Later On

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

Archive for October 29th, 2007

Murder 17 people, with immunity

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Nice. The Bush Administration has already promised Blackwater that the men who shot down the 17 unarmed Iraqi civilians will not face trial or punishment:

The State Department promised Blackwater USA bodyguards immunity from prosecution in its investigation of last month’s deadly shooting of 17 Iraqi civilians, The Associated Press has learned.

The immunity deal has delayed a criminal inquiry into the Sept. 16 killings and could undermine any effort to prosecute security contractors for their role in the incident that has infuriated the Iraqi government.

“Once you give immunity, you can’t take it away,” said a senior law enforcement official familiar with the investigation.

State Department officials declined to confirm or deny that immunity had been granted. One official, who refused to be quoted by name, said: “If, in fact, such a decision was made, it was done without any input or authorization from any senior State Department official in Washington.”

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29 October 2007 at 4:22 pm

The Bush style

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From Dan Froomkin today:

In the wake of last month’s shooting of 17 civilians by Blackwater gunmen in Baghdad, the Bush administration is finally acknowledging — more than four years late — that private security contractors in Iraq should operate under the law.

Last week, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice admitted to Congress that the State Department had inadequately supervised those contractors. As Karen DeYoung wrote in Friday’s Washington Post, “Pressed to express regret for what Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) called “the failures of your department, your failures,” Rice said, “I certainly regret that we did not have the kind of oversight that I would have insisted upon.”

Rice agreed that “there is a hole” in U.S. law that has prevented prosecution of contractors.

But did we really need an apparent massacre to point out this giant loophole and its perils?

As it happens, President Bush has been aware of the hole for some time — and deserves some of the blame for not fixing it earlier. Confronted about it in public more than a year ago, Bush literally laughed off the question — and then, tellingly, described his response as a case study in how he does his job.

The setting was a question-and-answer session after Bush spoke at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies in April of 2006. (Here’s a video clip.)

One student, a first-year in South Asia studies, told the president: “My question is in regards to private military contractors. Uniform Code of Military Justice does not apply to these contractors in Iraq. I asked your Secretary of Defense a couple months ago what law governs their actions.

Bush: “I was going to ask him. Go ahead. (Laughter.) Help. (Laughter.)”

Student: “I was hoping your answer might be a little more specific. (Laughter.) Mr. Rumsfeld answered that Iraq has its own domestic laws which he assumed applied to those private military contractors. However, Iraq is clearly not currently capable of enforcing its laws, much less against — over our American military contractors. I would submit to you that in this case, this is one case that privatization is not a solution. And, Mr. President, how do you propose to bring private military contractors under a system of law?”

Bush: “I appreciate that very much. I wasn’t kidding — (laughter.) I was going to — I pick up the phone and say, Mr. Secretary, I’ve got an interesting question. (Laughter.) This is what delegation — I don’t mean to be dodging the question, although it’s kind of convenient in this case, but never — (laughter.) I really will — I’m going to call the Secretary and say you brought up a very valid question, and what are we doing about it? That’s how I work. I’m — thanks. (Laughter.)”

He’s the Decider. That’s why he gets the big bucks.

Written by Leisureguy

29 October 2007 at 2:49 pm

More on telecoms and illegal surveillance

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From The Anonymous Liberal:

Did the Senate Intelligence Committee Disclose Key Evidence of Telecom Illegality?

It sure looks like it. Empty Wheel highlights this important and largely overlooked passage from the Senate Intelligence Committee report that accompanied its proposed FISA bill:

The Committee can say, however, that beginning soon after September 11, 2001, the Executive branch provided written requests or directives to U.S. electronic communication service providers to obtain their assistance with communications intelligence activities that had been authorized by the President.

The Committee has reviewed all of the relevant correspondence. The letters were provided to electronic communication service providers at regular intervals. All of the letters stated that the activities had been authorized by the President. All of the letters also stated that the activities had been determined to be lawful by the Attorney General, except for one letter that covered a period of less than sixty days. That letter, which like all the others stated that the activities had been authorized by the President, stated that the activities had been determined to be lawful by the Counsel to the President. [my emphasis].

In other words, one of the certifications provided to the telecoms (presumably the one issued during the period in 2004 when James Comey refused to sign off on the program) was signed not by the Attorney General, but by then White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales.

