Blog Archive

Wednesday, October 30, 2013


It's never too late to shut up. Silence is always appropriate. Silence is the refuge of the wise.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

New York Times: Quotation Of The Day


"It is as if we are living on Jupiter or Mars. Everyone is looking at us from the window and we are in a separate world. Everyone left us alone, every single person on this planet."

QUSAI ZAKARYA, a spokesman for a Syrian opposition group in Moadhamiya, south of Damascus, where the government has not allowed aid convoys to enter for nine months.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

New York Times: Quotation of the Day


"The drones are like the angels of death. Only they know when and where they will strike."

NAZEER GUL, a shopkeeper in Miram Shah, Pakistan.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Friday, October 18, 2013

Between Two Wars: An Excerpt of T.S. Eliot

So here I am, in the middle way, having had twenty years-
Twenty years largely wasted, the years of l'entre deux guerres-(Between two wars. For T.S. Eliot this meant the time between World War One and Two)
Trying to use words, and every attempt
Is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure
Because one has only learnt to get the better of words
For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which
One is no longer disposed to say it. And so each venture
Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate
With shabby equipment always deteriorating
In the general mess of imprecision of feeling
Undisciplined squads of emotion. And what there is to conquer
By strength and submission, has already been discovered
Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope
To emulate - but there is no competition -
There is only the fight to recover what has been lost
And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions
That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss
For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox: Life In The Northwoods; Minocqua, WI

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Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox,Minocqua Wisconsin 2
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Saturday, October 12, 2013


Sent from my iPhone

On Oct 11, 2013, at 11:45 AM, "Chartor, Joseph,M.D." <JCHARTOR@PCHI.PARTNERS.ORG> wrote:

My ex-wife (now deceased) used to call the police and say, “my husband is being abusive” 2 oversized officers would come to the house and find nothing amiss and ask “did he touch you?” and then she would deflate and tell the truth

My advice to all readers: if your story matches with what you are reading here, get out as quickly as you can

Friday, October 11, 2013

New York Times: The Stone-The Dangers of Psuedoscience

The Stone October 10, 2013, 10:00 pm 247 Comments
The Dangers of Pseudoscience By MASSIMO PIGLIUCCI and MAARTEN BOUDRY

The Stone is a forum for contemporary philosophers and other thinkers on issues both timely and timeless.
Alternative and Complementary Medicine, Philosophy, Science and Technology

Philosophers of science have been preoccupied for a while with what they call the “demarcation problem,” the issue of what separates good science from bad science and pseudoscience (and everything in between). The problem is relevant for at least three reasons.

What happens when a theory adopts the external trappings of science, but without the substance?

The first is philosophical: Demarcation is crucial to our pursuit of knowledge; its issues go to the core of debates on epistemology and of the nature of truth and discovery. The second reason is civic: our society spends billions of tax dollars on scientific research, so it is important that we also have a good grasp of what constitutes money well spent in this regard. Should the National Institutes of Health finance research on “alternative medicine”? Should the Department of Defense fund studies on telepathy? Third, as an ethical matter, pseudoscience is not — contrary to popular belief — merely a harmless pastime of the gullible; it often threatens people’s welfare, sometimes fatally so. For instance, millions of people worldwide have died of AIDS because they (or, in some cases, their governments) refuse to accept basic scientific findings about the disease, entrusting their fates to folk remedies and “snake oil” therapies.

It is precisely in the area of medical treatments that the science-pseudoscience divide is most critical, and where the role of philosophers in clarifying things may be most relevant. Our colleague Stephen T. Asma raised the issue in a recent Stone column (“The Enigma of Chinese Medicine”), pointing out that some traditional Chinese remedies (like drinking fresh turtle blood to alleviate cold symptoms) may in fact work, and therefore should not be dismissed as pseudoscience.

