Saturday, June 30, 2012

World's first GM babies born

via: Daily Mail

Although gene therapy trials have been practised since 2004, this is one of few news articles speculating on potential negative consequences of genetically engineering human beings.  What could possibly go wrong?  Bold emphasis is my own commentary.

The world's first genetically modified humans have been created, it was revealed last night.  The disclosure that 30 healthy babies were born after a series of experiments in the United States provoked another furious debate about ethics. So far, two of the babies have been tested and have been found to contain genes from three 'parents'. Fifteen of the children were born in the past three years as a result of one experimental programme at the Institute for Reproductive Medicine and Science of St Barnabas in New Jersey. The babies were born to women who had problems conceiving. Extra genes from a female donor were inserted into their eggs before they were fertilised in an attempt to enable them to conceive

...Genetic fingerprint tests on two one-year- old children confirm that they have inherited DNA from three adults --two women and one man.  The fact that the children have inherited the extra genes and incorporated them into their 'germline' means that they will, in turn, be able to pass them on to their own offspring.  Altering the human germline - in effect tinkering with the very make-up of our species - is a technique shunned by the vast majority of the world's scientists.  Geneticists fear that one day this method could be used to create new races of humans with extra, desired characteristics such as strength or high intelligence.  Writing in the journal Human Reproduction, the researchers, led by fertility pioneer Professor Jacques Cohen, say that this 'is the first case of human germline genetic modification resulting in normal healthy children'. [I'd like to know about what happened before the recent, apparently successful trial.]  Some experts severely criticised the experiments. Lord Winston, of the Hammersmith Hospital in West London, told the BBC yesterday: 'Regarding the treat-ment of the infertile, there is no evidence that this technique is worth doing . . . I am very surprised that it was even carried out at this stage. It would certainly not be allowed in Britain.'

John Smeaton, national director of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, said: 'One has tremendous sympathy for couples who suffer infertility problems. But this seems to be a further illustration of the fact that the whole process of in vitro fertilisation as a means of conceiving babies leads to babies being regarded as objects on a production line. 

Sunday, June 24, 2012

What Lauryn Hill told the Vatican

source:The London Mirror, via SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests)

Soul singer Lauryn Hill stunned Vatican officials at a Christmas concert by launching an attack on paedophile priests.

Former Fugees star Hill, 28, said she accepted her invitation only so she could protest at child sex scandals in the United States.

She told the 7,000 crowd: "I am sorry if I am about to offend some of you. I did not accept my invitation to celebrate with you the birth of Christ. Instead I ask you why you are not in mourning for him in this place? I want to ask you, what have you got to say about the lives you have broken? What about the families who were expecting God and instead were cheated by the Devil? Who feels sorry for them, the men, women and children damaged psychologically, emotionally and mentally by the sexual perversions and abuse carried out by the people they believed in? Holy God is a witness to the corruption of your leadership, of the exploitation and abuses which are the minimum that can be said for the clergy. There is no acceptable excuse to defend the church."

There was silence for several minutes from the audience in the Paul VI hall at the Vatican...After her performance her comments were translated for Cardinal Camillo Ruini, head of the Italian Bishops Conference, who was sitting in the front row - and he walked out in protest.

No one at the Vatican would comment yesterday on Hill's outburst.

Friday, June 22, 2012


Here are just a few examples of assaults, medical neglect and outright murder committed by officers in Sheriff Joe Arpaio's gulags, compounded by tolerance and encouragement of violence between inmates.


