Later On

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Archive for September 5th, 2020

A soldier describes how the remains of soldiers killed in combat are transferred

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Charlotte Clymer wrote on Facebook:

The straight line distance between Washington, D.C. and Dover, Delaware is less than 85 miles. It takes a helicopter about 40-45 minutes to make the trip. I was 19 years-old, and it was my first time riding a helicopter. I barely remember any of it. I was distracted.

I was more nervous than I’ve ever been in my life about what was to come next, and so, as this Black Hawk floated above the earth with my casket team–me being the youngest and most junior–I could only think: ‘What if I mess this up? What if I fail? How will I live with myself?’

That’s how it should be in a moment like this. You should be nervous. You should let that sharpen your focus. Because there is no room for error when handling the remains of a service member returning to the U.S. after being killed in combat. You should strive for perfection.

The helicopter landed, and my anxiety spiked. In retrospect, I recall noticing the silence of the rest of the casket team. These were young men, mostly early 20s, loud and boisterous and chests puffed. Now, they were quiet. It was unnerving.

When you’re a new enlisted soldier in an infantry unit–the FNG–you’re treated like you know nothing. Because you don’t. Everyone around you is older and vastly more competent and confident. Yet, in this moment, despite having done this before, they were all nervous, too. Scary.

We were brought into a holding area near the tarmac on Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, where the remains of service members who have died in a theater of operations arrive on a C-17 transport plane. We rehearsed our steps. And did it again. And then again. No room for error.

The plane arrived. The ramp was lowered. The transfer vehicle that would complete the next leg of the journey was parked. Our casket team was positioned. We were now each wearing ceremonial white cotton gloves we had held under the bathroom faucet. Damp gloves have a better grip.

We’re a casket team, but these are not caskets. They’re transfer cases: rectangular aluminum boxes that bear a resemblance to a crate for production equipment. Yet, the dimensions are obvious. Any given civilian would take only a few moments to realize that’s for carrying bodies.

It’s called a ‘dignified transfer’, not a ‘ceremony’, because officials don’t want loved ones to feel obligated to be there while in mourning, but it is as highly choreographed as any ceremony, probably more so. It is done as close to perfection as anything the military does.

I was positioned in formation with my casket team, and I could see the transfer cases precisely laid out, dress right dress, in the cavernous space of the C-17, each draped with an American flag that had been fastened perfectly. I remember my stomach dropping.

There is simply no space for other thoughts. Your full brain capacity is focused on not screwing up. The casket team steps off in crisp, exact steps toward the plane, up the ramp (please, oh god, don’t slip), aside the case, lift up ceremonially, face back and down the ramp.

During movement, everyone else is saluting: the plane personnel, the OIC (officer-in-charge), any senior NCOS and generals, and occasionally, the president. The family is sometimes there. No ceremonial music or talking. All silent, save for the steps of the casket team.

You don’t see the family during this. You’re too focused. There are other distractions. Maybe they forgot, but no one told me there’d be 40-60 lbs. of ice in the transfer case to prevent decomposition over the 10-hour plane ride. You can sometimes feel it sloshing around a bit.

Some of the transfer cases feel slightly heavier, some slightly lighter. The weight is distributed among six bearers, so it’s not a big difference. But then you carry a case that’s significantly lighter, and you realize those are the only remains they were able to recover.

It probably takes all of 30-40 seconds to carry the transfer case from the plane to the mortuary vehicle, but it felt like the longest walk ever each time. The case is carefully placed in the back of the mortuary vehicle, and the casket team moves away in formation.

I don’t know how to describe the feeling after you’re done and on your way back to D.C., but it’s a mixture of intense relief that you didn’t screw up and profound sobriety over what you’ve just done and witnessed. I wouldn’t call it a good feeling. Maybe a numbed pain.

From the outside, the most egalitarian place in America is a military transfer case. They all look exactly the same: an aluminum box covered with the American flag. We didn’t know their names, rank, race, ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual orientation–none of it. All the same.

Whatever cruel and unfathomable politics had brought all of us to that moment–from the killed service member in the box to those of us carrying it to the occasional elected official who attends to pay respects–there were no politics to be found during a dignified transfer.

The fallen service members I helped receive and carry during this part of the journey to their final resting place were not ‘losers’ or ‘suckers’. They were selfless and heroic, and I had the honor of being among the first to hold them when they returned home.

There are service members around the world involved in caring for our war fatalities. The mortuary specialists, the casket teams, the family liaisons–so many people who work to ensure that this final act is done with the greatest amount of dignity and honor, seeking perfection.

I suppose the one thing we all took for granted is that dignity would always be affirmed by all our civilian leaders to those service members who gave everything. I never would have predicted any official, let alone a sitting president, would insult fallen service members.

I cannot adequately describe my anger at Donald Trump for being so willing to send service members halfway around the world to die on his own behalf and then call them ‘losers’ for doing so. This coward is unfit for his office and the power it holds. He needs to go.


