Michael Miller

Stories by Michael Miller

  • Mexico's Self-Defeating Drug-War Zeal

    Mexico was proud of a clean-up operation that jailed dozens of drug-tainted civil servants. Turns out the whole thing was just an empty show of strength.
  • Perfume Bottles are as Alluring as Their Contents

    THE GOOD LIFEPackaging is everything. When it comes to perfume, the container can be just as seductive as the scent itself. For classic fragrances like Chanel's No. 5, simple but stylish bottles have become symbols of a timeless allure ($260 for one ounce; chanel.com). Guerlain's iconic Shalimar perfume, created in 1925, comes in an elegant and highly recognizable art-deco bottle with a fan-shaped stopper ($305 for one ounce; neimanmarcus.com).Some bottles send less subtle messages than others. La Prairie's Silver Rain comes in a metal raindrop container ($85 for one ounce; shoplaprairie.com). Emporio Armani's Diamonds collection comes in jewel-shaped bottles ($69 for 3.4 ounces; emporioarmani.com).Bond No. 9 New York offers a range of fragrances, each bottle varying the brand's trademark star with such elements as Andy Warhol prints and Swarovski bling (prices vary; bondno9.com). The faceted glass flacons that contain Jivago's 24K Pour Femme Eau de Parfum also feature flakes of...
  • Review: Toni Morrison's Poetic "A Mercy"

    Toni Morrison's new book, "A Mercy," tackles the very origins of America's blood-soaked racial history. Set in Virginia during the last decade of the 17th century, the story follows four women bound to farmer Jacob Vaark: his wife, Rebekka, a woman "unleavened" by the death of her children; the Native American Lina, who lost her village to smallpox and finds refuge on the farm; Sorrow, a wild girl with a broken mind; and Florens, a young slave whose faltering but poetic voice forms the novel's heartbeat.Jacob's reluctant involvement with the slave trade brings wealth to the family farm, but also sickness. When Rebekka grows ill, the tenuous equilibrium between the four women is shattered and Florens must go in search of her lover, a free black man who happens to be a healer and can save Rebekka's life. At its best, Morrison's prose is haunting and dreamlike, and her narrative command is masterly, as she unrelentingly frustrates her characters' aspirations."A Mercy" returns to the...
  • Hispanics Clinch Presidency For Obama

    Hispanic voters didn't just leave their mark on this year's presidential election. They decided it. Four states with sizable Hispanic populations that went for Bush in 2004—Florida, Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada—all turned blue this time around, adding 46 crucial electoral votes to the Democratic candidate's winning tally.Obama's Hispanic vote grab is no small accomplishment. The growing number of Hispanics in the United States has occasionally led to tensions between them and African-Americans, whom they have replaced as the nation's largest minority. Ever since Hillary Clinton won nearly two thirds of the Hispanic vote in the Democratic primaries, the question has lingered: would Hispanics vote for a black president?The answer was yes, for many reasons. First, Hispanics tend to lean to the left. In New Mexico, 60 percent of Hispanics are registered Democrats. Second, Hispanic voters are young, a boon for Obama. But the biggest reason may be the economy. Republicans won 44...
  • Violence Escalates in Bolivia

    Despite winning last month's recall election, President Evo Morales faces escalating violence from protesters who don't want to share the nation's natural-gas wealth.
  • Sad Brain, Happy Brain

    What cognitive neuroscience is uncovering about the fascinating biology behind our most complex feelings. As it turns out, love really is blind.
  • Talk Transcript: Mary Carmichael on Exercise and the Brain

    A sound mind in a sound body is a short, but full description of a happy state in this world," wrote the British philosopher John Locke. Three hundred years later, research shows that we should begin thinking of body and mind health as conceptually identical. The two are linked at the deepest levels.For several decades we've known about one effect of exercise on the brain, the "endorphin high" that makes us feel good during and right after exercise. Recently, scientists have uncovered some longer-lasting effects of exercise on the brain. Regular exercise improves your mood, decreases anxiety, improves sleep, improves resilience in the face of stress and raises self-esteem. All these benefits don't come because you notice what you've lost around your waist. Rather, they come from exercise-induced alterations inside your head.With exercise, several biological changes occur that make your nerve cells more robust. The blood and energy supply to the brain improves. The genes in nerve...
  • Talk Transcript: Mary Carmichael on Exercise and the Brain