Why does that matter? Well, as Empty Wheel explains, under the current law, 18 U.S.C. § 2511(2)(a)(ii), telecommunications providers are permitted to provide information and assistance to the government only if they are provided with:

(A) a court order directing such assistance signed by the authorizing judge, or

(B) a certification in writing by a person specified in section 2518 (7) of this title or the Attorney General of the United States that no warrant or court order is required by law, that all statutory requirements have been met, and that the specified assistance is required

And as you’ve probably already guessed, the White House Counsel is not one of the people specified in section 2518(7), which includes the Deputy Attorney General, the Associate Attorney General, and various state law enforcement officials in the case of a state-related investigation.

Why couldn’t the Bush administration get the Attorney General, the Deputy Attorney General, or the Associate Attorney General to sign the certification? Because they all thought the program was illegal and were prepared to resign over it. That’s why.

So, unable to get any of the proper people to re-certify the program, the Bush administration appears to have simply provided the telecoms with a facially defective certification. That means that for at least a period of 60 days, the telecoms were providing information to the government without a court order and without a valid certification. Those who have been following this issue closely have long suspected that this was the case, but the Senate Intelligence Committee has confirmed it in no uncertain terms (though nowhere in the report does the committee acknowledge the significance of this fact).

I doubt that the significance of this disclosure was lost on the plaintiffs’ attorneys in the various lawsuits, however. As I write this, they are undoubtedly discussing how best to utilize this new and valuable piece of evidence.

Written by Leisureguy

29 October 2007 at 2:44 pm

Rumsfeld flees France to avoid arrest

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It is apparently untrue that he boarded a train wearing a dress, disguised as a woman. Here’s the story:

On Friday, while former Defense Sec. Donald Rumsfeld was visiting France, human rights groups based there and in the United States filed complaints against him, charging him with approving torture:

The French complaint accuses Mr. Rumsfeld of authorizing torture at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, and says it violated the Convention Against Torture, which came into force in 1987.

As part of their complaint, the groups submitted 11 pages of written testimony from Janis Karpinski, the highest-ranking officer to be punished in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. She was demoted to colonel from brigadier general and lost command of her military police unit. She contended that the abuses at the prison had started after the appearance of Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, who was sent by Mr. Rumsfeld to assist military intelligence interrogators.

French prosecutors were said to have the power to pursue the case while Rumsfeld was in the country.

One source cites unconfirmed reports that Rumsfeld was abruptly whisked away from a breakfast meeting on Friday in order to avoid his arrest:

U.S. embassy officials whisked Rumsfeld away yesterday from a breakfast meeting in Paris organized by the Foreign Policy magazine after human rights groups filed a criminal complaint against the man who spearheaded President George W. Bush’s “war on terror” for six years.

Under international law, authorities in France are obliged to open an investigation when a complaint is made while the alleged torturer is on French soil.

The report said Rumsfeld fled to Germany because similar charges were dismissed against him there in the spring.The German court ruled that Rumsfeld’s criminality was an internal matter for the United States.

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29 October 2007 at 12:58 pm

Social Security is in good shape

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Why is this fact so hard to grasp by so many on the Right? A former commissioner explains again:

In the Oct. 19 editorial ” Mr. Giuliani’s No-Tax Pledge,” The [Washington] Post stated: “It’s no more responsible for Republicans to rule out tax increases [to strengthen Social Security] than it is for Democrats to insist on no benefit cuts.” The Post praised, as a “bipartisan blend,” President Ronald Reagan’s acceptance of a 1983 fix that included both.

I take exception. It’s the essence of responsibility, in my view, to insist on no benefit cuts.

In 1983, I served on the National Commission on Social Security Reform (better known as the Greenspan Commission) and represented House Speaker Tip O’Neill in negotiations with the White House. What was right in 1983 — a balanced package of benefit cuts and tax increases as part, roughly half, of the final agreement — would be wrong today.

Social Security benefits are modest by any measure and are already being cut — by raising the age of eligibility for full benefits and by deducting ever-rising Medicare premiums from benefit checks. So the benefits provided for under present law will replace, on average, a lower percentage of prior earnings than in the past. To cut them further would undermine all that Social Security has achieved — exposing millions of vulnerable people, both elderly and disabled, to needless economic hardship.

