Thursday, June 23, 2011

this is your brain on leeches

Maggot therapy is an example of a medical approach called biotherapy--the use of living animals to aid in medical diagnosis or treatment. Leeches are another example.

In ancient times, leeches were used to treat everything from headaches to ear infections to hemorrhoids. Historians think Egyptians used leech therapy 3,500 years ago. The treatments were back in vogue during the Middle Ages, and again in the 1800s.

Nowadays, leeches are routinely used to drain blood from swollen faces, limbs and digits after reconstructive surgery.

They are especially useful when reattaching small parts that contain many blood vessels, like ears, where blood clots can easily form in veins that normally drain blood from tissues. If the clots are severe, the tissues can die -- drowned in the body's own fluid -- because they are deprived of oxygen and other vital nutrients.

Scientists are also looking at using leeches to treat other ailments. Studies led by Andreas Michalsen, a researcher at the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany, suggests leech therapy may lessen the pain and inflammation associated with osteoarthritis, a debilitating disease where bones can grind against one another because the cartilage has been worn down.

Maggots and leeches are so effective that the FDA last year classified them as the first live medical devices. The treatments can be relatively inexpensive, according to the National Institutes of Health. A container of 500-1,000 disinfected maggots last year cost $70.

Scientists have not figured out exactly how either critter works, but quite a bit is known. Maggots eat dead and infected tissue and other infectious organisms, which are later killed in maggots' guts. They secrete enzymes that break down dead tissue, turning it into a mush they can then slurp up.

Leech saliva is made up of a potent cocktail of more than 30 different proteins that, among other things, helps to numb pain, reduce swelling and keep blood flowing.

Patients are rarely repulsed by the leeches and instead take a morbid interest in the creatures. "They feel sympathy for the leeches," he said.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

disappearing species

A hat tip to our peripatetic animal rights reporter, Thelonius Royal, for calling our attention to this latest outrage: our animal friends thinly disguised by inscrutable Orientals as...animals. See for yourself and weep (Visine drops).
Can you guess what these are? Don't feel bad, I couldn't either.

Or how about this furry creature? Can you spot the hidden schipperke?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

lest we forget

Stephen Glass perpetrated one of the great journalistic frauds in modern American history. In 1998 Glass, a 25-year-old rising star at the New Republic, was caught making up one of his stories. An internal investigation by the magazine followed, and the number of discredited stories ballooned to 27, in addition to major pieces he penned for Rolling Stone, George and Harper's, whose editors were also duped by Glass' wonderfully lurid tales of drug-abusing young Republican activists.

My favorite described a bond-trading firm that had turned its offices into a shrine to Fed chairman Alan Greenspan, complete with a glass case containing "two Bic pens Greenspan supposedly used in 1993." Traders, reported the magazine, would come in to gaze at his photograph and meditate throughout the day.

Monday, June 20, 2011

the besetting sin

Moral theology classifies the sins or faults of man in various ways. It is a discipline with its own taxonomy.

One kind of fault that pastors and spiritual directors must address is what is called the "besetting sin." One spiritual director of my acquaintance calls it one's "favorite sin." This is the sin, or fault, that one falls into time after time. It shows up in nearly every examination of conscience. Those who seek forgiveness of their sins find themselves confessing it over and over. We marvel that we dare to seek forgiveness for it; we marvel even more greatly that forgiveness can be obtained.

The fault differs from man to man. For most, it takes a form that modern society is pleased to call an "addiction." But it is not just those common attachments. It may be an easy resort to anger and violence. It may be small vanities or an excessive delight in the praise of others. This list goes on and on. I trust I have said enough on this subject: the reader is perhaps ahead of me and has already identified the fault in himself that seems most resistant to correction.

I postulate that societies, that cultures, bear this resemblance to men: that they are prone to a kind of besetting fault. And that the besetting sin of the West is the resort to the organized use of force. We call this organization the state.

I advance this postulation for two reasons. The first is that it is precisely the opposite of what we in the West so often aspire to, to wit, freedom. None of us wants to be a slave, even to another Westerner. We are not a docile people, and we chafe when we are commanded to use our time, our talents, our property in ways that we find repulsive, offensive, or simply inconvenient. We call this chafing the desire to live as free men. And by freedom we do not mean obedience to the law. We do not mean doing what we are told. We do not even mean doing what is right. We mean something altogether different, and most of us give it up only under protest. Alas, most of us do not protest very long, and after a while we forget to protest at all.

