Archive for April, 2011

torturing the torture debate. again.

The anti-water boarding rationalizing is still in gear. PhysOrg reports on a study about Crossing the line: What constitutes torture?. As one might guess, it is a study whose goal is to find a reason to support a foregone conclusion.

The study’s conclusion: “The legal standard for evaluating torture is psychologically untenable.”

So what can be done? First, overcompensate. “Knowing that we tend to be biased toward not counting torture as torture, we should define torture very liberally, very inclusively,” says Loewenstein. And don’t trust empathy. “This is an area where we can’t rely on our emotional system to guide us. We have to use our intellect.”

The whole idea boils down to the assertion that you can’t know what is torture unless you’ve experienced it. Without that shared experience, you cannot have a proper empathy. An example of how tortured this approach is involves the fact that many in the US armed forces are trained in torture resistance by being actually subjected to the enhanced interrogation techniques that offend the researchers.

There is another interesting indicator in the research by the indication of the standard of referent.

“Our research suggests that, except in a rarified situation”—during actual suffering—“people are going to exhibit a systematic bias to under-appreciate the misery produced by the tactics they endorse,” says Loewenstein.

Misery? That is an entirely different standard than “infliction of severe physical or mental pain or suffering” which the U.N. uses.

This sort of ‘research’ indicates why the ‘debate’ is so non-productive. It is full of subjective and perceptive measures and non-established presumptions such as that about empathy.

The question for defining what is torture and what is not needs better. The focus of research needs to be on something empirical or at least objective. For example, if someone is subject to torture that leaves physical scars, then you have a measure of the nature of torture you can use to determine if it was severe or not. That sort of torture, though, is old school. Modern methods, such as water boarding, do not leave any physical evidence so how can you measure its impact on the subject to determine severity? It does seem that if a human undergoes something severe, its impact should be visible in some definable way. Research that makes that impact measurable in some way would be a contribution to the debate. The PhysOrg reported study does not meet this level of integrity.

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About the war on the goose and gold eggs

It seems that fairy tales have a lot of relevance to modern affairs. That one about the goose that produced gold eggs seems appropriate in regards to some folks and their attitude towards the wealth of nations. An example is described by John at Powerline’s rundown on how the Times smear continues.

Egan quotes with apparent approval Balzac’s silly witticism that “behind every great fortune lies a great crime.” As applied to contemporary America, it would be far closer to the truth to say that behind every great fortune lies a great service to humanity. And with typically liberal myopia, Egan thinks that rich people do good only when they give their money away:

It must be very odd to be a liberal like Tim Egan. Here he is, living in the most prosperous nation in history, where more wealth has been created, and wealth has been earned by more people, than anywhere else on earth–and he has absolutely no idea why. Free enterprise? Entrepreneurship? Risk-taking? Restraints on the rapaciousness of the parasitic public sector? All of these things are anathema to liberals. So, in Tim Egan’s world, the only good thing you can say about a rich person is that he gave his money away. How did he get it in the first place? Egan has no idea, except that it must have been some sort of “crime.”

With some people, it appears to be an a priori presumption that anyone with more wealth than them got it by stealing or other nefarious process. That presumption is used to rationalize taking that wealth from them, by force if necessary. Sometimes, supporting that presumption means deceit and dishonesty and that is the tragedy that John is describing.

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Get it from the big guys: solving the government budget

One reason the debate about the federal budget is so rancorous is that some are absolutely convinced that it can be solved simply by taxing the rich and those big evil corporations. From a rational perspective, that idea suffers as Sowell points out in describing his plan. (Another Spending Cut Plan at Townhall)

The liberals’ easy solution is just to increase taxes on “the rich.” But, if you do the math, there aren’t enough of “the rich” to cover the huge and record-breaking deficit.

One reason for this effort to increase income and avoid any reductions in spending shows up in the debate as well.

Trying to reduce the deficit by cutting spending runs into an old familiar counter-attack. There will be all kinds of claims by politicians and sad stories in the media about how these cuts will cause the poor to go hungry, the sick to be left to die, etc.

What Sowell points out is that there is a confluence between the idea of getting government money from those rich corporations and reducing spending.

