Apocalypse Soon

“Robert McNamara is worried. He knows how close we’ve come. His counsel helped the Kennedy administration avert nuclear catastrophe during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Today, he believes the United States must no longer rely on nuclear weapons as a foreign-policy tool. To do so is immoral, illegal, and dreadfully dangerous.” (Foreign Policy)

One more in a series of warmongers who repent and advocate for peace and disarmament as they grow older and wiser. I wish there were a way they could come to their senses when they still had any real influence.

Life After Darth

Sorry, I don’t read the rightwing weblogs these days. I long ago concluded that there is little possibility of dialogue or reconciliation across the schismatic culture war, and that I don’t really need to study them to know the enemy any better. But now, through boing boing, I learn that Steve Silberman’s Wired article on George Lucas’ life after Star Wars has the conservative webloggers going ballistic, especially his supposed esteem for Michael Moore and Fahrenheit 911. Oddly enough, notes Silberman, most of the reactions to Lucas do not provide a link to his article but suggest the Lucas’ views exist out in some disembodied ether… like, maybe, The Force?

Bang Up to Date?

Book Review: Parallel Worlds: The Science of Alternative Universes and Our Future in the Cosmos by Michio Kaku:

“Cosmology books, explaining the probable origins and possible futures of our universe, have become the latest little black number: everyone seems to have one, many are appealing, but few match the classics. Michio Kaku is the latest to enter the lists, with his version of the history of the discovery of modern cosmology, of the mind-stretching array of mathematically-based calculations and speculations about possible far futures, including travel outside our universe into other multi-verses, and of his speculations on what it all means. Longlisted for the Samuel Johnson award for non-fiction, this is not a classic, but does raise many interesting ideas.” (Guardian.UK)

Statistically Improbable Phrases

Judging a Book by Its Contents: “Name that famous book from just these phrases: ‘pagan harpooneers,’ ‘stricken whale,’ ‘ivory leg.’ Or how about this one: ‘old sport.’

Yes, it’s Herman Melville’s Moby Dick and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, respectively, but the words aren’t just a game. They are Statistically Improbable Phrases, the result of a new Amazon.com feature that compares the text of hundreds of thousands of books to reveal an author’s signature constructions.

…(A commentator) thinks Amazon is currently just experimenting, but it will soon find intriguing ways, such as using authoritative texts to answer user questions, to wring profit out of what may well be the largest collection of electronic books in the world.

Bill Carr, Amazon’s executive vice president of digital media, confirms that this is a serious attempt to sell more books. ” (Wired)

In Clinical Trials, Drug Protects Brain From Stroke Damage

If continued trials are positive, “this is going to be a revolution in acute stroke”, says a neuroscientist commentator.

“Cerovive, given by an infusion over 72 hours, traps free radicals – highly reactive molecules that can cause cell damage. The drug will not save the brain cells immediately downstream of a clot, which quickly die from lack of oxygen. It is meant instead to counter damage over a wider area of the brain that can occur in the days following a stroke.” (New York Times )

After Sudden Lucidity, Firefighter Is Less Animated

“A brain-injured Buffalo firefighter who unexpectedly started speaking again on Saturday after almost a decade of silence has continued to have bursts of conversation since then, but he has not been as animated, his family said yesterday.” (New York Times )

As I predicted yesterday, inappropriate analogies to Terry Schiavo and allusions to his having been, in the words of his treating physician, “close to the persistent vegetative state”, are now emerging. Although I emphasize that I have no firsthand knowledge of his condition other than what I am reading, subsequent descriptions of Mr. Herbert’s condition over the last decade in the article suggest that he has always continued to show evidence of consciousness even though cognitive functions such as memory and language had been markedly damaged by the oxygen deprivation his brain suffered in his accident in 1995. This is a more crucial detail of his case than the more ‘sexy’ one the Times coverage is focusing upon, the admittedly fascinating Rip van Winkle-like drama of the information overload he will suffer, if he remains alert, in taking in all that has happened in both his personal life and the larger world over a missed decade. [Inexplicably, the Times‘ hyperbole in that sphere focuses on things like the Buffalo Bills’ performance over the intervening decade rather than, oh say, 9-11…]

According to the Times coverage, Mr. Herbert’s awakening may relate to a recent change in the cocktail of medications he has been taking.

“Mr. Herbert’s doctors said yesterday that they had tried using various combinations of drugs to revive him. Three months ago, when his condition worsened, they switched him to a cocktail of drugs that is normally used to treat depression, Parkinson’s disease and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. His doctors would not name the drugs they had administered, but a number of medications have been shown in the past to stimulate awareness in a handful of people who were minimally conscious, even after several years.”

Realize that a psychopharmacologically based approach to altering his level of consciousness necessitates that there was a substrate of brain activity there to modify with medications! This is quite distinct from a persistent vegetative state, in which bodily functions such as respiration and circulation persist in the absence of demonstrable brain activity.

Judge Tosses Out Abuse Plea After the Ringleader Testifies

Mistrial in Lynndie England trial: The judge said England could not plead guilty to conspiracy to commit a crime after the defense brought previously convicted co-conspirator Charles Graner on the stand and he portrayed leashing naked Iraqi prisoners and posing for photos with them as standard military procedure and a training exercise. Graner’s testimony was supposedly an effort to convince the judge to be lenient in sentencing England but, if taken to mean that England thought her actions were in response to a legitimate order, it undercuts the basis for her plea bargain, which depended on a knowing admission of guilt.

The judge had earlier been impatient with other defense tactics seemingly undercutting England’s guilty plea. Graner had previously indicated to reporters that he was disappointed with England’s plea and that he would have preferred to see her fight the charges. It is hard to know whether Graner’s performance on the stand was a defiant unilateral action on his part or an aspect of a defense strategy.

This is all set against a backdrop of soap opera melodrama, with Graner supposedly having fathered England’s baby and having gone on to marry another of the GIs accused in the Abu Ghraib abuses. Gleefully reported juicy detail: England suggested that a courtroom artist sketching Graner yesterday should have included the “horns and goatee.”

My first reaction, echoing a friend’s comments to me yesterday, was that it used to be that people either this hapless or this sociopathic (I’m referring here to both England and Graner) couldn’t get into the military… and they had joined long before the current enlistment crisis the military is facing.

But we are taking our eyes off the target, I remind myself, in focusing on this melodrama. The real issue is the core barbarity and absurdity of US military adventurism in the Bush-era ‘war on terror’ (WoT®) creating the inevitability of incidents like Abu Ghraib. So even if the recruiters signing up the Englands and Graners weren’t desperately facing the quota pressures they are several years later, it served the Pentagon’s purposes not to look too closely at the intelligence, the motivations or the moral fitness of the people they were letting in. Again, as my friend commented to me, “It’s harder to get a job at MacDonald’s.” Let us hope the judge’s rejection of England’s guilty plea is seen for what it, wittingly or unwittingly, really is — an indictment of the real chief co-conspirators here, the Sanchezes, the Bushes and the Rumsfelds.