Friday, July 25, 2014

Flights to Israel OK'd

The U.S. flight ban to Tel Aviv has been lifted, giving Israel a needed reprieve from a misguided decision. When the FAA banned all U.S. flights to Tel Aviv earlier this week, it handed Hamas a huge win.

As fighting continues, Israel has lost more than 30 soldiers, while Hamas has sacrificed more than 700 Palestinian lives for propaganda purposes. It’s working. Reuters reports, “UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said there was ‘a strong possibility’ that Israel was committing war crimes in Gaza.”

Pressure on Israel is growing from all sides, though Barack Obama repeatedly professes his “unshakeable commitment” to our ally. Why does our support then always seem so shakeable?


Navi Pillay is an ass with a long record of being an ass

Socialists Are Cheaters, Says New Study

"The longer individuals were exposed to socialism, the more likely they were to cheat on our task," according to a new study, "The (True) Legacy of Two Really Existing Economic Systems," from Duke University and the University of Munich. The team of researchers concluded this after working with 259 participants from Berlin who grew up on opposite sides of the infamous wall.

When playing a dice game that could earn them €6 ($8), subjects originally from the East, which was for four decades under socialist rule, were more likely than their market economy counterparts in West to lie about how they fared. The Economist explains the task:

The game was simple enough. Each participant was asked to throw a die 40 times and record each roll on a piece of paper. A higher overall tally earned a bigger payoff. Before each roll, players had to commit themselves to write down the number that was on either the top or the bottom side of the die. However, they did not have to tell anyone which side they had chosen, which made it easy to cheat by rolling the die first and then pretending that they had selected the side with the highest number. If they picked the top and then rolled a two, for example, they would have an incentive to claim—falsely—that they had chosen the bottom, which would be a five.

The results were that "East Germans cheated twice as much as West Germans overall," leaving the researchers to conclude the "the political regime of socialism has a lasting impact on citizens' basic morality."

The paper discusses some potentially related reasons for the outcome, such as the fact that

socialist systems have been characterized by extensive scarcity, which ultimately led to the collapse of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) in East Germany. In many instances, socialism pressured or forced people to work around official laws. For instance, in East Germany stealing a load of building materials in order to trade it for a television set might have been the only way for a driver of gravel loads to connect to the outside world. Moreover, socialist systems have been characterized by a high degree of infiltration by the intelligence apparatus.

The Duke-Munich team positions their work against a 2013 study, "Of Morals, Markets and Mice," which concluded "that market economies decay morals" but "compared decisions in bilateral and multilateral market settings to individual decisions rather than an alternative economic allocation mechanism." The new research finds that "political and economic regimes such as socialism might have an even more detrimental effect on individuals’ behavior."

In another aspect of the study, the researchers note that "we did not observe an overall difference between East and West Germans in pro-social behavior," such as donating to hospitals, the capitalist-influenced demographic does, in fact, donate marginally more.



EU calls on Hamas, Islamic Jihad to disarm

The EU does something right for a change: 28-country bloc defends Israel’s right to fight, says indiscriminate rocket fire from Gaza is ‘criminal and unjustifiable’

The European Union on Tuesday called on Hamas and other Gaza terror groups to disarm, taking a strikingly pro-Israel stance and supporting the country’s “legitimate right to defend itself.”

The union’s 28 foreign ministers issued a joint statement after a meeting of the European Council, calling for an end to Hamas rocket attacks and an immediate ceasefire.  “The EU calls on Hamas to immediately put an end to these acts and to renounce violence. All terrorist groups in Gaza must disarm,” it said.

It also condemned the rocket fire at Israel from the Gaza Strip as “criminal and unjustifiable acts,” but said Israel must do more to prevent civilian casualties.

“While recognizing Israel’s legitimate right to defend itself against any attacks, the EU underlines that the Israeli military operation must be proportionate and in line with international humanitarian law,” it said.

The statement came as the Israeli and Palestinian death tolls climbed steadily, with some 30 Israelis killed since the operation began, and more than 600 Palestinians, many of them civilians, according to Palestinian officials in Hamas-run Gaza.

The EU, which is often stridently critical of Israeli policies, also decried Hamas’s “calls on the civilian population of Gaza to provide themselves as human shields.”

It said it was “extremely concerned” about the situation, and reiterated its call for an immediate ceasefire.

The EU also appealed for the open of crossings to transfer humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip, and emphasized that the current campaign pointed to “the unsustainable nature of the status quo” in the coastal enclave.

Earlier in the day, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also condemned Hamas rocket fire and called on the group to stop using civilian sites for military purposes. He also called for a ceasefire.

Responding to the EU statement, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman said the statement proved “that the free world is united with Israel against Hamas terror, and Israel has the full right to protect itself.”



The sacredness of a baby

An Israeli man instantly used his body to protect a baby


Another Law-Abiding Citizen Arrested!

As you know, every state has its own gun laws. Even though the Second Amendment says that the “right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed” and the Supreme Court ruled in McDonald v. Chicago that this applies to the states, there are a number of gun control states that completely trample on your constitutional rights.

The People’s Republik of New Jersey is one of those states.

In the State of New Jersey, firearms are banned except for certain exemptions. It is illegal to possess a firearm unless you jump through hoops to receive an exemption.

For law-abiding citizens, that means they have to apply for a Firearms Purchaser Identification Card. The law says that police have 30-days to process these applications, but few towns even bother to meet that deadline.

Even still, an FPID only allows you to possess a gun within your home or in a locked case on the way to a gun range. If you take a gun outside of your property, you are instantly a felon.

The only way to legally take a gun outside your home in these gun control states is to obtain a License to Carry a Firearm, something that is often statistically impossible for about 26% of all Americans.

Studies have found that approximately 11.1 million Americans possess a concealed carry permit. That’s up from 4.6 million in 2007. That is significant growth. And while the number of states issuing concealed weapons permits has increased, there is still a minority of states that completely restrict concealed carry.

Approximately 3.5% of all Americans possess a concealed weapons permit. These people are certified by their home states and deemed trustworthy enough to carry a gun in public. But in many cases, states refuse to recognize the legitimacy of these permits and law-abiding citizens end up in prison over it!

But for Shaneen Allen, a licensed concealed carrier in Pennsylvania, her Second Amendment rights end at the state-line. This is an absolutely tragic story. This woman, unfortunately, wrongly assumed that her concealed weapons permit would be accepted everywhere, kind of like a drivers license. So, when she was pulled over by a New Jersey Police Officer, she wanted to be honest with him. So she told him she was a licensed concealed carrier.

Shaneen Allen was pulled over for a minor traffic violation. The police officer alleges that she improperly changed lanes. But, because she handed her concealed weapons permit to the officer along with her driver’s license, she now faces a MINIMUM of three years in prison!

The aptly named Graves Act requires that first time gun offenders receive a minimum three-year prison sentence in New Jersey.

Shaneen Allen is a black, single mother of two young children. She has no prior criminal record. Before she was arrested, she worked as a licensed phlebologist. When she was robbed two-times in just one year, she made the decision to purchase a gun to protect herself and her family. She went through the process to become a licensed concealed carrier in the State of Pennsylvania. There is zero evidence that Shaneen Allen intended to use the gun for any malicious purpose. Yet, she was still arrested. She spent a whopping FORTY days in jail before she was actually released on bail and even now, she’s facing a felony charge that, if convicted, would bring a three-year mandatory minimum prison term.

This woman made a mistake… She admits to that. But while actual criminals cop plea deals to get less prison time, the prosecutor refuses to show Shaneen Allen any leniency!

This is a textbook example of why we need National Concealed Carry Reciprocity! But when Republicans tried to insert reciprocity into a Senate bill this month, Harry Reid shot it down!

Innocent Americans are being tripped up and having their lives ruined by these ridiculous and unconstitutional concealed carry laws.

The Second Amendment is clear… It says our right to bear arms “shall not be infringed.” Yet in states like New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, California, Maryland, Hawaii, Rhode Island, and Washington DC, the state does just that!

And for those who happen to travel through these gun control states, they are forced to decide between disarming and putting their families in danger or defying the law entirely.

There shouldn’t even be a law to defy! In 1986, Congress passed the Firearm Owner Protection Act (FOPA). The goal of this was to ensure that people could travel across state lines with their locked firearms without becoming felons. This law MUST be extended to concealed weapons permit holders!

