Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Balance of Control and Respect Enhances Prison Quality

Until now, little has been known about the relative strengths and weaknesses of public and private prisons, PhysOrg.com reports. As public sector prisons move towards the thin staffing level model of profit making institutions, with their high turnover of personnel who are less connected to their occupation, a four prison comparison funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) warns of a potentially detrimental impact on prison quality. Professor Liebling of Cambridge University led the study which found that private prisons showed weaknesses in policing, control, organisation, consistency, and prisoner development.

Managers in the private sector prisons acknowledged that staff did not follow procedures as well as public sector staff. Both of the private prisons they looked at had relatively inexperienced staff, and were sometimes hampered by their tighter staffing levels. Staff training in these prisons aimed to foster a respectful and positive staff culture, and appeared to be successful in doing so.

However, the benign intentions of staff were hindered by their lack of experience. The ways that staff used their authority had a significant impact on prison performance and the prisoner experience. In one of the private prisons, staff tended to overuse their authority to achieve order, to the detriment of interpersonal relationships. In the other, staff underused their power and maintained good relationships but at the expense of safety and control.

In the public sector prisons, officers were confident and knowledgeable, delivering routines that were safer and more reliable than in the private sector. However, uniformed staff in the public sector was more jaded and cynical than those in the private sector, and this limited the levels of care and humanity that prisoners experienced. Indeed, when the research team evaluated three further private prisons, they found that prisoner quality of life was higher in two of these additional prisons than in either the poorer performing private prisons or either of the public sector prisons in the study. In these prisons, prisoners described feeling able to change and develop personally. Order, organisation and consistency as well as respect and fairness were part of what made a prison work.

Staff prisoner relationships are key to prison quality. Where relationships have the right balance of control and respect almost all aspects of the prisoner experience are enhanced. Staff and prisoners still speak a moral language of making a difference but there is a general shift in the Prison Service towards a “security and efficiency” driven management style that risks stifling professional enthusiasm by its process and performance oriented culture.

Advertising Can Warp Your Memory

Some people were asked to read a descriptive printed advertisement describing the taste of popcorn with a fictional name but made by a familiar food brand. Others were asked to taste popcorn labeled with the fictional name. A week later, asked what the fictional popcorn tasted like, those who merely read the advertisement were just as likely to report eating the popcorn as people who actually ate it. N V Montgomery, with Priyali Rajagopal, an author of the study, said:

What we found is that if consumers falsely believe they have experienced this advertised brand, their evaluations of that product are similar to evaluations of products that they actually experienced. That is a fairly unique finding.

The phenomenon of false memories is well known in psychology, and this research extends it to marketing. But when the researchers replaced the well known brand name behind the popcorn with an unknown brand name but kept the same product name and vivid advertisement the effect was less pronounced, so the impression made by the brand name was crucial to the false memory. Michael Nash, a professor of psychology at the University of Tennessee - Knoxville said:

Humans are a lot more inaccurate than we think we are.

Montgomery said:

Advertisers have known that there are benefits to using vivid ads. I don’t know to what extent they are aware that these ads can impact memory.

He concluded:

Our intent was really just to educate consumers that they need to be vigilant when they’re processing high imagery ads, because these vivid ads can create these false memories of product experience.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Bin Laden Assassination—the Conspiracy Theories

Conspiracy theories about the death of Osama bin Laden have been fueled by the US military’s rapid disposal of the body at sea, and the US announcement it would not release any images of bin Laden’s dead body. When the Americans killed Mullah Dadullah, Taliban’s chief military commander, they publicly showed the footage. Canadian deputy Leader of the Opposition and MP, Thomas Mulcair, stated in an interview with CBC Television:

I don’t think from what I’ve heard that those pictures [of bin Laden’s body] exist.

