Later On

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

Archive for August 2010

Domesticating humans

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Humans turn out to be self-domesticated. As I’ve blogged previously, if you cull the most aggressive individuals from a breeding pool (minks, foxes, whatever) and continue, breeding only the least aggressive, within a few dozen generations the animal changes: coloration changes, the coat and build change, it becomes affectionate and resembles a young animal of the species. It, in a word, becomes domesticated. (The article at the link contains more info and is quite fascinating.)

In the current issue of Discovery, not available on-line as yet, is an article on how humanity began to direct its evolution from the beginnings of the hunter-gatherer stage. At that point, humans are living in groups that thrive best when their members cooperate. Being uncivilized, some members of the tribe doubtless did not want to cooperate: perhaps and bigger and stronger than the others, such a member might seize more of the food, and perhaps the best mates.

In those cases, it’s likely that the others cooperated in killing the bully—and found that, as a result, things went better.

This process, culling out those who are least cooperative and most aggressive toward other members of the group, certainly went on for more than a few dozen generations. Indeed, it’s still going on.

Very interesting article. Check it out in the magazine.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 August 2010 at 3:42 pm

Posted in Daily life, Science

This drink sounds absolutely terrific

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Maybe I’ll make it. After I reach my goal.

Here it is: The Beautiful Red Bell, a gin cocktail.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 August 2010 at 3:31 pm

Posted in Daily life, Drinks

The Washington Post thinks that you are an idiot

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Why do they think that?

Because you’re reading the Washington Post.

Explanation here.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 August 2010 at 3:28 pm

Posted in Media, Washington Post

You can help

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From a Greenwald column:

The New York City cab driver who was stabbed in the throat last week for being Muslim, Ahmed Sharif, is unable to work due to his injuries and is struggling to be able to support his family.  Those interested in donating to help him can do so here.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 August 2010 at 3:24 pm

Posted in Daily life

More on the lawsuit to stop the Obama Assassination Program

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Glenn Greenwald:

Three weeks ago, I wrote about a lawsuit filed by the ACLU and the Center for Constitutional Rights, based on the Treasury Department’s failure to grant a "license" to those groups to represent U.S. citizen Anwar Awlaki in his efforts to obtain a court order barring the U.S. Government from assassinating him without due process.  In response, Treasury officials issued the license (those groups are nonetheless proceeding with that lawsuit in an attempt to have the entire licensing scheme declared unconstitutional on the ground that the Federal Government has no authority to require its permission before American lawyers can represent American citizens, even if the citizen in question has been accused of being a Terrorist).

With the license now issued, the ACLU and CCR this afternoon filed a lawsuit on behalf of Anwar Awlaki, with Awlaki’s father as the named plaintiff, to prevent the Obama administration from proceeding with Awlaki’s due-process-free assassination.  Awlaki is unable to file the lawsuit on his own because the U.S. government’s threats to kill him, as well as its prior unsuccessful attempts, cause him to be in hiding and thus make it infeasible for him to assert his legal rights directly.

The lawsuit — captioned Al-Aulaqi v. Obama — was filed in federal court in the District of Columbia, and names Barack Obama, Leon Panetta and Robert Gates as defendants.  Among other relief, the Complaint asks the court to (a) "declare that the Constitution [along with 'treaty and customary international law'] prohibits Defendants from carrying out the targeted killing of U.S. citizens, including Plaintiff’s son, except in circumstances in which they present concrete, specific, and imminent threats to life or physical safety, and there are no means other than lethal force that could reasonably be employed to neutralize the threats"; (b) "enjoin Defendants from intentionally killing U.S. citizen Anwar Al-Aulaqi" unless they demonstrate the applicability of those narrow circumstances; and (c) "order Defendants to disclose the criteria that are used in determining whether the government will carry out the targeted killing of a U.S. citizen" (emphasis added).

Just how perverse is the Obama administration’s assassination program is reflected in the rights Awlaki is forced to assert.  He alleges — as the Complaint puts it — that the Government is violating his "Fifth Amendment Right Not to be Deprived of Life Without Due Process."  Just re-read that and contemplate that in Barack Obama’s America, that right even needs to be contested.  The Complaint also alleges that using lethal force against a U.S. citizen in these circumstances violates the Fourth Amendment’s guarantee against unreasonable searches and seizure, and also violates the Alien Tort Statute, which bars "extrajudicial killings."  Reading Awlaki’s Brief in support of his request for injunctive relief is almost surreal, as one witnesses an American citizen try to convince a federal court to stop the Government from trying — far away from a battlefield and without any violence used to resist apprehension — to murder him without due process:

The right to life is the most fundamental of all rights protected by the Constitution and by international law.  Outside the context of armed conflict, the intentional killing of a civilian without prior judicial process is unlawful except in the narrowest and most extraordinary circumstances.

