New Hope For Chain Smokers?

The Skinny is Hillary Profita's take on the top news of the day and the best of the Internet.

If you are a smoker, before you read on, just remember that the following is not an endorsement for hitting oneself in the head (near the ear, specifically.)

That said, The New York Times reports that a study in the journal Science has revealed that "an injury to a specific part of the brain, near the ear, can instantly and permanently break a smoking habit." People who had the injury simply "forgot the urge to smoke."

In what is likely a line added by the Times' lawyers, the paper notes that "no one is suggesting brain injury as a solution for addiction." Nonetheless, it should help researchers find new ways of treating smoking addictions.

A doctor from the organization who funded the study told the Times: "This is the first time we've shown anything like this, that damage to a specific brain area could remove the problem of addiction entirely. It's absolutely mind-boggling."

(Pun intended.)

Kill Or Capture

Some anonymous administration officials were irked enough by a new program that they leaked some details about it to the Washington Post. The paper has a front page story today that explains the Bush administration has "authorized the U.S. military to kill or capture Iranian operatives inside Iraq as part of an aggressive new strategy to weaken Tehran's influence across the Middle East and compel it to give up its nuclear program."

What's referred to as the "catch and release" policy has been in place for "more than a year," and under it, U.S. forces have "secretly detained dozens of suspected Iranian agents, holding them for three to four days at a time." Last summer, officials "decided that a more confrontational approach was necessary," and a new program, "kill or capture," was authorized by the president.

Anonymous officials told the Post that the theory behind the policy is that Iran will stop developing a nuclear program if the U.S. "hits it hard in Iraq and elsewhere, creating a sense of vulnerability among Iranian leaders."

However, the plan has "several influential skeptics in the intelligence community" (hence the article) "who said that they worry it could push the growing conflict between Tehran and Washington into the center of a chaotic Iraq war."

In another front page piece, the Post reports that officials' concerns about Iran's growing influence in the region are not unfounded. While Iran provides aid to Iraqis such as treatment for the wounded, U.S. officials are more concerned with Iranian security forces, which it accuses of "funneling sophisticated explosives to Iraqi guerrillas."

2008 Bandwagon Rolls On

Since everybody and their brother is doing it, now Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) is now considering a run for the White House in 2008, reports the Post. The paper conducted a "wide-ranging interview this week" with the senator and he reported that "he is discussing his options with his family and other confidants and will make a decision in the next six weeks."

Hagel's maverick ways recently have been gaining him some big press lately. After being the only Republican on the Foreign Relations committee to support the nonbinding resolution denouncing the President's troop increase in Iraq his comments ("If you wanted a safe job, go sell shoes") received oodles of media attention. Also, notes the Post, his "showdown" with Sen. Joe Lieberman on "Meet the Press" is apparently drawing lots of traffic on YouTube, information brought to his attention by his eighth-grade son.

A Cinderella Story For Overpriced Vodka

Vodka – as you might have noticed from various displays of Key lime vodka, huckleberry-flavored vodka or caffeine-infused vodka that may have started appearing in your local watering hole – is very hot right now.

The Wall Street Journal quantifies just how hot, noting that in the past five years nearly 260 new vodka brands were introduced and sales rose 4.5% in 2005 – nearly 11% for the "most expensive vodkas."

What's behind the vodka craze? Apparently "anyone with a name, a marketing pitch and some cash can launch a vodka, and outsource everything else."

Then of course there's the generally booming hard liquor market and a marketing bonanza by liquor manufacturers (i.e., Hendrix Electric vodka, named after Jimi Hendrix and available in a purple, glow-in-the-dark bottle.)

There's also the "near mythic" story of Grey Goose – "vodka's answer to Google." It was an "overnight success" in 1997 at $30 a bottle (double the price of Absolut at the time) and was sold in 2004 for $2 billion.

"Ever since Grey Goose got sold for $2 billion, people have been seeing dollar signs," said a former Smirnoff marketer.

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