Archive for May 16th, 2009
An interesting piece from someone who once served under him and clearly worships him. Read it all. Money quote:
Obviously writing from the seat of retirement, and with absolute respect and gratefulness for LTG McChrystal’s aggressive leadership, personable demeanor, and unwavering mentoring, I envy the guys that are soon to find themselves sharing the same mess hall, weight room, and helicopter as The Pope. The man is unstoppable. Demonstrably more committed than most. More open, in fact insistent, on creative and innovative ideas from his subordinates to fight the war on terror. From my perspective, our rules of land warfare, our respect for human life, and our strategic constraints handcuff us to the point that the war in Afghanistan is unwinnable. But, with LTG McChrystal at the helm now all bets are off.
That last sentence suggests that McChrystal disagrees with the customary “respect for human life” demanded of the US military. McChrystal’s past is mysterious but there is little doubt that he was deeply involved in one of the worst torture outfits in Iraq, Camp “Nama”, an acronym for “Nasty Ass Military Area”. The key sources for what went on at Nama are a NYT story here, and a Human Rights Watch report here. Two prisoners were tortured to death in this place. It was extremely closely monitored, with records of all sorts of torture and abuse, and yet there are also extensive stories of abuse that went well outside even the torture techniques approved by Cheney and Rumsfeld. Remember also that Iraq was, even by the standards of the Bush administration, supposed to be under the Geneva Conventions. The camp’s record has been shrouded in secrecy from the beginning.
Nama housed the “black room” – a torture cell: …
From the second:
As Fred Kaplan noticed, the man Obama has just selected to be his new commander in Afghanistan has a history. It appears to involve some pretty horrifying toleration of rampant abuse and torture of prisoners:
“Once, somebody brought it up with the colonel. ‘Will [the Red Cross] ever be allowed in here?’ And he said absolutely not. He had this directly from General McChrystal and the Pentagon that there’s no way that the Red Cross could get in: “they won’t have access and they never will. This facility was completely closed off to anybody investigating, even Army investigators.” …
During his first six or seven weeks at the camp, Jeff conducted or participated in about fifteen harsh interrogations, most involving the use of ice water to induce hypothermia …
Cold can be a serious torment to a naked man on a winter night; in Afghanistan, one prisoner died from hypothermia. Sometimes, to maximize the humiliation of the Iraqi men, American women would be brought in to watch them undress. Sleep deprivation was also used to an extreme extent, especially in Jeff’s early days at Nama.
They could keep a prisoner on his feet for twenty hours, and although the rules required them to allow each prisoner four hours of sleep every twenty-four hours, nowhere did it say those four hours had to be consecutive–so sometimes they’d wake the prisoners up every half hour. Eventually they’d just collapse. “This was a very demanding method for the interrogators as well, because it required a lot of staff to monitor the prisoner, and we’d have to stay awake, too,” Jeff says. “And it’s just impossible to interrogate someone when he’s in that state, collapsed on the ground. It doesn’t make any sense.”
Within the unit, the interrogators got the feeling they were reporting to the highest levels. The colonel would tell an interrogator that his report “is on Rumsfeld’s desk this morning” or that it was “read by SecDef.” “That’s a big morale booster after a fourteen-hour day,” Jeff says with a tinge of irony. “Hey, we got to the White House.”
The full Esquire piece is here. Who was responsible for overseeing one of the worst torture and abuse centers in Iraq?
“Was the colonel ever actually there to observe this?” …
Your mind generally wins. Fascinating article on nocebos by Helen Pilcher in the New Scientist:
Late one night in a small Alabama cemetery, Vance Vanders had a run-in with the local witch doctor, who wafted a bottle of unpleasant-smelling liquid in front of his face, and told him he was about to die and that no one could save him.
Back home, Vanders took to his bed and began to deteriorate. Some weeks later, emaciated and near death, he was admitted to the local hospital, where doctors were unable to find a cause for his symptoms or slow his decline. Only then did his wife tell one of the doctors, Drayton Doherty, of the hex.
