Maybe. According to a Canadian Journal of Psychiatry article the Red Bull we're all pounding (with or without vodka) can trigger "pathological mood switches." Yet we all need our fix to make it out there in the competitive world (see caffeine, Ritalin). We need our boob jobs (see: Carrie Prejean), our heel lifts (see: Tom Cruise, Nicolas Sarkozy), our "flaxseed oil" (see: Barry Bonds). And while we often point the performance-enhancing finger at athletes for their doping and steroid abuse, how about Mickey Rourke who walked away with an Oscar nod for his comeback performance in The Wrestler? When Men's Journal asked him whether he roided up for the role he responded, "When I'm a wrestler, I behave like a wrestler."

Today performance uppers are so much more than HGH. They're cosmetic surgery to "stay competitive in the workplace," they're designer babies custom made down to their complexion, they're brain fitness tools that will help you one day upload the contents of your brain to computers (Microsoft holds a patent for a device that would distribute "power and data to devices coupled to the human body," a reverse Bluetooth!). They're There are even defense-industry exoskeletons that make lifting 200 pounds feel like 20.

Do you know how much Viagra, steroids, and baseball have in common? How much more money tall people make than their shorter counterparts? How the military keeps our troops awake night after fighting night? Find out here, plus oodles more sourced stats and tidbits.

Plus: The Vatican, King Charles, and The Rolling Stones all weigh in on performance enhancement through the ages. Also, ever wonder how our heros, athletes winning Olympic gold and shattering records can have no shame? Excuses, excuses...


HELMAND PROVINCE, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan—An Afghan National Army soldier fires a rocket-propelled grenade at Taliban insurgents from Marjeh firing on their position Feb. 9 at the “Five Points” intersection. A group of ANA soldiers joined the Marines of Charlie Co. as they conducted a helicopter-borne assault earlier that morning to seize the key intersection of roads linking the northern area of the insurgent stronghold of Marjeh with the rest of Helmand province. (US Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Brian A. Tuthill.)

Need To Read: February 11, 2010

Today's must-reads:

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Floundering on Terror

Spencer Ackerman describes how badly Republicans have floundered on national security issues ever since the Christmas bombing attempt:

Mirandizing terrorists inhibits intelligence collection? Wrong. Charging a terrorist in criminal court is a danger? Hundreds have been convicted that way. Non-torturous methods of interrogation fail? They work better. Call the Obama team pussies and they’ll back down? They’ll smack the tartar off your teeth. The public will rally around Republicans if they just ignorantly yell OMG TERRORISM loud enough? They’ll go to the other guy.

....The GOP, for the first time in decades, is completely discredited on national security, without any credible spokespeople, after the public remembers the experience of how Republicans started an unnecessary war at the expense of a necessary one. And now it’s all exposed.

They really do seem to have lost a lot of the old magic, haven't they? The problem is that they don't seem to have any other game plan than to reflexively bellow about Democrats being soft on terrorism no matter what the circumstances. Get Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab talking more effectively than Bush got Richard Reid to talk and they're soft for not doing it with torture. Double troop strength in Afghanistan compared to Bush-era levels and they're soft for not increasing it more. Increase drone attacks in Pakistan and they're soft for not capturing terrorists alive. Their complaints have gotten so hysterical and preposterous that it's hard for anyone outside their own base to take them seriously anymore. Increasingly, on national security issues the Republican Party in 2010 is about like Joseph McCarthy circa 1955. The rubes just aren't buying their act anymore.

For the latest in environmental politics, check out Blue Marble:

A Climate Pact in 2010? Eh, Maybe.

US Climate Envoy Todd Stern downplays hopes for a binding legal treaty in 2010. Instead, look for "strong progress be made" and "pragmatic steps" to be taken this year.

Climate Denial, Still Brought to You by ExxonMobil

Despite claims that they've stopped funding climate change deniers, ExxonMobil is still giving hundreds of thousands of dollars to support skeptic "think tanks" around the world.

NYT Gives Skeptics Platform to Assault IPCC

The New York Times promises a piece on how "mainstream" climate scientists are raising questions about the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. But while some legitimate concerns have been raised, the NYT doesn't bother to deal with those.

Controversial Nuclear Nominee Sails Through Senate Hearing

William Magwood, Barack Obama's controversial pick to serve on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, was supposed to spend some time in the hot seat during his confirmation hearing on Tuesday. But the members of the Senate's Environment and Public Works Committee barely questioned Magwood about his lengthy resume working for nuclear interests and how that history would affect his ability to regulate the industry.

