Sunday, April 26, 2009

Good Advice for Patients – and Their Doctors


Dr. Alex Lickerman, the proprietor of Happiness in this World, just put up a thoughtful, masterfully written post, When Doctors Don’t Know What’s Wrong. While it's primarily directed toward patients, I'd encourage all physicians and veterinarians to read it, too. Here's the beginning:
The first patient I ever saw as a first year resident came in with a litany of complaints, not one of which I remember today except for one: he had headaches. The reason I remember he had headaches isn’t because I spent so much time discussing them but rather the exact opposite: at the time I knew next to nothing about headaches and somehow managed to end the visit without ever addressing his at all, even though they were the primary reason he’d come to see me.

Then I rotated on a neurology service and actually learned quite a lot about headaches. Then when my patient came back to see me a few months later, I distinctly remember at that point not only being interested in his headaches but actually being excited to discuss them.

I often find myself thinking back to that experience when I’m confronted with a patient who has a complaint I can’t figure out, and I thought it would be useful to describe the various reactions doctors have in general to patients when they can’t figure out what’s wrong, why they have them, and what you can do as a patient to improve your chances in such situations of getting good care.

Not only should you read all of it, you should share it with as many people as you can – especially your doctor and your veterinarian.

A Proposed Goal for the Tea Party Movement

Because of its genuinely spontaneous origins, the Tea Party movement (of which I count myself a proud member) can be legitimately criticized as inchoate and unfocused. Its adherents, while primarily of conservative or libertarian persuasion, agree on little else. They may be Republicans, Democrats, independents, or members of a third party. They may be members of any religion or of none. They come in all ages, sexes, occupations, colors, and national origins.

Despite their many differences, though, Tea Partiers pretty well agree on this much: they want the Federal government to be smaller and less intrusive than it has already become. Therefore, they are unalterably opposed to the unprecedented power grabs, massive tax increases, and inconceivably huge deficits which the Obama-Pelosi-Reid triumvirate, aided by the spineless "me, too, but less" Republicans, is attempting to impose upon us.

Randy Barnett, a highly respected professor of constitutional law at Georgetown University, has been thinking, lecturing, and writing about these very issues for many years. When the Tea Party movement arose, he was ready with a constructive suggestion. He spelled it out in an op-ed in the Thursday, April 23, 2009 Wall Street Journal, The Case for a Federalism Amendment, then explained it further in a video he made for PJTV, Randy Barnett & New Federalism: How Tea Partiers Can Make Washington Pay Attention. Here is the heart of Professor Barnett's idea:
What sort of language would restore a healthy balance between federal and state power while protecting the liberties of the people?

One simple proposal would be to repeal the 16th Amendment enacted in 1913 that authorized a federal income tax. This single change would strike at the heart of unlimited federal power and end the costly and intrusive tax code. Congress could then replace the income tax with a "uniform" national sales or "excise" tax (as stated in Article I, section 8) that would be paid by everyone residing in the country as they consumed, and would automatically render savings and capital appreciation free of tax. There is precedent for repealing an amendment. In 1933, the 21st Amendment repealed the 18th Amendment that had empowered Congress to prohibit the sale of alcohol.

Alternatively, to restore balance between federal and state power and better protect individual liberty, the repeal of the income tax amendment could be folded into a new "Federalism Amendment" like this:

Section 1: Congress shall have power to regulate or prohibit any activity between one state and another, or with foreign nations, provided that no regulation or prohibition shall infringe any enumerated or unenumerated right, privilege or immunity recognized by this Constitution.

Section 2: Nothing in this article, or the eighth section of article I, shall be construed to authorize Congress to regulate or prohibit any activity that takes place wholly within a single state, regardless of its effects outside the state or whether it employs instrumentalities therefrom; but Congress may define and punish offenses constituting acts of war or violent insurrection against the United States.

Section 3: The power of Congress to appropriate any funds shall be limited to carrying into execution the powers enumerated by this Constitution and vested in the government of the United States, or in any department or officer thereof; or to satisfy any current obligation of the United States to any person living at the time of the ratification of this article.

Section 4: The 16th article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed, effective five years from the date of the ratification of this article.

Section 5: The judicial power of the United States to enforce this article includes but is not limited to the power to nullify any prohibition or unreasonable regulation of a rightful exercise of liberty. The words of this article, and any other provision of this Constitution, shall be interpreted according to their public meaning at the time of their enactment.

This is important. By all means read the whole thing, watch the video, be sure that you understand it – then, if you agree that this is a worthwhile suggestion, contact your state legislators and demand that they act upon it. You can also share Professor Barnett's idea with as many people as possible. If they don't understand it fully, try your best to explain it to them calmly and patiently.

If enough of us get behind this idea and demand that our politicians implement it, they won't be able to ignore us no matter how hard they try. It's quite possible that besides providing a vehicle for us to vent our frustrations, this Tea Party movement may yet catalyze a return to the form of government envisioned by our Founding Fathers. No wonder the Left is so rabidly opposed to us!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

A Prophetic Cartoonist

Eleven months ago, I posted this Gary Varvel editorial cartoon:


In view of recent events, it seems eerily prescient, doesn't it?

Know What This Is?




It's Obama all dressed up in his Earth Day suit getting ready to help the planet by burning about 9,116 gallons of jet fuel.

Wind and Solar: Some Cold, Hard Facts

James Schlesinger and Robert L. Hirsch, both of whom know what they're talking about when the subject is energy, contributed an important op-ed to the Friday, 4/24/09 Washington Post, Getting Real on Wind and Solar. Here's how it begins:
Why are we ignoring things we know? We know that the sun doesn't always shine and that the wind doesn't always blow. That means that solar cells and wind energy systems don't always provide electric power. Nevertheless, solar and wind energy seem to have captured the public's support as potentially being the primary or total answer to our electric power needs.

Solar cells and wind turbines are appealing because they are "renewables" with promising implications and because they emit no carbon dioxide during operation, which is certainly a plus. But because both are intermittent electric power generators, they cannot produce electricity "on demand," something that the public requires. We expect the lights to go on when we flip a switch, and we do not expect our computers to shut down as nature dictates.

Solar and wind electricity are available only part of the time that consumers demand power. Solar cells produce no electric power at night, and clouds greatly reduce their output. The wind doesn't blow at a constant rate, and sometimes it does not blow at all.

If large-scale electric energy storage were viable, solar and wind intermittency would be less of a problem. However, large-scale electric energy storage is possible only in the few locations where there are hydroelectric dams. But when we use hydroelectric dams for electric energy storage, we reduce their electric power output, which would otherwise have been used by consumers. In other words, we suffer a loss to gain power on demand from wind and solar.

Read all of it – it's vitally important that more people understand that wind and solar can NEVER furnish the bulk of our electricity. Even a royal decree from His Majesty King Obama I cannot make it so.

Hat tip: Greg Pollowitz writing in NRO's Planet Gore

Hybrid NASCAR



Hat tip: Henry Payne and NRO's Planet Gore

Trouble is – it's not entirely a joke! More here: NASCAR Going Hybrid

Buying Iranian Votes With – Israeli Oranges?




Yes, it really happened. Over at NRO's The Corner, Michael Ledeen writes about the Iranian mullahcracy's incredible incompetence in Maybe There's Hope:
If Iran really had advanced weapons, the mullahs wouldn't have to photoshop them all the time, as they do. Most claims by the Islamic Republic have to be heavily discounted to peel off the layers of braggadocio and fantasy, before you get close to the truth. They are true idealists, in the Hegelian sense: They think the idea is more important than the thing itself. So it's no surprise that they make a mess of things. Most everything. Because, you see, they say that everything is great, so don't bother them with real pictures.

The most recent example of the seemingly limitless capacity of Iranian leaders to mess things up comes from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He held a campaign rally and offered attendees free oranges. Food being in somewhat short supply these days, lots of folks showed up. And they really did get oranges. Zionist oranges. Jaffa oranges from the land of the little satan. Yes, Ahmadinejad bought Israeli oranges and handed them out to the faithful.