Social Security has never been more important to more Americans than it is now. Private pension plans continue to dwindle — currently covering only about 20 percent of private-sector employees — and the national rate of savings hovers around zero. We just can’t afford to cut Social Security benefits further. There’s no way to make up for the loss.

Social Security benefits are vital to nearly all recipients. About a third of the elderly rely on Social Security for 90 percent or more of their income; two-thirds count on it to supply at least half of their income. The program lifts 13 million elderly beneficiaries above poverty.

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Written by Leisureguy

29 October 2007 at 11:40 am

Posted in Government, Washington Post

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Millsaps, unfortunately, loses…

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But the way they lost is surprising.

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29 October 2007 at 11:28 am

Posted in Games

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Water shortages

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It looks bad. Check out this post. Some facts from that post:

Some U.S. Water Shortage Facts/Stats:

  • An epic drought in Georgia threatens the water supply for millions
  • Florida doesn’t have nearly enough water for its expected population boom
  • In the West, the Sierra Nevada snow-pack is melting faster each year
  • The Great Lakes are shrinking
  • Upstate New York’s reservoirs have dropped to record lows
  • The government projects that at least 36 states will face water shortages within five years because of a combination of rising temperatures, drought, population growth, urban sprawl, waste and excess.

Some Global Water Shortage Facts/Stats:

  • Australia is in the midst of a 30-year dry spell
  • Population growth in urban centers of sub-Saharan Africa is straining resources
  • Asia has 60% of the world’s population, but only about 30% of its freshwater (this stat cries — dry tears, no doubt — “investing opportunity!”)

About California and Florida, from the cited Yahoo article:

“Coastal states like Florida and California face a water crisis not only from increased demand, but also from rising temperatures that are causing glaciers to melt and sea levels to rise. Higher temperatures mean more water lost to evaporation. And rising seas could push saltwater into underground sources of freshwater.”

Some General Worldwide Water Facts/Stats:

  • 97% of the world’s water is in the oceans, so only 3% is fresh
  • Of the 3% fresh water, 2/3rds is locked in glaciers and polar ice caps
  • Of the remaining 1%, about 1/2 is located beneath the earth’s surface
  • Rivers and lakes contain only about 1/50th of 1% of the earth’s water
  • Of the 3% fresh water, a significant portion is severely polluted or biologically contaminated
  • On any given day, more than 50% of the world’s human population is ill, with the majority of these cases caused by waterborne contaminants
  • The World Health Organization estimates that 80% of this illness is caused by contaminated drinking water

Price Tag for Upgrading U.S. Water System?

“Experts estimate that just upgrading pipes to handle new supplies could cost…$300 billion over 30 years.”


As per a utility director quoted in the article,“NOT GOING TO BE ANY MORE CHEAP WATER.”

Written by Leisureguy

29 October 2007 at 11:18 am

Posted in Daily life, Global warming, Government

Tagged with

Solar-powered wristwatch

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I picked my Casio watch because it had everything I wanted: automatic daily synchronization with the NIST atomic clock, completely day-date-time digital display (I find digital displays much easier to read and grasp than analog), multi-functions (mainly alarm clock and stopwatch), shockproof (it’s a G-Shock), AND solar-powered: no battery replacement ever.

And the solar-powered watches are spreading: see this post. The number and variety of Citizen Eco-Drive watches, for example, is astonishing. (Eco-Drive is the name Citizen gives its solar-powered watches.)

Written by Leisureguy

29 October 2007 at 11:14 am

Strange innumeracy

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I guess I’m accustomed to converting between fractions and percentages. (I recall when I was investigating getting a vasectomy, a doctor at the U of Iowa Hospitals—a good hospital—told me that the operation was 95% effective. I said, “A failure rate of 1 in 20 doesn’t sound so good to me.” He looked at me blankly, and I said, “A 5% failure rate equals 1 in 20.” “Oh,” he said, “No, it’s like 99% effective.” Hmmm. I ended up seeing a different doctor.)

