Monday, December 31, 2012

Greenwich Village couple busted with cache of weapons, bombmaking explosives

Morgan Gliedman: daughter of privilege

Decades before terrorist became synonymous with Islamic radical in the minds of most Americans, the United States had left-wing actors like the Weathermen who murdered innocents and robbed banks to push their pro-Soviet cause.

Today, the New York Post is reporting that a well-educated and wealthy left-wing couple associated with the far-left Occupy Wall Street movment has been arrested on terrorist charges.

The privileged daughter of a prominent city doctor, and her boyfriend — a Harvard grad and Occupy Wall Street activist — have been busted for allegedly having a cache of weapons and a bombmaking explosive in their Greenwich Village apartment.

Morgan Gliedman — who is nine-months pregnant — and her baby daddy, Aaron Greene, 31, also had instructions on making bombs, including a stack of papers with a cover sheet titled, “The Terrorist Encyclopedia,’’ sources told The Post yesterday.

People who know Greene say his political views are “extreme,” the sources said.

The New York Daily News says that Ms. Gliedman went into labor this morning.

The Post story says that the discovery of the explosives was an accident.

Cops found the stash in the couple’s West Ninth Street home Saturday when they went there to look for Gliedman, 27, who was wanted for alleged credit-card theft. A detective discovered a plastic container with seven grams of a white chemical powder called HMTD, which is so powerful, cops evacuated several nearby buildings.

It sounds as if Mr. Greene and his girlfriend intended to cause a lot of harm:

Police also found a flare launcher, which is a commercial replica of a grenade launcher; a modified 12 gauge Mossberg 500 shotgun; ammo; and nine high-capacity rifle magazines, the sources said. Cops also allegedly uncovered papers about creating homemade booby traps, improvised submachine guns, and various handwritten notebooks containing chemical formulas.

A question going forward is how wide of a conspiracy these two are involved with? Is it just that couple? Or are radical friends of theirs getting ready to wage war on the United States?

Sunday, December 30, 2012

3 Found Dead in San Jose Apartment Blaze

Perishing in a fire is an increasingly uncommon way to die for Americans. Most who are killed in fires die from smoke inhalation.

Despite its relative infrequency, about 3,800 Americans die in fires every year. That is just over 10.4 per day. Suicide, by comparison, is nearly 10 times more often a cause of death.

Sadly, the AP is reporting that three residents of a San Jose apartment building died as a result of a fire last night.

San Jose fire investigators are looking through the rubble of an apartment as they try to determine what sparked a fire that killed three people and sent three others to a hospital late Saturday.

San Jose Fire Department Capt. Mary Gutierrez says when firefighters reached the scene shortly after 11 p.m. Saturday they found some people trapped in the burning apartment on the second floor of the building. After the fire was put out, firefighters found the bodies of a man, a woman and a child.

Due mostly to better construction standards, smoke detectors and automated sprinkler systems, fire deaths in the U.S. have fallen dramatically in the last 100 years. Even in the last 30 years they have continued to fall precipitously. Here is what FEMA reports:

From 1979 to 2007, the fire death rate in the United States declined by 66 percent. Today, the United States still has one of the higher fire death rates in the industrialized world. However, its standing has greatly improved.

In 1979, the U.S. suffered 34.4 fire deaths per million people per year. That fell to 12.4 in 2007. Switzerland stands out for being the safest country when it comes to deaths by fire. In 2007, its rate per million people was just 2.0.

In 2009, 2,437,163 Americans died. That is a total death rate of 793.8 deaths per 100,000 population. Here is how death by fire (assuming the same rate we had in 2007) compares to some other causes:

•Heart disease: 599,413
•Cancer: 567,628
•Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 137,353
•Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases): 128,842
•Accidents (unintentional injuries): 118,021
•Alzheimer's disease: 79,003
•Diabetes: 68,705
•Influenza and Pneumonia: 53,692
•Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, and nephrosis: 48,935
•Intentional self-harm (suicide): 36,909
•Fire: 3,807

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Kings dodge big collapse to beat Knicks on buzzer-beater

I don't watch every Sacramento Kings game. And when I do tune in, I will often surf other channels and miss good portions of their games.

The problem for me--a bandwagon fan, if you will--is that the Kings lose most of the time. It's just not that much fun to see my local outfit stink.

But last night, aided by the New York Knicks not having their best player, Carmelo Anthony, available, and not having their starting point guard, Felton Spencer, healthy enough to play, the Kings held on for a 1 point victory at home on a last-second shot. Earlier in the game Sacramento was up by 27 points.

When it mattered most, (assistant coach Bobby) Jackson's advice paid off when (James) Johnson made a three-pointer at the buzzer to save the Kings from an epic collapse and give them a 106-105 victory over the New York Knicks on Friday night at Sleep Train Arena.
Johnson had missed all 11 of his three-point attempts this season, but there was no better time for Jackson's tutoring to pay off.

A reasonable question to ask is why the Kings are as bad as they are? They are in last place in their division and have the second worst record in the Western Conference.

I don't think the problem is their head coach, Keith Smart. I don't think the fault lies with their owners or their dated arena. I think most of the blame is due to the fact that the Kings have had a mostly bad record in drafting players over the last 6 years.

In 2006, the Kings had the 19th selection of the 1st round, and they drafted Quincy Douby of Rutgers University. Douby turned out to be a complete bust. There were good players still available--Paul Millsap and Rajon Rondo, for example--who the Kings passed on in order to take the dubious Mr. Douby.

In 2007, the Kings had the 10th selection of the 1st round, and they drafted Spencer Hawes of the University of Washington. Hawes was not a total bust. But they took him in favor of Marc Gasol and Carl Landry, and both of those players have been much better pros than Hawes has been. (For one season the Kings had Landry, who they acquired by trading away Kevin Martin, then their best player, and then they let Landry go.) After three unimpressive years in Sacramento, the Kings traded Hawes to Philadelphia for Samuel Dalembert, who then left Sacramento as a free agent. In effect, the Kings got nothing out of the 2007 draft.

In 2008, the Kings had the 12th selection of the 1st round, and they drafted Jason Thompson of Rutgers University. Thompson is a good rebounder, and still plays for Sacramento, but he is no star. There were much better players still available--Ryan Anderson, George Hill and Serge Ibaka, for example--when Sacramento grabbed Thompson.

By the end of the 2008-09 season, the Kings were one of the worst teams in the NBA. They did not, however, do well in the draft lottery and ended up with the 4th pick of the first round. But Tyreke Evans of the University of Memphis fell to them, and at first he looked like an excellent pick. Evans won the Rookie of the Year award, though that was in part due to the fact that the first player selected in that draft, Blake Griffin of the Los Angeles Clippers, missed the entire season due to injury.

After his strong rookie season, unfortunately, Evans has regressed. Based on total Win Shares, Evans is now only the 12th best player from his draft class. He has even been passed by Marcus Thornton, who (following a trade with the Hornets) is his teammate. Thornton was the 43rd selection of the 2009 draft.

When the Kings took Evans, they could have had Stephen Curry, Ty Lawson, Brandon Jennings, DeJuan Blair and some others, all of whom have been better pros.

In 2009, the Kings had a second 1st round pick, and they selected Omri Casspi from Israel 23rd in that draft. He was a pleasant surprise, coming that late, a hustle player, but not a great athlete. After two years, the Kings traded Casspi to Cleveland for J.J. Hickson, got nothing out of Hickson, and waived him following the 20011-12 season.

In 2010, for the second year  in a row, the Kings did poorly in the draft lottery, and wound up with the No. 5 pick. They drafted DeMarcus Cousins of the University of Kentucky. Cousins was widely viewed as one of the two most talented players in his draft class. The problem was that he was said to be "immature," and no one picking before Sacramento wanted to deal with his personality issues.

Like Evans, Cousins was good as a rookie. But his personality has been a disaster--it seems to me he has a serious psychological defect--and Cousins has simply not been as good as many chosen after him in 2010. Two that the Kings bypassed for Cousins were Greg Monroe, who was taken No. 7 by Detroit, and Paul George, selected No. 10 by Indiana. Monroe is now one of the NBA's best big men. George is better at all aspects of the game than Cousins.