GOP: Obama Admin is "Anti-Nuclear"

Barack Obama on Tuesday told reporters that his recent embrace of nuclear power is part of an effort to adopt some Republican ideas on energy, noting that he remains an "eternal optimist" about bipartisanship. But his attempt to woo Republicans with nuclear power has met predictably bad reviews from the Party of No.

Pombo Back On Green Hit List

Richard Pombo announced last month that he is back in the political game, and he's already reclaimed his post at the most-hated candidate for environmental groups.

Welcome to

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration rolls out to make information on climate change more accessible to the public.

Sanders: Drop Nukes, Go Solar

Bernie Sanders bashes calls for a nuclear revival and rolls out a big solar plan: the 10 Million Solar Roofs and 10 Million Gallons of Solar Hot Water Act.

Buried in Salt

This is old news, but who cares. It's from New York City and I'm blogging it today anyway:

Mayor Bloomberg and the Health Department have opened a new front in the battle to get New Yorkers, and maybe all Americans, to eat more healthily. The target now is salt.

Commissioner Thomas Farley has forged a consensus among government officials and health advocates that calls on the food industry to reduce the amount of sodium in a wide array of products. The goal is to cut the nation's salt intake by 25% over five years.

What's good about the plan is that it seeks to enlist food companies to voluntarily meet the target, and to do so gradually so palates used to a great deal of salt won't know the difference.

I tend toward high blood pressure, so I generally try to watch my sodium intake. But it's hard! At breakfast, my cereal has sodium. At lunch, my bread has sodium, my mustard has sodium, and my deli ham has sodium. Pretzels too. Pickles are a great snack, but they have enough sodium to choke a horse. Rice pilaf at dinner? Sodium.

Etc. etc. You get the drift. Now, some of this is unavoidable. Pickles just have lots of sodium. But what about all this other stuff? On the rare occasions that I buy peanuts, I buy the low sodium variety. Guess what? They taste plenty salty. I recently bought a can of "ultra low sodium" tuna. I made a tuna sandwich out of it and couldn't tell the difference. Danola makes a low sodium ham. Ditto.

So what's with all the sodium? I've never liked packaged mashed potatoes, but the other day a friend of ours suggested we should try a new brand. We did, and she was right: they weren't bad. Except for one thing: too salty! I was at a nice restaurant last week and had a small piece of chicken that was delicious. One of the best I've ever had. Except that it had too much salt.

So here's my question: why all the salt? Are "palates used to a great deal of salt" really the norm these days? Am I just more sensitive than most people to saltiness? Because it seems to me that you could cut the sodium content of nearly every processed food product in America by half and end up with something that's not only healthier, but better tasting.1

Obviously, though, the food industry, which spends billions of dollars to figure this stuff out, is convinced their customers think otherwise. Are they right? What say you?

1What makes this especially odd to me is that I don't generally have a discriminating palate. When it comes to fat and sugar and all the other stuff that's bad for you, I'm all for it. But salt? I'm ready to cry uncle.

It's been two months since the climate summit at Copenhagen sputtered to a finish without producing a binding treaty to tackle global warming. Now, United States climate envoy Todd Stern is downplaying hopes that this year's summit in Mexico will produce a treaty, either.

Stern avoided stating outright that a legally binding agreement on climate change is possible this year. "I hope that we can get to a full legal treaty in December, but I'm not going to make any predictions one way or the other," he said at the Center for American Progress on Tuesday. "I'm also not going to fall into the trap of saying if it's not that, we've got a failure."

Instead, Stern said, it's important that "strong progress be made" and "pragmatic steps" taken. He added that the public expectations before the Copenhagen summit "were quite elevated beyond what was going on on the ground," and warned against raising expectations too high for the next summit.

As we reported in December, the future of the last-minute accord at Copenhagen is not yet clear. Leaders of a small group of countries—the US, China, India, Brazil, and South Africa—negotiated a political deal outside the normal protocols of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. It was not formally adopted by member states; instead, countries can voluntarily "associate" with the accord. The deadline for doing so was Jan. 31, though that deadline wasn't really enforced. So far 95 countries out of 192 have associated with the agreement.

Stern expressed hope that other nations would sign on eventually. "I do believe that they will sign on to the accord because the consequences of not doing so are so serious," he said. But he also observed that the commitments from some countries remain "ambiguous," and that China, India, and some other countries are trying to "limit the impact" of the deal. Yet it's hard to see how commitments could be construed as much more ambiguous than those of the US, which has pledged to cut emissions "in the range of 17%, in conformity with anticipated U.S. energy and climate legislation, recognizing that the final target will be reported to the Secretariat in light of enacted legislation."

