NPR : Special Forces Recruiters Target Yuppies

Thursday, August 28th, 2003

I missed NPR : Special Forces Recruiters Target Yuppies when it played on the air, but it describes a fascinating new development in army recruiting:

Young men are being encouraged to give up their private-sector jobs for the opportunity to join the Special Forces. The program is attracting people who used to work as computer programmers, stockbrokers and teachers, as well as other professionals.

Young (but not that young) men just like me are being recruited into the army to (potentially) join the special forces — without having to wait three years before going to special-ops school. Hmm…

Cruise Says Role in "Samurai" Difficult

Thursday, August 28th, 2003

I have to say, I was a bit confused as to why Tom Cruise was starring in a Samurai movie. Cruise Says Role in “Samurai” Difficult explains his actual role:

In the film, directed by Edward Zwick, Cruise plays an American hired in the late 1800s to help Japanese warriors in Western war tactics.

Here’s the part that interests me most though:

‘I trained for eight months prior to shooting the film,’ the 41-year-old actor told a news conference packed by some 700 reporters and cameramen Thursday. ‘I put on 20 pounds for the character but also for the muscle to carry the swords and wear the armor.’

Twenty pounds of muscle is a lot of muscle — and eight months isn’t very long to put on that much mass.

Sprawling Suburbs May Help Fuel Obesity

Thursday, August 28th, 2003

Sprawling Suburbs May Help Fuel Obesity explains some important differences between American and European (sub)urban planning:

Sprawling suburbs that make it harder for people to get around without a car may help fuel obesity: Americans who live in the most sprawling counties tend to weigh 6 more pounds than their counterparts in the most compact areas.

Adding to the sprawl concern: Pedestrians and bicyclists are much more likely to be killed by passing cars here than in parts of Europe where cities are engineered to encourage physical activity — and whose residents typically are skinnier and live longer than the average American.
[...]
“How you build things influences health in a much more pervasive way than I think most health professionals realize,” said Dr. Richard Jackson of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who helped edit the research, published in the American Journal of Public Health and American Journal of Health Promotion.

“Look at many new suburbs — there are not any sidewalks at all. … The result is we just don’t walk,” added John Pucher of Rutgers University, who uncovered the U.S.-European disparities that CDC’s Jackson called shocking.
[...]
In Europe, people make 33 percent of their trips by foot or bicycle, compared with just 9.4 percent of Americans’ trips.

Youngest in Class Face Stress Challenges

Thursday, August 28th, 2003

Sometimes I wonder how I survived school. Youngest in Class Face Stress Challenges explains the horrors — or moderate stress — I overcame:

The youngest children in any school year face more stress than their older peers and are at greater risk of developing mental illness, scientists have found.

A survey of more than 10,000 children in Britain between the ages of five and 15 showed that regardless of when their school year began, if they were the youngest in the class they faced greater stress.

“It is not a huge stress like family problems, trauma or being in an accident. But it is a moderate stress and, given that it applies to a lot of kids, it is a serious health threat,” research leader Robert Goodman told Reuters.

New Ships Mean New Bidding

Thursday, August 28th, 2003

New Ships Mean New Bidding explains how some unusual companies are bidding on contracts to make a new brand of warship, the Littoral Combat Ship:

The Pentagon has been seeking bids for a new generation of small, fast-moving ships that can get far closer to enemy shorelines than the bulk of the boats that make up the U.S. Navy. And the competition for these vessels, known as Littoral Combat Ships, is turning out to be almost as revolutionary as the ships being proposed.

For years, Northrop Grumman Corp. and General Dynamics Corp. have pretty much had a lock on the military-shipbuilding market, providing the Navy with aircraft carriers, missile-toting destroyers and submarines. But in an effort to attract new ideas and expand its supplier base, the Navy, starting in April, has sought proposals from ship makers better known for luxury cruisers, ferries and tug boats.

