Darth Vader – may the shrink be with you

Thanks to the work of French researchers, we now have a detailed diagnosis of the mental health challenges faced by Star Wars’ (evidently misunderstood) arch baddie Darth Vader.

In a letter entitled “Is Anakin Skywalker suffering from borderline personality disorder?”, soon to be published in the journal Psychiatry Research, Eric Bui, a psychiatrist at Toulouse University Hospital, and his colleagues, will set out why Anakin (later to be known across that galaxy far, far away as Darth Vader) matches six out of the nine borderline personality disorder criteria as defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

“I had watched the two prequel movies [Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith], and it was during my residency in psychiatry, while trying to explain borderline personality disorder to medical students, that I thought of Anakin,” says Bui, displaying an unnerving lack of awareness that his study subject is, in fact, a fictional character.

I believe that psychotherapy would have helped Anakin and might have prevented him from turning to the dark side,” adds Bui. “Using the dark side of the Force could be considered as similar to drug use: it feels really good when you use it, it alters your consciousness and you know you shouldn’t do it.”

So the universe’s baddest, maddest evildoer just needed some time on the couch and a willingness to accept the 12-steps programme.

Think this might work with some of our equally evil political villains?

Mass experiment to investigate one of the banes of everyday life

We all know the problem: given half a chance, headphone cords, electric flex and the like will tie themselves into a hopelessly tangled knot. How do they do it – and what can we do to prevent it?

This week sees the launch of the first-ever mass experiment aimed at untangling the science behind this annoying everyday phenomenon.

Schools from around the country are being invited to take part in The Great British Knot Experiment, collecting data that an Aston University scientist believes could lead to a simple remedy to the problem – and possibly much more.

Over the years, a host of methods have been put forward for preventing tangling, from carefully coiling rope to the use of special reels and anti-knotting gadgets.

Robert Matthews, Visiting Reader in Science at Aston, has developed a mathematical theory which suggests the risk of knots forming can be dramatically reduced much more easily – and without any gizmos. According to the “Loop Conjecture”, all that’s required is that the loose ends of cord, flex etc be clipped together, forming a simple loop. Rough estimates based on the mathematics of so-called “Self Avoiding Walks” suggest looping could produce up to a ten-fold reduction in the risk of knots forming in headphone flex…

“The results will do more than help understand this everyday problem, though”, says Matthews. “Despite its apparently trivial nature, the phenomenon of spontaneous knotting is of great significance in other areas, including polymer chemistry and molecular biology”.

For more information on The Great British Knot Experiment, visit www.thegreatbritishknotexperiment.net.

My kind of experiment.

Lucky plane stowaway – manages not to kill himself

A 20-year-old Romanian man had a lucky escape after stowing away on a plane flying from Vienna to London.

The man hid himself in the rear wheel compartment of the plane which landed at Heathrow Airport on Sunday. He was taken into police custody in London but later released without charge.

He had bruises and hypothermia from outside temperatures as low as -41C.

He survived because the plane flew at a low altitude to avoid stormy weather.

The man apparently got under a fence at Schwechat airport in Vienna and climbed into the undercarriage of the first plane he saw without knowing its destination…

It flew without passengers to Heathrow, where the Romanian was picked up by police and arrested for stowing away…

A spokesman for the Civil Aviation Authority said the stowaway was “very lucky” to be alive.

“If they don’t find the right part to stow away, they can be crushed when the undercarriage comes up,” he said.

He added: “Because of the altitude and temperatures during the flight, there is a severe risk to them through exposure and lack of oxygen.

“If that doesn’t kill them, then they could be unconscious when the aircraft descends, and that can mean that when the undercarriage opens again, they will fall out.”

Dummy.

Well, he almost made it to a Darwin Award post.

Israel eases Gaza embargo to allow junk food


Israel’s coastal defense against foreign invaders

Israel is easing its Gaza embargo to allow snack food and drinks into the Palestinian enclave…following an international outcry over Israel’s raid on an aid flotilla.

Hamas, the Islamist group that rules the Gaza Strip, said the territory needs cement — banned by Israel and essential for reconstruction after a December 2008-January 2009 war — not soft drinks.

An Israeli official said the new product list, announced hours before U.S. President Barack Obama was to host Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Washington, was unrelated to Israel’s May 31 takeover of the convoy that challenged its Gaza blockade.

The talks between Obama and Abbas are expected to focus on ways to ease the embargo, which has drawn mounting international criticism since Israeli commandos…killed nine pro-Palestinian activists.

