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From: TimF10/4/2010 3:34:22 PM
   of 3816
Would you eat genetically-engineered salmon?

The Food and Drug Administration’s public meetings last week on what may be the first genetically-engineered (GE) animal marketed for human consumption have stimulated a lot of discussion. People differ on whether the sale of AquAdvantage Salmon — which, due to the addition of a gene from the Chinook salmon, grows to full-size in less than half the time of its non-engineered Atlantic salmon cousins — will be a boon or a bane.

Would you eat this GE salmon? I would. There need not be any conflict here, though, as grocery stores are filled with foods that some people like and others shun. Why not allow people the freedom to make the decision for themselves? To answer this question, it’s important to understand how the FDA regulates products of biotechnology.

The majority of our food supply (the exception being food harvested in the wild) has been genetically modified over the years through selective breeding and other traditional methods. Recent concerns over “genetic engineering” relate to the newer techniques using recombinant DNA (rDNA). Many scientists find these concerns unfounded, because the new biotechnology techniques are more precise and reliable than traditional, trial-and-error techniques. For years the stated US policy has been to focus regulation on the characteristics of the product of genetic engineering, rather than the particular method used to achieve it. Following this philosophy, rDNA techniques have been applied successfully to key food crops, so that today over 70 percent of the corn and 90 percent of the soybeans grown in America are genetically engineered. To date, however, the U.S. government has never approved a GE animal for human consumption.

In January 2009, in a move that many saw as contrary to the long-standing policy of regulating based on the risks of the product, rather than the method, the FDA announced that it would regulate GE animals as if they were new animal drugs, requiring pre-marketing approval from FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM). The new animal drug approval process requires the manufacturer to provide the FDA with extensive data demonstrating both the “safety” and the “efficacy” of the product. In the case of the salmon, which AquaBounty has been developing for about 15 years, CVM’s preliminary determination is that it is “safe” for human consumption (because the salmon is indistinguishable from other Atlantic salmon) and the environment (the AquAdvantage salmon do not risk interbreeding with wild salmon because they are all sterile females and will be raised in land-based tanks). Indeed, it appears that the GE salmon will be better for the environment than either wild-caught salmon (which suffer from overfishing) or traditionally-farmed salmon (which may pose environmental risks). CVM has also determined the salmon is “effective” in that they really do grow faster.

If, as expected, FDA’s CVM does approve the GE salmon, a separate arm of FDA — its Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN) — will make a decision as to whether and how it should be labeled. Under FDA’s food labeling rules, the agency cannot require the salmon to carry a separate label unless it is materially different from non-engineered salmon (which it appears not to be). That makes sense to me, but here’s the rub: FDA rules may also not allow producers to inform consumers about whether the Atlantic salmon they’re purchasing involved the spliced Chinook gene. This is because FDA is not only concerned that labels be truthful, but that they not mislead consumers. In deciding whether firms selling conventional Atlantic salmon can label their products as not genetically engineered, the FDA will not only consider whether such claims can be supported (e.g., through tracing or testing) but also whether such a claim might falsely imply that the non-GE salmon is safer.

Prohibiting truthful voluntary labeling would be an unfortunate abridgement of commercial speech. While I will enthusiastically purchase and eat the new GE salmon (once FDA approves it), I respect the preferences of those who would rather not and of producers of non-GE salmon who would like to advertise the fact that their salmon is not genetically engineered. To meet the diversity in preferences, FDA should avoid a one-size-fits-all labeling prescription. At a minimum, it should do what it did in an analogous situation in 1994, when it allowed cows to be treated with recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) to increase milk production. Then, it issued guidance detailing when and how labels could indicate that milk was produced from cows not treated with rBGH. (My all-natural Greek yogurt carries a label that says: “We oppose the use of rBGH. The farmers who supply our milk and cream pledge not to treat their cows with rBGH. The FDA has said no significant difference has been shown, and no test can now distinguish, between milk derived from rBGH-treated and untreated cows.”)

I hope FDA approves the GE salmon soon and then gets to work approving the enviro-pig (engineered to produce less pollution), the tuna-pig (high in omega-3 fatty acids) and cows resistant to mad cow disease.

Susan E. Dudley is Director of the GW Regulatory Studies Center and Research Professor in the Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration of the George Washington University

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From: TimF10/20/2010 12:23:39 AM
   of 3816
Straining The Social Fabric

by Bevan Sabo

The widespread use of the market reduces the strain on the social fabric by rendering conformity unnecessary with respect to any activities it encompasses.

