Yet another weird SF fan


I'm a mathematician, a libertarian, and a science-fiction fan. Common sense? What's that?

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The Former Four Horsemen of the Ablogalypse:
Someone who used to be sane (formerly War)
Someone who used to be serious (formerly Plague)
Rally 'round the President (formerly Famine)
Dr. Yes (formerly Death)

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Other interesting web sites:
Aspies For Freedom
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Day By Day
Dihydrogen Monoxide - DHMO Homepage
Fourmilab
Jewish Pro-Life Foundation
Libertarians for Life
The Mad Revisionist
Piled Higher and Deeper
Science, Pseudoscience, and Irrationalism
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Yet another weird SF fan
 

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

A Blogger Problem?

For some reason, I haven't received the email for the last few comments on this blog. (The comments are still coming through on my other blog.)

Addendum: It got better.

Biblical Literalism and God's Standards

According to Black Belt Bayesian:

The default presumption for any statement is that it’s a literal truth claim. If I say my aunt lives in Ireland, then unless context, background information, tone of voice, and so on suggest otherwise, I am trying to make you believe that my aunt literally lives in Ireland. It’s not as if saying my aunt lives in Ireland helps you understand a philosophical point or moves your spirit.

Saying God made the world in a week is like that. That the creation story contradicts scientific evidence is something that hasn’t been widely known until the 19th or 20th century. If 1) God exists, and 2) we can hold God to higher conversational standards than the average internet troll, and 3) Genesis is not literally true, then it follows God would have inserted some sort of warning to guard against misinterpretation. If you want to keep 3) — as you should — then you have to throw away 1) or 2).

On the other hand, there are legitimate reasons why someone would not be telling the literal truth:

One of my favorite professors in college was a self-confessed liar.

I guess that statement requires a bit of explanation.

The topic of Corporate Finance/Capital Markets is, even within the world of the Dismal Science, a exceptionally dry and boring subject matter, encumbered by complex mathematic models and obscure economic theory.

What made Dr. K memorable was a gimmick he employed that began with his introduction at the beginning of his first class:

"Now I know some of you have already heard of me, but for the benefit of those who are unfamiliar, let me explain how I teach. Between today until the class right before finals, it is my intention to work into each of my lectures ... one lie. Your job, as students, among other things, is to try and catch me in the Lie of the Day." And thus began our ten-week course.

According to Jewish tradition, the warning not to take scripture literally was given in the Oral Law.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Maybe There Has Been a Reversal of Position by the Major Parties

The following passage was originally about Republicans but it's now about Democrats (it starts out talking about Obama and ends up talking about Clinton):

"But a rayformer don't see it. A rayformer thinks he was ilicted because he was a rayformer, whin th' thruth iv th' matther is he was ilicted because no wan knew him. Ye can always ilict a man in this counthry on that platform. If I was runnin' f'r office, I'd change me name, an' have printed on me cards: 'Give him a chanst; he can't be worse.' He's ilicted because th' people don't know him an' do know th' other la-ad; because Mrs. Casey's oldest boy was clubbed be a polisman, because we cudden't get wather above th' third story wan day, because th' sthreet car didn't stop f'r us, because th' Flannigans bought a pianny, because we was near run over be a mail wagon, because th' saloons are open Sundah night, because they're not open all day, an' because we're tired seein' th' same face at th' window whin we go down to pay th' wather taxes. Th' rayformer don't know this. He thinks you an' me, Hinnissy, has been watchin' his spotless career f'r twinty years, that we've read all he had to say on th' evils iv pop'lar sufferage befure th' Society f'r the Bewildermint iv th' Poor, an' that we're achin' in ivry joint to have him dhrag us be th' hair iv th' head fr'm th' flowin' bowl an' th' short card game, make good citizens iv us an' sind us to th' pinitinchry. So th' minyit he gets into th' job he begins a furyous attimpt to convart us into what we've been thryin' not to be iver since we come into th' wurruld.
In case you need the above translated into English:
"But a reformer don't see it. A reformer thinks he was elected because he was a reformer, when the truth of the matter is he was elected because no one knew him. You can always elect a man in this country on that platform. If I was running for office, I'd change my name, and have printed on my cards: 'Give him a chance; he can't be worse.' He's elected because the people don't know him and do know the other lad; because Mrs. Casey's oldest boy was clubbed by a policeman, because we couldn't get water above the third story one day, because the street car didn't stop for us, because the Flannigans bought a piano, because we was near run over by a mail wagon, because the saloons are open Sunday night, because they're not open all day, and because we're tired seeing the same face at the window when we go down to pay the water taxes. The reformer don't know this. He thinks you and me, Hennessy, has been watching his spotless career for twenty years, that we've read all he had to say on the evils of popular suffrage before the Society for the Bewilderment of the Poor, and that we're aching in every joint to have him drag us by the hair of the head from the flowing bowl and the short card game, make good citizens of us and send us to the penitentiary. So the minute he gets into the job he begins a furious attempt to convert us into what we've been trying not to be ever since we come into the world.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Have the Political Parties Changed That Much?

