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August 29, 2004

Very Busy

Well, I've been extremely busy lately with work, and it's not going to let up anytime soon. I'll try to post when I can, but I'll be out of town quite a bit in the coming weeks and I'm not sure how easy access will be.

August 29, 2004 in misc | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

August 28, 2004

Lisa Meyer's Interview with Zaladonis

Sorry for my light to non-existent posting lately. I've been buried at work, and what little time I do have is sometimes taken up posting over on The Rott. Anyway, in following the various John Kerry gaffes I've been watching Beldar's Blog, which is a very good site to keep up with the latest on this ongoing train-wreck. This thread concerned an interview with Admiral Schachte, and included a link to another interview with Bill Zaladonis, one of Kerry's crewmen from PCF-44.

Here's an interesting Lisa Meyers interview with Bill Zaldonis, who claims he was with Kerry during the incident concerning first Purple Heart.

Lisa Myers: What were your dates of service in Vietnam?

William Zaladonis: August 26, 1968 to August 26, 1969.

Myers: And your rank?

Zaladonis: I was an engineman third class…

Schacte and others have pointed out that Schacte was on all these missions, and Schacte said the enlisted man always operated the engine.

Myers: In what period did your service overlap with John Kerry’s?

Zaladonis: I believe, I can't swear, that-- but it was December-- November-December time frame. I want to say about two months total, over November to January…

Not exactly "seared" into his memory, is it?

Myers: As you know, we’re specifically interested in the incident with John Kerry’s first Purple Heart. …available military documents record the date of that incident as December 2. Were you serving with John Kerry that day?

Zaladonis: I'm sure that I was, yes. I don't know the dates. I had no reason to pay attention to dates – the only one I was worried about was Aug. 26, 1969.
[Editor'sNote: the scheduled end date of Zaladonis’ term of service]

Hey, she just told his it was December 2nd. He should wise up.

Myers: Do you recall a skimmer mission, with Kerry about that time period? [“skimmer” is a type of small water craft used by U.S. forces in Vietnam]

Zaladonis: Yes, I do.

Myers: Can you tell me what happened, just starting from the time that you go out on a swift boat?
[“swift boat” was the common name for Patrol Craft Fast vessels (PCFs) used by the U.S. Navy in Vietnam]

Zaladonis: We towed the skimmer behind the boat and we went to this area. Not sure exactly where it was, I think it was somewhere north of Cam Ranh Bay, and they let us off into the skimmer.

He doesn't even remotely recall where he was? He seems to be short in the when and where department, doesn't he?

We had some intelligence that said that the VC [Vietcong enemy fighters] were using an area to cross and to transfer their contraband and stuff like that, and so we wanted to go check it out.

What area was it again, and what's this "contraband and stuff like that"? Were they VC or cigarette smugglers?

And we went in there and we, um-- there was a lot of fisherman in this area. It was a free-fire zone – they weren't supposed to be there.

He knows it was a free-fire no-fishing zone, but has no idea where he was, or when, despite having access to all sorts of records posted all over the place.

So we spent the night taking these people, ferrying them back and forth to the swift boat. And I assume they were interrogating them – turning them loose or whatever.

Or whatever??? How could he be carrying out his part of the mission when he has no idea what the crew of the swift boat was even doing with them? And if his little boat is ferrying them to the swift boat, did he notice perhaps whether his little boat was hauling them back to their own boats, or were there an unusually large number of women swimming past?

But then, later that night, we ran into– there was about five or six sampans, small junks crossing at the same time, and we challenged them – John saw them through the starlight scope – and we challenged them and we popped a flare and they refused to stop. They hit the beach and took off. So we opened up on them and, uh, after a few seconds of that-- and our cover was blown so we got out of there…

Yet other accounts mention ONE suspicious boat, not a mini-armada of them. Kerry says there was one suspicious sampan. Schachte agrees. So on this point Zaladonis recollection deviates from other accounts, and if he can't remember how many enemy boats they were potentially engaging then his recall of lesser details is likely to be even more unreliable.

Myers: What happens when…you all start firing?

Zaladonis: Right, we started firing. I had an M-16 machine gun. I was on the bow of the boat and I opened up on them, and John didn't like the area I was shooting at and he directed me to fire more to the right. And I had muzzle flashes in front of my eyes so it was hard for me to see, because it was like having flashbulbs going off in front of your face – you know, hundreds of them at the same time. And I just couldn't see. So he kind of directed my fire. And from what I remember, he was firing an M-16 and it either jammed or he ran out of ammo. And he bent over to pick up another one and then he got hurt, as he was bent over. As far as I can remember.

So Zaldonis is on the M-16 machine gun *cough* in the bow of the boat, where you always have your engineman stationed, and he opens up on the mini-armada without actually having any idea where he's shooting because of course he was blind. Make you wonder why they even bothered putting guns on the boat at night, doesn't it? Yet muzzle flash is a serious problem in night engagements, so I won't question his account on this point.

I also wonder why the bottom of the boat had other guns laying around. I would think the other gun would be another type of gun, such as a grenade launcher.

Myers: How did he get hurt?

Zaladonis: I'm not sure. I'm not sure at all.

Myers: How did you know he was hurt?

Zaladonis: Because I found out later that when he bent over to pick up that rifle was when he got hurt. I guess we discussed that on the way back to the swift boat.

He guesses they discussed it? Hey, as long as he was wounded before he did what ever he did with that "rifle" he picked up, I guess it proves he couldn't have been wounded by whatever it is that "rifle" fired. If I was Kerry I'd discuss that too…

Myers: Do you recall was there enemy fire that night?

Zaladonis: I'm not sure. I don't really remember. But it was so hard for me to tell. I can't say there was or there wasn't. I believe Mr. Kerry thought that there was, but I was busy with that M-60 and I was trying to empty all my ammo out as quick as possible, and get the heck out of there. It was a pretty scary situation…
I can't say we weren't fired on, but I can't really tell if we were. I didn't see any tracers, but that doesn't mean anything ‘cause if they were using small arms there wouldn't have been any tracers.

So how could Kerry have been wounded on the top of his forearm by shrapnel if nothing blew up in front? And how could a gunner fail to notice a high-explosive detonation to his front, or even hear one no matter where it went off? The "not sure" about enemy fire can't be remotely squared with a piece of flying shrapnel, unless they enemy had special shrapnel-dart guns with silencers.

Myers: But if you weren’t sure how you were fired on, how can you know how [John] Kerry was hurt?

Zaladonis: I didn't [know how he was hurt]. I just know that he was hurt. I don't remember the particulars. It was 35 years ago. And, you know, up until recently, I hadn't thought about it a whole lot…

Myers: Was this the only skimmer mission you were on?

Zaladonis: Yes, ma'am. It was the only one I was on. And I'm fairly sure it was the only one that John Kerry was on – and the only one that Pat Runyon was on also.
[Pat Runyon was an enlisted man serving with the U.S. Navy in Vietnam during the same period. He agrees with Kerry’s and Zaladonis’ accounts that he, Kerry and Zaladonis were the only three on the skimmer the night of the incident.]

Myers: So there was not a second officer with you on the mission?

Zaladonis: No. Not at all.

So does anyone really believe that the US Navy would send a green lieutenant out with a pair of green enlisted men on a highly specialized type of operation developed by Schachte, and then only have them try it once?

Myers: Do you recall a person by the name of Bill Schachte?

Zaladonis: I've only heard his name recently because I've heard that he claimed he was on the skimmer with us.

This is interesting. Everyone else confirms that Schachte went out on ALL these missions, having developed the technique. How could Zaldonis have been doing these missions and not heard of Schachte, EVER?