The Palestinian officials, based in the West Bank, said that as of next week, Israel will allow a wider variety of food, such as potato crisps, biscuits, canned fruit and packaged hummus, as well as soft drinks and juice, into the Gaza Strip.

They will send the first course. We are waiting for the main course,” Palestinian Economy Minister Hassan Abu Libdeh said in Ramallah. “We are waiting for this unjust siege to end.”

It is wholly unsurprising that a government consumed with egregious and bigoted ideology treats other nations – captive nations – as imperial nations have always treated their servants.

The right-wing Israeli government needs to be thrown out of office. If the nation of Israel, that minority of residents within the current boundaries of Israel who are allowed to vote, continues to maintain crap politicians in office – they deserve the disdain they receive from the rest of the world.

Abortion drugs dispensed in Iowa via videoconference

The situation has played out hundreds of times. From his office, a doctor asks a woman on the computer screen before him one final question: Are you ready to take your pill..?

Then, with a click of his mouse, a modified cash register drawer pops open in front of the woman seated next to a nurse in a clinic — perhaps 100 miles from this city — with mifepristone, the medicine formerly known as RU-486, that is meant to end her pregnancy.

Efforts to provide medical services by videoconference, a notion known as telemedicine, are expanding into all sorts of realms, but these clinics in Iowa are the first in the nation, and so far the only ones, experts say, to provide abortions this way.

Advocates say the idea offers an answer to an essential struggle that has long troubled those who favor abortion rights: How to make abortions available in far-flung, rural places and communities where abortion providers are unable or unwilling to travel. So far only Planned Parenthood clinics in Iowa use this method, but around the country, abortion providers have begun asking how they might replicate the concept…

Though the efforts drew little attention until recently, Planned Parenthood of the Heartland (which recently combined affiliate operations in Nebraska with those in Iowa) has dispensed abortion medication using teleconferencing equipment at 16 Iowa clinics since June 2008; 1,500 such abortions have been performed in this state…

The total number of abortions nationally has declined in recent years, but the percentage of women opting for abortions by medication — as opposed to the more common surgical alternative — is growing.

The nutball brigade opposing a woman’s right to choose are lining up their pet politicians, cranking up the machinery designed to spew sophistry about hands-on medicine – and any other crap rationales infecting minds governed by superstition and Dark Ages ideology.

I think this is a terrific step forward for modern medicine. That fact that Planned Parenthood and women’s rights are the core engine – is just the icing on the political cake.

Mexican rail managers stole 360 miles worth of railroad


Mexican TSA

Several midlevel managers with Mexico’s state railroad company have been accused of stealing more than 360 miles of railroad and selling the materials to help pay off a company debt.

The railroad scrap, much of it high-grade steel, weighed roughly 52,000 tons, about seven times the steel used in the Eiffel Tower, said Mexico’s secretary of public administration, Salvador Vega Casillas. He said the sale of such material is prohibited and that the managers never sought permission for their actions.

The employees targeted abandoned railroads in five states, including the northern border state of Chihuahua, where 239 miles worth of rails, nails, bolts and other materials were stolen, he said.

To meet a nearly $800,000 debt, the five employees ordered that railroads built in the 19th and 20th centuries be dismantled, Mr Vega said.

The secretary said the material was worth $140 million – far more than the debt – and yet no money was exchanged and it remains unclear what the receiving companies did with the scrap material or whether they recognized its value.

He said the attorney general’s office is pursuing a criminal case against the four companies and the five suspects, which the administration has barred from serving in public positions for up to 15 years.

Well, there’s a terrific penalty, right off the bat. Banned from corruption and kickbacks for 15 years? Way too strict.

Though, if experience is any guide, someone’s other cousin will be filling the job openings, real soon now.

$1 Billion worth of cocaine seized in The Gambia

At least two tonnes of cocaine with a street value of some $1 billion has been seized in The Gambia, bound for Europe.

In addition to the huge haul of drugs, the Gambian authorities have arrested a dozen suspected traffickers, and seized large quantities of cash and arms. Gambian investigators made the first arrests then called in British agents to gather forensic evidence.

West Africa has become a major transit hub for trafficking Latin American drugs to markets in Europe. Drugs cartels are taking advantage of the region’s poverty and weak security and judicial systems.

Agents from the UK’s Serious Organised Crime Agency – the rough equivalent of the US FBI – helped discover the haul of highly concentrated cocaine behind a false wall in a warehouse basement an hour’s drive from the Gambian capital, Banjul.

Numerous revealing computer records were also found.

Har! That provides a global hookup, I’ll bet.

With the records in the hands of the coppers, who’s leaving town fastest? Gangsters, lawyers, politicians?