The United States is not at war with Yemen, or within it. Nonetheless, U.S. government officials have disclosed the government’s intention to kill U.S. citizen Anwar Al-Aulaqi, who is believed to be located there, without charge, trial, or conviction. . . .

Outside of armed conflict, both the Constitution and international law prohibit the use of lethal force against civilians except as a last resort to prevent concrete, specific, and imminent threats that are likely to cause death or serious physical injury.  An extrajudicial killing policy under which individuals are added to "kill lists" after secret bureaucratic processes and remain on the lists even in the absence of any reason to believe that they pose a threat of imminent harm goes far beyond what the Constitution and international law permit.

That the government has kept secret the standards under which it targets U.S. citizens for death independently violates the Constitution: U.S. citizens have a right to know what conduct may subject them to execution at the hands of their own government. Due process requires, at a minimum, that citizens be put on notice of what may cause them to be put to death by the state. 

Periodically, I hear some people assert that American citizens have no Constitutional rights once they physically leave the country.  Just as is true for the ludicrous claim that the Constitution only applies to American citizens — a proposition which has been squarely rejected by the Supreme Court for more than a century, which has held that it applies equally to non-citizens on American soil — this notion that the Constitution extends only to America’s borders is rooted in pure ignorance of the law:

It is "well settled that the Bill of Rights has extraterritorial application to the conduct abroad of federal agents directed against United States citizens." In re Terrorist Bombings of U.S. Embassies in E. Africa, 552 F.3d 157, 167 (2d Cir. 2008) (discussing the applicability of the Fourth Amendment to citizens abroad [emphasis added]); see also Reid v. Covert, 354 U.S. 1, 5-6 (1957) (plurality opinion) ("[W]e reject the idea that when the United States acts against citizens abroad it can do so free of the Bill of Rights. The United States is entirely a creature of the Constitution. Its power and authority have no other source. It can only act in accordance with all the limitations imposed by the Constitution."); United States v. Verdugo-Urquidez, 494 U.S. 259, 270 (1990) ("[Reid v. Covert] decided that United States citizens stationed abroad could invoke the protection of the Fifth and Sixth Amendments").

What I’ve found most disturbing about this controversy from the start is how many Americans are willing to blindly believe the Government’s accusations of Terrorism against their fellow citizens — provided they’re Muslims with foreign-sounding names — without needing to see any evidence at all.  All government officials have to do is anonymously leak to the media extremely vague accusations against someone without any evidence presented (Awlaki is involved in multiple plots!!), and a substantial number of people will then immediately run around yelling:  Kill that Terrorist!!

It’s an authoritarian scene out of some near-future dystopian novel, yet it’s exactly what is happening.  This is precisely the reaction of a substantial portion of the population which has been trained to believe every unproven government accusation of Terrorism.  The mere utterance of the accusation — Terrorist — sends them into mindless, fear-driven submission, so extreme that they’re willing even to endorse a Presidential-imposed death penalty on American citizens with no due process:  about the most tyrannical power that can be imagined, literally.  The fact that this very same Government is continuously and repeatedly wrong when it makes those accusations does not seem to be even a cause for hesitation among this faction.  They just keep dutifully reciting the ultimate authoritarian anthem:  if my Government says it, it must be true, and I don’t need to see any evidence or indulge any of this bothersome process stuff — trials and courts or whatever — before punishment is meted out, including the death penalty.

So now Barack Obama is being sued by an American citizen who is forced to plead with a court to protect him from due-process-free, state-sanctioned murder.  There are multiple reasons why this lawsuit may not succeed, beginning with the demonstrated reluctance of federal judges to "interfere with" war-related decisions of the President, particularly when the specter of Terrorism is raised.  The power-revering factions on the Right have joined with some Democratic loyalists who are comfortable with any power now that their Party controls the White House.  But if the Obama administration succeeds in vesting itself with the power to order American citizens killed far from any battlefield, with no evidence of violent resistance to arrest and no due process whatsoever to contest the accusations, that is a power that will endure with future Presidents as well.

* * * * *

The New York City cab driver who was stabbed in the throat last week for being Muslim, Ahmed Sharif, is unable to work due to his injuries and is struggling to be able to support his family.  Those interested in donating to help him can do so here.

