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Monday, June 07, 2004  

Reading: Le Guin creates a hero

I've been thinking about heroism. That is partly because of the brouhaha over the death of former President of the United States Ronald Reagan. The obsession the Right has about creating military heroes in the amorphous war against terrorism also has something to do with it. Last year, I was one of the first bloggers to be very skeptical about the elevation of Pfc. Jesssica Lynch to heroine. Just last month, I reprised the role in regard to the deification of Spec. Pat Tillman. Another reason is literary. I have been an admirer of speculative fiction writer Ursula K. Le Guin since childhood and have the good fortune of knowing her. However, I had not read the Earthsea series until recently. All of the books, five writtten over three decades, deserve reviews. But, for now, let's consider the first of them, A Wizard of Earthsea.

Though a winner of prizes for young adult literature, Wizard is a profoundly adult novel in my opinion. To paraphrase the wonderful singer and songwriter, Phoebe Snow, being an adult means learning to bear your life in pain. The moral of the novel is ultimately that.

We are entering Earthsea, a land where magic is as common as cattle. Suspend your disbelief.

Anyone who was a precocious, but not confident, child, will recognize the personality of the hero of the book. The boy, Duny, goes through a catch as catch can childhood after his mother dies during his infancy. His father is a hard-bitten craftsman who has already reared several other sons. He pays little attention to his youngest, except to smack him around from time to time. The aunt who cared for Duny as a baby is just as indifferent until she discovers the boy has a gift. A witch herself, she decides to train her nephew in the art of magic. When he is about 12, the boy comes to the attention of the local wizard. The warlike Kargs invade Gont. Duny defeats them with a distraction spell that masks the town in mist and confuses the invaders. They kill each other in the confusion and make a bumbling retreat. As a result of his obvious power despite rudimentary training, the boy is eventually sent to the academy for wizards on the isolated isle of Roke.

The fifteen-year-old, true name Ged, use name Sparrowhawk, has the most potential of all the students at the academy. However, he comes from one of the least comfortable backgrounds among them. The manners, money and self-confidence of the older boys is a constant reminder that he is considered to be of inferior stock. The matter comes to a climax when Sparrowhawk allows himself to be goaded into invoking a forbidden spell to try to impress a wealthy, sophisticated schoolmate. The effect of the spell is to bring an evil into the world that will follow him, intent on taking control, for years to come. It is the pain of that encounter, which will humble and scar Ged for the rest of his life, that makes it possible for him to become a hero. Without that self-knowledge, the feats that will be the content of the Deed of Ged, the song the denizens of Earthsea will commit to memory for life, would not occur. Those acts rely on self-sacrifice. The experience that alters the eventual mage's life is the catalyst that makes his capacity for self-sacrifice possible.

The reason I do not agree with claims that people such as Lynch and Tillman are heroes is that their stories lack the elements of self-knowledge and self-sacrifice that define heroism. A Wizard of Earthsea, a work of fantasy that some folks may think is for children, gets heroism right.

Reasonably related

Wikipedia has collected information about the Earthsea series.

•Visit Ursula K. Le Guin's home on the Web.

•The lyrics to Phoebe Snow's "Harpo's Blues."


11:45 PM

Wednesday, June 02, 2004  

People are saying

Judge rules agains abortion ban

Mac, who is filling in for Ms. Lauren, along with with several other bloggers, at Feministe, has an opinion about the most recent ruling in the late-term abortion controversy. First, the news.

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - In a ruling with coast-to-coast effect, a federal judge declared the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act unconstitutional Tuesday, saying it infringes on a woman's right to choose.

U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton's ruling came in one of three lawsuits challenging the legislation President Bush signed last year.

She agreed with abortion rights activists that a woman's right to choose is paramount, and that is therefore "irrelevant" whether a fetus suffers pain, as abortion foes contend.

I don't much care for the phrasing in that last graf. What the judge has done is follow the reasoning in Roe v. Wade, which does extend some protection to fetuses. Society has an interest in protecting fetuses because it needs citizens. Fetuses are potential citizens. However, there is no question that the scales are weighted toward actual citizens -- women. Hamilton's focus on the impact on pregnant women is appropriate. To recast the issue in terms of whether fetuses feel pain would ignore the presumption in favor of abortion embodied in Roe.

Mac says the matter seems to be one of common sense.

I occasionally have one of those days when I want to point to the current administration and yell "Ha ha!" in the style of Nelson Muntz. Today is one of those days.

So there's some good news for women.

I'm not excited by the idea of late term abortions [I refuse to use the term "partial birth abortion" since it's a misleading phrase created by abortion foes], but if it's my health or the health of the fetus [or both], well, I want late term abortions to be an option for me. For Congress to declare that a late term abortion is "never medically necessary" demonstrates just how far up their collective butts their heads are.

Sadly, George W. Bush and John Ashcroft don't credit women with having common sense. That is proven by their false claim that pregnant women will eagerly embrace late-term abortion if the option is available. In reality, there are few late-term abortions and the women who have them agonize over the decision.

Blog readers have balls

What is the unpredictable Brian Flemming up to now? I wondered, so I visited his weblog. The blogger and filmmaker is channeling Al Gore. He also has some interesting information about blog readers.

About you

The results of the Blogads survey of readers are in. In case you didn't know, here is the likelihood that you:

  • Donate online to causes or candidates: 50%

  • Are over 30: 61%

  • Earn more than $45K/year: 75%

  • Have a penis: 79%

  • Disdain television: 82%
  • It's my impression that BFW readers have fewer penises than the general blog readership, but maybe that's just wishful thinking on my part.