The 2011 first round of the draft for the Kings looks like another bust. They had the No. 7 pick. They used it for a Congolese forward named Bismack Biyombo, whom they traded away along with Beno Udrih, a mediocre guard, for Jimmer Fredette (the No. 10 pick from BYU) and John Salmons, an older guard who was earlier a King and is now on his last NBA legs.

Fredette has done next to nothing for the Kings. He rarely plays. When the Kings picked Biyombo, they could have had Kenneth Faried of Morehead State (who was taken No. 22 by Denver) or Kawhi Leonard of San Diego State (taken No. 15 by Indiana).

The irony of the 2011 draft is that the Kings did get one good player from it. With the 60th pick (the last of that draft) they selected Isaiah Thomas of the University of Washington. Mr. Thomas has been a much better pro than Mr. Fredette.

It's early to judge the 2012 draft. But so far, it does not look good, again, for the Kings. They had the No. 5 pick, and they used it on Thomas Robinson of the University of Kansas. Robinson, so far, has been horrible. He is easily the worst player taken early in 2012 and among the worst taken over the entire 2-round process.

When the Kings defeated the Knicks last night at Sleep Train Arena, Coach Keith Smart chose to sit Robinson out the entire game. It was not due to poor health. It was due to poor play by the rookie.

The two most productive first year players this season have been Damian Lillard (No. 6 to Portland) and Andre Drummond (No. 9 to Detroit). Both were available when the Kings decided to go with Mr. Robinson. Had Sacramento simply blindly selected a name off of the draft board at No. 5, they would have very likely gotten a better ballplayer.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Chicago reaches 500 homicides with fatal shooting

Mass killings like the horrific one in Newtown, CT get the most media attention, naturally. But day after day in our largest cities one or more people is murdered. Across the United States, every year, thousands of Americans are murdered.

In 2008, 16,799 were victims of intentional homicide. In 2010, 18,972. In 2011, 18,519. About 2 out of 3 were killed with guns.

The total murder rate in the U.S. has been on the decline for most of the last 21 years. Our homicide rate peaked at 9.8 per 100,000 residents in 1991. It fell steadily to 4.8 per 100,000 in 2010.

By comparison, the homicide rate in Canada is 1.9 per 100,000. In Norway, it is 0.5.

About the only time one of these "ordinary" killings in the United States gets widespread attention is when a milestone is reached. Chicago merits attention today because Nathaniel Jackson just became the 500th victim in Chicago in 2012. Congratulations, Nate!

On Thursday, officials with the Chicago Police Department said the city was one homicide away from the 500 mark. Hours later, a 40-year-old man was fatally shot in the Austin neighborhood on the city's West Side. Police say Nathaniel Jackson was found on the sidewalk outside a convenience store with a gunshot wound to the head late Thursday.

The Cook County Medical Examiner's Office says Jackson was pronounced dead at Stroger Hospital early Friday. Jackson's death remains under investigation. No arrests have been made.

In reality, the chances any American will be murdered varies greatly depending on where he lives, what his family circumstances are, what his income and job are, and so on. The vast majority of killers and murder victims are poor, inner-city non-white males from age 15 to 25.

Chicago has a lot of murders each year in large part because it has a lot of poor, inner-city non-white males from age 15 to 25. Yet Chicago is a safe-haven when compared with New Orleans and Detroit.

Here is how our major cities compare in 2012 when it comes to murder rates per 100,000 population:

New York City 2.72
Los Angeles 4.19
Houston 5.0
Dallas 6.43
Washington, D.C. 8.15
Chicago 10.83
Kansas City 12.2
Philadelphia: 12.38
Oakland: 15.89
St. Louis: 18.18
Baltimore: 18.22
Stockton 23.3

Detroit: 27.34
New Orleans: 32.65

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Russia fires back: At itself!

There must be a mysterious cultural chauvinism which explains why some people or some countries decide to respond by hurting themselves after another person or nation upsets them or somehow insults them.

I don't really understand it. It strikes me as completely irrational.

Russia has recently decided to enact a law punishing Russian orphans, because the U.S. passed a law aimed at corrupt Russian legislators. Makes sense?

This kind of "retaliation" reminds me of the response of many residents in inner-city Los Angeles after acquittals came down for the police officers who had beaten Rodney King: They decided the best response was to burn down the stores and factories in their neighborhoods where they shopped and they worked. In other words, they decided to punish themselves.

This is the Washington Post's take on the Russian "retaliation."

Russian President Vladimir Putin, acceding to the anti-American fervor that has gripped the country’s legislature, said Thursday that he intends to sign a bill barring Americans from adopting Russian children.
Various Kremlin officials had criticized the bill, which was designed as a means of retaliation against a new American law that targets corrupt Russian officials, but Putin has chosen not to heed their advice.

Having spent the past year stoking hostility toward the United States, he is now faced with an emotional response from parliament that seems to be on the verge of getting away from him. Though he raised questions about the adoption bill at his annual press conference earlier this month, and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Science and Education Minister Dmitry Livanov, among others, have called it ill-advised, on Thursday Putin said, “I have not seen any reason why I should not sign it.”

No good reason to not sign it, Vlad? How about the fact that it does not hurt the United States. Rather, it hurts Russia and it hurts these children who will not have homes.

The journalist Alexander Minkin, on his blog for the Ekho Moskvy Web site, described the Russian bill as “cannibalistic”: With Americans placing sanctions on certain corrupt Russian bureaucrats, he wrote, Moscow strikes back by punishing its own orphans.
What is shocking about Russia is that they lack a culture of adoptions. They have hundreds of thousands of orphans in need of homes, but Russian families will not adopt them. If a child in Russia has a handicap, it is common for his parents to abandon him. Those children never get adopted by other Russians.

About 740,000 children live in Russian orphanages, according to UNICEF; many of their parents are still alive. Over the past 20 years, 60,000 Russians have been adopted by Americans, including a significant number with developmental disabilities.

No, the butler didn't do it ...

The cliché in old whodunit films was that the butler always did it. But when a woman mysteriously vanishes or is murdered, the reality is that the guilt party is usually her husband, her boyfriend or a jealous former lover.

That appears to be the case in the widely reported assassination of Jennifer Sebena, a patrol officer killed while on duty for the Wauwatosa (Wisc.) Police Department. The AP is reporting that homicide investigators have closed their case.

MILWAUKEE—Authorities arrested the husband of a slain suburban Milwaukee police officer who was shot dead on Christmas Eve while out on patrol.

Ben Gabriel Sebena, of Menomonee Falls, was booked into Milwaukee County Jail on Wednesday on a preliminary charge of first-degree intentional homicide in the death of his wife, Jennifer Sebena, the Wauwatosa police department said.

When the death of Jennifer Sebena was first reported, most news accounts played up the fact that she was a cop on duty and that made her vulnerable to psychopaths out to kill police officers. But if her husband, an ex-Marine, is guilty, it did not matter at all what she did for a living. His violent and vile anger was focused on his wife, not her profession.

Authorities have released few details about Jennifer Sebena's killing, but said the Wauwatosa police officer was patrolling alone on the night she was killed. Officers found her body early Monday after she failed to respond to radio calls. She had been shot several times.

I wonder if the investigation was aided by ballistics, which perhaps directed them to a specific type of weapon owned by Ben Sebena.

Ben Sebena was honorably discharged from the U.S. Marine Corps as a corporal in 2005. Among his 10 medals and commendations were a Purple Heart, a Good Conduct medal and a badge as a rifle expert.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

High-Ranking Syrian General Defects in New Blow to Assad

The New York Times is reporting today that a high-ranking Syrian general has defected, terming his departure "a new blow" to the dictatorship of Bashar Al-Assad.

The defector, Maj. Gen. Abdul Azia Jassem al-Shallal, announced his move in a video broadcast by Al Arabiya, saying that he had taken the step because of what he called the Syrian military’s deviation from “its fundamental mission to protect the nation and transformation into gangs of killing and destruction.”

An interesting question is how, once Assad falls, the new government of Syria deals with people like Gen. Shallal. He can claim that he left as a consequence of the brutality of the Assad regime against its own people in the last year.