You really cannot invent these people. Not that you'd want to. Ahem.

Ledeen links to this excellent blog with an uncommonly long name, For a democratic secular Iran. For peace and prosperity in the Middle East. Its author is an Iranian expatriate, Azarmehr, who lives in the United Kingdom while working to free his country from the grip pf the grim, humorless ayatollahs.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

An Apt Comparison

Snarky, but definitely on point:



Hat tip: Bob Gorrell and Jewish World Review

Suspicions Confirmed

Last week, I raised the question of why the crew of the BAINBRIDGE had made no attempt to aid Capt. Phillips when he jumped into the water and attempted to escape from the pirates. I suspected that the reason was that they had been ordered not to, and therefore had no choice but to stand by helplessly as the pirates dragged the captain back aboard the lifeboat.

A few minutes ago on the O'Reilly Factor, Col. David Hunt, Fox military analyst and author of On the Hunt, confirmed my suspicions. According to Col. Hunt, even before the SEALs arrived on board, the BAINBRIDGE was fully capable of neutralizing the pirates and rescuing Capt. Phillips had they been authorized to do so. But at the time, they were operating under strict Rules of Engagement which prohibited them from firing a shot without obtaining prior authorization through the chain of command. Furthermore, that chain was far too long and cumbersome, stretching all the way from the Commander-in-Chief through a whole string of commands before it reached the skipper of the BAINBRIDGE. In fact, had he been authorized from the beginning to use his best professional judgment and take whatever action he deemed appropriate, the captain of the BAINBRIDGE, Cdr. Frank Castellano, could have brought the incident to a successful conclusion shortly after his arrival on the scene, instead of having to leave Capt. Phillips bobbing around on that lifeboat for 4 days.

Can you imagine how Capt. Phillips must have felt after he risked his life by jumping into shark-infested waters at night in order to give the BAINBRIDGE a clear shot – and nothing happened? It's very fortunate that he's such a level-headed, focused, strong-willed man that he was able to take such a bitter disappointment in stride, then plan for his next opportunity.

Noteworthy, too, is the fact that when Capt. Phillips arrived back in the United States and made a few public remarks, although he had the highest praise for the US military, and in particular, the Navy, the BAINBRIDGE, and the SEALs, there was not one word about our inexperienced young president – who is obviously still undergoing his on-the-job training.

UPDATE 4/23/09 1:39 AM: In EXCLUSIVE: Obama OK'd 2 SEAL teams for pirates, the Washington Times reports that National Security Adviser James L. Jones claims that the above account is false:
EXCLUSIVE:

President Obama dispatched two separate teams of Navy commandos to carry out last week's rescue of a merchant ship captain held hostage by Somali pirates but left the operational details and rules of engagement to military commanders, National Security Adviser James. L. Jones said Tuesday.

"I can tell you from a White House and presidential standpoint, there was no conflict, no gnashing of teeth, or excessive influence in trying to manage this thing," Mr. Jones, a retired Marine Corps four-star general, told The Washington Times in an interview.

He and other military officials gave the most detailed account to date of how Navy SEAL forces were dispatched - first from a base in Africa and later from the United States - to carry out the mission, and how Pentagon officials communicated with the White House. They sought to dispel Internet reports that the military was delayed from taking action by indecision inside the White House.

"I don't recognize" the information being circulated on the Internet, Mr. Jones said.

So the question becomes one of who do you believe, or "he said; he said."

To the best of my knowledge, both Gen. Jones and Col. Hunt have a reputation for honesty and frankness.

Gen. Jones is certainly in the best position to know what actually happened, but on the other hand is far from impartial. Because of his present position as Obama's National Security Adviser, he has a vested interest in vouching for the official version of events. Under the circumstances, he could hardly be expected to contradict it unless he were to simultaneously tender his resignation.

On the other hand, Col. Hunt's knowledge of the details of the operation comes to him second- or third-hand, since he was not personally involved in it. In stating his version of events during Bill O'Reilly's program, though, he spoke with great certainty, as though he had great confidence in his sources. In addition, since he had no personal involvement or vested interest, he would be more likely to be impartial.

There were a large number of military personnel involved in the operation, including the entire crew of the USS BAINBRIDGE. Chances are that during the next few months and years, a true account of what actually happened will gradually take form. Particularly as the members of the BAINBRIDGE's crew return to civilian life one by one, there will be no way that the Navy could possibly keep them from telling what they know. For now, though, we must content ourselves with this contradiction.

Although I have no firm justification for doing so, I am more inclined to believe Col. Hunt's account – primarily because during the years I have been watching him on Fox News, he has always proven to know what he's talking about, but also because he is free to speak his mind. On the other hand, while I respect Gen. Jones for his long and distinguished service in the Marine Corps, his post-retirement activities have been problematic. For one thing, he has a reputation as an Israel-basher and Saudi sympathizer – which, in my opinion, immediately calls his judgment into question. Then, of course, there's the matter of his position as a cabinet-level adviser to the PITOTUS. If he wants to keep it, he must pretty well toe the official line – which includes doing everything in his power to make his inexperienced, gaffe-prone boss look good.

Finally, there is the undeniable fact that already, during the three months it has been in office, this administration has earned a reputation for issuing misleading, contradictory, and downright duplicitous statements. The PITOTUS has shown a propensity to say one thing while brazenly doing the exact opposite, so why would we expect his senior staff to act differently from their boss?

The Audacity of Naïveté

My late father used to tell me, "If somebody spits in your eye, don't just look up and say 'It's raining.'" Apparently, our PITOTUS* hasn't yet learned that lesson.


*President-in-Training of the United States

Hat tip: Zack Rawsthorne of Diversity Lane.com

Monday, April 20, 2009

Thomas Paine and Me, or It's a Small World

By now, you've probably seen the Thomas Paine re-enactor whose videos have become some of the most popular on YouTube. He's also been featured – and interviewed – on Fox News, which is where I first saw him.

When I first saw the man in his Tom Paine character, of course I was quite impressed, but I honestly can't say I recognized him. But his voice sounded vaguely familiar.

When he was interviewed on Fox News, I learned that his real name is Bob Basso – and I thought, "Surely not!" You see, a long time ago, I had the great honor and privilege of serving as an officer aboard a ship of the U.S. Navy, the USS MAURY (AGS-16), a geological survey ship. One of my fellow officers was one LTJG Robert L. Basso.

I studied the videos on YouTube and the picture in my copy of the USS MAURY's 1963-64 cruisebook. While there was certainly a resemblance, I couldn't be sure. So I found Thomas Paine re-enactor Bob Basso's website and used it to contact him with this simple message:
Was wondering if by any chance you're the same Bob Basso with whom I served aboard the USS MAURY during the 1963-64 cruise.

5 days later (Bob's understandably pretty busy these days), he replied with the news that indeed he was the very same Bob Basso with whom I served 46 years ago.

Here are then-and-now pictures of LTJG Robert L. Basso:

Here are the links to all three of Bob's videos:
The Second American Revolution
We the People Stimulus Package
Thomas Paine On to Washington


And just to be fair about all this, here are then-and-now pictures of your humble correspondent, who was then known as LTJG Morton A. Goldberg:

It's a small world, isn't it?

Tolerance and Inclusiveness at Work

Over at Diversity Lane, Zack Rawsthorne skewers the Liberals again:

Equine Massacre

The Palm Beach Post reports a shocking incident in Wellington, Florida under the overly cautious headline 14 polo horses reportedly die in Wellington before polo match. Is there any doubt whatsoever that 14 horses mysteriously became ill and died within a very short time of each other? Is there any chance that some of the horses didn't really die, but are just playing dead? Is there even some slight chance that some of these horses may be miraculously resurrected? Apparently not:
WELLINGTON — At least 14 horses died Sunday after collapsing before a polo match. Vets hooked up intravenous tubes to the sick horses and fought to help them breathe as the horses from the Lechuza Caracas team were stricken by an unknown illness, officials said.