    Eighty-two percent of blog readers don't watch television? Some folks are pulling our legs. So, why would they lie about it? Image, perhaps? It sounds cool to be above the boob tube. I would be more willing to believe that blog readers, and people who read period, watch less television. Say, one or two hours per day instead of the national habit of having the damn thing on most of the time. If I were writing that survey question, I would ask how many hours of TV are watched per day or per week, giving ranges. The more open-ended the question, the more people are likely to give an all or nothing answer. That is probably why we see so many in denial.

    In regard to penises, I believe men generally tell the truth about having them, but not about their size.

    And, yes, both Brian and I know a survey by Blogads is not scientific.

    Heller has had enough

    When I last heard from Rick Heller, he was ambivalent about the publication of prisoner abuse photographs from Abu Ghraib. He appears to have accepted the necessity of looking the scandal in the face, and, that the revelations about the abuse are the straw that broke the camel's back. Rick tells us what he thinks now at the Swing Voter Weblog.

    Lift My Spirits, JFK

    The latest developments from Iraq are, frankly, depressing. With these photos of prisoner abuse circulating, I don't know how we're going to be able to leave a non-hostile Iraq behind when we eventually withdraw our troops. Even President Bush seems shaken.

    There's an expression, "When you're opponent is commiting suicide, don't get in the way." It's obvious to most Americans that the country is on the wrong track. What we need from John Kerry is a way forward.

    Jimmy Carter won in 1976 in part because of him famous smile, which faded after taking office. Reagan managed to keep his optimism throughout his term. Kerry's demeanor is funereal. I don't know if he can do it, but if someone could lift the nation's spirits at this distressing time, he would earn our gratitude. God knows President Bush can't do it.

    Rick started out as a true centrist about the presidential election. In my opinion, he was leaning toward Bush as recently as a couple months ago. Now that an honest to goodness centrist like Rick has left the GOP's 'big tent,' others are sure to follow.


    1:37 PM

    Tuesday, June 01, 2004  

    Analysis: Fate and the female general

    The question: Is Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski getting screwed? Since we are not discussing Pfc. Lynndie England, I am not using the term sexually. Is Karpinski being taken advantage of by her superiors? The issue arises because some folks wonder if the tenuously situated female officer may have been made a scapegoat because of her gender and inadmissability to the good old boys' club. Karpinski was relieved of her stewardship of Abu Ghraib prison, the most notorious site of abuses of Iraqi detainees by American troops, in November of 2003. Her fortunes have declined further since. Mark Rothschild, writing at Antiwar.com, believes the general is getting screwed.

    Karpinski Was 'Set Up,' but Sanchez Takes the Fall

    Less than two weeks after Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez abruptly removed Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski from her command of Abu Ghraib prison, Maj. Gen. Walter Wojdakowski , Sanchez's chief deputy, convened a meeting at which certain legal issues emerging at the prison were discussed.

    . . .Now, six months after that November meeting, it seems that nothing has changed in the way the Army treats Janis Karpinski .  She complained on Monday that she had just received a terse email notifying her that she has now been officially suspended from her command. 

    . . .It is now clear that the Pentagon's wagons are circling and that Karpinski is on the outside.  However, back in November of 2003 it was not so clear to Karpinski that she was being set up to take a fall.  

    At that meeting in the fall of 2003, Karpinski (pictured) agreed to be the one to sign a letter which which denies that there is is anything wrong with the way most Iraqi prioners were being treated at Abu Ghraib. The pretext for the denial is that the inmates are 'security detainees' under the Geneva Conventions, and, therefore, subject to torture. However, the Geneva Conventions define security detainees as persons likely to have useful information that could prevent future harm or shed light on past atrocities. Very few detainees in Iraq fall into that category. Most inmates are civilians rather arbitrarily plucked from the population. The letter was written in response to confidential findings of the Red Cross that detainess at Abu Ghraib were being mistreated. Karpinski signed it on Dec. 23, 2003, though she denies having read the Red Cross' full report. The report was leaked to the public on May 7th.

    The chain of command has denied knowledge of the abuses, though the participants in the November meeting, which included Karpinski's successor, Colonel Thomas Pappas, and her superior, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, seemed aware of the abuses by then. Rothschild believes Karpinski's claims that she was left out of the discussions prior to the meeting, did not see evidence of abuses and did not know she was lying when she signed the letter to the Red Cross. He thinks she was set up, apparently because of her outsider status.

    Greg Fischer, who wrote a letter to his hometown newspaper, believes that there has been discrimination in Karpinski's favor because she is a woman.

    Karpinski has not been formally relieved of command nor charged in connection with a prisoner-abuse scandal that has tarnished the military's image in Iraq and hindered the U.S.-led occupation.

    Why is there a double standard, one for men, and then one for women in the armed forces? Why hasn't she been relieved of her command? Why is she not censured?

    Is it not politically correct to hold women to the same standards of conduct as men? Are people afraid of what the feminists may say or do? Punishment must be consistent, for women and for men.

    Fischer is in error in regard to Karpinski being disciplined. She has been suspended and sent back to the U.S. She also has been officially admonished. He compares the situation to the Tailhook scandal, in which male Air Force personnel sexually abused their female peers, saying that accountability was swift for the male brass in that episode. Karpinski has mounted a tour of the media, telling her side of the story, from her current assignment to Fort Jackson, S.C. She obviously fears that she may be subjected to stronger disciplinary measures. It is premature to say her fears are unfounded.

    Karpinski's alibi is that she was not really in charge of Abu Ghraib. Her words to CNN's Soledad O'Brien are typical.

    KARPINSKI: The accusations were without foundation that this was not a military police leadership issue, specifically.

    This was a much broader responsibility, and that particular cellblock was under the control of the military intelligence command at the time and, in fact, from November on Abu Ghraib Prison was under the control of the military intelligence command.

    O'BRIEN: You had no control over this facility after a certain point?

    KARPINSKI: I can't say no control at a certain point, but it was certainly far less control. And the reason I retained any control is because I had MPs that were still working out there and they remained under the 800th MP Brigade.