There is absolutely no reason that a law-abiding citizen like Shaneen Allen should face the prospect of a felony conviction and prison time for exercising his or her constitutional rights! There is no reason that Americans should have to disarm while traveling through the most dangerous states!

The answer is simple. We must demand National Concealed Carry Reciprocity now!



Living on the Fumes of Greatness

Only men over sixty have ever been subject to the military draft in America. Knowing you could be forced by government to fight in a war focuses one's attention on what's happening in the wider world beyond the peaceful shores of the Unites States. Today, however, our military is all volunteer. Fewer than 1% of Americans serve now and that's been true for decades. If you don't want to, you don't have to. Is that a good thing? I'm not so sure.

Americans under sixty have led a remarkably pampered life by world historical standards. They've grown up in the most powerful country the world has ever seen and have never been forced to seriously consider how brutal other humans can be when they're allowed. The vast majority of people who lived out their lives on this planet did so in walled cities or constantly looking over their shoulders as they moved about with weapons close at hand.

Some of us, though, have paid attention to what goes on outside our borders. Some have studied history and have come to understand that the Pax Americana we've known all our lives is more the exception than the rule. Most, however, never consider Orwell's observance that: "People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf." We don't appreciate how fortunate we are to have been born in late-20th-century America. We still have rough men ready to do violence on our behalf, but we don't have a government that either appreciates them or knows how to use them properly.

I hate to point this out, but we're not just getting fat, dumb, and lazy; we're already here, and have been for some time. Obesity is epidemic. We don't know much about history, geography, civics, or anything else, and more than 90 million of us have dropped out of the workforce. The evidence is overwhelming that our citizenry is in serious decline. Consequently, so is our nation. More and more of us are dependent on government entitlements and, due to our ignorance of simple arithmetic, we are unaware that those expensive programs are mathematically unsustainable. Bankruptcy looms, but we keep on spending as if it weren't.

We keep reelecting a government that is a reflection of us. Paradoxically however, opinion polls indicate that we don't approve of the government for which we keep voting. Why do we continue to reelect congressmen, senators and a president we dislike? Is it because they tell us what we want to hear? Perhaps the lyric in the Sheryl Crow number applies to us: "Lie to me. I promise, I'll believe," she sang. How long can this continue though? When I ponder that, something columnist Mark Steyn wrote comes to mind: "Sometimes societies become too stupid to survive."

Peggy Noonan, former Reagan speechwriter and Wall Street Journal columnist, penned something last week that also haunts me. Commenting about the illegal alien crisis on the Mexican border, she observed: "America is the house that is both falling apart and under new stress. Those living within it, those most upset by what they're seeing, know America has big problems-unemployment, low workforce participation, a rickety physical infrastructure, an unsound culture, poor public education. And of course discord of all sorts... They know America can't pay its bills. They fear we're living on the fumes of greatness. They want us to be strong again."

"Living on the fumes of greatness." Yes. That is indeed what we're doing.

Noonan was describing Americans who do pay attention, who understand history, who know we cannot go on doing what we're doing. But I'm afraid such people are in the minority now. Remember: 52% of us reelected Barack Obama two years ago in spite of what he did in his first term. The Wednesday morning after that sad election day I was forced to realize that yes, the America in which I grew up has fundamentally changed.

First generation immigrant Dinesh D'Souza just released a movie titled, "America: Imagine The World Without Her." I haven't seen it yet, but I know what's in it. He sees what I see. I have been imagining such a world and it isn't a pretty one, because I know there are brutal people out there who ponder it gleefully. They smell American decline and they extend their probes further and further to see what they can get away with. How far will that be? I'm afraid to think.

I still choose to believe in spite of mounting evidence to the contrary that it's not too late, that enough Americans are beginning to understand we simply must turn things around.



For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH,  POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated) and Coral reef compendium. (Updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten.

List of backup or "mirror" sites here or  here -- for when blogspot is "down" or failing to  update.  Email me  here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here (Academic) or  here (Pictorial) or  here  (Personal)


Thursday, July 24, 2014

British Airways continues to fly to Israel despite European and US airlines cancelling flights

British budget airline easyJet has joined European and American operators in scrapping flights to Israel after a Hamas rocket landed close to its Ben Gurion airport.

Air France, KLM and Germany's Lufthansa have also suspended flights to the war-torn country, as have US airlines Delta, United Airlines, and US Airways under orders from the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

But a spokesman for British Airways said it was still continuing its twice-daily London Heathrow to Tel Aviv services, while 'monitoring the situation closely'.


MH17: no link to Kremlin in plane downing - US intelligence officials say no evidence of direct Russian government involvement

The report below is probably the best informed yet and should go some way towards damping down the hysteria about President Putin.  The plane was clearly shot down by Ukrainians -- Russian speaking ones.  Given that Ukraine has resisted their demands for independence and attacked them instead (have we forgotten that Americans also once fought for their independence?), they were clearly entitled to shoot back, and, equally clearly that was what they thought they were doing in attacking the plane.  The launcher appears to have been an early model, a BUK 1 so all they may have seen on their radar was a blip that could have been Ukrainian.  As far as I can see, the only guilt lies with the Malaysian managers who sent their plane into airspace where planes were already being shot down

Senior US intelligence officials have said that Russia was responsible for "creating the conditions" that led to the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, but they offered no evidence of direct Russian government involvement.

The intelligence officials were cautious in their assessment, noting that while the Russians have been arming separatists in eastern Ukraine, the U.S. had no direct evidence that the missile used to shoot down the passenger jet came from Russia.

The officials briefed reporters on Tuesday under ground rules that their names not be used in discussing intelligence related to last week's air disaster, which killed 298 people.

The plane was likely shot down by an SA-11 surface-to-air missile fired by Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, the intelligence officials said, citing intercepts, satellite photos and social media postings by separatists, some of which have been authenticated by U.S. experts.

But the officials said they did not know who fired the missile or whether any Russian operatives were present at the missile launch. They were not certain that the missile crew was trained in Russia, although they described a stepped-up campaign in recent weeks by Russia to arm and train the rebels, which they say has continued even after the downing of the commercial jetliner.

In terms of who fired the missile, "we don't know a name, we don't know a rank and we're not even 100 percent sure of a nationality," one official said, adding at another point, "There is not going to be a Perry Mason moment here," a reference to a fictional detective who solved mysteries.

White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said the U.S. was still working to determine whether the missile launch had a "direct link" to Russia, including whether there were Russians on the ground during the attack and the degree to which Russians may have trained the separatists to launch such a strike.

"We do think President Putin and the Russian government bears responsibility for the support they provided to these separatists, the arms they provided to these separatists, the training they provided as well and the general unstable environment in eastern Ukraine," Rhodes said in an interview with CNN.

He added that heavy weaponry continues to flow into Ukraine from Russia following the downing of the plane.

The intelligence officials said the most likely explanation for the downing was that the rebels made a mistake. Separatists previously had shot down 12 Ukrainian military airplanes, the officials said.

The officials made clear they were relying in part on social media postings and videos made public in recent days by the Ukrainian government, even though they have not been able to authenticate all of it. For example, they cited a video of a missile launcher said to have been crossing the Russian border after the launch, appearing to be missing a missile.

But later, under questioning, the officials acknowledged they had not yet verified that the video was exactly what it purported to be.

Despite the fuzziness of some details, however, the intelligence officials said the case that the separatists were responsible for shooting down the plane was solid. Other scenarios - such as that the Ukrainian military shot down the plane - are implausible, they said. No Ukrainian surface-to-air missile system was in range.

From satellites, sensors and other intelligence gathering, officials said, they know where the missile originated - in separatist-held territory - and what its flight path was. But if they possess satellite or other imagery of the missile being fired, they did not release it Tuesday. A graphic they made public depicts their estimation of the missile's flight path with a green line. The jet's flight path was available from air traffic control data.

In the weeks before the plane was shot down, Russia had stepped up its arming and training of the separatists after the Ukrainian government won a string of battlefield victories. The working theory is that the SA-11 missile came from Russia, although the U.S. doesn't have proof of that, the officials said.

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Powers said last week that "because of the technical complexity of the SA-11, it is unlikely that the separatists could effectively operate the system without assistance from knowledgeable personnel. Thus, we cannot rule out technical assistance from Russian personnel in operating the systems," she said.

Asked about evidence, one of the senior U.S. intelligence officials said it was conceivable that Russian paramilitary troops are operating in eastern Ukraine, but that there was no direct link from them to the missile launch.