While these newcomers, such as Bollinger Shipyards Inc. and Norway’s Umoe Mandal don’t have much experience in the often-arcane world of Pentagon bidding, they are teaming up with nonshipbuilding defense contractors who do, Lockheed Martin Corp. and Raytheon Co., respectively.
[...]
The LCS competitors have proposed some unconventional alternatives such as a large boat that would glide just above the water like a hydrofoil and what is known as a trimaran, essentially a catamaran with three hulls instead of two. No matter what their method of movement, though, all the vessels have to be capable of sailing at more than 50 knots and cost about $200 million each, not including special mission systems. By comparison, a naval destroyer costs about $1 billion and at full speed moves at about 30 knots.
[...]
Rather than the hundreds needed to operate a destroyer, the Navy envisions each new vessel will have around two dozen sailors to operate it. It also will weigh a lot less — Raytheon’s submission comes in at 1,850 tons, for example, compared with a destroyer that weighs about 9,200 tons. And they will be capable of traveling more than 2,500 miles — even in rough seas — unlike earlier versions.

Fancy Footwork: How Impresario Of Fight Events Evades Regulation

Thursday, August 28th, 2003

As a fan of mixed-martial arts (or “ultimate fighting”), I cringe whenever a sensational “news” story conflates it with “toughman” competitions. Fortunately, Fancy Footwork: How Impresario Of Fight Events Evades Regulation doesn’t make that mistake. Instead it explains how toughman competitions dodge regulation:

Twenty-four years ago, Mr. Dore founded the boxing equivalent of karaoke: Toughman contestants — often out of shape and in poor medical condition — climb into the ring and slug it out. Mr. Dore’s skill in ducking oversight has been critical to the success of his brutal fight shows, which take place in cities and towns around the country and can gross $20,000 or more in an evening.

States, rather than the federal government, are the main regulators of professional boxing. But Mr. Dore says that avoiding state supervision is sometimes as simple as labeling Toughman contests ‘amateur’ events. ‘Then we don’t have the jurisdiction of the boxing commission,’ he says.

I’m not quite sure how you can run a prize fight as an amateur event…

To bring mixed-martial arts back into the discussion:

Florida bans fighting matches involving “a combination of skills.” So Toughman events in that state, including the one in which Mrs. Young fought, allow only standard boxing punches — no kicking or karate chops. That is enough to dodge the ban, says Florida’s boxing commissioner, Chris Meffert. His agency oversees conventional professional fights in the state but doesn’t regulate Toughman.

Legitimate athletes trained in wrestling, jiu-jitsu, and muay thai can’t compete — but fat slobs can — fat, untrained slobs, in dubious health:

He argues that Toughman, which puts on about 100 fighting contests a year, leads to fewer deaths than professional boxing. Mr. Dore won’t say exactly how many fighters have died from Toughman-related injuries since he founded the event. But eight are known to have died since 1981. During the same period, at least 14 professional boxers have died after competition in the U.S. The comparison is of dubious value, however, because there isn’t a reliable count of how many individual bouts there have been in either category of fighting.

I shouldn’t have to point out that no one has died in a mixed-martial arts competition in the US. Or Japan. Or Brazil.

Pentagon Rethinks Use of Cluster Bombs

Thursday, August 28th, 2003

According to Pentagon Rethinks Use of Cluster Bombs, cluster bombs don’t simply leave unexploded duds that kill civilians; they also create “no-go” areas on the battlefield, keeping friendlies from advancing. Some interesting stats:

Cluster bombs are designed to destroy armor and kill troops over wide areas. The bombs scatter as many as 900 individually armed bomblets in midair, across a wide area. The U.S. showered between 1 million and 1.5 million bomblets on Iraq during the three-week invasion earlier this year.
[...]
The Pentagon said its tests show that between 2% and 6% of its bomblets don’t explode on impact, which it considers acceptable at present. The General Accounting Office has found so-called dud rates as high as 16%, but Army officials call such estimates far too high. Precise rates in Iraq aren’t available, but U.S. Marine experts in Karbala say they believe dud rates in some places were as much as 40%.
[...]
Marine explosives specialists in the hard-hit Karbala-Hillah area have destroyed more than 31,000 unexploded bomblets — some Iraqi, most American — that landed on fields, homes, factories and roads. Two were on the roof of a downtown hotel, one stuck in its soft tar. Many were in populated areas on Karbala’s outskirts.

