Tuesday, December 06, 2011

The great scare about lead

This is the second part of an article by James Delingpole. The first part is about global warming but I think this part is extensive enough to warrant being published separately

Dr Herbert Needleman was a US child psychologist who generated headlines in 1979 with his research paper showing that lead poisoning was dramatically affecting children's IQs. This "evidence" became a vital plank in the case of the Environmental Protection Agency's regulations from 1986 onwards to have almost all lead removed from petrol. Just one problem: Needleman's study was about as reliable as Michael Mann's Hockey Stick.

In the Needleman affair, the McIntyre/McKitrick role was played by another academic child psychologist Dr Claire Ernhart, who worked in the same field as Needleman. She noted that Needleman's research was based on serious methodological flaws. In particular, she claimed that he had not sufficiently allowed for "confounding variables" that might have explained the difference in IQ scores such as poor schools or parental neglect.

When an expert panel from the EPA tried looking into this, however, Needleman proved as reluctant to reveal the basis of his research as Mann did with raw data underpinning his Hockey Stick.

According to Booker/North:
"When in 1983 the panel visited Needleman's laboratory to look at his data, he handed over six books of computer printouts, but said that only two panel members could examine them, and only for two hours."

"Even during this cursory study, the panel found enough evidence to arouse profound doubts about Needleman's research. Although starting with 3,329 children, he had winnowed out so many, often for apparently arbitrary reasons, that he had ended up basing his conclusions first on 270 subjects, then on just 158. 'Exclusion of large numbers of eligible participants' the panel concluded, 'could have resulted in systematic bias'. In other words, it looked to the panel as though he might have selected his evidence to give the results he wanted."

The expert panel concluded that Needleman's studies "neither support nor refute the hypothesis that low or moderate levels of Pb (lead) exposure lead to cognitive or other behavioural impairments in children." In other words, that his researches were valueless.

But hey, guess what happened then. Pressure was applied. The expert panel – for reasons which were never satisfactorily explained – completely reversed its decision. And the head of the EPA William Ruckelshaus (the same man responsible for the DDT ban which effectively condemned millions in the third world to die of malaria) was able to use Needleman's study as the basis for doing what the EPA and environmental campaigners had been wanting to do anyway: ban lead from petrol.

Unsurprisingly, the EU soon eagerly followed suit. As even the Eu Commission admitted, the new rules would cost consumers an additional £4.8 billion a year, raise the average cost of a car by up to £600 a year and force oil companies into £70 billion-worth of new investment. Oh, and also, EU studies estimated, the switch to unleaded (it being less efficient than leaded) would also result in the creation of 15-17 million tonnes a year more greenhouse gas emissions.


Thursday, August 18, 2011

How to fight the nitrogen threat

First comprehensive look at protecting the environment from nitrogen recommends creating wetlands, planting less corn

Jim Galloway

As a scientist, it's the questions that keep me up at night.

When chemical nitrogen fertilizer is applied to crops, what happens to the nitrogen that isn't absorbed? When nitrogen is emitted to the atmosphere from fossil fuel combustion, where does it go, and what does it do?

Tackling these questions has been a major focus of my research, and that of a dedicated cadre of scientists around the globe, since the 1980s.

Several years ago, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Science Advisory Board recognized this major environmental challenge and gathered some of the nation's top scientists to examine the issue. I've been on the committee for five years and its chairman for three. This week, the Science Advisory Board is providing the EPA administrator with a seminal report. It's the first time nitrogen's impacts on the United States have been gathered in one place, and the findings are staggering.

Follow @BaltSunLetters for the latest reader letters to The Sun

Nitrogen, as any farmer or gardener knows, is essential to plant life. But there's a limited amount available naturally, so 100 years ago, chemists developed a way to turn inert nitrogen gas in the atmosphere into reactive, biologically available nitrogen in the form of ammonia. The widespread use of this chemical nitrogen fertilizer to boost crop production has resulted in food to feed the world. It has also resulted in too much nitrogen getting into waterways and our air, essentially adding unwanted, unneeded fertilizer to our natural systems — with disastrous results. The combustion of fossil fuels adds even more reactive nitrogen to our environment. A single atom of reactive nitrogen can contribute to aquatic dead zones, smog, acid rain, climate change and ozone depletion as it moves through the air, water and soil.

Our report, "Reactive Nitrogen in the United States: an Analysis of Inputs, Flows, Consequences, and Management Options," carefully details the many ways reactive nitrogen is wreaking havoc across the United States: smog, acid rain, algal blooms, human health problems, fish kills, polluted drinking water and the coastal "dead zones" we've spent hundreds of millions of dollars battling in theChesapeake Bay.

