Memorial Day

There’s a house on my street with two flagpoles in the yard, an American flag and a POW/MIA flag. The Vietnam War had all the boys in my high-school class wondering what their draft number would be. The rich always had a way out, but that war reaped the young men of the middle and working class.

Now, not so much shared sacrifice. How volunteer is our military when so many young people can’t find a job or afford college? What should we give up before we put the first soldier in harm’s way? Cheap gas? Defense jobs? Tax cuts?

Every soldier lost leaves a space in the place they should have been. A parent, a child, a brother or sister, a friend or lover.

When soldiers come home, they need support. Not as troops, but as citizens. Jobs, health care, housing, safety, respect– what we all need.

Keeping the peace happens here.

Greater City:Providence has a tribute to all the Rhode Islanders who died in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Gil Scott-Heron

Gil Scott-Heron, jazz poet, has died.

“Revolution” established Mr. Scott-Heron as a rising star of the black cultural left, and its cool, biting ridicule of a nation anesthetized by mass media has resonated with the socially disaffected of various stripes — campus activists, media theorists, coffeehouse poets — for four decades. With sharp, sardonic wit and a barrage of pop-culture references, he derided society’s dominating forces as well as the gullibly dominated:

The revolution will not be brought to you by the Schaefer Award Theater and will not star Natalie Wood and Steve McQueen or Bullwinkle and Julia.

The revolution will not give your mouth sex appeal.

The revolution will not get rid of the nubs.

The revolution will not make you look five pounds thinner, because the revolution will not be televised, brother.

Now we have more screens to trance in front of, more drugs, and one less poet lost to his own pain. Life is short, art is long.

You Go, Girl!

A lot of great discoveries in physics were made by young scientists, this one is really cool…

SYDNEY (AFP) – A 22-year-old Australian university student has solved a problem which has puzzled astrophysicists for decades, discovering part of the so-called “missing mass” of the universe during her summer break.

Undergraduate Amelia Fraser-McKelvie made the breakthrough during a holiday internship with a team at Monash University’s School of Physics, locating the mystery material within vast structures called “filaments of galaxies”.

In space no one can hear you argue politics. That’s why I read science to relax.

A Candidate for the Ig Nobel Prize?

I was stuck in traffic once behind a car with a bumper sticker that read, ‘God said it, I believe it, that settles it’. That driver did not seem like someone I’d want to have a beer with, or sit down with at break time. What would you say to someone who broadcast their belligerent certainty that way?

My loved ones continue to tell me that the Rapture is imminent– look at the signs. Weather and politics, people behaving badly, new problems emerging all the time. When in human history have we seen such days? That settles it.

The problem with growing up among believers, and having to sharpen your skepticism in self-defense, is that you can’t turn it off.

So when I saw this headline on Yahoo News I did not take the bait and go off on a tirade of internet snark…

‘Being ‘Born-Again’ Linked to More Brain Atrophy: Study’

WEDNESDAY, May 25 (HealthDay News) — Older adults who say they’ve had a life-changing religious experience are more likely to have a greater decrease in size of the hippocampus, the part of the brain critical to learning and memory, new research finds.

According to the study, people who said they were a “born-again” Protestant or Catholic, or conversely, those who had no religious affiliation, had more hippocampal shrinkage (or “atrophy”) compared to people who identified themselves as Protestants, but not born-again.

Okay, so what about Jews? And did they study any coffee-drinking Unitarians? Coffee is supposed to make you smart, and Unitarians have coffee hour after service. Unitarians aren’t exactly Protestants, I’ve been told. (I’m not sure about Protestants generally. I was born Catholic. You only had to know about 2 kinds of people, Catholics and non-Catholics.) I’m a born-again Pagan now. Is this the way you write when your hippocampus shrinks?

Well, I still have enough brain cells left to skip past Yahoo and go to the original study, which they were good enough to link to.

It was published on PLoSONE, an online science journal that charges over $1,000 to peer-review and publish an article. Not to say that the content isn’t good, but it’s a little like a vanity press, not exactly the Penguin Classics Deluxe of science publishing.

The study was small, under 300 participants, and lasted an average of four years per subject. MRI’s were taken, which is really expensive. So I’m wondering if this study piggy-backed onto another study. It looks like it was done at Duke University. It would make sense for these researcher to add questionnaires to an ongoing MRI study, or else they had a rich patron. Were the study subjects random average people, or did they have something in common that would confound the interpretation of results?

Can scientists sort out subject’s religious beliefs accurately enough to correlate with MRI results? Here in America we’ve been accused of shopping around and picking and choosing our religion. A lot of people have kind of invented their own. I know enough born-again people not to lump them all together, or to underestimate them either. ‘Christian’ means very different things to different people.

