[Follow Me!]


"I am the world crier, & this is my dangerous career...

I am the one to call your bluff, & this is my climate."

—Kenneth Patchen (1911-1972)

This site will look much better in a browser that supports web standards , but it is accessible to any browser or Internet device.

Thursday, November 30, 2000

Leaked Report Says Chernobyl Replacements a Hazard: Soviet-designed nuclear power reactors
at Khmelnytsky and Rivne, which are already 80 percent
complete and sit on seismic fault zones, are "highly hazardous" according to a Vienna University report for the Austrian government. Greenpeace leaked the report to the media in the week preceding the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development's pending decision about funding the Ukraine's completion of the new facilities. The Ukraine says it will not take the Chernobyl plant offline unless it gets this funding for replacement energy generating needs; Greenpeace maintains Chernobyl should be replaced by conventional, nonnuclear power generation sources.

  •  

Possible Vaccine To Fight Ebola succesfully protects laboratory monkeys, "raising doctors' hopes of developing a means of inoculating people against the
terrifying disease."

  •  

Search for Another Earth Quietly Underway. "After a five-year search that has turned up more than 40 giant, inhospitable planets around
other stars, the hunt is quietly underway to discover another place like home. And while no
scientist can say for sure that any such planet exists, optimism is high that another Earth will
be found within the decade, possibly much sooner."

  •  

How Can You Be in Two Places At Once When You're Not Anywhere At All?FBI Probed Groucho for Marxist Ties. For those of you old enough to remember, shades of the Firesign Theater.

  •  

Wednesday, November 29, 2000

Have you lost your sense of humor? This man knows where to find it. ABC

  •  

"Scientists should not be so scared of racism that they ignore facts": "'This restraint has become a massive and
unjustifiable taboo today that is both foolish and
destructive...There is an unspoken rule that says that race and science make a
deadly combination, and that the effect of "scientific racism" is always
malevolent. In his comprehensive, must-read book, The Meaning of
Race
, Kenan Malik provides a detailed description of how social
Darwinism, eugenics, positivism, slavery and colonialism all used real
and pseudo-scientific theory to justify white superiority and, at times,
class superiority, too." Yasmin Alibhai-Brown writes in the Independent.

  •  

All Creatures Great and Smart. " Research reveals animals' brains to
be bioengineering marvels

Nearly every important recent brain
discovery comes from the study of simpler
nervous systems in animals. But it seems
those animal brain circuits aren't so simple
after all.

Roaches, for example, listen with their
knees.

Snakes can remember what they see.

And homing pigeons, with a brain the size
of a pecan, can sniff their way home with
such efficiency that scientists hope to copy
it in futuristic route- finding devices.

These creatures were among dozens of
species represented at the recent annual
meeting of the Society for Neuroscience,
an international research showcase that
reflected growing appreciation of the
bioengineering marvels in nature.
San Francisco Chronicle

  •  

Tillmans wins Turner Prize One of the most important modern art awards
in Britain -- the Turner Prize -- has been won
by the German photographer, Wolfgang
Tillmans.

It's the first time a photographer has won the
prestigious award, which is worth
thirty-thousand dollars and honours the best
young artist working in Britain.



Tillmans, whose work includes naked bodies
and household rubbish, said he wanted to shift
the perspective about what was beautiful and
acceptable in society.


However, it's possible that we've been there, done that already:

Outside the ceremony, demonstrators dressed
in clown and carnival costume protested that
the prize no longer represented genuine art.
Last year's winner showed an un-made bed,
while the previous winner used elephant dung
on a painting of the Christian saint, the Virgin
Mary. BBC

  •  

from _Flashing On the Sixties_ by Lisa Law

Happy Birthday, Emmett Grogan, Digger and author.


  •  

Art and Revolution. "We emphasize politics and direct action in our work. We see activism as crucial
to meaningful arts expression. We believe that our politics suffer without creative
vision in the same way that our art suffers without political or social relevance."

  •  

You can find out who links to any website by entering the AltaVista search phrase "link:http://[URL]". Doing this for "link:http://world.std.com/~emg/blogger.html", one of the ways to get to Follow Me Here..., came up with wood s lot, a Canadian blog with exceedingly small print and lots of interesting blinks; there's a remarkable overlap with items I point to in FMH...

  •  

Tuesday, November 28, 2000

Tonga becomes the latest nation to sell its inhabitants' genome. Wired

  •  

Sex speech by Nobel laureate shocks audience: 'A Nobel laureate's
provocative speech on sunshine and sex -- complete
with slides of bikini-clad women -- left some at the
University of California, Berkeley, aghast.

James Watson, who co-discovered DNA, dumbfounded
many at a guest lecture when he advanced his theory
about a link between skin color and sex drive.

"That's why you have Latin lovers," he
said, according to people who were
there last month. "You've never heard
of an English lover. Only an English
patient."

"... People were
laughing at the beginning of Watson's lecture. But the
laughter turned nervous as he developed his theme. There was a lot of looking at the person next to you
and saying, 'I can't believe he's saying this' " ...' Salon

  •  

I've removed the link I published last night to the Modestino Bee's report of further charges in a depraved child torture case in Wonder Valley, CA; the link has expired and clicking on it directed people to today's top story in that paper instead. But here is the Oct. 18 News Release from the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Dept. of the original findings. And the Oct. 17 Desert Sun coverage, for those of you hungry to follow this disturbing story further.

  •  

Monday, November 27, 2000

'X-Men' Top 'Warped Toys' List. 'The Rev. Christopher Rose takes Christmas very seriously --
especially when it comes to kids.

For 14 years now, the minister in Hartford has released his
"warped toys" list -- just as parents are heading out to stores for
Christmas shopping. '

This year, toys modeled on the movie "X-Men" and on the World
Wrestling Federation head his list.

  •  

Study: Teenage Ecstasy Use Up. The interesting thing about this study report is that teens report marijuana use is down; more are "turned off" than "turned on" by cannabis, fearing its use will make them behave foolishly. General Barry McCaffrey is taking the credit for this turnaround. Boston Channel

  •  

Kerouac at 23
"Orpheus Emerged", Jack Kerouac's first book, has just been released, only as an e-book. A link here takes you to an MP3 audio clip of an excerpt.

  •  

Good Riddance Dept.: Chernobyl Reactor Shut Down, Possibly Forever. "Power
line failures forced the shutdown of the
Chernobyl nuclear power station on
Monday, raising doubts over whether
engineers would restart it less than three weeks before its final
closure. Reuters

  •  

Gulf War Syndrome Symptoms Linked to Brain Damage. New research shows cell loss (of an extent comparable to that seen in degenerative neurological diseases such as multiple sclerosis, ALS [Lou Gehrig's Disease] and dementia) in three regions of the brain of Gulf War Syndrome sufferers. The extent of damage at each site correlates with the degree of specific symptom complaints or impaired functions. Involved areas include the basal ganglia in each hemisphere and various brain stem regions. I've discussed several pieces of evidence that there really is a Gulf War Syndrome (actually, syndromes in plural, in all likelihood) and that symptoms relate to brain dysfunction due to various toxic exposures during the war. Here's a page of Atomz search results to my earlier references.

  •  

Court To Hear Death Penalty Appeal in the case I discussed below of the Texas man with mental incapacities placing him in the range of a seven-year-old. The Court has also agreed to decide if medical necessity for marijuana use justifies violating federal laws making its distribution illegal. The Clinton Administration has challenged a California law which has allowed a group to provide the drug to seriously ill patients for pain relief.

  •  

Bumper sticker idea: He's Not My President!

  •  

Sunday, November 26, 2000

Annals of the Erosion of Privacy (cont'd.): Software to Track E-Mail Raises Privacy Concerns. David Brake's blog pointed me to this New York Times piece covering the little-known fact that, if your email client can read HTML mail, senders can tell when and if you read their messages. You can route your outgoing messages through Postel Services in Korea to be alerted when someone reads your mail.

  •  

Alzheimer's: A disease of the young? "Figures suggest that more and more young
people are being diagnosed with Alzheimer's
disease...It's a terrifying illness
even for those in their
80s - but the tragedy
can be even more
poignant for those in
their 50s, 40s, and 30s." BBC

BBC News has an all-you-need-to-know primer on Alzeimer's Disease here. And --backing up a moment -- here's a good overview of memory and its dysfunction in general, from the Canadian Broadcasting Co.

  •  

Defiant Milosevic Re-elected As Leader of Socialist Party. "An official at the U.N. war crimes
tribunal Sunday expressed outrage that
Slobodan Milosevic could
flaunt himself in the public and political arena while under an
international arrest warrant. Sunday he won re-election as leader
of Serbia's Socialist party and has appeared on state television
twice in the week leading up to the party congress." Reuters

  •  

U.N. Climate Conference Ends, No Agreement Reached. "World economic powers hurled blame at each other
for the two-week Hague summit's ending without a plan to
coordinate cuts in greenhouse gas emissions." The third world, which is considered at much higher risk from increased temperatures, faults the industrialized nations for squabbling over cost. The US, in particular, is criticized for thinking it can buy its way out of trouble, and, because it stands to face the greatest costs under the proposed new treaty, for a move, generally considered sleazy, to attempt to obtain credit for the CO2-removing photosynthetic effects of its forests and grasslands. (The New York Times says the US "can't see the forest for the trees.") The stalemate stacked up as the US, Australia, Canada and Japan against the EU. One more try is scheduled for May, 2001.

  •  

A Hangout That Caters to a Crowd From Space New York Times

  •  

Walter Dembski's book The Design Inference, this critic writes, is the spearhead of a new creationist attack on science, and remarkably ignorant of more than two hundred years' of critical rejection of the argument from design dating from David Hume. BioScience

  •  

The new issue of Lingua Franca has several rewarding articles. First is a portrait of E. Fuller Torrey, an inspiring psychiatrist who has long argued that psychiatry should either just treat the most severe of brain disorders or give up its pretensions to being part of medical science. His mix of common sense and controversy has mostly been applied to schizophrenia (patients with which form the core of my professional activities as well); his 1983 book Surviving Schizophrenia is unexcelled as a guide for sufferers and their families. (In the same year, Torrey was demoted from his post at St. Elizabeth's, the federal maximum-security psychiatric institution in Washington, DC, for publishing his findings that the hospital had colluded with Ezra Pound by declaring him insane to protect him from prosecution for treason during WWII.)

One thread of Torrey's attention has been to the possibility that viral infection can cause schizophrenia. There has been a long, scientifically inconclusive, love affair with this theory in psychiatry, part of the agonizing search to explain such a mysterious, incurable and devastating condition. [My take on this is that the problem with explanations of schizophrenia is that it is probably a heterogeneous, "wastebasket" diagnosis for a number of different neurobiological conditions. For this reason, the effect size of any etiological theory that is researched is likely to be "washed out" by noise.]

Some of the provocative evidence includes data on the worldwide distribution of the disease; a seasonal pattern to schizophrenic births; and the discredit to the usual hereditary explanations done by the disease's persistence in the face of its obvious adverse impact on reproductive fitness. Torrey has been fascinated by the possibility that toxoplasmosis, transmitted from housecats, could be an important key to this conundrum. Several studies under his aegis have shown that cat ownership (and, in the most recent study, specific serological evidence of toxoplasmosis exposure) is significantly more common among the parents of children who become schizophrenic, and it can be argued that there was an increase in the frequency of the illness at around the same time in the late 19th C. when cat ownership became popular.
"I've given talks on the cat stuff
and people's response is almost universal: 'I'm not surprised—I've
known my cat is schizophrenic for years!'" He chuckles. "One talk I
gave at a department of psychiatry, a fellow came up to me and said, 'I
don't want you to repeat this, but the former chairman of our
department of psychiatry was convinced that his cat was hallucinating,
so he gave him liquid Thorazine and it really seemed to help.'" Torrey
looks at me and smiles. "People find cats strange, so they don't find
this idea so odd."


Then there's an interesting portrait of Richard Rorty, controversial, ambitious and erudite philosopher who arguably has best captured the era's challenge to the concepts of truth and objectivity and who some describe as the closest thing we've got on this side of the Atlantic to a public, postmodern French intellectual. His work is a particular source of anxiety to conservative critics who feel it undermines the foundations of the public's moral interity.

Like his idol John Dewey, whom he credits with breaking
through "the crust of philosophical convention," he has pursued
twin careers as disciplinary bad boy and high-minded public
philosopher. He has set out to deflate the aspirations of his
profession—he rejects the idea of truth as an accurate reflection of
the world—while placing his own unorthodox philosophical views at
the center of an ambitious vision of social and historical hope. In
recent writings especially, he champions an unlikely brand of
"postmodern bourgeois liberalism" that has largely infuriated
postmodernists and liberals alike.


Finally, Jim Holt considers the Multiple Universes Hypothesis.


  •  

Sampling hidden populations. 'A Cornell University sociologist has transformed the small world concept
of "six degrees of separation" into a scientific sampling method for
finding and studying "hidden populations," from drug users to jazz
musicians.


'There are no lists available or associations of runaway youths, for
example. But this sampling method takes advantage of the fact that
individuals in a group know each other. As we gather information during
the sampling process of referrals, we look at the degree to which people
tend to recruit those similar to them. Then, we can mathematically
correct for the non-randomness and project what the sample would have
been had there been no biases," says Douglas Heckathorn, professor of
sociology at Cornell.'


  •  

Saturday, November 25, 2000

Life, death and Everquest: "A virtual suicide in the popular online multiplayer game is making some
fans queasy about their favorite addiction." Salon

  •  

Auto body and soul "He'll fix your shocks, he'll change your oil, and he'll align your
wheels, but what Mahmood Rezaei-Kamalabad really wants to do is restore
your spirit." Giving new meaning to full-service auto repair. Boston Phoenix

  •  

Death traps: In the aftermath of the Kitzsteinhorn ski train disaster, why are we still building tunnels with no escape routes, a New Scientist
editorial asks.

  •  

Scientist Raises New Mobile Phone Fears Children who use mobile phones risk suffering memory loss, sleeping
disorders and headaches, according to research published in the medical
journal The Lancet.

  •  

Neo-fascism watch: "Far-right demonstrators marched through central
Berlin
on Saturday, openly challenging efforts by German
leaders to fight neo-Nazism and mobilizing a massive police
operation in the capital." USA Today

  •  

How these bald, blue men make music CNN

  •  

Coney Island of the Mind. We're still obsessed with the spectacles that defined Coney Island seventy years ago.
There
is now serious talk of redeveloping Coney -- and
perhaps the possibility of its renaissance is one
reason we are currently interested in revisiting the
enormous spectacles of those bygone days.

