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“The day the US decides to put an end to the Gaza occupation, it will cease”

I have suspected that for years. It has always seemed to me that the massive, multifaceted US support was essential to Israel’s unsustainable aggressions. But the title is a quote from Gideon Levy who actually knows what he’s talking about. He’s spent years pushing for peace.

It’s people like that who make Israel worth saving. And what makes Palestine worth saving. It’s what makes the human race worth saving. The hundreds and thousands who go beyond the hatred and anguish and desperation, especially their own, and try to understand others. The Palestinian and Israeli Bereaved Families For Peace. The Holy Land Trust. The Palestinian Conflict Resolution Center. The Library on Wheels for Nonviolence and Peace. Haaretz, the main Israeli news source, has much sterner criticism of Israeli actions than its US equivalent, the New York Times. The best reporting on the situation that I have seen, bar none, is, a large group of Israeli and Palestinian reporters and writers.

But what triggered me to write this right here and right now was the Independent’s report on Gideon Levy. (What follows actually excerpts only a small part of it.)

[H]e has done something very simple …. Nearly every week for three decades, he has travelled to the Occupied Territories and described what he sees, plainly and without propaganda. “My modest mission,” he says, “is to prevent a situation in which many Israelis will be able to say, ‘We didn’t know.’” …

Once, in Jenin, his car was stuck behind an ambulance at a checkpoint for an hour. He saw there was a sick woman in the back and asked the driver what was going on, and he was told the ambulances were always made to wait this long. Furious, he asked the Israeli soldiers how they would feel if it was their mother in the ambulance – and they looked bemused at first, then angry, pointing their guns at him and telling him to shut up.

“I am amazed again and again at how little Israelis know of what’s going on fifteen minutes away from their homes,” he says. “The brainwashing machinery is so efficient that trying [to undo it is] almost like trying to turn an omelette back to an egg. It makes people so full of ignorance and cruelty.” He gives an example. During Operation Cast Lead, the Israel bombing of blockaded Gaza in 2008-9, “a dog – an Israeli dog – was killed by a Qassam rocket and it on the front page of the most popular newspaper in Israel. On the very same day, there were tens of Palestinians killed, they were on page 16, in two lines.” [I can think of too many non-Israeli examples of exactly this process.]

The historian Isaac Deutscher once offered an analogy for the creation of the state of Israel. A Jewish man jumps from a burning building, and he lands on a Palestinian, horribly injuring him. Can the jumping man be blamed? Levy’s father really was running for his life: it was Palestine, or a concentration camp. Yet Levy says that the analogy is imperfect – because now the jumping man is still, sixty years later, smashing the head of the man he landed on against the ground, and beating up his children and grandchildren too. “1948 is still here. 1948 is still in the refugee camps. 1948 is still calling for a solution,” he says. “Israel is doing the very same thing now… dehumanising the Palestinians where it can, and ethnic cleansing wherever it’s possible. 1948 is not over. Not by a long way.” …

He appeals to anybody who is sincerely concerned about Israel’s safety and security to join him in telling Israelis the truth in plain language. “A real friend does not pick up the bill for an addict’s drugs: he packs the friend off to rehab instead. …

Levy believes the greatest myth – the one hanging over the Middle East like perfume sprayed onto a corpse – is the idea of the current ‘peace talks’ led by the United States. … Now, he says, he is convinced it was “a scam” from the start, doomed to fail. How does he know? “There is a very simple litmus test for any peace talks. A necessity for peace is for Israel to dismantle settlements in the West Bank. So if you are going to dismantle settlements soon, you’d stop building more now, right? They carried on building them all through Oslo. And today, Netanyahu is refusing to freeze construction, the barest of the bare minimum. It tells you all you need.” …

He believes only one kind of pressure would bring Israel back to sanity and safety: “The day the president of the United States decides to put an end to the occupation, it will cease. Because Israel was never so dependent on the United States as it is now. Never. Not only economically, not only militarily but above all politically. … It isn’t only bad for Israel – it is bad for America. “The occupation is the best excuse for many worldwide terror organisations. It’s not always genuine but they use it. Why do you let them use it? Why give them this fury? Why not you solve it once and for all when the, when the solution is so simple?” [Elsewhere in the article: a two-state solution with fair borders, real rights, and security for Palestinians.]