- Milton Friedman

Government demands conformity, and because individuals often have conflicting interests, conformity will always breed some level of discontent. Market transactions, on the other hand, are entered into willingly by each party to mutual advantage – so you have astronomically less discontent when market forces are allowed to mediate man’s affairs, rather than the violent hand of government.

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To: Oeconomicus who wrote (3798)12/2/2010 10:21:23 AM
From: one_less
2 Recommendations   of 3816
Adult Truths

1. I think part of a best friend's job should be to immediately clear your computer history if you die

2. Nothing sucks more than that moment during an argument when you realize you're wrong.

3. I totally take back all those times I didn't want to nap when I was younger.

4. There is great need for a sarcasm font.

5. How the hell are you supposed to fold a fitted sheet?

6. Was learning cursive really necessary?

7. Map Quest really needs to start their directions on #5. I'm pretty sure I know how to get out of my neighborhood.

8. Obituaries would be a lot more interesting if they told you how the person died.

9. I can't remember the last time I wasn't at least kind of tired.

10. Bad decisions make good stories.

11. You never know when it will strike, but there comes a moment at work when you know that you just aren't going to do anything productive for the rest of the day.

12. Can we all just agree to ignore whatever comes after Blue Ray? I don't want to have to restart my collection...again.

13. I'm always slightly terrified when I exit out of Word and it asks me if I want to save any changes to my ten-page technical report that I swear I did not make any changes to.

14. I keep some people's phone numbers in my phone just so I know not to answer when they call.

15. I think the freezer deserves a light as well.

16. I disagree with Kay Jewelers. I would bet on any given Friday or Saturday night more kisses begin with Miller Lite than Kay.

17. I wish Google Maps had an "Avoid Ghetto" routing option.

18. I have a hard time deciphering the fine line between boredom and hunger.

19. How many times is it appropriate to say "What?" before you just nod and smile because you still didn't hear or understand a word they said?

20. I love the sense of camaraderie when an entire line of cars team up to prevent a jerk from cutting in at the front. Stay strong, brothers and sisters!

21. Shirts get dirty. Underwear gets dirty. Pants? Pants never get dirty, and you can wear them forever.

22. Sometimes I'll look down at my watch 3 consecutive times and still not know what time it is.

23. Even under ideal conditions people have trouble locating their car keys in a pocket, finding their cell phone, and Pinning the Tail on the Donkey - but I'd bet everyone can find and push the snooze button from 3 feet away, in about 1.7 seconds, eyes closed, first time, every time.

From this morning's email

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To: one_less who wrote (3808)12/2/2010 10:35:33 AM
From: Oeconomicus
   of 3816
Heh. I'm going to steal that.

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To: Brumar89 who wrote (3801)12/3/2010 3:10:23 PM
From: TimF
2 Recommendations   of 3816
In addition to the one's you mentioned, #10 from that link is good


10) Culture matters.

Many of our ideas for rescuing other countries all depend on them having similar incentives, values and attitudes as people in the west. This is not always true. I am reminded of when I walked past a Burger King in Hong Kong that was full of flowers. It looked like someone was having a funeral at the restaurant. It turned out to be people sending flowers in celebration of their grand opening. Opening a business was a reason to celebrate. In Samoa, I had a discussion with a taxi driver about why there were so few businesses of any type on the island of Savai'i. He told me that 90% of what he made had to go to his village. He had no problem helping his village, but they took so much there was little incentive to work. Today the majority of the GDP of Samoa consists of remittances sent back from the US or New Zealand. It is hard to make aid policies work when the culture isn't in harmony with the aid donors expectations.

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To: TimF who wrote (3810)12/3/2010 8:55:33 PM
From: Brumar89
   of 3816
Yes, that is important.

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From: TimF12/29/2010 6:54:29 PM
   of 3816
Frank Dikötter on Mao’s Mass Murders

Ilya Somin • December 17, 2010 12:48 am

Back in September, I wrote a post about historian Frank Dikötter’s excellent new book on Mao Zedong’s “Great Leap Forward” terror famine of the early 1960s. Dikotter recently published a New York Times op ed summarizing his thesis:

The worst catastrophe in China’s history, and one of the worst anywhere, was the Great Famine of 1958 to 1962, and to this day the ruling Communist Party has not fully acknowledged the degree to which it was a direct result of the forcible herding of villagers into communes under the “Great Leap Forward” that Mao Zedong launched in 1958.

To this day, the party attempts to cover up the disaster, usually by blaming the weather. Yet detailed records of the horror exist in the party’s own national and local archives.....

