Friday, November 20, 2020

The Left is dumb on Iran, the Right is dumb on the virus

Joe Biden wants to rejoin the Iran deal. President Trump mocked Laura Inghraham for wearing a mask. You can just cringe at the stupidity of both of them.  

Matthew Kroening explains here what is wrong with the Iran deal. It just does not fundamentally resolve the issue. Snapback sanctions - if Iran is caught in violation the sanctions will supposedly “snapback” in place. Sunset clause - after 15 years Iran could have as many enrichment facilities as it wants.  

Nature:  To be clear, the science supports using masks, with recent studies suggesting that they could save lives in different ways: research shows that they cut down the chances of both transmitting and catching the coronavirus, and some studies hint that masks might reduce the severity of infection if people do contract the disease.  

The number of new infections in the US is approaching 200 000 per day. Michael Osterholm said yesterday: “We are now living in the most dangerous public health moment since 1918 “. His basic message: “Stop Swapping Air!”

President Trump asked for options for attacking Iran last week, but held off.

Why is it that we cannot have leaders who understand the dangers from Iran and the virus at the same time?

So we are back to the article I wrote in 2008. Israel now  has two months, till January 20, 2021  to make up its mind.

Facing Iran, Alone.

We are back in 1940


In May 1940 Britain stood alone facing Nazi Germany. The USSR had signed the Ribbentrop-Molotov nonaggression pact; the US had not entered the war yet.

On May 7, Leo Amery spoke in the Commons, attacking Neville Chamberlain's government, quoting Oliver Cromwell: "You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!"

On May 10, 1940, Winston Churchill became Prime Minister.

Ever since the US government's National Intelligence Estimate report it has become increasingly probable that Israel will be the one to tackle Iran. With the election of Barack Obama this is now almost certain. We are back in May 1940.

There are many who believe that, for all their talk, the Iranians would never launch a nuclear attack. The 12th Imam is for the masses, the way Marx was, the argument goes, and not to be believed in verbatim. How many Arab or Muslim leaders have become suicide bombers to get the virgins? None.

But comparing Communists with the followers of the Islamic prophet is misleading. For one, the Communists never produced suicide bombers and we already have had 148 explode here in Israel. Muhammad Atta was not the top leader, but he was among the educated, for whom education was just a tool to be used in accomplishing his jihadi goals. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is an ardent believer in theMahdi, the Hidden Twelfth Imam, the four-year old who went into hiding in a well 1,140 years ago. The idea that Iran itself may become a nuclear suicide bomber is real.

Those who question Iranian motives are projecting Western values, almost patronizingly so. The privileged party members in the USSR, the so-called priviligentsia, would not dream of sacrificing themselves. They had their closed shops, hospitals and pharmacies, access to foreign media and, most coveted of all, access abroad. They enjoyed their privileges. The Iranian mullahs are no Bolsheviks.

The world watched Hitler rearm, reoccupy the Rhineland in 1936, annex the Sudetenland in October 1938 and the rest of Czechoslovakia in March 1939, and rape Austria in 1938. As Churchill put it, they kept feeding the crocodile hoping they would be eaten last.

Anyone who reads about the policies and the press of the 1933-1940 period cannot but be struck by the similarities. We know what happened then, yet we are following almost the same path. Scary.


Might Israel strike at Iran before Obama takes over? As reported in the Jerusalem Post, Benny Morris says yes. Most other analysts disagree. I believe that it is in the US interest for Israel to destroy the Iranian nuclear sites, since the destruction and the rise in oil prices resulting from a non-nuclear Iranian retaliation would still be much less than the consequences of a nuclear war following an Iranian nuclear strike on Israel and an Israeli nuclear retaliation.

There is only one remaining scenario left.

On February 10 Israel goes to the polls. The leaders we elect will be our last line of defense. Help will not come from the Europeans, the United Nations and not even from the US. The decisions that will determine the survival of this country will come from Benjamin Netanyahu, Moshe Yaalon, Benny Begin or Tzipi Livni. Take your pick.