Big corporations also get big bucks from the government, not only in agricultural subsidies but also in the name of “green” policies, in the name of “alternative energy” policies, and in the name of whatever else will rationalize shoveling the taxpayers’ money out the door to whomever the administration designates, for its own political reasons.

The usual political counter-attacks against spending cuts will not work against this new kind of spending cut approach. How many heart-rending stories can the media run about billionaires who have lost their handouts from the taxpayers? How many tears will be shed if General Motors gets dumped off the gravy train?

These subsidies can be outright payments – such as those to southern black wanna-be farmers that is a scandal floating just under the radar – or they can be tax credits and deductions – loopholes – that some current plans suggest closing.

With a budget that is as big as the current federal budget, the challenge for any who want to reduce it is in picking the right targets. That is the suggest Sowell makes.

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Testing. Reality calling. Testing.

Dr. Sanity describes the referent. That is, the basis by which someone can assess whether someone, including one’s self, is using a maladaptive defense that is a symptom of an underlying refusal to acknowledge reality.

It’s important to remember that anyone who is reasonably psychologically healthy is not afraid of examining their thinking processes; nor are they so wrapped up in their emotions that they are unable to appreciate their own psychological blind spots or challenges to their ability to determine what is real and what is a distortion.

A list of facets to examine is suggested for a place to start. An example is provided at the top of the post – one that might irritate some folks as it sets up two straw men in line with contemporary political images – with the psychology in the middle and a challenge to examine the behavior of both sides in her example.

But if you know, absolutely and positively, then you have Matthew 7:3 or Luke 6:42 to consider.

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Communications politics and control

The net neutrality debate continues. FCC Imposes New Wireless Roaming Rules and FCC Proposes New Rules For Wireless Signal Boosters identify two campaigns on the wireless front.

The analogy is in the breakup of the telephone company back when landlines were the only common telephone service. A first step was that of requiring the telephone company to allow the connection of user equipment to their network. That opened up a consumer market for telephones and allowed modems and facsimile machines to become more common.

A second step was that of requiring the telephone company to allow access to their infrastructure. This allowed competitors to tap into telephone switches and use telephone lines to customer premises. In many ways, this step is similar to the new wireless roaming rules. The difference is that the telephone company had wires run to each customer while not the access is via spectrum licensed from the FCC.

The Signal Booster ruling is all about protecting the spectrum that cell carriers have licensed from the FCC. If the signal boosting is not done properly, it can create havoc by causing various forms of interference with wireless networks.

As in net neutrality, the fundamental issue is that of getting high speed I’net access anywhere with any equipment at minimal cost or effort. The wireless roaming rules are an effort to eliminate the competitive advantage that companies have developed in their coverage area by building cell towers. That will make those coverage maps that have been in advertisements of little relevance.

The question is just how far the government should go in removing areas that communications companies can use to distinguish their products and services.

It is the rationale for removing competitive advantage that needs careful attention. This is the idea that there is a monopoly and if the government didn’t require companies to bill as the government sees fit and to allow anyone to use their equipment as the government sees fit, the companies could lord it over their customers as a monopolist. That view is so week that it needs rationalizing and that rationalizing is what needs to be examined to find out where the truth actually lies.

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Priorities for budgets

Even in personal budgeting, the issue is always trying to determine priorities. An abode is chosen so that rent or mortgage doesn’t take too much of the income so transportation choices can suit preferences. Where it gets interesting is in balancing the small stuff like clothing and entertainment. Much of the recent economic turmoil was caused by using debt to finance a bit more of what was desired than income would allow.

National governments have suffered the same dilemma and the need to face the music is the question in the news regarding the U.S. budget.

Deficits have increased in the last couple of years from the couple of percent of GDP that has been common over the years to levels that have worried many. There was no budget approved for the current year and operations have limped along on ad hoc resolutions. An election was held and the folks who had getting a closer match between income and outgo did very well. That has put the issue on the line so now the matter of priorities in the budget are being examined. The pressure is on to stop business as usual; to not just fund programs and projects at ever increasing levels and run up the debt. That means that every project and program is on the table and, for some, just chips in a game of high stakes poker.

Ed takes a look. Breaking: Budget deal? Update: Not yet; Reid says Planned Parenthood higher priority than funding government. In the past, the armed forces were taken off the table and defense department payroll assured but that is not the case this time. Soldier pay, i.e. national defense, is being used as a bargaining chip.