"Some died right away. Others lasted about 45 minutes," said veterinarian Scott Swerdlin, a member of the Palm Beach Equine Clinic who was at the scene and said 14 horses died.
A bit farther down, we are told:
The horses began breathing heavily and stumbling at the Lechuza equestrian facility before they were brought to the polo club, Swerdlin said he was told.

Necropsies and blood tests will be done on the dead horses at a state-run clinic in Kissimmee. The carcasses were taken intact to the facility Sunday afternoon. Results could come as early as today.

Swerdlin wouldn't speculate on what happened to the horses. "I don't guess," he said. "I wait for evidence."
So it does appear that 14 horses were involved, and that they are indeed deceased beyond any reasonable doubt, since their "carcasses" (couldn't they have said "bodies" or "remains"?) were taken to a state laboratory for necropsy. So why, then, did the brave Palm Beach Post not come right out and tell us that in the headline? Why did it feel obligated to use the adverb "reportedly" to modify the word "died"?

So what happened? What might have caused these 14 apparently healthy polo ponies to sicken and die within 45 minutes or less? We have to read all the way down to the 10th paragraph to learn what the reporters "reportedly" found out – which then turns out to be a rehash of what some other reporters reportedly found out:
According to several sources, the horses had a reaction to a steroid derivative that may have been tainted with a cleaning solution, the Sun Sentinel reported. The shots apparently were administered by an Argentine vet not licensed in the U.S., it further reported.

At least three more horses were affected.

One 10-year-old mare was gravely ill late Sunday afternoon. She was lying in a stall under the care of the medical staff at the Lechuza facility.

"They started getting dizzy," [polo club spokesman] O'Connor said of the scene at the polo club. "They dropped down right onto the grass."
The truth, then, is not that these unfortunate horses "reportedly" died, but that they most definitely died after "reportedly" having been accidentally poisoned in a doping attempt involving an unlicensed veterinarian.

If true, this allegation reflects very poorly upon the polo club and both the Federal and Florida state regulatory agencies which are charged with enforcing our animal protection laws. For many decades, incidents such as these were routine at horse racing tracks in third-world countries, but were almost unheard of in the United States and other first-world countries. Now, it appears that an individual who may or may not be licensed to practice veterinary medicine in Argentina, but was practicing illegally here, somehow managed to bring in enough of some illegal substance to kill at least 14 horses, then administer it to them by injection without being detected.

If this episode turns out to have unfolded approximately as related in the Palm Beach Post story, its significance cannot be overstated. It would represent a major failure in the regulatory systems upon which we rely to keep everyone honest, and would constitute further evidence, if any were needed, of our degeneration into a banana republic.

The importance of definitively ascertaining not only the precise cause of the horses' death, but the exact circumstances and, above all, the identities of those responsible, cannot be overstated. Regardless of who was involved, all of the people responsible for this outrage must be exposed, tried, convicted, and punished as severely as the law will allow. In addition, we must insist that our regulatory agencies use the authority they have been granted to enforce the laws which are supposed to prevent this sort of flagrant abuse.

Stay tuned.

4/20/09 10:34 AM UPDATE: According to the AP, 7 more horses have now died, for a total of 21. This story doesn't mention the allegation that an unlicensed Argentinian veterinarian had given the affected horses some type of steroid injections just before they fell ill, but does include this additional information:
A veterinarian who was at the scene said the tests will need to determine the trigger for what he believed was heart failure among the horses.

"Well clearly, it's an intoxication, clearly there's some sort of a poison," Dr. James Belden told NBC.

Belden said it remains to be seen "whether it's something in the environment or something that the horses were exposed to." He said the routine in the horses' stable ahead of the match was absolutely normal.


4/20/09 12:56 PM UPDATE: The Palm Beach Post has an updated story: Polo veterinarian: Tainted meds, performance drugs unlikely the culprit to 21 polo horses' deaths. Here's a snippet:
The horses, all from the same team, died one by one, "almost certainly of an intoxication of some sort that they consumed," said Lechuza Caracas team veterinarian James Belden, a local vet who was among those pumping intravenous fluids into the horses, trying to save them. Belden doesn't travel with the team but thought it unlikely that the horses would be given anabolic steroids because the team competes in England, where such drugs are prohibited.

"Almost certainly they don't use anabolic steroids," Belden said.

He also said tainted medication - a concern raised late Sunday - was not a likely culprit because the horses are cared for diligently.

"I've been in practice 50 years," Belden said. "I've never seen anything like this."

There's also another story with some intriguing information about the horses' owner, Venezuelan multi-millionaire Victor Vargas, Wicked-rich owner of dead ponies has local ties:
The man has literally vanished since some of his horses laid down and died on the turf. One source at the United States Polo Association told me Vargas hopped on one of his three private jets Sunday afternoon and flew overseas.

Vargas, who also has oil interests, owns homes in the Dominican Republic and his native Venezuela, where he is considered close to President Hugo Chavez.

Looks as though there are a few rocks out there that need turning over to expose all the slugs hiding underneath. Let's hope that between them, the Feds and the Florida state authorities can come up with the cojones to do the job.

4/20/09 1:24 PM UPDATE: The Orlando Sentinel has another relevant story, Kissimmee vet will try to determine what killed polo horses:
KISSIMMEE - Terry McElroy, a spokesman with the Florida Department of Agriculture, Division of Animal Industry, confirmed the number of dead horses as at least 21. Of those, 10 to 15 have been sent to the division's main laboratory in Kissimmee. The others might be sent to a similar facility at the University of Florida in Gainesville, McElroy said.

"Animals died en masse and we need to know why," McElroy said. "The Kissimmee facility is the leading lab in the state, and one of the top ones in the nation for this type of investigation. That's why they went there."

McElroy said the entire necropsy process might take up to a week. It is very much like an autopsy: the body is dissected and fluid and tissue samples are collected.

"It might take the better part of the week or even longer because of toxicology reports," McElroy said.


4/20/09 4:42 PM UPDATE: And now the law is involved: Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office now investigating death of horses in Wellington.
In the meantime, the Florida Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Polo Association have launched investigations into the deaths, as has the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Department.

"As we find out more, we'll talk to more people, but right now we don't anticipate this being anything other than these animals accidentally ingested something or were accidentally poisoned," said Capt. Greg Richter, the commander of the Wellington district.

Wouldn't it be better if Capt. Richter, like Dr. Swerdlin, waited for the evidence to come in before jumping to the conclusion that this was all a terrible accident?

4/20/09 6:36 PM UPDATE: Sissy Willis was kind enough to draw my attention to this new article in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, PBSO and state investigations launched in deaths of 21 horses in Wellington. The most significant bit of information I got from it is contained in the accompanying video. In it, a veterinarian correctly points out that the clinical signs exhibited by the horses which died are completely consistent with monensin poisoning.

Monensin, sold by the Elanco division of Eli Lilly and Company under the trade name Rumensin, is a special-purpose antibiotic used in ruminants and poultry as a feed efficiency improver and coccidiostat. It has long been known to be deadly poisonous to horses, and should never be mixed into any feed to which they might have access. While anything is possible, in my opinion, it would be highly unlikely that anyone would be so careless as to accidentally feed monensin-containing feed to high-value horses such as these. If monensin should turn out to be the causative agent of these horses' deaths, I would hope that the law enforcement personnel working on the case will thoroughly investigate the possibility that it was mixed into the horses' feed deliberately.

Another consideration is the matter of exposure. Generally, all of the horses in a barn are fed the same feed, with only the quantity being tailored to the individual horse. Therefore, if monensin had been introduced into the feed, normally all of the horses which consumed it would have been affected.

At this time, it is vitally important for everyone involved to keep an open mind and avoid jumping to conclusions which may turn out to be wrong. While we all want to know exactly what happened and who was to blame, we need to be patient and give the veterinary pathologists time to perform their detailed and painstaking examinations.

The time for recriminations is not yet at hand.