But maybe our interest has something instead to do
with the way this kind of theme park entertainment
has developed over the past half century, with the
advent of parks like Disney World and Universal
Studios, and with new, massively themed attractions
opening in Las Vegas every year. Today, our theme
parks give us a happy world. Human beings (if you
don't count those dressed up as Cinderella and
Mickey Mouse) are not on exhibit -- the creatures on
our rides are animatronic, and the performers are
possessed of skills like juggling or tap dancing. Our
notion of spectacle has changed -- not just from the
"real" sightseeing of the urban flaneur to the
"hyperreal" entertainments discussed by critics like
Umberto Eco and Ada Louise Huxtable, but also in
the kind of fake worlds our amusement parks
present. Transgressive attractions -- from the freak
show to the tunnel of love (designed for stolen
kisses) -- have been replaced by wholesome
"entertainment for the whole family," at least in the
world of immersive, American attractions like theme
parks and Vegas. Feed

  •  

Top 10 best-mannered cities CNN

  •  

The Case for a Revote. "The Washington Monthly has dug up an article addressing the
invalidation of state elections, written in the New York University
Law Review
in 1974. It makes the case for a revote if a close
election were violated by an 'illegal act' - which, the monthly
suggests, that ballot paper might be construed to be. Its author:
Judge Kenneth W. Starr."

  •  

The Outlook for U.S. Central Europe Policy under Dubya's Presidency is very worrisome to Central European commentators. " Many
of his advisors are from the old Bush camp, and include
those involved in the "Chicken Kiev" fiasco in which Bush
championed the unity of the USSR; those partly responsible
for the shamefully slow reaction to the Lithuanian campaign
for freedom (which caused a well-documented near-fistfight in
the Oval Office between cabinet officials); and those who told
Bush to tell the world he ended the Cold War.

Ex-Secretary of State James Baker is still around. This is
the man who personified the shameful Baltic policies of the
Bush presidency, and he is, in fact, now the man delegated
by the new Bush camp to oversee the Florida recount.
Former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft remained
an advisor of Bush on foreign affairs and has publicly
expressed opinions against NATO enlargement.



However, most worrisome is the possible Bush foreign policy
team. First of all, a likely candidate for secretary of state is
Colin Powell, the military leader from the Gulf War era.
Powell is well respected as a soldier and is liked by both
sides of the political divide, but his credentials are far more
military than diplomatic -- two things, many argue, that do not
mix. Powell has been critical of various aspects of Clinton's
policy in Europe, questioning, for example, the recognition of
the independence of some countries as, in Powell's view, it
is often only a prelude to conflict.



Even more harrying is the possible appointment of Bush's
main foreign policy advisor, Condoleezza Rice, as national
security advisor (and it is worthwhile noting that the post of
national security advisor does not require Senate
confirmation, unlike the secretary of state position). Rice
was a major advisor to Bush Senior on Soviet affairs, and
that policy was a dark mark in the 1990s for Washington.
Rice has gone on to make other comments that have turned
her into one of the biggest enemies of the Baltic
communities in the US, as well as others." And given Dubya's limited leadership capacities, the likes of Baker, Rice and Powell will be running U.S. foreign policy in earnest. Central Europe Review

  •  

What's your spiritual type? Beliefnet

  •  

How to be a Whistleblower and Keep Your Job: The RIP Act in the UK gives authorities the right to "monitor any information moving about within the UK", and gives employers extensive rights to keep tabs on their employees' email and telephone calls. How to blow the whistle and still remain anonymous under those circumstances? The Register

  •  

Did you buy anything on National Buy-Nothing Day yesterday? Goin' shopping today?

  •  

Hubble Telescope: Has NASA Learned Its Lessons? We learned how to maintain, upgrade and enhance the telescope over the years, increasing its productivity and decreasing the cost of Hubble science. But, from that point of view, some find disheartening recent NASA decisions to scuttle the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory and the Extreme Ultraviolet Explorer.

  •  

Emerging Disease News: Researchers report West Nile Virus Will Spread Throughout U.S.. Last year New York, this year viral activity was detected in birds all up and down the Eastern Seaboard. Reuters

  •  

Album of the Year? Spin Mag's Choice Isn't Human 'Fittingly for an industry currently dominated by the controversy over
downloadable music technology, Spin magazine's album of the year is ``your hard drive.'' '

  •  

On the fifth anniversary of the discovery of a Mystery Death in the Arizona Wilderness, authorities renew pleas for help identifying the victim. 'Five years ago, a woman's skeleton was found on a steep, rocky mountainside in a pocket of
wilderness so remote that only a dozen hikers visit it each year. The woman had been nine
months pregnant, ready to give birth. Authorities say she was certainly in no shape to handle
the exertion of what would have been a strenuous hike for even an athletic person.

... The remains were several hundred yards from the nearest trail, which itself is only
accessible by four-wheel vehicle. The terrain is rugged, made up of red rock and juniper
trees. A rescue team had to fly in by helicopter

.... "We suspect that she went hiking with her boyfriend or husband, probably the father of the
child, and he ducked out on her and left her there," Diffendaffer said. "She didn't have any
idea how to get out on her own and ended up getting lost, probably dying of exposure." '

  •  

No vampire???'I'm No Vampire,' Official Says 'Taking part in a live Internet chat Tuesday, Treasury Minister Vincenzo Visco responded to an
online participant who said he looked like the legendary blood-sucking Count Dracula.

The comparison may have been prompted by Visco's sunken eyes and teeth-baring grimace,
but the minister rebuffed it.

``There's not that much in common,'' he wrote. ``Dracula was a count, I am a modest
bourgeois. He lived in a castle, I live in an apartment.

``The only thing in common may be the eyes, but Dracula's were a sign of the times, mine
are the result of 12 to 14 hours work a day,'' he quipped.'

  •  

Study Examines Wolves, Livestock. A case study shows that fears about livestock kills when wolves are reintroduced to range are overblown. The wolves spend their time away from habitation and their main food is deer, in a 61,000-acre area of northwestern Minnesota.

  •  

Friday, November 24, 2000

David Duke, still in Russia, learns of raid at his home. The FBI is investigating whether he gambled away hundreds of thousands of dollars solicited from supporters of his cause. He's in Russia promoting his new book The Ultimate Supremacism, which argues that Russia and the former Soviet bloc can save the white race from the Jews and the Mafia. The book is being published in Russian (because he can't find a publisher closer to home?) CNN

  •  

Is Queen Elizabeth Losing It? Awhile ago, I blinked the report that she had been entertaining guests doing duets with a singing bass. Now, a day after criticism in the British press for wringing the neck of a wounded pheasant during a shoot, "The Killer Queen" (as dubbed by the Sunday Mirror) delivered a royal "up yours" by appearing in church wearing a pheasant feather in her hat. “The queen would never enter into a public
debate about whether she should be involved in
country sports, but by displaying the feathers
she has made her feelings plain without saying
anything,” a royal aide said. ABC [via Rebecca's Pocket]

  •  

The Drunken Irish Bastard is alive and...well? Dallas Observer [via Robot Wisdom]

  •  

'Bubble Tea' Makes Its Way Stateside. "A popular import from Taiwan, bubble tea is a
mix of tea, milk, sugar and giant black tapioca
balls served cold, usually in a clear cup. An
added delight are gummy balls the size of small
marbles sucked up, with a little effort, through
an extra-wide straw....Boba can be a hit or miss with American tastebuds..." I think it'll be a miss with me, but at least you heard it here first.

  •  

Mob Rule Wins for Dubya. "Texas Gov. George W. Bush appears to have sealed his claim to the
White House through a premeditated mob action that influenced the Dade
County decision to halt a crucial recount.

Egged on by Republican phone banks and heated rhetoric over Cuban-American
radio, a pro-Bush mob of about 150 people descended on the Dade County
canvassing board Wednesday as it was preparing to evaluate 10,750 disputed
ballots." consortiumnews.com Phil Agre, in Red Rock Eaters' Digest, agrees.

  •  

Thursday, November 23, 2000

The Reason Al Gore Should Concede Time

  •  

Bach as Bach Never Intended. Or Did He? The last "Bach year", the 300th anniversary of his birth, found us in the midst of austere early music realism. Now, at the 250th anniversary of his death, seemingly irreverent transcription is in sway. And the Wu Tang Clan's reinterpretation of hip hop tradition continues to evolve as well. New York Times

  •  

Publishing Declares Open Season on Famous Figures. Joe
DiMaggio; Susan Sontag; Saul Bellow;
Richard M. Nixon; Diana, Princess of
Wales; and Barbara Marx Sinatra,
Frank Sinatra's widow are among the recent public figures with bullseyes painted on their rumps. New York Times

  •  

Burning the Village in Order to Save It. The real crisis for the American electoral process is not the closeness of the election, not the delay in ascertaining the legitimate winner, not the court wrangling over recount deadlines or methods, but the Republican poisoning of the well.

In the last few days the Bush partisans have resorted to an extreme tactic:
forcefully asserting that the Gore camp is trying to "steal" the election. The
charge was replayed all over the media this weekend, and especially on the
more sensational and hyperventalating cable news networks that must stoke
the fires continuously (if only because they burn twenty-four hours a day).
This amounts to the Bush camp jumping ahead of the process and sowing
land mines, and thus ensures that whatever the outcome, voters around the
nation will never be able to have confidence in the process that yielded the
final result.



No matter who prevails in the closest presidential election in American
history, this last tactic may be the one we all remember. It elicits a memory
from the Vietnam era: "We had to burn the village in order to save it." Tompaine.com


Joe Conason echoes the sentiments: Poisonous Rhetoric Shows Bush is Dividing the Nation. The New York Observer

  •  

Annals of the Decline and Fall (cont'd.): Italian research shows married men who have an affair make more attentive husbands
and fathers because their guilt drives them to devote more time to
their homes. Only in a world where cowardice, guilt and deception motivate the finer things in life... The Times of London

  •  

Happy Thanksgiving! Why Your Brain(s) Love Thanksgiving. "Thanksgiving may well be the year's biggest bonanza for your brain — all of them. This
famous feast doesn't just satisfy the survival instinct of your rudimentary reptilian
brainstem. The gathering of family and friends also serves up the emotional interaction
craved by your mammalian limbic brain. Brain.com

  •  

The Last Undecided Senate Race is finally certified, in an event that may prove more important to the political arc of the next few years than the outcome of the contested Presidential vote. Upstart Democrat Maria Cantwell is declared the victor over three-term Republican incumbent Slade Gorton in Washington state, and the Senate is 50-50. (However, if the Democrats win the White House and Joe Lieberman resigns his Connecticut seat, the Republican governor will appoint a Republican in his place.) New York Times

  •  

Wednesday, November 22, 2000

Transcript of the 1967 SF Oracle Houseboat Summit: "This is Alan Watts speaking, and I'm this evening, on my ferry boat, the host to a fascinating party sponsored by the San Francisco Oracle,
which is our new underground paper, far-outer than any far-out that has yet been seen. And we have here, members of the staff of the
Oracle. We have Allen Ginsberg, poet, and rabbinic saddhu. We have Timothy Leary, about whom nothing needs to be said. (laughs) And
Gary Snyder, also poet, Zen monk, and old friend of many years." Ah, those were the days...Missing only Ram Dass... [via boing boing]



Riprap



Lay down these words

Before your mind like rocks.

placed solid, by hands

In choice of place, set

Before the body of the mind

in space and time:

Solidity of bark, leaf or wall

riprap of things:

Cobble of milky way,

straying planets,

These poems, people,

lost ponies with

Dragging saddles --

and rocky sure-foot trails.

The worlds like an endless

four-dimensional

Game of Go.

ants and pebbles

In the thin loam, each rock a word

a creek-washed stone

Granite: ingrained

with torment of fire and weight

Crystal and sediment linked hot

all change, in thoughts,

As well as things.

-- Gary Snyder





  •  

[via Obscure Store]: Woman left for dead by rescuers, calls 911 a second time for help after a suicide attempt. [As a psychiatrist at the receiving end of ambulance transports of suicide attempters, I can tell you that the EMTs don't always have the highest opinion of this segment of their clientele.]

  •  

Faithless Elector Watch: NPR commentator Daniel Schorr joins the ranks of those asking Republican electors to honor the will of the majority. In fact, Citizens for True Democracy and the Coalition Coalition have posted contact information for electors, who are feeling a little besieged as a result.

  •  

Mirror-Image Elián Miami Herald

  •  

Click Here to Buy Nothing Wired

  •  

Tuesday, November 21, 2000

I inevitably find that the New York Times Magazine is feast or famine -- there's either nothing of interest at all on a given Sunday, or almost everything in the magazine is worth reading. [I think, but I'm not sure, there's almost a strict alternation of the two types.] This Sunday was a bountiful one: an article about Elaine Scarry, a professor of English literature at Harvard who has devoted her analytical skills most recently to the possibility that electromagnetic interference (EMI) caused three recent high-profile airplane crashes; a grueling description of the proverbial clash of irresistible force and immovable object in the guise of a gruesome murder in a Kentucky hill town; and a portrait of Dr. Martin Kafka, a McLean Hospital psychiatrist who has, serendipitously it seems, made a career of treating sexual addictions.

  •  

Rising suicides cut a swath through Amazon's children. "The largest tribe of Amazonian Indians, the 27,000-strong
Guarani, are being devastated by a wave of suicides among their
children, triggered by their coming into contact with the
modern world." Telegraph

  •  

An Ally in Asia. Since the end of the war, Vietnam has been "one of China's
major headaches. There have been border skirmishes and
battles for influence in Cambodia, and the two have settled into
a state of not-very-neighborly mutual disgruntlement." There are hints that, despite the recent granting of more favorable trade terms, Chinese military doctrine increasingly views the U.S. as an adversary to its Asian goals, including "reunification" with Taiwan. We may need Vietnam as a more important ally in the containment of China than conventional wisdom dictates, writes Anne Applebaum in Slate.