Myers: Mr. Schachte claims he was on the skimmer with John Kerry that night.

Zaladonis: Right. Well, he claims that but he's wrong. The night that I'm talking about it was just myself, John Kerry and Pat Runyon. And I don't know how else I can say that. That's all there was on the boat. He may have been on the swift boat.

This is from a man who can't even remember the month or rough location of the mission, nor if any enemy fire was present, despite the obvious fact that something had to blow up to produce some shrapnel. And if Schachte had been on the swift boat, which hauled Mr. Zaladonis to the location that Zaladonis doesn't remember, to intercept sampans and do something or other with the passengers, which Mr. Zaladonis also doesn't remember, would Mr. Zaladonis remember Lt Schachte? Yet he leaves open the possibility that Schachte may have been on the swift boat. The boat he spent some hours on to get to the location of this mysterious incident, and the boat he worked with all night. And keep in mind that Schacte has always said there was an enlisted man to run the engine, and Zaladonis says he was an engineman. Why would the engineman be in the bow of the boat, unless he had an inordinate fear of Evinrudes, and why does Runyon remember operating an outboard motor that he had to steer by grabbing it with his arms? Makes you wonder where the throttle was, doesn't it?

Myers: It was 35 years ago; how certain are you that Bill Schachte was not there that night?

Zaladonis: I'm absolutely positive. Absolutely positive. I don't remember every incident or everything that happened that night. But I do remember who was on the boat and remember it very plainly. Very plainly… Like I said, it was one of the scariest nights I've had in my life.

He spent a year in Vietnam and the scariest night of his life is one where he's not even sure anyone even shot at him? Maybe someone had a Vincent Price tape playing in the stern or something.

And Pat and I have shared this story a few times since we've been out of the Navy. We've been very good friends ever since we've been—when we were in the Navy and out – and this is something that we talked about every now and then.

So they've been talking about this story for years? Why? "Yo Pat. It's me again. You wanna talk about that night that nothing happened again?" "Sure." I point back to this response where he said he hadn't been thinking about it over the past 35 years.

Myers: But if you weren’t sure how you were fired on, how can you know how [John] Kerry was hurt?

Zaladonis: I didn't [know how he was hurt]. I just know that he was hurt. I don't remember the particulars. It was 35 years ago. And, you know, up until recently, I hadn't thought about it a whole lot…

Ahem. I just love witnesses like this.

Myers: Is there any way in your view that John Kerry's wounds could have been accidentally self-inflicted?

Zaladonis: I don't see how. I don't see how he possibly could have been accidentally [hurt] – if he’d have stepped in the line of fire of my M-60 he wouldn't be here to talk about it. I only remember popping a flare and the flare worked so it didn't explode or anything on the skimmer – it did its job. So, I don't understand how he could have possibly had a self-inflicted wound.

Gee, a few paragraphs back he started out saying

Zaladonis: Right, we started firing. I had an M-16 machine gun.

Either he upgraded in a hurry or the "journalists" who transcribe this stuff just know that an M-16 and an M-60 both contain "sixtē".

Myers: Do you think John Kerry deserved a Purple Heart for that work?

Zaladonis: Well, I’ll tell you, if I'd have been hurt that night, I’d have probably thought I'd deserved one too. I'm sure he deserved it. I'm sure he deserved it…

Myers: How badly [was] John Kerry injured that night?

Zaladonis: I don't know how badly he was injured. I knew it wasn't life- threatening. And I know that when we got back to the swift boat he went to the pilothouse and I went to the fantail. Myself and Runyon went back to the fantail and we both smoked back then so we went back there and smoked. And we were talking to the swift boat crew. And it was dark, so we really couldn't see. We weren't turning on any lights. So, I'm not sure exactly how bad it was – I knew it was not life-threatening, though, and I knew he wasn't going to lose his arm or anything like that.

So they weren't turning on any lights but they were smoking on the fantail. Doesn't that kind of defeat the point?

Myers: How do you feel when you hear that someone – that Admiral Schachte is saying that he was on that boat?

Zaladonis: I just feel that he's mistaken. He said that he did a bunch of those missions and I think he’s just got them mixed up. I only did one. And he said he did a bunch of them, like 10 of them or something like that. So he's got us confused with somebody else. I only did one. And it was me and Pat and John Kerry. And that's it. And I can't say it any other way.

And there's another problem. Kerry's commanding officer has said that there's no way a completely green lieutenant would be put in charge of a crew on his first mission. Now Zaladonis admits he and Runyon only did this type of mission once, and obviously he doesn't even know what the mission was, since he has no idea what they did on the swift boat with any intercepted Vietnamese. So would the Navy be stupid enough to stick a lieutenant who's never seen any combat on a special type of mission with a gunner (or engineman, take your pick) who's never been on one of them either?

Myers: Are you familiar with a commander named Grant Hibbard in Vietnam? [on the date of the incident, then-Lt. Cmdr. Grant Hibbard was commanding officer of Coastal Division 14, to which both Kerry and Zaladonis were assigned as of the date of the incident]

Zaladonis: I knew of him. I didn't know him personally.

Myers: Did you ever discuss what happened on the skimmer with Commander Hibbard?

Zaladonis: No. Mr. Hibbard wouldn't have had any reason to speak to me unless I was being court martialed or something. [LAUGHS]

Then why does everyone else relate the crew of this particular mission saying "we weren't under any fire" and citing that as yet one more reason to refuse the medal, which was refused at the time, forcing Kerry to get it three months later from someone in Saigon?

Myers: Were you aware that initially there was some resistance to giving John Kerry a Purple Heart for this?

Zaladonis: No, I wasn't aware of that at all… Most of the time when you get any type of award in Vietnam you get it because they give it to you – you don't get it because you want it. You don't go asking for stuff like this. You either – you know, you win it or you don't…

Myers: You don’t remember anything about ‘Batman’ and ‘Robin’ code words?

Zaladonis: No, no…

So if Kerry had been injured and Zaldonis had to get him back to the swift boat, would he have hollered out "Joker!"?

Myers: Why do you think that you and Mr. Schachte have dramatically different accounts of that incident?

Zaladonis: Well, it's like I said. He was on a bunch of those skimmer missions. I was on one. I think he's just got one or two mixed up. But like I said, I was just on one, so it’s very vivid in my memory.

His memory is so vivid that he can't recall the place, the month, if anyone fired back, who was on the swift boat, what the swift boat crew was doing with any intercepted Vietnamese, or just what wounded John Kerry. He claims he doesn't even remember Schachte or even the name "Schachte", yet now relates how many missions Schachte went on. This wouldn't be surprising coming from someone else who'd at least bothered to lately note what date everyone says this all happened.

I think he said he was involved with about 10 of them. So to me it's just like separate patrols on a swift boat. I can't remember them all. I went on so many. And I've been on so many boats I can't even remember half of the boats officers I rode with.

Boy, there's a witness for you, eh? I'll bet his service records become a really hot item, don't you? Zaladonis seems awfully short on details, so just don't ask him names, dates, units, or boats, that are unrelated to John Kerry. Interestingly, on other points of his service on PCF-44 he seems to be crystal clear about what happened, despite his claims that he doesn't remember half the boats he was on or people he met. Yet what makes me most suspicious is that Schachte led all these missions himself, with an enlisted man on the engine, and Zaladonis recalls an engagement against a multitude of suspicious boats. Isn't it a bit more likely that it's Zaladonis who's remembering a seperate encounter, especially after discussing it over the years with Runyon.

Anyway, I'm done with this witness. Now compare it to her interview with Admiral Schachte.

August 28, 2004 in Politics | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

August 25, 2004

Satellite Views

I've been curious about the width of the water where the Rassmann incident happened, so I searched the web for the Song Bai Hap river, and Dong Cung canal, which winds its way north from that.