The hyperbole from those invested in many social programs and projects has reached stratospheric levels.

The first decision – government spending and income need to be more in balance – has been made. The general agreement is that they do indeed need to be brought closer to balance.

The second decision is about whether to do this by ‘taxing the rich’ or reducing government spending. The elections indicated that the latter was the public choice but the contingent for the former has not yet accepted that.

It has been a long run with no need for discipline. That run appears to have ended. The choice is about how to make the landing.

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tactics: prosser on torts

Scott has a good summary at Powerline on the tactics used in the recent Wisconsin election. Prosser on Torts is a pun on a classic law school text.

We’d have Prosser on assault and other intentional torts … on defamation … on negligence … on strict liability

All examples from recent experience. Read Scott’s post and consider the implications.

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Going to extremes

One of the more troubling behaviors evident in current public affairs this year is the extremism.; That got its start in the Arizona shootings and a lot of talk about civility. That was followed by the Wisconsin public union demonstrations and other shenanigans (see Wisconsin DOJ Open Meetings Expert Secretly Gave Advice To Fleeing Dem Senators, for example) that resulted in a judicial election that had millions behind the candidates from out of state sources. Now its the budget battle with plans to dump trash on the Speaker’s lawn.

Lawfare is also in full display, which may be why the judicial elections are getting so much attention. In Wisconsin, a judge has been found to interfere in the legislative process. That is on the public union front. Climate alarmism is also showing up in court at a personal level.

Now we have peer review in science entering the courtroom as well. This one has Dr. Tim Ball seeking assistance for his legal defense against Dr. Mann’s allegations of libel. (See WUWT). That is the same Dr. Mann that the University in Virginia is trying to protect from investigations of the AG regarding use of government funding.

Savvy skeptics suspect that Ball, a 72-year-old pensioner, was singled out as a target because he has no big corporate backers and will capitulate under the emotional and financial strain before the case even gets to trial as his legal fees spiral. Such a fate befell Ball in a prior libel suit in 2006.

There are a couple of items to note here. One is that folks such as Ball are continually being accused of being financially supported by ‘big oil’ as a reason to explain away their arguments and questions on the climate issue. The other is Alinsky example of picking a target, a human target, to destroy to buttress one’s position.

The choose an opponent to destroy by any means possible is a tactic visible on many fronts. Governor Walker was replaced by Judge Prosser in Wisconsin. The Koch brothers, Fox News and Glen Beck are favorite targets whenever the opportunity arises. Speaker Boehner is taking the hits in the budget debate. Dr. Ball is getting it in the climate issue. The front line in today’s society not only speaks to soldiers in foreign lands.

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Matters of integrity: Israel

While Dr. Curry is examining a matter of academic integrity in Scholars and Scandals, that of the attacks on Israel is also undergoing some inspection. Jennifer Rubin notes how Goldstone’s recantation pulls back the curtain

Israel is fighting for its survival not only on the battlefield but in the court of public opinion. For those who believe truth matters, it is important to point out the untruths and agenda of Israel’s attackers. Those who shrink from acknowledging the falsity of the attacks on Israel either have common aims with the phony human rights groups or have lost the capacity to make moral distinctions. The latter is a much bigger problem for elite intellectuals, and goes well beyond the topic of Israel.

The assault on Israel has been on many fronts from terrorist attacks to an ongoing missile bombardment to a propaganda campaign that is so transparent one has to wonder why anyone would swallow it. But swallow it they have and Goldstone’s report on one incident was used as leverage to help the gullible accept the meme of Israel as aggressor and human rights abuser.

Goldstone has expressed regrets. That is one step. There are many left to go.

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within the margins of [fraud | error | ?]

As an outlet to the disappointment, rage, November election loss, and legislative losses, the Wisconsin off season and off year election provided an opportunity for a massive effort to support feelings of validity that had been under assault. All of that effort has indeed narrowed the margin from primaries that indicated a 1:3 ratio last fall to a dead heat. The election returns are so close that victory is not a matter of the vote but rather a matter of the voting.

Legal Insurrection notes how the candidates are gearing up for the post election examination of the voting. Prosser Recount Fund is an example. The post also notes the status of the recall efforts underway as another part of this poor loser syndrome in Wisconsin.

