Archive for January, 2014

Carless Cities

January 28, 2014

Most people in Europe and America take it for granted that they can drive their cars wherever they want or need to go, but that could change if planners in some cities have their way. I learned about this development from CNBC via The Drudge Report.

Germany, home of the high-speed autobahn, is perhaps one of the few countries that has had as intense a love affair with the automobile as the U.S. But in an effort to go green, the country’s second-largest city is studying ways to eliminate cars by 2034.

The northern city of Hamburg has laid out an initial concept, named the Green Network Plan, that would expand public transportation and add more routes for pedestrians and bicyclists. The most controversial aspect of the plan calls for a steady phase-out of automobiles in the center of the city over the next two decades.

And Hamburg might not be alone. The idea of banning, or at least reducing, the use of automobiles in city centers has become an increasingly hot topic among urban planners, especially in Europe and other industrialized countries dealing with issues as diverse as congestion and smog.

“Other cities, including London, have green rings, but the green network will be unique in covering an area from the outskirts to the city center,” Hamburg city spokeswoman Angelika Fritsch told The Guardian newspaper. “In 15 to 20 years, you’ll be able to explore the city exclusively on bike and foot.”

There are already a handful of car-free communities around the world, but they’re typically small and often focused on tourists seeking a quaint throwback in time. Examples include Michigan’s Mackinac Island or Sark island off the English Channel coast of the U.K.; perhaps the largest is Venice, which simply has no way to open up roads linking its network of small islands.

But a number of major cities, including the likes of Paris, London and even New York, have been exploring ways to reduce the number of vehicles on their streets, if not to ban vehicles outright.

London introduced a much-debated congestion charge for vehicles driving into the center of the city in 2003. The program had a dual purpose—reducing commuter traffic while also raising new funds to support the city’s expansive mass transit system. The charge is 10 British pounds per day.

Several other cities have adopted a similar approach, though former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s bid to put one in place in crowded Manhattan was blocked by state lawmakers. Nonetheless, changes have been made in several parts of Manhattan, including a stretch near the theater district, to create pedestrian zones to absorb the mass of tourists.

Many urban planners accuse automobiles of killing street life, with roadways often dividing once-connected neighborhoods, and creating endemic air and noise pollution. They also cite them as as being a major factor in pedestrian deaths and injuries.

Lord Richard Rogers, a British architect and long-time advisor on urban issues, suggested last year that London should become “a people space rather than the car space it currently is.”

I’m glad Mayor Bloomberg didn’t get his way, for once. I wonder if Lord Richard Rogers or Angelika Fritsch have any intention of asking the people of London or Hamburg whether they would like to do without automobiles. I have a feeling that a great many of the residents of these and other cities consider that the benefits of being able to go where you want,when you want to outweigh the costs of smog and congestion.I also have a feeling that the urban planners and city spokespeople,as well as other members of the elite, will get some sort of special waiver allowing them to drive, or be driven, in otherwise carless regions.

What do planners and progressives have against the automobile anyway? They have been trying to get us out of our cars and into buses and trains almost since Henry Ford introduced the Model T. Is it the freedom that comes with being able to drive that they resent? Do they prefer it if everyone had to stay in one place? Maybe they think only the proper sort of people, the ones who are environmentally or socially enlightened. Those of us backward peasants should walk or ride the bus. Maybe they really are concerned about congestion or pollution. I agree that these are real problems, especially in older cities with narrower streets and if I lived in New York or Hamburg, I probably wouldn’t find owning an automobile as necessary as I do in rural Indiana, but I think I would resent being told I couldn’t have one, just because urban planners want to make the city where I live a “people space”.

 

 

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Corporations Are People

January 26, 2014

The title of this post is taken from the 1973 film Soylent Green, set in the dystopian, overpopulated world of 2022. The bulk of the world’s population subsists on manufactured food called Soylent Green. Charlton Heston plays a police detective charged with investigating the murder of a wealthy businessman. At the end of the movie, Heston discovers that Soylent Green is made from human remains and, seriously injured, he tries to spread the word that Soylent Green is people.

Corporations are not people in a physical or moral sense, of course. No corporation could be mistaken for a human being. Nevertheless, corporations are considered to be persons in a legal sense. Before I get into explaining this, I should begin by saying just what a corporation actually is.

