Futures and Options

Just another town along the road.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Ward v. Wilbanks

I wish I could say that I’d been following Ward v. Wilbanks as a result of a watchful eye on interesting cases, but I have to admit that it took a friend’s comments on the Fox News coverage to bring the case to my attention (despite what some of you may think given my political leanings, I have no love of Fox’s often-skewed reporting).  For those of you who don’t care to read through the judgement and who (correctly) don’t fully trust Fox’s article, I’ll summarize the case briefly.

Julea Ward was enrolled as a graduate student in Eastern Michigan University’s Counseling program.  As part of state accreditation requirements, the curriculum for this program includes instruction on, and mandates adherence to, the ACA Code of Ethics.  Students failing to follow the American Counseling Association’s code are subject to disciplinary action, up to and including the student’s removal from the program.  ACA standards as well as state accreditation standards further specify that students will be required to engage in a Practicum during which time they will apply their classroom knowledge by engaging in actual counseling sessions, albeit with oversight from a professional in the field or faculty members themselves.

Ms. Ward excelled in the classroom portion of the program and despite taking numerous positions on homosexuality, both in written work and during in-class discussions, that were substantially contrary to those of her professors and fellow students, continued to receive high marks in all classroom courses.   There is no evidence to suggest that Ms. Ward’s views caused any undue hardship for her during the two and a half years she spent in the classroom portion of the program, indeed the consistent high marks awarded to Ms. Ward provide strong evidence that, despite disagreements on the issue of homosexuality, the faculty were successful in their efforts to judge Ms. Ward’s work on its own merits rather than on whether they personally agreed with the positions it often described.

After a highly successful completion of the classroom portion of the program, Ms. Ward entered the Practicum in early 2009 with no initial indications of potential difficulty.  During the course of the Practicum, however, Ms. Ward was asked to counsel a student who was seeking help with depression.  Upon learning that this student had previously sought counseling about a homosexual relationship, Ms. Ward asked her supervisor (a counselor under whose license Ms. Ward was practicing) if the student should be referred to another counselor due to Ms. Ward’s inability to “affirm” the client’s homosexual behavior even though said behavior was not the reason for the counseling session.  Ms. Ward’s supervisor agreed to re-schedule the student with a different counselor.

Ms. Ward was later informed that she would not be assigned additional clients and that her supervisor was requesting an informal review (a non-disciplinary process that includes a student, his or her supervisor, and the student’s faculty advisor) to discuss whether Ms. Ward’s refusal to counsel a homosexual even about issues unrelated to homosexuality represented a breach of the ACA guidelines.  It should be noted that these guidelines are given prominence in classroom learning and it is not possible that someone with Ms. Ward’s academic record could have been unfamiliar with them.  The purpose of this review was to remind Ms. Ward of these guidelines (which state, in part, that, “discrimination based on . . . sexual orientation” is prohibited) and to discuss the fact that a counselor has an obligation to provide counseling based on the client’s values, not the counselor’s values per ACA guidelines.

After the review, Ms. Ward was presented with three options:  (1) complete a “remediation program”; (2) voluntarily leave the program; or (3) request a formal hearing.  Participation in the remediation program required that Ms. Ward recognize, “that she needed to make some changes.” (Judgement, page 4)  The goal of the remediation program was to help Ms. Ward successfully find ways to counsel homosexuals on issues unrelated to their homosexuality.  Ms. Ward chose to request a formal hearing instead.

The formal hearing (which was presided over by a much larger panel than the informal review) resulted in a unanimous decision that ACA guidelines had, in fact, been violated and that, as a result, Ms. Ward was to be dismissed from the program.

That’s the background.

Much has been made about Judge Steeh’s judgement in favor of Eastern Michigan University (EMU), with one news outlet (I’m looking at you Fox) claiming that, as a result of the ruling, “schools can expel students . . . who believe homosexuality is morally wrong.”  This is a ridiculous reading of Steeh’s judgement and it makes me question whether Mr. Starnes (the author of the Fox article) even bothered to read the judgement.  This misrepresentation is not unique to Fox, however, as everyone’s favorite “McPaper”, USA Today, is getting in on the unfounded sensationalism by claiming that the judgement requires that, “student counselors must ‘affirm’ gay clients.