Their Blood, Our Money

In 1996 a young man named Jeremy Flanders was beaten nearly to death by fellow inmates in Tent City. He was put on life support and during that time his head had swollen so badly that it nearly swallowed his ear on one side. Flanders, who was well behaved and a favorite of the guards, sustained permanent brain damage as a result of his injuries. The weapon used to beat Flanders was a rebar tent stake. These rebar tent stakes which were easily removed from the ground were often used as weapons, a problem easily remedied by cementing the stakes into the ground. In his stinging 26 page opinion Judge Jefferson L. Lankford stated that “The sheriff and his deputies had actual knowledge that prisoners used rebar tent stakes and tent poles as weapons and did nothing to prevent it.” He went on to say, “The sheriff admitted knowing about, and in fact intentionally designing, some conditions at Tent City that created a substantial risk of inmate violence: i.e., the lack of individual security and inmate control inherent in a tent facility; the small number of guards; a mixed inmate population subject to overcrowding, extreme heat, and lack of amenities. The history of violence, the abundance of weaponry, the lack of supervision, and the absence of necessary security measures supports the jury’s finding of deliberate indifference to inmate safety.” The appeals court awarded 635,000 dollars to Flanders. Arpaio was held personally liable for thirty-five percent of the judgment.

That same year, Scott Norberg died of positional asphyxia after being beaten and forced into a restraint chair by guards. Norberg was tased more than twenty times although he was fully subdued and posed no threat to the officers. Research by the (ABC) 20/20 investigative staff indicates that the officers involved knowingly ignored signs that they were killing Norberg.

Although many healthy men and women have exited Arpaio’s jails in a gurney, it seems that the infirm and disabled are at particularly high risk in Maricopa County’s gulags. In fact, in some cases, it seems that they are singled out for abuse.

Deborah Braillard was a diabetic inmate who was denied her insulin for over two days. When her constant moaning became too much for her cellmates to bear, the guards moved her to an empty cell where she could writhe in pain alone. She died in the hospital.

Mentally handicapped Charles Agster, who weighed only a hundred and thirty-two pounds, was arrested on loitering charges after refusing to leave a convenience store. He was taken into the prison hogtied and wrenched so tightly into a restraint chair that he died within minutes. Although Arpaio admits no wrongdoing, he refuses to let the family of Charles Agster see the surveillance footage of their son being put into the restraint chair.

Paraplegic, wheelchair-bound Richard Post was arrested for being disruptive in a bar. After some time in a cell he complained to the guards that his catheter was full. He flushed the toilet several times in order to get their attention. Instead of giving him medical care the guards strapped him into the restraint chair so tightly that they broke his neck. He is now a quadriplegic.

A blind inmate, Brian Crenshaw, who refused to show his identification card in a lunch line, was savagely beaten by guards and left in his cell for six days without medical treatment. Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, Arpaio insists Crenshaw suffered ruptured intestines, a broken neck, several broken toes, and extensive internal bleeding from “falling off a bunk” a little over four feet high.

And although the counterproductive barbarism of Arpaio’s reign should be the paramount issue it seems that money is the only thing that will pique the interest of Phoenician reporters. The attitude of our local press is best represented by the closing comment in an Arizona Republic article by Ed Montini -- “The Rising Cost of Indifference in Arpaio’s Jails.” When referring to the county supervisor's apathy to the horror stories leaking from the walls of Arpaio’s prisons and jails he said that their indifference “…would be fine only if all of this wasn't paid for with our money.” But now that the cost of Arpaio’s incompetence is mounting even the Arizona Republic is regularly printing anti-Arpaio articles.

Even though it seems cold to transcribe these tragedies into the language of dollars and cents it is unfortunately necessary to do so because their blood and our money are irreversibly intertwined. When inmates die or suffer permanent injury so needlessly, they or their families seek damages. The lawsuits resulting from the inhumane treatment of prisoners in Arpaio’s dungeons represent the largest portion of the mountainous debt that will be paid in the decades after Arpaio’s irresponsible reign. The appeals court awarded 635,000 dollars to Flanders, 30% of which Arpaio had to pay personally. The Norberg family received an 8.5 million dollar settlement on their son’s behalf. Michael Manning, the attorney for the Norberg family, is suing on behalf of Braillard’s son and father for 20 million dollars. The family of Charles Agster is seeking 25 million. Maricopa County paid Post 850,000 dollars for his injuries and the Crenshaw family is suing as well.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Sheriff Joe Arpaio birthday party caption contest!

via Phoenix New Times

Sheriff Joe served cake iced with pureed green baloney by inmates. "The putrefied meat is still no match for the fetid rot of my soul which I belch up daily," says Apraio. "But, nice try," he added.

note: The reference to green baloney is based on actual complaints of Maricopa County inmates, who have reportedly been served the item in Arpaio's tent city jail camps.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Concentration camps in America

via The New Yorker

Bolded emphasis is my own commentary.