    A sound mind in a sound body is a short, but full description of a happy state in this world," wrote the British philosopher John Locke. Three hundred years later, research shows that we should begin thinking of body and mind health as conceptually identical. The two are linked at the deepest levels.For several decades we've known about one effect of exercise on the brain, the "endorphin high" that makes us feel good during and right after exercise. Recently, scientists have uncovered some longer-lasting effects of exercise on the brain. Regular exercise improves your mood, decreases anxiety, improves sleep, improves resilience in the face of stress and raises self-esteem. All these benefits don't come because you notice what you've lost around your waist. Rather, they come from exercise-induced alterations inside your head.With exercise, several biological changes occur that make your nerve cells more robust. The blood and energy supply to the brain improves. The genes in nerve...
  • Minds and Magnets

    Anne and mark (not their real names) could never have guessed that their lives would be saved by magnetism. Both had suffered at least a year of disabling depression. Numerous psychiatric treatments failed to provide longed-for relief. Life was miserable until they began receiving an experimental treatment with a clumsy name: repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation, or repetitive TMS.This magnetism has nothing to do with magnets applied to the skin or with animal magnetism, the charlatanry invented by Franz Mesmer in the 19th century, although skeptics have worried that people cured by repetitive TMS have merely been mesmerized. Repetitive TMS uses real magnetic fields to induce changes in brain function, and there's some evidence it may make nerve-cell connections more efficient. It may modify how regions of the brain work together to regulate mood. It's a cousin of "shock therapy," or electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). Unlike ECT, however, it does not require anesthesia. It's...
  • Antidepressants: Weighing the Decision

    It's almost the definition of a good mother: someone who puts her child's welfare ahead of her own. So women may agonize if they are pregnant and must decide whether to accept a treatment that could help them but harm their fetus. As many as 20 percent of pregnant women experience significant depression. Stopping antidepressant medication during pregnancy may increase the risk of relapse for the mom, but some drugs may hold dangers for the fetus. What's a mother to do?The answer is to focus on the right issues. Just as no medical treatment is without risk or potential discomfort, doing nothing also carries risks and discomforts. Try not to overreact to scary news accounts; instead, look at your own situation carefully. Since the sources of depression are very varied, learn as much as you can about the nature of your depression. For example, depression varies in intensity and may disturb sleep or appetite, or interfere with functioning. Mood may be constantly mildly low, or there may...
  • How to Break the Chain

    Remember "Just say no"? It was a slick motto, but a terrible remedy for drug and alcohol dependence. Decades later, tens of millions of people are wrestling with addiction. This disease costs an estimated 0.5 percent to 1.3 percent of gross national product each year. The problem is not flawed character; it's skewed brain function. Fortunately, scientists are now well on their way to understanding how addiction changes the brain, and this knowledge is starting to yield treatments that work.Addictive substances hijack the brain's reward system, weakening our resolve to make wise choices, even when painful consequences are sure to result. Specifically, they stimulate the release of the chemical messenger dopamine into a region of the brain called the nucleus accumbens. Cocaine and other stimulants cause this change directly. Other substances--alcohol, narcotics, nicotine and marijuana--act indirectly. But in each case, the sensation is self-reinforcing. Feel it once and you want to...
  • Addiction: How to Break the Chain