Doherty thought long and hard. The next morning, he called Vanders’s family to his bedside. He told them that the previous night he had lured the witch doctor back to the cemetery, where he had choked him against a tree until he explained how the curse worked. The medicine man had, he said, rubbed lizard eggs into Vanders’s stomach, which had hatched inside his body. One reptile remained, which was eating Vanders from the inside out.
Doherty then summoned a nurse who had, by prior arrangement, filled a large syringe with a powerful emetic. With great ceremony, he inspected the instrument and injected its contents into Vanders’ arm. A few minutes later, Vanders began to gag and vomit uncontrollably. In the midst of it all, unnoticed by everyone in the room, Doherty produced his pièce de résistance – a green lizard he had stashed in his black bag. “Look what has come out of you Vance,” he cried. “The voodoo curse is lifted.”
Vanders did a double take, lurched backwards to the head of the bed, then drifted into a deep sleep. When he woke next day he was alert and ravenous. He quickly regained his strength and was discharged a week later.
The facts of this case from 80 years ago were corroborated by four medical professionals. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about it is that Vanders survived. There are numerous documented instances from many parts of the globe of people dying after being cursed.
With no medical records and no autopsy results, there’s no way to be sure exactly how these people met their end. The common thread in these cases, however, is that a respected figure puts a curse on someone, perhaps by chanting or pointing a bone at them. Soon afterwards, the victim dies, apparently of natural causes.
You might think this sort of thing is increasingly rare, and limited to remote tribes. But according to Clifton Meador, a doctor at Vanderbilt School of Medicine in Nashville, Tennessee, who has documented cases like Vanders, the curse has taken on a new form.
Take Sam Shoeman, who was diagnosed with end-stage liver cancer in the 1970s and given just months to live. Shoeman duly died in the allotted time frame – yet the autopsy revealed that his doctors had got it wrong. The tumour was tiny and had not spread. “He didn’t die from cancer, but from believing he was dying of cancer,” says Meador. “If everyone treats you as if you are dying, you buy into it. Everything in your whole being becomes about dying.” …
Very interesting article by Joan Melcher in Miller-McCune:
A little more than a year ago, a team of scientists that included Wildlife Trust President Peter Daszak identified Mexico and other tropical locales as "hotspots" for emerging zoonotic diseases (diseases that can be transmitted between humans and animals, including the H1N1 virus).
In a paper published in Nature, the team made a predictive map of where diseases are most likely to emerge — Latin America, tropical Africa and Asia — and, for the first time, were able to correlate socioeconomic, environmental and ecological factors to disease risk.
Daszak has adjunct positions at three American and two British universities, and has served on committees of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, the World Health Organization, National Academy of Sciences and Department of the Interior. His research focuses on the taxonomy, pathology and conservation impact of parasitic diseases. He is executive director of the Consortium for Conservation Medicine.
We caught up with Dr. Daszak by phone last week.
Miller-McCune.com: What sort of analyses are you doing now?
Peter Daszak: We’ve been analyzing trade and human travel data information in and out of Mexico before and after the outbreak. What we’ve found is that it looks like Mexico imports hundreds of thousands of pigs every year for the pig industry. Often these swine influenzas don’t cause huge critical signs in pigs, so it could go pretty much unnoticed. The other thing is that Mexico does import pigs from other countries in Latin America and countries in Europe – not many, but enough to bring over other strains. In terms of origins, it may be that this virus was hanging around a long time in pigs in North America as a region, switching genes with other viruses, and then the avian gene got inserted.
It seems it made the step into human disease in Mexico. The next question is how did it travel so widely so rapidly? The answer to that is through travel networks, which are incredible now. We’ve been tracking travel information, and we’ve found that a large number of passengers traveled to other Latin American countries from Mexico at that time. Some of those countries haven’t reported many cases, if any. So I think we’re going to see a bigger impact in Latin America as those cases get noticed.
They’re probably not being noticed because they’re not being reported. These are people who traveled to Brazil or Venezuela and went home, maybe to the countryside, and got ill and have not yet seen a doctor.
