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Thanksgiving - Politicians, Recipes & Brussel Sprouts

We're big fans of Thanksgiving and usually try to write a post. This year we wanted to stick with our preferred genre and write about something undercovered or underloved in other media. In 2005 we wrote about that the myth that tryptophan causes post Thanksgiving meal sleepiness, a myth that is now pretty much a Thanksgiving Day media meme.


Image is from Wikipedia Commons, and is licensed under Creative Commons 3.0 (CC by-SA 3.0).

Happy Thanksgiving

We didn't want to write a Thanksgiving holiday-history story because whatever is not covered in 1st and 2nd grade is almost always politically freighted. Wanting to stay away from politics, we decided to write about food again. But ironically, we were inspired by politicians who, collectively deadlocked on all the really important issues, always manage to muster up recipes to share with reporters. What in this world isn't political, I guess?

We can't imagine where the recipe sharing inclinations came from. Is this a lingering tradition from times when churches, ladies groups, and neighborhood potluck groups all put out recipe books full of jello salads and Aunt So-and-so's meatloaf? Still, I can't imagine announcing that for tonight's dessert we'll be enjoying Rick Santorum's "Apple Tarte Tatin"!!

But it seems popular. Last week, for instance, Representative Nancy Pelosi shared her chocolate mousse recipe -- a Thanksgiving Day tradition in her home. It has 1 pound of dark chocolate, 8 ounces of butter, 8 eggs, 4 tablespoons of sugar and 1/2 a cup of heavy cream. She's thin, she's not eating too much of this. It's probably delicious -- The Hill has to whole recipe -- but you have to admit it's not exactly a heart-happy dessert. Michelle Obama would disapprove of this recipe, and the GOP would no doubt accuse Pelosi of excessive caloric spending. To model the antithetic thriftiness, I'm sure, Representative John Boehner (R-Ohio) told The Hill he was looking forward to his mother's turkey brine. He wouldn't give the publication the recipe.

What To Write

I don't know about turkey brine, so I looked on the Food Network, which has this. Turkey brine has peppercorns, allspice berries, salt, rosemary, sage, and other sundry spices and herbs, plus vinegar. Don't knock turkey brine, a whopping 3,603 people endorsed that Food Network recipe. Perhaps Mrs. Boehner's secret recipe is better, but I'd bet my party on 3,603 votes if I were going that way. Apparently one soaks their turkey in the brine before cooking. The whole process takes about 10 hours, so you have to be comfortable cooking on Congress-Time. Hopefully John's mom adds extra "sage" that is magically, surrealistically absorbed by anyone who eats/drinks the brine.

Speaking of sage and wisdom, North Carolina Congressman Howard Coble had a truly brain related recipe called, actually, "Brains N'Eggs", which he described as a can of "brains in gravy", "preferably" Rose Brand, with bacon grease and eggs. His mother served served him this "not at all unusual" breakfast, that alas it can't be found in Washington D.C., he reported.

What To Write

If your a politician, your recipe can send a message. Chocolate mousse would be a universal people-pleaser. Pork brains sends a different message, obviously it depends on what you're going for. Politicians also use recipes to remind people of their heritage, like Olympia Snowe's "Baklava". Others donate recipe's reminiscent of their state, Senator John Kerry's "Massachusetts Cranberry Bread" for instance. Some offer what I think of as anti-cooking, like former NY Congressman Sue Kelly's "microwave chicken": chicken, microwave, a bottle of your "favorite" salad dressing, and water.

Some long-serving productive politicians like former Senator Edward Kennedy never dished out recipes to the media. One Rockefeller gave out four. Others who were only very briefly in office must have entered with a recipe in hand, like Sarah Palin and her Alaska Crab Wrap Sandwich, which, if I weren't allergic to crab, I might like her best for.

Ignoring all good evidence, Californians ousted Governor Gray Davis in favor of Governor Schwarzenegger, who was obviously too busy with other household chores to write recipes for reporters. Davis got served up lemons and gave the press his Lemon Chicken recipe.

Happy Thanksgiving

So back to our unchosen subject. We're weary of pumpkin pie, we've done turkey, cranberries are all bogs and antioxidants, what's left? We could talk about the turkey dinner where they actually go and feed the turkeys? Hmmm...Brussels sprouts? The thing about Brussels sprouts is nobody writes about them because they're only slightly more popular, I wager, than canned pork brains scrambled with eggs and grease.

Nobody knows where Brussels sprouts originated, unlike the excellently documented domesticated turkey. Most people agree they don't come from Belgium but some say they're actually a centuries old source of "Flemish national pride". It seems like when it comes to Brussel Sprout's, everyone's making something up. A few say they originated in Rome where they were thought to make people smarter, or maybe they were popularized in WWI, or maybe they came to Louisiana when the French immigrated, or maybe they're the most disliked British vegetable...on and on.

But they are considered healthy for many reasons, like because they contain sulfoaphane and indole-3-carbinol and a lot of research finds they have anti-cancer properties.. They look pretty cool on the vine. And to eat? Curried? Roasted?

Best wishes to all and Happy Thanksgiving to those readers who have a holiday.

Autism and the Internet, Drugs, Television, Rain, the Victorian Era & the Media

New Scientists Who Don't Do Science

Every so often, actually with disturbing frequency, claims about the underlying cause of autism spring up like fungii in manure after a rain. It's practically required that claims of this genre be built on false premises or make invalid conclusions, like this week's link between internet use and autism. Oxford personality Baroness Susan Greenfield breathed life into this rumor in an interview with New Scientist, then defended herself by saying provocatively: "I point to an increase in the internet and I point to autism, that's all." But where's the evidence, and why is this stuff being published?

Greenfield's been popularizing science for decades, and recently popularizing science at the cost of science itself. In 2008 she warned the children's brains were being destroyed by technology in a book reviewed by the Times of UK:

"As it happens, her new book, ID: The Quest for Identity in the 21st Century, digresses all over the place in little flash floods of maddening provisos and second thoughts. It's as if she dictated it while bouncing on a trampoline, fixing an errant eyelash and sorting her fraught schedule on a BlackBerry."

Back in 2009, before the UK's Royal Institution fired Lady Greenfield, she argued that the total immersion in "screen technologies" was linked to a "three-fold increase in prescriptions for methylphenidate" (prescribed for attention deficit disorder). She told the paper that people were losing empathy and becoming dependent on "sanitized" screen dialogues. She also complained that packages of meat in supermarkets had replaced "killing, skinning and butchering an animal to eat".

It's hard to criticize people who distort science without seeming to deride all science popularizes. Greenfield falls in the former camp as many people recognize. 254 people commented, on a recent Guardian article saying that the internet changes peoples brain:

  • "That's exactly what my mum said about reading 'The Beano' [A British Comic Strip]."

  • "I hear it gives you cancer as well""

Guardian readers know how to take a piss, but Oxford's Greenfield knows how to get publicity, so she's long engaged in trying to scare people about technology. To her latest, scientists online responded briskly, with vitriol, meaning that in terms of popularity, Greenfield had a field day. We've been following false arguments about autism for a few years, so we wanted to look more closely at how Greenfield's latest claim about the internet causing autism differs from the claim that some economist's claim that television caused autism, which we covered back in 2006. For one, back in 2006 they actual did research -- well, economics research.

But Who Needs To Do Research When They'll Print the Stuff You Make Up?

Greenfield ups the ante from her general technophobia of two years ago by appealing not just to fuddy-duddy technophobes but to all parents and their worst nightmares. One day the child seems fine, then something mysterious happens and the child is no longer themselves. What happened? Doctors and scientists have no clinically actionable idea. Greenfield knows.

Perhaps it makes life easier for some autism suffering families to attribute changes in their child to some outside agent. It's also common to say that a crime has been perpetrated by people from another state or town or country. We've seen autism blamed on vaccines, television, rain...Uncomplicated agents that can be controlled by parents are especially attractive - TV. But where's the evidence? When the New Scientist asked that, Greenfield replied:

"There's lots of evidence, for example, the recent paper "Microstructure abnormalities in adolescents with internet addiction disorder" in the journal PLoS One...There is an increase in people with autistic spectrum disorders. There are issues with happy-slapping, the rise in the appeal of Twitter - I think these show that people's attitude to each other and themselves is changing."

How nimbly she links computer use, with "internet addiction disorder" (IAD) that is not recognized by US psychiatrists, with brain change, with behaviors, and even with attitudes. But the paper didn't say anything about attitudes; didn't prove "addiction", didn't prove detrimental brain changes, didn't prove behavior changes.

Can You Compare the Cognition of Chinese 19 Year Olds Playing Games 12 Hours A Day To 1 Year Old Cooing Babies?

The PLoS One paper deserves more comment than I'm going to devote here. But though PLoS One depends on the community for peer review, and although this paper has over 11,000 views (14/08/11), not one person has peer-reviewed, or "rated" - the paper. Nevertheless, it's cited all over the internet as proof that "internet use" does bad stuff to the brain, it "shrinks it", "wrinkles it", "damages", "contracts", "re-wires" it... But the paper is not about "internet use". It's about on-line gaming.

The PLoS One authors write that the research is particularly important to China because unlike in the US, in China, IAD is recognized and often cited as a big problem. The Chinese vigorously treat the "disorder" with strict treatment regimens including until 2009 shock therapy.

The PLoS One authors used addiction criteria (i.e. "do you feel satisfied with Internet use if you increase your amount of online time?") and asked the subjects to estimate how long they had had the addiction. They then used brain imaging to show that brain changes correlated with self-reported duration of online game playing. There were 18 subjects, 12 males average age 19.5 years, and presumably 6 others (females?) who the authors do not characterize.

