Day: January 8, 2005

Pentagon May Use Death Squads in Iraq

The Salvador Option: “Newsweek has learned, the Pentagon is intensively debating an option that dates back to a still-secret strategy in the Reagan administration’s battle against the leftist guerrilla insurgency in El Salvador in the early 1980s. Then, faced with a losing war against Salvadoran rebels, the U.S. government funded or supported ‘nationalist’ forces that allegedly included so-called death squads directed to hunt down and kill rebel leaders and sympathizers. Eventually the insurgency was quelled, and many U.S. conservatives consider the policy to have been a success-despite the deaths of innocent civilians and the subsequent Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages scandal. (Among the current administration officials who dealt with Central America back then is John Negroponte, who is today the U.S. ambassador to Iraq. Under Reagan, he was ambassador to Honduras.)

Following that model, one Pentagon proposal would send Special Forces teams to advise, support and possibly train Iraqi squads, most likely hand-picked Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and Shiite militiamen, to target Sunni insurgents and their sympathizers, even across the border into Syria, according to military insiders familiar with the discussions. It remains unclear, however, whether this would be a policy of assassination or so-called ‘snatch’ operations, in which the targets are sent to secret facilities for interrogation. The current thinking is that while U.S. Special Forces would lead operations in, say, Syria, activities inside Iraq itself would be carried out by Iraqi paramilitaries, officials tell Newsweek.” (truthout)

"Not One Damn Dime Day"

This is circulating widely via email. I’m reposting it here in FmH’s role as a community bulletin board (or, some might say, a spam amplifier).

Jan 20, 2005 – Inauguration Day — please mark your calendars now…

Since our religious leaders will not speak out against the war in Iraq, since our political leaders don’t have the moral courage to oppose it, Inauguration Day, Thursday, January 20th, 2005 is “Not One Damn Dime Day” in America.

On “Not One Damn Dime Day” those who oppose what is happening in our name in Iraq can speak up with a 24-hour national boycott of all forms of consumer spending.

During “Not One Damn Dime Day” please don’t spend money. Not one damn dime for gasoline. Not one damn dime for necessities or for impulse purchases. Not one damn dime for nothing for 24 hours.

On “Not One Damn Dime Day,” please boycott Wal-Mart, Kmart, Target… Please don’t go to the mall or the local convenience store. Please don’t buy any fast food (or any groceries at all for that matter). For 24 hours, please do what you can to shut the retail economy down.

The object is simple. Remind the people in power that the war in Iraq is immoral and illegal; that they are responsible for starting it and that it is their responsibility to stop it.

“Not One Damn Dime Day” is to remind them, too, that they work for the people of the United States of America, not for the international corporations and K Street lobbyists who represent the corporations and funnel cash into American politics.

“Not One Damn Dime Day” is about supporting the troops. The politicians put the troops in harm’s way. Now over 1,200 brave young Americans and (some estimate) 100,000 Iraqis have died. The politicians owe our troops a plan – a way to come home.

There’s no rally to attend. No marching to do. No petitions to sign. No left or right wing agenda to rant about. On “Not One Damn Dime Day” you take action by doing nothing.

You open your mouth by keeping your wallet closed.

For 24 hours, nothing gets spent, not one damn dime, to remind our religious leaders and our politicians of their moral responsibility to end the war in Iraq and give America back to the people.

Jon Stewart Killed ‘Crossfire’

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Who’s your daddy now, Tucker?
“CNN has ended its relationship with the conservative commentator Tucker Carlson and will shortly cancel its long-running daily political discussion program, ‘Crossfire,’ the new president of CNN, Jonathan Klein, said last night.

…Mr. Klein said he wanted to move CNN away from what he called ‘head-butting debate shows,’ which have become the staple of much of all-news television in the prime-time hours, especially at the top-rated Fox News Channel.

‘CNN is a different animal,’ Mr. Klein said. ‘We report the news. Fox talks about the news. They’re very good at what they do and we’re very good at what we do.’

Mr. Klein specifically cited the criticism that the comedian Jon Stewart leveled at ‘Crossfire’ when he was a guest on the program during the presidential campaign. Mr. Stewart said that ranting partisan political shows on cable were ‘hurting America.’

Mr. Klein said last night, ‘I agree wholeheartedly with Jon Stewart’s overall premise.’ He said he believed that especially after the terror attacks on 9/11, viewers are interested in information, not opinion.” (New York Times ; thanks, andy)

Tsunami Videos

A collection of links to amateur videos of the tsunami, of variable quality. Since I do not watch TV news, I hadn’t experienced the visual impact until I watched some of these. There is a link at the page to donate to Red Cross disaster relief, if you haven’t already given all you can.

