalized in a Bob Dylan song for the 1963 killing of a black Baltimore barmaid, has died. Zantzinger, inebriated from a night on the town, struck Hattie Carroll with a cane when she was slow bringing him a bourbon. Carroll, a 51-year-old mother of 11 children, died from a brain hemorrhage 8 hours later. Zantzinger was convicted of manslaughter and served 6 months. Dylan recorded “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” in 1964.’

via Newser [thanks, walker].

The Last Whole Earth Catalog

Fall 1969 cover

The Last Whole Earth Catalog, from June 1971, has been scanned in and is available for electronic browsing pleasure. I was a devotee of the mindset of these folks and a charter subscriber to the quarterly spin-off from the catalogs, known at different times as Whole Earth Review and Coevolutionary Quarterly. I visited them in Sausalito at one point, and had the pleasure of being the next-door neighbor in New Haven of their graphics editor for awhile. (My across-the-street neighbor at the time was the New Haven Zen Center. Nice neighborhood.) In many ways, they were all about hacking the world and your life long before there was electronic hacking. Their closest online literary heir is Kevin Kelly.

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Framing the Gaza Conflict: Five Questions


Dennis Fox, psychologist colleague of mine and Middle East peace activist frames some questions on the Gaza conflict, and suggests some answers:

“1. Who started the current hostilities? Instigators always blame the other side. The mainstream media generally parrot the argument that Hamas refused to extend the ceasefire and that Israel seeks only to stop missiles from leaving Gaza. They minimize or even ignore the fact that Hamas had managed to stop missile launches almost completely before Israel itself broke the ceasefire, an earlier violation that the media now fails to point out.

2. Who started the broader conflict? This is a central question, or would be if the rest of the world paid much attention. Interpretations vary depending on the starting point. Here are some possibilities: Hamas’s takeover of Gaza, Hamas’s election to office, the 1967 Six Day War leading to the Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory, the 1948 establishment of Israel, the late-nineteenth century arrival in Palestine of Zionist immigrants determined to create a Jewish homeland, and even Napoleon’s plan to create a Jewish state in Palestine to defend French interests. Israel’s supporters – and Israeli negotiators in the never-ending “peace process” – refuse to go back in time, while Palestians’ supporters know that the further back you go, the more the violation of their rights is clear.

3. What kind of conflict is it? Is this a national conflict between Israelis and Palestinians? A religious conflict between Jews and (mostly) Muslims? A geopolitical conflict between Israel, the US, Western Europe, and their conservative Arab allies on the one hand, and on the other Arab states less beholden to the US, Iran, and other states at odds with US dominance? Alternatively: Does the conflict reflect the actions of two equally responsible enemies engaging in tit-for-tat retaliation, who might someday make peace as equals (the framework often adopted by “neutral” peacemakers and dialogue advocates)? Or is this a conflict between Occupier and Occupied, between a powerful nation and a weak but stubborn resistance? If the latter – as I have come to see it – are the sides so unbalanced that journalistic and academic “even-handedness” becomes a support for oppression?

4. Does Israel deserve, and does it get, exceptional treatment? This is very touchy. Is Israel held to an unjustified higher standard as its defenders claim, a standard that simply proves anti-Semitism? Or does Israel get away with actions that would not be tolerated for any other modern state, and certainly any modern democracy? Does Israel deserve a Jewish state simply because Zionists took it, following the colonial model of Western states arising over the objections of defeated native peoples, or does the development of international law and the creation of the United Nations after World War II mean statehood by conquest should no longer be tolerated even for a state that absorbed Europe’s Jewish Holocaust victims? Israel’s dismissal of international condemnation as proof of bias often seems to me a convenient excuse. Anti-Semitism exists, but doesn’t explain everything.

5. Where’s justice? As I’ve explored at length on this blog and elsewhere, there can be no final settlement until history is uncovered and justice addressed. Justice is tricky, I know, but having been on both sides of this issue over the decades, I think that defenses of Israel are more strained, more rickety, more based on exceptions to ordinary standards of justice and humanity than defenses of Palestinian rights.

For me, resort to tribal notions — often expressed as what’s best for the Jews, or the claim that only a Jewish state can defend Jews worldwide — are mired in comforting nostrums that long ago lost whatever validity they may once have had. If Palestine had really been a land without a people, a Jewish state would have gone differently, maybe even becoming the light unto the nations I learned about so long ago. But creating a Jewish state over the objections of people living on that land was a historical injustice that will never – never – be forgotten. It has led, ironically, inexorably, inevitably to Jews endangered precisely because they live in the Jewish state that was supposed to protect them. And it has led to Jews oppressing, and even today killing, innocent non-Jews in the name of that Jewish state.

Framing the conflict as tribal – the core Zionist argument — justifies Israeli actions no matter how grotesque, from this latest invasion of Gaza to the four-decade occupation to the six-decade imposition of Jewish control over Israel’s own internal Palestinians. I might add it also justifies similarly particularistic views and actions by groups such as Hamas. I would much prefer framing the conflict as one between those committed to a tribal worldview and those embracing a more universal justice-based outcome. There are Israelis and Palestinians on both sides of that divide, and any justice-based future depends on them.”


Some Protect the Ego by Working on Their Excuses Early

“…[G]enuine excuse artisans — and there are millions of them — don’t wait until after choking to practice their craft. They hobble themselves, in earnest, before pursuing a goal or delivering a performance. Their excuses come preattached: I never went to class. I was hung over at the interview. I had no idea what the college application required.

“This is real self-sabotage, like drinking heavily before a test, skipping practice or using really poor equipment,” said Edward R. Hirt, a psychologist at Indiana University. “Some people do this a lot, and often it’s not clear whether they’re entirely conscious of doing it — or of its costs.”

