Different River

”You can never step in the same river twice.” –Heraclitus

June 29, 2005

Fired for Religious Beliefs

Filed under: — Different River @ 2:55 am

There seems to be an increasing trend towards employers — generally large corporations — firing employees for their religious beliefs. Not for trying to foist their beliefs on others, but on merely holding them, or expressing them outside of work on the employee’s own time. If you’ve been paying attention for the last few years, you can guess what religious beliefs are causing so much offense to employers.

AT&T fired one employee for refusing to “value” homosexuality. Not that he was going to discriminate against anyone for practicing it. They wanted him to value the act itself:

AT&T fired Buonanno after he refused to sign a “certificate of understanding” acknowledging he agreed to “value” homosexuality among fellow workers.

The court, in last Friday’s ruling, said AT&T Broadband failed to show it could not have accommodated Buonanno’s beliefs “without undue hardship.”

As a conservative Christian, Buonanno could not honestly value or agree with homosexuality, which he views as a sin — even though he pledged to AT&T not to discriminate against or harass anyone, said his lawyer.

When he refused to sign the certificate of understanding, he was fired.

The court awared Mr. Buonanno $146,269 for lost salary and benefits. But he still hasto find another job.

More recently, Allstate fired a manager — and had security escort him from the building — after they discovered that, on his own time, he’d written a column in a Christian web site expressing the (a?) Christian view on homosexuality. The company claims that by writing this article outside of work he violated the company’s policy on “Diversity and Inclusion.” I guess this means they don’t
“include” Christians.

Also, Kodak fired an 23-year veteran employee for complaining that he found memo sent to him on National Coming-Out Day to be “offensive.” A later company-wide criticizing the employee states, “As you all know, our strategic thrust to build a Winning & Inclusive Culture drives us to behave in ways that value everyone regardless of differences.” As long as those differences don’t include certain views on what constitutes “offensive.” I guess coming out as being offended by certain beliefs on National Coming-Out Day is a fireable offense.

Ironically, the second Kodak memo stated, “we are all free to have our own personal beliefs” — but they fired him anyway. Kodak got a 100% rating as a “gay-friendly” employer, and was listed in “10 Best Places for Lesbians to Work (1999).”

In the 19th century, it was considered acceptable to fire employees for “not voting right.” In the 20th century, this became unacceptable. In the second half of the 20th century it also became unacceptable to fire employees, or discriminate in hiring, because of their race, gender, or religious or political beliefs.

It seems they are turning back the clock — it is becomeing acceptable, even mandatory, for companies to discriminate on the basis of religious or political beliefs.

Only now, discrimination is called “tolerance” and “diversity.”


(Hat tip: Clayton Cramer.)

June 28, 2005

Stupid Drug Thieves

Filed under: — Different River @ 6:25 pm

Do drugs (I mean recreational, not therapeutic) make you stupid, or is it stupid people who want drugs? These two guys walked into an emergency room, pointed a gun at the staff, and asked for drugs to get them high. Read what happened.

Doctor for Starvation

Filed under: — Different River @ 4:54 pm

Earlier I posted the story of Marjorie Nighbert, who was starved and dehydrated by court order (like Terri Schiavo), but in Nighbert’s case she was conscious, ambulatory, and begging for food — and had to be restrained to her bed to enforce the court and prevent her from raiding other patients’ food trays.

Recently that post has started to attract comments — specifically, comments from a practicing neurologist who says he sees this sort of thing happen “on a regular basis.” And, he strongly implies that he sees this as right and appropriate.

If you think these are isolated, extreme cases, go read those comments.

(I’m disabling comment on this post. If you have something to add, please add it to the comments on the earlier post.)

Now, there’s an excuse!

Filed under: — Different River @ 2:46 pm

If you’re overweight and looking for an excuse not to go to the trouble of losing weight, you can’t do better than this: An article in the journal PLoS Medicine finds that overweight people who intentionally lose weight have a higher mortality rate than overweight people who just stay overweight. In fact, those who lose weight even have a higher mortality rate than those who gain weight! (Although those with stable weight have the lowest mortality rate.)

The study surveys Finnish twins in 1975, and asked overweight people if they “intended” to lose weight. Their weight was re-checked in 1981, and their mortality was followed until 1999. To summarize the results:

Mortality Hazard Ratios
Lost Weight Stable Weight Gained Weight
Intended to Lose Weight 1.87 0.84 0.93
Did not intend to Lose Weight 1.17 1.00 1.58

In other words, an overweight person who intends to lose weight, and succeeds in doing so, is 87% more likely to die than an overweight person who makes no effort to lose weight, and in fact maintains a stable weight. However, an overweight person who intends to lose weight and fails to do so is slightly less likely to die than someone who never intends to lose weight in the first place. Those who have no intention of losing weight but do so anyway are have a slightly higher risk of mortality, but not nearly as much as those who lost weight on purpose. Those who have no intention of losing weight and in fact gain weight have a substantially higher risk — but still less than those who lost weight on purpose. In short, if this study is right, the worst thing for an overweight person to do is to try to lose weight and succeed; the best thing to do is to try to lose weight and fail. Not trying at all is somewhere in between.

Not only is this the best possible result for those who like excuses (“Doctor, I’m trying to lose weight, but I’m not succeeding and that’s good!”), it also flies in the face of most previous work in the field, which of course shows that losing weight (or at least, not being overweight) is good. The article is by actual scientists and appears in a peer-reviewed journal, so it cannot be dismissed out of hand. However, given the weight of the evidence (sorry for the pun!) on the other side of the question, it can’t be accepted uncritically, either.