Mexico City is a hub for connections to Latin America. The volume of travel to Latin America from Mexico is huge. It’s also a huge connector for people traveling from Houston, Miami and New York. The richer countries that can afford better health care are going to report the cases first. That’s why we saw cases reported rapidly in New Zealand. New Zealand picks up cases very quickly because it’s got better reporting and better health care. We should expect to see surprising numbers of cases from places like other parts of Asia, Australia and even Africa.
M-M: You noted in a recent article that your group will be releasing findings related to the H1N1 virus. When will they come out? …
Very interesting article—and I like that it’s illustrated with a photo of Donald Trump. Go read.
To determine young people’s attitudes toward the tobacco industry, researchers asked how strongly they agreed or disagreed with the following statements:
- "Taking a stand against smoking is important to me"
- "I want to be involved with efforts to get rid of cigarette smoking," and
- "I would like to see cigarette companies go out of business."
Compared to respondents who didn’t support action against the tobacco industry, those who agreed with these statements were three times less likely to be smokers. Among current smokers, respondents who had a negative attitude towards the industry were over four times more likely to plan to quit, compared to smokers who didn’t support action against the industry. The study was the first to link attitudes toward the tobacco industry to smoking behavior among young adults.
Given the new evidence that knowledge of the industry’s dirty dealings can help people stop smoking, what better cessation aid than TobaccoWiki?
To the industry, less is more
Cigarettes may be the most highly engineered consumer product in history. Unlike alcohol, marijuana, cocaine or heroin, cigarettes have been the focus of an astonishing amount of corporate money and scientific innovation over the decades aimed at making smoking easier, more addictive and — most importantly — more profitable for the manufacturers.
In 1940, a commercial cigarette contained 1300 milligrams of tobacco by weight. By the 1980s it contained only 750 milligrams of tobacco, or about 40% less tobacco than 60 years ago. This is in part because modern cigarettes contain more additives. Another reason is that cigarettes now contain more air and less tobacco. Cigarette makers "puff" tobacco using dry ice or other gases, the same way that wheat or rice is "puffed" for cereals. Puffing expands the tobacco volume without increasing its mass, thus allowing manufacturers to put less tobacco in their cigarettes, charging smokers for more air and less tobacco.
Realize what’s in your cigarettes
To make cigarettes more appealing and to increase their profits, tobacco companies have …
Would having more women paramedics help? The story:
Women with chest pain are less likely than male patients to receive recommended, proven therapies while en route to the hospital, according to new research from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. Despite evidence showing that the drugs aspirin and nitroglycerin are important early interventions for people who may be having a heart attack, women don’t get them as often as male patients with the same types of symptoms, says a new study that will be presented Friday, May 15, 2009 at the Society for Academic Emergency Medicine’s annual conference. While the researchers found no differences in the types of care given by emergency medical service (EMS) providers to African-American and white patients, they are troubled by the evidence that women may be receiving sub-optimal care, and say it highlights the need for pre-hospital providers to be sensitive to the fact that women may have atypical symptoms. Since chest pain is a leading cause of emergency room visits in the United States, accounting for more than 8 million visits a year, the implications of the findings are broad.
"Women with heart attacks have higher death rates than men, so these findings are very concerning, and it’s important for us to try to figure out why this is happening," says lead author Zachary Mesiel, MD, MPH, an emergency physician and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholar and Senior Fellow at the Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics at Penn.
Heart attack damage takes place gradually, as portions of the heart muscle are deprived of oxygen over several hours. Early interventions like aspirin therapy — which reduces clotting around the ruptured coronary plaques that grow to block blood flow to the heart — play an important role in preventing damage to this cardiac tissue. Recent national efforts underscore the maxim that in treatment of heart attacks, "time is muscle." Many EMS organizations, for instance, have outfitted ambulances with cardiac monitoring equipment that can send information about a patient’s heart rhythm ahead to the hospital so the cardiac catheterization lab can be alerted to prepare for a patient who will need prompt treatment to open their blocked arteries. Initiatives like these have helped hospitals to reduce their so-called "door-to-balloon time," which describes the minutes between when the patient arrives at the hospital and is sent to the cardiac cath lab. The time patients spend being cared for by EMS personnel in the field or in an ambulance is also a vital part of that chain of care, so Meisel and his colleagues say emergency responders should strive to implement best practices for all chest pain patients.