There's a discussion of the claim that the major parties have switched positions over the past century at Statistical Modeling, Causal Inference, and Social Science (seen via God Plays Dice). I don't see how there has been that much of a change.

As fas as I can tell, the Republicans, from the start and continuing to the present, have been based on the following two principles:

  1. Big business is America's persecuted minority and deserves an affirmative action program. (The first makes some sense, but I think the second part is going too far.)

  2. Single-issue voters should always be taken seriously if they don't interfere too much with big business. This applied to anti-slavery voters, anti-alcohol voters, anti-abortion voters, etc. Sometimes this makes sense and sometimes it doesn't.

Ever few decades, the Republicans decide that there are more voters on one side of a single issue than the other and swing from one extreme to the other. For example, John McCain appears to be betting that there are more open-borders single-issue voters than closed-borders voters.

On the other side, the Democrats have always been about identity politics. They started out as the rural white identity-politics party and have gone through several changes in their list of favored ethnic groups since then.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Nazi Analogies Have Been Overdone

I don't think a Nazi analogy to the following from Michelle Obama is appropriate:

Barack Obama will require you to work. He is going to demand that you shed your cynicism. That you put down your divisions. That you come out of your isolation, that you move out of your comfort zones. That you push yourselves to be better. And that you engage. Barack will never allow you to go back to your lives as usual, uninvolved, uninformed.
The proper analogy is to The Borg:
Resistance is futile. Your life as it has been is now over. From this time forward, you will service...us.
Also see this. Coincidence?

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

A Brief Summary of a British Health Care Policy

According to The New York Times (seen via Megan McArdle and Marginal Revolution):

One such case was Debbie Hirst’s. Her breast cancer had metastasized, and the health service would not provide her with Avastin, a drug that is widely used in the United States and Europe to keep such cancers at bay. So, with her oncologist’s support, she decided last year to try to pay the $120,000 cost herself, while continuing with the rest of her publicly financed treatment.

By December, she had raised $20,000 and was preparing to sell her house to raise more. But then the government, which had tacitly allowed such arrangements before, put its foot down. Mrs. Hirst heard the news from her doctor.

“He looked at me and said: ‘I’m so sorry, Debbie. I’ve had my wrists slapped from the people upstairs, and I can no longer offer you that service,’ ” Mrs. Hirst said in an interview.

“I said, ‘Where does that leave me?’ He said, ‘If you pay for Avastin, you’ll have to pay for everything’ ” — in other words, for all her cancer treatment, far more than she could afford.

Officials said that allowing Mrs. Hirst and others like her to pay for extra drugs to supplement government care would violate the philosophy of the health service by giving richer patients an unfair advantage over poorer ones.

Patients “cannot, in one episode of treatment, be treated on the N.H.S. and then allowed, as part of the same episode and the same treatment, to pay money for more drugs,” the health secretary, Alan Johnson, told Parliament.

There's a simple way to summarize the story of Debbie Hirst's attempts to obtain Avastin: The British are treating health care the same way Americans are treating primary and secondary education. It's all or nothing. Either you send your child to a public school or you pay for schools twice. Either you only use the NHS or you pay for health care twice.