The subjects played online games 8-13 hours a day. I can't evaluate the data, I don't know enough about voxel based morphology. But I'm not surprised someone "playing online games" 8-13 hours a day, 6.5 days a week for 3 years is different than the controls, who were "on the internet" less than 2 hours a day. Likewise, I would expect a soldier engaged in street patrol in Afghanistan 10 hours a day, 6 days a week for three years to be different than someone who walked their dog around the block in sunny suburbia 3 days a week for the last month. (If I were in a joking mood I'd say that kids playing online games 13 hours a day 6 days a week must have extraordinary abilities to actually still be in college.)

Even if you believe in IAD, the authors acknowledge the study's limitations. They say they don't prove IAD caused changes; don't prove that the subjects brains weren't different to begin with; acknowledge the "IAD duration" measurements (self-assessment) are crude; and the data aren't rigorous to conclude negative changes.

None of these caveats slowed Greenfield, who cited this paper and linked it to all sorts of unrelated things like "Happy-slapping", an awful British fad. But there's nothing inherently sinister about using Twitter, or the internet - it's not related to autism. What makes a lot of her assertions puzzling is that Greenfield trained as a neuroscientist. Does she not know this stuff? In 2003, she mocked people who attributed anything to "scary technology." So why is she now popularizing the opposite message? Her PLoS One example is nothing more than pulling some study out of thin air and linking it to her own machinations about technology. Claims such as hers provide ripe fodder for quacks, crazies and zealotry.

How Does Technology Change Us? Research Shows Beneficial Effects in Online Gamers

Here's the second instance of "proof" Greenfield gives in the New Scientist interview, and note that again cites an academic paper and links it incongruously to her own made up stuff. She says:

"...A recent review by the cognitive scientist Daphne Bavelier in the high-impact journal Neuron1, in which she says that this is a given, the brain will change. She also reviews evidence showing there's a change in violence, distraction and addiction in children."

But the Bavelier et al review says something different. The scientists specifically warn that no research predictably links brain changes to behavior like violence, distraction or "internet addiction" to technology - TV, video games. The authors cite studies showing the research remains too confounding, as they say in their conclusions:

  • "the interpretation of these studies is not as straightforward as it appears at first glance"

  • most reports tabulate total hours rather than the more important content type, therefore are "inherently noisy and thus provide unreliable data."

  • technology use is "highly correlated with other factors that are strong predictors of poor behavioral outcomes, making it difficult to disentangle the true causes of the observations"

  • Perhaps "children who have attentional problems may very well be attracted to technology because of the constant variety of activities."

Bavelier et al stress that the effects are unpredictable, for instance "good technology" like the once ballyhooed Baby Einstein videos can turn out to have zero or negative effects. Conversely what is assumed to be "bad technology" can be good. They write:

"action video games, where avatars run about elaborate landscapes while eliminating enemies with well-placed shots, are often thought of as rather mindless by parents. However, a burgeoning literature indicates that playing action video games is associated with a number of enhancements in vision, attention, cognition, and motor control."

This point from Bavelier et al is quite interesting because it appears to contradict the general conclusions of the PLoS One authors we cited above concerning online gamers -- assuming the study subjects played comparable games. Exploring these different results is potentially more interesting than a rhetorical sleight of hand tossing a science study citation in to falsely bolster gobbledygook.

To wit, the studies Greenfield uses don't support her points. That technology's effects are still unpredictable is widely acknowledged. Greenfield herself used to promote a computer program called MindFit which claimed to improve mental ability. The game didn't work. But it also didn't make kids pick up knives and murder each other. It's hard to understand Greenfield's motivation for denouncing technology as anything other than provocation.

Greenfield says: "It is hard to see how living this way on a daily basis will not result in brains, or rather minds, different from those of previous generations." But "hard to see" isn't science. A "brain", is not a "mind", nor is it "behavior", nor an "attitude". That's not to say brains don't change, or that technology couldn't affect us. Brains show changes during many activities, often temporarily. It's just to say that technology is not inherently, as she called it, "chilling".

I Point to Television and I Point to Picnics, To Family Dinners, To Teens Doing Charity, To Children Building Sand Castles on Sunny Days

As she is now vilifying the internet as a physiological change agent, Greenfield previously claimed that television changes the brain deleteriously. Now she dismisses the notion. When New Scientist asked her: "What makes social networks and computer games any different from previous technologies and the fears they aroused?" she responded:

"The fact that people are spending most of their waking hours using them. When I was a kid, television was the centre of the home, rather like the Victorian piano was. It's a very different use of a television, when you're sitting around and enjoying it with others..."

Nice image, the innocent television, like the innocent Victorian piano. Happy family times of the Victorian Era, singing around the piano, food aplenty, spirits flowing, enlightened, goal oriented well adjusted children unhindered by repressive social situations. Oh wait, it wasn't always like that? We learn more about the good 'ole days by venturing dangerously out on the internet where you can find the following first hand accounts:

Isabella Read, 12 years old, coal-bearer, as told to Ashley's Mines Commission, 1842: "Works on mother's account, as father has been dead two years. Mother bides at home, she is troubled with bad breath, and is sair weak in her body from early labour. coaltub.jif "I am wrought with sister and brother, it is very sore work; cannot say how many rakes or journeys I make from pit's bottom to wall face and back, thinks about 30 or 25 on the average; the distance varies from 100 to 250 fathom. I carry about 1 cwt. and a quarter on my back; have to stoop much and creep through water, which is frequently up to the calves of my legs."

Sarah Gooder, 8 years old, trapper, as told to Ashley's Mines Commission, 1842: "I'm a trapper in the Gawber pit. It does not tire me, but I have to trap without a light and I'm scared. I go at four and sometimes half past three in the morning, and come out at five and half past. I never go to sleep. Sometimes I sing when I've light, but not in the dark; I dare not sing then. I don't like being in the pit. I am very sleepy when I go sometimes in the morning."

Greenfield's current glorification of TV defies the fact that TV has been roundly implicated for causing all sorts of unsocial behavior and not only by Greenfield before she changed her mind.

The Autism TV Link: "Why Not Tie it To Carrying Umbrellas?"

In 2006 Acronym Required used a study by economists linking autism and television to write a satirical ten step tutorial on how to publish bad science and get lots of media attention for it. The authors proved that a theories popularity, if brought to the attention of a non-critical media was independent of clearly stating no link between autism and television in your study. You didn't even need to be a scientist.

After reviewing those economists' work, Joseph Piven, director of the Neurodevelopmental Disorders Research Center at the University of North Carolina, weighed in on the autism television-watching idea, asking the Wall Street Journal "[W]hy not tie it to carrying umbrellas?" And so the researchers did! And in 2009, in "It's Back! The Rain Theory of Autism", we described how the same researcher group that blamed autism on televisions decided that it wasn't television causing autism, but rain.

The nice thing about making up "science" or just leveraging your status for narcissistic purposes, is that you can change, chameleon-like, at will. If your aim is to generate a headline in mainstream media rather than research, it doesn't matter what the science says. Most people don't remember headlines from one day to the next and they aren't that curious to dig further.

I believe a natural response to Greenfield's wild claims is humor and sarcasm, the same response the Guardian readers had. To Greenfield's latest foray, Carl Zimmer started an amusing twitter exchange with this: "I point to the increase in esophageal cancer and I point to The Brady Bunch. That's all. #greenfieldism".

A string of #greenfieldisms followed, like "@carlzimmer I point to Alzheimer's and I point to cheese doodles. That's all. #greenfieldism". (Of course this territory is risk ridden, because of the prevalence of actual real random "studies" like the one about mice who eat fast food and get Alzheimer's.)

When challenged, Greenfield didn't back down, instead she spewed forth with more analogies, like a clogged toilet if test-flushed. Asked for a response to the fact that there's not evidence claiming detrimental effects of technologies, she scoffed that you wouldn't see effects for 20 years. With just as absurd a distracting non-sequiter she once asked someone who challenged her on the technology-is-bad assertions if they denied smoking causes cancer.

Flexible "Theories" Make For Good Publicity for Scientists, For Newspapers...

I think it's cathartic, funny and educational to diffuse Greenfield's claims with humor. Wicked-fast coordinated Twitter de-bunking of such people is of course useful and could be made even more useful. Unfortunately the issues aren't always as simple as a Greenfieldism. And debunking the rhetoric of individuals seeking publicity on the backs of science is only one angle.

I think it's important to note that it wouldn't be news if there weren't ready and willing news outlets. The New Scientist printed all her assertions about links between technology, brain structure, autism, and behavior. BabiesLaptop.jpg They didn't ask questions. They didn't challenge. They didn't say: wait, isn't autism diagnosed at ages 2-4? Who's propping their 6 month old up in from on the computer to play war games? Why?

The Guardian, like most papers, publishes articles that range in quality. A Guardian comment on the 2009 article about Greenfield's theories, that called the article "absolute nonsense", and wrote I am surprised that the Guardian has published this..."sloppy journalism"..."absolute drivel", pulled in 160 "approve" votes, far more than any other comments. So even if readers hate the article, they'll still read it. Media succeeds because of advertising and hundreds of comments translates to how many hundreds of thousand of hits?

The media is quite capable of selective coverage. They ignore important scientific, political, and economic stories that they consider politically sensitive. But is anti-science coverage ever "censored"? Not if it can drive traffic, and sell ads - provide economic benefit to media outlets.