The reality of the situation is that Justice Steeh’s judgement is, in fact, quite narrow and is unlikely to set any significant new precedent.  The Judgement, when distilled to its essence, essentially reiterates the already established legal fact that a school has the right to enforce a program’s guidelines when such guidelines have clear secular purposes.  In EMU’s case, the guidelines in question were those of the world’s largest association of professional counselors; it is not at all unreasonable for the university to hold students in a particular program to the same standards as are prevalent within the professional world to which that program applies.  Additionally, the school is required to adopt and enforce these guidelines in order to maintain its accreditation; a concern which is most certainly secular in nature as well as being religiously neutral.

My own commentary on the entire issue is simple.  Ms. Ward knew the ACA guidelines and knew that her own views were in opposition to those guidelines.  As such, she had three main options: (1) seek attendance at a school which adopts and enforces ACA guidelines and, in so doing, accept that she would need to counsel homosexual persons without bias despite her own views; (2)  seek attendance at a school which did not adopt ACA guidelines and, in doing so, accept that such a school would not be accredited; or (3) seek attendance at a school which adopts ACA guidelines but dispute the idea that said guidelines require her to counsel homosexual persons.

Ms. Ward chose the third option and the outcome should have been predictable.  Indeed, the outcome is so predictable that one must wonder if this were not Ms. Ward’s intent from the very beginning.  The complaint filed by Ms. Ward’s lawyers seems to support this reading of the situation as my first impression upon reading Ms. Ward’s complaint was that her lawyers chose to throw as much at the wall as possible and simply hope that something stuck.

It is disheartening to see the press making so much out of what is, in reality, an unsurprising judgement.

posted by Zenmervolt at 13:46  

Monday, July 27, 2009

You are not John Galt

You aren’t Hank Rearden either.

If you’re female, it’s pretty much a dead cert that you aren’t Dagny Taggert.

Really.  I mean it.  At best you might be Eddie Willers or Cherryl Brooks, but you’re not motive power.  If you were, you wouldn’t be striking up  superficial conversation with someone in an airport strictly on the basis of the book he’s reading.

Just saying…

posted by Zenmervolt at 19:31  

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Australian Town Enacts Pointless Feel-Good Law

The rural Australian town of Bundanoon, an otherwise unremarkable bedroom community for Sydney, made a desperate grab for news headlines today by supposedly banning the sale of bottled water within the town’s boundaries.

While ostensibly enacted to combat what the town feels to be a waste of resources (in bottling and shipping water that is more efficiently delivered straight from the tap), it should be clear to any thinking person that the ban’s true motivation is simply good, old-fashioned, selfish NIMBY-ism.  A few years ago, a bottled water suppler proposed to build a water extraction plant near the town and, like all good bedroom communities fearful of industrial developments harming their presious property values, Bundanoon has resisted the proposal tooth and nail.  The supplier’s proposal is still fighting Bundanoon’s obstructionist legal challenges and the passage of this new law ultimately represents little more than petulance on Bundanoon’s part.

The fact that this “ban” is ultimately a mere “feel-good” measure is patently obvious to anyone who reads far enough to see that it carries no penalty whatsoever for non-compliance.  That’s right boys and girls, compliance with this so-called “ban” is entirely optional.  The same people who got on a moral high-horse about the inefficiencies and wastefulness of bottled water have, in their woefully misguided zeal, gone through the inefficient and wasteful process of creating an unenforceable law when the same outcome could have been obtained more efficiently simply by going door-to-door and asking the businesses to stop carrying bottled water.

Well done lads.  You’ve wasted everyone’s time and spent taxpayer dollars to do something that could have been done for free in less time.  *golf-clap*

posted by Zenmervolt at 07:14  

Thursday, June 11, 2009

On the existence of natural rights

It is perhaps inevitable that when the subject of universal health care comes up proponents of this scheme bring up the idea that to deny universal health care is to deny, “the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”.  On the surface, this seems legitimate.  After all, being sick isn’t very lively or liberating and it doesn’t make people happy.

There is a basic flaw in this reasoning, however.  Not merely the issue of misunderstanding the fact that the phrase refers not to a guarantee of comfort or of fairness, but rather a declaration that, “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” are facets of existence that a government should never be allowed, through positive action, to infringe upon.  It’s not even the fundamental misunderstanding of just what it means to mandate that one person pay to support another.

Money, any property actually, is nothing more or less than a person’s life.  Every piece of property that we obtain, whether it be monetary or physical, is nothing more or less than a piece of that person’s life.  All property represents the amount of time and effort that was sacrificed to obtain that property.  We voluntarily trade portions of out lives to our employers for our pay; ultimately time and our own efforts are our only capital and all other mediums of exchange are nothing more than proxies that facilitate a more convenient exchange of our time and effort.