Many people on the Left seem to think  that a corporation is some sort of alien entity that dropped down from outer space and is intent on using up all the world’s resources. While there are certainly corporations that act like that, that is not what a corporation is. A corporation is simply an entity that has been incorporated through legislation or a registration process established by law. A corporation is one of three ways in which businesses are legally organized in the United States, the others being sole proprietorships and partnerships. A sole proprietorship is owned by one person while a partnership is owned by more than one person. In each case, the owners of the business are entirely responsible for any debts or damages the business accrues and there is no legal distinction between the owners of the business and the business itself. With a corporation there is a legal distinction the  between the owners of the business (the shareholders) and the business itself. A corporation is a separate legal entity from its owners and this is where corporate personhood comes in.

Because a corporation is a legal person, the owners or shareholders can enjoy limited liability for the debts or damages incurred by the corporation. They are separate from the corporation and are not financially responsible for the corporation beyond what they have invested in it. There are actually some very good reasons why corporations are considered persons.

Suppose you own a few shares of Acme Widgets. This makes you a part owner of Acme Widgets, even if the shares you own are only .01% of the total number of shares. Now, suppose someone is injured when one of Acme’s widgets explodes and he decides to sue Acme Widgets for negligence. If the corporation were not a separate legal entity, or a person, you could be held partially responsible for Acme’s negligence and you could be required to appear in court, along with thousands of other shareholders. If the court rules against Acme, you could be required to pay part of the damages. If Acme Widgets goes out of business because their widgets keep exploding, you could find Acme’s creditors at your door, demanding that you pay your share of Acme’s debt. Also, that man who decided to sue Acme Widgets might find it very difficult to sure a thousand separate owners of Acme Widgets. Since the corporation is a legal person, it can be represented in court as a person, and found liable for damages, indicted for crimes, etc. Considering corporations as persons makes it much easier for the courts to deal with them.

This limiting of liability is the most important advantage the corporation has over other ways of organizing business. Because liability is limited, investing in the company is less risky. Were it not for limited liability, only the very wealthy, or reckless, would be able to invest in the stock market, and companies would find it much more difficult to raise capital. There are a number of controversial issues relating to corporate personhood, especially regarding just what rights corporations have compared to actual human beings, and like anything else, the concept can be abused, but the idea of corporate personhood itself is a beneficial one.

 

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Speeding

January 24, 2014

I have mentioned before that I have found Cracked.com unusually informative for a comedy website. Not too long ago they ran an article on Five Ways Your Brain is Turning You into a Jerk. Number three on this list refers to Time Saving Bias, the idea that if we drive above the speed limit we are saving a large amount of valuable time.

We all know that driver: the one who’s constantly speeding like she’s a heart surgeon zipping back and forth between two patients she’s simultaneously operating on in different cities. Please excuse the language.

Now, here comes the twist: There’s a good chance that driver is actually you.

If you’ve ever found yourself driving like an asshole, it could be simply because you are an asshole. However, there is another, stranger explanation: Maybe you do it because your brain prevents you from understanding the very concept of time. Time-saving bias, a very specialized bastard trick of our cranial command center, scrambles our ability to estimate the time that can be saved by increasing speed. Basically, your brain is poker-facedly explaining that driving faster will turn you into a Time Lord, and you’re happy to comply in case it’s telling the truth, because who wouldn’t?

The routine misestimations caused by time-saving bias are more common (and extreme) for some people than others, and often lead to speeding and — by extension — all the assorted shithead antics that follow when you wipe your ass with the speed limit.

Scientists are still attempting to wrap their heads around time-saving bias and how large of a part the phenomenon plays in the brain’s already impressive arsenal of traffic sabotage.

After reading this, I wondered just how much time I actually save by driving fast. What if I had to drive for sixty miles at a constant speed of sixty miles per hour? I would be driving at one mile per minute so it would take me one hour, or sixty minutes to reach my destination. But, what if the speed limit on the road were 30 miles per hour? Well, then I would be driving at only one half a mile per minute so the drive would take 120 minutes or two hours. If the speed limit were 55 miles per hour, I would be driving at about .917 miles per minute so the drive would take about 65 minutes. If I were in a hurry, I might drive 65 miles per hour, or 1.08 miles per minute so the trip would take only about 55 minutes. Five minutes either way doesn’t seem like a lot.