Stern also dismissed the suggestion that the US Congress' failure to pass a domestic climate law played a major role in the outcome of the summit. "I don't think that our situation was a core problem, if you will, last year," he said. Still, the chances of a bill passing the Senate this year seem to grow bleaker by the day. And if there was one lesson that Copenhagen made clear, it was the absence of trust among the most important players in the negotiations that the US and other major emitters will actually make good on their promises.

A paper in Nature Geoscience offers new insight into what happens to mercury deposited on Arctic snow from the atmosphere.

About 2,000 tons of mercury enter the environment each year from coal-burning power plants, incinerators and chlorine-producing plants. As a gas, mercury isn't that reactive and can float in the atmosphere for a year or more. But once oxidized, via sunlight and (usually) bromine, it becomes highly reactive. Deposited onto land or water, converted by microorganisms into highly-toxic methylmercury, it's then biomagnified through higher trophic levels of the foodweb.

The new research reveals the pathways in the Arctic. Mercury remains gaseous through the dark winter, since there's no sunlight to oxidize it and not much bromine to catalyze it. But in the spring, sea ice breaks apart and allows water vapor carrying bromine from the sea to rise as clouds. Bromine in the atmosphere interacts with sunlight to convert gaseous mercury into reactive mercury. The activated mercury then sticks to snowflakes and ice crystals in the air and falls to the surface as snow.

This causes a seasonal mercury depletion event. Normally steady atmospheric mercury levels quickly drop to nearly nothing. Meanwhile mercury concentrations on the snow's surface rise to extremely high levels. Joel Blum, the John D. MacArthur Professor of Geological Sciences, told U Michigan:

"When we first started observing these events, we didn't know how much of that mercury returned back to the atmosphere, so the high level of mercury in snow was a great concern. But the more we learned, the more we realized that the sunlight shining on the snow typically will cause much of the oxidized mercury to become reduced and return to the atmosphere as a gas. And it turns out that its re-release to the atmosphere has a striking "fingerprint' that we can use to study the progress of this reaction through time."

Using isotopic fractionation, the researchers can identify and estimate how much mercury is lost from the snowpack and how much remains with the snowpack, to potentially enter Arctic ecosystems. Any mercury not re-emitted to the air is likely to retain the unique fingerprint, aiding future researchers in tracking mercury through the polar north.


Brit Fever

The Brit Awards (that's the British Phonographic Industry’s annual pop music showdown) take place next Tuesday, and there are scads of pop tart dynamos to be grateful for this year. Too many to name, in fact, but here, in no particular order, are a few of my favorite artists competing in one category or another:

1. Mika brings Freddie Mercury-style epicism and hyperactive, Technicolor 2010 flamboyance.

2. Dizzee Rascal offers linguistic gymnastics, shark costumes, and rock-solid party tracks. 


3. La Roux having a straight-from-the-heart, Annie Lennox kind of moment.


4. Florence and the Machine being all sublime and ghostly. Harps and shouting.


5. Bat for Lashes singing the haunting and melodic "Daniel."

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Yesterday Megan Carpentier wrote a post debunking the idea that Wall Street bankers had recently begun switching their allegiances, contributing more to Republicans than Democrats. It was a little complicated, though, so I just skimmed it and then moved on to something else.

But Matt Steinglass was more alert than me and noticed that Carpentier buried the lead:

The amazing part of the article isn't that some folks on Wall Street might be successful at convincing reporters that they will defund politicians who touch their institutions' profits or their bonuses. The amazing part is that some folks on Wall Street might think it would be a good idea to convince reporters that they will defund politicians who touch their institutions' profits or their bonuses. One would think that at a moment of intense public anger against the financial industry, politicians would find it risky to openly admit that they owe their jobs to campaign contributions from that industry, and would hence be unlikely to vote against financial reform in response to naked threats communicated via the mainstream media. And one would think that finance industry bigwigs would understand that.

This suggests that the finance industry is so confident of its ownership of Congress that it couldn't care less whether average voters know about it. As for John Boehner's office apparently leaking to the Wall Street Journal that Mr Boehner had been soliciting contributions from Democratic-leaning finance-industry machers by promising to be more protective of Wall Street's interests...well, it's hard to tell who these guys think they're supposed to be working for.

When you put it that way: yes, it is pretty amazing. As for who these guys think they're working for, though, I don't imagine this is something that's really all that hard to figure out.