Staples Stunner

Staples, Inc. will not renew advertising on local Sinclair Broadcast Group stations: “Media Matters for America today announced that Staples, Inc. will no longer advertise on local news programming on Sinclair Broadcast Group TV stations nationwide. Citing an effort to be responsive to customer concerns about Sinclair’s injection of partisan conservative politics into its nightly newscasts, Staples, Inc. attributed its decision in part to the response the company received from customers visiting the SinclairAction.com website.”

Portable Virtual Privacy machine

“Carry your entire Internet communication system on a tiny USB drive. No installation needed – just plug the drive into any Windows or Linux computer, and click on the Virtual Privacy Machine icon and you’re ready to go. Contains a complete virtual Linux machine with privacy-enabled Open Source Internet applications. Carry your Internet applications, email, bookmarks, history, web cookies, download files in your pocket. Perfect for travellers – nothing to be scanned, started, poked, or prodded at the airport. Get English keyboard support no matter what computer you use. The VPM’s network connection will auto configure and run seamlessly on any machine with a working internet connection. All Internet session data (cookies, history, downloads, etc.) are stored on the VPM, not the host computer. Runs on any rewriteable media (USB drives, Flash Memory cards, Secure Digital devices, iPods, etc.) This PR1 release runs on Windows and Linux – final release version will also run on OS X. Runs in full screen mode (press SHIFT-CTRL-F. SHIFT-CTRL captures and releases focus.) Includes Mozilla Firefox browser, Mozilla Thunderbird News/Email client (with Enigmail plugins for PGP email encryption), persistent Home directory, a demo version of the MetroPipe Tunneler…..(free).”

Supernatural powers become contagious in PC game

“Eerie occurrences in a hugely popular computer game have been traced to rogue computer code accidentally spread between players like an infectious illness.

The Sims 2, released in September 2004, lets players assume godlike powers in a virtual community populated by characters they have created. They can influence the behaviour and fortunes of their characters in a huge variety of ways and sit back to witness the outcome.

The second edition of the game has already proven extremely popular and adds an extra dimension by enabling players to trade items, characters, even whole buildings through an online swap shop called The Sims 2 Exchange.

But in November 2004 several players began complaining that the characters and even some inanimate objects in their lovingly built worlds had begun behaving oddly. Some noticed that characters no longer aged while others found magical items – like an espresso maker that gives its user unlimited happiness – inexplicably installed in their character’s homes.” (New Scientist)

X-Ray Mystery in RCW 38

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Astronomy Picture of the Day: “A mere 6,000 light-years distant and sailing through the constellation Vela, star cluster RCW 38 is full of powerful stars. It’s no surprise that these stars, only a million years young with hot outer atmospheres, appear as point-like x-ray sources dotting this x-ray image from the orbiting Chandra Observatory. But the diffuse cloud of x-rays surrounding them is a bit mysterious… (A) source of energetic electrons, such as shockwaves from exploding stars (supernova remnants), or rotating neutron stars (pulsars), is not apparent in the Chandra data. Whatever their origins, the energetic particles could leave an imprint on planetary systems forming in young star cluster RCW 38, just as nearby energetic events seem to have affected the chemistry and isotopes found in our own solar system.”

Mathematicians crochet chaos

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“Mathematicians have made a crochet model of chaos – and are challenging anyone else to repeat the effort.”

“Imagine a leaf floating in a turbulent river and consider how it passes either to the left or to the right around a rock somewhere downstream.

“Those special leaves that end up clinging to the rock must have followed a very unique path in the water.

“Each stitch in the crochet pattern represents a single point – a leaf – that ends up at the rock.” (BBC via rebecca’s pocket)

Pop Culture Quandary Dept.

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Oh, White Noise is not from the Don DeLillo novel??

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And could this — ‘surreality’; ‘celebreality’ — be the death throes of reality TV? Not to make too much of this over-the-top, unbelievable spectacle, but in a country that can elect George W. Bush president, it is no wonder they think they can get away with exploiting the American public’s credulity to this extent. Nothing can be taken as an insult to our national intelligence any longer…

Sharper minds, but is there a cost?

An array of brain-boosting medications — some available and others in development — promise an era of better thinking through chemistry. New potential mind-enhancing drugs may bring more powerful, more targeted and more lasting improvements in mental acuity than the rudimentary cognition boosters — e.g. amphetamines — with which many are familiar from college all-nighters or long-haul drives.

The last two decades’ neuroscience discoveries about localization of brain functions and delineation of the roles of various neurotransmitters, with the ‘deep pockets’ of the US military’s vested interest in enhancement of pilots’ and soldiers’ combat functions under stress and fatigue, have created an unprecedented climate for the development of these agents. Aging baby boomers are an enormous potential market for the brain enhancing chemicals.