From looking at this map, slide down the west coast till you come to the first big bay, "Cua Song Bai Hap". The Song Bai Hap river flows into the north-east corner of the bay, heading ENE. Heading of the to the north where the river thins is the Rach Dong Cung. Based on the names in the reports and the Washington Post's illustration of the battle area, that should be the correct place.

Printing out that map and doing the ddd.mm.ss to d.dddd conversions (degrees minutes seconds to decimal degrees) tells me that this satellite picture contains the location of the attack. You can click on it to zoom in. The canal branches from the river right where the most north-eastern cloud is in the photo.

Given the equatorial radius of the earth, 6378.5 km, the scale on the map should be about 110.95 km/degree. The latitude at the top middle of the map should be 8.879 degrees, the bottom middle is 8.78955 degrees, a difference of 0.08945 degrees, or hopefully 9.924 km. The close up satellite image is 758 pixels high, so the photo should be 13.09 meters per pixel, and the river looks roughly 5 to 6 pixels wide (in Paint). That would be 65 to 78 meters wide.

I hope I've got the right place, but here's the advanced image search page. Based on the map the canal should intersect the river at about 8.85 lat, 105.015 longitude. It looks right, the numbers look right, but I'm not going to swear by it.

August 25, 2004 in misc | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

August 22, 2004

Potential Cure for Muscular Dystrophy

This is very good news

Scientists believe they may have found a way to treat muscular dystrophy.

There is currently no cure for the muscle-wasting disease, the most common form of which affects one in every 3,500 children. Most die young. But scientists at the University of California, San Francisco, say they have identified a defect in a key protein which may trigger the disease. Writing in the journal Nature, they said the discovery could lead to new treatments to fight the disease.

Now that would be very good news, wouldn't it? The new research reveals an acetylcholine transporter, which is something they didn't even expect to exist. Acetylcholine is a chemical released by nerve cells to make muscles contract, and like most all signalling chemicals has to be broken down so it won't hang around forever after having completed its job. They used to think it disappeared naturally, being broken down into acetyl and choline for recycling back into more acetylcholine. The new research indicates that there's a protein devoted to breaking it down faster than it normally would, a transport protein, and without this protein it builds up and causes problems. The Amazon poison curare is an acetylcholine blocker, which inhibits your ability to contract any muscles, leading to death, while some nerve agents stop the breakdown of acetylcholine to produce uncontrollable muscle contractions. It's an extremely important chemical.

However, as my friend who works at UCSF says, some "science reporters" know so little about science that what they report is often a rather addled version of what the scientists are trying to explain, so you can get a clearer view by simply going to the source, in this case UCSF's new release. I'd continue blogging on it, but I couldn't write any clearer than the UCSF release, so go give it a quick read. Interesting stuff.

August 22, 2004 in Science | Permalink | Comments (88) | TrackBack

Kerry, Part LXVII

I'm going to make yet another *yawn* look at Kerry's record, since the media has seized on some official Navy accounts as proving that the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth are lying. I've been posting these over on The Rott, but having so many consecutive Kerry posts gets old, so I'll post this one here.

At issue are the records concerning the Rassmann incident on March 13, 1969, in which PCF-3 struck a mine, Rassmann fell in the water, and Kerry pulled him out of the water. The media is especially enamored of the fact that Thurlow, who's making some of the main charges, got a Bronze Star which sites him for courage under fire. They're also using Freedom of Information Act requests to get a hold of as much of the documentation as they can, though Kerry's records are by and large not going to be released, along with his journal and that of one of his crewmen. It seems the information conduit will be a bit one way on this affair.

Well, to do my part I thought I'd examine whether the official Navy records mention of heavy automatic weapons fire and a second mine really establishes that Kerry's version is correct and the Swift Boat Vets are in fact lying. This is going to be another insanely long Kerry piece, and at this point I'm definitely getting sick of doing these. If there is a less relevant topic in this election that some obscure 35 year-old event on a river that people couldn't find on a map, I'd like to know what it is. But it does bear directly on whether Kerry has the capacity to be Commander in Chief, I think in large part not because of what happened then but the way he's responding now. The strained denials, the avoidance of answering the charges instead of threatening to destroy people, the focus on who might be a donor instead of whether the charges are supportable, all these things strike me as rather telling behavior. But to address those issues requires looking into the facts of the charges, which requires another trip up the Dong Cung Canal. If I keep dragging myself through all this stuff I'm going to want a Vietnam Service Ribbon, and if you click on the fold and wade through all this mess yet again, you'll probably want one too.

The clearest analysis I've seen on what probably happened during this incident is here. The author's conclusions match what I've been thinking, even down to the fact that Kerry's swift boat ran into something submerged instead of getting hit by another mine. I wrote that up in a comment on Donald Sensing's post on the Rassmann episode, but kept having to delete part of my thoughts due to his blog's 1000 character comment limit.

That author thinks a single mine detonated, badly damaging PCF-3 and throwing two crewmen in the water. The boats immediately laid down suppressing fire on the banks in anticipation of an ambush. He doesn't say so, but frankly there may have been a couple VC taking shots at them at first, the same ones who would've detonated the mine, but they should've been quickly silenced. It seems Kerry had his driver speed away, with Rassmann still on board. Kerry's boat then hit something in the river, a log, or maybe rock, knocking Rassmann overboard and injuring Kerry's arm.

Rassmann spent significant time in the water, staying submerged while probably mistaking the sound of .50 caliber outgoing fire for incoming fire, since they're deafeningly loud and things sound strange underwater. Some time later Kerry turned his boat around and returned to pick up Rassmann, but another boat was already on the way to fish him out. The boats were likely never under any fire, and certainly not fire that continued for several minutes, up until the point that people were being pulled from the water, or one of the boats would've taken bullet damage.

Rassmann, in charge of writing awards for his Green Beret unit and thinking he had been under fire, wrote Kerry up for the Silver Star for pulling him out of the water. The commanders of three boats have said they weren't under fire, although the official report says they were. The question would be who reported that they were, since all the damage cited is from a mine or something else, in the case of Kerry's boat.

This is fairly similar to the Washington Post's WaPo examination of the incident. I'd link it as a regular examination of the incident, but after all, it's from the WaPo.

One of the outstanding questions remaining is who wrote the report that ended up being the official Navy version. The Swift Boat Vets think it was probably Kerry, as Thurlow (PCF-51), Chenowith (PCF-23), and Peez (PCF-3), three of the other four commanders present, know it wasn't them. The fourth, Droz (PCF-43), was killed a few months later. I'm pretty sure it was Kerry, and I'll lay out why. For part of this you need to take a great guided tour of a swift boat.

Let's start with Kerry's Bronze Star recommendation here on his campaign website, which reads

On 13 March 1969, LTJG KERRY was serving as Officer-in-Charge of PCF-94 conducting a five boat Sea Lords operation in the Bay Hap river and Dong Cung canal together with ground forces. After sweeping the area for five hours, the boats extracted the ground troops and began exiting the river. Shortly after starting their exit, a mine detonated under one of the boats (PCF-3), lifting it two feet above the water and wounding everyone aboard. Almost simultaneously, another mine detonated close aboard PC-94, knocking 1st LT RASSMAN into the water and wounding LTJG KERRY in the right arm. PCF-51 immediately went to the aid of PCF-3 while PCF-94 provided cover fire. Shortly after LTJG KERRY was informed that he had a man overboard, he immediately turned his boat around to assist the man in the water, who by this time was receiving sniper fire from the river banks. LTJG KERRY, from his exposed position on the bow of the boat, managed to pull LT RASSMAN aboard despite the painful wound in his right arm. Meanwhile, PCF-94 gunners provided accurate suppressing fire. LTJG KERRY then directed PCF-94 to the stricken PCF-3, where his crew attached a line and towed the boat clear of danger. Throughout the entire action, LTJG KERRY proved himself to be calm, professional, and highly courageous in the face of enemy fire.

