18. Addiction vs. Intelligence

March 27, 2016

Even in people who are purported to be very smart, addiction trumps intelligence.

A few months ago I was chagrined to find an announcement for a periodic gatherings at a local cigar shop in a local Mensa publication called Much Ado About Mensa (MAAM).

I can’t locate the exact words of the response I received from the then editor, but it was to the effect of, ‘if a member wants to announce an event we publish it, which does not imply approval or endorsement’.  Kind of a First Amendment argument, I suppose, though it did not relieve my concern about the apparent endorsement and actual “enabling” of an event that contravenes common sense and the goals of national public health policies.  What follows, for what it may be worth to others,  is the letter I had sent to the editor of the Mensa newsletter:

Nicotine Addiction

For nearly 25 years I was a nicotine addict. Happily that ended for me forty years ago. In those days no one but the tobacco companies realized that the reason people used nicotine was because it is more quickly and powerfully addicting than heroin. And of course they weren’t telling. Most people referred to smoking as a “habit”, and the companies used the euphemism “adult pastime”.   While at the same time, of course, aiming their marketing at children and teens.

When I was in college in the early ’50s, marketing representatives of the tobacco companies flooded campuses with pretty girls handing out little packages of four cigarettes. The girls would extoll the “taste” of the brands they were pushing and encourage kids (along with many other entering students I was 16) to try it for themselves. What the companies had already discovered on an empirical basis, that science finally established only many decades later, was that it takes the nicotine from merely four cigarettes to light up the brain’s nucleus accumbens with dopamine, in a repeated pattern that establishes a very strong need to have a fifth such experience.

Once started, it takes most people several decades to stop using nicotine, if they ever do, short of dying. This despite modern awareness of the severe adverse consequences to health and life itself. (Persistent use despite serious adverse consequence, by the way, is one of the features that defines an addiction.)

As it happens, a cigar or pipe full of tobacco delivers about eight times the nicotine found in a cigarette. And nicotine is easily absorbed through intact skin. There is a famous case of a worker in a plant making nicotine garden spray, for roses, who fell from her stool in a seizure. When no cause could be found she returned to work, only to fall again from her seat at work with another convulsion. It was determined that spilled nicotine spray had puddled on the contoured seat of her stool and saturated the seat of her work clothes. Enough was absorbed through the skin of her buttocks to cause the seizures, and enough had remained in her clothing to cause their repetition.

Inhaled nicotine is absorbed instantly into the blood in the lungs, and reaches the brain in about seven seconds. Many smokers know that it is better to take the first morning drag sitting on the edge of the bed, because a few seconds later a wave of mild vertigo passes through them. While some cigar and pipe smokers think they are safe because they rarely inhale, they absorb the same amount of nicotine through the mucosa of the mouth and nasopharynx as inhalers do through their lungs.

Even ignorant as I was of these matters, after attending my first autopsy in medical school in the 1960’s, and seeing the lungs of that smoker, I quit smoking for a few years. Then, when I was a surgical resident, my intern’s wife had a baby and after a protest I allowed myself to be talked into smoking an “It’s a Girl!” cigar. Still ignorant of the quantity required to re-initiate an addiction, I didn’t want to be impolite. After a month of suppressing an urge to smoke a second cigar, I went to the hospital gift shop and bought one for myself.   Over the course of a few weeks it ramped up to two or three cigars a day, then when I intentionally left the cigars behind on a family camping trip, in a moment of stress, grabbed my wife’s cigarettes and was off to another eight years of smoking a pack a day.

At twenty puffs per cigarette and twenty cigarettes per pack, that’s four hundred fairly evenly spaced intravenous jolts of nicotine to the brain per day. Just what the addicted brain ordered! However, since finally quitting for good in 1976 I have avoided 5,840,000 of those little nicotine jolts to the brain. And at today’s prices in New York City, I have avoided paying out $204,000.00 for them.

