Cancer: the problem.

I read an interesting blog recently entitled “The War on Cancer” (http://sten.astronomycafe.net/the-war-on-cancer/). Apparently, in the US a little under 600,000 people die of it each year. The author, Dr Sten Odenwald, then set out to illustrate that funding for cancer research is far too low. I think it was President Nixon who coined the phrase, “war on cancer”, and set it as an objective, in the same way Kennedy had set the Moon landing as an objective, but this was doomed to fail, at least in the spectacular way. The reason is the nature of cancer, which, as an aside, is not one disease. We have been trying to cure this for a very long time, but with mixed results. Gaius Plinius Secundus recommended a poultice of broccoli for breast cancer, and asserted it works. There are indeed agents in broccoli that will deal with some breast cancers, but by no means all, and even then, the cancer would need to be near the surface. There are at least twenty different types of breast cancer. Drugs like tamoxifen stop the growth of at least one type, monoclonal antibodies help in some others. So we have made some progress, but there are still severe problems, especially if the tumour metastasizes (dislodges cells to other parts of the body).

It is the nature of cancer that is the problem. Cells grow around nucleic acid, and nucleic acids reproduce by base pairing, then splitting, each strand now being the frame for the production of more nucleic acid. Thus after splitting, when a new double helix is finished being assembled, the amount of nucleic acid has doubled, so a new pair of cells is possible, the old cell having been destroyed. So what can go wrong? You will usually read that copying is not correct, or something is added to the double helix, but I don’t believe that. It is the peculiar nature of the hydrogen bonding that either the correct nucleic acid goes onto the growing strand or nothing does. That is why reproduction is so accurate. In the double helix, the reactive sites are protected, as they are in the interior of the helix, and the outside is the phosphate. A further substitution on the phosphate to make a tri-ester would be a nuisance, but it would not be very stable, and it would repair itself. Further, it would require a highly reactive reagent to do this, as it is exceedingly difficult to make phosphate esters in cold water other than through enzymatic catalysis. No, I think the problem probably arises during the splitting stage when the reactive sites become exposed. If something happens to the nitrogen functions, then that will block the formation of the next double helix at that point.

At that stage, the body will attack the nucleic acid at that point, and the next usual outcome will be that the various parts of the strand will be degraded, and the bits reused or excreted. But if the problem occurred in certain places, it may be that what is left can start reproducing. If that happens you have something growing that has no function for you, BUT it looks like it is part of your body, because up to a point it is. The growth just keeps growing, and reproducing itself. The reason there are so many different cancers is there are so many places where a nucleic acid could go wrong, and each different place that can reproduce will lead to a growth that is slightly different from any others. Because it looks like part of your body, your natural defences ignore it.

So far, we have largely relied on surgery, radiation or drugs. So, how is progress? In some cases, such as leukemia, progress is good, and it is often curable. In other cases, life can be extended, but according to Wikipedia, since Nixon declared war on cancer, the US alone has spent $200 billion on research. Between 1950 and 2005, the death rate, adjusted for population size and age has declined by five per cent. On the other hand, while in remission many patients have had life extended.

However, we should ask, are we doing anything wrong? I think we are, and one problem relates to intellectual property rights. Here is an example of what I mean. In the 1980s I was involved in a project to extract an active material from a marine sponge. My company developed some scale-up technology and made a few grams of this material, which, from reports I received, if the odd microgram was introduced to a solid tumour, the tumour blistered and died, leaving a well-repaired skin outside wherever the organ was. This property was limited to studies on rats, probably with external carcinoma. Anyway, the company that hired us ran into difficulty with its source of funds and went bankrupt, however, somehow ownership of the intellectual property lived on. At the time, there was no known technique of introducing a material as reactive as this to internal tumours, nor did we know whether that would even be beneficial. Essentially, the project was in an early stage, and maybe the material would not be beneficial. Who knows? The problem is, now we don’t know and nobody is likely to work further because the patents have expired. Any company working on that will have all the expense, and then somebody else can come in and take the benefits. In my opinion, this is not a desirable outcome. We should not have a situation where promising knowledge simply gets lost because of formal procedure.