This, however, risks confusing the possible effectiveness of folk remedies with the arbitrary theoretical-metaphysical baggage attached to it. There is no question that some folk remedies do work. The active ingredient of aspirin, for example, is derived from willow bark, which had been known to have beneficial effects since the time of Hippocrates. There is also no mystery about how this happens: people have more or less randomly tried solutions to their health problems for millennia, sometimes stumbling upon something useful. What makes the use of aspirin “scientific,” however, is that we have validated its effectiveness through properly controlled trials, isolated the active ingredient, and understood the biochemical pathways through which it has its effects (it suppresses the production of prostaglandins and thromboxanes by way of interference with the enzyme cyclooxygenase, just in case you were curious).

Asma’s example of Chinese medicine’s claims about the existence of “Qi” energy, channeled through the human body by way of “meridians,” though, is a different matter. This sounds scientific, because it uses arcane jargon that gives the impression of articulating explanatory principles. But there is no way to test the existence of Qi and associated meridians, or to establish a viable research program based on those concepts, for the simple reason that talk of Qi and meridians only looks substantive, but it isn’t even in the ballpark of an empirically verifiable theory.

More From The Stone

Read previous contributions to this series.

In terms of empirical results, there are strong indications that acupuncture is effective for reducing chronic pain and nausea, but sham therapy, where needles are applied at random places, or are not even pierced through the skin, turn out to be equally effective (see for instance this recent study on the effect of acupuncture on post-chemotherapy chronic fatigue), thus seriously undermining talk of meridians and Qi lines. In other words, the notion of Qi only mimics scientific notions such as enzyme actions on lipid compounds. This is a standard modus operandi of pseudoscience: it adopts the external trappings of science, but without the substance.

Asma at one point compares the current inaccessibility of Qi energy to the previous (until this year) inaccessibility of the famous Higgs boson, a sub-atomic particle postulated by physicists to play a crucial role in literally holding the universe together (it provides mass to all other particles). But the analogy does not hold. The existence of the Higgs had been predicted on the basis of a very successful physical theory known as the Standard Model. This theory is not only exceedingly mathematically sophisticated, but it has been verified experimentally over and over again. The notion of Qi, again, is not really a theory in any meaningful sense of the word. It is just an evocative word to label a mysterious force of which we do not know and we are not told how to find out anything at all.

Philosophers of science have long recognized that there is nothing wrong with positing unobservable entities per se, it’s a question of what work such entities actually do within a given theoretical-empirical framework. Qi and meridians don’t seem to do any, and that doesn’t seem to bother supporters and practitioners of Chinese medicine. But it ought to.

Still, one may reasonably object, what’s the harm in believing in Qi and related notions, if in fact the proposed remedies seem to help? Well, setting aside the obvious objections that the slaughtering of turtles might raise on ethical grounds, there are several issues to consider. To begin with, we can incorporate whatever serendipitous discoveries from folk medicine into modern scientific practice, as in the case of the willow bark turned aspirin. In this sense, there is no such thing as “alternative” medicine, there’s only stuff that works and stuff that doesn’t.

Second, if we are positing Qi and similar concepts, we are attempting to provide explanations for why some things work and others don’t. If these explanations are wrong, or unfounded as in the case of vacuous concepts like Qi, then we ought to correct or abandon them. Most importantly, pseudo-medical treatments often do not work, or are even positively harmful. If you take folk herbal “remedies,” for instance, while your body is fighting a serious infection, you may suffer severe, even fatal, consequences.

That is precisely what happens worldwide to people who deny the connection between H.I.V. and AIDS, as superbly documented by the journalist Michael Specter. Indulging in a bit of pseudoscience in some instances may be relatively innocuous, but the problem is that doing so lowers your defenses against more dangerous delusions that are based on similar confusions and fallacies. For instance, you may expose yourself and your loved ones to harm because your pseudoscientific proclivities lead you to accept notions that have been scientifically disproved, like the increasingly (and worryingly) popular idea that vaccines cause autism.