Now I find that most people apparently don’t do such conversions:

… Although Philip Zweig’s neuroeconomics book, Your Money and Your Brain, is geared to showing how poorly our brains are wired for evaluating investments, it has plenty of content useful to marketers. Zweig spends time discussing framing, i.e., how the way information is presented can affect the way it is interpreted. One of the more surprising examples of framing is the difference between percentages and absolute numbers. Zweig notes that people react differently even to the fairly subtle variation between “10%” and “one out of every 10.” Here are a few examples from Zweig’s chapter on perception of risk:

When psychiatrists were told that “patients similar to Mr. Jones are estimaated to have a 20% chance of committing an act of violence” within six months, 79% were willing to release Mr. Jones from a mental hospital. But when they heard that 20 out of every 100 patients similar to Mr. Jones are estimated to commit an act of violence” in the same period, only 59% said they would let him out…

Psychologist Kimihiko Yamagishi asked people how concerned they were about various causes of death. When he informed people that cancer kills 1,286 out of every 10,000 people, they rated it as 32% riskier than they did when he told them it kills 12.86% of the people it strikes…

As psychologist Paul Slovic puts it, “If you tell people there’s a 1 in 10 chance of people winning or losing, they think, ‘Well, who’s the one?’ They actually visualize a person.” More often than not, the one person you will visualize winning or losing is you.

The neuromarketing implications are clear: for maximum impact, use real numbers, not percentages. If you have something positive to say about your product or service, express it in terms of absolute numbers.

Good: 90% of our customers rate our service as “excellent”
Better: 9 out of 10 customers rate our service as “excellent”

Conversely, if you must present negative information (and are not bound legally to present it in a particular way), expressing it as a percentage may mute its impact somewhat. In general, of course, it’s better to focus on the positive – few marketers would include negative information in their ads voluntarily. (”Most people like our product a lot, but 5% think it sucks!” is an unlikely tag line.) And when marketers DO have to include negative information, like the side effects of a pharmaceutical product, they may have specific legal requirements as to what they can and can’t say. But there are times when marketing and public relations people do have to address negative topics, as when dealing with press coverage of a company problem. In these cases, I’d recommend percentages. “Only 1% of our laptop power supplies have actually caught on fire” is, from a framing standpoint, better than, “Only 1 out of 100 …” Bad news is bad news, but people will be less likely to visualize their legs getting scorched if they don’t imagine themselves as “the one.” …

More at the link.

Written by Leisureguy

29 October 2007 at 11:02 am

Posted in Daily life

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Response from a commenter

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My immediately previous post links to an exemplary statement of why waterboarding is torture. One of the commenters to the original post said this:

I also thank you for your service. And I thank you for this important and disquieting article. I recall Franz Kafka’s reference to “An axe in the frozen sea”. He was talking about writing. And this is the effect your authoritative essay has had on me.

I, like so many of us, am still reeling from the shock of 9/11. The more I have learned about our enemies since that awful day, the more my heart has hardened against them. The more my heart has hardened, the less room is left for any form of compassion or compromise.

I see us as being weakened by our very own high-minded ethical standards. I continually try to see the enemy for who they are and stop trying to rationalize away their hatred or empathize with their positions. I want to see us toughen up as a nation and face these obvious threats clearly, without multiculturalist obfuscations.

I bristle at any suggestion of our moral failings by the highly-vocal, activist antiwar left. I feel that they are purposely undermining the moral foundations of their own country in a time of war for their own selfish political agenda.

This was my mindset coming into this article. I had come to terms with the whole “torture” debate by accepting its efficacy. To the often-asked question: “If there was a nuclear attack planned against a major US city, would you subject a captured terrorist to torture to reveal where it was planned to take place?” the answer was pretty obvious to me: Of course. Give him the full treatment.

The argument that if we use torture, then our enemies might use it against us seemed ludicrous. I could hardly visualize the beheaders of Nick Berg stopping for a moment to first consult their copy of the Geneva Conventions Rules.

However, because of your obvious experience and credentials, I followed your argument to the very end. And, thankfully, because I followed it to the end, my rock-solid certainity was shaken. I hadn’t considered what FUTURE governments might do with this precedent. I even began to question the efficacy of the whole idea.

In short, I’ve started to have some serious doubts about my previous convictions. I have to think about it some more. You may very well be right, after all. And I might be wrong.

Isn’t this what good political writing is all about? Not just preaching to the choir, but standing up for something you believe in and fighting for it with the best words you can conjure up.

In this you have most certainly been successful, and I thank you for upsetting this particular applecart.

Written by Leisureguy

29 October 2007 at 10:51 am

Waterboarding is torture

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Mukasey might want to read this post by this guy. The post begins:

I’d like to digress from my usual analysis of insurgent strategy and tactics to speak out on an issue of grave importance to Small Wars Journal readers. We, as a nation, are having a crisis of honor.

