Sunday, February 8, 2009
Friday, January 23, 2009
Compare and contrast:
1. )Afghan Irregulars, fighting an enemy that booby-trapped toys in order to maim children, and the Geneva Conventions:
Durant la guerre en Afghanistan (1979-1988), des Soviétiques sont capturés par des résistants afghans qui ne peuvent les traiter conformément aux conventions de Genève. Avec l'accord des deux parties, la Suisse accepte de les garder au Zugerberg pendant deux ans comme prisonniers de guerre, mais non comme internés puisqu'ils ne sont pas arrivés par leurs propres moyens à la frontière. (From the Historical Encylopedia of Switzerland (Dictionnaire Historique de la Suisse.)
During the War in Afghanistan (1979-1988) some Soviet soldiers were captured by the Afghani resistance, who were unable to treat them as prescribed by the Geneva Conventions. In agreement with the two parties, Switzerland agreed to incarcerate them on the Zugerberg for two years as Prisoners of War, but not as Internees, because they had not come to Switzerland by their own efforts.To summarize, because the Muj realized they were not able to meet the requirements of the Geneva Conventions, even though they were under no obligation to do so, they sent some of their prisoners to Switzerland, where they were imprisoned in circumstances that met the requirements of the Geneva Conventions. (Others were lynched on the spot; among other bad habits, the Soviets would drop booby-trapped toys over villages. The idea was to generally tear the limbs off, but not kill, small children, because when a child was maimed, the entire family would leave for Pakistan in order to care for their child.
For those who read Der Spiegel.
The prisoners' legal status:
Erstmals wird damit in einem völkerrechtlich nicht als "Krieg" definierten Konflikt die Genfer Konvention zum Schutz von Kriegsgefangenen angewendet - wenn auch ausdrücklich bloß "in Analogie". Und erstmals ist es möglich, Gefangene in einem unbeteiligten Drittland zu internieren - obwohl weder von Gefangenen noch von Internierung die Rede ist.
For the first time ever, the Geneva Convention for the Protection of Prisoners of War was applied in a conflict that did not meet the definition of war under international law, though admittedly this was explicitly only done "in analogy". And for the first time ever, it was possible to intern prisoners in an uninvolved third country, although no determination of "prisoners" or "internment" was made.
The prisoners' amenities:
Soviet prisoners of the Mujahideen got a monthly pass to go to the nearest city for R&R.
2.) Donald Rumsfeld and the Geneva Conventions:
Reporting from Washington -- A bipartisan Senate report released Thursday concludes that decisions made by former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld were a "direct cause" of widespread detainee abuses, and that other Bush administration officials were to blame for creating a legal and moral climate that contributed to inhumane treatment....
The report also criticizes President Bush, although less harshly. In particular, it cites a presidential memorandum signed Feb. 7, 2002, that denied detainees captured in Afghanistan the protections of the Geneva Conventions, which ban abusive treatment of prisoners of war.
Bush's decision to bypass an international law that had been observed by American troops for decades sent a message that "impacted the treatment of detainees in U.S. custody," the report says.
That message was bolstered by a series of memos from the Justice Department, the report says, that "distorted the meaning and intent of anti-torture laws" and "rationalized the abuse of detainees in U.S. custody."
"Rumsfeld blamed in detainee abuse scandals," Los Angeles Times, December 12, 2008
The prisoners' amenities:
In 2004, photographs of cowed Guantanamo prisoners in orange jump suits shocked the world.
"The majority are kept in isolation in cells that are no bigger than a toilet," said Katznelson. "There is no sea view. Instead, if they have a window, it looks out on to a bleak corridor. The cells are lined with steel from floor to ceiling, including the toilet, sink and bed base.
"There is a popular misconception that these men have had trials and been found guilty. Nothing is further from the truth. Not one of them has.
"The tortures that the Americans use are wide-ranging and inhuman. One is to blast the cell with freezing cold air. Another is to pretend to take the prisoners to a country like Egypt where prisoners are tortured, even to the extent of taking them on a mock flight, so they can be treated in a barbaric fashion."
