Tuesday, January 31, 2012

"The Burns Are ... a Soldier's Uniform": Treating the Burned Wounded

After nearly 30 operations, Joey Paulk began to resign himself to his appearance. But with help from a program that aids badly burned veterans, he received surgery that revived his self-confidence.

With the possible exception of burned aircrew of World War Two, the famous "guinea pigs" who allowed plastic surgeons to learn a new trade, I don't think there have been as many soldiers who became burn casualties as in the last ten years in Afghanistan and Iraq. The insurgent use of mines and improvised explosives to target NATO troops in vehicles has left many soldiers with severe trauma as well as hideous burns.

Joey Paulk, a US military policeman, was one such soldier, whose vehicle was hit by a mine in Afghanistan in 2007. The explosion ignited the vehicle's gasoline tank, leaving Paul without his fingers and with his face severely deformed. His recovery included over thirty surgeries.

In a wonderful and moving article in the New York Times, James Dao tells the story of Joey Paulk and how medical science has helped the many soldiers like him. An inspiring read.

Kudos to the NYT also for their video series, "The Hard Road Back: Scars of Battle". These men and women will be continuing their battles years after Iraq and Afghanistan are done, for better or worse. We can't afford to forget them.

Military Picture of the Week

From the Foreign Policy website week in pictures.

Indian soldiers march during the final full dress rehearsal for the Indian Republic Day parade in New Delhi on Jan. 23. India celebrated its 63rd Republic Day on Jan. 26 with a large military parade.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

"Millions of Human Cogs"" The Ethics of Apple Production and Addiction

Color China Photo, via Associated Press
An explosion last May at a Foxconn factory in Chengdu, China, killed four people and injured 18. It built iPads.

This item below was the NYT's quotation of the day:

“If Apple was warned, and didn’t act, that’s reprehensible,” said Nicholas Ashford, a former chairman of the National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health, a group that advises the United States Labor Department. “But what’s morally repugnant in one country is accepted business practices in another, and companies take advantage of that.”

So in the last few weeks, while I've been pondering an iPad purchase, I've been following the media debate on why Apple doesn't have more product manufactured in the US. That debate, as you may recall, was focused by President Obama's asking Steve Jobs in February 2011 what it would take for Apple to make its insanely popular products in the US, given that almost all are produced overseas, and many in China. Jobs' response, according to one person who was present that night, was "Those jobs aren't coming back".

Perhaps it was optimistic to expect that traditional high-paying, middle-class creating jobs could be restored to our economy. As this graphic explains, only a tenth of US workers are employed in manufacturing, vs 6 out of 7 in the service and retail sector. I suspect that Canada would be similar if one took the resource sector jobs out of the equation and just looked at manufacturing vs service/retail.

But in China, where the bulk of Apple's manfacturing is done, the jobs created there are not the traditional commute to the plant from your suburban home kind of job that the baby boom generation in North America enjoyed. As Charles Duhigg and Keith Bradsher explained in the NYT last week, Apple's success story in getting products to market assumes that you can turn 8 thousand workers out of a dormitory in the middle of the night, give them a cup of tea and a biscuit, and then put them on an assembly line for twelve hours to implement whatever change the iPhone design team has thought up.

And its not just workers warehoused in barrack blocks that makes China attractive for companies like Apple that want agile, turn-on-a-dime manufacturing. It's also tens of thousands of qualified engineers to manage and guide that assembly work, many of whom hold degrees at western universities who accept foreign students en masse because they need the tuition income and because US and Canadian kids aren't applying in sufficient numbers to keep those universities open. And the answer to that problem is downstream somewhere in the education system and in homes that don't value education. But that's another story and I digress.

Over Christmas I tried reading Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum's "That Used to Be Us", a book which begins with a comparison of glittering infrastructure in Chinese cities that have seemingly been built overnight, versus decaying subway stations in US cities that never seem to be repaired. Friedman's tone was recently lampooned by Isaac Stone Fish in Foreign Policy as "Oh My God the Chinese Are Eating Our Lunch with Environmentally Friendly Chopsticks". Other reviews have been unkind, challenging Friedman's solution that millions of high paying green jobs can somehow be created in North America by "collective action".