Because of this, any non-optional monetary sacrifice (almost universally achieved through taxation) necessarily represents a deprivation of the sacrificer’s life and liberty.  Any sacrifice is by its nature a denial of one’s own rights. If such sacrifice is compulsory, those rights cannot be said to exist in the first place. If the sacrifice of some is _mandated_ (at the point of a gun, as all governmental mandates ultimately are), then it negates the very rights that one claims to seek to protect.

Which leads us to the ultimate misunderstanding; the idea that there so-called unalienable rights exist in the first place.  The phrase as used in the declaration of independence is nothing more than poetry.  When it all comes out in the end, Robert Heinlein is right; “a human being has no natural rights of any nature.”  Heinlein’s character Lt. Col. Jean V. Dubois said as much to his students.  When challenged by a student who asked, “Sir? How about ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?”, Lt. Col. Dubois responded with what may well be the best refutation of the continued misunderstanding of that classic phrase:

Ah, yes, the ‘unalienable rights.’ Each year someone quotes that magnificent poetry. Life? What ‘right to life’ has a man who is drowning in the Pacific? The ocean will not hearken to his cries. What ‘right’ to life has a man who must die if he is to save his children? If he chooses to save his own life, does he do so as a matter of ‘right’? If two men are starving and cannibalism is the only alternative to death, which man’s right is ‘unalienable’? And is it ‘right’? As to liberty, the heroes who signed the great document pledged themselves to buy liberty with their lives. Liberty is never unalienable; it must be redeemed regularly with the blood of patriots or it always vanishes. Of all the so-called natural human rights that have ever been invented, liberty is least likely to be cheap and is never free of cost.

“The third ‘right’? — the ‘pursuit of happiness’? It is indeed unalienable, but it is not a right; it is simply a universal condition which tyrants cannot take away nor patriots restore. Cast me into a dungeon, burn me at the stake, crown me king of kings, I can ‘pursue happiness’ as long as my brain lives — but neither gods nor saints, wise men nor subtle drugs, can insure that I will catch it.

posted by Zenmervolt at 21:53  

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Adventures of Jonathan Gullible

Read this book.  It is pure and distilled libertarianism and does an excellent job of pointing out the obvious absurdities of how many governments are structured.  If I ever have children, this book will form a crucial part of their bed-time stories.

There is a PDF download of the book with commentary that is offered for free.  The download link can be found in the middle of the About the Book page on the author’s site.  I strongly encourage everyone to take advantage of that link and to download and read this book; I have never before seen a clearer or more concise defense of libertarian principles than in Mr. Schoolland’s book.  If that’s not enough for you, Milton Friedman himself endorses the book, saying, “It certainly presents basic economic principles in a very simple and intelligible form. It is an imaginative and very useful piece of work.”

posted by Zenmervolt at 14:03  

Friday, May 29, 2009

Things I just plain do not understand

This (assuming I have some follow-through) is going to be a randomly-updated series where I can rant about things that make absolutely no sense to me at all.  Today’s inaugural rant was inspired by a photo album recently uploaded to Facebook by a friend of mine.

And now, without further ado, the very first installment of “Things I Just Plain do not Understand”:

Bachelorette Parties:  These things absolutely defy anything even remotely approximating an attempt at logic.  Groups of women who, in any other situation take serious offense to things as minor as fart jokes, will, at bachelorette parties, gleefully exchange penis-themed party favors and edible underwear.    These parties are nothing more than culturally-legitimized opportunities for women to engage in the same behaviours that they absolutely despise in men.  I mean, really, what do you think would happen if a woman found out that someone had given her husband/fiance/boyfriend a cake that was decorated with vagina-shaped candles?  I’m not too sure of the specifics, but I can guarantee that it would be substantially unpleasant for both of the men involved.  Of course, if a woman gets a cake decorated with penis-shaped candles during her bachelorette party it’s hilariously funny.  Funny enough to get posted to Facebook, in fact.  Let’s see someone try that with a with a vagina cake.

Sure, some will argue that a bawdy bachelorette party is an empowering form of equality and gives women a celebration that has parity with the traditional bachelor party (which, frankly, I don’t particularly understand either).  I say that if you want to empower a woman you might want to try choosing party decoration themes that don’t imply that her primary function in marriage is to suck her husband’s ****.