    Some of those MPs have been charged in the abuse scandal, but the general denies knowledge of their activities. Karpinski says military intelligence placed barriers in parts of the prison that she never went past. My response to that is a question: Why? As the commander of the prison, I believe she had the authority to visit any part of it. Even if discouraged, a person of integrity would have insisted on knowing what was going on at his or her site. Karpinski's choice to be ignorant of the truth about Abu Ghraib is negligence. Her claim to have heard no evil before November also lack credibility. If lowly enlisted persons knew what was going on with their limited access to parts of the prison, surely a high ranking officer could have garnered the same information. The letter? It is elementary that one does not sign documents that profess knowledge one doesn't have. If Karpinski did not know whether the abuses had occurred, she should have refused to sign the letter. If she knew that the inmates did not fall under the designation, 'security detainees,' she should have refused to sign the letter. Karpinski's willingness to go along with the others reveals her to have been a member in good standing of the Iraqi occupation family. I cannot in good faith endorse her divorce from that family now.

    Is sexual discrimination in the military real? Yes. From what I've read and been told, it is endemic. Women are tolerated within rather narrow boundaries. Those who get out of their place pay the price in abuse or demotion. Getting out of one's place can be doing something as right as reporting having been raped. Writer Debra Dickerson was ostracized and targeted by her commanding officer in the Army for doing just that. But, in this situation, I am not at all sure that the woman has been singled out because of her gender. Her superiors have passed the buck to males as well as to Karpinski. Sanchez, her former boss, is now an officer without an assignment, sharing her disgrace.


    12:30 PM

    Monday, May 31, 2004  

    Technology: The Digital Home

    Does a refrigerator really need an Internet connection? That is the kind of question I'm asking myself more and more often as I continue to read articles about The Digital Home. The high tech geek part of my personality latched on to the topic about four years ago and hasn't let go. Much of what is being said about TDH has changed during that time because early ideas about poducts turned out to be vaporware, or, new technology outpaced them. A look through aging editions of MacWorld, Business 2.0 and Wired is telling since many of the innovations suggested relied on wired Ethernet or old phone network connections. Now, the emphasis is on going wireless.

    Before we go on, let me clarify what I mean by The Digital Home. ZDNet's Anchordesk has a current piece that familiarizes readers with what the concept is and where it is going.

    SEOUL, South Korea -- At the Samsung Tower Palace, even the refrigerators are logged onto the Net.

    The luxury apartment complex here is a showcase for Samsung Electronics' burgeoning digital home business -- an idea that once was dismissed as a pie-in-the-sky but now is starting to gain traction. Besides refrigerators, Samsung Tower's $1 million-plus apartments are outfitted with Internet-enabled ovens, security cameras and wall-mounted flat-panel displays.

    Samsung has sold more than 6,000 networked homes in South Korea, and now it's eager to export its success. The company has tests under way in Canada, Australia and Europe, and it recently struck deals with two U.S.-based home builders to conduct digital home trials in the United States. According to Samsung, wiring homes in the United States with the necessary networking gear will cost from $2,000 to $10,000--making adoption relatively affordable.

    The basic concept of TDH is that consumers will benefit from having just about every electrical appliance in their abodes connected to the Internet. The success of high speed Internet access -- digital subscriber lines and cable -- is making the idea seem more and more achievable. Improved 802.11 (WiFi) connectability will make that even more so. A pragmatic use of TDH is a product like a media adapter. Linksys explains why one might want to use such a product.

    The Wireless-B Media Adapter sits by your home stereo and television and connects to them using standard consumer electronics cables. Then it connects to your home network by Wireless-B (802.11b) wireless networking, or if you prefer, it can be connected via standard 10/100 Ethernet cabling. Using the included remote control and the user-friendly menus on your TV, you can browse through the digital pictures on your computer by folder, filename, or thumbnail.

    . . .You can also use the remote to browse your MP3 or WMA formatted music collection by title, artist, genre, folder, or playlist.

    However, it seems to me that designers are putting the cart ahead of the donkey much of the time. Consider this description of an Internet ice box.

    LG Electronics' Digital Multimedia Side-By-Side Fridge Freezer with LCD Display was one of the first available products; its features include a touch screen in a 15.1-inch thin-film-transistor liquid-crystal display (TFT-LCD ) and its own LAN (local area network) port. This refrigerator can keep track of what foods are stored in it and how long they've been there. There's a built-in video camera, so you can leave video memos for other household members, and a built-in digital camera, so you can take a photograph and save it to an album, post it to a Web site, or send it out to an e-mail recipient. You can also watch television, play MP3 files, or listen to the radio.

    Some of the uses of TDH products, such as the media adapter and its predecessor, the wireless music adapter, make sense. A New York Times story which described how having computers in rooms other than the home office or livingroom, including the kitchen, increases the likelihood of their actually being used instead of gathering dust was convincing. I can also relate to having some appliances connectable to the Internet so they can be accessed for troubleshooting. However, The Digital Home loses me at the point when the frig and the microwave are supposed to call home. Most appliances don't fail often enough for such access to be necessary. It strikes me as technology in search of a need. I get the same feeling thinking about TDH that I do browsing the Sharper Image catalog or hanging out in the store. Yes, some of these inventions are gee whiz clever, I think, but they are also easily done without because they serve no even semi-pressing need. It seems to me that the tenants of Samsung Tower Palace could surely find more practical ways to spend their money -- unless pointless consumption is the point.

    Reasonably related

    •There is a a magazine dedicated to The Digital Home.

    Intel offers a series of articles and white papers on The Digital Home technology.

    •A consortium called Digital Home Working Group is attempting to establish standards for products and champion interoperability.