UPDATE:  As always with this topic, it’s worthwhile to recap the worldview of many Democrats (including Barack Obama) on such matters:

It was an extreme outrage of the highest order — a shredding of the Constitution — when George Bush imprisoned or even just eavesdropped on American citizens without any due process.  But it’s perfectly acceptable — even noble — for Barack Obama to kill them without any due process.

UPDATE II:  The ACLU has produced this excellent 4-minute video about Obama’s assassination program and this lawsuit:

Written by LeisureGuy

31 August 2010 at 3:23 pm

Seeking the Cure: A History of Medicine in America

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Sounds good:

Seeking the Cure: A History of Medicine in America
by Ira Rutkow

A review by Charles Barber

All surgeons must devise a "way in" to their operation — choosing the entry point and the methodology for each complex procedure. In Seeking the Cure, Ira Rutkow, a surgeon himself, hits upon an elegant approach to the contentious story of American medicine. Throughout his remarkably entertaining account, Rutkow selects telling medical episodes — the tormenting of colonial surgeon Zabdiel Boylston by a violent mob, who believed that his smallpox inoculations spread disease; President James Garfield’s death in 1881 at the hands of his own surgeons, who neglected basic antiseptic techniques in treating his gunshot wound; or doctors’ extraordinary measures in 1926 to save Harry Houdini from appendicitis, which were unsuccessful but underscored clinical advances — to capture the essence of medical knowledge of the day, and place it in a social context.

Several powerful themes emerge in Rutkow’s account. One is the persecution and general calamities endured by many of the great innovators of American medicine. Boylston was so terrified of the mob that he visited his smallpox patients under cover of darkness and disguised in a wig. The three men who, in the 1840s, made the findings that led each to claim he had discovered anesthesia, all went under-recognized and largely uncompensated. All three also had unhappy deaths: One took his own life, aided by chloroform; another, beset by despondency and paranoia, suffered a fatal stroke; the third spent his last days in a Massachusetts insane asylum. William Halsted, whom Rutkow describes as perhaps America’s greatest surgeon, tested cocaine on himself in the 1880s before using it as an anesthetic for his patients. He became addicted and spent months in psychiatric hospitals, before resurrecting his career — by using morphine to wean himself off cocaine. Reading Seeking the Cure is not unlike watching the television series House: The great medical visionaries are simultaneously portrayed as brilliant, eccentric, and suspect, and the narrative is told through specific, pithy anecdotes that illuminate larger controversies.

Another theme is the inexorable growth of the medical-industrial complex. Between 1940 and 1965, as expensive technologies came to dominate American medicine and the power of the American Medical Association (AMA) grew, national health care expenditures multiplied tenfold. Today, health care spending accounts for nearly a fifth of America’s gross domestic product. Rutkow describes the current system of "for-profit corporate-guided medicine," which rewards physicians and hospitals for how much care they provide rather than how clinically valuable that care is, as "an economic tyranny of medical services and scientific technology." Yet this "tyranny" was perhaps not inevitable. Harry Truman raised the notion of national health insurance in the 1948 presidential campaign and eventually brought a bill before Congress. The AMA spent nearly $3 million — more money than any interest group had ever mustered for a single lobbying effort before that time — to defeat the bill. In 1962, it opened its war chest again to defeat President John F. Kennedy’s more limited proposal to provide national health insurance for senior citizens. It is one of the many contributions of Seeking the Cure to place recent events in the health care debate in a historical context.

Rutkow’s otherwise graceful narrative suffers from the occasional infelicitous phrasing, as when he writes that no disease encapsulated medical progress as well as appendicitis, "which burst onto the medical scene in the years surrounding World War I." And the narrative concentrates overly much on the history of surgery — which is perhaps natural given that Rutkow himself is a surgeon. He acknowledges this bias in the book’s introduction, where he quotes Henry Bigelow, a 19th-century Harvard surgeon: "Why is the amphitheater crowded to the roof on the occasion of some great operation, while the silent working of some drug excites little comment? Mark the hushed breath, the fearful intensity of silence, when the blade pierces the tissues, and the blood wells up to the surface. Animal sense is always fascinated by the presence of animal suffering."

Charles Barber, a lecturer in psychiatry at Yale Medical School, is the author of Comfortably Numb: How Psychiatry Is Medicating a Nation (2008).

Written by LeisureGuy

31 August 2010 at 3:19 pm

Posted in Books, Daily life, Medical

Exercise, etc.

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15 minutes non-stop on Nordic. Same for tomorrow, and then on Thursday I substitute a stress EKG (fasting).

I don’t seem very blog-prone right now. The slow-up will end soon. I’m doing a lot of last-minute work on a book.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 August 2010 at 12:52 pm

Posted in Daily life

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