Just a suggestion ladies.

posted by Zenmervolt at 13:48  

Friday, May 1, 2009

Actually Taking a Stand: or More Ego Boosting

It occurred to me yesterday as I was responding to a comment from the lovely Suzanna Logan that, while I have been critical of what she calls the “conservative core”, I have not, to date, provided a summary of my own positions.  While this is a very effective rhetorical tactic as it allows one to avoid the nasty work associated with actually defending a position of one’s own, I am forced to admit that it is rather disingenuous.  If I am going to criticize others, I, at the very least, owe them the courtesy of defining my own positions so that they can respond in kind.

So, Suzanna, I’ll let you decide if I was correct in defining myself as a RINO or not.  To the rest of you, this one is going to be long.  If you get bored easily, this might be a good time to go back to browsing FailBlog or LolCats.  In no particular order, here are the issues and a summary of my positions (list shamelessly borrowed from OnTheIssues.org, modified to suit):

  • Abortion:  Personally opposed, but I agree with Roe v. Wade.  I support bans on late-term and partial-birth abortions (i.e. cases in which the fetus would be viable outside the mother’s body).  While I would never counsel anyone to choose an abortion, I have yet to be convinced that there is a valid secular argument for outlawing early-term abortions.  I recognize that this leaves me open to accusations that I am trying to be on both sides at the same time.  I am also admittedly not fully comfortable with the fact that, by holding this position, I am effectively endorsing something that I believe to be murder.  However, at the same time, while murder after birth is clearly destructive to a cohesive society in ways that have nothing to do with morality, abortion lacks the same clearly-demonstrable socially-destructive nature when viewed in a purely secular light.  Additionally, I cannot shake the thought that it might (note, might) be more merciful to prevent an unwanted child from being born in the first place than to bring the child up with the knowledge that he or she was never wanted.  On this last, however, I remain unconvinced either way.
  • Budget and Economy:  A balanced budget is always preferable to deficit spending.  However, just as emergencies come up in personal life, so to do emergencies come up at a national level.  There will be times (e.g. during large-scale wars such as WWI or WWII, or during severe national emergencies such as Hurricane Katrina) when deficit spending cannot be avoided, but this should never be the normal condition of our national budget.  In cases where budget overruns are threatened, preference should always be given to reducing services over increasing taxes.  Borrowing money to cover budget shortfalls should be an absolute last resort, reserved for times when there are literally no other options available without catastrophic consequences.
    The economy functions best with the fewest regulations, but reality dictates that there be common-sense regulations for businesses.  For example, reserve requirements for banks are necessary to prevent banks from excessive lending, and usury laws are valuable to prevent predatory lending practices.  At the same time, any attempt to protect people from themselves will ultimately fail and regulations such as those that “encourage” banks to make risky loans or that restrict a bank’s ability to deny credit for financial reasons are ultimately more harmful than helpful.
  • Unions:  While I support the right of workers to organize for the purposes of collective bargaining, I also support an employer’s right to fire and replace striking workers.  I strongly oppose the “union shop” laws in many states that allow a union to mandate membership as a condition to being hired into certain jobs.  Whether or not to join a union should always be an employee’s free choice and should never be a condition of employment.
  • Civil Rights:  I have always believed that the only important thing about a person is his or her mind and I share Dr. King’s dream of a world where all people are judged by the content of their character and not by their race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or any other irrelevant superficiality.  In light of this, I oppose any quota- or points-based affirmative action system.  I strongly support the right of legal restitution in cases where discrimination has occurred and I have nothing but contempt for those who would judge others by outward appearance.
  • Crime:  I support the death penalty.  While I do not believe that the taking of a life should ever be considered lightly, I firmly believe that there are situations in which a person’s actions have been so extreme that there is legitimately no hope of rehabilitation.  I agree with the current system of automatic appeals and the difficulty involved with sentencing a criminal to death because of my belief that it should not be considered lightly.  I fervently believe in the principle that all people are innocent until proven guilty and, as a consequence, I do not support the issuance of “no-knock” warrants.  I believe that no-knock warrants endanger both suspects and police by increasing the chances of a law-abiding suspect being surprised and attempting to defend himself or herself from the invaders without knowing those invaders to be law enforcement agents.
  • Drugs:  I neither use, nor endorse drugs.  However, neither do I support the current “war on drugs”.  I feel that the current “war on drugs” has consumed vast amounts of law enforcement resources that could be better used in other areas and that it creates criminals out of people who are, in all other aspects, law-abiding citizens.  While I understand, and agree with, the moral argument against recreational drug use, I do not feel that the enforcement of moral directives is the proper use of governmental and law enforcement resources.  I believe that the majority of so-called “recreational” drugs should be treated like alcohol; the substances themselves should not be absolutely proscribed, but there should be severe penalties for crimes committed while under the influence.
  • Education:  I support school voucher systems and homeschooling options.  I believe that public schools have been severely over-extended by requirements like the “no child left behind” act which make it increasingly difficult for schools to hold back children who legitimately need to repeat a grade.  I believe that the “zero-tolerance” policies in place at many schools represent cowardice and an unwillingness to stand up for common-sense rules that don’t result in expelling children for carrying cough drops.
  • Environment:  I believe that we need to continue the vast progress that we have made in reducing the environmental damage created by humanity, but I do not believe that the government is always the best option for enforcing this progress.  In some cases, such as the regulation of automotive emissions or quality standards for drinking water, I acknowledge the necessity for overarching governmental intervention.  However, I believe that plans that restrict consumer choice like CAFE or the recent mandate for compact fluorescent light bulbs are not proper uses of governmental intervention.  If there is truly a great need to reduce the consumption of a particular resource, the more efficient means of achieving a reduction in consumption is to increase the taxation of that resource rather than taking legislative action to mandate that consumer products meet certain efficiency requirements.