But the chafing, even when it does not actually occur, survives in our myths, in the way we read our history, even in our rationalizations. White Westerners now allow themselves to be treated as a conquered people in many of their home countries, but they insist that the infringements on their liberty are somehow an expansion of their "civil liberties." They accept the most ludicrous claims that government impositions on them are no violation of their liberty at all.

Another reason for my postulate is that the West has been so very good at creating institutions for organized force. Like other civilizations that have had their monarchies and their priests, the West came up with its distinct — and to some extent more robust and all-embracing — forms of tyranny. Where other civilizations experienced monopolies of resources, it was the West that perfected the central bank. Where other civilizations experienced war and battle, it was the West that perfected the military that trains and fights as a unit, not for personal glory, not for spoils. Glory and spoils themselves accrue to the state.

That sort of skill typifies a besetting sin; it stands to reason that a man who finds himself angry at his wife over and over and who beats her will construct not just rationalizations for having done it, but will construct occasions for doing it. We get good at satisfying our lusts, our power-seeking, our pursuit of vanities. And the West has gotten good at statecraft.

Like a man's besetting sin, the culture finds occasions and rationalizations for resorting to the state. It constructs political philosophies that contain the veriest stupidities and transparent euphemisms ever concocted. Not one man in 10,000 would swallow the arguments if they were applied to his own affairs. I am speaking not only of political philosophers: we pay thousands of teachers, of newspaper editors, of think-tank professionals, of propagandists, of novelists, of songwriters, of historians, of newsreaders, all to tell us over and over again how much we need the state, how much we need for it to be more powerful, how helpless we should be without it. They speak virtually with one voice when they find a new way for it to intrude into our lives. And we, as though possessing the deadened conscience of a shoplifter or a child molester, nod our heads and echo it all back to them.
--Ronn Neff

Saturday, June 18, 2011

cool news story

Reporting from Washington— After the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003, the George W. Bush administration flooded the conquered country with so much cash to pay for reconstruction and other projects in the first year that a new unit of measurement was born.

Pentagon officials determined that one giant C-130 Hercules cargo plane could carry $2.4 billion in shrink-wrapped bricks of $100 bills. They sent an initial full planeload of cash, followed by 20 other flights to Iraq by May 2004 in a $12-billion haul that U.S. officials believe to be the biggest international cash airlift of all time.

This month, the Pentagon and the Iraqi government are finally closing the books on the program that handled all those Benjamins. But despite years of audits and investigations, U.S. Defense officials STILL CANNOT SAY WHAT HAPPENED TO THE $6.6. BILLION IN CASH.

For the first time, federal auditors are suggesting that some or all of the cash may have been stolen, not just mislaid in an accounting error. Stuart Bowen, special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, an office created by Congress, said the missing $6.6 billion may be "THE LARGEST THEFT OF FUNDS IN [U.S.]HISTORY."

The cash was carried by tractor-trailer trucks from the fortress-like Federal Reserve currency repository in East Rutherford, N.J., to Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, then flown to Baghdad. U.S. officials there stored the hoard in a basement vault at one of Hussein's former palaces, and at U.S. military bases, and eventually distributed the money to Iraqi ministries and contractors.

But U.S. officials often didn't have time or staff to keep strict financial controls. Millions of dollars were stuffed in gunnysacks and hauled on pickups to Iraqi agencies or contractors, officials have testified.

House Government Reform Committee investigators charged in 2005 that U.S. officials "used virtually no financial controls to account for these enormous cash withdrawals once they arrived in Iraq, and there is evidence of substantial waste, fraud and abuse in the actual spending and disbursement of the Iraqi funds."

Pentagon officials have contended for the last six years that they could account for the money IF GIVEN ENOUGH TIME TO TRACK DOWN THE RECORDS. But repeated attempts to find the documentation, or better yet the cash, were fruitless....

L.A. Times, June 13, 2011

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

a prayer

Heart weeps.
Head tries to help heart.
Head tells heart how it is, again:
You will lose the ones you love. They will all go. But even the earth will go, someday.
Heart feels better, then.
But the words of head do not remain long in the ears of heart.
Heart is so new to this.
I want them back, says heart.
Head is all heart has.
Help, head. Help heart.
— Lydia Davis