Wednesday, March 30, 2011

News You May Have Missed, No. 7

1. People on a high-dose regimen of the widely-used cholesterol-reducing drug, Lipitor (generically-known as atorvastatin), may have a slightly increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, particularly if they have several of the classic diabetes risk factors, a study published in The Journal of the American College of Cardiology. The other risk factors for type 2 diabetes including excess weight, high blood sugar, elevated triglycerides (a type of blood fat) and high blood pressure. Those four factors appear "very good at distinguishing people at high or low risk for developing new-onset diabetes with atorvastatin," said lead researcher Dr. David D. Waters of the University of California at San Francisco. "An important point," Waters contined, "is that the risk of developing new-onset diabetes and its complications (is) greatly outweighed by the benefit of statins in reducing cardiac death, heart attack and stroke." He also stressed that the diabetes risk tied to statin drugs such as Lipitor exists but is small. The trial included 3,800 adults who were diabetes-free at the outset of the trial. All the participants had a history of stroke or "mini" strokes known as transient ischemic attacks. The findings are based on data from three clinical trials comparing high-dose atorvastatin (80 milligrams) with either a lower dose statin or placebo pills in people with cardiovascular disease. In the trial with the placebo group, the study found, atorvastatin users had a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes over 5 years. Just under 9 percent did, versus 6 percent of the placebo group.

2. According to the newspaper, The Hollywood Reporter, television networks in Germany, Austria and Switzerland are screening episodes of the series and either pulling them altogether or replacing jokes that are "unsuitable" to air considering the situation in Japan. "The Simpsons" creator Al Jean told the magazine, Entertainment Weekly, that he understands if certain episodes are pulled. "We have 480 episodes, and if there are a few that they don't want to air for a while in light of the terrible thing going on, I completely understand that," he said. "We would never make light of what's happening in Japan." In normal times, Homer's hilariously inept antics at the Springfield nuclear plant are just another source of humor on The Simpsons. But, in light of the current nuclear crisis in Japan, the jokes may be seen as highly inappropriate and offensive to many viewers. Installments of the sometimes-controversial show have been pulled before. A 1997 episode, 'Homer Versus the City of New York' which took place at the World Trade Center, was pulled in 2001 after the 9/11 attacks. So far, Austria's ORF network has pulled the 1992 episode 'Marge Gets a Job' because it includes a scene where scientists Marie and Pierre Curie die of radiation poisoning, and the 2005 episode 'On a Clear Day I Can't See My Sister,' which includes nuclear meltdown jokes.

3. In The United Kingdom, nearly two-thirds of people do not regard themselves as "religious", a new survey reported. The survey commissioned by the British Humanist Association was carried out to coincide with the 2011 U. K. Census. The poll asked 1,900 adults in England and Wales the question "Are you religious?" While 61% of the poll's respondents said they did belong to a religion, 65% of those surveyed answered "no" to the further question: "Are you religious?" Among respondents who identified themselves as Christian, fewer than half said they believed Jesus Christ was a real person who died, came back to life and was the son of God. Another 27% said they did not believe that at all, while 25% were unsure. In a separate poll in Scotland, 42% of respondents said they did not belong to a religion, yet in a further question "Are you religious?" 56% answered "no". In The U.K. Anglican bishops are automatically members of the House of Lords.

4. For the first time, sales of U.S. wine surpassed France making the U.S. the largest consumer of wine in the world, according to recent figures released by the San Francisco-based Wine Institute. In 2010, an estimated 330 million cases were shipped to the U.S. from within the country as well as from foreign producers, which was an increase of 2 percent from the previous year and a record high for the industry. According to U. S. wine industry figures, that accounted for approximately $30 billion in retail sales of wine, up 4 percent from 2009. By comparison, France consumed 320.6 million cases in 2010. Wine from California accounted for 61 percent of the total volume share of the U.S. wine market, with sales at 199.6 million cases and revenues of $18.5 billion. However, there are wineries in all 50 U. S. states, even in frigid Alaska and semi-tropical Hawaii.

5. When it comes to the salaries of men and women in the workplace, an employee's body weight often determines the size of his or her paycheck, according to a study by the Journal of Applied Psychology. An article entitled "When It Comes to Pay, Do the Thin Win? The Effect of Weight on Pay for Men and Women" reported on a study which reinforced stereotypical notions about thin women who weigh significantly less than the group norm earning about $16,000 more a year (on average) than women who are overweight. However, the study found the opposite to be true for men, with thin men not reaping the benefits that their female counterparts do when it comes to their earning potential. Average-weight men, and even those who were overweight side earned about $8,000 more than their skinny male co-workers. Over the course of a 25-year career, these figures account for thin women earning $389,300 more than average-weight women, while thin men earn $210,925 less than the average male. The researchers for the study accounted for their findings to subconscious decisions based on social stereotypes.

6. A Texas construction worker badly disfigured in a power line accident two years ago has received t first full face transplant in The U. S. at a Boston hospital. More than 30 doctors, nurses and other staff at Brigham and Women's Hospital led by plastic surgeon Dr. Bohdan Pomahac performed the 15-hour operation last week on 25-year-old Dallas Wiens of Fort Worth, Texas. He was listed in good condition at the hospital today. The electrical accident in November 2008 left Wiens blind and without lips, a nose or eyebrows. In Boston, doctors transplanted an entire new face, including a nose, lips, skin and muscles and nerves that animate the skin and give sensation.. Wiens will not resemble "either what he used to be or the donor," but something in between, said Pomahac. "The tissues are really molded on a new person." The transplant was not able to restore Wiens' sight, and some nerves were so badly damaged from his injury that he likely will have only partial sensation on his left cheek and left forehead, the surgeon said. The surgery was paid for by The United States Defense Department; the hospital has a $3.4 million grant from the military for transplant research. The new federal health care law helped make the operation possible, by allowing Wiens to get insurance coverage for the expensive drugs he will need lifelong to prevent rejection of his new face. Wiens had no insurance when he was injured. The new law allowed him to qualify for coverage under his father's plan for the drugs until he turns 26 in May. Then he'll be eligible to receive Medicare, which covers the disabled as well as those over 65. The world's first face transplant, also a partial, was done in France in 2005 on a woman mauled by her dog.