Philosophers nowadays recognize that there is no sharp line dividing sense from nonsense, and moreover that doctrines starting out in one camp may over time evolve into the other. For example, alchemy was a (somewhat) legitimate science in the times of Newton and Boyle, but it is now firmly pseudoscientific (movements in the opposite direction, from full-blown pseudoscience to genuine science, are notably rare). The verdict by philosopher Larry Laudan, echoed by Asma, that the demarcation problem is dead and buried, is not shared by most contemporary philosophers who have studied the subject.

Even the criterion of falsifiability, for example, is still a useful benchmark for distinguishing science and pseudoscience, as a first approximation. Asma’s own counterexample inadvertently shows this: the “cleverness” of astrologers in cherry-picking what counts as a confirmation of their theory, is hardly a problem for the criterion of falsifiability, but rather a nice illustration of Popper’s basic insight: the bad habit of creative fudging and finagling with empirical data ultimately makes a theory impervious to refutation. And all pseudoscientists do it, from parapsychologists to creationists and 9/11 Truthers.

Asma’s equating of Qi energy with the “sacrosanct scientific method,” as if both are on the same par, is especially worrisome. Aside from comparing a doctrine about how the world works (Qi) with an open-ended method for obtaining knowledge, what exactly is “sacrosanct” about a method that readily allows for the integration of willow bark and turtle blood, provided that they hold up to scrutiny? The open-ended nature of science means that there is nothing sacrosanct in either its results or its methods.

The borderlines between genuine science and pseudoscience may be fuzzy, but this should be even more of a call for careful distinctions, based on systematic facts and sound reasoning. To try a modicum of turtle blood here and a little aspirin there is not the hallmark of wisdom and even-mindedness. It is a dangerous gateway to superstition and irrationality.
Massimo Pigliucci is a professor of philosophy at the City University of New York. Maarten Boudry is a postdoctoral fellow at Ghent University and the Konrad Lorenz Institute in Vienna. They are co-editors of “Philosophy of Pseudoscience: Reconsidering the Demarcation Problem.”
Alternative and Complementary Medicine, Philosophy, Science and Technology
Previous Post Lapsed, but Listening By TIMOTHY EGAN

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The Enigma of Chinese Medicine

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Thursday, October 10, 2013

New York Times: Protecting The Speech We Hate

Op-Ed Contributors
Protecting the Speech We Hate
Published: October 9, 2013

ARLINGTON, Va. — SHOULD one-on-one advice and counseling be protected as free speech? It sounds like a no-brainer. Of course it should be. But a recent decision by a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit says otherwise.

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Ruling on two First Amendment challenges to a California law that prohibits licensed medical providers from using talk therapy to try to change a minor’s sexual orientation, the court said that such therapy is “conduct,” not “speech,” and therefore deserves no protection.

Let’s get this out of the way right up front: We have no sympathy for the plaintiffs in these cases. We are offended by their speech. And we think the world would be a better place if the plaintiffs accepted gay people for who they are, instead of treating them as if they were broken and required what is euphemistically called “reparative” therapy.

But none of that has anything to do with the central legal question: Is one-on-one advice and counseling — not just about homosexuality, but about anything — protected free speech under the First Amendment?

The answer to that question has national significance and will extend well beyond the fate of the California law and a similar one in New Jersey that is now being challenged in federal court. The Ninth Circuit’s ruling that talk therapy doesn’t count as “speech” has drastic consequences for thousands of Americans who speak on all sorts of harmless, everyday topics.

Those Americans include people like Steve Cooksey. Mr. Cooksey is a resident of North Carolina who was recently ordered by that state’s dietitian licensing board to stop offering dietary advice through his Web site. The board’s reasoning? Dietary advice is not speech, it’s the “conduct” of nutritional assessing and counseling.

His case is not unique. Our organization, the Institute for Justice, which represents Mr. Cooksey in a First Amendment lawsuit against the North Carolina licensing board, is confronting similar arguments nationwide in cases involving speech about parenting, pet care and even history. Under the Ninth Circuit’s ruling, governments could regulate this speech however they wanted, as long as they relabeled it “conduct.”