Is that why Clinton went to Vietnam? I doubt it: According to
one cynical American diplomat, he went because he knew that,
as a former opponent of the war, he would get a hero's
welcome. But although that may be part of the explanation for
the mobs who turned out to wave American flags at his
motorcade, I suspect it doesn't account for all the crowds. They
were partly there, as they would be anywhere, because the
American president is just about the most famous person in the
world, after Michael Jackson. And perhaps they were partly
there because some are already beginning to see that the
United States is not Vietnam's past but its future.

  •  

Lying Awake by Mark Salzman: A Divine Gift in Sickness Vanishes Painfully in Health. "A cloistered Carmelite nun in
Southern California
experiences a prolonged burst of
ecstatic illumination. The poems
Sister John writes as a result are
published and praised; the Vatican
invites her to Rome to read them.



One day she collapses after what
seem to be flashes of light and a
series of blinding headaches. She is
taken to a hospital, where a
neurologist diagnoses treatable
epilepsy. He removes a tiny brain
growth; the symptoms cease, and so
do the visions. So do the poems.



Were Sister John's flashes of
divinity medical or mystical? Were
her poems the product of art or of a
raisin-sized tumor? A variation on
the mind-body problem —
God-body, in this case, or art-body
— the question goes beyond the
religious or artistic. It continues to
ferment in the centuries-old debate
over the nature of human thought
and endeavor. How free and
distinct are they from biological
mechanics?" New York Times

  •  

New issue of Emerging Infectious Diseases Journal

  •  

A New Way to Be Mad (Caution: the referenced article has graphic details not for the squeamish) Carl Elliott, a philosopher of psychiatry, with a medical degree, writes a long reflection on the growing epidemic of apotemnophilia, a psychological malady in which people seek the amputation of one or more of their limbs without medical cause. This is done with or without the assistance of a surgeon, some of whom feel there are no humane alternatives to relieve their patients' distress. ("It was the most satisfying operation I have ever
performed. I have no doubt that what I was doing
was the correct thing for those patients", said one.)

I
was interested in the way that previously
little-known psychiatric disorders spread, sometimes
even reaching epidemic proportions, for reasons
that nobody seems fully to understand. But I had
never heard of apotemnophilia or acrotomophilia
before the Falkirk story broke. I wondered: Was this
a legitimate psychiatric disorder? Was there any
chance that it might spread? ...I also wondered about the ethical and
legal status of surgery as a solution. Should
amputation be treated like cosmetic surgery, or like
invasive psychiatric treatment, or like a risky
research procedure?
Other interesting questions -- is this a problem of sexual desire (there are certainly large numbers of "devotees" who are sexually aroused by people missing limbs, but it does not appear that the "wannabes", those who seek amputation, are sexually motivated) or a disorder of body image or sense of self? What does it say about the nature of our self-identity? What relationship does it bear to other, less extreme, body modification techniques in our own and other cultures? What is the balance between its psychological, possible neurobiological, and sociological determinants? How deep do the homologies between amputation-by-choice and sex-reassignment surgery go? Is it adequately explained as a subset of some other existing category of psychopathology -- e.g. body dysmorphic disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, the paraphilias -- or is it something distinct from all of them? More radically, is it a disorder at all? If it is, what is to be considered acceptable treatment, in light of the "extraordinary and often very destructive collaboration" between psychiatry and surgery over the past seventy-five years?
clitoridectomy for
excessive masturbation, cosmetic surgery as a
treatment for an "inferiority complex," intersex
surgery for infants born with ambiguous genitalia,
and -- most notorious -- the frontal lobotomy. It is a
collaboration with few unequivocal successes. Yet
surgery continues to avoid the kind of ethical and
regulatory oversight that has become routine for
most areas of medicine.

I've long had professional concern about the role that popularizing faddish new diagnoses may have in spreading them. Consider for example multiple personality disorder, which I'm convinced barely exists if at all but has hordes of adherents ("wannabe" sufferers, and "devotee" clinicians). Dr. Elliott has a fine summary of the arguments of a historian of medicine, Ian Hacking, whose thoughtful work about how "transient mental illnesses" arise and take hold I've followed closely.

Crucial to the way this worked is what Hacking calls
the "looping effect," by which he means how a
classification affects the thing being classified.
Unlike objects, people are conscious of the way
they are classified, and they alter their behavior
and self-conceptions in response to their
classification...In the 1970s, he
argues, therapists started asking patients they
thought might be multiples if they had been abused
as children, and patients in therapy began
remembering episodes of abuse (some of which may
not have actually occurred). These memories
reinforced the diagnosis of multiple-personality
disorder, and once they were categorized as
multiples, some patients began behaving as multiples
are expected to behave. Not intentionally, of
course, but the category "multiple-personality
disorder" gave them a new way to be mad.


Is apotemnophilia going to be a particularly malignant example of such contagion? What is the balance between the extent to which cultural and historical conditions reveal, as opposed to create, new disorders? How far do we want to go in regarding it as a psychiatric diagnosis, including it in DSM-V, the next edition of the "Bible" of officially acceptable diagnoses (and, by the way, the basis for insurance reimbursements). In essence, is this going to spread like a new meme, to which Hacking refers as "semantic contagion"? Its severity may be enhanced by the potential for connectivity among "devotees" and wannabes". As Dr. Elliott points out, part of the motivation of apotemnophiles may be an aspiration to heroism, and of their devotees to hero worship, which the web facilitates tremendously. One discussion group on the topic has over 1400 participants. Atlantic Monthly

  •  

The LEGO Star Wars Trilogy is a series of sixty tableaux of scenes from the first Star Wars trilogy, made of LEGOs and constituting a sort of storyboard of the three films. "...My biggest project 'LEGO Star
Wars trilogy' was completed by autumn 1996. It consists of three series of 60 pictures each.
Most of my free time, approximately 2,500 hours, was devoted to making it. Actually, there
were several intervals due to my job. During those years I gradually added new LEGO bricks,
so the pictures that were taken later are more satisfying."

  •  

Has the threat of bioterrorism been overestimated? Are Aum Shinrikyo-like attacks the wave of the future? Some like the Bioterrorism Preparedness and Defense Program of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the Center for Civilian Biodefense Studies at Johns Hopkins feel that today's terrorists have less to lose by unleashing a biological or chemical threat, and raise the hue and cry about our unpreparedness. Others such as Milton Leitenberg of
the University of Maryland Center for
International
Security Studies
feel such claims are alarmist, and that "only the most sophisticated
terrorist organizations could master the complicated process
of launching a biological weapons attack. Most countries
that experimented with biological warfare in the 1970s
eventually gave up because the results were discouraging. " Economist

  •  

Cryptome "welcomes documents for publication that are prohibited by governments worldwide, in particular material on cryptology,
dual-use technologies, national security and intelligence -- open, secret and classified documents -- but not limited to those. In
particular, now that the US Congress adopted an official secrets act on October 12, 2000, increasing penalties for disclosing
government secrets, Cryptome invites those secrets for publication here." Follow your Echelon and Carnivore concerns here. For example, a recent wire service report claiming that "the FBI's controversial e-mail surveillance tool, known as Carnivore, can retrieve all communications that go through an Internet service, far more than FBI officials have said it does, a recent test of its potential sweep found, according to bureau documents" is refuted with a bit of back-of-the-napkin calculation here.

  •  

Monday, November 20, 2000

BBC Says Sorry for 'African Orphan' Stunt. "The BBC apologized Monday after a film
crew used a child actor to pose as an African orphan and play a practical joke on a generous
housewife.



An actor playing the part of a charity collector persuaded the woman to part with one pound
($1.43) for orphaned African children. A seven-year-old posing as an African child was then
unloaded from a crate and delivered to her."

  •  

Microsoft Office 10 beta underwhelming users. Speech recognition technology is faulty and oflimited functionality. The company had not been planning on another beta release before shipping the product in the first half of next year.

  •  

Child abuse 'myths' shattered: First one shibboleth, then the next. Fast on the heels of the study showing that women are underestimated as domestic abusers, a major study by the British National Council for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children shows that "children are more likely to be sexually abused
by people of their own age than by adults...Most children are sexually
abused by a brother and not their parents. "

Mary Marsh, NSPCC chief executive, said the
findings overturn traditional stereotypes.

"Modern myths about child cruelty have
emerged from the public attention given to
horrific and frightening cases of child abuse by
strangers.

"Other traditional stereotypes come from a
historical wellspring of children's stories about
wicked adult bogey figures.

"These stereotypes have become part of
popular culture." BBC

  •  

Chance Discovery Of "Immortal Skin" Holds Medical Promise Sciece Daily

  •  

Sunday, November 19, 2000

I missed my blog's first birthday. I began posting on November 16, 1999 with a link to blogger.com, the discovery of which had goaded me into creating this thing. I won't bore you with too much self-reflection here, except to say I'm grateful for your readership, support and involvement. Follow Me Here has always been a faithful reflection of what grabs me as I follow a number of interests on the web. I'm glad it interests you, and I think I've developed a more confident voice over the year from knowing that.



If it's been in a low spot recently, it's because despite myself I've found the drama of the election campaign more captivating than I ever thought I would; kept more in touch with the news than I ever had in previous election seasons; and started to reflect that in my postings here, despite having vowed at one point that you wouldn't get much Presidential politics here, since I have usually found the political process bankrupt and meaningless and the outcomes of elections not to matter, or at least found it chic to maintain so.



In any case, it'll all be over relatively soon, and Follow Me Here can get back to the usual routine:

social
commentary, criticism, cynicism,
conjunctions and conundrums.
Outrage. Recent scientific, technical
and healthcare developments.
Exciting artistic and cultural news.
Human pathos, whimsy, folly,
darkness and depravity.


I wanted to extend particular appreciation to several people for their crucial support during my first year -- Abby Levine, Jorn Barger, David Brake, David Hartung, Jim Higgins, Matt Rossi and Chuck Taggart. No matter that some of you (webloggers who have found me worth pointing their readers toward) I've never met outside of cyberspace.

  •  

Her name was Candace. Two unlicensed Colorado therapists, their two assistants and the adoptive mother of a 10-year-old girl are charged with "child abuse resulting in death" after the troubled girl stopped breathing during a "rebirthing therapy" session.

Therapists curled Candace into the fetal position
inside a flannel sheet and pushed against her from
all sides.



She gasped for air. She begged them to stop.



She cried out that
she was dying.
They said go
ahead.



And then she did.


The Rocky Mountain News devoted an entire section to Candace's death, including tracking down her birth mother in North Carolina six months after the tragedy to inform her of her daughter's passing.

  •  

Why Gore (Probably) Lost. The pundits have been analyzing to death the question of why he didn't do better. Three factors are often mentioned, to the point of becoming "received wisdom" already -- his flatness of personality and discomfort with himself; his distancing himself from Clinton, crippling him in any attempt to run on his record; and his turn from centrism toward populism. In this essay, Jacob Weisberg is able to show how all of these relate to, and maybe emanate from, his complicated and ambivalent relationship with his late father (and Clinton, as a surrogate father figure). I think he's on the mark.

Al Gore doesn't deserve all the vilification that may be about
to be heaped on him. He has done a fine job as vice president
and really does deserve credit for many of the administration's
accomplishments. Although the ineptitude of his campaign was
frustrating to his supporters, he tried to compensate for it by
working his heart out. Had Bush lost by so narrow a margin,
his defeat would have been attributable to laziness, a failing
Bush has far more control over than Gore has over his. And if
Gore is at fault, so are many of his aides, who we can expect
will soon be pointing the finger elsewhere. And so, too, is the
public, which failed to see through what are, in the scheme of
things, superficial faults to elect the more capable, intelligent,
and experienced man. Slate

  •  

Recycling your PC? IBM will take it. "Responding to what many see as one of
the biggest solid waste issues in decades, IBM
on Tuesday kicked off a computer recycling
program for consumers and small business. For
a $30 fee that includes shipping, buyers can
keep their old equipment — whether IBM made
them or not — out of landfills and send them
instead to a recycler. Environmentalists saw it
as a step forward, but urged IBM and other
companies to adopt free recycling." MSNBC

  •  

Unspeakable Practices, Unnatural Acts. Recent studies have shown that there is a specific 'disgust center' in our brains. Building on the observation that patients with Huntington's Disease cannot recognize expressions of disgust on others' faces and do not react with disgust to items or situations others usually find distasteful, the crucial brain locus has recently been established to be in the insular region of the cortex. Speculation is that this center originally evolved to help us recognize rotting food. " 'All animals have a sense of distaste,' says psychologist Andrew
Calder. However, in humans it has been enhanced to give us a
centre for highlighting both disgusting things, and disgusting
acts. We need to be able to spot such behaviour because it
could threaten society unless rooted out quickly, he says." Although the article does not make it clear, the crucial step in this inference by researchers has been the observation that patients in whom this brain region is damaged combine three behavioral deficits -- not only do they not react to things that are repugnant but they fail to recognize the emotion of disgust in others and fail to react with the emotion of disgust to socially objectionable actions. Is this a biological basis for the sense of morality? Guardian

  •  

Men, if you value your life, stop shaving now. And other lucky escapes. Ananova

  •  

Overkill. 'In the
morning paper, the town read disturbing allegations about a local
personality, followed in the afternoon by the news of his suicide. Readers
immediately flamed The Plain Dealer with angry phone calls, letters, and
e-mail. Rose hadn't been charged with any crime, many noted, and by
making the investigation public, the newspaper had, in effect, killed him. The
paper had turned itself into a convenient outlet for residents to vent their
disbelief.



In response, The Plain Dealer became defensive and launched an often
harsh counterattack that at times seemed even more reflexive than its
readers' reactions. In a series of editorials and columns, the paper reminded
readers that journalists are supposed to report facts--and that Rose was a
suspect. It is not the paper's fault, editors said, if subjects of articles
choose to commit suicide. In answer to an e-mail message from Merle Pollis,
Rose's best friend of 25 years, Douglas Clifton, The Plain Dealer's editor,
sent off a response that read, in part: "I know how I would react to a false
accusation of that sort. It would not have been to blow my brains out." 'Brill's Content

  •  

The Nazi on the Bestseller List. "German media giant Bertelsmann, still feverishly trying to make
people forget that it once marketed Hitler to the masses, is now
selling a Vermont professor's regurgitation of the ideas of America's
foremost living Hitler admirer, William Pierce, author of the Turner
Diaries
.



Unable to find a publisher for his 420-page labor of love, University
of Vermont education professor Robert S. Griffin is peddling The Fame of a Dead Man's Deeds: An Up-Close
Portrait of White Nationalist William Pierce
for $8 per download on MightyWords.com, where it has the
immediate potential to reach millions of people.

