December 24th, 2011
Archive for December, 2011
John L. Samuels Jr.-Esco (firstname.lastname@example.org)
December 23rd, 2011
December 18th, 2011
A new psychological study explores the psychological/neural mechanisms that may facilitate human rights atrocities. The authors claim that we fail to think about the internal life of those who evoke disgust in us. Here is a press release:
A brain’s failure to appreciate others may permit human atrocities
A father in Louisiana bludgeoned and beheaded his disabled 7-year-old son last August because he no longer wanted to care for the boy.
For most people, such a heinous act is unconscionable.
But it may be that a person can become callous enough to commit human atrocities because of a failure in the part of the brain that’s critical for social interaction. A new study by researchers at Duke University and Princeton University suggests this function may disengage when people encounter others they consider disgusting, thus “dehumanizing” their victims by failing to acknowledge they have thoughts and feelings.
This shortcoming also may help explain how propaganda depicting Tutsi in Rwanda as cockroaches and Hitler’s classification of Jews in Nazi Germany as vermin contributed to torture and genocide, the study said.
“When we encounter a person, we usually infer something about their minds. Sometimes, we fail to do this, opening up the possibility that we do not perceive the person as fully human,” said lead author Lasana Harris, an assistant professor in Duke University’s Department of Psychology & Neuroscience and Center for Cognitive Neuroscience. Harris co-authored the study with Susan Fiske, a professor of psychology at Princeton University.
Social neuroscience has shown through MRI studies that people normally activate a network in the brain related to social cognition — thoughts, feelings, empathy, for example — when viewing pictures of others or thinking about their thoughts. But when participants in this study were asked to consider images of people they considered drug addicts, homeless people, and others they deemed low on the social ladder, parts of this network failed to engage.
What’s especially striking, the researchers said, is that people will easily ascribe social cognition — a belief in an internal life such as emotions — to animals and cars, but will avoid making eye contact with the homeless panhandler in the subway.
“We need to think about other people’s experience,” Fiske said. “It’s what makes them fully human to us.”
The duo’s previous research suggested that a lack of social cognition can be linked to not acknowledging the mind of other people when imagining a day in their life, and rating them differently on traits that we think differentiate humans from everything else.
This latest study expands on that earlier work to show that these traits correlate with activation in brain regions beyond the social cognition network. These areas include those brain areas involved in disgust, attention and cognitive control.
The result is what the researchers call “dehumanized perception,” or failing to consider someone else’s mind. Such a lack of empathy toward others can also help explain why some members of society are sometimes dehumanized, they said.
For this latest study, 119 undergraduates from Princeton completed judgment and decision-making surveys as they viewed images of people. The researchers sought to examine the students’ responses to common emotions triggered by images such as:
- a female college student and male American firefighter (pride)
- a business woman and rich man (envy)
- an elderly man and disabled woman (pity)
- a female homeless person and male drug addict (disgust)
After imagining a day in the life of the people in the images, participants next rated the same person on various dimensions. They rated characteristics including the warmth, competence, similarity, familiarity, responsibility of the person for his/her situation, control of the person over their situation, intelligence, complex emotionality, self-awareness, ups-and-downs in life, and typical humanity. Participants then went into the MRI scanner and simply looked at pictures of people.The study found that the neural network involved in social interaction failed to respond to images of drug addicts, the homeless, immigrants and poor people, replicating earlier results.
“These results suggest multiple roots to dehumanization,” Harris said. “This suggests that dehumanization is a complex phenomenon, and future research is necessary to more accurately specify this complexity.”
The sample’s mean age was 20, with 62 female participants. The ethnic composition of the Princeton students who participated in the study was 68 white, 19 Asian, 12 of mixed descent, and 6 black, with the remainder not reporting.
More information: The study, “Dehumanized Perception: A Psychological Means to Facilitate Atrocities, Torture, and Genocide?” appears in a recent issue of the Journal of Psychology: DOI:10.1027/2151-2604/a000065
December 15th, 2011
Gen. Stephen Xenakis (Ret.), psychiatrist, has written a new article on health providers and torture. He succinctly reminds us of the history of the dangers of blurred boundaries and the the reasons to keep health providers far away from participation in interrogations:
Healers, Torture and National Security
by Stephen N. Xenakis
In 2004, the news that Americans had committed abuse and mistreatment in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo was shocking. Even more alarming, were the revelations that physicians, psychiatrists, and other mental health professionals had assisted with interrogations that bordered on torture.