7. The most recent statistics from the U. S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention say that the average number of annual visits to physician offices and hospitals regarding digestive system conditions total 42.2 million. And according to the American College of Gastroenterology, more than 95 million (or about 1 in 3)Americans suffer from poor digestion. The most common causes for digestive issues are cooked food, since heat destroys the natural enzymes found in raw foods that aid in digestion, and a person's aging because of a decline in enzyme production of about 13 percent with each passing decade. Experts agree that the following 10 items are likely to irritate one of more of these tummy-related conditions. They are mint /peppermint, sodas, fruit juices, beans, coffee, broccoli, tomatoes, fatty foods (particularly fried foods), chocolate, and milk-based products (including ice cream and cheeses). According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, an estimated 30 to 50 million American adults are lactose intolerant. Humans are the only species that continues to drink milk after weaning.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Everybody Tells Me Everything

Ogden Nash was an American poet who lived from 1902 to 1971. He was well-known and loved for his light verses. When he died, The New York Times memorialized him saying that his "droll verse with its unconventional rhymes made him the country's best-known producer of humorous poetry."

Below is his humorous poetic refection about the news of his day. I think that you will find it as applicable to today as the year Nash wrote it.

Everybody Tells Me Everything

by Odgen Nash

I find it very difficult to enthuse

Over the current news.

Just when you think that at least the outlook is so bleak that it can grow no bleaker, it worsens,

And that is why I do not like the news, because there has never been an era when so many things were going so right for so many of the wrong persons.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The American War on Intelligence

In 1952, an intellectual Democrat named Adlai E. Stevenson ran for President. Stevenson's eloquent oratory and thoughtful, stylish demeanor impressed many intellectuals and members of the nation's academic community. The Republicans and some working-class Democrats ridiculed what they perceived as his overly intelligent and aristocratic air. During the 1952 campaign Stewart Alsop, a powerful Connecticut Republican labeled Stevenson an "egghead", based on his baldness and intellectual air. His brother, columnist Joe Alsop, used the word in a column describing Stevenson's problems in wooing working-class voters, and the nickname stuck. And, the very popular Life magazine was owned by Republican conservative Henry Luce ran a picture of Stevenson shot looking up at his face. The balding Stevenson looked like the top of his hairless head was far larger than the bottom of his face where his chin was, giving him the appearance of an egg. The result was that Stevenson was condemned by the Republicans for being too intelligent to be President and the term "egghead" was born to label anyone who is educated and bright. Nothing has changed since 1952, in fact, the war on intelligence has intensified.

In 2000, when Democrat Al Gore ran for President, he was portrayed by the Republicans as overly smart, patrician, and not the guy next door. He was also accused of lying about creating the Internet, a statement he never made. He lost to "the guy next door" who could not speak and was intellectually inferior, George W. Bush. In 2004, the same accusations about being intelligent and patrician were hurled at Democrat John Kerry who was also accused of lying about his war record. He was both intelligent and a war hero. He was defeated by George W. Bush. And in 2008, Harvard graduate, Barack Obama, was accused of being an "uppity nigger", because of his intelligence, compounded with lies about his place of birth, his religion, and his political views. The unrelenting attacks have continued, particularly by the Republican sub-group The Tea Party. But, the anti-intellectualism runs far deeper in the American psyche than in politics.

Americans pay lip-service to wanting a literate and intelligent population, but in fact that is not the case. American schools have watered down curricula to reach the lowest common denominator. Teachers are often underpaid and disrespected by the right-wing politicians, media, parents, and children. The teaching staff is often blamed for child apathy and failed schools. Parents are frequently uninvolved in their own children's educations and see the schools as a baby-sitting service. History is often filled with flag-waving propaganda and science is often mixed with religion. The political right-wing blames teacher unions for the ills of schools because the union agreements put a limit on the number of students in a class, insist on due-process before a teacher is fired, and fight for a decent wage for teachers. Community control of schools lead to boards of education that unprofessional and often corrupt. The minorities are often in substandard schools. Education is often done on the cheap. And, when it comes to spending money on the football team or an increase in the teaching staff, the football team wins.

As a result of all of this, the U.S., not surprisingly, did not fare well compared to other nations in educating children according to the Program for International Student Assessment examination. Out of 34 countries, U. S. students ranked 25th in math, 17th in science, and 14th in reading.

Local control of schools is a dismal failure and education has become a political football. Democrats seem unwilling to confront the issues that center around the failures of our current system, instead choosing to believe that spending more will change outcomes. That approach has failed. Republicans have chosen to blame both public education and the teachers. They want lower taxes, suggest money has little effect, and advocate for so-called "charter schools" (results-oriented), religious education, or home-schooling at parental cost.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development reports that American teachers work more hours than their international counterparts, 1,080 teaching hours compared to an average of 794 hours internationally. At the high end of the scale, South Korea, ranking number two in educational outcomes, pays a higher salary to teachers than in the U.S. Also, South Korean parents value education, are actively involved in their children's education, never bad-mouth teachers, and think that teaching is a very prestigious occupation. Is it just a coincidence that South Korea scored number 2 on The Program for International Student Assessment exams?

Another yardstick of measure is what jobs pay college grads the most, at least partially indicating what careers our best students may flow to for financial security. The number one job is Investment banker, paying $112,000 for a new grad. Software Engineer pays $84,000 for a graduate. A teacher can anticipate making $43,000. And, many politicians and parents think that teachers are overpaid for what they do.

The reactions of a sizable number of Americans to the Asian emphasis on the disciplined and educated mind is prejudice. The Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, and Indians are people of whom to beware. They are viewed as a threat, a menace, not "normal" like us, and if given a chance, will take over the world. Instead of competing in intelligence and drive, the American people deride and seek to destroy.