Addendum: On a second thought, the British policy is even worse. At least we don't prohibit evening and weekend schools. On a third thought, that still means the primary learning environment is still state-run.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Why the Left Now Hates IQ Tests

I doubt if it's a matter of racism; they're able to support policies that are objectively anti-minority. I think they feel betrayed by IQ tests which are no longer useful for anti-capitalist propaganda.

According to a recent article by Malcolm Gladwell on the Flynn effect:

The best way to understand why I.Q.s rise, Flynn argues, is to look at one of the most widely used I.Q. tests, the so-called WISC (for Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children). The WISC is composed of ten subtests, each of which measures a different aspect of I.Q. Flynn points out that scores in some of the categories—those measuring general knowledge, say, or vocabulary or the ability to do basic arithmetic—have risen only modestly over time. The big gains on the WISC are largely in the category known as “similarities,” where you get questions such as “In what way are ‘dogs’ and ‘rabbits’ alike?” Today, we tend to give what, for the purposes of I.Q. tests, is the right answer: dogs and rabbits are both mammals. A nineteenth-century American would have said that “you use dogs to hunt rabbits.”

………

The psychologist Michael Cole and some colleagues once gave members of the Kpelle tribe, in Liberia, a version of the WISC similarities test: they took a basket of food, tools, containers, and clothing and asked the tribesmen to sort them into appropriate categories. To the frustration of the researchers, the Kpelle chose functional pairings. They put a potato and a knife together because a knife is used to cut a potato. “A wise man could only do such-and-such,” they explained. Finally, the researchers asked, “How would a fool do it?” The tribesmen immediately re-sorted the items into the “right” categories. It can be argued that taxonomical categories are a developmental improvement—that is, that the Kpelle would be more likely to advance, technologically and scientifically, if they started to see the world that way. But to label them less intelligent than Westerners, on the basis of their performance on that test, is merely to state that they have different cognitive preferences and habits. And if I.Q. varies with habits of mind, which can be adopted or discarded in a generation, what, exactly, is all the fuss about?

In other words, a person working in the private sector who has been unbriefed on IQ tests would have a lower measured IQ than a civil servant with the same ability to think. Nowadays nearly everybody knows what IQ tests are about. (It is possible that members of some minority groups haven't realized it yet. Affirmative action may have interfered with learning.) IQ tests used to be useful for bashing capitalism but not any more.

I have earlier blogged about a similar phenomenon in the case of standardized tests used for college admissions. It looks like it applies to economics as well.

Data Worth Defying

According to an alleged survey of public attitudes toward nanotechnology:

"Our data show a much lower percentage of people who agree that nanotechnology is morally acceptable in the U.S. than in Europe," says Scheufele, an expert on public opinion and science and technology.

………

The moral qualms people of faith express about nanotechnology is not a question of ignorance of the technology, says Scheufele, explaining that survey respondents are well-informed about nanotechnology and its potential benefits.

There are times when a survey produces results so nonsensical that the only response is to defy the data and then wait until another researcher does the survey right. The above sounds like a survey showing people believing that 2 + 2 = 3 even though “survey respondents are well-informed about” arithmetic.

But wait, there's more. This is attributed to religion. Never mind that secular Europeans have a record of opposing agricultural biotechnology. Never mind that most Americans approved of embryonic stem-cell research back when it was thought to be necessary. Never mind that the supposed grounds for opposition (that nanotechnology involves “playing God”) only applies if the scientists in question are trying to create an infinite universe …

I'd like to know exactly what questions they asked.

By the way, was this published in The Lancet?

Monday, February 18, 2008

Politics in an Infinite Society (or Ultrafilters and the Arrow Impossibility Theorem)

Ilkka Kokkarinen recently speculated on the nature of an infinite society (mentioned here). One possible effect is that if the society is actually infinite (not merely potentially infinite) and if it is somehow able to be politically unified (maybe it's the Republic of Heaven), then the Arrow Impossibility Theorem doesn't hold. According to a recent article in the January issue of the American Mathematical Monthly:

Suppose that in an election there are finitely many n(≤ 3) candidates {c1, … , cn} and a set X of voters. Each voter makes a ranking of the candidates, and the outcome of the election is determined by two rules:

  • if all the voters enter the same ranking, then this is the outcome;

  • whether a candidate a precedes candidate b in the outcome depends only on their order on the different ranking lists of the individual voters (and it does not depend on where a and b are on those lists; i.e., on how the voters ranked other candidates).