    6:30 PM

    Saturday, May 29, 2004  

    News: Tillman fell to friendly fire

    In an effort to explain why I think the word 'hero' is often misused, I offered several hypothetical situations involving the death of former National Football League player Pat Tillman a few weeks ago. The discussion, at a Right Wing blog, occurred before the luster on the word 'hero' had been eroded by revelations that American troops in Iraq have been torturing helpless Iraqi detainees. Along with a couple allies, I was roundly condemned for not declaring Tillman a hero. It appears that one of my examples of non-heroic death in the military, an accidental shooting by a comrade, is the truth about what happened to the pro athlete turned soldier.

    FORT BRAGG, N.C. (AP) - Pat Tillman was probably killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan after a U.S. solider mistakenly shot at an Afghan soldier in the former NFL player's unit, military officials said Saturday.

    Tillman walked away from a $3.6 million contract with the Arizona Cardinals to join the Army after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Previous military statements suggested he was killed by enemy fire.

    According to an Army investigation, Tillman was shot to death on April 22 after the friendly Afghan soldier in Tillman's unit was mistakenly fired upon, and other U.S. soldiers then fired in the same direction.

    . . .But an Afghan military official told The Associated Press on Saturday that Tillman died because of a ``misunderstanding'' when two mixed groups of American and Afghan soldiers began firing wildly in the confusion following a land mine explosion.

    Speaking on condition of anonymity, the Afghan official said, ``(There) were no enemy forces'' present when Tillman died.

    The circumstances of Tillman's death do not detract from his willingness to put his body where his mouth was. Many people who share his Right Wing politics eschew any actions that might put them at risk. Other people are supposed to sacrifice themselves to protect them. Pat Tillman was not a coward. But, based on what is now known, I cannot say he is a hero, either. Tillman died because of an accidental shooting. He was not in the process of sacrificing his interests for anyone else's at the time, the key component of being a hero.

    I hope that any American personnel or agents who performed ineptly at the time will be disciplined appropriately. The needlessness of Tillman's death should not be ignored.

    Reasonably related

    Why did white, middle-class America want Pat Tillman to be a hero?


    6:00 PM

    Thursday, May 27, 2004  

    Blogospherics: Time and the blogger

    A reporter for the New York Times recently visited with some bloggers and discovered they have problems. Wait! Don't go! Jumping to the conclusion that a newspaper is bashing blogging again doesn't solve anything, you know. Besides, Katie Hafner, writing for the NYT, is mainly right. Much of what ails the bloggers profiled in the story turns on time. Readers' time. But, of more importance, bloggers.' How much time should bloggers put into preparing material that only four percent of Internet users will even glance at, anyway? Which comes first - blogging or work? Are there times when one should not blog at all?

    To celebrate four years of marriage, Richard Wiggins and his wife, Judy Matthews, recently spent a week in Key West, Fla. Early on the morning of their anniversary, Ms. Matthews heard her husband get up and go into the bathroom. He stayed there for a long time.

    "I didn't hear any water running, so I wondered what was going on," Ms. Matthews said. When she knocked on the door, she found him seated with his laptop balanced on his knees, typing into his Web log, a collection of observations about the technical world, over a wireless link.

    Blogging is a pastime for many, even a livelihood for a few. For some, it becomes an obsession. Such bloggers often feel compelled to write several times daily and feel anxious if they don't keep up. As they spend more time hunkered over their computers, they neglect family, friends and jobs. They blog at home, at work and on the road. They blog openly or sometimes, like Mr. Wiggins, quietly so as not to call attention to their habit.

    "It seems as if his laptop is glued to his legs 24/7," Ms. Matthews said of her husband.

    Wiggins, the Bathroom Blogger, acknowledges having few readers. He also admits that he makes no money from his blog. Still, he devotes numerous hours per week to it.

    Entertainment blogger Tony Pierce has plenty of readers, probably because he posts cheesecake photographs of women to his blog. But, having a lot of readers can can be a problem, too. No one should feel that he or she has to blog, which Pierce, and some bloggers I know, do. It becomes an obligation. They feel like they are skipping out on what is expected of them if they don't do it.

    Where some frequent bloggers might label themselves merely ardent, Mr. Pierce is more realistic. "I wouldn't call it dedicated, I would call it a problem," he said. "If this were beer, I'd be an alcoholic."

    But, Wiggins may beat him in blogging pathology still. He has actually passed up renumerated activity to blog for free.

    Mr. Wiggins has missed deadline after deadline at Searcher, an online periodical for which he is a paid contributor.

    Barbara Quint, the editor of the magazine, said she did all she could to get him to deliver his columns on time. Then she discovered that Mr. Wiggins was busily posting articles to his blog instead of sending her the ones he had promised, she said. "Here he is working all night on something read by five second cousins and a dog, and I'm willing to pay him," she said.

    Other bloggers in the article echo Wiggins' and Pierce's problems or expand on them. A researcher who has considered blogging thinks it may come down to delusion. Bloggers create a sense of productivity by their continual activity and having a tangible result to point to. The communal nature of blogging can actually make the situation worse by creating the impression that 'everyone is doing it.'

    Joseph Lorenzo Hall, 26, a graduate student at the School of Information Management and Systems at the University of California at Berkeley who has studied bloggers, said that for some people blogging has supplanted e-mail as a way to procrastinate at work.

    People like Mr. Pierce, who devote much of their free time to the care and feeding of their own blogs and posting to other blogs, do so largely because it makes them feel productive even if it is not a paying job.

    The procrastination, said Scott Lederer, 31, a fellow graduate student with Mr. Hall, has a collective feel to it. "You feel like you're participating in something important, because we're all doing it together," he said.

    The echo chamber aspect of the blogosphere leads people to believe they are having a much more significant impact on others, and society, than they are. So, I think it is a good idea to rely on other forms of communication, remembering the blogosphere is tiny. When I find myself reading fewer newspapers, magazines and books, I make a point of easing up on the blog reading and writing and going back to those sources of information and insight. Their publishers have the resources to invest into real mining of information that bloggers don't. I believe anyone who relies on the blogosphere for most or all of his information is depriving himself of factual content, largely missing from it.