Written by Leisureguy

5 September 2020 at 2:58 pm

FBI pondered whether Trump was ‘a Manchurian candidate elected’ – updated

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It’s easy to see how they have cause to ponder that: Trump still has not responded to Russian paying a bounty for killed American troops, Trump continues to deny that Russia has meddled in the US election (when even Facebook has recognized and tried haltingly to respond to the threat), and so on.

Matt Zapotosky writes in the Washington Post:

Former FBI agent Peter Strzok alleges in a new book that investigators came to believe it was “conceivable, if unlikely” that Russia was secretly controlling President Trump after he took office — a full-fledged “Manchurian candidate” installed as America’s commander in chief.

In the book, “Compromised,” Strzok describes how the FBI had to consider “whether the man about to be inaugurated was willing to place his or Russia’s interests above those of American citizens,” and if and how agents could investigate that. Strzok opened the FBI’s 2016 investigation into whether Trump’s campaign had coordinated with the Kremlin to help his election and later was involved in investigating Trump personally. He was ultimately removed from the case over private text messages disparaging of the president.

“We certainly had evidence that this was the case: that Trump, while gleefully wreaking havoc on America’s political institutions and norms, was pulling his punches when it came to our historic adversary, Russia,” Strzok writes. “Given what we knew or had cause to suspect about Trump’s compromising behavior in the weeks, months, and years leading up to the election, moreover, it also seemed conceivable, if unlikely, that Moscow had indeed pulled off the most stunning intelligence achievement in human history: secretly controlling the president of the United States — a Manchurian candidate elected.”

‘You stepped in it here’: How anti-Trump texts ruined the career of the FBI’s go-to agent

Strzok seems to believe now that is not the case — though he told the Atlantic that Trump’s conduct is deeply problematic.

“I don’t think that Trump, when he meets with Putin, receives a task list for the next quarter,” Strzok said, referencing the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. “But I do think the president is compromised, that he is unable to put the interests of our nation first, that he acts from hidden motives, because there is leverage over him, held specifically by the Russians but potentially others as well.”

Strzok’s book is the latest by former FBI officials — including former director James B. Comey and former deputy director Andrew McCabe — to disclose new insights into the bureau’s investigation of Trump, while lambasting the president for his conduct.

The FBI’s investigation was taken over by . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Later in the article:

p class=”font–body font-copy gray-darkest ma-0 pb-md “>Strzok’s view, though, is that the investigation into Clinton was a far less serious matter than the inquiry into Trump.

Even as he says Clinton’s use of a private server is what fueled investigators’ interest, Strzok allows that had her email been housed on the State Department system, “it would have been less secure and probably much more vulnerable to hacking.” He also concedes that Comey’s decision in October 2016 to reveal to Congress that the investigation had resumed ­— less than two weeks before voters were to go to the polls — probably altered the results of the election in Trump’s favor.

“Reflecting back on 2016 reveals another hard truth: small margins matter in an election in which the total number of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan voters needed to swing the Electoral College would fit in one football stadium,” Strzok writes. “Pundits who argue that it’s hard to substantively change public opinion miss the point: when you’re dealing with razor-thin margins, it doesn’t take much to move the needle. And as much as it pains me to admit it, the Russians weren’t the only ones who pushed the needle toward Trump. The Bureau did too.”


And the NY Times review by Adam Goldman is also worth reading:

A former senior F.B.I. agent at the center of the investigations into Hillary Clinton’s email server and the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia defends the handling of the inquiries and declares President Trump a national security threat in a new memoir, while admitting that the bureau made mistakes that upended the 2016 presidential election.

The former agent, Peter Strzok, who was removed from the special counsel’s team and later fired over disparaging texts he sent about Mr. Trump, has mostly kept silent as the president and his supporters have vilified him.

But Mr. Strzok’s new book, “Compromised,” a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times ahead of its publication on Tuesday, provides a detailed account of navigating the two politically toxic investigations and a forceful apologia of the bureau’s acts. Mr. Strzok also reveals details about the F.B.I.’s internal debate over investigating the president himself, writing that the question arose early in the Trump presidency and suggesting that agents were eyeing others around Mr. Trump. Mr. Strzok was himself at first opposed to investigating the president.

But in a scathing appraisal, Mr. Strzok concludes that Mr. Trump is hopelessly corrupt and a national security threat. The investigations that Mr. Strzok oversaw showed the president’s “willingness to accept political assistance from an opponent like Russia — and, it follows, his willingness to subvert everything America stands for.”

“That’s not patriotic,” Mr. Strzok writes. “It’s the opposite.”

Mr. Strzok’s insider look serves as a counter to the efforts by Mr. Trump and his allies to discredit the Russia investigation. Attorney General William P. Barr has appointed a veteran prosecutor to review the conduct of the F.B.I., Mr. Strzok and others for possible misconduct and bias.

The Justice Department inspector general, Michael E. Horowitz, found the bureau had sufficient reason to open the inquiry and found no evidence of political bias. He said in a report that he found no evidence that Mr. Strzok’s political views affected the F.B.I.’s work but that he was “deeply troubled” by the texts.

Mr. Trump and his supporters seized on the texts when they were first disclosed in late 2017 as evidence of a plot to destroy his campaign and presidency.