Psychologists have studied this sort of behavior since at least 1978, when Steven Berglas and Edward E. Jones used the phrase “self-handicapping” to describe students in a study who chose to take a drug that they were told would inhibit their performance on an exam (the drug was actually inert).

The urge goes well beyond a mere lowering of expectations, and it has more to do with protecting self-image than with psychological conflicts rooted in early development, in the Freudian sense. Recent research has helped clarify not just who is prone to self-handicapping but also its consequences — and its possible benefits.”

via New York Times.

The fMRI smackdown cometh

“To fully understand what happens during a brain imaging experiment you need to be able to grasp quantum physics at one end, to philosophy of mind at the other, while travelling through a sea of statistics, neurophysiology and psychology. Needless to say, very few, if any scientists can do this on their own.

So the first strand involves how brain imaging experiments are reported in the media. Under the sheer weight of conceptual strain, journalists panic, and do this: “Brain's adventure centre located”.

It's a story published this morning on the BBC News website based on an interesting fMRI study looking at brain activity associated with participants choosing a novel option in a simple gambling task. But out of the four words of the headline, only the first is accurate.

And this leads to the second strand of the debate, which, until recently, has been largely conducted away from the media's gaze, amongst the people doing cognitive science themselves.

It starts with this simple question: what is fMRI measuring?”

via Mind Hacks.

Secrecy behind the new book of human troubles

“Diagnoses decided by an unelected committee in secret sessions that are legally prevented from discussing their work. Science marches on.”

Many are up in arms about the closed-doors process being used to draft the next edition of the American Psychiatric Associations’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, or DSM, the ‘bible’ defining all permissible psychiatric diagnoses.

via Mind Hacks.

University of Manchester Psychosis Research Project wants your help

Jane Kelly. If We Could Undo Psychosis 2.
Jane Kelly. If We Could Undo Psychosis 2

“How does online information on psychosis affect people’s beliefs and knowledge about psychosis? A survey of podcast listeners… If you wish to take part, you will be asked to answer several questions about psychosis, in particular what psychosis means to you and what you know about psychosis. You will be asked to answer some questions both before you listen to the audio information and afterwards. Questions will be about why you are interested in psychosis, what your knowledge and beliefs about psychosis are, and what you thought of the podcast.”


If Gaza falls . . .

Location of Gaza Strip

“Israel’s siege of Gaza began on 5 November, the day after an Israeli attack inside the strip, no doubt designed finally to undermine the truce between Israel and Hamas established last June. Although both sides had violated the agreement before, this incursion was on a different scale. Hamas responded by firing rockets into Israel and the violence has not abated since then. Israel’s siege has two fundamental goals. One is to ensure that the Palestinians there are seen merely as a humanitarian problem, beggars who have no political identity and therefore can have no political claims. The second is to foist Gaza onto Egypt.”

Sara Roy, at Harvard’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies and author of Failing Peace: Gaza and the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict.

via London Review of Books..

City hit by ‘legal to pee’ prank

‘People should ignore signs telling them that it is legal to urinate in certain public places in Nottingham, the city council said.

The signs, which were put up by pranksters in and around Nottingham, are designed to look official.

They feature a toilet sign and include the words: “Public Urination Permitted After 7.30pm”.’

via BBC .

Presidential Speak Dept

“No! You can go back to your, what do you call it, your Google, and you figure out all that.”

— Former President George H.W. Bush, in a Fox News interview, when asked if he would elaborate on some of his son’s failures as president.

via Political Wire.

Where the Wild Things Are on the Screen

Where the Wild Things Are

“Spike Jonze is about to make the movie of a lifetime in my opinion. The music/movie director will be releasing my (maybe everyone’s) favorite childhood book Where the Wild Things Are onto the big screen. Just look at these shots, they’re golden, and I just want to see more. Rumors around the web say that there will be no effects just large puppets, I think as a fan I couldn’t of asked for more.”

via ISO50 Blog.

Hamas vs. the Nazi Party

Two Hamas militants with a Yasin Rocket-propel...

This article is clearly heavily biased and agenda-laden, yet makes points worth pondering.

“I find the current situation deeply sorrowful, harrowing. There is one aspect of it that I think needs clarification, a clarification that will help thinking about the situation as a whole, and that is the analogies between Hitler, the Nazis and Hamas.

So, as the author of Explaining Hitler, having spent some time studying the subject, I thought I would point out a few differences.”


How your friends’ friends can affect your mood

Recent research shows that our moods are far more strongly influenced by those around us than we tend to think. Not only that, we are also beholden to the moods of friends of friends, and of friends of friends of friends – people three degrees of separation away from us who we have never met, but whose disposition can pass through our social network like a virus.

Indeed, it is becoming clear that a whole range of phenomena are transmitted through networks of friends in ways that are not entirely understood: happiness and depression, obesity, drinking and smoking habits, ill-health, the inclination to turn out and vote in elections, a taste for certain music or food, a preference for online privacy, even the tendency to attempt or think about suicide. They ripple through networks “like pebbles thrown into a pond”, says Nicholas Christakis, a medical sociologist at Harvard Medical School in Boston, who has pioneered much of the new work.

via New Scientist.

Was whole economy a Ponzi scheme?

What is even more remarkable is the way in which the alleged fleecing of wealthy people and charities – investors who should have known better or employed people who did – of many billions of dollars serves as a mirror for the broader culture. It shows how we went wrong and where we are left, now that we realize our errors.

The main difference really is that the purported victims, or enablers, or co-fantasists of the trader Bernard Madoff say they found out their wealth was illusory all of a sudden, whereas for most people in the English-speaking world, this is happening little by little.

via International Herald Tribune.

My only quibble is putting the speculation in the past tense. The economy will continue to be a Ponzi scheme, and the bailout program is intended to ensure that.