    I haven't experienced the tendency to give personal relationships short shrift that some of the bloggers in the article describe. They say they find themselves spending time they would use interacting with other people blogging instead. However, the answer to those dilemmas seems rather clear. If you are neglecting your job, your significant other or your child to blog, I think you should have stopped blogging yesterday. It is not nearly as important as any of those. The content of nearly all blogs will prove to be ephemeral. Your need to pay the bills, your marriage and your children will not.

    Some people like to believe whatever they're involved in is perfect. I've always been skeptical about that attitude. Everything I've ever done had its pitfalls. I believe it behooves anyone who blogs or reads blogs to consider what the medium is, does and means. Reading Hafner's article, and others like it, can provide worthwhile food for thought. At the very least, it will make you think about how you spend your blogging and/or blog reading time.


    5:59 PM

    Wednesday, May 19, 2004  

    Health: Anesthesia failure hurts

    I don't drug easily. Normal dosages of anesthesia doesn't take with me. Never have. I felt just about everything during a surgery as a teenager and again when I had my wisdom teeth removed at 19. I suffered in silence. But, I was well-informed enough to raise the issue with doctors in later years. Needing large does of anesthesia continues to be a problem mainly in regard to dentistry. I have known most ot the endo I've had intimately. Those root canals have been so painful that I prefer breaking my ankle. At least that pain ended quickly. So, I fully support a woman who has made a crusade of informing the public and the medical community that not every patient is out when she is down.

    McLEAN, Va. (AP) - The pain in Carol Weihrer's eye was so severe she decided to have it surgically removed, believing it was the only way to get on with life.

    Instead, the surgery was the beginning of an unending nightmare. Her anesthesia failed, leaving her awake but paralyzed for a five-hour surgery in which doctors cut and gouged to remove her right eye.

    ``You feel really grueling pulling on your eye, but you can't move to relieve the pressure,'' Weihrer said recently.

    She felt no pain from the cutting, because the painkilling portion of the anesthesia was effective. But the tremendous pressure exerted to remove the eye was painful in its own way.

    I agree with Weihrer that what one feels when inadequately drugged during surgery is often excessive pressure -- pulling or pressing down to the point that you thinks something has to give. Except when it comes to mouth surgery. What I feel then is just plain pain. The paralysis the drugs cause makes it impossible to complain.

    I've had some success with doctors when I say I need high doses of anesthesia. However, dentists' balk. I guess they get so many people who complain about ordinary discomfort they don't believe the handful who have a legitimate problem with anesthesia. Another possiblity may be they think patients who seek additional medication, particularly post-op, are drug addicts. I've had several experiences when I got that impression.

    Weihrer is spreading the word that the problem is real.

    Since her ordeal in 1998, which brought her an out-of-court settlement, she has suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, and sleeps in a chair because lying down triggers the feelings of fear and helplessness.

    Weihrer, who lives in Reston, has since dedicated her life to warning of the dangers of anesthesia awareness and agitating for changes in how doctors monitor a patient's consciousness.

    She has won significant attention in the medical community, but some anesthesiologists worry her campaign may be causing undue fear.

    Roger Litwiller, a Roanoke anesthesiologist and president of the American Society of Anesthesiologists, said it's important to keep the issue in perspective - that awareness during surgery occurs only in about one or two of every 1,000 procedures.

    One or two people per thousand for full awareness when supposedly anesthesized seems like a rather high number of patients to me. I have not seen estimates of the number of people who are semi-aware. I suspect the ASA is more concerned about its image than what may be a widespread and painful problem. The organization also dismisses the suggestion that a device that can identify wakefulness in a supposedly drugged patient be used.

    As for prevention, Weihrer points to a simple, relatively inexpensive brain activity monitor.

    The technology, approved by the Food and Drug Administration, is called a bispectral index (BIS) monitor. The theory is that if a patient is awake but paralyzed, it will show a high level of awareness to alert the anesthesiologist to adjust the medication and put the patient to sleep.

    Litwiller contends the research is inconclusive on a BIS monitor's usefulness to an anesthesiologist.

    I have been putting off an operation to remove a defective cornea for more than a year. Part of the reason for the delay is that I fear being paralyzed under anesthesia and in pain. One of the criteria for choosing a doctor for the surgery will be the availability of a BIS monitor.

    I wish Weihrer the best in her crusade for anesthesia awareness.

    Reasonably related

    •More information about failure of anesthesia.

    •The Anesthesia Awareness homepage.


    6:42 AM

    Monday, May 17, 2004  

    News and analysis: Goldschmidt betrayed all

    A regional story I'm following is about a former Portland mayor, Oregon governor and member of President Jimmy Carter's administration. Neil Goldschmidt carried on a sexual relationship with a 14-year-old girl while he was in his thirties and mayor of Portland. The local alternative weekly finally reported what happened last week -- 30 years after the events. The Oregonian, known for its chummy relationship with the business community, provided a platform for Goldschmidt to try to wriggle out of responsibility. Once he learned another medium was about to publish a well-researched article about the sexual predation, Goldschmidt hurriedly 'confessed'. The crafty old power broker used the Oregonian to color the molestation an 'affair.' He masterfully spun the episode and coverup so that he appeared to be the victim. Molestation of a minor is a felony in Oregon.

    The woman's life went down the drain after the three-year period of molestation and a subsequent rape. She is permanently mentally disabled. Meanwhile, Goldschmidt prospered, becoming an extremely wealthy lobbyist for big business. The Seattle Times described his impact on Pacific Northwest politics.

    The revelations dramatically end the career of one of Oregon's most influential public figures. At age 32, he became the nation's youngest big-city mayor, going on to become transportation secretary for the Carter administration and Oregon governor from 1986 to 1990. He was an executive with Nike and has been a successful international trade consultant since the early 1990s.