I can think of several possible reasons why the authors might have found the results they did that would still leave the conventional wisdom mostly intact:

  • Perhaps those who are losing weight on purpose are doing dangerous things to accomplish the loss. For example, not all diets are safe, even if they are successful. (Three doctors told me that if the only way I could lose weight was to use the Adkins diet, I was better off staying fat.) Also, some people may exercise beyond their body’s capabilities in an effort to lose weight.
  • The study counted as overweight anyone with a body mass index (BMI) greater than 25. This is a fairly loose standard; while many experts say 25 is the “ideal” BMI, few would label as “overweight” someone with a BMI of 25.1. Yet, this study appears to do so. Furthermore, there is some evidence that the longevity-maximizing BMI is actually more like 26.5, rather than 25. In this study, less than 10% had a BMI greater than 30 (i.e., were “obese”), and in fact those included had a median BMI of 26.7 — and “losing weight” was defined as reducing BMI by at least 1. So for about half the people in the sample, losing weight meant moving away from the longevity-maximizing BMI — so we would actually expect an increase in mortality. So perhaps it’s not that losing weight is bad for people who are actually overweight — rather, the people in the sample weren’t overweight enough to benefit from weight loss, and many of those who lost weighted actually dropped below their ideal weight.
  • The statistical model they used controlled for sex, age, current smoking in 1981, hypertension, physical activity, life satisfaction, work status, and income. Patients with previous heart attacks, diagnosed angina, or diabetes as of 1981 were excluded. However, the model did not control for family history of these conditions, nor did it exclude people with these conditions. It is quite possible that family history of heart attacks and diabetes — both of which are correlated with obesity — could both increase the probability of death by 1999, and cause people to want to lose weight. In other words, patients in the study know their family history, and if it contains heart attacks or diabetes, they know they are at higher risk of death. They also know — or at least, believe — that the risk of these diseases can be reduced by losing weight. So they report an “intention” to lose weight. Among those who report an intention to lose weight, those with a family history of obesity-related diseases are more motivated to succeed, and thus over-represented among those who both intend to lose weight and actually do so. However, weight is only one factor in those diseases; even after losing weight they still have a higher risk of those diseases — and thus early death — than people without that family history (even if their risk is less than what it was when they were overweight). The study then finds that people who intend to lose weight and succeed have a higher risk of mortality. But it’s not that the weight loss is causing the mortality, it’s precisely the opposite: The higher risk of mortality is known to the patients in advance, and thus causes the weight loss. (This is what econometricians call “reverse causation;” in fact, a brief Google search confirms that this has occurred previously in research on weight loss.) The weight loss may reduce the risk of mortality, but if so it does not reduce it enough to bring it down to the level of the general population.
  • Participants were asked once — in 1975 — whether they “intended” to lose weight (and if so, how). The determination as to whether they had done so was made in 1981, when they were not asked whether they had carried out their intentions. Lots of things can change in six years. As an extreme example, someone who got cancer in 1978 (say) may have lost a lot of weight from the disease by 1981, and be more likely to die by 1999. Perhaps such a person, knowing about cancer risk, reported an intention to lose weight in 1975, but failed to do so — until getting cancer three years later. This is of course a purely hypothetical example — and purely speculative. The point I’m trying to make is that the data may be insufficient to draw conclusions about the link between weight loss and mortality.
  • Another possibility is that they just got a weird draw from a random distribution. If you look at enough studies, this is bound to happen. Analogy: If you flip 10 coins, it’s very unlikely that you’ll get 10 heads, or even 9 — but it is certainly possible. If you flip 10 coins once, there’s only a 1.07% chance that you get 9 or more heads. But if 500 people flip 10 coins each, there’s a 99.54% change that somebody gets 9 or more heads. It’s like that with these studies, too. Assume that the conventional wisdom is right — that weight loss actually does reduce mortality. Even if that’s true, it’s still random in individual cases — even if weight loss reduces mortality on average, some people are going to lose weight and die early anyway, and some people are going to stay fat and live a long time anyway. Not as many, but some. Now, if you do a study on weight loss and mortality, it’s like flipping coins — it’s very likely you are going to find data consistent with the theory. But if 500 people do studies like that, somebody is going to find data inconsistent with the theory. But if it’s just one or a few studies, that doesn’t mean the theory is wrong — any more than one person flipping 9 out of 10 heads means that the “theory” of coin-flipping produces a 50% chance of heads.

The complete article is here. There is also a synopsis, a “patient summary,” and a note on “perspectives” which raises some other issues with the study, none of which I think are as serious as the issues raised above. Personally, I think the most likely culprit is reverse causation.

Is the Supreme Court Literate?

Filed under: — Different River @ 2:36 am

The Supreme Court issues two very strange rulings yesterday (Monday) on the public display of the Ten Commandments. Briefly, they ruled that it’s OK to display the Ten Commandments on public property (in this case, on the grounds of the Texas state capitol), but not OK in a state courtroom (in Kentucky). But it is OK in the Supreme Courtroom, which does in fact have such a display.

If that’s not confusing enough, wait until you read the actual decisions (McCreary County v. ACLU of Ky. and Van Orden v. Perry.)

Why do I ask if the the Supreme Court is literate? Because the five justices in the majority (and their clerks) had months to rule and write their opinions, but less than 16 hours after their decision was made public, Clayton Cramer had a documented, well-written article with complete citations showing that the facts cited by the majority for its decision were not exactly facts. In other words, the decision was based on legal and factual premises which are demonstrably false — not only that, but demonstrably false within hours by a computer programmer in Idaho, who presumably had a full workday to do all sorts of non-lawyer, non-judge, non-scholar things as well in that 16 hours — in which he also wrote three other blog-posts, including one documenting errors in a program on the History Channel, and another on ducks.

You should read the whole thing, but here’s a brief excerpt anyway:

The decision McCreary County v. American Civil Liberties Union oF Kentucky (2005) goes off the tracks immediately:

The touchstone for our analysis is the principle that the “First Amendment mandates governmental neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion.” Epperson v. Arkansas, 393 U. S. 97, 104 (1968); Everson v. Board of Ed. of Ewing, 330 U. S. 1, 15-16 (1947); Wallace v. Jaffree, supra, at 53.

They are following the precedents just fine; the problem is that the precedents are incorrect. The First Amendment was never intended by the First Congress to mandate “governmental neutrality… between religion and nonreligion.” At best, the First Congress intended to mandate that no religious establishment–that is, a particular denomination or organized body–would receive preferential treatment from the federal government.