The Web site is owned jointly, through a subsidiary, by Bertelsmann and Barnes & Noble. And Griffin's
e-book has zoomed to No. 1 on the MightyWords bestseller list.

Griffin, in an interview with the Voice, insists he's no mere publicist for Pierce, an ex-physicist whom Jewish
activists consider America's most intellectual—and most dangerous—anti-Semite and racist." Village Voice

  •  

Women are more violent, says study. A new study 'challenges the long-standing view that
women are overwhelmingly the victims of aggression,...based on an analysis of 34,000 men and women by a British
academic. Women lash out more frequently than their
husbands or boyfriends, concludes John Archer, professor of
psychology at the University of Central Lancashire and
president of the International Society for Research on
Aggression.

Male violence remains a more serious phenomenon: men
proved more likely than women to injure their partners.
Female aggression tends to involve pushing, slapping and
hurling objects. Yet men made up nearly 40 per cent of the
victims in the cases that he studied – a figure much higher
than previously reported.

... Speaking last night, he said that female aggression
was greater in westernised women because they were
"economically emancipated" and therefore not afraid of ending
a relationship.

"Feminist writers say most of the acts against men are not
important but the same people have used the same surveys
to inflate the number of women who are attacked," he said. "In
the past it would not even have been considered that women
are violent. My view is that you must base social policy on the
whole evidence." ' Independent

  •  

Death row inmate nominated for Nobel Peace Prize. Nando Times

  •  

World marvels at meteors. "Waves of fireballs brightened the skies over
the Middle East as the much-heralded Leonid
meteor shower swelled into the heaviest show
of shooting stars in 33 years.

Around the world, astronomers and amateur
stargazers gathered to watch the celestial light
show, which is unlikely to be matched for
decades." BBC

  •  

"Wealth Porn". "The media have almost totally overlooked the causal connections between the wealth boom and rising distress among the middle classes. The pieces that do report on middle-class financial distress often quote spokesmen for the personal responsibility movement who condemn financially-strapped middle-class families for their lack of discipline." But, the author contends, as the rich get richer and are driven to more and more conspicuous consumption, they carry the rest of society along with them, and there are unacceptable costs to failing to spend on a par with others. Columbia Journalism Review

  •  

Main characters in the distressing but strangely appealing novels of Michel Houellebecq keep visiting shrinks and getting diagnosed with 'Depressive Lucidity". Life is "narrow, dark and acrid." People barely connect, barely hold on. Suicide is ever-present. But then there's the lucidity.... The New Republic

  •  

Pedro the hellraising parrot squawks his last. "A hellraising parrot whose lifestyle of bars, booze and
birds caused outcry among animal welfare activists has
died after going on the wagon.

Pedro the parrot fell off his perch after being barred
from living it up at the Kiwi Spirit bar in Rotorua, New
Zealand, where he lived." Ananova

  •  

Thursday, November 16, 2000

Is There a Duty to Die? Philosophers consider those controversial cases "in which a person is dying or has substantial physical or cognitive impairments and whose care is very costly or burdensome." JAMA

  •  

Blind to change. Recent experimental psychology studies indicate that "we see far less than we think we do." Our subjective experience of seeing a rich, full visual scene of the world at all times is just an illusion; we take in only salient details and rely on extrapolation from memory or imagination to fill in the rest. Neurological probes have recently demonstrated that the same neurons activate when viewing a scene in the mind's eye as when viewing it outwardly, suggesting the same conclusion from a different direction. Daniel Dennett proposed this in his 1991 book Consciousness Explained, observing how computationally inefficient it would be to store the entire elaborate picture in short-term memory. Instead, we log what has changed and assume the rest has remained the same. Implications of the potential for error in this model of perception include calling into question the validity of eyewitness testimony, for example. Some of the further reaches of extrapolation from these findings pose epistemological challenges about what we really know about the world "out there."

Back in 1992, Kevin
O'Regan, an experimental psychologist at the French National
Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) in Paris put forward
what later became known as his "grand illusion" theory. He
argued that we hold no picture of the visual world in our
brains. Instead, we refer back to the external visual world as
different aspects become important. The illusion arises from
the fact that as soon as you ask yourself "am I seeing this or
that?" you turn your attention to it and see it.



According to O'Regan, it's not just our impression of richness
that is illusory, but also the sense of having control over what
we see. "We have the illusion that when something flickers
outside the window, we notice it flickering and decide to move
our eyes and look," says Susan Blackmore of the University of
the West of England, who supports O'Regan's views. "That's
balderdash." In fact, she says, we are at the mercy of our
change detection mechanisms, which automatically drag our
attention here, there and everywhere.

At a meeting in Brussels in July this year, O'Regan and Alva
Noë of the University of California, Santa Cruz, updated the
controversial theory. Sensation, whether it be visual, auditory
or tactile, is not something that takes place in the brain, they
argue. Rather it exists in the knowledge that if you were to
perform a certain action, it would produce a certain change in
sensory input. "Sensation is not something that we feel, but
sensation is something that we do," says O'Regan.



According to this idea, the sensation of "redness" arises from
knowing that moving your eyes onto a red patch will produce a
certain change in the pattern of stimulation in line with laws of
redness. In other words, the role of the brain is to initiate the
exploratory action and to hold the knowledge of those laws:
together this give rise to the sensation of redness.
New Scientist

  •  

Mobile phones: Can a small ring of metal cut radiation from hands-free kits?. A new British study suggests that using a hands-free headset with your cellular phone can channel more microwave radiation to your head (in contrast to most tests which have found that hands-free kits cut microwave exposure). Fitting a small ferrite ring or choke to the headset wire eradicated the extra radiation, however. New Scientist

  •  

U.S. Report Offers Steps to Fight Global Warming. Here's hoping they can agree on some way of implementing the Kyoto Protocol in the Hague talks. "The United States came under fire on
Thursday from the European Union and
environmentalists over its wish to use the world's forests to soak
up greenhouse gases rather than cut emissions at home. And, in related news, "climate researchers are warning of a possible
link between global warming and giant waves in
the Atlantic Ocean.

They say that if the current trend towards
warmer temperatures continues, roughening
seas could threaten coastal areas in northern
Europe.

Average winter wave heights in the north-east
Atlantic have increased by about a metre
(3.28 feet) over the past 30 years. Stormy
conditions also persist longer."

At tough 180-nation talks in The Hague on how to slow global
warming, the EU rejected a U.S. proposal to use its own forests
and farmland as 'sinks' to soak up greenhouse gases, dismissing
the plan as a 'free gift' to the world's largest polluter."

  •  

Here's at least one defeat handed to Dubya by the Supreme Court. Supreme Court Blocks Texas Execution. 'The U.S. Supreme Court blocked Thursday night's execution of a convicted killer
said to be so mentally retarded he spends his days coloring with
crayons and still believes in Santa Claus.

The high court said it wanted more time to decide whether to
hear arguments that Johnny Paul Penry's mental deficiency was
not properly explained to the jury.... Penry, 44, was to become 38th Texas inmate to be executed
this year - the highest number by any state since the U.S.
Supreme Court allowed capital punishment to resume in 1976. It
was the third execution scheduled in as many nights in Texas.

Penry's case was at the center of a landmark U.S. Supreme Court
decision on executing the retarded, and his impending
execution drew protests from around the world. The European
Union (news - web sites), anti-death penalty groups, the
American Bar Association and advocates for the retarded urged
Texas not to execute to him.'

  •  

Eli Lilly Gets Extension on Prozac Patent

  •  

Wednesday, November 15, 2000

Adventures Through Inner Space. "Let's say you're a buttoned-down organic-chemistry jockey at Merck. One day
you tweak a molecule ripped off from a Peruvian native medicine, and you wind
up with a powerfully psychoactive compound. Instead of squelching anxiety,
instilling a reliable boner, or giving young minds that magic amphetamine edge,
the drug helps you touch the hem of God -- or at least something a lot like the
hem of God. At times it hurtles you into a blazing hieroglyphic phantasmagoria
more sublime and gorgeously bizarre than anything on the demo reels of
Hollywood FX shops. On other occasions it leads you to the lip of a fundamental
insight into the dance of form and emptiness. And though later attempts to
communicate your insight founder on the shoals of coherence, the experience
still leaves you centered and convinced that ordinary life is fed by deeper springs." An enthused paean by Erik Davis (Techgnosis) to resurgent psychedelic research these days. Feed via AlterNet

  •  

No Bark, Strong Bite: The Drug War and Elections 2000. Six of eight ballot initiatives to reform drug enforcement passed: sentencing reform in California; asset forfeiture reform in Oregon and Utah; and medical marijuana provisions in Nevada and Colorado. Legalization of marijuana in Alaska went down, as did a combination sentencing reform and asset forfeiture reform bill in my state of Massachusetts (which had unfortunate wording that would have allowed drug dealers as well as those arrested for simple possession to avoid criminal conviction and incarceration by choosing a treatment option).

  •  

The Ultimate Cereal Guide for Geeks. "Hard-working computer geeks know nothing delivers bursts of
instant energy with such caloric efficiency better than
sweetened cereal. Joab Jackson gives his review of the best
and worst cereals ever to grace the late-night lips of
malnourished programmers." He follows the lead of Neal Stephenson, who sang the praises of Cap'n Crunch in the Cryptonomicon -- rating five other cereals (have you noticed how many kinds there are out there on the market shelves these days??), he finds none stack up to the Cap'n. Baltimore City Paper via Alter.Net

  •  

Americans Uneasy About 'Designer' Kids. "A poll of 1,015 Americans reveals that although most feel it is
okay for parents to choose to have a child who can "give cells''
to a sick sibling, they largely oppose allowing parents to choose
to have an attractive or gifted child. Most also feel parents
should not choose whether to have a boy or girl."

  •  

Managed Care Patients Denied Heart Attack Care. "Researchers have confirmed what critics of
managed care health plans long have suspected: heart attack
victims insured by such programs are less likely to get the
treatment they need." Reuters

  •  

"His new translator
tells you what you
need to know about
the philosopher --
and why you need
to know it": Being Martin Heidegger. "Why is there something instead of
nothing," asked philosopher Martin Heidegger, and he
asked it again and again throughout his life. But,
considering his at times nearly incomprehensible response to
his own question and his affiliation with the Nazis during
the 1930s, there are more than a few who have since
plaintively wished, "Why couldn't there be nothing instead
of Heidegger?" Salon

  •  

Tuesday, November 14, 2000

Piecing Together Alzheimer’s: December 2000. "The stunningly complex biochemical puzzle that underlies
this crippling disease remains incomplete, but parts that
seemed unrelated just a decade ago are now fitting into
place." Scientific American

  •  

Are we Dumbing Down? The Guardian's special supplements dedicated to the issue over the past
three Saturdays. "Commentators romped through several decades of intellectual
history, television, cinema, exams, the press and literature." If the issue concerns you, the cornucopia here includes:



  • Is America bad for us? How is it possible to maintain cultural difference in a
    world run by US corporations?

  • Why today's protesters have to be smarter The wising-up of dissent. Making
    yourself heard is harder than ever

  • The death of custom 'The remnants of what was at least in part an urban culture
    "of the people" are being destroyed.' Richard Hoggart, 1957. That was then. How do things stand now, in the era of Kentucky Fried Chicken and
    Rupert Murdoch?


  • Dubious divisions What does the dumb debate mean for groups that are often
    excluded from 'high art' yet dominate the landscape of popular culture?

  • The whole whack: for better or worse, we have unzipped the
    very idea of what culture actually is.

  • From sages to celebrities What does it mean when we stop listening to
    intellectuals and pay heed to pop stars?

  • Sex: The decline of modesty.

  • Violence: Thug culture is becoming the norm for the mass of young British men, with its roots in films and classroom failure.


  • Pop: Being dumb may be the essence of pop music,but there are
    many varieties of dumb. Still, things are pretty bad.

  • Books: Pulp fiction: commercial realities are reducing the
    chances of truly innovative novels seeing the light of day.


  • The problem with poetry is that you have to read it.


  • Art or product? It may be pointless to say Hollywood is dumb, but vitality and variety are under threat.


  • Zones of pure play: Why video games are good for you.


  • The highs and lows of film: It's too simple to argue that the movies dumb down
    over time. High and low coexist in different periods, sometimes within
    individual films - a cultural history of cinema
    from Sunset Boulevard to The Phantom Menace.


  • Going, going . . . Moaning about cultural decline is as old as the hills;
    the long history behind the current dumbing down crisis.


  • The Bluffer's Guide to Culture Buffs Having problems getting to grips with all
    this hi-lo stuff? We are. Here's a handy guide to the experts


  • Classical music Can we only listen to music in bite-sized chunks these days?
    Food How come we have wider food experience than our
    parents but less food knowledge?


  • Sport From local hero to pay-per-view demi-god:the money
    culture that has turned sportsmen into superstars.


  • An A-Z of cultural terms What is culture anyhow? A bunch of artworks? An
    activity? A habit? A product? A battlefield? A corpse? This A-Z of cultural
    terms might help you find out...


  • The invention of popular culture. We had to create high
    culture before we could have low culture.


  • Architecture: We have squandered the legacy of modernism and destroyed the notion of public duty


  • Had enough already? Then all too likely you're part of the attention-deficit
    generation.


  •   •  

    Review of Laughter: A Scientific Investigation by Robert Provine. 'What a weird trick has been played
    on our linguistic species to express itself with such stupid "ha ha ha" sounds. Why
    don't we leave it at a cool "that was funny"?