“The reporting about my texts hadn’t only whipped Trump into a frenzy,” Mr. Strzok writes. “It had also sent Republicans in Congress into a righteous peeve, giving them fodder for right-wing indignation that would eventually ferment into the deep-state fairy tale that would consume conservative media.”

On Twitter, Mr. Trump celebrated the firing of Mr. Strzok, a former Army artillery officer and veteran counterintelligence investigator who worked on some of the F.B.I.’s most delicate national security matters during his 22-year career before playing a central role in both the Clinton email and Trump-Russia investigations.

Mr. Strzok has sued the Justice Department and F.B.I., alleging that his dismissal was politically motivated.

In his book, Mr. Strzok repeatedly rejects accusations that he was part of an effort at the F.B.I. to hurt Mr. Trump. He lays out the reasoning for opening the investigation, known as Crossfire Hurricane, into whether any Trump campaign associates had conspired with Russia’s interference operations in the 2016 election. The F.B.I. was “investigating a credible allegation of foreign intelligence activity to see where it led,” Mr. Strzok writes. “It started with Russia, and it was always about Russia.”

He also points out that the F.B.I. had kept the investigation as quiet as possible to keep from harming Mr. Trump’s candidacy, limiting the number of people inside the bureau who were aware of it to try to ensure its existence did not leak to the news media.

When F.B.I. officials later considered opening a counterintelligence investigation on the president, they faced a sobering reality. “We needed to ask a question that had never before arisen in the entire 240-year history of our republic: whether the president of the United States himself might be acting as an agent of a foreign adversary,” Mr. Strzok writes.

He says he was opposed for both “practical and philosophical arguments.” Eventually,  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

5 September 2020 at 12:53 pm

Trump’s contempt for the military (and military valor) is taking a toll

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Heather Cox Richardson writes:

Most of the oxygen in the world of American news media today has been taken up by last night’s story about Trump’s contempt for the military, which said, among other things, that Trump called soldiers “suckers” and dead service members “losers.” Today, the story was confirmed and expanded by the Associated Press, the Washington Post, and the Fox News Channel, among other outlets.

As more and more voices spoke out against Trump’s sentiments, the White House madly pushed back. “It was a totally fake story, and that was confirmed by many people who were actually there,” Trump told reporters. “I’ve done more for the military than almost anybody else.” Even First Lady Melania Trump got into the fray, tweeting: “[The Atlantic] story is not true. It has become a very dangerous time when anonymous sources are believed above all else, & no one knows their motivation. This is not journalism – It is activism. And it is a disservice to the people of our great nation.”

But one media outlet after another confirmed the story. When even the Fox News Channel vouched for it, Trump tweeted that the FNC reporter who covered the story ought to be fired.

The silence from his former Chief of Staff John Kelly, who declined to contradict the allegations, could not be missed, since one of the most damning stories in the article involved him. In a press conference this evening, Trump seemed rather to confirm the story than prove it wrong when he attacked Kelly, a retired four-star Marine Corps General who was Trump’s longest-serving chief of staff. “He… didn’t do a good job, had no temperament, and ultimately he was petered out,” Trump told reporters. “He got eaten alive. He was unable to handle the pressure of this job.”

The situation permitted Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden to stand forth as the defender of soldiers and the military. Biden’s late son, Beau, served in Iraq. “When my son volunteered and joined the United States military as the attorney general and went to Iraq for a year, won the bronze star and other commendations, he wasn’t a sucker,” Biden said. “The servicemen and women he served with, particularly those who did not come home, were not ‘losers.’ If these statements are true, the president should humbly apologize to every gold star mother and father and every blue star family that he has denigrated and insulted,” he said. “Who the heck does he think he is?”

Since Ronald Reagan ran for office in 1980 on the argument that the Democratic President Jimmy Carter had cut funding for the military (this was not true), the modern Republican Party has wrapped itself in the flag. Republicans have celebrated the image of the U.S. soldier as a lone hero, standing against the faceless and nameless mass of humanity marshaled to defend communism. In this formulation, Americans were individuals, each of value to our country.

But Trump has turned this idea on its head. In a weird echo of the way Republicans used to describe communist leaders, the White House seems to see Americans not as individuals but as faceless statistics. Administration leaders shrug at the deaths of more than 185,000 Americans and urge the country simply to absorb more Covid-19 deaths for the good of the economy. “It is what it is,” Trump said of the pandemic losses earlier this week. That each death is the loss of a daughter, a mother, a father, a son, seems lost in the administration’s tendency to talk about them as percentages.

The story of Trump’s disdain for those who serve the nation and sometimes sacrifice their lives for it suggests that he sees even the soldiers, whom we traditionally celebrate, as “suckers” who are stupid to go into the military. He seems to see them, too, as an expendable mass. Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth (D), a combat veteran, told CNN that Trump “likes to use the military for his own personal ego as if we were some sort of toy soldiers you could pull out and line up on your desk to play with.”

A devastating ad from Bill Owens, whose son, Navy SEAL William Ryan Owens, died in Yemen, echoed Duckworth. Owens explains that Trump sent his son and his comrades to Yemen five days into his presidency, ordering them in not from the Situation Room surrounded by intelligence experts but “sitting across a dinner table from Steve Bannon.” “There was no vital interest at play,” Owens says. “Just Donald Trump playing big-man-going-to-war. And when it went horribly wrong… Donald Trump demeaned my son’s sacrifice to play to the crowd.”