    People usually prefer to identify with the victors, not the victims. Much of commentary about the episode posted at Willamette Week, which broke the story, supports Goldschmidt. Some people say the exploitation of the child -- both a felony and a violation of the public trust -- should have remained a secret. Several persons blame the woman, saying she must be a grifter or seducer. It doesn't seem to matter that she was in junior high school when the episode occurred. The most strikng reason to side with a powerful man offered is that he is a liberal and a Democrat. The commenter says that Willamette Week should not have published the article because of its liberal editorial stance.

    Posted by James on Saturday, May 8 2004

    Liberal Newspaper Deals Out Conservat[i]ve Victory

    The Willamette Week is a paper that is read primarily by common Portland liberals, but with this article, you work against yourselves and inflict extreme damage to the Oregon Democratic Party. This story should never have been published. If you people consider yourselves democrats , then you must certainly are also hipocrites. Go get real jobs. This kind of newsreporting is the equivalent of flipping hamburgers. I will never read the Willamette Week again. [Unedited, except for title.]

    'James' and some others continue on in that vein. As if those of us who consider ourselves on the Left wing of political spectrum don't already know that we have our share of miscreants among us, and, that some of them are our leaders. It matters not a whit that Goldschmidt was a liberal Democrat during his political career. He was also a child molester. To refrain from reporting the story if one is a journalist or to refrain from holding Goldschmidt responsible because one is a liberal would be the height of hypocrisy. Felonous behavior overrules political considerations. It is amazing that there are people too myopic to see such an obvious truth.

    Willamette Week's cover story describing how a popular, powerful man molested a powerless minor, and kept the situation secret for three decades, is a fine example of investigative reporting. I urge you to read it.


    9:15 PM

    Thursday, May 13, 2004  

    News: Berg's journey described and disputed

    I am not going to claim to know The Truth about how Nick Berg came to be where he was when he fell into the hands of Al Qaeda. Though I've read all I could about the Berg situation, what I see emerging is not The Truth, but several truths, and probably some untruths, too. They will be sorted out in the press, and, likely, in a court of law.

    Berg's elderly father, Michael, has courageously spoken out before and after his son's decapitation by zealots. He believes the government of the United States could have done more to help a stranger in a strange land.

    PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - The father of Nick Berg, the American beheaded in Iraq, directly blamed President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on Thursday for his son's death.

    "My son died for the sins of George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld. This administration did this," Berg said in an interview with radio station KYW-AM.

    The grief-stricken father seems to be at least partly right about the logistics. Nick Berg was picked up by the Iraqi police, jailed and questioned -- just like Iraqis are, in March. The military and the FBI thought him 'suspicious.' His family believes he would have left Iraq before the tragic event if he had not been delayed by the incarceration. Meanwhile, U.S. officials say they did not jail Berg. That may be technically true. The facility Berg was held in is under Iraqi administration. But, the superiors of the Iraqis there, and at other penal facilities in Iraq, are the mainly American occupation forces.

    Michael Berg rejected U.S. government claims that his son had never been held by American authorities in Iraq. The Iraqi police chief in the city of Mosul has also contradicted statements by the U.S.-led coalition concerning the younger Berg's detention.

    "I have a written statement from the State Department in Baghdad ... saying that my son was being held by the military," Berg said. "I can also assure you that the FBI came to my house on March 31 and told me that the FBI had him in Mosul in an Iraqi prison."

    Dan Senor, spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority, said this week that Nick Berg was arrested in Mosul by Iraqi police on March 24 and released on April 6.

    The parties seem to agree on Berg's movements after his release.

    Berg returned to Baghdad from Mosul in April and went missing on April 9, during a chaotic period when dozens of foreigners were snatched by guerrillas west of the capital.

    His body was discovered by a road near Baghdad on Saturday. The video of his decapitation was posted on the Internet on Tuesday.

    Berg was on his second trip to Iraq. He had visited Baghdad from late December to Feb. 1. He returned in March, hoping to further a business venture. He would have left at the end of that month if fate had not intervened.

    Berg's communications to his parents stopped on March 24 and he told them later he was jailed by Iraqi officials after being picked up at a checkpoint in Mosul.

    On April 5, the Bergs filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government, naming Rumsfeld and alleging their son was being held illegally by the U.S. military in Iraq. The next day, he was released.

    It is apparently true that the government and Berg were involved with each other, at the very least. I expect that point to be ceded eventually.

    Some of the material reported here is from a heartrending story the New York Times published about Berg yesterday. I encourage everyone to read it. (If you aren't a member, the article has been reprinted by the Wilmington Star.) One thing you will take away from the piece is an understanding that -- as is true in most messes -- there's quite a chain of causality. The terrorists are the proximate cause of his death, but all kinds of mistakes appear to have been made. A second advantage of reading this story is that you will come to know Nick Berg, to the extent strangers can know a man they never met. The redhead from Philadelphia comes across as impetuous, adventuresome, nonjudgmental and stubborn. I believe the best memorial to a deceased person is recognizing his or her individuality. Berg will be more than a name or a gruesome image after you read this article.


    11:45 PM

    Wednesday, May 12, 2004  

    Internet: Information on beheading is a mixed bag

    Curt Fisher, writing at The Apologist, made me curious about how long a person who is beheaded remains conscious. Of course, the current event that sparked my interest is the decapitation of American civilian Nick Berg in Iraq by terrorists yesterday. It is difficult to imagine a more terrifying way to face death, especially if the executioners eschew medication, as Al Qaeda appears to have.

    I found myself wondering: Does the mind know what is happening? How long does the brain continue to process information after the decapitation? Is the pain so overwhelming that any kind of reasoned response to it is impossible?

    Fisher approached the matter as a physical and philosophical concern.

