The Burning Woman

571 years ago today, the 19-year-old Joan of Arc was burned at the stake in Rouen, France for heresy. Not too far from our home is a gold-plated reproduction of a larger-than-life statue of Joan riding her charger with a pennant and laurel crown. Some years ago, Barbara and I established our late-spring Joan of Arc Memorial Barbecue, which I still need to schedule for this year.

Tim Golden is Pure Gold!

From the CJRDaily blogger Mariah Blake’s interview with The New York Times’ Tim Golden. Golden was the lead reporter in the recent two-part series on prisoner abuse and homicide by US forces at Bagram in Afghanistan.

MB: A few conservative bloggers and pundits have questioned the timing of the series. Glen Reynolds (Instapundit) went as far as suggesting that The New York Times was trying to avert attention from the Newsweek ordeal by running it. What would you say to these critics?

TG: I am reluctant to respond to people who call themselves by names like “Instapundit.”

NPR’s “Political Junkie” Nods Off

During the run-up to the filibuster showdown at the end of April, NPR’s “Political Junkie” Ken Rudin got all up lefty blogosphere’s ass for criticism of David Welna’s attribution of the “nuclear option” phrase to Democrats:

Finally, congratulations to the dozens and dozens of free thinkers who wrote in, often using the exact same language, regarding a piece by NPR’s David Welna on the oncoming collision in the Senate over the right of the minority to filibuster judicial nominations.

The least they could do is change some of the wording and make it look like they actually did some independent thinking before pressing the “send” button.

Intrigued by which well-read lefty site might have generated those emails, I sent Rudin an email:

Mr. Rudin:

I was interested in your comments on the folks who sent in identical emails complaining about David Welna’s attribution of “nuclear option” to Democrats. Did you do any research to identify the source of those identical words? I was curious about whether they were the results of copied and pasted text or if they had been generated by some type of form-based mailing system.

I figured that in this age of Google and the like that it would be relatively simple to identify the source of the “exact same language,” if it indeed existed. If nothing else, it would tell us what was effective at pressuring NPR.

Surprisingly, Rudin wrote back almost immediately, saying he was going to touch on that point in his next column and asking for my hometown (presumable if he was going to include my letter in the upcoming column). The original piece was published April 28, but he didn’t have another offering until last week (May 18), a slightly longer gap than usual.

His new column included several non-identical responses to the dismissive way he’d dealt with the original criticisms, and a sort of mea culpa:

It is fair to say that not everyone agreed with my reaction to a mass e-mailing about NPR’s use of the “nuclear option” language (see April 28 column). I was, to say the least, dismissive of those who wrote in complaining about a piece by NPR’s David Welna, in which he mentioned that Senate Democrats are calling Senate Republican Leader Bill Frist’s threat to end the judicial filibuster the “nuclear option.” A Web log took NPR to task by pointing out that the origin of the “nuclear option” term came not from the Democrats but from Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS), and a lot of e-mails came in accusing us of parroting the White House line by attributing the use of the term to the Democrats. (I was equally dismissive that so many of the e-mails were little more than echoes of the language included in the blogs.)

Missing, still, is any verification of the source of that “mass e-mailing” or “echoes.” I mean, if you get a lot of emails, does that in itself constitute a “mass” emailing? Or is it just a lot of concerned people?

Howling at the Howler

The Howler Machine may have been trying to prevent Bob Somerby from shooting himself in the foot when it went on the fritz Thursday, preventing the release of his attempted smackdown of The Nation‘s Katrina vanden Heuvel with David Brooks until he forced it into a stress position on Friday.

In his coverage of vanden Heuvel’s appearance to discuss the Newsweek story about abuse of the Koran at Guantanamo Bay on Monday night’s “Hardball” (16 May 2005), Somerby characterizes her defense thusly:

You can defend her statements as “technically accurate.” (Although the May 1 Times report to which she refers is based on another anonymous source, and vanden Heuvel gave that source a slight raise, from “interrogator” to “officer.” For the record, the Times report does not refer to any allegations about Gitmo toilets.) But as we watched, we were struck by how hard vanden Heuvel was emoting. And yes, we thought she was clearly suggesting that the toilet story is “probably true,” although she has no earthly way to know if it actually happened.

