Category Archives: History

US Troop TBI treatment funding cut by half

ABC has a rather unsettling story about a drastic reduction in funds for treatment of soldier closed-head injuries, also known as traumatic brain injury (TBI):

George Zitnay, a Charlottesville brain injury expert who is a co-founder of the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center, told ABC News earlier this year that traumatic brain injury is the “signature injury of the war on terrorism.”

That’s because of the proliferation of roadside bombs in Iraq and improved body armor that shields troops from lethal wounds but can do nothing about the violent jolts to even helmeted heads that can damage the brain as it bounces off the inside of the skull.

As a result, more troops are surviving injuries suffered in Iraq than in previous wars, but more troops are surviving with permanent injuries. According to Pentagon data reported in the New England Journal of Medicine, only about 10 percent of wounds in Iraq are lethal — less than half the rate in the first Persian Gulf War, Vietnam and Korea each, and a full one-third of the rate in World War II.

By one estimate, as many as 10 percent of all troops in Iraq and up to 20 percent of front-line infantry suffer concussions during combat tours.

The shift in injury is tragic, but one would think that this would lead to increases in funding for research and treatment for brain injuries. Further complicating the risk is the fact that soldiers may already suffer from concussions without realizing it and therefore significantly increase their chance of brain damage by exposing themselves to additional blasts.

U.S. troops in Iraq are exposed to hundreds of bombings each month. “We’ve seen patients who have had three deployments and have had some (head) injury on every single one,” [neuropsychologist] Drake says.

The damage from multiple concussions can be irreversible. “Repeated concussions can be quite serious and even lethal,” says Air Force Maj. Gerald Grant, a neurosurgeon who treated troops in Iraq.

Thus, it is hard to understand why funds are being drastically reduced so much at a time of so much need. Spending restraints on treating the injuries of soldiers? Is this a result of Bush administration tax cuts?

A professor of emergency medicine, Stuart Hoffman, calls on Americans to help reverse this decision:

At least 18,000 troops have been wounded in Iraq or Afghanistan to date. Some reports suggest that up to 60 percent of those casualties (as many as 10,000) involve some degree of brain injury. These figures do not include civilian contractors or members of the news media who have suffered brain injuries.

There are signs our government is heading down the same road it followed during the Vietnam War — denying the magnitude of the brain injury problem and thereby depriving soldiers the treatment they need.

[…]

To deal with the influx of brain-injured soldiers returning from combat, these centers requested that their 2007 fiscal year budget be increased from $14 million to $19 million, a paltry sum compared to the billions a month we are spending on the wars. Instead of granting the requested increase, the budget proposed by President Bush and rubber-stamped by both houses of congress eliminates the program.

Citizens of this country should demand answers to these questions:

• Why does the White House want to kill this program, and why is Congress going along?

• Are Bush administration officials embarrassed by the numbers of brain-injured soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan?

• Do they believe that if data collection is stopped, the problem will vanish?

• What will happen to brain-injured troops when they no longer have access to these services?

Military discipline prohibits our troops from speaking for themselves. We must speak for them.

Call, write or e-mail your U.S. senators and representatives. Tell them you are outraged by the decision to eliminate the Defense and Veteran Brain Injury Centers from the 2007 fiscal year budget. Those who repeatedly admonish us to “support our troops” should be willing to do so themselves.

Celebrating 750 years of Peeling the Onion

Data integrity issues live at the heart of any reference material, but Wikipedia and the rapid-release cycle of Internet content has created a whole new level of controversy.

The Onion has put together a fine example of this in their fun article: Wikipedia Celebrates 750 Years Of American Independence

“At 750 years, the U.S. is by far the world’s oldest surviving democracy, and is certainly deserving of our recognition,” [Wikipedia founder] Wales said. “According to our database, that’s 212 years older than the Eiffel Tower, 347 years older than the earliest-known woolly-mammoth fossil, and a full 493 years older than the microwave oven.”

I love reading the razor-sharp work of the Onion, but I have just two words for them: Pot. Kettle. Black.

Take, for example, their recent analysis of the recent cease-fire by Hizbullah:

As the cost of rocket fuel soared to $630 per gallon Monday, Middle Easterners who depend on the non-renewable propellant to power 10-kilogram rockets have been forced to severely restrict their daily bombing routines, bringing this latest round of fighting to an unexpected halt.