4/21/09 2:14 PM UPDATE: Here's the latest – first from the Sun-Sentinel:
State officials hope to finish examinations of dead horses by tomorrow
WELLINGTON - State officials today said they hope to finish necropsies on all 21 polo horses that died in Wellington by tomorrow. But so far, the deaths remain a mystery.

Terance McElroy, spokesman for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, said the physical examinations should be finished by Wednesday morning at the latest.

"But then we will begin toxicology tests," McElroy said.

As for the examinations that have taken place, McElroy said: "No conclusions [have been] drawn so far."

The state and Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office opened parallel investigations into the horses' deaths and are waiting for blood and tissue test results along with an analysis of everything the horses came in contact with that could have been toxic.

"There is no indication at this time of any criminality, any criminal intent, foul play," Sheriff's Office Capt. Greg Richter said today. "There's every indication these horses ingested or were injected with something that caused them to pass away."

The bodies of the horses arrived Monday at the University of Florida's College of Veterinary Medicine in Gainesville and a state laboratory in Kissimmee so scientists could examine them for answers. State officials quickly ruled out infectious diseases.

"Because of the very rapid onset of sickness and death, state officials suspect these deaths were a result of an adverse drug reaction or toxicity," McElroy said Monday, in a written statement.

Dr. John Harvey, assistant dean of the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine, said a necropsy is much like an autopsy: The body is checked for visible trauma, and fluid and tissue samples are collected after a preparation process that takes two to three days.

"The suspicion here is toxins because of how sudden these animals died," Harvey said. "But since we don't know what we're looking for, there are literally thousands of things we can test for. It could be like looking for a needle in a haystack."

The Palm Beach Post has this:
UF animal pathologists will examine remains of all 15 polo ponies taken there
GAINESVILLE — A team of University Florida animal pathologists and technicians is working as quickly as possible to determine the exact cause of death for the 21 polo ponies from Wellington.

At UF's College of Veterinary Medicine, four pathologists and three technicians are examining blood and tissue samples from the remains of the 15 horses they received Monday.

"As soon as the horses got here, we started processing them," Sarah Carey, spokeswoman for the college of veterinary medicine, said today. "But it's not like we have a huge, huge facility. This is a stress for us as well."

Preliminary results could be available by the end of this week, said Dr. John Harvey, executive associate dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine.

Initially, pathologists were going to examine only the eight horses that were insured. But Carey said that the UF school was asked to test all 15 horses - "possibly because of the sensitive nature of this case, and the fact that it is under investigation," she added.

As of this morning, necropsies had been performed on the eight insured horses, with the seven others scheduled next.

The bodies of the other six horses from the Lechuza Caracas team are being examined at the Florida Animal Diagnostic Lab in Kissimmee. Agriculture Department spokesman Mark Fagan said the two sites are communicating regularly on the exams.

"We are trying to expedite this (process) to get something conclusive as quickly as possible," Fagan said from Kissimmee. "It's hard to say it's going to be a week, or two weeks, but it's going to be done as quickly as we can."

Arrival at a definitive diagnosis may well depend upon the completion of the toxicology tests. If so, this may take a while.

4/22/09 5:58 PM UPDATE: Here's the latest from the Palm Beach Post:
State investigators: Dead Wellington polo horses had hemorrhaging lungs:
With the necropsies on the 21 horses that died in Wellington on Sunday nearly complete, the Florida Department of Agriculture confirmed today that the horses suffered from hemorrhaging of the lungs.

"The thing that is consistent with all the horses is hemorrhaging and pulmonary edema," said Mark Fagan, spokesman for the agricultural department. "That's consistent through all the necropsies so far, and we certainly expect that with the remaining few necropsies."

Fagan said that an official cause of death wouldn't be released until the toxicology reports are completed - those results aren't expected until the end of the week, at the earliest.

Fagan said that investigators are following a report in the La Nacion newspaper of Buenos Aires where a captain of the Lechuza Caracas polo team said the horses were injected with a vitamin supplement called Biodyl that is not approved for use in the United States, Fagan said.


Pulmonary edema and pulmonary hemorrhage in all 21 horses – sure sounds like it'll turn out to be some sort of a mass poisoning. Now, they'll determine what substance or mixture of substances was involved. Once that's been established, it will be a matter of good old-fashioned detective work to ascertain with legal certainty how it got into the horses, and who was responsible.

I'd be extremely surprised if the death of all these horses turns out to have a natural cause. It's a virtual certainty that one or more humans was involved. The investigators will have to figure out who did this, then whether it was some sort of terrible accident – or intentional and malicious.

Let's be patient while the veterinary pathologists complete their necropsies and forensic analyses. It sh ouldn't be too much longer.

4/23/09 2:53 AM UPDATE: The Palm Beach Post is now reporting FDA: Supplement, allegedly injected into Wellington polo horses that died, illegal in U.S..
The 21 polo ponies that died in Wellington were all injected before Sunday's match with a government-banned vitamin supplement designed to fight off exhaustion, and polo team members believe a tainted dose caused their deaths, the team's captain said.

Juan Martin Nero, captain of the Lechuza Caracas polo team, told the Argentine newspaper La Nación that all of the horses received injections of Biodyl before getting sick and dying.

"We don't have any doubts about the origin of the problem," Nero said. "There were five horses that weren't given the vitamin and they are the only ones that are fine."

Biodyl, a French-made supplement, is banned by the federal Food and Drug Administration, and its sale or use in the United States is generally illegal, an FDA spokeswoman said.

But veterinarians say the supplement is usually harmless and would have been unlikely to kill the horses unless it had been somehow contaminated.

This information is interesting, but leaves us no closer to a definitive answer. Despite the polo team captain's certainty, investigators are going to rely upon the results of laboratory tests to reach their conclusions.

4/23/09 3:21 PM UPDATE: According to the Palm Beach Post, Pharmacy admits it incorrectly mixed supplement linked to deaths of 21 Wellington polo ponies.
WELLINGTON — The head of an Ocala-based pharmacy today admitted that it incorrectly mixed a medication that was given to 21 horses that mysteriously collapsed and died last weekend.

Jennifer Beckett, chief operations officer for Franck's Pharmacy, said an internal investigation revealed that the strength of an ingredient in the medication was flawed. In a written statement, she did not name the medication or the ingredient involved.

"We will cooperate fully with the authorities as they continue their investigations," she wrote. "Because of the ongoing investigations, we cannot discuss further details about this matter at this time."

The news came as the politically-connected Venezuelan multi-millionaire who owns the 21 horses indicated that he suspects his team's own veterinarian may have played a role in the deaths of some of the polo ponies, according to a letter from a Philadelphia lawyer.

In a letter to polo team veterinarian Dr. James Belden, an attorney representing an insurance company says its investigation revealed that a generic compounded version of Biodyl was administered to 12 ponies prior to their deaths before a match at the International Polo Club Palm Beach on Sunday. It is unclear why the letter references only 12; 21 horses are believed to have received the supplement.

Attorney William Gericke wrote that Belden ordered the compound from Franck's Pharmacy in Tallahassee.


The Sun-Sentinel has a similar report including a few more details, Ocala pharmacy says it incorrectly prepared medication for 21 polo horses that died:
WELLINGTON - University scientists think they have identified the chemical that likely killed 21 polo horses in Wellington, but are withholding the information until it can be reviewed by the state.

"We believe the likely chemical responsible has been tentatively identified, but pending review by the state veterinarian and state law enforcement, we cannot comment any further at this time," said Sarah Carey, spokeswoman for the University of Florida's College of Veterinary Medicine in Gainesville.

She did not know when the results would be released.

That accompanies news today that an Ocala pharmacy has taken responsibility for botching a vitamin compound given to the horses just hours before they died.

If a compounding pharmacy's mixing error is indeed the proximate cause of what happened, the lawyers are going to have a field day.

Veterinarians commonly use various drugs for "off-label" purposes. This practice is necessary because it's economically unfeasible for pharmaceutical manufacturers to pay for all of the testing which would be necessary in order to get each drug approved by the FDA for every conceivable purpose. Therefore, we are permitted to use any licensed drug we can legally obtain for any legitimate medical purpose on non-food-producing animals.

