Sunday, October 26, 2014

Op-Ed: Ebola: The sky is not falling

New York - Even if the sky is falling, it will not bring Ebola with it. Yet it has created hysteria not seen in the U.S. since a war was launched in Iraq to destroy weapons of mass destruction that were no longer there.

Usually all news is about location, location, location. But Ebola was about timing, timing, timing. Republicans are seeking to take enough seats in the U.S. Senate to put President Barack Obama in a virtual quarantine.
The GOP is already on record as saying it would do anything to destroy his presidency. But Africa? There is a three-letter acronym for this: WTF. No one cares about Africa.
Having spent 14 years covering news across the African continent it was rare indeed when its news made the front pages in American or European media, when newspapers still published on paper. Many fellow journalists recall similar experiences.
Should anyone care that perhaps 5,000 people have died in West Africa? Of course. But do they?
Big Daddy Warbucks Dick Cheney pushed for development of a vaccine for Ebola, and for other diseases that might be weaponized, after Sept. 11. The vaccine was found in 2005, tested and promptly put on a shelf. Eight people are known to have died from Ebola outside Africa, though all apparently came in contact with people who had been in the region.
A White House official told the New York Times the New York-New Jersey reaction was an “uncoordinated, very hurried, an immediate reaction to the New York City case that doesn’t comport with science.”
Only one person has died in the U.S. Half a dozen other cases have been reported, all involving health care workers. New York and New Jersey have imposed a quarantine on anyone suspected of having been exposed. That includes an American health care worker who was tested found to be virus free.
A White House official told the New York Times the New York-New Jersey reaction was an “uncoordinated, very hurried, an immediate reaction to the New York City case that doesn’t comport with science.”
Saturday Night Live put it all in perspective. Referring to the New York situation, Weekend Update reported that Ebola was in the Big Apple. And that means it now has all known diseases. t=_blank]Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, said the quarantines and some other measures were “draconian” He said helping Africa is the best way to stop the spread of the disease.
The nurse thrown into quarantine in New York City, Kaci Hickox, told CNN: “I understand that people feel like they have a risk, and we can have a conversation about what further measures might look like, but this is an extreme that is really unacceptable. And I feel like my basic human rights have been violated.”

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Pollsters missing communication revolution

Denver - Polls, sales and collectors are being hurt by people getting off the grid. When cell phones first came out in large numbers, users did not have to worry about unwanted phone calls. That has all changed. 
And it is not good news for political pollsters. Laws prevent automated calls to mobile phones.“Data from Pew Research Center polling this year suggest that the bias is as large, and potentially even larger, than it was in 2008,” the group reports.As usual, technology goes in more than one direction, and sometimes it is unpredictable.One thing driving it is the desire of people to stop their phones ringing when they get home from work. For many, the last thing they want to hear from is a political survey taker. They may not even tell the truth if they do answer, of may just say what they think the pollster wants to hear to get them off the phone.It can become a goal, if not an obsession, to get off the grid, like the Johnny Depp character in “Transcendence.”A few minutes in front of Google can teach such people many tricks. Don’t give your phone number to anyone but family. Give them the mobile phone number you probably have as well as your landline.When you fill out a form on the Web, use a phony phone number.In some cases, lack of income may force people to pick up a socalled “disposable” phone at their supermarket.Not surprisingly, this means the bias of polls aimed mostly at landline phone users has increased even as pollsters have sought workarounds.Many, up to 25 percent in some research, have turned off their landline phones. It isn’t the only way to prevent unwanted calls, though.Many landline providers allow users to block calls, even add them to a list, just as apps would do on a mobile phone. All calls from those who block their caller ID can be turned away automatically. And caller ID is the last resort. No need to answer a call that is from someone unknown.It has been assumed that most people who turn off landline phones are from the younger generation. Research shows it also includes many from low-income groups. Texting may be their main method of communication.Drive down any major street in a U.S. city and you will see them, sometimes not even paying attention to traffic.Also driving the expanding use of mobile phones is the ability of many of them to surf the net. No need to go into your home office and set in front of a desktop, as you would at work.The bias created by this phenomenon is probably small, but could make a difference in close races.On issue after issue, from abortion to marijuana, cell phone-only users tend to side with Democrats. Polls that do not show women responding to ads promoting abortion rights and equal pay raise questions.Their constant use of texting could make it possible for America to see its own “Arab Spring” next month as Democrats use the social media to get their supporters to polls. In many cases it has already happened. The votes are cast.In the city of Denver, for example, three weeks before voting, more than a dozen Democrats visited one street in the city knocking on doors and ringing bells to push people to vote.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Vegas bets on same-sex marriage