But what this general can never honestly deny is that the Bashar al-Assad regime and that of his father, Hafez al-Assad, has always been a brutal dictatorship. Since the rise of the Ba'ath Party in the 1960s, there never have been ordinary freedoms for the Syrian people--no free commerce; no free elections; no freedom of speech; no freedom to travel; and no ability to stand up to the police state the Assads built.

And a major part of that brutal state required the work of men like Maj. Gen. Abdul Azia Jassem al-Shallal. He may never be held accountable for his crimes against humanity. But the fact that he defected shortly before the end of the regime he was a big part of should not absolve him of his record.

General Shallal’s statement came as Syrian insurgents were claiming new territorial gains against Mr. Assad in the northern and central parts of the country and as a special envoy from the United Nations and the Arab League was visiting Damascus as part of an effort to reach a political settlement that would halt the conflict, the most violent of the Arab Spring revolutions that began in the winter of 2010-2011. More than 40,000 people have been killed since protests against Mr. Assad began in March 2011.

There have been a handful of other big defections from Assad in the last half year. And there will likely be some more in the next 3-6 months. To me it seems that these defectors are more driven by a desire to be on the winning side than they are by moral qualms about how bad that government is. Gen. Shallal can see what is coming--Assad will fall in 2013. Shallal simply hopes to save his own skin.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Two firefighters die in ambush at blazing NY house

A strange, sad and scary story is being reported this morning about a house fire and the murder of two responding firefighters in Webster, NY. 

A gunman ambushed four volunteer firefighters responding to an intense pre-dawn house fire Monday morning outside Rochester, N.Y., killing two and ending up dead himself, authorities said. Police used an armored vehicle to evacuate more than 30 nearby residents.

The gunman fired at the firefighters when they arrived shortly after 5:30 a.m. at the blaze near the Lake Ontario shore in Webster, town Police Chief Gerald Pickering said. The first Webster police officer who arrived chased the suspect and exchanged gunfire with him, authorities said.

‘‘It does appear it was a trap’’ for the first responders to the fire, Pickering said at a news conference.

No details have yet been reported on the murderer, other than the fact that he too is dead. But I'd be willing to bet he was a mental patient, probably one who had a history of going off his medications and who seems to have spiralled down into paranoia and total madness.

If my guess about the killer is correct, this is yet another example of the price we are paying in society for not dealing properly with the mentally ill. At the very least, we need to force those with severe psychoses into psychiatric treatment. In most cases, that does not require forced hospitalization. But we should not be sitting back and letting the deranged manage their own mental health care.

UPDATE: Reuters has in the last hour reported some details about the murderer, who they say took his own life after setting fire to a house and shooting the firefighters as they arrived on scene:

A gunman who spent 17 years in prison for murder ambushed and killed two volunteer firefighters and wounded two others on Monday near Rochester, New York, as they responded to a house fire he deliberately set, police said.

William Spangler, 62, shot and killed himself after a gunfight with a police officer in Webster, a Rochester suburb, Webster Police Chief Gerald Pickering said.
Spangler was convicted of manslaughter in 1981 for beating his 92-year-old grandmother to death with a hammer, according to New York State Department of Corrections records, and after prison he spent eight years on parole.

It's possible Spangler does not have schizophrenia. Perhaps he has psychopathy. But the fact that he beat his grandmother to death suggests he has been crazy for a long, long time. In a more rational world, he would have been put in a locked medical facility for the insane before he became so violent and delusional.

One other thing this case makes clear: It is still easy for people who should not have guns to get them, largely because no background checks are done on those who purchase weapons from private sellers.
Pickering said police had found several types of weapons, including a rifle used to shoot the firefighters. As a convicted felon it was illegal for Spangler to own guns.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Take sugary drinks away from kids and they will lose weight

The New York Times is reporting today that the childhood obesity rate is falling by a small amount in some cities--namely those which have actively discouraged the consumption of sodas and other sugary drinks.

The drops are small, just 5 percent here in Philadelphia and 3 percent in Los Angeles. But experts say they are significant because they offer the first indication that the obesity epidemic, one of the nation’s most intractable health problems, may actually be reversing course. ... (The)  researchers note that declines occurred in cities that have had obesity reduction policies in place for a number of years. Philadelphia has undertaken a broad assault on childhood obesity for years. Sugary drinks like sweetened iced tea, fruit punch and sports drinks started to disappear from school vending machines in 2004.

When anti-obesity campaigns are focused on reducing fat intake or increasing exercise, they never work. The key is to get kids to stop eating foods with added sugars.

Though obesity is now part of the national conversation, with aggressive advertising campaigns in major cities and a push by Michelle Obama, many scientists doubt that anti-obesity programs actually work. Individual efforts like one-time exercise programs have rarely produced results.

Clearly, we still have a fat crisis.

Nationally, about 17 percent of children under 20 are obese, or about 12.5 million people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ... That rate, which has tripled since 1980, has leveled off in recent years but has remained at historical highs, and public health experts warn that it could bring long-term health risks. Obese children are more likely to be obese as adults, creating a higher risk of heart disease and stroke. The American Cancer Society says that being overweight or obese is the culprit in one of seven cancer deaths. Diabetes in children is up by a fifth since 2000, according to federal data.

Poor blacks and Latinos are the fattest Americans. Why? They eat the most sugar.

Obesity affects poor children disproportionately. Twenty percent of low-income children are obese, compared with about 12 percent of children from more affluent families, according to the C.D.C. Among girls, race is also an important factor. About 25 percent of black girls are obese, compared with 15 percent of white girls.

However, in Philadelphia, where they have taken away sodas and other sugary drinks from schools, the black and Latino kids have been experiencing the largest reductions in weight.

But Philadelphia, which has the biggest share of residents living in poverty of the nation’s 10 largest cities, stands out because its decline was most pronounced among minorities. Obesity among 120,000 public school students measured between 2006 and 2010 declined by 8 percent among black boys and by 7 percent among Hispanic girls.

Too fat to fight

In a December 10 Washington Post story, "Rising number of soldiers being dismissed for failing fitness tests," Ernesto Londoño reports that "the Army is dismissing a rising number of soldiers who do not meet its fitness standards, drawing from a growing pool of troops grappling with obesity."

Obesity is now the leading cause of ineligibility for people who want to join the Army, according to military officials, who see expanding waistlines in the warrior corps as a national security concern. Between 1998 and 2010, the number of active-duty military personnel deemed overweight or obese more than tripled. In 2010, 86,186 troops, or 5.3 percent of the force, received at least one clinical diagnosis as overweight or obese, according to the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center. The trend has prompted the military to reexamine its training programs and is driving commanders to weed out soldiers deemed unfit to fight.

Putting the focus on training programs is misguided. The real problem is with what recruits are eating--namely, too much sugar.

A National Institutes of Health study, for example, published in the New England Journal of Medicine in October reported that for people with a genetic predispositon to be fat the more sugary drinks they consume the fatter they will be and vice versa. The U.S. Army needs to prohibit soldiers from consuming sodas, sweet teas and fruit juice. If a recruit is thirsty, give him water or unsweetened green tea or black coffee.

An Australian author, David Gillespie, is touring the world crusading against sugar consumption. In his book, "Sweet Poison," he argues that "when we eat the fructose component of sugar - unlike when we eat any other forms of energy - our bodies do not release the three major appetite hormones that tell us we are full: insulin, leptin and cholecystokinin (CCK). Instead it goes straight to the liver where it often stays - converted into fat.

Dr. Robert Lustig of UC San Francisco calls sugar a poison. "Food was just as abundant before obesity’s ascendance. The problem is the increase in sugar consumption. Sugar both drives fat storage and makes the brain think it is hungry, setting up a vicious cycle. More specifically, it is fructose that is harmful. Fructose is a component of the two most popular sugars. One is table sugar — sucrose. The other is high-fructose corn syrup. High-fructose corn syrup has become ubiquitous in soft drinks and many other processed foods."

A big driver for the U.S. Army to rid itself of fat soldiers is that, as our wars are winding down, the budget demands a smaller force, according to the Washington Post.

