If you’re not a blogger you probably have heard only vague hints about the Downing Street Memorandum, a secret document circulated to top British officials summarizing a meeting in which they discussed how to legally justify an Iraq war that President Bush and Prime Minister Blair had already agreed to undertake – back in July 2002. As you are no doubt aware, the White House claimed that taking the case for war to the United Nations was an attempt to avert the conflict by allowing Saddam Hussein a chance to comply with new resolutions reiterating calls for inspections. Many at the time argued that the new demands on Saddam were impossible to carry out, and this document confirms the intention by the governments to craft demands to which Saddam could not possibly accede, thus allowing the war a legal basis.

Many have claimed for a long time that the American peple were lied to. This memo is perhaps the most damning claim yet to surface that, not only is this true, but there was an effort at the highest levels of government to subvert international law and move forward with a policy-driven war that was not supported by facts.

No major United States media outlet has reported on the DSM. Many in America, including 89 members of Congress and over half a million citizens who signed an online petition, wonder just what is going on here.

In a series of studies, researchers have found that, among other processes, new love involves psychologically internalizing a lover, absorbing elements of the other person’s opinions, hobbies, expressions, character, as well as sharing one’s own. “The expansion of the self happens very rapidly, it’s one of the most exhilarating experiences there is, and short of threatening our survival it is one thing that most motivates us,” said Dr. Aron, of SUNY, a co-author of the study.

To lose all that, all at once, while still in love, plays havoc with the emotional, cognitive and deeper reward-driven areas of the brain. But the heightened activity in these areas inevitably settles down. And the circuits in the brain related to passion remain intact, the researchers say – intact and capable in time of flaring to life with someone new.

Good to know. From Watching New Love as It Sears the Brain, because today is a New York Times day.

Events like the Kansas Board of Education hearings on creationism in the classroom serve as another reminder of the sheer absurdity of humanity. How we’ve managed to survive this long is pretty amazing. This quote is best of all:

“We can’t ignore that our nation is based on Christianity — not science,” explained one retired teacher.

Perhaps she is a Christian Scientist.

The new Nikon D50 contains 90% of the features of the D70 in a slightly smaller form factor with a slightly less fancy lens for $900 and will ship in June.

On the other hand, the D70 includes all the features of the D70, is shipping right now, and, after rebate (and from the right dealer), costs around $900.

So that’s a little odd.

(They’re clearing out D70s to make way for D70s‘s, which also come out in June, and are about 10% better than the D70 — for around $1200.)

On October 14, 2003, Student Union President Josh Brandfon sent the Justice a letter to the editor about their election coverage the week before:

When our Secretary formally communicated his disappointment with your staff in the days following the printing of the last paper, he received a response from one of your editors that read in part, “Tell Danny Silverman to shut the fu*k up.” I hope that your editorial board shows a little more professional tact when interacting with their readers, and that you are more responsive to the rest of our community when they express concerns.

He advised that they take a look at how they, as an organization, behaves towards the community:

You, as editors, are entrusted to a position of power without accountability, and in this case, have clearly abused it by attempting to unjustly destroy the reputation of another student. While I appreciate your efforts to report the news, it is my sincere hope that you are able to maintain a higher level of journalistic integrity when doing so.

The next week, the Justice published the now-infamous article calling Dusty Baker a “word that rhymes with Tigger,” and then bungled the resulting PR disaster. The downfall of that paper was already in progress. A couple weeks ago the Justice finally got a new editor-in-chief. Maybe, hopefully, they’ll now be able to begin down the road to recovery.

Ah, the memories.

This week’s New Yorker has a piece by Anthony Lane trying to determine what the amorphous EU really is and what it is supposed to be regulating. After examining some of the new laws and regulations recently passed, it concludes with:

The history of European civilization has been rife with attrition and dispute, but the age of conflict is over. Americans do not want to tour a landscape littered with exhausted sex toys. They do not want to bandage the broken heads of circus performers. They want to walk the streets without fear of yogurt; they want to consume bananas of enormous and unenbarrassed girth; above all, they want to sit and watch contented pigs toss a Frisbee from sty to sty. Is that really too much to ask?

No, not really. So keep it up, EU! And quit your whining, UK!

There is lots of trivia, of course, most of which I don’t care for or understand. But while I was looking at something I found these tidbits that I thought were interesting and/or relevent, at least to me:

  • Alex Borstein, of Family Guy fame (Lois, etc.), has guest starred.
  • Jane Espenson, of Buffy (writing) fame, is a producer and has written two episodes.