The explosion of the second mine is a bit dubious, since even members of Kerry's own crew have said they don't think it was a mine, but maybe a close hit with a rocket or something else, but admit they're not sure. Some versions of the story have said Rassmann was blown overboard in the explosion of the mine under PCF-3, some have said he was blown off of PCF-3, and even John Kerry claims that Rassmann wasn't on Kerry's boat, but on some boat behind Kerry's, a notion which was given a good treatment here. That Rassmann fell off another boat is unlikely, since the only boat behind Kerry was PCF-43, which didn't seem to go anywhere during the incident, and if Rassmann fell off one of the boats that didn't go anywhere then he wouldn’t need Kerry to come back to pick him up, as he'd have been right with the other boats the whole time. Even Kerry's account says he had to turn around and head toward the other boats to pick up Rassmann, so it seems certain that Rassmann was indeed on Kerry's boat, despite what Kerry claims.

John Kerry's campaign posted some of the official military records concerning the incident.

One part of that I'd like to cite is the damage report on his boat, filed on March 14, 1969, the day following the Rassmann incident.

Alpha: PCF-94 hull registry number 50NS6678 battle damage Bravo: 1. C-4 2. PCF Not capable of executing Market Time Patrol 3. PCF/OT 1,2/NA Charlie: ETR 18 1200Z Mar 69 Delta: Two Starboard and one port main cabin windows blown out. VRC-46 radio and all remote units pilot house inop. AC wiring shorted out. Onan generator inop. Steerage control after helm inop. Starboard bilge pump broken. Screws curled and chipped. Radar gear box frozen. Main engines experienced RPM drop. Echo: Battle Damage Golf: A. (1) No (2) Yes (3) No (4) No (5) No Hotel: An Thoi, RVN

The Washington Post article I linked mentions this.

In some ways, it was a day like any other. The previous day, Kerry had taken part in a Swift boat expedition that had come under fire, and several windows of Kerry's boat were blown out.

The windows on a Swift Boat look just like the cheap windows you'd see on an RV or camping trailer, as you can see in that guided tour, and having them blown out wasn't that unusual. It had happened to Kerry's boat before, along with others. Yet this was pre-existing damage. The VRC-46 radio mentioned was mounted in the cabin, on the forward starboard side, and right next a window. If the windows were blown out a day earlier, the radio was probably damaged at the same time, automatically making the remote units inoperable.

His boat also had electrical problems with shorted AC wiring. That may be related to why the generator was inoperable, but the breakers or fuses on it should've tripped, so the wiring and the generator might be separate issues. However, shrapnel damage would generally cut wires, leaving the circuit open instead of shorted, but then a cut wire could always short to the hull. But no mention is made of any such type of shrapnel damage, so maybe the wiring problem was just part of a boat's normal electrical headaches.

Certainly the frozen radar gearbox wasn't related to battle, and it's doubtful an inoperable Onan generator was battle damage. I used to own a military 28-volt Onan generator, similar to the AC generator on the swift boat, and they're pretty tough units. At one point 85% of all military generators were Onans, which are also commonly found on RV's these days. My military generator had breakers, but if the one on a swift boat had fuses then you could get in electrical trouble by replacing a fuse with a slug of copper or brass in a field expedient solution to not having any AC power to heat up the morning coffee.

The damage to the after helm steering gear is interesting. A swift boat could be controlled from the deck, aft of the cabin on the left, or from the normal pilot house, with a clutch to engage the aft steering station. That's on the opposite side from the radio that was damaged, and since the windows were blown out earlier they probably represent two different or unrelated incidents.

The starboard bilge pump might've been damaged from overpressure from a mine, but then the port bilge pump was apparently fine, because the report doesn’t mention it. Maybe the pump shorted and took out the electrical wiring and generator, but this is doubtful, unless of course the generator actually used fuses instead of breakers and someone had used a slug of copper or brass to replace a blown fuse. In short, a few of the boat's problems are hard to pin down as actual battle damage, and sound more like maintenance issues.

That leaves "Screws curled and chipped." and "Main engines experienced RPM drop", and I'll reintroduce the problem with the after helm steering control.

Getting back to the WaPo article, we have Pees, Thurlow, and Chenowith moving in line on the left side of the canal, with Kerry and Droz on the right side, with Kerry leading.

"My God, I've never seen anything like it," Chenoweth wrote in what he says is a diary recorded soon after the events. "There was a fantastic flash, a boom, then the 3 boat disappeared in a fountain of water and debris. I was only 30 yards behind." Assuming that they had run into a Vietcong ambush, Chenoweth wrote, "we unleashed everything into the banks."

A later intelligence report established that the mine was probably detonated by a Vietcong sympathizer in a foxhole who hit a plunger as the Swift boats passed through the fishing weir.

Obviously such a mine is a huge explosion, not at all likely to be mistaken for anything else, with a fountain of water and debris plus a boat flying up in the air. Still working from the WaPo analysis we find

"When the mine went off, we were still going full speed," recalled Michael Medeiros, one of Kerry's crew members. Kerry's boat raced off down the river, away from the ambush zone.

If they were indeed going full speed they'd have been doing about 32 kts, or 37 mph. If they were at a swift boat's cruising speed they'd have only been doing 20 kts, or 23 mph.

When the first explosion occurred, Rassmann was seated next to the pilothouse on the starboard, or right, side of Kerry's boat, munching a chocolate chip cookie that he recalls having "ripped off from someone's Care package." He saw the 3 boat lift out of the water. Almost simultaneously, Kerry's forward gunner, Tommy Belodeau, began screaming for a replacement for his machine gun, which had jammed. Rassmann grabbed an M-16 and worked his way sideways along the deck, which was only seven inches wide in places.

So that was what, five to fifteen seconds? At 20 kts and five seconds that would be 168 feet of travel. At 32 kts and 15 seconds that would be 814 feet. And I think we throw away Kerry's claims that Rassmann was on another boat, because part of his story was moving to help Kerry's forward gunner, Tom Belodeau, the same gunner who'd clipped the fleeing VC in the earlier Silver Star incident, when his gun also jammed. Whatever Belodeau's other fine traits, I think he could've maybe spent more time on his machine gun maintenance skills, because his gun seems to jam with alarming frequency.

At this point, Kerry crew members say their boat was hit by a second explosion. Although Kerry's injury report speaks of a mine that "detonated close aboard PCF-94," helmsman Del Sandusky believes it was more likely a rocket or rocket-propelled grenade, as a mine would have inflicted more damage. Whatever it was, the explosion rammed Kerry into the wall of his pilothouse, injuring his right forearm.

The second explosion "blew me right off the boat," Rassmann recalled.

Now that's quite interesting. Even the helmsman thinks it wasn't a mine. John Kerry injured his right arm. If we knew for certain he was facing forwards we'd even know that the boat must've kicked left (Newton's laws and all that), and that the explosion must've been on the right side of the boat. Yet the damaged steering gear is on the left side, and Rassman was working his way along the narrow starboard deck up toward the bow, and would've really, really been aware of a huge explosion beside him.