Equally, we should not have the situation where drugs become ridiculously expensive. Why should the unfortunates who get a rather rare cancer have to pay the huge prices of drug companies? I am not saying drug companies should not get a fair return, but I think society should pay for this. Think of it as compulsory insurance. The alternative is a family might have to decide whether to bankrupt themselves, kill the grandchildren’s education prospects to buy a year or so for grandmother, or whether to just let her die. What sort of society is it that allows this?

Cancer is one of those diseases that everybody comes into contact with one way or another. In my case, my father died of pancreatic cancer, and I am a widower because of cancer. Yes, these things happen, but isn’t it in everybody’s interest to try and do what we can to at least minimize the harsh effects?

Evidence that the Standard Theory of Planetary Formation is Wrong.

Every now and again, something happens that makes you feel both good and depressed at the same time. For me it was last week, when I looked up the then latest edition of Nature. There were two papers (Nature, vol 541 (Dauphas, pp 521 – 524; Fischer-Gödde and Kleine, pp 525 – 527) that falsified two of the most important propositions in the standard theory of planetary formation. What we actually know is that stars accrete from a disk of gas and dust, the disk lingers on for between a million years and 30 million years, depending on the star, then the dust clears out the dust and gas. Somewhere in there, planets form. We can see evidence of gas giants growing, where the gas is falling into the giant planet, but the process by which smaller planets or the cores of giants form is unobservable because the bodies are too small, and the dust too opaque. Accordingly, we can only form theories to fill in the intermediate process. The standard theory, also called oligarchic growth, explains planetary formation in terms of dust accreting to planetesimals by some unknown mechanism, then these collide to form embryos, which in turn formed oligarchs or protoplanets (Mars sized objects) and these collided to form planets. If this happened, they would do a lot of bouncing around and everything would get well-mixed. Standard computer simulations argue that Earth would have formed from a distribution of matter from further out than Mars to inside Mercury’s orbit. Earth the gets its water from a “late veneer” from carbonaceous chondrites from the far side of the asteroid belt.

It is also well known that certain elements in bodies in the solar system have isotopes that vary their ratio depending on the distance from the star. Thus meteorites from Mars have different isotope ratios from meteorites from the asteroid belt, and again both are different from rocks from Earth and Moon. The cause of this isotope difference is unclear, but it is an established fact. This is where those two papers come in.

Dauphas showed that Earth accreted from a reasonably narrow zone throughout its entire accretion time. Furthermore, that zone was the same as that which formed enstatite chondrites, which appear to have originated from a region that was much hotter than the material that, say, formed Mars. Thus enstatite chondrites are reduced. What that means is that their chemistry was such that there was less oxygen. Mars has only a small iron core, and most of its iron is as iron oxide. Enstatite chondrites have free iron as iron, and, of course, Earth has a very large iron core. Enstatite chondrites also contain silicates with less magnesium, which will occur when the temperatures were too hot to crystallize out forsterite. (Forsterite melts at 1890 degrees C, but it will also dissolve to some extent in silica melts at lower temperatures.) Enstatite chondrites also are amongst the driest, so they did not provide Earth’s water.

Fischer-Gödde and Kleine showed that most of Earth’s water did not come from carbonaceous chondrites, the reason being, if it did, the non-water part would have added about 5% to the mass of Earth, and the last 5% is supposed to be from where the bulk of elements that dissolve in hot iron would have come from. The amounts arriving earlier would have dissolved in the iron and gone to the core. One of those elements is ruthenium, and the isotope ratios of Earth’s ruthenium rule out an origin from the asteroid belt.

Accordingly, this evidence rules out oligarchic growth. There used to be an alternative theory of planetary accretion called monarchic growth, but this was soon abandoned because it cannot explain first why we have the number of planets we have where they are, and second where our water came from. Calculations show it is possible to have three to five planets in stable orbit between Earth and Mars, assuming none are larger than Earth, and more out to the asteroid belt. But they are not there, so the question is, if planets only grow from a narrow zone, why are these zones empty?