Asked why civilian airline companies were not warned about a possible threat, the officials said they did not know the rebels possessed SA-11 missiles until after the Malaysian airliner was shot down.



Israel's shoes


How to Control Soaring Health Costs

The US healthcare system is in crisis and everything points in the wrong direction. The population is rapidly aging and will thus consume ever larger amounts of healthcare while the tax base supporting these benefits shrinks. Meanwhile the definition of "medical problem" expands so tribulations once judged moral failings. e.g., alcoholism, are legally treatable illnesses.

And let's not forget the growing tide of gender disorders that might require state-paid wienerectomies and the influx of illegals, many who are already sick, happy to use "free" ER's and hospitals. Modern medicine has also shown a knack for uncovering new problems that were once judged normal, for example, Attention Deficit Disorder. Further add Obamacare and similar insurance measures encouraging the over-use of medicine for self-inflicted problems like obesity. Then there are the modern plagues of AIDS, SARS and various super-bug illnesses. Conceivably, Washington may eventually become little more than a health provider.            

Alas, no solutions exist on today's agenda. Forget about rationing-unthinkable politically ("death panels"). Nor will technological fixes suffice-too costly-while future bargain basement medical breakthroughs are pure fantasy.        

Fortunately, there is a cost effective, politically popular solution to our healthcare woes. Just reinvigorate medical practices that do not entail scientific medicine. We are speaking of what is often called "alternative medicine" and the advantages here are immense.

Most important, compared to science-based practices, the "alternative" options are always cheaper. No need to spend years and huge sums training practitioners, conducting tedious laboratory research, funding million dollar FDA trials or building high-tech facilities. I probably could sample every elixir in my local Chinese herb shop for less than a single overnight stay at Mt. Sinai Hospital.  All and all, these non-traditional interventions will save billions, lighten the caseloads of doctors and hospitals while simultaneously allowing Washington to address other issues such as a stronger military. The only fly in the ointment is expanding their use but compared to all the other cost-saving measures, obstacles here are minor.

Promoting alternative medicine is not all that difficult. Dr. Paul Offit's Do You Believe in Magic? reveals the great allure of non-scientific treatments. Why not? Given a choice of making an appointment, visiting the doctor, waiting for an hour or so, forced to strip prior to being examined, shipped off to multiple invasive tests, anxiously awaiting the telephone call ("the doctor would like to see you I can't say why") and then navigating all the resulting paperwork, a web search for some inexpensive magic pill ("that Big Pharma doesn't want you to know about") is less time- consuming and far more pleasant.

Moreover, "folksy" approaches are already appreciated regardless of what the men in the white coats say. One survey found that 88% of the public agreed that "...there are some good ways of treating sickness that medical science does not recognize."  Belief in miracles abound. Steve Jobs, hardly Mr. Stupid and a man who could pay for the best modern medicine money could buy, put off surgery that would have successfully treated his cancer in favor of nine months of acupuncture, fruit juices, bowel cleansing, and various herbs.

Add some seductive verbiage about the putative cures being rooted in ancient Egyptian wisdom, cures favored by disease-free Amazon jungle Indians, or remedies endorsed by sundry mystical swamis. It's hard to imagine why any man would schedule a hospital visit for a potentially risky prostate biopsy when a half dozen or more "improve prostate health" pills are available at Walgreens, all endorsed by the 18 year-old clerk. Then there's homeopathy, naturopathy, aroma therapy and energy medicine (magnets). Or maybe try crystal therapy or just wearing a copper bracelet or religious options-prayer, lighting candles, visiting holy shrines, holy water, and on-the-spot cures from faith healers. It is not that these remedies are useless-perhaps some do perform as advertised-but it is the cost that concerns us here.

Now for the good news. "Alternative medicine" is on the rise. The federal government's The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine is now part of the National Institute of Health. Its research has shown, for example, the benefits of mindfulness meditation in reducing suicide. The world famous Cleveland Clinic now has a center for Integrative Medicine that is exploring acupuncture, massage therapy and Chinese herbs. Many medical schools and hospitals now teach alternative medicine. Medical marijuana is quickly becoming legal everywhere and the cost is trivial compared to what Big Pharma can offer.

So, what is to be done to push yet more people away from budget-busting science-based medicine? The first step is to enhance legitimacy and let me suggest wrapping it in multiculturalism. Now, for example, the Afro-Caribbean SanterĂ­a ceremonies to drive out the devils, even if it demands sacrificing a chicken or two, should be viewed as no different from seeing a doctor. And, with official recognition as a "valid cultural expression," government money will arrive just as it funds culturally diverse art exhibitions, theater groups and similar celebrate-our- differences activities.

These more culturally attuned healthcare programs should be ongoing 24/7 and be conveniently located to help the sick, no different than current expensive neighborhood convenient care clinics. Surely many inner-city churches would gladly rent their basements to Sharmans and Voodoo priests to work their magic on those suspicious of regular doctors. Upscale neighborhoods would now have $5.00 co-pay centers for transcendental meditation, multiple therapeutic yoga's, deep breathing, macrobiotic body cleansing regimens and the ancient Tibetan medicinal Ggso ba rig pa.  Muslims would of course have their own alternatives. Again, it is a matter of cost, not efficacy per se.

Now for the bottom line: let Washington pay for it, every last secret potion and animal sacrifice of it. I'd guess that each of these alternative medical treatments would cost one-tenth of what the average Medicare- paid doctor visit costs. A brilliant bi-partisan political ploy, to boot-it saves tons of money while giving millions just what they want. Just what the doctor ordered.    



Does your race determine your biological age? Controversial research claims black people age more quickly - and are up to THREE YEARS older in health terms

Africans mature earlier too, by about two years

Black people age more quickly than white people, a controversial new study has claimed.

Researchers say that the researcher could shed new light on higher mortality rates in black people.  They say the biological age differences by race increase up until ages 60-69, and then decline.

The current study uses data on 7,644 black and white participants, ages 30 and above, from the third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

The researchers calculated each participant’s 'biological age' by looking at 10 biomarkers that have been linked to aging, including C-reactive protein, serum creatinine, glycosylated hemoglobin, systolic blood pressure, and total cholesterol.

The team compared then compared biological ages of blacks and whites as indicated from the biomarkers.

'Our results showed that, on average, blacks tend to be more than three years older biologically than whites,' Morgan Levine and Eileen Crimmins of the University of Southern California’s Davis School of Gerontology. wrote in the journal Social Science and Medicine.

'Blacks experience morbidity and mortality earlier in the life course compared to whites.'  'This is consistent with findings from previous studies reporting that blacks tend to have levels of biological risk factors that are indicative of someone significantly older chronologically.'  'Such premature declines in health may be indicative of an acceleration of the aging process.'

The researchers calculated each participant’s 'biological age' by looking at 10 biomarkers that have been linked to aging, including C-reactive protein, serum creatinine, glycosylated hemoglobin, systolic blood pressure, and total cholesterol.

The study uses data on 7,644 black and white participants, ages 30 and above, from the third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

'On average, the biological age for blacks was 53.16 years,' compared to 49.84 years for whites, the researchers report.

The team say the cause could be stress-related.

'Everyday stressors associated with being black may negatively impact physiological functioning and, under chronic exposure, accumulate over the lifespan and contribute to growing disparities in biological risk,' the authors wrote.

'Furthermore, if such environmental, behavioral, and mental factors contribute to an acceleration of the aging process, we would expect that persons who are aging the fastest should have the highest risk of mortality, and thus (have a) lower life expectancy.'



For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH,  POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated) and Coral reef compendium. (Updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten.

List of backup or "mirror" sites here or  here -- for when blogspot is "down" or failing to  update.  Email me  here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here (Academic) or  here (Pictorial) or  here  (Personal)


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

FAA suspends U.S. airlines’ flights to Israel

No guts. Let the airlines decide

The Federal Aviation Administration prohibited all U.S. airlines from flying to Israel for at least 24 hours.  All three U.S. carriers with nonstop flights to Israel – United, U.S. Airways and Delta Airlines — canceled their flights to Tel Aviv on Tuesday.

El Al, which is not bound by the FAA order issued in the early afternoon Tuesday, said it plans to continue to maintain its normal schedule of up to five daily nonstop flights to Tel Aviv from the United States.