Moonshine Alive, but Not Well, in Atlanta

Wednesday, August 27th, 2003

I can hear the dueling banjos as I read this. From Moonshine Alive, but Not Well, in Atlanta:

“We were under the misconception that moonshine drinking was relatively rare these days, particularly in an urban area,” Dr. Brent Morgan of the Georgia Poison Center, who led the study, said in a statement.

Morgan and colleagues started their survey after four adults showing up at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta had potentially fatal lead levels in their blood.

The patients, all of whom said they had recently drunk moonshine, had seizures, a hallmark of lead poisoning, abdominal pain, kidney problems, ulcers, and anemia.

Lead gets into moonshine when certain containers are used to make or store it. Car radiators were once notorious for producing poisonous brew.

“These four patients made us realize that perhaps lead exposure from moonshine was being overlooked in the emergency department,” Morgan said.

His team surveyed 531 people in the Atlanta area, of whom 8.6 percent reported they had tasted moonshine within the past five years.

Might I recommend lead-free solder for assembling a still?

Breathing-Muscle Training Helps Emphysema Patients

Wednesday, August 27th, 2003

Breathing-Muscle Training Helps Emphysema Patients reports on some unusual resistance training:

The muscles involved in exhaling can be strengthened by specific training, and for patients with emphysema, this can help them be more physically active, Israeli researchers report.
[...]
Thirteen of the patients were randomly assigned to receive a half-hour of expiratory muscle training daily, six times a week for three months. Training involved the use of a breathing device that applied resistance during exhalation, which was gradually increased over the first month. The other 13 control patients received training only at the very lowest resistance setting.

Patients in the special training group had significantly greater improvements in expiratory muscle strength and endurance. Also, the distance they could walk in six minutes improved much more than in the control group.

Jiu-jitsu seems to offer more inhalation muscle training — since you’re often trying to breath with someone’s weight across your chest.

Scientists May Have Solved the Secret of Silk

Wednesday, August 27th, 2003

We may soon see artificial silk products if its as simple as Scientists May Have Solved the Secret of Silk describes:

Scientists say they may have worked out how spiders and silkworms are able to produce such strong fibers to spin their webs and cocoons.
[...]
Kaplan and his team say the secret to silk production lies in how spiders and silkworms control silk protein solubility in their glands.

“The entire process is controlled by the amount of water, which is so simple,” he told Reuters.

“The organism dumps protein into the gland but as it does that, it regulates how much water it leaves in there. That controls the entire process.”

Dark Chocolate May Have Benefit

Wednesday, August 27th, 2003

There’s a reason I picked out Hershey’s Special Dark With Almonds from all the goodies at Hersheypark this weekend. Dark Chocolate May Have Benefit:

Thirteen adults with untreated mild hypertension got to eat 3-ounce chocolate bars every day for two weeks. Half of the patients got white chocolate, half got dark chocolate.

Dark chocolate contains plant substances called polyphenols — ingredients scientists think are responsible for the heart-healthy attributes of red wine. Polyphenols also have been shown to lower blood pressure in animals.

Blood pressure remained pretty much unchanged in the group that ate white chocolate, which does not contain polyphenols. But after two weeks, systolic blood pressure — the top number — had dropped an average of five points in the dark-chocolate group. The lower, or diastolic, reading fell an average of almost two points.

The participants had an average blood pressure reading of about 153 over 84.