This is where I felt good. A few years ago I published an ebook called “Planetary Formation and Biogenesis” and it required monarchic growth. It also required the planets in our solar system to be roughly where they are, at least until they get big enough to play gravitational billiards. The mechanism is that the planets accreted in zones where the chemistry of the matter permitted accretion, and that in turn was temperature dependent, so specific sorts of planets form in zones at specific distances from the star. Earth formed by accretion of rocks formed during the hot stage, and being in a zone near that which formed enstatite chondrites, the iron was present as a metal, which is why Earth has an iron core. The reason Earth has so much water is that accretion occurred from rocks that had been heat treated to about 1550 degrees Centigrade, in which case certain aluminosilicates phase separated out. These, when they take up water, form cement that binds other rocks to form a concrete. As far as I am aware, my theory is the only current one that requires these results.

So, why do I feel depressed? My ebook contained a review of over 600 references from journals until a few months before the ebook was published. The problem is, these references, if properly analysed, provided papers with plenty of evidence that these two standard theories were wrong, but each of the papers’ conclusions were ignored. In particular, there was a more convincing paper back in 2002 (Drake and Righter, Nature 416: 39-44) that came to exactly the same conclusions. As an example, to eliminate carbonaceous chondrites as the source of water, instead of ruthenium isotopes, it used osmium isotopes and other compositional data, but you see the point. So why was this earlier work ignored? I firmly believe that scientists prefer to ignore evidence that falsifies their cherished beliefs rather than change their minds. What I find worse is that neither of these papers cited the Drake and Righter paper. Either they did not want to admit they were confirming a previous conclusion, or they were not interested in looking thoroughly at past work other than that which supported their procedures.

So, I doubt these two papers will change much either. I might be wrong, but I am not holding my breath waiting for someone with enough prestige to come out and say enough to change the paradigm.

Trump and Climate Change

In his first week in office, President Trump has overturned President Obama’s stopping of two pipelines and has indicated a strong preference for further oil drilling. He has also denied that climate change is real. For me, this raises two issues. The first is, will President Trump’s denial of climate change, and his refusal to take action, make much difference to climate change? In my opinion, not in the usual sense, where everybody is calling for restraint on carbon dioxide emissions. The problem is sufficiently big that this will make only a minor difference. The action is a bit like the Captain of the Titanic finding two passengers had brought life jackets so he confiscates them and throws them overboard. The required action was to steer away from a field of icebergs, and the belief the ship was unsinkable was just plain ignorant, and in my opinion, the denial that we have to do something reasonably dramatic about climate change falls into the same category. The second issue is how does science work, and why is it so difficult to get the problem across? I am afraid the answer to this goes back to the education system, which does not explain science at all well. The problem with science for most people is that nature cares not a jot for what you feel. The net result is that opinions and feelings are ultimately irrelevant. You can deny all you like, but that will not change the consequences.

Science tries to put numbers to things, and it tries to locate critical findings, which are when the numbers show that alternative propsitions are wrong. It may be that only one observation is critical. Thus Newtonian mechanics was effectively replaced by Einstein’s relativity because it alone allowed the calculation of the orbital characteristics of Mercury. (Some might say Eddington’s observation of light bending around the sun during an eclipse, but Newton predicted that too. Einstein correctly predicted the bending would be twice that of Newton, but I think Newton’s prediction could be patched given Maxwell’s electrodynamics. For Newton’s theory, Mercury’s orbit was impossible to patch.)

So what about climate change? The key here is to find something with the fewest complicating factors, and that was done when Lyman et al. (Nature 465: 334-337, 2010) measured the power flows across ocean surfaces, and found there was a net input of approximately 0.6 W/m2. That is every square meter gets a net input of 0.6 Joules per second, averaged over the 24 hr period. Now this will obviously be approximate because they did not measure every square meter of ocean, but the significance is clear. The total input from the star is about 1300 W/m2 at noon, so when you allow for night, the fact that it falls away significantly as we get reasonably away from noon, and there are cloudy days, you will see that the heat retained is a non-trivial fraction of the input.