The FAA order came after a rocket fired from Gaza struck and destroyed a home in Yehud, an Israeli town about a mile from Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv.  “Due to the potentially hazardous situation created by the armed conflict in Israel and Gaza, all flight operations to/from Ben Gurion International Airport by U.S. operators are prohibited until further advised,” the notice said.

A slew of other airlines also canceled their flights to Tel Aviv.
 including Air Canada, Lufthansa, Austria Airlines, Germanwings, Turkish Airlines and Swissair, according to Israeli media reports.
The European Aviation Safety Agency told Agence France-Presse it would issue a “strong recommendation to avoid until further notice Tel Aviv Ben Gurion International Airport.”

Delta diverted a flight en route to Tel Aviv from New York’s Kennedy Airport on Tuesday. Flight 268, carrying 273 passengers and 17 crew members, instead was sent to Paris.


Picture gallery

Every now and again I pick out what I think are the best pix and graphics from my various blogs and compile them into "galleries".  I have just got around to doing the gallery for July to December, 2013, which can be accessed  HERE or  HERE or HERE.  Some fun stuff there.


Israel's War of Restraint Continues

Secretary of State John Kerry has been dispatched to Egypt as the latest world diplomat to call on Hamas to accept an Egyptian cease-fire proposal in the Gaza conflict – a pact backed by both the United States and Israel, provided Hamas complies, which they won’t. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the Obama administration is “deeply concerned about the risk of further escalation, and the loss of more innocent life.” Meanwhile, Kerry called on Hamas to “step up and show a level of reasonableness, and … accept the offer of a cease-fire.” Does he know who he’s talking to?

In two weeks of fighting, Gaza officials claim the Palestinian death toll exceeds 500 as Israel retaliates for indiscriminate rocket attacks coming from Hamas strongholds. Conversely, 20 Israelis have been killed by Hamas strikes (including two Americans fighting in the Israeli army). The low number is mainly thanks to the success of Israel’s “Iron Dome” defensive infrastructure designed to repel the frequent Hamas rocket attacks.

While Israel sent in ground troops, the high Palestinian death toll is not from an overly aggressive Israeli offensive. Hamas doesn’t “give a whit about the Palestinians,” scolded Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “All they want is more and more civilian deaths.” He also noted, “Here’s the difference between us: We’re using missile defense to protect our civilians, and they’re using their civilians to protect their missiles.”

Indeed, a common practice of Hamas leadership is to place weapons, supply dumps and command-and-control sites amid civilians (hospitals, schools, markets, etc.) to maximize casualties from any Israeli attack – in effect holding their own people hostage. The Israeli government warns occupants of targeted areas in advance of their bombings, yet Hamas leaders ask their civilians not to seek safety. The end result is the high Palestinian death toll, and a victory for Hamas in the propaganda war as numbers are gobbled up by an anti-Semitic populace worldwide.

Unbelievably, the UN discovered some of those rockets in a Gaza school and promptly handed them to the government in Gaza, i.e., Hamas. The stupidity is stunning.

Speaking of stupidity, John Kerry was caught on a hot mic disparaging Israel’s efforts at limiting civilian casualties with pinpoint strikes. “It’s a hell of a pinpoint operation,” Kerry sarcastically blustered. It isn’t the first time Kerry has criticized Israel. In April, he warned of an apartheid state if Israel didn’t make changes.

This Israeli offensive is intended to clean out a network of tunnels and other shelters used by Hamas to store and transport weapons and give cover to leadership. It’s also clearly self-defense. “If it’s left up to Hamas, thousands of Israelis would be dead,” said Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-NC). So a fed-up Israel is fighting back after months of fruitless negotiations and ever-increasing attacks.

Predictably, the prospect of a peaceful two-state solution – which Israel helped to boost a decade ago by clearing out its own unwilling settlers and providing 3,000 greenhouses to jumpstart an economy they hoped would be based on a thriving Gaza export industry – isn’t working out in favor of either party. “This is a world in which the U.N. ignores humanity’s worst war criminals,” writes columnist Charles Krauthammer, “while incessantly condemning Israel, a state warred upon for 66 years which nonetheless goes to extraordinary lengths to avoid harming the very innocents its enemies use as shields.” When the choices are vigilance or extinction, sometimes blows have to be exchanged.



The Statin religion: British doctors are bitterly divided over calls for half of all adults to be put on pills to cut cholesterol

Having reached the age of 72, Professor Klim McPherson was prepared to accept some deterioration in his physical capabilities. But when, earlier this year, he found he was struggling to bend over to tie up his shoelaces, he decided enough was enough.

And so it was that little more than a month ago, the Oxford don stopped taking the little orange tablets his doctor had prescribed him and which he had been swallowing before bedtime every night for the past three years.

To his great surprise, within seven days, the aches and pains that had so restricted his movements had almost entirely disappeared.

'I'd been finding it difficult getting down the stairs and had to negotiate them step by step,' says Professor McPherson, one of the country's most eminent public health experts.

'As for reaching my laces, that was painful and uncomfortable. But now I can once again do all the things I couldn't do before.'

The medication that Professor McPherson has chosen to go without is a statin called Simvastatin.

Like the seven million or so other Britons who take statins on a daily basis, the professor had been prescribed the drug to lower his cholesterol levels and so reduce the risk of heart attacks or strokes.

In this way, the NHS estimates the drugs, which can cost as little as £16 for a 12-month course, save 7,000 lives a year.

And so it is against this background that last week, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice), the NHS watchdog, issued guidance that the drugs should in future be prescribed even more widely - in fact, to almost half of all adults.

'Cardiovascular disease (CVD) maims and kills people through coronary heart disease, peripheral arterial disease and stroke,' explained NICE's Professor Mark Baker. 'Together, these kill one in three of us. Our proposals are intended to prevent many lives being destroyed.'

A worthy aim, undoubtedly. However, to say that not everyone agrees with the role statins have to play in the future health of the nation would be something of an understatement.

NICE's proposals have caused an unprecedented outbreak of warfare among the medical and scientific community.

On one side are those who wholeheartedly support the ever-widening use of statins. On the other are those who believe their side-effects have been massively underestimated.

This, some claim, is due to an over‑reliance on research funded by the pharmaceutical industry, for whom statins have proved to be the single most profitable class of drug ever manufactured.

They argue that depression, cataracts, an increased risk of diabetes and the sort of muscle pains experienced by Professor McPherson could affect anywhere between 10 and 40 per cent of statin users.

And, while they do not deny the benefits statins can bring to those at a high risk of heart disease, they warn against putting millions of healthy patients on pills for the rest of their lives.

At the centre of this battle is the patient, confused and unsure what to believe. It is a worrying state of affairs and one that some fear could have terrible consequences.

'There are some real concerns people will come off statins because of this and then a fatal heart attack will occur,' says Jules Payne, CEO of the charity HEART UK, which provides support, guidance and education services to healthcare professionals and people with concerns about cholesterol.

'We will lose people when the whole point of this is to keep people alive.'

Statins work by lowering levels of cholesterol, the fatty substance in the blood that clogs up arteries. They block the action of a certain enzyme in the liver which makes 'bad' cholesterol, called low-density lipoprotein.

While statins are routinely given to patients who have had heart attacks, angina or bypass surgery, they are also given to patients at risk of CVD. GPs calculate the level of risk by looking at factors such as smoking history, cholesterol levels, blood pressure and body mass index.

Doctors in this country used to prescribe statins only to those with a 30 per cent risk of a heart attack within the next decade, but this was cut to a 20 per cent risk in 2005.

As a result, Britain has become not just the statins 'capital' of Europe, but the second highest prescriber of the drug in the Western world, after Australia.

Under the new NICE guidance, the threshold would be lowered further still so that those who have a 10 per cent risk will be offered statins.

NICE estimates that between five and ten million adults are currently taking the drugs, although 12.5 million are eligible.  But under the new guidelines, another 4.5 million would qualify.  This means that 17 million adults - nearly half of the 37 million adults in Britain - would either be on statins or offered them.

Part of the reason for this change is that many statins are now out of patent, meaning that they can cost just a few pence a day. Preventing a heart attack in this way is obviously much cheaper for the NHS than treating someone who has suffered one.

But some doctors are concerned. They warn that while the drugs themselves may be cheap, once the cost of extra GP appointments to prescribe and monitor patients is added in, the annual cost to the NHS could run into billions of pounds.

They also claim that by targeting a relatively low-risk section of the population, the plan could make minimal difference to the number of heart attacks and strokes while exposing millions more people to possible side-effects.

While some studies have shown that these affect just one in 10,000, some doctors and academics believe the problems they cause are much more widespread.

This fundamental disagreement was highlighted in May when the British Medical Journal was forced to withdraw claims published in an article stating that statins cause side-effects in one in five patients.

Leading the attack on the BMJ was Oxford University's Professor Sir Rory Collins, who has led analysis of many statin trials, and who accused the paper's authors of overstating the risks 20-fold. In so doing, he warned that patients could be discouraged from taking statins and their lives put at risk.

But still, the controversy rolls on. Critics of the ever-widening roll-out have claimed that the data driving the new NICE guidelines was largely funded by the pharmaceutical companies and has not been sufficiently scrutinised by independent researchers.

And they have also attacked the independence of NICE itself, pointing out that at least half of its 12-strong advisory panel of experts have direct financial ties to the pharmaceutical companies that manufacture statins.

NICE has since stated that none of the panel members stand to gain financially from the guidance and that all of the links were formally declared to NICE and published online.

Among the most vocal critics of the new statin strategy is Dr Malcolm Kendrick, a GP from Macclesfield who is also a member of the British Medical Association's General Practitioner's sub-committee.

He says that the official research is contradicted by what he and fellow medics see on a daily basis.

'If just one in 10,000 patients were really suffering side-effects as we are told is the case, then in all my clinical work I might expect to have seen one or two people with these problems,' says Dr Kendrick.

'Two weeks ago on a Monday morning the first three people who came to see me were complaining about the adverse affects of statins. They were mainly suffering from muscle aches and pains and one had quite bad stomach problems.

'Over New Year, another female patient went into hospital with severe stomach pains and nearly had an operation. She came to see me and I said statins can cause stomach pains, and she stopped and the pain went away. If she hadn't, she would have had her abdomen opened up.

'These drugs are all damaging, and as you get older that damage gets all the more serious.

'You find that someone who can just about get out of a seat starts taking statins and then can't get out of his seat; someone who used to be able to walk down the shops now can't.

'I say that statins won't make you live 15 years longer - but they will make you feel 15 years older.'

Of course, real evidence is needed before an informed decision can be made. As a scientist, and in of spite his own personal experience, that is something that Professor McPherson acknowledges.

For this reason, he is among those calling for the existing data produced by the pharmaceutical companies to be tested independently before statins are offered more widely.

'I think NICE making these somewhat draconian rules on the basis of such an inadequate evidence basis is foolhardly,' he says.



Federal $25 Billion Drug Bust

Drug regulation and enforcement should be solely a State matter

Michael Botticelli, the federal “drug czar” and adviser to Barack Obama, wants to spend $25 billion next year to fight drugs. A report to Congress from the drug czar’s office said, “we must seek to avoid oversimplified debates between the idea of a war on drugs and the notion of legalization as a panacea.” The proposal to spend $25 billion came a day after Washington state allowed the sale of marijuana in the style of Colorado. California voters authorized medical marijuana in 1996.

As for oversimplification, how about the idea that a “war on drugs” declared by Richard Nixon in 1971 can solve the problem by spending $1 trillion? “What do we have to show for it?” asked Richard Branson on CNN. “The U.S. has the largest prison population in the world, with about 2.3 million behind bars. More than half a million of those people are incarcerated for a drug law violation. What a waste of young lives.”

Likewise, Allison Schrager notes in the Huffington Post that the United States spends more than $40 billion each year on drug prohibition, and that is only the explicit cost. Implicit costs include “increased violence, otherwise productive citizens in prison, and perpetual poverty, both at home and, especially, abroad.”

The federal Drug Enforcement Administration, launched by Richard Nixon, started with a budget of $65 million in 1972. In 2014 the budget approaches $3 billion, and DEA bosses want to keep the money coming. In Washington more money is the answer to everything. That’s why the war on drugs continues, despite massive costs, casualties, and collateral damage.



For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH,  POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated) and Coral reef compendium. (Updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten.

List of backup or "mirror" sites here or  here -- for when blogspot is "down" or failing to  update.  Email me  here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here (Academic) or  here (Pictorial) or  here  (Personal)


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Genes and Race: The Distant Footfalls of Evidence:  A review of Nicholas Wade’s book, “A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History“.

Despite the great care the author below took not to tread on any toes, waves of shrieks emanated from the always irrational Left in response to it.  As a result SciAm issued an apology for publishing it.  The author, Ashutosh Jogalekar,  was eventually fired over it.  He is a chemist of apparently Indian origin so has obviously missed some of the political indoctrination that dominates the social sciences and humanities in America today. 

Also reproduced below by the same author is an article about briliant physicist Richard Feynman.  The author deplores episodes of sexism in Feynman's life  but makes the perfectly reasonable sociological observation that the sexism concerned was typical of Feynman's times so should be judged in that context.  That article REALLY caused explosions at SciAm.  They were in such a spin over it that they at first de-published it.  Open censorship has a bad name, however, so they later re-published it.

SciAm is not really interested in science, however, as their advocacy for the global warming cult shows. Theory contradicted by the evidence does not bother them. They are really The Unscientific American.  A conservative boycott of the publication  would be fitting -- JR

In this book NYT science writer Nicholas Wade advances two simple premises: firstly, that we should stop looking only toward culture as a determinant of differences between populations and individuals, and secondly, that those who claim that race is only a social construct are ignoring increasingly important findings from modern genetics and science. The guiding thread throughout the book is that “human evolution is recent, copious and regional” and that this has led to the genesis of distinct differences and classifications between human groups. What we do with this evidence should always be up for social debate, but the evidence itself cannot be ignored.

That is basically the gist of the book. It’s worth noting at the outset that at no point does Wade downplay the effects of culture and environment in dictating social, cognitive or behavioral differences – in fact he mentions culture as an important factor at least ten times by my count – but all he is saying is that, based on a variety of scientific studies enabled by the explosive recent growth of genomics and sequencing, we need to now recognize a strong genetic component to these differences.

The book can be roughly divided into three parts. The first part details the many horrific and unseemly uses that the concept of race has been put to by loathsome racists and elitists ranging from Social Darwinists to National Socialists. Wade reminds us that while these perpetrators had a fundamentally misguided, crackpot definition of race, that does not mean race does not exist in a modern incarnation. This part also clearly serves to delineate the difference between a scientific fact and what we as human beings decide to do with it, and it tells us that an idea should not be taboo just because murderous tyrants might have warped its definition and used it to enslave and decimate their fellow humans.

The second part of the book is really the meat of the story and Wade is on relatively firm ground here. He details a variety of studies based on tools like tandem DNA repeats and single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) that point to very distinctive genetic differences between populations dictating both physical and mental traits. Many of the genes responsible for these differences have been subject to selection in the last five thousand years or so, refuting the belief that humans have somehow “stopped evolving” since they settled down into agricultural communities. For me the most striking evidence that something called race is real comes from the fact that when you ask computer algorithms to cluster genes based on differences and similarities in an unbiased manner, these statistical programs consistently settle on the five continental races as genetically distinct groups – Caucasian, East Asian, African, Native American and Australian Aboriginal. Very few people would deny that there are clear genetic underpinnings behind traits like skin color or height among people on different continents, but Wade’s achievement here is to clearly explain how it’s not just one or two genes underlying such traits but a combination of genes – the effects of many of which are not obvious – that distinguish between races. The other point that he drives home is that even minor differences between gene frequencies can lead to significant phenotypic dissimilarities because of additive effects, so boiling down these differences to percentages and then interpreting these numbers can be quite misleading.

Wade also demolishes the beliefs of many leading thinkers who would rather have differences defined almost entirely by culture – these include Stephen Jay Gould who thought that humans evolved very little in the last ten thousand years (as Wade points out, about 14% of the genome has been under active selection since modern humans appeared on the scene), and Richard Lewontin who perpetuated a well-known belief that the dominance of intra as opposed to inter individual differences makes any discussion of race meaningless. As Wade demonstrates through citations of solid research, this belief is simply erroneous since even small differences between populations can translate to large differences in physical, mental and social features depending on what alleles are involved; Lewontin and his followers’ frequent plea that inter-group differences are “only 15%” thus ends up essentially translating to obfuscation through numbers. Jared Diamond’s writings are also carefully scrutinized and criticized; Diamond’s contention that the presence of the very recently evolved gene for malaria resistance can somehow be advanced as a dubious argument for race is at best simplistic and at worst a straw man. The main point is that just because there can be more than one method to define race, or because definitions of race seem to fray at their edges, does not mean that race is non-existent and there is no good way to parse it.

The last part of the book is likely to be regarded as more controversial because it deals mainly with effects of genetics on cognitive, social and personality traits and is much more speculative. However Wade fully realizes this and also believes that “there is nothing wrong with speculation, of course, as long as its premises are made clear”, and this statement could be part of a scientist’s credo. The crux of the matter is to logically ask why genes would also not account for mental and social differences between races if they do account for physical differences. The problem there is that although the hypothesis is valid, the evidence is slim for now. Some of the topics that Wade deals with in this third part are thus admittedly hazy in terms of corroboration. For instance there is ample contemplation about whether a set of behavioral and genetic factors might have made the West progress faster than the East and inculcated its citizens with traits conducive to material success. However Wade also makes it clear that “progressive” does not mean “superior”; what he is rather doing is sifting through the evidence and asking if some of it might account for these more complex differences in social systems. Similarly, while there are pronounced racial differences in IQ, one must recognize the limitations of IQ, but more importantly should recognize that IQ says nothing about whether one human is “better” or “worse” than another; in fact the question is meaningless.

Wade brings a similar approach to exploring genetic influences on cognitive abilities and personality traits; evidently, as he recognizes, the evidence on this topic is just emerging and therefore not definitive. He looks at the effects of genes on attributes as diverse as language, reciprocity and propensity to dole out punishment. This discussion makes it clear that we are just getting started and there are many horizons that will be uncovered in the near future; for instance, tantalizing hints of links between genes for certain enzymes and aggressive or amiable behavior are just emerging. Some of the other paradigms Wade writes about, such as the high intelligence of Ashkenazi Jews, the gene-driven contrast between chimp and human societies and the rise of the West are interesting but have been covered by authors like Steven Pinker, Greg Cochran and Gregory Clark. If I have a criticism of the book it is that in his efforts to cover extensive ground, Wade sometimes gives short shrift to research on interesting topics like oxytocin and hormonal influences. But what he does make clear is that the research opportunities in the field are definitely exciting, and scientists should not have to tiptoe around these topics for political reasons.

Overall I found this book extremely well-researched, thoughtfully written and objectively argued. Wade draws on several sources, including the peer reviewed literature and work by other thinkers and scientists. The many researchers whose work Wade cites makes the writing authoritative; on the other hand, where speculation is warranted or noted he usually explicitly points it out as such. Some of these speculations such as the effects of genetics on the behavior of entire societies are quite far flung but I don’t see any reason why, based on what we do know about the spread of genes among groups, they should be dismissed out of hand. At the very least they serve as reasonable hypotheses to be pondered, thrashed out and tested. Science is about ideas, not answers.

But the real lesson of the book should not be lost on us: A scientific topic cannot be declared off limits or whitewashed because its findings can be socially or politically controversial; as Wade notes, “Whether or not a thesis might be politically incendiary should have no bearing on the estimate of its scientific validity.” He gives nuclear physics as a good analogy; knowledge of the atom can lead to both destruction and advancement, but without this knowledge there will still be destruction. More importantly, one cannot hide the fruits of science; how they are used as instruments of social or political policy is a matter of principle and should be decoupled from the science itself. In fact, knowing the facts provides us with a clear basis for making progressive decisions and gives us a powerful weapon for defeating the nefarious goals of demagogues who would use pseudoscience to support their dubious claims. In that sense, I agree with Wade that even if genetic differences between races become enshrined into scientific fact, it does not mean at all that we will immediately descend into 19th-century racism; our moral compass has already decided the direction of that particular current.

Ultimately Wade’s argument is about the transparency of knowledge. He admonishes some of the critics – especially some liberal academics and the American Anthropological Association – for espousing a “culture only” philosophy that is increasingly at odds with scientific facts and designed mainly for political correctness and a straitjacketed worldview. I don’t think liberal academics are the only ones guilty of this attitude but some of them certainly embrace it. Liberal academics, however, have also always prided themselves on being objective examiners of the scientific truth. Wade rightly says that they should join hands with all of us in bringing that same critical and honest attitude to examining the recent evidence about race and genetics. Whatever it reveals, we can be sure that as human beings we will try our best not to let it harm the cause of our fellow beings. After all we are, all of us, human beings first and scientists second.



Richard Feynman, sexism and changing perceptions of a scientific icon

I fell in love with Richard Feynman when I was in middle school. That is when I discovered “Surely you’re joking Mr. Feynman” in my dad’s bookshelf. For the first few hours I laughed till tears were rolling out of my eyes. This was not science, it was choice entertainment of the highest order. Whether he was fixing radios by “thinking”, blowing up the physics lab at Princeton to test his thoughts on a water sprinkler experiment or cracking top-secret safes at Los Alamos for pure amusement, there was no one like Feynman. This perception was shared by almost all his colleagues and millions of Feynman fans around the world. I was hooked....

My first foray into taking a more critical view of Feynman came from his once arch-rival and contender for most brilliant theoretical physicist in the world, Murray Gell-Mann. Unlike many others Gell-Mann was never swayed by the Feynman legend, so he provides a good conduit through which to view the latter’s personality. Although dismissing his status as some kind of a physics God, Gell-Mann genuinely admired Feynman’s brilliance and originality – on this count there seems to be unanimous consensus – but his take on Feynman’s personal quirks is more revealing. The main thing about Feynman that really got Gell-Mann’s goat was that Feynman seemed to “spend a huge amount of time generating anecdotes about himself”. Now that much would be clear to anyone who does even a perfunctory reading of “Surely You’re Joking…” but Gell-Mann’s opinion of Feynman seems to indicate a much more deliberate effort on Feynman’s part to do this. Feynman often used to portray himself as some kind of working class city slicker thrown in the middle of distinguished, Sanskrit-quoting, tea-imbibing intellectuals at Princeton or Los Alamos, but the fact was that he relished being a contrarian among these people. A more careful reading of “Surely…” makes it clear that he got into thorny situations deliberately. One suspects that much of this was simply the result of boredom, but whatever the reason, it does give credence to Gell-Mann’s observation about him trying hard to generate stories about himself.

The deliberate generation of these stories could occasionally make Feynman appear like a jerk. A case in point concerns an anecdote when he kept the tip for a meal hidden beneath an inverted glass full of water. He wanted to illustrate to the waitress a clever way of sliding the glass over to the edge of the table, collecting the water without making it spill, and retrieving the tip. But of course he did not actually tell the waitress this; he wanted to simply play a prank so he left it to her to figure it out. The incident is actually trivial and those who would complain loudly about the poor woman having to mop up the water just to get her tip are exaggerating their case, but it does capture a central thread in the Feynman narrative, the physicist’s often casual habit to inconvenience other people simply to prove a point, play a prank or conduct an experiment. He did this all his life, and a longer view of his life and career gives you the feeling that most of his colleagues put up with it not because they actually enjoyed it, but because they benefited from his brilliance too much to really bother about it.

What started bothering me more the deeper I dug into Feynman’s life was something quite different: his casual sexism. The latest insight into this comes from Lawrence Krauss’s book “Quantum Man” which does a great job explaining the one thing about Feynman that should matter the most – his science. But Krauss also does not ignore the warts. What startled me the most was the fact that when he was a young, boyish looking professor at Cornell, Feynman used to pretend to be a student so he could ask undergraduate women out. I suspect that this kind of behavior on the part of a contemporary professor would almost certainly lead to harsh disciplinary action, as it should. The behavior was clearly, egregiously wrong and when I read about it my view of Feynman definitely went down a notch, and a large notch at that. Feynman’s apparent sexism was also the subject of a 2009 post with a sensationalist title; the post pointed out one chapter in “Surely…” in which Feynman documented various strategies he adopted for trying to get women in bars to sleep with him. Neither were Feynman’s escapades limited to bars; more than one of his biographies have documented affairs with two married women, at least one of which caused him considerable problems.

It’s not surprising to find these anecdotes disturbing and even offensive, but I believe it would also be premature and simplistic to write off Richard Feynman as “sexist” across the board. People who want to accuse him of this seem to have inadvertently cherry-picked anecdotes; the nude painting in topless bars, the portrayal of a woman in a physics lesson as a clueless airhead, the propensity to lie on the beach and watch girls. But this view of Feynman misses the big picture. While not an excuse, several of his 1950s adventures were probably related to the deep pain and insecurity caused by the death of his first wife Arlene; by almost any account the two shared a very deep and special bond. It was also during the late 40s and early 50s that Feynman was doing some of his most intense work on quantum electrodynamics, and at least a few of the situations he narrates were part of him letting off steam.