Lawyers for the state of California made exactly this argument. They said the state was not regulating “speech,” but rather “medical treatment” that could be restricted just like brain surgery or electroshock therapy. But whether or not something is protected by the First Amendment does not hinge on whether we decide to call it “speech” or “treatment.” It hinges on whether or not the government is regulating something that communicates a message. Brain surgery and electroshock therapy do not, but talk therapy — whatever else it does — clearly communicates a message.

Accepting California’s approach would undermine free-speech protections entirely. After all, any kind of speech can be relabeled “conduct.” Professors engage in the conduct of “instructing,” political consultants in the conduct of “strategizing,” and stand-up comedians in the conduct of “inducing amusement.”

Fortunately, the United States Supreme Court has made clear that governments cannot escape the First Amendment by playing this kind of labeling game. Three years ago, the court held that the First Amendment applied even to expert legal advice to terrorist groups. The federal government in that case made exactly the same argument that California was making here, that such advice was “conduct,” not speech. The Supreme Court rejected that argument, though it did find that the government’s interest in combating terrorism was strong enough to uphold the law under First Amendment scrutiny.

The same reasoning applies here. Talk therapy, like other advice, consists of communication, and communication gets First Amendment protection even when the government calls it conduct.

Importantly, the plaintiffs in the California case would not have automatically won their case had the Ninth Circuit held that the First Amendment applied. Instead, the government would then have had the burden of coming forward with actual evidence that the law addressed a real problem and limited speech no more than was necessary. That burden is serious, but it is not insurmountable. It simply means that courts take free speech very seriously, and government officials must present real evidence that their restrictions are necessary to fight a real danger.

It is possible, maybe even likely, that California will be able to meet this burden with regard to its reparative therapy law. But it was the Ninth Circuit’s responsibility to ensure that the state did so, and the court failed.

Now the Ninth Circuit has a chance to correct this error. The plaintiffs in these cases have asked the court to grant a rare “en banc” rehearing, before the entire court, to reverse the panel’s ruling. Our organization has filed a brief in support of this request. The Ninth Circuit should grant the review — not for the sake of the plaintiffs, but for the sake of the thousands of other people who speak for a living and whose rights also hang in the balance here.

Paul Sherman and Robert McNamara are lawyers at the Institute for Justice, a libertarian public interest law firm.

A version of this op-ed appears in print on October 10, 2013, on page A31 of the New York edition with the headline: Protecting the Speech We Hate.

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Wednesday, October 9, 2013

New York Times: Higgs and Englert are Awarded Nobel Prize in Physics (Page One of Two)

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For Nobel, They Can Thank the ‘God Particle’
Higgs and Englert Are Awarded Nobel Prize in Physics

Higgs Boson Particle Theory Wins Nobel: Dennis Overbye, a Times science reporter, discusses the Higgs boson particle’s significance — and insignificance — in understanding our universe.

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Fabrice Coffrini/A.F.P. — Getty Peter W. Higgs, right, and François Englert at a conference in Switzerland on July 4, 2012.
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Two theoretical physicists who suggested that an invisible ocean of energy suffusing space is responsible for the mass and diversity of the particles in the universe won the Nobel Prize in Physics on Tuesday morning. They are Peter W. Higgs, 84, of the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, and François Englert, 80, of the Université Libre de Bruxelles in Belgium.

The theory, elucidated in 1964, sent physicists on a generation-long search for a telltale particle known as the Higgs boson, popularly known (though not among physicists) as the God particle. The chase culminated last year with the discovery of this particle, which confers mass on other particles, at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, in Switzerland. Dr. Higgs and Dr. Englert will split a prize of $1.2 million, to be awarded in Stockholm on Dec. 10.

“You may imagine that this is not unpleasant,” Dr. Englert said in an early morning news conference.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences had not been able to contact Dr. Higgs, who had vowed he would not be available Tuesday. A friend and fellow physicist, Alan Walker, said in a phone interview on Tuesday morning that Dr. Higgs, who does not use a cellphone or a computer, had gone off by himself for a few days without saying where, and that he would return Friday.