    Does Beheading Hurt?

    On many levels, it's one of life's great unanswerables. Does beheading hurt? Who would know?

    On a spiritual level, many would agree, beheading hurts us all. It's designed to. The mere sight of a severed head seals itself into every witness; always we wonder as we tug at our throats: But does it hurt? Is there pain? Does the brain remain aware?

    Yes to all. Yes, it hurts very much to have your head cut off, and the longer it takes, the worse it hurts. Once your spinal cord is cut and your head is severed you will continue to experience the full spectrum of pain, without the heavenly numb of shock-absorbing chemicals, which are back there with your body. You can't talk, of course, but you can move your lips and appear to scream, and you can focus and blink your eyes, as proved by dozens of deathhouse deals.

    A severed head is conscious, and in some ways hyperconscious. The head knows it's been picked up by the hair and shown to the crowd. The head sees the crowd, hears the crowd, smells the breath of the executioner, thinks happy thoughts, cannot believe how long 40 seconds is, because 40 seconds is how long the average head remains fully aware, if not alive. Forty seconds of indescribable pain and horror.

    Wanting more information, I decided to delve deeper. Unfortunately, as is usually the case on the Internet, opinion is much easier to find than facts. Some of the entries I've read are clearly a mixture.

    Among the sites claiming to provide information is New Scientist, which Fisher linked to.

    Does beheading hurt? And, if so, for how long is the severed head aware of its plight?

    Yes, beheading hurts. How much depends on the executioner's skill, or lack of it.

    When Mary, Queen of Scots, was executed at Fotheringay Castle in 1587, a clumsy headsman gave her three strokes without quite managing to sever her head. The headsman then had to saw though the skin and gristle with his sheath knife before the job could be regarded as complete. The profound, protracted groan Mary gave when the axe first hit left the horrified witnesses in no doubt that her pain was excruciating.

    How long is the interval of consciousness after the head is severed? In France, in the days of the guillotine, some of the condemned were asked to blink their eyes if they were still conscious after the knife fell. Reportedly, their heads blinked for up to 30 seconds after decapitation. How much of this was voluntary and how much due to reflex nerve action is speculation. Most nations with science sophisticated enough to determine this question have long since abandoned decapitation as a legal tool.

    However, a commenter dismisses the Mary, Queen of of Scots story as apocryphal.

    Steven B. Harris, apparently a blogging doctor, made a contribution.

    How long can does the head survive after you've been beheaded?

    Consciousness lasts only 10-15 seconds after blood pressure goes to zero. How long the brain "survives" a blood pressure of zero is a matter of philosophy. What do you mean by "survive"? Brain cells don't blow up after 5 minutes, nor (unfortunately) do they issue up little cellular ghosts, shaped like little neurons, but whispy and transparent and with blank eye holes. So how do you tell if a brain cell is not only merely dead, but really most sincerely dead? Goooood question.

    With fancy drug protocols and machinery, dogs have been resuscitated after as long as 15 minutes of normothermic total ischemia (cardiac arrest), and they are about as sensitive to hypoxia as humans. So the brain lasts at least that long, at normal body temperature. What's the ultimate limit? Hours, maybe? Depends on your technology. Also depends on how much of the stored information you are willing to have lost, and still count the "person" who results, as having "survived."

    The Spirit Rambler, Hal Milo, did not provide any convincing new information. But, he has a great quotation from Leo Tolstoy, who witnessed a beheading.

    During my stay in Paris, the sight of a public execution revealed to me the weakness of my superstitious belief in progress. When I saw the head divided from the body, and heard the sound with which they fell separately into the box, I understood, not with my reason, but with my whole being, that no theory of the wisdom of all established things, nor of progress, could justify such an act; and that if all the men in the world from the day of creation, by whatever theory, had found this thing necessary, it was not so; it was a bad thing, and that therefore I must judge of what was right and necessary, not by what men said and did, not by progress, but what I felt to be true in my heart.

    The On-Line Medical Dictonary doesn't list 'beheading' and dismisses decapitation as obsolete. That seems odd since accidental decapitations still occur in countries where beheading is not a form of capital punishment.

    The other entries I read about beheading during the hour I allotted were of equally mixed provenance. I came away from the endeavor feeling frustrated.

    What's the art?

    It is a picture of a guillotine. The basket at the bottom was used to collect the heads.


    11:45 PM

    Tuesday, May 11, 2004  

    News and analysis: Truth and consequences

    Yes, I've seen the beheading. Once purposely because of The Need to Know. A couple more times inadvertently because I did not look away fast enough. Your correspondent has a low threshhold for violent images. I tend to replay them in my mind or have nightmares about them. So, in the interest of mental hygiene, I avoid photos and videos of beatings and beheadings.

    (You guessed it. The Diva will not be seeing Kill Bill, I or II.)

    So, what does it all mean? All, in this case, being Americans tortured innocent Iraqis and Al Qaeda has retaliated by beheading a contractor from the United States on video. Writer and blogger Rick Heller anticipated some of my thoughts at the Centrist Coalition Blog.

    Did Pictures Cause A Beheading?

    An American has been beheaded by Al Qaeda, supposedly to avenge American prisoner abuses.

    I've been uncomfortable about the release of pictures of American abuse. Avenging humiliation is a basic part of the culture in that part of the world. If those pictures create an emotional response in Americans, you can imagine how the people who identify with the person in the dog collar are feeling.

    Arguably, Al Qaeda wants to kill Americans, and doesn't need an excuse to do so. But I feel the Army was right to try to put a lid of the pictures, even as it should investigate what caused the abuse to take place.

