Thursday, May 24, 2012

Poll of the Day: Americans' Attitudes About Sin

    Thursday, May 24, 2012   No comments

Despite the recent controversy over contraception, Gallup finds Americans broadly approve of birth control -- but not porn, cloning, or infidelity.
Americans have few moral qualms about birth control or gambling. They think wearing fur, the death penalty, and abortion are more morally acceptable with porn. And they think suicide, polygamy, and human cloning are more moral than cheating on your spouse.

Inspired by the recent political debate over insurance coverage for contraception, Gallup this month included birth control in its regular survey of Americans' moral beliefs. Rick Santorum notwithstanding, the poll found that Americans overwhelmingly believe contraception is moral: 89 percent said it was morally acceptable, the highest rating of any of the morally questionable behaviors tested. Even among Catholics, 82 percent approved of birth control. No wonder Democrats were convinced they had a winning issue in the contraception debate -- even though the debate was about larger issues of religious freedom and government compulsion, there simply aren't a lot of people who sympathize with moral objections to birth control.



Wednesday, May 16, 2012

On "Notes on a Century," The Tale of the Dragoman

    Wednesday, May 16, 2012   No comments

by ERIC ORMSBY

It is all too tempting to describe Bernard Lewis, the distinguished historian of the Islamic world, as venerable. Mr. Lewis, who turns 96 on May 31, seems to possess the aura of the sage. Even his harshest critics have sometimes seen him in this light. After Mr. Lewis published a devastating critique of Edward Said's "Orientalism" in 1982 in the New York Review of Books, the injured author responded with a long, angry letter to the editor that mocked Mr. Lewis's "veneer of omniscient tranquil authority."

An attentive reader of Mr. Lewis's books would never come away thinking that omniscience or tranquillity was on conspicuous display. Whether writing about the early history of the Arabs or the development of the modern Turkish state, Mr. Lewis has always been unusually alert to nuance and ambiguity; he is wary of his sources and tests them against other evidence. In "Notes on a Century," his lively new memoir, he writes that his work in archives instilled in him "a profound mistrust of written documents."

As a historian, Mr. Lewis has evinced not only an unswerving commitment to historical truth and a hatred of what he calls "the falsification of history" but also a passionate, at times obsessive, curiosity about other peoples, other places. He is as interested in the history of foodstuffs as in the fall of dynasties. He is simply too inquisitive to settle for mere omniscience.

"Notes on a Century" is at once an autobiography and a statement of principle. Over the course of his long life, Mr. Lewis has met with everyone from Golda Meir to Moammar Gadhafi—and has bedded down in obscure Syrian villages and desert tents as well as sumptuous palaces. But his description of his beginnings is the most winning part of his account. Like the late man of letters John Gross, whose lovely 2002 memoir, "The Double Thread," describes growing up Jewish and English in London, Mr. Lewis evokes his Jewish-English childhood with great tenderness.

  

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Arab Spring has washed the region's appalling racism out of the news

    Tuesday, May 08, 2012   No comments

by Robert Fisk

The Long View: Migrant workers from the subcontinent often live eight to a room in slums – even in oil-rich Kuwait

How many tracts, books, documentaries, speeches and doctoral theses have been written and produced about Islamophobia? How many denunciations have been made against the Sarkozys and the Le Pens and the Wilders for their anti-immigration (for which, read largely anti-Muslim) policies or – let us go down far darker paths – against the plague of Breivik-style racism?

The problem with all this is that Muslim societies – or shall we whittle this down to Middle Eastern societies? – are allowed to appear squeaky-clean in the face of such trash, and innocent of any racism themselves.

A health warning, therefore, to all Arab readers of this column: you may not like this week's rant from yours truly. Because I fear very much that the video of Alem Dechasa's recent torment in Beirut is all too typical of the treatment meted out to foreign domestic workers across the Arab world (there are 200,000 in Lebanon alone).

Many hundreds of thousands have now seen the footage of 33-year-old Ms Dechasa being abused and humiliated and pushed into a taxi by Ali Mahfouz, the Lebanese agent who brought her to Lebanon as a domestic worker. Ms Dechasa was transported to hospital where she was placed in the psychiatric wing and where, on 14 March, she hanged herself. She was a mother of two and could not stand the thought of being deported back to her native Ethiopia. That may not have been the only reason for her mental agony.



Brain Scans Reveal Dogs' Thoughts

    Tuesday, May 08, 2012   No comments

New fMRI images of unsedated dogs represent a first peak into what dogs are thinking and open a door into canine cognition and social cognition in other species

Fido's expressive face, including those longing puppy-dog eyes, may lead owners to wonder what exactly is going on in that doggy's head. Scientists decided to find out, using brain scans to explore the minds of our canine friends.

The researchers, who detailed their findings May 2 in the open-access journal PLoS ONE, were interested in understanding the human-dog relationship from the four-legged perspective.

"When we saw those first [brain] images, it was unlike anything else," said lead researcher Gregory Berns in a video interview posted online. "Nobody, as far as I know, had ever captured images of a dog's brain that wasn't sedated. This was [a] fully awake, unrestrained dog, here we have a picture for the first time ever of her brain," added Berns, who is director of the Emory University Center for Neuropolicy.


Saturday, May 5, 2012

Two Hundred Years of Surgery

    Saturday, May 05, 2012   No comments


by Atul Gawande, M.D., M.P.H.

Surgery is a profession defined by its authority to cure by means of bodily invasion. The brutality and risks of opening a living person's body have long been apparent, the benefits only slowly and haltingly worked out. Nonetheless, over the past two centuries, surgery has become radically more effective, and its violence substantially reduced — changes that have proved central to the development of mankind's abilities to heal the sick.
SURGERY BEFORE THE ADVENT OF ANESTHESIA
The first volume of the New England Journal of Medicine and Surgery, and the Collateral Branches of Science, published in 1812, gives a sense of the constraints faced by surgeons, and the mettle required of patients, in the era before anesthesia and antisepsis. In the April issue for that year, John Collins Warren, surgeon at the Massachusetts General Hospital and son of one of the founders of Harvard Medical School, published a case report describing a new approach to the treatment of cataracts.1 Until that time, the prevalent method of cataract treatment was “couching,” a procedure that involved inserting a curved needle into the orbit and using it to push the clouded lens back and out of the line of sight.2 Warren's patient had undergone six such attempts without lasting success and was now blind. Warren undertook a more radical and invasive procedure — actual removal of the left cataract. He described the operation, performed before the students of Harvard Medical School, as follows:
The eye-lids were separated by the thumb and finger of the left hand, and then, a broad cornea knife was pushed through the cornea at the outer angle of the eye, till its point approached the opposite side of the cornea. The knife was then withdrawn, and the aqueous humour being discharged, was immediately followed by a protrusion of the iris.
Into the collapsed orbit of this unanesthetized man, Warren inserted forceps he had made especially for the event. However, he encountered difficulties that necessitated improvisation:
The opaque body eluding the grasp of the forceps, a fine hook was passed through the pupil, and fixed in the thickened capsule, which was immediately drawn out entire. This substance was quite firm, about half a line in thickness, a line in diameter, and had a pearly whiteness.
A bandage was applied, instructions on cleansing the eye were given, and the gentleman was sent home. Two months later, Warren noted, inflammation required “two or three bleedings,” but “the patient is now well, and sees to distinguish every object with the left eye.”


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