Modafinil, whose approved indication is to treat narcolepsy, may be the first ‘smart drug’. It is not clear by what mechanism it combats fatigue, but it appears to enhance mental functioning even in healthy nonfatigued subjects, with little in the way of complications or side effects. Research subjects who have takenmodafinil pay closer attention and use information more effectively than subjects given a placebo. Faced with conflicting demands, people on modafinil shift from task to task and alter their cognitive strategies more efficiently.

Some speculate that the use of cognition-enhancing drugs will become as commonplace as having a cup of coffee, ushering in an era of ‘cosmetic neurology’. But neuroscientists say two factors could prevent total capitulation to the allure of smart drugs. First, their performance may not live up to expectations. This is a common phenomenon in science — a statistically significant effect is not necessarily significant enough in the real world. And, second, ‘There is no free lunch.’ Again, as is often true in clinical drug development, the extent of complications from the real-world use of these drugs may not be apparent from the outset. A drug that causes users to remember too much detail could clutter the brain with irrelevancies. Sharpening attention might cause excessively intense focus, making it more difficult to shift attention with new demands. In short, someone who notices or remembers everything may end up understanding nothing.

One skeptical psychologist commented:

“The brain was designed by evolution over the millennia to be well-adapted because of the lives we lead. Our lives are better served by being able to focus on the essential information than being able to remember every little detail. We meddle with these designs at our peril.” (LA Times)

Conference: Phantom Limb Phenomena

A Neurobiological Diagnosis With Aesthetic, Cultural and Philosophic Implications (University of London, Saturday 15th, and Sunday 16th, January 2005) :

“Since its original description in 1866 by the Neurologist S. Mitchell, the phantom limb phenomena have attracted many scholars across a broad spectrum of fields. The phenomena describe the condition found in many amputees in which sensation of the removed limb persists. As such, it has served as a metaphor for many ideas in other fields beyond the scope of neurobiology and neuropsychology including philosophy, psychoanalysis, cultural studies, anthropology, literature, film and art. The purpose of this conference is three fold. First, it brings to the public’s attention this fascinating and significant medical problem. Second, it not only looks objectively at the way that these phenomena have stimulated interest across such a wide variety of fields but also shows how successful it is as a inter-disciplinary signifier; an issue important for both art and science initiatives. Last, it hopes to open up possible new links between participating professionals who seldom have the opportunity to meet and discuss ideas at the limits of their own interests.” [via boing boing]

If you have any interest in this, you can scroll down the page and read the abstracts of the conference presentations. Neurologist Peter Brugger, for example, “(tries) to delineate the scope of a proper ‘phantomology’ (Stanislaw Lem) whose aim is to study the virtual reality of bodily awareness – from phantom limb to phantom body.”

Harvard psychoanalyst Arnold Modell finds the creation of the unreal phantom limb intriguingly analogous to the process of the construction of the (equally unreal) self and its agency. And neuropsychologist Chris Frith sees the phenomenon as a paradigm of the brain’s mechanisms for the active construction of reality.

Artist Andrew Patrizio asks, “Am I, like others, (ab)using the phenomenon like many other intellectual and cultural activists? Phantom limbs are typical of many flowing and contested scientific discourses around at the moment, whose very elusiveness and ambiguity seems attractive in a multi-disciplinary kind of way. Rather than studying phantom limbs per se, I am currently asking – Does the exhibition as a format deal well with such subjects of an unsolved nature? Would my interest as a curator diminish if an explanatory model were accepted? How are artists working with the mystery, symbolism and science of phantom limbs, erecting a platform for creativity without dismantling the enigma?” Patrizio propounded an artistic expression of the phantom limb phenomenon by having an exhibition which hung no art (stipulating artists from whom works would not be borrowed).

Artist Nicola Diamond considers bodily expression as a culturally specific form of language and wonders how phantom limb would be experienced cross-culturally; there is little evidence of the phenomena in cross-cultural work. Novelist Stuart Brisley relates phantom limb to body dysmorphic disorder. Photographic artist Janet Sternberg finds phantom limb a potent metaphor as well. “Each of us has the condition, someone or something no longer with us who nonetheless continues — for better and for worse — to feel part of us.”

And UCLA philosopher Eleanor Kaufman explores Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology of perception through the apposition of phantom limb — a sensation that an absent body part is still present — and one of my professional interests, anosognosia — the sensation that a present body part is absent. (I find the neurological phenomenon of anosognosia an analogy for some aspects of my patients’ constricted awarenes of themselves and the world.)