Fox News has challenged the DNA evidence confirming Bin Laden’s death. Andrew Napolitano of Freedom Watch said Bin Laden’s death could not be verified. To be 99.9 percent certain of the identity by DNA, as was claimed, the test had to have been compared against the DNA of a mother and father, or several natural brothers or sisters. DNA was available only from half brothers and half sisters, which makes that degree of certainty impossible, unless a busload of them had been tested.

Radio host, Alex Jones, among many others, thinks Bin Laden has been dead for years, and his body had been kept frozen on ice to be used as a propaganda tool at a future politically expedient time. In 2002, he claimed that an anonymous White House source had told him that bin Laden “is frozen, literally frozen and that he would be rolled out in the future at some date”. Former Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, said in 2003, “Yes we have been told by intelligence that they’ve got him, Bush may roll him out but because they exposed that at the election they didn’t do it”.

Stephen Lendman, citing former Pakistani president, Benazir Bhutto, said that Bin Laden died of natural causes in mid December 2001. Obama’s announcement was an excuse to involve the United States in wars with Pakistan. Maybe that is why the Pakistanis are particularly skeptical of the alleged raid and assassination.

Abbottabad residents said the announcement of Osama’s death was a US conspiracy against Pakistan. Some residents doubted not only that Bin Laden was dead, but also that he ever lived among them. A local lawyer agreed with Thomas Mulcair:

They’re just making it up. Nobody has seen the body.

Pakistani officials said no firefight had ever taken place:

Not a single bullet was fired from the compound at the US forces and their choppers.

Bin Laden was captured alive, and executed outside the compound in front of his 12-year old daughter. Then his body was taken away by helicopter. An article in the Urdu newspaper Ausaf quoted military sources as saying:

Arabic news network Al-Arabiya claimed senior Pakistani security officials said Osama Bin Laden was captured alive in his Pakistani hideout and then shot by US special forces. His 12 year old saw her father executed and his body dragged to a helicopter.

Another Pakistani official rejected US accounts of the bloody firefight, saying:

Bin Laden has been killed somewhere else. But since the US intends to extend the Afghan war into Pakistan, and accuse Pakistan, and obtain a permit for its military’s entry into the country, it has devised the [Seal operation] scenario.

Hamid Gul former head of Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) said Bin laden had died many years ago and that the official death story given out by the American media was a hoax. He thinks the American government knew about Bin Laden’s death years ago:

They were keeping this story on the ice and they were looking for an appropriate moment, and it couldn’t be a better moment because President Obama had to fight off his first salvo in his next year’s election as he runs for president.

Contrary to that, others think Bin Laden was actually working with the US during the entire war on terror. Bin Laden was the main source of US help in the war on terror. He had been a US agent in Afghanistan when the Taliban were fighting the Soviets. A source was quoted as saying:

The West has been very pleased with Bin Laden’s operations in recent years. Now the West was forced to kill him in order to prevent a possible leak of information he had, information more precious than gold.

Pakistanis offer a unifying theory for the apparently discordant theories being bandied about. Bin Laden truly did die in 2001, but the US found a body double for them to pretend he was still alive, and to make the Bin Laden videos for “Al Qaida” to release after his death. US agencies and the Pakistan intelligence worked together to keep the double safe, eventually in the compound minutes away from the Pakistani military academy, a very safe place, and a place where videos could be made without fear of detection. Unbeknown to the poor dupe who was now Bin Laden, when the time was ripe, he was to be assassinated as Bin Laden! That is what happened on 2 May, but the release of photos meant the body might be recognized as not being Bin Laden. Diversionary fakes had to be released first, so that when the “real ones” come out, they too will be doubted!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Smug Gloating over the Murderous efficiency of the USA Bodes Ill

In the US, the killing of Osama Bin Laden seemed to have been everything that President Obama could have wished for with his battle for a second term on the immediate horizon. Raucous celebrations hit the US streets and Obama’s approval rating shot up by 9 per cent. A more reflective mood seems to be taking hold in the US at the cold blooded military execution of an unarmed and untried man.