The taste of  sugared and flavored tobacco may be mildly pleasant, for the first fews puffs. After which. considered dispassionately, it is more fairly  described as painful and unpleasant. Regarding another oft-advertised benefit, nicotine is only “calming” to a nicotine addict, in whom it relieves the agitation of actual or impending withdrawal. The non-addict, who lacks the agitation of nicotine withdrawal every half hour, therefore doesn’t have need for, nor benefit from, the “calming” effect nicotine.

I am not a doctor who believes that others have to do as I do, or even follow my advice. Initially, it is for each to decide what he or she wants to do about nicotine… with the understanding, of course, that within a very short term of usage, addiction robs us of that rational choice.

Nevertheless I am bemused to find the following announcement in various event schedules and in the MAAM:

“Wed Nov 11 — 7:00 PM to ?  UP IN SMOKE  Fox Cigar Bar has a little of everything and A LOT of some things! C’mon down and enjoy stimulating conversation and the huge walk-in cigar humidor and a liquor selection that would make even the most finicky drinker do the happy dance. Flexible end time. Every 2nd Wednesday of the month. AE – Adult Event, S – Smoking OK indoors, WA – Wheelchair Access. … No RSVP required. Public event.”

And in the MAAM blog, I read a lead article about the new Fox Cigar in Scottsdale, with a huge picture. This goes beyond individual choice. This constitutes organizational behavior and support for the coordinated use of an addicting and dangerous drug with no redeeming social value whatever. This is a position worthy of reconsideration, and consultation with the membership.

[Following 28 years of Board Certified Family Practice, I returned to a three-year state hospital residency that resulted in board certifications in General and Addiction Psychiatry. I worked in that capacity, as a state hospital forensic psychiatrist, until my retirement at the beginning of the millennium.]

In the end, the Mensa publication continued to run the ad and my words were wasted on the editor and the local governing body.  But perhaps you will find them useful.  (Smiley face.)


17. Violence in the EU: the Canary in the Mine

March 26, 2016

In the violence last year in Paris and last week in Brussels, we are being provided with a clear foreshadowing of what is in store for us if we fail to come to grips with our own immigration problem.  Populist support for that Trump idiot reveals this problem to be one that is crucially important to everyone except Republican and Democrat politicians.

