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Electric Shocks Prompt "Impulsive" and "Primitive" Side of Brain

| Fri Aug. 24, 2007 3:08 PM EDT

A recent study coming out of Britain finds that when the threat of electric shock looms near, humans shift from the prefrontal cortex—the part of the brain that governs rational thought—in order to engage the "fight or flight" part of the brain. In the study (published in its entirety yesterday in Science), volunteers played a game similar to Pac-Man, in which they had to evade a predator. When the computer predator caught them, they would receive a shock to the hand. Researchers found that as the predator closed in, the threat of imminent punishment moved the player's thinking from rational to impulsive and primitive.

This study makes me wonder, then, how autistic and mentally retarded students—profiled in "School of Shock," a feature from the current issue of Mother Jones—react to the constant threat of punitive electric shocks. If what the British study suggests is true and the threat of electric shock makes people less rational, I'd assume the shocks would also make it harder for autistic and developmentally disabled students to reason out why they're being punished. And if fear and the threat of electric shocks increase incidents of impulsive behavior, it seems like a vicious and terribly inefficient system to me, considering these impulsive acts are the very behaviors students are often punished for in the first place.

In addition, a pervasive environment of fear at school (described in detail in our article) would also make academics more difficult because students are using the "fight or flight" part of their brain rather than the prefrontal cortex, which rules abstract reasoning and complex decision-making.

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Obasketball

| Fri Aug. 24, 2007 1:37 PM EDT

If you want to be President, you've got to have a mean jump shot:

(H/T Marc Ambinder).

Of course, it's not beating the point guard of the Bobcats at HORSE, but it's something. Just one question: what would CNN be saying if he missed? I can almost see it now: "This is a HUGE gaffe by Obama, thinking that he can play, when he can't even make an open three. Very damaging... Why is he distracting voters from the issues?"

YouTube also has old school Obamastketball/Obamaball/Obasketball for your viewing pleasure.

Renzi Won't Seek Re-election

| Fri Aug. 24, 2007 1:36 PM EDT

Three-term Arizona congressman Rick Renzi, who the watchdog group CREW ranks among the "20 most corrupt members of Congress," said yesterday that he won't seek reelection in '08, a decision that surely has something to do with the fact that he's under investigation by the FBI for a suspect land deal.

The Arizona Daily Star reports:

Renzi helped promote the land sale that netted $4.5 million for his former business partner and campaign donor James Sandlin, according to state records and officials.

Renzi also found himself caught up in the controversy over the firings of eight U.S. Attorneys after it was revealed that Arizona prosecutor Paul Charlton was targeted for dismissal by the Justice Department shortly after opening an investigation into Renzi.

Surge-tastic!

| Fri Aug. 24, 2007 1:05 PM EDT

Kevin Drum over at the Washington Monthly has some data from the Brookings Institution (home of Michael O'Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack, surge defenders extraordinaire) and finds that, contrary to O'Hanlon and Pollack's recent upbeat assessment in the New York Times, "the news sure doesn't look very good." The numbers are from Brookings' own Iraq Index Project, so Matt Yglesias wonders "how it is that Brookings fellows like Peter Rodman, Michael O'Hanlon, and Kenneth Pollack seem so unaware of it."

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times reports the Joint Chiefs want significant troop cuts in Iraq, Yglesias notes Fred Kagan evaluating his own work on the surge in the Weekly Standard, and Iran invades Iraqi Kurdistan. Back in the White House, President Bush has "stepped up his high-pressure sales job... to stay the course in Iraq." But then again, as a Bush aide told Ron Suskind, people like Kevin Drum and McClatchy reporters and Peter Pace and the Los Angeles Times and Suskind himself — people who criticize the President — are "In what we call the reality-based community," and "that's not the way the world really works anymore.... We're history's actors... and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."

— Nick Baumann

Gen. Pace v. Gen. Petraeus

| Fri Aug. 24, 2007 12:57 PM EDT

The Los Angeles Times reports that outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Major Gen. Peter Pace will call for cutting U.S. forces in half next year, putting him at odds with another general whose September report is much anticipated:

Administration and military officials say Marine Gen. Peter Pace is likely to convey concerns by the Joint Chiefs that keeping well in excess of 100,000 troops in Iraq through 2008 will severely strain the military. This assessment could collide with one being prepared by the U.S. commander in Iraq, Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, calling for the U.S. to maintain higher troop levels for 2008 and beyond.
Petraeus is expected to support a White House view that the absence of widespread political progress in Iraq requires several more months of the U.S. troop buildup before force levels are decreased to their pre-buildup numbers sometime next year. ....
Pace is expected to offer his advice privately instead of issuing a formal report. Still, the position of Pace and the Joint Chiefs could add weight to that of Bush administration critics, including Democratic presidential candidates, that the U.S. force should be reduced.