Wednesday, November 18, 2020

The 2020 pandemic exposed human stupidity like no other event in history


I have been reading Robert Harris’s gripping new novel V2 the last two days and have been out of the covid picture but when I glimpsed at the covid-19 data for Serbia I got a shock: +5,613 new cases in one day for a population of 8.7 million!  So I call a friend in Belgrade to find out what happened and got an explanation that people just let their guard down and have had huge parties on boats on the Sava river. There were  no fines for not wearing masks. They don’t trust the government, he said.

If you don't trust the government, just do the research yourself - read what epidemiologists say* and not what politicians or economists or journalists say!  I just cannot believe that people cannot take things seriously when their lives are at stake! But apparently they don’t.

The numbers are skyrocketing throughout Europe and the situation in the US is horrible, so it is not just Balkan disregard for authority – it is pure stupidity almost throughout the world. After all, Trump most probably lost his presidency because he downplayed the dangers of covid-19 and refused to wear the mask.

 It seems that people are incapable of understanding elementary facts about the pandemic – that it spreads via aerosol i.e. and that being in closed premises without a mask is the most dangerous, that masks although not offering full protection are helpful and reduce the risk and should be worn, that one should just not take risks because of pandemic fatigue since this all is just for a limited time period.  Pfizer and Moderna will start distributing the vaccine in December 2020, so this is just a question of another 3-4 months, we are ¾ there!

I do not know what historians of the future will say about the pandemic of 2020. I am sure that they will have to mention that the 2020 pandemic exposed human stupidity like no other event in history.  


* Marc Lipsitch

  Michael Osterholm

  Celine Gounder               

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Dr. Mark Pagel explains why people don’t wear masks although they know it is risky

 14:30 into the podcast 

Celine Gounder: Today, it's my great pleasure to have on the podcast Dr. Mark Pagel. Mark is an evolutionary biologist and professor at the University of Reading. He studies how evolution imprints on human behavior from genes to language and culture. And he’s the author of one of my favorite books, Wired for Culture. 

Celine: So Mark, I want to start with talking about why humans form tribal groups. As a public health expert who's very much involved in, in the coronavirus pandemic, it's been very challenging to communicate and to cross sort of political divides in the United States. And I think it would be helpful to understand, um, why those tribes are forming in the first place. 

Mark Pagel: Humans have, have sort of explored the earth in these little co-operative societies that we in a kind of shorthand refer to as tribes. And all manner of rules and sort of personality or psychological traits have sprung up in us to make sure those small groups work. One of the strongest and can lead to some of the most disturbing outcomes is that we've evolved a whole lot of tendencies for and abilities to identify people that we think are in our group. And some of them are obvious like skin color or facial shape. Others are less obvious, like an accent that you have. Those things give you a way as coming from a certain area. And so humans really are tribal in this way, probably in a way that no other species is.  

Celine Gounder: And so a question that's more directly, you know, applicable to the current pandemic. Why do people risk their health and even their lives on behalf of their culture, their, their social affiliations?

Mark Pagel: This is a really, really difficult subject. Humans seem to be a species in which we have evolved this, these psychological tendencies to look out for our societies and, and the most vivid examples of that are when we go to war and fight for our societies. And this kind of altruism seems to be widespread in human societies. 

Mark: This is a personality trait that humans have that you just don't see in other animals, you would never expect a chimpanzee to go around worrying about how it can improve the wellbeing of the group of chimpanzees it lives in.

Celine Gounder: So why is it that people might choose not to wear a mask, even though the science would indicate that that protects them and, and others in the midst of the pandemic.

Mark Pagel: It comes back to the psychological traits that we've evolved as a species. This, this strong need to identify and to advertise the group that we belong to because we think in doing so, we attract other like-minded people to be around us. And, we notice this with the groups of people who don't want to wear masks, they're quite vociferous about it. It isn't just that they're quietly going about their business, but they want it to be known that they're not a mask-wearer and in some sense, this attracts like-minded people to them. 

Celine Gounder: Why is it whether it's politics or science, you know, why is it we're best persuaded by our family and friends rather than science and facts?

Mark Pagel: Yes. I think we have to be aware that we go through life taking direction from other people. Most of us have to make decisions about things on a daily basis that we really don't have the information to, to make the correct decision about. If you look around you at any given time, the ideas and the behaviors that you can observe are ideas and behaviors that by and large have kept the people alive who have them. And so in a sense, I think that we follow those who are most close to us in terms of our family or in terms of the tribal identities we have, and we look to what they're doing and we just take it on board, that those are going to be reasonable things to do. It's a kind of predisposition we have as a species.