The new Penn study examined 683 cases in 2006 and 2007 in which EMS was summoned for a complaint of chest pain and brought patients to one of three Philadelphia hospitals in the University of Pennsylvania Health System…
Very intriguing post by Tom Ricks:
Greg Jaffe, the new kid on the Washington Post block, has a great profile of Defense Secretary Gates in that newspaper today. It tells you a lot about Gates, beginning with this explosive opening: When Gates travelled to Dover Air Force Base in March to receive some war dead incoming from Afghanistan, he was told they had been killed in a Humvee hit by a roadside bomb. Gates snapped, "Find out why they haven’t gotten their goddamn MRAPs yet.."
But the biggest chunk of news is after the jump, when Jafee reveals that last year all the service chiefs formally nonconcurred with Gates’ decision in the National Defense Strategy to take on additional risk in the area of conventional warfare in order to focus the military more on irregular fighting. Gates heard out the Chiefs and then put aside their concerns. To do that, he had to be pretty confident in his own views-and also probably pretty persuaded that the Chiefs are out of touch.
Jaffe also deftly recounts how Gates reached down into the guts of the Air Force’s UAV program to get it to yield more resources to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. When told that UAV pilots needed time to drive one hour to a town to ear, go to the bank, and pick up kids at a day care center, Gates put aside money to get those amenities on their base. Jaffe has an Air Force officer who was involved complaining: "I was having to justify my organization down to the gnat’s ass just about every week." My thought: Good for Gates. This sort of micro-managing is what Winston Churchill did occasionally during World War II, especially when he felt the organization was using small things to block his larger goals.
Good for Gates, and good for Jaffe. I am glad to see him in my old slot at the Post.
I believe that patenting genes is a wrong-headed idea, so I thought this post by Rebecca Skloot was excellent. It begins:
Earlier this week, the American Civil Liberties Union and several other groups filed suit against Myriad Genetics — the company that holds the patent on the breast cancer gene. They’re hoping to get the breast cancer gene patent revoked, but more than that, they’re aiming to stop gene patenting all together.
Today, in my new column in Slate’s Double X Magazine, I go into the story of the breast cancer gene and the impact the ACLU claims it’s had on science and patient care (a hint: it’s not good). I also look at the suit itself, the cases that have come before this one, and what they say about the ACLU’s odds for success.
I’ve covered the long history of legal battles over the ownership of human tissues taken from patients during biopsies (including one case in which a man’s cells were patented and licensed for millions of dollars without his knowledge). But this is the first lawsuit challenging all existing gene patents, which could have a huge impact on science. It’s fascinating stuff, and it’ll be interesting to see what happens next (Myriad hasn’t responded to the suit yet).
I’ll keep covering the case as it moves forward. For now, as a bit of follow up, here are a few specific details from the lawsuit that I wasn’t able to fit into my article:
I suggest reading the story here, to put the information below in context. Here are a few highlights from the complaint (see: Association for Molecular Pathology v. United States Patent Office): …
The Constitution is clearly central to the US as a state, but many have little respect for it—particularly for the Bill of Rights. (I’m thinking of those who seem to hate the ACLU, which strives to protect the Constitution, including the Bill of Rights, when it is threatened.)
Here’s a terrific research site focused on the Constitution. Browse around a little. Invaluable for students of any age.
Julie Gunlock complains at NRO that “food snobs” are ruining America by serving unduly fancy food at soup kitchens. It’s actually rare that conservatives get to combined their hatred of poor people with their hatred of “cultural elites” in a single argument, so Gunlock gets so busy dishing out the sarcasm that she can’t quite seem to deliver the “so what?” point where we see who is being harmed by this alleged trend.