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Industrial risk: the red sludge

With all the panic about radiation and comparisons to Chernobyl, the nuclear-phobia is in full face. PhysOrg provides another industrial catastrophe for comparison and contrast — Wildlife still largely absent from red sludge area: WWF.

Ten people were killed last October when the retaining walls of a reservoir at the alumina plant in Ajka in western Hungary burst, sending 1.1 million cubic metres (38.8 million cubic feet) of poisonous, stinking red-coloured mud across an area of 40 square kilometres (15 square miles).

At Chernobyl there were also some deaths at the initial event and some who did not take appropriate precautions became sick. Now it is a wildlife refuge as people avoid it due to residual radiation that doesn’t seem to bother the wildlife.

At Fukushima, the tsunami also killed a couple of workers but there have been no other deaths and no one has been subject to excessively risky radiation exposure.

The chemical spill arguably did a lot more damage to land and wildlife and human health than the nuclear power plant incidents.

But what gets headlines? Where is the fear? How is it rationalized?

Meanwhile, reasonable people are cleaning up the mess, learning lessons, and taking reasonable precautions to provide the materials and energy needed to support the health and welfare of society that we have come to accept as a given.

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predictable. talking. points. Republicans kill children and starve the elderly

See U.S. News for a typical example. Paul Ryan’s Budget Plan Hits the Elderly and the Poor. Leslie Marshall seems to think that turning Medicare from a government run health care system to a private insurance system with government provided subsidies is a “cut.”

What the Republicans are trying to do with this proposal is to push Medicare and Medicaid recipients to choose their own plan option yet pay more out of their own pocket. … So it’s your choice, America. Cut a lot from Medicare now and pay even more later as our elderly people die on the streets outside of hospitals that simply don’t have the space and medical staff to treat them; or repair our current system, fund it to care for our elderly, current and future. [See who donates the most to Paul Ryan.]

One thing to note is the personalization – going after Ryan personally. The Koch brothers is another recent example of this tactic. Going after persons and then into who supports them in order to taint the opposition in any way one can is a hallmark to look for in qualifying the integrity of a point of view.

The exclamation points and excitement are another clue. Then there is the anti-military viewpoint.

Want to save money? Bring our troops home. Oh, and close Gitmo. It costs $650,000 to house a detainee there, only $28,000 to put them in federal prison.

That misses the point that a primary mission of the federal government is defense. By contrast, the role of government in personal welfare has to be derived and imagined from its mission and scope document, the U.S. Constitution. The assault on defense is also problematic as that is only a small part of the budget and that share is not likely to change in any significant way. What is the problem with the budget is the entitlements which are growing in a very alarming manner.

The challenge for the country is whether Marshall is right in the old school paradigm:

This isn’t about saving money, it’s about getting re-elected; and with Ryan’s plan, the Democrats can thank him for the exodus of senior voters they just won.

The indicators are here, too. One is that the politicians are only about getting re-elected and the other is that the senior voters will buy into the demagoguery. The facts of the matter include Ryan taking up a ‘third rail’ of politics that has been off limits for any politician seeking tenure for decades. Whether the “senior voters” will take up the mantra of the Wisconsin unions and insist on government largess at no cost to them is a matter to be seen. That largess has resulted in unprecedented levels of government debt and politicians like Ryan were elected to turn the trend towards more debt around. It was known and understood that they would face the predictable talking points to the effect that their party wants to kill children, starve the elderly, and otherwise deprive citizens and voters of their health and happiness. Those who elected them are holding their breath hoping that those they elected will not cave to this demagoguery once again so they are delighted to see evidence such as a budget plan that actually addresses financial problems rather than aggravates them.

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Stable climate speaking, Dr. Chu

Motl brings up an interesting point in Steven Chu: climate modelers should fabricate lots of tipping points.

The commonly used climate models exaggerate the future temperature increases approximately by one order of magnitude but they still don’t predict any spectacular “positive feedback loops” and “cascading events” because there won’t be any. After all, the climate is mostly governed by negative feedbacks and virtually all processes are self-regulating.

The point in the posting is about the head of a governmental science agency advocating a certain type of research. That, of course, is the politicization of science which was a big big deal in the last administration.