But to what extent can we accept this concession to the market if it gives us in return uncritical readers, uncritical patients, and uncritical citizens? Does it create an atmosphere amenable to medical quacks? Might it prime a population to be more receptive to political efforts to curb real free speech via social media technologies? Too bad so many potential critics (even bloggers) are involved with or depend on mainstream news outlets, which makes them understandably hesitant to bite the hand that feeds (or might feed) them.


1 Bavelier, D., Green, C.S., & Dye, M. (2010). Children, wired - for better and for worse. Neuron. 67, 692-701, Volume 67, Issue 5, 692-701, 9 September 2010 Copyright � 2010 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. 10.1016/j.neuron.2010.08.035

Acronym Required writes frequently on the diffusion and distortion of science in politics. We've written about individuals mixing religion with science, art with science, for instance here

Warner Herzog's latest movie, the highly rated "Cave of Forgotten Dreams" explores some cool cave paintings at the Cave of Chauvet-Pot-D'Arc in France. The ~30,000 year old paintings are significant archaeologically, geographically and culturally, and the movie does a great job of bringing the art of the restricted cave to a larger audience, albeit at times ponderously.

Some people will surely appreciate the mystical sometimes overwrought other-world importance Herzog brings to the cave finds. In the film's postscript, Herzog films some albino crocodiles that he describes as downstream from a nuclear power plant near the valley. The move perhaps encourages the audience to compare some dystopic nuclear future inhabited by spooky radioactive albino crocodiles crawling the land, to his vision of a beautiful pristine valley once populated by mammoths, bears, lions, rhinoceros and loin-clothed artistes.

Herzog seems to imbue the Aurignacian culture with the same mythical qualities that James Cameron gave to the fictional Na'vi of "Avatar", both are feted with dreamlike qualities these men seem to admire - wisdom, god-like eco-consciousness, and the capacity to appreciate (and produce) immense beauty. 1 Herzog makes a good film. But our ancestors of 30,000 years ago perhaps mastered the exquisite details of very large and dangerous beasts via many close and no doubt brutal encounters. Such encounters perhaps stirred memories that kept them up nights feverishly scratching very vivid animal portraits on cave walls with charcoal sticks. Is it too facile to point out that the art wasn't necessary created in the lush, happy tranquility of a remote French valley as viewed through modern man's eyes 30,000 years later?

At the end of the movie, Herzog tacks on some fictional "radioactive crocodiles". When interviewed by Stephen Colbert, Herzog said he wanted the audience to come with him on a "wild fantasy" that "illuminates". Without embellishment, he said, reality would be the Manhattan phone directory, 4 million entries, all correct. You would not know what anyone thinks, he said, or cries about...Therefore he's not "this kind of filmmaker". (Colbert invited him to party sometime.)

So the film seems a sort of 'up in smoke' melding of fact and fiction. The paintings are real, but with a fictional allegorical meta-framing. And the postscript crocodiles are in fact non-radioactive alligators, alligators imported from Louisiana, to a French Crocodile Farm where he filmed them. There are only about 20 albino alligators in the world apparently, because they are rare and genetically fragile. The two of Herzog's wild fantasy movie are usually used to attract tourists. Wild.


1 Added 06/11/11: Except now I learn Herzog more or less hated "Avatar", comparing it unflatteringly to yoga

Predicting Earthquakes - Warning Bells - Debunking The Wayward Animal Theory

My first ideas about tsunamis came from reading illustrated books as a child. When I was in Thailand and India during the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, I was exposed to more detail, and athis month, Japan's Tohoku earthquake and tsunami surpassed anything I knew or could envision. Media provided what fiction and after-the-fact reporting had for centuries left largely to our imaginations and movies. The footage gave a surrealistic feel of destruction, people running, towns washed away, waves tossing huge boats like toys flung by an errant child in a bathtub.

Japan's disaster was more serious then what I could have imagined, our nuclear world exacerbates natural disasters. When Buck wrote in 1948, people were just waking up to both the potential of nuclear power and its destructive power. Today, the impact of the earthquake and tsunami continues to be phenomenally challenging for Japan. Even from afar, the earthquake/tsunami unnerved everyone living on a known or yet-to-be-known subduction zone.

If real events weren't unsettling enough, we contend with rumors spread by the media. Newsweek recently published an article predicting the next earthquake, titled "The Scariest Earthquake is Yet to Come".

The article described the Pacific Rim's "Ring of Fire" as "a giant bell", with earthquakes occurring sequentially around the reverberating bell. First Chile, then Japan, next the West Coast, they wrote. Unfortunately Newsweek dabbles in unscientific fear-mongering, as we've previously noted, and scientists roundly criticized the article and its bell analogy. But that didn't stop people from believing the "trusted news source".

Watching the Animals

Neil Cavuto of Fox News contributed to the fear by interviewing Jim Berkland, a former Santa Clara County, California employee. Berkland achieved notoriety in 1989 after he told The Gilroy Dispatch ("serving the greater Gilroy, CA area"), that the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989 was imminent. Berkland "predicted" the earthquake by noting full moons and high tides, and by cataloging newspaper accounts of lost cats and dogs. As he told one reporter,

"'If you clip out the lost pet columns and splice them together then you will get an excellent bar graph' that shows a build-up to a peak just before an earthquake". (Nov. 30, 1990, The Orange County Register)

Fox's Cavuto described the bell phenomena from Newsweek, and

"what scientists are increasingly calling the so-called ring of fire that is encircling the entire Pacific Ocean"
. ("Ring of Fire" isn't new, my ancient Rand McNally atlas maps show the Pacific "Ring of Fire" subduction zones.) Berkland told Fox:

"Just before the World Series quake there was very unusual beaching of rare whales in the Ocean Beach, in San Francisco. Just after that, a equally rare pygmy sperm whale washed up at Santa Cruz, within about five miles of the epicenter of the World Series quake. That kind of beaching had never occurred before nor since. So we're looking for strange fish coming into from deep water to the shallow water, wild animals coming into cities."

Over the years, Berkland's criteria for predicting earthquakes has included full moons, high tides, lost homing pigeons, people with headaches, as well as "strange fish and wild animal" sightings. Let's look just at his claims of strange fish and wild animals losing their bearing. If you think about it for one second you'll realize this is not rare. As the world's human population expands, wildlife will inevitably cross our paths, more often as we increasingly disturb them. In a series covering a Supreme Court case on sonar testing, Acronym Required documented increasing numbers of whale beachings and strandings suspected to be caused by military sonar. In "Whales in a Time of War", we wrote in 2007, "mid-frequency sonar testing caused whale strandings and deaths in North Carolina (2005); at Haro Strait off the coast of Washington State (2003); in the Canary Islands (2004, 2002, 1989, 1986, 1985); Madeira (2000); the U.S. Virgin Islands (1999, 1998); Greece (1996), and the Bahamas (2000)."

This is just documents whales suspected to be stranded because of sonar, not dolphin strandings of, or giant squid washed ashore, or devil crabs, or bird and bee die-offs, or wayward sea lions, or starving polar bears. If you could actually track the real number of lost, washed up and otherwise misplaced domesticated animals, marine mammals, wildcats, birds, bugs, fish, etc., Berkland's theory would drown in the reality of irrelevant data.

Although Berkland said that the rare pygmy sperm whale beaching prior to the Loma Prieta earthquake is unprecedented, scientists say the opposite. Pygmy sperm whales are about dolphin sized, and there have been hundreds of pygmy sperm whale strandings. The animals strand for various reasons, old age, illness, predators, toxins/toxicants, from following porpoises, or pods sticking with a sick member. They're also deep diving mammals like the dolphins we described in Whales In The Supreme Court, which scientists suspect are more sensitive to sonar.

Recently, a calf and its mother pygmy sperm whale were stranded and died on a beach in Florida. George Beidenbach, director of conservation programs for the Georgia Aquarium's Dolphin Conservation Field Station at Marineland, noted that pygmy sperm whale strandings are the second-most frequent among whales and dolphins, second only to bottlenose dolphins. According to Beidenbach, volunteers come upon whale or dolphin strandings about once a month just on that particular beach. Two different pygmy sperm whales stranded on nearby beaches within a couple of weeks of that mother/pup stranding.

In my very cursory perusal, just for California, there were at least one or two documented strandings of pygmy sperm whales in 1981, 1989, 1993, 1996, 1998, 2003, 2008. This only includes incidences where the strandings were 1) observed 2) reported in a newspaper 3) happened to be seen by me in my brief search. The titles of these newspaper stories inevitably call such strandings "rare". But what are they going to title their news, the editors? "Extremely common and utterly boring pygmy sperm whale stranding?" Unsurprisingly, pygmy sperm whales also wash up in places that don't experience earthquakes -- Texas, France, UK...

Berkland notes natural phenomena to predict earthquakes within a broad window of time for a sometimes expansive geographical area. In December 1999, for instance, he predicted an earthquake between the 23rd and 29th of the month, as one reporter wrote: "with an 85 percent chance of a 3.5-to-6 shaker within 140 miles of San Jose, and an 85 percent chance of a 7-plus somewhere in the world, probably in the Pacific Rim". (Ostler, S. "Cheesy Thoughts on the Moon" Dec. 23 San Francisco Chronicle) As you can imagine, such a non-specific "prediction" heightens the odds of being right. But it still barely increases Berkland's success rate, which incidentally, he claims is much higher than what unbiased observers note.

Predicting Earthquakes, Genius or Beautiful Mind?