I don’t dispute that the Fourteenth Amendment imposes the First Amendment against the states–but if you want to understand what incorporation imposes on the states, you need to first understand what the First Congress intended the First Amendment to impose on the federal government. …

[Here Clayton cites the state constitutions of Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Maryland, and Massachusetts to show that the states had religious requirements for public office back when the First Amendment was ratified. He then quotes something I read a long time ago in print, and searched in vain for months to find online -- Thanks, Clayton!]

The federal government–including the draftsman of the Bill of Rights, James Madison, and the most famous skeptic of the Framers, Thomas Jefferson–never seems to have understood the First Amendment as a restriction of the sort that the Supreme Court has now found. The Library of Congress’ exhibition on “Religion and the Founding of the American Republic” observes:

It is no exaggeration to say that on Sundays in Washington during the administrations of Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809) and of James Madison (1809-1817) the state became the church. Within a year of his inauguration, Jefferson began attending church services in the House of Representatives. Madison followed Jefferson’s example, although unlike Jefferson, who rode on horseback to church in the Capitol, Madison came in a coach and four. Worship services in the House–a practice that continued until after the Civil War–were acceptable to Jefferson because they were nondiscriminatory and voluntary. Preachers of every Protestant denomination appeared. (Catholic priests began officiating in 1826.) As early as January 1806 a female evangelist, Dorothy Ripley, delivered a camp meeting-style exhortation in the House to Jefferson, Vice President Aaron Burr, and a “crowded audience.” Throughout his administration Jefferson permitted church services in executive branch buildings. The Gospel was also preached in the Supreme Court chambers.

Jefferson’s actions may seem surprising because his attitude toward the relation between religion and government is usually thought to have been embodied in his recommendation that there exist “a wall of separation between church and state.” In that statement, Jefferson was apparently declaring his opposition, as Madison had done in introducing the Bill of Rights, to a “national” religion. In attending church services on public property, Jefferson and Madison consciously and deliberately were offering symbolic support to religion as a prop for republican government.

I know Clayton Cramer is a really smart guy, very well-read, knowledgeable, and intelligent. He seems to know more history than most history professors and more law than most lawyers. But you’d think that even with all that, you’d think the five justices who signed on to that opinion, who have been lawyers for decades and on the court for between 10 and 30 years, work full-time at law, and have several full-time clerks, and had literally months to write that decision — even if they wanted to make a decision against historical precedent, you’d think they could do better than write something that could be thoroughly debunked in a few hours by a non-lawyer with a day job.

The power of the Supreme Court obviously comes from something other credibility. I wonder how long this situation can last.

Reflections

Filed under: — Different River @ 1:50 am

I normally don’t post “personal” things on this blog, but I make exceptions sometimes, when I think they might be of interest to the blog-reading public. This is one of them.

I recently had a birthday and turned 36, and this occasioned some reflections on the flow of time, age, and how time seems to be flowing fast, and I am starting to feel old — not in a vain sense, like oh-gosh-I-am-getting-wrinkles — but in the historical sense, in that I remember events that other people who are also considered adults count as history, and in that there are people around me, other than kids, who were born after both major milestones in my life, and major events that I remember.

The age of 36 is a good time for such reflection, particularly in the months of May and June. June is the month of high-school graduations. High school graduation is, for most Americans, the last turning point in life almost everyone shares. Depending on which statistics you believe (or rather, how you want to do the counting), somewhere between 67% and 85% of Americans graduate from high school. About 90% of those students are in public schools. Although there is some diversity in quality and student population, most public schools are mostly like each other in many important ways, providing — by intent, a leveling experience. Even a large percentage of private schools are similar, often differing only in the offering of some religious classes, or in the percentage of AP class, or some other details. Even for those who don’t graduate, much of the years up to age 18 are spent in school.

My point is not that all schools are the same, but rather that most Americans between the ages of 5 and 18 are doing things that are very similar to each other — certainly more similar than they will be doing later in life. The average future medical doctor and the average future construction worker are — at age 10 or 15, say — doing pretty much the same thing. Perhaps by age 15 their paths will have diverged a bit (they are taking different classes in 10th grade) — but only a bit.

At age 18, all this changes. Some people go to college, some don’t — and colleges are much more different from each other than high schools. Some get jobs, some get married, some join the military — and some do all three. These will put them on very different paths by, say, the age of 24 — by which age it is not surprising to find some people married, with children, and maybe buying a first house, and other still (mired? cocooned?) in graduate school, years from getting their first real (full-time, year-round) job. In short, at the age of 18, we lived lives very similar to those of others in our age cohort. After that, our paths diverge, sometimes very greatly. The corporate lawyer is living a very different life than the singer or doctor or secretary or at-home mom or teacher he stood next to — perhaps as friends, perhaps by alphabetical order — at graduation 18 years before. By age 36, we have spent just as much time diverging as staying on the same path.

In a very real sense, by age 36, we are in a different generations. There are people — lots of them — born on the same day I graduated from high school 18 years ago, who themselves graduated this month. To me, it doesn’t seem like that long ago — I remember who I took pictures with, the sharing of the what-college-are-you-going-to stories in the months before, what I did that summer, and how it felt to start college a few months later. I remember the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 as a shocking, earth-shattering event of unprecedented worldwide euphoria. The world I had known — with Europe and Asia divided by an ‘Iron Curtain” into separate “worlds” of Communism and Democracy, with the rest of the world lining up on one side or the other or professing to be “non-aligned” — changed forever in what seemed like an instant, without the massive war that usually accompanies sudden changed. I remember this as the pivotal (non-personal to me) event in my lifetime. Those graduating today were about two years old then. Most had probably learned to walk; some had probably not learned to talk yet. They could not possibly remember it. To them, the Iron Curtain is something they encounter in history books — if at all, given the state of history education these days. It’s precisely as remote to them as the fall of Saigon is to me. Likewise, Jimmy Carter’s presidency — the first one I remember — is as remote to today’s 18-year-olds as John F. Kennedy’s is to me and today’s other 36-year-olds.