I sometimes have to drive from Madison to North Vernon as part of my job. The distance between the two towns is around 27 miles. The road is not straight but has several curves and it goes through the small town of Dupont, which has a lower speed limit. It usually takes me about 35 minutes to drive from Madison to North Vernon. Suppose that is the time if I drive an average of 55 miles per hour. How much time do I save by driving faster? If I go 60 miles per hour I am driving 1.09 times faster so the travel time should be .9167 times shorter or about 32 minutes. If I decide to risk getting a ticket and go at 70 miles per hour than I am driving 1.27 times faster so the travel time should be .79 times shorter or about 28 minutes. Saving five to ten minutes doesn’t seem to be worth the risk of being stopped and made to pay a fine.

So, now that I have run the numbers and seen that speeding doesn’t really save that much time, am I going to stop speeding and obey every speed limit? Of course not. If I am going 5 miles per hour faster than the speed limit, my brain is telling me I am traveling at warp speed and who doesn’t want to feel like Captain Kirk on the Enterprise?

 

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A Pattern

January 24, 2014

Looking over some of the news items on the Drudge Report, I notice a certain pattern which makes me wonder if I am still living in America. First there is the indictment of Dinesh D’Souza.

Conservative filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza, whose documentary 2016: Obama’s America took a critical look at President Barack Obama and was a surprise hit in 2012, will be arrested in New York on Friday for allegedly violating campaign-finance laws, The Hollywood Reporter has learned.

Federal authorities accuse D’Souza of donating more than is legal to the campaign of Wendy Long, who ran in 2012 for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Hillary Clinton but lost to now-Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. Long, though, is not mentioned in an indictment obtained by THR on Thursday.

Insiders say D’Souza has been friends with Long since they attended Dartmouth College together in the early 1980s. According to the indictment, D’Souza donated $20,000 to Long’s campaign by aggregating the money from various people and falsely reporting the source of the funds. But Gerald Molen, a co-producer of 2016, says the charge is politically motivated.

“In America, we have a long tradition of not doing what is commonly done in too many other countries — criminalizing dissent through the selective enforcement of the law,” Molen tells THR.

D’Souza first learned he was being investigated in the middle of 2013, several months after 2016 had earned $33 million at the box office and become the second-most-popular political documentary in U.S. history. The film included an interview with Obama’s half-brother, George Obama, who was mildly critical of the president.

Molen says D’Souza is being singled out for “an alleged minor violation” in the same way the IRS reportedly targeted conservative Tea Party groups for retribution. “In light of the recent events and the way the IRS has been used to stifle dissent, this arrest should send shivers down the spines of all freedom-loving Americans,” Molen says.

D’Souza was in San Diego working on his next film and book, each to be called America, when he was informed he was about to be indicted and that he should fly to New York and turn himself in to authorities. The indictment came late Thursday, according to those with knowledge of the situation.

Maybe that long tradition is ending. Maybe not. But then there is the case of conservative activist James O’Keefe being investigated by the state of New York.

Conservative activist James O’Keefe is accusing New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo‘s administration of targeting his group with document requests and a subpoena, claiming the Democratic governor’s recent comments critical of conservatives “aren’t simply words.”

O’Keefe, whose Project Veritas is behind a series of hidden-camera investigations against left-leaning groups and causes, made the claims on the heels of the controversy over a recent Cuomo interview. In it, Cuomo blasted “extreme conservatives who are right-to-life, pro-assault-weapon, anti-gay” and said they “have no place” in New York. He later walked back his remarks, and said they were being taken out of context in the media.

But O’Keefe claimed that Cuomo’s government is acting on those words, revealing that the Department of Labor has hit his office in Westchester County, N.Y., with demands for financial documents for months. He compared it to IRS targeting of conservative groups nationwide.

Reached for comment, the Department of Labor said it was a routine request and a routine process.

“Every business that files in the State of New York that uses independent contractors is required by law to submit additional information to ensure that all workers are classified appropriately as either employees or independent contractors…” the department said in a statement.

“This helps to ensure workers receive coverage under unemployment law and businesses are not faced with unexpected charges at a future date if an individual files a claim against them.

“In this instance, as we did in 3,500 cases last year alone, the Department of Labor sought this additional information. After receiving no response, DOL issued follow up letters and phone calls. After 6 months of not receiving a response, as a matter of protocol, DOL issued subpoenas to obtain the requested information.”