And while the report notes that the United States is one of the world's largest contributors to human-caused nitrogen pollution, it also shows that major decreases in nitrogen pollution can be achieved using available technology.

We've done a great job over the past decade decreasing nitrogen pollution from power plants and cars, and our report recommends ways to extend those reductions. Yet pollution from chemical fertilizers and livestock manure continues to increase.

Our report outlines how farmers can help reduce agriculture's nitrogen footprint — both to save money and to protect the environment. Our recommendations include using existing technology to grow crops and raise animals more efficiently, and creating or restoring wetlands to capture nitrogen losses.

Another solution is to plant less corn, a notoriously "leaky" crop. Less than 35 percent of the nitrogen fertilizer applied on corn fields in the United States is taken up by plants; the remainder gets into rivers and stream or reacts with the air to form nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse gas. Reforming federal policies that incentivize the planting of corn for ethanol production would diversify our crop acreage and keep more nitrogen where it belongs: in the soil and plants. Taken together, these measures would decrease by 25 percent the amount of nitrogen to the U.S. environment. This is a great first step; more will be needed.

Farmers need support. Our report offers valuable recommendations at a time when lawmakers are considering changes to U.S. farm policy through the next Farm Bill. Whatever happens with cuts to the overall Farm Bill budget, we need to make sure we continue to fund valuable conservation programs that help farmers reduce nitrogen pollution. It's crucial that we begin to do a better job of balancing our use of nitrogen to maximize crop yields, so we can minimize its impacts on our environment and health. Knowing we're getting closer to achieving that balance would allow me to get a good night's rest, so I can move on to my next scientific question.

(Jim Galloway is the associate dean for the sciences in the College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at the University of Virginia, and the Sidman P. Poole Professor in the Department of Environmental Sciences. His email is jng@virginia.edu)


Monday, May 16, 2011

Does Lowering Salt Shorten Lifespan?

Q. About 50 years ago we were told to cut way down on salt. My brother Elmer always ate a lot of salt anyway and was always more healthy than I was. Unfortunately, he was killed in an automobile collision when he was 85.

I am now 86. When I stopped restricting salt, my health improved. If salt causes some people problems, they should avoid it. It doesn't make sense for the rest of us to deprive ourselves.

A. It has been an article of faith for decades that everyone should reduce salt intake, but the data don't show that limiting sodium consumption makes a difference for otherwise healthy people.

The latest research in the Journal of the American Medical Association (May 4, 2011) reported that lower salt intake was not associated with lower blood pressure. The people who consumed the least salt had the greatest risk of death from cardiovascular complications.

As paradoxical as this seems, it is consistent with previous research. A national nutrition survey (Journal of General Internal Medicine, Sept., 2008) found that low sodium intake was linked to higher cardiovascular mortality. A recent study of people with type 1 diabetes found that those with the lowest sodium intake were most likely to die during its 10-year duration (Diabetes Care, April, 2011).


Sunday, January 23, 2011


By Wim de Vriend

When I walk into the place, a large party of senior lunch customers is just leaving. One, a tiny lady with snow-white hair, grabs my arm and hails me as a long-lost hero. “Hello, how are you? I’ve been meaning to tell you I was all behind you, when you squirted those gals,” she gushes.

“Thank you so much,” I reply, and then I add: “But it sure was expensive.”

“But you had every right …” she starts. Sure, I had the moral right, but the political-legal establishment didn’t see it that way. What’s most astonishing, the incident with “those gals” happened over fifteen years ago, and she’s waited all this time to bring it up. So have several other people recently. There can be no doubt; as we come up to the sixteenth anniversary, I’m still known far and wide as the restaurant guy who hosed down the feminists. The latter a.k.a. locally as The Lesbians from Hell.

With some doubt that I can, I will try to make a very long story short. Halfway through the morning of Saturday July 3, 1993, I got a call at home, from the restaurant.

“Hey, they’re hee-ere,” Lynn droned in her deadpan way.

“Who is here?”

“The women’s crisis center crowd. They got signs, and they’re picketing, and they’re keeping people out of the restaurant.”

“Good grief. Ah -- are you doing any business?”

“Are you kidding? We’re standing around watching.”

“Ah -- I’ll be right over.”