I'm a little more generous to Friedman since he raises the challenge that we need to find our mojo, but I'm not sure that the answer is "Wow, look at China, we need to be like them because they are who we were". Turning workers out of barracks in the middle of the night sounds more like the gulag than Detroit in its heyday. Today the NYT ran a piece detailing the harsh and often unsafe conditions in factories making Apple product in China,which brings us back to the opening quotation by Nicholas Ashford as to the relativity behind safe working standards depending on what country you live in and buy from. Apple supplier factories in China have been known to employ underage workers, have appalling accidents with toxic chemicals, and occasionally explode.

Mind you, industrial sites here in Canada occasionally explode, leading to intense media scrutiny, regulatory investigations, and sometimes even improvements. The NYT is making the point that in China, this kind of scrutiny is less intense and less effective, and therefore the conditions under which the products we want so much are troubling.

The ethical question for us as consumers is, how troubling? If one is wealthy enough, as I am, to consider buying an iPad, then I am probably spared from the wholescale change that has wiped out millions of traditional jobs in North America. The problem is that those moved overseas, but for millions of overseas workers, the comfort, middle class lifestyle and safety regimes weren't also ported over from North America. And hence the ethical dilemma for those of us willing to think about it.

The NYT article on Chinese factory safety ended with this quotation:

"You can either manufacture in comfortable, worker-friendly factories, or you can reinvent the product every year, and make it better and faster and cheaper, which requires factories that seem harsh by American standards,” said a current Apple executive.

“And right now, customers care more about a new iPhone than working conditions in China.”

Is that Apple exec right about you and I?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

New Data On Military Suicides

I meant to post on this story last week when it appeared. The NYT reported on 19 Jan that the US Army has released statistics showing that 2011 suicides among active duty soldiers was at a record high of 164, up from 162 in 2009.

In 2008, the US Army suicide rate was 20 per 100,000, with a rate of 18 per 100,000 among a comparable civilian age demographic.

In 2010, the US Army said that 60% of suicides were committed by young soldiers in the first four years of their service. This figure challenges the perceived wisdom that one or multiple deployments may contribute to suicide, but it does not deny that PTSD and other results of deployment may increase suicide risk.

Military chaplains are well aware that young soldiers, especially in recruit and training prgrams, are at risk.

I am not aware of current data showing suicide rates in other western militaries, including the Canadian Forces.

The same NYT story also had the disturbing news that violent sexual crimes committed by active duty soldiers had increased by 30%, with half of the victims being women soldiers between the ages of 18 and 21. “'This is unacceptable,' Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, the departing vice chief of staff of the Army, said at a news conference, referring to the jump in violent sex offenses. 'We have zero tolerance for this.' General Chiarelli said factors driving the increase in sex crimes were alcohol use and new barracks that offered more privacy. He said it was also possible that reporting of the offenses had increased."

The Temptations (and Dangers) of Drone Warfare

In this piece in Sunday's NYT, Peter Singer makes some interesting and disturbing comments on the increasing use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, in US foreign policy.

By taking at-risk human aircrew out of the picture and replacing them with risk-free, remote operators of unmanned vehicles, Singer suggests that the US has removed "the last political barriers to war". Essentially, he is saying that it's easier to fight a war when you have no skin in the game. By transferring the prosecution of drone campaigns from the military to the CIA, legislators and presidents are spared the difficult decisions and sacrifices called for in committing military forces to war, as well as the public debate in rallying voters to a decision to go to war. While Singer supports "most" of the drone strikes, he raises good questions about their role in undermining democratic governments, which have always depended on the commitment of their citizens, even to the point of military service, in defending ther freedoms.

These questions will become especially pressing when other countries beside the US and its allies begin deploying and using UAVs as weapons in their own undeclared wars, as will happen sooner rather than later. As Singer notes, some fifty countries are pursuing this military capability. The logic of escalation may eventually have a restraining influence on the use of UAV weapons, which can currently be used with near impunity, but before we get to that point, it would be useful to have a discussion about the ethics, temptations, and dangers of these weapons.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Friday, January 20, 2012

New Weapons for the Canadian Forces?

New weapons in the war on stress and frayed nerves, perhaps. The Globe and Mail tweeted a story wondering why Canada's Department of National Defence needed to purchase 20,000 yellow rubber stress balls.