For his part, O’Keefe said in a statement, “Governor Cuomo’s shocking words this past week aren’t simply words. Governor Cuomo and the New York Department of Labor are on a witch hunt, demanding all documents and financials since our founding. … His goal, of course, is to harass us and limit our effectiveness by tying us up in court. Just like President Obama used the IRS to target and suppress conservatives, Governor Cuomo is using his Department of Labor to do the same exact thing.”

O’Keefe, who repeatedly has been accused of deceptive practices by liberal groups, has built a reputation as a conservative provocateur. His hidden-camera investigations contributed to the downfall of advocacy group ACORN. With Project Veritas, his group continues to expose alleged fraud and misbehavior with the federal health care law, green jobs programs and more.

In accusing New York state of targeting the organization, Project Veritas released a subpoena issued on Jan. 9 from the Department of Labor. The document orders representatives from the organization to show up on Jan. 28 with a slew of documents, ranging from Social Security returns to unemployment insurance returns to check stubs.

The group claims its finances are “meticulously maintained to the penny” and calls the inquiries “meritless.” A statement said Project Veritas would be relocating to New Jersey.

Further, the group claimed that it complied with an earlier document request and showed up for a scheduled meeting on Dec. 13, but state labor officers “never showed up.”

“Just like the IRS, they are simply intimidating and targeting us,” Project Veritas said in a statement, while also trying to raise money off the allegations.

Surely, they are not. It must be a coincidence that the IRS is investigating Hollywood conservatives.

On Thursday, Megyn Kelly of Fox News reported on a developing story out of tinseltown where the group Friends of Abe — a networking group for Hollywood conservatives — had allegedly been targeted by the IRS.

The report began with Fox west-coast anchor, Trace Gallagher, who stated the following:

The group is called ‘Friends of Abe’, named after Abraham Lincoln, and its made up of 1500 conservative members of the entertainment industry. They gather for things like meals, drinks, and to learn about the political process. It is now seeking 501(c)(3) tax exempt status, so that donations could be tax deductible just like some progressive groups. Getting the exemption would prohibit the group from partisan activity. Now ‘Friends of Abe’ acknowledges having speakers like Karl Rove and Herman Cain, but they deny having a political agenda. ‘Friends of Abe’ says it doesn’t just suspect they were being targeted by the IRS, they say they were told they’re being targeted by the IRS.

Friends of Abe Executive Director and TruthRevolt Managing Editor Jeremy Boreing provided the following comment:

We understand through our attorneys that our agent at the IRS who was handling our file, specifically said we had been targeted on the BOLO list. So I think that probably the reason we’re being targeted is we filed as a conservative educational fellowship.

The struggle for 501(c)(3) status went on for nearly three years with no answer from the IRS. In the ensuing struggle, the group also received repeatedly very private questions about their members identities. In regards to the privacy violations, Boreing stated:

If we were the local chapter of the Lion’s Club, we would protect the privacy of our members. People who join the organization are not seeking publicity. We’re not advocating for anything. We’re not trying to accomplish any objective politically or even from a Hollywood business point of view.

The IRS has not yet commented on this revelation. Friends of Abe prefers to keep its members private for fear they will be blacklisted in what is generally considered a left-leaning industry.

Which might be why the IRS would like to know who its members are. Well, people wanted hope and change. I guess we have the change, though not in a direction I would like to see.

 

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Israel Treats Wounded Syrians

January 22, 2014

If anyone wonders why I tend to support the State of Israel over its enemies then they should read this story from Israel Hayom which I found courtesy of Jihad Watch.

Israel Defense Forces troops brought a wounded Syrian couple to Poriah Hospital near Tiberias Thursday night. The couple, residents of the embattled town Daraa, arrived with gunshot wounds in their legs. The male is 27 years old and his wife is 23 and in the early stages of pregnancy.

While the two did not have life threatening wounds, the two have been through an immense amount of duress recently: Two months ago, the couple lost their daughter two weeks after she was born. “Because of the gunfire and the siege on our town in the Daraa area, we were left with no choice but to deliver the child at home — and the medical condition of my baby deteriorated,” the woman told Israel Hayom. “All our pleading at the [Syrian] army checkpoint to go to the hospital did not help. We went back home and our daughter died there.”