For his recent prediction for an earthquake last week on the West Coast -- it didn't happen -- Berkland told Cavuto about a "massive fish kill in Redondo Beach [sardines], a massive fish sweep in in a Mexico [I guess in addition to the drug sweeps], and a bunch of whales come in close to San Diego". If animals swimming within sight in any way predicted earthquakes and tsunamis, not only would whale-watching tourist excursions go out of business but we'd all be up to our ears in earthquake debris or washed out to sea. Nevertheless, plenty of people give in to the fear that Berkland might somehow be right.

But ironically, perhaps focusing on imaginary impending doom distracts people from doing the actual work of preparing for disaster. Do the twitter fears manufactured by Berkland's full-moon/lost dogs accounts, make people forget that California cities won't publish the locations of soft-story buildings. Cities are not releasing the data because property owners don't want property values to decrease. Property values are more important that lives lost to collapsed buildings? Twitter that.

Berkland himself used to evaluate building safety for Santa Clara county. Upon his retirement in 1994, one reporter noted that Berkland was respected in the county for assuring building safety and even going head to head with developers. But somewhere along the line, Berkland went from doing the day to day regulatory enforcement work -- helpful, tedious and probably contentious, to the more illustrious role talking to Fox-News TV. "He's a lively and agreeable man with a head full of facts, figures and memories he is eager to share", the same reporter wrote, continuing:

"Interviewing Berkland is like shooting the rapids in a canoe steered only with a Popsicle stick. The current sweeps you willy-nilly from one thought to the next: the baby bobcat he raised as a pet. The fossil shrew he discovered in 1963, later named Adeloblarina berklandi in his honor. The horned toads he caught as he grew up in Glendale..." (Chui, Glennda, San Jose Mercury News April 29, 1994)

The San Francisco Chronicle reported two decades ago that Berkland's wife called him "a walking encyclopedia, with the kind of memory that absorbs incredible amounts of numbers but allows him to forget what it was he went to the store for." (Minton, Torri Jan. 30, 1990 "An Unshakeable Quake Predictor Unfazed by Scorn"). These traits don't necessarily designate an Einstein in our midst, but perhaps help business. Berkland conducts interviews, and runs a for-charge earthquake prognostication call-in line, a website and newsletter.

Earthquake prediction is the type of gig that attracts a certain notoriety and appreciation, as does palm reading. Berkland's not the only one who claims to predict earthquakes, and in this tough economy it's quite nice to see that some such fervent prognosticators find paying audiences.

Unfortunately though, some media outlets are all too willing to make a main attraction out of a sideshow. Fear-mongering distracts attention from politicians spurred by vested interests to clamor that even less money be spent helping protect people from the real catastrophes. In natural disasters, buildings collapse and tsunamis wash out beachfront properties. Nuclear and chemical accidents occur along earthquake prone subduction zones. Inevitably, as has happened with Japan's TEPCO, responsible parties ignore safety measures. But until that catastrophe, people entertain themselves with the imaginary warning bells on a map instead of, for instance, ensuring functional warning bells in earthquake prone towns.

Obama's State of the Union, and the Economy

On the eve of Obama's 2011 State of the Union address, the internet was aflutter. What tone would he take? Would he impart some lesson from the Tucson shooting? What would he say about the economy? China? How would energy and the environment fare now that Carol Browner had departed? People passionately speculated about the agenda: The right for everyone to marry? Nutrition? Social Security? As if the president were entering to-do items in his day planner, not delivering a rhetorical soothing for the left and the right on a cold February night.

As president, Obama maintains the aura of inclusiveness that he radiated during his campaign - up to a point. He promises the barnyard, but delivers ham sandwiches, a mediative style that has irritated both Democrats and Republicans. After the Tucson shooting, however, the criticism from both sides became softer. Independent voters in particular stopped demanding that Obama deliver fierier bang for their buck. Suddenly, conciliation seemed like a wise route. So for the State of the Union then, the President's innate and apparently immutable style coincided with the subdued mood of the country.

Representatives sat together, a gesture and process commentators mocked as prom-like and silly. But it meant a speech without the grandstanding and jeering, and to me, set a more serious, deliberative - and dare I say - appropriate tone for the State of the Union. Really, people need to just settle down, it's not a rugby match. They're not all that different in their positioning, and after a point all the "deliberation" is just obstructive. Lobbyists mostly write the laws, and give to Democrats and Republicans equally. In truth, Democrats and Republicans all spend most of their time jousting, simply so one or the other can get closer to the federal dollar spigot.

Obama denied re-election was anyone's goal-- "At stake right now is not who wins the next election -- after all, we just had an election". Of course, that's a syllogistic fallacy. And wait -- did Obama snicker when he said it? Wink? Anyway, if the US fails to thrive, it stems from our inability to win in the international economic arena that both parties and business helped architect over the last half century, not in differences between the "two parties".

The Economy, The Nation

During his first campaign, Obama promised everything to everyone, as campaigners must. In this State of the Union he focused on the economy and asked Americans to focus on it too. Therefore, no marriage, no gun control, no immigration, no disturbing science phrases such as "climate change", just a joke about "smoked salmon" a la McCain, that the average American apparently thought was the most memorable part of the speech.

As for the economy, corporate profits are rebounding, but employment and housing statistics fail to impress. That left the president assuring the citizens that the country is on an upward, prosperous swing. Indeed, by some measures it is. Today, the Dow bounded up agreeably. So if re-election were his goal, between his appointment of GE's Jeffrey Immelt, his SOU suggestion about business tax cuts, and his restriction of incendiary terms like "climate change" in favor of vague hand-waving about "energy technology", he should by leaving Republicans worried and scrambling to distinguish themselves.

But will re-election stances turn the economy around? Sway voters? The fact that US citizens can't earn the living they're used to in today's global economy won't be easily solved by either Republicans or Democrats. Obama hardly said anything about China, but workers are concerned. Amy Chua tweaked our national psyche by clanging us over the head with her book "Battle Hymn of The Tiger Mother" (or, in China, "Being a Mom in America"), claiming the superiority of Chinese parenting, of course ties into test scores, career success, and our national competitiveness, if not supremacy.

Chua's unsettling book coincided with the choice of the Chinese piano piece "My Motherland", for the recent US-China state dinner. Chosen for it's melody, the song was reportedly from a movie story about China conquering the US. Officials called it "a Chinese folk song". It could have been worse. They didn't hire Pete Seeger to offer up an American folk song like, "This Land is Your Land, This Land is My Land". They didn't hire a jester to entertain by reciting test scores of a recent international test, where Shanghai and Hong Kong came in first and third in math, science and just about every other category, while the US came in somewhere between about 20th and 30th.

As Americans are wont to do, Obama differentiated the US education system as one that's creative, that discusses important ideas, like: "What do you want to be when you grow up?" But how many eight year old kids prompted to say "a doctor" will actually succeed in the public school system then find an workable health system when they graduate? Obama stressed (like Chua) that it was the parents that made a difference. But it's also the initiatives of a robust government that helps assure competitive schools and a good health system. But that's tough since the issues surrounding schools and health are hard to discuss around an election cycle, or in a State of the Union, or anytime.

China is not really the reason the US has high unemployment, but it makes people insecure, as did Russia and Japan. Perhaps Chinese energy technology and high speed train systems will spur the US on, and like the need for renewable energy or the need to revive a faltering economy, motivate some "Sputnik moment".

Obama himself did not dwell on China in this year's or last year's address. But China pays attention to the State of the Union. Liu Ge, a Chinese political commentator recently observed that the President didn't meet last year's State of the Union promise to bring unemployment to 8%. (Tiger commentator.)

Hopefully the elected officials will come up with solutions after the State of the Union 'sitting together' gesture. Or else the US politicians will be fated to argue dramatically among themselves in global obsolescence just as heartily as the British Parliament.

Embryonic Stem Cells Part II: Embryo Adoption, the Dickey-Wicker Sticky Wicket

Faustian Bargain: How The Federal Government Funds Anti-Science as Well as Science

In 2001, "pro-life" plaintiffs sued the federal government to stop the funding of human embryonic stem cell research. In response, the US government started the "Embryo Adoption Public Awareness Campaign" program, evidently to appease the pro-life evangelizers. Since 2002 then, HHS has granted $20 million to mostly fringe Christian "embryo adoption" programs that promote an extreme anti-science view of human development. In this way, the US government funnels tax-payer dollars to sell pro-life ideas that challenge and attempt to overwrite science.

In our last post, "Shock and Awe Strike Again, Embryonic Stem Cell Research Part I" we discussed the ongoing lawsuit by evangelical groups to stop stem cell research, specifically, Judge Royce Lamberth's preliminary injunction to stop Obama's reinstatement of some federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research (hESC). Lamberth used the Dickey-Wicker Amendment to stop any "piece of research" involving the destruction of human embryonic stem cells from getting federal funding. We asked whether scientists should have been "stunned" by the move, and pointed out that the same group of fringe plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against HHS in 2001. In this post we pick up where that post left off. We explore the concept of "embryo adoption" being advanced by agencies like Nightlight Christian Adoptions, which just sued HHS again.

Of the many Americans who self-identify as Christians (many don't), most recognize the value of science, the process of embryo development, the difference between a baby and a cell, the value of stem-cell research to saving lives, and finally the value of in-vitro fertilization (IVF) in helping couples have babies.1 As we wrote in 2006, several highly respected theologians and scientists, including the head of NIH Francis Collins, have written books about how to be Christian while at the same time living in the modern science and technology world as a modern human being.2

On the contrary, the "pro-life", HHS funded "embryo adoption" agencies do the opposite. Although nothing but science has made their business possible, they try to pretend science is irrelevant. The agencies claim that they have the right and authority to decide who qualifies to try to bear an embryo/child. They make each childless couple who wants their services go through extended screening - as if the embryo were a child.