Historians have known for some time that the Great Leap Forward resulted in one of the world’s worst famines. Demographers have used official census figures to estimate that some 20 to 30 million people died.

But inside the archives is an abundance of evidence, from the minutes of emergency committees to secret police reports and public security investigations, that show these estimates to be woefully inadequate.....

In all, the records I studied suggest that the Great Leap Forward was responsible for at least 45 million deaths.

Between 2 and 3 million of these victims were tortured to death or summarily executed, often for the slightest infraction....

The term “famine” tends to support the widespread view that the deaths were largely the result of half-baked and poorly executed economic programs. But the archives show that coercion, terror and violence were the foundation of the Great Leap Forward.

Mao was sent many reports about what was happening in the countryside, some of them scribbled in longhand. He knew about the horror, but pushed for even greater extractions of food.

At a secret meeting in Shanghai on March 25, 1959, he ordered the party to procure up to one-third of all the available grain — much more than ever before. The minutes of the meeting reveal a chairman insensitive to human loss: “When there is not enough to eat people starve to death. It is better to let half of the people die so that the other half can eat their fill.”

Even the previous estimates of 20 to 30 million dead qualify the Great Leap Forward as the biggest single case of mass murder in world history. If Dikötter’s revised figure of 45 million withstands scrutiny, Mao will have definitively surpassed Joseph Stalin’s overall record as a mass murderer (Stalin’s death toll was more evenly spread between several different episodes of mass murder than Mao’s).

Even if the earlier figures turn out to be more accurate than Dikotter’s, it is still inexcusable that the mass murders inflicted by Chinese communism remain so little known in the West. As I noted in my earlier post on the subject, Dikotter’s study is not the first to describe these events. Nonetheless, few Western intellectuals are aware of the scale of these atrocities, and they have had almost no impact on popular consciousness.

This is part of the more general problem of the neglect of communist crimes. But Chinese communist atrocities are little-known even by comparison to those inflicted by communists in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, possibly because the Chinese are more culturally distant from Westerners than are Eastern Europeans or the German victims of the Berlin Wall. Ironically, the Wall (one of communism’s relatively smaller crimes) is vastly better known than the Great Leap Forward — the largest mass murder in all of world history.

Hopefully, Dikötter’s important work will help change that.

UPDATE: In this series of posts, I described the similar terror famine that occurred in the Soviet Union in the early 1930s and its implications for international law; see also this post on whether Stalin’s crimes qualify as genocide.

In some ways, Mao was an even worse oppressor than any of the Soviet communist leaders. He combined Lenin’s role as the founder of a totalitarian state with Stalin’s role as the implementer of its largest-scale atrocities. Having a larger population to work with, he also (if Dikotter’s figures are correct) managed to kill more people than all the Soviet leaders and Adolf Hitler combined. There’s no one quite like him in all of world history. Let’s hope there never will be again.

As one commenter points out you can see the effect of Mao's atrocities, in a sudden drop for China (before its rapid rise) here a video worth watching for other reasons (in fact despite the sharpness of the drop its easy to miss).

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From: TimF1/5/2011 4:05:14 PM
1 Recommendation   of 3816
Dispatches from TJICistan | TJIC | The Lie Guy

Being part of a university as a professor was very different from being a student, even a grad student. Suddenly you have power. In business — especially in retail — the customer has all the power.

Explains a hell of a lot about how universities are run vs. how businesses are run!

I've only seen things from the grad student end, but it seems to me that professors have power, but of a certain, limited type. Something like a courtier, perhaps. Powerful, privileged, but in constant need to keep the prince (funding agency) and peers (tenure committee) flattered and happy.

Clancy Martin's observation is far from trivial though. I think it's one reason academics are so skeptical of markets: they work in an environment that has actively rejected the notion that the worth of your work is judged by how well other people think it fulfills their desires. Journalists are similarly insulated from the money-making (i.e. other-pleasing) side of their businesses, but professors have explicitly rejected the idea that they work to fulfill other people's wants

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From: TimF1/20/2011 11:34:02 AM
1 Recommendation   of 3816
Fukuyama's Perfectly Horrifying Example
Bryan Caplan
FEBRUARY 2, 2010

Ayn Rand's newsletters used to end with a "Horror File" of monstrous but true quotations. I thought about the Horror File when Ron Bailey's Liberation Biology quoted Frank Fukuyama:

Life extension seems to me a perfect example of something that is a negative externality, meaning that it is individually rational and desirable for any given individual, but it has costs for society that can be negative.

