Here’s a morbid exercise: Can you keep track of which school shooting was the last before Parkland?

Original Article

If you started typing “school shooting” into Google search Wednesday afternoon, you might have noticed that auto-fill took over and anticipated the next word: “today.” So even the bloodless algorithms within Google recognize that, when one tries to find information about a fresh school shooting, the search needs to be narrowed. Because people are still searching the school shooting from last week. And the one before that. And the one before that. We are six weeks into 2018, and so far there have been at least six shooting incidents on school grounds that have wounded at least one person, including the massacre Wednesday, in which 17 people were reported killed at a high school in Parkland, Fla.

When does an epidemic stop being an epidemic and become just a basic part of regular life? It’s been 19 years since the nation was horrified by the carnage at Columbine in suburban Denver. It’s been just over five years since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. Quick: What was the most recent mass shooting incident (at least four wounded) at a school before the one on Wednesday? Here’s the sick part: There have been so many school shootings that it takes a bit of work to answer what should be an easy question.

Already the folks who support gun control (which includes us) are fuming about the ready availability of firearms in our society. Already the pro-gun folks are pooh-poohing those who think guns are integral to shooting deaths. “Guns don’t kill people, people do,” they like to say. The accurate phrasing should be, “Guns don’t kill people, people with guns do.” At an astonishing rate, a depressing rate, a stomach-churning rate.

As a society we tend to become particularly shocked — at least for a few minutes — when someone shoots down children and young adults while they’re attending classes in what should be a positive, nurturing and safe environment. But even if we’re shocked, we tolerate it. Our outrage is more Pavlovian than visceral. We listen to the bleatings of the gun enthusiasts that, well, if those teachers had guns, then this wouldn’t have been as bad.

Been as bad. Think about that. If a pistol-strapping chemistry teacher had grabbed her .45 and unloaded on today’s gunman after he killed, what, one student? Three? Five? That would be good news?

We do not live in the Wild West. Our schools are not the O.K. Corral. Clint Eastwood isn’t in this movie. We are a violent, disjointed, gun-embracing culture. “But wait!” you might say. “Not me! I hate guns! We need more gun control!” As true as that might be, that’s not the belief of the body politic. Because if it was, we wouldn’t be sitting in front of our television sets wondering what the final death tally will be. Feeling our heartstrings tugged by images of bereft parents. Feeling an impotent rage.

This is what America is today: bloody. The Florida shooting too shall pass, as did Columbine, Sandy Hook, Santa Monica College and so on — all allowed to fade into the backdrop of American memory without a thing being done. This is us. Until we decide finally, forcefully, effectively, that it is not.

Putin’s Phone Call With Netanyahu Put End to Israeli Strikes in Syria

Original Article

Russian President Vladimir Putin put an end to the confrontation between Israel and Iran in Syria and both sides accepted his decision. That’s the apparent conclusion to be reached from the chain of events this past weekend.

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On Saturday afternoon, after the second wave of bombardments by the Israel Air Force against Syrian targets and Iranian installationsin Syria, senior Israeli officials were still taking a militant line and it seemed as if Jerusalem was considering further military action. Discussion of that ended not long after a phone call between Putin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The official announcement by the Russian Foreign Ministry objected to the violation of Syrian sovereignty by Israel and totally ignored the event that provoked the eruption – the infiltration of an Iranian drone into Israeli airspace. In the conversation with Netanyahu a few hours later, Putin asked him to avoid moves that could lead to “a new round of dangerous consequences for the region.”

The quiet after the Netanyahu-Putin call shows once again who’s the real boss in the Middle East. While the United States remains the region’s present absentee – searches are continuing for a coherent American foreign policy – Russia is dictating the way things are going. Moscow has invested too much effort and resources in saving Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime in recent years to allow Israel to foil its strategic project. One can assume messages of this nature were conveyed during the phone call with Netanyahu.

