Weekly Roundup 5/31/2011

After Combat, the Unexpected Perils of Coming Home
James Dao, The New York Times, May 29, 2011

Synopsis: The New York Times chronicled the yearlong deployment of the First Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment, in Afghanistan in a series of articles and in an interactive, multimedia feature on The Times’ website. In the final installment, national correspondent James Dao, who covers military and veterans’ affairs, explains, as the headline put it, “the unexpected perils of coming home.” Dao’s overview is worth quoting in full:

“For a year, they had navigated minefields and ducked bullets, endured tedium inside barbed-wired outposts and stitched together the frayed seams of long-distance relationships. One would think that going home would be the easiest thing troops could do.

“But it is not so simple. The final weeks in a war zone are often the most dangerous, as weary troops get sloppy or unfocused. Once they arrive home, alcohol abuse, traffic accidents and other measures of mayhem typically rise as they blow off steam.

“Weeks later, as the joy of return subsides, deep-seated emotional or psychological problems can begin to show. The sleeplessness, anxiety and irritability of post-traumatic stress disorder, for instance, often take months to emerge as combat veterans confront the tensions of home and the recurring memories of war.

“In their new normal, troops must reconnect with children, adjust to more independent spouses and dial back the hypervigilance that served them well in combat — but that can alienate them from civilians.

“ ‘The hardest part for me is, I guess, not being on edge,’ said Staff Sgt. Francisco Narewski, a father of three who just completed his second deployment. ‘I feel like I need to do something, like I need to go on mission or I need to check my soldiers. And I’m not.’”

For background, see these CQ Researcher reports (subscription required): Peter Katel, “America at War: Update,” Aug. 13, 2010; Thomas J. Billitteri, “Afghanistan Dilemma,” Aug. 7, 2009; Roland Flamini, “Afghanistan on the Brink,” CQ Global Researcher, June 2007. See also Peter Katel, “Caring for Veterans,” CQ Researcher, April 23, 2010.

--Kenneth Jost, Associate Editor


Could Conjoined Twins Share a Mind?
Susan Dominus, The New York Times Magazine, May 29, 2011


Krista and Tatiana Hogan, 4-year-old twins in British Columbia, are connected at their heads, their skulls merged under shaggy brown bangs. “The girls run and play and go down their backyard slide,” writes Susan Dominus, “but whatever they do, they do together, their heads forever inclined toward each other’s, their neck muscles strong and sinuous from a never-ending workout.”


Conjoined twins are a rarity, of course. But what makes good-natured Tatiana and Krista truly extraordinary is the link between their two brains, or what their neurosurgeon calls a thalamic bridge. “The girls’ doctors believe it is entirely possible that the sensory input that one girl receives could somehow cross that bridge into the brain of the other,” Dominus writes. “One girl drinks, another girl feels it.”

--Thomas J. Colin, Contributing Editor


The Secret Sharer
Jane Mayer, The New Yorker, May 23, 2011

In a piece that received considerable attention as soon as it hit the Web, Jane Mayer dissects the investigation and prosecution of a National Security Agency (NSA) employee who faces 35 years in prison for his dealings with a reporter for the Baltimore Sun who was writing about apparent mismanagement at the agency. Mayer, in turn, uses the case of ex-NSA staffer Thomas Drake to examine the Obama administration’s treatment of employees who leak information to expose wrongdoing. These so-called “whistle-blowers” were praised by Obama – when he was new to his job. His administration seems either to have forgotten that attitude, or to have changed it, civil libertarians -- and some conservative commentators -- told Mayer.

For background, see Alex Kingsbury, "Government Secrecy," CQ Researcher, Feb. 11, 2011. (Subscription required.)

--Peter Katel, Staff Writer


Spies, Meet Shakespeare: Intel Geeks Build Metaphor Motherlode
Lena Groeger, Wired blogs, May 25, 2011

Synopsis: Computers meet poetry in a new project by the government’s Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity, the agency that chases cutting-edge ideas to improve U.S. intelligence operations. IARPA personnel hope to train computers to search for, identify and categorize common metaphors for certain “target concepts” in many languages and, presumably, use the results to better understand the hidden truths beneath what potential allies and enemies write and say.

Takeaway: “The first step is to identify and collect all those metaphors….That means analyzing loads of textual data, identifying all the metaphors (‘his life took a left turn’; ‘you must find your own way’), mapping them onto a conceptual metaphor (‘life is a journey’) and then … well, after that, it’s not completely clear,” writes Groeger.

For related stories, see Patrick Marshall, “Artificial Intelligence,” CQ Researcher, April 22, 2011; Kenneth Jost, “Interrogating the CIA,” CQ Researcher, Sept. 25, 2009. (Subscription required.)

--Marcia Clemmitt, Staff Writer