This gets us back to the damage to PCF-94 recorded the next day. "Screws curled and chipped." and "main engines experienced RPM drop", and the steering damage. I'm sure any of you boaters can guess what can tear up a propeller without ripping through the hull, and a mine isn't it. Propellers on submarines take depth charging just fine. Ships that get torpedoed sometimes have their steering knocked out, yet continue under power. Propellers are very tough because they have to withstand enormous forces on a small area. I really doubt you could easily create an explosion that would tear up a propeller like that and not also severely damage the thin aluminum hull of a swift boat. If the rudder was chipped in an explosion then the boat should've leaked like a sieve.

One thing that does "curl and chip" a propeller is hitting something. Hitting something also can pound the heck out of the ships rudder, with the forces transmitted straight to the steering gear. If you go back to the guided tour of a swift boat, at the very bottom you can see a nice model of one, with the twin propellers and rudders shown extending underneath, far below the hull. You also have the propeller shafts extending down there, equally exposed. So if a swift boat, traveling at full speed, as Michael Medeiros says it was, were to hit a submerged log, shelf, or some other object, the boat would take a severe pounding, jerk violently and very loudly (it is a wreck after all), throwing the crew members across the cabin, or in Rassmann's case into the water. As a result the propeller shafts and bearings would likely be damaged, resulting in some RPM problems, the propellers themselves would be chipped and bent, and the steering gear would be damaged.

The second mine story is dubious, and not all accounts include a second mine, with some claiming the first explosion under PCF-3 threw Rassmann overboard. Not all the crew on Kerry's boat thought it was a mine. But Kerry definitely says it was a second mine that hit close aboard, a phrase he's used repeatedly. None of the other officer's accounts seem to mention a second mine, and with PCF-3 having been hit, and they immediately laying down fire and moving to assist why would they even be looking toward Kerry's boat to notice?

Going back to Kerry's Bronze Star recommendation

Almost simultaneously, another mine detonated close aboard PC-94, knocking 1st LT RASSMAN into the water and wounding LTJG KERRY in the right arm.

Looking at the injury listed with the combat action

LTJG John F. Kerry, USN 713525/1100 Injury, Hostile Fire 13 Mar 69, 1530H, Song Bay Hap, WQ 010780. While serving as officer in charge aboard PCF-94 engaged in operations in the above river. LTJG Kerry suffered shrapnel wounds in his left buttocks and contusions on his right forearm when a mine detonated close aboard PCF-94.

Treated by medical officer aboard USCGC Spencer (WHEC-36) and returned to duty with Coastal Divison Eleven.

Obviously the shrapnel wound didn't occur when "the mine" went off, and Rassmann has detailed how that injury occurred earlier in the day when Rassmann and Kerry blew up a large rice cache, with Kerry catching some rice in his butt.

Looking at the official Navy reports Kerry's campaign posted

RF/PF: Moved east about 1500 meters. Troops flushed about 30 men half armed. Distance 1000 meters. Position approximately WQ 000840. No contact made. RF/HF Extracted 1130H and moved by PCF to support MSF but were not landed again. All units proceeded to Cai Nuoc district town. Unable to get air support.

PCF 23 joined at Cai Nuoc. PCFs with MSF embarked departed Cai Nuoc at 1445H proceeding down Bay Hap. At VQ 995770 mine detonated under PCF 3 lifting boat about 2-3 ft out of water. Very heavy black smoke observed at same time boats rcvd heavy A/W and S/A from both banks. Fire continued for about 5000 meters. Two other mine explosions observed. All boats and MSF returned fire and attempted assist PCF 3. PCF 94 picked up MSF advisor who went overboard. 94 towed PCF 3 as bucket brigade controlled flooding. PCF 43 took all WIA to USCGC Spencer for treatment. PCF 94 and 51 assisted PCF 3. LCVP with damage control party was immediately dispatched from Washtenaw County. Boat damage separate message. Spotter aircraft in area spotted and RF/PF Cau Nuoc fired 4.2" Mortar after boats cleared. One secondary explosion vicinity WQ 010782

What's curious is that the official report again mentions the dubious story of a mine, which no one else supports, even Kerry's own helmsman. If Kerry's boat really did hit a submerged object, which would be consistent with the damage to his boat, then nobody else would've reported a second mine because no such explosion would've been visible. Again, about the only person to claim a second mine is Kerry, and the other officers probably wouldn't have been in a position to notice one anyway, nor care to report a mine that completely missed. It's surprising that PCF-94 got almost as many mentions in the official report (three) as PCF-3 (four), when it was the only boat to leave the scene. Four people had to be fished out of the water, but only PCF-94 got mentioned as having done this. The surviving commanders during this incident all say they didn't write up what became the official report, and that Kerry did. Given that the official reports seems focused on the actions of Kerry's boat, and includes the other mines that only Kerry mentions, I'd say they're right. Kerry's casualty report also prominently mentions a mine, and goes so far as to say that the mine's shrapnel was found in his buttocks.

So if Kerry wrote the official report, and the charge is that Kerry was claiming they were under fire when no fire existed, the fact that the report supports Kerry doesn't actually build his case, since it would be an echo of Kerry's version, which is the account in question. Kerry's Bronze Star was written up by Rassmann, who would've been told "it was a mine!" by Kerry, and who thought he was being shot at anyway. And to turn his earlier accident with the rice into a "combat injury" worthy of a Purple Heart, Kerry needs a second mine close aboard PCF-94.

At first, nobody noticed what had happened to Rassmann. But then Medeiros, who was standing at the stern, saw him bobbing up and down in the water and shouted, "Man overboard." Around this time, crew members said, Kerry decided to go back to help the crippled 3 boat. It is unclear how far down the river Kerry's boat was when he turned around. It could have been anywhere from a few hundred yards to a mile.

In Kerry's own account he said he was a few hundred yards away when he saw the splashes around Rassmann, and rushed to rescue him from the sniper fire. If the propeller damage knocked 5 knots off his swift boat's top speed, it would take the boat 20 seconds to cover 300 hundred yards. Toss in the time to turn around, plus slowing, reaccelerating, and slowing to pick up Rassmann and you've got a minimum of a minute. Rassmann says it was several minutes in which he was hiding near the bottom. Four swift boats can lay down over 6000 rounds of .50 caliber machine gun fire in one minute, not to mention what their M-60's and the infantry they were carrying would add. If there really was somebody near the bank using aimed "sniper fire", I don't think they'd have lasted very long.

O'Neill claims that Kerry "fled the scene" despite the absence of hostile fire. Kerry, in a purported journal entry cited in Brinkley's "Tour of Duty," maintains that he wanted to get his troops ashore "on the outskirts of the ambush."

Kerry may have been thinking that, but what happened to his innovative combat tactics from three weeks prior, when he decided that charging the enemy directly was far superior to the older tactic of moving out of the ambush zone and dropping off troops? Yet even if he had decided to go back to the very tactics he'd been deriding a short time earlier, he'd have to maintain a story about enemy fire or else his jaunt down the river is inexplicable. In one of Kerry's own accounts he glosses over the whole thing by talking about the mine, the trickle of blood he saw one on of the dazed gunners from PCF-3, and then wham-o, he's several hundred yards away rushing back to pick up Rassmann.

No wonder his fellow commanders are saying you can't count on John Kerry. He shot off on his own little plan, while leaving a man in the water, and not doing anything to help a badly damaged boat with an injured crew. Yet if there was an ambush to counter-attack from elsewhere then he could maintain it as a plausible maneuver.

And the most important point is that even if there was enemy fire, pulling a man out of the water doesn't make you any bigger a target than when you were standing bolt upright on deck, or sitting in an unarmored boat. If Kerry's act of walking up to the bow and leaning over was "heroic", what can you say about the gunners whose job in combat was to stand bolt upright on deck in front of G-d and everybody? Would you have a machine that feeds feeds them a Bronze Star everytime they pull the trigger? And swift boats are thin aluminum and completely unarmored, which is why their standard ambush response was to get the heck out of the area as fast as they could go. By pulling Rassmann out of the water Kerry did nothing to increase his personal risk of getting shot, since there's nowhere on the boat except in between the engines that offered significantly more protection. You might argue that obviously he was more visible on the bow, but note that if there was anyone delivering any aimed fire at that particular spot Rassmann would've already been dead.

