Saturday, October 10, 2015

Freedom of Speech and Freedom of thought

I have previously spoken and written of how freedom of speech and freedom of thought are fundamental to Buddha Dharma and Buddha practice, in my opinion. Here are a few examples:

Freedom of Thought, Freedom from Thought   5/22/15

Freedom of Thought, Freedom from Thought Part 2   5/23/15

There are many instances where our society and polity is attempting to use political, financial and other powers to stifle and destroy these fundamental freedoms.

Freedom includes freedom for those with whom we disagree, those whom we think are "wrong" in our opinion. Here is a report of a recent example sent to me:

"Advocates of climate regulation are urging the Obama Administration to investigate people who don’t share their views.

Last month George Mason Professor Jagadish Shukla and 19 others signed a letter to President Obama, Attorney General Loretta Lynch and White House science adviser John Holdren urging punishment for climate dissenters. “One additional tool—recently proposed by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse—is a RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) investigation of corporations and other organizations that have knowingly deceived the American people about the risks of climate change, as a means to forestall America’s response to climate change,” they wrote.

In other words, they want the feds to use a law created to prosecute the mafia against lawful businesses and scientists. In a May op-ed in the Washington Post, Mr. Whitehouse specifically cited Willie Soon of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, who has published politically inconvenient research on changes in solar radiation."

Friday, October 9, 2015

A Palestinian State - and - An Israeli State

Having posted several articles about the ongoing violence between Palestinians and Israelis, I was sent a new article which further elaborated on a proposed solution. Realistic? It does not seem so to me. But still there is something to it. If you are interested, read this excerpt and see how it seems to you.

"The Palestinian Authority, despite being the recipient of many Marshall Plans worth of foreign aid, is a limping kleptocracy that is widely hated by the people it rules and is incapable even of holding a presidential election, a feat last achieved in 2005. Palestinian officialdom may fan and even fund sporadic violent attacks against Israelis, but try imagining anyone truly wanting to die for the PA. Hamas, on the other hand, has no shortage of homocidal maniacs —it was its men who murdered Eitam and Na’ama Henkin in front of their children—and no shortage of incentives with which to recruit more. There is also the prospect of Iranian patronage, now that Tehran stands to receive $100 billion in sanctions money from Obama in return for signing on for a strict regime of nuclear self-inspection. But Hamas can’t get too cozy with Iran, or else it will risk alienating its Sunni patrons in the Gulf, who see Tehran as a mortal enemy, and are currently fighting Iran and Russia in Syria. In turn, the Iranians need to worry about the Russians, whose help they need in order to keep Assad in power. The Russians need to worry about the Iranians, while the Islamic State worries everyone. In a climate of such wild uncertainly, the only one thing that is assured is more and even uglier violence.

The Israelis have their own mind-bending dissonances to contend with. Some still believe that the conflict is primarily about the settlements, or the Occupation, or any number of mantras that have been mumbled in the cafes and public parks of Tel Aviv since the late 1970s. Yet even the most devoted mantra-chanters realize that if the Palestinians have any real historical grievance, it began not in 1967 but in 1948 or, even, in 1882, with the first wave of Zionist immigration. If you truly believe the Zionists to be colonialist occupiers—and the secular Palestinian leadership clearly does, just as Hamas does, and just as some Europeans gladly and hypocritically do—why is northern Tel Aviv, erected on the ruins of Sheikh Munis, any different from Ariel or Efrat, or any other Jewish community in the West Bank? It isn’t.

Most Israelis grasp this point instinctively, which is why they have refrained, since the outbreak of the second intifada, from giving their support to political parties that  so much as hint that Israel’s primal sin began when Jews returned to Hebron. Most Israelis also understand that the Despair Defense—arguing that Palestinians are driven to violence because they can no longer see any possibility of peaceful coexistence, which is all Israel’s fault, because the Israelis are so relentlessly cruel and oppressive, and uproot so many centuries-old olive trees—is pure hokum. This argument may still be peddled by high-ranking Israeli doves and Palestinian propagandists alike, but it has relatively little to do with Israeli behavior in the West Bank: the despair that most ordinary Palestinians feel ought to be, and often is, directed toward Abbas and the others who purloined their future. Had the billions the PA received in foreign aid been directed toward schools, jobs, and the other staples of a healthy society, Palestinians might be easily able to imagine a robust future for themselves, regardless of whether Jewish bee-keepers and Torah scholars chose to also live in the West Bank, and spend their money there.