But more perniciously, throughout the piece she runs together the idea of soup kitchens being too “snobbish” about what food they serve with the idea of soup kitchens being health-conscious about the food they serve. This is an important distinction to make, however. When people can’t get enough to eat, they become malnourished. The point of charitable food assistance is to help people avoid that fate. That means, however, that it’s foolish to ignore the nutritional content of what you’re serving. Oftentimes, the situation is so dire that you can’t afford to fuss too much about this. People in Somalia and elsewhere in the Horn of Africa are teetering on the brink of starvation and need food by any means necessary. But fortunately for us, even in this economy the United States is not a drought-ravaged, famine-stricken, war-torn, malgoverned third world state. We’re not facing imminent mass starvation. So it’s eminently sensible for people trying to bring food to those in need to be paying attention to the differential health impact of different meals.
Very interesting post by Dan Froomkin, which begins:
I’ve been amazed at how little media pickup there’s been of the
revelation by the Senate Armed Services Committee last month that the White House started pushing the use of torture not when faced with a "ticking time bomb" scenario from terrorists, but when officials in 2002 were desperately casting about for ways to tie Iraq to the 9/11 attacks.
Now comes Lawrence Wilkerson, the firebrand former chief of staff to Colin Powell, who writes on the Washington Note blog with more on that story.
And he traces it right back to former vice president Dick Cheney.
"[W]hat I have learned," Wilkerson writes, "is that as the administration authorized harsh interrogation in April and May of 2002–well before the Justice Department had rendered any legal opinion–its principal priority for intelligence was not aimed at pre-empting another terrorist attack on the U.S. but discovering a smoking gun linking Iraq and al-Qa’ida.
"So furious was this effort that on one particular detainee, even when the interrogation team had reported to Cheney’s office that their detainee ‘was compliant’ (meaning the team recommended no more torture), the VP’s office ordered them to continue the enhanced methods. The detainee had not revealed any al-Qa’ida-Baghdad contacts yet. This ceased only after Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, under waterboarding in Egypt, ‘revealed’ such contacts. Of course later we learned that al-Libi revealed these contacts only to get the torture to stop.
"There in fact were no such contacts. (Incidentally, al-Libi just ‘committed suicide‘ in Libya. Interestingly, several U.S. lawyers working with tortured detainees were attempting to get the Libyan government to allow them to interview al-Libi….)"
Wilkerson first came to my attention in October 2005, when he went public with his conclusion that a secret cabal led by the vice president has hijacked U.S. foreign policy, inveigled the president, condoned torture and crippled the ability of the government to respond to emergencies.
Was he wrong? Hardly. And Wilkerson, a Republican, has been a persistent and prescient critic of the Bush/Cheney regime — and its effect on his party — ever since.
As for Cheney, his sudden visibility is stirring up a lot of strong feelings — and dark humor. For the last three days, my "Cartoon Watch" has been dominated by Cheney cartoons.
Dan Balz writes in The Washington Post: …
Very helpful for the freelancer. Take a look.
One guy I knew in sales, who worked a territory from his home, treated his job as if he was a freelancer. If he needed something that would make him more productive (and make him more money), he didn’t wait for the company to issue it. He would request whatever it was (fax, cellphone, computer, and so on), and if the request was not approved, he’d buy it anyway. He figured he was in business for himself, and he would buy the tools he needed. Often the company would, a year or two or three later, actually issue the device in question, but in the meantime he had made enough extra money from already having it that he more than paid the expense. Plus, because he located the locus of control in himself rather than in the company, he had a much healthier mental attitude toward his work.
All that is to say that, even if you’re not a freelancer, you should take a look and see which tools might give you more support and control for your own job.
Of course, the US has the best medical system in the world—in other nations, people sometimes have to wait to see a doctor. But not in the US! Right?
Mantic has a vivid and interesting report on his recent medical emergency and recovery. Recommended.
It’s not ambiguous: waterboarding is torture and is illegal under settled case law. Watch this video:
I got this from an excellent post on Barry Eisler’s blog, which you really should read in its entirety. It begins:
Just got back to Tokyo after another week on the road for Fault Line promotion. No time to write while I was traveling, but I did have a chance to read a number of establishment opinion pieces about torture. They were so alike in various respects that they could have have been churned out by the same government press office. The most glaring similarity was an omission of any discussion or even acknowledgment of the role of the law. Reading these opinions and knowing nothing else, you could be forgiven for believing that no law on torture or other cruel, inhumane, or other degrading treatment even exists, let alone that such laws might matter.