Joe Arpaio, the sheriff of Maricopa County, known as “America’s Toughest Sheriff.”...the voters had declined to finance new jail construction, and so, in 1993, Arpaio, vowing that no troublemakers would be released on his watch because of overcrowding, procured a consignment of Army-surplus tents and had them set up, surrounded by barbed wire, in an industrial area in southwest Phoenix. “I put them up next to the dump, the dog pound, the waste-disposal plant,” he told me. Phoenix is an open-air blast furnace for much of the year. Temperatures inside the tents hit a hundred and thirty-five degrees. Still, the tents were a hit with the public, or at least with the conservative majority that voted. Arpaio put up more tents, until Tent City jail held twenty-five hundred inmates, and he stuck a neon “VACANCY” sign on a tall guard tower. It was visible for miles. His popularity grew.

...Meals were cut to two a day, and Arpaio got the cost down, he says, to thirty cents per meal.
“It costs more to feed the dogs than it does the inmates,” he told me [This article does not include details of the lawsuit pursued by the ACLU, which alleges that prisoners are routinely fed "moldy bread, rotten fruit and other contaminated food"]. ..He limits their television, he told me, to the Weather Channel, C-SPAN, and, just to aggravate their hunger, the Food Network. For a while, he showed them Newt Gingrich speeches. “They hated him,” he said cheerfully. Why the Weather Channel, a British reporter once asked. “So these morons will know how hot it’s going to be while they are working on my chain gangs.”...Arpaio wasn’t kidding about chain gangs. Foreign television reporters couldn’t get enough footage of his inmates shuffling through the desert. New ideas for the humiliation of people in custody—whom the Sheriff calls, with persuasive disgust, “criminals,” although most are actually awaiting trial, not convicted of any crime—kept occurring to him. He put his inmates in black-and-white striped uniforms. The shock value of these retro prisoner outfits was powerful and complex. There was comedy, nostalgia, dehumanization, even a whiff of something annihilationist. He created female chain gangs, “the first in the history of the world,” and, eventually, juvenile chain gangs. The chain gangs’ tasks include burying the indigent at the county cemetery, but mainly they serve as spectacles in Arpaio’s theatre of cruelty.

...Opinion polls found that Sheriff Joe, as he was called, was the most popular politician in Arizona. The Democrats didn’t even bother running a candidate against him in 1996...He got a tank from the Army, had the howitzer muzzle painted with flames, and “Sheriff Arpaio’s War on Drugs” emblazoned on the sides, and rode in it, with Ava, in the Fiesta Bowl Parade....His deputies, particularly his jail guards, seem to have less sense of how far they can go. Thousands of lawsuits and legal claims alleging abuse have been filed against Arpaio’s department by inmates—or, in the case of deaths in detention, by their families. A federal investigation found that deputies had used stun guns on prisoners already strapped into a “restraint chair.” The family of one man who died after being forced into the restraint chair was awarded more than six million dollars as the result of a suit filed in federal court. The family of another man killed in the restraint chair got $8.25 million in a pre-trial settlement. (This deal was reached after the discovery of a surveillance video that showed fourteen guards beating, shocking, and suffocating the prisoner, and after the sheriff’s office was accused of discarding evidence, including the crushed larynx of the deceased.) To date, lawsuits brought against Arpaio’s office have cost Maricopa County taxpayers forty-three million dollars, according to some estimates. But the Sheriff has never acknowledged any wrongdoing in his jails, never apologized to victims or their families. In fact, many of the officers involved have been promoted.