Dr. Higgs, he said, is a modest man who likes his own company and the ability to come and go without a fuss. Even before the announcement, he said, one journalist had invaded Dr. Higgs’s building looking for an interview. “He was sent away with a flea in his ear,” Dr. Walker said.

In a statement released later by the University of Edinburgh, Dr. Higgs pronounced himself “overwhelmed,” saying, “I hope this recognition of fundamental science will help raise awareness of the value of blue-sky research.”

The prize had been expected ever since physicists working at the Large Hadron Collider announced on July 4, 2012, that they had discovered a particle matching the description of the Higgs. Thousands of particle physicists worked on the project, and for many of them the Nobel is a crowning validation.

Fabiola Gianotti, who led one of the teams at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, called the prize “a great emotion and a great satisfaction,” adding that it was nice that the experiments were cited in the award. “The young physicists are superexcited.”

The Higgs was the last missing ingredient of the Standard Model, a suite of equations that has ruled particle physics for the last half-century, explaining everything from the smell of a rose to the ping when your computer boots up. According to this model, the universe brims with energy that acts like a cosmic molasses, imbuing the particles that move through it with mass, the way a bill moving through Congress attracts riders and amendments, becoming more and more ponderous and controversial.

Without the Higgs field, many elementary particles, like electrons, would be massless and would zip around at the speed of light. There would be no atoms and no us.

For scientists, the discovery of the Higgs (as physicists call it) affirmed the view of a cosmos ruled by laws of almost diamond-like elegance and simplicity, but in which everything interesting — like us — is a result of lapses or flaws in that elegance. That is the view that emerged in a period of feverish and tangled progress after World War II, in which the world’s physicists turned their energies from war to looking under the hood of nature, using the tools of quantum field theory.

At the heart of this quest was an ancient idea, the concept of symmetry, and how it was present in the foundations of physics but hidden in the world as we experience it. In art and nature, something is symmetrical if it looks the same when you move it one way or another, like a snowflake rotated 60 degrees; in science and math, a symmetry is something that does not change when you transform the system, like the length of an arrow when you turn it around or shoot it.

In 1954, the theorists Chen Ning Yang and Robert L. Mills at the Brookhaven National Laboratory concluded that all fundamental forces were the result of nature’s trying to maintain symmetries — for example, the conservation of electric charge in the case of electromagnetism, or the conservation of momentum and energy in the case of Einstein’s gravity.
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A version of this article appears in print on October 9, 2013, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: For Nobel, They Can Thank the ‘God Particle’.
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New York Times: Higgs and Englert are Awarded Nobel Prize in Physics (Page Two of Two)

They Can Thank the ‘God Particle’
Higgs and Englert Are Awarded Nobel Prize in Physics
Published: October 8, 2013 332 Comments
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By then, however, two more forces of nature had been added to the roster: the so-called weak nuclear force, responsible for some types of radioactive decay, and the strong force, which holds atomic nuclei together. In quantum field theory, forces are transmitted by bundles of energy called bosons. By quantum rules, the mass of a boson is related to the range of the force: the more massive the boson, the shorter its reach.
Fabrice Coffrini/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Scientists at CERN in Switzerland reacted Tuesday to the announcement of the winners of the Nobel Prize in Physics.

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The story behind the hunt for the very fabric of existence itself.
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The Large Hadron Collider at CERN, in Switzerland, which provided crucial research on the Higgs boson, or “God particle.”

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When the physicist Sheldon Glashow, now of Boston University, wrote down a theory in 1961 that explained the weak force and electromagnetism as manifestations of a single “electroweak” force, the math indicated that the particles that transmitted the nuclear part of that force should be massless, like the photons that transmit light and can spread across the universe. But the nuclear forces barely reach across an atomic nucleus, suggesting that their carriers should be among the most massive of elementary particles. How did the carriers of the weak force become so massive while their brothers the photons remained free and easy?

It was Yoichiro Nambu of the University of Chicago, who would win a Nobel in 2008, who suggested that the fault might lie not in the laws of physics but in how those laws play out in the real world. By a process called symmetry breaking, a situation that started out balanced can wind up unbalanced.