And finally, the boats were involved in this action for quite a long time, both the initial events, moving the injured crew of PCF-3 to PCF-43, then hooking up a tow and arranging bailing parties to keep PCF-3 afloat. Did all this enemy fire just stop? If so, when? Thurlow had long been aboard giving aid to PCF-3's crew (lots of back and head injuries) for quite some time before Kerry picked up Rassmann, since even Kerry recounts that Thurlow hopped aboard PCF-3 before he discusses turning his boat around to go back. Thurlow even fell in the water when PCF-3 bumped into a sandbar and had to have a boat come over and fish him out, too. Yet if Rassmann hadn't been picked up, and was still taking fire, wouldn't Thurlow have been under fire the whole time? Yet he claims he wasn't.

And the whole story requires you to buy into the notion that the VC on the banks would be shooting at poor Rassmann, who was completely invisible underwater for most of the time, somewhat apart from the other boats which were laying down heavy suppressive fire, fire which could amount well over 12,000 rounds in two minutes if they had that much ammunition linked up and ready to go. Yet the VC are ignoring the five boats, the people like Thurlow walking around on PCF-3 giving aid, all those rear gunners standing bolt upright, and the infantry on board who were sitting ducks. For some reason they're supposedly shooting at Rassmann, and then of course sitting their waiting for John Kerry to make his appearance on the bow. Strange VC indeed, you might think, but no worries, because obviously they can't hit the side of a barn. Not one bullet hole in Kerry's boat, or any other, aside from three in Thurlow's boat which he said happened the previous day. How can five boats sit still in a narrow canal with heavy automatic weapons and small arms fire coming from both banks and none of them get hit with anything?

Perhaps initially there were some shots, but by the time Kerry's jaunt down the river was over I'd think any enemy must've been silenced, because nobody can sit and shoot at a bunch of sitting fifty foot boats from close range and not hit anything after trying for a couple of minutes. Blind men would accomplish that much by random chance. And Kerry and the official Navy report said it went on for 5,000 meters, or about 3 miles. And this was with PCF-94, damaged prop and all, towing PCF-3, so you know those three miles went very slowly. Yet Kerry, who writes in oozing detail about every bit of angst he can suck from a broken fingernail, doesn't say a thing about the hazards of running the three-mile gauntlet.

They say that the burden of proof is on the accuser, but I'd say the burden of proof is on the one with the wildly improbable account. And the shame of this whole thing is that if Kerry hadn't been out trumpeting his heroism nobody would've said a thing. About this or any other incident he could've easily said "I have no idea why they gave me the Bronze Star, never did. They were handing them out like lollipops over there, and I think that's wrong. I never felt I deserved the Silver Star, but apparently the Navy did, and so I guess I have to accept that." He'd still have his medals, the full credit that such medals normally come with, and people would've thought even more of him for minimizing his heroism, showing what a true hero he must've been off in those jungles. But no… That's not the John Kerry we're stuck with.

*** UPDATE ***

I've seen a few vague references that the propeller damage may have also been earlier, which leaves, well, nothing at all as to damage to the boat, except that they were zipping through the fishing weirs and may have snagged and yanked something. High velocity fragment damage extends beyond the blast damage of a typical weapon, which would leave a mystery as to what type of "explosion" could've hit the boat.

However, I have a few further thoughts on some of the statements by various veterans.

Some have mentioned they saw bullets skipping across the water. Well the Dong Cung Canal is only about 75 yards wide, and the boats were near the banks, where the fire was supposedly coming from. Picture a swift boat in your head at about 20 or 30, or even 60 yards distance. You're shooting at the crew manning the guns. Can you imagine missing the whole boat and hitting the water? If bullets were skipping across the water what were the VC shooting at, fish?

Some have mentioned seeing muzzle flashes from the banks, but to my knowledge none has mentioned seeing any actual enemy. It's my understanding that in Nam our forces used red tracers, linked 1 in every 5, as the boat tour above relates. All sources say the boats immediately opened up on both banks with everything they had. Now after a horrific explosion, when men are extremely on edge in the first moments afterward, their heart racing scanning the banks for threats, could some of the flashes from impacting red tracers be mistaken for muzzle flashes? Could a person looking off angle, from a boat other than the one firing, be catching glimpses of a tracer path through a tiny gap in the foliage, making it seem like a repeating pattern of bright red flashes? Maybe some people with combat experience in the jungle can comment on whether such a visual effect exists, and whether someone green and on edge could get momentarily fooled by it. It's been my impression that when everyone opens up everyone is equally sure they were shooting at targets, especially since outgoing .50 rounds are flinging off chunks of trees and clipping off branches, so there's plenty of motion down range. Normally someone has to start screaming "Cease Fire!"

It's just a thought, but it might explain why some would swear they saw flashes while others are equally convinced there was nothing out there, depending on angle and experience, and not a single bullet hole would be found in the boats despite all this "heavy" incoming fire.

**** UPDATE ****

The AK-47 is generally considered capable of shooting 2 MOA (minutes of angle). A competition rifleman with iron sites can aim a bit better than this, and in combat most VC wouldn't approach it, but it does bring up another question. If you were aiming at the side of a swift boat sitting in the water, how far away would you have to be to miss more than you hit?

Assume you aim toward the center cabin, which sits, oh, say 10 feet above the waterline. The boat is far longer, 50 feet, than tall, so just draw a twenty foot diameter circle and fill the bottom half with boat. 2 MOA (minutes of angle) is 0.03333 degrees. If you took an AK and sandbagged it in a nice benchrest, you'd have to be ( tan (0.0333) = 20 feet / range, range = 20 feet / tan (0.03333) ) 34,377 feet away, or 6.5 miles, to expect to miss the boat half the time. Obviously an AK-47 can't shoot that far, so through away that number, which indicates that it's physically impossible to be in range of the boat yet miss the boat from a bench rest.

To miss the boat half the time from 600 yards would mean shooting with only 38 MOA accuracy. Of course they said the fire was coming from the banks. So assuming they were way, way back from the bank, to make it a nice 100 yards, they'd have to shoot so badly that their groups were not 1/2 MOA, not 1 MOA, not 2 MOA, but 228 MOA to miss the boat half the time. But that still means they'd hit it once with just two shots. Keep in mind that the 6 PPC in my e-mail address is the name of a rifle cartridge that shoots 1/4 MOA with a rifle right out of the box.

Given that one VC is going to fire 30 shots, and based on the "target area" of 157 square feet of boat in my previous circle, we need the area of the error circle to be 30 times larger, or 4712 square feet, meaning 77 foot diameter circle. That basically means that the VC would have to shoot so badly that it would take a 77 foot wide 7 story building to be an effective backstop if they were shooting at 100 yards, which is hardly more than half a city block. Blind people shoot more accurately than that just based on sound. And if there's two VC each firing a full magazine the implied accuracy has to decrease even further.

In sum, it's so infinitely improbably that the boats could be fired on to any significant degree and not get hit that it's a near certainy that no significant fire (more than a shot or two) was directed at them. If you asked any American rifleman if he could hit a sitting boat at 100 yards, from an ambush position, he'd instead ask if you want the boat's commander shot in the left eye or the right eye, or at worst the head or the heart.