But then, as if it has been nagging at him, he returns abruptly to an earlier question. “I am very pessimistic, sure. … The Israeli society will not change on its own, and the Palestinians are too weak to change it. But having said this, I must say, if we had been sitting here in the late 1980s and you had told me that the Berlin wall will fall within months, that the Soviet Union will fall within months, that parts of the regime in South Africa will fall within months, I would have laughed at you.”

And then he says this:

“You have to be realistic enough to believe in miracles.”

And this:

“A whistle in the dark is still a whistle.”

Is the internet a CIA project?

You know what is unspeakably sad about this?

For many years, Russia had relatively lax internet laws.

However Moscow has recently changed its tune, with Mr Putin branding the internet an ongoing “CIA project”.

As Bruce Schneier has pointed out so well so many times, the US actions mean that there’s no good reason to assume Putin is lying.

This is an actual headline in the actual US of A

What kind of people can even think such a thing?

Headline on an editorial opinion piece — this has the full weight of the newspaper behind it! — in the Miami Herald:

Israel must put down Hamas

The full headline is “Israel must put down Hamas – rebuild relations.” Well, sure. After you slaughter all the chickens with bird flu, you try to “rebuild relations” with the uninfected chooks.


Update: Aug 18, 2014. I guess the Miami Herald reads this blog and noticed how atrocious that sounds. Now the only thing that comes up is an editorial from July 26th with the same meaning but more marketable words: Israel’s Challenge. The Orlando Sentinel still has a copy up. And I’ve taken a screen shot this time in case it disappears again. The point, I would like to tell these editors, is not to delete the article. It is to delete the mindset.

Update: Feb. 6, 2015. Second link also disappeared. All righty, then, here are the screenshots: Read more »

What is the US trying to do with Ukraine?

First (well, first for me) there was Victoria Nuland pushing for some guy to run Ukraine and “Fuck Europe” for not being decisively behind the same strategy. Up to that point, I didn’t even know the US was pushing an agenda in Ukraine, which is bloody stupid since the US is always pushing an agenda. Everywhere.

Then once separatists start breaking away, there’s the US again apparently doing its damndest to stir the pot. Crimea? All Russia’s fault.

I’m sure Putin is as far from innocent of pretty much anything as it is possible to be, but so are a lot of other world “leaders.” That doesn’t explain why the US is so loudly playing it up in this case and not otherwise.

Eastern Ukraine separatists? Also all Russia’s fault. And the US has satellite evidence! Except nobody can see it.

They keep screaming for more sanctions against Russia because Putin doesn’t curb his dogs. (I wonder how that makes the separatists feel? I get the distinct impression some of them think they’re rather important. Not a smart move if you really did want to manipulate some of these guys.)

The horrible shooting of the Malaysian jet? They started saying that was all Putin’s fault almost before the pieces hit the ground. Again, there are presumably satellite pictures, but nobody can see them. The obvious guess is that some trigger-happy loon thought he was shooting down an enemy transport and then found out he wasn’t. It seems to have even less actual thought behind it than the US shooting of the Iranian passenger jet or the Soviet shooting of the Korean one. But it’s all Putin’s fault and requires massive sanctions now now now.

The latest thing I see is something about Russia breaking the 1987 nuclear weapons treaty. Omigod. Bad. Bad Putin! You will be punished. The only thing they haven’t said yet is “Ve haff vays!” (in a bad-guy-German-World-War-II voice of course).

So what in hell is Obama playing at? I’m assuming he doesn’t really want to start a World War With Nukes. Right? Right? Is this all to make the Europeans get over being spied on? And to keep them running to the US Big Brother instead of the Russian Big Brother? Is it to gin up some popular war feeling in the US in time for the elections? (Honestly, I wouldn’t put it past them.) Is it all of the above? Together with several other things I can’t even imagine?