Celine Gounder: There’s been a lot of back and forth among public health leaders about how best to message about masks. Is it to say, it’s to protect yourself? Is it to say, it’s to protect others? Which message is more convincing and why? 

Mark Pagel: Typically, our first allegiance is to ourselves, and so we probably want to convince people that wearing a mask will protect them. And then I think our second allegiance is going to be to our society. To the extent that we think our societies are going to be organized in a way that will bring us good. We’re willing to engage these kinds of altruistic acts like wearing a mask if we think that if everybody wears a mask we’ll all be better for it. So we’re not willing to do it simply to help others but if we think we’ll all be better for it. So one of the benefits that might come from everyone wearing masks is that I, personally, will be less likely to get coronavirus. So, that will be a motivation for me to join in with that campaign. And then secondary but, you know, in close, um,  succession, also appealing to people not to harm others, because that  is a very powerful moral, or ethical principle in human society. 

Celine Gounder: One of the arguments for mask-wearing has been to protect yourself, but it's also to protect others. What is reciprocal altruism and how is that different from altruism? 

Mark Pagel: So a, a pure altruistic act might be putting on a mask to go out shopping simply because you think it's wrong to expose others to a virus that you might be carrying. You're not expecting anything back. Our societies are, are based on an even more abstract form of altruism that we call indirect reciprocity. So, mask-wearing becomes a value. I don't wear a mask in front of you just so you'll wear a mask in front of me. I wear a mask because I want to advertise to people I'm a mask-wearing kind of person that that's an important thing to do. And then I'm hoping that others will adopt that value and will all simply wear masks. That's what governments are desperately trying to do. They're desperately trying to convince us that we should wear a mask simply because it's the right thing to do and one of the most effective messages I think in that campaign has been to say that you could kill somebody if you didn't wear a mask. Killing another person is probably the most strongest prohibition we have. And so perhaps that has worked somewhat.  

Celine Gounder: So I would say personally that wearing a mask is patriotic. That it's something that's for the good of my community, for the good of my nation. Why is it that wearing a mask might not be seen as patriotic by somebody who's conservative? 

Mark Pagel: There has been this sort of polarization, especially in American society. And, and some groups are seeing wearing a mask as a patriotic thing to do because it improves public health of the nation. Other groups are seeing wearing a mask, for example, as, uh, statement that you're not a member of their tribal group. And so we can see again, that depending upon the tribal identity, that one is adopting we can get completely different behaviors and actions and beliefs

Celine Gounder: In your book, you say that the more arbitrary the norm or signal of group commitment, the more powerful that signaling. You know, and again, going back to wearing masks, why is it that maybe the seemingly more arbitrary that, that signal becomes more powerful? 

Mark Pagel: So the more arbitrary they are tells me that somehow they've really adopted those behaviors because they want to demonstrate their commitment to my tribal group because they're not getting anything out of those. They're not benefiting from them in any other way, other than to advertise that they're a member of a group.

Mark: [00:53:09:24] And the very risk that's associated with that tells me if I'm looking for other people, I want to know are a part of my group. It tells me that they're probably a, a real member of my group. They're willing to take risks to be part of my group. So not wearing a mask. It could, in that sense, indeed be a very powerful measure of tribal identity. 

Celine Gounder: So, what about how we enforce some of these norms? Um, shame and, and stigma are often used, you know, in addition, to say, mandates or fines. Are shame and stigma, useful tools and, and enforcing such behavior. And when they're targeted, say at the individual versus at a group, how effective are they and can they backfire? 

Mark Pagel: They're probably very effective and yes, they, they can backfire. I mean, what has to happen is that shame needs to come from the group that we hope to be a part of. If we can get enough people in that group, our immediate society, the people that we spend time with to be sort of in a sense, threatening to ostracize us, we will come around because we don't want to be excluded from that group. And so if that shame can arise sort of naturally out of one social group. I think it can be very, very powerful. If it feels imposed upon us, especially by people we don't identify with people who aren't in our group. Oh, those people who think wearing masks is important. Then I think it will backfire very, very badly. 