    These questions are old, going back to philosophers who have puzzled over why one
    of humanity's finest achievements--its sense of humor--is expressed in such an
    animal-like fashion. There can be no doubt that laughter is an inborn characteristic.' We share laughter with the apes; it appears to be associated with a playful attitude, and is distinct from smiling, which encodes affection and appeasement instead. Laughter is not as much as we think a response to a joke; naturalistic studies show that people laugh more frequently in response to situations that are far from humorous. Laughter's purpose seems to be to solidify social relations by signalling mutual liking and well-being. A group of people laughing together -- more often men than women, BTW -- broadcast solidarity and togetherness often at the expense of the outsider. "Provine expands on this theme with the observation
    that women laugh more in response to men's remarks than the reverse. The asymmetry between the sexes starts early in
    life, between boys and girls, and seems to be cross-cultural. The man as laugh-getter also turned up in an analysis of
    personal ads, in which Provine found that women generally sought partners with a sense of humor, which male
    advertisers claimed to have in great measure." Scientific American

      •  

    The Wait for an E-book Format. Everyone admits that e-books are the wave of the future, but we're not even close to establishing standards that'll allow any e-book to be read on any device. Publishers Weekly

      •  

    Emperor Without Clothes Dept.: Literary criticism in the Disneyland cloisters; a year at Yale for a British PhD student in literature:
    "I write the sentence down in my notebook, like everyone else in the seminar. The ode must traverse
    the problem of solipsism before it can approach
    participating in the unity which is no longer
    accessible.
    When I have pieced it together, I realise
    he is talking nonsense. I am struck by the thought
    that literary criticism - at least as it is practised here
    - is a hoax. And the universities that offer it, and the
    professors who in America earn large salaries
    teaching it, are fraudulent, wittingly or not."

      •  

    Gang-Bangers: A Deadly U.S. Export. The gang members we deport back to their countries of origin have it all over the homeboys. Time

      •  

    If you are happy and you know it clap your hands.

      •  

    Bush Team Prepares 'Scorched-Earth' Plan. "The battle to win 270 votes in the electoral college has taken on a unique calculus. Florida remains crucial, but the close outcomes in New Mexico, Wisconsin, Iowa and Oregon are critical in what one Republican operative called a "scorched-earth strategy" GOP officials hope to avoid implementing.


    The strategy is to challenge Gore's close wins in Iowa, Wisconsin and, perhaps, Oregon. If successful in Wisconsin with 11 electoral votes and either Oregon or Iowa, with 7 each, Bush could then, under this scenario, still win in the electoral college without Florida's 25 votes.


    That depends on keeping New Mexico in the Bush column. If New Mexico flips back to Gore, Bush would have to overturn the outcome in all three other states--Wisconsin, Iowa and Oregon--to make up for the loss of Florida." Washington Post


      •  

    Forget Florida—Flip the Electors! by Matthew Miller, a senior fellow at the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania. He's basically saying that tit-for-tat litigation airs dirty laundry about the U.S. electoral system that would be better off not known. He prefers Gore take the (constitutional) high ground for the country's sake. "Would a handful of Republican electors switch and vote for
    Gore? I don't know, but as a Gore supporter I'd rather risk
    his losing this way than see the nation implode on its current
    path. Even 271 party hacks could not help but feel the weight
    of history in ways that would lead most to go beyond partisan
    interest to consult their consciences." Of course, there isn't a ghost of a chance of this happening (unless Gore promises a handful of these hacks ambassadorships or something); I'm answering my own question I asked on election night. And it's not self-evident at all that this is a "crisis", or that the nation will "implode" at all if it continues down its current path. Slate

      •  

    Monday, November 13, 2000

    BuzzWhack: The Buzzword Compliant Dictionary. "dedicated to demystifying buzzwords." One of the features on this site I particularly enjoy is the Whack of the Week, in which they highlight a press release or web site that's incomprehensible. Here's one:
    PictureTel Corporation is focused on reinventing the rules for intuitive, content-rich remote communication, including the
    launch of evolutionary PC-based integrated collaboration systems. We are harnessing the power of the broadband
    revolution to deliver a range of IP-based, interactive communication solutions and will continue to accelerate solution
    development and innovation to enable new models for communication and productivity.
    (buzz.whack.er: n. A person who receives some degree of pleasure in bursting the bubbles of the pompous.)

      •  

    What did Aum Shinrikyo have in mind? Excerpt from Ian Hacking's thoughtful essay in a recent London Review of Books about Underground, Haruki Murakami's new book on the sect's 1995 sarin nerve gas attack on the Tokyo Underground. Thinking about this "terrorist act" is fascinating and important, and thinking about Murakami writing about it is a concept in itself!

      •  

    Battle Plans: a friend of mine sent me this -- a call to action from J.J.Johnson, a spokesperson for the radical right, who feels he's watching a coup d'etat by Clinton forces determined to steal the election from its rightful winner and stay in power unjustly. He lays out the plans for "freedom fighters" to oppose it. Scary stuff; read on and wonder, with me, how many people will feel similarly, and how many will listen to them. My friend said: " If Gore wins
    through a recount, the militia movement will grow radically, but mostly
    they will gripe. If Gore wins through a court decision, then God help us
    all - these guys will make McVeigh's hit look like a practice run."

      •  

    The Sage of Fortune Cookies. "A quest to discover why the ubiquitous little messages so rarely predict the future anymore leads through a
    byzantine world of secrecy and suspicion to an unlikely oracle." LATimes (requires free registration)

      •  

    13 Myths About the Results of the 2000 Election "Propaganda is flying left and right.
    To combat this barrage, we present a point by point analysis of
    some key myths in the media today, substantiated with footnotes.
    Please read, copy, and forward to friends, relatives and colleagues!" Red Rock Eater Digest

      •  

    Who Should Concede? "Politicians and pundits are eager for Vice President Gore to quickly
    concede the presidential election to Gov. Bush and bring closure to
    Election 2000.

    A key argument is that Republican candidates who came close in the past --
    especially Richard Nixon in 1960 and Gerald Ford in 1976 -- gracefully
    accepted defeat for the "good of the country" and Gore, a Democrat, now
    should do the same.

    Though this argument is gaining momentum, it is based on bogus history.
    The real history is that Republicans since Nixon have played extraordinary
    hardball and have only conceded when they were faced with clear defeat in
    the popular vote. Ford was behind by 1.7 million ballots in 1976.

    Indeed, it has been the Democrats who have routinely turned the other
    cheek and kept quiet when they discovered evidence of GOP dirty tricks
    aimed at rigging the outcome of presidential elections. These cases go
    back to Nixon's runs in 1960 and 1968 and are as recent as the 1992
    match-up between Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush." Consortiumnews

      •  

    Sunday, November 12, 2000

    Hidden Data Transmission Using Electromagnetic Emanations. 'Your computer produces electromagnetic "emanations" that in some
    cases contain enough information to reconstruct, for example, the image
    on the screen. These emanations can sometimes be detected at a distance,
    even across the street, and this fact has given rise both to legitimate
    computer security research and to urban myths. One of the urban myths,
    which takes various forms, is that Microsoft has secretly used emanations
    from personal computers to look for pirated software. (This is)
    a message about this myth from probably the foremost authority on the
    subject.' Red Rock Eater Digest

      •  

    Brain Repair Companies Sharpen Their Drills. "A local anesthetic, a small drill-hole in the
    skull and a syringe full of new cells may one day be all it takes to
    repair brain damage." Regenerating damaged tissue with neural stem cells offers promise to reverse the deficits of stroke, Parkinson's Disease, Alzheimer's etc. Tissue transplanted from aborted fetuses has been used successfully in reversing the worst symptoms of a handful of Parkinson's Disease patients, but the ethical problems caused by depending on fetal stem cells has led to a quest for other sources, including "immortalized" human cell lines, nonhuman mammalian sources and, recently, cadavers. Companies are lining up to commercialize the approach once it is clear it is safe and effective. Here's a primer on stem cells from the National Institutes of Health; and information from the American Association for the Advancement of Science on stem cell research and applications.

      •  

    Right nostrils provide clues to brain
    illnesses
    . "People's right nostrils are better at evaluating strange new
    smells, whether they are pleasant or unpleasant, say Swedish
    scientists.

    While familiar smells appear to be sniffed equally by both
    nostrils, it is the right that takes the lead when the nose is
    challenged by a new odour.

    The research has implications for the diagnosis of
    neurological disorders because it suggests that only one side
    of the brain is involved in processing unfamiliar smells.

    By testing patients' reactions to different scents, doctors might
    be able to diagnose which side of the brain has a problem,
    the researchers said..." Independent

      •  

    Just can't get enough A German researcher who found that heart rate and cortisol concentrations surge when habitual gamblers place money bets but not when playing for points claims this proves gambling is "addictive" in the physiological sense. New Scientist highlights the controversy over this claim given many scientists' refusal to accept that a behavior can be physiologically addictive, that "you can't have an addiction unless you take a substance."

    If the findings of the scientific paper (in the journal Biological Psychiatry) are well-described here, the assertion that it "proves gambling is addictive" is absurd. All that appears to be shown is that, when people do something pleasurable, they demonstrate some of the physiological changes associated with pleasure or gratification. In essence, the research proves that such a behavior is "addictive" only in the way we use that term in lay conversation, to mean merely something we enjoy doing alot. The more precise notion of addictiveness involves (a) physiological tolerance (as the person continues to use the substance, it takes higher and higher doses to have the same effect); (b) physiological dependency (when denied the substance at the expected interval, a physiological withdrawal reaction ensues); and (c) the drug-seeking activity is preoccupying and dominates the person's behavior pattern.

    Assertions such as the following, from the article, are risible: "...Such findings might reduce the
    culpability of people who have committed crimes. If lawyers
    can attribute their clients' crimes to physiological cravings
    rather than acts of free will, they may receive lighter
    sentences. " Even though all craving of pleasurable activity has a physiological basis, by no stretch of the imagination does it diminish someone's free will by any notion of autonomy and choice I'm aware of in the behavioral sciences! New Scientist

    Now you tell me -- is this a related item or not? Contract bridge enhances the immune system, according to a preliminary study
    by researchers at UC Berkeley. EurekAlert!

      •  

    Along the same lines as what Iceland has done (see below), but on a bigger scale, Estonia sells its gene pool.
    (The) Estonian people, in case you didn't know, are just perfect. Quite
    steady, as they have been settling in their present location for at
    least 5,000 years, but not too isolated from the rest of the world.
    Their family trees can normally be traced back into the 17th
    century. More than a third of the people old enough to take a
    degree have done so, and the life expectancy is 70 years.

    Most importantly, they have willingly accepted the deal. Opinion
    polls suggest that more than 90% of the 1.445 million Estonians
    are ready to part with 50ml of their blood and a detailed account
    of their medical history. A law regulating the details of the
    procedure is expected to pass parliament without problems.

    What seems to have won over the Estonian politicians was the
    hope of becoming world leaders in something for the first time.
    Guardian

      •  

    "We love our small friends -- we value their lives." The Rat & Mouse Gazette.

      •  

    Improbable but no longer unthinkable solutions to the Presidential election impasse.

      •  

    Amnesty in Africa: How does Amnesty International persuade a state to change its ways? Prospect

      •  

    Saturday, November 11, 2000

    AIDS-related virus spreads through kissing. "A form
    of the herpes virus that causes an
    AIDS-related skin cancer appears to
    spread through kissing. Herpes virus 8 was discovered six years
    ago and causes a skin cancer called
    Kaposi's sarcoma. In the United States,
    the cancer occurs almost exclusively in
    people with AIDS." Researchers from the University of Washington have demonstrated that gay men infected with herpes 8 shed the virus far more often and at much higher concentrations in saliva than in anal or genital secretions. The implication, that oral-to-oral contact can be the route of transmission, needs further research confirmation. The obvious public health concern is that kissing is largely ignored in "safe sex" protocols. Transmission via the oral route makes sense when you realize the similarity between herpes 8 and the Epstein Barr virus, another herpes virus whose oral spread causes mononucleosis ("the kissing disease") and which has been implicated in a malignancy of its own, Burkitt's lymphoma. AP

      •  

    His parents despaired of ever curing his rare phobia until they appealed for help in the local newspaper. A hypnotherapist came to the aid of this 8-year-old Gloucestershire (UK) boy and cured him of his fear of ketchup.

      •  

    "Researchers in Iceland claimed yesterday to have pinpointed a gene for schizophrenia, stirring hope and anxiety among millions
    of sufferers of what has been called 'the worst disease affecting
    mankind'.

    The discovery is one of the first fruits of the controversial effort
    by Icelandic entrepreneur Kari Stefansson's firm deCODE to use
    the medical records of the entire nation to ferret out disease
    genes.' You will recall that deCODE has given the Swiss pharmaceutical company Roche the rights to commercial exploitation of its findings in return for financial backing. deCODE is applying for patent rights to the discovery and, for the moment, there is no scientific publication forthcoming; neither Roche nor deCODE is willing to even say on what chromosome the genetic locus resides. While it is implausible that one genetic defect can cause all the manifestations of this disease, it is well established that there is a heritable component. This discovery might lead to an understanding of just what the inherited vulnerability is, to ways of identifying vulnerable individuals before they develop symptoms, and perhaps to new drug strategies for treatment or even prevention. Guardian

      •  

    Surf like a Bushman. Foraging theory, developed to understand animal hunting behavior and the strategies of hunter-gatherer humans, can be used to understand modern data foraging on the web. Two Xerox PARC researchers have been doing field studies of information-hunting-and-gathering and applying their observations about optimal foraging theory to search engine design. New Scientist This analogy between food and information appears to be a fruitful one for web designers as well -- so eat your fill here!

      •  

    A reason why some women can wrap men around their little
    fingers
    has been suggested by a language expert: they use five
    different tones when communicating verbally and men can
    understand only three.
    “Men only have 10 per cent of women’s speaking ability,” says
    Alan
    Pease, author of the book Why Men Don’t Listen and Women
    Can’t Read Maps
    . 'He says that women use 60 to
    80 per cent of their brains to communicate, which is why they
    excel in the area. Such verbal dexterity means that they are better
    placed than ever to compete for new “knowledge economy” jobs.' The Times of London

      •  

    Wag the Human. Review of Stephen Budiansky's The Truth About Dogs. Did we domesticate the dog or vice versa? ''If biologists weren't victim to the
    same blindness that afflicts us all, they probably wouldn't
    hesitate to classify dogs as social parasites.'' The reviewer has a sentimental complaint that "when Budiansky deconstructs the
    so-called love and loyalty that dogs have for their owners,
    he reduces it all to selfish biology." New York Times And Britannica.com has this interesting review article considering the range of animal intellect and emotion from the vantage point of several recent books. We do seem to be seeing a reawakening of interest in ethology, a generation after Conrad Lorenz. "Through
    evolutionary theory, genetics, neurophysiology, and
    experimental procedures, many scientists are providing
    strong evidence that animals feel and think in ways akin
    to humans." The controversial Peter Singer perhaps takes this furthest. His Great Ape Project seeks to "include the nonhuman great apes within the community of equals by
    granting them the basic moral and legal protection that only human beings currently enjoy, ... to work for the removal of the
    nonhuman great apes from the category of property, and for their immediate inclusion within the
    category of persons.