What a world.

Hah. I’m way ahead of Carlos Slim.

He’s making the news because he’s a gazillionaire and he thinks people shouldn’t work so much.

All right. I mean, really now, isn’t it obvious? If we spread time and money around a bit we could all be working less and enjoying it more.

I made that point years ago. But, not being a gazillionaire, I’m one of those people who’s actually done overlong work weeks, so what do I know?

The only thing he does wrong is not take it far enough.

He’s talking about a three-day work week of 11-hour days. (Financial Times but with stupid login restrictions. The gist also here.) So it’s not really a big change from the civilized world with its current 35-hour week. And there’s research (I’ll come back with the link as soon as I dig it up) that people’s productivity slopes off toward the end of even an 8-hour day. It’s d.u.m.b to use people as placeholders to fill up traditional and counterproductive time.

What we need is 24-hour work weeks. Yes, twenty four hours. It seems like a huge departure, but once upon a time a work week was on the order of 70 hours. Halving that to 35 to 40 has helped, not hurt, economies.

The same would happen with 24-hour weeks. If people were paid real living wages for those hours, it would mean significantly more even distribution of wealth. As I think we’ve all figured out by now, that would be a good thing. Rich people would be making twenty or forty times as much as ordinary people. Not hundreds or even thousands of times more. Economies have plenty of resources to provide for (normally) rich people and lots of ordinary people able to live on their 24 hours per week of work. Really. Read that first link up there. I go through the numbers.

And it would solve other problems, too. With 24-hour weeks, there’d be many ways to slice up shifts. Work could be four hours a day for six days, or eight for three, and so on. Within a day, shifts could start every four, six, eight, or, hell, even twelve hours if that works in some cases. The flexibility would be good for everyone: students, people with errands to run, creatives, you name it. Employers could, by law, accommodate caregivers with different shifts. Child care or elder care could become much simpler to arrange.

Honestly. It’s time. The wealth produced by our technologically advanced economies is festering because it’s all piled up in a tiny space and doesn’t get air.

A wage you can live on for a week you can live in.

Happy elderly Siberian couple, photographer unknown

Real wealth

Et tu, BBC? Bias in Israel reporting

I’m just like everyone else. I don’t understand what’s going on in Gaza. So when the BBC ran an article titled “Gaza-Israel conflict: What can Israel and Hamas gain?,” I read it.

It makes the point that Hamas has been much weakened by political changes around them. Iran used to contribute enough to run the government of Gaza, but (Sunni) Hamas supported Sunni rebels in Syria so (Shia) Iran stopped that funding.

Then while the Muslim Brotherhood ran Egypt, there was a good bit of trade going on and hence revenue for Hamas from taxes. But the current Egyptian government considers Hamas too close to terrorists and that source of funds has also dried up.

I’d heard about the new understanding between the West Bank Fatah group and Hamas, but I didn’t realize Hamas had no choice. They’re down to their last bean and fighting in the last ditch.

Meanwhile, Israel was just doing its usual “carefully calibrated” air raids.

[T]raining grounds and launching sites in Gaza were attacked. The target list was enough to persuade the Israeli public that Hamas was being punished for the rocket fire but not enough to push the militant group to step up its attacks.

There were even hints that a truce might be possible….

According to the report, the impression I get is that the escalation just happened.

The article says maybe Hamas was hoping that the sight of suffering civilians would increase funding and international sympathy for them.

The Israelis? They’re trying to get rid of rockets, apparently. This will be very difficult. They’re small, distributed, some are even home made.

I’m a bit boggled. So that’s why we see pictures of whole blocks blowing up in Gaza? There must have been a pipe full of gunpowder and nails in there somewhere.