But most interesting is how the show got started:

  • Something called the “Family Friendly Programming Forum,” a part of the Association of National Advertisers, funds, among other things, the development of scripts for “family friendly” shows. Gilmore Girls was the first major success of this program. Their definition of “family friendly” is pretty vague, but basically they’re looking for shows that parents and children can watch together and that “embody an uplifting message.” This seems less evil then I originally thought because they don’t seem to be stressing any specific set of conservative values, i.e. in Gilmore Girls the backstory is something along the lines of the mother getting pregnant as a teenager and choosing to raise her child alone.

Interesting, and a little weird. Anyway, that’s that. Oh, also, might as well throw in a quote, for good measure:

I really like him, Rory. I can’t help it. And it’s been a really long time since I’ve felt like this. You can’t always control who you’re attracted to, you know. I think the whole Angelina Jolie/Billy Bob Thronton thing really proves that.

And a reference to Oliver North in the same episode? Vaguely Buffy-esque in terms of snark, not too high brow, but real intelligent rather then fake intelligent like Dawson’s Creek. Hum.

Still not going to watch the show! (he continues to tell himself)

Kelli passed along an article in the New York Times titled Choosing a College Major: For Love or for the Money? Some students who have majored in fields that are not in vogue in the business world are regretting their decisions, and many, many students are choosing their majors and courses not on personal interests but on what will be most marketable and lead to financial success.

Parents and students today often consider college more an investment than a time of academic and personal exploration. Some students say they are education consumers seeking the best return on that investment, which is often financed with a student loan.

I find that reality sad. And I see it all around me here at Brandeis. College has become hideously expensive and tremendously competitive. In recent years the college game has become incredibly complex, with students nearly killing themselves in high school and even before creating the proper profile for admittence into high-tier schools. And now, it isn’t enough to get into those schools, now students are being forced or are forcing themselves to continue on playing the game, getting maximum return on their effort so that when they get out into the hard, unfeeling corporate landscape, they will have a firm foothold. And then they will work and work and work until retirement.

“The world is a more unforgiving place than it used to be, and investment costs are too high for four years of drift,” he said. “If a student doesn’t take the right sequence of math courses in high school, they can lose out on the best jobs.”

There is no rest. There is no chance to discover yourself, to learn and grow and explore. And this drive towards immediate success after college is not good for students in the long-term. We live in a society now where we are going to have to pursue multiple careers over our lifetimes. What may be best right now may be useless in five or ten years. Is it worth it?

NYU career services director Trudy Steinfield cautions that colleges should not become factories for pumping people into the marketplace. But everyone is looking at college these days as an expensive investment, saddling students with huge amounts of debt. And you want your investments to pay off, and pay off quickly. And sadly, right now, Art History or Education or Philosophy is not going to do that.

But you’re only in college once.

The WaPo tells us:

Many American youngsters participating in federally funded abstinence-only programs have been taught over the past three years that abortion can lead to sterility and suicide, that half the gay male teenagers in the United States have tested positive for the AIDS virus, and that touching a person’s genitals “can result in pregnancy,” a congressional staff analysis has found.

Response of the authors and administrators of these programs? Blasting the crazy liberals for politicizing an important moral issue. Uh huh. President Bush and Congress have dramatically increased funding for such programs, which target teens and preteens. These programs are not allowed to discuss contraception or other types of planning. No credible studies have been able to conclusively prove that abstinance-only education in any well helps stop the spread of sexually transmitted diseases or incidents of unplanned pregnancy. But, once again, this is a “moral” argument, and so opinions on the other side just are not as valid. Kinda like how evolution is a “theory” and not a fact. Like gravity.

Some Abstinence Programs Mislead Teens, Report Says

According to an article on NewsMax, the latest Massive Appropriations Bill(tm) to pass Congress includes $20m for mental health screening programs in elementary schools, which some groups believe is paving the way for mandatory testing and screening through a federal program.

Soviet communists attempted to paint all opposition to the state as mental illness. It now seems our own federal government wants to create a therapeutic nanny state, beginning with schoolchildren. It’s not hard to imagine a time 20 or 30 years from now when government psychiatrists stigmatize children whose religious, social, or political values do not comport with those of the politically correct, secular state.

First I’ve heard of this…is it real? Is the end result hypothesized here really what the people pushing the bill (who are they?) have in mind? Haven’t seen any mention of the program at all before now.

Wolfe combines his powerful distaste for the decadence he has encountered, with an enormous respect for the animal quest for sexual dominance, which he believes is the transcendental fact of human existence. This is why the book is so strangely incoherent, while being so strangely compelling: Wolfe has found among the young habits he finds genuinely repulsive, but they are attached to an honest, almost Nietzschean, acknowledgment of the inner workings of status. Wolfe may be appalled by booze, crunking, and bling bling, but he has an awed (and entirely sexist and entirely homoerotic) respect for the animal powers of young men.