Let us see what that means for the net input. Over a year it becomes a little under 19 MJ for our square meter, and over the oceans, I make it about 6.8 x 1021 J. There is plenty of room for error there (hopefully not my arithmetic) but that is not the point. The planet is a big place, and that is really a lot of energy: about a million million times 1.6 tonnes of TNT.

That has been going on every year this century, and here is the problem: that net heat input will continue, even if we totally stopped burning carbon tomorrow, and the effects would gradually decay as the carbon we have burnt gradually weathers away. It would take over 300 years to return to where we were at the end of the 19th century. That indicates the size of the physical problem. The fact that so many people can deny a problem exists, with no better evidence than, “I don’t believe it,” is our current curse. The next problem is that just slowing down the production of CO2, and other greenhouse gases, is not going to solve it. This is a problem that has crept up on us because a planet is a rather large object. It has taken a long time for humanity’s efforts to make a significant increase to the world’s temperatures, but equally it will take a long time to stop the increase from continuing. Worse, one of the reasons the temperature increases have been modest is that a lot of this excess heat has gone into melting ice. Eight units of water at ten degrees centigrade will melt one unit of ice, and we end up with nine units of water at nought degrees Centigrade. The ice on the planet is a great restraint on temperature increases, but once the ice in contact with water has melted, temperatures may surge. If we want to retain our current environment and sea levels, we have some serious work to do, and denying the problem exists is a bad start.

Post Election Angst

My last post focused on the allegations that Russian hackers influenced the US Presidential election. Even before I posted that, there were further allegations that Donald Trump had behaved badly in Moscow in 2012, and he was now susceptible to blackmail. So, what do we make of that?

One of the main allegations was that Trump had taken the same room in a hotel that President Obama had used previously, and he did this to defile it by bringing in prostitutes, and thus indirectly he defiled Obama. First, the allegation that Trump used the same room as Obama. I believe that, but not for any sinister reason. President Obama would probably warrant the best room in the hotel. Why shouldn’t Trump want the best room in the hotel? It is not as if he is short of cash. Further, there may well be only one really luxurious room because the demand for rooms at that price is probably low. So, quite simply, I am happy to accept the allegation that Trump used the same room, and I say, so what?

Then there is the issue that Trump brought in prostitutes. I suppose one cannot exactly rule it out, but really, it sounds ridiculous. I rather fancy that if he wanted a woman, there would be a number available, but people who go to Russia know that surveillance is rather common, and if you behave badly, there may well be consequences. Russian law, particularly to foreigners, is not quite the same as everywhere else. I recall advice given to me when I was young and I was driving in Poland, when it was behind the Iron Curtain: if you have an accident, it is your fault because you are a foreigner. Whether that was true I don’t know, but I certainly drove with more care through cities. (The countryside was different, as the chances of having a collision were negligible because the roads were basically empty but for a few trucks, and in one afternoon, a military Division heading for the Czechoslovak invasion.) I have also been to Moscow when it was part of the USSR, and the warnings from my embassy were clear: you will be watched. So if Trump really wanted to have business dealings with Russia, surely he would follow basic common sense? The basic evidence we have is that Trump really values a deal and would not sacrifice one for an hour of stupidity.

Which gets to my real issue. These allegations were made by one person who was paid to find dirt, and he has since disappeared. There is no supporting evidence whatsoever, and the author of the report cannot be made to answer or explain. In my book, the more important the allegation, the more important it is to have strong supporting evidence. What we need are facts, and the only fact we have is that one person who was paid to find dirt has reported finding dirt and has disappeared without leaving any evidence whatsoever of such dirt.

The next question is, suppose it were true? This requires someone to have recorded what happened in 2012. Why would he do that? To blackmail a businessman is a possibility, but surely whoever had the evidence would use it. Again, Trump is rich, and he might well have paid to have something go way. All the evidence is there was no such blackmail. To keep such evidence in the bottom draw in order to blackmail the future President of the United States verges on the bizarre. If they were so sure he would be President back in 2012, the more obvious move would be to take out some long-term bets. The odds back then should have been very high. Sorry, but I think the most likely story is our trusty dirt-digger went to Moscow and announced he was looking for dirt. For a suitable envelope full of euros, dollars, pounds, whatever, I am sure someone would supply whatever was desired, except, of course, evidence to back it up.