A Palestinian reacts in front of a fire which police said was caused by an Israeli tank shelling in an industrial area in the east of Gaza City July 12, 2014. REUTERS-Ashraf Amrah

A Palestinian reacts in front of a fire which police said was caused by an Israeli tank shelling in an industrial area in the east of Gaza City July 12, 2014. REUTERS.
(Ashraf Amrah, Reuters)

Nowhere in this narrative of monsters willing to sacrifice their neighbors and persecuted people trying to defend themselves does the article make the obvious point.

Hamas is weakened. Israel swoops in to try to finish them off.

Sure, that may not be the explanation for the current carnage. But it’s certainly one explanation.

How could a news organization of the BBC’s caliber not even mention it?

The joke is on me

When I wrote a piece years ago called “Are women human?” that title was supposed to be funny. Or at least tongue-in-cheek.

I didn’t think the answer was “no.”

But it’s official. Corporations are human. Now even with religious beliefs! Woohoo!

And women? They’re just non-artificial ambulatory uterine incubators. What’s the point of rights for a mass of blood vessels that’s a waste of space unless it’s feeding babies?

Actually, strike that “ambulatory.” Incubators are easier to use when they’re not wandering around loose. That’ll be the next decision by the Five Guys:

It’ll be entirely consistent when they come to it. They’ve never cared that some rights are essential for the others to have any meaning at all. That’s because they’ve never cared about rights, except the kind might makes. Controlling your own body is up there at Right Number One. No other right means anything if other people can do whatever they want to you. The Five Guys just knocked the whole structure down.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, dissenting. “The court, I fear, has ventured into a minefield.”

Useless loud cheap (mis)targeted ads

There’s a multi-bazillion industry devoted to making me buy things. They have followed me through all of my days and tracked my every thought.

Searching for plum blossoms in the snow
(Xu Daoning, c. 1000 AD, Freer Gallery)

So you’d think they’d know I’m in the market for a vacuum cleaner, right?


I haven’t bought one in dog’s years. I don’t read articles about vacuums for fun. All they know about is the last thing I searched for, not what I need.

Well, I’m not a total newbie. I’ve been around computers since the days of punch cards. I’ve heard of Google. All I have to do is search, right? I want a machine in the neighborhood of $200, outrageously good at picking up pet hair, good at corners, and that doesn’t spew the dust right back out.

The search understands I want a vacuum cleaner, but that’s as far as it goes. To get what I want, I can spend hours — nay, days — of my life plowing through useless store websites full of obnoxiously happy beautiful people who find everything with one push of a button. Or I can dig through pages of search results, trying to find reviews that aren’t ads in disguise.

I am not a patient person. The first time, I put off the purchase after an hour or so. The second time it might have been two hours. Then I gave up for a couple of years. That’s what happens when there’s a massive selling industry in my face with everything I don’t want. You’d think they’d have an easier time hitting a great big bullseye like a customer looking to buy a product. By the time I finally bought a vacuum cleaner, they could have sold me a second one if the hucksters who’ve taken over the web instead made it easy for me to find what I want.

Inside a mind too safe to care

“I understand [Obama] wants to fight terrorism, but send in robots, drones. Don’t send in our troops. Our men and women are dying for what?”

Seen here, quoting someone in the USA regarding Obama’s moves in Iraq.

Translated: I don’t care who dies or how they die so long as it’s nobody I know.

Further translation: I know nothing about warfare and think it’s like a video game where drones work on their own and problems get solved by smashing them.

And also too: I don’t have to care or make sense because nothing’s gonna change my world.

Arrogance made a dog’s breakfast out of the Middle East. Now it’s their problem. Right?

My taxes pay for this shit. I’m sorry. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. Which does no good at all. Dear God, what a mess, what a crime, what an atrocity.

Teachers: the floggings will continue until morale improves

California’s teacher tenure law ruled unconstitutional.

Los Angeles County superior court judge Rolf Treu … said the current situation discriminates against minority and low-income students in placing ineffective teachers in their schools. “Plaintiffs claim that the challenged statutes result in grossly ineffective teachers obtaining and retaining permanent employment, and that these teachers are disproportionately situated in schools serving predominantly low-income and minority students,” the decision said.