Few people would want to defend Bin Laden, but anyone concerned with the application of proper democratic and civilized principles, especially in a violent cultural competition with those constantly accused of the opposite, his extrajudicial killing without trial by marines dropped illegally into a foreign country without permission are now starting to brood about the consequences of the operation. Slamming through anyone’s home shooting unarmed residents including women and children cannot advance the cause of law and justice. Even supposing the house had been under surveillance for some time, the marines could not have been sure whom they might have killed.

The initial infantile bogeyman propaganda soon began being revised into its opposite. Bin Laden did not use his wife as a human shield. She rushed spontaneously at a US gunman who shot her in the leg. The armed resistance of Bin Laden was false, he was unarmed and defenceless, as were everyone in the main building. The resistance came from a guard outside in the compound.

This execution has revived arguments about the illegality of the war on terror and has raised all the issues that made it such a controversial and unacceptable policy. Summary justice reflects the disregard for law that the US has shown in Iraq, Afghanistan, and now Libya, at Guantanamo Bay, and continually with Iran, the Yemen, Pakistan and elsewhere. It is the conduct of a state that has no regard for the rights of others where its own interests are concerned.

The point of justice is that the evidence for and against someone can be heard, and people are judged by their peers, not their enemies. The USA nominally subscribes to that form of justice. Bin Laden was a human being and deserved the same right to justice as anyone else, a trial, establishment of identity, a plea, presentation of the evidence for and against, examination of it, and a fair judgement. Failure to follow the rules of law, the due process of law, is ultimately a danger to everyone. It damages our claims to be a superior civilisation to that of our enemies and detractors, the terrorists. The Nazis were surely far worse criminals than any modern terrorist but were accorded the right to defend themselves at Nuremburg. Besides sending illegal hit squads to assassinate people abroad, the rulers of the USA feel free to start wars of imperial conquest, to set up concentration camps, to torture people, and to murder of foreigners, most of whom are innocent, in distant countries by robot aircraft armed with missiles.

Eight missiles from a US Predator drone led to the destruction of a vehicle carrying “foreign militants” in Datta Khel in north Waziristan, Pakistan, killing 15 people as it approached a roadside restaurant, according to Pakistani intelligence officials. The restaurant and a nearby house were hit and at least one civilian was among the dead. Barack Obama’s administration has favored the use of CIA unmanned drones because no American can be killed or injured while feeding the dogs of war in the US. Nor does the US government publicly acknowledge its responsibility for these attacks though it is the only force able to deploy them. The US Brookings Institute estimates that the drones kill 10 civilians for every alleged terrorist killed. The Conflict Monitoring Centre says at least 900 Pakistanis were killed by drones in 2010, “the vast majority” of whom being civilians.

Another US drone fired a missile at a car in Yemen’s Shabwa province killing two brothers suspected of being Al Qaida militants, the first in Yemen since 2002. The Defence Ministry confirmed the deaths. Shabwa provincial officials identified the two as Abdullah and Mosaad Mubarak. The Yemeni foreign minister had already said the government would no longer allow missile strikes by pilotless aircraft because of the high rate of civilians killed and injured by them.

These were within days of the death of Bin Laden. The USA is beginning to sound worryingly Nazi itself! Where is the barrier to stop some administration from acting with equal arbitrariness at home. All they need is some suitable atrocity to blame on whoever they want to attack. The Nazis burnt the Reichstag building as an excuse to set up martial law. How long can the rule of law last in the USA when it is so easily abrogated elsewhere? The fact that there seems to be pretty general approval for the violation of law in the USA, and the added fact that few have the nerve to contest it, does not bode well. The USA is rushing like lemmings to their own destruction while gloating smugly over their power to destroy others.

Reporting, the UK Morning Star

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Was Osama Bin Laden Dead All Along?