Sure enough, when I got there I saw about two dozen picketers, mostly women, ambling around the place with the insouciance of hardened harridans who are sticking it to The Man. They waved picket signs. They stopped cars coming around the corner. They interfered with pedestrians headed for the restaurant by shouting things about rape, and by handing out flyers. The flyers went largely unread, but the sum total of their interference made every patron change his mind about coming in. The worst part, though, was their signs:


In addition, a couple of the signs announced that this was an action by the Coos Coalition for Human Rights, the local homosexual lobby.

The restaurant is located on a downtown stretch of U.S. 101, the Pacific Coast highway. On an average day in 1993 some 15,000 vehicles passed that spot, a lot more on a summer day. This was a summer day. Hundreds, no, thousands of drivers might catch a glimpse of this scene. What would they think? Maybe what you thought when you read the slogans: that this restaurant or its owner had some sinister connection to the crime of rape. And sure enough, within days after the incident three acquaintances who had driven by told me their first thought was that I must have raped somebody. A damned infamy, when all I had done was write a letter to the paper, criticizing a radical anti-date-rape activist by the name of Dangerine, who seemed to be in charge of the picket. Dangerine had wormed herself into the position of chief of the local battered women’s home, which quickly had become known as the lesbian recruiting center. The most accurate way to describe her is to abuse Hobbes’s portrayal of primitive humanity: “nasty, brutish and short.” And what she had cooked up was not just business interference, but serious slander. I could not understand how she and her cohorts could be so blind. How was the public supposed to know that this was about a letter to the editor? Anybody with a smidgen of common sense would realize that most of those driving by had not even read it.

In a planned high-stress incident, the instigators have all the advantages of surprise. This bunch (as I discovered later) had planned their picket at meetings of the Human Rights crowd and at the Coos Bay Presbyterian Church. This church, like its national office, PC-USA, had become a haven for promoters of far-out political causes. I would also discover that nearly all of the picketers made their living off the taxpayers, which explained their disregard for my livelihood, and the support they got from the local power structure. Not counting the Human Rights boss, they included Dangerine, her lesbian “counselors” from the Women’s Crisis Center, a few county social workers, a public employees’ union activist, a probation officer, the wife of a retired public school administrator locally infamous for drunkenness on the job, and the wife of a judge. The conspirators had talked to the Coos Bay police about their plan, and the police had told them to go ahead but had not seen fit to tell me, or I might have done something more sensible than I did.

For I didn’t know most of these things I just told you; to me, these people were simple troublemakers interfering with my livelihood and ruining my reputation. When we called the police for help, we were told they were too busy. So I set out to get rid of the pests myself. In downtown Portland, along Burnside Avenue, merchants have had a lot of trouble with bums blocking access to their businesses and scaring off customers, and quite a few have installed sprinkler systems on the outside walls of their buildings. At irregular intervals they turn them on to dampen the spirit of the scruffy sidewalk assemblies. Having grown up in a water-rich country where disputes were often resolved by dunking obstreperous people in the nearest pond or canal (It happened to me), I thought water was a most sensible cure. So I quickly joined a couple of garden hoses together, climbed on my roof, and started hosing the picketers down. For a few minutes this made a few run away, especially the feminized men; but then they re-grouped en masse and started marching womanfully through the spray. According to a potential eyewitness who evaded showing up at trial, Dangerine urged her collaborators to get as wet as they could. In our highly politicized society, agents provocateurs often win the victim’s prize.

Once I realized that hosing the harridans was as effective as pouring gasoline on a fire, I sat down on my roof, at a loss what to do next. Then I saw that my gutter had collected so much dirt, grass was growing in it. I pulled out some clumps, intending to throw them into the back yard. Just then I caught sight of Dangerine down below, and she caught sight of me.
“You f-ckin’ …. !!!!” she screamed, shaking her calloused fist.

It was in my hand; I had to let go. But my aim has never been great.

“SPLAT!” said the clump of mud, glancing off her shoulder and missing a golden chance to improve her face.

Hmm. Now I felt I had done more than enough; a tactical retreat seemed advisable. Dragging the hoses back across the roof, I climbed down to get a situation report, and found the restaurant staff all shook up. While I was up there a frantic girl had burst into the place, screaming and carrying on about how terrible we all were until they pushed her out the door. As we found out later, that was Dangerine’s daughter.

