Biography

RWP was born in Manchester, in the north of England, in the late 1950s, so he is very old. He really liked the north of England, which by 1965 was hip and had three TV channels, and where he went to a coed school. His parents, for reasons best known to themselves, then yanked him away, to Belfast and then Dublin, which had one TV channel that started up at 6 pm with the Angelus (Catholic call to prayer). He also had to go to an all boys school, where he realized he really missed girls. This probably let him focus on schoolwork, though, and at age 19, after he had finished college, he set off for America, where he still resides. He has a bachelors degree in biochemistry and a Ph.D. from Harvard in biophysics, and has lived also in Mainz, Germany, Setauket NY, and Richland WA. He currently divides his time between Nebraska, Rosslyn VA, and Florida.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Who's losing their mind?

Several people recently have suggested my antipathy towards Donald Trump is some sort of mental problem. One particularly charming acquaintance of several years said I should be screened for a brain tumor. Of course, I was as consistently skeptical of Trump throughout the primaries, through the general election, and particularly since he took office. But they think I should get in line.

One thing that gave me solace in the fall was that most conservative and libertarian intellectuals vehemently opposed Trump. Unfortunately, that hasn't lasted, and with the exception of Bill Kristol and George Will, most of them have now jumped on the bandwagon and are manically defending Orange Julius Caesar, usually stretching the truth in the process. He're an example, from a self-described libertarian writer whom I used to admire.

Kim Davis was the clerk in some podunk county of Kentucky, who refused to issue judicially-ordered marriage licenses to gays, citing 'God's authority'. Comparing this to the firing of Sally Yates is just stupid; Yates refused to defend Trump's EO, saying that she wasn't convinced of its legality. In other word, she was doing her job as Attorney General, whose oath of office reads

I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter So help me God.

Note it says 'support and defend the Constitution', not support and defend Donald Trump. So she was fired for having a professional opinion that happened to differ with Trump's. Not quite the same thing at all.

(Edit); here's Harsanyi being schooled by a guy who's both a very good attorney and a real libertarian.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Past as prolog

The last time I had a foreign grad. student afraid of her government, and ours, was during the Tienanmen Sq. crisis. She had already told me the Chinese government used ringer students to track the others; I'm ashamed to say I discounted that as too far-fetched. She was afraid of the Chinese government (and also that the US government would hang her out to dry to curry favor with China. She's now a citizen, full professor in a good medical school, and has at least ten times the funding I have.

Now we're turning away at the border not only students, but foreign nationals who worked for us, at risk of their lives, in countries like Afghanistan.

It is a terrible thing to be America's enemy, but worse to be our friend.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Not if it has a face...

I try to avoid arguing issues I don't care about, with people who care a great deal. But I recently let myself get dragged into a Twitter flame-war with catholics/fundamentalists (one of them posted on my timeline that science shows human life begins at conception, which is a load of ballocks; when life begins is a philosopical question, not a scientific one.)

So here's my position. I'm pro-choice, but in a limited way. I think first trimester abortions should be entirely legal, but later should be restricted to cases of incest or rape or major fetal abnormality.

Why? That question was answered by my younger daughter. She's a vegetarian, but wasn't at one point a strict vegetarian. I asked he how she decided she can eat something. She said "if it doesn't have a face".

That may seem a very superficial criterion. But it's not. If you spend any time in the preemie ward, you see lots of kids born long before 9 months. A child born at 22 weeks is (barely) viable, but more importantly for my point, looks like a baby. Meanwhile, at the other end a cell or a fertilized zygote doesn't look in the least like a child. What leads on to protect one and not the other is that we innately recognize preemies as human; and humans are recognized by their faces. We're trying to avoid killing babies that we recognize as unambiguously human beings.