    Our long-term goal is a United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Great Apes."


      •  

    Are We All Aliens? The new case for panspermia.

      •  

    Alcoholic by Nature: The attraction of ethanol may have evolutionary origins in the selective advantage it conferred on our frugivorous primate ancestors. But it appears to be an evolutionary trait gone wrong. Biologist Robert Dudley of the University of Texas speculates on this. The Times of London I was reminded of the thinking of Andrew Weil several decades ago in The Marriage of the Sun and Moon. Proposing that the attraction of mind-altering substances is innate, he said that the natural psychoactives our ancestors used were healthier than modern purified and extracted ones. The impurities acted to self-limit consumption to manageable amounts, because one would get sick from ingesting too much. Consider the contrast between chewing a coca leaf and freebasing cocaine. (Here's a less-than-laudatory 1998 essay on Weil's reasoning by the former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, Arnold Relman MD.) [One of the best things in Marriage..., IMHO, was the essay on the 'right' way to settle into the euphoric buzz you get from hot peppers such as jalapenos.]

      •  

    the Riemann zeta function

    A chance observation of an analogy to the physical world may mean that someone is closing in on the solution to the Riemann hypothesis, one of the world's greatest unsolved mathematical problems, which relates to the distribution of prime numbers. New Scientist

      •  

    'Happy' Kristallnacht: Hate e-mails bombard Jewish group. The emails were sent via a server in the US. Nando Times

      •  

    Most Promiscuous Species Have The Highest WBC Counts.'A new study indicates that evolution of the immune system may be directly
    linked to the sexual activity of a species. A comparative analysis of 41
    primate species demonstrates that the most promiscuous species have
    naturally higher white blood cell (WBC) counts -- the first line of defense
    against infectious disease -- than more monogamous species.

    The findings are reported in today's issue of the journal Science.

    "Our findings strongly suggest that the most sexually active species of
    primates may have evolved elevated immune systems as a defense
    mechanism against disease," says (the) principal investigator.' UniSci [via Robot Wisdom]

      •  

    Happy 40th, Caffe Lena

      •  

    Lions Maul Man Offering Alms. 'A Sri Lankan man was seriously injured
    when he jumped naked into a lions' den at the national zoo,
    apparently offering himself up as a feast for the big cats,
    officials said Monday.

    ``The man...had written a letter before jumping into the enclosure saying he wanted to
    give 'alms' to the lions,'' said (the director) of the National Zoological Gardens...'

      •  

    31 Eyewitnesses See Mile Long Aerial Craft in Yukon. "There are only
    30,000 residents in the entire Yukon and at least thirty-one eyewitnesses near Pelling Crossing saw an aerial craft
    estimated to have been nearly a mile long hovering silently about 300 feet above the ground." A summary report with drawings by the eyewitnesses has just ben assembled by a UFO investigator, and a transcript of an interview with one of the witnesses is published here. Earthfiles

      •  

    Epsilon Eridani, a sun-like star only 10.5 light years distant

    Astronomers find planet around Spock's "home star". "According to some Star Trek lore, the
    planet Vulcan, homeworld of Mr. Spock, is
    a rocky, arid planet orbiting the nearby
    star Epsilon Eridani. Now, astronomers
    say they've found a planet orbiting the
    star - but it doesn't exactly match the
    description of Vulcan." exn.ca


      •  

    Gut reactions: Scientists discover 'second brain' in the stomach. "Scientists are claiming to have discovered a second
    brain - in the human stomach.

    The breakthrough, involving experts in the US and
    Germany, is believed to play a major part in the way
    people behave.

    This 'second brain' is made up of a knot of brain nerves
    in the digestive tract. It is thought to involve around 100
    billion nerve cells - more than held in the spinal cord.

    Researchers believe this belly brain may save
    information on physical reactions to mental processes
    and give out signals to influence later decisions. It may
    also be responsible in the creation of reactions such as
    joy or sadness." Ananova

      •  

    Poland: Committee Warns against Revival of UFO Sect. 'A national sect-monitoring
    committee has issued a warning about the revival of an "apocalyptic
    Polish sect" called Antrovis. It sees salvation in the landing of UFOs
    on a southern Polish mountain and has been linked to the alleged
    disappearances of individuals.' The sect allows as how, when the saucers land, all terrestrials who are not sect members will be exterminated. Central Europe Online

      •  

    Retailers' Siren Song. "...your buying habits are being
    mapped almost as closely as the human genome,
    manipulated like Pavlov's dog, and seduced like the
    American electorate every fourth November." Why not know what they know? Training about their insidious uses of consumer psychology may help stop you from being 'had.' Kiplinger's

      •  

    Bush is behaving like the U.S. version of
    Milosevic
    , 'telling Al Gore
    "to hurry up and concede before the people find out I
    really lost the election." '

    The man who says he wants to be "a uniter, not a divider"
    and that he "trusts the people," doesn't give a damn that
    some 20,000 voters in Florida were disenfranchised one
    way or another – and the numbers keep rising. Or is it that
    he figures if the country's and world's eyes are diverted
    away from Florida, he can somehow save his baby
    brother [Florida Governor] Jeb's hide?

    Jeb seemed mighty uncomfortable as he stood before the
    cameras at a press conference Wednesday, rolling his
    lower lip over his upper, his beady eyes darting about as
    he announced he was recusing himself from the election
    certification commission. State Attorney General Bob
    Butterworth, a Democrat, was visibly shaken.

    Does Butterworth know something we don't? As the
    state's chief law enforcement officer, could he be
    wrestling with bringing charges against Jeb and all the
    constitutional officers engaged in this debacle?

    Jeb promised George W. that he would deliver Florida to
    him. What he left out of that statement was how he
    planned to accomplish that. An investigation and a reform
    of Florida's election law are surely in order.

    Florida has a long history of election fraud. So it takes a
    grand stretch of the imagination to believe that so many
    Florida voters and election officials are bumbling idiots,
    when the funny business stretched from north to south and
    east to west.

    Perhaps Floridians and the nation should have paid more
    attention to the 1997 election fraud in Miami. That ended
    when Mayor Xavier Suarez's election was overturned
    because of fraud involving absentee ballots. City
    Commissioner Humerto Hernandez, along with 13 other
    elected officials and volunteers, were convicted and
    sentenced to 364 days in prison for their roles in helping
    to steal the election for Hernandez.

    Now we learn that Suarez sits on the executive committee
    of the Miami-Dade Republican Party and, in this year's
    election, was specifically involved in recruiting absentee
    voters and helping to fill out absentee ballot forms. Do
    you smell something rotten here?

      •  

    Two breaking scandals drive Bush's rush to
    claim presidency
    . "Thursday afternoon the Bush
    campaign scrambled frantically to seize the presidency as
    it came closer to slipping out of its hands. Cabinet
    appointments were announced, plans for a victory
    celebration were underway, and old Bush associates were
    called in to lend an air of authority.

    The rush was necessary because of two breaking scandals
    now nipping at Bush's heels that could ultimately render
    him ineligible for the office or heavily damaged as
    president.

    Bush has been accused of a deception in a Texas jury
    questionnaire that has been characterized as perjury. He is
    also under fire for refusing to release his military records,
    despite numerous requests from the press and from
    veterans groups who have provided documentation that
    Bush deserted his National Guard post duty from May
    1972 to May 1973." Online Journal

      •  

    Friday, November 10, 2000

    Hubble Sees Bare Neutron Star Streaking Across Space. "It's as big as Manhattan Island, is 10 trillion times denser than steel, and is hurtling our way at speeds over
    100 times faster than a supersonic jet. An alien spaceship? No, it's a runaway neutron star, called RX
    J185635-3754, forged in a stellar explosion that was visible to our ancestors in 1 million B.C. Precise
    observations made with the Hubble telescope confirm that the interstellar interloper is the closest
    neutron star ever seen. The object also doesn't have a companion star that would affect its appearance.
    Now located 200 light-years away in the southern constellation Corona Australis, it will swing by Earth at
    a safe distance of 170 light-years in about 300,000 years."

      •  

    Thursday, November 9, 2000

    Penguin-Toppling Claims Studied. Pilots are ridiculed for the claim that, when they fly over penguin colonies, the "curious birds topple over like dominoes as they stare up at the aircraft." Now British Antarctic Survey researchers plan to spend a month studying the veracity of the phenomenon. Washington Post

      •  

    Salon interviews Denis Dutton, founder of the Arts and Letters Daily website, and now starting up the online publishing house
    Cybereditions, offering up out-of-print "worthwhile scholarly books" as etexts, HTML downloads and print-on-demand paperbacks.

      •  

    In contrast to the plurality system of voting used in most American elections, Instant Runoff Voting, an election reform rapidly gaining attention throughout the US, allows all voters to vote for their favorite candidate
    without fear of helping elect their least favorite candidate, and it
    ensures that the winner enjoys true support from a majority of the
    voters. Center for Voting and Democracy

      •  

    Judges have power to overturn elections. "Under a 1998 court ruling, Florida judges have broad authority to invalidate
    elections or order new elections in cases in which fraud, or even unintentional error,
    results in flawed outcome." Tampa Tribune

      •  

    Buchanan Says Disputed Florida Votes Are Gore's

      •  

    Alexander Cockburn on Gridlock: . "So it all came out right in the end: gridlock
    on the Hill and Nader blamed for sabotaging
    Al Gore.

    First a word about gridlock. We like it. No
    bold initiatives, like privatizing Social Security
    or shoving through vouchers. No
    ultra-right-wingers making it onto the
    Supreme Court. Ah, you protest, but what
    about the bold plans that a
    Democratic-controlled Congress and Gore
    would have pushed through? Relax. There
    were no such plans. These days gridlock is the
    best we can hope for." And Cockburn continues with a good summary of the reasons Greens voted Green rather than "sneaking back to the Gore column." CounterPunch

      •  

    Wednesday, November 8, 2000

    Nader and La Follette: History Repeats Itself. Should Nader's run be cast in the same tones as Robert La Follette's 1924 campaign as an independent against "a conservative Republican and an only marginally less conservative Democrat"?

      •  

    Described as an antiracist educator, organizer and writer, Tim Wise of Alter Net writes an Open Letter to the Pioneer Fund, delighted to discover he shares their interest in "the proposition that people of different
    ethnic and cultural backgrounds are, on the basis of heredity, inherently
    unequal and can never be expected to behave or perform equally" , as their charter proclaims. Wicked tongue firmly ensconced in cheek, he wants them to fund his investigation into the reasons for Causasian genetic inferiority, as demonstrated by their "disproportionate drug use, binge drinking, and propensity for serial murder."
    It may be that nothing can wean whites from their insatiable appetites for
    drugs and alcohol. If so, then just as your founder, Wickliffe Draper, once
    said blacks were "genetically inferior," and "ought to be repatriated to
    Africa," so too will you surely be brave enough to call for a full-fledged "back
    to Europe" movement, so as to rid the U.S. of millions of narcotized
    Caucasian parasites.



    As one of your grantees, Richard Lynn says, it might even be necessary to
    "phase out" inferior cultures: a prospect that might apply to whites if they're
    unwilling or unable to clean themselves up. Such is the price of progress.

      •  

    Wanted: Homeland for 300 Webheads. 'Most college students don't tend to say things like "Whether or not we see a
    nation of liberty on this planet could hinge largely on my competence." Then
    again, most college students aren't self-proclaimed royalty... He doesn't use slang or even
    contractions, and he signs his correspondence "Yours in Liberty." His chief
    hobby is improving his qualifications for princehood by studying political
    philosophy and keeping up with international news.' By one writer's count, the web is home to 118 self-defined virtual "micro-nations" with self-declared sovereignty. And some of them are looking for territory in the actual world. Alter Net

      •  

    The suspect Palm Beach County FL ballot which may have cost Al Gore the Presidential election

    Here, in full, is a dispatch from Phil Agre (Red Rock Eaters mailing list owner), who has rapidly pulled together alot of concerns about the Florida vote situation:

    [People have been sending me a flood of material about the Florida
    vote, so much that I can hardly keep up with it as I'm typing here.
    The situation is a mess, and it just gets worse. I've gathered URL's
    for a great deal of relevant information, and I urge you to pass
    it along to everyone who can use it. I'm getting so much material,
    the situation is evolving so fast, and the relevant Web sites are so
    overloaded, that I cannot guarantee that I have summarized everything
    100% accurately, or that the URL's all still work. I've done my best.

    Earlier I passed on a report that a locked ballot box had been discovered
    in a Democratic area. Now the cnn.com Web site reports that, according
    to "Miami-Dade County election officials", this box contained no ballots:



    http://www.cnn.com/2000/ALLPOLITICS/stories/11/08/ballotbox.found/



    There is a lot of vague talk about other missing ballot boxes, but this
    is the only one that has been formally reported to my knowledge.

    But the missing ballot box was hardly the only problem, or the worst.
    For example, there are the misleading "butterfly ballots". Here is an
    article from the Sun-Sentinel newspaper in Palm Beach County:



    http://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/daily/detail/0,1136,36000000000123102,00.html



    This article is being continually updated. The Sun-Sentinel Web site is
    overwhelmed, so keep trying.



    You can see an image of the misleading ballot on these pages:



    http://www.sun-sentinel.com/elections/palmbeachballot.htm


    http://cnews.tribune.com/news/image/0,1119,sunsentinel-nation-82373,00.html



    The Democrats are asserting that this ballot design was illegal under
    Florida law:



    http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/politics/AP-ELN-Florida-Ballot-Confusion.html



    Bob Kerrey is calling for a new vote in Florida:



    http://www.salon.com/politics/feature/2000/11/07/results/



    The problem has two aspects. First, statistical arguments and massive
    anecdotal evidence suggest that the misleading ballot produced easily
    enough bad votes to throw the election. Second, one of the authors of
    the Sun-Sentinel article just said on public radio that something like
    20,000 more ballots than one would statistically expect were discarded
    in the strongly Democratic areas where the misleading ballots were used.