But we didn’t know this, nor did we know much else; on our side, confusion reigned. I believe it was at that point that the picketers called the police, demanding that they arrest me. This time, two cops promptly arrived. After spending considerable time outside, interviewing the picketers, Coos Bay’s finest came in not to get my side of things but to charge me with multiple counts of “harassment” on account of the water-spraying, plus assault because Dangerine claimed her shoulder hurt due to the mud clod. She also said she was “pretty much covered with dirt”. The picture nearby shows the remains of the mud, near her feet. Draw your own conclusions. Regardless, the police said that an assault charge required me to be arrested and booked, so to the considerable glee of the picketers I was handcuffed and hauled off to the county courthouse to be booked.

Once there, the county jail deputies were as nice as they could be, and they were sorry that their holding cell contained nothing for me to read until a relative came to collect me. But before they started the fingerprinting and photographing, one deputy asked the city policemen what I had done. They told him.

“Whoa–” he stammered, “shouldn’t we give him a medal for that, instead?” Obviously the county jail was on the long list of places where Dangerine, that indomitable advocate of female innocence, had made a total pest of herself.

For a week or so it was not clear what would shake out of all this commotion. Business was slow for the time of year, and getting slower; clearly we’d been hurt where they meant to hurt us. But a lot of people expressed moral support, some making a point of patronizing my place, including several whom the picket first led to believe I must have raped somebody. Lord knows how many more never learned the truth. During those weeks, too, I gained a new respect for ordinary people because they, not the politicians, not the lawyers, and least of all the feminists, understood what this was all about. It was not about rape, and it was not about the “rights to free speech” of the picketers, although they loudly and constantly trumpeted those rights. One lady from North Dakota wrote: “Dear sir. I read in the paper about your spraying those women with a water hose. I feel you had a right to your opinion … I also think you had a right to protect your business from those who were obstructing your place.” Exactly. We might not have government-sanctioned censorship in the United States, but the picketers had appointed themselves censors. And, they got away with it. My consolation prize was an instant of national fame, as the restaurant owner who hosed down a bunch of picketing feminists. When I shopped out of town, merchants would recognize me and give me things. Some people sent money. That was welcome, for this was going to cost me.

Meanwhile my opponents spread lies, engaged in name-calling, and conducted a whisper-campaign to convince the public that I approved of rape. Deriding everything in my letter as untrue, they called me a fascist, which happens to be a tactic pioneered by Stalin. And as she had done throughout her do-gooder career, Dangerine took the opportunity to promote herself as the victim. She accused me of being a misogynist and an anti-Semite, and proposed that her staff at the picket be nominated for sainthood. That would have made the most peculiar set of saints in the history of Catholicism,

I also happened to run into Dangerine’s ex-husband, who apologized profusely: “I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I’m sorry for what she did you!”

“Well, it wasn’t exactly your fault.”

“I know! But I’m the one who brought her here! She’s a monster!”

And then he told me a story from his turbulent marriage. Not being an intellectual but more of a hands-on character, he offered neither an explanation nor an analysis, but it was so weird, he could not have made it up. Dangerine had been the spouse-abuser in their marriage. On one occasion she was beating him up in their bedroom. While pounding him on the side of the head – and she could put some weight into it – their daughter, then only 9 years old, was hiding under a blanket. And while pounding him Dangerine was screaming: “Ouch! You’re hurting me!” Afterward he needed medical attention for a shattered eardrum, and I could tell that he had suffered some hearing loss.

Shortly after this, one of his employees told me he was present when Dangerine gave her man another thrashing while the pair was rolling down the hillside outside their home. After that the husband had to go on tranquilizers, and he was not a weenie. Shortly after the picket I also learned that the daughter who had thrown the hissy-fit inside the restaurant had publicly beat up her boyfriend who lived next door, at the same time trashing his car and screaming that he was a stupid Mexican. Although it deserves to be made, my point is not that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Instead, it is that equality of the sexes or caring for abused people or any other feel-good cause is not what this kind of feminism is about. Those are pretexts. This feminism is about creating a new tyranny, but in order to do so it needs to impose its own belief system. And agnostics must be trashed.

I wrote a letter to the District attorney, demanding that he prosecute the picketers for intimidation, coercion, and violating my right to free speech. No response. Instead, increasingly ominous pieces of information dribbled in. One was the picket’s domination by government employees, including those with a connection to the local “justice” establishment, particularly the judge’s wife. When I contacted local attorneys about taking my case, nobody was interested. Neither was the local paper, which for some time already had been Dangerine’s mouthpiece, paid and unpaid. The paid items included advertisements that demonized men and heterosexuality. One ad hinted ominously:

“Dating someone is better than dating no one. OR IS IT? Abusive behavior occurs in 50% of all dating relationships.” Another ad was no less startling: “WARNING! Dating may be hazardous to your health!” And a picture of a man and woman having a pleasant conversation carried the startling message: “Did This Woman Deserve To Be Raped?”