    Remember "Just say no"? It was a slick motto, but a terrible remedy for drug and alcohol dependence. Decades later, more than 20 million Americans are still wrestling with addiction. This disease costs the nation almost $500 billion a year--more than diabetes and cancer combined. The problem is not flawed character; it's skewed brain function. Fortunately, scientists are now well on their way to understanding how addiction changes the brain, and this knowledge is starting to yield treatments that work.Addictive substances hijack the brain's reward system, weakening our resolve to make wise choices even when painful consequences are sure to result. Specifically, they stimulate the release of the chemical messenger dopamine into a region of the brain called the nucleus accumbens. Cocaine and other stimulants cause this change directly. Other substances alcohol, narcotics, nicotine and marijuana--act indirectly. But in each case, the sensation is self-reinforcing. Feel it once and you...
  • MANAGING EVERY SHADE OF BLUE

    Imagine Ben and Ron, two men in their 50s who met in law school and have been friends ever since. They have a weekly tennis date, and their families sometimes vacation together. Both are successful litigators, but both have grown depressed in midlife, and their symptoms are out of the same textbook. The smallest problems irritate them. They lie awake worrying over the day's events. Nothing gives them pleasure. Everything feels like an effort. Ben tries an antidepressant on his doctor's advice, and within weeks the weather clears.His energy returns and he feels less irritable. He sleeps better, too. But when Ron tries the same pill, all he gets is nausea and a headache. His internist refers him to a psychiatrist, who prescribes three different drugs before finding one that offers any relief.How could two such similar men have such different outcomes? Because Ben and Ron don't really have the same illness. Depressed people may share a common cluster of symptoms, but that doesn't mean...
  • TEEN DEPRESSION: WHEN SHOULD YOU WORRY?

    He sleeps the day away, and is irritable when he's awake. She's moody and mopes around. He eats everything or almost nothing. She hides in her room, shunning even the simplest chores. Does this sound like a teenager you know?Neuroscientists suspect the adolescent brain is wired for emotional turbulence and retreat from the family. These tendencies may help teenagers separate from their parents and reach out to peers. But those same tendencies can make it hard to tell when the work of growing up is turning into a depression that deserves treatment. Roughly one out of 12 teens suffers significant depression before the age of 18. Girls, once they reach puberty, are twice as likely as boys to become depressed. Approximately half of the teenagers with untreated depression may attempt suicide, which remains the third leading cause of death in this age group.Important differences separate the growing pains of adolescence from depression. A painful breakup, a rejection by peers, a bad grade...
  • TEEN DEPRESSION: WHEN SHOULD YOU WORRY?

    He sleeps the day away, and is irritable when he's awake. She's moody and mopes around. He eats everything or almost nothing. She hides in her room, shunning even the simplest chores. Does this sound like a teenager you know?Neuroscientists suspect the adolescent brain is wired for emotional turbulence and retreat from the family. These tendencies may help teenagers separate from their parents and reach out to peers. But those same tendencies can make it hard to tell when the work of growing up is turning into a depression that deserves treatment. Roughly one out of 12 teens suffers significant depression before the age of 18. Girls, once they reach puberty, are twice as likely as boys to become depressed. Approximately half of the teenagers with untreated depression may attempt suicide, which remains the third leading cause of death in this age group.Important differences separate the growing pains of adolescence from depression. A painful breakup, a rejection by peers, a bad grade...
  • Is Iran Next?

    Yes, it's official. Today, Davos held its first-ever Global Town Meeting. For three hours, the assembled movers and shakers put aside the weighty business of debating pressing economic issues or holding impromptu "corridor summits" with their fellow leaders. Instead, they sat down in one overflowing room (an unlucky minority was relegated to satellite studios) to brainstorm with one another about what values should infuse global governance. The most popular answers: honesty, transparency, compassion, fairness and tolerance of diversity. Then, by a show of digital hands, they voted on the top dozen issues that should command their attention over the coming year. By a two-thirds majority, poverty was the winner. Something called "equitable globalization" was ranked second, while global warming and climate change placed third. Peace in the Middle East came in fourth, garnering half the august body's votes. "Managing the United States" was No. 10, with a mere 24 percent believing that...
  • WE ALL NEED A DOSE OF THE DOCTOR