For comparison, let’s go a generation in the other direction. Someone who was 36 when I was 18 is 54 now. Born in 1951, today’s 54-year-old was old enough to have served in the Vietnam War and remembers the presidency of John Kennedy and probably Dwight Eisenhower. And — this is the freaky part — could be be working in my office, on the same types of projects as I and the 22-year-old who was born well after his or her career started. Today’s 54-year-old was born six years after the end of World War II — and today’s 18-year old was born five years after the last real economic recession, which ended in 1982.

Today’s 18-year-olds also do not remember: gas lines, inflation, fear of nuclear war, Ronald Reagan, “Tear down this wall!,” or the release of the first three Star Wars movies. They do not remember a world without a world without music CDs, VCRs, or cell-phones. Unless especially precocious, they do not remember a Democratic-controlled Congress, MS-DOS, or rotary telephones. They certainly do not remember a time when computers filled rooms; by the time they were born, computers were common in homes. By the time they started kindergarten, computers were in a huge percentage of homes and most were running Windows. They were in the 8-12-year-old bracket when e-mail was becoming commonplace among the general public. That’s the age bracket when most people in my generation started getting permission to dial the phone and call our friends. For all practical purposes, today’s 18-year-olds don’t know a world without the internet. They also do not remember any of these events.

Likewise, I imagine today’s 54-year-old finds it similarly striking that those my age do not remember: Vietnam, the draft, John Kennedy, Elvis, hippies, Watergate, or the Moon landing — despite the special connection I’ve always felt to the first Moon landing given it’s proximity to my birth and the fact that my parents told me I was there “watching” it on TV as an infant.

The people graduating this month were born when I was the age they are now. They have
experienced more changes in themselves in the last 18 years than I have. Have I grown as much in the last 18 years as they have? I don’t think so. I certainly haven’t changed as much in the last 18 years as in the previous 18. (Think about this — it’s impossible.)

As we get older, time seems to go faster. I don’t know when I first noticed this, but the older I get, the more convinced I am that it’s true. My grandmother, who is now 94, confirms this — it seems to go faster and faster as you get older. Someone I knew in 10th grade said his father had this theory that any particular length of time “feels” long or short based on the percentage of your life it makes up until that point. Thus, a year or a day or an hour at age 36 feels have as long as the same length of time at age 18. I don’t know how we could ever prove it, but that sounds eerily right to me now.

I have been thinking about all this for the past month and a half or so. (I was going to type this in weeks ago, but got busy). Last week, I saw someone I know from high school (even middle school) who I don’t see all that often — in particular, we’ve seen each other twice, maybe three times since I graduated 18 years ago. I did the math and realized that we are more than twice as old as when we first met (an even which I must admit I don’t remember). If you are 18 and you’ve seen someone twice in the last 18 years, you’re strangers. If you’re 36 and you’ve seen someone twice in the last 18 years, you might count as old friends.

She was about to get married (and presumably did so over the weekend), and is hoping for babies very soon. Her children will not remember a world without e-mail, September 11, 2001, or getting on a plane without taking your shoes off. They might know what a VCR is, but they’ll probably never use one on a daily basis. (By the time they’re old enough, recordable DVDs — or the next similar thing — will be as common as VCRs were 10 years ago.) To them, perhaps, the term “Arab democracy” may not be an oxymoron or an innovation. They may never meet anyone who fought in World War II, at least not at an age when they will be old enough to remember it. They will not — unless the mood of the country changes drastically for the worse, which is possible but I think unlikely — remember a time when it was at best uncool and at worst an act of defiance to fly an American flag on one’s home. They may not even remember Fidel Castro. (I can hope, can’t I? ;-) )

The world changes, and it changes quickly. An individual’s life passes very quickly. Make the most of it!

Grand Rounds XL is up

Filed under: — Different River @ 12:00 am

Grand Rounds XL is up, hosted at the Health Business Blog — an interesting blog which I’ve just discovered, and will no doubt be reading regularly and quoting from.

June 23, 2005

Begging for Food, Starved by Court Order

Filed under: — Different River @ 8:00 pm

In the wake of the Terri Schiavo case and the recent autopsy report, it’s worth noting that Terri Schiavo’s state of consciousness was legally irrelevant to whether she could be starved to death or not. In 1995, Marjorie Nighbert was starved/dehydrated to death on the strength of a power of attorney, even though she was able to speak and literally begging for food.
As Wesley J. Smith wrote,

The worst of these cases of which I am aware is the tragic dehydration of Marjorie Nighbert. Marjorie was a successful businesswoman until a stroke left her disabled. She was unable to swallow safely, but not terminally ill. She was moved from Alabama to a nursing home in Florida where she would receive rehabilitation to help her relearn how to chew and swallow without danger of aspiration. A feeding tube was inserted to ensure that she was properly nourished during her recovery.

Marjorie had once told her brother Maynard that she didn’t want a feeding tube if she were terminally ill. Despite the fact that she was not dying, Maynard believed that she had meant that she would rather die by dehydration than live the rest of her life using a feeding tube. Accordingly, he ordered all of Marjorie’s nourishment stopped.

As she was slowly dehydrating to death, Marjorie began to beg the staff for food and water. Distraught nurses and staff members, not knowing what else to do, surreptitiously snuck her small amounts. One staffer — who was later fired for the deed — blew the whistle, leading to a hurried court investigation and a temporary restraining order requiring that Marjorie receive nourishment.

Circuit Court Judge Jere Tolton appointed attorney William F. Stone to represent Marjorie and gave him twenty-four hours to determine whether she was competent to rescind the general power of attorney she had given to Maynard before her stroke. After the rushed investigation, Stone was forced to report that Marjorie was not competent at that time. (She had, after all, been intentionally malnourished for several weeks.) Stone particularly noted that he had been unable to determine whether she had been competent at the time the dehydration commenced.

With Stone’s report in hand, Judge Tolton ruled that the dehydration should be completed! Before an appalled Stone could appeal, Marjorie died on April 6, 1995.