In the span of just two generations, the United States had drifted from condemning Nazi physicians at the Nuremberg Trials for their collusion with torture, inhuman experimentation and cruel mistreatment to justifying waterboarding in the pursuit of better intelligence.
As a retired brigadier general and Army psychiatrist, committed to a strong military and national defense, I find these scandals to be most disturbing. The complicity of psychiatrists and other physicians clearly deviated from the fundamental ethical principles of the medical profession and military medicine. My generation of soldiers, who had served during the Vietnam War, vowed not to repeat the misdeeds of the My Lai massacres and rampant indiscipline we witnessed.
However, after the attack on the World Trade Towers, fear and anger dominated the country’s emotional climate and the principles of our profession were hijacked. The incessant drumbeat of political rhetoric that “the war on terror is a war like no other” and that “we must take all measures possible to stop the enemy” made it somehow easier for psychiatrists to apply their skills and training to exploit the vulnerabilities of prisoners. To this day, former government officials justify cruel and inhuman treatment of detainees at Bagram and Guantanamo with unsubstantiated assertions that their confessions led to the trail of Osama bin Laden. The public supported such conduct and the television show “24″ gained wide popularity as viewers were captivated by threats of violence and new gimmicks for bringing the bad guys down. Even the presidential candidates in 2008 were ambushed by questions that judged their fitness to be commander in chief by their willingness to torture a suspect who planted a “ticking bomb.”
But, there is no evidence to confirm the assertions that torture of prisoners has helped the war effort at all.
The plain fact is that nothing that has been claimed in the name of defending our country can justify cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of another man or woman. Torture, in any form – light or heavy – is not a tool of interrogation or useful for gathering good intelligence. It is a propaganda tool and degrades the perpetrator as well as the victim. This is not just the rhetoric of bleeding heart progressives. It is the opinion of over fifty retired admirals, generals(1) and senior government officials convened by Human Rights First to discuss this issue, and our conclusions can be stated simply:
- Torture Is Un-American. Gen. George Washington laid down the directive that American soldiers will treat the enemy humanely and conform to high moral & ethical principles on the battlefield.
- Torture Is Ineffective. Experienced interrogators acknowledge that information extracted by the use of torture is unreliable.
- Torture Is Unnecessary. Veteran FBI agents and military interrogators have spoken out publicly against the use of physical pressure in interrogation.
- Torture Is Damaging. “… a person who is tortured is damaged, but so are the torturer, the nation and the military. “
Torture has long been associated with political repression and with regimes without any semblance of an independent judiciary or media. The Soviet Union’s imprisonment of dissenters and forced use of psychotropic medication on them, the Khmer Rouge’s torture of thousands of people in Cambodia and the Augusto Pinochet regime’s brutality against prisoners in Chile all bear witness to the association between totalitarian or authoritarian regimes and their use of torture.
As the human rights lawyer Leonard Rubenstein and I wrote  in March 2010, “the medical staff at the C.I.A. and the Pentagon played a critical role in developing and carrying out torture procedures. Psychologists and at least one doctor designed or recommended coercive interrogation methods including sleep deprivation, stress positions, isolation and waterboarding. The military’s Behavioral Science Consultation Teams evaluated detainees, consulted their medical records to ascertain vulnerabilities and advised interrogators when to push harder for intelligence information. Psychologists designed a program for new arrivals at Guantánamo that kept them in isolation to ‘enhance and exploit’ their ‘disorientation and disorganization.’ Medical officials monitored interrogations and ordered medical interventions so they could continue even when the detainee was in obvious distress. In one case, an interrogation log obtained by Time magazine shows  a medical corpsman ordered intravenous fluids to be administered to a dehydrated detainee even as loud music was played to deprive him of sleep.”