When we use drugs for off-label purposes, we don't have the legal cover of a multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical company backing us up. Quite the contrary, in fact – when we do this, we are on our own; we assume full responsibility for the consequences of our actions. Therefore, it's wise to:

  • be absolutely certain that according to our best medical knowledge, we are using an appropriate drug at the correct dosage;
  • take every precaution to avoid known drug incompatibilities;
  • use our best judgment to decide whether to do it ourselves or entrust the compounding job to a trusted licensed pharmacist experienced in dealing with veterinary prescriptions;
  • make sure that the client is fully informed at every step of the way, specifically informed about the risks involved in using an off-label drug upon his animal – and that he signs a release form to that effect

It will be interesting to find out whether the veterinarian responsible for ordering the compounded mixture from the pharmacy had explained the risks to the owner of the horses and gotten him to sign a release. If not – he'd better have some super heavy duty malpractice insurance, because the chances are pretty good that he'll be needing it.

In this case, the pharmacy has already admitted fault, so assuming that the laboratory test results confirm that their compound caused the deaths of the horses, they will have to share in the liability. As the saying goes, IANAL (I Am Not A Lawyer), but it was always my understanding that whenever I was using off-label drugs, anything that might have gone wrong was upon my head; the buck stopped with me. In this case, the team veterinarian allegedly prescribed the mixture, ordered it to be compounded by Franck's Pharmacy, and either administered it personally or supervised its administration. So it's unlikely that he'll be able to transfer the entire responsibility for the deaths of the 21 horses to the compounding pharmacist.

At least, thankfully, it is beginning to appear as though the deaths of these horses were not caused by a deliberate act.

4/24/09 2:51 PM UPDATE: Both the Palm Beach Post and Sun-Sentinel have some new information today.

From the Palm Beach Post comes High selenium in supplement mix could be to blame in death of 21 Wellington polo ponies
WELLINGTON- — Did too much selenium kill 21 polo ponies on Sunday?

As the polo world waits for test results to be released by state investigators, speculation has focused sharply on the naturally occurring chemical element.

Before dying Sunday and early Monday, the Lechuza Caracas team's horses were injected with a generic lab-made version of a banned French vitamin supplement that contained sodium selenite, a selenium-based salt.

Citing anonymous sources, the Argentine newspaper La Nacion reported today that the horses' lab-made supplements included 5 milligrams per milliliter of sodium selenite instead of the prescribed 0.5 milligrams.


Then there's this from the Sun-Sentinel: Ocala pharmacy says it incorrectly prepared medication for 21 polo horses that died
WELLINGTON - Five days after 21 polo horses mysteriously died in Wellington, university scientists Thursday singled out a chemical they think killed the ponies.

They just weren't ready to reveal it quite yet.

Still, clues have come together as an Ocala-based pharmacy acknowledged it incorrectly mixed a vitamin compound given to the horses just hours before they died -- a compound the Lechuza Caracas polo team says an unidentified Florida veterinarian requested.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says the compound is of questionable legality and attorneys say there could be costly consequences for its use.

Citing anonymous sources, La Nacion newspaper of Argentina, reported today that the formula given to the horses contained ten times the correct amount of selenium. The newspaper reported that 0.5 mg/ml was prescribed but the compound actually contained 5 mg/ml.


Conceding that definitive conclusions are still a bit premature, it is nevertheless becoming more apparent that these horses died because of a pharmacists's medication mixup. It looks as though the person who mixed the ingredients made a decimal error resulting in a formulation containing 10 times the prescribed dose of selenium.

This type of error is unfortunately all too common in both human and veterinary medicine. For example, in a widely publicized incident, actor Dennis Quaid's twin babies were inadvertently given a huge overdose of the anti-clotting medicine heparin – in Cedars-Sinai, one of the most respected hospitals in the country. Even at the finest institutions, human carelessness can still occur. People in a hurry don't always stop to read a label, but far too often grab a vial from a certain spot on the shelf, quickly noting the color and, perhaps, the drug name on the label, but not the concentration of the active ingredient. Thus, an infant can accidentally receive an adult dose of heparin one thousand times greater than the correct dose ordered by the neonatologist.

Similarly, a pharmacist in a hurry can slip a decimal point when calculating the quantity of sodium selenite to add to a medication he is compounding in order to fill a veterinarian's prescription. If neither he nor a second person catches the error, 21 horses can die agonizing deaths as a result.

Selenium is pretty unforgiving stuff. It's a trace mineral which is essential in minute amounts in the diets of both humans and animals. Yet, in somewhat larger amounts, it becomes a deadly poison. That in itself is not unusual – many elements, such as zinc and copper, are essential in tiny doses but toxic in large amounts. The unique thing about selenium, though, is that the difference between the essential amount and the toxic amount (expressed mathematically as the therapeutic index) is very small.

Then the case would seem to be pretty cut-and-dried, no? The pharmacist made a careless mistake causing the deaths of 21 beautiful horses; therefore he's responsible. But it's not quite that simple. In this case, the pharmacist was filling a veterinarian's prescription which might well not have been legal – which, at the very least, falls into that "gray area" mentioned in the news accounts.

Prescription compounding can be an invaluable tool. It can be useful to provide an otherwise unavailable medication for a specific patient with a problem which cannot be adequately managed with the licensed drugs already on the market. It is also very handy when the commercially available dosage forms are unusable or impractical for administration to an animal. However, it appears that in this case, compounding was being used to get around the law by formulating a medication which is not licensed for use in the United States. Furthermore, it was not for the purpose of treating any medical condition, but instead for the far more nebulous purpose of injecting healthy performance horses, analogous to human professional athletes, with a vitamin/electrolyte mixture.

In this case, it would seem that the apportionment of blame between the prescribing veterinarian and the compounding pharmacist will be a task calling for the wisdom of Solomon.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Good Question

In a post titled Regulatory Despotism at NRO's The Corner, Mark Steyn poses a very good question. At the end of an anecdote about Quebecer Pierre Lemieux and his refusal to answer nosy personal questions on his gun permit renewal, Mark asks this:
"The remorseless, incremental annexation of 'individual existence' by technologically all-pervasive micro-regulation is a profound threat to free peoples. But do we have the will to resist it?"

Good question – and one to which I believe we'll all know the answer pretty soon.

Night of the Living Government

Andrew Klavan has made a masterful video for Pajamas TV. Sissy Willis watched it, then wrote an equally masterful post about it with an – umm – interesting title, "Let me devour your flesh because I know how to use it better than you do". Go read it, then watch Andrew's video, Night of the Living Government. Once you've seen it, you'll never think of government in quite the same way again.

4/20/09 1:28 PM UPDATE: Sissy Willis points out that Andrew's video is now also available on YouTube: Klavan on the Culture: Night of the Living Government. Thanks, Sissy!