...Other jails get sued, of course. The Phoenix New Times found that, between 2004 and 2008, the county jails of New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Houston, which together house more than six times as many inmates as Maricopa, were sued a total of forty-three times. During the same period, Arpaio’s department was sued over jail conditions almost twenty-two hundred times in federal district court. Last year, the National Commission on Correctional Health Care withdrew the health accreditation of Maricopa County’s jails for failing to meet its standards, and a federal judge refused to lift a long-standing consent decree on the jails, finding that conditions remained unconstitutional for pre-trial detainees...

Remarkably, Arpaio has paid almost no political price for running jails that are so patently dangerous and inadvertently expensive. Indeed, until recently there were few local or state politicians willing to criticize him publicly. Those who have, including members of the county board of supervisors, which controls his budget, tend to find themselves under investigation by the sheriff’s office. Local journalists who perturb Arpaio have also been targeted. The Phoenix New Times ran an investigation of Arpaio’s real-estate dealings that included Arpaio’s home address, which he argued was possibly a violation of state law. When the paper revealed that it had received an impossibly broad subpoena, demanding, among other things, the Internet records of all visitors to its Web site in the previous two and a half years, sheriff’s deputies staged late-night raids on the homes of Michael Lacey and James Larkin, executives of Village Voice Media, which owns the New Times. The deputies arrested both men for, they said, violating grand-jury secrecy. (The county attorney declined to prosecute, and it turned out that the subpoenas were issued unlawfully.)

...Outspoken citizens also take their chances. Last December, remarks critical of Arpaio were offered during the public-comment period at a board of supervisors meeting, and four members of the audience were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct—for clapping. Their cases are pending. ..His deputies conduct extensive raids in Latino towns and neighborhoods. They say they have investigated and arrested more than thirty thousand undocumented aliens. This campaign has landed Arpaio on Lou Dobbs’s show, on CNN, where he is treated as a conquering hero, and has drawn support from ultra-right and racist groups, including neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan...

In the world according to Sheriff Joe, almost every problem in America these days can somehow be traced back to “illegals.” That was presumably why Arpaio seemed so excited to hear the early news about swine flu: it was coming from Mexico. “We gotta get something out!” he said. He meant a press release. The Sheriff gathered eight or nine aides around a big table in his office. “Illegal Immigration Breeds Crime, Disease,” Arpaio suggested. “Can we get masks for the deputies at the tents? ICE”—Immigration and Customs Enforcement—“has masks, don’t they? We should close the border.” The press-release team included Lisa Allen and other members of the media-relations unit; a jail administrator; a public-health specialist; and two deputies from the Sheriff’s human-smuggling unit, who had brought with them a map of Mexico....The public-health specialist said gently, “Surgical masks do nothing to combat this virus.” Arpaio erupted. “This is my press release! I’m the sheriff! I have some knowledge! I’m not just some little old sheriff!”.

...His department’s executive offices are situated, strangely, on two high floors of a bank tower in downtown Phoenix. They command a tremendous view of suburban sprawl in all directions. Outside, it was hot and hazy; inside, it was icy. The Sheriff’s office is the size of a midrange convenience store, its dark wood-panelled walls crowded with memorabilia, including an illustration celebrating the 2001 World Series victory of the Arizona Diamondbacks, with Arpaio’s face drawn bigger than even Randy Johnson’s, as if the Sheriff had been the Series M.V.P. ...The Sheriff took me to the tents the next day...They were all Latinos. They came from Mexico, Honduras, California, Arizona. Some had been in the tents for nearly a year. Their families were afraid to visit them, because they didn’t have papers. They were all facing deportation. The jail food was very bad, they said, and they were always hungry. A slender eighteen-year-old named José Aguilar said that he had lost fifty pounds since being locked up. He showed me a photograph of himself, taken when he was arrested, which had been laminated on a plastic I.D. bracelet, and he had certainly lost weight since then. Aguilar said that he had been in Phoenix since he was a baby, and knew no one in Mexico; his first language was English. I asked if Arpaio had any nicknames in the tents. “Hitler.”