During the first 10 months of this year, the Army kicked out 1,625 soldiers for being out of shape, about 15 times the number discharged for that reason in 2007, the peak of wartime deployment cycles. Under a mandate to reduce the force by tens of thousands in coming years, the Army has instructed commanders to make few exceptions when it comes to fitness, a strategy it also employed during the period after the 1991 Persian Gulf War. “During a war period, when we were ramping up, the physical standards didn’t have a lot of teeth because we needed bodies to go overseas, to fill platoons and brigades,” said Stew Smith, a former Navy SEAL and fitness expert who has designed workout routines for service members and law enforcement personnel struggling to meet workplace fitness standards. “During a period of drawdown, everything starts getting teeth, and that’s kind of where we are again.”

It is not only that soldiers are getting fat after joining the military. Most young people are too fat to enlist.

“Of the 25 percent that could join, what we found was 65 percent could not pass the [physical training] test on the first day,” he said in a recent speech. “Young people joining our service could not run, jump, tumble or roll — the kind of things you would expect soldiers to do if you’re in combat.” Smith, the former Navy SEAL, said the bulk of people struggling with weight issues are simply the product of a generation that has become increasingly sedentary and accustomed to large food portions.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Samuelson: put Social Security on the table

In an op-ed on, the Washington Post's mustachioed columnist, Robert Samuelson, argues compellingly that Social Security benefits need to be included as part of the fiscal cliff discussions.

Protecting retiree benefits is the left's political equivalent of the right's "no new taxes" pledge. Congressional Republicans are abandoning their untenable position. Now it is time for President Obama and congressional Democrats to do the same. As long as they don't, they aren't bargaining in good faith, or in the national interest. ...

He lays out the dollar amounts:
Doubters should ponder the numbers. In fiscal 2012, non-interest federal spending totaled $3.251 trillion. Of that, $762 billion went for Social Security, $469 billion for Medicare (insurance for the 65 and over population) and $251 billion for Medicaid (insurance for the poor -- two-thirds goes for long-term care for the aged and disabled). Altogether, that's 46 percent of non-interest spending. Defense, $651 billion and declining, was 20 percent.

As baby boomers retire and health costs rise, this spending will mount. In 2010, there were 40 million Americans 65 and older. By 2020, that number is projected to be 55 million; by 2030, 72 million. ...

Since Social Security transfers money from the young to the old, Samuelson points out that in many cases that is the poor giving to the rich:

One argument is that most elderly are poor; benefit cuts will further impoverish them. Not so. The Administration on Aging reports that in 2010, 25.9 percent of households headed by someone 65 or older had incomes exceeding $75,000; 19.4 percent had incomes from $50,000 to $74,999; and 18.8 percent had incomes from $35,000 to $49,999. ...

A growing problem is that Social Security taxes no longer cover the present costs of the program:
Finally, it's often said that Social Security -- no one makes this argument for Medicare -- doesn't add to the budget deficit because benefits are still covered by payroll taxes. Again, not true. In 2010, benefits exceeded taxes and are expected to do so indefinitely. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the gap to average 10 percent over the next decade and to be 20 percent by 2030. This bloats deficits. ...

Samuelson wants the changes to Social Security to be equitable:

The trick is to cut retiree benefits while minimizing the impact on the elderly poor. There are ways to do this: changing the benefit inflation-adjustment formula, fully taxing Social Security payments (affecting mostly the affluent elderly), gradually raising eligibility ages. ...

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Obama opposes Silicon Valley firms on immigration reform

Allegedly because it is not part of a "comprehensive immigration reform" bill, CNET is reporting that President Obama opposes "the Republican-backed STEM Jobs Act of 2012, which would make up to 55,000 visas available to foreigners who earned a master's or doctoral degree in certain science or technology area from a U.S. university. Those visas would only be available if immigration authorities certify that no American workers are available to fill the post."

Obama has not said he will veto this bill, but that is a possibility.

It's rather surprising for a few reasons that the president is not on board with giving more visas to talented foreigners. First, it's a surprise because the chief executives of high tech firms which want this gave Obama a lot of campaign cash this year. I credit the president for not being corrupted by their money, though it seems possible that his opposition may be due in part to the greater corrupting influence of organized labor, which gave Obama even more money. Second, it's a surprise because allowing talented and educated immigrants to come to the United States to work in our high tech sector is good for our country. Not only are these folks productive residents and hence contributors to our tax base, but many of them, if given the chance to live here, will go on to start new technology companies, creating more American jobs and wealth.

Legal immigrants founded or co-founded innumerable technology companies including Google, Yahoo, Intel, eBay, and Sun. A Kauffman Foundation study by Vivek Wadhwa found that 52 percent of Silicon Valley startups were "immigrant-founded."

Teachers' contract includes peer review

Education Week is reporting that the teachers' union in Newark, NJ has agreed to a new contract which gives teachers an incentive to perform well in the classroom:

A newly ratified teachers’ contract in Newark creates several firsts for New Jersey.

Some teachers will have the opportunity to earn up to $12,500 extra for getting a superior performance rating on evaluations, teaching in a low-performing school, or teaching a high-need subject. Also for the first time, peer reviews will become a formal part of the evaluation process.

This is an excellent idea. It's not the first such teacher contract in the country, but most base pay solely on tenure. I hope the idea of performance pay will succeed and spread.

Davis should have such good leadership, ideas and contracts as Newark now has. It's a shame our school district pays bad teachers as much as they pay good, and it's even sadder that there is no process to fire underperforming teachers.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

An undemocratic decision gives Egyptian democracy a little more breating room for now

The New York Times is reporting that three of the leading candidates and seven others running for the presidency of Egypt have been ruled out by Egypt's election authorities and cannot appear on the ballots of their countrymen. This decision was not expected.

Election authorities eliminated three of the leading presidential candidates in one broad stroke on Saturday night in an unexpected decision that once again threw into disarray the contest to shape the future of Egypt after the ouster of Hosni Mubarak.

The ruling struck down the three most controversial candidates: Khairat el-Shater, the leading strategist of the Muslim Brotherhood; Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, an ultraconservative Islamist; and Omar Suleiman, Mr. Mubarak’s former vice president and intelligence chief.

Mr. Shater was ruled ineligible because of a criminal conviction at a political trial under Mr. Mubarak, the authoritarian president who ruled Egypt for nearly 30 years. Mr. Abu Ismail was disqualified because his mother was an American citizen, a violation of current Egyptian law. Elections authorities said Mr. Suleiman did not meet the signature requirement to qualify for the ballot. Of the 30,000 notarized signatures he submitted last weekend, 22,000 lacked adequate authentication or failed to meet other requirements, they said.

While these decisions appear to be based on flimsy grounds--other than for Mr. Suleiman--it is likely the case that this seemingly undemocratic decision makes it more likely that the winner will rule as a democrat.

The extreme Islamists certainly cannot be trusted to rule democratically. And a lackey for Mr. Mubarak likely would have tried to return Egypt to the status quo ante.

Yet this mass ouster from the ballot exposes the obvious: The Egyptian people who will decide who their next president is are probably not ready for democracy. When extreme Islamists and others who think fundamentalist religion belongs above all other considerations in state policy are so popular that they can win a majority of the seats in parliament and whose candidates can win the presidency, it makes clear to me that Egyptian democracy is in for a rocky ride. Ordinary Egyptians are too ignorant, too poorly educated and too poor to understand what their country really needs.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Evidence does not support the theory that the earth warmed up without rising CO2

New evidence that rising levels of carbon dioxide caused the global warming of 20,000 years ago that ended the last ice age will not change the minds of anyone who is a committed global warming skeptic.

I have come to believe that global warming skeptics are themselves exactly what they falsely accuse the 99.99% of climate scientists who agree with the consensus view of man-generated global warming theory: That is, the skeptics are driven by ideology, not science.

What the skeptics I have spoken with, read of, or heard speak all seem to think is that the thousands of climate scientists who study global warming and who in the main agree on global warming's causes and effects are driven by a radical left-wing ideology which is anti-business, anti-automobile and radically anti-modernity. The skeptics think that the climate scientists are cooking the numbers in order to shut down the coal and oil industries, to make driving a car impossibly expensive and to reverse the economic progress of the last 50 or more years just so that the environment will be purified.

That is why the evidence does not matter: It makes no difference what scientific studies find. The skeptics do not believe that these studies are science at all. The skeptics have covered their ears and closed their eyes. They are like religious zealots: They accept it as a matter of faith that the scientists are not scientists.