Interestingly, while they self-servingly label embryos as children, they then seem to have no bioethical qualms about selling them. Of course embryos are not children, nor are they aborted fetuses, as some people mislabel them. They come from petri dish derived egg and sperm embryos donated by couples who couldn't conceive naturally. The couples choose to donate to research rather than discard the embryos. The embryos do not come from inside a human, and many of them, because of the health of the parents, or the process of laboratory in-vitro fertilization, are unhealthy, nonviable and will never develop. This is a point that many people on all sides miss, so I'm going to say it again. Most of these embryos are not viable. By signing up to their embryo adoption program, couples implicitly or explicitly accept the agencies' misleading anti-science marketing, but then paradoxically undergo cutting-edge scientific procedures to try to have a child.

These "embryo adoption" groups call this fringe thinking "Christian", and unfortunately, HHS funds them -- apparently they'd rather mainstream these anti-science beliefs then risk telling the truth in this heated political climate. Stunningly, while collecting their millions in grants, these same pro-life agencies then sue HHS to halt life-saving stem cell research.

No matter what religion you claim, whether you're atheist or agnostic, whether you know or care about IVF, fertility, or adoption, you should wonder why the federal government is giving millions of dollars to evangelical groups so that they can inculcate people with these medieval notions of science, human development, and family building. Furthermore, why is the HHS, dedicated to promoting science and the health of Americans, funding groups that turn around and sue them to stop that science?

Biting The Hand That Feeds

You may remember Nightlight Christian Adoptions from former President George W. Bush's Stem Cell Address to the nation in August, 2001. By then, the lawsuit against Health and Human Services (HHS) on which Nightlight was a plaintiff had been stayed, pending Bush's review of stem cell policy. In his address, Bush gave Nightlight special kudos and flanked himself with children born through frozen embryo transfer (FET). He called them "snowflakes", which coincidentally or not happened to be the name of Nightlight's "embryo adoption" program.

Shortly thereafter, Nightlight Christian Adoptions started receiving what now amounts to millions of dollars in grants from the very agency they had sued, HHS. Nightlight uses these funds to promote "embryo adoption", which is the explicit purpose of the "Embryo Adoption Public Awareness Campaign" run by HHS's Office of Population Affairs (OPA).3 Among other activities, Nightlight sponsors bioethics essay contests for law students, makes videos about embryo adoption, sends mass mailings to IVF clinics, holds skating parties for former "snowflakes", and advances notions about reproduction and development that fit its pro-life agenda. Nightlight has opened branches across the county and has raised their fees, thanks to HHS and >$2 million in funding. (Christian Newswire "Massive New Media Campaign Raises Public Awareness of Embryo Donation & Adoption to Remarkable Heights, May 28, 2008). So is this lawsuit all the thanks HHS gets?

Nightlight's Public Business Proposition: Failure is Success?

In their lawsuit, plaintiff Nightlight Christian Adoption said they oppose life-saving human embryonic stem cell research (hESC) because their business would suffer when frozen embryos are used for research.2This is misleading for several reasons. One, although Nightlight Christian Adoptions says 500,000 frozen embryos are available for adoption in clinics, their number is not accurate. Many of those several cell embryos aren't viable because they've been frozen too long. Many more aren't viable because most embryos that are only several days old won't develop because of genetic defects, implantation problems, or other issues.

Furthermore, multiple studies have shown the only between 2-3% of couples choose to give their embryos to other couples, as this 2007 Kaiser Network study shows. But despite this research showing couples' reservations about giving up their genetic material, Nightlight's (HHS funded) promotional materials advertise that in their poll, "they asked Americans" if they would give up their embryos and 70% said yes. And despite the high enthusiasm they polled, they receive HHS funding for "awareness" campaigns.

Even if hESC were a threat to their business, this shouldn't matter to Nightlight. Their awareness campaigns and expansion conflict with their website's FAQs. For instance, in one hypothetical question, the agency asks itself - then answers:

Question: "Does Nightlight encourage the creation and freezing of embryos?"

Answer: "No, we are trying to provide a loving option to the families of the 500,000 (estimated) embryos frozen in clinics throughout the United States...We would really prefer to work ourselves out of a job!"

So lets review. 1) They're spending money suing the government with claims that human embryonic stem cells are going to put them out of business; 2) They're suing to get more HHS funds for awareness campaigns and expanding their business with those funds; and 3) claiming on their website that they're trying to use all the embryos available to work themselves out of "a job". Head-spinning.

How $20 Million Dollars From HHS Funds The Controversial "Embryo Adoption Awareness"

Nightlight's Snowflake embryo adoption program was pretty obscure until a few years ago. In August, 2002, the program had been in existence for 8 years, and only 18 children had been born, about 2 per year. Couples were obviously not convinced this was a good option. And thus it wasn't a good business model either. Nightlight was charging "$4,500 to broker an embryo transfer between couples. (Meckler, L., Aug 20, 2002, AP). That year Senator Arlen Specter inserted into a Health and Human Services spending bill a grant that distributed almost a million dollars Nightlight Christian Adoptions between 2002 and 2004. The agency received another $1.1 million dollars between 2007-2009 according to the US government tracking tool at (accessed 09/2010) (the tool is very disappointing on this matter because it has incomplete records for 2007-2009 and no records of previous years). In total, here's how much HHS's OPA publishes it has spent on the "Embryo Adoption Public Awareness Campaign" (accessed Sept. 2010):

FY 2002 $ 996,000
FY 2004 $ 994,100
FY 2005 $ 992,000
FY 2006 $ 1,979,000
FY 2007 $ 1,980,000
FY 2008 $ 3,930,000
FY 2009 $ 4,200,000
FY 2010 $ 4,200,000

In addition to Nightlight Christian Adoptions, HHS also funds Bethany Christian Services, Baptist Health System Foundation, and the National Embryo Donation Center -- all "embryo adoption" organizations that evangelize "pro-life" agendas. Recently, a far smaller number of grants have gone to secular organizations, but importantly, since the federal government initially funded exclusively religious organizations, HHS helped the pro-life agencies secure a foothold in the market. In fact, the US Department of Health and Human Services basically made the market for these pro-life agencies. (Note that although the HHS Embryo Adoption Public Awareness Campaign budget has increased, only lists "New Grants" for 2007-2009. These amount to a fraction HHS's published budget, which makes it hard for us all to figure out where the money goes.)

Changing the Meaning of the Words "Person", "Embryo", "Adoption", "Donor"

In order for embryo adoption organizations to succeed they need embryos, which are in scarcer supply than they advertise, for reasons outlined above. The embryo adoption agencies also need to change perceptions, that is, change the meanings of words long defined by science and secular organizations. This is how the Department of Health and Human Services grants help.

These fringe groups start by using the phrase "embryo adoption", instead of "embryo donation". This is subtle, but important. The procedure of embryo donation has been around forever, offered sparingly by IVF clinics, available with a simple contract. Embryo "donation" as offered through fertility clinics meant: "you can donate these embryos to another couple". There was no religious intermediary collecting a fee and deciding who qualified.

The US government HHS funded campaign has served to advance the phrase embryo "adoption", instead of "donation". In their campaign, pro-life groups and "embryo adoption" agencies hijacked the term "donation" and now use it to refer to what IVF patients, who pay tens of thousands of dollars per IVF cycle, must donate (embryos) to the "embryo adoption" agencies -- ie: 'you donate your very expensive and dear embryos to us, and we put them up for (Christian) adoption" and profit from it.' That's an "awareness" campaign.

"Microscopic Americans"

The American Society For Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) writes here about the biologically and ethically deceptive practice of changing the labeling of embryo "donation" to "adoption". The phrase embryo "adoption" imposes the false notion that these few day old embryos are people. This mischaracterization is promoted by politicians, the media, and those receiving HHS funding. For example:

  • "I believe every embryo is a child that deserves a chance to be born", the director for Nightlight Christian Adoptions embryo adoption program told the Associated Press. "This is more than mere tissue. They need an option they haven't had in the past." (Meckler, L., Aug 20, 2002 "Bush administration distributing nearly $1 million to promote embryo adoption", AP) [The "they" refers to the non-sentient embryos, many that have no chance of being viable]
  • "Frozen embryo adoption offers hope to microscopic Americans". (Murdock, Deroy, August 27, 2001 The Adoption Option, National Journal ) (hat tip Salon)
  • Senator Arlen Specter: "If any of those embryos could produce life, I think they ought to produce life." Calling his grant a "test", Spector said: "Let us try to find people who will adopt embryos and take the necessary steps on implanting them in a woman to produce life".

Like many other proponents of embryo "adoption", these people skip over, ignore or just don't know the actual viability of embryos, as I mentioned above. It's misleading to say that these are simply "unborn people", as the head of "Nightlife Christian Adoptions" called them, which need a warm cozy womb to be "implanted". It's misleading to say that a clump of nonviable cells are in need of "an option". Such rhetoric is a disservice to potential recipients, to science, and to the American public.

The embryos in question are the product of IVF. About 1 in 10 people seek fertility medical intervention, often in-vitro fertilization (IVF), because some part of their reproductive anatomy or physiology isn't working. The IVF embryos produced are therefore often flawed and don't develop. The recipients also have fertility problems, and a portion of these issues involve receptivity of the womb to embryo implantation. Doctors don't simply thaw an embryo out and plunk "microscopic Americans" into a uterus 'to let them thrive'.

