Wednesday, December 23, 2015

What is Science? What is Truth?

Science is a lot trickier than most people imagine.

Modern physics anyway.  Such as String Theory, which is said to have made no testable predictions in 50 years.  (That's funny because I recall hearing 10 years ago that String Theory predictions were going to be tested real soon now.)  But This Is Not New!  Historically, it has taken decades or even centuries to test the most central theories.  Such as Galileo's cosmology.  Galileo himself could only show evidence by example, not evidence as proof.  It wasn't until hundreds of years later that astronomical devices could make sufficiently accurate measurements to prove that the earth moves around the sun.  It also took some thinking about this that Galileo himself hadn't done.

At cruder scales, things have been working better.  We can have a very very high degree of confidence in the existence of atoms, biological evolution through natural selection, and anthropogenic climate change.  Here we have numerous testable hypotheses and vast numbers of confirmations.  Our Bayesian confidence should be 99% or above.

Still, very very high confidence isn't absolute certainty.  If you want that, you'll just have to find it in theology or philosophy, and would probably find it isn't there either.

Statin Drugs

I have been prescribed to take 20mg Lipitor daily.  Honestly I think this dosage is too high, and when I am not subject to blood test within one month, I take half pills, or alternate, so as to bring my average usage down to 10mg daily.  I take 100mg CoQ10 supplements daily, to cancel out the effect of statins on lowering CoQ10.  I also take fish oil, which cancels out the effect of statins to reduce the beneficial effects of omega-3 fatty acids.

I think the official target levels for LDL/HDL are ridiculously hard to reach.  IMO and IME one should never use a correction factor to achieve some target level exactly.  Instead, correction factors should be used to split the difference between an uncorrected response (such as what my LDL is w/o statins) and what the nominal "ideal" is.  This is because a measured target is only one possible thing (out of gazillions of things) that could be measured, and correcting one thing often puts other things not-measured out of bounds.  That's the thinking behind why I try to approximate 10mg Lipitor daily.  But if my blood test isn't exactly at the "ideal" level for an at-risk person, my MD wants to increase the statins.  So I "cheat."  Even cheating I'm below LDL levels that are bad except for people "at risk."  I disagree that I'm an "at risk" person for heart disease.  My relatively high weight is accompanied by relatively more muscle than many people, and heart disease does not run in my family.

Here's just one of millions of pages telling about the "grave dangers" of statin drugs.  Is any of this true?  I suspect there is some level of truth in this, but some truth also in the official LDL targets.  FWIW I have never been aware of any ill side effects of statin use on me.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

The San Bernardino Shooting

One angle in the investigation of the San Bernardino Shooting was how the Farook's obtained the assault weapons.  It has been reported that they legally purchased the handguns.  But nothing much has been said about how they obtained the assault rifles.*

If this shooting was motivated by geopolitics and therefore terrorism, as now seems almost certainly the case on the basis of facts reported in news reporting, several things should be kept in mind.

1) This is one of the very few Islamist terrorist shootings to occur inside the USA since 9/11.  14 people were killed.  Meanwhile, tens of thousands of people are killed by auto accidents every year.  And I could go on with millions of other mostly preventable deaths.  There is no good reason for mass fear.  An average American's risk of death from terrorism is exceedingly tiny compared with other death risks which people generally ignore.

2) Since 9/11, and far before, the US has been killing people in the middle east.  The number is at least nearly 100,000 and possibly a million or more.  And that's not even counting deaths from chemical exposure to depleted uranium, excess deaths from water purification systems which were destroyed and/or subjected to sanctions, and so on.  Though senseless, this possible terrorist act is blowback on an exceedingly tiny scale.

3) Giving in to fear is exactly what "the terrorists" (and specifically ISIL) want.  They want non-muslims to overreact with fear and panic and lash out against ordinary non-extremist muslims, thereby radicalizing all muslims.  Above all we should not give in to fear and panic which only makes this situation worse.  The 1.5 billion muslims in the world are almost entirely peace loving people and want to have nothing to do with terrorism and are as unhappy about Islamic Terrorists as non-muslims if not far more.