Yet every counter theory that the skeptics have come up with has in short order been found to be wrong. The Christian Science Monitor reports another of these:

Rising levels of carbon dioxide drove much of the global warming that thawed Earth at the end of the last ice age. That's the conclusion a team of scientists has drawn in a new study examining the factors that closed the door on the last ice age, which ended about 20,000 years ago.

The result stands in contrast to previous studies that showed temperatures rising ahead of increases in atmospheric CO2 levels. This has led some skeptics of human-triggered global warming to argue that if warming temperatures came first, CO2 wasn't an important factor then and so can't be as significant a factor today as most climate scientists calculate it to be.

The problem with the skeptics' theory is that it was based on data all from one place on earth. Global research shows that carbon dioxide levels rose before the temperatures rose:

The measurements from the previous studies were taken from ice cores extracted from thick glaciers in Antarctica. The new work supplements that data with temperature evidence from 80 locations around the globe. The results show that while temperature increases around Antarctica appear to have led increases in atmospheric CO2, the picture globally was the opposite – CO2 increases paved the way for temperature increases.

The importance of this research is that we know that we are in the middle of a period of where atmospheric CO2 has increased by 34 percent. Earth history suggests that severe global warming will come over the next few hundred years as a consequence:

The results also hold notes of caution for today, notes Jeremy Shakun, a climate researcher at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. He notes that during the 10,000 years from the end of the last ice age to the beginning of the current “interglacial” climate, atmospheric CO2 concentrations rose 40 percent, from 180 molecules per million in the atmosphere to 260 parts per million. During the past 100 years, concentrations have risen 34 percent, from 292 ppm to 392 ppm – and continue to rise. “Clearly, it's not a small amount,” says Dr. Shakun, referring to the increases during the past century. “Rising CO2 at the end of the last ice age had a huge effect on global climate. We've raised it as much in the last century.”

Other than morons who have no scientific education, no skeptics doubt the method by which modern climate scientists measure ancient levels of carbon dioxide:

The international team, led by Shakun and Oregon State University paleoclimatologist Peter Clark, based its work on the chemical makeup of air samples contained in bubbles trapped in ice cores. Ice records from Antarctica go back some 800,000 years. But the researchers also drew temperature information from 80 locations around the globe, spanning northern and southern hemispheres. Sources to track temperature changes over time ranged from microfossils in deep-ocean sediments to pollen trapped in sediments in freshwater lakes.

So why did carbon dioxide levels rise 20,000 years ago?

The team's results show that the initial trigger for warming to end the last ice age was a periodic change in the angle of Earth's tilt and in the orientation of its axis. This brought more sunlight to warm northern latitudes. As mile-thick ice sheets covering vast areas of the northern hemisphere's continents began to melt, fresh water poured into the oceans, particularly into the North Atlantic, changing mechanisms that governed the climate.

Sea levels rose five to 10 meters within a few hundred years, and the Atlantic's deep-ocean “conveyor belt” slowed. Typically, the conveyor pulls warm surface water north from the tropics to cool, sink, and move south along the bottom as colder water. But the added fresh water from melting ice sheets slowed the conveyor, cooling the north and warming the southern ocean, which reaches Antarctica.

The warmer waters in the southern ocean reduced the extent of sea ice around the continent, leaving more surface water exposed to exchange gases with the atmosphere. Changing wind patterns from the warming increased the pace at which CO2-rich water deep in the ocean welled up and vented CO2 into the atmosphere.

In essence, where today's CO2 comes from vast reservoirs of carbon stored underground as coal, oil, and natural gas, or as methane trapped in polar permafrost, the reservoir of carbon CO2 introduced during the end of the ice age initially came from stores deep in the ocean.

An interesting note at the end of the Christian Science Monitor's story regards the first attempt, back in 1896, was made to connect CO2 rise and global warming:

Climate scientists' historical attempts to understand the processes that ended past ice ages have laid the groundwork for the current understanding of how CO2 influences the climate. As far back as 1896, Swedish physicist Svante Arrhenius published a paper in the Philosophical Magazine and Journal of Science that he hoped would help solve the climate riddle ice ages presented. The 38-page paper included painstakingly handwritten calculations – arguably the first global climate model – that estimated the climate's sensitivity to changes in CO2 levels. Remarkably, he reached a figure comparable to the one scientists today see as the most-likely value.

I wonder who the Man of the Year is?

Who knew that each Assembly district in California gets to name its own Woman of the Year?

The Dana Point Times is reporting that 73rd District Assemblywoman Diane Harkey has named Terry Rifkin (no known relation) as Harkey's district's 2012 Woman of the Year:

"It is an honor for me to be able to recognize an outstanding woman in the 73rd district every year. Terry Rifkin serves as an example to everyone on what a true volunteer is,” said Harkey. “The number of unpaid hours Terry devotes to our troops and her community is a testament to how one person can improve the lives of untold numbers of people.”

A licensed clinical social worker, Rifkin has been in private practice as a licensed psychotherapist since 1981. She is also an active member of the National Association of Social Workers and the Society for Clinical Social Work.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Sugar is killing us

If every American would stop eating products with sugar added, I suspect our health bills would fall by about 75 percent in the United States.

After experiencing some symptoms which are associated with diabetes--dry mouth, numb feet and toes, tingling hands and erratic vision--I stopped consuming all products with sugar in them about six weeks ago. I have never felt better. In three weeks, all my symptoms disappeared.

I had been suffering from severe dry mouth problems for 18 months. And then after 10 days without eating any sugar, the problem disappeared. Even with bifocals, I could no longer see clearly up close or far away. After three weeks without sugar, my vision returned to normal. For a few weeks, my extremities were tingling and numb. My toes felt like they were getting no blood. My hands ached. After 2 weeks without sugar, my hands and feet and toes are all back to normal.

It's regularly reported how fat Americans are. A small part of the reason for that is eating too many fatty foods. A much bigger reason is eating too much sugar. According to a recent 60 Minutes report by Dr. Sanjay Gupta, "sugar - more than any other substance - is linked to obesity, type-2 diabetes, hypertension and heart disease."

CBS News has a story online which addresses the toxic nature of excess sugar consumption and the fact that at no time in the history of humanity have more people been consuming more sugar.

The amount of sugar consumed by Americans today is unprecedented, and is contributing to heart disease and high blood pressure, a dietitian said on "CBS This Morning."

Cynthia Sass, a nutritionist and registered dietitian, was on the broadcast to discuss a "60 Minutes" report by Dr. Sanjay Gupta which explored studies indicating that sugar - more than any other substance - is linked to obesity, type-2 diabetes, hypertension and heart disease.

Sass explained that the average American today consumes 22 teaspoons of sugar a day. "In a year's time it's about 17 four-lb. bags of sugar per person per year," she told Charlie Rose. "We need to change our habits."

Scientists now believe that sugar is a toxic substance.

When asked why sugar may be considered toxic, Sass compared one's blood to a glass of water: "Now think about pouring sugar into that water. The more sugar that's there, the thicker and more syrupy that water gets.

"When that's happening in your body - in your blood - your heart has to work harder to pump that thicker fluid through your system," Sass said. "It puts stress on the heart. It puts stress on the arteries. It Increases blood pressure. It attacks the kidneys, the liver. So it's really the amount that we have that's really causing these problems."

Although sweet fruits have sugar (fructose), they are not unhealthy to eat. What scientists are talking about when calling sugar toxic, is added sugar, added honey, added high fructose corn syrup which don't naturally exist in foods.

Sass said the source of sugar is also an important consideration. "The sugar that's healthy is the kind that comes from Mother Nature - the sugar that's in fruit, that's in yogurt, that's naturally occurring," she said. "So when you think about blueberries, a cup of blueberries, that has about 7 grams of fructose, but it's bundled with antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, fiber."

A can of soda, by comparison, has about 25 grams of fructose - about three times more - with no nutrients.

A public policy question worth asking is this: What, if anything, should be done about America's massive overconsumption of sugary foods?