     What is happening in Europe this month is clearly the result of two main factors:
     1)  With the Schengen agreement, 26 European nations gave up sovereign control of their “internal” borders within the EU, neglecting to notice that the nations with portals and borders facing the outside world had no capability whatever to identify, screen and manage the flow-rate of immigrants from the Middle East and elsewhere.  Once inside countries with the weakest external portals, immigrants are free to move throughout Europe and into any EU country without further impediment or control.
     2)  European liberals managed to sell the maudlin story that Western nations somehow were morally obligated to admit, and not to limit the number of refugees from war in the Middle East, which in reality included millions of economic migrants.
     Rather than integrating into existing cultures, which is contrary, even anathema to their religious ideology, a huge number of Muslim immigrants self-selected to become ghettoized in nearly every European country, but especially in France, Belgium and Germany, bringing with them their imams, a significant fraction of whom preached a radical form of Islam.
     It follows that this led to several thousand young men and women traveling to train with and fight for ISIS in Syria, regularly returning with murderous plans for the very hosts who had rescued their families initially.  This dynamic has resulted in subsequent attacks in Paris, Brussels and elsewhere.
     France has a competent anti-terrorist police organization that will have an uphill battle because of the sheer number of  known radicals already in Europe.  Belgium’s puny police organization has no way in hell to track even a small percentage of the dangerous people it has already admitted tacitly by voluntarily giving up its sovereign borders.
     According to recent news there is a growing populist movement in Germany, France, Belgium, and the Scandinavian countries which will attempt to reverse the permissive policies that allowed this problem to flower, but it may already be too late to implement any effective changes.  For several months they have been unable to seal the major leaks in the EU’s external borders, despite a lot of hand-wringing and finger-pointing.
     Meanwhile in the U.S. we are paralyzed by pathos and political correctness, liberals outraged over the mere idea of simply stopping immigration until we are able to screen, count and evaluate applicants for entry, and to track them once they are here.  Yet if we fail to notice that the canary has died in Europe, we risk having a full-blown repetition of the EU story within our own borders.
     Americans tend to think of their freedoms as absolute, but freedom of religion    in a democracy does not mean that you can kill your unmarried daughter because she smiled at a man, or became romantically or sexually involved.  Freedom of speech does not mean that you can yell, “Fire!” in a crowded theater.
     Imams are free to preach Islam, but they cannot advocate the violent overthrow of the government or incite people to riot, or to shoot, bomb and kill non-believers.
     Unless we actively detect, disallow and apply legal sanctions to that kind of radical (and already illegal) advocacy in the mosque, we in this country will also face a rising tide of violence, fully commensurate with the teachings of Muhammed as I read them in the Koran, as more and more young people are converted to violent Islamism.
     Unless we take down the ISIS recruiting web-sites they will poison the minds of those whose youthful forebrains are not yet sufficiently developed  to resist their toxic arguments.
     FYI:  Here is the latest analysis from Stratfor.  I have lost the specific URL, but the political think-tank, Stratfor, does permit reprinting with attribution:
Stratfor Analysis
     The March 22 [Ed. 2016] terrorist attacks in Brussels come as the European Union is still reeling from the November Paris attacks and scrambling to solve the migrant crisis. More important, they come as nationalist forces are challenging key principles of the Continental bloc, including the free movement of labor and the Schengen Agreement, which eliminated border controls among several member states. The atmosphere of fear and suspicion that is sure to follow will only worsen these social, political and economic crises.
     The first outcome of the Brussels attacks will be a fresh round of debate over EU border controls, in particular those in the Schengen zone. The Schengen Agreement came under fire at the start of the migrant crisis in early 2015. The Paris attacks escalated the controversy, particularly because the perpetrators moved between France and Belgium without detection. Consequently, France and other countries enhanced their border controls. The European Commission has since said that it wants all border controls in the Schengen area lifted by the end of 2016. However, the latest attacks — and the potential that more will follow — will make this difficult.
     Several governments in Western Europe will likely soon announce new national security legislation, improved controls on fighters returning from conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa, as well as enhanced intelligence sharing with their neighbors. EU members will also resume discussions on how best to combat terrorism abroad in troubled nations such as Libya and Syria. Europeans will become more willing to contribute to the coalition against the Islamic State, possibly with more weapons and training for the Iraqi military and Kurdish militants, increased deployment of combat aircraft and participation in NATO surveillance missions in Turkey.
     Another casualty could be the recent, tenuous agreement between Turkey and the European Union to limit the arrival of asylum seekers in Europe. Renewed awareness of the threat of terrorism among EU member states will bring focus on the bloc’s external borders, possibly justifying deeper cooperation with Turkey. But the attacks could also reignite anti-Muslim sentiments in Europe and increase popular demands on EU governments not to grant visa-free travel to Turkish citizens — a key stipulation from Ankara for cooperation on migrant issues.
     Anti-Muslim sentiment could also lead to more support for nationalist parties across the Continent. France’s National Front already receives substantial support in electoral polls. In Germany, the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany party recently achieved record performances in regional elections and is currently the country’s third most popular party. Both France and Germany will hold general elections in 2017, in votes that will happen against the backdrop of the immigration crisis and the multiple terrorist attacks. In both cases, the mainstream parties will be under electoral pressure from their nationalist rivals. As a result, they will likely adopt some elements of nationalist party platforms. The same can be expected in other Northern European countries such as the Netherlands or Sweden, which also have relatively strong nationalist movements. Political parties and groups that want the United Kingdom to leave the European Union could also use the recent terrorist attacks to justify greater isolation from the Continent.
     Lastly, the Brussels attacks will hurt European economies, though likely only for a short time. In the coming days, some people in Belgium and other Western European countries may decide to avoid travel or densely crowded areas, such as cafes and shopping malls, out of fear of another attack. It will temporarily stifle domestic consumption and the tourism sector. For most Europeans, the threat of terrorism is by now a part of their daily lives. Beyond national politics and economics, the long-term impacts of the attacks will affect the very fabric of the European Union.