Mark Pagel: So I think it has to be applied very, very carefully. It can’t come, come from above, it needs to rise up out of our societies naturally. 

Celine: Well, Mark, thank you so much for speaking with us.

Mark Pagel: Thanks very much, Celine.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Iran’s Enriched Uranium Stockpile Is 12 Times Nuclear Accord’s Cap, U.N. Agency Says

 The Wall Street Journal

Stockpile, along with advanced centrifuges and nuclear research, underscores challenge Biden would face in persuading Iran to return to 2015 deal

A satellite image shows Iran's nuclear facility in Isfahan on Oct. 21 


By Laurence Norman

 Iran is continuing to build up its stockpile of low-enriched uranium and now holds roughly 12 times the amount permitted under the 2015 nuclear agreement, the United Nations Atomic Agency said in a report.

 The report’s findings underscore the challenge the incoming Biden administration faces in persuading Iran to fully return to the 2015 nuclear deal: Besides the stockpile of low-enriched uranium, which when further refined can be used to fuel a nuclear weapon, Iran is also taking steps to potentially accelerate its production of low-enriched uranium and is continuing its nuclear research.

 President-elect Joe Biden has said he is prepared to take the U.S. back into the 2015 nuclear deal provided Iran returns into full compliance with that deal and agrees to future negotiations for longer and more stringent constraints on its nuclear activities.

 Mr. Biden, who was vice president when the Iran deal was struck, has criticized the Trump administration’s decision to quit the nuclear deal in May 2018 and impose sweeping sanctions on Tehran. In September, he said that approach “recklessly tossed away a policy that was working to keep America safe and replaced it with one that has worsened the threat.”

 Iran has said it is open to negotiation but has placed various conditions on returning to the accord’s terms, including compensation for the U.S.’s withdrawal and sanctions. On Wednesday, Iran’s deputy foreign minister, Abbas Araghchi, was quoted in Iranian state media saying “the way back is open” for the U.S. to the deal.

 Iran has gradually moved away from the nuclear deal’s limits since the summer of 2019 in response to the U.S.’s “maximum pressure” sanctions campaign.

 Mr. Trump, in justifying his decision to take the U.S. out of the deal, said it would fail to stop Tehran from eventually obtaining nuclear weapons and ignored key issues, like Iran’s ballistic-missile capacity and its support for terrorism. Trump administration officials have indicated they could slap new sanctions on Iran in the final weeks before January’s transition.

 In its latest quarterly report, sent to member states and seen by The Wall Street Journal, the International Atomic Energy Agency said Iran had now accumulated a low-enriched uranium stockpile of 2,443 kilograms. That compares with a limit of 203 kg under the nuclear deal.

Of the total, which the agency said is enriched up to 4.5% purity, around a quarter has been produced in a way that nuclear experts say would be of little use for further enrichment. Nonetheless, Iran has now accumulated enough enriched uranium to produce the high-enriched uranium needed for two nuclear weapons, according to analysts at the Institute for Science and International Security. Weapons-grade material is of around 90% purity.

Iran denies that it is seeking or has ever sought to build a nuclear weapon.

The report also detailed various moves by Iran to install more-advanced centrifuges, which can produce enriched uranium much more quickly, at its nuclear facilities. That could allow Iran to step up its enriched-uranium production in coming months.

 Among the more important changes was Iran’s decision to install a first group of so-called IR-2M centrifuges at its underground enrichment site at the Natanz facility, breaching one of the nuclear deal’s terms.

 The IR-2M machines are the only more-advanced centrifuges Tehran has successfully deployed, and Tehran had already said it was intending to place up to three cascades of the machines underground. However, the machines aren’t yet being fed with uranium, the IAEA reported.

“Iran may choose to exploit the U.S. presidential transition period to augment its nuclear programs and manufacture a crisis so that a Biden administration feels compelled to re-enter the [nuclear deal],” said Andrea Stricker, a research fellow at the Washington-based think tank Foundation for Defense of Democracies, which has campaigned against the nuclear deal.

  “The Biden camp should…recognize it holds all the leverage of sanctions relief built from the Trump administration’s maximum pressure campaign and seek a better agreement,” she said.