There is another issue to think about as well. The climate is a rather stable system. This can be seen in that the effort to measure impacts of climate change have difficulty finding any signal. The seasons in New England are pretty much as they were when the country was founded. The sea level hasn’t changed to any significant degree. There is no pattern or time trend in record temperatures, major storms, of other climate related phenomena. Stable systems like this require negative feedback, that is, mechanisms that inhibit change rather than promote it. You have to go to geological history over eons to find significant climate changes such as the ice ages represent, for example.

But what Chu is asking research to find and what the climate alarmists believe strongly to be true is that the climate has positive feedbacks. These are mechanisms that make a system unstable. In an public address system, positive feedback will make the sound system squeal as it goes out of control. Engineers have developed negative feedback mechanisms to over-ride this positive feedback and technicians place components to fight it in order to save the ears of the audience. With climate, there has been no need for engineers and technicians to control feedback. That means that the mechanisms already in existence are doing the job of providing control.

But natural controls on climate change do not fit with the political ideology of the current administration nor of climate alarmists. The desire to fit nature into their ideologies is so strong they seek to make it so anyway. That results in science being driven to find it, no matter what, including no matter intellectual integrity. That effort, too, has negative feedbacks because reality does tend to have the matter of persistence behind it and will last longer than fantasies.

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Weather data when the capitalists do it

The controversies about climate research have put a lot of emphasis on datasets and data quality. That got started when Watt’s surface stations project started to demonstrate the problems with weather data collection. Then it got to the data adjustments used to determine global temperature trends. The picture that has surfaces is not one to make a scientist proud. That is why some folks at Berkley decided to have a go at fixing the many problems that were identified. But recent testimony in a Congressional committee hearing has cast doubt on the Berkley effort being what it was claimed to be.

While BEST is making a public relations train wreck for themselves by touting preliminary conclusions with no data analysis paper in place yet to support their announcements, there have been other things going on in the world of surface data integrity and uncertainty.

There is another resource. It is a private sector resource, a business that has its credibility on the line. It isn’t pushing any ideological agenda but rather trying to sell data for use by others in meeting weather problems and risks. Watts describes it as the source for An investigation of USHCN station siting issues using a cleaned dataset.

I find it encouraging that a private company that provides weather data where risk management is involved, where being right provides economic reward and being wrong mean economic failure, has seen and dealt with the issues of station biases, at least partially. Much more is needed.

The left, those with the most at stake in trying to establish human caused catastrophic climate change, are also those who are most dismissive of greedy capitalist business entities. The accountability, though, is with those businesses, not ideologues in academia and government.

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Conflating police and military

Peter describes A worrying trend in law enforcement? He cites J Rawles on the Survival blog.

During the past several years, I have witnessed a dramatic shift in the focus of law enforcement training. Law enforcement courses have moved away from a local community focus to a federally dominated model of complete social control. …

No matter what topic the training session concerns, every DHS sponsored course I have attended over the past few years never fails to branch off into warnings about potential domestic terrorists in the community….

These federal trainers describe the dangers of “extremists” and “militia groups” roaming the community and hiding in plain sight, ready to attack. Officers are instructed how to recognize these domestic terrorists by their behavior, views and common characteristics. State data bases are kept to track suspected domestic terrorists and officers are instructed on reporting procedures to state and federal agencies. The state I work in, like many others, have what is known as a “fusion center” that compiles a watch list of suspicious people.

This is why profiling gets a bad name. While the police cannot profile known terrorists, they can profile imagined terrorists. Peter says

What worries me is that I’ve seen precisely the same signs that Mr. Rawles reports. There really does seem to be a growing emphasis in many (but not yet all) law enforcement circles that it’s “them versus us”, that any and every sign of individuality, independence and self-reliance on the part of private citizens is to be regarded as suspicious, and that those who object to such suspicions should be “put in their place”.

You can see this in the police actions against photographers. It is also visible in the expanding role of SWAT teams. In fiction, it is even part of the NCIS TV show where defeating the bad guys takes precedence over the boundaries between police and military.

Then you can get into the corruption of the police as revenue agents as a recent story illustrates about how traffic citations are a growing source of revenue for states or you can get into the police threatening boycott in Wisconsin if business owners don’t do as they are told …

Meanwhile, if you own a firearm or take prudent precautions for disaster preparedness or use a camera in public places, keep a low profile and be careful. Some law enforcement officer may see your activities as a part of a domestic terrorist profile and could decide that warrants further investigation, harassment, or worse.