The Mop and Pail wondered if Canada's generals are worried about morale as the government prepares to announce job and funding cuts. Or perhaps they are preparing us to deal with the stressful news that one of our own has been arrested for spying.

Very funny. Hardee har har. Anyone who has ever worked a trade show booth knows that little toys like stress balls go like hotcakes, so no surprise there that recruiting, public affairs, and other outreach departments would want these.

Poor DND, is every procurement doomed to be controversial? This seems so Canadian, some how.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

"Bullets, RPGs, and IEDs know no gender": Time for Female Combat Soldiers in All Militaries?

The quotation in this post's title comes from Donna McAleer, author, West Point graduate, and former Army officer. Her piece on why the US military needs to allow women soldiers into combat roles is carried on Tom Ricks' blog and is worth reading.

Quick statistic from McAleer that I didn't know:

230,000 US women have engaged in combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan

Women make up 15% of the US active duty force and 17% of active duty force officers, yet only 6% serve in senior leadership

McAleer's point is that in the 360 degree, asymetric modern battlefield, women soldiers can't help but find themselves outside the wire in combat situations, and so are fighting and dying alongside their male comrades. Abandoning the combat exclusion policy would recognize this fact and allow women soldiers to gain better entry into senior leadership, thus increasing the chances of getting the best minds around planning tables. A very convincing argument.

For the record, Canada, Israel, the Netherlands and Australia are among the militaries that now allow women into combat roles.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Military Picture of the Week

This image of the Canadian flag by the Vimy war memorial, taken by Cpl Josée Girard, has been judged the winner of the 2011 Canadian Forces photography contest.

Selective Sex Abortion Debate Comes to Canada

During my Sunday morning drive out to CFB Suffield on Dec 18 last year, I was listening to Michael Enright of CBC Radio's Sunday Morning talking with Canadian author Mara Hvistendahl about the phenomenon of selective-sex abortion or "consumer eugenics" in certain Asian and SE Asian countries.

You can hear that interview here:

Ms. Hvistendahl claims that as many as 160 million pregnancies of female fetuses have been terminated in those countries once their gender became known. The reasons for this practice include the greater prestige of having male children in these cultures. Living in Beijing for 11 years, Ms Hvistendahl began to notice that boys far exceeded girls everywhere she looked and that les to her research and book.

Ms Hvistendahl argues that medical technologies designed to male pregnancies safer are enabling the practice of gender selection, a practice that Western manufacturers of these technologies are quietly abetting.

I recalled this interview today after coming across this piece in The National Post.

In this article, Michael Viatteau reports on an article in The Canadian Medical Journal urging doctors to conceal the gender of a fetus from all pregnant women until 30 weeks. I do not know I'd the author the this journal article cites Ms Hvistendahl's book, nut he clearly has the same concerns about widespread gender imbalance as a result of this practice.

Besides worries about skewed demographics, it seems to me that a more pressing need for Canadians is that we have an ethical debate around prenatal sex selection. Is it a cultural practice that we should tolerate as an officially multicultural society? Is the practice protected under Canadian law, or, more specifically, lack of law governing abortion? Can we say that sex selection is part of a women's right to control her reproduction when the practice shows the hostility towards women within certain cultures in multicultural Canada?

Given the state of play on the abortion issue on Canada, I am not optimistic that we have any way of answering these questions .

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Feet Get Upper Hand in Forks vs Feet Debate

This archived piece from the Globe and Mail website on the "Forks vs Feet" debate conducted at the U of Ottawa last May just spurred my resolve to run more in 2012. Executive summary: the more you run, the more calories you burn. Diet alone won't make you thinner. This may not be news, but I found it helpful.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Seen On The Late Afternoon Run

Strangely warm temperatures and the blessed absence of snow and ice saw me out more often last week. While it seems like spring, the sun still sets on its winter schedule, and as I was coming back across the river and passing Medicine Hat city hall (an impressive glass structure), I liked the Christmas lights on the clock tower as it started to become luminous in the gathering dusk. The bare branches accent the piece, I think. Taken as always with my iphone camera.