Show that there is an ultrafilter ℋ on X such that the outcome is an ordering π of {c1, … , cn} if and only if the set Fπ of those voters whose ranking is π belongs to ℋ.

In a finite set any ultrafilter is simply the set of all sets that include a specified point. When this is applied to politics, it means that there is a specified voter who acts as a dictator. (In the story “Franchise” by Isaac Asimov (loosely based on the 1952 Presidential election), such a dictator was compatible with the trappings of democracy.) In an infinite society, other ultrafilters are theoretically possible.

On the other hand, an infinite society would presumably have an infinite number of candidates. That would mean that the society would require a measurable cardinal number of voters.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Explaining the Obama Candidacy

Leftists looking at conservatives almost always see people who almost worship leaders … even when, in the real world, those leaders are regarded as barely tolerable by the conservative base. (That's partly based on the theory that conservatives are naturally intolerant of deviations from dogma so any support for half a loaf must be due to a personality cult.) After getting beaten by Republicans in two elections, they decided to create their own personality cult.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

I Can't Wear My “Nobody for President” Button Right Now

I might be mistaken for an Obama supporter.

Hmmmߪ Maybe I should wear a button from this campaign

Friday, February 15, 2008

Anti-Newtonism

A few years ago, I pointed out that the same reasoning that blames Charles Darwin for the Holocaust should also blame Isaac Newton for the 911 attack. Yesterday, I came across an anti-Newton blog that sounds strikingly like a Creationist site.

I guess it's true that there's nothing so bizarre that somebody won't put it forth seriously. I'm reminded of the parody of Creationism that turned out to be real (earlier mentioned here).

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Time to Sell Google, Part II

The following (seen via Fark) looks like a recipe for a thought-tight bubble:

Interviews: First, candidates are scored on technical ability AND cultural fit. Second, interviews are done by a wide range of people who have little-to-no incentive to hire a person just because they can do the job. That is, there is very little downside for the interviewer to low-score a candidate for either inadequate technical ability or poor “cultural fit”, since the interviewer is rarely interviewing someone to fill a position on his/her own team.
This might explain how a Google cafeteria can sell “chemical-free food” without inspiring laughter. If bosses were hiring for their own teams they couldn't turn thumbs down on an expert who giggles while being served allegedly-organic food. When they're judging someone else's team they can get away with it.

Hmmm… I wonder what would happen to an interviewee who was reading Liberal Fascism?

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Does the National Academy of Sciences Discriminate against Theists?

On the one hand, most scientists believe in God. On the other hand, scientists in one particular organization, the National Academy of Sciences, mostly do not believe in God. (Donald Knuth is an exception.)

It looks like there's some discrimination going on … especially when we recall that new members are chosen by the current members instead of being selected by people outside a possible thought bubble.

I Have a Bad Feeling about This

If the '70s are back, I can use that phrase.

Last year, New York City started to obtain power from tidal energy. They call this “renewable energy” but it's not as renewable as it looks. Tidal power obtains energy from the Moon's orbit around the Earth. It has been calculated (in “The Last Judgment” by J. B. S. Haldane, which can be found in the collection Possible Worlds) that after 40 million years of extracting tidal power, the Moon might crash into the Earth. By the same standards of reasoning that hold that our civilization will be unable to adjust to life after Peak Oil, it should be obvious we will be unable to shift to another energy source in time.

What was that? We didn't make the changes because there was no need at the time? And we're starting to make the changes now that oil prices have increased? Hey, are you trying to live in a rational society or something? Now that the '70s are back, everybody knows that the only two choices are either to go by your viscera or accept the word of Experts Who Know More about How to Live Your Life Than You Do.

Use the Force!

Advice from potential first lady Michelle Obama:

On a conference call to prepare for a recent debate, Barack Obama brainstormed with his top advisers on the fine points of his positions. Michelle Obama had dialed in to listen, but finally couldn't stay silent any longer.

"Barack," she interjected, "Feel -- don't think!" Telling her husband his "over-thinking" during past debates had tripped him up with rival Hillary Clinton, she said: "Don't get caught in the weeds. Be visceral. Use your heart -- and your head."