These realizations lead to a strange sense of clarity. If you believe that Israel ought to remain a democratic Jewish homeland and not some fantastical one-state monstrosity or the newest province of the Islamic State, you realize that this seemingly complex conflict has only two simple, practical solutions.

The first is to agree with Abbas that Oslo is dead, and act swiftly and mercilessly against the terrorist cells that launch or inspire those who stab, shoot, and blow up Jews. Israel has undertaken such operations before. Now, it ought to bulk up its list of targets to include anyone implicated in homicidal violence, and keep at it until the vile gunmen and martyr-manufacturers and terrorist paymasters who have robbed so many Israelis—and Palestinians—of life and limb and hope are brought to justice.

Even if such an operation miraculously succeeds with few Israeli casualties, however, it would still leave Israel intertwined with the Palestinians, which is very bad news for the Jews. As their leaders proved again and again and again, the real Palestinian project isn’t the establishment of an independent nation state living side-by-side with Israel in peace. That goal, which American Presidents liked to celebrate, and Arabs paid occasional lip-service to, could’ve been accomplished dozens of times in the past 21 years. But that would’ve meant making the kind of painful concessions that every grown-up routinely has to make, as well as doing boring stuff like building houses and roads and schools, which in turn might suggest that the half-loaf of “Palestine” was really the end of the game.

Instead, the Palestinian leadership has chosen to let its people waste their lives in squalid camps and prison while squandering the cash and the goodwill it has received for decades, squirreling away hundreds of millions of dollars in stolen aid money in foreign bank accounts, and throwing lavish weddings for their children—and then using pictures of the suffering they nurture to reinforce the narrative of Palestinian victimhood and Israeli guilt before an endlessly indulgent global community that apparently couldn’t give one fig about what actually happens to a single Israeli or a single Palestinian child. The entire purpose of “Palestine” as imagined by Arafat and Abbas and the other Brahmins of Ramallah is to serve as a gangrenous limb that will eventually kill the Israeli body to which it is attached.

Which brings me to the second practical solution: the unilateral disengagement plan that Ariel Sharon was working to accomplish before he suffered a massive brain aneurysm. Look at a map of Judea and Samaria, as Sharon did several times a day, and you’ll notice that the lion’s share of Jewish communities are neatly aligned in a way that allows them all to remain a part of Israel should Israel decide to unilaterally annex a thin strip of the West Bank. Annex it, and annex the Jordan Valley, too, a very thinly unpopulated area that is essential to maintaining Israel’s security if the neighboring Kingdom of Jordan falls, or the Islamic State makes further gains in Iraq—both of which seem at the moment like better than even bets. Israel could then erect a large wall—a practice that has proven successful over the past decade in stopping some of the most murderous Palestinian terrorists from reaching their targets inside Israel—escort all Palestinian prisoners currently held in Israel to the other side of that barrier, and wait.

If the Palestinians choose to celebrate their disentanglement from Israel by building a functioning democratic state with literary festivals, protections for religious minorities, decent colleges, and well-paved streets, Israel should be the first to massively support it, financially as well as diplomatically. If they opt for another Gaza and celebrate the Israeli withdrawal with missiles and terror tunnels, Israel should forcefully act against such aggressions the same way any other sane nation would.

Using bulldozers to effect a clear physical separation between Israelis and Palestinians is no one’s fantasy of peaceful co-existence. But it could be a start—and it’s certainly better than what Israelis and Palestinians have now. The fact that it doesn’t conform to what anyone imagined circa 1993 seems about as relevant to the situation as the rest of what people imagined back in those halcyon years right after the Cold War ended: a beneficent Pax Americana, the end of history, many more Nirvana albums, and other wishes that never came to pass.