Duckworth said something similar: “He really doesn’t understand the sacrifice…. He truly doesn’t understand what it means to put something above yourself too, serve this nation and be willing to lay down one’s life with this nation. Because he does nothing that does not benefit Donald Trump.”

Since at least 2018, Democrats, especially Democratic women, have advanced a vision of military service that departs from the Republican emphasis on heroic individualism. Instead, they emphasize teamwork, camaraderie, and community, and the recognition that that teamwork means every single soldier, not just a few visible heroes, matters. Today Duckworth, who lost both her legs and some of the use of her right arm in 2004 when her helicopter was shot down, told NBC’s Nicole Wallace: “When . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

5 September 2020 at 10:41 am

Operation Condor: the cold war conspiracy that terrorised South America

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The US has much to answer for if it ever truly faces its transgressions (e.g., torturing suspects, sometimes to death, under George W. Bush as an official and systematic program — and then deliberately destroying the video evidence). Giles Tremlett describes another example in the Guardian:

During the 1970s and 80s, eight US-backed military dictatorships jointly plotted the cross-border kidnap, torture, rape and murder of hundreds of their political opponents. Now some of the perpetrators are finally facing justice.

The last time Anatole Larrabeiti saw his parents, he was four years old. It was 26 September 1976, the day after his birthday. He remembers the shootout, the bright flashes of gunfire and the sight of his father lying on the ground, mortally wounded, outside their home in a suburb of Buenos Aires, Argentina, with his mother lying beside him. Then Larrabeiti remembers being taken away by armed police, along with his 18-month-old sister, Victoria Eva.

The two children became prisoners. At first, they were held in a grimy car repair garage that had been turned into a clandestine torture centre. That was in another part of Buenos Aires, the city that their parents had moved to in June 1973, joining thousands of leftwing militants and former guerrillas fleeing a military coup in their native Uruguay. The following month, in October 1976, Anatole and Victoria Eva were taken to Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay, and held at the military intelligence headquarters. A few days before Christmas, they were flown to a third country, Chile, in a small aircraft that climbed high above the Andes. Larrabeiti remembers looking down on snowy peaks from the plane.

Young children do not usually make epic journeys through three countries in as many months without parents or relatives. The closest thing they had to family was a jailer known as Aunt Mónica. It was probably Aunt Mónica who abandoned them in a large square, the Plaza O’Higgins, in the Chilean port city of Valparaíso, on 22 December 1976. Witnesses recall two young, well-dressed children stepping out of a black car with tinted windows. Larrabeiti wandered around the square, hand-in-hand with his sister, until the owner of a merry-go-round ride spotted them. He invited them to sit on the ride, expecting some panicked parents to appear, looking for their lost children. But nobody came, so he called the local police.

No one could understand how the two children, whose accents marked them as foreign, had got here. It was as if they had dropped from the sky. Anatole was too young to make sense of what had happened. How does a four-year-old who finds himself in Chile explain that he does not know where he is, that he lives in Argentina, but is really Uruguayan? All he knew was that he was in a strange place, where people spoke his language in a different way.

The next day, the children were taken to an orphanage, and from there they were sent on to separate foster homes. After a few months, they had a stroke of luck. A dental surgeon and his wife wanted to adopt, and when the magistrate in charge of the children asked the surgeon which sibling he wanted, he said both. “He said that we had to come together, because we were brother and sister,” Larrabeiti told me when we met earlier this year in Chile’s capital, Santiago.

Today, he is a trim, smartly suited 47-year-old public prosecutor with hazel eyes and a shaven head. “I have decided to live without hate,” he said. “But I want people to know.”

What Larrabeiti wants people to know is that his family were victims of one of the 20th century’s most sinister international state terror networks. It was called Operation Condor, after the broad-winged vulture that soars above the Andes, and it joined eight South American military dictatorships – Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Bolivia, Paraguay, Brazil, Peru and Ecuador – into a single network that covered four-fifths of the continent.

It has taken decades to fully expose this system, which enabled governments to send death squads on to each other’s territory to kidnap, murder and torture enemies – real or suspected – among their emigrant and exile communities. Condor effectively integrated and expanded the state terror unleashed across South America during the cold war, after successive rightwing military coups, often encouraged by the US, erased democracy across the continent. Condor was the most complex and sophisticated element of a broad phenomenon in which tens of thousands of people across South America were murdered or disappeared by military governments in the 1970s and 80s.

Most Condor victims disappeared for ever. Hundreds were secretly disposed of – some of them tossed into the sea from planes or helicopters after being tied up, shackled to concrete blocks or drugged so that they could barely move. Larrabeiti’s mother, Victoria, who was last seen in an Argentinian torture centre in 1976, is one of them. His father, Mario, who was a leftwing militant, probably died in the shootout when they were snatched by the police. Enough victims have survived, however, to tell stories that, when matched against a growing volume of declassified documents, amount to a single, ghastly tale.