“The way things are going, I won’t have any money left over for other necessities, such as anti-aircraft missiles, land mines, and machine guns,” said Hezbollah guerrilla Mahmoud Hamoui, who is just one of hundreds of Islamic militants compelled to scale back their killing until rocket-fuel prices return to their pre-2006 levels.

That’s rediculous. Everyone knows rocket fuel hit $972 per gallon.

FAA admits fault

The US air controller crisis might finally get the President’s attention following this admission:

The Federal Aviation Administration admitted it broke its own rules in putting only one controller on duty.

We often forget how important the controllers are, since they are the least noticed when they are doing their best work. For some much needed perspective, I went back and reviewed the 1981 testimony to a US congressional subcommittee by the Air Traffic Controllers Organization President Robert Poli:

Controllers constantly face countless situations which require them to make decisions affecting the lives of thousands of people. … Day in and day out, they must guard against even the smallest error, for a mistake could kill hundreds. There is no room for guesswork, nor is there time to sit back and leisurely consider a traffic situation. Decisions must be swift, positive and correct. … Being able to accept such an intense level of responsibility is at the heart of the controller’s job. However, its residual effects are felt in every aspect of his life. Over time, while dreading the terrible consequences of one incorrect control decision, the controller loses the fight to the knowledge that he is human and, in the long run, fallible. The strain created by this internal war generates insidious effects on the controller’s entire life. They can manifest themselves in physical or mental disorders, social withdrawal, marital trouble or concealed alcoholism.

This was in the weeks and days up to the decision by President Reagan to fire over 10,000 striking controllers and begin private contracting for air traffic control. Fast forward to 2004 when complaints very similar to those in 1981 were again coming from the controllers facing staff shortages. In particular, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association requested in 2003 that an additional 1,000 new air traffic controllers be authorized each year for three years.

The current controller workforce is stretched to the limit and we cannot call up the reserves. There are no reserves. That is why we also ask this Subcommittee to stop the FAA from terminating, removing, transferring or reassigning any air traffic control specialist solely because the agency erred in hiring that individual after he or she reached the maximum entry age.

President Bush instead passed a four-year $60 billion bill that increased the number of privately funded control towers and gave funding for only 302 controllers.

So you might want to take a moment to think about all the money being spent to keep America safe and how it is really working when understaffed and often underpaid controllers have been warning of very clear and present danger. National Air Traffic Controllers Association president John Carr put it this way in his 2003 testimony to a US congressional committee:

The thousands of controllers hired during the post-PATCO recovery period will reach retirement eligibility soon. Based on FAA data, over 50% of the workforce will be eligible to retire by 2010. The Government Accounting Office reports the number is even higher. Currently, there are not enough controllers to fill the gap. A new hire is not a replacement for a full performance level retiree. It takes anywhere from three to five years for a new hire to become a full performance level air traffic controller. Most of this training is on-the-job and requires a certified controller to staff each position along with the trainee.

Therefore, the FAA must immediately begin hiring and training the next generation of air traffic controllers to prepare for the wave of upcoming retirements, the increased traffic and system capacity enhancements. Addressing this issue can no longer be deferred because of the significant time required to train new controllers. If we do not begin to hire and train new controllers today, we will be left with a system that is woefully short staffed and unable to accommodate the demands for air transportation.

Predictable disaster?

Edited to add (8/30/2006):

The Associated Press has provided some more insight into the Kentucky controller and crash. Short-staffed, the controller on the job also appears to have been asked to carry long shifts with little rest:

National Transportation Safety Board member Debbie Hersman said the controller had only nine hours off between work shifts Saturday. That was just enough to meet federal rules, which require a minimum of eight hours off between shifts, Hersman said.

“He advised our team that he got approximately two hours of sleep,” Hersman said.

Hizbullah plays age-old propaganda game

Abraham Lincoln wrote on February 15, 1848 “Kings had always been involving and impoverishing their people in wars, pretending generally, if not always, that the good of the people was the object. ”

With that in mind, take note of the Hizbullah leader’s reflections on starting a war with Israel:

…Hassan Nasrallah said Monday that had he believed, even one percent, that a war would break out following the kidnapping of two IDF soldiers, the operation would never have been launched.

Kidnapping two IDF soldiers and then firing thousands of rockets into civilian areas…he makes it sound like he made one little mistake and everything afterwards was out of his control. Reminds me of Nasrallah’s apology to his political rivals only a few months ago

for the abusive slogans against [opposition leaders] during a recent pro-Syria Shiite demonstration in South Lebanon’s market town of Nabatiyeh. […] Portraits were raised in the Nabatiyeh demonstration depicting Jumblat as a Jewish Rabbi and Tueni as a bull with long horns.