It appeared at the weekend that Nevada’s bet on same-sex marriage was a winner after all. Wedding bells had begun ringing in chapels looking for business after a brief halt ordered by one U.S. Supreme Court justice.

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority placed a full page ad in USA Today featuring two groom cake-toppers with a view of Vegas in the background.

For Nevada it is a business issue, not a religious one. Many tourists from around the world come to Nevada to get married. And tourism in general has been down due to the worldwide recession in recent years.

It was not clear that wedding chapels in Las
Vegas and Reno, and other Nevada cities, would be making any distinctions on who could be married. It appeared that anyone who stays in Vegas can get married there.
Plenty of tourists buy legal marijuana in Colorado.

The “Wedding Chapel” in Las Vegas advertises online: “Why Get Married in Las Vegas.

First, Getting Married in Las Vegas is very simple. Second, Las Vegas is the number one wedding destination in the world. Third, ITS LAS VEGAS! The airfare is always reasonable, hotel accommodations are plentiful, and obtaining Las Vegas Marriage License is a simple process with no waiting periods or blood testing requirements.”

The courts’ confusion has made the situation very unclear. Will marriages in states that allow same-sex marriages be legal in other states, or only in the 30-plus states in which it is now legal.

Same-Sex Marriage review 
In more than half of the states the marriages are only legal because of court intervention.

North Carolina became the latest state to legalize gay marriage after a federal judge on Friday afternoon ruled a ban created by state voters unconstitutional.

Earlier in the day, the Supreme Court itself overturned Justice Anthony Kennedy’s order halting gay marriages, with no comment.

Kennedy not only was not speaking for the court, he had erroneously reinstated a gay marriage ban in Idaho and Nevada, when only Idaho was at issue.

What the New York Times and others had called the “tacit” approval of gay marriage effectively was just that after the Friday morning Supreme Court decision and the ruling of U.S. District Judge Max Cogburn of Asheville, N.C.

Cogburn rejected the most recent voter-approved ban on gay marriages, saying it clearly violated constitutional protections that all Americans will be treated the same.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Putin’s latest horror tale: Malaysian air disaster

The only consolation families of the victims of the Malaysian airliner shot down by a Russian missile had has been taken away from them.

Dutch officials had led them to believe that everyone was killed when the “Grizzly” missile hit the Boeing 777 at 31,000 over the eastern Ukraine.

Now it has been revealed that some may have lived, though likely not long, after the impact.

At least one passenger had an oxygen mask around his neck. The Russian-backed rebels have kept investigators from the crash area so there may have been even more indications of what occurred.

Might speculation that Russian special forces shot down the jet be true. One report said they had intended to hit a Russian airliner, but had launched the missile from the wrong village.

Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans has apologized to families of the 298 victims for leading them to believe that no one could have survived the missile strike. It leaves open the question of whether some survived, dying on when they hit the ground. And if so, how long did they live?

It brings to mind many other crashes, including one of a Turkish Airlines DC-10 over Paris in which 346 crew and passengers died. It is known that the vast majority died after 77 seconds of the plane flying out of control before it the forest below.