Unilateral separation might also help end the confusion that some people on both sides of the conflict feel when contemplating their fidelities. Israeli Arabs who deeply resent living in a Jewish state—like the scum who sipped his soft drink as innocents were being stabbed in front of his eyes in Jerusalem the other day, or the shopkeepers who laughed and spat at a wounded Jewish woman seeking shelter for herself and her toddler—could opt to move to the other side of the fence, where they can live without a single Jew anywhere in sight. And those Jews who live in communities that would have to be abandoned—a tragedy, to be sure, but one that’s nearly impossible to avoid—would similarly have to decide if they’d rather remain in Hebron under Palestinian rule or abandon their daily communion with the ancient stones of the holy city of Abraham and Sarah for the safety and sustainability of life in a thriving, modern State of Israel.

These are difficult choices. And neither scenario I suggest is without major risks. But the current situation is risky as well, and it isn’t likely to get any better. Ideally, Israel could opt for option one followed by option two: Fight terror without compromise, and then disengage from the Palestinians while retaining as many of the Jewish communities in the West Bank as is humanly possible. Neither of these solutions would bring anything truly deserving of the word “peace”—which is an untenable goal unless both sides want it and probably unreachable right now even if they did. But either one would likely make walking down the street in Ashdod or Jerusalem or Petach Tikva a bit safer than it is right now, which is the kind of hard-headed practical achievement that Zionism once celebrated. And in a region where artificial states are collapsing into what is likely to be a decades-long series of wars fueled by religious hatred and manias and paid for with a seemingly endless supply of petro-dollars, which are used to buy still more powerful weapons, the value of small victories should not be easily dismissed."

Saturday, October 3, 2015

"The failure of Palestinian leaders to seriously grapple with the Oslo framework leads to more senseless deaths"

Can the following lead to peace or escalate violence?

"Eitam Henkin, a doctoral student at Tel-Aviv University, where he won the prestigious Nathan Rotenstreich scholarship, and his wife Na’ama, an accomplished graphic designer who ran her own studio, were driving back from a class reunion to their home in Neria, a small community of 250 families in Samaria. In the back of their white Subaru station wagon, four of their six children—the oldest one nine, the youngest four months—were dozing off.

 As they drove past the Palestinian village of Beit Furik, gunmen affiliated with the PLO approached the Henkins’ car and shot both adults to death at close range. The children watched in silence from the back seat as their parents’ torsos were torn apart by a hail of bullets. The children’s silence saved their lives: likely unnoticed by the murderers, they seemed to have been spared a similar fate.

The world’s silence in response to the murders of Eitam and Na’ama, and the spate of similar murders recently perpetrated by Palestinian terror organizations acting with the encouragement and oftentimes at the direction of Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian national movement, has no such silver lining. When asked by an Israeli news reporter how the Henkins’ orphaned children were responding to their parents’ death, a neighbor responded, “They are crying.” Those whose eyes are dry have something to answer for....

Western leaders and even a portion of diaspora Jewry justifies its refusal to notice or name the current wave of murderous Palestinian terror attacks on the grounds that the deceased are mostly “settlers”—a special category of civilians whose murder is always, if not justified, then easy enough for those who attended the right universities and who read the right newspapers to understand.

After all, what were Eitam and Na’ama Henkin doing in the West Bank in the first place, living on land that Palestinians claim as the territory of their future state—which has already been recognized by the U.N.? The fact that the land where the Henkins live is also holy to Jews, who have in fact lived there for millennia, is irrelevant next to the larger internationally-sanctioned truth that Israel is guilty of war crimes. What is the murder of two gentle people, or 12, or 23, or the current wave of stonings, shootings, and stabbings, or some ad hoc ethnic cleansing, or thousands of rockets launched against kindergartens and residential neighborhoods, next to decades of Israeli occupation and repression? The only sane response to such tragedies is a renewed push for greater tolerance and co-existence. And so forth, and so on.