I think we need to do something. I would start with these three ideas:

1. Place a 1 cent per gram tax on added sugar. That can of soda with 25 grams of added sugar would be taxed at 25 cents. A box of Kellogg's Honey Smacks, which has 15 grams of added sugar per serving and 9 servings per box, would be taxed at $1.35 (9 x 15). A 2,270 gram bag of sugar (5 pounds) would be taxed at $22.70. Foods with naturally occurring sugars, such as fruit, would not be taxed;

2. Educate the public on the toxicity of sugar. Take most of the money raised from the sugar tax and use it to let people realize what sugar does to their health. Any leftover money should be spent buying nutritious foods for school children; and

3. Require a prominent warning label. All processed foods with more than 5 grams of added sugar per serving need to say in large script: "The sugar in this product is toxic to your health."

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Did the TSA stop a would-be terrorist in his tracks?

Reuters is reporting that a Montana man tried to board a flight at the Sacramento International Airport carrying a loaded handgun and three loaded firearms in his carry-on bags.

A Montana man was arrested after he tried to bring four loaded guns through a security checkpoint at a Sacramento, California, airport and is being held without bail, the sheriff's office said on Saturday. The suspect, Harold Waller, 45, was arrested on Thursday afternoon at Sacramento International Airport after Transportation Security Administration officers at a checkpoint found a firearm inside a carry-on bag, the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department said in a statement.

Mr. Waller had more loaded weapons in his vehicle:

Sheriff's deputies searched his car at an off-site parking lot and turned up eight more firearms, several of them loaded. The statement did not specify the types of weapons.

Waller faces a variety of charges, though none related to terrorism:

Waller faces charges including unlawful possession of a loaded firearm, unlawful possession of a concealed firearm, possession of an unauthorized weapon in a public building and possession of a firearm within a sterile area of an airport, the sheriff's department statement said.

A fair question in a case like this is would Harold Waller be treated any differently--by law enforcement or by the media--if his name were instead Hussein Walji? Would the general public make more of this case if Waller came from Morocco instead of Montana?

I am pretty sure the answer to all of those questions is yes. Is that fair? No. However, Muslims who are not terrorists and who are not in favor of jihadi activities and who don't hate the United States or other modern, liberal countries, who themselves by dint of their religious affiliation face skepticism or in some cases prejudice from non-Muslims in America, must understand that the fear of Islamism is not without cause. A not insignificant number of Muslims are Islamists. They are engaged in a violent jihad. They have committed horrific acts of terror in the United States and in many other countries around the world in the name of Islam. So as long as they continue to engage in this war against modernity, ordinary, law-abiding and harmless Muslims in the U.S. will continue to be subject to harsher scrutiny.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Pope: Communism sucks

On his way to Cuba from Mexico, the Miami Herald is reporting that Pope Benedict XVI said that the Communist system which Cuba has had since Fidel Castro grabbed power in 1959 is a failure and that government needs to change:

On Monday, Benedict will head for Cuba, and said it is "evident that Marxist ideology as it was conceived no longer responds to reality," and he urged Cubans to "find new models, with patience, and in a constructive way."

The fact that Communism stinks is not news to anyone in Cuba or anyone who has ever stepped foot in a country ruled by Marxists. But when a pope states the obvious it carries more weight. We all know that the Castro is nude: But it is nonetheless surprising to hear the pope declare out loud that the Castro has no clothes.

The comment about Marxism, in response to questions from a journalist, was as blunt as anything his predecessor, John Paul II, made during his groundbreaking 1998 trip to Cuba, though the earlier pope is widely credited with helping bring down socialism in eastern Europe.

The pope has not yet called for any immediate changes in Cuban governance:

Benedict cautioned that "this process requires patience and also decisiveness."

Asked about reports that dissidents in Cuba are still routinely harassed and arrested, including in the weeks leading up to his visit, Benedict said that the church wants "to help in the spirit of dialogue to avoid trauma and to help bring about a just and fraternal society, as we want in the whole world."

"We want to collaborate in this sense, and it's obvious that the church is always on the side of freedom, freedom of conscience, freedom of religion," the pope said.

The Cuban government sidestepped the pope's condemnation of the ideology that has turned Cuba from the best country in Latin America into one of the worst off:

Asked about Benedict's statement, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said the government respects all opinions. "We consider the exchange of ideas to be useful. Our people have deep convictions developed over the course of our history," he said, adding that the Cuban system "is a democratic social project ... which is constantly perfecting itself."

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Fortunately, the French police shot him dead

The New York Times is reporting that the anti-Semitic Islamist murderer, Mohammed Merah, who assassinated a rabbi, his two children and another little girl at a Jewish school (the victims are pictured above), was killed in a shootout by French police in Toulouse, France, after a standoff which lasted more than 30 hours.

A 23-year-old Frenchman who claimed responsibility for killing four men and three children was shot dead on Thursday after security forces stormed the apartment where he had been holed up for more than 30 hours, French officials said.

François Molins, the prosecutor in charge of the investigation, said the man, Mohammed Merah, was struck in the head by a bullet. Mr. Merah was found dead on the ground after jumping out a low window, according to Interior Minister Claude Guéant. He was still firing a Colt .45.

Just before noon, officers entered the apartment through a front door and windows that had been blasted out, according to Mr. Guéant. They searched each room using video equipment, coming finally to the bathroom, Mr. Guéant said. As the police began to inspect it with the cameras, Mr. Merah emerged from a bathroom “firing with extreme violence,” Mr. Guéant said.

“At the end, Mohammed Merah jumped out a window with a weapon in his hand, still firing,” he said. “He was found dead on the ground.”

Clearly, with its large Muslim population, France needs to do a much better job monitoring those who are violent extremists. The United States had put this anti-Semite on its "no-fly list," due to his affiliation with al-Qaeda.

In a televised address shortly after the operation, President Nicolas Sarkozy praised the work of French security forces and said the he would seek changes in the law to criminalize travel abroad by French citizens for training or “indoctrination” by terror groups. Mr. Sarkozy also indicated plans to criminalize the viewing of Web sites that “applaud terrorism.”

Any young Muslim male who is not Pakistani but travels back and forth to Pakistan should be watched closely.

A former garage mechanic, Mr. Merah made two trips to Afghanistan and Pakistan in recent years, and said that he had been trained by Al Qaeda in South Waziristan. On Thursday, a spokesman for Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry categorically denied that claim.

But a senior commander for the Pakistani Taliban in North Waziristan claimed that many French citizens were that area to train with Al Qaeda. Responding to a message seeking comment, the commander responded: “There have been more than 80 French nationals working in different areas of Waziristan, mainly in North Waziristan’s Mirali and Miranshah. Five of them left from here in January 2012.”

It turns out radical violence runs in this family:

The authorities said they initially suspected both Mr. Merah and his brother Abdelkader, 29, who was known locally for his radical religious ideology and had been detained for questioning outside Toulouse on Monday.

Explosives were found in Abdelkader’s car on Wednesday, the police said, and Mr. Merah was tracked in part because his mother’s computer had been used to make contact with his first victim, a French soldier selling a motorbike online, whom Mr. Merah says he killed on March 11.

The usual comments that Islam is a peaceful religion have been made by various leaders in France. That is not really the question. The issue is the culture of extremism in Muslim countries and in Muslim communities in Europe and elsewhere. Muslims need to step up and stamp out the extremists their culture produces.

Mohammed Moussaoui, the president of the French Council for the Muslim Faith, who also met with Mr. Sarkozy, said, “These acts are in total contradiction with the foundations of this religion.” And the head of the Grand Mosque in Paris, Dalil Boubakeur, urged France not to stigmatize Muslims, saying “99.9 percent” are law-abiding and loyal citizens.

If 99.9 percent are decent people, then they need to keep an eye on the other 0.1 percent and report them to the police.

At this point, I am mostly thankful that the mass murderer is dead. I don't trust our own judicial system to properly deal with a son of a bitch like Mr. Merah. I trust a European court even less. I can imagine if he had been convicted and sent to prison, the same folks who idolize the Philadephia cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal (aka Wesley Cook) would start calling for the release of Mohammed Merah, under the pretense that he is a political prisoner. Many of them would blame Israel for Merah's "mistreatment." To avoid all that I think the French police did the world a great favor in shooting the bastard in the head.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Is the cure to baldness finally coming?