In the past two decades, Larrabeiti’s story has been told and retold in half a dozen courts and tribunals around the world. In the absence of a fully formed global criminal justice system, the perpetrators of Condor are being taken to court through a piecemeal process. “The trouble with borders is that it is easier to cross them to kill someone than it is to pursue a crime,” says Carlos Castresana, a prosecutor who has pursued Condor cases and the dictators behind them in Spain. Those seeking justice have had to rely on a judicial spider’s web of national laws, international treaties and rulings by human rights tribunals. The individuals they pursue are often decrepit and unrepentant old men, but a tenacious network of survivors, lawyers, investigators and academics, rather like the postwar Nazi-hunters, has taken up the challenge of ensuring that such international state terror does not go untried.

The process is painfully slow. The first major criminal investigation focusing on Condor – with victims and defendants from seven countries – began in Rome more than 20 years ago. It still has not ended. On a sweltering day in July 2019, a judge in the Rome case handed life sentences to a former president of Peru, a Uruguayan foreign minister, a Chilean military intelligence chief and 21 others for their role in a coordinated campaign of extermination and torture. The defendants are appealing, and a final verdict is due within a year.

Much of what we now know about Condor has been unearthed or pieced together in Rome, Buenos Aires and in dozens of court cases – large and small – in other countries. Further evidence comes from US intelligence papers dealing with Argentina that were declassified on the orders of Barack Obama. In 2019, the US completed its handover of 47,000 pages to Argentina. These documents show how much the US and European governments knew about what was happening across South America, and how little they cared.

When he was seven, Anatole Larrabeiti discovered his true identity, thanks to his tenacious paternal grandmother, Angélica, who tracked the siblings down. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more. America’s intense love of and admiration for military dictatorships is puzzling, given the dissonance with America’s own ideals. Is it like those infatuations that good girls have for bad boys? I dunno.

Written by Leisureguy

5 September 2020 at 10:38 am

The evolution of psychiatry: Next steps

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Adam Hunt writes in Works in Progress:

Why do psychiatric conditions exist?

This question is both unsatisfyingly unanswered and incredibly important. Here we will consider some features of the over-century-long failure of psychiatry to explain mental disorders, before reviewing a theoretical framework which promises to explain these conditions in a way which is not only scientifically sound, but emancipating. The framework in question is evolutionary psychiatry, and its principle thinking is simple: if we use evolutionary theory to explain biology, then we should be using evolutionary theory to explain psychiatric disorder. If evolution was given proper attention and integrated into mainstream psychiatry, we would usher in a new era of understanding and treatment of psychiatric conditions.

Psychiatry is a practice with more than a chequered past, perpetrating horrors even in living memory: Sprees of lobotomising adults and children; purposefully inducing comas in schizophrenics, producing thrashing, spasming and salivating so bad that one psychiatrist reported the scene on a ward as alike to artist Gustave Dore’s depictions of hell; and the widespread demonisation of homosexuality justifying the electrocution and injection of homosexuals with nauseating drugs during slideshows of sexually attractive individuals of the same sex, hoping to train them into being sick at their own sexuality.

Advances in treatment over the decades have come more from the dismissal of old and harmful practices than the inception of new ones. As electrocution and nauseation were slowly recognised as both immoral and ineffective, we are now left with psychotherapies and pharmaceuticals of unreliable and underwhelming efficacy. Tens of billions of dollars and several decades of research have led to few new discoveries. Many drug developers have now left psychiatry for more easily understood and chemically pliable conditions of the body rather than the mind. Leaders in national mental health research have expressed dismay that so little progress has been made. Some research suggests that the burden of psychiatric illness might even be worsening, not lessening.

Psychiatric therapies have never been atheoretical – psychiatrists have always justified their treatments with some school of thought: Freudian psychodynamic theories placed blame on early childhood and subconscious urges; behaviourism justified the application of pain to try and train people out of wrongthink; and more recently, chemical imbalance theories were used to advertise pharmaceuticals, despite the narrative of simple dopamine and serotonin dysfunctions having been long dismissed in academic circles. Recent advances in genetics and neuroscience have provided more evidence and complexity, but no promising new theories. Psychiatry today can be considered a discipline in crisis, surviving only because psychological and pharmaceutical treatments are effective for some people, some of the time, and so we still need them. The way is open for a new paradigm in psychiatric theorising.


In the conclusion of his first edition of Origin of Species in 1859, Charles Darwin prophesied: “In the distant future I see open fields for far more important researches. Psychology will be based on a new foundation, that of the necessary acquirement of each mental power and capacity by gradation. Light will be thrown on the origin of man and his history.”

Darwin’s prophecy manifested itself in psychology around 100 years after his writing. Now, evolutionary psychology has become a common reference point for public discussion and academic research. Evolutionary psychiatry is a late follower, arising in the last years of the twentieth century alongside evolutionary medicine, its foundational work owing to Randolph Nesse, George Williams, John Price, and others.