This madness must stop. The man who commands Na’ama and Eitam’s executioners, PLO Chairman and Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas, was unambiguous in his speech this week at the United Nations that he intended to no longer hold himself accountable to the Oslo peace accords. His actions speak even louder than his words. The Henkins’s murder is proof, if any additional proof was needed, that the PLO remains nothing more than a terrorist organization that after 30 years of pushing and prodding and Nobel prizes and billions of dollars in international aide is unwilling to negotiate any kind of reasonable peace agreement, and has stopped paying lip-service to the goal of two states living side by side in peace."

The Palestinian Authority's responses is highlighted in the following:

"In a written communique published on the official news agency Wafa, PA government spokesman Ihab Bseiso called on the international community to intervene following “the killing of two young men in occupied Jerusalem and the series of incursions into cities and villages in the West Bank.” 

The statement made no mention of the fact that the two dead Palestinians had been killed while carrying out stabbing attacks against Israeli civilians.

On Saturday night Palestinian Mohammad Halabi carried out a stabbing spree in Jerusalem’s Old City, killing Nehemia Lavi, 41, and Aharon Banito, 21, and wounding Banito’s wife and 2-year-old baby, police said.

Hours later, Palestinian Fadi Aloon stabbed an Israeli teen near the Old City’ Damascus gate.

Both Halabi and Aloon were shot and killed at the scene.

“The only solution is the end of the Israeli occupation of our occupied Palestinian land and the establishment of our independent state on the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital,” Bseiso wrote.

The statement did not condemn or mention the killings of Naama and Eitam Henkin, who were shot to death in a Palestinian terror attack on Thursday in the West Bank."

Here is an account of the stabbing from one of the victims, after she emerged from surgery. Her husband was killed in the attack.

"On Sunday, the widow of 21 year-old Israeli Aharon Banita-Bennett—-who along with 41 year-old Rabbi Nehemia Lavi was murdered in a terrorist attack in Old City on Saturday night—-awoke from a medically induced coma and recounted how Arab witnesses “clapped and laughed” as she pleaded for help after being stabbed in the incident.

Israeli Media are reporting that Adelle Banita-Bennett relayed details of the attack to Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi David Lau who had made his way to the hospital after speaking at her husband’s funeral.

“I ran for dozens of meters with a knife in my shoulder, bleeding,” Adelle Banita-Bennett told Lau. “Arabs in the area who saw this horrible scene clapped and laughed, and told that they hoped for my quick death.”

“I felt I was about to faint,” Adelle said. “I tried to hold on to someone who passed by, and they just shook me off and kicked me, and said ‘die.’”

An Arab Israeli Member of Parliament explains the Palestinian responses:

Knesset member Ayman Odeh, the head of the Joint List party, told Army Radio that while he opposes armed conflict, he would not dictate to the Palestinians how they should fight Israel.
“I will not set red lines for the Arab nation; they will decide how to fight the occupation. I support the struggle of the Palestinian people to establish a Palestinian state alongside the State of Israel. I will always hold the Israeli occupation to blame; I cannot tell the Palestinians how to fight their fight,” said Odeh."

Here is another report: 

Here is a review of the situation from another source:

And here is a Palestinian critique of Palestinian leaders:

"Illegal immigrants—along with other noncitizens without the right to vote—may pick the 2016 presidential winner."

  As regards US presidential elections, the following is an interesting and cautionary analysis. No, this is NOT about voter fraud.

" Thanks to the unique math undergirding the Electoral College, the mere presence of 11-12 million illegal immigrants and other noncitizens here legally may enable them to swing the election from Republicans to Democrats.