Imagine, for example, a pencil standing on its tip; it will eventually fall over and point only one way out of many possibilities. The mass of the boson can be thought of as the energy released when the pencil falls.

In 1964, three papers by the different physicists showed how this could work by envisioning a kind of cosmic molasses filling space. Particles trying to go through it would acquire mass.

The first to publish this idea were Dr. Englert and his colleague Robert Brout, who died in 2011. Dr. Englert was born in Etterbeek, Belgium, in 1932, and he studied engineering and physics at the Université Libre de Bruxelles, emerging with a Ph.D. in 1959. While a research associate at Cornell, he bonded with Dr. Brout, a professor there. When Dr. Englert returned to Belgium, Dr. Brout went with him.

While they were working on their paper, Dr. Higgs, a young theorist born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England, was working on his own version of the theory.

His paper was rejected by the journal Physics Letters, which was published at CERN, as having no relevance to physics. So he rewrote it and sent it to a rival journal, Physical Review Letters. Along the way he added a paragraph at the end, noting that the theory predicted a new particle, a spinless creature of indeterminate mass, which would become famous as the Higgs boson.

That paper was accepted with the proviso that he mention Dr. Englert and Dr. Brout’s paper, which had beaten him into print by seven weeks.

Meanwhile, three other physicists — Tom Kibble of Imperial College, London; Carl Hagen of the University of Rochester; and Gerald Guralnik of Brown University — were writing their own paper. Just as they were about to send it in, mail that had been delayed by a postal strike came in, containing journals with the other two papers, the one by Dr. Higgs and the one by Dr. Englert and Dr. Brout.

The groups and their friends have been arguing ever since over exactly who did and said what. In 2004, Dr. Higgs, Dr. Brout and Dr. Englert won the Wolf Prize, considered an important forerunner of the Nobel. In 2010, all six physicists shared the Sakurai Prize of the American Physical Society, another big award. Dr. Brout might logically have shared the Nobel if he were alive today; the prize is not awarded posthumously.

The Higgs boson became a big deal after Steven Weinberg made it the linchpin in a 1967 paper that unified the electromagnetic and weak forces along the lines proposed by Dr. Glashow earlier, earning himself a share of the 1979 Nobel Prize.

Along the way, the Higgs boson achieved a presence in pop culture rare in abstract physics. To the eternal dismay of his colleagues, Leon Lederman, the former director of Fermilab, called it the “God particle” in his book of the same name, written with Dick Teresi. (He later said that he had wanted to call it the “goddamn particle.”) Journalists and the news media could not resist the nickname, however, and many particle physicists grudgingly admitted that the name had brought a dose of drama and public excitement to a field almost breathtakingly austere and abstract.

The July 4 announcement last year ended that tension. That day was also the first time that Dr. Higgs and Dr. Englert had ever met. Indeed, the newly discovered boson so far fits the theoretical predictions so well that physicists are a little dismayed. They were hoping for a surprise or two that would tell them how to improve on the Standard Model.

The award on Tuesday sets the stage for the Swedish academy to figure out someday how to recognize the 10,000 scientists who built the Large Hadron Collider and sifted 2,000 trillion subatomic fireballs for a few dozen traces of the precious godlike particle.

“We are of course thrilled — the first big discovery of the L.H.C., for which we built the giant machine and detectors,” said Maria Spiropulu, a professor at the California Institute of Technology and a member of one of the CERN teams that tracked the Higgs particle down. “For the experimentalists,” she added, “we are kind of used to being excluded from the Nobel.”
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A version of this article appears in print on October 9, 2013, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: For Nobel, They Can Thank the ‘God Particle.
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Saturday, October 5, 2013

Queensryche - Silent Lucidity (1991)

New York Times: On This Day 1947

On October 5, 1947, in the first televised White House address, President Truman asked Americans to refrain from eating meat on Tuesdays and poultry on Thursdays to help stockpile grain for starving people in Europe.