Bradley Manning talks about his treatment

At his hearing, the alleged Wikileaks leaker describes his harsh treatment while being detained and how he tried to keep himself sane.

The more he protested the harsh conditions under which he was being held, the more that was taken as evidence that he was a suicide risk, leading to yet more tightening of the restrictions imposed upon him.

He was under constant observation, made to go to the toilet in full view of the guards, had all possessions removed from his cell, spent at times only 20 minutes outside his cell and even then was always chained in hand and leg irons.

He told a sergeant that he thought was sympathetic to him that these precautions were useless since if he wanted to commit suicide, he could do it with his flip-flops and his underwear.

That night guards arrived at his cell and ordered him to strip naked. He was left without any clothes overnight, and the following morning made to stand outside his cell and stand to attention at the brig count, still nude, as officers inspected him.

The humiliating ritual continued for several days, and right until the day he was transferred from Quantico on 20 April 2011 he had his underwear removed every night. The brig authorities later stated that in their view the exceptional depriving of an inmate’s underpants was a necessary precaution, in the light of his ominous comments about using his underwear and flip-flops to harm himself.

They piled one petty humiliation upon another.

The cell contained a toilet that was in the line of vision of the observation booth, and he was not allowed toilet paper. When he needed it, he told the court, he would stand to attention by the front bars of the cell and shout out to the observation guards: “Lance Corporal Detainee Manning requests toilet paper!”

It seems clear that they were trying to break him mentally.

He was put on a schedule whereby he would be woken up at 10 o’clock at night and given lights out at 2 o’clock in the afternoon. “My nights blended into my days and my days into nights,” he told the court.

At night the light situation was even worse. Because he was considered a possible risk of self-harm throughout his time at Quantico, he was under observation throughout the night, with a fluorescent light located right outside the cell blazing into his eyes. While asleep he would frequently cover his eyes with his suicide blanket, or turn on to his side away from the light, and on those occasions, sometimes three times a night, the guards would bang on his cell bars to wake him up so they could see his face.

It is a chilling account. It would drive anyone crazy.

Palestine admitted to the United Nations as an observer state

Yesterday saw a significant step forward for the Palestinians. The United Nations General Assembly voted to admit Palestine to ‘non-member observer State’ status, a step up from its previous status as an observer ‘entity’. The vote breakdown was overwhelmingly in favor with 138 voting yes, just 9 against, 41 abstentions and 5 countries not taking part in the voting. The text of the resolution can be seen here and how each country voted can be seen here. [Read more...]

Faster-than-light travel using spacetime distortions

The speed of light is the biggest barrier to the dream of intergalactic travel and the chance that we might ever encounter extraterrestrial intelligent beings. Faster than light travel has been the Holy Grail of scientists and science fiction writers and indeed of anyone who dreams of visiting distant stars and galaxies. After the recent unfortunate premature hype over the claims of faster-than-light neutrinos, I thought that we would not hear of such claims for some time. But it appears that scientists at NASA have been working on an idea that would enable faster-than-light travel. [Read more...]

The evolutionary mystery of homosexuality

The theory of evolution by natural selection says that changes come about incrementally, as a result of the long-term consequences of small selection advantages for favorable traits. The selection advantage is measured by differential rates in the production of offspring. If organisms with a new and favorable trait produce 101 offspring for every 100 produced by the older forms, the selection advantage s is said to be 0.01. The changes produced by even such a small reproductive advantage can be quite dramatic. If we start with a trait that is present in just 0.1% of the population and if this has a small selection advantage of size s=0.01, this variety will grow to become 99.9% of the population in just under 1,400 generations (in the codominant mode of selection) which is a very short time on the evolutionary scale. (Molecular Evolution, Wen-Hsiung Li, 1997, p. 39) [Read more...]

Can machines be programmed to make moral judgments?

Gary Marcus predicts that in a few decades, we may all not only have the option of traveling in driverless cars, we may even be obligated to do so.

Within two or three decades the difference between automated driving and human driving will be so great you may not be legally allowed to drive your own car, and even if you are allowed, it would be immoral of you to drive, because the risk of you hurting yourself or another person will be far greater than if you allowed a machine to do the work.

[Read more...]

Pat Robertson, friend of science?

There has been some excitement because Pat Robertson, of all people, recently told a viewer of his TV show that the Earth is much older than 6,000 years, and that Christians should stop trying to pretend that it is and that everything happened within that time. He says that if parents try to fight ‘revealed’ science (whatever that is) they will lose their children. He even talks about radiocarbon dating and fossils in support of his position! (Via Pharyngula.) [Read more...]