So what should happen next? I would like to think that the opponents to Trump and his policies should focus on the policies. So far, what he has done was announced in his campaign, for example he has cancelled Obamacare and the TPP. You may or may not agree with that, but they were announced policies and Trump won the election. In a representative Republic form of government, this is what is supposed to happen, the losers have to accept it and those who did not vote deserve what they get. Wild accusations against Trump are just that, and should stop. They will achieve nothing, except possibly give Trump a siege mentality, in which case he will stop listening to the thing that might have improved the effects of future action on is part. Either put up evidence or shut up.

One final and personal comment. I put a very simple version of that argument on a social medium site and some of the responses I got were quite vituperative. I was accused of supporting a Hitler, and being all sorts of things we need not state here. For me, this shows up something ugly coming into the political scene. People are so used to “fake news”, aka lies, that they think anything you state stands for your views on some side of an argument. They think everyone makes up their “news” to support their view. Just to be clear, you cannot read any political view into the above. My argument is simple: if you want to accuse someone of something publicly, put up the evidence. If you haven’t got any, shut up!

Russia hacks the Democrats??

One other piece of news that filled up the holiday period was that allegations sprang up everywhere stating the Russians hacked the Democrats and led to a change in the election result. My attitude is when something as serious as this arises, there needs to be evidence to support it. That evidence needs to be in sufficient detail to be plausible. “Fred assures me that there was,” is not evidence.

There are really two separate issues here. The first is, did the Russians hack the Democrats? A sub-question is, if yes, was it a Russian government agency, or just some private Russians? To answer the main question, we need to see evidence of when who was hacked, from where? The US Government might be a bit cagey about this, because if it announces when who was hacked from where, it starts to tell others what its capabilities are, and it may not want to do that, but if it does not, then it should have kept quiet in the first place. In WW II the British Government gave no warning to the people of Coventry that a raid was coming because they did not want to let the Germans know their enigma code was broken. That was a lot more serious than advertising that they tracked a hack on the Democratic National Congress. However, who was hacked, and with what security, is an important question because we know that Hillary Clinton had about 600,000 emails copied to the Weiner server. That should be more easily hacked, and any number of people, including but not restricted to, Russians, could have done it. For that matter, a number of industrious Republicans could have hacked it. To make this allegation stand, the details of the hack must be known.

There is one document on the web that claims to give the US government position (http://documents.latimes.com/read-us-…) Now intelligence gathering is difficult, but forming an opinion of what happened is just that; it is not evidence. Quoting: “Some analytic judgments are based directly on collected information others rest on previous judgments.” See the problem? The next problem arises when we consider the sources of the information. Quoting: “Many of the key judgments in this assessment rely on a body of reporting from multiple sources that are consistent with our understanding of Russian behavior.” In short, sources for many of the judgments came from “the behavior of Kremlin-loyal political figures, state media, and pro-Kremlin social media actors”. To me, the social media are not exactly reliable sources of facts. You might recall that the US Intelligence community, in public statements anyway, were sufficiently convinced that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction that they unleashed a war that killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. For me, the problem is the reputation for reliability was shot then.

Interestingly, while the CIA and the FBI had “high confidence” in these assessments, the NSA had only “moderate confidence”. The NSA should be the expert in this field. The FBI asserted it had “high confidence” that Russia tried to undermine Hillary Clinton’s campaign, but then, a week out from the election, FBI Director Comey effectively torpedoed her campaign. Prior to Comey’s comments, Clinton had a 10% lead in the polls I saw, and in the next few days, the lead vanished. If Comey had such high confidence that Russia trying to destabilize Clinton’s campaign, and it concerned him, why did he do that? My final comment on that document – there are about three pages describing what could have happened, including allegations that a Romanian hacker was really the GRU, and the far more pages criticizing the balance of RT (Russian television). Yep, RT probably is biased, but is it as bad as Fox News? And just because RT may be biased, what has that got to do with hacking? And why cannot a Romanian hacker be just that?