  • Foreign Policy:  It is irrational to expect that any country or entity other than the United States will have the best interests of the United States at heart.  To this end, while we absolutely need to value and carefully consider the positions of other countries in international affairs, the United States must ultimately be its own arbiter regarding foreign policy.  I do not condone extended unilateral actions, but I fully support immediate and decisive action when there are real threats to the safety of the United States and its citizens.  Teddy Roosevelt was absolutely right when he said that the United States should, “speak softly and carry a big stick.”
  • Trade:  I dislike protectionist trade policies because I believe that they reduce or eliminate the incentive for domestic companies to innovate.  However, I also realize that many countries lack the worker protection laws and living standards that increase the costs of American labor and I would support import tariffs based upon the worker conditions of the countries of origin in order to level the playing field for American labor and encourage companies to keep their manufacturing facilities in the United States.
  • Gun Control:  I support the repeal of the Hughes Amendment to the Firearm Owners Protection Act which, if repealed, would once again allow the civilian purchase and transfer of newly-manufactured fully automatic firearms as long as all National Firearms Act provisions are met.  Obviously, I therefore also strongly oppose any attempt to reinstate the entirely ineffective “Assault Weapons” ban.  There is no support for the theory that law-abiding firearms owners are the problem and such restrictions only serve to infringe upon the rights of people who present no risk to themselves or others.  I support a national concealed carry permit system and I agree that firearms manufacturers should not be held liable for injuries or deaths unless those injuries or deaths are the result of a defect in the firearm’s manufacture.  Aside from favoring the repeal of the Hughes Amendment, I support the enforcement of current Federal gun control laws and believe that proper enforcing these laws is the best means of preventing criminals from using firearms.
  • Health Care:  I strongly oppose nationalized health care because it will reduce the ability of American companies to produce innovative new treatments for disease through price controls and over-regulation.  Nationalized health care also restricts the available options for people who suffer from chronic disorders such as Rheumatoid Arthritis and, in other countries, has resulted in people with such disorders being forced to accept substandard treatments because of governmental decisions that more effective options are too costly for the limited number of people who would benefit from their use.
  • Homeland Security:  I do not support warrant-less wiretapping of any kind.  I also do not support torture, though I recognize that the line between what is and what is not “torture” is difficult to define, especially given the psychological methods that are employed today.  Methods that cause “severe” distress in one subject may not produce much distress at all in another.  I do not take issue with stress positions, isolation, or sleep deprivation but I am uncertain about waterboarding and I understand why many people disagree with the latter practice.  Overall, I am inclined to believe that the entire issue would have been much simplified had we simply chosen a “take no prisoners” approach to combatants.  I also believe that such a decision would have had an even stronger deterrent effect than our actual actions.
  • Immigration:  I support the enforcement of current immigration laws.  When my great-grandparents came to the United States in the early 20th century, they came here legally.  They followed the applicable laws and worked hard to build a better life for themselves and their offspring.  I like to think they were successful.  I also think that it is disrespectful to all legal immigrants when those who enter this country illegally are rewarded by being given a path to citizenship.  I believe that we should not grant automatic citizenship to children born in the US unless the parent(s) are in this country legally.
  • Military:  I believe that a strong military is a necessity for any country.  I also believe that a volunteer military is superior to a military made up of conscripts.  It is an uncomfortable truth that we live in a dangerous world and because of this it is irresponsible for a country to unilaterally disarm.  I believe that our soldiers deserve the very best that we can provide for them and I strongly support programs such as the GI bill to help ensure that our men and women in uniform have access to as much opportunity as possible.
  • Social Issues:  I believe that homosexual couples should have access to all the same secular rights and privileges that are available to married heterosexual couples.  There is a difference between secular marriage and the religious institution of the same name.  As long as churches are protected from discrimination lawsuits for refusing to sanctify homosexual marriages, I see no problems whatsoever with allowing the government to issue marriage certificates to homosexual couples.  I also support allowing homosexual couples to adopt children.  There is no evidence whatsoever to suggest that a loving homosexual couple cannot provide a positive and nurturing environment for a child.
  • Science:  I believe that young-earth creationism is nothing more than a willful denial of mountains of scientific evidence.  Creationism and Intelligent Design have no place at all in Science textbooks or classrooms.  At most, such ideas belong in the World Religions chapter of a Social Studies textbook.  Presenting these ideas as legitimate scientific theories serves only to disadvantage students and to weaken an already eroded understanding of logic and the scientific method.
    Additionally, I support stem cell research and I believe firmly that it has the potential to yield significant medical advances within my lifetime.
  • Religion:  I worship at a liturgical church every Sunday that does not find me on an airplane for my job.  When I am on the road I worship at many different churches, but I officially belong to a small Anglican congregation in the Pacific Northwest.  While I appreciate the Anglican liturgy, I do not always agree with the church’s positions and my own theological bent can best be described as the the sort of “de-mythologized” Christianity that is, I feel, best described by writers like Rudolf Bultmann and John Dominic Crossan.  I realize that this puts me on thin ice with many conservative Christians, but the bare fact is that I do believe, fervently, that Christ is God’s son and that he is indeed the propitiation for our sins.