BBC News is reporting that the protein which triggers hair loss in men has been discovered by scientists at the University of Pennsylvania and the story suggests that this research could lead to the development of a cream to treat baldness:

A biological clue to male baldness has been discovered, raising the prospect of a treatment to stop or even reverse thinning hair. In studies of bald men and laboratory mice, US scientists pinpointed a protein that triggers hair loss. Drugs that target the pathway are already in development, they report in the journal Science Translational Medicine. The research could lead to a cream to treat baldness.

The guilty part is a protein called prostaglandin D synthase:

Now, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have analysed which genes are switched on when men start to go bald. They found levels of a key protein called prostaglandin D synthase are elevated in the cells of hair follicles located in bald patches on the scalp, but not in hairy areas. Mice bred to have high levels of the protein went completely bald, while transplanted human hairs stopped growing when given the protein.

Finding a cure will take some time. Prof George Cotsarelis, of the department of dermatology said:

"The next step would be to screen for compounds that affect this receptor and to also find out whether blocking that receptor would reverse balding or just prevent balding - a question that would take a while to figure out."

The researchers say there is potential for developing a treatment that can be applied to the scalp to prevent baldness and possibly help hair regrow.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Why did this maniac target Jewish people?

EDIT: March 21, 12:02 AM--There are news reports suggesting that the lead suspect is of Algerian heritage and is a member of al-Qaeda. As I type this, the French police have him cornered in a multi-family house near the Jewish school in Toulouse and they are trying to negotiate his surrender. is reporting that a gunman on a motorcycle took aim at Jews in Toulouse, France, killing a rabbi, two of his children and the 10-year-old daughter of the director of the Jewish school where the murders took place.
CBS/AP) TOULOUSE, France - The shooting deaths of four people, including three children, by a gunman outside a Jewish school in the French city of Toulouse has been linked to two deadly attacks in the same region last week that killed three French paratroopers and left another seriously injured. Investigators said Monday that forensic tests have shown the same weapon was used in all three attacks. The motive is unclear, but the targets all have been ethnic minorities.

A 30-year-old rabbi and his 3-year-old and 6-year-old sons were killed in Monday's attack, just before classes started at the Ozar Hatorah school, a junior high and high school in a quiet residential neighborhood, Toulouse Prosecutor Michel Valet said. Witnesses said the man worked at the school. Police identified the fourth victim as the 10-year-old daughter of the school director. A 17-year-old was critically injured.

Based on what has been reported, my guess is that the killer is not part of al-Qaeda or another Muslim terrorist group and probably is not a Muslim, despite the extreme anti-Semitism of the Muslims of France.

My guess is that when this murderer is caught, we will discover that he is more of a psychotic than he is political. He probably suffers from paranoid delusions.

Yet I cannot help but think that, if that is correct, he has been influenced by the everyday hatred of Israel voiced in French political discourse and to lesser or greater extent elsewhere among the European left. We see this hatred of Israel in the American left, as well. However, it is more than counter-balanced by the American right and center. On the whole, Americans tend to like the one, free, democratic state in the Middle East, whose culture is similar to our own. By contrast, Europe in the main has for the last 45 years--since the Six Day War--sided with the fascist police states which surround Israel. The large European left has excused the horrible, violent behavior of the Palestinians. They have equated Jews defending themselves from terrorists with Apartheid in South Africa. In the face of widespread anti-Semitism, the left has branded Jews as racists and oppressors.

That context, those lies, this culture has created a climate in France which, I suspect, made this lone psychotic think murdering Jewish children and a rabbi was the right thing to do.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Is it time to leave Afghanistan to the Afghans? Yes, it's long past time.

In a forceful commentary published by the National Review Online, Andrew C. McCarthy, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute and author, most recently, of The Grand Jihad: How Islam and the Left Sabotage America, concludes that our war in Afghanistan is a waste of our time, a waste of our money and a waste of our soldiers.
"Our troops should be out of Afghanistan. Yesterday."

Over a March 4, 2009 Davis Enterprise column I wrote, my editor penned this familiar sounding headline:
"Get out of Afghanistan, now."

I suspect Mr. McCarthy would have agreed with my conclusion three years ago.

My criticism in 2009 was focused on the need for the war at all and the idea, which came to fruition, that we needed to expand our efforts in Afghanistan. McCarthy says much the same thing here about the decade long growth of this war:
... 90,000 American troops are now stationed (in Afghanistan), compared with the 5,200 who conclusively routed al-Qaeda a decade ago, which you may recall as the mission they were sent to accomplish.

McCarthy points out how unreliable, still, the people we are supposedly trying to help are:
... our “partners” have turned their guns on scores of our troops in the last five years, killing 70, wounding many more. Those are just the U.S. casualty figures. British forces and other NATO personnel are also being assassinated with regularity.

McCarthy likens our failed nation-building efforts in Afghanistan to the same efforts in Iraq, and he points out the price we have paid trying:
We were sold a “freedom agenda” bill of goods about creating a stable democracy that would be a reliable American counterterrorism ally (in Baghdad). What we actually purchased, at a cost of over 4,000 lives, over 30,000 wounded, and over $700 billion, is a sharia state beholden to Iran. The new Iraq calls for Arab solidarity against Israel amid pro-Hamas demonstrations. Its specialty is the persecution of Christians and homosexuals.

The great mistake of the entire Afghan War has been the change in our mission from destroying al-Qaeda to bringing freedom to the Afghan people:
We did not send our troops to liberate Afghanistan. We sent them to rout al-Qaeda, which they did with spectacular speed and effectiveness. There is nothing in the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) about liberating anyone.

In my 2009 column, I wrote much the same thing:
What we didn't need to do after our "victory" was engage in a nation-building exercise, trying to impose a democratic republic on a disparate collection of medieval clans who collectively are called Afghans, but have no national allegiance to that state.

In blunt language, McCarthy explains just why Afghans cannot be made into Danes:
In the main, the Afghans are Muslims in the thrall of Wahhabism, the fundamentalist Islam of Saudi Arabia. As such, they cannot be liberated — they have chosen their own tyranny.

What greatly angers Mr. McCarthy is that our war efforts in fighting against the Taliban are hampered by our efforts to not harm ordinary Afghans:
The only reason for our troops to be in a barbaric country is to vanquish the barbarians. Obviously, we are not trying to do that in Afghanistan.

If we leave Afghanistan, that does not mean we will give up fighting against al-Qaeda:
In Yemen, where there are no U.S. troops on the ground, Bill Roggio of the Long War Journal reports that our government killed dozens of al-Qaeda operatives by air strikes in just the last week. In Pakistan, where there are no U.S. troops on the ground, the Obama administration has stepped up the Bush-era pace of drone attacks, killing numerous jihadists. The name of the game with terrorists is to deny them safe haven to train and plot. As retired general Paul Vallely has been arguing for years, our troops have so damaged al-Qaeda at this point that, without committing massive ground forces in hostile Islamic countries, we can strike the enemy from “Lily Pads” — established land or seaborne bases in safe areas.

This is how I concluded my 2009 column:
We need to be prudent with our money and our soldiers. Pouring billions of dollars more into transforming Afghanistan and ceaselessly fighting the Taliban is a waste of lives, treasure and ultimately the Obama presidency. The time to get out is now.

We now know what has been killing the bees: neonicotinoids

About 6 or 7 years ago, the news was full of stories about honeybees disappearing. Large colonies of bees which were critical to commercial agriculture were suddenly and mysteriously dying off or just not showing up when they were needed for pollination. A story from UPI today seems to have the answer:
Die-offs of honeybees critical for pollinating food crops -- part of so-called colony collapse disorder -- is linked to an insecticide, a U.S. journal reports.

Researchers from the University of Padua in Italy writing in the journal Environmental Science & Technology say the springtime die-offs have been linked to technology used to plant corn coated with insecticides.

In some parts of Europe where farmers use the technology to plant seeds coated with so-called neonicotinoid insecticides, widespread deaths of honeybees have been reported since the introduction of the technique in the late 1990s, they said.

Apparently, it was no coincidence that once these neonicotinoid insecticides were introduced, the bee die offs began. This class of insecticide was introduced about 15 years ago and that is when the colongy collapses were first noticed, though the numbers were not large until about 2005, when corn farmers all over the world had begun using neonicotinoids.
Such insecticides are among the most widely used in the world, popular because they kill insects by paralyzing nerves but have lower toxicity for other animals.