Of course, “no earthly way” discounts the numerous detainee reports, presumably because those accounts have no weight. And by Wednesday, the International Committee of the Red Cross had confirmed that it had reported abuses of the Koran (“substantial enough for us to bring to the attention of authorities” according to an ICRC spokesman) from both detainees and military personnel to the Pentagon through 2003, after which the complaints ceased. The ICRC didn’t confirm the toilet story, but it didn’t deny it, either. It’s entirely possible that vanden Heuvel may have had heard about the reports sometime in the past two years.

You hate to argue with Somerby, he does an awful lot of good work, but the next time his system gums up the works, maybe he ought to take a hint and wait another day for a possible revision.

Bloody Clots of History

The New York Times article on the torture and murder of two detainees in American custody at Bagram in Afghanistan had a particular resonance for me, as the direct cause of death for both men appears to have been blood clots in their lungs, something that almost killed me a couple of years back.

The jailers at Bagram used a technique called the peroneal strike, hitting a nerve bundle a few inches above the back of the knee, typically with a baton or a kick. One site giving advice to potential protestors has this to say about it:

[A] common peroneal strike could be used to slow an attacker without having to shoot him; sometimes a good thing. But it’s also a good to inflict unjustified pain without leaving much in the way of evidence. It also makes a good defense in court when a cop has knee-capped a victim: “Your Honor, I was attempting a harmless control tactic addressing the common peroneal when the suspect raised his leg. It isn’t my fault my baton contacted the knee, shattering it.”

When a clot blocks a blood vessel into the lungs it causes a pulmonary embolism. A pulmonary embolism commonly results from the formation of a blood clot in a large vein in the legs, a deep vein thrombosis (DVT). If you remember stories a couple of years warning people to get up from their plane seats and walk around every so often, that’s because a DVT can form from just sitting too long in cramped quarters, although an injury or someone “pulpifying” your legs will do.

When the DVT breaks up, pieces of it travel through the venous system to places like the lungs where they may create a pulmonary embolism. As the blood vessel (or vessels in the case of more than one embolism) is restricted or blocked, blood no longer flows into that portion of the lungs and it begins to die. If enough blood vessels are blocked, not enough oxygen will reach the brain, heart, or other organs. That’s generally a bad thing.

In my own case, the clot formed because of damage and reduced activity that resulted from a broken leg and angle. About seven weeks after surgery, I switched from crutches to a cane, then started to have some difficulty breathing that I attributed at first to the increased amount of work I had to do to get around. Two months to the day after breaking my leg, I passed out at the foot of the stairway to my office, and likely survived the multiple embolisms in my lungs only because of the quick actions of my wife, Barbara, and our proximity to excellent medical facilities, where I spent a night in critical care and a week in the pulmonary ward. I was on a regimen of blood thinners and testing for a year.

Less than four months after my episode, NBC correspondent David Bloom — just a year or so younger than myself — died of a pulmonary embolism while riding with US forces on the drive to Baghdad, likely from sitting in the cramped quarters of an armored vehicle, which could easily have been exacerbated by hitting his leg on something getting in or out of the vehicle.

I can tell you from experience, the week between the onset of my symptoms and the day I passed out was not a pleasant experience. I was constantly out of breath, it was difficult to concentrate, and as the week went on, getting up the stairs to my office became a trial. Even scooting around in my office chair, my preferred method of transport at the time, was tiring. On the stairs before I collapsed, I felt as if I was suffocating.

That, of course, is as nothing compared to what those poor bastards in Bagram experienced. Nobody was beating me. Nobody was tying me to the ceiling. Nobody was forcing me into stress positions for hours on end. Nobody was depriving me of sleep.

I cannot fathom the widespread cruelty depicted in the government report quoted by the Times story. I can’t understand, given everything that’s known about the effects and causes of DVT, why guards, interrogators and superiors at Bagram thought repeated blows to a prisoner’s legs were acceptable technique.

Not everyone dies from an embolism, although it has a fairly high risk of death. In my own case, with multiple embolisms, I was quoted anything from 30% to 70% chance of death (the numbers the doctors and nurses mentioned got higher the more likely it looked like I was going to make it). Presumably, other detainees at Bagram received the same treatment. In all likelihood, some of them developed lesser cases of pulmonary embolism. I doubt whether anyone’s followed up to see how many of them might have died after being released.

The amount of suffering the two men mentioned in the article is beyond my imagining. I can only extrapolate from my own minor experience, cosseted as I am in a familiar and safe environment with quality medical care available and people looking out for me. And man, it still really sucked.