The right to vote is intended to be a singular privilege of citizenship. But the 1787 Constitutional Convention rejected allowing the people to directly elect their President. The delegates chose instead our Electoral College system, under which 538 electoral votes distributed amongst the states determine the presidential victor. The Electoral College awards one elector for each U.S. Senator, thus 100 of the total, and D.C. gets three electors pursuant to the 23rd Amendment. Those electoral numbers are unaffected by the size of the noncitizen population....
Since the census is used to determine the number of House seats apportioned to each state, those states with large populations of illegal immigrants and other noncitizens gain extra seats in the House at the expense of states with fewer such “whole number of persons.” This math gives strongly Democratic states an unfair edge in the Electoral College."

For the rest of this article see:

Violence and war as the religious world

The following is a fascinating and portentous analysis by Jonathan Sacks of the wars and human suffering which are arising throughout the world in the 21st century - with prescriptions for reductions of violence and war. I encourage you to read the article.

"The West was caught unprepared by the rise of Islamic State, as it was a decade and a half ago by the attacks of al Qaeda and as the Soviet Union was by the determination of the mujahedeen of Afghanistan in the 1980s. These are among the worst failures of political intelligence in modern times, and the consequences have been disastrous.

The unpreparedness was not accidental. It happened because of a blind spot in the secular mind: the inability to see the elemental, world-shaking power of religion when hijacked by politics. Ever since the rise of modern science, intellectuals have been convinced that faith is in intensive care, about to die or at least rendered harmless by exclusion from the public square.

But not all regions of the world have gone through this process. Not all religions have allowed themselves to be excluded from the public square. And when secular revolutions fail, we should know by now that we can expect religious counterrevolutions.

Religion has lately demanded our attention not as a still, small voice but as a whirlwind...the essential task now is to think through the connection between religion and violence.

Three answers have emerged in recent years. The first: Religion is the major source of violence. Therefore, if we seek a more peaceful world, we should abolish religion. The second: Religion is not a source of violence. It may be used by manipulative leaders to motivate people to wage wars precisely because it inspires people to heroic acts of self-sacrifice, but religion itself teaches us to love and forgive, not to hate and fight. The third: Their religion, yes; our religion, no. We are for peace. They are for war.

None of these is true."

For the rest of the article and comments, some of which are quite insightful and critical of the article, see:

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Brains and Genes - The more we examine, the more our assumptions are proven wrong.

 Recent research has indicted that the role of genes is much more complex than we thought.

"People talk about an individual’s genome as if it was a single consistent entity—but it isn’t. Every one of us actually contains a cosmopolitan melting pot of different genomes. Our 37 trillion or so cells all arose from a single fertilized egg, and as this progenitor divided again and again, its daughters picked up mutations in their DNA that distinguished them, and their descendants, from their neighbors.

Scientists can now detect the subtle differences between these dynasties and trace their lines of ancestry. That is, they can reconstruct the genealogy of a single body. And they’re finding that these family trees are more convoluted than anyone suspected...."

This article further explores some recent research with links to the original work.

“The assumption has always been that the genomes within every individual are identical,” says McConnell. “Now that we know that assumption is false, it's forced a rethink.”

For example, many neurological disorders like schizophrenia run strongly in families, but large studies have identified genes that explain just a small fraction of this heritability. Maybe that’s because “we’ve been looking at blood genomes to understand brain genomes,” says McConnell. By analyzing DNA taken from blood samples, we’re missing a lot of the important mutations that are hidden in neurons themselves—or in specific pockets of neurons. “Maybe the missing heritability lies in these brain genomes.”

Here is another review  of recent research:

And here are some of the original scientific articles:

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

"If I ate an Inuit diet......"

"If I ate an Inuit diet, extremely low in plants and high in fats from oily fish and blubbery mammals, my blood vessels would soon be screaming out for mercy. The Inuit themselves have no such problem. They have long since adapted to their distinctive diet, and have several unusually common variants in genes that metabolize fatty acids."

These are the first sentences of an interesting article reviewing genetic variation among small groups in climatic extremes and what the"rest" of us humans can learn from this. The article has links to some of the original research. If you are interested in the topic, or in the possibilities of human adaptation to extreme conditions, to changing conditions, it is worth while.