Political commentators, academics and some terror experts are now speaking out that Osama has been dead since 13 December 2001. Bin Laden tapes made since that date are fakes concocted by Bush and Blair's secret agents to offer oxygen for the wars on terror, Iraq and Afghanistan. Some videos show him with a Semitic, aquiline nose, others show him with a shorter, broad nose. On one video, Bin Laden wears golden rings on his fingers, an adornment banned among Wahhabis. According to the UK Daily Mail, former US foreign intelligence officer, Angelo M Codevilla, a professor of international relations at Boston University, had said before the recent news:

All the evidence suggests Elvis Presley is more alive today than Osama Bin Laden.

Osama Bin Laden: Dead or Alive? by political analyst and philosopher Professor David Ray Griffin, former emeritus professor at California's Claremont School of Theology, says Bin Laden died of kidney failure, or a linked complaint, on 13 December, 2001, while living in Afghanistan's Tora Bora mountains close to the border with Waziristan. He was buried in an unmarked grave, a Wahhabi custom, within 24 hours, according to Muslim tradition.

Bin Laden had already insisted four times in official Al Qaeda statements made to the Arab press that he played no role in 9/11. On September 28, a fortnight after the atrocity, he declared emphatically:

I have already said I am not involved. As a Muslim, I try my best to avoid telling a lie. I had no knowledge… nor do I consider the killing of innocent women, children and other humans as an appreciable act.

Then on 13 December, 2001, the date Bin Laden really died, the US Government released a new Bin Laden video in which he contradicted his previous denials, admitting his involvement in 9/11. Moreover, in this film, Bin Laden looks quite different. Previously he had looked pale, thin and ill because he had a serious kidney condition and had been in a hospital in Dubai for treatment only weeks before 9/11. Now he was a weighty man with a black beard, not a grey one, with dark skin not pale skin, and with a different shaped nose. His original slender fingers had become those of a boxer. He also looked healthy. Lastly, he was writing with his right hand—he was left handed. Griffin adds:

A reason to suspect that all of the post-2001 Bin Laden tapes are fabrications is that they often appeared at times that boosted the Bush presidency or supported a claim by its chief “war on terror” ally, British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

News of Bin Laden's kidney failure, or death, appeared on 19 January, 2002, four months after 9/11. Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf told CNN:

I think now, frankly, he is dead for the reason he is a kidney patient. The images of him show he is extremely weak.

Benazir Bhutto also remarked in an Al Jazeera interview with Frost before she was killed that Bin laden was dead. The Egyptian newspaper Al-Wafd reported a prominent official of the Afghan Taliban as saying that Osama Bin Laden had been buried on or about 13 December:

He suffered serious complications and died a natural, quiet death. He was buried in Tora Bora, a funeral attended by 30 Al Qaeda fighters, close members of his family and friends from the Taliban. By the Wahhabi tradition, no mark was left on the grave.

His last will and testament was carried by a London based Arab newspaper in 2001.

Blair and Bush lied to us perhaps more even than anyone suspected. Why are they not being arrested?

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Osama’s Central Role in the US Propaganda “Myth”

Adam Curtis, in the UK Guardian has written an interesting and honest piece about the death of Osama Bin Laden, and the role he had in the US political world view. He explains that although bin Laden helped to kill thousands of innocent people, the west needed him!

When communism collapsed in 1989, the scare story drilled over decades into westerners—that of the global battle against a distant dark and evil force—evaporated. The story was that of the good guys against the bad guys, born out of the war against the Nazis and the imperial Japanese in the second world war—a just war. Though in Europe few honest observers will deny that it was the Soviet Union that defeated Hitler’s Germany, after the war it was communism that was set up as the original evil empire, and communists became the bad guys in the cold war, first the Russians, then the Koreans and Chinese too, then the Vietnamese, and constantly all those poor countries whose people tried to get free of the grasp of US business. Then anti-Sovietism and anti-communism were academic subjects, now it is anti-Islam and anti-terrorism.

