Bilingual Health

Who knew speaking both Urdu and English could improve my mental health!

Being fluent in two languages could protect against age-related cognitive decline, says a study in the June issue of Psychology and Aging.

Researchers from York University in Toronto compared the results of 154 bilingual and monolingual middle-aged and older adults on the Simon Task, which measures reaction time and aspects of cognitive function that decline with age.

All the bilingual people in the study had used two languages every day since the age of 10.

Yay, I qualify.

The study found that both older and younger bilingual people performed better than those who spoke just one language. Being bilingual offers widespread benefits across a range of complex cognitive tasks, the authors concluded.

Via Language Hat.

What Kind of Thinker Are You?

No surprise there.

You are a Logical-Mathematical Thinker

Logical-Mathematical thinkers:

  • Like to understand patterns and relationships between objects or actions
  • Try to understand the world in terms of causes and effects
  • Are good at thinking critically, and solving problems creatively

Other Logical-Mathematical Thinkers include
Isaac Newton, Archimedes, Albert Einstein

Careers which suit Logical-Mathematical thinkers include
Physicist, Chemist, Biologist, Lawyer, Computer programmer, Engineer, Inventor

Via Amygdala

Paging Denver Readers

I’ll be in the Denver, CO area on June 17-18. If any readers want to meet me, please drop me an email (my email address is on the right sidebar) or leave a comment.

Also, I need suggestions on things to do in the area. I am thinking of going to Rocky Mountain National Park if possible.

Torture, Emperor and Forgetfulness

Via Mark Kleiman, I came upon the story of the torture memo in the Wall Street Journal.

Bush administration lawyers contended last year that the president wasn’t bound by laws prohibiting torture and that government agents who might torture prisoners at his direction couldn’t be prosecuted by the Justice Department.

The advice was part of a classified report on interrogation methods prepared for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld after commanders at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, complained in late 2002 that with conventional methods they weren’t getting enough information from prisoners.

[…]The draft report, which exceeds 100 pages, deals with a range of legal issues related to interrogations, offering definitions of the degree of pain or psychological manipulation that could be considered lawful. But at its core is an exceptional argument that because nothing is more important than “obtaining intelligence vital to the protection of untold thousands of American citizens,” normal strictures on torture might not apply.

This hypothetical has been invoked lots of times by supporters of torture. However, it assumes perfect information: We know an attack is coming, but not when, where, what; we have a guy in custody who we know that he definitely knows about the attack; and he’ll tell us about the attack when tortured. In the real world, we never have that information. The guy we have in custody might be innocent or our intelligence about a terrorist attack might be wrong, etc.

The president, despite domestic and international laws constraining the use of torture, has the authority as commander in chief to approve almost any physical or psychological actions during interrogation, up to and including torture, the report argued. Civilian or military personnel accused of torture or other war crimes have several potential defenses, including the “necessity” of using such methods to extract information to head off an attack, or “superior orders,” sometimes known as the Nuremberg defense: namely that the accused was acting pursuant to an order and, as the Nuremberg tribunal put it, no “moral choice was in fact possible.”

Hey, it’s not me comparing these guys to the Nazis, they are doing that themselves.

[…]Foremost, the lawyers rely on the “commander-in-chief authority,” concluding that “without a clear statement otherwise, criminal statutes are not read as infringing on the president’s ultimate authority” to wage war. Moreover, “any effort by Congress to regulate the interrogation of unlawful combatants would violate the Constitution’s sole vesting of the commander-in-chief authority in the president,” the lawyers advised.

Likewise, the lawyers found that “constitutional principles” make it impossible to “punish officials for aiding the president in exercising his exclusive constitutional authorities” and neither Congress nor the courts could “require or implement the prosecution of such an individual.”

What better proof that the United States is turning from a republic into an empire than that the President wants to be emperor who can flout all laws.

To protect subordinates should they be charged with torture, the memo advised that Mr. Bush issue a “presidential directive or other writing” that could serve as evidence, since authority to set aside the laws is “inherent in the president.”

[…]For members of the military, the report suggested that officials could escape torture convictions by arguing that they were following superior orders, since such orders “may be inferred to be lawful” and are “disobeyed at the peril of the subordinate.” Examining the “superior orders” defense at the Nuremberg trials of Nazi war criminals, the Vietnam War prosecution of U.S. Army Lt. William Calley for the My Lai massacre and the current U.N. war-crimes tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, the report concluded it could be asserted by “U.S. armed forces personnel engaged in exceptional interrogations except where the conduct goes so far as to be patently unlawful.”

That Nazi thang again!

A redacted version of the torture memo is online now (Newsweek also has a version of the memo with different missing pages.) It’s a long document and probably more useful for the lawyers, but I’ll note that it says that the Justice Department has ruled war crimes permissible against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda (see footnote 14 on page 17.)

Talking about lawyers, what better lawyer blogger to read on this topic than Phil Carter of Intel Dump. You should read his post (or his article in Slate) in full but I’ll excerpt only the punchline:

It is, quite literally, a cookbook approach for illegal government conduct. This memorandum lays out the substantive law on torture and how to avoid it. It then goes on to discuss the procedural mechanisms with which torture is normally prosecuted, and techniques for avoiding those traps.

Unqualified Offerings argues that this memo shows systemic corruption in the administration and that the story is much bigger than torture now.

Political Animal provides a timeline of all the torture memos we have heard about so far. It seems the discussion on torture started almost immediately after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and has gotten worse over time.

Balkinization has a fascinating post about the history of claims that the US President is above the law in some respect. He is also ashamed to be a lawyer seeing that the torture memo is a lawyerly work. mentions that the memo’s position on Guantanamo is opposite that of the government in the Supreme Court case about the detainees there. The torture memo argues that Guantanamo is inside the US for jurisdictional purposes and so the overseas torture act does not apply there.

