Tanzania investigates ferry disaster which killed 225
By The Associated Press
Monday, September 24
DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania (AP) — Tanzania’s government on Monday launched an inquest into the cause of the ferry disaster, in which 227 people died when a boat capsized in Lake Victoria last week. The government is also taking steps to build a bigger ferry.
A preliminary investigation found that overloading was the main reason that the MV Nyerere overturned on Thursday, because more than 260 people were on the ferry, which had a capacity for 101 passengers. Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa said a report on the tragedy should be turned in to the government within 30 days. The committee will be led by former Chief of Defence Forces, Gen. George Waitara, he said.
The death toll climbed to 227 people when three more bodies were found in the boat. “There might be more bodies inside the wreckage,” said Majaliwa. He said 41 people were rescued from the boat.
The Defence Forces Chief, Gen. Venance Mabeyo, will supervise the work to pull the ferry from the lake in order to retrieve more bodies that are believed to be inside.
The government is also making plans to build a new, bigger ferry. Majaliwa has ordered officials to begin taking bids for the construction of a new boat to travel between Ukara and Bugorora Islands in Ukerewe district so that business within the area will continue as usual.
“The ferry that sunk had a capacity to carry 25 tons and 101 passengers but now the president has directed me to make sure that we build a new one with a capacity to carry 50 tons and over 200 passengers,” said the prime minister.
Memories of trauma are unique because of how brains and bodies respond to threat
September 24, 2018
Assistant Professor / Department of Psychiatry; Assistant Research Professor / Molecular & Behavioral Neuroscience Institute, University of Michigan
Jacek Debiec receives funding from the University of Michigan, the NIH and Brain and the Behavior Research Foundation.
University of Michigan provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.
Most of what you experience leaves no trace in your memory. Learning new information often requires a lot of effort and repetition – picture studying for a tough exam or mastering the tasks of a new job. It’s easy to forget what you’ve learned, and recalling details of the past can sometimes be challenging.
But some past experiences can keep haunting you for years. Life-threatening events – things like getting mugged or escaping from a fire – can be impossible to forget, even if you make every possible effort. Recent developments in the Supreme Court nomination hearings and the associated #WhyIDidntReport action on social media have rattled the public and raised questions about the nature, role and impact of these kinds of traumatic memories.
Leaving politics aside, what do psychiatrists and neuroscientists like me understand about how past traumas can remain present and persistent in our lives through memories?
Bodies respond automatically to threat
Imagine facing extreme danger, such as being held at gunpoint. Right away, your heart rate increases. Your arteries constrict, directing more blood to your muscles, which tense up in preparation for a possible life-or-death struggle. Perspiration increases, to cool you down and improve gripping capability on palms and feet for added traction for escape. In some situations, when the threat is overwhelming, you may freeze and be unable to move.
Threat responses are often accompanied by a range of sensations and feelings. Senses may sharpen, contributing to amplified detection and response to threat. You may experience tingling or numbness in your limbs, as well as shortness of breath, chest pain, feelings of weakness, fainting or dizziness. Your thoughts may be racing or, conversely, you may experience a lack of thoughts and feel detached from reality. Terror, panic, helplessness, lack of control or chaos may take over.
These reactions are automatic and cannot be stopped once they’re initiated, regardless of later feelings of guilt or shame about a lack of fight or flight.
Brains have two routes to respond to danger
Biological research over the past few decades has made significant progress in understanding how the brain responds to threat. Defense responses are controlled by neural systems that human beings have inherited from our distant evolutionary ancestors.
One of the key players is the amygdala, a structure located deep in the medial temporal lobe, one on each side of the brain. It processes sensory threat information and sends outputs to other brain sites, such as the hypothalamus, which is responsible for the release of stress hormones, or brain stem areas, which control levels of alertness and automatic behaviors, including immobility or freezing.