August 22, 2004 in Politics | Permalink | Comments (24) | TrackBack

August 18, 2004

Only Breathe Gaseous Air

My friend Rhiain sent me a link to a very bizarre story about a guy who actually drank liquid nitrogen. Liquid nitrogen keeps itself insulated with nitrogen gas, and any time something warm is too close it causes nitrogen to boil off, so the blob of actual liquid doesn't contact warm surfaces. Apparently you can roll it around in your mouth as an impressive stunt, but unfortunately the author, though he'd done that, had thought you could also swallow it. Turns out you can't.

So... the consequences... my entire upper GI tract, from epiglottis to the bottom of the stomach was badly burned, scarred, and perforated. The gas also expanded quite a bit while inside my body. It filled my chest cavity with several liters of nitrogen gas, which was under enough pressure to collapse a lung. So after what I'm told was a grueling all-night surgery, they removed part of my stomach, and had my entire digestive system, top to bottom, running on machine power for a while. I also had a breather for the first day or so, until my lung was restored. There are a few details which are considerably uglier which i will spare you.

So... the recovery... they were impressed with my recuperative skills. I could breathe on my own completely after a few days. I could sit up in bed after a week, and was walking in two. About that time, I began to eat again as well. After four weeks, I was up and about again. Now, something like eight weeks, I'm virtually healed, with the exception of a number of unsightly scars.

But.... the good news is that I am the first documented medical case of a cryogenic ingestion. Read the New England Journal of Medicine. Three articles are in review now, and will be published soon, I'm told.

Ah, physics students. I had a pair of physics student friends who performed an ad hoc experiment that wasn't nearly so catastrophic. The shorter one reasoned that if breathing helium makes your voice go up, breathing a heavy inert gas like xenon should make it go down. And wouldn't you know, they had a xenon tank handy, so naturally he took a hit….

Well, he confirmed that the voice drops, which was expected. Then he started turning blue and couldn't really breathe. The taller one reasoned that as helium is lighter than air, it would naturally stay toward the top of your lungs and clear itself out in short order, whereas xenon is much heavier than air and would stay stuck in your lungs. So he picked up the shorter guy and flipped him upside down, holding him by his legs, and sure enough the xenon poured out. The lesson? Don't breathe xenon when you're rightside up, or helium when you're upside down. Then again, sticking to regular air might not be a bad idea. Oh, and make sure it's gaseous, not liquid.

August 18, 2004 in Science | Permalink | Comments (17) | TrackBack

New Protein Involved in Sleep and Anxiety

Ooo… This is good news. Researchers have found a protein that controls sleep and anxiety. I suffer from sleep problems, and a psycologist friend of mine says I have mild anxiety disorder. Although she wears Birkenstocks and sings the praises of patchouli oil (nearly fell out of my chair on that one, given how often I bash it), she's probably right.

Brain anti-anxiety switch found

Scientists have found a switch in the brain that appears to control anxiety and wakefulness.

In tests on rodents, the University of California team found a protein called NPS was active in areas of the brain governing arousal and anxiety.

This switch could be a target for drugs to treat sleep and anxiety disorders and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, they hope.

The findings appear in the journal Neuron.

Scientists had recently discovered the brain protein neuropeptide S (NPS), but had not fully explored its actions

So we have a new brain chemical to investigate, one involved in sleep, anxiety, and attention disorders. What's interesting is the same chemical seems linked across them, and given the alleged enormous increase in childhood attention deficit disorders coinciding with kids staying up late chatting, watching late night TV, and playing on the computer, maybe the increase is more real than imagined.

August 18, 2004 in Science | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack

August 16, 2004


This was interesting. If seems a protein, interleukin-6, fights obesity naturally.

A medical treatment to reduce obesity in humans without diet or exercise could be developed through research at RMIT.

Everyone always wants a short cut, don't they? If I wasn't thin I'd be one of them, too!

A team of medical scientists led by Mark Febbraio from RMIT's Skeletal Muscle Research Laboratory has isolated a protein, interleukin-6, which breaks down fat in adipose tissue in the human body and obese animals.

Tests on people in Melbourne and in Copenhagen, where a team of scientists is co-operating with the RMIT group, have shown the therapy to be effective against serious obesity and in helping patients suffering from Type 2 diabetes, in which obesity is also a factor. Interleukin-6 is naturally released by muscles in mammals during exercise but, the research has found, it can be injected into a human to reduce body fat by as much as 20 per cent.

So the body fat is tricked into thinking the muscles are actually doing something more than lifting potato chips, which is quite a clever little trick. I'd been thinking the eventual solution to obesity would be found in really heavy potato chips, but it seems there's a better way.

If the research leads to a viable, and approved, medical therapy it could be worth billions of dollars in the lucrative pharmaceutical market. But Associate Professor Febbraio is cautious. There seems no doubt that the treatment works and promises to be valuable in treating chronic obesity, but he does not believe it will lead to an over-the-counter weight reduction pill.

Taken orally, the protein is cleared by the liver before it can be effective and, he said, long-term use could result in the patient developing an immunity to its effects.

Well, I guess since the liver breaks it down you can't just run a cow around the ranch right before you shoot it, eat the meat, and have it make you thin. However many societies, including some North American Indian tribes, felt that if you eat a fast animal you become fast, and if you eat a slow pig you become one. Aside from fat content maybe they had noticed some small effect of some of these "exercise" proteins in the diet, but surely any such effect, if any exists, would be swamped by the fact that for the deer to be running the guy hunting the deer is running a hell of a lot too. Plus hauling it back and all that.

Still, I'm sure the method stands to make a fortune once they get any bugs worked out, such as the fact that injections are the only way to administer it, unless they can come up with a patch you can wear. Short of that we're all going to have the problem of telling the thin waifs with needle tracks from interleukin-6 from the thin waifs with needle tracks from heroin, while the cops will always here the plaintive cry "I'm just dieting, man…"

Monte Burns: Soooo.... I can pay Smithers to jog around the track for an hour, then give me a blood transfusion. He'll be doing all the work, and all be getting the benefits.... [rolls fingers]

August 16, 2004 in Science | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack

August 15, 2004

No More Water, No More Food?

When you don't get enough meat in your diet you tend to write articles like this.

World water supplies will not be enough for our descendants to enjoy the sort of diet the West eats now, experts say.

Where is all the water going? Why hasn't this problem shown up before, with nobody able to eat because they have too much meat on the table? Especially since meat consumption has been rising ever since the first vegan moonbats howled "meat is murder!"

The World Water Week in Stockholm will be told the growth in demand for meat and dairy products is unsustainable.

And like everyone with Stockholm socialist syndrome, the answer to all questions is that growth is unsustainable, so we must implement shortages now.

Animals need much more water than grain to produce the same amount of food, and ending malnutrition and feeding even more mouths will take still more water.

Is that why they often graze animals on land that's too dry for good crops? One nice thing about planting hay is that you don't have to plow and weed. Do they propose to stop those wasteful animals from grazing, or are they intending to save water by keeping the rain stored in the clouds indefinitely? It makes me wonder why our grasslands aren't filled with endless rows of corn, and how America manages to eat so much meat when our average rainfall is only about 7.8 inches a year while still exporting food to the rest of the world.

Scientists say the world will have to change its consumption patterns to have any realistic hope of feeding itself.

I love that appeal to authority. "Scientists say" is the modern version of "the Bible says", being used to support all sorts of quasi-religious positions, such as that people shouldn't eat meat. As the former head of the UN World Food program noted, getting people to eat vegetables will work for the 2 or 3 percent of the world content to eat nothing but vegetables, but the rest of the world's population would rather eat more than a protein deficient subsistence diet.