Am I prepared to believe Russia hacked the Dems? Yep. I have little doubt the Russian Security Service is busy hacking whatever it can. As an aside, the US does this too. Recall Angela Merkel caught them out hacking her computer, and Germany is an ally. If the US does this to its allies, why would Russia be exempt, and if Russia found out the US was spying on it, why would it not do the same? Even if it did not know about US spying, that would not stop it from spying. So to summarize, I am happy to accept that Russia was prepared to spy on the Dems, but I would expect they would stay quiet about it. Other individual hackers, including Russians may not have been so quiet. So, for evidence we first need to know what exactly was hacked, and exactly who was it that did the hacking? Details. We need details.

The second allegation is more serious. This is that as a consequence of the hack, the Russian government altered the outcome of the election. This requires even more detailed evidence. What we have so far is the allegation that the Russians provided details that would be embarrassing to the Dems to Wikileaks. For that to alter the election, either the contents then became highly public, or alternatively the voters in the swing states are avid readers of Wikileaks. Personally, I feel the latter is ridiculous. I suspect the average rustbelt voter really has little or no interest in Wikileaks.

But let’s suppose that could be wrong. This implies there was something in these Wikileaks that was so sensational that it swung the election. What was it? Why haven’t I heard of it? But let us suppose I have been asleep at the wheel. It would not hurt to publish this series of embarrassments, after all the allegation is asserting that it is in the public domain. Then there is the question of who provided this information to Wikileaks. It is alleged that it was the Russian government, but Julian Assange denies that, and he should know. Now it is true that Assange could be lying, but if so we need evidence that is convincing. The problem is, this all looks more like the Democrats, and Democrat-appointed officials, having a general whinge at their loss.

Also interesting is that there have been no protests against the FBI Director Comey, whose allegation a week before the election that Clinton was under investigation almost certainly would lose her votes. There is firm evidence this occurred, but nobody seems to be particularly interested in it. The question is, why not?

Is there a solution to the Palestinian question?

Back from a quiet time, and look at what happened? The first was that at the end of 2016, New Zealand co-sponsored a UN resolution “demanding” that Israel stop building settlements in the occupied territories of the West Bank. This generated a surprising amount of heat, if not much light. For those who have read my fiction, I have advocated logic as a way of analyzing problems, and it seems to me this question is suitable for such an approach, not that it is likely to succeed.

We start by acknowledging where we are. Israel is a Jewish state, and it occupies by military force the West Bank, which was largely populated by Palestinians, many of whom were forced out of the rest of Israel. The two sides have been very antagonistic towards each other, and the objective is to try to find a solution where both can live in peace. The question is, what are the conditions that might lead to that outcome? In my opinion, the options are:

  1. Move the Jews out of the area. However, the Jews have such an invested infrastructure this option is not a starter.
  2. Move the Palestinians somewhere else. The problem is, where? People say Jordan, but Jordan is already overrun by Syrian refugees, and in any case, why does someone else have to pay the price? While most of the Jews came recently, the Palestinians have been there for a very long time. Whoever advocates this solution can do their own bit, by accepting a Palestinian family, providing them a home and jobs, and a guaranteed income until they can fend for themselves. In short, put your money where your mouth is. I bet there will not be sufficient takers to make a difference.
  3. Incorporate the Palestinians into Israel, with full citizenship, and enough money to make a start to life. That is a non-starter because Israel is a Jewish state, and a Muslim majority would be non-acceptable.
  4. Have a two state solution.

In my opinion, only (4) has any hope, but here the problem is the West Bank is not exactly large, and it is covered with a pox of Israeli settlements. Some people say, they are only 3% of the area. Before addressing that, we must ask, are the settlements legal?

