Another massacre of civilians by US drones

The US military has admitted that the drone strike that it carried out that they initially claimed killed a major ISIS operative in fact killed ten innocent civilians including seven children.

In a briefing on Friday, the commander of US Central Command, Gen Kenneth McKenzie, said he now believes it was unlikely that those who died were Islamic State militants or posed a direct threat to US forces at Kabul’s airport.

“I am now convinced that as many as 10 civilians, including up to seven children, were tragically killed in that strike,” McKenzie, wearing military uniform, told reporters. “Moreover, we now assess that it is unlikely that the vehicle and those who died were associated with [Islamic State Khorasan] or were a direct threat to US forces.

For days after the 29 August strike by a single Hellfire missile, Pentagon officials asserted that it had been conducted correctly, even though numerous civilians had been killed, including children. Gen Mark Milley, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, had hailed it as a “righteous strike”.

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The curious history of polywater

One of the more curious incidents in science history is ‘polywater’. The existence of polywater was suggested by a Russian scientist Nikolai Fedyakin in the early 1960s and gained ground as other people also seemed to be able to detect physical properties in certain samples of water that were not present in others, suggesting that a new state of water had been created. Of course, we know that water can be in different states such as ice and steam but what was new was that polywater was a different kind of liquid water.

This article explains how the idea gained ground before it was debunked.
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Norm Macdonald on battling cancer

The comedian just died of cancer at the age of 61. I had never actually seen him perform but read that he had a droll deadpan manner and an offbeat take on the mundane. I came across this audio recording of a stand up bit that he did ten years ago that dealt with something that also has struck me as odd, that when it comes to cancer, people who have it are always described as ‘battling it’, a fighting metaphor that is rarely applied to other ailments.

Macdonald had apparently kept his cancer diagnosis secret so that his death came as a surprise to those who knew him. Maybe he did not want to have people talking about him too ‘battling’ cancer.

Public Service Announcement: Never trust someone’s friend about anything

In the crazy media world we live in these days, I saw multiple headlines about a story in which Nicki Minaj had tweeted that a friend of her cousin who lived in Trinidad and Tobago got swollen testicles and became impotent after taking a covid-19 vaccine and his fiancee called off their wedding. The ensuing publicity resulted in the minister of public health in that country wasting his time investigating this before announcing that they could not any evidence of swollen testicles.

I grant that this story has many clickbait features: A celebrity, covid-19, impotence, and swollen testicles.

But really? Whenever you hear an outlandish story, your guard should immediately go up. And you should definitely ignore the story if it is ascribed to an unidentified friend of even someone you know personally, let alone someone whom you do not know at all. That almost guarantees that the story is at best highly exaggerated or more likely outright false.

This has been a Public Service Announcement. We now go back to our regular programming.

The draconian Texas abortion law

A lot of attention has been paid recently to the abortion law passed in Texas that places such great restrictions on women’s right to choose that it effectively guts the US Supreme Court precedent Roe v. Wade. It prohibits abortions after a mere six weeks after the last menstrual period when many women do not even know they are pregnant and it authorizes ordinary citizens to take anyone who assists a woman to get an abortion (even like driving her to the clinic) to court and get a $10,000 reward for doing so.

The US Supreme Court, while not making a decision on the constitutionality of the law itself, allowed it to go into effect, seeming to buy the Texas Republicans’ argument that because the law does not allow the state to enforce the law but only private citizens, it has prima facie constitutionality. The anti-choice zealots in Texas are exchanging high-fives about their cleverness in crafting a law that they think will pass constitutional muster.
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Newsom defeats recall effort

The incumbent governor of California Gavin Newsom easily defeated the costly effort to recall him, with the Associated Press calling the race just 45 minutes after polls closed. It appears that about 65% voted against recalling him. The official vote count may not be known for another 30 days. It cost the state about $276 million to hold the recall election. That does not include the money raised and spent by the candidates. When you consider that Newsom will be up for re-election in just over a year, this recall effort seems particularly unnecessary.

Newsom painted this race as a Republican and Trumpian effort and that message seemed to work for him.

Speaking in Sacramento, Newsom said that in voting no on the Republican-led recall, Californians said “Yes to science, we said yes to vaccines.”

“I’m humbled and grateful to the millions and millions of Californians that exercise their fundamental right to vote,” Newsom said, “and express themselves so overwhelmingly by rejecting the division, by rejecting the cynicism.”

The leading Republican candidate Larry Elder has, like Trump, resorted even before election day to claiming election fraud without providing any evidence. But it appears that after the results were announced he conceded defeat.

Checks on the president’s ability to fire nuclear weapons

According to the US constitution, the president is the commander in chief of the military forces and thus has the power to order them to do anything without anybody being able to challenge that decision. That power extends to the use of nuclear weapons. A new book by two Washington Post reporters says that the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff Mark Milley, the head of the US military, was so concerned that Trump had become unhinged by his election loss and the events of January 6th that he feared he might ‘go rogue’ and do something dangerously irrational such as start a war, perhaps with nuclear weapons. Milley reportedly convened a meeting of the officers who would be involved in the process to tell them that they had to promise to make sure that any order to start a war or use nuclear weapons also involved him. Milley also called his Chinese counterpart to reassure him.
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Calling a woman a ‘young lady’ is an obvious put down

Democratic senator Joe Manchin has been using the influence he has achieved as a result of a 50-50 tie in the US senate to advance the agenda of his corporate backers by thwarting efforts to pass the infrastructure bill in its present form and demanding huge cuts. When Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez pointed out his ties to lobbyists, he responded by referring to her as ‘young lady’ and she immediately called him out on it.
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Dan Ariely’s work called into question

In my teaching work and on this blog, I have often referred favorably to the work of behavioral economist Dan Ariely who devised ingenious experiments to tease out human behaviors and motivations. (See here for the posts where I have discussed his work.) I have recommended his book Predictably Irrational which, as the title succinctly suggests, argued that while people are often irrational, their irrationality is not random. He has also given very popular TED talks.

A lot of his research dealt with the issue of honesty: what corners people are willing to cut, by how much, and how they view themselves. So I was disappointed to read that he may the latest example of an academic who has been sloppy or worse in the way that he has conducted his research, throwing his work into doubt.
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