Siwi says: "With about 840 million people undernourished or lacking a secure food supply today, and another two billion or more people... by 2025, feeding the world's growing population - and finding the water to grow the food - continues to be a basic and sizeable challenge."

A paper to be delivered during the conference, entitled Water: More Nutrition Per Drop, says: "For several decades, the increase in food production has outpaced population growth. Now much of the world is simply running out of water for more production... "

Sounds like the peak oil people doesn't it? With more of the world eating better than ever, and farm efficiency continuing to increase, they struggle to find some reason to repeat the panicked claim that we're all going to starve unless we quit eating well, of all things. And I would like to know where, pray tell, the water is simply running out to? Many farm analysts don't see any food problems into the indefinite future, with even simple changes sufficient to get us out to the next century with a population of 10 billion or more. And what happened to all the warnings about increased downpours as a result of global warming?

The World Health Organisation calls malnutrition "the silent emergency", and says it is a factor in at least half the 10.4 million child deaths which occur every year.

The factor in the other half of the 10.4 million child deaths is the World Health Organization's continued ban on DDT, but I won't go there right now.

Anders Berntell, Siwi's executive director, told BBC News Online: "The basic problem is that food is the main global consumer of water, with irrigation taking 70% or more of all the water we use, apart from huge volumes of rainwater.

What the heck other than food would be considered a "global consumer of water", trout fishing? The key to that phrase is "water we use". If you aren't drinking it, aren't cooking with it, and aren't bathing in it, about the only other way to use it is either irrigation or washing your SUV. Even if you run it through a dam, it's still there, just a bit lower. Otherwise it's just rain falling from the sky, which they apparently consider something "apart" from water we use. For every person in the continguous US there's 1.5 million gallons of rainwater every year. That's enough to fill two Olympic sized swimming pools, per person, per year.

"The bottom line is that we've got to do something to reduce the amount of water we devote to growing food today."

And the answer is simple. Institute food rationing and avoid all vegetables which have to be boiled or steamed. All that extra cooking water adds up, you know.

Upturn in demand

"Animals fed on grain, and also those which rely on grazing, need far more water than grain crops.

"But in the developed world, and in parts of some developing countries, consumers are demanding more meat.

Get that? Consumers, aka regular people, are demanding more meat, and this group is determined to thwart them.

"Of course people should have healthier diets and a higher intake of nutrients: we don't want to stop that.

And their solution is probably bean curd, yams, and vitamin pills.

Slow to dawn

"But it's going to be almost impossible to feed future generations the kind of diet we have now in western Europe and North America.

And this raises a little snag. How can the US, Western Europe, and Australia be eating all this meat if we aren't producing it, and what makes us sooo special? We even apply all sorts of diplomatic pressure to export all the meat we can't manage to sell here, since the market is saturated. Yet where are our vast water shortages?

"Most of us don't appreciate, either politically or personally, the challenge of finding enough water to grow enough food, though in some countries it's a problem of everyday living.

Most of us don't appreciate how badly a diet of rice and shoots is. In Vietnam they've finally decided to provide vitamins to the kids because the country doesn't produce enough tall people to field a soccer squad. That's the vegetarian future, and as everyone knows Vietnam gets drenched, with everyone standing knee deep in rice paddies. Meanwhile Texas is awash in cattle.

"I think the world's future water supply is a problem that's an entire order of magnitude greater than we've begun to realise."
If we haven't begun to realize it, how could he be saying it?
Mr Berntell said the rich would be able to buy their way out of trouble by importing "virtual water" - the water needed to grow the food they bought from abroad.

If the rich can't seem to grow their own meat and buy it from poor folks, won't the poor folks be getting rich by selling steak to the rich folks? How's that for a concept? In fact, what would be really neat is if rural people could sell meat to urban people. That idea might have legs, too. Meanwhile I'll go surf the web in search of this "virtual water" of which he speaks, because reading this is making me thirsty.

He said: "The transport of virtual water is huge. Australians were astonished to find that although their country is short of water, they're net exporters of water in the form of meat."

They were probably more astonished to find out that their $6.5 billion in "water" exports was the only thing keeping all that extra water from building up and flooding the continent. They could at first try storing this suddenly unused water in their attics, basements, and cupboards, but eventually it there's just too much of it to cope with. Left unchecked this buildup of virtual water would force them to paddle rafts to New Zealand as Australia slips under the waves. So fortunately they've figured out the amazing little trick of taking literally cubic miles of rainfall and compacting it onto a container ship full of frozen ribs, making a farm's water somehow disappear from the face of the earth. Or more to the point, Australia is probably getting about 65 cents a pound for their meat exports, meaning they're getting about $8 a gallon for the 2/3 pound of water per pound of animal that's actually being shipped overseas. I'd sell untreated rain water at $8 a gallon, how about you? If I could sell my US allotment of 1.5 million gallons of free rain water at that price I'd be making $12 million a year. Sounds like a good business model to me.

*The continguous US gets an average of 7.8 inches of rain and has a land area of about 3.12 million square miles. That's about 423 trillion gallons of water, or 1.51 million gallons per person.

August 15, 2004 in Politics | Permalink | Comments (20) | TrackBack

A Mother's CRH

The UK Telegraph had an interesting article on a hormone that makes mothers fearless and protective of their babies.

A mother's instinct to protect her child is triggered by the same hormonal change that makes her more caring, new research shows.

The brain suppresses the release of certain chemicals during pregnancy and lactation to allow the female to feel less stressed and fearless, scientists found.

The findings emerged after six years of research led by Professor Stephen Gammie at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the United States.

He found that levels of corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH), a peptide that acts on the brain to control behaviour, were significantly reduced in new mothers.

This produced "maternal aggression", the response that helps to ensure the survival of young animals and humans.

So lowering CRH levels makes for maternal protective behavior, which is quite interesting. I wonder if they've looked at the effect of this hormone in men. Perhaps low CRH levels similarly determine how protective we are of the TV remote, with high levels more likely to result in our misplacing or losing control of it.

Prof Gammie said: "We've known for a long time that fear and anxiety decrease with lactation, but what I set out to prove was that it is this same decrease in CRH that allows mothers to attack during a situation that would normally evoke a fear response."

Prof Gammie used laboratory mice to test his theory but said that the results were relevant to human behaviour.

"When a mother feels that something is threatening her child she doesn't experience fear; she is ready to jump in front of a truck or do whatever it takes," he said.

"If she felt afraid, she might run away from the situation or freeze. If you eliminate fear, it allows a parent to react much more quickly. Our data support this."

The article goes into much more detail, so be sure to read it if you find this subject interesting, but I'd also like to bring up two related questions, or possibly opportunities.

We know there is a very large gap in political affiliation between married and single women, one often even larger than the gender gap. Could the CRH hormone level play even a small role in a woman's political worldview? It would probably take some pretty in depth studies to get through all the comlexities to see if the resultant fearlessness tends to shift some liberal women toward the gun-toting conservative side of the aisle. Obviously if it does happen it doesn't happen in all cases, but the only current data I know about, off hand, compares only married versus single women, as opposed to examining the views of mothers based on the age of their children. Keep in mind that voting patterns tend to remain fairly constant, yet obviously this particular shift keeps repeating, and requires single women to be changing from Democrat to Republican in a slow but continual flow. If it was merely "information" that caused the shift it wouldn't be specific to married women, since all women have access to the same information all the time. It could simply reflect circumstances and the stability of their relationships, or their role in society and the family, or their relative ages. Of course responsibility and maturity also come to mind, but it might be fun to look into.

My second idea is to see if we can develop a pill that would lower the CRH levels in teenage babysitters, making them more caring and fiercely protective. Stick one in the pizza you leave them before heading to the theatre… We'll make millions.

August 15, 2004 in Science | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack