Friday, January 09, 2015

Another nail in coffin of the antioxidant religion

Are antioxidants a waste of money? Latest study says eating expensive 'superfoods' or taking supplements WON'T help you live longer. That dynamo of research in the area, Beatrice Golomb, will not be surprised. In a recent correspondence with me she said: "Personally, I have never advocated, to anyone, carotenoids, vitamin C, vitamin E as d-alpha tocopherol, or folic acid in supplement form". The only pill that she is favors these days is the recently revived CoEnzyme Q10 -- but see here, here and here for skepticism about that

People who get a lot of antioxidants in their diets, or who take them in supplement form, don't live any longer than those who just eat well overall, according to a long term study of retirees in California.

Antioxidants, including vitamins A, C and E, are plentiful in vegetables and fruits and may help protect against cell or DNA damage.  As a result, they've been touted for cancer prevention, heart disease prevention and even warding off dementia.

'There is good scientific evidence that eating a diet with lots of vegetables and fruits is healthful and lowers risks of certain diseases,' said lead author Annlia Paganini-Hill of the Clinic for Aging Research and Education at the University of California, Irvine.

'However, it is unclear whether this is because of the antioxidants, something else in these foods, other foods in people's diet, or other lifestyle choices,' Paganini-Hill told Reuters Health by email.

Most double-blind randomized clinical trials - the gold standard of medical evidence - have found that antioxidant supplements do not prevent disease, she said.

The researchers used mailed surveys from the 1980's in which almost 14,000 older residents of the Leisure World Laguna Hills retirement community detailed their intake of 56 foods or food groups rich in vitamins A and C as well as their vitamin supplement intake.

With periodic check-ins and repeated surveys, the researchers followed the group for the next 32 years, during which time 13,104 residents died.

When Paganini-Hill's team accounted for smoking, alcohol intake, caffeine consumption, exercise, body mass index, and histories of hypertension, angina, heart attack, stroke, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and cancer, there was no association between the amount of vitamins A or C in the diet or vitamin E supplements and the risk of death.

Participants in the new study were largely white, educated and well-nourished.



The TSA: A Brief Tale

By Abigail Hall

This Christmas I flew out of town with my fiancĂ© to see his family. Since we’d be out of town for several days, I checked a bag with the airline.

We arrived to our destination without any fuss and drove to see his family. As I went to my bag to retrieve some things before bed, I was greeted by a note from the TSA. The paper stated that my bag had been searched as a part of necessary “security” precautions.

Aside from looking like a five-year-old had packed my bag, everything seemed fine (I’m a careful packer—so the fact my folded clothes were left in wads was particularly irritating). Upon further inspection, however, I realized some things were missing from my luggage.

Those things were my underwear.

Now, in the “best” case scenario, either these items were taken out of my bag and accidentally put in someone else’s (that’s awkward) or the person who searched my bag decided fruit of the loom posed a security risk (I always thought those characters from the commercial looked shady). Worst case scenario, some TSA agent stole my underwear.

Apparently, I’m not the only one who has wound up with some missing items at the hands of the TSA. In fact, some 29 TSA employees were fired for theft from Miami’s airport between 2002 and 2011. Over the same period, 27 agents were fired from JFK International. In total, a report on TSA theft obtained through the Freedom of Information Act found that the TSA fired over 400 employees for theft between 2002 and 2011.

The agents tasked with “keeping travelers safe” have gotten their hands on more than passengers’ small trinkets. Former TSA officer Pythias Brown, for example, was convicted of stealing some very expensive items from passengers. He admitted to taking some $800,000 worth of cameras and other items from checked bags.

When discussing his crime, Brown said the TSA had “a culture” of theft. He stated it was easy for TSA employees to take advantage of passengers’ luggage because of lax oversight and tips from their fellow employees. “[Stealing from checked bags] became so easy, I got complacent,” Brown said in an interview.

Brown certainly isn’t the only one. One officer was arrested for stealing some $5,000 in cash from a passenger’s jacket while another made off with a $15,000 watch. While the TSA is quick to point out that the number of thefts by TSA agents represents only a small proportion of their employees (which is true), it may be more commonplace than admitted. After all, it’s not exactly difficult to blame lost items on the general gross incompetence of airlines. The agency also states they have a “zero tolerance” policy for theft.

In spite of this zero tolerance policy, TSA agents have been arrested and convicted for stealing items including iPads, laptops, and a $40,000 piece of luggage.

The problem of theft seems simple enough to address. For example, how about that card put in my suitcase informing me of the “necessary procedure?” One could easily assign a number to each agent and print this number on the tickets placed in passenger suitcases. This would allow complaints to be easily traced to specific agents.

I’ve written elsewhere about problems with the TSA. Not only does the TSA violate your individual liberties every time you fly, it has also failed to catch a single terrorist since it was formed in 2001.

Put simply, the TSA faces poor incentives. The bureaucratic structure of the agency, without having to contend with the profit and loss mechanisms of for profit firms, means the agency must constantly appeal to the government for support.

As opposed to increasing revenues through improving its product and customer service, the TSA obtains more money and personnel by being worse at its job. Why? Poor performance, theft, and other problems means the TSA can say to the larger government, “we perform poorly because we need more resources. We have theft problems, we need more people to supervise, more training, and more resources.”

The result of these incentives is an ever-growing, dysfunctional organization. This agency not only fails to “keep you safe,” but might just steal your underwear.



The Next Detroit

What’s wrong with giving government employees every single dollar they ask for in pensions and benefits?

After having seen the role of out-of-control public employee pensions in helping drive the city of Detroit into bankruptcy, which the city was only just able to exit in November 2014 after the city’s public pensioners finally agreed to cut their overly generous pensions and benefits to levels that are more affordable for the city’s taxpayers, we wondered which local government in the U.S. is most like Detroit in the disconnect it has between the size of its debts and its ability to make good on those liabilities.

We didn’t have to spend much time researching the topic. America’s next Detroit is Illinois. At least, according to The Economist, which being international in scope, directly compares the fiscal state of Illinois with its most similarly dysfunctional European equivalent: Greece....

Illinois is like Greece in one obvious way: it overpromised and underdelivered on pensions and has little appetite for dealing with the problem, says Hal Weitzman of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. This large Midwestern state, with a population of 13m (Greece has 11m, though a far smaller GDP than Illinois), has the most underfunded retirement system of any state and the largest pension burden relative to state revenue. It also has the highest number of public-pension funds close to insolvency, such as the one looking after Chicago’s police and firemen. According to the Civic Federation, a budget watchdog, Illinois has piled up a whopping $111 billion in unfunded pension liabilities (see chart), in addition to $56 billion in debt for health benefits for pensioners. The state devotes one in four of its tax dollars to pensions, which is more than it spends on primary and secondary education.

Mainly as a result of this gargantuan pension debt, Illinois’s bond rating is the lowest of all the states, which means dramatically higher borrowing costs. When the state government failed to address pension underfunding in its budget for 2014, two credit-rating agencies, Fitch and Moody’s, cut the state’s bond rating, which in Moody’s case put Illinois on a par with Botswana. (An incensed editorial in the Chicago Tribune asked what Botswana had done to be so insulted.)

The main reason for the pension debacle is decades of underfunding. “Everything was always done with a short-term view,” says Laurence Msall, head of the Civic Federation. “Unique to Illinois is the idea that you don’t have to pay for pensions and you don’t have to follow actuarial recommendations.”

Unlike Detroit, however, Illinois has an extra barrier that is preventing desperately needed reforms for making its public employee pensions sustainable by reducing promised pension payments and benefits to affordable levels: the State of Illinois’ Constitution.

Here, the state’s top law prevents lawmakers from even being able to address its worsening public employee pension crisis by diminishing or impairing pension benefits to retired government employees at all. The state’s only way out is a “long shot” attempt to amend its Constitution, but that would require that the people responsible for creating the crisis in the first place, public employee unions and the large number of officials they helped put into power, go against their own greedy interests in favor of the public’s best interest.

Unfortunately, with such a stacked deck, it’s in their greedy interest to push Illinois to the very edge of insolvency. And all indications are that they will fight reform rather than give up their guaranteed gravy train.

That’s the sort of thing that doesn’t even fly in communist China, which has implemented real public employee pension reforms to meet the public’s interest! If only Illinois’ elected officials would show similar public spirit.



Jonathan Gruber: No Obamacare Subsidies in States That Don't Set Up Exchanges

In this new year, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear another challenge to the Affordable Care Act. And this time, Obamacare architect Jonathan Gruber's own words may help the people who are challenging a key provision of the law.

In petitioning the Supreme Court to take their case, the plaintiffs quoted Gruber, who said in 2012: "[I]f you're a state and you don’t set up an Exchange, that means your citizens don’t get their tax credits. … I hope that’s a blatant enough political reality that states will get their act together and realize there are billions of dollars at stake here in setting up these Exchanges, and that they’ll do it.”

The problem arose when only 14 states took federal money to set up their own exchanges.

So the question before the Supreme Court is this: How can people in states with federally-run exchanges get tax-credit subsidies? The law says they can't; but the IRS, by regulation, said they can.

In their request for Supreme Court review, the petitioners noted that the Affordable Care Act authorizes federal tax credit subsidies for health insurance coverage that is purchased through an “Exchange established by the State."

“Congress did not expect the states to turn down federal funds and fail to create and run their own Exchanges,” the petition says. "Accordingly, for example, Congress did not appropriate any funds in the ACA for HHS to build Exchanges, even as it appropriated unlimited funds to help states establish theirs...Indeed, ACA proponents emphasized that '[a]ll the health insurance exchanges … are run by states,' to rebut charges that the Act was a federal 'takeover.'"

The petition continues: "Notwithstanding the ACA’s text and purpose, the IRS in 2011 proposed, and in 2012 promulgated, regulations requiring the Treasury to grant subsidies for coverage purchases through all Exchanges -- not only those established by states...but also those established by HHS."

Gruber's own words, therefore, appear to be central to the petitioners' case.

Repeating what he said in 2012: "[I]f you're a state and you don’t set up an Exchange, that means your citizens don’t get their tax credits. … I hope that’s a blatant enough political reality that states will get their act together and realize there are billions of dollars at stake here in setting up these Exchanges, and that they’ll do it.”

Under Obamacare, subsidies (or tax credits) are an essential part of "affordable" health insurance coverage. Without them, most people wouldn't be able to afford the health insurance they are now required by law to purchase (or else pay a fine).

On Dec. 30, the Department of Health and Human Services reported that 87 percent of people who selected 2015 plans through the federal exchange in first month of open enrollment were getting subsidies to lower their monthly premiums. That compares with the 80 percent of enrollees who purchased plans on the federal exchange in the same period last year.

According to SCOTUSblog, oral arguments in the case King V. Burwell are scheduled for Mar 4, 2015.



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, January 08, 2015

Islam's great gap -- 650 to 800 AD -- and the destruction of Roman civilization.  Was North African piracy the revenge of Carthage?

Thanks to Byzantium we have some idea of what happened in Europe during the "dark" ages.  It is a common misconception that the sacking of Rome by barbarian tribes ended the Roman empire.  It did not.  Roman civilization had become decentralized by then -- which is part of the reason why Rome was too weak to defend itself effectively.  So the other great cities of the Roman world continued on much as before, as most of them had already made their peace with the German barbarians.  And the German barbarians in turn had by that time also absorbed a fair amount of civilization.  So the sack of Rome was in some ways just an internal re-organization.

So Roman civilization did decline but it did not suddenly cease.  And after a couple of centuries the decline was extensive and the times did really become dark ages in many ways.

So if the sack of Rome did not end Roman civilization, what did?  Mediterranean piracy.  The Roman empire was a huge free trade area and trade has always been the secret of economic prosperity. It's why we have things as NAFTA and the EU.  Free trade brings specialization in what people and places are good at.  In the Roman empire, for instance, much of Rome's grain was imported from Egypt.

And trade was far too advantageous for something like the fall of Rome to interrupt it.  It carried on as before.  But the loss of Roman authority did have one clear penalty.  North African statelets evolved under no form of Roman control and acknowledging no debt to Rome.  For a time Byzantium had control of North East Africa but North Western Africa (what we now call Algeria, Morocco etc) was a stretch too far.  And it was from North West African statelets that a substantial pirate menace emerged.  Piracy was a major economic support for the "Barbary" states.  And that piracy continued in fits and starts for a long time -- until the restored French monarchy sent 500 ships across the water and brought North West Africa under French control in 1830.

And for a time the piracy killed the goose that laid the golden egg.  So much of money and goods was lost to the pirates that trade became unprofitable and effectively impossible.  And the cessation of trade pulled the rug out from under Roman prosperity.  All the old Roman lands and cities went into a steep economic decline.  Even Byzantium was affected to a degree though its large areas of control in the Eastern Mediterranean shielded it from the worst effects.  A lot of its trade was internal and carried overland.

So who were these pirates?  Most memory of them traces to the 19th century and identifies them as Muslim Arabs and Muslim Berbers. Both the administrations of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison in the newborn United States took them on.  But were they Muslim in the Middle ages?  Probably not  -- for two reasons:  Mohammed  supposedly appeared  in the 7th century and the Roman world was already in decline by then.  More importantly, however, it seems likely that the whole Mohammed story is fiction and that the Koran was written in Egypt some time in the 9th century.  See also here

Shock!  Horror!  Scholars who are bold enough to mention that probability do so at considerable risk and I guess I do too.  But the matter is surely too important to be hushed up.  The fact of the matter is that the story of Mohammed is much more poorly documented than the story of Christ.  Not only do Christians have four separate histories of Christ's life (the Gospels) but there is also an extensive collection of letters from Paul and others -- all of which are collected into the New Testament.  There is nothing like that for Mohammed.  There is only the Koran, nothing else.  There are hadiths but they are clearly later.  And aside from the Koran there is no mention in history of Mohammed and his followers until about 800 AD.  So was it in the 9th century that the Koran was written?

It seems likely.  Egypt was at that time mostly Christian.  But it was Christianity with Egyptian characteristics, to coin a phrase.  In particular it was a hotbed of Gnosticism -- which was apparently much influenced by the old pagan Egyptian religion of the Pharaohs.  And the Gnostics were prolific producers of false Gospels, accounts that claimed to tell of Christ's life and words but which were nothing but forgeries written to boost up a particular theological position or Gnostic belief.  So in that hotbed of debate, the production of another forgery, the Koran, was nothing new.  It would seem that someone thought to get one-up on his theological opponents by inventing a new account of holy deeds.

Raiders from the Arabian peninsula were certainly making a nuisance of themselves in the 7th and 8th centuries but there is no evidence that they were Muslims.  They were generally called "Saracens" at the time.

And backing up the idea of the Koran as just another Gnostic forgery, is the fact that the Koran is  very Bible-conscious.  It borrows heavily from both the Old and New testaments and accepts much of what Christians say about Christ.

And by the 9th century, the old Roman word was comprehensively gone.  So the North African pirates who destroyed that world cannot have been Muslim.  They accepted Islam later on.

So if the early pirates were not Muslim, who were they?  We know that lots of marauding German tribes did get to North Africa and settle there so it is likely that the pirate states originated as just another band or bands of German raiders -- but raiders with a nautical bent.  And if they were of a nautical bent they probably came from the Baltic area.  And we do know of another group of German raiders of around 500 AD who sailed from the Baltic area -- the Angles and the Saxons who invaded Roman Britannia and turned it into England. So seaborne Germans of the time are no myth.

But the raiding went on for a long time so the pirates would soon be comprised of some admixture of the Germans with the native people of the area.  The geneticists tell us that the modern-day English are only around 50% German so that percentage may have been even less in North Africa, being further way from the German homeland.  It is notable, moreover that some Berbers to this day have light skin and blue eyes.

And the native people would have been substantially descended from Rome's old adversary, Carthage. Carthaginians were  originally  Phoenicians but eventually included a large admixture of the native North African Berber people.   Carthaginian general Hannibal had given the Romans huge problems -- the destruction of eight Roman legions at Cannae resounds to this day -- so when Publius Cornelius Scipio finally defeated Hannibal's Carthaginian army, the game was up for Carthage.  And after further hostilities, Rome laid waste to the city and allegedly salted its fields.  That something as valuable as salt then was, was wasted in that way makes it unlikely that much salt was used, however. But the Carthaginians were more than one city and we know that Carthage had substantially revived only a couple of centuries later -- but revived under firm Roman control of course.

So there is a certain irony in the destruction of the Roman world by probable descendants of the great city that Rome had tried to destroy.


How the Laffer Curve Changed America's Economy

It was 40 years ago this month that two of President Gerald Ford’s top White House advisers, Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld, gathered for a steak dinner at the Two Continents restaurant in Washington with Wall Street Journal editorial writer Jude Wanniski and Arthur Laffer, former chief economist at the Office of Management and Budget. The United States was in the grip of a gut-wrenching recession, and Laffer lectured to his dinner companions that the federal government’s 70 percent marginal tax rates were an economic toll booth slowing growth to a crawl.

To punctuate his point, he grabbed a pen and a cloth cocktail napkin and drew a chart showing that when tax rates get too high, they penalize work and investment and can actually lead to revenue losses for the government. Four years later, that napkin became immortalized as “the Laffer Curve” in an article Wanniski wrote for the Public Interest magazine. (Wanniski would later grouse only half-jokingly that he should have called it the Wanniski Curve.)

This was the first real post-World War II intellectual challenge to the reigning orthodoxy of Keynesian economics, which preached that when the economy is growing too slowly, the government should stimulate demand for products with surges in spending. The Laffer model countered that the primary problem is rarely demand – after all, poor nations have plenty of demand – but rather the impediments, in the form of heavy taxes and regulatory burdens, to producing goods and services.

In the four decades since, the Laffer Curve and its supply-side message have taken something of a beating. They’ve been ridiculed as “trickle down” and “voodoo economics” (a phrase coined in 1980 by George H.W. Bush), and disparaged in mainstream economics texts as theories of “charlatans and cranks.” Last year, even Pope Francis criticized supply-side theories, writing that they have “never been confirmed by the facts” and rely on “a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system.” And this year, French economist Thomas Piketty penned a best-selling back-to-the-future book arguing for a return to the good old days of 70 percent tax rates on the rich.

But I’d argue – and not just because Laffer has been a longtime friend and mentor – that his theory has actually held up pretty well these past 40 years. Perhaps its critics should be called Laffer Curve deniers.

Solid supporting evidence came during the Reagan years. President Ronald Reagan adopted the Laffer Curve message, telling Americans that when 70 to 80 cents of an extra dollar earned goes to the government, it’s understandable that people wonder: Why keep working? He recalled that as an actor in Hollywood, he would stop making movies in a given year once he hit Uncle Sam’s confiscatory tax rates.

When Reagan left the White House in 1989, the highest tax rate had been slashed from 70 percent in 1981 to 28 percent. (Even liberal senators such as Ted Kennedy and Howard Metzenbaum voted for those low rates.) And contrary to the claims of voodoo, the government’s budget numbers show that tax receipts expanded from $517 billion in 1980 to $909 billion in 1988 – close to a 75 percent change (25 percent after inflation). Economist Larry Lindsey has documented from IRS data that tax collections from the rich surged much faster than that.

Reagan’s tax policy, and the slaying of double-digit inflation rates, helped launch one of the longest and strongest periods of prosperity in American history. Between 1982 and 2000, the Dow Jones industrial average would surge to 11,000 from less than 800; the nation’s net worth would quadruple, to $44 trillion from $11 trillion; and the United States would produce nearly 40 million new jobs.

Critics such as economist Paul Krugman object that rapid growth during the Reagan years was driven more by conventional Keynesian deficit spending than by reductions in tax rates. Except that 30 years later, President Obama would run deficits as a share of GDP twice as large as Reagan’s through traditional Keynesian spending programs, and the economy grew under Obama’s recovery only half as fast.

Supply-side economics was never just about slashing tax rates. As Laffer told me in a recent interview: “We also emphasized sound money, free trade and deregulation. It was a package of reforms to clear away the obstacles to increased economic output.”

I asked Laffer about the economy’s surge, while income tax rates rose, during the Clinton presidency – which critics cite as repudiation of supply-side theories. Laffer noted that tax rates on work and investment fell in the ‘90s. “Under Clinton we had the biggest reduction in government spending in 30 years, one of the steepest reductions in the capital gains tax, a big cut in the tax on traded goods thanks to NAFTA, and welfare reforms which dramatically increased incentives to work. Of course the economy soared.”

As to the concern that supply-side tax-cutting has exacerbated income inequality: The real story of the 1980s and '90s was one of upward economic mobility. After-tax incomes of middle-class families rose by roughly 30 percent (when taking into account government benefits and correctly adjusting for inflation) from 1982 to 2005. The middle class didn’t shrink, it grew richer – though the past decade has seen a big reversal.

Perhaps the most powerful vindication of the Laffer Curve comes from the many nations around the world that have successfully integrated supply-side economics into their fiscal policies. World Bank statistics reveal that almost every nation – from China to Ireland to Chile – has much lower tax rates today than in the 1970s. The average income tax rate among industrialized nations has fallen from 68 percent to less than 45 percent. The average corporate tax rate has fallen from nearly 50 percent to closer to 25 percent today. Political leaders learned from Reagan that in a globally competitive world, jobs, capital and wealth tend to migrate from high- to low-tax locations.

This vital link between low taxes and jobs has played out within the United States as well. It helps explain why, from 2002 to 2012, Texas – with no income tax – gained 1 million people in domestic migration, while almost 1.5 million more Americans left California, with its 12 percent top tax rate, than moved there.

It’s worth noting that there has been some shift in emphasis among advocates of supply-side economics. The original Laffer Curve illustrated that two tax rates lead to zero revenue: a rate of zero and a rate of 100 percent – because no one will work if all earnings are taken away. Yes, in some cases tax rates can get so high that cutting them will raise more revenue, not less. That was clearly true when capital-gains tax rates were slashed in the 1980s and 1990s, and when in 2004 the federal government enacted a repatriation tax cut on foreign earnings held captive overseas. Revenue rose in all of these instances. But today, even the most ardent disciples of the Laffer Curve don’t argue that cutting tax rates will increase revenue – except in extreme cases when rates are at the very highest range of the curve.

We do argue, and history is our guide, that lower tax rates are a private-sector stimulus that in many circumstances will rev up growth and lead to more jobs. It’s a happy byproduct that this growth will help generate higher revenue than the government’s “static” estimates always undercount.

Alas, the Laffer Curve effect is now working against the United States on corporate taxation. Our highest-in-the-world corporate tax rate of nearly 40 percent is chasing iconic U.S. companies such as Burger King and dozens of others out of the country for lower-tax climates where rates are half as high.

Even liberals unwittingly acknowledge the Laffer Curve truth when they support higher tobacco taxes to stop smoking or a new carbon tax to reduce global warming. If higher carbon taxes reduce CO2 emissions, why is it so hard to understand that higher taxes on work or investment lead to less of these?

When I asked Laffer if, 40 years later, there is any point of consensus in economics on the Laffer Curve, he replied: “I think today everyone agrees with the premise that when you tax something you get less of it, and when you tax something less, you get more of it.”



Harvard Profs Angry ObamaCare Made Their Premiums Rise

Liberal academics at Harvard are as incensed as anybody else that their health care costs for 2015 have headed for the ceiling because of the “Affordable” Care Act. Harvard professor Richard Thomas said the changes were “deplorable, deeply regressive, a sign of the corporatization of the university.” But – get this – these same professors advised the Obama administration as it crafted this policy.

The New York Times reports, “In Harvard’s health care enrollment guide for 2015, the university said it ‘must respond to the national trend of rising health care costs, including some driven by health care reform,’ in the form of the Affordable Care Act.

The guide said that Harvard faced ‘added costs’ because of provisions in the health care law that extend coverage for children up to age 26, offer free preventive services like mammograms and colonoscopies and, starting in 2018, add a tax on high-cost insurance, known as the Cadillac tax.”

National Review’s Patrick Brennan notes the Leftmedia can’t quite explain away this argument for free market health care. Maybe Harvard professors should advise the White House in a new health care policy given their new real-world experience.



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, January 07, 2015

Once again we find that the Bible is good history

Have archaeologists discovered where Jesus was sentenced to death? Site at Herod's Palace 'matches Gospel of John description'

The exact spot upon which Jesus stood as he was sentenced to death, may have been pinpointed by archaeologists in Jerusalem.

Discovered around 15 years ago, the remains of Herod the Great’s palace have been carefully examined and a place between a gate and uneven stone pavement has been identified as fitting the description of the event in the Gospel of John.

Pilgrims and tourists will be able to visit the Biblical site, because tours are being offered by the Tower of David Museum, which is located nearby.

Archaeologists suspected the site’s religious and historical significance when they uncovered parts of foundation walls of the palace and an underground sewage system, when excavating an abandoned prison, The Washington Post reported.

While historians largely agree that Herod’s palace stood in the west of Jerusalem’s Old City, whether Jesus was sentenced to death by Pontius Pilate inside it, is the subject of much debate.  This is mainly due to differing interpretations of the Gospels.

The Gospel of John describes the trial of Jesus taking place near a gate and uneven pavement, which some archaeologists, including Shimon Gibson, an archaeology professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, believe matches evidence at the site.

‘There is, of course, no inscription stating it happened here, but everything - archaeological, historical and gospel accounts - all falls into place and makes sense,’ he said.

The Reverend David Pileggi, minister of Christ Church located nearby the museum, told the newspaper that the discovery confirms ‘what everyone expected all along, that the trial took place near the Tower of David.’



Thank Gridlock for Economic Turnaround

The Obama Boom is finally here. Gross domestic product grew by a healthy 5 percent in the third quarter, the strongest growth we’ve seen since 2003. Consumer spending looks as if it’s going to be strong in 2015. Unemployment numbers have looked good. Buying power is up. And the stock market closed at 18,000 for the first time ever. All good things. So what happened?

Here’s David Axelrod on Twitter: “Note: The quarter before Obama took office, the U.S. economy SHRUNK by 8.9 percent, worst since 1930. Last quarter it GREW by 5 percent, best since 2003.”

Note: Contrasting the most severe quarter of your predecessor’s with the best one in your six-year presidency – one filled with extravagant and unmet economic promises – may strike you as a bit hackish. But let’s go with it.

Axelrod isn’t alone is claiming political credit for economic success, and the Obama administration certainly isn’t the first to try to take the glory. But if activist policies really have as big an impact on our economic fortunes as Washington operatives claim, I only have one question: What policy did Barack Obama enact to initiate this astonishing turnaround? We should definitely replicate it.

Because those who’ve been paying attention these past few years may have noticed that the predominant agenda of Washington has been to do nothing. It was only when the tinkering and superfluous stimulus spending wound down that fortunes began to turn around. So it’s perplexing how the same pundits who cautioned us about gridlock’s traumatizing effects now ignore its existence.

For instance, Paul Krugman wrote a column titled “The Obama Recovery.” The problem is that the author failed to justify his headline. It begins like this:

“Suppose that for some reason you decided to start hitting yourself in the head, repeatedly, with a baseball bat. You’d feel pretty bad. Correspondingly, you’d probably feel a lot better if and when you finally stopped. What would that improvement in your condition tell you?”

Suppose you tell us what the bat represents, because spending in current dollars has remained steady since 2010, and spending as a percentage of GDP has gone down. In 2009, 125 bills were enacted into law. In 2010, 258. After that, Congress, year by year, became one of the least productive in history. And the more unproductive Washington became the more the economy began to improve.

Krugman argues that the recession lingered because government hadn’t hired enough people to do taxpayer-funded busywork. The baseball bat. But then he undercuts this notion by pointing out that there was an explosion of public-sector hiring under George W. Bush – the man he claims caused the entire mess in the first place. Krugman also ignores the stimulus, because it screws up his imaginary “austerity” timeline. He then spends most of the column debunking austerity’s success in Britain.

He does this because, in theory, left-wing economic policies can never lose. For years, the administration rationalized the crippling unemployment we experienced by spinning a comforting counter-history: Things would have been a lot worse. But didn’t the stimulus fail even if we judged it on its own promises? Well, it should have been bigger. Wasn’t this the slowest recovery in history? Well, this was the worst situation since the Great Depression.

The Boston Globe, in an editorial reflecting much of the evidence-free praise the president has gotten, spins another myth. It points to policies passed in 2010 as the reason for growth today. But it’s just as easy – and more plausible, when we consider the history of our strong emergence from severe recessions – to suggest that the economy could have been a lot better had the administration alleviated many of its early regulatory and tax burdens. Or done nothing. Certainly, a person could just as effortlessly argue that shoehorning huge agenda items under the guise of spurring growth was more harmful than helpful.

“People often don’t realize that a political system is sometimes effective when it does not do certain things.” Pietro Nivola, a senior fellow in governance studies at The Brookings Institution, argued in 2012. “You can’t just measure the things it does, the actions it takes; you also have to measure the actions it does not take.” Nivola was impressed by how gridlock has the ability to stop the Republican House from cutting spending too abruptly for the economy.

And perhaps he’s right. Gridlock has caused an odd but pervasive stability in Washington. Spending has been static. No jarring reforms have passed – no cap and trade, which would have artificially spiked energy prices and undercut the growth we’re now experiencing. The inadvertent but reigning policy over the past four years has been “do no harm.”

On the strength of good economic news, Politico reports that Obama will use his State of the Union address to roll out an agenda aimed at the stagnating wages and those Americans left behind to build on the growth. I’m going to take a wild guess and say that it’s going to incorporate a lot of happy talk about “infrastructure” and a fairer reallocation of wealth. We need to grow from the middle out, if you will. No doubt, politically speaking, Democrats' fortunes are bound to improve somewhat as economic anxieties ebb. The president will surely see better approval numbers.

But let’s hear specifics. As I remember it, the administration hasn’t done anything in a long time. I know this because an incalculable number of op-eds have informed me that the president has had to contend with militant ideologues and has been unable to implement his agenda. I know this because I’ve had to listen to years of hand-wringing about politicians' inaction. You can’t have it both ways.



Truth Is, There's No One Behind the Wheel

By Jonah Goldberg

There’s an old joke in the newspaper business, now immortal on the Internet:

“The Wall Street Journal is read by the people who run the country. The Washington Post is read by people who think they run the country. The New York Times is read by people who think they should run the country. USA Today is read by people who think they ought to run the country but don’t really understand the New York Times. They do, however, like their statistics shown in pie chart format. … The Boston Globe is read by people whose parents used to run the country, and they did a far superior job of it, thank you very much. …”

And so on. The list gets updated from time to time, and it usually includes, “The National Inquirer is read by people trapped in line at the grocery store.” You get the point.

But the joke is on us. You see, no one is running the country.

I don’t mean that as a knock on President Obama. No president “runs” America because the government doesn’t run America – and the president barely runs the government. He can scarcely tell his own employees what to do. Civil service laws and union rules make it darn near impossible to fire even grossly incompetent employees for anything short of pederasty or murder.

I don’t have the space to rehash the Federalist Papers, but at the federal level there are three branches of government and each one monkey-wrenches the other, all the time. Meanwhile, do you know how many local governments there are in the United States?

Time’s up, and you probably guessed too low. There are, by the Pew Charitable Trust’s count, just over ninety thousand of them (90,056 to be exact).

What the joke gets right is that lots of groups think they should be running the show. But they all resent the fact that they’re not. From Ivy League eggheads to Wall Street fat cats, everyone talks like a backseat driver to a driver who isn’t there.

In recent years, I’ve had the good fortune to get to know some famous .001-percenters. Guess what? Not only do they not run the country, but they’re often desperate to find out who does.

For instance, listening to the Democratic Party or, say, the editors of the New York Times (tomayto-tomahto, I know), you’d think the Koch brothers owned America. Of course, if they did, they wouldn’t be spending so much money on elections, would they? Also, if the Kochs were half as evil and powerful as some claim, nobody would be criticizing them.

Meanwhile, for every rich conservative out there, there’s a rich liberal cutting checks, too. In other words, the one-percenters who supposedly run everything aren’t some homogenized class of economic overlords; they are, in fact, at war with each other. And, trust me, Charles and David Koch, Sheldon Adelson and Foster Friess no more think they are running the country than liberal super-donors Michael Bloomberg, George Soros and Tom Steyer do.

The notion that there’s a class or group of people secretly running things is ancient. It was old when the Roman consul Lucius Cassius famously asked, “Cui bono?” (“To whose benefit?”)

The reason is that we seem to be hardwired to assume there are no accidents, that the world is the way it is because people – hidden people – want it that way. The more extreme expressions of this cognitive reflex take many forms, whether anti-Semitic (Who benefits? The Jews!) or Marxist (Who benefits? The ruling classes!) or comedic (“Colonel Sanders with his wee beady eyes!”).

Today, on the left, such thinking has become institutionalized. When the champions of social justice can’t find an actual culprit, the villain becomes systemic racism or sexism or white privilege. But there is always evil intentionality lurking somewhere, like a ghost in the machine. The right has its bugaboos, too. For instance, there are many who think the mainstream media is biased (it is) and that its bias is somehow centrally orchestrated like a scheme by some Bond villain (it isn’t).

I think some people are scared of the idea that nobody is in charge, in part because they want someone to blame for their problems. Others don’t like this notion because they have an outsized faith in the power of human will. If villains aren’t to blame for our ills, then some problems cease to be problems and simply become facts of life.

Me? I like knowing no one is running things because, for starters, it means I’m free.



Do you or yours feel better?  Last week’s GDP Estimate Included a Massive Upward Revision in Health Spending

Massive spending for what benefit?

Last week’s third estimate of 3rd quarter GDP contained a significant upward revision to the real (inflation-adjusted) increase in GDP, from a 3.9 percent in the second estimate (released in November) to 5.0 percent in the third estimate.

November’s second estimate of 3rd quarter GDP included very tempered growth in health spending. The third estimate blows that out of the water. Much of the upward revision to the GDP estimate was due to health spending.

The real dollar change in seasonally adjusted GDP (at annual rates) from the 2nd quarter to the 3rd quarter was estimated at $153.7 billion in the second estimate. The third estimate revised this up to $195.2 billion, a change of $41.5 billion (27 percent).

Health spending was revised up from $8.6 billion to $20.7 billion, an increase of $12.1 billion. That is, the upward revision of health spending accounted for almost one-third of the entire GDP revision. Health spending is a component of household consumption of services. The entire revision to that category was $21.8 billion. So, pretty much the entire net increase in the estimate for household consumption of services was accounted for by health spending.

Whether this is good or bad for Americans’ welfare cannot be determined from these figures. Especially under Obamacare, health spending is so politically driven that subsidized spending may be increasingly wasteful.

What is also concerning about these revisions is that figuring out the impact that Obamacare is having on health spending has been exceedingly difficult. Let’s hope that we are not back where we were last summer, when the Bureau of Economic Analysis was struggling to capture health spending accurately in its GDP estimates.



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.

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Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Is this the ultimate dumbing down of education?  Has educational success now become just a popularity contest?

If "niceness" gets you better grades than intelligence, it seems so.

A recent academic paper says personality is more important than IQ to educational success.  And since the criterion of academic success was GPA I can believe it.  GPAs these days are not a strong indicator of academic ability.  They could well be influenced by "niceness".  Teachers tend to give higher marks to  students whom they like.  And, as we know, GPAs are not a strong indicator of success in later years.  IQ was in the past by far the best predictor of academic success but most of those findings go back to an era where education had not yet been "dumbed down".

Another problem is that high IQ students often find schoolwork boring so treat it cursorily, which is not a good way to get high marks, meaning that GPA marks may not adequately represent ability.

Leftists have always derided IQ because it is one of those pesky inborn differences that obstruct their dream of making everybody equal.  It seems that they have now gone beyond derision and are actively making IQ irrelevant.  Below is a popular summary of the paper followed by the journal abstract.

According to a new review of the link between personality and academic achievement, personality is a better way to predict success at school than intelligence as it's usually measured, by traditional standardized tests. Arthur Poropat, of Griffith University in Australia, compared measurements of what psychologists call the "big five" personality traits — openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism — to academic scores, and found that the students who were rated higher in openness and conscientiousness tended to receive better grades.

"In practical terms, the amount of effort students are prepared to put in, and where that effort is focused, is at least as important as whether the students are smart,” Poropat said in the release accompanying the paper, which was published in Learning and Individual Differences. "And a student with the most helpful personality will score a full grade higher than an average student in this regard."

It makes intuitive sense that both conscientiousness and openness would result in higher grades; it doesn't really matter how smart you are if you can't manage to turn your homework in on time, for one. And another word for openness is curiosity, another obviously necessary factor in learning. Still, it's an interesting way to think about academic achievement for anyone who grew up believing they did well in school simply because they were "smart."



Other-rated personality and academic performance: Evidence and implications

By Arthur E. Poropat


Considerable gaps remain in teachers' and students' understanding of factors contributing to learning and educational outcomes, including personality. Consequently, current knowledge about personality within educational settings was reviewed, especially its relationships with learning activities and academic performance. Personality dimensions have previously been shown to be related to learning strategies and activities, and to be reliably correlated with academic performance. However, personality is typically self-rated, introducing methodological disadvantages associated with informational and social desirability biases. A meta-analysis of other-rated personality demonstrated substantially higher correlations of academic performance with all of the dimensions of the Five-Factor Model of personality, which were not accounted for by associations with intelligence. The combined association of academic performance with all of the Five-Factor Model dimensions was one of the largest so far reported in education. The findings have implications for personality measurement. Teachers are able to assess students' personalities to match educational activities to student dispositions, while students' development of learning capacities can be facilitated by feedback on how their personalities are linked with effective learning.



White racism has all but vanished from US politics...

...says Jeff Jacoby below.  But how does he know?  Only Leftists are allowed even to mention race these days.  I think Jeff is being a Pollyanna.  I think it is white flight that tells the true story

THE TEMPTATION to play the race card is one that President Obama and his surrogates have too often found irresistible. Think of Attorney General Eric Holder's claim last summer that criticism of the Obama administration is fueled by "racial animus," or Vice President Joe Biden's warning to a largely nonwhite audience in 2012 that Mitt Romney was "going to put y'all back in chains" if he won the White House. Recall Obama himself, predicting that Republicans would demonize him because "he doesn't look like all those other presidents on the dollar bills."

Yet there are also times when the president heeds the better angels of his nature, and declines to stoke racial resentments.

One such moment came during an interview last week, when NPR's Steve Inskeep asked Obama if the country is "more racially divided than it was when you took office six years ago." Without hesitating, the president answered candidly: "No, I actually think that it's probably in its day-to-day interactions less racially divided." There may be a perception to the contrary, he acknowledged, but that has more to do with the media-driven focus on particular events, "like Ferguson or the Garner case in New York."

Nor did he take the bait when Inskeep, raising "a couple of data points" that "suggest a broad gulf" between the races, contrasted Obama's overwhelming share of the black vote in his two presidential campaigns with the "rather dramatic" drop in the white Democratic vote. Instead of endorsing Inskeep's inference that "political division between [the] races" is widening, Obama responded mildly that data can be spun to suggest anything. In reality, he noted, "when I was elected in '08, I actually did better among white voters … than John Kerry did."

In fact, Obama's share of the white electorate in 2008 not only surpassed Kerry's four years earlier, but Al Gore's in 2000, Bill Clinton's in 1992, Michael Dukakis's in 1988, Walter Mondale's in 1984, and Jimmy Carter's in 1980. The nomination of a black presidential candidate didn't send white voters fleeing from the Democratic Party — quite the contrary. White racism, once such a powerful force in US politics, is now almost undetectable when Americans go to the polls. Good for the president, at least on this occasion, for not encouraging the myth that blacks don't get a fair shake on Election Day.

Indeed, for all the controversy over voter-ID requirements and other election-law reforms, black participation in the electoral process is more robust than ever. Accusations that such laws are motivated by a desire to suppress minority voting may be cynical or sincere, but if the proof of the pudding is in the turnout, the black franchise is perfectly sound.

"Voting rates for blacks were higher in 2012 than in any recent presidential election, the result of a steady increase in black voting rates since 1996," reported the US Census Bureau in 2013. What's more, with 66.2 percent of black voters casting ballots, turnout among blacks was the highest of any racial group, surpassing the voting rate among whites by 2.1 percentage points. If this is voter suppression, let's have more of it.

Black turnout has been rising everywhere, even in states dominated by Republicans. Jason Riley, author of the new book Please Stop Helping Us, observes that the trend "was most pronounced in red states like Alabama, Kentucky, and Mississippi," and that black voter turnout in 2012 surpassed white turnout by statistically significant margins … [even] in states with the strictest voter-ID laws." When skeptical researchers at PolitiFact dug into Riley's claim, they rated it True.

There wasn't much joy for Obama or his party in last November's midterm elections, but the evidence of democratic engagement among African Americans showed no signs of letup. Overall, black turnout accounted for a higher share of the vote in 2014 than it had in 2010. Once again, it was hard to find significant evidence that voter-ID laws stifled voting, even in GOP strongholds. Looking at seven states below the Mason-Dixon Line, Bloomberg writer Francis Barry found that "the states with a voter-ID requirement, including Louisiana and Florida, had the highest turnout rates; the two states where no ID is required — Maryland and North Carolina — had the lowest."

Racial tensions obviously haven't vanished entirely from American life, but for all intents and purposes, racism as a political factor has. As the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act approaches, Jim Crow is dead in its grave, while black electoral vitality in America is alive and well.



Microaggression: desperately seeking discrimination

Have you heard of ‘microaggression’? Apparently it is everywhere. According to Wikipedia, ‘Microaggression is a form of “unintended discrimination”... which, without the conscious choice of the user, has the same effect as conscious, intended discrimination.’ Wikipedia provides the pronoun ‘he’ as an example of microaggression: this pronoun apparently makes me, a ‘she’, feel excluded and therefore it is a micro act of aggression. For other ludicrous examples of this nonsense, visit the microaggression project’s website. There you will find posts that read like an embarrassing adolescent diary.

But this is no laughing matter. The idea of microaggression is now having a real effect. For instance, there was the fiasco at Harvard earlier this month, when stickers from SodaStream, an Israeli company, were removed from soda machines because they were seen as an act of microaggression against students of Palestinian origin. There was the case of Professor Val Rust at UCLA, who, in 2013, was fired over spurious allegations of microaggression towards his students. As far as I can tell, his only crime was to ask his students to use better grammar. And, judging by their subsequent manifesto and online petition, he was right to do so.

What is most striking about those waging war on microaggression is the extent to which they have taken leave of reality. They see discrimination and oppression everywhere. Of course, there are plenty of things that need to be challenged in society, and spiked does so on a daily basis. But long gone are the days when women were kept at home, when black people weren’t welcome in pubs, and when gay and lesbian couples had to keep their relationships secret. In education, at work and at home, the old discrimination simply doesn’t exist anymore. Unfortunately, that hasn’t stopped some people desperately looking for discrimination in innocent remarks and actions.

For believers in microaggression, the slightest hint of an insult becomes discriminatory, an example of oppression. Anything can potentially be a microaggression, it seems - a comment, an advert, or just a look. You just have to feel hurt or uncomfortable after reading, hearing or seeing something for the ‘offending behaviour’ to be labelled microaggression. It doesn’t matter about the context; it doesn’t matter what the person actually meant; it doesn’t matter if it was just a bad joke between friends. Thanks to the idea of microaggression, you can elevate the most mundane of exchanges into symbols of deep-rooted oppression.

The idea of microaggression encourages people to see everyday comments or behaviour as abusive or discriminatory. And as such, it encourages a socially corrosive form of victimhood. This is bad. Most of the time, people are civil and decent – if you give them a chance they can even be fun, clever and interesting. Yes, bumping into one another has its risks, but you know what – that’s what makes life worth living.



Contrary to Administration Claims, Only a Tiny Fraction of 'Surge' Border-Jumpers Deported

An investigative report by a Houston television station exposed that only a tiny fraction of the families and children who crossed in the border surge of 2012-14 are being returned to their home countries, despite Obama administration claims that the cases are a priority. According to immigration court records obtained by the station, only a few of the illegal family or child arrivals are qualified to stay in the United States, and the vast majority (91 percent) have simply absconded from their proceedings after release and joined the resident illegal population, where they are no longer a priority for enforcement under the new, expanded "prosecutorial discretion" policies.

The Houston reporters obtained statistics from the immigration courts on 30,467 cases of families and unaccompanied alien children (UACs) who arrived illegally between July 18 and October 28, 2014. Of these, only 22 percent (6,093) have been completed.

In total, 17,042 people were apprehended as family units; 13,425 were UACs.

On December 19, DHS released its year-end enforcement statistics, showing a continued steep drop in deportations. The statistics were accompanied by this statement from DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson, which seems downright laughable in light of the above facts:

"DHS's 2014 year-end enforcement statistics demonstrate that our front line officers and agents continue to execute their critical mission in a smart and effective way, focusing our resources on convicted criminals and those attempting to illegally cross our nation's borders."

It's not clear to me what is smart or effective about a massive and costly catch-and-release scheme that has resulted in the illegal resettlement of tens of thousands of illegal aliens, with taxpayers now picking up the tab for schooling, health care, housing, public safety, and other expenses, and which has only increased the incentives for more people to try to enter illegally.

In the context of current catch-and-release policies, a focus on border apprehensions as a measure of the effectiveness of border security is meaningless, and deliberately misleading. Apprehensions are not a metric of enforcement when illegal aliens are apprehended and then routinely released under the guise of "deportation proceedings", "asylum applications", or even "budget constraints".

Further, any proposals that claim to want to enhance border security and enforcement by providing more resources, more personnel, more technology, and more infrastructure for immigration agencies without addressing the underlying policies that serve to undercut enforcement should be viewed with great skepticism.

The imperative now is true immigration and border enforcement: more deportations, not just apprehensions, of not only criminals, but recent and not-so-recent arrivals, at the border and in the interior; provisions to prevent illegal employment and access to welfare benefits; a more efficient deportation process without unnecessarily protracted due process; restoration of effective partnerships with local law enforcement; and use of soft detention as a deterrent. These should be among the top priorities for the new Congress.


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, January 05, 2015

Saving lives in the Middle East

Faith-based groups race against time, winter cold and Islamist butchers to reduce the slaughter

Paul Driessen

Yazidi and Christian communities trace their Syrian and Iraqi roots back nearly 2,000 years. Now they are being systematically exterminated. Not merely driven out. Exterminated – along with Jews, Bahais and even Muslims insufficiently fundamentalist to suit Islamic State (ISIS) butchers.

While they have not yet attained the scale of Nazi and Communist slaughters, these Islamofascist savages may have surpassed their Twentieth Century predecessors in depravity. They ask terrified children, “Who wants to be beheaded first?” then butcher them in front of the others. They bury people alive. Islamist “soldiers” teach little boys how to slice the heads off every man in “enemy” Syrian tribes. They torture and rape girls and women, before selling them into slavery, prostitution or forced marriage – and demand that surviving women dress “modestly” in black robes, gloves and veils, and be banned from school and public life. They sell their victims’ blood and organs, to finance still more weapons and atrocities.

One of the few safe havens for those who escape is Israel, which provides security, education, healthcare, jobs and religious freedom. Another million-plus refugees have fled to camps and streets in Turkey, whose government and people have become exhausted from trying to feed, clothe and shelter so many that Turkish military forces are now preventing Syrians from entering the country. American, European, Middle Eastern and other promises of weapons and aid have been too little, too late or simply not kept. Even the UN’s World Food Program has barely enough money to feed refugees beyond mid-January.

Terrorized multitudes unable to reach safety in Israel or Turkey are caught between Islamic State hordes and slow, painful deaths from starvation, disease and freezing winter temperatures. Many escaped with only the clothes they were wearing. Many precarious lives have been sustained only because RUN Ministries operates “Community of Hope” refugee camps and safe houses in the region.

These people have seen their relatives hung, shot, beheaded, crucified or beaten to death. They have left everything behind and been hunted down like animals. It they are able to escape, they travel by day and sleep in fields by night, hoping to reach a safe shelter – and hoping it has food, water, blankets, medicines and tents to share. By November 2014, Virginia-based RUN (Reaching Unreached Nations) was protecting 26,000 refugees; by the end of December, the number had skyrocketed to 100,000!

But as president Eric Watt says, it costs some $250,000 to build one Community of Hope camp and equip it with sufficient supplies to last 30 days for 1,000 men, women and children. Merely providing warm blankets costs tens of thousands of dollars. Contributions are sorely needed to save more lives.

In early December, RUN volunteers were forced to ask refugees who had already been in a camp more than a month to move out, at least for awhile, so that newly arrived families could be fed and protected. That would mean going back into the rocky fields, often without even blankets to keep warm at night.

“Please don’t make us leave,” parents pleaded. “If we leave, we are afraid our children will die.”

Meanwhile, Islamic State patrols periodically swoop into RUN camps, to kidnap girls, steal food, poison water supplies, and abuse and murder RUN volunteers and transport drivers.

Mr. Watt recounted the story of Alyssa, a 28-year-old Christian woman whose family was liquidated by ISIS death squads. “After my family was killed, I was kidnapped and brought to a terrorist camp, with more than 100 new widows my age,” she said. “We were forced to become ‘wives’ to these men. If we tried to leave, they would torture us. The other widows told me to obey everything these men said, if I wanted to live. Every night, a man would beat and rape me, and during the day we were forced to cook for the ISIS fighters. Many nights, the men would take turns with us and do very bad things.”

Eventually, Alyssa escaped – but with no family, income or future without RUN’s help, and our aid.

So far, the vaunted “international community” has done little. It has been quick to vilify and condemn Israel for “occupying” Palestinian land and “oppressing” Muslims. But it has done little to stop these Islamic State butchers from annihilating Christians and any others who resist. The “coalition of the willing” has been small and futile. It has provided insufficient aid, only muted outrage, and no calls for boycotts, divestment and sanctions for countries aiding and abetting ISIS or ignoring its depredations.

RUN Ministries has built six now-overflowing Community of Hope camps in Northern Iraq and is raising funds to construct four more. It’s purchased 5,000 water filters, to protect people against water-borne diseases, and countless thousands of heavy blankets. It fears that ISIS will continue murdering Yazidis until their millennia-old community is wiped out, and the Middle East is completely cleansed of “infidels.”

Until just a few months ago, Halan was a Yazidi elder, responsible for forty families. When Islamic State neared their village, he led the families into the mountains, where they built smaller makeshift homes that they hoped would be hidden and safe. But the butchers found them. “Their leaders told the terrorists to save bullets,” Halan said. “So they used big knives to cut men’s heads off and chop their bodies into pieces.” They murdered all the men, took the women and left him for dead.

“I had nothing left, and my heart was broken,” he wept. But he found a RUN camp, which took him in.

However, the new Holocaust is continuing, and growing. Thankfully, other private sector organizations have also stepped forward. Gleaning for the World, likewise based in Virginia, collects food, clothing, medicine, medical supplies, furniture and many other items; loads them on pallets; and ships them by air, sea and truck all over the world. Forbes magazine has rated it “the most efficient charity in America.”

Gleaning president Ron Davidson says accounting records demonstrate that every dollar in donations is multiplied 212 times when GFTW uses the money to collect and ship aid internationally.

Gleaning has now teamed up with Glenn Beck’s Mercury One Foundation and other faith-based organizations, Reverend Davidson notes, to raise money and send even more supplies to Iraq, Syria and Turkey. ISIS has trapped some 500,000 desperate people – and is indoctrinating and training teenage boys to become incredibly vicious terrorists. The stupider ones become suicide bombers, while others are groomed for export to foreign countries, to launch coordinated or lone-wolf attacks.

These butchers are an existential threat to families, human rights and religious communities everywhere – not just in Iraq, Syria or the Middle East, but in the United States, Europe and throughout the world.

Only intensified allied military campaigns can stop, roll back and obliterate Islamic State terrorists. However, we private citizens can play vital roles: raising our voices, demanding action, and supporting RUN Ministries, Gleaning for the World, Mercury One and other organizations that are doing all they can to prevent yet more horrific murders, slavery and ethnic cleansing.

There are few better ways to step forward … and begin your 2015 giving … than by helping now.

Via email


United Nations Going After the First Amendment!

Joe Otto

We have provided in-depth coverage of how the United Nations has tried to attack your Second Amendment rights. So, it should be no surprise for us to tell you that the U.N. is going after your First Amendment rights as well!

The U.N. is pushing for all member countries to adopt ‘hate speech legislation.’ They claim it is to protect “human rights.”

Now, I know what you may be thinking: “What’s so wrong about banning hate speech?” Well, there’s a lot wrong with it! Look at what is happening in the United Kingdom…

The U.K. is facing some pretty serious problems. For one, radical Islamists are terrorizing the country’s citizens on what seems like a daily basis. Sure there are the terrorist threats that pose a real danger to British society. But there are also the common criminals who are terrorizing society.

The U.K. also has a problem with immigration. The EU’s open border policy has led to an influx of unskilled, foreign workers who have leeched off the country’s entitlement system and made it harder for British citizens to find work (sound familiar?).

The country’s solution has been to introduce hate speech legislation banning the use of derogatory language towards ANY group of people!

This is what the U.N. wants for America… They want us to dismantle our First Amendment and force Americans to bite their tongues and accept political correctness.

There was a recent story out of England of a 19-year old man who videotaped himself ripping up a Koran, throwing it in the toilet, and then lighting it on fire.

Instead of protecting his speech rights, the Police brought charges against the man for hate speech and creating a public disturbance.

He now faces crippling fines and maybe even jail time… All for speaking his mind.

There’s also the case of Reality TV-star Katie Hopkins. After word broke that a Scottish nurse had contracted Ebola, Hopkins took to Twitter and wrote a series of tweets that, according to the police, constitute “hate speech.”

I realize that this is happening in the United Kingdom, not the United States. But it is important to paint this backdrop because if the United Nations had its way, the U.K.’s hate speech laws would be copied worldwide!

This is what they want in the United States. They want the police to arrest people for saying ‘mean things.’

And I’m not going to sugarcoat it… this is already happening here in the United States. Countless people have been arrested and harassed by police for writing disparaging comments about Barack Obama and the Democrat party.

If criticizing the Democrats were a crime, you’d have to lock me up and throw away the key…

Obviously I say that in jest, but this is actually what some Liberals want…  They want for the government to police what citizens say and write. They want to stop you from talking about “inflammatory” topics. They want the ability to fact-check their opponents and take down Internet posts they deem to be “incorrect.”

I mean, look at the situation in Scotland. Do you know why Scottish Police are looking into Katie Hopkins’ tweets as hate speech? They enforced the law because they were inundated with citizens complaining about the posts.

Not only have these politicians made it illegal to talk bad about someone, but also they have conditioned the people to run to police the minute they hear something that offends them.  That, to me, is worse.

This is the Left’s end-game. They want this country to become a place where citizens are terrified of opening their mouths. They are creating a modern day “1984” where the government monitors all your conversations and punishes any speech it doesn’t agree with it.

But more importantly, they want to gut the First Amendment and force citizens to comply with draconian government speech regulations.

This isn’t just hyperbole… Harry Reid tried to change the First Amendment this past year. He tried to gut the Constitution to stop you from engaging in political speech.

That failed. Now, the United Nations swoops in to finish the job and dismantle the First Amendment under the auspices of fighting “hate speech.”

I hate racism and bigotry just as much as anyone else. But I am not willing to abolish our Freedom of Speech just to fight it.



Are gun owners mentally unstable?

Asserting that gun owners are mentally unstable would appear to be the hidden agenda behind the piece of research reported below.  What they found was that mental instability was just as likely in non-gun homes as in gun homes.  How disappointing for them!

Psychiatric Comorbidity, Suicidality, and In-Home Firearm Access Among a Nationally Representative Sample of Adolescents

Joseph A. Simonett et al.


Suicide is the second leading cause of death among US adolescents, and in-home firearm access is an independent risk factor for suicide. Given recommendations to limit firearm access by those with mental health risk factors for suicide, we hypothesized that adolescents with such risk factors would be less likely to report in-home firearm access.

To estimate the prevalence of self-reported in-home firearm access among US adolescents, to quantify the lifetime prevalence of mental illness and suicidality (ie, suicidal ideation, planning, or attempt) among adolescents living with a firearm in the home, and to compare the prevalence of in-home firearm access between adolescents with and without specific mental health risk factors for suicide.

Design, Setting, and Participants
Cross-sectional analysis of data from the National Comorbidity Survey-Adolescent Supplement, a nationally representative survey of 10?123 US adolescents (age range, 13-18 years) who were interviewed between February 2001 and January 2004 (response rate 82.9%).

Risk factors for suicide, including a history of any mental health disorder, suicidality, or any combination of the 2.

Main Outcomes and Measures
Self-reported access to a firearm in the home.

One in three respondents (2778 [29.1%]) of the weighted survey sample reported living in a home with a firearm and responded to a question about firearm access; 1089 (40.9%) of those adolescents reported easy access to and the ability to shoot that firearm. Among adolescents with a firearm in home, those with access were significantly more likely to be older (15.6 vs 15.1 years), male (70.1% vs 50.9%), of non-Hispanic white race/ethnicity (86.6% vs 78.3%), and living in high-income households (40.0% vs 31.8%), and in rural areas (28.1% vs 22.6%) (P<.05 for all). Adolescents with firearm access also had a higher lifetime prevalence of alcohol abuse (10.1% vs 3.8%, P<.001) and drug abuse (11.4% vs 6.9%, P<.01) compared with those without firearm access. In multivariable analyses, adolescents with a history of mental illness without a history of suicidality (prevalence ratio [PR], 1.13; 95% CI, 0.98-1.29) and adolescents with a history of suicidality with or without a history of mental illness (PR, 1.20; 95% CI, 0.96-1.51) were as likely to report in-home firearm access as those without such histories.

Conclusions and Relevance
Adolescents with risk factors for suicide were just as likely to report in-home firearm access as those without such risk factors. Given that firearms are the second most common means of suicide among adolescents, further attention to developing and implementing evidence-based strategies to decrease firearm access in this age group is warranted.

JAMA Psychiatry. Published online December 30, 2014. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2014.1760


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)


Sunday, January 04, 2015

Muslim Brutality versus the Western tradition

I think most of us recoil in horror when we read of the savage  practices in Syria and Iraq by the "Islamic State". You don't have to know much history, however, to realize that they are "good" Muslims.  Their deeds are well in line with what Muslims have done for centuries.

Take just one example:  The Ottoman succession.  The Muslim Ottoman Empire covered most of the territory that was "owned" for nearly a millennium by the old Byzantine Greek Christian empire -- centered on modern Turkey.  And given Muslim rules about multiple wives, Ottoman emperors usually had multiple sons.  So when an emperor died, which son became the next emperor?  That was always a very competitive race indeed, with various factions of the court supporting rival sons.  So when a new emperor was finally declared, what was the first thing he did?  He killed off all his brothers!  Muslims have always been savages.

So how do we explain that?  There have been plenty of times when there have been rival claims to Western thrones but nothing like the Ottoman practice has been customary.

No doubt, Leftists would be able to come up with some cultural explanation for it but I keep some track of the scientific literature on genetics (e.g. here) and you cannot be aware of that literature without being struck at times by something I once heard Hans Eysenck say: "It's all genetic".  Before I go further down that path, however, let me contrast the "Western" practice, beginning with the founders of Western civilization, the ancient Greeks.

And who was the most powerful ancient Greek?  Alexander of Macedon, Alexander the Great.  He conquered much of the ancient world, most notably the great Persian empire.  And Greeks had no love of the Persians.  Anyone who knows of the exploits of Pheidippides and of Leonidas and his Spartans at Thermopylae will have some inkling of that.

So what did Alexander do when he defeated the Persians at Issus?  All the Persian royal family were captured.  The Muslim response would of course have been automatic:  Kill them all.  But Alexander did no such thing.  He treated the Royal family with all the courtesy that he felt was due to  Royal personages.  Enough said, I think.

So let us skip forward to 1870 and the battle of Sedan, a battle that had nothing to do with motor cars.  Sedan is a place in France which is  roughly pronounced  as "say dong". Prussian chancellor Bismarck had deliberately insulted the French emperor, Napoleon III and French ideas of honor made Napoleon immediately declare war on the Germans. Not wise.

As with Alexander, Bismarck had a victory that was so sweeping that he captured Napoleon himself.  So was it "Off with his head"!?  Not at all.  There are to this day photographs of Napoleon seated comfortably and engaged in friendly conversations both with Bismarck and the Kaiser.  And Napoleon III was eventually released on the condition that he move to England and stay there, which he did.