Besides getting paid for spreading this kind of terror, the newspaper had been filling many free column-inches with Dangerine’s harangues against the American male as a spouse-beating brute, a serial date-rapist, and a pathological dirty old man who would subject his own little children to sexual abuse so horrible that they had forgotten all about it. Those buried horrors could then be “recovered” by therapists such as Dangerine.

An even-handed check of social-science research reveals that blaming men for all those problems is like Mark Twain’s reaction to his premature obituary: greatly exaggerated. People do bad things, yes, but both sexes do. With regard to domestic violence, studies have shown it is just as likely to be initiated by females as by males, with the females more likely to use weapons. But you’d never know it, as demonstrated by the customary refusal of women’s shelters to receive abused men. Studies also show that many women – up to half – lie about having been raped; we’ve seen some infamous cases in recent years. And while Dangerine’s third obsession, “recovered” memories of incest, has no scientific basis, it’s been shown that such memories can be implanted in the minds of neurotic women by overzealous social workers and prosecutors. But practical politics, as the famous historian Henry Brooks Adams observed, consists of ignoring facts. What is worse, politics seems to attract a lot of power-hungry people. Bullies who practice deceit and spread paranoia.

So now, you may wonder, what of this letter of mine that had provoked the Lesbians from Hell? Shortly before the picket, a majority-female jury had returned an acquittal in a local man’s “date-rape” trial. This had induced the Coos Bay paper to run another puff-piece on Dangerine, in which both she and the district attorney carried on like sore losers. Dangerine proclaimed that every man accused of rape must be presumed guilty and found guilty, and the woman, being incapable of lying, shouldn’t even have to appear in court. This had induced me to write my letter. In view of the results, I may fit a famous description by George Eliot: “[he] suspected himself of loving too well the losing causes of the world.”

“It is in the nature of our court system that not everyone accused of a crime is convicted, and that people accused of crimes may confront their accusers in court. It looks like [Dangerine] wants to do away with such inconveniences. … While foreign to our tradition, [Dangerine’s] legal concepts can be effective. During the French revolution, they made lots of innocent heads roll.

It is true that many date-rape cases are dismissed or end in acquittal. If this proves a conspiracy against women, I would like to know why the women on our juries participate in it.

We should all be grateful that juries substitute a considered opinion for the snap judgment of one extremist. … Certain noisy feminists excepted, women still enjoy flirtation and male attention. Our society has done away with the stigma attached to unmarried intercourse. So when relations occur after a couple of dates, or even one, who decides that it was rape? The man may have been better at wining and dining than at doing “it”. The woman may be disappointed. A few days later, she decides she has really been raped. How can a jury determine what happened … ?

For rape to occur, the woman must object before the fact, not after. And the most effective prevention consists of taking the bull by the horns. Remember: this is date-rape, no guns or knives. When the unwanted act is about to occur, the rapist will expose the necessary equipment. All that an unwilling woman has to do then is grab half of it and not let go. With some force, she then applies the movements used in wringing all the water from a wet towel. Any woman who doesn’t know the sensitivity of these male parts is too dumb to go out on dates. And every would-be rapist subjected to the procedure will change his mind faster than you can say ‘feminazi’”.

Did my letter contain logic? Yes it did. Did it contain truth? Nothing but. But what about my advice to women who didn’t want to be date-raped? I’ve heard some people say this could not possibly work. But they are uninformed. As a tactic it has proved itself, and it’s recommended by self-defense experts, too. It has even been promoted on Oprah. I’ll be glad to provide sources. But my tormentors on July 3 would have none of it.

In accusing me of anti-Semitism, Dangerine’s logic ran like this: I had called her a “feminazi”; she was of Jewish descent; so that made me an anti-Semite. Of these three statements, only her Jewish origin was true, sort of. I doubt that she practiced the Jewish faith, and in reality I was the Jew in this scenario. Sixty years on, the 1933 Nazi-German picket of Jewish merchants had been re-enacted, this time by American feminist storm troopers.

At first I had trouble believing that I would be prosecuted, when I had been the one victimized. But that’s what happened. The assault charge was not pursued, because Dangerine had no real injury. But since I had been arrested they had to charge me with something, so I faced multiple counts of “harassment” for the water-spraying and for throwing the mud-clod. The district attorney’s office offered to prosecute these charges as “violations” instead of misdemeanors, which would save me from a possible jail sentence, but mere violations did not qualify for a jury trial, just a trial before a judge. In hindsight, I believe the jail sentence threat was theoretical. But I took the bait and opted for the violations, and when I had second thoughts the court was adamant that I could not change that decision. A jury trial would have been far, far better for me.