Eight days ago, the couple was struck with another tragedy. Their village came under attack, “artillery bombardment, gunfire, and planes bombing from above,” the woman said. “In the evening my brother came and took us, my mother and two other wounded people and we tried to flee the village. During our exit from the village we were fired on by the army and my brother was killed before my eyes. We managed to escape back to the village and were treated in a field hospital. But the wounds got worse — until my cousin took us to the border and we got into Israel for treatment,” the woman said. Her brother, 19, fought with rebels trying to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime.

Currently the couple remains hospitalized, both in the same room. The woman is struggling with being away from her family, but admitted that she did not expect such friendly treatment from her enemy. “We were surprised by the treatment and dedicated medical care we got in Israel,” she said. “We hesitated coming to Israel, because we were taught to hate it. We were taught this is a brutal enemy state, but we learned that reality is different. People here have a conscience. Our enemy is in Syria, not in Israel. If only we could stay here.”

The couple were not named in the article and their faces were concealed in the photograph. I suppose it would not be safe for them if it were known that they spoke well of the enemy.

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What would have happened to a wounded Israeli if he fell into the hands of any of Israel’s enemies? Maybe, he would be given medical treatment, and maybe not.  Judging from the recent, and not so recent history of the region, it would be foolish to expect decent behavior from the people of the region, they have been taught to hate their perceived enemies for so long. Israel is the only country in the Middle East where human rights are respected and the only country where you can expect people to act decently. The Israeli are a civilized people and Israel’s enemies are barbarians. I am going to support the civilized people over the barbarians every time.

 

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Hang Obama?

January 22, 2014

That is what Joshua Black, a Republican candidate for the Florida House of Representatives seems to think we should do. He responded to a tweet calling for President Obama’s arrest and execution by adding the word “agreed”. Here is the story from World Net Daily.

A GOP candidate for the Florida House of Representatives is under fire from his own party and said he’s been visited by the Secret Service after he tweeted Monday that President Obama should be hanged for treason.

Joshua Black, 31-year-old Republican candidate for Florida House District 68, quoted a tweeter, saying “I’m past impeachment. It’s time to arrest and hang him high.” Black added, “agreed.”

Chris Latvala, a Republican candidate for House District 67, shot back: “You aren’t seriously calling for the killing of Obama are you? I know you are crazy but good heavens. U R an embarrassment.”

Black then replied, “Execution is the appropriate punishment for traitors. Don’t you have a race? Don’t you have a primary? #MindYourOwnBusiness?”

Latvala responded, “I make it my business when so called GOP candidates become an embarrassment to my beloved party. You need to go take your medicine #TinFoilHat #Crazy.”

Black later expounded on his comments – even going so far as quoting Jesus – in a Facebook posting, saying:

“To everyone who was offended that I said that the POTUS should be hanged for treason. This is the man who droned al-Awlaki on ‘suspicion of terrorism’ – not proof – and later killed his 15-year-old son for nothing more than being his son. …

“This would be exactly what the president has done to others, and, as Jesus said, ‘the measure ye mete, it shall be meted to you again.’ I make no apologies for saying that the president is not above the People. If ordinary Americans should be executed for treason, so should he.

“So, don’t stop at impeachment. Remove him. Try him before a jury (the very right that he arbitrarily denied to al-Awlaki and his 15-year-old son), and, upon his sure convictions, execute him. Thus has he done, thus it should be done to him.”

 

Anwar al-Awlaki was a Yemeni-American Imam who was a recruiter for al-Qaeda and was linked to several terrorist attacks on the United States, including the Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hasan and the underwear bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. Al-Awlaki was killed by a drone in 2011, an action that has been somewhat controversial since he happened to be an American citizen. There are a lot of issues that people might want to impeach Obama over, but killing suspected terrorist doesn’t come up too often, at least among conservatives.

I think having the Secret Service visiting Mr. Black is something of an over reaction, considering that he didn’t state that he, personally, would execute the president. The first amendment has not been repealed and I can’t imagine the Secret Servicemen  really believing that Black really represented a credible threat to the president.