Thought for Today

"What is this oozing behemoth, this fibrous tumor, this monster of power and expense hatched from the simple human desire for civic order? How did an allegedly free people spawn a vast, rampant cuttlefish of dominion with its tentacles in every orifice of the body politic?"

~~~~~ P.J. O'Rourke

Friday, April 17, 2009

The New Widget

The Wall Street Journal's editorial site, OpinionJournal.com, is, in my opinion, one of the most indispensable places on the web. Every day, it manages to be simultaneously informative and entertaining, while avoiding the useless pop-culture fluff that clutters up so many otherwise worthwhile websites.

OpinionJournal.com has just come up with a neat little widget – an attractive interactive device including clickable links to its latest articles. For your convenience, I have added it to the features available on this blog. You can see it in the sidebar, just beneath the other new widget, the Skype button.

I hope you enjoy it.

Col. Peters Is Furious ...

… and as a fellow military veteran, I can appreciate why. In response to the calculated and deliberate smear of veterans by our esteemed (NOT!) Director of Homeland Security, he wrote The Vet 'Threat': Gov't ID's Public Enemy No. 1. He begins like this:
HOLLYWOOD and countless professors warned us: Military vets are drooling trailer-trash who beat their wives and, at best, wind up as homeless street people -- at worst, as homicidal psychos deformed by war.

Now, thanks to our ever-vigilant Department of Homeland Security, the full extent of the danger has been revealed: Our so-called "war heroes" are rushing back to join right-wing-extremist hate groups to overthrow our government.

Let's not quibble about little things like evidence. The Obama administration just knows that vets are all racist, Jew-hating crazies waiting to explode. Thank God, DHS has a fearless leader, Janet-from-another-planet Napolitano, who isn't afraid to call white trash "white trash."
He then proceeds to let everyone know what he REALLY thinks.

I wonder how much Col. Peters' column had to do with Secretary Napolitano's subsequent lame, half-hearted attempts to extinguish the raging inferno of public outrage she had ignited.

Come to think of it, I also wonder if Janet Napolitano has any idea how utterly ridiculous she looks.

Hat tip: Lisa Benson and Townhall.com

Hat tip: Jerry Holbert and Townhall.com

Global Warming: Calm, Cool Advice from an Expert

When you're trying your best to comprehend a complicated, abstruse subject, doesn't it make sense to ask a recognized, highly respected expert in the field to explain it? This man is just such an expert – a Ph.D. climatologist named Dr. Roy Spencer. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1981, while the father of climatology, the late Dr. Reid Bryson, was still actively teaching there. Since then, he has earned an enviable reputation as one of the top scientists in his field.

Dr. Spencer has just published an important article on Townhall.com titled Special Report: Global Warming Gloom and Doom Cools Off. It's written for the lay person, so any reasonably intelligent adult should be able to understand it. (If you're reading this blog, you automatically qualify.) I'd recommend it for everyone. It will increase your understanding of the subject, ease any uneasiness or doubt you may harbor, and better equip you to counter the arguments of the True Believers of the Church of Global Warming (whose guru is not even a scientist, but a politician who managed to wash out of both law and divinity schools after earning mediocre grades as an undergraduate student).

For more detailed information on the latest developments in climate science, check out Dr. Spencer's blog, here.

For those who'd like to pursue the subject further, I highly recommend Steve McIntyre's Climate Audit (CAUTION: The math gets kind of heavy), Anthony Watts' Watts Up With That?, and Patrick J. Michaels' World Climate Report.

Before you fall for the Inconvenient Hype, do your own research. Check out some good, reliable sources such as those linked above, absorb the information to the best of your ability, evaluate the qualifications of the people behind the sources, then use your own good common sense to evaluate it and decide whose interpretation of the data is most likely to be correct – the politician's or the scientist's.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A Musical Treat

Here are two of the world's greatest pianists, Martha Argerich and Gabriele Baldocci, performing one of Mozart's finest piano works, the Sonata for 2 Pianos, K.448. The occasion was a benefit performance presented in Livorno, Italy on February 2nd 2008.

Motivation


Hat tip: Michael Ramirez and Townhall.com

Hat tip: Steve Kelley and Jewish World Review

Global Warming and the Scientific-Political Complex

Yesterday's American Spectator included a must-read article by Angelo Codevilla, "Scientific Pretense vs. Democracy." It has done more than any other single article I have read to explain exactly why the Global Warmists first commenced their scam, and why they have been so successful in persuading so many intelligent people who ought to know better to believe in it.

Codevilla's article does not primarily concern global warming. His subject is far broader, encompassing the mutually corrupting effect of combining politics and science beginning in the early 19th Century and continuing to the present. He writes lucidly, argues cogently, and backs up his assertions with incontrovertible proof.

Codevilla argues that politics and science have formed a symbiotic relationship: politicians borrow the scientists' reputation and credibility to impose their will upon the public by non-democratic means, while scientists use the government's power to gain money ("grants"), position, and prestige for themselves. In the process, there are at least two casualties: scientific truth and individual freedom. He points out that Eisenhower's
oft-cited warning about the dangers of a “military-industrial complex” was part of the address’s larger point: the danger that big government poses to citizenship:

…a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. For every old blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers. The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present and is gravely to be regarded. Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific technological elite.

Later, he discusses The Goracle:

Power by Pretense

TESTIFYING TO A JOINT CONGRESSIONAL committee on March 21, 2007, former vice president Al Gore argued for taxing the use of energy based on the combustion of carbon, and for otherwise forcing Americans to emit much less carbon dioxide. Gore wanted to spend a substantial amount of the money thus raised to fund certain business ventures. (Incidentally or not, he himself had a large stake in those ventures.)

But, he argued, his proposal was not political, and debating it was somehow illegitimate, because he was just following “ science,” according to which, if these things were not done, Planet Earth would overheat and suffocate. He said: “The planet has a fever. If your baby has a fever, you go to the doctor. If the doctor says you need to intervene here, you don’t say, ‘Well, I read a science fiction novel that tells me it’s not a problem.’” But Gore’s advocacy of “solutions” for “global warming” was anything but politically neutral acceptance of expertise. As vice president until 2001, and afterward, he had done much to build a veritable industry of scientists and publicists who had spent some $50 billion, mostly in government money, during the previous decade to turn out and publicize “studies” bolstering his party’s efforts to regulate and tax in specific ways. Moreover, he claimed enough scientific knowledge to belittle his opposition for following “science fiction.” But Gore’s work was political, not scientific. Not surprisingly, some of his opponents in Congress and among scientists thought that Gore and his favorite scientists were doing well-paid science fiction.

Who was right? Gore’s opponents, led by Oklahoma senator James Inhofe, argued that the substance of the two main questions, whether the Earth was being warmed by human activities, and what if anything could and should be done about it, should be debated before the grand jury of American citizens. Gore et al. countered that “the debate is over!” and indeed that nonscientific citizens had no legitimate place in the debate. Yet he and like-minded citizens claimed to know enough to declare that it had ended. They also claimed that scientists who disagreed with them, or who merely questioned the validity of the conclusions produced by countless government science commissions to which Gore and his followers had funneled government money, and which they called “mainstream science,” were “deniers”—illegitimate. Equally out of place, they argued, were calls that they submit to tests of their scientific IQ. Whatever else one may call this line of argument, one may not call it scientific. It belongs to the genus “politics.” But, peculiarly, it is politics that aims to take matters out of the realm of politics, where citizens may decide by persuading one another, and places them in a realm where power is exercised by capturing the commanding heights of the Establishment.

If you read nothing else, by all means go read this one all the way through.

Scientific Standards

"By the worldly standards of public life, all scholars in their work are of course oddly virtuous. They do not make wild claims, they do not cheat,they do not try to persuade at any cost, they appeal neither to prejudice nor to authority, they are often frank about their ignorance, their disputes are fairly decorous, they do not confuse what is being argued with race, politics, sex or age, they listen patiently to the young and to the old who both know everything. These are the general virtues of scholarship, and they are peculiarly the virtues of science."

~~~~~ Jacob Bronowski

It has become all too apparent that some scientists no longer
conform to the late Dr. Bronowski's exemplary standards.
More's the pity.

Note to NASA: Fire Dr. James Hansen, now.

Hat tip: Anthony Watts

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Ben Stein on the State of the Economy

Over at The American Spectator, Ben Stein has posted some thoughts about the state of the economy in an excerpt from Ben Stein's Diary, From Coolidge to Harding:
I am sitting in the study of my home in Rancho Mirage. My glorious dogs, Brigid and Cleo, are sitting on the couch staring at me. Words cannot describe the love I feel for them. No. Not if I were Shakespeare. Not if I were Samuel Johnson. Nothing can describe the love I feel for these hounds. Loyal. Beautiful. Intelligent. Modest. Perfect. I love them. On the other hand, I am doing a rapid burn about the state of the economy. Maybe by the time this appears, we will be in better shape. But for right now, here’s what I see.