Katznelson continued: "Inmates are offered three meals a day, but there are eight prisoners who have been on hunger strike for over a year asking either for a trial or to be set free.
"These men are force-fed twice a day. First they are strapped down with 16 different restrictions, including one that jerks their head back. Then a tube is fed through their nose and down into their stomach.
"The guards don't always use lubrication and regularly use the same tube for several different prisoners without bothering to clean it."
The Zugerberg, where John Kerry went to boarding school:
Camp X-Ray at Guantanamo:
Life after confinement:
Yvonne Ridley: From captive to convert:
If you were being interrogated by the Taleban as a suspected US spy, it might be hard to imagine a happy ending.
But for journalist Yvonne Ridley, the ordeal in Afghanistan led her to convert to a religion she says is "the biggest and best family in the world".
The formerly hard-drinking Sunday school teacher became a Muslim after reading the Koran on her release.
She now describes radical cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri as "quite sweet really" and says the Taleban have suffered an unfair press.
Freed by the U.S., Saudi becomes al Qaeda chief
BEIRUT, Lebanon: The emergence of a former Guantánamo Bay detainee as the deputy leader of Al Qaeda's Yemeni branch has underscored the potential complications in carrying out the executive order President Barack Obama signed Thursday that the detention center be shut down within a year.
The militant, Said Ali al-Shihri, is suspected of involvement in a deadly bombing of the United States Embassy in Yemen's capital, Sana, in September. He was released to Saudi Arabia in 2007 and passed through a Saudi rehabilitation program for former jihadists before resurfacing with Al Qaeda in Yemen.
Please forward a link to this post to those who you may feel may find it to be of interest.
Friday, January 16, 2009
Fribourg's St. Nicholas Cathedral , built in 1490.
In the Rue des Epouses, there's an arch, the front side of which is adorned by a French rhyme.
"Voice la rue des epouses fidèles,
et aussi le coin des maris modèles."
"Here's the road of faithful wives,
and also the corner of exemplary husbands."
On the other side of the arch the facts of (harmonious) married life are explained to grooms-to-be in a rhyme in the Swiss-German dialect.
"Hüt! Freu di, Hochzitter, Du guete Ma,
Morn het am End d'frau scho dini Hosa a!"
"Today! Bridegroom enjoy yourself, you good man;
by the end of tomorrow the wife shall wear your pants."
A historical curiosity for which Fribourg is noted is that as late as the 1960s, it had more than 100 monasteries and convents within its city limits where some, who felt they were not called to married life, resided.
Thursday, January 15, 2009
One of the pious myths maintained by the Roman Empire was that of the Apotheosis, the belief that after their death the better emperors would assume a place amongst the gods. As pious myths generally do, the Apotheosis came to serve as subject matter for comedians. Suetonius has it that when Emperor Vespasian concluded on his death bed that his ailments would presumably prove to be fatal, he uttered his famous last words, "Vae, puto deus fio," "Drat it! I think I am becoming a god." The most memorable satire of this tradition is the Apocolocyntosis, the Pumpkinification of the Divine (Emperor) Claudius, which is attributed to Seneca, the Roman author and philosopher.
Seneca had some good reasons to be critical of Claudius' reign; Claudius had been the first emperor to not be elected by the Senate but rather selected by the Praetorian Guard, after the assassination of Caligula. He also had personal reasons to resent him, as Claudius had banished him to Corsica because of his improprieties. When Claudius died, be it of poison or old age, Seneca seized the opportunity to settle scores, and wrote a satire that had Claudius not becoming a deity, but rather being transmuted into a banal pumpkin.
The Apocolocyntosis is quickly summarized; upon his death, Claudius makes his way to Mount Olympus to seek admission to live among the gods, but Hercules finds that he mangles his enunciation and syntax so badly as to be unintelligible, a huge humiliation for any Roman, a people among whom eloquence was highly prized.