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Japan disaster: Fukushima summary of note

Every day you see headlines with folks waiting for a disaster from the nuclear plants. Every atom that might have come from the damaged plants is heralded. Sanity has suffered as another crisis is being shown as too good an opportunity for some to waste.

If you want a good rundown on what has actually happened and a clue as to one of the real scandals of the episode, see Fukushima Nuclear Accident – Exceptional Summary by Murray E. Miles. This is linked from Next Big Future’s Carnival of Nuclear Energy 46.

The issues, as far as disaster is concerned, is the unit 4 first level fuel pool. That is a small, temporary, pool used to assist moving fuel from the reactor to the main fuel storage pool and it broke during the disaster. Fortunately it had only a small amount of fuel in it but that fuel is a major source of some of the radiation of concern. The other issue is the politics behind the US 50 mile exclusion, which appears to be a political hit by the Chair of the NRC and not based on any guidelines as established for this sort of event.

There is a note that it took 5 years to get the undamaged parts of TMI back on line. That is the reference to see how long it will take Japan to get its undamaged power plants back online. In the meantime, there will be significant electrical power shortages to deal with that will hinder the climb back to normalcy.

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Precautionary principle

The precautionary principle is a means to stop doing something. If there is a risk of any sort, the precaution precludes doing it. In a way, it is a guilty unless proven innocent approach to maintain the status quo. Precautionary Principle Power Grab describes the problem.

Precaution is now an established tenet of environmental governance, law, and public policy at the international, national and local levels. When it comes to pollution, toxic chemicals, genetically modified organisms, endangered species and climate change, the so called precautionary principle has become the guiding doctrine for timorous souls everywhere. But more than that, it is a codification of the idea that before anything new is allowed, it must be proven, beyond a shadow of a doubt, to cause no harm to anything in anyway, under any conditions, anywhere—period. It is “look before you leap” on steroids and a major legal weapon used by environmentalists and neo-Luddites everywhere to hamstring human progress. Raising angst to an art form, progress hating activists have managed to block needed energy and industrial expansion at a critical time in humanity’s development.

The premise seems to be that risk is binary in nature. Either it exists or it doesn’t. If there is any risk, no matter how small, in doing something, then you should not do it. The problem here is that there is always a risk and the issue is that of comparing benefits to costs. With genetically modified foods the balance is between healthy and well fed impoverished populations and the panoply of fears about such foods which have nothing to support their existence as a practical matter. Nuclear power is another: the benefit of an abundant energy supply for health and welfare balanced with the risks of a disaster that has yet to occur despite many many years of experience.

In 2008, with China experiencing widespread food shortages, the government backed an aggressive effort to pursue transgenic engineering. Over the past 15 years, Chinese rice yields have stagnated while at the same time use of pesticides and fertilizers has risen sharply. Scientists are looking to GM rice and other staples to raise yields and simultaneously curb the use of agricultural chemicals. The goal is to feed the Chinese people and improve the environment, but the irrational forces of far left eco-advocacy are having none of it. What would they prefer? Poisoned rivers and widespread starvation?

Then there’s the automobile. Traffic deaths per million miles driven is down to 60 year lows but every time you get into a car to get to work or to go shopping, you take the risk that you’ll have an untoward experience. That risk will occur even if you choose to walk rather than drive. What do you do?

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When the police take sides in a political dispute

There are some wondering if threats of boycott by police if a business doesn’t toe the political line might be worth concern. Another case involves the death threats sent to legislators. Ed has the story – Felony charges filed against teacher in WI e-mail death threats; Update: Track record?

Prosecutors filed two felony counts and two misdemeanor counts against 26-year-old Katherine Windels of Cross Plains, Wisconsin, but only after the Wisconsin Department of Justice sent the district attorney a sharply-worded memo of its own, wondering why prosecutors hadn’t done anything with the referral. It turns out that the woman who sent death threats to sixteen Senators and their families and claimed to have already built the bombs to kill them had never been arrested despite admitting to the charges:

This kind of thing has an analogy from a recent episode in Arizona. Some wacko with a history of expression via threat turned a corner and created a massacre. The behavior was ignored then. It appears similar behavior is being ignored now.

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