Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Life, death, life, death, whatever

Clang, Clang, Clang, Beep, Beep. It must be that stealth soldier again. Fire at the beeps--The Pentagon has long coveted the notion of the high-tech soldier. Donald Rumsfeld was a leading proponent. The military has spent half a billion dollars for a new high-tech gear for the modern soldier, part of Rumsfeld's now-discredited notion that the wars of the future can be won by a small, highly technical, mobile army. The gear includes displays of maps on helmet headpieces showing the position of the unit, radios using encrypted electronic messages to replace hand signals, gun-mounted video cameras to peek around corners and over walls, and a small, light computer to rule them all.

The intent is the creation of a combat intranet. It’s all on its way to Iraq.

There’s only one flaw in the latest version of this equipment, dubbed the Land Warrior System: soldiers hate it and even in training exercises refuse to use it. “It’s just a bunch of stuff we don’t use, taking the place of useful stuff like guns,” one soldier told Noah Shachtman of Popular Mechanics. Among other things, it adds weight (16 pounds) and slows you down, he explained. In the desert heat of Iraq, it will not be greeted, well, warmly. It would bring the total weight of the armor and equipment they shlepp around to 80 pounds.

It sounds wonderful. The flip-down eye-piece would show every other soldier in the unit as a blue triangle, the first time a soldier could track his mates without having to actually see them. That might even cut down on friendly fire incidents. The eye-piece also will show nearby vehicles and maps of the immediate area. The unit includes a battery pack, a paper-back sized computer, a GPS transponder and a controller on the chest armor.

Some of the equipment is off-the-shelf from Fryes Electronics (after the initial defense contractor blew the development and several million dollars). Some of it is already wildly outdated, including the processor running the system which is circa 1999.

Response is slow, taking seconds to create an image on the video monitor, which could get somebody killed.

Fortunately, the Pentagon is rethinking the funding. A billion here, a billion there.…

We’re very squeamish about executing people so just lie there quietly while I try to find a vein to put the poisons in--For several years, lawyers for condemned prisoners have petitioned courts to cancel executions on grounds the method of choice these days, IV-inserted lethal drugs, was cruel and unusual punishment. For years, these claims were rejected as just another excuse to delaying a death penalty. But recently, courts and state legislatures are coming around to the notion that the drugs, which would be illegal for vets to use putting your dog to sleep, really are not a humane way to kill someone, if you’ll pardon the oxymoron. Now there is scientific evidence to support the claim.

Two of the three drugs, including the anesthesia used in the standard protocol, are not administered in a way that would provide a painless death. Indeed the sometimes leave the prisoner fully conscious, in excruciating pain and unable to move or scream.

The multi-institutional study, published in the Public Library of Science’s PLoS Medicine, of executions in California and North Carolina also found that the drug designed to stop the prisoner’s heart often didn’t.

First used in 1982 (in Texas, of course) as a humane way to executions, lethal injection now is used in all but one of the more than 30 states with a death penalty. The protocol employs one drug to render the prisoner unconscious, another to paralyze him or her, and third to stop the heart. What apparently happens is “chemical asphyxiation.”

Questions about the procedure have led 12 states (not including Texas, of course) to put executions on hold while all this works out. Two states, New Jersey and Maryland appear close to ending capital punishment altogether.

I believe the only way to finally end capital punishment in the U.S. is to use the guillotine and televise the executions, probably on Fox. The blood and gore would put the act in its proper context and hopefully, when the public is done vomiting, they'd decide to change the law. One would hope.


Anonymous said...

A San Francisco veterinarian had a letter to the editor April 25 in the San Francisco Chronicle.

He wrote:
Humane lethal injection
Editor -- As a veterinarian who has humanely euthanized hundreds of loved pets over the years, I must take issue with the conclusion of the editors of PloS Medicine that lethal injection is not humane and cannot be improved upon ("Study questions first drug dose in executions," April 24).
My personal feelings about capital punishment aside, lethal injection can be done humanely in humans, just as we do in cats, dogs, horses and other creatures.

San Francisco

But I do like the idea of the guillotine. It provides opportunities for civic celebrations.


CW said...

There is a different way. The convicted killer can be executed in the same manner in which he/she murdered his/her victim, even if this would be grotesque, slow and painful.

Guillotines, hangings (if properly done), electrocutions and other methods are all humane provided that it is the guilty party being executed. However, that should be another blog post.


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Joel Shurkin said...

Oh, dear. Some one got through the barricades.

Eliyahu said...

This reminds me... Have you seen the story about the Army's refusal to consider an Israeli-developed system that can effectively shoot down RPGs and incoming mortar rounds, in favor of one still being designed by Raytheon?

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