Unlike the perception given by Senator Spector, Nightlight, and the conservative columnist, the doctors don't "implant" the embryos. After thawing, they're "transferred" into the woman in a process called "Frozen Embryo Transfer" (FET). They'd like to make you think it's like thawing a pie and popping it into the oven. It's not. Implantation is a sensitive physiological process, dependent on different factors and a different process then thawing. 50% of the embryos will not survive thawing, and most of the remaining 50% won't implant in the uterus, won't develop, and won't be born.

What Happens To All Those Other Homunculi?

Nightlight's "Snowflake" program "matches" frozen embryos of IVF patients with recipient parents, and requires a homestudy and counseling to assure that the parents are fit to purchase the embryos, Nightlight also promotes the idea that frozen embryos (most ~2-9 cells) the majority of which are not viable, are children.

The program fee is currently $8000, which doesn't include things like the homestudy -- $1,500-$3,000, medical costs (hormones, FET cycle and doctor's fees), etc. The $8000 fee will buy one batch of embryos, unless those cells do not result in a birth, in which case the couple gets another batch, and if those don't result in a birth then the couple will get a third. If none of those work the couple can pay another $2,500 for some more frozen embryos. You may be asking yourself, why would they need so many batches of embryos if each frozen embryo is a "microscopic American"? You would be asking an excellent question.

The actual FET success rate is difficult to discern from Nightlight's FAQs, but here's what they say (August, 2010):

  • "To date Nightlight has matched 454 genetic families (with approx. 3314 embryos) with 312 adopting families."
  • "2474 embryos have been thawed for transfer of which 54% (1328) were viable."
  • "There are 225 Snowflakes children and 25 adopting families are currently expecting 32 babies"
  • "About 1/4 of the Snowflakes moms who have achieved a pregnancy have carried multiples."

We could add 225 Snowflake children +32 expecting babies and get 257 births of 2474 embryos thawed, which would make the birthrate about 10% (lower than I would expect). That number is surprisingly low. But also note that apparently 2/3 of the genetic families had embryos, and about 1.4 of the 3314 embryos only gave 2474 thawed. This looks like many that somehow didn't even get to the thaw point. At any rate there's a reason why the company offers multiple batches for one price. But the agency fee is only one a portion of the price. Each time a couple goes to the fertility clinic for a transfer, they pay another fee. Each time a couple needs to do another cycle, the women subjects herself to powerful hormones. So sub-par embryos and inaccurate marketing, costs these childless couples money and create an extra health risks for women.

Although many Americans are being taught (because of HHS) that these embryos are "unborn children", the fact is, embryos are not children, just several day old cells with a small probability of being able to develop into children with the help of decades of experiments in IVF science.

It's Not Only About Semantic Changes, IVF and Embryo "Adoption"

"Embryo adoption" is a pretty middle of the road concept when you look at the what some pro-life people and groups lobby for. Christian Brugger Ph.D, wrote at the site, (Village Voice) about a 2008, HHS funded conference on embryo adoption attended largely by "devout Protestants" and Christian embryo adoption "facilitators". He reported that these two camps agreed that the embryos "stranded in U.S. concentration cans" were a problem. But some Catholics and "committed Christians" also spoke about the "intrinsically evil" problem of heterologous embryo transfer (HET), stressing that women should only get pregnant through marital intercourse. That is, as Brugger reports, many people say that this whole "embryo adoption" campaign is an attempt to give embryos legal rights by granting them legal "personhood", which would then bring into question fertility treatments, abortion, and certainly embryonic stem-cell research.

Fundamentalist Christian intervention into fertility and family building may seem patronizing, but it could be worse, as this exchange reported in the Village Voice shows:

'In July 2001, JoAnn Eiman, then-director of the Snowflakes program, traveled to Washington, D.C. to address Congress. At one point in the panel discussion, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, (D-New York) asked Eiman if she was in favor of actually forcing people to place their excess embryos up for adoption. Eiman said no. But later, in California, after the Congressional office sent her a transcript of her testimony and asked her to make appropriate corrections, Eiman changed her mind.

'We force people to put their kids into foster care if they're not good parents,' she says. 'If parents aren't parenting their children, aren't we responsible for making sure they do? Do we leave them frozen forever?'"

Thus, the Snowflakes director goes one step further in characterizing unviable clumps of cells as frozen children, she claims they're actually victims of negligent parents. If you scan through the evangelical Christian media on this, and public comment forums like this, where 50,000 people left comments about stem cell research for the NIH, it's easy to see that many people don't have the faintest idea about human development, about what a "stem cell" is, about what an embryo is, or about the potential of embryonic stem cell research. These people are obviously swayed quite easily, and they are being sold a false vision of an embryo not as a few cells in a petri dish with a small and precarious chance of healthy development with the help of science, but as a "unborn baby". Because of various pro-life campaigns, these people actually visualize an embryo as a "microscopic American", a preformed human, a homunculus. The "Embryo Adoption Public Awareness Campaign" of the US Department of Health and Human Services promotes this deception.

To summarize, scientists have developed fairly effective IVF through the rigorous application of the scientific method over many decades. Many embryos are not viable and do not survive. The procedures are still evolving, that is, they're still experimental. But in hopes of having kids, families spend tens of thousands of dollars on IVF -- they re-mortgage their houses to pay for these very expensive procedures. Then some fringe "embryo adoption" evangelists get these same couples to "donate" their embryos, obtained through these expensive, difficult and experimental scientific procedures. This, so that these groups can make money off the embryos while claiming to be "saving little human lives". Then these same "embryo adoption" groups sue the government, the very same Department of Health and Human Services which is supposed to be assuring the science and health of Americans, the very same HHS that has largely enabled their "embryo adoption" businesses. Millions of dollars in federal grant funding is being used to basically defile science and control how people build families, by promoting a view of human development that happens to be dead wrong.


1 It's true, as the NIH wrote recently, that halting hESC research funding as the judge ordered on as a result of Nightlight Christian Adoptions et al, will stop critical research on diseases like cancer and Parkison's, which the NIH has invested millions of dollars pursuing. But although Nightlight sues to halt lifesaving research, paradoxically Nightlight is all about leveraging some of the very same research, IVF research, that their business depends on.

2We don't often talk about religiously contentious issues, in fact perhaps the last time we did was in 2006, in "Science, Faith, and Books", where we wrote: "Acronym Required generally veers away from discussing of religion and science, except when religious fundamentalists tromp into science territory and we feel compelled to join the crowd and give them a bit of a swat."

3 This is housed in what was until 3 days ago the "Office of Public Health and Science (OPHS)" -- it's now the "Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health" (OASH).

Tax Cut Extension: Multi-Millionaires Do the Math, You Should Too

The ruckus over Obama's proposal to extend only part of Bush's tax breaks -- not the part to ultra-ultra-ultra wealthy individuals -- is maybe playing second fiddle to the mosque ruckus. Maybe this should be obvious, since one involves a little math and reasoning, while the other can be argued from straight from the gut, therefore more people can chatter about Muslim community centers.

News Aimed to the Lowest Common Denominator

But it's a shame more people aren't talking about the tax cuts, because the GOP driven (w/ some Democrats on board) arguments against tax-breaks make no more sense than the ones against the Muslim Community Center, so they should be gossiped about. Plus, the tax-cuts arguably have more impact on the average American than the presence of a community center in downtown New York City.

The Tax Policy Center made a great chart showing who, exactly, would be touched by the Obama tax-cut extension plan. Not until you made $196,549/year would you your tax break be impacted even one cent by Obama's plan.

Once you made $196,540, the Obama plan would take an average of $2 off your $5,508 tax cut - two dollars. The most you would "lose" under Obama -- if you happened to make over $8,367,274 -- that is you were in the top 99.9 percentile in income, making $8.4 million dollars or more, would be $61,500.

That is, if you made about $8.4 million dollars, you'd still get $248,640 of the original $310,140 tax cut. You wouldn't get that extra $61,500 tax cut, so you'd miss out on, I don't know, that bottle of Bordeaux (not any Bordeaux, mind you, a bottle of 1945 Chateau Mouton-Rothschild). Put that in your pipe and smoke it T-partiers.

The Tax Policy Center notes that the Obama plan will actually only cut a very small part of the overall deficit - 7%. Obama would only change a very small, small number of peoples' incomes (not "small businesses" that would feel the pinch). The TPC says:

"How much will the President's proposal save? Unfortunately, not nearly enough to close the cumulative budget deficit. The administration's proposal shaves off about $680 billion from the 10-year deficit--a modest $68 billion per year"

But the cost of extending all the cuts is worse news. The Tax Policy Center writes: "From a budgetary perspective, the price of extending all of the cuts is steep; full extension would contribute $3.7 trillion to the deficit over the next ten years..."

The Battle Between Math & Rhetoric (hint: math is losing)

Paul Krugman also points out that the insistence on extending the tax cuts as opposed to going with Obama's plan makes no sense. He brings our attention to the craziness of what the GOP is quibbling over, rather than the insignificance of the cuts to the overall budget.

He writes:

"According to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, making all of the Bush tax cuts permanent, as opposed to following the Obama proposal, would cost the federal government $680 billion in revenue over the next 10 years. For the sake of comparison, it took months of hard negotiations to get Congressional approval for a mere $26 billion in desperately needed aid to state and local governments."