The IAEA report showed the agency is still not receiving adequate explanations from Iran for its discovery of uranium at a site in the outskirts of Tehran last year. The site, first revealed by the Israelis, is believed to be where Iran stored material and equipment used in what Western countries believe was a nuclear-weapons program in the 1990s and early 2000s.

 The agency cited a letter it sent Iranian authorities on Monday that said Iran’s explanations for the material were “not technically credible” and urged a “full and prompt” explanation by Iran for the material.

In a footnote to the report, it said the material found at the site was similar to traces found on centrifuges imported into Iran by Pakistan, as detailed in a report in 2008.

 It was long believed that Iran’s suspected nuclear-weapons program was linked to Pakistan’s A.Q. Khan’s global nuclear-supply network.

 Under its international commitments, Iran is supposed to declare and account for all nuclear material in the country.

Following the discovery of the nuclear material, and with Iran blocking for months IAEA inspectors’ access to two nuclear sites, now visited by the agency, the Trump administration pressed IAEA members to force Iran to open up about its past nuclear work.


Will Israel Strike Iran?

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Biden and Israel’s security vis-a-vis Iran and MAD


Letters to the Editor, Jerusalem Post, Nov 11, 2020

I have two comments:

1)  Regarding “Biden’s not Trump, but he won’t let Israel’s security be compromised” (November 8), the article title is dead wrong.

Biden’s rejoining of the Iran deal whose sunset clause paves the way for Iran to get the bomb soon would be a disaster. Let’s not forget what Bernard Lewis said:

“In this context, the deterrent that worked so well during the Cold War, namely M.A.D. (Mutual Assured Destruction) , would have no meaning. At the End of Time, there will be general destruction anyway. What will matter is the final destination of the dead – hell for the infidels, and the delights of heaven for the believers. For people with this mindset, M.A.D. is not a constraint; it is an inducement.”

2) “Jerusalem needs to move fast with Democrats” (November 10) got it reversed. It is not Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who is to blame for ruining relations with the Democratic Party; it is the Democratic Party who is to blame for ruining relations with Israel. That party could not even pass a resolution in the House condemning Representative Ilhan Omar for her antisemitism.

 As Ayaan Hirsi Ali wrote, “Islamists have understood well how to couple Muslim antisemitism with the American Left’s vague notion of ‘social justice.’ They have succeeded in couching their agenda in the progressive framework of the oppressed versus the oppressor. Identity politics and victimhood culture also provide Islamists with the vocabulary to deflect their critics with accusations of ‘Islamophobia,’ ‘white privilege’ and ‘insensitivity.’ A perfect illustration was the way Ms. Omar and her allies were able to turn a House resolution condemning her antisemitism into a garbled “intersectional” rant in which Muslims emerged as the most vulnerable minority in the league table of victimhood.”




Sunday, November 8, 2020

Victor Davis Hanson | US Election 2020


I agree with VDH except for these two parts. It took him 22 min and 10 sec to mention covid and said: “He [Biden] offered nothing other than Trump did”.  But this is not accurate. Trump kept on making fun of the mask. He made fun of Laura Ingraham who had a mask and this took its toll and alienated voters.  

VDH's comparison of Trump not wearing masks and trying untested concoctions which would help against covid to Churchill getting in a Halifax bomber is just wrong.

 Churchill only indirectly endangered everyone in that his death would have been a disaster for everyone. Not many would have followed his examples of going to the top of buildings to observe the bombing of London  during the Blitz. People following Trump in his abhorrence of masks on the other hand endangered themselves and everyone else.

And my take, as a letter sent to the Jerusalem Post:

 Trump lost not to Biden but to covid-19.

 Of all the ways Biden’s win will rattle Israel (Tova Lazaroff, Nov 7)  no 10 on the list, revival of the 2015 Iran deal is the most serious.  Trump just needed to wear a mask and we wouldn’t be in this situation.

Trump lost not to Biden but to covid-19. What really made all the difference was his incredibly absurd denial of the seriousness of covid-19 and many, especially older voters, took notice. Of the most important issues for voters coronavirus topped the list with 41 percent.  After all, on Friday the US had 132 979 new cases at the time Trump kept repeating how the US was “rounding the corner”.          

 Mladen Andrijasevic

Be'er Sheva