The Teacher’s apple

That’s right. Underfund the schools. Underpay teachers. When they buy school supplies out of their own money, don’t be amazed. Ask why they’re not donating more. Tell them how to do their jobs. When the students learn even less, get mad at the teachers and tell them they’re doing their jobs all wrong. When anybody with any brains stops even trying to fight their way through all this garbage to become a teacher, wonder why there aren’t any good teachers.

Oh, and remove the last shred of job security. That’s sure to attract good people to bad schools. What could possibly go wrong?

Earlier posts on this topic, War on Teachers, Part 1, 2, and 3.

Update 2014-06-15. Turns out I was channeling Diane Ravitch’s more sober and well-sourced article, June 13th: Making Schools Poorer.

Gay gene: it’s not what you think –part 2

Since the mid-1990s I’ve been thinking about a pattern that seems significant. There are a whole range of what you could collectively call “brain organization traits” that are commoner in males than females. Left handedness, lower or later verbal development sometimes paired with higher math ability, slower social development through the whole spectrum to Asperger’s and autism, homosexuality, and no doubt I’m missing a few. The difference isn’t always large, for instance left handedness shows only a 1.23:1 male:female preponderance, but it is statistically significant. Asperger’s, on the other hand, is diagnosed at about 4:1 males:females. Homosexuality approximately 3:2, dyslexia, about 3:1.

That is odd. The ratios are unlike, say, color-blindness which is an X-linked trait and hence necessarily more prevalent in males. (Just some bio background for those who might want it: men have one X, women have two. Therefore women have two copies of any X-linked gene and a much higher chance that any given genetic information on one X can be masked by the other copy. That’s why X-linked conditions mostly show up in men.)

So it has to be some unstraightforward factor that affects males more than females. No post-natal environmental factor has ever been reliably identified for any of those traits. The traits all have to do with neurological pathways. It seemed logical that the prenatal environment which affects brain development was the place to look. Sex hormones like estradiol and testosterone play critical roles in brain development. And there’s one very obvious prenatal difference between males and females: all mothers are female, so female fetuses are likelier to have a hormonal environment aligned with their own than male ones.

In 2006 I wrote about this, including links to some of the research surfacing at the time. More and more evidence is accumulating showing the effect of fetal hormonal influences.

Elevated Fetal Steroidogenic Activity in Autism. 2014. Popular version:
Children with autism have elevated levels of steroid hormones in the womb From the popular article: “children who later develop autism are exposed to elevated levels of steroid hormones (for example testosterone, progesterone and cortisol) in the womb.” Also, from a BBC article: “Prof Baron-Cohen [one of the study authors] said: “This is one of the earliest non-genetic biomarkers that has been identified in children who go on to develop autism. We previously knew that elevated prenatal testosterone is associated with slower social and language development, better attention to detail, and more autistic traits. Now, for the first time, we have also shown that these steroid hormones are elevated in children clinically diagnosed with autism.”

Remember that there could be any number of sources for unusual hormones. The placenta-uterine interface could be unusually permeable, allowing more of the mother’s hormones through. The fetus could over- or under-produce hormones. Hormones from a non-identical twin can have an influence. Also, this is biology. Everything could work together in varying degrees. As they say, it’s complicated.

Mosaic Epigenetic Dysregulation of Ectodermal Cells in Autism Spectrum Disorder. 2014. Popular article: Study shows environmental influences may cause autism in some cases (“Environmental” in this case refers to the uterine environment of the fetus.) “The researchers detected two groups of genes that were epigenetically distinctive in children with ASD compared with TD [Typical Development] children. Moreover, these genes are known to be expressed in the brain and code for proteins involved in nerve transmission functions previously shown to be impaired in ASD. Interestingly, these two groups of epigenetically distinctive genes weren’t present in all the cells of children with ASD but only in a subset of them—a phenomenon called mosaicism.”