I thought the '70s were supposed to be over.

On the other hand, maybe “visceral” means that he should appoint his pancreas to be Secretary of State.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

A Mathematical Conjecture, Part II

I recently devised a theorem that I conjectured required higher set theory to prove. It doesn't:

Let the index of the ith prime be i, i.e., the index of 2 is 1, the index of 3 is 2, etc.

If we take the prime factorization of an integer n greater than 1, the index of at least one of the primes will be relatively prime to n.

This can be easily proved by considering the smallest prime factor of n. Its index will either be 1 or it will be the product of primes smaller than any that divide n. In other words, that index will be relatively prime to n.

A Citizenship Test

There's a simple way to find if a potential immigrant is actually suited to become American. If he/she is found nodding in approval while reading the more asinine suggestions in this list of proposed mottoes for the United States (seen via Lileks), he/she will be rejected.

I suspect the list of mottoes could be used in Republican campaign literature as a means of discrediting liberal Democrats. Even people who are leaning Democratic might be embarrassed to be voting for the same party as those clowns.

Just When I Had Gotten Used to the Idea of Voting for McCain

Just when I had gotten used to the idea of voting for the coauthor of McCain–Feingold (the net can route around it anyway), I came across this all-too-plausible description of what might have happened had McCain been elected in 2000:

The Administration’s predilection for comprehensive, systematic treatment of domestic issues had mixed results. The new strategy of replacing employer-provided health insurance with privately owned policies had the primary effect of imposing a paperwork burden on the population comparable to that imposed by the (unreformed) federal tax code. There might have been a political crisis, had not the legalization of pharmaceutical imports caused a temporary but noticeable decrease in costs.
Gack!

If you really want to shut down pharmaceutical research …

Republican Senators Grow Backbones

A filbuster defeated (for now) an attempt at fixing the economy via sympathetic magic. (The “stimulus” won't repair anything but it is symbolic of fixing the economy. The term “voodoo economics” turned out to mean something after all.)

I knew we'd need the filibuster again someday.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Approval Voting

In today's Republican primaries, the voters will be able to choose between two RINOs. That's partly due to a divided field of more conservative candidates and partly because the best of them (Fred Thompson) wasn't taken that seriously. One way to prevent that in 2012 is for the Republicans to adopt Approval Voting. In Approval Voting, a voter could vote once for each acceptable candidate. In other words, instead of having to choose between Mr. Okay and Mr. Ideal-But-Doesn't-Have-a-Chance, you could vote for both instead of voting for Mr. Okay in order to block Mr. Dreadful.

If the Republicans had implemented that in their primaries this year, I suspect that we would have seen lots of Romney–Thompson, Giuliani–Thompson, and McCain–Thompson votes.

Approval Voting has the advantage of opening the door to the less compulsive. At present, it's necessary to start a campaign well in advance and raise lots of money simply to be put in the category of “Has a Chance.” Approval Voting will enable people who don't necessarily believe in political power to get votes.

On the other hand, according to the Arrow Impossibility Theorem, no method is perfect.

A Suggestion for a Moral Principle

Whether a person has rights is independent of anybody else's emotional state.

This has implications for both unwanted children and unwanted aliens (better known as illegal aliens).

In related news, the saying “You're nobody until somebody loves you.” looks less sappy and more horrifying.

I was inspired by this annoyance.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Saaaay What?

According to Spengler (a columnist for Asia Times):

Why do Muslim apostates gravitate towards atheism? That is not true of other religions. Many Jewish converts achieved prominence in 20th-century Christianity - for example, the recently deceased Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, the martyred Carmelite nun Edith Stein (now canonized), and the great Protestant theologian Eugene Rosenstock-Huessy. But the name of no prominent Muslim convert to Christianity (much less to Judaism) comes to mind.
In the real world, Jewish converts to Christianity (for example, Saint Edith Stein) almost always go through an atheist or agnostic period first.

Maybe converts who start from Religion X are more likely to go to a religion that regards Religion X as dated. Christians frequently classify Judaism as something out of date but think of Islam as off that timeline entirely. Atheists, on the other hand, think of all religions as dated.