Also importantly, while some of Feynman’s utterances and actions appear sexist to modern sensibilities, it’s worth noting that they were probably no different than the attitudes of a male-dominated American society in the giddy postwar years, a society in which women were supposed to take care of the house and children and men were seen as the bread winners. Thus, any side of Feynman that raises our eyebrows is really an aspect of a biased American society. In addition, Feynman’s ploys to pick up girls in bars were – and in fact are – probably practiced by every American male seeking companionship in bars, whether consciously or unconsciously; what made Feynman different was the fact that he actually documented his methods, and he was probably the only scientist to do so. In fact we can be thankful that society has now  progressed to a stage where both genders can practice these mate-seeking strategies on almost equal terms, although the gap indicated by that “almost” deserves contemplation as an indication of the unequal bargaining power that women still have. The point though is that, whatever his actions appear like to a modern crowd, I do not think Richard Feynman was any more sexist than a typical male product of his times and culture. The fact that society in general behaved similarly to what he did of course does not excuse the things he did, but it also puts them in perspective. I think recognizing this perspective is important partly to understand how our views on sexism have changed for the better from 1950 to 2014. The encouraging development is that actions by Feynman – and male society in general – that were considered acceptable or amusing in 1950 would quite rightly cause instant outrage in 2014. We still have a long way to go before both genders achieve parity in science, but the change in attitudes is definitely encouraging.

However the fact that simply dismissing Feynman as sexist is problematic is ascertained by this 1999 article from the MIT Tech (by a woman) which gives us a more complete picture of his views toward women. As far as we know, there is no evidence that Feynman discriminated against women in his career; the letters he writes to women in the collection of letters edited by his daughter indicate no bias. Both male and female students admired him. His sister Joan documents how he was always supportive of her own career in physics. At one point he came to the aid of a female professor filing a discrimination suit at Caltech. In addition he was a devoted husband to his first and third wife and a loving and supportive father to his daughter who in fact tried hard to get her interested in science.

The irony thus seems to be that, just like Feynman was fond of generating cherry picked anecdotes about himself, we seem to be fond of generating skewed, cherry picked anecdotes about him that accuse him of sexism. In fact most conversations about Feynman seem to center on a few select anecdotes that showcase some side of his character, whether positive or negative, and this anecdotal reading of his life is something he himself encouraged. But a more complete view of Feynman’s life and career indicates otherwise. My own perceptions of Feynman have changed, and that’s the way it should be. At first I idolized Feynman like many others, but over time, as a more careful reading of his life revealed some of the unseemlier sides of his character, I became aware of his flaws. While I still love his lectures and science, these flaws have affected my perception of his personality, and I am glad they did. There are things that he said or did that are clearly wrong or questionable at the very least, but we can at least be grateful that we have evolved to a stage where even the few instances of his behavior that have been documented would not be tolerated on today’s college campuses and would be instantly condemned. As a man I do not now admire Feynman as much as I did before, but I am also glad to have a more complete understanding of his life and times.

However I think it’s also important that we don’t make the same mistake that the “Feynman industry” has made – focus on a part of the celebrated physicist’s life and ignore many others. Feynman was a brilliant physicist, Feynman was occasionally sexist – and sometimes disturbingly so- and Feynman also supported women in science. One reason why it’s interesting to explore these contradictory sides of Feynman’s personality is because he is not a scientist who is usually regarded as complicated and contradictory, but the facts indicate that he was. Feynman himself did a kind of disservice by sending a few wrong messages through the recounting of his adventures, and others have performed an equal disservice by embellishing his achievements and papering over his ugly side. But knowing his emphasis on honesty and integrity in science – one ethic that does consistently shine forth from the narrative of his life – he would almost certainly want us to do better. We can condemn parts of his behavior while praising his science. And we should.


There is a  new  lot of postings by Chris Brand just up -- on his usual vastly "incorrect" themes of race, genes, IQ etc


For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH,  POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated) and Coral reef compendium. (Updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten.

List of backup or "mirror" sites here or  here -- for when blogspot is "down" or failing to  update.  Email me  here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here (Academic) or  here (Pictorial) or  here  (Personal)


Monday, July 21, 2014

VA Employees Actually Shredded Vets’ Benefits Claims!

With the tragic news surrounding the downing of Malaysian Air Flight 15 and the Israeli military’s invasion of Gaza, little if any of the news media is focused on what is going on here at home.

For months, we have known about the scandal rocking the Department of Veterans Affairs. It has been two months since Eric Shinseki resigned as the head of the Department. And all this time later, we are still learning about shocking new revelations about the mistreatment of our veterans.

We have known all along that VA employees were utilizing “secret lists” to hide veteran patients from their superiors. The goal was to create an illusion of efficiency. Many VA employees received bonuses based on how efficient their hospital/office was. Efficiency was graded according to the number of veterans who received treatment within a given time period. So, the VA employees would deliberately hide some veterans’ applications so that they appeared to be more efficient.

Well, we have just learned that doesn’t even begin to describe what was happening to our vets!

It turns out that in addition to hiding veterans’ claims on secret lists, tens of thousands of veterans’ benefits claims were just shredded. Not hidden… not put in a different drawer and saved for later… they were shredded. Destroyed. Instead of taking ownership for the backlog of veterans’ benefits applications, some bureaucrats just destroyed the applications!

Congress is going to give illegal aliens benefits and leave our military veterans to suffer! Tell Congress NOT ONE CENT of funding goes to illegal aliens until our vets receive the care that they’ve earned and deserve!

Michael Sulsona of Staten Island, New York is a Vietnam Veteran. When he was twenty years old, he stepped on a landmine in Vietnam and lost both of his legs. Ever since that fateful day, he has lived his life as a double-amputee. He sacrificed both of his legs in the service of his country.

When he returned to the United States, the Department of Veterans Affairs provided him with a wheelchair. Over the years, Michael’s wheelchair has been upgraded and retrofitted, but lately, the VA had refused to replace this veteran’s broken wheelchair. Time after time, the VA sent repairmen out to Michael Sulsona’s house to repair the wheel chair. And no sooner had they left, but something else would break.

Michael Sulsona has been petitioning the VA to provide him with a new wheelchair for TWO YEARS. No one who sacrifices in the service of this great country should have to wait even a day to get a response from the VA!

Well, while shopping at a Lowes home improvement store, Mr. Sulsona’s wheelchair broke again and he found himself stranded in a warehouse with no way to maneuver.

In that instance, three kind Lowe’s employees did what the VA couldn’t find time to do for years: they fixed his wheelchair. Not only did they fix the bolt that had broken, but also they replaced every single bolt in his wheel chair.

We have been told time and time again that the problems in the VA have been fixed. Yet every week, a new whistleblower steps forward to shine the light on more horrific practices. How could the VA ignore a Vietnam veteran’s application for a new wheelchair for so long? Could he be one of the tens of thousands of vets who had their benefits applications shredded? That would make a whole lot of sense!

With all of the coverage that Mr. Sulsona’s story received, the VA finally sent him a new wheelchair after two long years of him petitioning. But, it shouldn’t have to take public shaming to get the Department of Veterans Affairs to do its job! A story shouldn’t have to go viral in order for a double-amputee Vietnam vet to receive a wheelchair!

With what is going on at the border, there has been a lot of talk comparing the treatment that illegal immigrants are receiving to the mistreatment of our veterans. This is definitely an apt comparison. It is absolutely SHAMEFUL that the President is trying to push a $3.7 BILLION illegal immigrant benefits bill through Congress when the legislative body hasn’t even passed a spending bill to let the VA finally help our veterans!

What I am about to tell you, however, is going to make the illegal immigration connection look like a non-issue.

Last year, while the Obama administration was struggling to “fix” the Obamacare website, the administration actually pulled VA employees away from helping vets and had them work on the Affordable Care Act. That’s right: instead of allowing VA nurses and employees to service our veterans, the White House actually had them working on processing Obamacare applications!

Scott Davis is a program specialist at the VA’s national Health Eligibility Center in DeKalb County, Georgia. Last week, he blew the whistle on the fact that VA employees were actually forced to put aside Veterans’ applications and focus exclusively on processing Obamacare applications.