What I should explain, though, is why I tied myself in knots over a court proceeding that could at worst cost me as much as a few technical traffic violations. This may sound strange, but I was fighting disillusionment. As an immigrant I had developed great admiration for the way the American government had been structured by the founders. I was especially awed by the federal First Amendment, aware that while most governments guarantee freedom of speech on paper, nobody has it except the Americans, since their government has accepted "… the principle of free thought, not free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for the thought that we hate." (Justice Holmes in U.S. vs. Schwimmer, 1929.) Every place else in this world, a mere expression of opinion may be prosecuted if some authority feels it may hurt somebody’s feelings, and unlike in America, truth is no defense. The élites in those countries advance good reasons for their speech bans, but they make sense only if you ignore the fact that opinions that offend nobody don’t need constitutional protection in the first place.

In truth, my admiration for the First Amendment made me overconfident, not to say naïve. No matter what the Constitution or the Supreme Court say on the subject, people will find ways to censor speech they don’t like. I was a latter-day Don Quixote, on a quest for a moral victory. But moral victories are more common in movies.

An eager-beaver junior prosecutor who must have made straight A’s in Arrogance-101 took charge of my multiple “violations”. That year’s session of the Oregon Legislature approved a bill forbidding prosecutors in the state from handling violations. But that came too late for my case, which demonstrated the pernicious effects of the American sports mania on legal morals – if such there be. In the legal business as in sports, it’s all about winning.

To get to his goal post, the junior d. a. used several tactics. One, he took the position that the picketers had not interfered with my business, which was laughable. Two, even if they had interfered (which he never admitted), or if they had defamed me, that had nothing to do with the charges against me, and should be pursued as a civil matter later on. This can be described as the “Salami-tactic”, see below. And third, he was nauseatingly obsequious to the picketers’ whining about being hosed, suggesting (among other things) that my garden hose had the power of a jet engine. In the process he got them to produce the kind of ranting typically produced by hormonal imbalances. The understandable part of these rants was that being sprayed with water was like being molested and raped.

The “salami-tactic” was identified many years ago by German students of politics. It consists of dividing an issue into segments small enough so no reasonable person can object to the disposition of each individual part. The party who divides the issue (or slices the salami) fully intends to eat all of it, but he doesn't let on. In the end, he gets everything he wants while everyone else wonders how such a thing could have happened.

The legal establishment is very fond of the salami-tactic, due to its belief that justice will result from splitting up every case into its smallest constituent pieces. After doing so, they concentrate on one little part while ignoring the rest. Once enough tiny sub-parts ‑‑ or salami slices, if you will – have been dealt with in this manner, the accumulation of multiple small decisions will acquire such momentous logic that the big one almost makes itself. And that, of course, was the real goal of the salami-eater.

In my case, the d. a. insisted that the judge could not consider the context of the incident and what the picketers were doing to me; he could only rule on what I had done in the heat of the moment – a moment the picketers had staged. In a regular trial we could have got the jury to consider the whole salami, not just the hosing of the harridans but the harm they inflicted on my livelihood and my reputation. A jury could have done so despite the instructions of a judge. In Oregon as in many states, juries have the power to judge whether applying the law in the case at hand will be just or not. If not, they can acquit. It’s called jury nullification. And there is nothing the judge can do about it, even though he pretends otherwise.

Also working to my advantage in a jury trial would have been the labor-union background of many jury members. My accusers were unanimous in claiming that they never meant to cause my business any harm. But most people in a blue-collar town know that the primary purpose of a business picket is to do exactly that: cause harm.

But I did not have a jury; my goose was cooked, for the judge went right along with the toadying d. a. and his pet victims. That is, when the pontifications of the “victims” were not putting him to sleep.

State: “Did you find when you were sprayed with water, is this offensive to you?”

Dangerine: “As an incest survivor, it was horrifying.” [Laughter]

State: “Did you ever state to Mr. de Vriend – “

Dangerine: “And I don’t find it funny that I am an incest survivor.” (p. 60, transcript)

State: “What was the reaction of the crowd once he started spraying them with water as far as from an emotional standpoint?”