Over 2,000 words later, you have it.  Me, in a nutshell.  If you believe that this makes me a RINO, so be it.  If you believe that this makes me a far right extremist, so be it.  It is, after all, only fair that I put a target on my own back after taking so many shots at others.

posted by Zenmervolt at 12:27  

Monday, April 27, 2009

Swine flu! We’re all going to die! Or, you know, not.

It just wouldn’t be the start of a new week without a fresh crisis and for this week they’ve tapped “Swine Flu”.  This means we get to spend the next few weeks listening to friends, family, news anchors, and random people on the internet throwing around terms like “pandemic”, “cytokine storm”, “H1N1”, and “type A virus strain”.  We even have people recommending wearing masks and/or disposable gloves at work to protect ourselves from this “dangerous outbreak”.

Since what’s fair for the goose is fair for the gander, I’m going to outline my own advice for how a person should deal with this new “threat”.

  • Don’t be an idiot

That’s it.  Playing the percentages, you’ll be fine as long as you’re not doing incredibly stupid things like playing in hog feces or giving big sloppy kisses to people who have bad coughs and runny noses.  You’re not going to die.  Deal with it.

Of course, the wild and panicked reactions are still good for a laugh.

posted by Zenmervolt at 06:49  

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Earth Day, a retrospective

Reason had an excellent piece back in 2000 about the history of Earth Day and the doom and gloom predictions made by the people who organized the very first Earth Day back in 1970.  I came across it last night and decided that it would be fun to pull out a few of more interesting assertions made by the proponents nearly 40 years ago.

Let’s start with my favorite.

“The world has been chilling sharply for about twenty years.  If present trends continue, the world will be about four degrees colder for the global mean temperature in 1990, but eleven degrees colder in the year 2000. This is about twice what it would take to put us into an ice age.” – Kenneth Watt (Ecologist at UC Davis, from a speech given at Swarthmore in 1970)

Well now.  That was spectacularly wrong.  Of course, maybe in 40 years it will be “right” again; after all, the scientific support for global warming does appear to be waning.

And, let’s not forget what the issue was for the first Earth Day, the “Population Bomb.”