It is true enough that the Bush administration did a poor job on the economy. They cut supervision of the markets to a bare minimum, if that. (This started long before Mr. Bush, by the way.) They allowed a true historic incompetent, Henry Paulson, to be secretary of the treasury and to staff it with other boobs. They did not woodshed Ben Bernanke when he turned out to be too slow to respond adequately to the growing crisis.

They allowed simply criminal self-dealing in the form of executive compensation—and just plain stealing—from Wall Street to Main Street. They did not stop the pools of manipulators and looters on Wall Street and in Greenwich from running wild. Essentially, they took the community swimming pool that had been the playground of people planning retirement—the stock market—and allowed sharks to swim in it.

The pitiful destruction of Americans’ hopes for retirement is the result. The demolition of American hopes for a brighter tomorrow is the result. It did not happen by accident. It happened because criminals and fast talkers were running the system that “served” American savers and robbing it blind. (See the new book Enough, by John Bogle, which lays this out in brilliant detail.) This was all a grievous set of faults by Mr. Bush, and grievously hath he answered for it.

Ben goes on to explain why, as harmful and wrongheaded as W's economic policies were, Obama's are incalculably worse. He then drops this bombshell:

Well, anyway. It is all maddening. And I am getting scared. I was not even 30 when I started writing for this magazine. Now, I am 64. What do I do? What about my dwindling stock portfolio? What do I do about that? What do I do with my homes that I bought in moments of wild euphoria? How will I support myself when I am old and gray? I am terrified and that makes me fearful and angry.

I am really angry that “they”—the speculators— have stolen my peace of mind. But to be fair, I stole it from myself by my spendthrift ways and by extending myself too far. I really believed that we were in stable times and above all I believed the government would keep things on an even keel. I did not plan for calamity, as the saying goes, and now I am paying for it.

That's reassuring, isn't it? Here's Ben Stein, "writer, actor, economist, and lawyer living in Beverly Hills and Malibu," star of movies and television, regular panelist on Fox News's weekend business shows – and HE'S scared? Where does that leave the rest of us?

As any regular Ben Stein reader knows, this sort of gloom and doom is not characteristic of his writing. Normally, Ben's material tends to be cheery and uplifting. Thus this sort of jeremiad is especially jarring coming from this particular source. Ben sweetens the bitter pill somewhat, though, by closing with an account of his visit to Harding University. The result was a dramatic change in his mood and outlook:

I had felt a bit tired earlier in the day, but the moment I got on the Harding campus, I felt great. When the speech was over, a high official of the school said he hoped I would have a safe trip home. I answered, “I am home.” I really love those people.

Thank you, Ben, for yet another beautiful – if troubling – piece of writing.

Piracy: The Family Business?

Travis Kavulla, a journalist and scholar with an intimate knowledge of African history, disagrees with the prevailing opinion that Somalian piracy is the result of anarchy. Instead, he posits, it is, in effect, a family business, run as a profit-making enterprise by surprisingly well-organized Somali clans. His post to NRO's The Corner, "Piracy: The Family Business?" expounds upon his theory:
Clan’s usefulness became obvious to me last November, when I went to Mombasa, Kenya’s coastal port city, to attend the trial of eight Somali pirates who had been dumped there by the U.S. navy for prosecution. Sitting in the courtroom, waiting for the pirates to be brought forward, I watched as Kenyan after Kenyan was called to the dock to have read charges against him. Each defendant, whether on trial for murder or armed assault or simple theft, lacked defense counsel. Then came the Somalis and, as their case number was read, a figure in black robe and white wig leapt forward: the pirates’ attorney, one of Mombasa’s best, who later told me he was being paid from a Dubai account to the tune of thousands of dollars. Clan had come through for these pirates.
Kavulla believes that our response to the Maersk Alabama hijacking was exactly right, while the feckless response of most European nations exacerbates the problem.

I think he makes a great deal of sense. Read it and see if you agree.

A Troubling Tale

Alex Lickerman is a practicing physician who blogs at Happiness in this World. Last week, he posted a short story, "Cause and Effect," – a mini-masterpiece with an O. Henry ending.

The story begins like this:
Athena stood before a full-length mirror in her drab one bedroom apartment, an attractive woman in her late twenties, staring at her image critically, scanning it for flaws. She was dressed in casual evening wear: short skirt and pantyhose with a low-cut blouse showing just a hint of cleavage. She took in a deep breath. This would have to do.

She exited her apartment building to find the night moonless and dark. Taking a quick glance to the left and right, she approached the bus stop at the corner. She looked up at the bus schedule and then down at her watch. The summer breeze blew warmly on her skin. Impulsively, she decided to walk.

I won't spoil the ending for you. If you want to know how it turns out, you'll need to go read it for yourself.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Just Wondering ...

By now, everyone knows that the hostage situation off the coast of Somalia has ended well. Capt. Richard Phillips is safe, and will shortly be rejoining his family. On the other hand, three of the pirates have not fared too well after experiencing first-hand the effects of a perfectly aimed high velocity projectile when it enters the human skull. Presumably, being adherents of the ROP, they have already joined their promised 72 virgins. Their diminutive 16-year-old colleague, having had the good sense to inveigle his way aboard the USS BAINBRIDGE to "negotiate," is still alive, in reasonably good health, in custody, undoubtedly enjoying the best food and most comfortable quarters he has ever experienced – and is looking forward to an involuntary trip to New York and a lengthy prison sentence.

All in all, a nice day's work for the U.S. Navy, and in particular for the incomparable SEALs and the captain and crew of the BAINBRIDGE. Capt. Phillips deserves a tremendous amount of credit for his own survival, too. He kept his wits about him under the most trying circumstances imaginable, and managed to maneuver his captors into an untenable situation from which they had no realistic possibility of escape. Finally, credit where credit is due: overall, President Obama handled this situation just about perfectly. Bravo Zulu to all! (That's Navy-ese for "Well Done.")

Nevertheless, I'm just wondering about one thing. When Capt. Phillips attempted to escape from his captors by jumping out of the lifeboat and trying to swim to the nearby USS BAINBRIDGE, apparently no one aboard the destroyer made any attempt to help him. Consider: Capt. Phillips is a 53-year-old man – obviously a man in excellent physical condition, but nevertheless 53 years old &ndash yet he intentionally leaped into shark-infested waters at night. Isn't it likely that he fully expected the crew of the BAINBRIDGE to come to his aid? I'm sure that they wanted to help him – so why didn't they?

As a former U.S. Navy officer, I can think of only two possibilities. Either there was some other factor of which we are not aware which precluded any assistance from the BAINBRIDGE, or – far more likely, I'm afraid – the captain of the BAINBRIDGE was operating under rules of engagement that prohibited him from using force without direct presidential authorization.

In due course, and following not one, but two requests from the Defense Department, the captain of the BAINBRIDGE was finally authorized to do what needed to be done. As soon as the opportunity presented itself, he did it – flawlessly.

But what took so long? Considering the nature of his assignment, why was the captain of the BAINBRIDGE not authorized from the beginning to use his own judgment? And why did the Secretary of Defense have to ask the President twice to grant permission?

As I said, just wondering ...

UPDATE: Over at Pajamas Media, Jeff Emanuel, a military veteran with actual experience as a Special Forces soldier, has also been wondering: The Story of a Successful Rescue (and the Obama Adminstration’s Attempt to Claim Credit). He mistakenly refers to "the small inflatable lifeboat" (it was a 28-foot rigid fiberglass-hulled pod-type craft with a diesel engine), but aside from that minor detail, he's right on the money when he states:
What should have been a standoff lasting only hours — as long as it took the USS Bainbridge and its team of NSWC operators to steam to the location — became an embarrassing four-day-and-counting standoff between a rag-tag handful of criminals with rifles and a U.S. Navy warship.

It'll be worth your time to click the link and read the rest of Jeff's piece. When it comes to Special Ops, he knows what he's talking about – a claim I certainly cannot make. (My three years' experience as a Navy officer was spent aboard a geological survey ship which never fired a shot in anger during my entire tour of duty.)

