Slime and Defend, Vietnam style

by Henry Farrell on August 22, 2006

This “Los Angeles Times”:,1,7586489,full.story story (free sub or bugmenot required) deserves more attention than it’s getting.

In early 1973, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Creighton Abrams received some bad news from the service’s chief of criminal investigations. An internal inquiry had confirmed an officer’s widely publicized charge that members of the 173rd Airborne Brigade had tortured detainees in Vietnam. But there was a silver lining: Investigators had also compiled a 53-page catalog of alleged discrepancies in retired Lt. Col. Anthony B. Herbert’s public accounts of his war experiences. “This package … provides sufficient material to impeach this man’s credibility; should this need arise, I volunteer for the task,” wrote Col. Henry H. Tufts, commander of the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division. Now, declassified records show that while the Army was working energetically to discredit Herbert, military investigators were uncovering torture and mistreatment that went well beyond what he had described. The abuses were not made public, and few of the wrongdoers were punished. Tufts’ agents found that military interrogators in the 173rd Airborne repeatedly beat prisoners, tortured them with electric shocks and forced water down their throats to simulate the sensation of drowning, the records show. Soldiers in one unit told investigators that their captain approved of such methods and was sometimes present during torture sessions. In one case, a detainee who had been beaten by interrogators suffered convulsions, lost consciousness and later died in his confinement cage. Investigators identified 29 members of the 173rd Airborne as suspects in confirmed cases of torture. Fifteen of them admitted the acts. Yet only three were punished, records show. They received fines or reductions in rank. None served any prison time.

The LA Times story leaves no doubt that there was a coverup.

In the spring of 1969, about a dozen members of the 172nd MI organized a letter-writing campaign to complain to higher-ups about the abuse, Stemme said. “Next thing we know, we have this major coming up from IG’s office who is Miranda-izing us and asks us if we’re admitting to committing war crimes,” Stemme said, referring to the inspector general. “It was all about us, when this was de facto command policy. It was really scary.” They decided as a group not to give any statements, he said. … Records show that Stemme detailed specific instances of maltreatment, offering names and approximate dates. Yet a case summary produced by the Army chief of staff’s office reported that investigators closed the investigation because Stemme “declined to provide any specific information concerning his allegations.” “I spent hours with these guys,” said Stemme, now 63 and retired from his job as an investigator for the San Francisco public defender’s office. “There was no reason for me to be reticent.”

More Than Just a Pretty Face

by Belle Waring on August 22, 2006

This post from the Freakonomics blog on why beautiful women sometimes marry unattractive men seems somewhat incomprehensible to me. Maybe you all can help:

…a new study by Satoshi Kanazawa, an evolutionary psychologist at the London School of Economics, suggests it may be a simple supply-and-demand issue: there are more beautiful women in the world than there are handsome men.

Why? Kanazawa argues it’s because good-looking parents are 36% more likely to have a baby daughter as their first child than a baby son—which suggests, evolutionarily speaking, that beauty is a trait more valuable for women than for men. The study was conducted with data from 3,000 Americans, derived from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, and was published in The Journal of Theoretical Biology.

According to this news article, “Selection pressure means when parents have traits they can pass on that are better for boys than for girls, they are more likely to have boys. Such traits include large size, strength and aggression, which might help a man compete for mates. On the other hand, parents with heritable traits that are more advantageous to girls are more likely to have daughters.”

[click to continue…]

The Prince and the feminist

by Ingrid Robeyns on August 22, 2006

When some people hear the words ‘gender’ and ‘feminism’, they have negative associations with these words. So I’ve very often been advised to be very carefully in using these words, especially with the F-word. My ‘strategy’ (if there every was such a thing) has been to never introduce myself as a feminist to people I didn’t know and who are not feminists themselves. In that way a person may get to know me a little without the influence of prejudices and bad connotations. During graduate work, I guess I’ve been very lucky that “my PhD supervisor”: was famous (and thus powerful) and entirely supported me in my feminist activities, so that I didn’t need to worry about whether my feminist interest would jeopardize my chances in obtaining my PhD degree (you bet I worked like hell). In addition, growing a little older, having job security and having collected some professional credits (grants, publications etc.) makes a lot of difference. If you don’t have to worry about bread on the table (or, for some people, a partner to live with), you are freer to speak your mind.

Still, outside academia I am much more careful. Hence when a few years ago I was at a party where the Belgian philosopher “Axel Gosseries”: introduced me to the Belgian Crown Prince as “a great Belgian feminist”, my first thought was “Help, what do I say now?”. I interpreted the prince’s facial reaction as expressing disgust and fear. My guess is that he had never met a self-proclaimed feminist, and must have felt the way I would feel if someone would introduce me to a terrorist or to a child-hater. He asked “are you really a feminist?” I replied that I wouldn’t normally introduce myself as such, but that yes, I was writing a PhD thesis on gender inequality and that this was clearly a feminist concern. He replied that he was concerned about the position of women too, since women who were staying at home where no longer valued and respected in our societies. I said that I agreed, but that it was even more difficult for men who wanted to spend time with their children or other dependents. Oh, he replied, but women and men are not the same. He then asked whether I had children. No, I didn’t. That seemed to disqualify me to talk about gender issues, because if I would have a child, I would have understood that women can never be equals to men, since they are the ones who become pregnant and give birth and care for children, and are therefore naturally unsuited to compete in the hard world outside. A few years of research on gender inequality and one baby later, I still don’t see why my having a womb and female hormones would make me unsuited to “competing in the hard world outside”. I wonder what he thinks about the fact that his daughter is second in line for the throne.

Free Lunch and Irish Breakfast

by Kieran Healy on August 22, 2006

A couple of “chancers”: in Dublin calling themselves “Steorn”: claim to have developed “a technology that produces free, clean and constant energy” — in other words, they say they have a perpetual motion machine. As they “helpfully point out”:, this “appears to violate the ‘Principle of the Conservation of Energy’, considered by many to be the most fundamental principle in our current understanding of the universe.” On the other hand, Steorn’s actions thus far confirm some more sociological principles, including the first of the “seven warning signs of bogus science”:, viz, “The discoverer pitches the claim directly to the media.” Steorn have published a “challenge” in the Economist seeking a “jury of twelve qualified experimental physicists.”

All of this – and the media attention these guys are getting – makes me feel bad for some friends of mine at “Science Foundation Ireland”:, who have worked very hard to build up Ireland’s scientific research infrastructure over the past few years. It also reminds me of a joke. Pádraig is walking along the beach when he finds a battered oil lamp. He rubs it an a genie appears, offering to grant him three wishes. “I’d like a bottle of Guinness that never runs out!” says Pat. The genie claps his hands and a bottle appears. Pat tips it upside-down and for a few minutes watches in delight as the stout pours endlessly from the bottle onto the beach. “That’s fantastic!” he says. “I’ll have two more of these, please.”