So our forebears have always had an instinct of respect for others, which Muslims clearly have not had and still do not have.

But what about Saladin?  someone will say.  Saladin defended the Holy Land against the crusaders and was notable for his mercy.  So here I come to what I think is the crux of the matter.  Saladin was a remarkable man.  He was a Kurd, a people previously conquered by the Arabs.  And yet through sheer talent, he came to be the leader of the Arab armies.  And his military skills were such that he had great authority.  It was very hard for anyone in his retinue to question his judgment.  So he could be merciful without getting substantial blowback from the Arabs he led.

So my contention is that race matters, infernally incorrect though that might be.  The Kurds are the descendants of the Medes, a quite different race from the Arabs but with a long history of high civilization.  And I think that Muslim brutality is basically Arab.  And it is an inter-Arab contest at the moment in Syria.

I am not going to make much of the racial identity of the Kurds, though I do note that they speak an Indo-European language so are probably our cousins.  Certainly, Kurdistan is the only really orderly part of the failed state that is Iraq today.  Kurds are still more civilized than the Arabs.

The distinction I want to make, however, is between Arabs and non-Arabs.  Arabs are good at only one thing:  Self-sacrifice in war.  But that one thing did enable them eventually to conquer most of the Middle East:  Persians, Assyrians, Kurds etc.  Though the Christian Greeks of Byzantium resisted them for 500 years.  In the end it was the Venetians under the remarkable Doge Dandolo who destroyed the Byzantine regime.

And the Middle East is the cradle of civilization.  The people conquered by the Arabs were often highly civilized.  And it was their continued limited functioning under the Arabs which gave the Arab world a veneer of civilization.  You can read here all about that.  The claim that the Arab world conserved the wisdom and culture of the Greeks and Romans during the Dark Ages of the West is utter tosh.  There was no Dark Age in Byzantium and it was the Byzantine Greeks who brought their treasured books and learning to Italy and thus sparked the Renaissance.

So I would argue something fairly uncontroversial among geneticists:  That Arabs are genetically different.  And looking at the history of their behaviour, I would extend the claim to it being their genetic makeup that accounts for Muslim savagery and brutality.  And from Alexander through Saladin to Bismarck we stand outside that.

But (pace Eysenck) it's not all genetic.  Culture does play a part.  And Islam is Arab culture embodied.  And after more than  1,000 years of Arab/Muslim domination, Arab attitudes have filtered to varying degrees into the minds of Muslims everywhere.  So in racially very different people from the Arabs, Pakistanis in particular, we find today Arab attitudes and behaviour.

And there is nothing more pernicious culturally than a relatively recent invention called socialism.  It was socialism that gave us Hitler and Stalin.  But those excursions did come to an end and normal Western civilization has returned to both Germany and Russia, though both, of course, have their own characteristics -- JR


Alan Caruba reminds Americans


Another hysterical Leftist accusation becomes unglued

As you undoubtedly know, liberal politicians and pundits have been hailing the claim that House Republican Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana attended a meeting of a white supremacist group in 2002 as the biggest story since Bridgegate. Scalise himself said that he had no recollection of addressing such a meeting, but if he did it was an error in judgment for which he apologizes.

Now it turns out that the alleged incident may never have happened at all. To back up: the claim is that Scalise addressed a meeting of the European-American Unity and Rights Organization (EURO) at the Landmark Best Western Hotel in Metairie, Louisiana in 2002. EURO was a tiny group associated with David Duke, who by 2002 was political poison. (He pled guilty to tax evasion and mail fraud in December 2002 and served time in prison.) At the time, Scalise was a state legislator and was going around speaking to various local civic groups about a tax proposal in Louisiana’s legislature.

The man who arranged Scalise’s appearance at the Metairie Hotel now says that the report is simply wrong. Scalise didn’t address the EURO conference, but rather an equally small meeting of the Jefferson Heights Civic Association that was held in the same hotel conference room, earlier in the day:

[Kenny] Knight said he rented and paid for the hotel conference room for the European-American Unity and Rights Organization, a group founded by Duke. Since he had already paid for the space, Knight said, he decided to also hold his local civic association meeting at the Metairie hotel. He stressed that the two gatherings were not connected.

“Steve Scalise did not address a EURO conference. … The conference was two-and-a-half hours later,” Knight said. …

Knight said Scalise, then a state representative, spoke to the civic association and was probably unaware the EURO conference was being held in the same room later that day. Knight and Scalise primarily knew each other as neighbors and not through politics necessarily, Knight said.

“The conference wasn’t going to start until 1 p.m., so I decided to have the members of the civic association there Saturday morning,” he said, “My relationship with Steve Scalise was as a neighbor. I don’t know that Steve Scalise and I ever talked about politics.”

Knight said about 18 members of the civic association showed up for the meeting, where Scalise spoke on a piece of tax legislation working its way through the Louisiana Legislature. A few people who arrived early for the EURO conference were also in the room and may have made the forum post that White discovered, Knight said. A member of the local Red Cross also spoke at the local civic association meeting that day, Knight said.

“There were not (EURO) signs. There were not banners” at the civic association meeting, Knight said.

Knight said he was not a member of EURO and did not arrange for any speakers at the 2002 conference, he said. He only booked and paid for the room as a favor to Duke, a personal friend whose campaigns he had worked on in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Knight’s then-girlfriend Barbara Noble, who was present at the event, agrees that Scalise spoke to the Jefferson Heights Civic Association, not EURO....

UPDATE: EURO put out a press release the day before the “workshop” that listed scheduled speakers. Scalise was not one of them. It appears that the Scalise “scandal” is going the way of the University of Virginia rape story.



Have We Finally Turned the Corner?

As 2014 came to a close, it was all about good economic news. Leading off the parade: In December, the Dow Jones Industrial Average capped off a torrid year of 7.5% growth when it reached 18,000 for the first time. Meanwhile, GDP grew at a 4.6% annual rate in the second quarter and an even faster 5% in the third – a pace not seen since 2003. And on top of that, Americans saved $14 billion at the gas pump in 2014, and could save even more this year. Things are looking a bit brighter for 2015.

With all that good economic news, experts feel the job market will further strengthen in 2015 so the headline unemployment rate will slide ever closer to 5%. The labor market may remain a little bit soft as the long-term unemployed will be the last to find work, but as a whole it’s no wonder the Left is boasting of the “Obama boom.” Even those on the Right are admitting this may end the “Age of Suck.”

This general feeling of economic optimism is reflected in increasing consumer confidence. While some worried about sluggish Black Friday sales as well as slower than expected last-minute shopping at retailers as the Christmas season wound down, online purchasing was strong enough to keep sales right around their predicted growth rate for the 2014 season.

While some try to credit Barack Obama for the rebound, the good news is rooted in two areas the president has tried his best to obstruct.

One is an overall slowdown in government spending growth, which is declining as a percentage of GDP. Congress hasn’t done nearly enough to cut spending given its tendency to govern by continuing resolution rather than a set budget – meaning the Obama spending bonanza of 2009 and 2010 is the new minimum.

But as columnist David Harsanyi puts it, “After [2010], Congress, year by year, became one of the least productive in history. And the more unproductive Washington became, the more the economy began to improve.”

The key date is 2010, when Republicans took over the House. Harsanyi argues gridlock has created part of this improvement, and there’s a compelling argument for that point. Imagine what we may have been saddled with had Republicans not taken over the House in 2010: endless government “stimulus” programs, cap and trade, and a faster implementation of ObamaCare for starters – all leading to a national debt far larger than the already-astronomical one we’re facing now.

Another part of the economic rebound stems from lower oil prices, which have plummeted by nearly half in the last six months. That steep drop is now reflected in gas-pump prices, resulting in what Citigroup estimates as an average $1,150 annual boost to consumers. This boom could have been amplified still further if not for Obama’s stalling of the Keystone XL pipeline or his refusal to open up federally controlled land to oil exploration. An activist EPA also waits in the wings with the potential for crippling regulations similar to those imposed on the coal industry.

Obama can try his best, but no president has figured out a way to kill the American free enterprise system. Its resilience has brought us out of numerous depressions, panics, recessions and economic slumps over the years as enough people found a way to work through or around the situation.

We will begin to see the effects of a truly divided government, with Republicans now totally in charge of Congress and Obama threatening to veto more legislation. “I haven’t used the veto pen very often since I’ve been in office,” Obama not-so-subtly threatened last month. “Now, I suspect, there are going to be some times where I’ve got to pull that pen out.”

While the economy is improving – at least according to the numbers our government releases, if not necessarily everyone’s personal situation – it will be up to those respective sides to make the case why things could be even better if their vision prevails. It’s a battle that will be joined as contenders for the 2016 presidential election come onto the scene and spell out their plans to continue the momentum.



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)