Even Alan Greenspan, forever shocked that the markets let him down, recommends suspending all the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts. Aside from FOX News, where John Stossel is "tired of Greenspan", and finds it "ironic" that Greenspan once wrote for Ayn Rand, and (not ironic the way I do), what's up with the rest of the people?

Wikileaks - Publish & Perish?

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, in an interview with John Pilger, was asked if it was difficult to publish secret information in Britain. Assange answered:

'When we look at Official Secrets Act labelled documents we see that they state it is offense to retain the information and an offence to destroy the information. So the only possible outcome we have is to publish the information."

While Pilger is trying to rally support for Assange, elsewhere, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is a hunted man, or so it seems. Sweden charged Assange with rape but dropped the charges within hours. The real story remains elusive, but the tabloids explained. Aftonbladet asked one of the two women behind the charges whether the Pentagon was involved in generating the attacks, a rumor propagated by Assange himself:

De konspirationsteorier som mmar nätet just nu avfårdar kvinnan i 30-årsålden bestämt.

"Anklagelserna mot Assange är förstås inte iscensatta av varken Pentagon eller någon annan. Ansvaret för det som hänt mig och den andra tjejen ligger hos en man med skev kvinnosyn och problem att ta ett nej."

Google's Swedish app translates:

The conspiracy theories that are flooding the web right now dismisses the woman in her 30s decided.

"The charges against Assange is of course not orchestrated by either the Pentagon or another. The responsibility for what happened to me and the other girl is in a man with skew kvinnosyn problems and to take no for an answer."

We're not sure about "skew kvinnosyn". But see? You can believe whatever you want, including the bit about the Pentagon.

While computer programmers have a reputation for being sometimes, how should we put it, socially rough around the edges, state agencies have been know to drum up reviling stories about people it wants to marginalize through public opinion. This incident does remind us of the story that came out earlier this year about US government's role in hanky-panky mischief making. As it was reported, the FBI listened in on a CIA Iraq Operations Group and learned of an unrealized plan by the FBI to make a fictional video of Saddam Hussein having sex with a teenage boy.

In another instance Spencer Ackerman of the Washington Independent wrote earlier this year about a CIA plan to use Afghan women to elicit sympathy for the war against the Taliban.

Either by his own hand, or that of his various detractors, Assange is battling some negative publicity.

South Africa's Media Crackdown

Note: Unfortunately, all The Times of South Africa links in this article have been paywalled.

South Africa's award winning journalist, Mzilikazi wa Afrika had been doggedly investigating government corruption, when he was arrested on August 4th by police outside the offices of his employer the Sunday Times. wa Africa1 had recently written a story about a shady real estate deal arranged by National Police Commissioner General Bheki Cele, a deal Cele vehemently denied was shady. A few weeks later, because of its shadiness, the deal was put on hold.

The journalist had also been investigating a story about some murders of public officials that took place in the Mpumalanga province, that police were failing to investigate.

Kidnapping and Treason Accusations for South African Journalists

He was held for 48 hours as police drove him from place to place. They stopped at his house and ransacked it, confiscating his computer and his eight year old son's, and taking his journalist notebooks - some 10 years old. He hoped they didn't bring him to the province of Mpumalanga where all the murders had taken place, and where those who were murdered appeared on a hit list that perhaps had his name on it. But they did. At one point the police dropped him at the Waterval Boven, Mpumalanga police station, where:

"one of the officers warned me that I was being left in this tiny town for my own safety. 'Don't eat or drink anything, we know they are going to try and poison you. These people want you dead' he said...."

Mzilikazi wa Africa tells his story of being shuttled about by police here.

After 18 hours of being "carted about in fear of his life", as the headline put it, he was read his rights.

"At 1:40am, I was taken back to Mapiyane's office, where the general introduced himself as the lead investigator in the case and read me my rights. He said I would be charged with fraud and defeating the ends of justice...He asked me to make a statement, 'to make things easier' for me. I told him I could not do that without my lawyer present. Mapiyane was irritated and a colleague of his told me I was giving them problems by writing stories about Mpumalanga [a province]."

"Five-and-a-half hours after I first got there, I was taken to the Nelspruit, Mpumalanga police station. It was 3:20am."

"At 8am my legal team finally had access to me...One of the questions the police asked was: "Have you either directly or indirectly been discrediting senior office bearers of the ANC in Mpumalanga?"

They asked him: "Are you destroying the image and integrity of the ANC in Mpumalanga?" The police grilled him on a story he had not published.

wa Africa charged with fraud, forgery and uttering (passing forged documents - because he had been faxed a fake resignation of a Mpumalanga government official). People believe wa Africa's harassment is retribution for his investigative journalism, or a concerted police attempt to ferret out his sources, perhaps potential whistleblowers in the Mpumalanga province .

The police intimidation of the journalist has sent chills through South Africa and the world, especially in light of two initiatives sought by the African National Congress -- the Protection of Information Bill and the proposed Media Appeals Tribunals (MAT).

"The Sword is Mightier Than The Pen"

That the sword is mightier then the pen is the joke passed among journalists, as the South African government brims with ideas about how to curb the still vibrant press -- unruly by government standards. Thus the detention of wa Africa, not too mention scarier trends like calls by a youth league of the ANC to convict the journalist of "high treason" hint at the draconian potential of these moves.

The government proposes media appeals tribunals (MAT), yet admits excellent ombudsmen system already in place. As well, a bill being discussed in parliament called unconstitutional by the national lawyers bar would impose 15-25 years jail time for journalists who fail to support vague notions of "national interest".

As former journalist Sej Motau, from the opposition Democratic Alliance, wrote

"It's not about journalists; it's about every one of us in this country, and I'd like to appeal to the people of this country. If we fall asleep on this one, and we think, 'Oh no, it's only about the journalists', we're making a big, big mistake."

Indeed, if people can't ask why they don't have electricity and why the government isn't following through on promises, then all South Africans suffer. And if the ANC government can classify information willy-nilly, imprisoning journalists and newspapers who don't pen their line, businesses are in trouble too. As the Independent Online writes:

"If passed, the bill would also restrict access to information from regulators and state-owned enterprises, which critics say could cut investors off from information affecting equity, treasury and foreign exchange markets."

Business Speaks Out

Foreign companies like ArcelorMittal (steel, Luxembourg), and Lonmin (mining, UK) are also rightly concerned. Both have already been subjected to the corrupt business practices that benefited President Zuma and his associates. Domestic businesses are likewise worried, policies that favor ANC sycophants undermine their profitability too.

The business press gets it. Michael Skapinker, commenting for the Financial Times, and R.W. Johnson, writing in the Wall Street Journal, led the (rather anemic) international outcry earlier this week. Unfortunately, Johnson's column in the WSJ (it's worth noting) introduced some confusion about what South African bill was at issue.2 Johnson wrote:

"the government plans a "Protection of Personal Information Bill," which would only allow reporting about people's personal lives with their consent. Heavy penalties would thus prevent any more reporting of Mr. Nizimande's wine-bibbing or of illegitimate children born to President Zuma's mistresses. This is accompanied by a new "Information Bill" proposal, which would impose penalties of up to 25 years in jail for reporting about anything the government declares to be a matter of national interest, itself defined broadly to include anything which may be for the advancement of the public good..."

WSJ has confused two bills. The "Protection of Personal Information Bill" can be found here at KPMG, Africa, and there's more information here at Deloitte. This bill deals with how organizations deal with private personal information, and the need for standards in the public and private sectors guiding how some information needs to be protected while other information needs to be accessible. KPMG writes: "Over the years, the principles contained in the Bill have become recognized as the leading practice baseline for effective data privacy around the world..."

The WSJ is the only place I've read Johnson's unique interpretation of the Protection of Personal Information. The bill has been heralded by some human rights advocates because it will protect victims. Could be abused by government? I'm sure anything could happen, but it would also be highly unusual for WSJ (and the FT) to oppose KPMG and Deloitte. Security of personal information is important to democracy, and security is also a growing business sector. Condyn, an IT security contractor, recently issued a press release seeking to clear up just this type of confusion between the two similarly named bills.

No, the bill that worries everyone is the "Protection of (State) Information Bill", the ANC controlled government's wild grab to redefine how government officials classify and release information. It basically gives government officials free reign to classify any secrets as they wish into "classified", "secret", and "top-secret". The media appeals tribunal would impose the government's view.

Don't Go Hysterical About Tribunals Zuma Says -- Russia is Sharing Their Media Strategy With Us?

Of course President Zuma and members of government insist that the African National Congress,(ANC), is not trying to muzzle journalists, and will not impose "draconian apartheid laws to gag the freedom of the press".

Of course Zuma says that while complaining extensively that media is a consolidated institution destroying the good of the nation on the other. According to him: "South Africans rebelled against the media in June-July this year, united in their diversity" during FIFA. They defied the "media fraternity" and its "chorus of division and negativity", he said, peddling the notion that South Africa would be a Disneyland of green grass, ball playing, vuvuzelas, and international celebration if not for the negative media.

The discussion document accompanying the paper gets to the meat of the ANC media crackdown and exudes an anti-liberal (in the economics sense) view, although there's some blatant hypocrisy underlying the pronouncement:

"Our objectives therefore are to vigorously communicate the ANC's outlook and values (developmental state, collective rights, values of caring and sharing community, solidarity, ubuntu, non sexism, working together) versus the current mainstream media's ideological outlook (neo-liberalism, a weak and passive state, and overemphasis on individual rights, market fundamentalism, etc)."