In the confusion of a global economic crisis in 1998 Bin Laden emerged as responsible for bombing US embassies in east Africa. From 2001, neoconservative politicians took what little they knew of Bin Laden to mold him in the shape of the global monster they were now missing—an evil enemy with spies and sabateurs everywhere intent on destroying western civilisation—ie the US. Al Qaida was the new Soviet Union, and Bin Laden was its evil director, a mad puppeteer pulling strings all over the world. What was a minor threat compared with US power was magnified into something meant to replace the Soviet Union in the minds of the 25 percent or so of people who will believe everything that the pro government media offers them, for the reporting of the Islamist terror threat was always distorted to reflect this propaganda narrative.

Neoconservatives, the news media, and Bin Laden were partners in pumping up the threat of a new evil empire. It gave the neocons a perfect myth, in the pseudo Platonic jargon invented by Leo Strauss, the neofascist godfather of neoconservatism—useful lies, in truth—to feed fear to the masses that would distract them from the shenanigans going on in reality. It served the propaganda function of the media while selling plenty of hair raising copy, and it suited Bin Laden who was desperate to seem to be important to his frustrated Islamist followers. The Moslem Brotherhood, a conservative Islamic organization reject Bin Laden as ever representing Moslem views. In his announcement of the death, Obama agreed—he did not.

In Afghanistan, the neoconservative myth has led to fantasies that justify the activity there of western military, and nothing else. The good against evil myth suits the US political desire to be free to intervene anywhere they choose, but the world is no more just black and white in nature for imagining it to be so. Reality has shades of grey and even different hues. Neglect of them prevents a proper critical framework to judge the whole situation and to tailor responses accordingly.

Of course, Bin Laden’s death was immediately presented as we are conditioned to expect—cowardly, as bullies are meant to be. He was reported as dying while shooting at his assailants, sheltering behind one of his wives, who consequently had to die so that the evil master could be shot twice—blam, blam—in the head. A day later, Bin Laden turned out to unarmed and so unable to get off any shots. Why, then, he had to be shot is unclear, but he was shot in the chest then straight into his left eye. His wife was not killed but wounded in the leg, and it seems she was not shielding him. Another woman was also killed, and one of his sons, whose identity changed also. As the whole thing was reportedly videoed, the confusion seems strange.

Bin Laden’s death is actually a serious blow to the US’s propaganda paradigm. Immediately, Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, hurried to assure anyone delerious with relief, that the end of Bin Laden was not the end of terrorism. They need to preserve the myth, and if it fails, they need to find a new one. What will it be? Who will be the next bad guy? The myths are written by those in power, to suit their own interests, and their interests are not necessarily, or even often, those of the ordinary American. America is run for its super rich class. When enough of them realize it, the new myth will be of a monstrous Joker ruling Gotham City from within, and every yankee will be suspect. The stage is set for it already.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Kindergarten Math Skills Predict Later Academic Achievement Best

The transition from a home to a school environment is seen by many kindergarten teachers as associated with learning difficulties like an inability to follow directions, trouble working independently or in groups, and a lack of academic skills. A National Research Council report reckons social and emotional aptitude is as important as language and cognition in young children’s scholastic achievement, while another NRC report emphasizes the importance of early acquisition of linguistic skills, and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics considers good math instruction helps 3 to 6 year olds.

To shed light on what constitutes school readiness and which K-5 skills and behaviors predict later academic success, UC Irvine distinguished professor of education, Greg Duncan and colleagues identified six population based data sets—involving 16,387 children—that included measures of reading and math competency, attention skills, prosocial behavior, and antisocial and internalizing behavior taken around the time of school entry, as well as measures of reading and math competency taken later in the primary or middle school years. Duncan says:

We found that only three of the school entry measures predicted subsequent academic success—early reading, early math and attention skills, with early math skills being most consistently predictive. Early behavior problems and social skills were not associated with later reading and math achievement. These patterns generally held both across studies and within each of the six data sets examined.