I don’t want to harsh on these scientists, but I think this study might be re-published in the ‘Journal of Irreproducible Results’.

Do You Know Who I Am?

A reporter interviewed the neighbors and friends of Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s victim and paints a picture of a quiet, religious woman whose social network was the French African community in Harlem, NYC. Via Worldcrunch from Le Figaro…

By Renaud Girard
LE FIGARO/ Worldcrunch

NEW YORK – The alleged sexual assault case against Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the now former head of the International Monetary Fund, has been major worldwide news. But it has hit especially hard in New York’s French-speaking African community, home to the Guinean woman employed as a maid at the Sofitel Hotel where she says the 62-year-old French politician sexually assaulted her.

In the heart of Harlem, a small grocery store offers a flavor of Africa. The plump 45-year-old woman owner, Ms. A, who gives her customers a warm welcome in impeccable French, wears a long traditional green-colored African dress, and a turban made out of the same fabric is wrapped round her hair. Born in Guinea, she is a Muslim woman who belongs to the Mandinka ethnic group. The alleged victim is from northern Guinea, and her ethnicity is Fulani.

Reporters have claimed that DSK’s friends are in Africa, trying to bribe and pressure the victim’s family to get her to drop the charges. It’s said that the family is very religious, not susceptible to bribes, and heartbroken about what is happening to their sister. It seems at first glance that she is resolute, and supported by a family that is poor in money but rich in respect.

But Renaud Girard puts a troubling spin on this story. The victim has had the misfortune to embarrass a man whose social power is felt in Africa as well as France– a man whose financial reach allows him to invade every aspect of his victim’s past and find any weakness in her social network that he can exploit…

“Make no mistake, this affair brings shame upon her family. In Africa, the parties involved would have solved this problem in secret,” says [victim’s friend, Amadou] N’Diaye. “From now on, two lives have been unnecessarily ruined, (the victim’s) life and DSK’s life. DSK is a man who the French-speaking African community appreciates a lot.”

At Restaurant 2115, people show solidarity with the alleged victim, but nobody is eager to condemn DSK. Africans who live in New York think that the charges “will not hold up.” “How could a 62-year-old man, who is not athletic at all, have forced a 32-year-old woman, who is tall and muscular from her manual work, to have sexual relations with him?” one wondered.

Amadou imagines a scenario in which “three very different cultures clash.” The French culture of DSK, who made an extremely inappropriate move in suite 2806, but who called the hotel while heading for the airport, unaware that he had committed a crime. The culture of modesty of a pious Funali woman, who did not expose the crime and who did not confide her shame to the Sofitel Hotel’s management, but was rather found sobbing by her coworkers, who then called the police. The “Prussian” culture of the American police in which things are either black or white, with no gray areas.

This is so telling. Some of the French women who have come forward with stories of DSK’s abuse of power were clearly prevented by social pressure from speaking sooner. Great social pressure will be brought to bear on the victim and her family, even if they are not tempted by money.

Although she did no wrong, she and her family are ‘shamed’. That it was such an important man who attacked her is more shame. Did she fight back hard enough? Was it necessary to ‘ruin his life’? Should she have borne her shame in silence? Should he have been set free to victimize more women?

And the American police– was it for them to decide that this affair should be covered up? Show due deference to a very important person? Perhaps take a tip for services rendered? Would that be less ‘Prussian’ and more ‘French’?

I asked someone who knows a lot about sexual assault cases whether the accused can give a victim money to drop the charges. She said that it’s not legal to do that outright, but that the state would have a much harder time prosecuting a case if the victim refused to testify, and it was not uncommon for this to happen in fact. Offering a victim’s family a bribe is witness tampering.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn is innocent until proved guilty. I thought that given the evidence and the conduct of the victim he would eventually be convicted. But considering the misogyny that exists in so many communities, and its power to isolate and blame victims, I have more doubts now. The social power DSK used on high-status French women might be brought to bear on a poor working community until they are willing to sacrifice one of their own.

‘Do you know who I am?’
he allegedly asked as he assaulted his victim. She didn’t then, she only feared for her dignity and her job. This man could do her more harm than she ever imagined. No one should have that kind of power. If the law means anything, it must protect the humble against the arrogant and ruthless.

LEGAL MOVE OR THREAT? DSK’s lawyers, angry about leaks to the press, have sent a letter to the prosecution claiming they have information that will discredit the victim. The DA’s office does not sound intimidated–

Assistant DA Joan Illuzzi-Orbon said in a response letter that prosecutors were “troubled that you chose to inject into the public record your claim that you possess information that might negatively impact the case and ‘gravely’ undermine the credibility of the victim.”
“We are aware of no such information,” she added. “If you really do possess the kind of information you suggest that you do, we trust you will forward it immediately to the District Attorney’s Office.”