4) The correct actions for western powers to take are all peaceable.  We should be trying to negotiate at all levels.  And also accepting all refugees.  And jawboning the Saudi's to cool down their Wahabi schools.

5) US action in Syria goes back to the 1940's when Truman's CIA got newly independent Syria's first democratic government overthrown and replaced by a US-friendly dictator.  Or perhaps you could go back further to count how we helped the Syrian independence movement defeat the French.  We're really responsible for much of went on during the Arab Spring because we supported and encourage opposition movements.  It is known that Syria did not use chemical weapons against rebels in at least one alleged incident, and quite possibly all such incidents.  Instead Syrian rebels got supplies through the "ratline" from Libya abetted by the US.  US is the party most responsible for chaos in Syria, and it is our moral duty to accept all Syrian refugees.  US has been trying to overthrow Assad for geopolitical rather than humanitarian reasons.  Precisely because Assad has been a client of Russia.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

The long history of US intervention in Syria

It goes back to March 30, 1949, when the CIA assisted Colonel Zaim to overthrow the elected government of Shukri Quwatly.  Truman was alarmed by Quwatly having direct dialog with the Soviet Union.

Up until 1946, Syria had been a colony of France, and the USA pressured France to grant independence in the aftermath of WWII.

Zaim immediately did his master's bidding, approving the ARAMCO pipeline to pipe Saudi oil to the Mediterranean, banning the Communist Party, and jailing dissidents.  But Zaim was intensely unpopular, and was overthrown less than 5 months after his appointment.

And on and on it went.  The full story here.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Let Russia Defeat ISIL, all others go home

The genesis of the Syrian Civil War was in the so-called Arab Spring.  The Arab Spring should not be thought of as an entirely grass roots event.  It was backed by US and Gulf State support going back to  mid 2000's, backing rebel groups that opposed Assad for largely religious reasons.  The rebel groups wanted theocracy, as in Saudi Arabia, whereas Assad has continued the Baath tradition of secular pluralistic democracy.  We should put aside any notion of Syria as being any more "undemocratic" than, say, the USA--which itself is now declared by political scientists to be an Oligarchy.  Assad wins internationally certified elections with large majorities, large majorities that want Syria to remain a secular state.  Elections in the USA are not internationally certified and often called into deep question both inside and outside the USA.

Given that context, Assad's reaction was perfectly predictable and cannot be entirely--or even mostly--blamed on Assad but rather on the US and Gulf States who were the first actors.  Needless to say, the US has always wanted Assad to go precisely because he is a Russian ally and not a US client.

WRT chemical weapons, at least one (and probably more) uses of chemical weapons in famous attacks was not by the Syrian government but rather by an Islamist army, al Nusra, which was directly supported by Gulf states and indirectly supported by the US through it's support for the feckless Free Syrian Army whose soldiers and weapons often seem to end up in al Nusra.

So at least half of the fingers we point at Assad for being a tyrant or whatever who "must go" should instead be pointed right back at US.

Since we're not talking about forcible regime change in the US who was the largest actor in the start of this conflict, we should not be talking about forcible regime change in Syria.  Assad has never been a threat to any other country (very much unlike the US regime and others) and so it is none of the business of other countries.

But that appears to be the aim of all other actors in the region except Russia and Iran.  Only Russia and Iran are supporting the still sovereign government of Syria.  All other actors are invaders.

The genesis of ISIL was a direct consequence of several US actions, including the Arab Spring, the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and the de-Bathification of the Iraqi government.

There is no moral, ethical, or defense reason why western countries should continue their invasion of Syria.  Russia and Iran are perfectly happy to defeat ISIL without western "help" which is really imperial competition, and a proto world war.

A "moderate" friend of mine rationalizes it differently, though to the same end.  "Considering how much we've screwed this up from the very beginning, and then continued doing so until now, at this point the best plan would be to slowly back away and hope to be quickly forgotten."