What the hell is going on in this country? When will the American people stand up and demand that Congress act?


Released Illegal Alien From Border Crisis Murders Woman!

We all knew that this would happen. At the rate that the Obama administration is releasing illegal aliens, it was only a matter of time before the Federal government’s “catch-and-release” policy came back to bite it.

I would like to introduce you to Pedro Alberto Monterroso-Navas. This is an illegal alien who broke our laws an entered the country with a few children so he could lie to Border Patrol and play off their sympathy to gain amnesty.

This man came to the country from Honduras so, according to the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008, Border Patrol couldn’t simply deport him immediately. Since he was traveling with young children, the law stated that he had the right to appear before a judge, which would be years away.

So, police released Mr. Monterroso-Navas with nothing but a promise from him to appear before a judge at a scheduled date. This is the same promise to appear that most illegal aliens are agreeing to right before Border Patrol lets them go… The vast majority (over 90%) of these caught-and-released illegals will never EVER appear before a judge. The illegal aliens’ whole goal is to come to the United States, get caught and released, and then disappear into American society so they can wait for the day that full blown amnesty becomes the law of the land!

By all measures, Pedro Alberto Monterroso-Navas would have been off scot-free. He would have been free to wander the United States for three years before his deportation hearing. And then, when the hearing date came and went, he would become just another statistic…

But Mr. Monterroso-Navas didn’t have to wait three years to get an appointment with a judge. That’s because, just days after being ‘caught-and-released,’ he was arrested for murdering a woman.

Just to be clear, the crime was committed after he was released by Border Patrol.  Pedro Alberto Monterroso-Navas was apprehended by Border Patrol, released based on his promise to appear in court, and then within days he had murdered someone.

Every day, hundreds of illegal aliens are caught-and-released based on nothing but a promise to appear in court. We know absolutely nothing about these people. We don’t know if they are carrying communicable diseases, if they have a criminal history, or whether releasing them will put American lives at risk… but none of that seems to phase the Obama administration!

Tell Congress to STOP the Obama administration from freeing illegal alien rapists and murders! Deport them NOW!

Earlier this year, the Obama administration released 36,000 illegal alien criminals from prison. Just to be clear, these people weren’t in prison because they are here illegally. These people were put in prison because, after breaking our laws and entering the United States, the broke another one of our laws. According to the government’s own reporting, the 36,000 released illegal alien criminals were collectively convicted of 88,000 crimes. These include 426 sexual assaults, 303 kidnappings, 193 homicides, 1,317 domestic violence assaults, 1,724 weapon offenses, and one even tried to shoot a public official. All of these criminals are now back on the streets.

This is a sign of a President who really doesn’t care about Americans’ well-being. Hell, Vice President Joe Biden has claimed that these illegals are already Americans!

The fact remains that we simply cannot afford the risk of letting these illegal aliens free to roam our country. Border Patrol agents have reported cases of swine flu, scabies, and other communicable diseases that we as a country had eradicated decades ago. But, with the influx of Third World migrants, these diseases have been reintroduced in the United States.

And if the diseases don’t kill you, the unfortunate fact is that the illegals themselves might! Pedro Alberto Monterroso-Navas is just one of the violent illegals that got caught! You hear stories from Border Patrol that along with Central Americans, they are also catching illegals from Afghanistan and Pakistan, and you can’t help but wonder whether Barack Obama’s political correctness is enabling a future 9/11!

The truly despicable part of this whole story is that when Pedro Alberto Monterroso-Navas was arrested after the murder, the Associated Press conveniently left out the fact that he was one of the ‘caught-and-released’ illegal aliens. The mainstream media doesn’t want you to know that this murder was the result of Obama’s failing border strategy!

The powers-that-be are trying to keep a lid on these gruesome crimes. Make no mistake: as the days and weeks pass, we will hear more stories of caught-and-released illegals committing horrific crimes.

Why should we have to wait until then to deport these criminals? Why do we have to wait for innocent blood to be spilled before we put these illegal aliens on a plane back to whatever country they came from?

This President is literally putting Americans’ lives at risk and I refuse to stand by and pray that the story of Pedro Alberto Monterroso-Navas doesn’t repeat itself!


Fiddling While the Border Burns

Over the last week or two, we in our humble shop have alerted you to the upcoming “broad” and “generous” executive order permitting amnesty, the rampant increase in grants of “asylum” to illegal aliens, Democrat delusions about a secure southern border, and even larger delusions about the urgency of addressing the problem – it’s about the children, you see. While thousands of unaccompanied minors stream across our southern border, Barack Obama and Democrats use the situation as a political football. And rather than address the problem with tried and true solutions like better barriers, better security and pressuring the nations providing all these border crossers to cease and desist, they’re doubling down on their misguided ideas.

White House communications director Jennifer Palmieri chastised Republicans for “using the Rio Grande as a reason not to do immigration reform,” and added, “Our belief is now, more than ever, the American people see immigration as an urgent issue and want the administration to act.” In the latter respect Palmieri is correct, but the Obama idea of action is to just let all of them in, and Americans prefer a secure border as well as returning these people to their homelands. It’s likely Obama will write an Executive Order later this summer expanding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) order he wrote two years ago, which was the backdoor method by which he put the defeated DREAM Act into place.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), though, is fighting back. While his proposed bill won’t address those already allowed to stay under the current DACA order, it would prohibit the expansion of DACA beyond its currently prescribed limits. “We want to stop any more people from getting deferred action under DACA and we want to stop the president from being able to expand it as we have heard he wants to do,” said Cruz spokeswoman Catherine Frazier.

Sen. David Vitter (R-LA), meanwhile, will introduce a bill to amend the 2008 anti-trafficking law being abused to allow this surge of illegal minors. “We need a policy that actually deters illegal immigration,” Vitter said. “I’ve said that if we want to send a message to others thinking about coming here illegally, let’s deport these people by the planeload.”

Appealing to raw “for the children” emotion, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) railed, “Before Republicans help our Border Patrol agents and all the personnel that’s [sic] trying to do something to handle this humanitarian crisis, they want President Obama to deport the DREAMers who are … legitimately here. These are children. But instead of considering a thoughtful, compassionate solution to a real-life crisis on our border, radical Republicans are trying to hold these kids ransom.” Illegal aliens are “legitimately here”? Who knew?

Middle ground may be electoral quicksand for GOP hopes this fall, particularly if fed-up voters view Republicans as afraid to act for fear of alienating a portion of the Hispanic vote. Ample evidence indicates that this problem was not unforeseen, so the question about who’s to blame is just as important as what to do about it.


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Sunday, July 20, 2014

Malaysia Airlines management has a lot to answer for

To save money, they deliberately took a risk which will now undoubtedly destroy their airline.  I think the responsibility for this tragedy now lies entirely with the airline. The rebels were entitled to attack Ukrainian aircraft after Ukrainian aircraft had attacked them.  And they were known to fire on Ukrainian aircraft.  The BUK missile system was first deployed in 1979 so the version used by the rebels may have been rather primitive, with little  capacity to distinguish an airliner from a Ukrainian transport aircraft

Two cabin crew swapped shifts so they would not be on the doomed Malaysian airliner downed by a missile in eastern Ukraine, after raising concerns about the safety of flying over the war zone.

Other senior pilots and cabin crew had flagged up fears about the flightpath in the weeks leading up to the tragedy, although Malaysia Airlines last night denied ignoring crew concerns.

Some staff are reported to have refused to fly over the airspace where the passenger airliner was downed because they deemed it to be too volatile and dangerous, especially after two Ukrainian planes, a fighter jet and a transport aircraft, were shot down by rebels.

According to well-placed Malaysia Airlines sources, at least two cabin crew swapped shifts so they would not be on MH17, specifically because they were worried about the flightpath. The Mail on Sunday has been told worried pilots consulted air traffic controllers in Malaysia and also made an informal approach to the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO). But still Malaysia Airlines did not divert the route, unlike other carriers.

British Airways as well as all US airlines, Lufthansa, Air France and Qantas, were already avoiding the war zone in Ukraine, adding an extra 20 minutes’ flight time, and there is growing pressure on Malaysia Airlines to explain why it did not follow suit.

Asiana Airlines, another company avoiding the war zone, said: ‘Although the detour adds to flight time and cost, we have been making the detour for safety.’