Mustanski et al. 2005. Human Genetics (pdf) This paper discusses the nonrandom inactivation of a given X chromosome. That’s unusual, the mechanism isn’t known, and it would affect males, with their single X, more than females.

Minireview: Hormones and Human Sexual Orientation. J. Balthazart. 2011. (Supposed to be available from NCBI, but link not currently working for me.)

It is not all hormones: Alternative explanations for sexual differentiation of the brain. Davies and Wilkinson. 2006. From the abstract: “[W]hile gonadal hormones undoubtedly play an important role in sexual differentiation of the brain, they are not the only possible mechanism for this phenomenon. In the present review, we discuss the concept that genes residing upon the sex chromosomes (which are asymmetrically inherited between males and females) may influence sexually dimorphic neurobiology directly….”

Molecular studies of dyslexia : regulation and function of DYX1C1. Tammimies. 2011. The gene in question regulates fetal neuronal migration and is influenced by estradiol.

And I could continue on like that through hundreds of references.

One implication, if these traits can have common roots in hormone levels during critical periods of fetal development, is that similar mutations could result in seemingly unrelated traits. A lineage being studied for, say, the heritability of mathematical ability, should also be polled for other brain organization traits. Genetic studies might then more readily pinpoint common mutations which are likelier to underlie the neurological processes.

Switching gears now to talk about social rather than biological implications, fear often seems to surface when there’s any talk of departing from a “genetic” cause of homosexuality to factors that could be manipulated.

I think that fear is misplaced on several counts. One is that purely as a practical matter, genes are not immutable. Their expression, which is what we care about, is hugely influenced by the environment. Furthermore, it’s only a matter of time before all genes can be directly manipulated. Basing acceptance of a trait on its genetics is very shaky ground to stand on.

The bigger problem, though, is what the nothing-but-genetics attitude implies. The idea is that it forces people to accept homosexuality because it’s a not-my-fault-I-found-it-that-way situation.

That’s silly. It accepts the frame that difference from the majority is a “fault” that should be erased if one could. Instead the point is that difference is okay. Whether it’s genetic or congenital or learned or chosen does not matter. We need all the Einsteins and Marie Curies and Oscar Wildes we can get.

Last, and most important, as a matter of principle, rights have nothing to do with genetics. Everybody has the right to make their own choices, so long as they don’t actively harm others. As I said in the earlier post, “the most important point is that genetics says nothing about how people should live their lives. The most important point is that sexuality is nobody’s business but your own. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a choice or not. The whole debate is useless, because the whole debate is nobody’s business.”

Gay gene: it’s not what you think –part 1

This article in the Beeb set me off: The evolutionary puzzle of homosexuality. The idea being that gay people have fewer children which puts them at a selective disadvantage which means the gene ought to die out.

It’s a gender difference. Must be genetic.

This sort of thing drives me nuts. Who said there’s a gene? They’ve never managed to find one yet. Probably for the obvious reason that there have to be hundreds for any complex trait. That’s clear to some people. From the article, “Dr William Byne, editor-in-chief of the journal LGBT Health, believes sexuality may well be inborn, but thinks it could be more complicated than some scientists believe.” (He’s too polite.)

Who said the genetic traits have anything to do with desire? Genes code for biological traits; how those manifest in social interactions is not genetic.

Who said that in humans having flocks of kids is the ticket to success? It reminds me of how people agonized over the many children poor people had. The rich would be swamped! And yet, oddly enough, the rich survived just fine, thank you. The whole approach is so wrong it has no chance of ending up right. Garbage in, garbage out.

And it continues.

“The genes that code for homosexuality do other things too.” If those things confer an advantage on the reproducing members of the species, then the trait should survive. That makes perfect sense. So do they stop there? Nooo.

There are two or more ways this might happen. One possibility is that the allele confers a psychological trait that makes [each sex more attractive to the other.] … “We know that women tend to like more feminine behavioural features and facial features in their men.

Who’s “we,” kemosabe? That’s bullshit, unless you define the non-gorilla look as “feminine.” And if you do, it exposes your assumptions but they have no actual explanatory power regarding mutual attraction between any gays or straights who aren’t you.