Evolution by natural selection is the metatheory of biology, linking all species and all biological forms. The process of constant biological variation, reproduction and selection between forms leads to evolution of populations, explaining the form of our bodies and minds. Therefore, the logic of evolutionary medicine and psychiatry goes, evolutionary theory should also be referred to in explaining why our bodies and minds are vulnerable to disorder and disease. All biology is evolutionary, and psychiatry is biological, hence psychiatry should be understood in evolutionary terms. The lack of progress in understanding psychiatric disorders makes sense in this light, because mainstream psychiatry has been ignoring the key theory in biology.

Whilst the fundamental principles of evolutionary psychiatry have been defined, and important works published, there does not yet exist a dedicated evolutionary psychiatry university department or journal. In 2016, the first noteworthy institutional group dedicated to evolutionary psychiatry was formed, in the Evolutionary Psychiatry Special Interest Group (EPSIG) at the Royal College of Psychiatrists in the UK. This slow start and long build up does not dissuade evolutionary psychiatrists from believing that, in the ever-less-distant future, this theoretical paradigm will be recognised as the way to truly start explaining mental disorder.

A unique advantage of evolutionary psychiatry is . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

5 September 2020 at 10:31 am

American healthcare: A Doctor Went to His Own Employer for a COVID-19 Antibody Test. It Cost $10,984.

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Actual cost: around $8. Marshall Allen reports in ProPublica:

When Dr. Zachary Sussman went to Physicians Premier ER in Austin for a COVID-19 antibody test, he assumed he would get a freebie because he was a doctor for the chain. Instead, the free-standing emergency room charged his insurance company an astonishing $10,984 for the visit — and got paid every penny, with no pushback.

The bill left him so dismayed he quit his job. And now, after ProPublica’s questions, the parent company of his insurer said the case is being investigated and could lead to repayment or a referral to law enforcement.

The case is the latest to show how providers have sometimes charged exorbitant prices for visits for simple and inexpensive COVID-19 tests. ProPublica recently reported how a $175 COVID-19 test resulted in charges of $2,479 at a different free-standing ER in Texas. In that situation, the health plan said the payment for the visit would be reduced and the facility said the family would not receive a bill. In Sussman’s case, the insurer paid it all. But those dollars come from people who pay insurance premiums, and health experts say high prices are a major reason why Americans pay so much for health care.

Sussman, a 44-year-old pathologist, was working under contract as a part-time medical director at four of Physicians Premier’s other locations. He said he made $4,000 a month to oversee the antibody tests, which can detect signs of a previous COVID-19 infection. It was a temporary position holding him over between hospital gigs in Austin and New Mexico, where he now lives and works.

In May, before visiting his family in Scottsdale, Arizona, Sussman wanted the test because he had recently had a headache, which can be a symptom of COVID-19. He decided to go to one of his own company’s locations because he was curious to see how the process played out from a patient’s point of view. He knew the materials for each antibody test only amounted to about $8, and it gets read on the spot — similar to an at-home pregnancy test.

He could even do the reading himself. So he assumed Physicians Premier would comp him and administer it on the house. But the staff went ahead and took down his insurance details, while promising him he would not be responsible for any portion of the bill. He had a short-term plan through Golden Rule Insurance Company, which is owned by UnitedHealthcare, the largest insurer in the country. (The insurance was not provided through his work.)

During the brief visit, Sussman said he chatted with the emergency room doctor, whom he didn’t know. He said there was no physical examination. “Never laid a hand on me,” he said. His vitals were checked and his blood was drawn. He tested negative. He said the whole encounter took about 30 minutes.

About a month later, Golden Rule sent Sussman his explanation of benefits for the physician portion of the bill. The charges came to $2,100. Sussman was surprised by the expense but he said he was familiar with the Physicians Premier high-dollar business model, in which the convenience of a free-standing ER with no wait comes at a cost.

“It may as well say Gucci on the outside,” he said of the facility. Physicians Premier says on its website that it bills private insurance plans, but that it is out-of-network with them, meaning it does not have agreed-upon prices. That often leads to higher charges, which then get negotiated down by the insurers, or result in medical bills getting passed on to patients.

Sussman felt more puzzled to see the insurance document say, “Payable at: 100%.” So apparently Golden Rule hadn’t fought for a better deal and had paid more than two grand for a quick, walk-in visit for a test. He was happy not to get hit with a bill, but it also didn’t feel right.

He said he let the issue slide until a few weeks later when a second explanation of benefits arrived from Golden Rule, for the Physicians Premier facility charges. This time, an entity listed as USA Emergency sought $8,884.16. Again, the insurer said, “Payable at: 100%.”

USA Emergency Centers  . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

5 September 2020 at 10:20 am

Applying strict liability law to social media

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The argument makes sense to me. It’s hard to deny that the products have inadequate safeguards (there’s more to safety than merely physical safety), and in some cases the safeguards were deliberately omitted (cf. Coca Cola’s cocaine — or the amping of nicotine in cigarettes). In situations in which manufacturers are unwilling to make their products safe for consumers, the government rightly takes the role of protecting the public since individual consumers have little power compared to a corporation.

Matt Stoller writes in Big:

Speech or Product?