The newspaper further reports, "the Joint Chiefs in recent weeks have pressed concerns that the Iraq war has degraded the U.S. military's ability to respond, if needed, to other threats," including Iran.

Pace retires at the end of September.

Pras: Fugees Reunion Will Never Happen

| Fri Aug. 24, 2007 4:14 AM EDT

Ex-Fugees

Rapper Pras, one-third of defunct hip-hop trio The Fugees, says a reunion of the acclaimed trio is off the table, due to the erratic behavior of singer Lauryn Hill. Pras, who along with Hill and Wyclef Jean rose to fame with the 1996 album The Score and its ubiquitous cover of "Killing Me Softly," told Allhiphop.com that there is "no way" a reunion will happen, and used an amusing political metaphor to illustrate his point:

Before I work with Lauryn Hill again, you will have a better chance of seeing Osama Bin Laden and Bush in Starbucks having a latte, discussing foreign policies, before there will be a Fugees reunion. At this point I really think it will take an act of God to change her, because she is that far out there.

Mmm, latte. Hill made news recently with bizarre shows in Oakland and Brooklyn, where she arrived hours late and performed unrecognizable arrangements of her classic material. Both Wyclef and Pras had expressed interest in bringing the trio back together, but apparently it's not working out. The Smiths, The Fugees... why can't everybody just get along?

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Judges Nod Off as Fujimori's Hearing Continues

| Thu Aug. 23, 2007 11:51 PM EDT

Today several of Chile's Supreme Court judges had trouble staying awake as the court continued to consider the human rights charges against former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori. Does their exhaustion stem from a night of agonizing over the ex-dictator's extradition proceedings? Highly unlikely. As much as I'd like to believe that the court appreciates the gravity of Fujimori's crimes, it just does not seem to be the case. In fact, earlier this week I wrote how odd it was that Chile fast tracked the case days after Peru's catastrophic earthquake, apparently hoping few people would notice.

It seemed likely that Chile's court would render a quick verdict in the favor of Fujimori when it was reported that the proceeding would be wrapped up in a day. But perhaps because members of the victims' families and human rights organizations have been present in court, and the judges realized they had to put on a bit of a show, a thorough reading of the corruption and human rights charges is being allowed.

— Rafael Valero

Glacier Surfing

| Thu Aug. 23, 2007 11:49 PM EDT

New climate, new sport. Opportunity in the midst of chaos? JULIA WHITTY

Morrissey Says "No" Again to Smiths Reunion

| Thu Aug. 23, 2007 9:38 PM EDT

Oh, Mozzer...
In more Morrissey-related news, sit down. Think of the person you hate most in the world, and then think how much money it would take for you to hang around with him or her for, I dunno, a few weeks. What do you say, 50 grand? A million? Howabout $75 million? Well, Morrissey is made out of stronger stuff than you and I, as Billboard is reporting the Mozzer has turned down £40 million to tour as The Smiths, the only requirement being the inclusion of guitarist Johnny Marr. That's right, drummer Mike Joyce, who was awarded £1 million in a 1998 lawsuit against Marr and Morrissey for unfair distribution of royalties, doesn't even have to be included, and Morrissey still said no. What's the deal?

Well, maybe he's holding out for more cash. With bands from The Police to The Pixies reaping huge profits from reunion tours, The Smiths are one of the only major bands of the last 30 years (whose members are all still alive) who refuse to put their differences aside. The price can only go up, really. Hold out for $200 mil, Moz!

Worth the Wait? Harper Lee Breaks Decades of Silence

| Thu Aug. 23, 2007 8:45 PM EDT

After forty years of fame, Harper Lee, author of the beloved American classic To Kill a Mockingbird, uttered her first words in public. At the Alabama Academy of Honor induction ceremony Monday, the 81-year-old writer said, "Well it's better to be silent than to be a fool."

Lee has spoken with only a handful of reporters since the 1960 publication of her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. She briefly emerged earlier this year to present awards to winners of the To Kill a Mockingbird essay contest. In recent years, she has been portrayed on screen by Catherine Keener in Capote (2005) and Sandra Bullock in Infamous (2006).

Lee's years of silence have maintained an aura of mystery around her. After selling 10,000,000 copies of a book denouncing racism, she declined to offer up any political opinions. The audience of fellow Alabamans that heard Lee speak that one droll sentence yesterday did not fail to grasp the significance of the moment: they met her witticism with laughter and a standing ovation.

— Ellen Charles