UPDATE II: Take a look at How the rescue happened by retired Special Forces Master Sergeant Uncle Jimbo, writing at the superb milblog Blackfive. Be sure to read the comments, too – particularly those from Major Kong. Here's a small sample:
Now, how do we deal with the problem of piracy on the Horn of Africa on the larger, long-term, strategic level? Here are my ideas (nothing particularly original here):

1. Arm the merchant ships. If the shipping companies don't want to arm the crews for liability reasons, then hire professional security companies to provide armed escorts while transiting that particular region. Blackwater (or Xe, or whatever they're calling themselves these days) sounds like a perfect fit for this mission, given their roots in the Naval Special Warfare community, and they're probably looking for a few new gigs after losing their biggest contract in Iraq.

2. Utilize "Q-Ship" operations. That is, outfit a number of vessels to look like harmless, helpless merchant ships. Have them ply up and down the East Coast of Africa, making port calls in Mombassa, etc., where the crews disembark and drink it up at the local bars, telling everyone about the fantastically valuable cargoes they are carrying. In fact, of course, the ships are full of special ops-types in full kit, with camouflaged heavy weapons like M2s, Mk-19s, and Barrett .50s. When pirates attempt to assault the Q-Ships, smoke them like beef jerky. Wash, rinse, repeat...
Great stuff!

UPDATE III:


Hat tip: Henry Payne and Townhall.com

Common Sense About Nuclear Power

Writing in NRO's Planet Gore, William Tucker brings some solid facts and refreshing common sense to the ongoing national debate about nuclear power. It seems that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is faced with an imminent decision about whether or not to renew the operating license of New Jersey's Oyster Creek nuclear plant. Says Tucker, Go Ahead, Close Oyster Creek.

Part of his argument involves the "clean energy" alternatives to nuclear touted by the enviro-extremists. Here's a pull quote:
Anti-nuclear activists dream that nuclear and coal can be replaced by wind, solar, and other “renewable” things. That’s because nobody has seen what these plants would look like. A 45-story windmill produces 1 megawatt of electricity. Windmills must be spaced several hundred feet apart so they don’t interfere with each other. To replace Oyster Creek’s 650 megawatts, New Jersey would have to cover 300 square miles of land or ocean with 45-story windmills. Even then, they’d only work when the wind blows, which is about one-third of the time. To replace just one of Indian Point’s reactors, you’d have to cover every square inch of Westchester County or Long Island Sound. Windmills would work blanketing Vermont’s Green Mountains, but then the state could likely kiss its fall-foliage tourism goodbye.

Solar collectors face the same problem. In New York and New England, you could rely on them only for summertime peak loads, since there are too many cloudy days the rest of the year. California had big plans to build 500 MW of solar capacity in the Mojave Desert — until California Senator Diane Feinstein announced two weeks ago she would seek legislation banning solar collectors from the Mojave, with nature groups having suddenly realized what a 25- to 30-square-mile facility would do for the desert environment.

This piece packs a concentrated dose of wisdom into a very small space. By all means read the whole thing.

More on the PUMA

Here's another comment on the PUMA from Sean Delonis of the New York Post:



Hat tip: Greg Pollowitz writing in NRO's Planet Gore

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Thought for Today

"Obviously, a man's judgment cannot be better than the information on which he has based it. Give him the truth and he may still go wrong when he has the chance to be right, but give him no news or present him only with distorted and incomplete data, with ignorant, sloppy or biased reporting, with propaganda and deliberate falsehoods, and you destroy his whole reasoning process, and make him something less than a man."

~~~~~ Arthur Hays Sulzberger (1891-1968), New York Times publisher and grandfather of present publisher Arthur Ochs ("Pinch") Sulzberger, Jr.


Not exactly a chip off the old block, is he?

Friday, April 10, 2009

Obama's Excellent Adventure



Hat tip: Eric Allie and Townhall.com

Thought for Today

"Experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the government's purposes are beneficent . . . the greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well meaning but without understanding."

~~~~~ Justice Louis Brandeis, Olmstead vs. United States, United States Supreme Court, 1928

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Thought for Today

"I believe there are more instances of the abridgment of the rights of the people by the gradual & silent encroachments of those in power than by violent & sudden usurpations."

~~~~~ James Madison

Mark Steyn on the GM/Segway PUMA

Mark Steyn comments on the new PUMA in The Corner at National Review Online. In a reply to a previous post by Yuval Levin, he wrote Auto Demography:

Yuval, that GM Puma (by the way, is there a GM Cougar?) is fine for mowing down grannies in the discount-aisle at Wal-Mart or for the nuclear space-laser lab technicians to get around the Nehru-suited villain's secret volcano lair in a Roger Moore-era Bond movie, but not for much else.

There is a — drumroll, please — demographic element to the automobile question. Europeans often ask, "Why do Americans need those big cars?" The short answer is: Because Americans have kids and Europeans don't. So Italians and Spaniards and Germans (and Japanese) can drive around in things the size of a Chevy Suburban's cupholder because they've got nothing to put in them.

If you're a soccer mom schlepping three kids plus little Jimmy from next door around, you need a vehicle of a certain size. In the old days, you could just toss 'em all in there and they'd roll around as you took the hairpin bends in fourth gear. But now you can't stick kids in the front and you need baby seats for the youngest and booster seats for the oldest and soon nanny-state regulation will require every American under 37 to be in a rear-facing child seat, which is a pretty good metaphor for where the country's going.

And, if you mandate small cars and child-seat regulations, don't be surprised if the size of the American family starts heading south, too. The difference between U.S. and European vehicles isn't an emblem of environmental irresponsibility or American corpulence but of something more basic and important.

American Gothic – 2009


Hat tip: Joe Heller and Jewish World Review

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Beldar on the F-22 Funding Question

A couple of weeks ago, Bill Dyer posted a tightly reasoned, crisply written essay to his BeldarBlog on the subject of the F-22. It's entitled So you think we're better off spending money on pork than on keeping the F-22 Raptor production lines going?. Here's how it begins:
Without air superiority, America isn't a superpower. It is exactly that simple.

"No one would dare challenge America in the air," say those who want to slash defense spending. "We don't need more cutting-edge aircraft because the ones we already have are sufficient to intimidate all of our possible opponents."

I'm sure the crewmen on the deck of the nuclear aircraft carrier USS Stennis were close enough to check for signs of "intimidation" on the faces of the "two Russian Ilyushin IL-38 'May' maritime patrol aircraft [that] overflew the USS Stennis by an altitude of 500 feet" as it led a carrier strike group off the coast of South Korea just last week. But our sailors might have needed binoculars to eyeball the "two Russian 'Bear' long range bombers [that] overflew the USS Stennis and the flagship USS Blue Ridge multiple times at an altitude of 2,000 feet" on the following day.

So how is the Obama Administration going to respond to this Russian provocation?

Probably by cutting the "funding of the last 40 F-22 Raptors (numbers 204-243) presently scheduled for construction," according to Aviation Week.

The F-22 is the world's only operational "fifth-generation" air superiority fighter, featuring stealth, super-cruise (non-afterburner powered) supersonic speed, range, maneuverability (aided by advanced thrust vectoring), efficiency (requiring less maintenance downtime than older stealth aircraft), total situational awareness and airspace data integration, and unmatched lethality — the total package, the fighter jock's wet dream. It's the kind of machine we make better than anyone else, and it's quite possibly the best current example of American technical know-how of any sort. The successor to the venerable F-15 Eagle, the Raptor stands poised to achieve the same kind of phenomenal air-to-air combat record over the next three decades that the Eagle has earned in the last three — so long as our Raptors are not overwhelmed by vast numbers of less capable, but still dangerous, fourth or fourth-and-a-half generation fighters of the sort currently being researched and produced in Russia and China.
Bill goes on to make a compelling argument for completing the production run of the F-22 as originally planned. Go read it, and see if you don't agree that the country would be committing a grievous error for which we would pay dearly in the future if we were to cease production of this outstanding aircraft prematurely.