A student’s school entry ability to pay attention and stay on task is modestly predictive of later achievement, while early problem behavior and other dimensions of social and mental health issues are not at all correlated. If school readiness is defined as having the skills and behaviors that best predict subsequent academic success, concrete numeracy and literacy skills are decidedly more important than socio-emotional behaviors.
Prof Greg Duncan

Early math skills appear to be the strongest predictor of subsequent scholastic success, more so than early reading skills. While this analysis provides a clear pointer to the relative role of school entry skills and behaviors, Duncan and Katherine Magnuson of the University of Wisconsin-Madison recently extended the work with a second study using two large data sets (2,843 children) and the same achievement, attention and behavior measures.

They determined that K-5 students with persistently low math skills were much less likely to graduate from high school or attend college. The math results were striking. Children with persistent math problems in elementary school were 13 percentage points less likely to graduate from high school and 29 percentage points less likely to attend college.

Surprisingly, chronic reading problems were not predictive of these outcomes, after accounting for the fact that children who struggle with reading tend to also struggle with math. In contrast to the first study’s findings, persistent antisocial behavior was correlated to dropping out of high school and not attending college. But chronic difficulty paying attention and internalizing behavior were not predictive of this. Duncan proposes further work:

The next level of research should focus on why math skills—which combine conceptual and procedural competencies—are the most powerful predictor of subsequent achievement and attainment. Experimental evaluations of early math programs that focus on particular skills and track children’s reading and math performance throughout elementary school could help identify missing causal links between early skills and later success.

Prejudice Adversely Affects How Americans Judge their President

A University of Delaware psychology post graduate student, Eric Hehman, who specializes in intergroup relations focuses on prejudice and discrimination, and recently received a national research award for his work on it. The national award was won for his work on what characteristics of a person caused others to remember or forget having seen their face before. He found that people tend to recognize members of their own racial group better than those of different races, though they are better still at recognizing people of any race when they are considered similar to them in some other way, like being students of the same alma mater.

Following from this, Hehman noticed that the criticisms of Obama seemed to go beyond the kinds of criticisms that are commonly heard about presidents’ policies. He particularly noticed that rumors of doubts about Obama’s birth certificate, his religion and allegations that he was corrupting children with a socialist agenda and seemed not strictly based in reality. Hehman said:

I found these controversies fairly strange and wondered if the impetus behind them was rooted in racism, manifesting and rationalizing itself in accusations of Obama’s “un-Americanism”. Some of professor Gaertner’s previous work had dealt with similar issues of unintentional racial biases influencing behavior, often without the person even being aware of their biases. So investigating this with regard to Obama was a natural step.

Hehman’s hypothesis was that whites’ racial prejudices influenced how American they thought Obama was, and affected how they judged his presidential performance. Hehman predicted that whites would be the only group in which such racial prejudice would affect their judgements of performance, and that it would affect only their judgements of the president because he was black. He hypothesized that when whites judged Vice President, Joseph R Biden Jr, or when African Americans judged either Obama or Biden, racial prejudices would have no affect.

The paper describing the study, “Evaluations of Presidential Performance: Race, Prejudice, and Perceptions of Americanism”, appeared in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. UD professor of psychology Samuel Gaertner was Hehman’s adviser and co-author.

Hehman asked about 300 white and black members of the UD community to judge the success in office of either Obama or Biden. He said:

Our predictions were supported. Whites who were racially prejudiced against blacks saw Obama as “less American” and subsequently rated him as performing more poorly as president. Non-prejudiced whites, and both prejudiced and non-prejudiced blacks, did not do so. Additionally and importantly, this relationship was only found with Obama, and not in evaluations of Biden.

Racial prejudice among some white Americans—even though unintentional—influences their views of President Barack Obama’s “Americanism” and how well he is performing in office. Hehman hoped his paper would cause readers to see that:

…even among people who think themselves unprejudiced, unconscious racial prejudices could manifest themselves with important outcomes, such as evaluations of the leader of our country. I hope they examine their opinions and behaviors, both political and otherwise, to ensure they are based on a steady foundation of fact, rather than racial uncomfortability or prejudice.