Tum Hercules primo aspectu sane perturbatus est, ut qui etiam non omnia monstra timuerit. Ut vidit novi generis faciem, insolitum incessum, vocem nullius terrestris animalis sed qualis esse marinis beluis solet, raucam et implicatam, putavit sibi tertium decimum laborem venisse. Diligentius intuenti visus est quasi homo.
"But when Hercules, first saw him, he was badly shaken, even though not all the monsters in the world could frighten him; when he saw the face of this new object, with its extraordinary gait, and heard its voice, hoarse and inarticulate, like that of no land animal, but such as you might hear from a monster of the deep, he thought he had encountered his thirteenth labor. But when he looked closer, the thing seemed to be a kind of man."
Eventually the gods debate whether he should be admitted to their ranks, and give him the thumbs down. The hapless Claudius makes his way to the underworld, where as a punishment for his love of gambling and his generally having been a wastrel, he is sentenced to spend eternity trying to roll dice out of a box with no bottom; every time he tries to roll them, they fall to the floor, and he has to search for them and then pick them up, only to shake them again in their bottomless box. He is then saved from this futile drudgery when his predecessor, Emperor Caligula, appears, and claims Claudius as his former slave, a false and humiliating claim, and turns him over to be a law clerk in the court of the underworld.
Many believe the most memorable passage in the Apocolyntosis to be the description of Claudius' passing:
"Et ille quidem animam ebulliit, et ex eo desiit vivere videri. Exspiravit autem dum comoedos audit, ut scias me non sine causa illos timere.
Ultima vox eius haec inter homines audita est, cum maiorem sonitum emisisset illa parte, qua facilius loquebatur: "vae me, puto, concacavi me." Quod an fecerit, nescio: omnia certe concacavit."
And he really bubbled up his ghost, and the signs of life left him. He died while listening to comedians, so you know why I am wary of them, not without reason.
His last statement among humans was heard after he had let loose a very loud sound from that body part of him with which he spoke the most fluently; “Dear me, I think I’ve thoroughly crapped all over myself.” If he really did this I do not know, but what is certain is that he thoroughly crapped up everything he did.
P.S. Your humble author concluded his six years of studying Latin with a half-hour oral final exam on the works of his Seneca. His last words in that exam alluded to Seneca's having been Emperor Nero's tutor, Nero having been the emperor that Sueton and Dio Cassius accuse of having been responsible for the great fire which devastated the City of Rome, and of playing his lyre as Rome burned. To be fair, Tacitus, the great historian, defended him on this count, writing that this was only an unproven rumor. In any event, Nero blamed the fire on the hapless Christians, then a religious sect poorly understood in Rome, and began a savage persecution of them, accusing them, among other things, of cannibalism, introducing Rome's lions to the nutritive value of the flesh of Christians. This persecution made him immensely popular among the people of Rome, until the sheer brutality of his persecution and his crassness turned many of them against him.
To quote Tacitus:
Sed non ope humana, non largitionibus principis aut deum placamentis decedebat infamia quin iussum incendium crederetur. ergo abolendo rumori Nero subdidit reos et quaesitissimis poenis adfecit quos per flagitia invisos vulgus Christianos appellabat. auctor nominis eius Christus Tiberio imperitante per procuratorem Pontium Pilatum supplicio adfectus erat; repressaque in praesens exitiabilis superstitio rursum erumpebat, non modo per Iudaeam, originem eius mali, sed per urbem etiam quo cuncta undique atrocia aut pudenda confluunt celebranturque. igitur primum correpti qui fatebantur, deinde indicio eorum multitudo
ingens haud proinde in crimine incendii quam odio humani generis convicti sunt . et pereuntibus addita ludibria, ut ferarum tergis contecti laniatu canum interirent, aut crucibus adfixi aut flammandi, atque ubi defecisset dies in usum nocturni luminis urerentur. hortos suos ei spectaculo Nero obtulerat et circense ludicrum edebat, habitu aurigae permixtus plebi vel curriculo insistens. unde quamquam adversus sontis et novissima exempla meritos miseratio oriebatur, tamquam non utilitate publica sed in saevitiam unius absumerentur.