Research in animals and more recently in people suggests the existence of two possible routes by which the amygdala receives sensory information. The first route, called the low road, provides the amygdala with a rapid, but imprecise, signal from the sensory thalamus. This circuit is believed to be responsible for the immediate, unconscious responses to threat.
The high road is routed through the cortical sensory areas and delivers more complex and detailed representations of threat to the amygdala. Researchers believe the high road is involved in processing the aspects of threats of which a person is consciously aware.
The two-roads model explains how responses to a threat can be initiated even before you become consciously aware of it. The amygdala is interconnected with a network of brain areas, including the hippocampus, the prefrontal cortex and others, all of which process different aspects of defense behaviors. For example, you hear a loud, sharp bang and you momentarily freeze – this would be a low road-initiated response. You notice somebody with a gun, immediately scan your surroundings to locate a hiding spot and escape route – these actions wouldn’t be possible without the high road being involved.
Two kinds of memories
Traumatic memories are intensely powerful and come in two varieties.
When people talk about memories, most of the time we refer to conscious or explicit memories. However, the brain is capable of encoding distinct memories in parallel for the same event – some of them explicit and some implicit or unconscious.
An experimental example of implicit memories is threat conditioning. In the lab, a harmful stimulus such as an electric shock, which triggers innate threat responses, is paired with a neutral stimulus, such as an image, sound or smell. The brain forms a strong association between the neutral stimulus and the threat response. Now this image, sound or smell acquires the ability to initiate automatic unconscious threat reactions – in the absence of the electric shock.
It’s like Pavlov’s dogs salivating when they hear the dinner bell, but these conditioned threat responses are typically formed after a single pairing between the actual threatening or harmful stimulus and a neutral stimulus, and last for life. Not surprisingly, they support survival. For example, after getting burned on a hot stove, a child will likely steer clear of the stove in order to avoid the harmful heat and pain.
Studies show that the amygdala is critical for encoding and storing associations between a harmful and neutral stimuli, and that stress hormones and mediators – such as cortisol and norepinephrine – play an important role in the formation of threat associations.
Researchers believe traumatic memories are a kind of conditioned threat response. For the survivor of a bike accident, the sight of a fast approaching truck resembling the one that crashed into them may cause the heart to race and skin to sweat. For the survivor of a sexual assault, the sight of the perpetrator or someone who looks similar may cause trembling, a feeling of hopelessness and an urge to hide, run away or fight. These responses are initiated regardless of whether they come with conscious recollections of trauma.
Conscious memories of trauma are encoded by various sites in the brain which process different aspects of experience. Explicit memories of trauma reflect the terror of the original experience and may be less organized than memories acquired under less stressful conditions. Typically they’re more vivid, more intense and more persistent.
After the memories are made
Memories are biological phenomena and as such are dynamic. Exposure to cues that trigger the recall or retrieval of traumatic memories activates the neural systems that are storing the memories. This includes electrical activation of the neural circuits, as well as underlying intracellular processes.
Reactivated memories are susceptible to modification. The character and direction of this modification depends on the circumstances of the person recalling the memory. Retrieval of implicit or explicit traumatic memories is usually associated with high levels of stress. Stress hormones act on the activated brain circuits and may strengthen the original memory for trauma through a phenomenon known as memory reconsolidation.
There are clinical strategies to help people heal from emotional trauma. One critical factor is the sense of safety. Retrieval of traumatic memories under safe conditions when levels of stress are relatively low and under control enables the individual to update or reorganize the trauma experience. It’s possible to link the trauma to other experiences and diminish its destructive impact. Psychologists call this post-traumatic growth.
It is an ethical imperative to consider the circumstances under which traumatic memories are recalled, whether in the course of therapy, during police investigations, court hearings or public testimonies. Recalling trauma may be a part of the healing process or may lead to re-traumatization, persistence and continued detrimental effects from traumatic memories.