There were 298 killed on board flight MH-17 when it was shot down on July 17 during fighting between the Ukrainian government and Russian-backed troops. Some have said only a Russian missile crew could have operated the sophisticated Buk, codenamed Grizzly by NATO. The aircraft was flying at 21,000 feet, not within sight of the crew that brought it down.

Russian missiles had brought down helicopters and Ukrainian air force planes in the previous days.

Timmerans disclosed the finding of the oxygen mask in an interview on a Dutch TV show.

The interviewer criticized Timmermans for telling the U.N. Security Council of the horror the passengers must have felt. That statement conflicted with an earlier statement in which the foreign minister had indicated death was instant.

“I shouldn't have said it,” he told the interviewer, who said none of the passengers would have known the plane was hit.

"Oh yes? Can you be so sure about that? "But do you know that someone was found with an oxygen mask on their mouth - and so they had the time to put it on?"

Bloomberg quoted an analyst, Robert Mann, president of RW Mann & Co., saying: “This suggests the aircraft cabin pressure monitoring systems continued to operate, masks dropped, and at least one passenger had time to react to mask availability and don a mask.”

The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, an ex-KGB agent, ordered lethal gas sprayed into a theater held by terrorists. He has frequently used tactics abhorred by civilized governments, including in a school. It has even been alleged that he had deadly polonium injected into the blood of a former colleague, who died in a London hospital.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Shameful Turkish ISIS deal on brink of massacre of Kurds

As ISIS terrorists moved into the Syrian city of Kobani to begin a likely massacre of Kurds, it was revealed that Turkey had made a deal with the group to free Ankara’s diplomats held hostage in Mosul, Iraq.

Powerful Turkish army Leopard tanks sat silent less than five miles away as ISIS flags and banners were raised on the edge of Kobani.

The only significant action the Turkish army has taken is to fire tear gas at Kurds on their side of the border to keep them from rushing to aid their brothers. Thousands of Syrian Kurds have fled the city and are in camps in Turkey.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has admitted a deal was made with ISIS to win the release of Turkish diplomats seized when Mosul fell. He has not commented on claims by ISIS that his government arranged for Syrian rebels to release ISIS commanders it had been holding.

The London Times said at least two of the ISIS leaders freed at the request of Turkey were British subjects. Reports on Twitter said ISIS was boasting of the deal.

Meanwhile, NATO has restated its pledge to defend Turkey, a member, if it follows through with a pledge to attack ISIS.

More decapitations of Western citizens held by ISIS were likely in the coming days. Dozens of Kurds in Kobani, once a city of 400,000 have already been killed.

Turkey’s Hurriyet Daily News reported on Monday that ISIS had entered the city and posted its flags after a three-week assault.

The Kurds, who lack the heavy weapons of ISIS, have vowed to fight to the last man in the style of the history’s “300 Spartans.” ISIS reportedly even has tanks.

The main resistance the terrorists have met is airstrikes by U.S. and other warplanes. President Barack Obama has made it clear he fears genocide in the region of Iraq and Syria held by ISIS but has vowed not to put troops on the ground.

Obama said that after a decade of supporting Baghdad it is up to Arab nations to police the ISIS apostates.

Turkey has the second-largest army in NATO, and its parliament gave Erdogan permission to strike. Critics say he does not want to help Kurds because of their demands for autonomy.

Trio shares Nobel for finding brain GPS

Another startling discovery about how the brain works has won a Nobel prize, this time for revealing how we know where we are on the planet.

Once it became possible to see into the brain with imaging devices discoveries like this began multiplying.

A British-American and a Norwegian couple share the prize for medicine for showing how the human GPS works.

Once again it shows that artificial intelligence, in movie form or real life, has a long way to go to get even close to mother nature.

"The discoveries have solved a problem that has occupied philosophers and scientists for centuries," the Nobel Assembly said.

May-Britt Moser and Edvard Moser of Norway share the award with U.K.-based John O'Keefe.

In many ways the discoveries of these scientists and others show the miracle of neuroplasticity. It already has been shown how the brain can fix itself.