Last week the Attorney General nominee Judge Michael Mukasey refused to define waterboarding terror suspects as torture. On the same day MSNBC television pundit and former Republican Congressman Joe Scarborough quickly spoke out in its favor. On his morning television broadcast, he asserted, without any basis in fact, that the efficacy of the waterboard a viable tool to be sued on Al Qaeda suspects.

Scarborough said, “For those who don’t know, waterboarding is what we did to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who is the Al Qaeda number two guy that planned 9/11. And he talked …” He then speculated that “If you ask Americans whether they think it’s okay for us to waterboard in a controlled environment … 90% of Americans will say ‘yes.’” Sensing that what he was saying sounded extreme, he then claimed he did not support torture but that waterboarding was debatable as a technique: “You know, that’s the debate. Is waterboarding torture? … I don’t want the United States to engage in the type of torture that [Senator] John McCain had to endure.”

In fact, waterboarding is just the type of torture then Lt. Commander John McCain had to endure at the hands of the North Vietnamese. As a former Master Instructor and Chief of Training at the US Navy Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape School (SERE) in San Diego, California I know the waterboard personally and intimately. SERE staff were required undergo the waterboard at its fullest. I was no exception. I have personally led, witnessed and supervised waterboarding of hundreds of people. It has been reported that both the Army and Navy SERE school’s interrogation manuals were used to form the interrogation techniques used by the US army and the CIA for its terror suspects. What was not mentioned in most articles was that SERE was designed to show how an evil totalitarian, enemy would use torture at the slightest whim. If this is the case, then waterboarding is unquestionably being used as torture technique.

The carnival-like he-said, she-said of the legality of Enhanced Interrogation Techniques has become a form of doublespeak worthy of Catch-22. Having been subjected to them all, I know these techniques, if in fact they are actually being used, are not dangerous when applied in training for short periods. However, when performed with even moderate intensity over an extended time on an unsuspecting prisoner – it is torture, without doubt. Couple that with waterboarding and the entire medley not only “shock the conscience” as the statute forbids -it would terrify you. Most people can not stand to watch a high intensity kinetic interrogation. One has to overcome basic human decency to endure watching or causing the effects. The brutality would force you into a personal moral dilemma between humanity and hatred. It would leave you to question the meaning of what it is to be an American.

We live at a time where Americans, completely uninformed by an incurious media and enthralled by vengeance-based fantasy television shows like “24”, are actually cheering and encouraging such torture as justifiable revenge for the September 11 attacks. Having been a rescuer in one of those incidents and personally affected by both attacks, I am bewildered at how casually we have thrown off the mantle of world-leader in justice and honor. Who we have become? Because at this juncture, after Abu Ghraieb and other undignified exposed incidents of murder and torture, we appear to have become no better than our opponents.

With regards to the waterboard, I want to set the record straight so the apologists can finally embrace the fact that they condone and encourage torture.

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

29 October 2007 at 10:48 am

Journalists inadequate to the task

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It’s becoming increasingly clear that American journalism is, on the whole with rare exceptions, simply unable (incompetent, too stupid, too lazy, however you want to say it) to report adequately on American politics, and in particular on election politics. And it’s not just me saying that. Look here:

In the early months of the 2008 presidential campaign, the media had already winnowed the race to mostly five candidates and offered Americans relatively little information about their records or what they would do if elected, according to a comprehensive new study of the election coverage across the media.

The press also gave some candidates measurably more favorable coverage than others. Democrat Barack Obama, the junior Senator from Illinois, enjoyed by far the most positive treatment of the major candidates during the first five months of the year—followed closely by Fred Thompson, the actor who at the time was only considering running. Arizona Senator John McCain received the most negative coverage—much worse than his main GOP rivals.

Tone of Coverage
Percent of All Stories




Hillary Clinton



Barack Obama



Rudy Giuliani



John McCain



Meanwhile, the tone of coverage of the two party front runners, New York Senator Hillary Clinton and former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, was virtually identical, and more negative than positive, according to the study by the Project for Excellence in Journalism and the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy.