Indeed, the Washington Post reported on January 5, 1997,

Marjorie Nighbert, a 76-year-old Florida woman, was hospitalized in 1996 after a stroke. Before her hospital admission, she signed an advance directive that no “heroic measures” should be employed to save her life. On the basis of that directive and at the request of her family, the hospital denied Nighbert’s requests for food and water, according to reports in the Northwest Florida Daily News. A hurriedly convened hospital ethics committee ruled that she was “not medically competent to ask for such a treatment.” Until her death more than 10 days later, Nighbert was restrained in her bed to prevent her from raiding other patients’ food trays.

The legal theory on which Terri Schiavo was put to death was identical to that used for Marjorie Nighbert — not legally competent, and once said she wouldn’t want tubes.

Drunk Flying

Filed under: — Different River @ 12:00 pm

Some people steal a car, drive drunk, and crash. This guy stole a plane, flew drunk, and landed safely.

June 22, 2005

Biting the Hand that Feeds, Part 2: Israel/Palestine

Filed under: — Different River @ 8:22 pm

A Palestinian woman treated in an Israeli hospital had a follow-up visit — to which she wore a suicide belt to blow up the hospital:

A 21-year old Arab woman from Gaza, who had been treated in an Israeli hospital for massive burns she received as a result of a gas tank explosion, was apprehended yesterday at the Erez Crossing wearing “explosive pants.” She said she had been directed to carry out her suicide attack inside the crowded Israeli hospital.

The woman, Wafaa Samir Ibrahim Bass, had been given permission to cross the Gaza lines yesterday for admission to Soroka Medical Center in Be’er Sheva for continued medical treatment for her facial scars. “The terrorist infrastructure took advantage of her medical condition,” read an IDF statement, “in order to carry out a major suicide bombing attack inside Israel.”

The resident of Jabaliya aroused the suspicion of the IDF soldiers at the crossing, who placed her in a side room for further checking via camera. During her security check, when she realized that the soldiers had discovered the explosive belt on her body, she attempted unsuccessfully to detonate it.

The terrorist told her questioners that she had been dispatched as a suicide bomber by the Fatah Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade infrastructure based in the northern Gaza Strip. Wafaa was to use her personal medical authorization documents, allowing her to cross through into Israel to receive medical treatment.

This was not the first time that terrorist organizations have attempted to dispatch terrorists from Gaza by exploiting those in need of medical treatment, the IDF reports[.]

Click here for two more examples of terrorists using medical treatment as an excuse for bombing.

And they wonder why Israel inspects Palestinian ambulances on their way to Israeli hospitals. Of course, no one ever gives Israel credit for allowing Palestinian ambulances to go to Israeli hospitals in the first place.

Biting the Hand that Feeds, Part 1: Sri Lanka

Filed under: — Different River @ 8:11 pm

The British charity Oxfam came to Sri Lanka to help with post-tsunami reconstruction. They brought their own trucks. So, the government of Sri Lanka charged Oxfam a 300% import tax on the trucks.

And Oxfam paid it! After the trucks spent an entire month idle while the government processed the paperwork.

Remember, this is the same country that refused to accept help from Israeli doctors two days after the tsunami.

Question of the Week

Filed under: — Different River @ 5:15 pm

VariFrank, as usual, gets it totally right:

If Newsweek’s improper reporting on the ‘Koran Flushing’ incident resulted in 60 deaths worldwide, yet the US government operation of Guantanamo has resulted with no deaths…

Then why has no one called for closing down Newsweek?

Why Durbin Apologized

Filed under: — Different River @ 5:10 pm

Could it be this Rasmussen poll, which finds that only 20% of Americans — and even only 30% of Democrats — think that the prisoners at Guantánamo are being treated unfairly? In fact, almost as many Democrats (28%) think they prisoners are being treated “better than they deserve.”

Inventor of Modern Life Dies

Filed under: — Different River @ 5:00 pm

OK, so that might be a slight exaggeration. But not much. Electronic News reports:

Inventor of IC Kilby Dies

By Ed Sperling — Electronic News, 6/21/2005

Jack St. Clair Kilby, a retired engineer with Texas Instruments who invented the integrated circuit (IC) passed away Monday in Dallas following a brief battle with cancer. He was 81.

Kilby invented the first monolithic IC, which served as the foundation for modern microelectronics and drove the industry into a world of miniaturization and integration that continues today. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2000 for his role in the invention of the IC.

“In my opinion, there are only a handful of people whose works have truly transformed the world and the way we live in it — Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, the Wright Brothers and Jack Kilby,” said TI chairman Tom Engibous in a statement. “If there was ever a seminal invention that transformed not only our industry but our world, it was Jack’s invention of the first integrated circuit.”

But it was the man behind the invention that never ceased to amaze those who knew him.
“Ever practical and low-key, with good humor and quiet grace, Jack was a man with every right to be boastful, yet never was,” Engibous noted.

Kilby was always quick to credit the thousands of engineers who followed him for their impact on growing the industry and changing the world. But for all the changes that the IC wrought — everything from cell phones to computers to PDAs — Kilby was more of a creator of the devices than a user.

“For a guy who started it all, he certainly wasn’t a fanatic about using it,” said McGarity. “He had no cell phone, no PDA, and while he did use a computer he was better at describing what went on inside it than using it.”

Kilby held more than 60 patents for a variety of electronics inventions – among these were the handheld electronic calculator and the thermal printer, both of which he co- invented.

Read the rest.

Why Durbin Apologized

Filed under: — Different River @ 4:50 pm

Could it be this Rasmussen poll, which finds that only 20% of Americans — and even only 30% of Democrats — think that the prisoners at Guantánamo are being treated unfairly? In fact, almost as many Democrats (28%) think they prisoners are being treated “better than they deserve.”

Star-Trib: “Durbin should not have apologized”

Filed under: — Different River @ 4:01 pm

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune has an editorial asserting that Dick Durbin was wrong — to apologize, that is!

Durbin apologized if his remarks had been “misunderstood.” They weren’t, and Durbin should not have apologized.

Instead, the senator should have hit back hard, just as the Amnesty International did when its comparison of Guantanamo to the Soviet gulag was attacked.