Scientists said they suspected the bee die-offs might be due to particles of the insecticide made airborne by the pneumatic drilling machines used for planting that forcefully suck seeds in and expel a burst of air containing high concentrations of particles of the insecticide coating.

They found that honeybees that flew through the emission cloud of the seeding machines used in mid-March to May corn planting were dying.

While this neonicotinoid study is all news to me, it appears that scientists and some politicians have known this connection to bee die-offs for a few years. A 2010 story called "'Nicotine Bees' Population Restored With Neonicotinoids Ban" from a website called says France, Germany and Italy banned neonicotinoid insecticides due to their effects on bees:
Following France and Germany, last year the Italian Agriculture Ministry suspended the use of a class of pesticides, nicotine-based neonicotinoids, as a "precautionary measure." The compelling results - restored bee populations - prompted the government to uphold the ban.

A documentary film called 'Nicotine Bees' explains the connection between the growth of neonicotinoids and the extermination off honeybees called Colony Collapse Disorder. Here is the trailer for the movie:

Is Saudi Arabia arming the Syrian rebels?

The Jerusalem Post, borrowing from the Agence France-Presse, is reporting that Saudi Arabia has shipped weapons to Jordan which are destined for the Free Syrian Army, the group trying to overthrow the Ba'athist regime in Damascus.

Saudi Arabia is arming Syrian rebels locked in a year-long rebellion against Syrian President Bashar Assad, a senior Arab diplomat told AFP Saturday.

Calling the shipments an effort to stop the bloodshed in Syria, the diplomat clarified that "Saudi military equipment is on its way to Jordan to arm the the Free Syrian Army," according to the report.

I speculated in my column last month that this could happen and it could be a game-changer in Syria:

A wildcard in this might be Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Neither will use violence to overthrow the Ba’athist regime. But those regional powers could start arming and training the rebel forces, if we don’t stop them.

Another development reported in the Jersusalem Post story is that the Iraqi government has promised to no longer permit Iranian planes to fly over Iraq en route to Syria, where they are delivering weapons to Mr. al-Assad. I would guess that it's hard to deny all airspace or other routes for Iran to unload its weaponry, but it sounds like this could make it a little tougher for the Iranians:

Also Saturday, an Iraqi government spokesman said his country would not permit Iran to ferry arms to Syria through or over its territory, AFP reported. Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said the Iranian ambassador was told "Iraq will not permit the use of its air space or its territory for the transit of any arms cargo to Syria," according to the report.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Emails confirm Iran's role in Assad regime's massacres of the Syrian people

The Guardian of London is reporting that "a cache of what appear to be several thousand emails received and sent by the Syrian leader (Bashar al-Assad) and his wife" were "intercepted by members of the opposition Supreme Council of the Revolution group between June (2011) and early February (2012)."

The Guardian was given the entire lot of emails and the newspaper "made extensive efforts to authenticate the emails by checking their contents against established facts and contacting 10 individuals whose correspondence appears in the cache. These checks suggest the messages are genuine, but it has not been possible to verify every one."

Among the revelations is the role of Iran in advising Mr. Assad:
The emails appear to show that Assad received advice from Iran or its proxies on several occasions during the crisis. Before a speech in December his media consultant prepared a long list of themes, reporting that the advice was based on "consultations with a good number of people in addition to the media and political adviser for the Iranian ambassador".

The memo advised the president to use "powerful and violent" language and to show appreciation for support from "friendly states". It also advised that the regime should "leak more information related to our military capability" to convince the public that it could withstand a military challenge.

The emails "appear to show the president's wife spending thousands of dollars over the internet for designer goods while he swaps entertaining internet links on his iPad and downloads music from iTunes."
As the world watched in horror at the brutal suppression of protests across the country and many Syrians faced food shortages and other hardships, Mrs Assad spent more than £10,000 on candlesticks, tables and chandeliers from Paris and instructed an aide to order a fondue set from Amazon.

Some interesting revelations contained in the emails:
• A daughter of the emir of Qatar, Hamid bin Khalifa al-Thani, this year advised Mr and Mrs Assad to leave Syria and suggested Doha may offer them exile.

• Assad sidestepped extensive US sanctions against him by using a third party with a US address to make purchases of music and apps from Apple's iTunes.

• A Dubai-based company, al-Shahba, with a registered office in London is a key conduit for Syrian government business and private purchases of Mrs Assad.

After the Anonymous hacker group was caught breaking into various Syrian government email addresses, the Assad email account went silent:
The access continued until 7 February, when a threatening email arrived in the inbox thought to be used by Assad after the account's existence was revealed when the Anonymous group separately hacked into a number of Syrian government email addresses. Correspondence to and from the two addresses ceased on the same day.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Get away from the coast while you can?

An academic study published today by the Institute of Physics (*see my footnote below) called "Modelling sea-level rise impacts on storm surges along US coasts" suggests that rising ocean waters due to global warming is going to be a serious threat to most Americans who live near the sea.

This comes from the paper's abstract:

We find that substantial changes in the frequency of what are now considered extreme water levels may occur even at locations with relatively slow local sea-level rise, when the difference in height between presently common and rare water levels is small. We estimate that, by mid-century, some locations may experience high water levels annually that would qualify today as 'century' (i.e., having a chance of occurrence of 1% annually) extremes. Today's century levels become 'decade' (having a chance of 10% annually) or more frequent events at about a third of the study gauges, and the majority of locations see substantially higher frequency of previously rare storm-driven water heights in the future. These results add support to the need for policy approaches that consider the non-stationarity of extreme events when evaluating risks of adverse climate impacts.

Here are some excerpts from the conclusion of this research:

Through this study we are able to offer a picture of likely changes in the return levels and periods of coastal storm surges in the next decades that, depending on the location, may significantly alter risk assessment related to high water levels and should be considered a relevant result for stakeholders and policy makers involved in coastal infrastructure or environmental protection decisions. Pacific coast locations are most in danger of seeing their historical extremes frequently surpassed in the coming few decades, followed by the Atlantic. Gulf locations appear in least danger of a rapid shift, despite rapid relative sea-level rise, due to the high amplitudes of historical storm extremes, which render the relative effect of sea-level rise small.

This conclusion quotes research which suggests more and worse hurricanes will hit the Gulf coast:

The greater near term risk in the Gulf (as in a large portion of the Atlantic coast) is however the possibility of increasing cyclone intensity (Knutson et al 2010), concerns we do not address here. Our work provides further evidence that conducting risk assessments of coastal flood hazards must account for non-stationary behaviour, driven mainly by rising mean sea-level.

I once spoke with a climate scientist from UC Davis about sea-level rise due to global warming. I was curious how melting polar ice would have that much of an effect on the vast oceans. He explained that melting ice is only a small fraction of the problem. The real issue is due to the fact that warm water takes up more physical space than cold water. This quote is from "A warmer world will have a higher sea=level because as the land and lower atmosphere of the world warm, heat is transferred into the oceans. When materials are heated they expand (thermal expansion). So the heat that is transferred causes sea water to expand, which then results in a rise in sea-level.:
*Here is what the IOP says about itself: "The Institute of Physics is a leading scientific society promoting physics and bringing physicists together for the benefit of all.

"It has a worldwide membership of around 40 000 comprising physicists from all sectors, as well as those with an interest in physics. It works to advance physics research, application and education; and engages with policy makers and the public to develop awareness and understanding of physics. Its publishing company, IOP Publishing, is a world leader in professional scientific communications."

Here is what Wikipedia says about the IOP: "The present day Institute of Physics was formed in 1960 from the merger of the Physical Society of London, founded in 1874, and the Institute of Physics, founded in 1920.

"It is the main professional body for physicists in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, and grants the professional qualification of Chartered Physicist (CPhys), as well as Chartered Engineer (CEng) as a nominated body of the Engineering Council.

"In addition to this, the IOP provides services to its members including careers advice and professional development. As a part of its mission, the IOP works to engage the public with physics and runs the website, an online guide to physics, and a blog.

"The IOP is prominent in its work in policy and advocacy, lobbying for stronger support for physics in education, research and industry in the UK.

"The IOP's publishing company, IOP Publishing, publishes more than 60 academic titles."