Beautiful Horizons has a good Q&A about the topic.

According to the New York Times, only the State department lawyer dissented from the torture policy of this memo.

President Bush was asked about the memo.

Asked whether he has seen the memos, Bush replied, “I can’t remember if I’ve seen the memo or not.”

You might also want to read about the military police soldier Specialist Baker who was severely beaten up in Guantanamo in a training exercise where he played the role of a prisoner. According to Baker, he was discharged because of the injuries he sustained from that beating. The army denied that at first, but now admits that those injuries were part of the reason.

All the reports about torture must also lend credence to the stories of the four British Guantanamo detainees who were released in March. At the time, I was skeptical about their allegations of torture and abuse

Brad Delong reports on a talk by journalist Seymour Hersh, who broke the Abu Ghraib torture story, at the University of Chicago in which Hersh says that there is much more to come about torture and disappearings. Channeling Teresa Nielsen Hayden, I have to say I deeply resent the way this administration makes me feel like a nutbar conspiracy theorist.

Darfur, Sudan

Sudan has been in the news for quite some time. First there was the civil war between the North and the South. Finally, a peace agreement has been signed there. But now some militias backed by the Sudanese government are on a killing spree in the western region of Darfur. This has led to a more than a million refugees. Human Rights Watch has a summary:

The government of Sudan is responsible for “ethnic cleansing” and crimes against humanity in Darfur, one of the world’s poorest and most inaccessible regions, on Sudan’s western border with Chad. The Sudanese government and the Arab “Janjaweed” militias it arms and supports have committed numerous attacks on the civilian populations of the African Fur, Masalit, and Zaghawa ethnic groups. Government forces oversaw and directly participated in massacres, summary executions of civilians—-including women and children—-burnings of towns and villages, and the forcible depopulation of wide swathes of land long inhabited by the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa. The Janjaweed militias, Muslim like the African groups they attack, have destroyed mosques, killed Muslim religious leaders, and desecrated Qorans belonging to their enemies.

The government and its Janjaweed allies have killed thousands of Fur, Masalit, and Zaghawa—-often in cold blood—-raped women, and destroyed villages, food stocks and other supplies essential to the civilian population. They have driven more than one million civilians, mostly farmers, into camps and settlements in Darfur where they live on the very edge of survival, hostage to Janjaweed abuses. More than 110,000 others have fled to neighbouring Chad but the vast majority of war victims remain trapped in Darfur.

This conflict has historical roots but escalated in February 2003, when two rebel groups, the Sudan Liberation Army/Movement (SLA/M) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) drawn from members of the Fur, Masalit, and Zaghawa ethnic groups, demanded an end to chronic economic marginalization and sought power-sharing within the Arab-ruled Sudanese state. They also sought government action to end the abuses of their rivals, Arab pastoralists who were driven onto African farmlands by drought and desertification—-and who had a nomadic tradition of armed militias.

It is a tremendous humanitarian crisis. Living in luxury ourselves, we forget the problems of survival of others in this world. In addition, we have grown cynical of both crimes against humanity and the plight of people in the forgotten parts of the world. Forget doing anything to help the people of Darfur, I didn’t even consider the reports of the region blogworthy. There are other weblogs which have been following Darfur for some time now. Among these, the always excellent and essential read Head Heeb first wrote about it in November. Before that, I didn’t even know Darfur existed. He has since followed up with a number of posts on Darfur. The Head Heeb was also skeptical of the success of the ceasefire agreement signed between the Sudanese government and the Darfur rebels a couple of weeks ago.

Amygdala has also been following the Darfur crisis.

There is also a weblog focused on the Darfur crisis (via The Bonassus).

Human Rights Watch has quite detailed coverage of the Darfur region. You can read their detailed report or a summary. There is also a FAQ as well as photos and a video.

What can we do? Collectively, we (in the form of the UN or the US or EU or other governments) can pressure the Sudanese government to make peace as well as take care of the refugees. That is not an easy task. However, as individuals, we can at least help the Darfur refugees by donating to Oxfam which is trying to help the refugees.

We are working in camps set up for the displaced people in Sudan and those who have escaped over the border to Chad.

We are constructing thousands of latrines and providing clean drinking water and washing facilities, to prevent the spread of disease.

The donation idea shamelessly stolen from Gary Farber. Also, thanks, Gary, for bringing the Darfur conflict to my attention.

UPDATE: There is also a list of humanitarian organizations providing aid in the area at the BBC website. (Via Body and Soul.)

Looking for Charity Recommendations

We are looking for charities for our regular annual charity-giving. Specifically we would like an organization working to help the poor in the underdeveloped world, preferably working with children (though not necessarily). Obviously, the charity organization should have a good repute, some transparency and shouldn’t be spending lots of money on its administrative expenses.

We would prefer a secular organization, but here are our priorities in terms of religion:

  1. Secular
  2. Muslim
  3. Jewish
  4. Christian
  5. Other religious

We would really appreciate any pointers to charitable organizations.

Shrek, Global Warming and Wizards

Shrek 2 is definitely better than the first one. Lots of great laughs.

We liked The Day After Tomorrow better than most other disaster movies. It is definitely overdone, but that is sort of a universal standard for disaster flicks. The special effects are pretty good. There is some interesting politics, like the reversal of roles in illegal immigration, the 3rd world saving the developed countries, a nasty vice president, and a disengaged president, etc. Scott Martens has a very interesting review at A Fistful of Euros.

For those thinking of global warming because of “The Day After Tomorrow,” I don’t get my science (or my history) from movies.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is a good movie worth watching if you have been following Harry Potter. Otherwise it feels a bit like The Two Towers, being a middle movie and all.