When the first settlements were being considered, the legal counsel to the Israeli Foreign Ministry was asked whether international law permitted civilian settlement in the occupied territories. The reply: that would contravene the explicit provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention. The settlements are illegal because international law forbids an occupying power from moving part of its population to occupied territory. The territory is under military occupation, and it is for that reason the Arabs who live there do not have to be integrated into Israel.

Here is the legal dilemma from the Israeli point of view. Granting citizenship to the Palestinians would mean either Israel ceased to be a proper representative republic, or it would cease to be a Jewish state. Not granting such citizenship meant they were under military occupation, and international law should apply.

In this context, it seems that everybody who keeps asserting Russia violates international law and should be punished are strangely quiet on Israel. Instead we have the rather bizarre situation where the people of the West Bank fall into two subsets: settlers enjoy the full rights of Israeli citizens, while the Palestinians are still under military occupation and have essentially no rights. The question then is, how long will this go on? Obviously, the hard right of Israeli politics seems to think, forever. Whatever else they have, compassion for the Palestinians is not one of them.

Returning to the 3% problem, the area of the settlements is not the issue. The settlements are all connected to Israel proper by roads controlled by Israel that slice up the West bank. The settlements all demand water, sewage, electricity, and other services. All of these services are controlled by Israel, and are unavailable to the Palestinians, and worse than that, Israel would not let the Palestinians cross their fixed infrastructure, because they would expect it to be damaged.

If there is to be a two-state solution, the Palestinians have to go some way. They have to accept the right of Israel to exist, not because it is right but because there is no alternative. Incidents such as the recent one where a Palestinian drove a truck through some Israeli soldiers have to stop. First it is not right to kill people, and particularly those who are not directly responsible for your problems, and second it is counterproductive, because it just firms up Israeli opinion about them. The Palestinians have been severely wronged, and everybody should acknowledge that, but the Palestinians cannot progress by living in a morass of moaning about wrongs. That does not mean that others should not do something to help, though. When the United Nations voted to form Israel, they gave away that which they did not own. In the Naqba, about 700,000 Palestinians were displaced, and their property taken over by Israel. Of course, following the UN resolution, the Israelis could say they had no choice. Maybe, but if that was what the UN wanted, they should have purchased the Palestinian properties and given them to the Israelis. The fact of the matter is that Israel was founded on promises (Lloyd George offered the concept to Jews to help raise money for the war effort, which probably did not help the attitude of a certain Austrian corporal.), terrorism (it is the one shining example that proves that sometimes terrorism does work) and military force. One of the great ironies is that the Jews sent to Palestine in the late 1930s from Germany, organized by a certain Reinhardt Heydrich, set about terrorist activities against the British during WW II, while Heydrich was busy organizing the mass murder of Jews in Europe. The fact that the Palestinians and other “Arab” countries tried military means to right the wrongs done to the Palestinians is also irrelevant, although through their lack of effectiveness it has obviously made the problem worse.

But the past is irrelevant. We are here. If we accept that the two-state solution is the only possibility for civilized peace, then both sides must make serious concessions, and more to the point, the rest of the world that voted to create this problem has to come to the party with serious investment to make Palestine at least a plausible state. If you vote to give away that which you do not own, then you should be prepared to pay for it, to give the Palestinians some hope. The alternative is that the Palestinians live in perpetual military occupation, with no rights, and subjugated by a military force that does not like them one bit.

The recent example of a soldier who saw a Palestinian lying on the ground, and because he believed that Palestinian had injured an Israeli, he shot him. The Palestinian was subjugated, and would have been taken away for trial, but this soldier simply executed him. If you see interviews of Israelis, a large number (including some right wing rabbis I saw interviewed) seem to think the soldier was right. Sorry, but that is not civilized, it is not legal, and it most certainly is not helpful.

So if neither side is interested in reaching a solution, how does this end? I confess I have no idea, except I cannot see it ending well

The Syrian quagmire ending?