I can understand how Mr. Black feels. I don’t approve of much that Obama has done during his tenure in the White House. All the same, I feel that this sort of rhetoric is not very helpful.  Judging from the comments in the story, I suspect that Joshua Black’s words will make him very popular in some quarters on the right, but we ought to consider just how they sound to people who are not immersed in politics or not strongly committed to either party.To be blunt, calling for the arrest and execution of the president for treason sounds crazy, and if people get the idea that conservatives or the Tea Party want to see Obama hung, it will make it much easier for the mainstream media to paint them as crazed extremists, not that the mainstream media has had any hesitation in describing the Tea Party in those terms. I think we should leave the insane political rhetoric and the death wishes for public figures to the liberals. One side in our divided country has to be the sane side.

 

 

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Smoking is Really Hazardous to Your Health

January 20, 2014

By now everyone knows that smoking is not a healthy habit, to say the least. I am not sure, however, that many people, especially smokers, know just how deadly smoking really is. Most people associate smoking with lung cancer but how many know that lung cancer is one of the worst forms of cancer, with only a 15% survival rate after five years? How many people think about the connection between smoking and heart disease? These are only the most obvious health problems caused by smoking. There are a whole host of others, as related in this article from Yahoo News.

Fifty years after the first U.S. Surgeon General‘s report in 1964 warned about the link between smoking and lung cancer, research continues to identify more diseases that are directly caused by smoking.

Now, liver and colorectal cancers have been added to the list of cancers for which there’s sufficient data to infer smoking is not merely linked to but actually can cause the diseases, according to the newest Surgeon General’s report released today (Jan 17).

Cigarette smoke contains thousands of compounds, including 69 known to be carcinogens, chemicals that are directly involved in causing cancer. Carcinogens can result in tumors by damaging the genome or disrupting the cell’s metabolic processes.

Smoking is responsible for more than 90 percent of lung cancers. But traces of tobacco carcinogens have been found in other organs as well. For example, pieces of DNA bound to carcinogens have been found in breast tissue and breast milk, according to the report authors, who reviewed new research over the recent years.

“These carcinogens are absorbed systemically. They don’t just stay in the lungs. They are carried through the blood to many organs,” said Stanton Glantz, director of the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at the University of California at San Francisco, who was not involved in compiling the report.

In colorectal cancer, tumors often originate in the glands and the cells that cover the inside of the bowel. Carcinogens in tobacco smoke can reach the large bowel through the blood supply and disrupt regular functioning of the cells. These cells then might form polyps, which can progress into malignant, or cancerous, tumors.

Reviewing large previous studies, the researchers found an increased risk of colon and rectal cancer, particularly after smoking for two or more decades. In some studies, smokers were up to twice as likely to develop colorectal cancer as nonsmokers.

The report authors also looked at other cancers such as prostate cancer and concluded that smoking is not a cause for this type of cancer, although it increases risks of dying for those diagnosed with prostate cancer.

Examining breast cancer, the researchers concluded the evidence suggests smoking can cause the disease.

“Even a finding that is ‘suggestive,’ is a pretty strong finding,” Glantz told LiveScience. “If I give a glass filled with clear liquid and say, this might give you breast cancer but I’m not absolutely positive, I don’t think you want to drink the liquid.”

Other new entries in the official list of smoking-caused diseases include Type 2 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, erectile dysfunction, macular degeneration that can blind older people, and cleft palate birth defects.

“In addition to carcinogens in the cigarette smoke, there’s a lot of inflammatory agents,” Glantz said. Smoking causes these diseases partly “by triggering inflammatory processes and increasing the general inflammatory environment.”

Looking over the past 50 years of the war on smoking, the report authors warned that the disease risks from smoking by women have risen sharply and are now equal to those of men for lung cancer, and pulmonary and heart diseases.

Since the landmark 1964 report, nearly 21 million people have died prematurely because of smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke, according to the report.

Heart and metabolic diseases attributed to smoking accounted for 40 percent of tobacco-related deaths, the report revealed.

“This is very important. When people think about smoking they usually just think cancer. Most people don’t really appreciate how big the risks of heart diseases are,” Glantz said.

I am glad I never started smoking, though I am not sure if I deserve any credit. Both my parents smoked and it may be that not smoking was my particular way of rebelling. In any case, the experience of growing up surrounded by cigarette smoke has given me such an aversion to the smell of smoke that I cannot stand to be in the same room as someone smoking. I guess that I am lucky not to be tempted into such an unhealthy and addictive habit.