“Population will inevitably and completely outstrip whatever small increases in food supplies we make.” – Paul Erlich, biologist, Stanford University, 1970

“The death rate will increase until at least 100-200 million people per year will be starving to death during the next ten years.” – Paul Erlich, 1970

“It is already too late to avoid mass starvation.” – Denis Hayes, chief organizer of the first Earth Day, 1970

“Demographers agree almost unanimously on the following grim timetable: by 1975 widespread famines will begin in India; these will spread by 1990 to include all of India, Pakistan, China and the Near East, Africa. By the year 2000, or conceivably sooner, South and Central America will exist under famine conditions….By the year 2000, thirty years from now, the entire world, with the exception of Western Europe, North America, and Australia, will be in famine.” – Peter Gunter, professor, North Texas State University, 1970 (emphasis original)

And now, what actually happened:

  • Since 1970, food production per person has increased by 26%
  • The increase in food production has not been accompanied by increased land use, so habitats have not been destroyed

As Reason points out, the driving cause of world hunger is not overpopulation, but poverty.  Famine is caused almost entirely by political events and oppressive governments.  To truly combat poverty and world hunger one would be better to forcibly eliminate dictatorships and military governments like those found in Somalia or Darfur.  The answer is not giving the people aid (though this is, of course, a legitimate means of helping during the interim), but in deposing dictators and helping to establish more progressive governments.

Of course, the doom and gloomers made some nasty predictions about pollution too.

“Scientists have solid experimental and theoretical evidence to support…the following predictions: In a decade, urban dwellers will have to wear gas masks to survive air pollution…by 1985 air pollution will have reduced the amount of sunlight reaching earth by one half….” – Life magazine, 1970

“At the present rate of nitrogen buildup, it’s only a matter of time before light will be filtered out of the atmosphere and none of our land will be usable.” – Kenneth Watt

“Air pollution…is certainly going to take hundreds of thousands of lives in the next few years alone.” – Paul Erlich

And now, what really happened:

  • Carbon monoxide and sulfur levels in air have dropped more than 75% since 1970
  • Particulates are down over 50% since the 1950s, despite the fact that current tests for particulates include particles far smaller than those included in the 1950s numbers
  • Ozone and nitrogen dioxide levels have dropped 30% since 1970
  • The number of days with smog in major US cities have dropped by more than 60% since 1988
  • Between 1960 and 1970 (before any clean air laws came into effect), particulates dropped by 25%
  • It takes more than 20 new cars to match the same total emissions as one 1960’s-era vehicle

And let’s not forget pesticides.

Paul Erlich predicted, in 1970, that a 1973 study by the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare would find “that Americans born since 1946…now had a life expectancy of only 49 years, and predicted that if current patterns continued this expectancy would reach 42 years by 1980, when it might level out.”

Of course, we now know that DDT is not responsible for the multitude of negative effects that were once assigned to it.  We do know, however, that nearly 100 million people have died from malaria and over 14.5 billion cases of malaria have been reported since DDT was banned.  However, in Sri Lanka in 1963, when DDT spraying was still in effect, there were only 17 cases of malaria and no deaths.  Prior to the introduction of DDT, Sri Lanka experienced as many as 2.8 million infections and 7,300 deaths per year from malaria.  Thank heavens that we have banned this damnable life-saving pesticide!  Of course, if DDT is banned and more people are dying, I guess that makes the “population bomb” less worrisome, which makes a cynical part of me wonder if that’s not what the Earth Day people were after all along.

The Reason article goes into more detail and it’s definitely worth a read; I strongly encourage everyone to look through it.  As for myself, I’ll close with a quote from Robert Heinlein’s Lazarus Long character that seems particularly appropriate here:

There hidden contradictions in the minds of people who “love Nature” while deploring the “artificialities” with which “Man has spoiled ‘Nature.'” The obvious contradiction lies in their choice of words, which imply that Man and his artifacts are not part of “Nature”—but beavers and their dams are. But the contradictions go deeper than this primafacie absurdity. In declaring his love for a beaver dam (erected by beavers for beavers’ purposes) and his hatred for dams erected by men (for the purpose of men) the “Naturist” reveals his hatred for his own race—i.e., his own self-hatred. In the case of “Naturist” such self-hatred is understandable; they are such a sorry lot. But hatred is too strong an emotion to feel toward them; pity and contempt are the most they rate. As for me, willy-nilly I am a man, not a beaver, and H. sapiens is the only race I have or can have. Fortunately for me, I like being part of a race made up of men and women—it strikes me as a fine arrangement and perfectly “natural.”

posted by Zenmervolt at 08:07  

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Grasshopper and the Ant

The re-telling is old, but still appropriate, modifications based on recent events.

ORIGINAL VERSION: The ant works hard in the withering heat all summer long, building his house and laying up supplies for the winter.