Probably the most newsworthy item at present again involves Syria, with the collapse of the rebel forces in Aleppo, and the associated reduction of that part of the city to rubble. We are starting to get images from the region, and it is clear that an enormous amount of money will be required to rebuild that part of the city. An effort has been made to offer the insurgents transport to insurgent held villages elsewhere, and what we see is a lit of civilians are going as well. To my mind, this indicates that the reason the rebels held Eastern Aleppo is because the civilians were sympathetic. In turn, that strongly suggests the rebellion is now down to religion: Sunnis attempting to get rid of the Shias. With Hezbollah and Iran involved, that is not going to happen.

One of the biggest disasters there is undoubtedly the high number of civilian casualties, and a number of commentators in the West have called for war crimes trials on certain Russians. At the same time, the West has been strangely quiet relating to casualties in Mosul, where the US is bombing, and, strangely enough, the attack is being managed by the Shias. This bombing and the inevitable casualties has raised the issue of justice and international law, and I am afraid from my point of view, many of those in the West are merely arm-waving and arguing that “they are war criminals”. Nobody denies that killing of civilians is bad, but what could Assad and the Russians do? The objective is to remove the rebels, and to be quite clear, the rebels included factions that wished to impose the strictest form of Islamic law. Women should be kept at home and do nothing but housework and breed. As for nobility amongst the rebels, I saw a TV clip from an observer who had been in eastern Aleppo, and saw a family “home invaded” by rebels looking for food. They took everything, and when the mother complained about feeding the children, they shot her through the jaw to stop her complaints. So much for the noble rebels. There is no way those involved in something like the al Nusra front can be expected to change their ways and be persuaded to become peaceful citizens, so Assad either has to defeat them, or let Syria be run by them and ISIS in full Wahabbi extremism.

Let us look at “International Law”. Who is the sovereign entity? Who imposes the law? As far as I can make out, it is at a very similar state to that of ancient Rome, except that there is no clear law-making entity. In ancient Rome, prosecutions were made by citizens, and the results tended to be resolved by the eloquence of the lawyer, or the standing of the participants. Thus during the late Republic, Clodius could organize a gang to beat up a politician he did not like, or even burn down someone’s house. Nothing would stop him. So-called international justice is a bit like that now: victor’s justice.

At the end of WW II, a lot of Nazis were tried for war crimes, not that there were such recognized crimes, although many were guilty of crimes under the German criminal code. Most people are not particularly concerned about the doubtful legality of the process because those found guilty were mainly really very bad people. But there were double standards. Any German who could be of any further use to one of the occupying powers was immediately granted immunity.

Then, if we consider killing innocent civilians to be a war crime, was the fire bombing of Hamburg a war crime? Of Tokyo? Were Hiroshima and Nagasaki war crimes? If not, why not? For me, the fire bombing of Dresden had to be a crime, because the war was clearly essentially over, Dresden had no military value then, and 35,000 civilians were killed for no good purpose. Why is that not a war crime? Hopefully, not because it was us that did it, not them. In more recent times, the invasion of Iraq has led to some unknown number of deaths, but certainly in the hundred thousand range.

My view is Syria will be better off with the Wahabbi extremists defeated. If so, and given a somewhat lacking of alternatives, I believe that the Russian bombing of Aleppo was a valid means of pursuing the war. Yes, innocent people were killed, but at least we now see the possibility of an end to the carnage. The question we must ask is, what was the alternative? Just leaving the rebels alone to rearm and reorganize? Prolong the misery indefinitely?

So what happens now? If there is going to be peace, how do you arrange that? Negotiate with ISIS and the al Qaeda derivatives? Separate the country and give them their Caliphate? Or have a secular government, and force the citizens to behave? That would be essentially a return to what Syria was before all this started. If you think you could do this without Assad, then nominate who will be the new government, and outline why will it work. How do you impose order? And most importantly, how do you get the economy of a country bombed to bits back running again? It took Germany many years after WW II, and the US put a lot of money in to get restoration going. Further, there was a well-established industry in Germany. Syria seems to have none of those advantages.

This will be my last post for 2016, but I shall be back mid January. In the meantime, I wish you all a Merry Christmas, and all the best for a successful and healthy 2017.