In all, 63% of the campaign stories focused on political and tactical aspects of the campaign. That is nearly four times the number of stories about the personal backgrounds of the candidates (17%) or the candidates’ ideas and policy proposals (15%). And just 1% of stories examined the candidates’ records or past public performance, the study found.

More at the link, including graphs. Read it and weep.

Written by Leisureguy

29 October 2007 at 10:28 am

Posted in Election, Media

Good sign of increasing tolerance

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Bill O’Reilly, famous talk-idiot, said that he’s bothered by tolerance of gay people. But he belongs to a passing generation. All signs indicate that younger Americans are increasingly tolerant of gays and less apt to be homophobic than their parents. For example:

A study of former high-school American Football players has found that more than a third said they had had sexual relations with other men.

In his study of homosexuality among sportsmen in the US, sociologist Dr Eric Anderson found that 19 in a sample of 47 had taken part in acts intended to sexually arouse other men, ranging from kissing to mutual masturbation and oral sex.

The 47 men, aged 18-23, were all American Football players who previously played at the high school (secondary school) level but had failed to be picked for their university’s team and were now cheerleaders instead. They were at various universities from the American South, Mid-West, West, and North -West.

Dr Anderson, now of the University of Bath, UK, said the study showed that society’s increasing open-mindedness about homosexuality and decreasing stigma concerning sexual activity with other men had allowed sportsmen to speak more openly about these sexual activities. He found that this sex came in the form of two men and one woman, as well as just two men alone.

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Written by Leisureguy

29 October 2007 at 10:22 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

Tagged with , ,

Molly in her collar

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Molly collar

A little photo from when Molly was still feeling bad after her surgery. She’s now fully recovered and her tummy is starting to fur over. We’re all very glad to have that behind us. But, despite her misery, she still looks cute.

Written by Leisureguy

29 October 2007 at 10:15 am

Posted in Cats, Molly

Guantánamo: a blot on America

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It just gets worse:

An American military lawyer and veteran of dozens of secret Guantánamo tribunals has made a devastating attack on the legal process for determining whether Guantánamo prisoners are “enemy combatants”.

The whistleblower, an army major inside the military court system which the United States has established at Guantánamo Bay, has described the detention of one prisoner, a hospital administrator from Sudan, as “unconscionable”.

His critique will be the centrepiece of a hearing on 5 December before the US Supreme Court when another attempt is made to shut the prison down. So nervous is the Bush administration of the latest attack – and another Supreme Court ruling against it – that it is preparing a whole new system of military courts to deal with those still imprisoned.

The whistleblower’s testimony is the most serious attack to date on the military panels, which were meant to give a fig-leaf of legitimacy to the interrogation and detention policies at Naval Base at Guantánamo Bay. The major has taken part in 49 status review panels.

It’s a kangaroo court system and completely corrupt,” said Michael Ratner, the president of the Centre for Constitutional Rights, which is co-ordinating investigations and appeals lawsuits against the government by some 1,000 lawyers. “Stalin had show trials, but at Guantánamo they are not even show trials because it all takes place in secret.

Combatant Status Review Tribunals were held for 558 detainees at the Guantánamo in 2004 and 2005. All but 38 detainees were determined to be “enemy combatants” who could be held indefinitely without charges. Detainees were not represented by a lawyer and had no access to evidence. The only witnesses they could call were other so-called “enemy combatants”.

The army major has said that in the rare circumstances in which it was decided that the detainees were no longer enemy combatants, senior commanders ordered another panel to reverse the decision. The major also described “acrimony” during a “heated conference” call from Admiral McGarragh, who reports to the Secretary of the US Navy, when a the panel refused to describe several Uighur detainees as enemy combatants. Senior military commanders wanted to know why some panels considering the same evidence would come to different findings on the Uighurs, members of a Muslim minority in China.