...George Gascón, the chief of police in Mesa—the man whom, Arpaio had bitterly remarked, the mayor was “never going to fire”—has stoutly opposed Arpaio. Mesa is a big town, east of Phoenix, with a population of half a million—larger than that of Cleveland. Gascón, who was an assistant police chief in Los Angeles before taking the Mesa job, three years ago, has had great success in crime reduction in Mesa, using the CompStat crime-mapping model, developed by William Bratton in New York and Los Angeles. But his first challenge in Mesa, he told me, had been to gain the trust of minority communities, particularly Latinos. “They need to believe that you’re ethical and honest, that you’re not the enemy,” he said. In Los Angeles, he had seen what happened when that trust was broken by corrupt officers. No one would talk to the cops, “gang members filled the power void,” and crime flourished. With victims and witnesses, or with people stopped for civil violations, Gascón’s officers do not inquire about immigration status. “We focus on people who are committing predatory crimes.”

...Gascón, a Cuban-American, is tall, silver-haired, soft-spoken. He is a member of the California bar. He declined to discuss Arpaio. He did say, however, “I’m not an open-borders man. I believe we have a problem with illegal immigration. But I want to make sure we don’t throw away the Constitution in the process of solving it.” Gascón made it clear from the start that Arpaio’s military-style immigration sweeps were not welcome in Mesa...Two reporters at the East Valley Tribune, a Maricopa County paper, did a five-part study last year of the operations of the sheriff’s office. They found that, with the diversion of resources to pursuing undocumented immigrants, response times on emergency calls to the sheriff’s office had increased significantly, arrest rates had dropped, and dozens of violent crimes were never investigated. The series won a Pulitzer Prize for local reporting. Arpaio rejected its findings and, four months after it was published, won reëlection. more...

Sunday, June 3, 2012

The imperial underbelly of futurology: updated with fixed link 6/22/12

The following essay is one of the most thoughtful critiques of techno-futurology I've found coming from a scientific perspective, although I would add to the list of troublesome applications the imminent possibility for privileged elites to irrevocably alter human consciousness through virtual reality constructs, a project that has already gained traction through military mind control experiments, particularly in the areas of microchipping, nanotechnology and artificial intelligence. Additionally, the end of the essay reveals the author's own faith in what might be described as utopian technocracy, a woefully incomplete vision that must be integrated with greater consideration for the natural world.

I have proposed that the "accelerating change" crowed about for the last two decades by futurologists in pop religious cadences and by more mainstream and academic New Media commentators in pop psychology and pop sociology cadences has never had any substantial reference apart from the increasing precarity produced by neoliberal looting and destabilization of domestic welfare and global economies -- often facilitated, it is true, by the exploitation of digital trading, marketing, and surveillance networks -- a precarity usually seen and experienced from the vantage of privileged people who either benefit from neoliberal destabilization or who (rightly or wrongly) identify with the beneficiaries of that destabilization...the more assertively "techno-transcendental" varieties of futurological discourse (like the transhumanists, the singularitarians, the techno-immortalists, the nano-cornucopians, the digital-utopians) are simply extreme and hyperbolic variations of mainstream neoliberal global developmental policy discourse and mainstream marketing, advertising, and PR forms...there is an unmistakably faith-mobilizing pseudo-transcendentalizing strain to be discerned in this very PR marketing imaginary, deranging us from our present distress into a yearning toward consumer techno-futures bathed in pastels and robots and cars and DNA helices and chocolate and glossy hair and youthful skin and golden sex...Advertizing and online profiling practices are the opiate of the masses in the age of digitally-networked corporate-militarism (the present stage of capitalism)...a mass mediated Opium War (and often literal war) distracts the masses from awareness that we have already long since arrived at the techno-scientific level to provide security and equity and hence universal emancipation for all, distracting us endlessly instead into internecine struggles over pseudo-needs and pseudo-strivings that leave the obsolete bloodsoaked hierarchies enjoyed by elite incumbents in place.more...