This doesn’t mean that Israel doesn’t have its own bargaining chips, just from its ability to send the Syrian arena into another dramatic spin, but it’s doubtful that Netanyahu is eager to confront the Russians. His confrontation with the Iranians is enough.

Israeli military attacks the drone's command and control vehicle

A rare vulnerability exposed during an otherwise successful day for the IAF that allowed the hit on the F-16 provided the Iranians and Syrians with their great propaganda achievement. The crew of the plane that was hit was left relatively exposed at high altitude in a manner that allowed the surprise hit by the missile. From Iran’s perspective, it was an impressive success in the first operation that the Revolutionary Guards conducted in this region by themselves, without relying on emissaries like Hezbollah and local militias. This success was immediately translated into an attempt to establish a new balance of power through declarations that it would no longer allow Israel to conduct air strikes in Syria as it pleases.

The area surrounding Assad’s camp suffered serious damage from the weekend bombardments, with almost half the Syrian army’s air defense batteries destroyed. But it seems that from the Iranian and Syrian perspective, the symbolic importance of taking down an Israeli plane makes up for this.

Over the weekend another two precedents were set: Iran launched a drone into Israeli territory, and Israel hit a manned Iranian target in Syrian territory. Israel thus crossed a certain psychological barrier, after months of public (and apparently excessive) threats to stop Iranian entrenchment in Syria.

Missile contrails seen in Israel during overnight strike in Syria
Missile contrails seen in Israel during overnight strike in Syria

But now a new test looms: If Israel won’t allow shipments of advanced weaponry to be brought to Hezbollah in Lebanon via Syria, what will it do the next time such a convoy sets out, after the enemy has demonstrated its attack capabilities and has threatened that the next Israeli attack will lead to a broad escalation? Even if we assume that next time, IAF planes will set out on their mission with more extensive protection, it’s taking a calculated risk.

The air strikes in the north were part of what the Israel Defense Forces refer to as the “war between the wars,” aimed primarily at undermining the efforts of organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah to empower themselves. When he presented the IDF’s annual intelligence assessment last month, Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot raised the possibility that the many IDF successes during these interim campaigns could push the enemy to try to respond in a way that could bring the region to the brink of war. That’s essentially what happened over the weekend.

Although things seem to be calming down, in retrospect it seems that we came a hair’s breadth from a slide into war. The security establishment’s assessment is that although this round of fighting has ended, another clash with Iran is only a matter of time.

On the right, one is starting to hear weird ideas about establishing a new regional order; let’s just finish teaching the Syrians a lesson and we’ll be able to go at the Iranians directly, even on their territory. But these are dangerous ideas that Israel would best avoid. In this tough neighborhood, Israel must display strength and determination, but dare not get drawn into illusions about unlimited military strength. It seems that the leadership in Jerusalem understands this.

The Russians are also concerned about the proximity of the Israeli bombings to sites where their soldiers and advisers are serving, including base T-4 near Palmyra, where the Iranian control post from which the anti-aircraft missile was fired was bombed.

 

New DNA nanorobots successfully target and kill off cancerous tumors

Original Article

Science fiction no more — in an article out today in Nature Biotechnology, scientists were able to show tiny autonomous bots have the potential to function as intelligent delivery vehicles to cure cancer in mice.

These DNA nanorobots do so by seeking out and injecting cancerous tumors with drugs that can cut off their blood supply, shriveling them up and killing them.

“Using tumor-bearing mouse models, we demonstrate that intravenously injected DNA nanorobots deliver thrombin specifically to tumor-associated blood vessels and induce intravascular thrombosis, resulting in tumor necrosis and inhibition of tumor growth,” the paper explains.

DNA nanorobots are a somewhat new concept for drug delivery. They work by getting programmed DNA to fold into itself like origami and then deploying it like a tiny machine, ready for action.