In other words, their point is: Durbin was right, American troops really are Nazis, and Guantánamo really is just like the Gulag.

Next they’ll be telling us that Columbus’ detractors should not have apologized; the world really is flat!

Mitch Berg has a more complete analysis.

Powerline reports that the Star-Tribune is losing subscribers over this.

(Hat tip: Hugh Hewitt.)

Dick Durbin, Guantánamo, and Vietnam

Filed under: — Different River @ 1:39 pm

Responding to my initial post on the Dick Durbin scandal, Ollie (who has his own political blog here, and a very cool math blog herethis describes one of my favorite math mind-benders) commented:

Had we read of our prisioners getting treated in this way (e. g., our POW’s in Vietnam) we would have been outraged.

I responded in comments, but I’ve since decided this issue deserves to be “promoted” to its own post.

The fact is, if our POW’s in Vietnam had been treated like the terrorists in Gitmo, it would have been far better than how our POW’s in Vietnam wer actually treated. There is no comparison. Here is a description of the treatment of then-future Senator Jeremiah Denton, when he was a POW in Hanoi, 1966-1973:

Denton’s torturers used their “standard” techniques of torture – they had starved him and then subjected him to “the ropes and iron bars.”

Returned prisoners described the torturers’ use of “the ropes”.

They said the North Vietnamese would pull the prisoners arms behind him and tie them together at the elbows.

The prisoner’s wrists were then locked in “torture cuffs” and “jumbo irons” were placed over his ankles.

A two-inch thick bar was slid through the “jumbo irons”.

The torturers then looped a rope around the bar, over his shoulders, pulling the prisoner’s head between his knees.

The prisoners were then forced to sit on a stool for days at a time.

“They took me right off of that {the ropes}, with me like a vegetable, up all night for three nights, telling me that I was going to go before this interviewer,” Denton said describing the incident.

Vietnamese torture took many forms, but basically, according to returned POWs, it boiled down to four types:

  • beatings which either permanently crippled or killed the prisoner,
  • deprivation of food and rest,
  • solitary confinement for months at a time,
  • and the intentional denial of medical treatment.

The U.S. Department of Defense estimated in 1973 that the Communist Vietnamese had tortured to death more than 55 U.S. prisoners.

Further descriptions of Vietnamese torture:

Navy Lt. j.g. Everett Alvarez Jr. became the first American pilot shot down. … Alvarez, who ejected not far from shore, was captured by armed Vietnamese in a fishing vessel. By Aug. 11, he had been taken to Hanoi’s notorious Hoa Lo Prison, a turn-of-the-century French-built facility with thick two-story concrete walls known in Vietnamese as the “fiery furnace.” Rats infested his cell. Food, consisting of animal hooves, chicken heads, rotten fish, and meat covered with hair, was sickening.

Navy Lt. j.g. Rodney A. Knutson, a radar intercept officer captured with pilot Lt. j.g. Ralph E. Gaither when their F-4 was shot down on Oct. 17, 1965, got an early taste of what lay ahead. His captors bound his arms so tightly that they lost circulation. He was denied food and water. He was beaten. When he still refused to cooperate, his torturers moved on to a new, more sinister method-the “rope torture.” Knutson was subjected to this technique on Oct. 25, 1965. The prisoner was forced face down onto a bunk with his ankles in stocks and a rope tied at his elbows, with the rope then pulled up to run through a hook in the ceiling. The guard hoisted the prisoner off the bunk so he could not ease any of his weight-producing extreme pain and constricting breathing.

USAF Capt. Konrad W. Trautman suffered the rope torture on a dozen occasions. “The pain is literally beyond description,” said Trautman, who was shot down and captured Oct. 5, 1967. “After about 10 or 15 minutes in this position, tied up so tightly, your nerves in your arms are pinched off, and then your whole upper torso becomes numb. It’s a relief. You feel no more pain. … However when they release the ropes, the procedure works completely in reverse. It’s almost like double jeopardy-you go through the same pain coming out of the ropes as you did going in.”

On July 6, 1966, 52 prisoners were assembled, blindfolded, handcuffed in pairs, and taken by truck to downtown Hanoi. The plan was to parade the Americans in public view and then use them as props in a war crimes show-trial to take place at a nearby stadium. This event came to be known as the “Hanoi March” and is viewed as a watershed in the propaganda war. “Oh boy, I love a parade,” quipped USAF Capt. Robert B. Purcell, captive since July 27, 1965, when his F-105 went down 30 miles west of Hanoi.

The prisoners were prodded through the streets at the point of bayonets, past the Soviet and Chinese Embassies and through threatening crowds standing 10 deep. One prisoner estimated the crowd as high as 100,000. Guards incited the angry mob with loudspeakers. Over a two-mile route, the POWs were punched and pummeled by flying bricks and bottles.

Air Force Capt. Earl G. Cobeil, captured on Nov. 5, 1967, feigned mental illness, as did some other POWs, to protect himself from the experimental brainwashing carried out by a dreaded Cuban interrogator. The Cuban, known among POWs as “Fidel,” convinced that Cobeil was faking, mercilessly beat him day after day. One day, Cobeil refused to bow. For the offense, Cobeil on May 21, 1968, was trussed in ropes overnight and mauled for 24 hours straight. Fidel, enraged, emerged from one torture session to shout to prisoners within earshot: “We’ve got [a POW] that’s faking. Nobody’s gonna fake and get away with it. … I’m gonna teach you all a lesson. … I’m gonna break this guy in a million pieces.” Cobeil was last seen in the fall of 1970 and did not return with the other POWs in 1973. The Vietnamese later reported Cobeil had died in November 1970; his remains were returned March 6, 1974.

Vietnamese communists played the race card. Air Force Maj. Fred V. Cherry, the highest ranking black POW in the North, recalled his captors trying to exploit him by treating him differently. The Vietnamese housed Cherry with Navy Lt. Porter A. Halyburton in apparent hopes of sowing dissension between a black aviator and a white Southerner. The tactic backfired. Cherry later credited Halyburton with saving his life, when his injuries from being shot down became so infected that he had to be fed by hand and assisted with his bodily needs.