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Written by Leisureguy

29 October 2007 at 9:54 am

Micronutrient supplementation aids learning in kids

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This is interesting:

In two parallel, double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled studies involving 396 children in Australia and 384 children in Indonesia, results indicate that long-term intervention with a fortified drink containing multiple micronutrients may improve verbal learning and memory. In both study groups the children were randomized to 1 of 4 groups for 12 months: 1) received a fortified drink containing a micronutrient mix (iron, zinc, folate, and vitamins A, B6, B12, and C); 2) received a fortified drink containing docosahexaenoic acid (DHA; 88 mg/day) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA; 22 mg/day); 3) received a fortified drink containing micronutrient mix and EPA + DHA; 4) received a fortified drink with no additional supplementation. Cognitive performance was measured at baseline, 6 month-end, and intervention end. The micronutrient treatment resulted in significant increases in scores on tests representing verbal learning and memory, in both study groups. Additionally, micro nutrient treatment significantly improved plasma micronutrient concentrations, while DHA + EPA treatment increased plasma DHA and total plasma omega-3 fatty acids in both study groups. Thus, the authors conclude, “In this study, we report that, even in an adequately nourished, school-aged population, improvements in micronutrient status and verbal learning and memory can be achieved by fortification with multiple micronutrients.”

“Effect of a 12-mo micronutrient intervention on learning and memory in well-nourished and marginally nourished school-aged children: 2 parallel, randomized, placebo-controlled studies in Australia and Indonesia,” Osendarp SJM, Wilson C, et al, Am J Clin Nutr, 2007; 86(4): 1082-93. (Address: SJM Osendarp, Unilever Food and Health Research Institute (UFHRI), Unilever R&D, Olivier van Noortlaan 120, 3133 AT Vlaardingen, Netherlands. E-mail: ).

Written by Leisureguy

29 October 2007 at 9:02 am

High-glycemic foods implicated in macular degeneration

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Macular degeneration results in the central part of the retina no longer able to see: something to avoid.

 In a prospective study involving 3,977 participants aged 55-80 years in the Age-Related Eye Disease Study, results indicate that higher dietary glycemic index (dGI) is associated with higher risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) progression, especially advanced AMD progression. The participants were followed up with for a period of 8 years. Using Cox proportional hazards regression, the risk of AMD progression was 10% higher in the high-dGI group, compared with the low-dGI group. In subjects with nonextensive small drusen, the risk of AMD progression was 5% higher in the high dGI group, compared with the low-dGI group. Similarly, among subjects with intermediate drusen, extensive small drusen, or pigmentary abnormalities, the risk of AMD progression was 8% higher in the high dGI group, compared with the low-dGI group. Lastly, among subjects with large drusen or extensive intermediate drusen, the risk of AMD progression was 17% higher in the high dGI group, compa red with the low-dGI group. Thus, the authors of this study conclude, “Persons at risk of AMD progression, especially those at high risk of advanced AMD, may benefit from consuming a smaller amount of refined carbohydrates.”

“Dietary carbohydrate and the progression of age-related macular degeneration: a prospective study from the Age-Related Eye Disease Study,” Chiu CJ, Taylor A, et al, Am J Clin Nutr, 2007; 86(4): 1210-8. (Address: Jean Mayer US Department of Agriculture Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, Boston, MA, USA. E-mail: ).

Written by Leisureguy

29 October 2007 at 8:58 am

High-glycemic foods implicated in liver problems

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High-glycemic foods are those whose carbohydrates are quickly digested and appear in the bloodstream in a short time; low-glycemic foods require longer digestion and the effects on the blood are delayed and extended. Note that timings in daily life are greatly affected by other components of the meal: the fats, the other carbohydrates eaten at the same time, and so on.

Another important factor is the glycemic load: the glycemic index multiplied by the available carbohydrate content per serving. Spaghetti, for example, has a reasonably low glycemic index of 42, but with all the available carbohydrate in a serving, it ends up with a high glycemic load of 20. (Glycemic Index: low=1-55, mid=56-69 , High=70-100.  Glycemic Load: low=1-10, mid=11-19, High=20 or more). Here’s a matrix (PDF file) showing the combined GI and GL for common foods. Choosing foods toward the upper left (low GI and low GL) while avoiding those toward the lower right (high GI and high GL) is a good idea. It certainly can’t hurt.

 In a study involving male 129SvPas mice, consumption of a high glycemic index diet was found to increase the risk of developing fatty liver. Mice were divided into 2 groups. For a period of 25 weeks, one group was fed a diet high in rapidly absorbed carbohydrates (amylopectin, high glycemic index), while the other group was fed a diet high in slowly absorbed carbohydrates (amylase, low glycemic index). Aside from starch type, diets were comparable in terms of macro- and micro-nutrient content. At the end of the 25 weeks, significant differences were found between the groups. Mice fed the high glycemic index diet were found to have significantly greater increases in total body adiposity (12.2% increase), as compared to mice fed the low-glycemic index diet (6.1% increase). Furthermore, hepatic triglyceride content was 2-fold greater among mice fed the high glycemic index diet (20.7 mg/g), as compared to mice fed the low glycemic index diet (9.6 mg/g). Levels of plasma in sulin and concentrations of triglycerides were also higher among mice fed the high glycemic index diet. The authors conclude, “A diet high in rapidly absorbed carbohydrates causes accumulation of fat in liver, adipose tissue, and plasma in mice. Therefore, a low glycemic index diet may help prevent or treat Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease in humans.”