The scientists behind this study tested the delivery bots by injecting them into mice with human breast cancer tumors. Within 48 hours, the bots had successfully grabbed onto vascular cells at the tumor sites, causing blood clots in the tumor’s vessels and cutting off their blood supply, leading to their death.

Remarkably, the bots did not cause clotting in other parts of the body, just the cancerous cells they’d been programmed to target, according to the paper.

The scientists were also able to demonstrate the bots did not cause clotting in the healthy tissues of Bama miniature pigs, calming fears over what might happen in larger animals.

The goal, say the scientists behind the paper, is to eventually prove these bots can do the same thing in humans. Of course, more work will need to be done before human trials begin.

Regardless, this is a huge breakthrough in cancer research. The current methods of either using chemotherapy to destroy every cell just to get at the cancer cell are barbaric in comparison. Using targeted drugs is also not as exact as simply cutting off blood supply and killing the cancer on the spot. Should this new technique gain approval for use on humans in the near future it could have impressive affects on those afflicted with the disease.

IOC decides to allow Statue of Liberty image to remain on Team USA goalie masks

Original Article

GANGNEUNG, Korea — The IOC has decided to allow the Statue of Liberty image to stand on the goalie masks belonging to U.S players Nicole Hensley and Alex Rigsby.

The Americans were notified the decision before dressing for their game against the Olympic Athletes from Russia on Tuesday.

A look at USA goalie Nicole Hensley's mask.

A look at USA goalie Nicole Hensley’s mask.
ROB SCHUMACHER, USA TODAY SPORTS

Earlier, the Americans were informed that the Statue of Liberty was being reviewed to determine if it was in violation of the IOC’s ban of political symbols on masks.

Hensley’s Statue of Liberty image is on the left side of her mask, and Rigsby’s is on her chin. Neither goalie played in USA’s opening 3-1 win against Finland. Maddie Rooney was the starter.

U.S. women’s hockey goalies may have to remove Statue of Liberty image from masks

GANGNEUNG, Korea – USA Hockey is working with the IOC to see whether goalies Nicole Hensley and Alex Rigsby really will have to remove the Statue of Liberty from their goalkeepers masks.

USA Hockey spokesman Dave Fischer said on Tuesday “discussions are ongoing” after the IOC said earlier the images would have to be removed.

Nicole Hensley helped the USA win gold at the last
Nicole Hensley helped the USA win gold at the last two World Championships, but Robb Stauber hasn’t committed to a starter yet for the Olympics.

The IOC views the image as a possible violation of its policy against political symbols. The rule from the IOC Guidelines Regarding Authorized Identifications: No item may feature the wording or lyrics from national anthems, motivational words, public/political messaging or slogans related to national identity.

Hensley’s Statue of Liberty image is on the left side of her mask, and Rigsby’s is on her chin. Neither goalie played in USA’s opening 3-1 win against Finland. Maddie Rooney was the starter.

Fischer said it the situation should be resolved before USA’s Tuesday game against Russia (7:10 a.m., ET, NBC Sports Network.)

The IRS Is Coming for Your Passports

Original Article

The U.S. government is building the world’s largest debtors’ prison: the United States. Beginning this month, the Internal Revenue Service will begin denying passports to some American citizens with unpaid taxes and, in some cases, revoking the passports of Americans with tax delinquencies. The government will in effect place those with unpaid taxes under arrest, effectively denying them their right to travel. To be clear: We are not talking about Americans who have been convicted of tax evasion or tax fraud, or who are awaiting a criminal trial on charges related to tax matters. These Americans have not been charged with a crime, must less convicted of one. They simply have unpaid taxes amounting to $50,000 or more. More precisely: They have an unpaid IRS liability amounting to $50,000 or more. The IRS’s aggressive schedule of interest and penalties for unpaid taxes ensures that a relatively small amount of unpaid taxes can turn into a $50,000-plus liability with remarkable speed. The IRS has remarkable investigative tools and collections procedures at its disposal. Say what you will about the Patriot Act, it does not oblige Americans to file detailed paperwork annually with the Department of Homeland Security detailing their personal affairs, business arrangements, housing situation, health-insurance coverage, etc. The IRS has that power, and then some: It can seize assets, garnish wages, put liens on property, and more. Still, there are occasions when it finds itself unable to collect a debt. Sometimes, that is because it is dealing with a crafty person who manages to hide his income and property from the government. More often, that is because it is dealing with a person who simply cannot pay.