“Soul” and the American imagination By Virginia Heffernan and Stephen Metcalf. Start on Wednesday and read on through.

Now that you’re aware that women will be able to complete the marathon before men run 100 meters by the year 2064, you might also be interested to hear about this interesting study. Apparently, the only evidence that parachutes reduce the risk of death from falling out of a moving plane is antecdotal, and there are no studies to be found that support this (some would say crazy) assertion! The British Medial Journal has the full repot (thanks Kelli!).

The biggest issue the study’s authors found was that there exists no randomized, controlled trials of parachute use in a clinical setting. Without a double-blind test, wherein some people are given parachutes and some are given placebos (empty packs) and the outcomes are observed, there is no real way to judge the effectiveness of parachute use. Instead all we have is the “healthy cohort” effect, which basically says that correlation does not imply causation — while people who use parachutes might be more likely to survive, that doesn’t necessarily imply that it is parachutes that are stopping death. For instance, most people who jump from planes are non-smokers, and generally are fairly young. These other factors must also be taken into account.

There is also this:

It is often said that doctors are interfering monsters obsessed with disease and power, who will not be satisfied until they control every aspect of our lives (Journal of Social Science, pick a volume). It might be argued that the pressure exerted on individuals to use parachutes is yet another example of a natural, life enhancing experience being turned into a situation of fear and dependency. The widespread use of the parachute may just be another example of doctors’ obsession with disease prevention and their misplaced belief in unproved technology to provide effective protection against occasional adverse events.

Now do you really want to be a slave to the fearmongering of doctors? Is that parachute really necessary? The study also points to a a power “even more evil” then sinister doctors — the parachute industry, which has earned billions of dollars based on the (possibly mistaken) belief that parachutes save lives.

If this all strikes you as a bit odd, then clearly you are a member of the unenlightened masses who doesn’t adequately understnad evidence based medicine. The authors suggest that firm believers in that practice might demonstrate their commitment by participating in a legitimate double-blind clinical trial. I anxiously await their findings.

In 1992 a paper was published in the journal Nature that claiemd that, by 1998, women would surpass men at track times. In 1998 Randall Woods put up this reaction, extrapolating the same data to its logical extreme. He arrived at the following predictions (among others):

Women marathon runners outrun men 100m sprinters.
Women marathon runners outrun women 200m sprinters
Women marathon runners outrun the fastest land animal
Women marathon runners reach the speed of sound
Women marathon runners achieve low earth orbit

And yet, in 1998, women did not catch up with men. Woods suggests that perhaps linear extrapolations are not the best way of measuring athletic success, and instead offers a different explanation for the time gap:

Women’s track did not reach a mature state until the late 1970s, by which time the number of women training and competing at the top level became large enough that the likelihood of one capable athlete rising above the others simply by training harder became less likely. Improvements in performance from now on will be measured in the same small steps characteristic of men’s events.

Yeah, that seems to make a bit more sense. But the question still remains…how much more can Olympians improve, in general? When the difference between first and third is less than a second, or a tenth of a point, one has to wonder if we are reaching a plateau. While improvement has not stopped, it has certainly slowed down considerably. How much further can human beings go in their current state? And will the minute increases in performace be worth the social cost?

If the manifest of ingredients on the bottle had been legible, it would have read something like this:

Water, blackstrap molasses, imported habanero peppers, salt, garlic, ginger, tomato puree, axle greese, real hickory smoke, snuff, butts of clove cigarettes, Guinness Stout fermentation dregs, uranium mill tailings, muffler cores, monosodium glutamate, nitrates, nitrites, nitrotes and nitrutes, nutrites, natrotes, powdered pork nose hairs, dynamite, activiated charcoal, match-heads, used pipe cleaners, tar, nicotine, single-malt whiskey, smoked beef lymph nodes, autumn leaves, red fuming nitric acid, bituminous coal, fallout, printer’s ink, laundry starch, drain cleaner, blue chrysotile asbestos, carrageenan, BHA, BHT, and natural flavorings.

Now that’s some exciting sauce!

A LiveJournaler imagines the future of a perfect couple he observes on their first date:

These two have been moving toward each other their whole lives — someone else who loves Le Petit Prince, someone who hates getting all dressed up, someone who can talk about politics without getting shrill and angry, someone who thinks deeply about things and tries to be a good person, someone who doesn’t have an easy time forming attachments but who loves deeply and lastingly when it happens.

It’s a beautifully written piece and a beautiful thought, and I identify with it and it makes me hopeful for the future. But it also makes me worry. Am I missing opportunities because I can’t make myself a little less shy, a little more outgoing, a little more patient towards people I don’t know well enough to trust, and a little more truthful and expressive about my feelings towards people I do?