We cannot dismiss the psychiatrists and psychologists, who participated in interrogations in Guantanamo and helped devise the abusive practices, as mere rogues or outliers. They were actors on a much larger stage. They were swept up by a pervasive and persuasive attitude that subsumed the country and energized a military plan to “hunt down the criminals wherever they may be hiding.” The Department of Defense (DoD) issued policy accordingly and the Office of Assistant Secretary for Health Affairs contended that the legitimate objective of fighting terrorism trumps the ethical responsibility of the healing practitioner. In their eyes, “the ends justify the means” and a few brutalized prisoners were a small price to pay for protecting the citizens of the United States.
But, in truth, the use of torture and practices of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment detracted from the military mission and compromised the international stature of our country, while also undermining the effectiveness, credibility and ethical foundations of the medical professionals. To a certain extent, the administration realizes this. Now, ten years into the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the White House has changed the national strategy and President Obama has insisted, “human rights is both fundamental to American leadership and a source of our strength in the world.” In his words, it “does not merely represent our better angels …” Standing up for human rights has come front and center both as a matter of national strategy and measure of human decency. Historically, the human rights stance against torture has been unequivocal, one of the few absolutes in human rights law: It is never permitted, never excused, never to be balanced against national needs or interests – even in cases of national emergency. Torture is also forbidden under the laws of war. It is considered a war crime under the Geneva Conventions .
This is important and good, but it is not enough. The political leadership of our nation does not have an appetite for investigating the misdeeds that were committed in the past ten years. A change for the better that is not informed by an honest assessment of the sins of the past is not likely to be either permanent or fully integrated into the power structure. Several human rights groups have called for a Commission of Truth and Reconciliation to spur corrective action. By this, they are referring to comprehensive programs that were undertaken in South Africa and in the former Soviet Union to bring to justice the perpetrators of misdeeds and examine the range of responsibility that society as a whole had for the injustices of the past. Mental health professionals understand the power of confession and repentance, for individuals, communities and institutions. Something is needed that goes beyond apology, regret or even a vow to do better. A Commission of Truth and Reconciliation is a step toward corrective action.
By reflecting on the ethical principles and traditions of the healing professions, a stronger case can be put forward against torture and mistreatment:
- First, do no harm. The victims of torture and mistreatment breed political instability and discontent, weakening governments and societies.
- Beneficence. Torture and mistreatment violate the intents and purposes of medical healers and participation in any way corrupts the ethical foundations of the practitioners and professions.
- Professional role. Physicians are not interrogators, any more than they are fighter pilots or infantrymen. The military and other governmental agencies have other professionals to do those tasks and calling on physicians to fill such roles is irresponsible and ineffective.
- Trust. Physicians enjoy special trust and confidence across almost all societies. That trust is undermined with participation in harmful, coercive and abusive conduct that is neither doctor-like nor appropriate.
In 1947, our nation and its allies tried and sentenced the Nazi physicians who violated basic principles of medical ethics. In 2003, the political dynamics and national sentiment induced physicians and psychiatrists and other health care professionals to commit actions that violated core ethics. The healing professions can lead corrective action, help the country recover the “high ground” and prevent future lapses in professional conduct and policies that violated human rights. Human rights are vital to national security in the 21st century.
Much has improved since the dark days of 9/11, but our nation has been damaged. Where once the symbol of our great democracy was the Statue of Liberty – it has now become the image of that poor hooded man in detention with wires strung from his hands and feet. Our men and women on the front lines are endangered because of the increased risk of retaliatory measures. We are not safer because of these misguided policies and how we have acted as a country.
1. I have recent experience that confirms my opinions on the ineffectiveness of harsh interrogation techniques, their unethical nature and harmful consequences. In the past five years, I have been asked to assess several detainees and review the medical records of many more on behalf of defense attorneys. Many detainees subjected to harsh interrogation, as designed and approved by clinicians working for the CIA and DoD, still suffer with the prolonged injuries and adverse psychological effects of their treatment. The evidence of negative effects of the harsh interrogations has been compelling. Moreover, the information gleaned in interrogations that involved harsh treatment has not been allowed in court proceedings.
December 15th, 2011
This is Dedicated to the thousands of people who are standing up for what they believe in.
December 15th, 2011
Boston’s Mayor Menino is proud of his police’s ability to use overwhelming force to crush nonviolent protesters at Occupy Boston. He crows about the ease with which they arrested 46, as if ease in crushing dissent is what matters.