 

 

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Martin Luther King Day

January 20, 2014

Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a day dedicated to the man I believe is the most overrated individual in American History. I don’t wish to criticize King in this post, though he did have some failings, as do we all, nor do I wish to diminish King’s real contributions. I do want to point out that while Martin Luther King‘s birthday has become a national holiday, Washington and Lincoln’s birthdays have become conflated into President’s Day. Whatever King’s accomplishments, I cannot believe he was more important than Washington or Lincoln. I would also like to point out that there were a great many people involved in the Civil Rights movement, both Black and White and I think that too much emphasis on King often devalues their contributions.

 

English: Dr. Martin Luther King giving his &qu...

He was a great orator though.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

Polski: Thurgood Marshall

Polski: Thurgood Marshall (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

One person, in particular, who deserves far more attention than he has gotten would be Thurgood Marshall. He is best known today as being the first African-American to serve on the Supreme Court, but he had a long and distinguished career as a lawyer and civil rights advocate. Marshall was the chief counsel for the NAACP and won a number of civil rights cases, most notably Brown vs. The Topeka Board of Education. President Johnson appointed him to the Supreme Court in 1967 where he served until his retirement in 1991.

 

In her book Demonic, Ann Coulter argued that Marshall played a far more effective role than King in securing civil rights for Blacks and she dismisses King as being a rabble-rouser and a leader of mobs. I wouldn’t go as far as Coulter and it should be kept in mind that she often makes controversial statements just for the sake of stirring people up. Still, I think that she is largely correct in her assertion. Thurgood Marshall worked within the system by taking segregation to court and showing its basic incompatibility with American legal and moral traditions. Martin Luther King did much the same with his speeches and protests except that to some extent he was outside the system. I think that in the end Marshall’s methods provided for more lasting change.

 

 

 

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Save the Whales of Iceland

January 18, 2014

I keep getting e-mail from people concerned about many of the world’s problems. Just yesterday, I received an appeal to sign a petition demanding that the government of Iceland stop allowing the killing of whales.

 

Dear David Hoffman,

Barely anyone eats whale meat anymore — so why is the Icelandic government still allowing up to 1,145 minke and 770 endangered fin whales to be butchered every year?

Whale hunting hurts Iceland’s tourism trade, alienates the country diplomatically, and wastes resources catching and killing a product only three percent of Iceland’s people eat.

Please, join us in calling on Iceland to stop butchering marine wildlife for no reason. Whales are sensitive, sentient creatures who keep marine ecosystems going — and if we’re going to stop their senseless slaughter, we need to speak out now.

PETITION TO ICELAND’S GOVERNMENT: Stop sanctioning the hunting of marine mammals like the minke and endangered fin whale, and start protecting these amazing creatures from this senseless slaughter.

Click here to sign — it just takes a second.

Thanks,
— The folks at Watchdog.net

 

It is widely believed that whales and dolphins (or cetaceans as they are formally classified) are very intelligent, perhaps even as intelligent as humans. The truth is, that it is not clear just how intelligent cetaceans actually are. They are mammals and like most mammals have complex brains. Their brains are not dissimilar to human brains and some species of whales have spindle neurons in their brains, a structure previously thought only to exist in humans and apes. Whale brains are large, larger in proportion to their bodies than human brains are to human bodies.

 

By itself, the size and structure of  an animal’s brain can tell us a great deal about its intelligence, but not everything. The behavior of the animal should also be studied. Cetaceans are social animals which interact in groups. Whales communicate with each other through their calls and they have been known to show some problem solving ability. It is not easy to determine the intelligence of a species in the wild, however, and for animals in captivity there is the Clever Hans phenomenon, that is the animal being tested might be reading unconscious cues given by the tester rather than thinking on its own. Still, dolphins in captivity can be trained without too much difficulty and show a high degree of intelligence. However there is no reason to suppose that dolphins or whales are capable of the kind of rational thought that, so far, only humans have shown. They may be intelligent animals, but that is all that they are. They are certainly not the equals of human beings, and while we should show kindness to these animals, human needs must come first. It is perfectly acceptable to hunt whales, though I would prefer not to. Personally,I was rooting for Moby Dick when I read that book.

 

Iceland is a democratic country. Its parliament, the Althing was established back in 930 and may be the oldest legislative body in the world. Iceland consistently ranks near the top of any ranking of human rights. The people of Iceland have proved that they can govern themselves and do not need any foreigners to tell them how to run their country. I think that it is up to the people of Iceland to decide whether or not to allow whaling in their waters. It is more than a little presumptuous for us to put up petitions telling them what they can do with their own natural resources. I won’t be signing that petition.