Mandela: A life of soaring symbolism, now harnessed by UN
By CHRISTOPHER TORCHIA
Monday, September 24
JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Nelson Mandela’s South African journey from anti-apartheid leader to prisoner to president to global statesman — the “Long Walk to Freedom” of his autobiography title — is one of the 20th century’s great stories of struggle, sacrifice and reconciliation. Now the United Nations is seeking to harness its soaring symbolism.
The unveiling of a statue of Mandela, born 100 years ago, with arms outstretched at the U.N. building in New York on Monday opened a peace summit at the General Assembly, where world leaders will once again address the planet’s pressing problems: war, poverty, disease, migration and climate change. It was done amid a massive security operation in a city where Mandela was welcomed by exultant crowds in 1990, a few months after he walked out of a South African jail, ending 27 years of imprisonment under the country’s white minority government.
“South Africa will be free,” Mandela said during that visit, and indeed, he became the country’s first black president in its first multi-racial elections four years later. His death in 2013 at age 95 brought a global outpouring of grief and tributes.
But there is something of a distinction between the main global perception of Mandela — the moral colossus whose resolve and generosity of spirit, tactical as well as genuine, inspired people in Colombia, Northern Ireland and other places struggling with seemingly intractable conflicts — and a growing body of opinion at home that he and his party were too quick to accommodate South Africa’s white minority, which lost political control but still dominates industry in one of the world’s most economically unequal societies.
Despite South Africa’s sense of unfinished business, it is a country enormously proud of the tall, charismatic orator with a broad smile and ironclad principles whose image and words were banned by his former captors, rendering him virtually invisible to the outside for decades. Mandela’s universality means that he also belongs to the world, which has wrestled with a fresh set of economic and political ruptures of late.
In July, former U.S. president Barack Obama traveled to Johannesburg and spoke about how Mandela, by offering the possibility of “moral transformation,” means as much to the globe as he does to South Africa.
“At the outset, his struggle was particular to this place, to his homeland — a fight to end apartheid, a fight to ensure lasting political and social and economic equality for its disenfranchised non-white citizens,” Obama said. “But through his sacrifice and unwavering leadership and, perhaps most of all, through his moral example, Mandela and the movement he led would come to signify something larger.”
The United Nations is declaring 2019-2028 as the “Nelson Mandela Decade of Peace,” and a declaration being adopted at Monday’s peace summit identifies the personal qualities that made him a transcendent humanitarian — “humility, forgiveness and compassion” — and connects them with U.N. goals, including disarmament, human rights and poverty alleviation.
It also warns of “challenges to the primacy of multilateralism,” a catch-all term that could refer to trade disputes between the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump and other countries, or the European Union’s Brexit challenge, or other pressures testing the idea of shared values on which the U.N. was founded after World War II.
The declaration’s signatories recognize “that the world has changed significantly since the founding of the United Nations, and acknowledge that global peace eludes us to this day,” it says. But the tone is hopeful — “we must make the impossible possible” — and the document singles out South Africa for praise, remembering the country’s dismantling of its nuclear weapons program toward the end of apartheid and Mandela’s appeal for the “total elimination of nuclear weapons.”
Mandela’s plea is no closer to reality, and other elements of his legacy are under threat. In 2016, South Africa said it was withdrawing from the International Criminal Court, though a South African court later ruled against the move to pull out of the Hague-based tribunal, which was launched in 2002 and pursues perpetrators of the world’s atrocities. Mandela had been a strong advocate for the court’s creation.
The shine has come off the “rainbow nation” that was internationally admired in its early post-apartheid years during Mandela’s presidency. South Africa struggles with fallout from allegedly massive corruption under former president Jacob Zuma, and a contentious debate about land reform reflects the frustrations of many in the black majority who think their country has let them down since they got the right to vote.
Still, it has one of the biggest economies in Africa, as well as a relatively robust judicial system and civil society.
“For all our shortcomings and simmering tensions, our country was truly inspirational, and it still is. In recent years it had become harder to sell the South African miracle, as our detractors would point to rampant corruption, cronyism, and the masses who are yet to share in the dividends of peace,” Shannon Ebrahim, foreign editor for the Independent Media Group in South Africa, wrote in a column.