The U.S. war on intelligence is also carried on in the popular media, particularly on television. TV shows present the intelligent man or woman as an odd-ball, a wimp, a nerd, or a threat. My favorite example is The Odd Couple. Who is the more over-bearing eccentric and who is more acceptable, artistic, fastidious, and intelligent Felix, or messy, fun-loving, sport-enthusiast Oscar? It is Oscar. Who is derided and laughed at more? Felix. That is not an isolated case. From Steve Urkel on Family Matters to Gregory House on House, intelligent characters on TV are portrayed as odd, nerdy, or difficult to bear.

As if that weren't enough, where is programming that caters to intelligence on TV in America? Yes, PBS (public television) has some shows that cater to an educated audience, but the number is dwindling as it continually dumbs-down its programming with shows like Rock, Pop and Doo Whop, Antiques Road Show and routine British dramas on Masterpiece. When was the last time PBS broadcast a symphony concert, an interview with a poet, an American play, or an adaptation of an American literary classic? And, on the cable stations which were supposed to cater to minority tastes, where is the programming for the educated and intelligent amid the plethora of re-runs, sports, opinion masquerading as "news", religion, cartoon, cheap reality shows, and merchandise-selling programming? The corporations who own much of cable say that there is no market in America. That is my point exactly.

A great nation respects the most intelligent, educated and artistic people in their nation and want its culture to be the envy of the world. Instead, the U.S. has decided to pay only lip-service to education, to deride those who think, to elevate those who are genuinely narrow-minded to high office and to make part of the national discourse the raving of a drug-addled actor and a former Alaska governor who cannot name a newspaper or book she has recently read.

The first President of The Czech Republic (1993- 2003) was Vaclav Havel, a playwright, essayist and poet. Can the average American even name a living American playwright, essayist or poet?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

News You May Have Missed, No. 6

1. Once again, Forbes' Magazine has listed its List of Billionaires. The 2011 list breaks two records: total number of people listed (1,210) and combined wealth ($4.5 trillion). The amassed wealth of these individuals surpasses the gross domestic product of Germany, the world's 4 largest economy. At the top of the list is Mexico's telecom mogul, Carlos Slim Helu, who added $20.5 billion to his fortune, more than any other billionaire. Bill Gates of Microsoft was No. 2 and Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway was No. 3. America has more billionaires than any other nation. It is followed by Brazil, Russia, India and China. Forbes' has created the billionaire's list for the last 25 years.

2. Children's ear infections in the U.S. have radically declined. Over the last 15 years, there has been a 30% reduction a Harvard research team reported. Ear infection is the most common reason for bringing a child to see a doctor according to The U. S. Center for Disease Control. The reduction in the painful childhood affliction means half a million fewer trip to the doctor's office. But, the reason for the substantial reduction is unclear. Some doctors attribute it to a decline in parental smoking. But, other doctors say it is because of either the growing use of a vaccine against bacteria that cause ear infections or to an increase in anti-body rich mother's milk in breast feeding. Most ear infections occur after a cold. In children, the ear is more directly connected to the back of the nose, so infections in a child's nose and throat can easily trigger ear inflammation. Such swelling is a fertile setting for the bacteria that causes ear infections.

3. The US government is facing a lawsuit on behalf of Guatemalans who were deliberately given gonorrhea or syphilis in medical tests by US scientists which took place between 1946 and 1948. The Guatemalan government gave its permission for the tests to be conducted. Lawyers have given the US authorities a limited amount of time to find a way to settle claims out of court or face action. Hundreds of Guatemalan prisoners and mentally ill patients were infected, without their knowledge or consent to study the effects of penicillin. It is not clear how many plaintiffs there are because the lawsuit includes not only those intentionally infected but also their relatives and survivors. Syphilis can cause blindness, insanity and death. Last year, the US government apologized for the what it called "reprehensible" experiments.

4. According to a just released Gallup "well-being" survey conducted in the U.S., Hawaii was the happiest state and Boulder, Colorado, was the happiest metropolitan area in 2009. Generally speaking, the states with the highest well-being were clustered in the West and Rocky Mountain regions, and those with lower well-being were clustered in the Southeast. The survey tries to measure the ingredients of “the good life.” It is made up of six sub-indexes: life evaluation, emotional health, work environment, physical health, healthy behaviors and access to basic necessities like food and shelter. Among states, Utah and Montana tied for second place behind Hawaii. The states with the lowest levels of well-being were Kentucky and West Virginia. Among regions, Boulder barely edged Honolulu and Holland-Grand Haven, Michigan. The regions with the lowest level of well-being was Fort Smith and environs in Arkansas. It was followed by Oklahoma, the Huntington-Ashland areas of West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio.

5. As a result of violence and fighting in the African nation of Ivory Coast, more than 450,000 people have fled their homes and are refugees according a UN refugee agency. A UNHRC (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) spokeswoman painted a grim picture of dead bodies being eaten by dogs in the streets of the Ivory Coast's main city, Abidjan. The outbreak of weeks of violence was the result of President Laurent Gbagbo refusing to cede power to the winner of last year's elections, former rebel leader, Alassane Ouattara. Mr. Ouattara has fled to nearby Nigeria to get help ousting his rival. However, his rebel forces still control the north of the country while most of the army remains loyal to Mr Gbagbo. There are 9,000 UN peacekeepers in the country monitoring a ceasefire line between the two forces. But, there are growing fears that the situation could descend into civil war. The UNHCR said the "unfolding tragedy" in Ivory Coast had been overlooked while international attention has been focused on North Africa.

6. Male circumcision should be routinely considered as a method in reducing sexually transmitted diseases according to a study reported in the New England Journal of Medicine in the U.S. The research found circumcision significantly cut the risk of infection with herpes and the cancer-causing HPV, human papillomavirus. HPV causes cervical cancer in women, and genital warts in both sexes. Circumcision is also known to sharply reduce the risk of HIV-AIDS infection. The research, carried out in Uganda by scientists from Johns Hopkins University, involved nearly 3,500 men whose sexual activity was monitored over a two year period. Writing in the journal, Dr Matthew Golden and Dr Judith Wasserheit, both from the University of Washington, said: "These new data should prompt a major reassessment of the role of male circumcision not only in HIV prevention but also in the prevention of other sexually transmitted infections…. All providers who care for pregnant women and infants have a responsibility to assure that mothers and fathers know that circumcision could help protect their sons from the three most common and most serious viral sexually transmitted infections, all of which cannot currently be cured." Routine circumcision rates have been declining in the U.S. and are lowest among the poor, blacks and Hispanics.