Of course, this position satisfies neither of the polarized extremes. That's probably in its favor.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Broken clock

Hate to say it, but Trump's weekend comments, which stunned Europe, were right on. Merkel, apparently out of bleeding-heart leftism most of us didn't suspect she had, has essentially ruined her legacy with her handling of the migrant crisis. And it is vital that continental European countries, especially Germany, spend more of their budget on NATO. You don't have to be a Trumpkin to be irritated by the attitude that if they're invaded by Russia, the US will step in to save their sorry asses. And as for the pathetic response that only European unity will allow them to resist Trump, please! Europe is united only as long as it doesn't cost France any money.

Who knew having an ignorant stupid lying braggart as president could have an up side?

From the Londox Times.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Quantum of solace

Someone quipped yesterday that it was worrying Trump's sanest-sounding nominee has the nickname 'Mad Dog'.

Some of the nominees are competent -- e.g. Mad Dog Mattis -- and some clearly not (Ben Carson for HUD seems like Trump finding a black guy to fill what has often in the past been a black position). About some of them it's too early to say. And Rex Tillerson is way too close with Russia to be trusted. But all of them are more competent than the Tweeter in Chief. It's possible, even likely, that Trump will delegate almost all executive responsibilities to his cabinet, which would be a good thing. Granted, it would be better to have an actual chief executive in charge, but the idea of Trump actually directing policy is frightening.

Trump may well stick to tweeting and corruptly using his office to enrich himself and his family. Which is probably the best possible outcome; furthermore, it's entirely plausible the corruption will stink too much even for the GOP, and he'll be impeached.

And there's also the possibility, given his lifestyle and fatness, of a major heart attack.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Trump takes another shower...

The magnificent political cartoonist Peter Brookes, of the London Times, publishes something no American cartoonist would have the balls to publish.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

President whiny little beeyatch

I can't recall, in my lifetime, a whinier president than Donald Trump. Just this week he whined about the intelligence agencies, BuzzFeed and CNN, and Meryl Streep...
Very unfair? What is he, five years old? And then he goes on about a witch hunt.
I'm no fan of Obama's, but he didn't whimper like a sick puppy when Trump was banging on about his birth certificate. He mocked him, as any grown-up would. And George W. Bush had horrendous press, particularly in the later years of his administration. He took it with his usual good grace. I don't recall him ever complaining.

The President is always going to get a lot of incoming. It's part of the job. Trump needs to grow a pair, and start acting like a mature human being. (Pro-tip: he won't)

Golden showers, and other golden bathroom fixtures

There appears to be a significant possibility Donald Trump has been compromised personally and/or financially by a foreign power. While these are unproven allegations, if true they give the Kremlin huge scope to blackmail the president of the United States. While he is subject to that threat, he is incapacitated for office, in the same way as if he had a minor stroke. Or, in the words of the 25th amendment, he needs to declare that he is unable "to discharge the powers and duties of his office". There needs to be a full investigation.

As for the salacious details, they're still covered by 'It's not my kink, but your kink is OK too'. I honestly don't care what another adult gets up to with sex-workers or anything else. I consider his fetish for covering the entire world with gold-leaf far more offensive than his alleged watersports fetish. However, this kink is particularly easy to joke about, and I will. Maybe, seeing how damaging such allegations can be, he might consider decriminalizing sex work.

And just be thankful I didn't post any pictures.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Katy Talento, religiously inspired anti-birth-control activist.

Katy Talento is slated to be Trump's health care policy wonk on the domestic policy council. Her entire credentials seem to be that he is a 'Harvard-trained epidemiologist' (She has a masters in public health), and that she's spent many years as a political staffer for the Republicans. As far as I can tell, she has never worked as an epidemiologist per se, though she lists her specialty as 'the control of mosquito-borne illnesses such as malaria and Dengue.'

She's the author of two worrisome articles about contraception. In the first "Ladies: Is Birth Control The Mother Of All Medical Malpractice?", she describes the ingredients of birth-control pills, twice, as "dangerous, carcinogenic chemicals". Well, no, they're not; some forms of contraception contain purely natural hormones that all of us (including men, BTW) have in our bodies. Progestin based pills may in fact ward off cancer: oral contraceptive use has consistently been found to be associated with a reduced risk of ovarian and endometrial cancer. They're certainly not carcinogens, although some forms of cancer (breast, notably) can be aggravated by estrogens -- because estrogens stimulate breast cells. Furthermore, anyone using 'chemicals' as a pejorative should be mocked; any scientist who uses it thusly should be unemployed. And she, like most Democrats, raises the specter of 'big pharma'. Very conservative. In the second article, "Miscarriage Of Justice: Is Big Pharma Breaking Your Uterus?", she attacks her boogeyman again.