16. The Deaf Musician

March 20, 2016

Now more than a year into my ninth decade I wasn’t expecting any particular epiphanies, but this past week I had a truly stunning experience that has opened my eyes to something that perhaps should have been obvious about playing in a band or session.  Upon reflection it seems my mind may have been prepared for this new understanding by an article written by Brian Walker in the San Francisco Folk Music Club’s newsletter, the “folknik”, on the amplification of “acoustic instruments”.  [See www.sffmc.org.  Click on “folknik on line”, and go to page 8 of the March/April issue 2016.]
This being March, the celtic music calendar has been packed with events relating to St. Patrick’s Day, including several gigs for the ceili band De Mairt Ceol, (means Tuesday Music) with whom I have been playing piano for about three years in and around Phoenix.  During our regular Tuesday evening practice sessions in Tom and Mary’s living room in Scottsdale, for which sessions the band is named, I’ve worked out my own style of what Peter Barnes, contra-dance piano wizard, calls “vamping”, with chord progressions and a “walking bass” line.  It is relevant to this story that I don’t actually commit my accompaniments to memory, and so rarely play them the same way twice.  It’s really more of a process of listening to the melody instruments and following them so closely with my chords that the listener is tricked into thinking that I actually know what I’m doing.  In that “process” sense it is similar to jazz.
I think this is similar what the really good guitar accompanists are doing in a pub session of Irish music, and in fact learned many of the chord changes by taking my guitar to the pub and watching the finger positions of the really good guitar players like Mary R and Rick B.  But I play a nylon-strung classic guitar with standard tuning, and use finger-style picking, which isn’t really compatible with Irish music, so gradually, and with everyone’s encouragement, I introduced my keyboard into our local pub sessions.
It’s always a delicate problem with the keyboard when the session assembles.  There are of course some very tradition-bound sessions in which a piano would not be welcome, though it is a mainstay in a ceili (Irish dance party) band because of the need for a good foundation beat for the dancers to follow.  And any session player must be willing to consider the feelings of the other players and never be too intrusive.  But when our pub session moved from the pub’s performance stage to a quiet alcove during my summer absence, I returned to find that there was really no room to set up my keyboard stand and, what was more, no electrical outlet whatever in the new area.  I solved the former problem by getting to the pub a half-hour early and finding a spot on a table in the alcove for my keyboard.  The latter problem required that I purchase another keyboard that would run on batteries.
During the transition, I had learned by experimentation that playing fifteen feet away from the group (where there was an electrical outlet) didn’t work well, and that if I happened to sit next to a very loud banjo I had trouble following the music, but the precise neurological reason why these things were so did not reveal itself to me until my epiphany this past week.
It happened we had two musical events back-to-back: one on Wednesday night and the next on Thursday afternoon, on the basis of which all was revealed to me.
Sheila is a local fiddle-player and I think a bit of an impresario, who runs sessions on the other side of Phoenix that I had never happened to attend.  But an e-mail announced that she was having a big, “super session”, including several special guests in town for this weekend’s Highland Games.   I watched a YouTube of one set of guests, 3 or 4 cellos and 2 or 3 fiddles, and immediately promised myself I’d attend.
When I arrived 30 minutes early at the Fiddler’s Dream Coffee House, a, keyboard in the back of the VW wagon, I parked as close as I could and went in to scout out the lay of the land.  First thing I saw when I walked through the door was a Yamaha electric piano on the stage, (Photo below: top center against the blue wall, me hunched over it in a light gray shirt).  Sheila was already there, as was the manager of the venue, and both gave me permission to play the house piano, saving me the trouble of setting mine up.