7. U.S. unarmed drones are being used to track drug gangs in Mexico. The high altitude aircraft are unmanned and are not visible from the ground. The flights began in February at the Mexican government's request and are being supervised by the Mexican Air Force and other Mexican agencies. Most of the drone flights have been over northern U.S.-Mexico border areas, the scene of drug gang violence that has left more than 34,000 dead since 2006. Unnamed U.S. officials told said that the drones had gathered intelligence that led to the arrest in Mexico of several suspects in connection with the murder of a U.S. immigration agent, Jaime Zapata. Mexico only revealed that the U.S. drones were being used after the story was revealed in The New York Times.

8. A lost tribe of Jews has been discovered in the African nation of Zimbabwe. Many of the Lemba people of both Zimbabwe and South Africa may follow Jewish customs and traditions. Other Lemba are Christians and Muslims, but they continue to embrace their Jewish roots. Their oral tradition claims that their ancestors were Jews who fled the Holy Land about 2,500 years ago. The Lemba Jews follow Jewish custom, do not eat pork, perform ritual slaughter of animals, perform ritual male circumcision, put the Star of David on their gravestones, keep the Sabbath on Saturday, and some men wear skullcaps. They also have a prized religious artifact which they say connects them to their Jewish ancestry. It is a replica of the Biblical Ark of the Covenant which they call the ngoma lungundu, "the drum that thunders". It may sound like still another myth of a lost tribe of Israel, but British scientists have carried out DNA tests which have confirmed their Semitic origin. The tests back up the Lemba belief that a group of Jewish men married African women in the lands that they now occupy. The Lemba people number about 80,000.

9. A film directed by Clint Eastwood, "Hereafter", which features scenes of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami which killed an estimated 240,000 people has been pulled from movie theaters in Japan. Warner Brothers official Satoru Otani said "Hereafter" and its terrifying tsunami scenes were "not appropriate" at this time. The film opened in Japan in late February in around 180 movie theaters and was originally intended to run until the end of March.

10. Adult Barbary macaque monkeys recognize their friends. That is the conclusion of scientists who performed recognition experiments on macaques. In the experiment, the untrained monkeys showed more interest and scrutinized photos of macaques than other unfamiliar animals. Juvenile monkeys were fascinated but puzzled by the photographs. They often tried to greet or touch the animal in the image. The findings suggest that the primates learn with age to understand that photos are representations of faces. The researchers were surprised that untrained monkeys took such an interest in photographs. The research team was lead by Professor Julia Fischer of The German Primate Center of Gottingen University in Germany. She and her team observed macaques in wildlife park in Rocamadour in south-west France where the animals are allowed to roam around an open landscape.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Remaining Silent

Martin Niemoller was a German Lutheran (Christian Protestant) Pastor and theologian born in Lippstadt, Germany, in 1892. As an anti-Communist, at first, he supported Hitler's rise to power. But, when Hitler insisted that the state was supreme over religious convictions, he became disillusioned with both Hitler and the Nazi philosophy. Niemoller actively worked against both until1937 when he was arrested for the crime of "not being enthusiastic enough about the Nazi movement". Eventually, he was sent to the notorious extermination camp for Jews, Gypsies, Communists and anti-Nazi, Dachau. But he survived both the concentration camp and the war, and he was released by Allied forces in 1945. After that, he continued as a clergyman and was a prominent voice insisting on the penance on the part of the German people.

He wrote a statement which is often considered a poem. His statement is one which describes the dangers of political apathy. It targets fear and hatred which soon becomes a political movement and often destroys a nation when it gets out of control. It reads as follows:

When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.

When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.

When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.

When they came for the Jews,
I remained silent;
I wasn't a Jew.

When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.

Americans are an apathetic people. More people do not vote than vote. TV rating for ball games are higher than for political debates. There has never been a "truth commission" about slavery and its ramifications. It took 50 years after the incarceration in concentration camps of Japanese-Americans citizens for the U.S. government to issue an apology for its illegal action and to pay them a small pittance for their stolen assets. Americans refuse to call what they did to American Indians a genocide, and they have never admitted that their history is full of bigotry, violence and wars without a shred of justification. They have no concern about their historic misdeeds and decry those who point them up as being "Un-American". And, they have no grasp of the idea that America is a multi-ethnic, multi-racial, multi- religion, multi-sexual, and multi-faceted society and has been since its inception. They seek to impose one view (their view) on the nation as a whole.

But, most Americans complain about corrupt politicians and courts, a dwindling middle class, inflation, the price-gouging oil companies, poor childhood education, big corporations and banks, tainted food, and the super-rich not paying their fair share in taxes. Yet, the American people continually elect (or allow to be elected) the very people that bring about the things to which they object.

Maybe the time has come for Reverend Niemoller's statement to be updated with an American context:

When they attacked the liberals as Un-American,

I remained silent;

I was not a liberal.

When they jailed one-half of the current African-American male population,

I remained silent;

I was not African-American.

When they denied the rights of unions and collective bargaining in Wisconsin and elsewhere,

I did not speak out;

I was not a member of a union.

When they went after gays, Hispanics, the Atheists, and the poor on welfare,

I remained silent:

I was not gay, Hispanic, an Atheist, or poor.