Dangerine: “I hope this doesn’t again get laughs. But there were women there who are victims of sexual assault and they chose to come there and for somebody to again be assaulted, it is very upsetting. I realize I say things in this court room as why we were there, but it is offensive and it’s scary, it’s horrifying for somebody to then again be assaulted. This was an assault. For those of us who have been assaulted in our lives, reading this letter or having somebody spray us. Or having somebody hit us, is not a very pleasant experience, and I realize that there are many people in this court room who do not understand what I am saying, and that’s why we continue to do what we do.”

State: “And did all of these events occur in Coos County?”

Dangerine: “Yes.”

State: “Nothing further.”
. . .
Defense: “You said that it was horrifying to be hit with a dirt clod.”

Dangerine: “Yes, it was.”

Defense: “How do you equate a dirt clod with sexual assault?”

Dangerine: “I will equate it with what was written in the letter, be it assault and the words that were used against me and that somebody deliberately looked at me with the intent of not throwing it in any direction, excuse me, but in the intent of hurting me personally. And it brings back memories that are very uncomfortable for me.” (p. 62)

Loverless: “… And he looked me right in the eye, and he said, “You’re one of them.” And he sprayed me right in the face, and all down my body, up and down nice and slow, you know, like nice and slow. And by golly, I felt raped! (p. 79)

State: Did he spray you?

Cripling: Yes.

State: How wet did you get?

Cripling: Soaked.

State: Did you find this offensive?

Cripling: Yeah, it’s really scary because – you know – we knew how he felt about rape, and so I consider rape a violent crime, So, I considered him a violent man and I didn’t know what else he might do. (pp 98/99)

The judge gave no weight to the outrageous defamation generated by the picketers:

Defense: What did you see?

Booth: Well, I saw 15-20 people holding signs that I thought were very offensive towards Wim, libelous. … I thought they were almost blocking traffic – close to it. And the signs that I saw – all I could think was, “Jesus, what has Wim done?” You know – “Has he raped somebody?” Jesus – and his wife – you know – what could have happened? (p. 102)

West: … I had to slow a little bit, and the light was just turning and we saw this bunch of picketers walking in a circle around the sidewalk with their signs, and the only sign that stuck out in my mind, of course, as you are trying to drive and look over there, was one that somebody was carrying that I think had the words “Date Rape Is Not A Sport” or “Date Rape Is No Sport”, I don’t remember the exact words. They continued milling around and we went on through the light and my wife turned to me and asked, “Do you suppose that Wim got involved with one of his waitresses?” (p. 127)

The trial took the better part of a day – an unusually warm day for an area without air conditioning. Before long the unventilated, crowded court room became oppressive, and the break brought no relief when the audience got treated to a hallway show of giggling, smooching lesbians. At the end of the day the judge found me guilty on all charges, and fined me about $1,300.

Because of the presence of a Coos County judge’s wife among the picketers, the trial had originally been assigned to a judge from a different county, who seemed to be strict but fair. But to our surprise, at the last minute he’d been replaced by a retired Coos County judge who apparently needed a little moonlighting. As soon as he had pronounced his sentence and we walked out in a daze, I was approached by two different acquaintances who asked if I had noticed he had slept through part of the proceedings. I was astonished. I had hardly looked at the man, being so intent on what everyone else was saying.

But, outraged by the verdict, I armed myself with affidavits from both observers to lodge a complaint for misconduct with the state bar disciplinary association. That self-protective fraternity conducted some sort of procedure, but except for informing me that they had done so they never told me their decision. Them’s the rules of the old boys’ club.

Dark, restless nights followed dark days, although they were again brightened by some great people. The morning after the verdict my old friend Lorance Eickworth walked into the restaurant and handed me a check for $400. Lorance had been a life-long gadfly on Coos Bay’s body politic, and he knew a price has to be paid.

Meanwhile my opponents, flush with victory, conducted a campaign of harassment. Off and on we got weird phone calls at the restaurant from what sounded like a lesbian orgy, and when I finally received an obscene letter with the Women’s Crisis Center’s address, I took it to the police. The policeman reported that everyone at the Crisis Center denied having sent it, but they promised it wouldn’t happen again.

I suppose it was an act of defiance when I acquired a World War II “Save Freedom of Speech” poster to hang in the restaurant. The truth is, though, that Norman Rockwell’s scene has a maudlin element of unreality. I’ve never attended a public meeting where everybody lavished adoring looks on a common man speaking up; where are the bored, the skeptical, the scoffers and the dozers? Not to mention the teenage girls blowing bubble gum. More to the point, the poster calls on people to buy war bonds to protect freedom of speech. But does the primary danger to our civil liberties come from raving foreign dictators, or from ranting domestic do-gooders?