One of the more interesting cases around internet law is a stalking case having to do with a 33 year-old actor living in New York City, Matthew Herrick. Buzzfeed reported on it last year. Here’s the story:

At the peak of the abuse Matthew Herrick suffered, 16 men showed up every day at his door, each one expecting either violent and degrading sex, drugs, or both. Herrick, a 32-year-old aspiring actor living in New York City, didn’t know any of them, but the men insisted they knew him — they’d just been chatting with him on the dating app Grindr. This scenario repeated itself more than 1,000 times between October 2016 and March 2017.

Herrick had deactivated his account and deleted the Grindr app from his phone in late 2015 when he’d started dating a man referred to in court documents as J.C., whom he’d met on the app. The two broke up in fall 2016. Soon after, according to court filings, J.C. began stalking Herrick and created fake profiles on Grindr impersonating Herrick… The profiles falsely claimed Herrick was HIV-positive and interested in unprotected sex and bondage. Through Grindr, Herrick says J.C. directed these men to his apartment or workplace, creating a world of chaos for him on a daily basis.

“It was a horror film,” Herrick told BuzzFeed News in an interview. “It’s just like a constant Groundhog Day, but in the most horrible way you can imagine. It was like an episode of Black Mirror.”

Protective orders and police reports against J.C. failed to stop the torrent of harassment. Herrick, his friends, and lawyers submitted 100 complaints to Grindr asking it to block J.C., but they received no response.

Eventually, Herrick, represented by victim’s rights attorney Carrie Goldberg, sued Grindr, using a novel legal theory to address this new form of stalking. “I argued,” Goldberg wrote in a filing to the Federal Communications Commission, “that Grindr is a defectively designed and manufactured product as it was easily exploited if didn’t have the ability to identify and exclude abusive users.” She was making a product liability claim.

Such an argument about a tech platform, even one like Grindr, is unusual, to say the least. There’s bad faith here, some big tech friendly scholars really want the debate to be about how to protect the public square of Facebook and Google from the meddling hand of democracy. But even lawyers and scholars who disdain the pernicious effects of platforms think about technology platforms as facilitating speech. They dislike misinformation, disinformation, fraud, and so forth, but they try to shoehorn claims about the problems with social media, search engines, or matching engines into the legal debate over the first amendment or technology. And it’s a seductive path to go down, since technology is cool, and free speech is such a powerful American norm to argue about.

The desire to argue through the political lens of free speech is further heightened by the biggest magnetic attention draw in the world, Donald Trump. A few months ago, Trump argued that large technology platforms organize themselves by censoring conservative speech. He issued an executive order mandating the government see what it could do to hold tech platforms accountable for controlling speech. Specifically, Trump ordered the Federal Communications Commission to make regulatory changes to a law called Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which is a shield useful to large technology platforms, as well as services like Grindr, who used it to defend against Herrick’s claim.

The law is conceptually simple. Section 230 was passed in 1996 to protect the ability of AOL and Compuserve to run chatrooms without having to be responsible for what other people used them for. The law basically ensured that if a user said something defamatory on AOL’s chatroom, the user, not AOL, would be liable. And whether AOL chose to take it down, filter content in a specific way, or keep it up, AOL would be protected by a ‘Good Samaritan’ clause which says that it is allowed to run its service however it wants, and it is never responsible for what third party speakers say. That’s why Google can display whatever search results or ads it wants, or Facebook can organize its algorithm however it wants, and neither corporation can be sued for third party content. Mark Zuckerberg may tell the public he’s responsible for what happens on Facebook, but the law says he isn’t.

Section 230 is understood as the legal cornerstone of digital platforms. There’s even a book titled “The Twenty-Six Words that Created the Internet,” because the key section is just twenty six words long (“No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”) So when Trump attacked Section 230 with his executive order, tech lobbyists went nuts. But protectors of Section 230 extend far beyond the big tech lobbying world.

The American Civil Liberties Union supports Section 230. So does the liberal group Common Cause, an organization created during the Nixon administration to take on that corrupt President. In Goliath, I showed how liberals were fooled in the 1970s into supporting corporate power, and there’s no better example than how many left-wing organizations support this law as a bulwark of free speech, instead of a liability shield for a particular kind of business model. Common Cause even brought a suit asserting the entire executive order was unconstitutional, the premise of which is that it violates Facebook’s corporate right to free speech. (One wonders if Common Cause still opposes Citizens United…)

Interestingly, free speech and Section 230 was also Grindr’s defense to Herrick’s lawsuit. Grindr argued it is merely a speech platform (or in Section 230 parlance, an ‘interactive computer service’), and if someone used Grindr to put Herrick in danger, well, it’s not Grindr’s fault. Goldberg scoffed at the notion that the case was about speech; Grindr was simply a defective product, no different than an exploding toaster. “If you engineered and are profiting off one of the world’s biggest hook-up apps and don’t factor into its design the arithmetic certainty,” Goldberg wrote, “that it will sometimes be abused by predators, stalkers, rapists – you should be responsible to those you injure because of it.”