And, when they attacked and destroyed me,

Not only was there no one to speak up for me,

My fellow Americas watched TV, got fat, and did not give a damn!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The New American Witch-Hunt

Another sordid chapter in U.S. history is about to unfold. New York Republican Congressman Peter King is "investigating" American Muslims and questioning if they are "doing enough" in the war on Islamic terrorism. And, King has the support of political right-wing, the Republican Majority Leader, Eric Cantor, and according to a Gallup Poll, 52% of Americans.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor defended House of Representatives Homeland Security Chairman Peter King for holding a series of hearings on the "radicalization" of the American Muslim community and that community's response to it. Cantor pointed to the 2009 attack at Fort Hood by a Muslim American soldier on fellow U.S. soldiers, and maintained that King's committee's job is to deal with potential threats to U.S. security. "We have got demonstrable occurrences in this country that show we've got a risk of the spread of radical Islam," Cantor said. "That's not within the security interests of the United States and its citizens, something we really want to work with folks to see if we can stop…. I think it's one hearing out of many that he's having." Pressed about the backlash from the Muslim American community to King's hearings, Cantor said, "People are free to react the way they want…. I believe that we in this country are threatened by the spread of radical Islam… at home."

Notice what Cantor said. First, he alluded to an isolated incident at Fort Hood and ignored the fact that many Muslims serve in the U.S. military with distinction. Notice Cantor referred to King's dealing with "potential threats" as justification for the hearings. By doing so, Cantor is implying that the threat by American Muslim citizens is real. Finally, he said that people can believe what they want but the internal threat is real, not in his opinion but as a fact. And by indirection he is implying if you are stupid enough to opposed these hearing or stupid enough to believe that Muslim Americans are not a problem, then you are entitled to your stupid opinion.

As to Peter King, he was a supporter and fund-raiser for the IRA terrorists in Northern Ireland. He still maintains he was right in his support and recently said that the IRA was a "legitimate fighting force" because the IRA is fighting British occupation of part of Ireland. By the same logic, Hamas and Al Fattah , sworn enemies of both Israel and the U.S., is a "legitimate fighting force" because they are fighting what they see as the Jewish "occupation" of Muslim Palestine, an occupation which the U.S. condones and supports. Apparently, King picks and chooses who are terrorists based on his politics, preferences, prejudices.

To deflect from the outcry of opposition to the mass targeting of a minority, a religion and a collective group of U.S. citizens for investigation, King has started to portray himself as the victim. He claims to have received death threats. Every Homeland Security Chairman gets protection, but King’s has been increased. King said, “I’m getting a lot of hostile phone calls now, but the main threats I’m getting are from overseas." (Overseas?) But, King is unshakable in his branding of American Muslims as "radicalized" and in his attempt to prove that as U. S. citizens they are lacking sufficient allegiance to America. “I want to show the extent of that radicalization, how it happens. Also whether or not the Muslim community is fully cooperating,” Rep. King said.

Targeting a group of people for investigation and persecution is the history of America. At one time or another Blacks, Jews, The Irish, the Mormons, Native Americans, Italians, Hispanics, Chinese, Japanese, Gays, "witches", Communists, Anarchists, and Catholics have been the targets. Many of these still are. But, perhaps the most scandalous witch hunt was that of Republican Catholic Irish alcoholic Senator Joseph McCarthy, whose legacy is summarized in the epithet, "McCarthyism" The term is used when a position "investigates" what he believes is "un-American behavior. McCarthy destroyed lives for his own personal gain, and when a person availed himself of his Constitutional right to refuse to testify against himself ("taking the 5th"; the 5th Amendment guarantees the right against self-incrimination), McCarthy and his followers said he was hiding something and therefore guilty. So, if you invoked Constitutional law, you were guilty. Believe it or not, among those in the political and religious right in the U. S., Joseph McCarthy is still has many admirers.

Now, the target for investigations and questions about loyalty is Muslim citizens. And, the accuser is yet another Republican Irish Catholic, in this case, Peter King. And, he is being defended by a Jew, Eric Cantor. Funny isn't it that the Irish, the Catholics and the Jews were all the targets of mass stereotyping and bigotry in the U.S.? And, overt anti-Semitism and Jewish stereotyping continues to exists in King's own county on New York State as well as in Virginia, Cantor's home state.
I guess that the old Italian is true, "The more things change, the more they remain the same."

Monday, March 7, 2011

News You May Have Missed, No. 5

1. A passenger on an Air Antilles flight from French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe to the Franco-Dutch island of St. Martin found a novel was to steal 1.2 million Euros (1.68 million dollars) from the plane's cargo hold. The money was in three bags and was placed by a Brink's security employee in the cargo hold of the plane where it was assumed that the money would be secure. However, the passenger complained that he was ill on the brief flight and was assumed to be in the bathroom. Instead, he apparently removed panels in the bathroom which led to the cargo hold. When, the plane landed, an ambulance was waiting for him, but stating that he felt much better, he walked out of the airport by-passing normal security check-points. Police are looking for the unidenified man.

2. In the U.S, the states control the school and many local governments levy school taxes. However, many state governors and city mayors would rather lay off or fire school teachers and/or disband teachers' and child welfare workers unions rather than increase taxes on millionaires and billionaires. The states of New Jersey and Connecticut have a large number of millionaires, but both the Republican governor of New Jersey and the Democratic governor of Connecticut have proposed new budgets which impact teacher's salaries but also have no increase in taxes for the very wealthy. The same is true in California, New York City and New York State. The mayor of Providence. Rhode Island, fired all of his city's teachers and plans to only hire back those who are the least paid. Governors and legislators in Wisconsin, Ohio, and Indiana have passed legislation voiding all teacher's union collective agreements, pension agreements and bargaining rights. In Michigan, the governor eliminated the union collective bargaining rights of 20,000 child welfare workers. An example of the under-taxing of the super-rich is New York State. In that state most of those earning between $16,000 and $633,000 pay a state tax of between 10% and 11.6%. Those making over $633,000 pay a state tax of 7.2%.

3. Remember the Warner Brother's cartoon character, Elmer Fudd? Adults and children used to laugh at him and imitate him when he spoke. That is because he was a stutterer. But, times and attitudes about stuttering have changed to the point where a story about the experiences of one of the most famous stutters in history, British King George VI, was made into an Oscar-winning film, The King's Speech.

However, there are some things which the film got right and some things which the film got wrong. What the film got right according to Nan Ratner, a psycholinguist at the University of Maryland, is the social stigma attached to stuttering. It also shows how debilitating the condition is and it frequently creates tension, anxiety, embarrassment and self-doubt in the stutterer. What the film got wrong according to Ratner is that it leaves the impression that strict parenting and childhood trauma can cause stuttering.