After crushing the demonstrators, Menino criticized their “leadership”:
He said that the protesters who had camped out in Dewey Square since late September had the “wrong leadership.”
“The leadership changed every hour and twice on Sunday,” he said.
Presumably he, like most leaders, is completely unable to understand people’s self-organization.
Menino has returned Dewey Square to the use of the people, so that it can remain empty and largely unused as before.
One of the persistent criticisms of the Greenway is that people just don’t use it enough. Of course now the Occupiers may have used it too much.
Better to be unused than to be used by hundreds, when the hundreds oppose the powerful. Silence is preferable to free speech, as Mayors around the country have clarified.
Menino revealed the iron fist as he pledged to crush any future occupations:
Menino said that protesters, who have scheduled another general assembly at 7 p.m. this evening on the Boston Common to discuss next steps, will not be allowed to take over any city parks.
“They’re trespassing. Any park they go into now is trespassing. The Parks Department has strict rules and regulations about sleeping in the parks,” he said.
“It’s over,” he said. “We have got to figure out how to channel their energies to be positive … I feel like they have an opportunity.”
Occupy Boston was the most important thing to happen to Boston in decades. Mayor Menino has now crushed it. The city of Boston should be ashamed of its Mayor today, just at it should be proud of the occupiers who stood up for the 1%.
The Occupiers have issued a statement:
You cannot evict an idea whose time has come. Boston’s Occupiers will persist in rejecting a world created by and for the 1%. We might have been evicted, but we shall not be moved. We remain invested in the future of our movement. We will continue to challenge Wall Street’s occupation of our government.
The crushing of occupations around the country, often by “liberal” mayors shows once again that liberal politicians, with all too few exceptions, are agents of the powerful 1% as are their “conservative” opponents. Their liberalism means they will be liberal in their use of police power to crush dissent, from Oakland to Boston, from Portland and UC Davis to DC. Phil Ochs understood liberalism decades ago.
December 10th, 2011
Laurie Penny came to the US to cover Occupy Wall Street. Instead she got spider bights and a first-class lesson in what it means to be among the 99% in America, worrying how you’re going to pay for that unexpected medical bill:
A New York spider gave me an insight into US private healthcare
Occupy Wall Street is right – a rash of bites showed me how private healthcare keeps Americans cowed and compliant
By Laurie Penny
It started with a spider. Someone with a taste for narrative justice might call it retribution, but there’s really no moral correlation between the wisdom of absconding with a relative stranger after a party and waking up the next morning in Brooklyn with a rash of poisonous bites on your arm. When the angels of sexual continence want to punish you, they send crabs not spiders.
I assumed, at first, that the maddeningly itchy marks were the work of common-or-flophouse New York bedbugs, but 12 hours later, with my right arm swollen to the width and purplish colour of a prize turnip, my friend identified the hallmarks of the brown recluse spider, and uttered words I had hoped never to hear on this side of the Atlantic: “You should really get that checked out by a doctor.”
I first came to New York to write about the emerging social justice movements associated with Occupy Wall Street. Through my conversations with the protesters in Zucotti Park, I began to understand how profoundly the stranglehold of American private healthcare keeps ordinary people cowed and compliant in the land of the notionally free.
It’s not just the 59 million Americans living without health insurance and unable to access treatment for everyday maladies without crippling expense. It’s the millions more who dare not risk a dispute with their boss for fear of losing their medical cover, who expect to remortgage their homes in old age to meet the costs of failing health, or who live in fear of bankruptcy should they develop a chronic condition or have an accident.
The notion of a society that sanctions companies to profit from sickness feels barbaric enough, without then forcing ordinary people to choose between medical treatment and the financial future of their families. President Obama’s attempt to reform the system in 2009 roundly failed to remove healthcare as a source of perennial anxiety for most American citizens, or to lighten the dead hand of the market on medical provision in the US.
Socialised healthcare is in my blood but, unfortunately last Wednesday, so was a hefty dose of spider venom and several billion extra bacteria – the unfriendly sort that make an infected limb sweat and swell like a rotten root vegetable. I had travel insurance, but no idea if it stretched to the snacking habits of urban arachnids. So I uttered the words familiar to any uninsured or precariously insured American: “I’ll just wait for a little bit and see if it gets better.”