Hats Off: A Genius

Western military leaders and planners are no doubt adjusting to news, reported today by the New York Times, from the PRNK that their new leader, Kim Jung-On, is now officially a "military genius".

Becoming a military genius is certainly a very impressive achievement for a guy who is still in his 20s. I know lots of Canadian military in their 20s who are bright men and women, but not military geniuses, and unlike Kim, they serve in a military. I'm not even sure that "military genius" exists as a category on our military personnel evaluation forms. So all in all, very impressive. Bravo. I'm pretty sure that Napoleon and Hitler had to wait until at least early middle age for that accolade.

Still, I'm worried about young Kim peaking too early. After all, where do you go from "military genius"? Maybe "military super genius"? If so, then God help us all, because military super genius doubtless comes with some pretty amazing skills, such as melting enemy tanks with one's fiery gaze.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

2011: My Year In Running

Today I had the chance to check my 2011 run results as kept by Nike Plus.

Quick summary:

Kilometres run: 784 (523 in 2010)
Kilometres per week: 16 (11 in 2010)
Average Pace: 6.50 per km (8'19' in 2010)
Calories Burned: 69,358 (44,491 in 2010)
Average runs per week: 3
Fastest run: 5.11 per km
Longest run: 21.45km

2012 goals:
I said I would run a full marathon before I turn fifty. That leaves me until 14 November to meet that goal.

Improve my pace

Get to an average of 4 runs per week

Not wreck my knees

Sunday, January 1, 2012

What's In A Name?

A Sermon for the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus

Preached at St. Barnabas Anglican Church, Medicine Hat, AB, 1 January 2012
Num 6:22-27, Ps 8, Phil 2:9-13, Luke 2:15-21

Our names, particularly our first or, as they were once commonly called, our Christian names, are powerful things. They mark as us individuals, and hint at the rich complexity that each of us carries within. They are the sign of intimate relationships with family, friends, and lovers. Sometimes they connect us to our ancestry if they are names that run in a family. They can morph into pet names or nicknames, known only to a few. To the rest of the world, whether its Canada Revenue or the cashier at Safeway, I may be “Mr. Peterson”, but to a relative few I am either Michael or Mike. I have to confess that I prefer it that way. I don’t want a stranger at the car dealership to start referring to me as “Mike” during a pitch, following the practice of many salespeople who seem trained to drop the prospect’s first name as often as humanly possible. That practice always annoys me because it is an unearned familiarity, but also it’s an abuse of the power that lies in our names. Our names have power, and we don’t give that power away to just anyone.

This Sunday is about the power that lines in names. In the liturgical calendar this Sunday, like Jesus, has several names. Sometimes it is referred to, rather unimaginatively, as “The First Sunday After Christmas” or, as some clergy call it, “Not Many People In Church Sunday”. In the old Prayer Book, whose 450th anniversary (that is, of the 1662 version) we celebrate in 2012, this Sunday is known as The Feast of the Circumcision of Christ. As we hear in today’s Gospel, Jesus, like all Jewish male infants (see Leviticus 12.3), receives his circumcision to mark him as one of the chosen people of Israel. A third name for this Sunday is TheFeast of the Holy Name of Jesus, because Jewish circumcision, like Christian baptism, is when children are given the names which mark them as individuals within their family. The scripture readings chosen today invite us to think about what the name of Jesus means, what our own names mean, and how the two are connected.

Through Advent and Christmas we have heard Jesus referred to in several ways. Isaiah prophesied that “a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Is 7:4), and this prophecy is remembered in Matthew’s nativity story. . In Luke the angels who tell the shepherds about Jesus simply refer to Jesus by his titles, saying that Jesus will be “the Messiah”, the annointed one or Saviour. The Greek word for Messiah, “Christos”, has become linked to the name of Jesus so that “Jesus Christ” sometimes seems today like a proper name. In fact his proper name is singular, “Jesus”, and it is the name that the Angel Gabriel instructs Mary to call the child she has yet to conceive. In Matthew the angel explains to Joseph that the child Mary is carrying will be named Jesus, because the name, Jesus or as it was known then, “Yeshua”, means in Hebrew “he shall save his people from their sins” (Mt 1:21). So the etymology of Jesus’ name literally enacts the the meaning of his title, Messiah or Christ. Jesus is the one who will save his people, and, by extension, save us.