After several months I worked up enough steam to initiate the second phase of my tale, a civil suit for defamation and business damages, but that one was torpedoed by a judge’s ruling that the picket signs could not possibly have constituted defamation. How can you explain such a thing except by corruption or incompetence?

One night I woke up around 3 AM again, unable to sleep, went to my living room and took out my bible. It fell open to Matthew 5:11:

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (NIV)

That one hit me hard; but I still possessed enough skepticism – or modesty, hopefully – to object silently that I had not exactly done it for Him. I had been feeding my pride.

“But I know how you feel.”

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Arizona Tragedy and the Politics of Blood Libel

Those who purport to care about the tenor of political discourse don't help civil debate when they seize on any pretext to call their political opponents accomplices to murder


Shortly after November's electoral defeat for the Democrats, pollster Mark Penn appeared on Chris Matthews's TV show and remarked that what President Obama needed to reconnect with the American people was another Oklahoma City bombing. To judge from the reaction to Saturday's tragic shootings in Arizona, many on the left (and in the press) agree, and for a while hoped that Jared Lee Loughner's killing spree might fill the bill.

With only the barest outline of events available, pundits and reporters seemed to agree that the massacre had to be the fault of the tea party movement in general, and of Sarah Palin in particular. Why? Because they had created, in New York Times columnist Paul Krugman's words, a "climate of hate."

Pima County, AZ Sheriff Clarence Dupnik held a press conference during which he blamed vitriolic political rhetoric for provoking the mentally unstable, and lamented Arizona's becoming the "mecca of prejudice and bigotry." Video courtesy of AFP.

The critics were a bit short on particulars as to what that meant. Mrs. Palin has used some martial metaphors—"lock and load"—and talked about "targeting" opponents. But as media writer Howard Kurtz noted in The Daily Beast, such metaphors are common in politics. Palin critic Markos Moulitsas, on his Daily Kos blog, had even included Rep. Gabrielle Giffords's district on a list of congressional districts "bullseyed" for primary challenges. When Democrats use language like this—or even harsher language like Mr. Obama's famous remark, in Philadelphia during the 2008 campaign, "If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun"—it's just evidence of high spirits, apparently. But if Republicans do it, it somehow creates a climate of hate.

There's a climate of hate out there, all right, but it doesn't derive from the innocuous use of political clichés. And former Gov. Palin and the tea party movement are more the targets than the source.

Jared Lee Loughner, the man suspected of a shooting spree that killed a Federal Judge and critically wounded Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, had left a trail of online videos in which he railed against the government. WSJ's Neil Hickey reports.

American journalists know how to be exquisitely sensitive when they want to be. As the Washington Examiner's Byron York pointed out on Sunday, after Major Nidal Hasan shot up Fort Hood while shouting "Allahu Akhbar!" the press was full of cautions about not drawing premature conclusions about a connection to Islamist terrorism. "Where," asked Mr. York, "was that caution after the shootings in Arizona?"

Set aside as inconvenient, apparently. There was no waiting for the facts on Saturday. Likewise, last May New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and CBS anchor Katie Couric speculated, without any evidence, that the Times Square bomber might be a tea partier upset with the ObamaCare bill.

So as the usual talking heads begin their "have you no decency?" routine aimed at talk radio and Republican politicians, perhaps we should turn the question around. Where is the decency in blood libel?

To paraphrase Justice Cardozo ("proof of negligence in the air, so to speak, will not do"), there is no such thing as responsibility in the air. Those who try to connect Sarah Palin and other political figures with whom they disagree to the shootings in Arizona use attacks on "rhetoric" and a "climate of hate" to obscure their own dishonesty in trying to imply responsibility where none exists. But the dishonesty remains.

To be clear, if you're using this event to criticize the "rhetoric" of Mrs. Palin or others with whom you disagree, then you're either: (a) asserting a connection between the "rhetoric" and the shooting, which based on evidence to date would be what we call a vicious lie; or (b) you're not, in which case you're just seizing on a tragedy to try to score unrelated political points, which is contemptible. Which is it?

I understand the desperation that Democrats must feel after taking a historic beating in the midterm elections and seeing the popularity of ObamaCare plummet while voters flee the party in droves. But those who purport to care about the health of our political community demonstrate precious little actual concern for America's political well-being when they seize on any pretext, however flimsy, to call their political opponents accomplices to murder.

Where is the decency in that?