I think we passed the point where any woman alleging rape had to have her whole life examined for purity. I don’t think there’s much in the victim’s past that will change the picture, but everyone has trouble in life, and the letter from the defense sounds like blackmail.

Protecting Their Children in Fukushima

Much has been said about the cooperation and trust in government shown by the people of Japan in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami. Those were unstoppable natural disasters.

The man-made disaster at Fukushima is proving that parents everywhere are protective of their children..

A huge outcry is erupting in Fukushima over what parents say is a blatant government failure to protect their children from dangerous levels of radiation. The issue has prompted unusually direct confrontations in this conflict-averse society, and has quickly become a focal point for anger over Japan’s handling of the accident at the nearby Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, ravaged in the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

At issue are updated government guidelines that allow schoolchildren to be exposed to radiation doses that are more than 20 times the previously permissible levels. That dose is equal to the international standard for adult nuclear power plant workers.

Toshiso Kosako, the expert adviser to the prime minister, resigned in tears over the relaxation of radiation standards for children.

The people of Fukushima will not suffer quietly any more.

It’s hard to find information about radiation and children, I believe that is because there is little economic interest in uncovering hazards past and present except among advocates for communities that have been affected. Much of what’s out there is partisan. I’m going to write more about the anti-nuclear position, but in this post all the following references are from .gov websites. Our government has mostly promoted nuclear power and downplayed the risks– which gives these examples even more weight.

A COMPARISON: A study from the National Cancer Institute at the National Institute of Health recommends limiting children’s exposure to radiation from diagnostic imaging tests…

Radiation exposure is a concern in both adults and children. However, there are three unique considerations in children.

Children are considerably more sensitive to radiation than adults, as demonstrated in epidemiologic studies of exposed populations.

Children also have a longer life expectancy than adults, resulting in a larger window of opportunity for expressing radiation damage.

Children receive a higher dose than necessary when adult CT settings are used for children.

As a result, the risk for developing a radiation-related cancer can be several times higher for a young child compared with an adult exposed to an identical CT scan.

EPIDEMIOLOGY: The American Journal of Public Health has an article, History of Uranium Mining and the Navajo People. (not free to copy, but you can read it in PDF format)

The article does not address effects on children in the vicinity, but does describe a spike in lung cancer cases in uranium miners that began about ten years after Navajo men began to work in the mines. Confounding the issue is the fact that statistically the cancer rate was lower than for whites, because Navajo men on average were light or infrequent smokers compared to the white men studied. The research findings eventually led to better ventilation in the mines, and a drop in new cases of lung cancer. This was not obtained quickly or without effort, it was the result of decades of fighting the denial, inertia and vested interests that allowed mine owners to expose workers to a toxin recognized since the 1930’s.

This is also a reminder that ‘natural background radiation’ is not harmless because it is natural. Workers who spent their days inhaling uranium dust died needlessly for lack of protection.

Other Americans call themselves ‘downwinders’ because they lived in the path of fallout from nuclear testing during the Cold War…

Relatively few Iron County residents were aware of or concerned about nuclear testing when the first mushroom-shaped cloud rose into the western skies and drifted to the northeast in 1951, but the cloud figuratively remains over southern Utah and Nevada to this day. Residents live with every day what the cloud left behind that the eye could not see. There are no southwestern Utah neighborhoods or communities that have not been touched by the tragedy of cancer or birth defects or lingering bitterness over human and financial losses.

The parents of Fukushima are right to mistrust authorities that worldwide have motivations to downplay problems. They are not alone, and they might surprise the world with their determination to seek justice and demand the truth.

Fighting Back

It’s hard to definitely connect a disease to an exposure to a toxin. There are various estimates of how many children got thyroid cancer after Chernobyl, the International Atomic Energy Agency, in a strangely upbeat post , says four thousand. The World Health Organization says five thousand, with a little more consideration of the implications. Other cancers also were increased after the disaster.

Yan Leyfman suffered painful, relentless and unexplained illnesses all during his early childhood. Now a student in the US, he is researching cancer as his mother survives cancer treatment. They believe they are victims of radiation exposure.

STONY BROOK, N.Y. — Yan Leyfman was born in Belarus in 1989, three years after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. His family lived only about 75 miles from the nuclear plant, and as a toddler, Mr. Leyfman had a constellation of mysterious symptoms: cysts that covered his entire body, fingernails that fell out, limbs that were swollen and skin that itched torturously.
Though he recovered his health after moving to Brooklyn at age 5, Chernobyl still followed him.

Leyfman is a young cancer researcher, driven to find a cure for his mother and answers for himself.

At this time, the ruins of Chernobyl are still dangerous, Ukraine and the international community are trying to raise the 2 billion it will cost to entomb the reactor before the temporary structure fails.