Photo from the Fiddler’s Dream website.

No one there knew me or had heard me play, but graciously said I was welcome to join in, Sheila wisely adding, “We’ll see how it goes.”

Later, musicians filled the room, about 20×40 feet long, in which there were three tiers of comfortable, straight-backed chairs arranged in a loose oval.  The mix of instruments included the three cellos, perhaps a dozen fiddles, a couple of banjos and mandolins, guitars, bodhrans, mandocellos, an accordion and maybe a flute and a whistle.  No uilleann pipes that evening.
Before I go on, I should mention that the second experience the following afternoon, the one which made sense of Wednesday evening, was quite a different setup:
In the large dance hall at the Irish Cultural Center (ICC), a three-foot-high stage was set up lengthwise along one side of the hall, and the members of our small band, nine or ten of us that day, were strung out along it, melody instruments (whistles, fiddles, pipes to the middle and south end with the dance caller and her mike, and another fiddle and guitar at the north end.  On that day there was also a house piano for me to use, but it was on floor level just past the north end of the stage.  The musicians on stage had curved themselves into a gentle C so as to hear one another better, (which should have been a clue for me) and I was below and behind the guitar player, and behind the main speaker.  An important clue as to what followed is that the sound system at the ICC has only main speakers, and no monitors through which the individual musicians can hear the band.
From my piano bench on the stage Wednesday night, on the other hand, I was sitting higher than the other musicians, who were, all but a few, more or less facing me, and the acoustics of the room were such that I could hear all of them perfectly.  Even when only one player was doing a tune the others didn’t know, they listened in respectful silence and I was able to track the tune and figure out the key and the chord progression and join in quietly on the piano, trying for just the right amount, neither too little nor too much, of accompaniment.  The intended effect was to enrich the fiddle, mandolin or accordion melody without distracting any attention from it.
When the ensemble dove headlong into a series of pieces well known to all, I could still hear perfectly and was able to add a just loud-enough piano exactly on the beat.  It was so easy to get the basic chords that it was a snap to add some walking bass and carry a rhythmic beat with occasional percussive accents and syncopation just for drive and fun.  To me it was feeling easy, natural and automatic and I felt great. We played non-stop for almost four hours.   It must have felt right to the other musicians, too, because when Sheila asked for a round of applause first for the special guests, then kindly adding, “and for the piano player” at the end of the evening, I received what my guitar-playing pal Rick  called, “an ovation”.  Anyhow, they seemed to have enjoyed the piano.  God knows I did!
All I know is that I was profoundly grateful to have been allowed to play with a roomful of world-class musicians and the evening felt Goldilocks “just right”.
Thursday at the St. Patty’s ceili dance party, the sound-check went fine, but the moment the first dance began I knew something was very wrong.  The caller’s voice necessarily boomed out over the main speakers and the dancers feet began to clatter as their chattering voices added to the din.  Of course that’s all part of the fun of playing for dancers, but in this case the noise drowned out the melody instruments fifteen feet down the stage and I could only catch snatches of the tune and the beat.  Which meant my chords had to be tentative.  My brain was working so hard to access and fill in the missing notes from my memory, and trying to detect and identify the beat, that it was all I could do to play basic chords.  I couldn’t even hear Mary’s guitar rhythm because in order to hear the melody instruments herself, she had her back to me.
Basically, I spent an hour and a half trying to avoid playing out of the rhythm, or wrong or clashing chords, and with by brain occupied with trying to fill in the melodies I had no brain cells left over to create walking bass runs or chord progressions.  The piano may not actually have been bad, but it was clearly sketchy and lame.
It was a painful lesson but a powerful one, to compare how lousy it felt to play the dance, with how great it felt to play the previous evening with no sound system but with perfect position, and great acoustics in the hall.
It is a huge relief to me to know that the difference between a lame performance on my part and a much better one is merely a matter of whether I can hear the rest of the players well.  It indicates the problem is fixable. It explains why I have been so dissatisfied with some Sunday sessions, while loving our Tuesday practice ones. It is so worth the effort to be assertive enough to arrange to be where I can properly hear the ensemble play before a performance or session launches.  That is clearly not the time to be shy or self-effacing.
I’m sharing this story with you all because I’ve noticed how many of my fellow musicians have graying or white hair, and are playing while wearing hearing aids.  Just as my loss of 50-60 decibels of hearing at the high end of the speech range keeps me from participating fully in crowded verbal conversations, it also turns out that I have to be extra careful to set things up so that I can hear every note of the musical conversation, in order to get good marks in the category: “Plays Well With Others.”