    You're the doctor. Your patient feels ill, but you don't have anything curative in your medicine bag. What do you do? That question has long stymied physicians. But as the Hungarian psychoanalyst Michael Balint recognized a half century ago, mystifying symptoms are not necessarily untreatable. Listen to patients' stories, Balint urged his colleagues. Treat them as friends. They may need a dose of the strongest drug of all: the doctor.Balint's prescription is as timely today as it was in the 1950s. A founding insight of mind-body medicine is that everyone needs a dose of the doctor, even when state-of-the-art tests and treatments are available. Patients who have a good and trusting relationship with a clinician are more satisfied, studies show--and satisfied patients get better clinical results. They're more motivated to take care of themselves, more comfortable seeking help when problems arise and more willing to follow advice and take medication as prescribed. A healthy doctor...
  • We All Need A Dose Of The Doctor

    You're the doctor. Your patient feels ill, but you don't have anything curative in your medicine bag. What do you do? That question has long stymied physicians. But as the Hungarian psychoanalyst Michael Balint recognized a half century ago, persistent or mystifying symptoms are not necessarily untreatable. Listen to patients' stories, Balint urged his colleagues. Treat them as friends. They may need a dose of the strongest drug of all: the doctor.Balint's prescription is as timely today as it was in the 1950s. A founding insight of mind-body medicine is that everyone needs a dose of the doctor, even when state-of-the-art tests and treatments are available. Patients who have a good and trusting relationship with a clinician are more satisfied, studies show--and satisfied patients get better clinical results. They're more motivated to take care of themselves, more comfortable seeking help when problems arise, and more willing to follow advice and take medication as prescribed. A...
  • MIND AND MOODS: ACCEPTING LIFE'S LIMITS

    A handsome couple had just finished a vigorous day of skiing when I caught up with them at the lodge. Faces lustrous, Don and Myrna Hoffman of Newton, Mass., confirmed what research shows: an active, healthy lifestyle is good for your mood at any age. "I see a lot of depression out there," says Don, who is 67. "Many of my retired friends haven't quite figured out what to do with themselves." He and Myrna, 66, agree they are fortunate, but they have worked to nurture their contentment. Besides staying physically active, they keep up with their children and grandchildren, and they continue to work part time.If only we all fared so well. Nationwide, nearly a third of people over 65 experience some form of depression. And though seniors make up only 10 percent of the population, they account for 20 percent of all suicides. The reasons are not hard to fathom. Age steals our friends and our health, while diminishing our social standing. And some of us think back on life with more regret...
  • The Next Wave Of Antidepressants

    In his 1968 novel "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" (which inspired the movie "Blade Runner"), Philip K. Dick introduced his hero fighting with his wife over what mood to be in. The couple, living in the dreary California of 2021, is fortunate enough to own a Penfield Mood Organ, a device that allows the user to dial up any desired state of mind. They spar over the wife's decision to schedule, twice a month, three hours of hopelessness and despair.Would you want to manipulate your moods with such precision? If your hopelessness and despair were out of control, you probably would. As helpful as today's antidepressants are, about one third of depression sufferers get little or no relief from them. And because the causes of depression are still so poorly understood, it's hard to tell if an intervention is getting to the heart of the problem.But the science is changing fast. Researchers are amassing new insights into the biology of depression. According to the new model, depression...
  • Going Beyond Prozac

    In his 1968 novel "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" (which inspired the movie "Blade Runner"), Philip K. Dick introduced his hero fighting with his wife over what mood to be in. The couple, living in the dreary California of 2021, is fortunate enough to own a Penfield Mood Organ, a device that allows the user to dial up any desired state of mind. A setting of 382 is tolerance and gratitude; 481 is awareness of hope for a bright future; 888 is the desire to watch TV "no matter what's on it," and setting 3 imparts the desire to dial. They spar over the wife's decision to schedule, twice a month, three hours of hopelessness and despair.If you could manipulate your moods with that kind of precision, would you want to? If your hopelessness and despair were out of control, you probably would. As helpful as today's antidepressants are, about one third of depression sufferers get little or no relief from them. And because the causes of depression are still so poorly understood, it's...
  • How Genes Affect Moods