 

 

 

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God Hates Phil Robertson

January 16, 2014

That’s what the good people at the Westburo Baptist Church believe. He is going to Hell like everyone else in the world outside their church. Here is the story at Tellmenow.com.

You may be familiar with the Westboro Baptist Church from Kansas, the so-called church that goes around the country with “God Hates Fags” signs that they wave while protesting at the funerals of our fallen soldiers? Well, now they want to protest TV’s Duck Dynasty.

One would think that these gay-hating nuts would be all in favor of Duck Dynasty’s Robertson family due to the recent controversy over Phil Robertson’s comments on homosexuality. But, no, they hate them, too.

Certainly the gay-hating “church” is in agreement with the way that most media types mischaracterize Robertson’s comments about the act of homosexuality, but despite that, church members want to protest the Robertson family. I suppose they imagine that the publicity is better than their so-called principle.

Of course, Phil Robertson noted that the act of homosexuality (but not gays as people) is listed in the Bible as a sin. The Westboro people agree with this–as do most Christians. Still, they have criticism.

Church spokesmen criticized the Duck Dynasty family saying, “the Phil Robertson’s [sic] of this wicked generation are the very reason that fags run this nation” and that the country is “hurtling toward her destruction.”

Apparently the Westboro Church now wants to protest the season premiere of season five by protesting on February 1 outside the New York offices of the A&E network on.

Season five of Duck Dynasty premiers on January 15.

Jael Phelps picketing Trinity Episcopal Church...

Well, I am not too fond of them. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I don’t think the writer of this piece understands what the Westburo Baptist Church really believes or is trying to accomplish. Phil Robertson, like most mainstream Christians, seems to believe that homosexuals are sinners in need of God’s love and forgiveness. He has said that he is not in the business of determining who is going to Heaven or Hell. The members of the Westburo Baptist Church are  hyper-Calvinists who believe that God has already decided who is to be saved and who is to be damned. As gotquestions.org explains,

The members of Westboro Baptist Church are quick to assert that those they name are going to burn in hell. The problem with this is that although we are to measure others’ actions by the Word of God and encourage fellow believers toward maturity, we are never to make a judgment about another’s salvation (Matthew 7:1-2). Jesus warns His disciples against proclaiming the guilt of others before God. To be a condemning judge of others is to show that one is still under the condemnation of God. We are not the absolute standard. We are not the final word on the matter. To make such a dogmatic pronouncement is to usurp the place of God.

The vehemence with which Westboro Baptist Church denies God’s compassionate love for all people and declares others’ position of salvation reflects their belief in hyper-Calvinism. Calvinism states that man can do nothing to save himself from judgment; God elects those He will save (Romans 8:29-30). Hyper-Calvinism takes this further, saying since God alone elects those He will save, witnessing is futile. It also denies the concept of common grace—the beneficence God shows toward all His creation by providing good things (Matthew 5:45b) and holding back evil. This is a dangerous misconception about God’s grace that leads to great anxiety and doubt of a person’s own salvation. Westboro Baptist Church’s extreme hyper-Calvinism also explains why they do not care about offending people. They believe if a person is elect, he/she will believe, no matter what. They believe if a person is non-elect, he/she has absolutely no possibility of salvation. Therefore, hateful, angry, and vehement rhetoric does not matter, as it could not possibly change a person’s eternal destiny. Westboro Baptist Church rejects the idea that offending people could turn them away from faith in Jesus Christ.

To put it another way, they do not believe that God hates fags because they are homosexual. They believe that people are homosexual because God hates them and wants to throw them into Hell. Since Phil Robertson presumably does not believe that God hates homosexuals, he is part of the problem.

Westboro Baptist Church Anti-Jewish Picketing

They are branching out. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Obviously, the tenets of the Westburo Baptist Church are not in the mainstream of Christian doctrine, even within the Calvinist tradition. In fact, I believe their beliefs to be heretical. God hates sin, but He does not hate the sinner and certainly does not wish for anyone to be lost. After all, He gave His only Son to keep people out of Hell. But then, I suspect that it is really all about doing what gets them attention, not what God wants.

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