15. The U.S. is Addicted to War: Truth or Mischaracterization

March 7, 2016


Addicted to War: Why the U.S. Can’t Kick Militarism 

by Joel Andreas

Discussion of the proposition stated in the book title above:

It’s amazing what a good night’s sleep will do.

My bladder woke me up the other morning, and after attending to that matter, I crawled back into my warm bed for another hour’s sleep.  But my mind, once activated, drifted to the discussion at the previous evening’s Idea Exchange, a monthly discussion group to which I belong,  and to my friend Kevin’s proposition that America is “addicted” to war.  As always, I am respectful of his passion and his viewpoint, and I was impressed by the central theme of the book he presented as an example, that the U.S. has intervened militarily in the affairs of other nations 258 times.

But as I said that night, while the sheer number of interventions is impressive, and while I understand that our actions were often commercial or economic in nature, though often hypocritically posing as moral imperatives;  and while I don’t excuse or defend those which were wrong, I caution that when the incidents are considered individually, there may well have been strong and cogent reasons for sending marines to other nations.

The example I used last night was that when we have extended military force into Central America, it was often to counteract highly inflammatory political and military instability in small republics in which we had established major business interests, and where our companies and citizens were in danger.  Our aim, I suggested, is typically to restore stability.  In many cases and countries there was no good way to do that.  Often, the only feasible solution has been to support whichever dictator emerged from their internal struggle, because a dictatorship is the easiest form of government to create, and does at least provide superficial stability fairly quickly.   Democracy, as we have learned to our chagrin, is an incredibly difficult lesson to teach, especially to those who do not possess the prerequisite knowledge, literacy and traditions to understand it.

In any case, I think it is is misleading to merely speak in generalities condemning the nature of the American character, based upon the number of interventions alone, without looking at and judging them individually.

What popped me out of my cozy bed this morning was a sudden memory that had eluded me the other evening during the discussion.  In illustrating his point that we have sent our marines to far-flung places, with the implication that our action was based upon a proclivity for warlike imperialism rather than protecting the legitimate sovereign interests of our own land, Kevin had mentioned Mexico and Libya, the venues mentioned in the Marine Hymn:  … “From the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli”.  As it happens, I once knew something about the example of Tripoli.

I recently wrote an essay about the Barbary Pirates, and the writing impelled me to to a little on-line research, as a result of which I remember some of the story about our first War as a nation.

Though not often nor for very long at a time, I have been a merchant seaman off and on since I was 17.  A close relative is a licensed maritime engineer, has worked on merchant ships, and in the Navy as a pilot, and for a time as a civilian pilot he worked on the ships that supplied food and munitions to a ten-nation coalition of warships that were on patrol, protecting shipping from Somali pirates off the Horn of Africa in the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean.  In 2002 I was a volunteer member of a science party aboard a research vessel in the waters between the Indian Ccean and the South China Sea.  On our ship there was always a lookout for pirates, and there was a protocol in place for repelling boarders (using fire hoses as we were unarmed). Therefor piracy, as you may know from my previous postings, is for me not a Disney movie, but a real and personal thing.

As you may also know, the ships of any nation, while on the high seas have always been regarded in international law as representing the sovereign soil of the nation where they are registered and whose flag they fly.