I couldn't believe my eyes. Did Frank Fukuyama actually mean that when a person has another year of healthy life, the net effect on other people is negative? If so, why do people cry at funerals, instead of celebrating? Fukuyama's statement was so hateful and twisted that I wondered if he was being quoted out of context. So I dug up the full paragraph:

The second argument [against life extension] --and this should appeal to libertarians that take individual choice seriously--is really a question of the social consequences of life extension. Life extension seems to me a perfect example of something that is a negative externality, meaning that it is individually rational and desirable for any given individual, but it has costs for society that can be negative. I think if you want to understand why this is so, you just think about why evolution makes us, why we die in the first place, why in the process of evolution populations are killed off. I think it clearly has an adaptive significance, and in human society generational succession has an extremely important role. There is the saying among economists that the science of economics proceeds one funeral at a time, and in a certain sense a lot of adaptations to new situations--politically, socially, environmentally--really depend on one generation succeeding another.

The extra words definitely make Fukuyama's position more confusing, but they take away none of the horror. You'd think that a "perfect example" of a negative externality would be easy to explain and hard to dispute - like air pollution. But to make his case, Fukuyama has to appeal to the controversial notion of group selection: Human beings evolved to die because it's adaptive for society. His specific mechanism - death stops elders from impeding progress - would be controversial even for believers in group selection. After all, during our evolutionary history, there was almost no progress to impede!

The real mystery, though, is why Fukuyama thinks that this argument would "appeal to libertarians." Even if you couldn't care less about human liberty, there are plenty of non-lethal ways around the "dead hand of the past." If aging CEOs refuse to give young upstarts a chance, what happens now? The upstarts don't wait around for "generational succession"; they open a competing firm.

On purely pragmatic grounds, then, Fukuyama's argument is about as feeble as "Life extension is bad for morticians." Since libertarians would add moral objections to government coercion on top of purely pragmatic concerns, why would they of all people see the "appeal" of Fukuyama's argument against life extension?

Brian Moore writes:

Also, our life spans have tripled over a relatively short period of time, while our species has advanced incredibly, both technologically and culturally. Why would tripling it again suddenly start to retard that growth?

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To: TimF who wrote (3814)3/14/2013 12:39:10 PM
From: one_less
   of 3816
The "God Particle" has been discovered in Geneva


GENEVA The search is all but over for a subatomic particle that is a crucial building block of the universe.

Physicists announced Thursday they believe they have discovered the subatomic particle predicted nearly a half-century ago, which will go a long way toward explaining what gives electrons and all matter in the universe size and shape.

The elusive particle, called a Higgs boson, was predicted in 1964 to help fill in our understanding of the creation of the universe, which many theorize occurred in a massive explosion known as the Big Bang. The particle was named for Peter Higgs, one of the physicists who proposed its existence, but it later became popularly known as the "God particle."

Last July, scientists at CERN, the Geneva-based European Organization for Nuclear Research, announced finding a particle they described as Higgs-like, but they stopped short of saying conclusively that it was the same particle or some version of it.

Scientists have now finished going through the entire set of data year and announced the results in a statement and at a physics conference in the Italian Alps.

"To me it is clear that we are dealing with a Higgs boson, though we still have a long way to go to know what kind of Higgs boson it is," said Joe Incandela, a physicist who heads one of the two main teams at CERN that each involve about 3,000 scientists.

Its existence helps confirm the theory that objects gain their size and shape when particles interact in an energy field with a key particle, the Higgs boson. The more they attract, the theory goes, the bigger their mass will be.

But, it remains an "open question," CERN said in a statement, whether this is the Higgs boson that was expected in the original formulation, or possibly the lightest of several predicted in some theories that go beyond that model.

But for now, it said, there can be little doubt that a Higgs boson does exist, in some form.

Whether or not it is a Higgs boson is demonstrated by how it interacts with other particles and its quantum properties, CERN said in the statement. The data "strongly indicates that it is a Higgs boson," it said.
The discovery would be a strong contender for the Nobel Prize, though it remains unclear whether that might go to Higgs and the others who first proposed the theory or to the thousands of scientists who found it, or to all of them.

The hunt for the Higgs entailed the use of CERN's atom smasher, the Large Hadron Collider, which cost some $10 billion to build and run in a 17-mile (27-kilometer) tunnel beneath the Swiss-French border.

It has been creating high-energy collisions to smash protons and then study the collisions and determine how subatomic particles acquire mass without which the particles would fail to stick together.

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