Ex-spy fingers Russians on WMD

Friday, August 22nd, 2003

The WMD Shell Game (on Winds of Change.NET) pointed me to an amazing article by Ion Mihai Pacepa, a self-described former Romanian spy chief. From Ex-spy fingers Russians on WMD:

As a former Romanian spy chief who used to take orders from the Soviet KGB, it is perfectly obvious to me that Russia is behind the evanescence of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction. After all, Russia helped Saddam get his hands on them in the first place. The Soviet Union and all its bloc states always had a standard operating procedure for deep sixing weapons of mass destruction — in Romanian it was codenamed “Sarindar, meaning “emergency exit.”I implemented it in Libya. It was for ridding Third World despots of all trace of their chemical weapons if the Western imperialists ever got near them. We wanted to make sure they would never be traced back to us, and we also wanted to frustrate the West by not giving them anything they could make propaganda with.

More details:

All chemical weapons were to be immediately burned or buried deep at sea. Technological documentation, however, would be preserved in microfiche buried in waterproof containers for future reconstruction. Chemical weapons, especially those produced in Third Worldcountries,which lack sophisticated production facilities, often do not retain lethal properties after a few months on the shelf and are routinely dumped anyway. And all chemical weapons plants had a civilian cover making detection difficult, regardless of the circumstances.

Victor Davis Hanson on National Review Online

Friday, August 22nd, 2003

Victor Davis Hanson on National Review Online makes the point that it’s all too easy to criticize the war effort from the safety of your pleasant suburban home:

My point is rather that, because we are products of an affluent and leisured West, we have a special burden to remember how tenuous and fragile civilization remains outside our suburbs.

Most of us don’t fear much from the fatwa of a murderous mullah, and few have had our sisters shredded before our eyes in one of Uday’s brush chippers — much less ever seen chemical-warfare trucks hosing down our block, as cropdusters fogged our backyards.

Instead, we have the leisure to engage in utopian musing, assured that our economy, or our unseen soldiers, or our system working on autopilot, will always ensure us such prerogatives. And in the La-La Land of Washington and New York, it is especially easy to forget that we are not even like our own soldiers in Iraq, now sleeping outside without toilets and air conditioners, eating dehydrated food, and trying to distinguish killers from innocents.

What does all this mean? Western societies from ancient Athens to imperial Rome to the French republic rarely collapsed because of a shortage of resources or because foreign enemies proved too numerous or formidable in arms — even when those enemies were grim Macedonians or Germans. Rather, in times of peace and prosperity there arose an unreal view of the world beyond their borders, one that was the product of insularity brought about by success, and an intellectual arrogance that for some can be the unfortunate byproduct of an enlightened society.

I think we are indulging in this unreal hypercriticism — even apart from the election-season antics of our politicians — because we are not being gassed, or shot, or even left hot or hungry.

Tanorexia

Thursday, August 21st, 2003

A colleague — one who lived in sunny Arizona a while — mentioned an amusing term I’d never heard before: tanorexia — the compulsion to say, “I am so pale,” and tan until leathery.

Actor Arrested After Using Real Bullets

Thursday, August 21st, 2003

I suspect that the plot of the real-life story is far more interesting than the plot of the movie being made. From Actor Arrested After Using Real Bullets:

An actor in an action scene apparently was handed a gun with real bullets rather than blanks, causing him to shoot and kill another actor, authorities said Thursday.

Actor Flavio Peniche — brother of internationally known soap-opera star Arturo Peniche — was arrested on suspicion of manslaughter and then released on bail of $40,000 on Wednesday, according to the attorney general’s office of Morelos state, just south of Mexico City.

The incident occurred on Saturday during filming of a low-budget movie, “The Scorpion’s Vengeance,” at a hotel in Cuernavaca.

According to a police report sent by fax to the Associated Press, the scene called for Peniche to shoot six people. After firing what were supposed to be two blanks, he realized that actor Antonio Velasco had been wounded and the crew ran for help.

Velasco died shortly afterward at a Cuernavaca hospital.

Police said they were still seeking the film’s producer, Eduardo Martinez Sanchez, and a props manager known only as “El Cepillo” — “The Brush” — who disappeared after the incident.