Another way a “gay allele” might be able to compensate for a reproductive deficit is by having the converse effect in the opposite sex. For example, an allele which makes the bearer attracted to men has an obvious reproductive advantage to women. If it appears in a man’s genetic code it will code for same-sex attraction, but so long as this happens rarely the allele still has a net evolutionary benefit.

You’d think if that was much of a factor there’d also be a selective advantage for men who wanted to be attractive to women. Instead we have whole societies geared to caging women instead. That, believe me, is the opposite of attractive.

Another one that makes no sense:

Paul Vasey’s research in Samoa has focused on … [t]he idea is that gay people compensate for their lack of children by promoting the reproductive fitness of brothers or sisters…. Sceptics have pointed out that since on average people share just 25% of their genetic code with these relatives, they would need to compensate for every child they don’t have themselves with two nieces or nephews that wouldn’t otherwise have existed.

Two extra surviving children for every gay relative would be quite a remarkable pattern. But nobody’s remarked on it at a population level. The occasional individual might have that effect, but that wouldn’t be enough for a population-level propagation of “gay genes” which is what the kin selection theory postulates.

Gay people do have children.

Finally, something that is indeed a way to pass on gay genes. However, I don’t remember seeing results showing a much higher incidence of homosexuality in the biological children of gay people. That would support the point that “gay genes” probably don’t code for gayness but for something else.

So there’s a whole string of obvious indications that there is no gay gene, singular, and that the primary functions of gay genes, plural, is something other than homosexuality. And yet the take-home message in popular media is “Gee whiz. This is so hard to fit into a story about men chasing after women for sex. How is that possible?”

Next post: some promising ideas that might actually bear some relation to reality.

“Bergdahl could be prosecuted”

The top-ranking US military officer has raised the possibility Sgt Bowe Bergdahl could be prosecuted if he abandoned his post before his capture.

Seriously? I mean, seriously?

If you read this blog, you know I’m not exactly pro-military. But anyone who has spent five years alone among a bunch of irregulars like the Taliban, never knowing which moment might be his last, has suffered quite enough. It no longer matters what he has or hasn’t done.

And the same goes for the people held for years without trial in Guantanamo, even though they’re supposedly the prisoners of an actual government that (used to) follow some kind of rules.

Once upon a time they said the bad reception given to Vietnam vets when they returned was a disgrace. What’s this then?

You don’t believe facts. You understand them.

Update May 25th. This post has been utterly superseded. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Climate Change Debate. That’s the way to explain it. A sample:

You don’t need people’s opinions on a fact. You might as well have a poll on “Which number is bigger, 5 or 15?” [Spoken as if he really wants to know.] Or: “Do owls exist?” Or “Are there hats?”

[Original post, Feb 18:]
I keep seeing this stuff. So-and-so many people “believe” in evolution. Polls in the media ask whether “You believe in global warming.” Headlines mention people don’t believe in GMO food.


Do you “believe” in carpentry? No. If someone builds a house that leans at a 45° angle, you stay out of it and the building inspector orders it torn down. You weigh the evidence and decide whether it works or not. You don’t believe in it.

Likewise with anything else based on tangible, measurable evidence, like all of science. Evolution is supported by a mountain of data with no, none, zero, conflicting evidence against it. There are people who may not understand that, but belief is irrelevant (as I’ve pointed out before).

Global warming is also, unfortunately, supported by a mountain of data. It’s not as solid a mountain as evolution’s; there are a few bits and pieces scientists don’t yet fully understand. But when over 99% of climate scientists agree the evidence supports that humans are changing the climate, you can bet your clocked socks that’s what the evidence shows. Ninety nine percent of scientists never agree on anything unless there’s no alternative.