Stuttering affects about 4% of children and 1% of adults worldwide. There is no known cause or cure for the condition. But, early treatment in children (ages 2 to 5) is effect in approximately 80% of cases.

4. Hawaii's Kilauea Volcano has been erupting for the last 30 years. Located on the southern side of The Big Island of Hawaii, the volcano constantly spews lava from cracks and fissures near the coastline, the lava has actually extended the island's land-mass by several inches every year. But, on Thursday, March 3, the floor of the volcano's crater collapsed and created a full-scale eruption. Scientists report lava blasts 65 feet high about 150 small earthquakes have hit the area. Although tourist can normally visit the crater, they cannot be in the area when the crater erupts. Also, it is against the law to take any hardened brittle lava from the area. In addition, the native Hawaiians consider the taking of lava as source of bad luck.

5. Using marijuana (cannabis) as a teenager or young adult increases the risk of psychosis, a study in the British Medical Journal reported. The study tracked 1,900 subjects between the ages of 14 and 24 over a 10 year period. Although the link between marijuana use and psychosis was well-known, whether using marijuana caused the disorder was unclear. However, the research strongly indicated that using marijuana came first rather than that people started taking it for their symptoms. It found that cannabis use "significantly" increased the risk of psychotic symptoms, even when other factors such as socio-economic status, use of different drugs and other psychiatric conditions were taken into account. The research was conducted by researchers in The Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland and The U. K.

6. A study in The British Medical Journal reported that exposure to second-hand smoke as a child or as an adult appears to increase a woman's chances of getting breast cancer. The study involved 79,990 women between the ages of 50 and 79 and found that breast cancer risk was 30% higher in women who were exposed to decades of continual exposure to smoking. Also, women who had never smoked but had lived or worked with smokers for prolonged time also appeared to be at increased risk for breast cancer. The study was conducted by a team headed by Dr. Juhua Luo of West Virginia University in the U.S.

Female smokers have a 16% greater risk of developing cancer after menopause. Also, although smoking is on the decline in most Western countries, it is rapidly on the rise in Third world countries, particularly in China, Korea and other East Asia countries.

7. It appears that some shark species make "mental maps" of their home territories which allows them to pin-point destinations up to 30 miles (50 km) away. It is further evidence that some fish can navigate possibly using the Earth's magnetic field.

US-based scientists analyzed data from tiger sharks tagged with acoustic transmitters and found that they took directed paths from place to place. Other species such as blacktip reef sharks did not show this behavior. Writing in The Journal of Animal Ecology, the researchers suggested that this behavior showed a capacity to store maps of key sites. However, a key question remains. How do they know where they are going?

8. Men taking non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory medications, such as aspirin or ibrupophen, more than three times a day for more than three months are 2.4 times more likely to suffer from erectile dysfunction when compared to men who don't take these drugs regularly, according to new findings published in The Journal of Urology. The study conducted by Kaiser Permanente used electronic health records, an automated pharmacy database, and self-reported questionnaire data to examine the relationship between non-steroidal anti-inflammatory use and erectile dysfunction in 80,966 ethnically diverse men. Of the participants, 47.4 percent were considered non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drug users.

After allowing for age, race, ethnicity, smoking status, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, high cholesterol and body mass index, researchers found that erectile dysfunction was 1.4 times more likely among regular non-steroidal anti-inflammatory users.

Dr. Steven J. Jacobsen, senior study author, epidemiologist, and director of research for Kaiser Permanente Southern California, said concerning the study's results, "Honestly, this finding was a surprise, as we thought that NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications ) would protect against erectile dysfunction through the same or similar mechanisms by which they protect against heart disease. So if our findings are not due to underlying conditions that we didn't account for, it may point to a mechanism that could provide new insights into the causes of erectile dysfunction.." At the very least, Jacobsen hopes the study will provide a stimulus for men to discuss risk factors for erectile dysfunction with their care providers.

9. Apparently fewer American teenagers and young adults are having pre-marital sex according to a Federal government study. No one knows the reason. Some experts say an emphasis on abstinence may have played a role. But, other experts say concern about sexually spread diseases may have been a factor. Still others suggest this is a generation of kids who are less inclined to experiment with drugs and sex than their predecessors.

The study is based on interviews of about 5,300 young people ages 15 to 24. It showed the proportion in that age group who said they had had some kind of sexual contact dropped in the past decade from 78 percent to about 72 percent.

Among the other finding in the report were the following:

· More than half of young people who had oral sex said they did that before vaginal intercourse; that pattern was much more common in whites than blacks or Hispanics.

· Among young adults, the proportion who had had vaginal or oral sex declined. But the proportion who had anal sex held steady, at about 21 percent.

· For all ages in the study, women were more than twice as likely to have had sex with a same-gender partner than men were. That was true despite the fact that about the same proportion of male and female survey respondents described themselves as homosexual.

The explanation for the last finding seems to be that women are much more willing to describe themselves as bisexual, or to at least acknowledge they find others of their gender attractive. That may have a lot to do with television shows and other pop culture, which at times seems to celebrate woman-on-woman sexual contact, but not the same kind of behavior among men, said Michael Reece, director of Indiana University's Center for Sexual Health Promotion. "My guess is women are just more likely to feel that's OK," he added.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Ash Wednesday: An Idea Worth Pondering