David Broder in The Washington Post: "But now Obama is being lobbied by politicians and voters who want something more — the humiliation and/or punishment of those responsible for the policies of the past." That’s one way of looking at it. Another way would be that this is simply about prosecuting criminals. But if you refuse to recognize that the law should even a part of the discussion — that applicable law even exists — I can see where you might look at things in the stunted, distorted way Broder does.
Ross Douthat in the New York Times: "We need to hear more: What was done and who approved it, and what intelligence we really gleaned from it. Not so that we can prosecute – unless the Democratic Party has taken leave of its senses – but so that we can learn, and pass judgment, and struggle toward consensus." Yes, if you think people who break the law should be prosecuted and punished, you have taken leave of your senses. You’d have to be crazy to argue something like that.
I mentioned earlier the enjoyable WWII spy thriller caper mystery Where Eagles Dare. I noticed a brief exchange in the movie in which German officers casually refer to the torture that will be visited upon some prisoners. Those were the days when a nation that used torture was condemned for the practice and strongly contrasted with the US, which did not torture its prisoners. Those days are gone: the US is now just another torture nation. We can work our way out, but not (I think) by deciding that only those at the lowest ranks (Sgt. Graner and others) will be punished as scapegoats and those who formally authorized torture and those who systematically tortured be exposed, investigated, and punished. If we omit that step, it will be understand that somewhere, in the background and under cover, the US continues to torture its prisoners.
It took longer than I expected. I thought I’d be under 20 minutes easily, but it was 22 min 41 seconds. Obviously, I’m somewhat out of shape. I think I was clocking off 15-minute miles when I was walking more regularly. I’m going to give it a week of 1-mile walks before I start going longer.
BTW, I hope you’ve read the wonderful mystery short-story "The Nine-Mile Walk," included in the book of the same name.
Dan Froomkin has a good dissection of the (lazy) position quoted in the title, whose purpose is to lead to the conclusion that "No one’s guilty". (Cf. Max Beerbohm’s "When everybody is somebody then nobody is anybody.") Froomkin begins:
As torture chronicler extraordinaire Mark Danner has pointed out, one of the great paradoxes of the torture scandal "is that it is not about things we didn’t know but about things we did know and did nothing about."
It was, for instance, in December 2002 that Dana Priest and Barton Gellman first reported on the front page of the Washington Post that American interrogators were subjecting detainees to "stress and duress" techniques. James Risen, David Johnston and Neil A. Lewis first told the world about waterboarding in May 2004.
But that doesn’t mean that the rest of us are as guilty as the people who committed the crimes — or that those who ordered those crimes should avoid accountability.
Jacob Weisberg now joins Michael Kinsley, however, in arguing that the nation’s collective guilt for torture is so great that prosecution is a cop-out. Kinsley, as I noted on Friday, wrote: "If you’re going to punish people for condoning torture, you’d better include the American citizenry itself…Prosecuting a few former government officials for their role in putting our country into the torture business would not serve justice or historical memory. It would just let the real culprits off the hook."
And here is Weisberg, writing in Newsweek: "By 2003, if you didn’t understand that the United States was inflicting torture upon those deemed enemy combatants, you weren’t paying much attention. This is part of what makes applying a criminal-justice model to those most directly responsible such a bad idea. The issue we need to come to terms with is not just who in the Bush administration did what, but our collective complicity in their decision….Prosecuting Bush and his men won’t absolve the rest of us for what we let them do."
There are two big problems with this argument, however. While it’s true that the public’s outrage over torture has been a long time coming, one reason for that is the media’s sporadic and listless coverage of the issue. Yes, there were some extraordinary examples of investigative reporting we can point to, but other news outlets generally didn’t pick up these exclusives. Nobody set up a torture beat, to hammer away daily at what history I think will show was one of the major stories of the decade. Heck, as Weisberg himself points out, some of his colleagues were actually cheerleaders for torture. By failing to return to the story again and again — with palpable outrage — I think the media actually normalized torture. We had an obligation to shout this story from the rooftops, day and night. But instead we lulled the public into complacency.