The trio has shown from examining how the cells in rat brains can tell when the rodents have moved.

They have their own “grid,” a sort of way to tell longitude and latitude. They combine “place” or location cells with “grid” cells, a sort of map.

In the popular Johnny Depp movie “Transcendence” some people want to get off the “grid,” one of the most popular words in books and movies these days.

Once on the grid anyone can be found. Once a brain has data about locations it can do the same.

The potential for treating illnesses like Alzheimers cannot be overestimated.

The Nobel committee said the combination of grid and place cells "constitutes a comprehensive positioning system, an inner GPS, in the brain. (This system is] affected in several brain disorders, including dementia and Alzheimer's disease.”

Having identified the system it is only a matter of time before scientists and doctors can find ways to repair and/or boost the GPS system.

Imagine a doctor being able to download, or upload, a new human navigational operating system.

O’Keefe is from the University College London and the Mosers from Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim.

“The discoveries of John O ́Keefe, MayBritt Moser and Edvard Moser have solved a problem that has occupied philosophers and scientists for centuries — how does the brain create a map of the space surrounding us and how can we navigate our way through a complex environment?” the Nobel Committee said.

“The discovery of the brain’s positioning system represents a paradigm shift in our understanding of how ensembles of specialized cells work together to execute higher cognitive functions,” the release said. “It has opened new avenues for understanding other cognitive processes, such as memory, thinking and planning.”

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Turkey holding off in confronting new Mongol horde

Instead of launching tanks to hit ISIS targets less than 10 miles away, Turkey President Recep Tayyap Erdogan has gotten into an argument with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden on what role Ankara may have played in the rise of the new Mongol hordes.
Nothing more than statements have come from Turkey, even after its parliament gave strong support to Erdogan’s proposal to battle the IS terrorists.
Turkish soldiers clashed with Kurds near the border when protestors demanded that the army intervene to rescue the people of Kobani, within site of Turkish Leopard tanks.
More Western victims have been decapitated, and it was likely a former U.S. soldier would be the next. Kurds in the Syrian city of Kobani, which is in range of Turkish Leopard tanks on a hill above, also have been killed.
So far, only air raids by Western warplanes, and some jets from Arab nations, have hit IS as it appears to be on the verge of taking the city of Kobani, which once had a population of 400,000.
NATO has vowed to defend Turkey if it is attacked by IS.
At the same time, Islamic leaders who have condemned IS say Western nations should let Arab nations root out the apostate Muslims.
The conduct of the new Islamic caliphate can be compared to the worst excesses of the Mongol Empire, which included Turkey, and was the largest contiguous domain the world has ever seen, stretching from Central Europe to the Sea of Japan, south into Indochina and north to Siberia. It also reached Arabia and the Levant.
There is no doubt that IS recruited members from Turkey, just as it has from the West. For Erdogan to deny doing enough to stop the pandemic is disingenuous. Even now Turkey’s NATO tanks sit idle, while its Army, the second-largest in NATO, blocks Kurds from crossing the border to fight to save their ethnic brothers.
In an OP Ed piece in the New York Times, Turkish writer Asli  Aydubtasbas, said Turks need to drop their long-standing enmity for the Kurdish minority. “Turkey must embrace the Kurdish presence in Iraq and Syria, and help the Kurds in their fight against ISIS. We are much better off protected by a Kurdish buffer zone than facing ISIS alone along our 600-mile border with Syria.
“Doing so will require a huge paradigm shift for Turkey: It must abandon its nationalist legacy and reimagine itself as a joint Turkish-Kurdish entity. Turkish Kurds represent about 25 percent of the population, and the government has wisely been pursuing a peace process with the P.K.K. There are ups and downs in the talks between Turkish intelligence and the imprisoned P.K.K. leader, Abdullah Ocalan. But at the end of the day, both sides need each other.”
Some historians would say Turkey has other debts to pay, including for its alleged massacre of more than 1 million Armenians during World War I.