What’s worse is that there is no appeal, no procedural remedy in the law, no redress for those who have been wrongly targeted — and we know the IRS has a history of wrongly targeting Americans its agents perceive as political enemies. The sole remedy available to Americans who wrongfully lose their passports to the IRS — or who fail to have them reinstated after making good on their taxes — is to file a civil action against the agency under 26 USC 7345. Suing the IRS is an expensive and difficult proposition, especially for people who are likely already to be in a difficult financial situation. When it comes to relations between citizen and state, it’s always a matter of “Show, don’t tell.” Here is a data point for you: Under federal sentencing guidelines, the recommended sentence for involuntary manslaughter is 10 months to 16 months. The average sentence for tax evasion? Seventeen months. The average sentence in a tax case is longer than the average sentence for a car thief (twelve months), a forger (twelve months), or a felon convicted in a drug case (14 months). But that’s tax fraud. We aren’t even talking about that. We’re just talking about Americans with unpaid back taxes. The right to travel is — like the right to free speech, the right to be free from unlawful search and seizure, and the right to petition the government for redress of grievance — a basic civil right. Americans as free people have a God-given right to come and go as they please, irrespective of the preferences of any pissant bureaucrat in Washington. Yes, we curtail people’s rights in certain circumstances — when they have been charged with a crime and convicted after due process. Tax fraud is a crime; having unpaid taxes is not. The U.S. government needs a periodic reminder that it was created by the states and by the people, not the other way around, and that it exists at the sufferance of the people — not the other way around. Suspending passports in the course of a civil dispute — a civil dispute that may well be in litigation or soon to be in litigation — is banana-republic, totalitarian stuff.

Congress did this, and Congress can undo this — and Congress should undo this. Yes, people should pay their taxes. Most people do. But there are limits to what the government may permissibly do to citizens in any situation, and much narrower limits to what the government may permissibly to do citizens who have neither been charged with nor convicted of any crime in the matter — which is not, after all, a criminal matter in the first place. People should pay their taxes, and the people at the IRS should do their jobs honestly and ethically. Most of them do. But not all of them. Lois Lerner, the IRS boss who illegally targeted conservative groups for harassment in the runup to the 2012 presidential election, is happily enjoying retired life in some Washington suburb while collecting a fat federal pension. She didn’t lose her passport. Former IRS commissioner John Koskinen lied to Congress about the situation and oversaw the destruction of evidence. He still has a passport. The crimes — actual crimes — of the powerful and the connected go unpunished, while those who for whatever reason have an unmet obligation to the IRS are treated like East Germans locked behind the Checkpoint Charlie of the federal bureaucracy. If you want to know why faith in our institutions is at such a low point, meditate on that. In the meantime, Congress should repeal the statute enabling the IRS to effectively place Americans under house arrest over unpaid bills. And if Congress fails to act, its members should be made to pay a price. My senators are Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, and my representative is Pete Sessions. What say you, gentlemen?

The Real History of Valentine’s Day

The Festival of Lupercalia, Óleo Sobre Lienzo.

When you think of Valentine’s Day you probably think of flowers, chocolates, and notes sealed with a kiss—not whipping women with dead animals or martyrdom. But it turns out this sweet and loving commercial holiday has its roots in pagan rituals and good old-fashioned Christian rebranding. Oh, and selling you cards.