    There is a brief statistical discussion of the issue here:



    http://cuwu.editthispage.com/2000/11/08



    This page should include a dramatic plot of the voting data, but it only
    seems to appear under certain browsers. Here's another URL for the plot:



    http://madison.hss.cmu.edu/palm-beach.pdf



    Here are some more articles on the subject:



    http://dailynews.yahoo.com/h/ap/20001108/el/eln_ballot_confusion_1.html


    http://www.time.com/time/campaign2000/story/0,7243,60132,00.html



    I have enclosed another statistical discussion by Jeff Harris, a former
    official at the Office of Management and Budget now working a public
    policy consultant in Los Angeles. I have also enclosed a message by a
    friend, also in Los Angeles, who was involved in an investigation of a
    rigged election out here. He knew about the 1988 case in Florida, and
    I found his message interesting. People have made further claims about
    the 1988 election that they aren't willing to put their names on, so I
    won't repeat them.



    Nobody to my knowledge is arguing that the ballots were consciously
    designed to bias the election. They are only arguing that the ballots
    were badly designed, illegal, and very likely had the effect of changing
    the outcome on the national level.



    Enough about the butterfly ballots. Here are some other subjects...



    For a while last night, the cnn.com Web site said that CNN was trying
    to investigate an apparent discrepancy between the Florida voting figures
    that were reported to the press and the actual count. If I understood
    the sequence of events correctly, these discrepancies may have had an
    impact on the bizarre sequence of events last night, possibly motivating
    Al Gore's premature concession call to George W. Bush. I was watching
    the numbers minute-by-minute until about 5am EST, and there certainly did
    seem to be a discrepancy. But I have not heard anything further about the
    matter on cnn.com or elsewhere.



    The Wall Street Journal mentions complaints of voter intimidation
    (or fraud or something) based on claims that at least one conservative
    radio host in Florida broadcast an assertion that, due to high turnout,
    Democrats should vote on Wednesday. In the few days before the election
    I saw just that claim, framed as a joke, in messages circulating on
    the Internet. But then other messages said that it was Republicans
    who should vote on Wednesday. In any case as I say these messages were
    clearly jokes. If a radio host made such assertions in anything but a
    clearly joking way then that would be a serious matter as well.



    The police have locked the elections office of Volusia County, Florida
    (which Gore won) after they caught an employee removing bags from it.



    http://orlandosentinel.com/news/1108guard.htm


    http://cbsnews.com/now/story/0,1597,247897-412,00.shtml



    You can get county-by-county numbers at cnn.com. The numbers do look
    strange for the down-ballot candidates compared to other counties.



    It is worth remembering that Dade and Broward counties in south Florida
    have big-time histories of voter fraud. For a story on one recent
    episode, see today's issue of Feed:



    http://www.feedmag.com/templates/daily_master.php3?a_id=1389



    One Florida journalist mentioned on public radio that the whole Miami
    area is full of ex-CIA people including right-wing anti-Castro activists
    and many of the major figures of the Watergate scandal, and that people
    in Florida are not surprised to hear of strange goings-on in that area.



    I also recommend the concise analysis at http://www.orvetti.com/.



    My conservative friends are telling me what a pissy loser Al Gore is
    for contesting this problematic vote in Florida. So it's worth noting
    that the Bush campaign was quite prepared to contest an election if
    (as widely predicted) he won the popular vote but not the electoral:



    http://www.nydailynews.com/2000-11-01/News_and_Views/Beyond_the_City/a-86769.asp



    On a different and flakier subject, Consortium News reports that a voter
    has filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission that the
    New York Times made improper in-kind contributions to the Bush campaign
    by repeating large numbers of false statements about Al Gore from Bush
    press releases:



    http://www.consortiumnews.com/110700a.html



    The complaint probably won't (and shouldn't) succeed, but it does point
    to a real and serious problem:



    http://commons.somewhere.com/rre/2000/RRE.The.New.Science.of.C.html



    I've been told of all sorts of scenarios involving compromises between
    the Gore and Bush campaigns, but I see no evidence that these things are
    really happening.



    I have also received all sorts of unsubstantiated reports of problems
    with the vote in Florida, including rumors about suspicious turnout
    levels and the handling of write-ins (and not just in the southern part
    of the state). But I don't want to report any of these reports until
    someone can document them. The only reason I'm mentioning them is
    because people (who I don't know) claim to have heard about them in the
    Florida media, which is something but not very much. At the same time,
    I would encourage students of Florida politics to study the numbers all
    across the state very carefully. You can start at cnn.com.



    I am also hearing unsubstantiated reports of street protests. Have
    you noticed the widespread pattern of inadequate provision for voters
    in African-American communities? These include Miami and New York.
    In St. Louis, large numbers of voters who had been waiting in line
    were sent home by an appeals court after a day of chaos; according
    to cnn.com, George W. Bush won Missouri by fewer than 80,000 votes.


      •  

    phonespell.org: "Enter a 6 to 10 digit phone number and we'll show you what words and phrases your phone number spells.
    Moving? Pick a new 7 or 8 digit phone number by typing in an available exchange (first 3 to 5 digits) and see what one-word numbers you
    can choose from. "

      •  

    Annals of the Age of Depravity: San Jose woman kept 5-year-old son in car trunk, police say (11/07/2000) [SJ Mercury via Obscure Store]

      •  

    From a reader's suggestion: "Keeping Time". "We have learned to measure time via a system that is
    actually more accurate than the phenomena, the events and the
    movements that gave rise to it namely the movements of the earth, the
    rotation and revolution of the earth. We’ve got the calendar pinpointed,
    tuned so perfectly that we can refer it to the oscillation of a caesium
    atom in the National Bureau of Standards. I like to think we’ve gone
    about as far as we can go. Our shortest unit of time the femtosecond , a
    very valid unit to be used in physics, is so small that if the distance
    between the earth and the moon were a second the femtosecond would
    be the width of a human hair. So maybe we haven’t stopped yet as long
    as there are physical laboratories around the world we’ll probably just
    keep splitting hairs won’t we."

      •  

    Dewey Defeats Truman? It's 1:30 a.m. Eastern time and I'm going to bed to the sound of anchors intoning "too close to call, too close to call" ad nauseum. It's certainly looking from this jaundiced vantage point as if we can look forward to four more years of these Slate "Bushisms of the Day". I just heard, however, that it's only in 25 of the 50 states (and D.C.) that the electors are bound to vote the way their state electorates determined. In an election as close as this -- I really don't know the answer to this -- will the losers try to bring some political influence to bear on the electoral votes of the other 25 states?

    Thank God, at least, the ad nauseum of the campaign season is over for another four years. And that the end of the Clinton follies is in sight. As Jonathan Freedland reflects in The Guardian,

    His fellow Americans will miss him -
    more, perhaps, than they realise. They'll
    miss the two terms of peace and record
    prosperity, of course, but they might even
    miss the psychodrama: an eight-year
    rollercoaster ride so turbulent that those
    who followed it become queasy at the
    recollection. They'll miss the daily
    triumphs and disasters of a character of
    Shakespearean complexity, a president
    who stirred in the American people
    passions of love and hatred unseen since
    the days of John F Kennedy and Richard
    Nixon - and almost never aroused by a
    single man. Above all, they will miss his
    signature feature, one which may well
    have redefined the presidency itself: an
    almost eerie gift for empathy.
    I don't know if I'd exactly call it empathy, which has a particularly complimentary connotation among us mental health professionals. Certainly, he does have an eerie -- but somewhat pitiful -- skill at using interpersonal insights to his advantage.

      •  

    Tuesday, November 7, 2000

    Interesting prank targets San Francisco's movers and shakers. [via boing boing]

      •  

    "The 21st century can't
    possibly be as awful as the 20th." Review of Zeitgeist.
    "In his epic new novel, Bruce Sterling leaves technophilia behind and sides with humanity." Salon

      •  

    Shakespeare a dope smoker? "Scientists believe they may have discovered the source of William
    Shakespeare's genius smoking cannabis, a British newspaper has reported.

    Researchers are investigating whether the secret of the Bard's creativity was
    his dopesmoking, according to the Independent on Sunday. Pipes found at Shakespeare's home in StratforduponAvon, central England,
    are being tested for traces of the drug, the paper said." The Age [via Null Device]

      •  

    R.I.P.: David Brower Dies At 88. IMHO, the most important, evangelical environmental activist since John Muir, responsible for the influence of the Sierra Club and Friends of the Earth.

      •  

    "More interesting than threatening...": Scientists Downplay 'Space Object'. "Scientists who announced last week that a
    mysterious space object had a 1-in-500 chance of striking the
    Earth in 30 years have retracted their prediction, saying it poses
    little threat.

    The object, which is either a small asteroid or piece of space
    junk, has virtually no chance of hitting the planet in 2030.
    However, scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena
    said there's a 1-in-1,000 chance it could hit Earth in 2071."

      •  

    Funding to Deorbit Mir Confirmed, Russian Official Says. 'The Russian government has set aside the $25 million needed to
    bring down the Mir space station, an official said.

    "The Russian government has already taken the decision to provide the financial resources
    needed to deorbit Mir," said Russian space agency chief Yuri Koptev. The statement runs
    contrary to some media reports.' Reuters

      •  

    Studies Find Ways to Diagnose, Treat Alzheimer's Several potential advances. First, positron emission tomography (PET) scanning of the brain apparently shows a distinctly different pattern of brain activity in Alzheimer's Disease than in other brain dysfunctions with which it may be confused. Up 'til now, no diagnostic technique short of autopsy has been shown to improve on the educated guess we make to diagnose the condition.

    A definitive diagnosis might be important if there were therapies that target the specific disease process in Alzheimer's, which appears to be the deposition of rogue proteins in the brain in characteristic configurations called "plaques" and "tangles". These progressively destroy normal brain tissue and interfere with cognitive functioning. The disease is incurable and inevitably fatal. A team at Johns Hopkins have now identified the enzyme that is the major player in forming plaques. Growing mice genetically engineered to be deficient in this enzyme will give a first approximation to whether blocking the enzyme could be a potential preventive or therapeutic measure agains Alzheimer's, or whether it would have any adverse consequences.

      •  

    Palestinians Try to Keep Children Away From Clashes. Latest development in this reprehensible Children's Crusade. Israel is surely guilty of using excessive force against the uprising especially in light of the fact that many demonstrators, and many casualties, are youths. Palestinians claim that schoolchildren's participation is spontaneous (here's a spokesperson's view: "the children take part because they feel the loss of
    relatives along with a sense of grievance that their rights have been violated by Israeli
    occupation" ) but it's difficult for me to believe they're not being used as cannon fodder either by toleration or active encouragement of that "sense of grievance." We'll see if the reported Palestinian effort to spare their children bears fruit.

    On the other hand, here's a wonderfully written, heartfelt and earnest journal from a Palestinian woman under Israeli occupation.

      •  

    Court: Prosecutors Can't Invoke God for Death Penalty. "A federal appeals court panel
    overturned a death sentence passed against a convicted
    murderer on Monday, saying prosecutors should not have argued
    that God sanctioned capital punishment.

    In vacating the death sentence against Alfred Sandoval, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said
    it was improper for prosecutors to suggest to the jury that ``destroying Sandoval's mortal
    body might be the only way to save Sandoval's eternal soul.'' He also said the penalty would
    be a wake-up call." Reuters

      •  

    Monday, November 6, 2000

    George Will, in an op-ed piece titled The Case for Bush , makes the opposite case, IMHO.
    For the official World Series magazine, Gore and Bush provided
    written answers to some questions pertaining to baseball, including, "What
    do you think of domed stadiums?" Gore's complete answer was: "The design and
    construction of domed stadiums--in Seattle (the Kingdome was the first
    free-standing cement dome ever built), Houston (the Astrodome was the first
    stadium to use Astroturf) and Minnesota (the Metrodome is the only stadium
    in the US whose roof is suspended without beams or rods--it's supported by
    air pressure), for example--have been feats of architectural and engineering
    excellence. But the real measure of any stadium, domed or otherwise, is how
    much fun you have inside." Bush's complete answer was: "I like to go to
    baseball games outdoors." Washington Post


    But then again, as I noted the other day, the American people don't seem at all scared of having an intellectually deficient man in the White House. I'm not much of a conspiracy theorist, but I'm sure that there are those among Dubya's handlers who will have an extra special reason to celebrate should their man win, knowing who'll really be running the country behind the scenes. Let's hope it'll at least be better than Nancy Reagan and her astrologers this time.

      •  

    Sunday, November 5, 2000

    Semiotics for Beginners

      •  

    Context is a quarterly publication intended to create a historical and cultural context in which to
    read modern and contemporary literature. Its goal is to encourage the development of a literary
    community.Its latest issue has several dense but thoughtful articles, among them a description by Curtis White of the cultural criticism of George W. S. Trow. Trow's "real contribution to the
    genre is a very persuasive ability to determine
    when a social formation is alive and dominant, and when it is dead....Trow argues that for the last fifty years the
    United States, at the height of its world dominance and authority, has been caught in a
    process of persistent social devolution that has left us with a world dominated by television
    and the likes of David Letterman. It is a world emptied of all honor and truthfulness, and
    whose only depth is the abysmal depth of self-reflection and 'ironic self-contempt.' " Along the way, he has a very interesting analysis of the failure of the '60's counterculture, which he calls "vitalitarianism" insofar as he sees its central force to be the opposition to the "creeping catatonia" of television and the tabloids. In its wake, it left "our moment, ...isolated, utterly lacking context, illiterate, illiberal, empty
    of useful information, narcissistic,
    and incapable of a single serious moment. That's our post-Reagan, Clinton-in-ascendance,
    cultural dominant. And damned if I know why Trow is wrong to say so." Perhaps caught up in the ironic spirit, White wonders why, "...if Trow has a
    brilliant grasp of when a 'cultural aesthetic' is alive and when dead (and he does), how is it
    that he could, for thirty years, make these critical and intellectually lively distinctions from
    within something that is itself dead?" He is referring to Trow's career as a staff writer for the New Yorker, which White makes a point of explaining why he does not read (he doesn't find the cartoons funny, among other reasons).

      •  

    Plants show their bright side. A leading biologist warns us to underestimate the intelligence of plants at our peril. Telegraph

      •  

    Stop Smiling, Start Griping: Why gloom is good for you '...Pessimism and negativity may have their
    advantages. Curmudgeons may cope better than those who
    succumb to the "tyranny of the positive attitude". ' Telegraph

      •  

    Compounds Also Present In Alcoholic Beverages May Explain Chocolate Cravings. 'A Spanish researcher has a new clue to what motivates "chocoholics":
    a group of chemicals that might contribute to the good feelings
    associated with binging on the tasty treat. The finding is reported in the
    current (October 16) issue of the Journal of Agricultural and Food
    Chemistry
    ... The researchers are the first to find that ordinary cocoa and chocolate
    bars contain a group of alkaloids known as tetrahydro-beta-carbolines,
    according to Tomas Herraiz, a researcher at the Spanish Council for
    Scientific Research in Madrid, Spain. In previous research, the same
    chemicals were linked to alcoholism, he said. The family of
    compounds, which are also known as neuroactive alkaloids, continues
    to be investigated for possible influences on mood and behavior."