Cherry’s resistance won him some of the war’s most severe exactions-including one 93-day stretch of unbroken torture and 53 straight weeks of solitary confinement.

This is a far cry from the worst treatment at Gitmo, which seems to consist of dripping water, variable air conditioning, and loud pop music.

Of 704 American POWs, 113 died in captivity. No prisoners have died at Gitmo.

Instead, they learn to read

Ismail Agha was a slight, illiterate village boy of 13 when his family last saw him 14 months ago. When he reappeared last week, he was three inches taller, his voice had deepened, his chin had sprouted a black beard and he had learned to read, write and do basic math.

Ismail’s transformation occurred mostly at a place called Camp Iguana, a seaside compound within the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where he and two other Afghan teenagers suspected of belonging to the Taliban militia were confined for more than 12 months, until their release Jan. 29.

Transplanted to a modern U.S. military base half a world away, the shy village youth said he saw the ocean for the first time, played soccer, slept in an air-conditioned room and showered twice a day after growing up in a village without plumbing or electricity. “We could even turn the lights on and off when we wanted,” he said[.]

Ismail said he was repeatedly asked whether he was with the Taliban or other Islamic groups, and repeatedly answered no. He said he was arrested by mistake while looking for construction work with a friend at an Afghan military camp in the town of Greshk, in central Helmand province. He said Afghan soldiers beat him and then turned him over to U.S. troops, who flew him by helicopter to Bagram.

After more than a month at Bagram, Ismail said, he was warned that if he did not confess he would be sent to a terrible and distant place called Guantanamo. …

Once he arrived at Guantanamo, Ismail said, he was astonished by the change.

There were no more questions and no more threats, only school and exercise and Muslim prayers and dorm life with two other young Afghans he had never met before. He said both were from Paktia province, one his age and one a little younger, and that he knew them only as Asadullah and Naqibullah.

The boys lived in a house with several rooms: a shared sleeping room and an adjoining room for eating and studying. On one side they could see the ocean, but the other three sides were blocked by high walls and barbed wire, and they never saw or spoke with the adult prisoners.

Each day, Ismail said, they were taught English, Pashto and basic math by Afghan American teachers. They were also given copies of the Koran. Each night, four U.S. soldiers took turns sleeping in the second room. On Wednesday, he asked to send greetings to all of them, but said he never learned their names.

Meanwhile, the Red Cross failed — or refused — to deliver his mail:

When he first reached Guantanamo, he said, he asked a translator to write home on his behalf. After he learned to write in Pashto a little bit, he said, he wrote several letters and gave them to Red Cross delegates, who he said visited every one or two months.

But last week, after Ismail was reunited with his father, he learned that most of the letters, addressed to relatives in Naw Zad, never reached his family in their village. For nearly one year, they knew nothing of his whereabouts.

His father’s reaction:

“I didn’t recognize my son even when he came up and kissed my hand,” Hayatullah said. “He was much taller and a little fatter, and he had a beard. Also, he told me he had learned to read.” The old man sat up and smiled. “My son got an education in America.”

Durbin Apologizes?

Filed under: — Different River @ 1:21 pm

Ah, the saga of Senator Durbin — the number-two Democat in the Senate leadership — continues, and has broken into the mainstream media. And this, Durbin acknowledges, warrants some sort of response. The day after comparing American troops to “Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, … Pol Pot and others that had no concern for human beings,” he refused to apologize and called on the Bush Administration to apologize instead.

Now, a commenter notes that he has broken his word — and apologized. Sort of:

“Some may believe that my remarks crossed the line,” the Illinois Democrat said. “To them I extend my heartfelt apologies.”

Is he apologizing for his remarks — or for the fact that some people crossed the line? He certainly does not seem to be apologizing for thinking that American troops are Nazis/Communists. Just for being “over the line” about it.

His voice quaking and tears welling in his eyes, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate also apologized to any soldiers who felt insulted by his remarks.

“They’re the best. I never, ever intended any disrespect for them,” he said.

Ah, so calling someone a Nazi and a Communist and a Gulag-operator is not “intended” as “disrespect”? Should we therefore conclude that Senator Durbin resepects “Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, … Pol Pot and others that had no concern for human beings”? I think we should, at least until Senator Durbin apologizes for this “apology”!

Laura Ingraham pointed out on her radio show this morning that when Senator Trent Lott — then the Republican leader — said at Strom Thurmond’s birthday party in 2002 that it would have been good if Thurmond has won when he ran for president in 1948 as a segregationist, the story made the front page of the Washington Post for three out of four consecutive days (December 12, 14, and 15, 2002) — and each time, the Post’s news story (not editorial, but “objective” news story) brought up the possibility of Lott’s resigning from the Senate, or resigning or being removed from his Senate leadership post. Ultimately, the Republicans removed Lott from his Senate leadership post.

Last year, Democratic Senator Christopher Dodd said of Senator and former Democratic Leader Robert Byrd, “I cannot think of a single moment in this nation’s 220-plus-year history where he would not have been a valuable asset to this country.” Presumably, that includes the moments when Senator Byrd filibustered all the major civil rights legislation in the 1960s, the moment when then-Representative Byrd opposed integration of the armed forces and called African-Americans “race mongrels,” the moments (years, actually) when Byrd organized and led a new chapter of the KKK in his home town. Dodd and Byrd both went unpunished.

It would be good for the Democrat’s credibility if they would remove Durbin from his leadership post. It would be even better if they found a candidate to run against him in his next primary.

June 21, 2005

Actual Torture

Filed under: — Different River @ 5:49 pm

Jamie Jeffords of Eye of Polyphemus points out this story in the New York Times:

Iraq, Sunday, June 19 – Marines on an operation to eliminate insurgents that began Friday broke through the outside wall of a building in this small rural village to find a torture center equipped with electric wires, a noose, handcuffs, a 574-page jihad manual – and four beaten and shackled Iraqis. [Note to Dick Durbin: They were being tortured by "insurgents" and rescued by U.S. Marines. --DR]
…..
The manual recovered – a fat, well-thumbed Arabic paperback – listed itself as the 2005 First Edition of “The Principles of Jihadist Philosophy,” by Abdel Rahman al-Ali. Its chapters included “How to Select the Best Hostage,” and “The Legitimacy of Cutting the Infidels’ Heads.”