Historians aren’t 100% sure about the origins of Valentine’s Day, but many believe it all started as the pre-Roman empire ritual known as Lupercalia, which sounded like a real hoot. Every February 13 – 15, goats and dogs were sacrificed at an altar by the Luperci (or “brothers of the wolf”) as an offering. After that, folks were anointed in the blood of the animals, wiped clean with some wool soaked in milk (as one does), and feasted until they were full and drunk. Then came the best part: the Luperci took the skins of the sacrificial animals and ran around naked, smacking people with them. Here’s how Plutarch describes the festivities:

…many of the noble youths and of the magistrates run up and down through the city naked, for sport and laughter striking those they meet with shaggy thongs. And many women of rank also purposely get in their way, and like children at school present their hands to be struck, believing that the pregnant will thus be helped in delivery, and the barren to pregnancy.

Noel Lenski, a historian at the University of Colorado at Boulder, also points out that there was a kind of “matchmaking lottery” during the festival. Men drew women’s names randomly from a jar and then they would be, uh, “coupled” during the duration of the festival. Now that is a holiday.

Then, ladies and gentleman—drum roll please—came the Catholic Church. They didn’t care much for the blood, and the nakedness, and the sacrificing of the things. By the 5th century, Pope Gelasius I decided to create a new holiday right on top of the old pagan one to, well, make people forget about it. He said, and I quote, “Stop smackin’ bitches with dead animals,” and dubbed it St. Valentine’s day in honor of two Christian martyrs named Valentine—Valentine of Rome and Valentine of Terni—who both happened to be executed by the Roman Emperor Claudius Gothicus II on February 14 in two different years during the 3rd century A.D. What are the odds? Actually, pretty good, since the Romans were basically executing everybody who was Christian during that time. Anyway, at that point, celebrating Lupercalia was all but outlawed.

But did that stop people from getting their fertility on this time of year? No way! The Normans (early northern French folks who descended from the Norse) celebrated Galatin’s Day this time of year instead of St. Valentine’s Day. “Galatin” meant “a lover” or “a gallant,” so they did that, and the name is even believed to have been confused with the name “Valentine” at some point. Eventually, during the Middle Ages, the day gradually became associated with romantic love in Europe. In the 14th century, Geoffrey Chaucer wrote in hisParlement of Foules:

“For this was on seynt Volantynys day, Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make”

For this was on St. Valentine’s Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate.

The poem was for the first anniversary of King Richard II’s engagement to Anne of Bohemia, and it’s largely considered the first written instance where Valentine’s Day is associated with romantic love and not fertility or lusty pursuits. Also, it was believed in England and France that the beginning of birds’ mating season was February 14, hence the line in Chaucer’s poem. They weren’t far off. By the time the Julian calendar became the Gregorian calendar, February 14 actually became the 23, which is a time when some birds start mating and nesting in England. Either way, it added to the notion that Valentine’s Day was for romance. By 1415, people were writing handmade valentines to one another, like the famous poem by Charles, the Duke of Orleans, “A Farewell to Love,” that was sent to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London. And by Shakespeare’s time—“To-morrow is Saint Valentine’s day, all in the morning betime, and I a maid at your window, to be your Valentine”—the romantic version of Valentine’s Day that we all know had become popular throughout almost all of Europe.

Around the start of the industrial revolution in the U.S., Valentine’s Day went from being a small-time, historical day of romance to full-blown money tree. The new age of machinery ushered in mass-produced, factory-made cards one could easily purchase and pass off to those they cared for on special occasions. In 1913, Hallmark Cards offered pre-made valentines, and in 1916 started mass producing them. The day of romance was born anew as a commercial holiday. Since then, the day is not only about buying cheesy cards to pass around your third grade class, but it’s also about buying flowers, candy, jewelry, and trying unsuccessfully to get reservations at halfway-decent restaurants. Love is still in the air, but there’s no doubt the holiday is more about “stuff” nowadays than romance. It almost makes you miss the carcass-slapping days of old.