    Genes don't stop working the day we're born. They're active throughout life, switching on and off in response to cues from the environment. Unfortunately, they don't always respond in optimal ways. For every 100 people born, one ends up with schizophrenia, one develops bipolar disorder and 20 experience some form of depression. Heredity may account for as much as 80 percent of the risk for these illnesses, but we still know little about how, exactly, genes affect our risk. Fortunately, scientists are starting to find clues.Like the building of the transcontinental railroad, the study of genes and mental health is a race from the ends to the middle. If researchers can pinpoint a suspicious gene in people from afflicted families, they can try to figure out its function. Conversely, if they know something about the physiology of the illness, they can sometimes use that knowledge to zero in on offending genes. Either way, they gain new insight into the biology of the illness.One of the...
  • A Little More Willpower Can Change Your Life

    If music be the food of love, play on," Shakespeare wrote. For many of us, however, food is the food of love: it not only curbs our hunger but gives us pleasure, solace and contentment. We may know what good health requires, but knowledge doesn't translate easily into action. Years or decades go by with lifestyle problems cruising below the radar. Once aware, we ponder change for a long while before implementing it.The reasons are not hard to fathom. Our appetites--forged in Stone Age settings where food was scarce and physical labor was a daily reality--are not easily suppressed. Our love of certain foods often takes root during childhood, long before we know or care about their nutritional value. And we don't relinquish our pleasures lightly. Nothing predicts failure like the grim anticipation of feeling deprived.Healthy living is not just an exercise in abstinence. It's about feeling better, looking better and living longer. And as the articles in this issue make clear, it can be...
  • Anxiety And Depression: Natural Mood Remedies

    It's a wonderful concept. Feeling blue or worried, you run to the market and choose a natural remedy off the shelf. No stigmatizing visit to a psychiatrist. Nothing in your medical record to spook your life-insurance company. Hours or days later, you are more cheerful or calmer. Restoring your well-being with the least fuss and the least risk is an excellent guiding principle. If a supplement like SAMe or St. John's wort can lift your spirits without making you feel exposed or embarrassed, taking it may serve you well.But be careful. Natural products are not always the best or safest treatments for depression and anxiety. Like all drugs, herbs and tonics have chemical actions. They come with their own uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous effects. And because dietary supplements are not regulated as drugs, their quality can vary from brand to brand and even from batch to batch. The U.S. Pharmacopeia has recently started a program to verify the strength and purity of supplements. As...
  • Solving The Anthrax Case--With No Mistakes

    Amid unusually intense political pressure, FBI officials are sharply divided over the next steps in their nine-month-old anthrax investigation, law-enforcement sources say. Twice in recent weeks, bureau officials have been hauled up to the Senate to give private briefings on the state of the probe--to staff members of the Senate Judiciary Committee and to Majority Leader Tom Daschle. Such briefings in the midst of an ongoing case are highly unusual, officials say. But the FBI reluctantly agreed, given that both Daschle and judiciary chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy had deadly anthrax-laden letters sent to their offices last fall. The senators and their staffs were demanding answers in the wake of media criticism--much of it generated by Barbara Rosenberg of the Federation of American Scientists, who has charged that the bureau is dragging its feet in the probe for fear of embarrassing officials in the U.S. bioweapons program. FBI officials dismiss Rosenberg's conspiracy theories as...
  • Road To A Subpoena

    It was more than a typical washington "drop by." For four hours last Friday, Whitewater prosecutors questioned Hillary Rodham Clinton before a federal grand jury about how her long-missing law-firm billing records suddenly turned up in the White House family quarters-two years after investigators first sought them. When she emerged from the grilling, graciously smiling but obviously weary, the First Lady told reporters she had no idea. Not everyone believes her. A new NEWSWEEK Poll finds that 50 percent of the American people think Mrs. Clinton is not telling the truth about Whitewater. ...