The U.N.’s honoring of Mandela, Ebrahim said, again gives South Africans a chance to inspire the world.
Monday is also a public holiday in South Africa, Heritage Day, introduced when Mandela was president to celebrate the country’s cultural diversity.
According to accounts, Mandela wanted to be seen as a normal human being with both flaws and virtues, and not as an icon or legend. In 2007, he spoke at the dedication of a statue in his likeness opposite the Houses of Parliament in London, and his talk about the symbolism, not the man, seems equally apt for the new statue at the United Nations.
“We trust that the statue will be a reminder of heroes and heroines past,” Mandela said, “as well as an inspiration for continuing struggles against injustice.”
Christopher Torchia on Twitter: www.twitter.com/torchiachris
Thirty years on, why ‘The Satanic Verses’ remains so controversial
September 24, 2018
Ph.D. Candidate in Religious Thought and Ethics, University of Chicago
Myriam Renaud is affiliated with the Parliament of the World’s Religions.
One of the most controversial books in recent literary history, Salman Rushdie’s “The Satanic Verses,” was published three decades ago this month and almost immediately set off angry demonstrations all over the world, some of them violent.
A year later, in 1989, Iran’s supreme leader, the Ayatollah Khomeini, issued a fatwa, or religious ruling, ordering Muslims to kill the author. Born in India to a Muslim family, but by then a British citizen living in the U.K., Rushdie was forced to go into protective hiding for the greater part of a decade.
What was – and still is – behind this outrage?
The book, “Satanic Verses,” goes to the heart of Muslim religious beliefs when Rushdie, in dream sequences, challenges and sometimes seems to mock some of its most sensitive tenets.
Muslims believe that the Prophet Muhammed was visited by the angel Gibreel – Gabriel in English – who, over a 22 year period, recited God’s words to him. In turn, Muhammed repeated the words to his followers. These words were eventually written down and became the verses and chapters of the Quran.
Rushdie’s novel takes up these core beliefs. One of the main characters, Gibreel Farishta, has a series of dreams in which he becomes his namesake, the angel Gibreel. In these dreams, Gibreel encounters another central character in ways that echo Islam’s traditional account of the angel’s encounters with Muhammed.
Rushdie chooses a provocative name for Muhammed. The novel’s version of the Prophet is called Mahound – an alternative name for Muhammed sometimes used during the Middle Ages by Christians who considered him a devil.
In addition, Rushdie’s Mahound puts his own words into the angel Gibreel’s mouth and delivers edicts to his followers that conveniently bolster his self-serving purposes. Even though, in the book, Mahound’s fictional scribe, Salman the Persian, rejects the authenticity of his master’s recitations, he records them as if they were God’s.
In Rushdie’s book, Salman, for example, attributes certain actual passages in the Quran that place men “in charge of women” and give men the right to strike wives from whom they “fear arrogance,” to Mahound’s sexist views.
Through Mahound, Rushdie appears to cast doubt on the divine nature of the Quran.
Challenging religious texts?
For many Muslims, Rushdie, in his fictional retelling of the birth of Islam’s key events, implies that, rather than God, the Prophet Muhammed is himself the source of revealed truths.
In Rushdie’s defense, some scholars have argued that his “irreverent mockery” is intended to explore whether it is possible to separate fact from fiction. Literature expert Greg Rubinson points out that Gibreel is unable to decide what is real and what is a dream.
Since the publication of “The Satanic Verses,” Rushdie has argued that religious texts should be open to challenge. “Why can’t we debate Islam?” Rushdie said in a 2015 interview. “It is possible to respect individuals, to protect them from intolerance, while being skeptical about their ideas, even criticising them ferociously.”
This view, however, clashes with the view of those for whom the Quran is the literal word of God.
After Khomeini’s death, Iran’s government announced in 1998 that it would not carry out his fatwa or encourage others to do so. Rushdie now lives in the United States and makes regular public appearances.
