Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for May 16th, 2009

Stanley McChrystal: A History Of Condoning Torture?

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Andrew Sullivan has a good post and then a second good post on McChrystal. Both are worth reading in full and raise serious questions about McChrystal’s suitability. From the first:

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: …

Continue reading.

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?” …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 May 2009 at 4:27 pm

Making your own laundry detergent

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From The Simple Dollar. More info here.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 May 2009 at 3:49 pm

Posted in Daily life, Recipes, Video

Good post on Wolfram|Alpha

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Worth reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 May 2009 at 1:47 pm

Posted in Daily life, Technology

When your mind attacks your body…

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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.” …

Continue reading. For a look at a positive aspect of this phenomenon, approached from a different angle by a different researcher, take a look at this post.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 May 2009 at 1:41 pm

Man v. virus: The victory goes to the swifter

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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? …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 May 2009 at 1:28 pm

The five secrets of peak bullshitters

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Very interesting article—and I like that it’s illustrated with a photo of Donald Trump. Go read.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 May 2009 at 1:25 pm

Posted in Daily life

The Nicotine Addict’s Dilemma

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Interesting article by Anne Landman:

A recent study in the Journal of Preventive Medicine found that young people who feel action should be taken against the tobacco industry are more likely to want to quit smoking.

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

The best motivator to stop smoking might be learning about cigarette additives, cigarette contaminants, or tobacco industry target marketing.

To make cigarettes more appealing and to increase their profits, tobacco companies have …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 May 2009 at 1:22 pm

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