During several centuries after the Muslim conquest of the region, the waters of the Mediterranean Sea were threatened by the Barbary Pirates, headquartered in the Barbary States, including Tripoli, Libya.  They plundered and captured or sank the merchant ships of many nations from the Med to Iceland, and held their crews for ransom.  If the ransom was not paid, the seamen joined the ranks of nearly a million slaves thus taken and sold throughout Islam.  By 1801, the Barbary Pirates were holding some 600 American seamen for ransom, and at home there was consternation and controversy about whether to pay.  Emissaries were sent from the U.S. to negotiate.  At some point in the discussions, the ambassador representing the Libyan caliphate was reported to have said:  “It was written in their Koran, that all nations which had not acknowledged the Prophet were sinners, whom it was the right and duty of the faithful to plunder and enslave; and that every mussulman who was slain in this warfare was sure to go to paradise.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Barbary_War

Which was enough for President Jefferson to decide a different resolution was necessary.  He sent what were the first few ships in our fledgling Navy, with their contingent of Marines, to Tripoli to discuss matters further with the Pasha.

My point being that, to be fair to ourselves as Americans, we need to look not at the raw figure of 258 excursions outside our sovereign borders, but also the reasons for and the results of each of those excursions.  Any judgment we reach should reflect our overall behavior considering the options available to us, and should not be based upon whatever worst cases can be found, although there may be some of those.

Moreover, I think it only fair to subtract from the total number, all cases where the U.S. was invited or requested to help by the then duly constituted government of the nation involved.

For instance, here is another story about a military action that may or may not have made it into the collection of 258:

In 1988 a coup d’etat was attempted by Tamil Tiger rebels from Sri Lanka, when they landed armed troops in the Maldives, a group of islands about 500 miles south of the tip of India in the Indian Ocean.  Previously a sultanate, the Maldives had elected a president a few years earlier, and had become a republic.  When the Tamil Tigers attacked, the Maldivian President requested the help of the Indian Navy, which was some distance away.  However, an American naval force consisting of a few warships was just then transiting eastward on the way back from the Persian Gulf towards the Straits of Malacca, passing south of the Maldives.  At the request of the Indian Navy, they dispatched a cruiser and a frigate at flank speed northward, with orders to find the rebels, land a combat team, and seek to protect the American medical students present on the island until the Indian Navy could arrive.

The American cruiser soon encountered engine trouble, but the frigate continued on, throwing a huge rooster-tail in an impressive display of speed.  During the run, the ship’s helos were stripped of their usual anti-submarine sono-buoy gear, and fitted with door guns and a bit of armor plating under the pilot’s and passenger seats, in preparation for encountering ground fire and evacuating the medical students.

The Tamil Tiger force had landed in rubber boats from an unknown “mother ship” and when the helos took off to fly ahead of the frigate and reach the embattled students at the soonest possible moment, they were instructed to keep an eye out for the “mother ship”.  Approaching the islands, one helo co-pilot spotted among a smattering of local shipping, a small freighter that just didn’t look right to his practiced eye. Upon closer inspection it seemed to him to  have been stripped of some of the king posts, booms and winches one would expect to see on a small, intercoastal cargo ship.

The helo reported the suspicious vessel, which proved to be the mother ship towards which, unknown to its pilots, the invading force was already attempting to retreat in their high-speed, rigid-hull inflatable boats.  Shortly after which, having been given its coordinates, the Indian Navy found the freighter and sank it.

Upon their arrival to the island, the helos learned that the rebels had fled, and that the American students were safe and did not need further rescuing.  They returned to their ship, which then rejoined its original convoy home.

This, as I recall, is not very dissimilar to what happened in Granada, when Regan sent troops there to protect a hundred or so American students in their “offshore” medical school.

I suspect that the contrast between the story about Tripoli as told in the “America’s War Addiction” book, and the Wikipedia account regarding the Barbary Pirates might well uncover and illustrate an anti-American bias on the part of the book’s author, but I haven’t read the book and Kevin has, so, for now,  I’ll leave that judgment to him.