      •  

    Effect of death of Diana, Princess of Wales on suicide and
    deliberate self-harm
    . "The death of the Princess of Wales in 1997 was followed by widespread public mourning. Such major events may influence
    suicidal behaviour. To assess the impact of the Princess's death on suicide and deliberate self-harm (DSH), analysis of the number of suicides and open verdicts (‘suicides’) in England and Wales following the
    Princess's death compared to the 3 months beforehand, and the equivalent periods in 1992-1996, and similar analysis on DSH presentations to
    a general hospital, revealed that suicides increased during the month following the Princess's funeral by approximately 17%. (The author concludes that) the death of a major public figure can influence rates of suicidal behaviour. For DSH, the impact may be immediate, but
    for suicide it may be delayed." British Journal of Psychiatry

      •  

    Celluloid Visions Are What Dance in My Head. "No matter how many
    good baking and roasting
    smells waft through the house or apartment, no matter how
    old-fashioned and bountifully decorated the Highland Fraser
    fir, no matter how many halls are decked with boughs of
    holly and how many carols about merry gentlemen and lords
    a-leaping are sung, my Christmases will always have a tragic
    flaw. They're not taking place in England.



    These expectations are primarily the fault of the 1951 British
    film version of A Christmas Carol, directed by Brian
    Desmond-Hurst and starring Alastair Sim as a sympathetic if
    rather bug-eyed Ebenezer Scrooge. Mr. Scrooge's clerk, Bob
    Cratchit, may be poor, but the holiday dinner at his house is
    the epitome of Yuletide merriment."

      •  

    Pollution News Update: First, Supreme Court to Consider Air Pollution Rules. In what is considered the most important environmental case since the adoption of the Clean Air Act 30 years ago, business groups who have failed to get Congress to gut environmental regulations ever since are taking their appeal for relief to the Supreme Court, attempting to argue that the EPA is overstepping its regulatory authority. Because newly promulgated regulations tighten up air pollution standards further at great cost to polluters, industrial concerns are attempting to reverse the principle that environmental regulations can consider health effects without regard to cost-benefit analysis. And: What's This About Cultural Pollution? "Popular culture is getting more and more juvenile, and
    the serious arts, or what used to be the serious arts, often emulate popular culture,
    depressingly. But we can be disappointed in our arts without being made coarser as a society.
    There's a difference. Why as a nation do we periodically presume that society is coarsened by
    culture? That's the real question." Although of course it's not one or the other, I think the
    argument is stronger that the degradation of culture is not a cause so much as an effect of
    societal decay. Serious artistic expression seems to me to have lost the power to shape the
    zeitgeist. A heroic, thoughtful artist can hope at best to reflect, and reflect upon, it. New York
    Times

      •  

    Lawyers Plan Slave Reparations Suit
    A powerful group of civil rights and class-action lawyers who
    have won billions of dollars in court is preparing a lawsuit
    seeking reparations for American blacks descended from slaves.

    The project, called the Reparations Assessment Group, was confirmed by Harvard law
    professor Charles J. Ogletree and appears to be the most serious effort yet to get American
    blacks compensated for more than 240 years of legalized slavery. Lawsuits and legislation
    dating back to the mid-1800s have gone nowhere.

    ``We will be seeking more than just monetary compensation,'' Ogletree said. ``We want a
    change in America. We want full recognition and a remedy of how slavery stigmatized,
    raped, murdered and exploited millions of Africans through no fault of their own.''

    Ogletree said the group, which includes famed attorney Johnnie Cochran, first met in July
    and will hold its fourth meeting in Washington D.C. later this month. AP

      •  

    Saturday, November 4, 2000

    Nowhere to go: Britain's Toilets Find New Uses as pubs, cafes, offices and theaters. Fans of urban regeneration have long admired the Victorian edifices and wanted them preserved, but as loos or something else? Washington Post

    Pro-toilet forces boost them as tourist attractions; here's the Loo of the Year award site.

      •  

    A bit belated but: R.I.P. Steve Allen, Television's Font of Wit . Washington Post critic Tom Shales quotes Steve Allen's wife, Jayne Meadows, who said of her marriage: "I live polygamously with eight men: a published writer of earthy prose and poetry; a deep thinker; a comedian; a pianist; a composer; a crusader; a motion picture star, and a tender father."

      •  

    Europe told there is no choice but to adapt
    to extremes of climate
    which will cause new deserts in the south
    and floods and wind storms in the north,
    according to a new report before the
    European commission. The Guardian

      •  

    Friday, November 3, 2000

    Giant Deep-Sea Creature Amazes Spanish Scientists. "Fishermen off northern Spain have
    captured a giant specimen of a strange, light-emitting,
    deep sea cephalopod, scientists said Friday.

    The octopus-like creature, a taningia danae, weighs in at 275 pounds, measures seven feet
    and is easily the biggest of its type discovered." Reuters

      •  

    How Jaded Are We? Russian-U.S. Crew Sets Up in Space. I've been amazed there hasn't been more excitement about the fact that humans have for the first time taken up permanent extraterrestrial residency.

      •  

    New Moons For Saturn:
    "Which planet has the most moons?
    For now, it's Saturn. Four newly discovered satellites
    bring the ringed planet's total to twenty-two, just
    edging out Uranus' twenty-one for the most known
    moons in the solar system." Astronomy Picture of the Day

      •  

    You've got hate mail: "Steve and Jean
    Case's $8.35
    million donation to
    a school affiliated
    with an anti-gay
    ministry prompts a
    call for a boycott of
    AOL." Salon

      •  

    Thursday, November 2, 2000

    Not with a bang but a whimper: A Wilderness Ecosystem in Collapse. The vast subarctic ecosystem of the Aleutian Islands has suddenly gone to hell in a handbasket. In just a handful of years, there has been a catastrophic reduction in the biodiversity of the Gulf of Alaska, and no one knows why. Sea mammals, crustaceans and varieties of fish, and the kelp forests that were the foundation fothe food chain have vanished. Scientists are beginning to unravel the tangled, cascading chain of effects that has led to this "regime shift"; and it's not encouraging how fragile a web the ecosystem turns out to be. As usual, the ultimate causes of such a disastrous upset to the vital balance appear to be manmade efffects. "If this rugged, remote ecosystem is
    collapsing, can any place on Earth be safe?"Indeed, there is growing suspicion that other ocean realms are undergoing such a drastic change, just with no one there to see. LA Times

      •  

    Annals of the Decline and Fall (cont'd.): Films aren't as good as they used to be, it is generally conceded. 'Foreign-language "art house" films are still being made but... they
    are a diminished force in our cultural life - on cinema and television screens and in
    the eyes of the critics.' Will serious thoughtful filmmaking survive "Hollywood's
    feelgood factor"?

      •  

    WWGD? Gandhi's Spirit Hovers as India Debates Iodized Salt. "India has made
    tremendous progress in
    eradicating the ancient
    scourge of iodine deficiency
    — the single most
    preventable cause of mental
    retardation — by making
    cheap, iodized salt available
    to most of its billion people.
    But a recent government
    decision has jeopardized
    these advances, medical
    researchers say.



    Indeed, India's entire
    scientific establishment,
    including the Indian Medical
    Association and the Indian
    National Science Academy,
    seems aghast that Prime
    Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee
    and his Health Ministry lifted a two-year-old ban on the sale
    of noniodized salt in September. In doing so, the
    government bowed to a lobbying campaign by Hindu
    nationalists, Gandhians and small- scale salt producers.



    ...Those on both sides of iodization claim to be the true
    inheritors of Gandhi's legacy. The scientists say Gandhi
    would be happy that salt has become a way to ensure that
    even India's poorest children do not have their intelligence
    dulled by a lack of iodine, while some followers of Gandhi
    contend that he would object to the compulsory iodization
    of salt." New York Times

      •  

    Switched on: "In lab mice all over the world, genes are being turned
    on and off like light bulbs to find out what they do.
    Scientists have rewound Huntington's disease,
    probed the roots of memory and staged the onset of
    prion disease. And that's just in the brain. The man
    who made it all possible is Hermann Bujard, chairman
    of the Centre for Molecular Biology at the University
    of Heidelberg, Germany. With his colleagues, Bujard
    developed the Tet system which allows genes to be
    controlled remotely--from outside a living organism.
    What started as a hobby has spawned two thousand
    research papers and contributed to work that led to a
    Nobel prize last month--for somebody else." New Scientist

      •  

    Making them fit the genital norms: "The rationale for clitoridectomy in (the 19th century) was
    straightforwardly terrible, and ridiculously unscientific. By contrast,
    modern theories seem slightly more humane, but when you get down to
    it, the same question of gender links the Victorian Age's clitoridectomy
    to its Dot-Com Age cousin. We have been altering the healthy genitals
    of our children-—boys as well as girls-—for 135 years so that a girl will
    look and act like a girl, and a boy will look and act like a boy, according
    to social norms. The strict division between female and male bodies and
    behavior is our most cherished and comforting truth.



    "All over this country there are people whose clitorises have been
    removed, either totally or partially. They range from your great-aunt's
    roommate in the nursing home to your neighbor's two-year-old. They
    include hundreds of women from every generation. Some were born
    clearly female; some were born clearly male but were reassigned as
    female and then had their genitals altered; and some were babies whose
    sex was not so easy to define. Although statistics for childhood clitoral
    surgery are extremely difficult to gather, one can extrapolate a figure
    from the number of babies born each year in the U.S., the number born
    with conditions that produce enlarged clitorises, and the number-—most
    of them-—who will undergo clitoroplasty. Approximately five times a
    day in the U.S., surgeons change the size and shape of a child's healthy
    clitoris. Few of these children are capable of expressing what they want.
    Some, if given the choice later in life, might choose clitoroplasty. But
    judging from the responses of women who had the surgery done either
    without their agreement or at an age when they were too young to know
    what they were agreeing to, many would have preferred to stay the way
    they were." Ms. Magazine

      •  

    Wednesday, November 1, 2000

    A bad place to have schizophrenia? Budgetary concerns in the British National Health Service have led to doctors 'rationing the best mental health drugs' in a way that even U.S. "managed care" has not succeeded in doing. The newer atypical antipsychotic medications (clozapine, risperidone, olanzapine and quetiapine) are such an improvement over conventional antipsychotics for the treatment of schizophrenia and related conditions that they have made the older conventional antipsychotic medications all but obsolete in North America and the rest of Europe. They are effective against a broader range of the symptoms with which afflicted patients are beset, and they are far safer and more tolerable. Consultants advise that all patients requiring antipsychotic treatment in the UK receive these atypical medications as well, but in fact fewer than one in eight do. The official NHS position is that there have not been enough trials to establish the superiority of the newer drugs, although this flies in the face of the experience of every clinician treating psychotic disorders.

    The real concern is that these newer medications are vastly more expensive -- sometimes approaching a hundred times the cost of the older, side-effect-riddled medications, which are often available in generic form. "But if you compare with the cost of long term
    treatments for other conditions like diabetes
    the atypicals aren't that expensive," said a spokesperson for the British National Schizophrenia Fellowship; not to mention the costs of recurrent hospitalization when patients are not compliant with the older less desireable medications. Critics suggest that the
    reluctance to pay for newer treatments is a
    form of discrimination against people with a
    mental illness.

    "Part of the problem is that it's difficult to
    measure things like quality of life, but if you
    look at other areas of health care, when a new
    drug comes along with much fewer
    side-effects, then the old treatments are
    unceremoniously dumped even if they are
    cheaper." BBC

      •  

    Tricks and Treats (James Ridgeway): 'After surviving Gore-inspired "flash attacks" over the weekend, Ralph Nader's campaign is
    now the target of a propaganda wave. One high-profile Gore partisan this morning was spreading a nasty
    rumor about the Nader machine. According to the scuttlebutt, Nader operatives had leaked information
    that the consumer advocate had been secretly offered $12 million—the amount his Green Party would get
    in federal matching funds if he won 5 percent of the vote next Tuesday—to take a fall against Gore in key
    states. The whisperer said Nader had refused the money.' The Village Voice

      •  

    Moon and his ballet stars. "When the Rev Moon's son died in a car crash,
    the controversial religious leader formed a
    dance company for the young man's fiancée.
    With money no object, it has impressed critics
    around the world." The Telegraph

      •  

    White Light UV Laser Could Replace Current Lighting: "The first ultraviolet (UV) solid-state microcavity laser has been
    demonstrated in prototype by scientists at the Department of Energy's
    Sandia National Laboratories, working with colleagues at Brown University.

    Among their benefits, UV VCSELS (vertical-cavity surface-emitting lasers)
    coated with phosphors can generate the white light most prized for indoor
    lighting -- illumination currently provided by gas-filled fluorescent tubes
    widely used in offices, schools, factories, and by incandescent bulbs used
    in most homes.

    Such solid-state emitters will last five to ten times longer than fluorescent
    tubes, be far hardier, and perhaps most noticeably, grouped several
    hundred to a postage-sized chip, will have aesthetic value: instead of a
    single clunky tube, the chips will be arranged in any configuration one might
    wish on ceiling, wall, or furniture."

      •  

    Steven Pinker said, "I have never met a person who is not interested in language." Language Miniatures is a regularly-updated set of "mini-essays about human language in its endless kaleidoscope of aspects, such as the social, the mental, the historical, the structural."

      •  

    Expo Seeks Greener Pastures Did you even know there was a World's Fair going on in Hanover, Germany this summer? A far cry from the big deal these expo's used to be back in the 20th century. Wired

      •  

    Vote Swapper Swatted Down
    "Your website specifically offers to broker the exchange of votes throughout the United States of America,"
    said the (letter from the California secretary of state) to site owners Jim Cody and Ted Johnson. "This activity is a corruption of the
    voting process in violation of Elections Code sections 18521 and 18522 as well as Penal Code section 182,
    criminal conspiracy." Wired

      •  




    [top of page]