If the above theory is correct, atheists who become religious are more likely to start from the New Age brands of secularism (instead of the materialist brands) since those can be plausibly classified as pagan and most religions think of paganism as dated.

Why the Press Likes McCain More Than Romney

According to Grand Moff Texan, a commenter at Crooked Timber:

Atrios excerpted Tucker Carlson’s book Politicians, Partisans, and Parasites as follows:
McCain ran an entire presidential campaign aimed primarily at journalists. He understood that the first contest in a presidential race is always the media primary. He campaigned hard to win it. To a greater degree than any candidate in thirty years, McCain offered reporters the three things they want most: total access all the time, an endless stream of amusing quotes, and vast quantities of free booze.

Meanwhile, McCain is looking a little too much like an example of a Liberal Fascist for my taste.

What If Ronald Reagan Hadn't Run for President?

Was the strength of the conservative movement in the United States entirely due to Ronald Reagan? I recall obituaries being written for conservatism (especially economic conservatism) in the mid 1970s. This was partly due to the “Even-Nixon” phenomenon and partly due to scarcity of real conservatives in the political class. A few more Presidents who were either Democrats or RINOs might have eliminated American conservatism as an organized movement. (Lisa Schiffren has some similar thoughts along these lines.)

One problem is that the usual climb to the top in politics requires a personality who believes in political power. The best way around that is to have a candidate who climbed high in the business, academic, or entertainment worlds before switching to politics. I suspect much of “political correctness” is for the purpose of ensuring that few future Reagans will come from the academic or entertainment worlds. On the other hand, there might be an adequate supply of conservatives from economics departments.

So … Maybe we should try recruiting economics professors now …

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Required Reading for Anybody Commenting on “Persistent Vegetative States”

The required reading is from MaxedOutMama:

She could be me, honestly. Good God, I looked at the YouTube video, and we even look somewhat alike.

I have been unable to speak, paralyzed, blind and a drooler, which she is not. She looks to be in somewhat better condition than I was at my worst.

I had the swallowing problem, but I can assure you that I now eat by myself. I was illiterate, but now I'm not. I was extremely, awesomely, incapacitated, but now I'm not.

The diagnosis of PVS is not a medical reality. Given time, many people in this condition will improve. Given time, some of them will return to a state indistinguishable from that of a person who was never a drooler.

My belief, having been there and done this, is that very few people in PVS are actually unconscious. The video posted makes me think that Lauren cannot be. There is very good medical evidence to support this idea. Every time someone does a study they find that those who survive do in fact have a lot of brain activity. Especially with therapy, many of these people regain the ability to communicate. The more studies reveal this to be true, the less the studies are done. We are coming up with unpleasant answers to the questions we ask.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Al Qaeda Imitates The Onion

Back when The Onion was still funny, it produced the following:

WASHINGTON, DC—Preparing for another possible showdown with Iraq, President Clinton deployed more than 15,000 very special U.S. forces to the Persian Gulf region Tuesday.

Clinton said the objective of the mission, dubbed Operation Great Job!, is twofold: to keep pressure on Saddam Hussein to permit the return of U.N. weapons inspectors, and to provide America's very special forces with a positive, rewarding, esteem-building experience.

"With Operation Great Job!, we send the message loud and clear to Saddam Hussein that his open defiance of the United Nations and international law will not be tolerated," Clinton said. "We also send the equally important message to our own troops that what's important is not whether you defeat the enemy, but that you try your best and have fun."

More recently, Al Qaeda took that seriously:
Two women thought to suffer from Down's syndrome may have been unwilling suicide bombers in twin blasts that killed up to 73 people at pet markets in Baghdad today.
In 2002, the late Andrew Olmsted had some comments on a similar shift in tactics among Palestinians:
Nations losing wars consistently expand their draft pools. The close of the American Civil War saw children and old men serving in the Confederate armies, and the Nazis used children and old men in their Volksgrenadier divisions in 1944-45. Now the Palestinians are using women as suicide bombers when they once turned them away. It could be this is simply equal opportunity finally reaching the Arab world. But it could also signal a dearth of volunteers to strap high explosives to one's body and seek out Israelis.
Curiously enough, the suicide bombing rate in Israel has gone way down since then. Will the same happen in Iraq?

 
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