Professor Robert Berlin  (New York University) was the most brilliant man I have ever met. He was also a very ethical and compassionate Jewish atheist who did not believe in an after-life. When he died, he authorized that his ashes be spread under a newly planted tree. I think of him often and always on Ash Wednesday. The reason is that he once said in his Humanities class, "If people ever came to grips with the fact that they were going to die, it would so horrible a thought that it would render them immobile". He himself thought about it and made plans for his eventual demise, but he never obsessed over it and lived every day to the fullest.
Ash Wednesday is a Christian holyday. It is the first day of a penitential 40 days known as Lent, the old Anglo-Saxon word for "spring". It is not a "popular" holyday because there is no commercial side to it, there are no warm and joyous songs attached to it, and there is nothing sentimental about it. Purely and simply, it is a day on which people are reminded that they are going to die. And, that is a tough sell in a culture which avoids the issue as much as possible.
On Ash Wednesday, faithful Christians go to a local church to have a cross of ash placed on the foreheads. And the priest or minister says as he makes the cross with ash on his thumb, "Thou art dust, and unto dust thou shalt return." (translation: " Remember you are dust and will return to dust.") So, it is a day when devote Christians face their mortality, realize that every mortal life is temporary, and there is no escaping death. It is a heavy dose of reality, a sobering thought that should give a person pause and create some perceptive in a person's life.
In the self-centered, self-gratifying, and hedonistic western civilization and culture, the very notion of thinking about dying is avoided and seldom talked about. People are reluctant to make out living wills, funeral arrangements, last wills and testaments out of fear of being called morbid. It is as if the very thought of thinking about death might hasten the inevitable. However, this was not always the case. The ancient Egyptians, for example, were obsessed by death and achieving immortality. During their lives, they prepared for death in ways that boggle the mind even now. And, to this day some Hindus will roll-around naked in the ash remains of dead Hindus before bathing in the sacred river, The Ganges. To Hindus, this activity shows how little the body matters because it is just a temporary casing for what lives through all eternity, the spirit.
In many ways, Ash Wednesday is a very good thing. It forces people, at least temporarily to confront a universal reality. That is, we are all going to die. And, because it is an inevitable truth, perhaps we all ought to pause one day a year, either in a religious context or not, to think about death and realistically prepare for it.
Thoughts About Death
1. To the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure. -J. K. Rowling

2. Death, be not proud; though so have call ye mighty and dreadful…. -John Donne

3. Because I could not stop for death, he kindly stopped for me…. -Emily Dickenson

4. Pale Death with impartial treads beats on the poor man's cottage door and at the palace of kings. - Horace

5. Live as if you were going to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were going to live forever. -Mahatma Gandhi

6. It is impossible to experience one's death objectively and still carry a tune. - Woody Allen
7. There is no cure for birth or death save to enjoy the interval. - George Santayana
8. Life is terrible. Death is peaceful. It's the transition that's troublesome. -Isaac Asimov
9. Life is unfair. It's just fairer than death. That's all. - William Goldman
10. He is one of those people who would be enormously improved by death. -Saki

11. But in this world nothing can be said to be for certain, except death and taxes - Benjamin Franklin 

12. While you are not able to serve man, how can you serve spirits (of the dead)?... While you do not know life, how can you know about death? - Confucius

* * *
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Signifying nothing.
from Macbeth
(Act 5, Scene 5, lines 19-28)
by William Shakespeare

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Pope Benedict XVI, The Catholic Church and The Jews

In a forthcoming book timed for Lent and Easter, Pope Benedict XVI declared that the Jews collectively are not to be blamed for the death of Jesus. He said that the real accusers were the Jewish Temple authorities. To bolster his position, The Pope cited scripture. He then said, "How could the whole people be present to clamor for Jesus' death?" In his analysis of a phrase taken from the Gospel of Matthew, "His blood be on us (the Jews) and on our children" , Benedict says Jesus' blood "does not cry out for vengeance and punishment, it brings reconciliation. It is not poured out against anyone, it is poured out for many, for all." But, Benedict's statement is only a reiteration of The Catholic Church's teaching in its 1965 document, "Nostra Aetate", which said Jesus' death could not be attributed to the Jewish people either at the time or now.

However, this is the same Pope who was a member of The Hitler Youth and worked in a munitions factory almost to the end of the war. As Pope, in 2007 he revived an offensive prayer for the conversion of Jews, one of a number of texts struck out of the liturgy in the early 1960s that is considered offensive to Jews. 

Benedict has also backed the beatification (sainthood) process of Pope Pius XII, the World War II Pope and former Papal nuncio (ambassador) to Berlin during the early years of Hitler's power. Pius XII kept quiet regarding the murder of the Jews during the Holocaust and voiced no disapproval of Italian or Spanish fascism. Benedict defended his predecessor by saying the Vatican helped Jews "often in secret and discreet ways" but he never gave examples as to how. However, if The Pope openly defended the Jews, The President of Rome's Jewish community, Riccardo Pacifici, told Benedict "the silence of Pius XII before the Shoah [Holocaust], still hurts because something should have been done. Maybe it would not have stopped the death trains, but it would have sent a signal, a word of extreme comfort, of human solidarity, towards those brothers of ours transported to the ovens of Auschwitz."