    I agree with Heller that the pictures of prisoner abuse are likely the proximate cause of today's beheading, in regard to motivation. However, I still believe, as I said in an earlier entry, that the photographs and videos of abuse in Abu Ghraib deserve our attention. Part of the reason may be that, according to some of my friends from law school, I have reporter's ethics. I respect leaks and the people who make them. The effect of most leaks is to add more information about a situation to what is available through official channels. That allows people to make more informed decisions. I will stop there because I am not really an advocate of the John Stuart Mill perspective on free speech. I do not believe that truth necessarily trumps falsehood. Power often decides what most people consider 'truth' in my opinion. But, I do prefer to have as much information as possible become public.

    Wait a minute, close readers are thinking. A few paragraphs ago, you said that you are so squeamish about gory images you avoid looking at them. Indeed, I did. And, I do. But, the fact that I can barely bring myself to look at images like the abuse at Abu Ghraib and the beheading does not mean those images should not be available. They tell peope what is going on. People have right to know that. So, I gladly sacrifice my squeamishness for the common good.

    Heller is concerned that the pictures from the prison caused an American civilian to lose his life in a horrible manner. I regret the death of Nick Berg, too. I also regret the cycle of vengeance that has begun. Somewhere an Iraqi boy or man is probably being tortured, even killed, to retaliate for the killing of Berg . His murder will then be avenged, by Al Qaeda or others. The U.S. and its few allies will strike back, both openly and secretly. And, afterward. . . . However, if the images from Abu Ghraib had been suppressed, not just terrorists would have been deprived of that information. Everyone would have been. Without knowing how badly some American military personnel are behaving in Iraq, it would be more difficult to make a decision about American forces staying or withdrawing. People deserve the information the images convey.


    9:21 PM

     

    News: Love bite kills man

    I often ask bloggers not to write about subjects they aren't familiar with or haven't done research on. Because when we do, we spread disinformation and misinformation. I would prefer that someone not say anything about, say string theory or Turner's Syndrome, than say something that is inaccurate. So, I am going to say very little about this weird news story that has caught my eye.

    Aroused horse bites Pole dead

    WARSAW, May 8 (Reuters) - A sexually excited stallion bit a Polish man to death when he tried to calm the beast which had become uncontrollably aroused by a nearby mare, police said.

    "The 24-year-old man, identified as Robert R., was bitten when he tried to calm his horse which had become unsettled by the presence of a mare in the vicinity," a duty officer in the Baltic port of Szczecin told Reuters.

    The horse went wild and began straining and bucking while pulling a farm cart through the village.

    An autopsy would determine whether the direct cause of death was a severed jugular vein or damaged spine, the officer added.

    I know next to nothing about horses. After reading this article, I feel I know a bit more -- but not necessarily what I would have asked to learn.


    8:49 AM

    Sunday, May 09, 2004  

    Technology: Sony wants MP3 fans to Connect

    There was a time when megacorp Sony owned the hip music gadget market. Sure, Bang & Olufsen and Bose were popular with many audiophiles, but for the larger segment of the population seeking better quality, but somewhat reasonable prices, Sony was it. The slogan "It's a Sony," meant something. Sony's introduction of the portable music player 20 years ago sealed the deal.

    But then, when Sony's mastery of music to go seemed complete, Apple claimed part of the market, hardware and content, for itself.

    ZDnet's Anchordesk reports Sony is fighting back. Eliot van Buskirk tells us how.

    For years, Sony has seemed reticent to embrace the Internet as a means of distributing music, despite its unique positioning as the only company in the world with a major music label, a computer hardware division, and a consumer electronics arm. But finally, in the face of incontrovertible evidence, Sony executives admitted that this is the year of the online music store and that it couldn't risk letting the likes of Apple steal the show, the way Sony itself did with its introduction of the Walkman more than 20 years ago. Yesterday, the company announced its own online music store, called Connect, to compete with Apple's market-leading iTunes Music Store and other services.

    He reminds us that Sony previously, along with other music purveyors, refused agreements with online resellers. The success of Apple's iPod and iTunes Music Store, along with prosecutions of users of peer-to-peer services, has changed that. It is a brave new world, and Sony wants a piece of it. Connect will be entering a market with a bevy of competitors. They include Wal-Mart, second to iTMS in sells, Napster and BuyMusic.

    Van Buskirk has tested the new service.

    But these are different times, and Sony has finally decided to quit experimenting. Instead, it has released a full-featured online music store called Connect, embedded in its jukebox software, SonicStage. From initial inspection, the software and the store appear to run fairly smoothly and intuitively. Like iTunes, the store generally sells music downloads à la carte for 99 cents a pop and complete albums for $9.99, and it's designed to work with Sony audio devices. Although Apple is entrenched in the top MP3 player and MSP [music service provider] spots, Sony has two competitive advantages: it offers more than one portable device that can play the music it sells, and it owns a substantial catalog, so the company has to pay licensing fees only to the other labels. In contrast, Apple must pay Sony as well as the different labels, and it owns no music.

    Van Buskirk acknowledges that there is still no way to play MP3s on Sony's proprietary Memory Stick modules. The alternative to hard drives, secure digital and compact flash devices, is favored for Sony portable devices, including its Clie personal digital assistants. But, there is a strange bifurcation between the computer and the portable device when it comes to installing music. One must convert the music into Sony's proprietary OpenMG codec on one's hard drive and then transfer it to the MP3 player.

    Another oddity is that Sony has blocked sharing of its music store downloads on networks. Short of hacks, an individual user's music remains his, even when he wants to share.

    I'm not as sanguine as van Buskirk about the potential of Sony's efforts. iTMS is well thought of and has a significant headstart. I suspect owners of Clies and other devices that support Memory Stick will be annoyed anew. And, having a new codec to fiddle with is not exactly what consumers have been clamoring for. Another dark cloud, pointed out by a commenter to van Buskirk's column, is Connect only works with Windows 98SE and later. It will be interesting to see if Connect has made any inroads into Apple and Wal-mart's domination of the online music store market a year from now.


    1:33 PM