The district court, however didn’t agree with the exploding toaster theory. “I don’t find what Grindr did to be acceptable,” US District Court Judge Valerie E. Caproni said, but she ruled for Grindr nonetheless. In the case, Grindr won on the basis that it is an interactive computer service immunized by Section 230, and that it bears no liability for the speech or actions of the stalker. On appeal, the situation repeated itself. The judges agreed with Herrick on the moral argument, but with Grindr on the law. “The whole thing is horrible,” said one appeals judge, Judge Dennis Jacobs. “But the question is, what’s the responsibility of Grindr?” Goldberg eventually appealed it to the Supreme Court, which refused to hear the case. It’s not a crazy decision, as the stalker is clearly the key responsible party orchestrating the scheme. But there’s also something deeply problematic at work, because it’s evident that Grindr was assisting the bad behavior; Grindr even refused to help Herrick confirm who was behind the fake profiles.

It’s not just Grindr that induces such problems. Other services, like Facebook, YouTube, Google search, Twitter, etc can place people in imminent danger, facilitate libel, foster housing discrimination, enable the sale of counterfeit or defective products, or organize a host of fraudulent activities. I went over a some of these problems when I found Chinese scammers using advertising on Facebook to sell counterfeit Rothy’s, a premium women’s shoe brand. A reader of BIG told me she didn’t realize she was buying counterfeit shoes, and meanwhile Rothy’s noted they couldn’t get Facebook to take the ads down.

In fact, Section 230 has become the shield for swaths of corrupt activities; Facebook can’t be held liable for enabling with Grindr did, for the same reason, because it is merely an ‘interactive computer service.’ Like J.C.’s impersonation of Herrick, scammers use Facebook to impersonate soldiers so as to start fake long-distance relationships with lonely people, eventually tricking their victims into sending their ‘boyfriends’ money. Soldiers are constantly finding fake profiles of themselves, and victims are constantly cheated in heart-breaking ways. The military is helpless to do much about this, the power to act is in Facebook’s hands.

In other words, Section 230, and the law governing the structuring of platforms on the internet, creates a very weird kind of politics. In some ways it puts victim rights lawyers and Trump on the same side against liberal groups and big tech monopolies, though the debate is in fact much more scrambled. Trump isn’t wrong to critique Section 230, but his argument about conservative bias is, putting accuracy aside, besides the point. It’s not that there aren’t free speech issues at work, but the underlying problem is that the law creates an incentive for corrupt business models.

Is a Slot Machine a Platform for Speech?

Thinking of Facebook, Grindr, or Google as products or as communications networks, instead of as the public square, makes a lot of sense. Section 230 was created at a time when people distinguished between the offline and online world. But today, it makes no sense to distinguish between internet services and the rest of the economy. Convergence isn’t happening, it has happened; Amazon owns warehouses and massive real estate holdings, Walmart has a thriving online marketplace, and Google and Facebook both operate large data centers and undersea cables.

Moreover, data and information services are increasingly analogous to physical products. A slot machine is a slot machine, whether it has a physical lever or a browser. Internet services, such as video games and social media, can have addictive qualities with physiological characteristics similar to narcotics or gambling. As former Facebook executive Sean Parker noted, social media executives knowingly took advantage of these characteristics in product design.

Moreover, while it’s easy to blame the individual, there’s a lot of research that overuse of these services can result in depression, memory loss, alcoholism, and reduced empathy and social development. Even the basis for assuming that colors, formatting, and content are merely speech is falling apart; a judge recently ruled that a graphic sent to a writer via Twitter designed to trigger (and that did trigger) an epileptic seizure in the recipient was assault. It makes increasingly less sense to characterize the wide variety of available digital goods and services, or goods and services with embedded digital capacity, purely as speech whose transmission is covered by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

And if that is so, then we need  . . .

Continue reading

Written by Leisureguy

5 September 2020 at 10:13 am

Van Yulay’s Achilles and the RazoRock Old Type

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Th fragrance of Van Yulay’s Achilles is quite pleasant (to my nose) and distinctive, but almost certainly would not pass muster at Procter & Gamble: it’s too distinctive. “Tobacco with the perfect amount of Kentucky bourbon, hints of cherry, notes of vanilla, of rosewood, cedar, smoke, and sweet birch.”

The soap itself, quite apart from the fragrance, is excellent:

Stearic Acid, Coconut Fatty Acid, Palm Stearic, Castor, Potassium Hydroxide, Glycerin, Tobacco Tea, Aloe Vera, Coconut-Emu-Tallow-Meadow Foam-Borage-Argan Oils, Kentucky Bourbon, Sodium Lactate, Herbal Ground Tea, Calendula, Extracts, Poly Quats, Allantoin, Silica, Bentonite Clay, Glycerin Soap, Tobacco Absolute, Mica, and Fragrance.

As you see, it’s not a vegan formula (Emu and Tallow). In the catalog description the efficacy of various ingredients is explained.

I loaded a damp brush well, and the lather was really excellent. I seem to be having a run of excellent lathers lately. Perhaps I’ve mastered the technique.

Three passes with RazoRock’s Old Type, a remarkably good razor, and then a splash of the aftershave (after shaking it well — it contains emu oil) and I feel fit and ready for the weekend.


Written by Leisureguy

5 September 2020 at 10:05 am

Posted in Shaving

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