Rabbi and a bull? Sounds like the start of joke. Nasrallah apparently comes from the political “it’s better to shoot first and ask for forgiveness” school of tactics. But seriously, southern Lebanon is definitely not a bed of roses and it sounds like Nasrallah might be getting the blame for acting foolishly/selfishly. Pride is a huge issue in the region, so if Nasrallah has to back down and ask for forgiveness something must be afoot, perhaps including fractures in his organization. The big question is whether those demanding apologies will radicalize further, or (will be allowed to) pursue political opposition through democratic channels.

Tunnels in Vietnam

Kevin Sites provides some insight in his latest dispatch about the tunnel system built by the Vietnamese:

They are a marvel of engineering, weaving underground for several stories and linking together living, dining and meeting areas, as well as weapons factories and subterranean hospitals, complete with operating rooms.

But perhaps their most significant function was to allow the VC to coordinate their operations in the south, both by utilizing surprise attacks then disappearing underground, while also inserting agents and saboteurs into the south.

Because of their strategic value, the entrances to the tunnels were well-protected both by camouflage and booby traps.

Yes, the strategic value was a factor but perhaps not as much as the low cost of reducing inhabitant vulnerability with simple countermeasures, which also probably diminished threats as well (few would want to enter an unfamiliar tunnel of traps). Not sure why Kevin ends with these quotes, other than to warn anyone considering a visit to the tunnels to expect a harsh and realistic rather than romantic story:

“We expected it to be about the ingenious ways used to escape detection,” says Nicky Ashby, 26, from London. “But instead, it’s more about techniques of torture with all the booby traps.”

“It seems to me like it’s celebrating the violence rather than the idea of their perseverance,” says another, who doesn’t want to be identified.

Frenchman builds castle for fun

Nice story about an archaeology buff who is building a castle from scratch in 13th century style. Along with period building material and methods, they are also considering how to defend from period attackers:

Our guide blended humor with the history lesson and had us play the role of invaders to explain how even the smallest architectural details helped protect castles.

Some examples: A staircase turns clockwise, forcing invaders to transfer their spears to the left hand and giving the defense an advantage. An extra-tall step requires them to take off their chain-link armor to scale it. Anyone who actually makes it up the stairs alive would have to bend over to pass through a low doorway — giving the castle’s hatchet-armed defenders a prime crack at their necks.

Sounds like fun, but the real question is what will they do to defend against other period threats like The Black Death. Will these history buffs bathe regularly and keep their lodging clean or find scapegoats to torture and burn?

A cider a day?

More good news about cider, in case you need yet another reason why it should never have been regulated into oblivion in America:

The researchers have found that English cider apples have high levels of “phenolic antioxidants” – linked to protection against strokes and cancer.

The next stage of the study, partly funded by the National Association of Cider Makers, is to analyse how humans absorb these chemicals from cider.

I am sure they will find plenty of volunteers. I may have to return to Scotland to do some of my own “analysis”.

WebCam monitors 1901 lightbulb

good bulbEver heard of a lightbulb with its own website? The reason for celebration is the quality of engineering. Apparently it has been burning since 1901, the product of an energy pioneer named Dennis Bernal who lived near Livermore, California. Ironically, the webcam setup to monitor the bulb failed after only a few years of use, the same as the average life of a basic modern lightbulb:

Unlike the bulb, the first camera had a limited life of about 3 years. We are hoping this one will give the bulb a run for it’s money.

This Cam image will continue to be updated every 10 seconds. So to enjoy the view of Fire Station Number 6 either hit your refresh button, or click the picture above!.

Imagine if every house in America had been running on a bulb like this. For some reason consumers do not demand this kind of quality. Do they prefer things engineered for failure. Quality doesn’t have to be cost prohibitive, does it? Alas, if you read their website even the fire station believes it is sheer luck, rather than sound engineering that keeps this bulb burning.

Madison hosts Nazi rally

I don’t think many Americans realize that the Nazi party is a very real part of the political patchwork in Minnesota and Wisconsin, let alone the West and South. The Journal Sentinel reports:

Organizers said they staged the rally to protest illegal immigration and to stump for Nazi candidates expected to run in 2008 elections.

Jeff Schoep, a member of the Minnesota-based National Socialist Movement, said he was pleased to be in Madison to share his group’s beliefs, but he wished those behind the counterdemonstration had been more open to the Nazis’ remarks.

I remember stories in the 1990s about the St. Paul factions such as the “White Hammer of the North” gang and how they brutally beat people they considered “dark skinned” with baseball bats and broke into houses to deface them with swastikas.

One can only guess what the remarks at this rally might have been. Perhaps they included the words “final” and “solution”?

“From a police perspective, this event was a tremendous success,” Capitol Police Chief David Heinle said in a statement. “The event started and ended on time, and we have no reports of personal injury or property damage.”

Given the known flaws and weak security practices of companies like Diebold, it is only a matter of time before this type of radical group tries to get a representative hired into software development for voting systems, or they bribe someone. Why bother with a rally if you can spend the same money on just getting elected illegally?

Edited to add (8/27/06): the link has posted a first-hand account of the rally, complete with pictures and links to video:

…they were all Nazi-ed out – dressed to the nines. They had the shirts with the Swastika armband, dark pants, some had helmets, they marched out of the Capitol
rank in file with big swastika flags … So, their “elections coodinator” came over and chatted with us reporters for awhile. And he was saying how they’re have guys running in Butte, Montana for State senate (NAZI Movement is apparently a real, political party)…and we asked him – a 48-year-old paralegal from Virginia (by the way, not a whole lot of sconnie accents took the stand – you can tell that a lot of them were from below the mason-dixon line, apparently there was a few guys from Chicago, but I’ll give Chicago that because there are roughly nine billion people living there, and they’re bound to have a few wackos – but I don’t think there was any one from Wisconsin there), and some reporter asked him if he had any candidates considering running in Wisco and he said “not yet.”

Yup. This is American politics in 2006.

Believe it or not, although houses built in Milwaukee during the 1930s had swastikas for tiles in their foyer I know of at least one case where they still have not been removed. The tiles come from Pelley-backers (the Silver Shirts and the Christian Party) who were more than just a novelty in Wisconsin. I do not doubt for a minute that bubbling beneath the surface of the voting machine fiasco are any number of extreme fringe groups clamoring for a Rove-like opportunity to manipulate their way to victory. Maybe I am just jaded, but I guess I have been to one too many Wisconsin picnics, lunches and biker-weddings where some guy gets completely plastered and espouses “Hitler was not such a bad guy, as I can explain…”. Shame, really, because Milwaukee has so much to offer — some of the world’s best fine art and cuisine hidden away beneath the dust of an economic implosion and obscured by the old-guard of conservative intolerance.

The Least You Can Feel

John Stewart has a fine news report on the latest mood swings of the American President, coupled with a flashy new public service announcement theme for Bush called “The Least You Can Feel”. The announcement that started the report was:

Nobody likes to see innocent people die.

Incidentally, I was doing some research on the Library of Congress site and happened to take a look in their online store. I was a bit surprised to find that they sell a fancy “Bombers Tie“:

Handsome red and black tie features famous fighter planes of World War II: the B-17 Flying Fortress, B-25 Mitchell, and, of course, the workhorse of the European Campaign, the 4-engine B-17 bomber. Pure silk, hand-finished.

Of all the things the Library of Congress could offer the public to remember the price of past conflicts or to commemorate the service of soldiers, does it have to be a blood-red necktie with silhouettes of bombers? Could this have something to do with a new “hey, innocent people die” sense of fashion on the hill?

Seems like a hint of a “war is hell, get over it” mentality. Speaking of which, when you check out the official “Today in History” page it appears that the LOC is dominated by a list of war and battle stories, along with the impact of war on civilians. Take August 23 for example, which has an entire page dedicated to Farragut’s battle in the Civil War. Compare this rather pointed view with the Wikipedia offering, or the BBC, or the New York Times, all providing a rich list of social and economic events for the same day. And if you really want to see stark contrast from the American style of “which military event happened today” public record, take a look at the Canadian version:

1941 England – William Lyon Mackenzie King 1874-1950 booed by restless Canadian troops in England when he makes a speech; most have been in England for a year without seeing action.

Quite different, eh? On this day troops were upset because they saw a lack of action, or “crew from Saint John defeat Renfrew crew from England in a rowing race”; things in history to feel good, or less bad, about.

Maybe my sample size is too small. I think I’ll go back to reading their archive of poetry now and wonder how to get a good sample from soldiers and civilians, or someone who can really feel and relate the horrors of conflict. Until then, here’s yet another “life goes on” vision of war from their 180 collection for high school students…