But all human efforts, all the lavish gifts of the emperor, and the propitiations of the gods, did not banish the sinister belief that the conflagration was the result of an order. Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to torture-stakes, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired. Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle, and was exhibiting a show in the circus, while he mingled with the people in the dress of a charioteer or stood aloft on a car. Hence, even for criminals who deserved extreme and exemplary punishment, there arose a feeling of compassion; for it was not, as it seemed, for the public good, but to glut one man's cruelty, that they were being destroyed.
Tacitus Annals XV.44
When the Pisonian conspiracy to murder Nero failed, Seneca was accused of at the least having been sympathetic to the conspirators, and their goal of ending Nero's despotic reign; Nero ordered Seneca to commit suicide, which he duly did. Your humble author concluded his endeavor of six years, which had seen him progress from "amo, amas, amat" to Seneca by reminding his teacher that Seneca's having been Nero's tutor proved that even the best teachers had their limits. His teacher burst into laughter, and replied that he felt that his efforts with your humble author would prove to be more successful than Seneca's with Nero. Tempus patebit.
Saturday, June 30, 2007
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
One of those very interesting scientists to make some extremely interesting discoveries, and, as is customary in a field dominated by mountebanks, all but completely be ignored, is Professor Max Lüscher (b 1923). In his day he taught at institutes of higher learning such as Yale University's School of Medicine and the Sorbonne's Psychology Department among many others. Lüscher had been fascinated by philosophy and psychology from an early age, and was given special - and rarely given - permission to audit university courses in psychology and philosophy at the age of 16. At 18, he began to ponder what influence the perception of color has on understanding the Rorschach test. The more he busied himself with the question, the more interesting the results were that he found. Colors have clear physiological effects on humans; some shades of red, for example, cause the heart rate to pick up and other involuntary symptoms of arousal to manifest themselves, similarly some shades of blue have an opposite effect. In more medical terms, this would be equivalent to the stimulation of the sympathetic or parasympathetic nerves.
Lüscher came to understand that while everyone sees the exact same colors when presented with the same color samples, how they perceive the colors is completely subjective, and often very informative about their state of mind and their health. His research was made easier by a lucky break; a befriended doctor arranged for him to enjoy unlimited access to the patients at the hospital he directed, and to their medical records, which Lüscher used to assiduously investigate how patients perceived certain colors he had identified as particularly useful for such diagnostic purposes, and what correlations existed with their physical and psychological states. Another obvious result is that once enough patients with clear medical records had been examined to allow clear conclusions to be drawn about how health states affect the perception of colors, testing the perception of colors would allow clear conclusions to be drawn about health problems that exist, and about health problems which were likely to appear in the future, simply by measuring how people perceive colors. The obvious caveat is that these conclusions will only be as reliable as the data and common sense that is used to draw them. All the same, this is extremely interesting. Such a color test can be done in 5 minutes; rather than requiring that blood be drawn and sent to laboratories and the like, the only equipment required is a sheet of paper, a pen, and eight pages with Lüscher's copyrighted colors on them.
His discoveries were sufficiently interesting enough for him to be invited to be a speaker at the first International Congress of Psychology to meet after the Second World War, this while he was still a student. His talks there made such an impression that he was invited to lecture about his work at the Sorbonne and to the Quai d'Orsay, the French Foreign Ministry, right after receiving his doctorate. To this day, Dr. Lüscher's lectures are well attended.
Lüscher's (copyrighted) color test consists of batteries of seven tests; first of all, the testee is acted to rate eight colors according to how pleasant and unpleasant he or she finds them to be, then to rate a few shapes by the same criteria, and then to identify which of four colors and then which of four shades of four colors seem most appealing, and then to rerate the eight colors. What the results can tell you is amazing.
- Personality traits are clearly reflected in the results of his test.
- One of the conclusions that can be drawn from some results of the Lüscher Color test is that some patients either do or don't have a predisposition to get cancer. Admittedly, in the material I've read, the likelihood of the testee getting or not getting cancer are only given for less common color preferences not indicative of overall good health, but they are strong (p<0.001.)
- A Norwegian researcher found that in a study of 4275 13 year olds who grow up to be delinquents as adults already show significant differences in their subjective perceptions of the colors compared to those who don't; they find Lüscher's strains of black to be much more pleasant and yellow much less pleasant than their peers who go on to lead troubled lives. (Lie N, Boys who became offenders. A follow-up study of 2203 boys tested with projective methods, Acta Psychiatr Scand Suppl. 1988;342:1-122.)
- Elena Schikowa wrote her 2001 dissertation at Moscow State University in which she documented that male and female asthmatics have statistically significant deviations (i.e. p<0.05)
- A predisposition to heart attacks is also reflected in the choice of colors.
- Finding Lüscher's yellow to be, in relative terms, very unattractive correlates with having a high T-lymphocyte count.
- A. Vegliach reports that in a sample of 25 depressives, depression could be diagnosed with p=0.00522, in other words probably with more precision than with the diagnostic checklists used today.
- I'm in the process of confirming that pregnant women and hyperthyroids also reveal themselves through their perception of colors.
Being a psychologist and philosopher, Dr. Lüscher not surpisingly also has some fairly interesting explanations to offer for why the different colors have different meanings, how, for example, his strain of violet, the color that results when red and blue is mixed, unites some traits associated with red and some with blue and more.
Another interesting fact is that Albert Szent-Györgyi, whose contributions to science have already been touched on in these pages, was also convinced the many colors one finds in the human body also must have some significance in the greater scheme of bodily functions. Why, he had asked his professors as an aspiring medico, was the liver brown? Their answer was that the liver is brown because.. well the liver is brown. This wasn't good enough for Szent-Györgyi, who was still pondering this in his 70s and asking his readers what the significance of oxygenated blood being the vibrant crimson is. Oxgenated blood is rich in oxygen, which is the primary source of oxidation in the body. Is it a surprise that the color of blood that powers this most important process has such an visual impact on us humans?
As the gentle reader may recall, Szent-Györgyi was convinced that semiconduction plays an important role in human biology, particularly that of cancer, and that cancer ultimately is a problem of - among other things - electron shell configurations. Since photons can change electron shell configurations, the reports that a person's color preference allows statistically very meaningful conclusions to be drawn about an individuals predisposition to cancer at the very least confirms that there is a good likelihood that Szent-Györgyi was onto something interesting. I have no idea to what all uses Dr. Lüscher's work can be put. Nevertheless...
- Could it be that routine mammograms do more harm than good in patients whose likelihood of suffering cancer during their lifetime is 0.1%, if said minority can be identified with a 5 minute color perception test?
- Could it be that people at a high risk of suffering a heart attack could be identified, and perhaps helped to reduce their likelihood of suffering a heart attack with this 5 minute test?
- Would it make sense to seek to identify adolescents who are highly likely to commit violent crimes as adults, and perhaps monitor them more extensively than people who appear to be at no risk?
- Could it be that one could identify which medications are most likely to be helpful in some illnesses with this test? I suspect so. Lüscher, in fact, says so.
- If illnesses and psychology are linked, would the competent and beneficial practice of medicine also involve identifying and instilling values and helping to order patients and society? Is this compatible with medicine by committee?
Unfortunately, medicine has all too often become neither an art nor a science, but rather a system of following flow charts that generally are created by committees in highly opaque circumstances. The only thing that is somewhat transparent is the flow of funding from the pharmaceutical industry to the politicians who chose those who are to regulate the industry. Thinking is deemed unbecoming; how else can one explain that it generally takes years until very serious, sometimes lethal, side-effects of "blockbuster" treatments are documented, if they ever are. For many doctors pretty much their only art is determining how to best code illness in order to maximize renumeration from the health insurances. This is an art particularly suited to mediocrities and the mediocrities among mediocrities; not surprisingly medicine today is full of such creatures. Whenever decisions are customarily made by committees, as is the wont in academia in our days, those who have better things to do than attend sempiternal committee meetings will neither thrive nor often get the acknowledgment that ought be their due.
The ancient Greeks had their priests who praised Zeus, Neptune and Hera; when they needed advice, they would consult among others the Oracle at Delphi. The Romans had priests who praised Jupiter, Saturn and the Lares. The ancient Germans had priests who praised Wotan, Thor, Freya, Odin, and others. contemporary Americans are plagued by clowns who praise the likes of Lipitor, Prozac, Vioxx, and Neurontin, and ascribe to them and all the other deities and semi-deities listed in the American pharmacopoeia magical powers that are not only not scientifically proven but sometimes even embarrassingly prove to be scientifically disproved. Every people must have its witchdoctors.
To round the buffooneries off, Americans even suffer the attentions of professional "drug czars," men rarely thought to understand much of pharmacology or medicine, but who have nevertheless taken in upon themselves to craft and enforce an American pharmacological demonology that few but the most abject of morons take even halfway serious. Curiously, the deities in this bizarre belief system all too often are under patent; the demons that must be vigorously exorcised, even publicly burned, generally have been treasured for their medicinal uses for thousands of years, and could generally be easily cultivated in your backyard were it not for these purported public servants. We are now at the point of a system of mountebanks, for mountebanks, and by mountebanks.
As long as people are accept as an article of faith that medicine by committee and insurance claim is superior to medicine practiced as an art and science between doctor and patient, and to tolerate legislation which prohibits the latter by force of law, they will get exactly what they deserve, nothing more and nothing less.
There are several pages dedicated to the Lüscher test that are online. But as they are at best rather shoddy attempts to emulate a copyrighted test, I won't link to them. Dr. Lüscher spent two years going through no less than 4,500 colors before he settled on the 43 colors and shades of gray that feature in his test. The results of his test are calibrated to his colors; any attempt to create a test that doesn't use his colors is a fool's errand.
Here is the website licensed to sell Dr. Lüscher's tests:
Thursday, June 14, 2007
Perón's last wife, whose life was not made into a famous London musical, succeeded him to the presidency of an Argentina plagued by left-wingers given to the notion that it was justified, even ethical, to summarily kill purported "enemies of the revolution," and a military that had no compunctions about "disappearing" thousands of revolutionaries known to entertain such beliefs, or suspected of doing so, without worrying about legal niceties. Such circumstances rarely make for too happy a country; as General Leopoldo Galtieri, the head of the junta that held the reigns of power in Argentina, realized that time was running out for his increasingly unpopular regime, he decided to invade the Falkland Islands.
The Falklands had belonged to Spain, and been part of the Spanish province to which Argentina belonged when Argentina declared its independence from Spain in 1816. In 1833, the British occupied the Falklands, deported the remaining Argentines, and settled some of Her Majesty's Subjects on the islands. Argentina had never - and does not - recognize the British claim to these islands; to this day it remains a matter of national pride that the "Malvinas" as they are known in Spanish, are Argentinian.
General Galtieri believed - or wanted to believe - that the British under Maggie Thatcher's leadership, would quietly acquiesce to his conquest, and that the United States, with whom he enjoyed a good working relationship based on their mutual enmity of Communism, would put its friendship with Argentina above its venerable, almost fraternal, ties with Great Britain. In both of these he was sorely mistaken; Argentina's forces on the Falklands were no match for the British forces. The Falklands were lost, and his government fell. The talks between the United Kingdom and Argentina about the future of the islands - however soporific they may have been - are also a thing of the past.
But for the few days or weeks in which it seemed that Argentina may have regained the Malvinas, General Leopoldo Galtieri was the talk of the town.
Saturday, June 9, 2007
In medieval Europe, towns were the seat of government, site of markets, and seat of the courts. Not coincidentally, many towns would have drinking fountains adorned with allegories of justice, presumably near where the courthouses were. Note how this particular allegory of justice is not only blind-folded, but, by modern standards for models, remarkably portly. Times change, and so do fashions. In which age, do you think, were models healthier?