A Very Brief History of Christian Anti-Semitism
1. Jesus was a Jew and died as a Jew.
2. Initially, those Jews who thought that Jesus was the Messiah and those who did not worshipped together on the Sabbath, but, conflicts arose and the Christianized Jews worship one day later, on Sunday.
3. Among the Christianized Jewish disciples, a debate broke out about where a convert had to become Jewish first in order to become a follower of Jesus. It was decided to follow St. Paul's point of view that it was not necessary to undergo circumcision and become a Jew in order to become a Christian. Doing away with the Jewish ritual of circumcision completed the split of the two religions.
4. When Christianity become the state religion of The Roman Empire in the 4th Century, Jews became the targets of intolerance. By the 5th Century, Jews were barred from the civil service, the army and the legal profession. And many synagogues were destroyed or confiscated.
5. As early as 167 CE, Jews were accused of deicide, the killing of God (Jesus). Although never part of Catholic dogma, the church never defended Jews from attacks by clergy and the people.
6. Anti-Semitism reached a feverish pitch during the crusades and during the plague or "Black Death". Jews were blamed both for the "loss" of the Holy Land and for the plague that swept Europe. Many Jews were murdered all over Europe and Jews were expelled from England, France and Austria. Except for one Pope, Clement VI, the church remained silent as the persecutions continued. During this period, Jews were accused of "blood liable" (drinking the blood of Christian babies during Passover) and forced into occupations forbidden at that time to Catholics, like money-lending. This also added to hatred of the Jews and stereotyping.
7. In 1492, Jews were expelled from Spain, and in 1496, they were expelled from Portugal. Many of them found safe haven in more tolerant Protestant and anti-Catholic, Holland.
8. In 1555, Pope Paul IV issued a document (Papal Bull) creating the ghetto of Rome in order to segregate Roman Jews from Roman Catholics. Jews had lived freely in Rome since ancient times but by order of The Pope were forced to live in one walled quarter with three gates that were locked at night. The Jews were also subjected to restrictions on their personal freedom, only allowed to be in certain professions, and forced to listen to Catholic sermons on the Jewish Sabbath (Saturday). It was the first Jewish ghetto in Europe but many more followed primarily in Catholic countries.
9. During the eighteenth and nineteen centuries, in most of Europe, rights were restored to Jews. One prominent exception was Russia where Jews were often the victims of persecution and discrimination. In the U.S. there was no formal or legal discrimination of Jews, although there were several instances of discrimination. For one, General Ulysses S, Grant forbade all commerce by Jews in Southern areas under his jurisdiction during The Civil War.
10. Following the defeat of Germany in World War I, Nazism, a political philosophy involving anti-Semitism arose. After Hitler came to power in 1933, the Nazis sought the systematic exclusion of all Jews from German life. Mass violence against Jews was encouraged by the Nazis, and on the night of November 9, 1938, there was a night of the killing of Jews, the destruction of their property and the torching of synagogues It is referred to as Kristallnacht. The Nazis invaded most of Europe and began a campaign called "the final solution", a mass extermination of the Jews of Europe. In all, about 6,000,000 Jews were slaughtered from every occupied country except Denmark. 

In Denmark during the Nazi occupation, King Christian X defiantly wore a Star of David armband in public to show solidarity with Danish Jews. Taking a cue from their King, many Danes followed their King's example. Who knows how many Jews might have survived had most religious leaders not remained silent and if Pope Pius XII had worn a Star of David armband in public. Perhaps then, Pius XII would really deserve sainthood

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

American Views about America vs.Reality

Perception is functional reality. What we perceive to be true forms the basis of our behavior. The belief does not necessarily have to be factual or true to affect our way of thinking and the way be behave. Just believe it is true is enough.

Most people believe that the world is round. But, there are still people who believe that the world is flat. They have even formed a formal group, the Flat Earth Society. And, they account for the disappearance of aircraft and ocean-going vessels by saying they had gone over the edge of the world. Most people have never seen a germ, but they believe germ's existence. And the fear of germs is the basis of many of our activities in the course of a day. Eventually, almost everyone on the planet weighs the evidence about the existence of God, comes to a conclusion, and that conclusion forms the basis of the individual's religious, morality, and ethetics behavior.

Most Americans perceive their nation as the center of the planet. U.S. maps reinforce this notion by placing the U.S. in the upper center of the map of the world. (Most other countries place their own nations in the center of their own world maps also.) But, there is no center in a round object.

There are other perceived perception which distort American reality as to who and what we are. One states that the U.S. is a democracy. However, contrary to popular belief, the U.S. is a republic but not a democracy. Republics have representative government, but democracies have majority rule. Nowhere in The Constitution, Declaration of Independence, or The Pledge of Allegiance does the word "democracy" appear. The U.S. has an elected Congress but at no level of government does the majority automatically rule. In three way races (with rare exceptions), the candidate with the greatest number of votes wins. Candidates with as little as 39% of the votes have been elected to The Senate (James L. Buckley). And, twice, the candidate who lost the popular voted was awarded the Presidency by a biased court or by a biased special commission (Rutherford B. Hayes and George W. Bush).

Other assumptions that Americans perceive as reality are:

1. U.S. is a peace-loving nation in spite of the fact that the U.S. has been involved in more wars and invasions than any other nation in the world over the last 150 years other than Bolivia.

2. The U. S. is a Christian nation in spite of the fact that no where is that stated in founding documents and in law. In fact, the Founding Father were wary of organized religion and many were Deists, believers in God but in no particular religion. And, from the very beginning there were Jews, practicers of African tribal religions, and Indian animists living in the new nation. One could also safely assume that among the skeptics of "organized religion", there were closet atheists and those who had no interest religion, but fear keep them silent.

3. Few people in the U. S. would object to the notion that America is a "civilized country". The same people never question the meaning of "civilized". The thesaurus defines "civilized" as cultured, educated, refined, enlightened, sophisticated, and non-violent. The U.S. literacy rate (reading on approximately the 6th grade reading level) is 99%, but is surpassed by 21 nations including its arch-enemy Cuba (99.9%). Science education is often mixed with religion and history is often "pro-America propaganda". The arts and music, the cornerstones of culture, have virtually disappeared from many schools and are considered expendable; sports programs are not. As a nation the majority of those in the U.S. say they value education but also are suspicious of academics, "elitists" and "too much education". To prove my point, when was the last time the media spotlighted a poet, scientist, college professor, thinker, philosopher or serious writer as opposed to a drug-addled actor, a football player or a rock star who will be here today and gone tomorrow. As to violence, it is rampant in America. The gun violence death rate alone hovers at around 70,000 a year. Finally, the U.S. is the only western industrial nation that permits capital punishment, and in certain instances, even for minors.

4. Most people believe that the U.S. government is "government of the people, by the people and for the people". Nice phrase Mr. Lincoln, but it is not true. This government has always been the playground of the rich, the wealthy and powerful. The politicians are beholden to them for campaign contributions. The Senate of the U.S. is a millionaire's club. When it came to a bail-out of Wall Street and the banks, all branches of government mobilized quickly, but when it came to unemployment insurance and employing the nearly 10% of unemployed Americans because of a recession created by Wall Street and the banks, a line was drawn in the sand. The corporate funded right-wing Tea Party was set up to blame and screw the American worker. Finally, a biased and corrupt Supreme Court said in a 5 to 4 decision that the wealthy corporations had the same rights as citizens and could spend as much as they want in elections as their poorer counterparts, the average citizen. It thereby legalized the concept of "Government of the corporations, by the powerful and for the wealthy."