Three cars loaded with explosives were parked in a garage outside the house.

The article also describes the torture:

Ahmed XXXX, 19, a former member of the new Iraqi Army, said he had been held and tortured there for 22 days. All the while, he said, his face was almost entirely taped over and his hands were cuffed.

Just once, he asked if he could see his mother, and one of them said to him, “You won’t leave until you are dead.”

Mr. XXXX did not know there were other hostages. He found out only after the captors left and he was able to remove the tape from his eyes.

The others were emaciated and battered. Mr. XXXX had fared the best. The other three were taken by medical helicopter to Balad, a base near Baghdad with a hospital.

But he still had been hurt badly. Marks from beatings criss-crossed his back, and deep pocks, apparently from electric shock burns, were gouged in his skin.

The shocks, he said, felt “like my soul is being ripped out of my body.” But when he would start to scream, and his body would pull up from the shock, they would begin to beat him, he said.

Mr. XXXX has been at the Marine base south of Qaim since his release, on Saturday around noon. His mother still does not know he is alive.

When she was mentioned, he bowed and lowered his head, and began to cry softly, wiping his face with the jumpsuit given him by the marines.

He asked a reporter for help to move to another town, because it was too dangerous for his family to remain in their house. He begged not to have a photograph taken, even of the scars on his back. The captors took pictures of that, he said. [But the New York Times saw fit to publish his name, so other "insurgents" can take revenge on his family. This is called "journalistic ethics." --DR]

His town has always been a good place, he said, but the militants have made it hell.

“These few are destroying it,” he said, his face streaked with tears. “Everybody they take, they kill. It’s on a daily basis pretty much.”

Remember, Dick Durbin thinks that the Marines who rescued Mr. XXXX are like “Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, … Pol Pot” — and that the “insurgents” who tortured and maimed Mr. XXXX ought to be released from Gitmo, where they are “tortured” by being forced to listen to Christina Aguilera music. Poor little things.

Jamie Jeffords notes:

That is what we are up against: barbarians willing to toture, maim, and kill their own people while celebrating the beheading of those who don’t follow their religion. Those are Nazis. Sen. Durbin may not realize it, but our armed servicemen do, the American people do, and I do. I feel proud as an American to know we have taken a stand against them.

Senator Durbin is not anti-war. He’s just on the other side.

A Senator Responds to Dick Durbin

Filed under: — Different River @ 5:06 pm

As noted previously, last week the number-two Democrat in the Senator Dick Durbin compared American soldiers to “Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, … Pol Pot.” And there has been an uproar in the blogosphere (and probably talk radio, but I haven’t had much time to listen lately) over this for the past week.

Now, a Senator has responded:

“I call on those who question the motives of the president and his national security advisors to join with the rest of America in presenting a united front to our enemies abroad.”

Which Senator said that?

OK, I lied — that statement was also from Senator Dick Durbin. Defending the war in Iraq. In 1998. December 17, 1998. When President Clinton had just ordered a third consecutive night of air strikes against Iraq. Whose motives were questioned because the House was about to vote on articles of impeachment for perjury.

So I guess in Dick Durbin’s view:

  • When America is threatened by terrorists, the appropriate thing to do is compare American troops protecting us from them to “Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, … Pol Pot.”
  • When an American president is in political trouble over a sex-lies-and-real-estate scandal, the appropriate thing to do is “present[] a united front to our enemies abroad.”

Do you think maybe Senator Durbin might retract his remarks and “present a united front” with President Bush, if only President Bush were to have sex with a few interns, participate in a crooked real estate deal, and then lie about it all to a grand jury? Would that obligate Senator Durbin to is “present a united front to our enemies abroad”? Or would he still give our enemies abroad hope that they can defeat us?

(Mark at Decision ’08 had an even better headline for the abvoe quote: Durbin: We Must Support the President.)

RealClearPolitics adds (emphases in the original):

Consider the following statement:


“We sat on our knees for an hour. Then they began slapping us on the back of our necks, real hard, and then they started pouring hot wax down our back.”

If this described something that had happened at Gitmo, Dick Durbin would have decried it as a despicable form of torture that “must have been done by Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, or some mad regime—Pol Pot or others— that had no concern for human beings.” Since this didn’t happen at Gitmo, however, but is instead a description of a fraternity hazing incident, an analogy comparing Delta House with Auschwitz would look rather silly – just as Durbin looked on Tuesday.

The problem is that Democrats want to conduct a debate about torture without defining exactly what torture is. Republicans haven’t exactly defined torture in detail either, but they’ve benefitted from the feeling among the public that torture is like pornography: “I’ll know it when I see it.” Keeping suspected terrorists awake by playing Christina Aguilera songs or by turning up or down the air conditioning simply doesn’t pass that test.
Instead of trying to conduct a reasonable debate over what is or isn’t torture, however, Democrats like Durbin are overrun by partisanship and a desire to humiliate this administration. The result is a massive rhetorical overreach like the one on Tuesday which defies historical fact, slanders the U.S. military, and leaves the impression that Democrats are instinctively more interested in protecting the rights of suspected terrorists than they are about protecting the country.

This leads me to an ironic thought: we might actually be better off fighting the War on Terror with a Democrat as president. I say this because if a Democrat occupied the White House under the same exact circumstances we find ourselves in today, the narrative on detainee rights (driven by a Republican Congress, of course) would almost certainly be that we are being too soft on suspected terrorists at Gitmo. We’re serving them lemon fish! Handling their Korans with white rubber gloves! Blasting their prayers over the loudspeakers five times a day! Outrageous!

Then first -rate partisans like Durbin would be taking to the floor of the Senate to defend our treatment of prisoners at Gitmo, not condemn it – though unfortunately not out of any special love for or deep belief in the good character of our troops.

(Hat tip: Ed Driscoll via InstaPundit.)

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