Still, 30 years later, threats against his life persist. Although mass protests have stopped, the themes and questions raised in his novel remain hotly debated.
Investigation finds Maryland culpable in death of player
By DAVID GINSBURG
AP Sports Writer
Saturday, September 22
TOWSON, Md. (AP) — An independent investigation into the death of University of Maryland football player Jordan McNair has determined that trainers on the scene did not follow proper procedures after he collapsed on the field.
The report provided details of what happened and confirmed what university officials previously acknowledged.
McNair was hospitalized on May 29 after a team workout and died June 13. The family attorney said the cause of death was heatstroke.
Dr. Rod Walters, a former college athletic trainer and sports medicine consultant who led the investigation launched by the school following McNair’s death, said Friday that it was 1 hour, 39 minutes between the time McNair collapsed and the departure of the ambulance from the campus.
“There was the failure to identify escalating symptoms associated with heat illness, including assessing vital signs, identifying the condition and aggressively treating the patient’s elevated core temperature,” Walters said. “No apparatus was used for prompt cooling of the patient. Inadequate cooling devices were used, such as cold towels, ice packs, etc.”
Maryland athletic director Damon Evans acknowledged last month that “mistakes were made” by the training staff in the treatment of McNair, a 19-year-old sophomore offensive lineman. University President Wallace Loh visited McNair’s parents to offer a personal apology for how the situation was handled.
Terrapins head coach DJ Durkin, who was not at the press conference, is on administrative leave while an unrelated external investigation into the culture of the football program is being conducted.
According to the report, Durkin was on the scene when McNair collapsed. His role in the events that followed was not made clear.
Much of Walters’ report focused on recommendations that would prevent a tragedy like this from happening again.
Loh met with the media after Walters presented his findings.
“We have protocols and policies which are good, but it is not enough that they are good,” the university president said. “They have to be implemented and there has to be training. That is where we’re short and we have to do a better job.”
In a release issued before the news conference began, the university wrote: “We made immediate changes following Jordan’s death and have continued to make enhancements informed by the preliminary observations of the external review (by Walters) we received this summer.”
The list of changes already implemented, according to the school, include an increase in doctors and training at practices and games; additional on-site cooling stations to football training camp and practices consisting of portable spray misters, recovery drinks and cooling towels; and increasing the number and length of recovery breaks.
Loh was very candid last month when talking about the school’s role in McNair’s death.
“They entrusted their son to us, and he did not return home,” Loh said of McNair’s parents. “The University accepts legal and moral responsibility for the mistakes that were made on that fateful day. … They misdiagnosed the situation.”
On that day, the law firm of Murphy, Falcon & Murphy, which represents the McNair family, wrote in a statement: “While Marty and Tonya will never get another day with Jordan, Dr. Loh’s words were meaningful to them and give them some comfort that he will put the University on the path to change the culture of the program so that no Terrapin family will have to endure the heartache and grief that they feel.”
Request for comment from the law firm on Friday was not immediately answered.
In the wake of McNair’s death, an ESPN story reported that the coaching staff engaged in physical and mental abuse of the players.
Durkin’s future as the head coach remains unclear.
He was placed on administrative leave on Aug. 11. Strength and conditioning coach Rick Court resigned two days later, and head trainer Wes Robinson, along with Steve Nordwall, an assistant athletic director for training, remain on administrative leave.
Loh distinguished between training staff and coaching staff last month when he spoke about mistakes that led to McNair’s death, but added the reports of “bullying behavior” by football coaches “are totally inconsistent with what we stand for, and our values.”
An eight-member commission has been appointed to look into the culture of the football program.
That investigation is ongoing.
“We will give that body the time and independence they need to get the facts,” Board of Regents Chair James Brady said.
Offensive coordinator Matt Canada has been serving as interim coach. Maryland was 2-1 heading into Saturday’s (Sept. 24) Big Ten opener against Minnesota at home.
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