Had I waited another 24 hours, I might have lost my arm. By the time I was persuaded to go to the emergency response unit at Beth Israel hospital I could no longer move the limb, which was developing worrying purple track-marks. The triage nurse sent me straight through to ER, where I was given a bunk next to a groaning man in his mid-30s who, like me, had been so worried about the cost of treatment that he had allowed an infection to spread, in this case from a rotten tooth. He was already missing several teeth. He told me he was a postal worker with no health insurance, and that he wouldn’t have come for treatment had his girlfriend not driven him to hospital when he collapsed with a fever.
Compared to the accident and emergency unit at my local London hospital, the waiting period was civilised; it was a mere hour before a stern-looking registrar arrived to take my money. He explained the covering clauses of my travel insurance and showed me where to sign on several complicated forms. When I explained I was unable to do so because my arm wasn’t working, he gave me a look that suggested I’d have had to find a way to sign even if I’d come in with all four limbs off. I signed with my left hand.
After that, the service was exceptional. I was whisked off to intensive care for intravenous antibiotics. I was put in a quiet bed near a window, with no cracks or mildew in the walls, and brought cool water and a clean towel. And when, in the middle of the night, I went into near-fatal anaphylactic shock, the staff’s reaction was swift and efficient. I felt, in other words like a valued customer. But it also meant that, at 2am and thousands of miles from home, I was already wondering how I would afford the prescription for all the antibiotics I needed.
This is the difference that social medicine makes to the fabric and quality of life in a civilised country. When I finally wobbled out of the shiny lobby of the Beth Israel, clutching a bag of drugs, follow-up advice and complimentary hospital toiletries, I understood what it really means to be without means in America. Those who are wealthy enough to afford decent healthcare have their needs met in relative luxury, while those who are poor live in fear of getting ill, worrying that one misadventure might leave you with yet more debts to pay off.
No amount of fresh towels and edible breakfasts can make up for the feeling that your health is less important than the capacity of your chequebook. Which is why children and pensioners are still standing in Manhattan’s financial district with placards telling the world they cannot afford healthcare, as police patrol the perimeter. And why, when I got out of hospital, I went straight back down to Liberty Plaza to stand with them.
December 5th, 2011
I first was pepper sprayed
Just standing on the side
But it took me being blinded
to open up up my eyes
Cause I’d read the daily news,
and not responded actively
and I realized then and there
this revolution needed me
So here I am,
camped in a tent
Which is really so convenient
cause I can’t afford my rent
But they came with shields and mace
In the night while it was dark
A NYPD army
Sent to clear Zuccotti Park
We’ll protest on, with catchy phases
We’re going global
From London to Uc Davis
If you think that your batons are going to get us to go home
GO on and hit me, I’ll just upload it from my phone.
Until I die,
As long I know how to sit
And hold this heavy sign
cause the 99 is pissed
and we will not BE dismissed
Call us “hippies” call us “homeless,”
yeah we’re fed it.
And we “don’t know what we want,”
to our discredit.
But if you’re reading all the news, funded by the corporations
Its no mystery
How you’ve missed our declaration
We’re armed too
Yeah, we’ve got twitter
We’re a techno savvy nation
And we’re bitter
There’s no Marie Antoinette
We’re dragging to the Guillotine
Got non-violence, you bet!
Cause we aim to keep this clean
We will not go! Bring on the snow!
Got your faceless cooperate body
One peaceful badass foe
We’re awake, we saw Wall-e, and you know we’re organized
Did you think we’d crumble?
Did you think we’d lay down and not try?
Until I die,
As long I know how to sit
And hold this heavy sign
cause the 99 is pissed
and we will not be dismissed
We’re off our Meds, we’re watching Ted
And we’re into Zombie culture,
But we’re not the walking dead
If you want to fight for justice join the masses, we are strong
And it wouldn’t hurt to take a
minute to repost this song!
Until we die,
As long we know how to sit
And hold these heavy sign
cause the 99 is pissed
and we will not be dismissed
1 comment December 4th, 2011