The grasshopper thinks the ant is a fool and laughs and dances and plays the summer away.

Come winter, the ant is warm and well fed. The grasshopper has no food or shelter, so he dies out in the cold.

MORAL OF THE STORY: Be responsible for yourself!



The ant works hard in the withering heat all summer long, building his house and laying up supplies for the winter.

The grasshopper thinks the ant is a fool, and laughs, and dances, and plays the summer away.

Come winter, the shivering grasshopper calls a press conference and demands to know why the ant should be allowed to be warm and well fed while others are cold and starving.

CBS, NBC, PBS, CNN, and ABC show up to provide pictures of the shivering grasshopper next to a video of the ant in his comfortable home with a table filled with food. America is stunned by the sharp contrast.

How can this be, that in a country of such wealth, this poor grasshopper is allowed to suffer so?

Nancy Pelosi & John Kerry exclaim in an interview with Larry King that the ant has gotten rich off the back of the grasshopper, and both call for an immediate tax hike on the ant to make him pay his fair share.

Obama goes on national television to explain that the grasshopper is homeless because of predatory lending practices by ant-run banking institutions that led to the grasshopper being given a loan for a house he could not afford.  Obama calls for a moratorium on foreclosures, effectively mandating that banks subsidize housing for over-extended grasshoppers.  Obama also calls for allowing grasshoppers to withdraw 15% from their retirement accounts without the early withdrawl penalty, a policy that serves only to further jeopardize the grasshopper’s future by depleting savings that would otherwise grow and earn interest.  Obama continues by calling for an increase in unemployment benefits to insure that the even grasshoppers who do not work are able to afford basic housing and food.  An increase in social security benefits is also necessary as the depletion of retirement funds will reduce or eliminate the possibility of retirement for grasshoppers without governmental support.

To pay for all of this, Obama advocates levying substantial tax increases on the ant, whose income from his own industriousness must somehow be the cause of the grasshopper’s plight.  The ant is forced to work harder to maintain his current standard of living while the grasshopper is not required to work at all and is effectively rewarded for doing nothing.

Other insects begin clamboring for their own “fair share” of what Obama has promised to the grasshopper.  In response, Obama expands his proposed programs to include all insects except the ants and the bees, whose industriousness has made them the upper 5% of the income bracket.  Ants and bees would be required by Obama to pay over half their income in taxes to support the remainder of the insect population who are now living at least partially on handouts are effectively exploiting the labor of the bees and ants.

Despite rampant unpopularity among bees and ants, Obama enjoys almost fanatical support among the rest of the insect world for his “progressive” policies that help the average bug and is elected in a landslide, implementing his proposals to much fanfare.

Realizing that their labor is now going mainly to bugs other than themselves, large portions of the bee and ant populations begin to reduce their workload and rely on increasing amounts of government subsidies and handouts as their incomes drop.  This stretches an already strained governmental budget and Obama responds by further increasing the tax burden on “the wealthy few”, who now see almost all of their earnings diverted into government coffers.  As this cycle continues, the standard of living for the “wealthy” is driven downwards towards the same subsistence level survival as that of those on governmental support, and with this closing of the gap in lifestyle, the incentive to work harder and be more productive is eroded to the point at which the government can no longer meet its support obligations due to increasing numbers of bees and ants giving up on their hard work and choosing to simply live as the grasshoppers do – on governmental support.

With the government no longer able to pay for its social spending, programs are abruptly canceled.  Because bugs have been relying upon governmental handouts in order to make ends meet, none of them have any substantial savings and there is sudden, widespread poverty among those who had formerly been propped up by the government.  Unrest and resentment towards the government grows and there is a period of great civil strife as the government achieves near colapse and emerges from the crisis vastly reduced in scope and scale.

Ants and bees return to their productive ways and begin to slowly eke out a living for themselves and their families.  As time goes on, the bees and ants continue to re-invest in their own labors and their standard of living begins to climb again, while grasshoppers complain about how unfair it is that the government can no longer support their indolence and there are fresh murmurings of resentment towards the bees and ants whose own labor is allowing them to begin to become comparatively wealthy once again.

The ants and bees continue their labor and increase their wealth as the grasshoppers again dance the summer away and everyone slowly forgets about the experience in the past.

Then winter comes and the cycle starts over once again…

MORAL OF THE STORY:  There isn’t one.  The cycle just continues.

posted by Zenmervolt at 08:35  

In ignorantia confidenter praegredi.