The pharmacology of steroid hormones, natural and synthetic, is not her area of competence, so evidently she feels free to write tendentious crap that happens to follow her Roman-Catholic faith. She likes, instead, 'fertility-tracking', i.e. the rhythm method. My parents had six kids on the rhythm method.

I'm past being shocked by the incompetence of Trump' nominees. But this is worse: touting that this is one's area of expertise, and then substituting one's religious dogma for the consensus of the field.

Norwegian Blue?

Karl Ove Knausgård is a Norwegian novelist. His magnum opus is a six-volume piece of 'autographical fiction', called Min Kamp (My Struggle). Pro-tip: if you're going to name your autobiography the Norwegian cognate of Mein Kampf, probably best to avoid spending a couple of hundred pages on the subject of Hitler, as Knausgård did. This, in particular, is unfortunate:
I wrote that there must be some good aspects in what Hitler did, otherwise so many people would not have followed him.

One initially wonders how, living in Norway one's whole life, it is possible to accumulate material for a six-volume autobiography. This is readily explained by the Times, which notes that he spent 100 pages recounting how as a lad he hid beer-bottles in the snow for a party, and another 50 pages in another volume describing how much he disliked another party, this one in Sweden. And yet apparently 10% of all Norwegians have read his books.

For my part, I refuse to believe this is not a Lake Wobegon joke.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Industry funding bad, government funding good?

A new article in PLoSMedicine, which has been labeled a 'study' but is in reality an opinion piece, claims (against the preponderance of evidence) that artificially sweetened beverages (ASBs) do not promote weight loss. They criticize some of the studies that say ASBs are associated with moderate weight loss as 'industry funded'.

Problem is, most of the authors are apparently Brazilian, paid (presumably) by the Brazilian government, and have separate research funding from the same government. A non-Brazilian, English author says two of his three affilitions are with Brazilian universities. There seems to be no other funding aside from a fellowship. 2% of Brazil's GDP comes from cane sugar. Think a pressing national interest, bolstered by research funding from the government, is likely to bias research? If not, then why should industry funding?

Borges MC, Louzada ML, de Sá TH, Laverty AA, Parra DC, et al. (2017) Artificially Sweetened Beverages and the Response to the Global Obesity Crisis. PLOS Medicine 14(1): e1002195. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1002195

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Sunday, January 1, 2017

My 2017 wish.

The London Sunday Times has a piece today about 'ticket-touting'. Companies are buying up tickets from certain clubs, and then reselling them at a profit -- often a huge profit. In the UK, where the idea of liberty is far less developed than in the US, this generates outrage because of the so-called 'unfairness'. But why? If the price was unfair, why did the buyer pay it? He obviously valued the ticket more than the money he exchanged for it, else he wouldn't have done it. Why should the State step into a non-fraudulent commercial transaction between consenting adults, both of whom feel that they benefitted?

This doesn't just apply to ticket-scalping. Every year, thousands of American men and women are prosecuted for consensual sex (or BDSM), or even just negotiating consensual sex, simply because money has changed hands. Aside from the direct costs, the indirect consequences of this -- driving sex-workers underground and making them more vulnerable to predation by cops or criminals, active corruption by the vice-squad, etc., are enormous. But why do we care if John Doe exchanges $500 for a two-hour session with Mistress Nasty? Both are grown ups of sound mind, and both consider they have profited from the transition. Who is some politican or policeman to interpose themself into the exchange?

This is my wish for 2017: that we stop trying to make criminal voluntary transactions between consenting adults. Why is it any of our business, or the State's business?