For journalists who resist being state messengers? Perhaps like the World Cup, it'll be loud droning vuvuzelas, kicks to the ribs, and shots to the heads. Zuma explains the tribunals:

"The media has put itself on the pedestal of being the guardian. We therefore have the right to ask, who is guarding the guardian?....During our State visit to Russia a week ago, Russian television was running a promotional jingle saying: 'How dependent is the independent media? Who pays for the news'?

Newspapers are profit motivated says Zuma, the the news isn't "independent". Therefore, why shouldn't the news be the megaphone of the ANC party? And what better example to reassure your countrymen of your intentions for the press -- than Russia? Reporters Without Borders ranked Russia 153rd of 175 countries in the Press Freedom Index last year. As the International Press Institute reports, Russia remains one of the most dangerous places for reporters, a place where journalists are murdered with impunity. What a puzzling PR move. Is this a twisted way to get western investment? Or are public announcements about lessons from Russia on dealing with the media, just...governance as usual?

"Freedom" of the Press

With recent actions, the Zuma government has been compared to the oppressive states of Gambia and Zimbabwe. 37 of the country's editors signed a petition protesting the government's intentions to curtail freedom of the press. The international response, including that from top US media, is an unanimous call to drop the contentious bill and media appeals tribunals.

But the crackdown has been brewing for a while, and is not the first step the ANC has taken to sweep in some censorship. And the government has long derided newspapers and journalists who unveil information that doesn't paint the government in a favorable light. In 2007 we wrote about Africa's AIDS and public health crisis in hospitals, which the media persistently exposed. In response to the press attention, Mbeki pounded back in his own newspaper columns, including one Acronym Required dubbed "the mini-skirt memo". But Mbeki never did address the critical and deadly public health issues -- never in his whole term.

Mbeki's ANC consistently labeled anyone who criticized him as being unfaithful to the revolution, and Zuma seems to have picked up the same defense. This move to muffle the media more would be a blow for democracy, human rights, and business. But unfortunately, some countries have proven, like China and Russia and many others, that with the help of greed enabled complacency from US and Europe, freedom of information and freedom of press aren't necessarily requirements for state enrichment.

President Zuma urges people to "move away from hysteria dwelling on individual experiences". And he concludes: "We will use our right to express what we think. And we should not be silenced by claims of 'threats to press freedom'".

Acronym Required writes frequently about South Africa, especially issues involved the state's public health policies, HIV/AIDS progress, and media.


1a name he adopted meaning "of Africa"

2 No one would accuse these authors of being dedicated to politically liberal causes. Concurring with China, Skapinker this spring urged a ban on comment anonymity 'to promote civility', a trending meme that would slap a lid on many important forms of speech. While some people took exception to Skapinker's tedious idea, in one published letter to the FT editor, the writer agreed with Skapinker, and added that we should also identify motorists' identities via their license plates to promote highway civility, because as he noted absurdly, perhaps fooled by randomness or his own mind's machinations, people who drove cars with vanity plates were more polite.

RW Johnson for his part, recently outraged writers, academics, and civilians with a racist piece he wrote for the London Book Review. 73 signatories complained in a letter to LBR that his work was "often stacked with the superficial and the racist".

August Reading - Neural Coupling, Google Coupling, Bombast & War Rhetoric (Notes)

  • In Sync Communication

    In a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), "Speaker-listener neural coupling underlies successful communication", Princeton researchers used fMRI to record the brain activity of people communicating. They found that people more successfully communicated when the listener's brain activity mirrored the speaker's brain activity. When people can anticipate and predict one another's speech, their brain activity becomes "coupled", which leads to better understanding.

  • Technological Coupling? Google AIandYou

    Once upon a time, Microsoft vowed, preposterously - it seemed at the time, to "put a computer on every desk, in every home." Another mid-1990's Microsoft marketing campaign asked whimsically, "Where do you want to go today?" We've come a long way. This week, Google's Eric Schmidt promised:

    "If I look at enough of your messaging and your location, and use Artificial Intelligence... We can predict where you are going to go."

    Schmidt's declaration unnerved more than a few people. But if I were monetizing Google's growing collection of search data, I too would use this line when marketing to states, businesses, and advertisers. For the US military in the throes of the Wikileaks' revelations, Schmidt's announcement might be reassuring, an excellent business proposition. But is Schmidt's assertion possible? Or is it one of those technological promises like 'we will sequence the genome and cure disease', or 'voice recognition software will translate anything', that will ultimately fail to advance as promised?

  • Technological Unveiling

    Even if Google's promise doesn't reach its imagined apex, today's technology allows the unprecedented unveiling of people. From the article, "The Web Means The End of Forgetting", in New York Times:

    "In 1890, in perhaps the most famous article on privacy ever written, Samuel Warren and Louis Brandeis complained that because of new technology -- like the Kodak camera and the tabloid press -- ''gossip is no longer the resource of the idle and of the vicious but has become a trade.'' But the mild society gossip of the Gilded Age pales before the volume of revelations contained in the photos, video and chatter on social-media sites and elsewhere across the Internet."

    The author goes on to describe companies who make a business of restoring a marred on-line reputation, showing that the technological unveiling phenomena is certainly not hurting business for anyone, of course, and this is key. Now that Google reassuringly promises to restore the balance of power for business and governments that might feel as though information is a little too "free", by promising that not even one commenter will be inadvertently shielded, those who may have been threatened by the internet (governments) can relax?

  • Does the Internet Propagate Bombast, Polarity, and Cognitive Dissonance?

    On one hand Google promises to predict "where you will go next". On the other hand, for individuals who want to be heard, the internet is so vast their voices easily get lost. Although people who once held a prominent platform of authority seem most anguished in their reactions to this, public discourse in science, politics, economics, immigration, foreign policy -- anything -- now turns to YELLING, goes polar, spirals downhill, and gets crazy and scraped of tempered reason. Some people wonder if the web is to blame for the rumor cacophony.

    But strangely, some of the same people who have focused on the internet's role in incivility, have in fact been most falsely and most viciously maligned, not on the internet, but by talk show hosts with daily audiences in the millions -- Cass Sunstein by Glenn Beck, for instance. In his latest salvo Glenn Beck told audiences that Sunstein would lead government to tax "rumors". This might indeed undermine Beck's existence, if only it were true.

    As I've mentioned, I don't agree that the web has promulgated incivility. With the web, at least, there's some barrier of entry -- both internet access, and the ability to read. Talk shows on radio and TV are far more accessible not only to those who like to be talked at, but to the millions of workers/voters whose jobs involve driving or working everyday NOT at the computer. Arguably, Glenn Beck single-handedly contributes far more to the culture of incivility, intolerance, and hate crimes, than the skeeviest internet site or most prolific or vile commenter.

    But as I see it, the internet seems more unwieldy to the people/organizations/institutions who before the internet, enjoyed a much more exclusive and unassailable platform.

  • "Why American Writers and Speakers are Often Bombastic"

    People love to blame the rise of the internet for incivility and the like, but perhaps we've always been a society prone to uncivil bombast. Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859) wrote of his observations traveling around America, in his book "Democracy in America:

    "Each citizen of a democracy generally spends his time considering the interests of a very insignificant person, namely, himself. If he ever does raise his eyes higher, he sees nothing but the huge apparition of society or the even larger form of the human race. He has nothing between very limited and clear ideas and very general and very vague conceptions; the space between is empty..."

    "Writers, for their part, almost always pander to this propensity which they share; they inflate their imaginations and swell them out beyond bounds, so that they achieve gigantism...By this means they hope to catch the eye of the crowd at once and easily keep it fixed on themselves, an object in which they often succeed..."

    Wrote Tocqueville: "Writer and public join in corrupting each other."

  • How Things Work: To War! With Excellent "Evidence"!

    The internet is not the only territory of falsehoods and rumors. Carne Ross, UK diplomat in charge of the Iraq dossier at the UN who resigned the Foreign Office over the Iraq War, cited some British documents detailing the risks of invading Iraq versus the successful containment policy at the time. What method did the US and UK use to convince the public? The Financial Times quotes Ross:

    "This process of exaggeration was gradual and proceeded by accretion and editing from document to document, in a way that allowed those participating to convince themselves that they were not engaged in blatant dishonesty. But this process led to highly misleading statements about the UK assessment of the Iraqi threat that were, in their totality, lies."

    In comparison, the ("fictional") movie, "In The Loop" satirizes the British government's Iraq decisions for it's abrupt and buffoonish launch into war war. While the underlying arguments of mushroom clouds and the like have been proven groundless, we have a mix of theories as to how the UK and US managed the PR segue into war.

  • WikiLeaks

    Andrew Bacevich, and also the New Yorker, noted some hypocrisy in the US military's stance on WikiLeaks (no, not with the 'blood on their hands' drumbeat). They observe that the military's intention to punish the perpetrator of the Afghanistan documents leak runs opposite of the military's complacency about its own leaks in the past. Bacevich said (transcript):

    I do think is a reprehensible action. But it's also reprehensible when, in the summer of 2009, before President Obama had made his Afghanistan decision, that the McChrystal recommendation was leaked to the Washington Post, which effectively hijacked the debate over what the Obama administration should do about the Afghanistan war. And I don't remember Admiral Mullen or Secretary Gates or these other people deciding that they were going to go find out who leaked the McChrystal recommendations, because I believe that that is as reprehensible as this leak of the 90,000 documents. That was a direct assault on civilian control of the military. So if you're going to get upset about one, you ought to get upset about the other, too."

    WikiLeaks continues to be a fascinating case study for the military, technology, journalism, international law, and foreign policy, as well as bystanders.

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