The name of Jesus is thus linked to his mission of salvation. It is a name that carries the full purposes and power of God the Father who sends Jesus to us. The name of Jesus is like no other name in the Bible, like no other name that we know. It is as this a name that has broken in to our reality from a higher realm, from the kingdom of God itself. It is a name that stands at the heart of the struggle between God’s purposes for life and light and all the forces of darkness that rage against that light. There are several hints in the Gospels that Jesus and his power are well known by demons, such as the one known as Legion who cries ‘What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? “ (Luke 8:28) which has equivalents elsewhere (Mark 1:24, Matthew 8:30). I think one of our challenges as followers of Jesus is to recover our sense of the power of his name, as the most wonderful and potent word that we can call on in our times of need and darkness. This recovery means stripping off the layers of overfamiliarity, neglect, and scorn that our culture has encrusted the name with, so that once again we find the word “Jesus” to be this amazing gift of salvation that comes straight from God. Some of us, myself included, also need to recover our willngness to name Jesus without fear of embarrassment or giving offence to others. I recall attending a meeting of Synod in the Diocese of Huron where we all belted out that great Anglican hymn, “At the Name of Jesus”, and then debated reasons why we shouldn’t adopt a new plan for evangelism least we offend non-believers. I think we need to have more confidence in the name of Jesus.

One of the fears that came out at that Synod I mentioned was the feeing that we didn’t want to “shove our religion down people’s throats”, a very Anglican sentiment. Perhaps if we had paid more attention to the hymn we had just sung, “At the Name of Jesus”, based on Philippians 2, we would have realized that this fear is baseless. Paul writes that God the Father gives Jesus a name “that is above every name”, a name that has the power to make every knee on earth bend, but Paul also notes that there is nothing coercive or compulsory about the power of this name. The name of Jesus may be feared by demons, but it is also the name of the one who “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave” and who “humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross” (Phil 2:5-8). The name of Jesus is the name of the one who came to serve and rescue humanity. It is the name that God gives to us not as a command for our submission, but rather gives to us as a blessing. In our first lesson, from Numbers, we hear the blessing that God gives to Aaron for the Israelites, a blessing that is much loved and used by Christians. The last part of that blessing is not usually heard, and it says “they shall put my name on the Israelites” (Num 6:27). I think that our epistle is a fulfulling of that passage, that the name of Jesus is likewise put on us as a blessing rather than as a burden, as that which connects us to the saving purposes of God.

Let me finish in a way that is less theological and more grounded, by asking you to think about your name. Take a moment to reflect on the origins and meaning of your name. Where did it come from? Why was it chosen for you? What does it mean – does it have its own etymology? If you’re not sure, a fun place to look is a website called behindthename.com. Now think about when your name was first used in your life as a follower of Jesus. In the old Prayer Book, the person being baptized is referred to either as “this Child” or “this thy Servant” until the climax of the service, when the priest says “Name this Child”. I love that moment in the liturgy because it’s then that the parents and godparents speak the name by which their child will be known as an individual, with all his hopes and dreams, for the rest of his or her life. And it’s that moment where God takes that person, and links that person with His own mighty and powerful and loving and generous name, when the priest says “I baptize you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spriit. Amen”. It’s at that point that our particular, given name becomes our Christian name, and links us with the salvation of God through our earthly lives.

In the old Prayer Book, there was a service called the Office of Instruction which was a preparation for confirmation. It began with these questions put by the minister to the candidates.

Question: What is your Christian Name?
Answer: My Christian Name is ._______________.
Question: Who gave you this Name?
Answer: My Sponsors gave me this Name in Baptism: wherein I was made a member of Christ, the child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven.

Those two questions and answers tell you all you need to know about the Name of Jesus. It is the name of God’s son. It is the name feared by demons. It is the name that was connected with your name at your baptism, in a bond so strong that it will bring you through life, through death, with bonds so strong at it will bring you to stand with Jesus, the one who saves his people. Amen.

Mad Padre

Mad Padre
Opinions expressed within are in no way the responsibility of anyone's employers or facilitating agencies and should by rights be taken as nothing more than one person's notional musings, attempted witticisms, and prayerful posturings.


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