Archive for March, 2006
As the research on prayer movement continues, it is important to ask whether there is any research, or body of research, that would lead believers to question their beliefs? A new study [Prayer for the ill may do more harm than good] finds little effect of “intercessory prayer” by strangers on recovery from an operation. What evidence the study provides leans in the direction of prayer being harmful, if the person being prayed for knows about it.
In a discussion that demonstrates the futility of such study, the researchers indicate that the findings have little relevance:
“The authors warned it might be impossible to disentangle the effects of study prayer from background prayer, and said a possible limitation was that those doing the special praying had no connection with the subjects.
“Private or family prayer is widely believed to influence recovery from illness, and the results of this study do not challenge this belief,” the report concluded.”
Now all studies have flaws. In the social/psychological fields, no single study ever “proves” anything. But gradually a body of work supports a given conclusion and it becomes increasingly irrational to believe certain things. In Bayesian terms, posterior beliefs are a function of prior beliefs modified by evidence. Can anyone really imagine believers gradually questioning their belief as a result of a series of negative findings about the value of prayer? If not, what’s the point?
March 31st, 2006
In response to my article Sending mentally ill soldiers back to Iraq: Reckless disregard for soldiers’ welfare and for Iraqi lives I have received several heart-wrenching letters. Here is another one:
I read with interest your latest piece on Z. I’m personally tied up
with a young 21-year-old Marine, a student at my University,
and recently recalled to Iraq. He’s a very smart, and wise, guy who
knew enough to oppose the war before he went in 2004, but is urged on
by a sense of duty, obligation to buddies, etc. He served as a sniper
guarding Abu Ghraib. He hints openly in public talks in ways that
make it clear that he has killed Iraqi civilians. He drank himself
nearly to death over a six-week period after being recalled, but now
says that “it will be OK” and that if he doesn’t go, someone else less
intelligent and compassionate will go in his place. He told me a year
ago that he had been diagnosed with PTSD. I’ve had him speak in my
classes at my U. and he’s opened up, to an extent, to me,
enough that I can imagine some of the horrors that fill the gaps.
He’s due to go back to Iraq this summer.
I’m walking a line of respecting his decision while continuing to
challenge, offer alternatives, badger, jest. Even he realizes that
“his decision” is suspect and that he’s not himself. The most gut
wrenching for me was when he stood in front of a classroom of peers,
and in answer to the question, “How did Iraq change you?” said, “I
used to like myself.”
The other night he let loose with a number of rap poems that were
brilliant. When I pressed he said that the “empty bottle” and the
“gun to the head” were only metaphors.
I wonder what thoughts you might have. I’ve appreciated the writing
you’ve been doing, and have been trying to figure out what I can do.
On the one hand I say that he has parents and friends and can make his
own decisions. On the other, I know that if he were my own son, I
would never let him go back.
Here is part of my reply:
These situations are heart wrenching. I think that all we can do is be
available to discuss and give advice when asked. Ultimately, your
friend will make his own decision. Remember, he’s the one who will
have to live with it either way. To refuse deployment, of course, can
have major life-altering consequences, such as jail, exile, or later
difficulty obtaining employment. Plus, he may feel he let his buddies down.
Of course, in addition to a potential danger to Iraqis, your friend’s
mental health, not to mention his physical health, may be at risk if
he has PTSD and returns to combat. I think many of these guys end up
going back. I wish them well, but have deep concerns for their long-term emotional well-being.
Jay Shaft, an independent writer has been publishing interviews with,
and letters from GIs in Iraq. His latest set [http://www.williambowles.info/iraq/2006/0306/letters_iraq_pt1.html]
is from “mentally ill” soldiers who did go back, like your friend.
They have regretted it. Perhaps you could show them to your friend.
But read them before you decide. They are very disturbing!
If your friend should decide to fight deployment, there may be a legal
basis. Here is a link [http://www.army.mil/usapa/epubs/pdf/r40_501.pdf] to the Army regulations for medical fitness. The Marines are probably similar.
On p. 56 it says “(8) Psychiatric. Any disorder that has the potential
to prevent performance of duty, even if controlled by medication,
should not deploy….”
I’d love to hear what happens with your friend and will
think of him, and of you.
March 31st, 2006
At one point, not so very long ago, it may have been possible to prevent avian flu. But no longer. With the worldwide spread, the virus can no longer be contained, says the Los Angeles Times. The virus will, or won’t, mutate to allow human to human transmission. We will have little say about that.
he speed of its migration, and the vast area it has infected, has forced scientists to concede there is little that can be done to stop its spread across the globe.
“We expected it to move, but not any of us thought it would move quite like this,” said Dr. David Nabarro, the United Nations’ coordinator on bird flu efforts.
The hope was once that culling millions of chickens and ducks would contain or even eradicate the virus. Now, the strategy has shifted toward managing a disease that will probably be everywhere. Officials are hoping to buy a little more time to produce human vaccines and limit the potential economic damage.
“We cannot contain this thing anymore. Nature is in control,” said Robert G. Webster, a virologist at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., who has been studying the virus since it emerged in 1997.
All the world can do is slow the process a bit, and prepare in case the worst, or something near the worst, happens. Their perspective is that of many other experts. Preparation for a possible pandemic is where the attention should go at this point. Ignoring the warnings in 2003 and 2004 means its now too late for prevention. Lets move on to the next stage of response.
March 29th, 2006
After critiques of their work by MediaLens [see Part 1 and Part 2] and myself [See When Promoting Truth Obscures the Truth: More on Iraqi Body Count and Iraqi Deaths], Iraq Body Count refused to respond to our points. [See Iraq Body Count Refuses to Respond] They said that, instead, they would modify the materials on their web site. They have now done that by adding a Presentation to their site: “A presentation by IBC cofounder John Sloboda at a Working Group Meeting on methodologies used by researchers to estimate numbers of armed conflict deaths (organised by the Small Arms Survey, Geneva, 17 Feb 2006).”
This Presentation is very defensive in tone. Unfortunately, it fails to respond to the central points made by MediaLens or myself. In brief, MediaLens argued that the IBC database had a bias as it relied on Western press sources that were considerably more likely to report deaths due to “insurgents” than those due to US forces. In particular, Media Lens analyzed the IBC database for a six-month period during which it is known that more than 50 airstrikes that had the potential to kill over 30 civilians were authorized by the US military. While the database contained 58 incidents involving over 10 deaths, only one was attributed to US bombing while 54 were attributed to insurgent actions. This discrepancy clearly fails the smell test.
I, in turn argued that there was no reason to believe that the Western press was reporting most, or even a majority of war-related deaths in Iraq. This claim is increasingly implausible given the small numbers of Western reporters remaining in Iraq, the repeated accounts of reporters being unable to move freely, and of the enormous numbers of reporters who have been killed, kidnapped, [and, I might now add, arrested by US forces]. Any claim that the deaths reported in the Western press are a large fraction of total civilian deaths would need to be defended by evidence, a defense that IBC has never provided.
The new Presentation discusses threats to the validity of their work and attacks upon its validity. So how does IBC respond to our criticism? As to the Media Lens points, they completely ignore them. No mention whatsoever of the lack of inclusion of mass deaths from US bombing. No mention of potential bias of the media to report on “insurgent-caused” deaths more than occupier-caused deaths.
When it come to the point about the Western press’s inability to cover deaths in most of the country due to the dangers posed to reporters, IBC does respond in a manner of speaking:
“A third source of bias is the potential lack of ability of news to be collected and to travel. This will be dependent on the level of development of a country, its infrastructure (roads, telephone lines) and its institutions that are official depositories of information (e.g., hospitals, police stations, morgues). The fact that most relatives are able to produce death certificates is a signal of a country peopled with officialdom and bureacracy. Iraq is quite similar in this respect to how Greece or Portugal might have been 20 years ago. It should not be compared to Afghanistan or the DRC.”
I guess we are to conclude from this that Greece and Portugal 20 years ago are also countries in which nearly 100 media workers had been killed and many more kidnapped and/or arrested. Otherwise the comparison is tendentious and beside the point.
The Presentation essentially argues that the multitude of news articles citing IBC’s work are often are ok even if inaccurate as “[N] early all mentions have been in the context of drawing attention to the human cost of the war.” Of course, when President Bush or British officials apparently use IBC figures, it is “in the context of drawing attention to the” relatively small “human cost of the war.” Surely, whether Iraqi civilian deaths are around 30,000 or well over 100,000 makes an enormous difference in how one evaluates the “human costs of the war.” That IBC misses this elementary point is quite disturbing. I would have to put on my psychoanalyst hat to speculate as to why this is the case.
In a letter to Media Lens, IBC co-founder John Sloboda wrote: “[W] e feel that the best way to respond to all of this is to take those criticisms we consider valid into account in our future work, rather than engage in further direct correspondence. You will be able to observe developing events on our website.” The new Presentation on their web site would suggest that they consider none of our criticisms valid and not even worthy of rebuttal. Quite a sad ending to what started as a noble endeavor.
March 29th, 2006
The Guardian has an engaging account of the 200 veterans, led by Iraq Veterans Against the War, who marked the third anniversary of the war by marching from Mobile, Alabama to New Orleans. [
'If you start looking at them as humans, then how are you gonna kill them?'] The article gives a sense of the tremendous guilt these veterans bear and their desire to find a way to make restitution for what they did. As a psychoanalyst, I would love to understand why some soldiers take this path and others follow that of denial. Of course, there probably are some who truly believe they are doing good, but it is unlikely that number is very high. Rather, most do their “duty,” which means obeying orders and remaining a fighting machine. But, as Chris Hedges movingly emphasized in War is a force that gives us meaning, back home we have little need for the exquisite fighting machines that successful soldiers have been turned into. Antiwar or pro-war, we all have an interest in figuring out how to transform killing machines back into human beings who can live at peace with themselves and the rest of us. IVAW, with its “religious” zeal, shows one such route.
Blake says that the turning point for him came one day when his unit spent eight hours guarding a group of Iraqi women and children whose men were being questioned. He recalls: “The men were taken away and the women were screaming and crying, and I just remember thinking: this was exactly what Saddam used to do – and now we’re doing it.”
Becoming a peace activist, he says, has been a “cleansing” experience. “I’ll never be normal again. I’ll always have a sense of guilt.” He tells us that he witnessed civilian Iraqis being killed indiscriminately. It would not be the most startling admission by the soldiers on the march.
“When IEDs [Improvised Explosive Devices] would go off by the side of the road, the instructions were – or the practice was – to basically shoot up the landscape, anything that moved. And that kind of thing would happen a lot.” So innocent people were killed? “It happened, yes.” (He says he did not carry out any such killings himself.)
Jody Casey left the army five days ago and came straight to join the vets. The 29-year-old is no pacifist; he still firmly backs the military but says that he is speaking out in the hope of correcting many of the mistakes being made. He served as a scout sniper for a year until last February, based, like Blake, in the Sunni triangle.
He clearly feels a little ill at ease with some of the protesters’ rhetoric, but eventually agrees to talk to us. He says that the turning point for him came after he returned from Iraq and watched videos that he and other soldiers in his unit shot while out on raids, including hour after hour of Iraqi soldiers beating up Iraqi civilians. While reviewing them back home he decided “it was not right”.
What upset him the most about Iraq? “The total disregard for human life,” he says, matter of factly. “I mean, you do what you do at the time because you feel like you need to. But then to watch it get kind of covered up, shoved under a rug … ‘Oh, that did not happen’.”
What kind of abuses did he witness? “Well, I mean, I have seen innocent people being killed. IEDs go off and [you] just zap any farmer that is close to you. You know, those people were out there trying to make a living, but on the other hand, you get hit by four or five of those IEDs and you get pretty tired of that, too.”
Casey told us how, from the top down, there was little regard for the Iraqis, who were routinely called “hajjis”, the Iraq equivalent of “gook”. “They basically jam into your head: ‘This is hajji! This is hajji!’ You totally take the human being out of it and make them into a video game.”
It was a way of dehumanising the Iraqis? “I mean, yeah – if you start looking at them as humans, and stuff like that, then how are you going to kill them?”
That last question is one to be remembered as we hear all the nonsense about American troops “liberating” the Iraqis. You can’t liberate those you don’t regard as people.
March 28th, 2006
A new Reuters article [University students in Basra fight sectarian violence] reports on one of very few bright spots in the horrific Iraqi scene. According to the article, students in Basra and Baghdad are organizing to oppose the drift toward sectarian war:
“The idea was originally the brainchild of a Sunni student whose family was killed in sectarian violence, Haydar explained. “We’re more than 200 students from different colleges in Basra working with the same aim,” Haydar said. “To open the hearts of the population and ease feelings of revolt and revenge.”
Half of the students involved in the project spend at least five hours a day in internet chat rooms discussing sectarian problems and urging their compatriots to help avert an escalation of the violence into civil war. According to local officials, there is currently at least one computer for every seven Iraqis. Under the regime of Saddam Hussein, they added, one in 20 had access to a personal computer.
“Many people have changed their minds while chatting online,” said Rasha Adnan, a philosophy student and chat-room moderator. “Some of them have even opened their own web pages to inform others on the dangers of sectarian violence.”
The other half of the group, meanwhile, is responsible for visiting schools, universities and other institutes of learning to talk to students, distribute leaflets and mount posters encouraging peace and coexistence. “After our talks, students would often ask to join us,” Haydar said. “It’s uplifting to see our simple work bringing results.””
Those of us outside Iraq should publicize this effort and lend it support in any way we can.
March 28th, 2006
I have received the following Comment from another Vietnam vet on “Sending mentally ill soldiers back to Iraq”. While it is posted as a comment, I know that many readers do not read the Comments, So I’ve decided to post it here as well:
Mr. Stoldz: I read your article, but I should not have. It was a “trigger.” Beyond that, I think you missed a group of people who are also endangered when someone suffering from combat-stress reaction or PTSD is sent back to war. What about the other members of that soldier’s unit?
It seems to me that they stand a greater chance of being wounded physically and/or mentally by that soldier’s presence. We can all imagine an instance where that soldier’s actions could result in others being wounded during combat. But his actions can also cause other soldiers to suffer mental injury.
Think of that mentally ill soldier as having a communicable disease – that disease being mental illness. If his judgment is flawed because he is a “bit crazy,” isn’t he more likely to commit atrocities? What happens when that individual goes into a house and wipes out a family (something that appears to be happening recently with some regularity)? The other soldiers there are now traumatized. He has “spread” his illness to others. How many others will subsequently become a “bit crazy” and imitate his actions.
Even if his fellow soldiers don’t lose their humanity completely and engage in this behavior, it takes a lot of courage for them to report atrocities. I know. I turned my back when four GI’s killed a prisoner in 1968. I didn’t try to stop it, and I did not report it. That was almost forty years ago, but some times the emotions are so raw, it seems like yesterday.
March 28th, 2006
I have received the following email from a disbled Vietnam vet who goes by 91Charlie (posted here with permission) in response to my recent article regarding the military’s sending “mentally ill” GIs back to Iraq:
I am a disabled (mostly mental health issues) Vietnam vet. As medics our motto was “to conserve the fighting strength.” That always rankled, but that is the deal. The military is it’s own society/world with it’s own norms, ethics, goals, etc.
You seem to have a couple of blind spots that could only occur in a person who has not been a soldier in a war. And one that is very common in thinking of Mr. Bush’s wars these days.
Some mentally ill troops in combat (the distinction is entirely subjective) will get themselves and their cohorts killed. Therefore, the really screwed up guy will sometimes die from “friendly fire”, “suicide” or “OD”. And the death will be reported as a battle casualty. When I say that what is considered mentally ill is subjective I mean that the behaviors that endanger cohorts are the ones that are considered. Some dissociations, like the ones you noted, are functional ego defenses. Some of the troops with the highest degree of mental illness are ready made for killing folks. Being declared unfit for duty is a generator of shame and loss of self esteem.
You also seem to have only one side of the depersonalization deal in hand. I envision you shuddering at what troops call each other. The enemy can not be human. Your peers can not be human. Your buddies can’t really be human. Therefore, you yourself obviously can not human either. I notice these symptoms more and more in the civilian members of society in the USA. Depersonalization seems to be government/social policy these day. Human life here certainly does not have the intrinsic value that it seemed to be accorded when I was growing up after WWII. Cognitive dissonance as a societal norm, perhaps as the only way to succeed? “Retail Christians” on the rise? Maybe we will end up in the same detention camp and can talk about this more.
Mentally ill troops are being returned to Afghanistan, too. And as combatants in South America and elsewhere.
How different do you think it is:
sending mentally ill troops back in with the other mentally ill troops in combat
sending mentally ill patients back to their mentally ill families, and sick city streets?
March 28th, 2006
My latest article — Sending mentally ill soldiers back to Iraq: Reckless disregard for soldiers’ welfare and for Iraqi lives – is now available on ZNet, OpEdNews, and InformationClearinghouse.
“As the US military has difficulties recruiting and retaining soldiers for its never-ending war of occupation in Iraq, the armed services are resorting to increasingly desperate means of coping. The Stop-Loss option in soldiers’ contracts has allowed soldiers to be kept in uniform months or years after their term of service has expired. The National Guard has been sent overseas to a previously unprecedented extent. And military standards have been lowered, so that drug or alcohol abuse, pregnancy, and poor fitness no longer necessarily lead to dismissal of new recruits.
Now word comes that “mentally ill” troops are being sent back to Iraq. [See: Some troops headed back to Iraq are mentally ill] This article refers to “a little-discussed truth fraught with implications,” but the implications discussed all have to do with the effects on the soldiers being returned, and these soldiers’ “effectiveness in combat.” In many instances, being returned to combat, and to a state of constant tension, will exacerbate the soldiers’ problems, the article — correctly — suggests….”
“One “implication” not even mentioned in the article is that sending “mentally ill” soldiers back into combat puts not only the soldiers’ own mental health at risk, but endangers Iraqis as well. What is the quality of decision-making by highly stressed soldiers, whether they suffer from “PTSD” or only from “combat-stress reaction”? These soldiers are armed with lethal weapons and are often in a position to make split-second life-or-death decisions. After all, “stress” is often used as a defense when other armed authorities, such as police, are caught engaging in abusive or even murderous behavior. Surely the effects of stress can only be magnified on soldiers who spend a year or more being assigned to a country where they can never feel entirely safe.”
Read the entire article.
March 27th, 2006
The global warming crisis is upon us, TIME proclaims [Earth Is at The Tipping Point: The climate is crashing and global warming is to blame. Why the crisis hit so soon -- and what we can do about it.]. The article proclaims that recent events, including hot weather and hurricanes are a result of global warming. For once in the corporate press it clearly indicates that there is virtual unanimity among climate scientists and that the “doubters” are mainly corporate sponsored.
Excerpts on various consequences of global warming:
Stop of Gulf Stream and freezing of Europe:
“’The big worry is that the whole climate of Europe will change,’ says Adrian Luckman, senior lecturer in geography at the University of Wales, Swansea. ‘We in the U.K. are on the same latitude as Alaska. The reason we can live here is the Gulf Stream.’”
“Global warming is tipping other regions of the world into drought in different ways. Higher temperatures bake moisture out of soil faster, causing dry regions that live at the margins to cross the line into full-blown crisis. Meanwhile, El Niño events–the warm pooling of Pacific waters that periodically drives worldwide climate patterns and has been occurring more frequently in global-warming years–further inhibit precipitation in dry areas of Africa and East Asia. According to a recent study by NCAR, the percentage of Earth’s surface suffering drought has more than doubled since the 1970s.”
Dissapearing flora and fauna:
“Hot, dry land can be murder on flora and fauna, and both are taking a bad hit. Wildfires in such regions as Indonesia, the western U.S. and even inland Alaska have been increasing as timberlands and forest floors grow more parched. The blazes create a feedback loop of their own, pouring more carbon into the atmosphere and reducing the number of trees, which inhale CO2 and release oxygen.”
Hurricanes and cyclones:
“It is fitting, perhaps, that as the species causing all the problems, we’re suffering the destruction of our habitat too, and we have experienced that loss in terrible ways. Ocean waters have warmed by a full degree Fahrenheit since 1970, and warmer water is like rocket fuel for typhoons and hurricanes. Two studies last year found that in the past 35 years the number of Category 4 and 5 hurricanes worldwide has doubled while the wind speed and duration of all hurricanes has jumped 50%. Since atmospheric heat is not choosy about the water it warms, tropical storms could start turning up in some decidedly nontropical places. ‘There’s a school of thought that sea surface temperatures are warming up toward Canada,’ says Greg Holland, senior scientist for NCAR in Boulder. ‘If so, you’re likely to get tropical cyclones there, but we honestly don’t know.’”
They end on a cautiously upbeat note:
“’There are a whole series of things that demonstrate that people want to act and want their government to act,’ says Fred Krupp, president of Environmental Defense. Krupp and others believe that we should probably accept that it’s too late to prevent CO2 concentrations from climbing to 450 p.p.m. (or 70 p.p.m. higher than where they are now). From there, however, we should be able to stabilize them and start to dial them back down.
That goal should be attainable. Curbing global warming may be an order of magnitude harder than, say, eradicating smallpox or putting a man on the moon. But is it moral not to try? We did not so much march toward the environmental precipice as drunkenly reel there, snapping at the scientific scolds who told us we had a problem.”
The article is important, not for its content, but for the fact that its in a mainstream publication and that it doesn’t use the “some say, others doubt” approach so typical of the corporate press.
March 27th, 2006