Pepsi President Says America Is the Middle Finger

An interesting news item linked from the front page of the Huffington Post

Students graduating from the Columbia Business school MBA class of 2005 may have expected some fizz in a commencement speech by Pepsico President Indra Nooyi, an Indian-American acclaimed as one of the most powerful corporate executives in America and a putative CEO of the soft drink giant.


 According to some students who were present at the graduation ceremony and who fired up the issue in the blogosphere, Nooyi then reserved the remaining finger for the United States (and not North America, they say), launching into “a diatribe about how the US is seen as the middle finger to the rest of the world.”

Like all good programmers, I’m a Diet Coke drinker myself, but I certainly hope that Ms. Nooyi has the stamina to stick out the almost inevitable Bill O’Reily Pepsi boycott.

Women in Combat

A further addition to bills passed by the Senate and House prohibiting women from participating in direct ground combat, would make an exception for women provided with special equipment.

Under development for the past four years, the Biological Ultimate Repelling Kill Hub, Army has been nominally accepted by Republican congressmen as a measure that would enable men to feel secure with their female counterparts serving on the front lines.

Inspired by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s observation that “…females have biological problems staying in a ditch for thirty days because they get infections and they don’t have upper body strength…,” the B.U.R.K.H.A provides top-to-bottom protection for its wearer, as well as an exoskeletal strength booster and automated “infections” control.


A reader at DailyKos asks: “How heavy is this thing? I’m all for it, but if women are going to be lugging around some space suit to serve that can’t be helpful.”

Most of the details of the B.U.R.K.H.A. are still under wraps, but with the air conditioning unit needed for the expected desert war scenarios, I expect it’ll probably weigh at least 50kg. Of course, that includes the servo-assisted titanium alloy exoskeleton.

Credible Witness

Norm Coleman gives evidence as to his own credibility:

Mr Coleman said he didn’t think Mr Galloway had been a “credible witness”. If it was found he had lied under oath, there would be “consequences”, he said.

Consequences? Like what? Are they going to send a team of black helicopters to Bethnal Green and Bow to “render” Galloway to Guantanamo? Does Coleman seriously think the Senate can threaten Galloway with anything? Or is this more along the lines of the Bill O’Reilly Boycott of Canada?

Failure of Intelligence: Pakistan

As anyone following the Newsweek Koran/Quran flushing story knows by now, the Pentagon didn’t have anything to say about it for ten days after the article was published, until people started dying in Afghan demonstrations. Apparently, the Muslim world reads American weeklies more closely than the US government does.

The New York Times article today contains this little bit of between-the-lines reporting showing just how out-of-touch (or duplicitious) the American intelligence services are:

The outcry over the Newsweek article apparently began in Pakistan, when Imran Khan, the legendary cricketer turned opposition politician, summoned reporters to a press conference on May 6 to draw attention to it. Once close to the Pakistani president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, and a onetime crusader against corruption, Mr. Khan has been vocal in recent years against United States strikes in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“Islam is under attack in the name of the war on terror,” Mr. Khan, now one of General Musharraf’s most stalwart critics, told reporters. He pressed the Musharraf regime to demand an apology from Washington.

For the next several days, the report dominated the front pages of English and Urdu-language newspapers in Pakistan and became the center of debate in the Pakistan Parliament. Predictably, a coalition of Islamist parties seized on the Newsweek report to accuse General Musharraf’s government of colluding with the West against Islam. But the criticism was not limited to the religious right. Legislators from across the political spectrum denounced the reported desecration, and by Friday, May 13, Parliament had passed a unanimous resolution condemning it.

So for a week — beginning the day after the much-touted capture of Abu Faraj al-Libbi, the latest #3 al-Qaeda guy — this was an issue in Pakistan, one of our allies in the War on Terror. It was a big enough issue that it made it to a resolution in their Parliament. Wouldn’t that have been an ideal time for the administration to deny that the incident had happened instead of waiting for the situation to get worse? Is anyone paying attention to what’s going on over there?

Scott McClellan, Larry DiRita, and the rest of the crowd pretending this is Newsweek‘s fault should be asked why the administration or Pentagon didn’t address this issue when it became a news story in Pakistan. If they claim they didn’t know it was an issue, people should consider how it’s possible that something could be in the news over there for a week and make it onto the floor of the Pakistani Parliament without someone in the Bush administration knowing about it. Then again, if you can’t get the information from someone by desecrating their religious practices, I suppose it’s not real information.