As an example of that, I, for instance, don’t think the evidence on the safety of GMO foods is sufficient yet. Oh, sure, you won’t become a mutant green two-headed corporate executive if you eat it. But there isn’t enough evidence that it is environmentally and agriculturally beneficial or even that its long term effect on human health is acceptable. That’s not disbelieving GMO food. That’s arguing that the evidence is deficient. For instance, there are nowhere near enough independent, long term studies with large enough sample sizes to justify the soothing noises the industry makes about GMO effect on health.

So let’s get this straight. The right headlines would be: “Many Americans don’t understand evolution” “Politicians funded by Big Oil refuse to see global warming” “Lone biologist wants huge, expensive study of GMO foods.”

See? It’s not hard. Let’s do it.

Update May 14, 2014: Warning signs keep trickling in. Here, a BBC report about the “collateral damage” from higher glyphosate and pesticide use. There are all the obligatory sentences about tested and safe and that the evidence (so far) to the contrary has poor methodology. The dearth of independent studies of glyphosate toxicity that last longer than six months and include all humans, also the pregnant, old, or frail, is a bit of a methodological deficiency itself.

At 11 PM one night

The five hovering lights in the sky were not UFOs. I was pretty sure they were helicopters, but that’s unusual too. Even here, near a major airport and some military bases, you don’t usually get five flying apparently together. So I looked at them for a while, idly wondering what would develop.

They hovered slowly closer. The powerful landing lights on one lit up the bedroom from I would guess about three miles away.

From that window I can also see a downhill stretch of freeway. One police car appeared, blue and red lights flashing. Then another. And another and another and another.


I stood up to look, so I could see a bit more of the freeway. By now there were about a dozen cop cars, all with lights flashing, all following each other so close it looked like they were getting in each other’s way. They and the helicopters gradually disappeared around the curve of the freeway, although I could hear the copters droning and droning.

Were they chasing the capo of some ruthless drug gang? Had the President arrived for a sudden visit? Had there been a fifty-car pileup down the road?

The next day I tried to look it up. I found a tiny notice in our most local paper.

A high-speed chase ended in Thursday night Moorpark after starting in Los Angeles, authorities said.

At least one person was arrested in connection with the incident.

TV stations’ reports stated the chase began after the vehicle was reported stolen.

Two conclusions:

1) The cops really are out of control.

2) No wonder Los Angeles has budget deficits.

What doctored photo? Which US mercenaries?

Bild am Sonntag had a story recently about US mercenaries being seen in Ukraine, working against the separatists. Blackwater / Xe / Academi / Whatever-they-call-themselves-now are scum who might — might! — be operating on their own. But, honestly, what are the chances of that? The US State Department didn’t even try that excuse. They simply said the pictures weren’t taken in the Ukraine. For instance, the LATimes:

This month, corroboration seemed to appear in a photo that showed five men dressed in black and carrying assault weapons on a featureless city street. State Department officials say the men were New Orleans police or contractors trying to prevent looting after the 2005 hurricane. The photo, they say, was doctored by “Kremlin-sponsored websites” to remove the sign of an American fast-food joint.They did not identify the websites, but the photo has rocketed around social media.

Well. Very interesting. You’d have to doctor more than a street sign to make it believable. New Orleans has different vegetation, to begin with. So I wanted to find the picture all the fuss was about.

And nobody I can find links to it. Nobody says “here’s the picture the State Department says was doctored.” I find that odd. If it was so obviously doctored, you’d think they want people to see that, right?

The picture accompanying the Bild article looks like this:
soldiers and civilians running on a wintry street
The accompanying video from which that still is taken also shows brown wintry grass and the same armed men, soldiers, and bundled up civilians. It’s definitely not New Orleans, and it’s certainly not as hot as it was there in September 2005. I lived there for 13 years and nothing in New Orleans looks like that. If this is the “Men In Black” video, they’ve photoshopped whoever the suspicious-looking guys are supposed to be (I can’t even tell) into a video taken in some very Ukraino-Russian-looking place. So why isn’t the State Department making it clear to all of us how they know it’s a fake? Or, even easier, insisting there are no Americans in the picture? Is it so obvious to the experts that those are American mercs that there’s no point trying to deny it?