“Hepatic Steatosis and Increased Adiposity in Mice Consuming Rapidly vs. Slowly Absorbed Carbohydrate,” Scribner KB, Pawlak DB, et al, Obesity (Silver Spring), 2007; 15(9): 2190-2199. (Address: Children’s Hospital Boston, Department of Medicine, 333 Longwood Avenue, Boston, MA 02115, USA. E-mail: ).

Written by Leisureguy

29 October 2007 at 8:46 am

If you’re pregnant, eat fish (judicially)

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Obviously you want to choose fish that are likely to be low in mercury (e.g., smaller fish, such as sardines). But it looks as though the omega-3s and other nutrients are important:

In a prospective study involving 676 pregnant Indian women, results indicate that inadequate maternal consumption of fish may be a risk factor for low birth weight. 56% of the participants consumed fish during pregnancy with low daily median intakes (1st trimester = 3.4 g/day; 2nd trimester = 4.1 g/day; 3rd trimester = 3.8 g/day). Consequently, the women also had low median intakes of EPA and DHA during pregnancy (EPA = 2.1 mg/day; DHA = 10.1 mg/day). Among women with low fish consumption during the first two trimesters, no fish intake during the third trimester was associated with more than a two-fold increased risk for low birth weight. Similarly, low EPA intake during the third trimester was associated with more than a 2-fold increased risk of low birth weight. Thus, the authors of this study conclude, “Among low fish-eating pregnant women, fish intake in the third trimester was closely associated with birth weight. Supplementation with omega-3 LCPUFA during pregnanc y may have important implications for fetal development in India.”

“The effect of fish and omega-3 LCPUFA intake on low birth weight in Indian pregnant women,” Muthayya S, Dwarkanath P, et al, Eur J Clin Nutr, 2007 Oct 24; [Epub ahead of print]. (Address: Dr S. Muthayya, Division of Nutrition, Maternal and Child Health Unit, St John’s Research Institute, St John’s National Academy of Health Sciences, Koramangala, Bangalore, Karnataka 560034, India. E-mail: ).

Written by Leisureguy

29 October 2007 at 8:30 am

Posted in Daily life, Food, Health, Science

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Whole grain breakfast, lower risk of heart attack

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It’s an indication. I like the finding because my breakfast consists of a whole grain (oat groats) and also various seeds (flaxseed, chia seed, pumpkin seed, wheat germ, and walnuts), along with a good dash of cinnamon, blackstrap molasses, and hot sauce.

In a prospective study involving 21,376 participants from the Physician’s Health Study I, an inverse association was observed between consumption of whole grain breakfast cereals and risk of heart failure. Cereal consumption was assessed using a semiquantitative food frequency questionnaire. During an average follow-up of 19.6 years, 1,018 incident cases of heart failure were recorded. Using Cox regression models adjusted for potential confounders, an inverse association was observed between weekly cereal consumption and risk of heart failure, where an average consumption of 7 or more servings of breakfast cereals per week was associated with a 29% reduced risk of heart failure, compared to no consumption of cereals. However, the association was limited to the intake of whole grain cereals, but not refined cereals. Thus, the authors of this study conclude, “Our data demonstrate that a higher intake of whole grain breakfast cereals is associated with a lower risk of heart failure. Additional studies are warranted to confirm these findings and determine specific nutrients that are responsible for such a protection.”

“Breakfast cereals and risk of heart failure in the physicians’ health study I,” Djousse L, Gaziano JM, Arch Intern Med, 2007; 167(19): 2080-5. (Address: Division of Aging, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, 1620 Tremont St, Third Floor, Boston, MA 02120, USA. E-mail: ).

Written by Leisureguy

29 October 2007 at 8:24 am

Posted in Daily life, Food, Health, Science

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