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Halloween history agendas and errors

As the annual ritual of disguised children panhandling for confections is upon us, it’s proper we examine what we think we know about Halloween. Many religious conservatives eschew Halloween, referencing its alleged demonic connections. Given the murky origins of the holiday, a little lesson in history and culture is warranted.

Dreading Ebola

One of the profound challenges of our age is how to evaluate risk from complex threats. At one level, experts provide scientific facts about, say, the transmissibility of a disease, and they can quantify the prospects for contagion. At another level, human emotions measure risk with irrational but powerful gut feelings. In a 1987 essay in Science magazine, Paul Slovic of the University of Oregon cautioned that emotions and science must be given equal weight. He wrote that “there is wisdom as well as error in public attitudes and perceptions.” His message was that, in communicating and dealing with perceptions of risk, fears and dread need to be considered as carefully as precise measurements by experts.

Distilling facts about Prohibition

On this day in 1919 the United States Congress passed the National Prohibition Act (more commonly called the Volstead Act). This law provided for the implementation of the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which established National Prohibition of alcoholic beverages.

Political fireworks again undignified

Apparently the thought of a civil election cycle in Jefferson County is one local politicians just can’t countenance. Each time the November ballot comes around the various factions are wont to settle things with trite proxy battles and accusations of impropriety.

Passing of a fashion icon

Oscar de la Renta, the world renown fashion designer, died this week at age 82. His clientele included Hollywood legends, First ladies and global royalty. He first gained wide exposure in the United States as one of the courtiers who dressed Jacqueline Kennedy.

Great wrong set right

As reported Thursday by the Arkansas News Bureau, the Arkansas Supreme Court on Wednesday unanimously struck down Act 595 of 2013, which required voters to show photo identification before being allowed to cast their ballots. While the Justices were unified in their decision, there was a division with regard to their predicate reasoning.

Signal Internet innovation anniversary

Twenty years ago this week, the Internet took a giant leap toward broad public use. Back in 1994, two technology pioneers, Jim Clark and Marc Andreessen, of Mosaic Communication Corporation released an innovative new way to access online information. Their brainchild was called Netscape Network Navigator.

Ebola threat demands attention

The Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa has seized the world’s attention like a summer horror movie. The images of a terrible disease without a cure have surged across news and social media. Late last week, a spokesman for the World Health Organization (WHO) said the scope of the outbreak appears to have been “vastly underestimated.” Tantalizing reports of experimental drugs have raised hopes and then deflated them. The drugs are not only unproven, but they also don’t yet exist in more than a tiny quantity.

Slow justice for the killing fields

As has been widely reported, a Cambodian court recently found the two most senior surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge regime guilty of crimes against humanity and sentenced them to life in prison. The Khmer Rouge brutalized Cambodia from 1975 to 1979 and is thought to be responsible for the deaths of 1.7 million people.

Online vulnerability demands vigilance

The New York Times broke the news to us Tuesday: Russian hackers have amassed more than 1 billion (yes, with a B) Internet passwords. And you thought the Target hack — 40 million credit card numbers and 70 million other pieces of personal information — was a problem.

Walgreens takes the necessary medicine

Pharmacy giant Walgreens announced this week that it will buy 55 percent of European retailer, Alliance Boots, for $15.26 billion. Under the terms of the deal Walgreens’ corporate headquarters will remain in the United States. This move is largely a response to vociferous opposition to a previous configuration of the deal whereby Walgreens would have moved its headquarters to either the United Kingdom or Switzerland —- and a much lower corporate tax rate.

Pride before and after falls

With the dangerous collapse of a second aging building along Main Street, Pine Bluff has arrived at a critical juncture. Either our municipal leaders step up to the plate and do what needs be done; or we steel ourselves for worse to come.

Curbing crime slowly but scientifically

Few people have studied the issue of crime deterrence more than Professor Daniel Nagin, who holds faculty appointments both at Carnegie-Mellon University and the Harvard School of Law. In a just-released bulletin, the National Institute of Justice lists some of Nagin’s findings with regard to making communities more safe.