What the world needs now is DDT

May 27, 2014

Google has seen fit to honor Rachel Carson today. To heck with that. Instead read this: “What the World Needs Now Is DDT.” Some choice quotes:

In her 297 pages, Rachel Carson never mentioned the fact that by the time she was writing, DDT was responsible for saving tens of millions of lives, perhaps hundreds of millions. DDT killed bald eagles because of its persistence in the environment. ”Silent Spring” is now killing African children because of its persistence in the public mind. Public opinion is so firm on DDT that even officials who know it can be employed safely dare not recommend its use.

And:

DDT is a victim of its success, having so thoroughly eliminated malaria in wealthy nations that we forget why we once needed it. But malaria kills Africans today. Those worried about the arrogance of playing God should realize that we have forged an instrument of salvation, and we choose to hide it under our robes.

As Josh Billings once wrote (but is often attributed to Mark Twain), it ain’t so much the things we don’t know that get us into trouble. It’s the things we know that just ain’t so. We know that DDT is dangerous, but, used properly, it just ain’t so.

POSTSCRIPT: In a Terry Gross interview I had the misfortune to hear on the radio, she alleged that DDT was toxic to humans. Not so. (That’s not even what Carson charged! Carson accused DDT of being bad for birds, not humans.) In fact, the best use for DDT is to use it precisely where humans reside. Alas, the interviewee failed to correct Gross, perpetuating this misinformation.

Advertisements

White House outs CIA station chief

May 25, 2014

As I’ve often said, the thing that was hardest to take about the Plame-Armitage was watching the left pretend that they cared about the identities of covert CIA agent being leaked. Now we have the opportunity to prove their hypocrisy, when we observe whether or not the left gets upset about this:

The CIA’s top officer in Kabul was exposed Saturday by the White House when his name was inadvertently included on a list provided to news organizations of senior U.S. officials participating in President Obama’s surprise visit with U.S. troops. The White House recognized the mistake and quickly issued a revised list that did not include the individual, who had been identified on the initial release as the “Chief of Station” in Kabul, a designation used by the CIA for its highest-ranking spy in a country.

In the Plame-Armitage affair — the left’s mythology aside — Plame was only technically covert (she worked in America), and her name was accidentally leaked by the State Department. Here we have the CIA station chief in Afghanistan, a real target if there ever were one, being leaked by the White House. Of course, there’s no suggestion that his name was leaked out of malice, but that didn’t happen in the Plame-Armitage affair either.

Then there’s this:

The only other recent case came under significantly different circumstances, when former CIA operative Valerie Plame was exposed as officials of the George W. Bush administration sought to discredit her husband, a former ambassador and fierce critic of the decision to invade Iraq.

This is technically true, insofar as the Bush administration wanted to discredit Joe Wilson’s lies and contemporaneously Plame was exposed. But the clear implication, that the two events were connected, is an OUT-AND-OUT LIE.

The Washington Post, where the offending article appeared, knows this perfectly well. They ran this editorial lamenting the Democrats “myth-making” in 2010, so they have no excuse for signing onto the myth now.

(Previous post.) (Via Instapundit.)

UPDATE: “When Bushies blew a CIA cover, it was ‘treason’; now, it’s a mistake.” Indeed.


What is censorship?

May 22, 2014

Ken White makes an interesting argument about censorship. It’s thoughtful, but ultimately dead wrong. Let me excerpt the start of it:

1. The First Amendment protects you from government sanction, either directly (by criminal prosecution) or indirectly (when someone uses the government’s laws and the courts to punish you, as in a defamation action). It is currently in vogue to exclaim “NOBODY IS ARGUING OTHERWISE” when someone makes this point. [Expletive.] People are consistently saying that private action (like criticism, or firings) violates the First Amendment, either directly or through sloppy implication. . .

2. The phrase “the spirit of the First Amendment” often signals approaching nonsense. So, regrettably, does the phrase “free speech” when uncoupled from constitutional free speech principles.

(This is all in the context of the A&E network’s brief cancellation of Duck Dynasty last year when it turned out that the Robertson family patriarch disapproved of sodomy.)

In regard to #1, he has a point. People often say “my First Amendment rights are being violated” when what they really mean is “I am being censored.” Some people with a weaker understanding of civics may actually be confused on this point, but most I think are just speaking sloppily.

But White goes wrong in #2. I’ve never heard the phrase “spirit of the First Amendment” used, and when I google it, the first hit is to a Cato Institute article that is clearly talking about government censorship, so let’s skip that point and move on to his next one: that “free speech” is nonsense when uncoupled from constitutional principles.

He is wrong on two levels. The first is legal. The First Amendment reads (in relevant part):

Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech. . .

Note the wording: “the freedom of speech”. The freedom of speech already existed in English law, and the First Amendment merely writes it explicitly into the US Constitution. (It’s a pity the English never did that!) It’s manifestly untrue that free speech is meaningless apart from the Constitution.

I think White would say that he already knew that, and was writing sloppily. But more substantially, he’s wrong a a philosophical level. White believes that free speech is coextensive with the First Amendment, but I think most Americans understand otherwise. Certainly I do. We ought not to conflate free speech with the First Amendment, because free speech is much broader than the First Amendment.

The First Amendment (together with the 14th) protect us from government censorship, but that doesn’t mean that government censorship is the only kind. So what is censorship?

Let’s go back to White’s straw man:

These terms [that is, “spirit of the First Amendment” and “free speech”] often smuggle unprincipled and internally inconsistent concepts — like the doctrine of the Preferred+ First Speaker. The doctrine of the Preferred First Speaker holds that when Person A speaks, listeners B, C, and D should refrain from their full range of constitutionally protected expression to preserve the ability of Person A to speak without fear of non-governmental consequences that Person A doesn’t like.

I haven’t heard of this doctrine, and the first four pages of google hits all refer to White’s article or derivatives of it (or are random junk), but I’ll assume that it’s a real, obscure legal concept, and not something that White just made up. Anyway, I don’t think that’s what “free speech” means.

I think free speech means this: If person A wants to communicate with person B, who is willing to receive the communication, it is wrong for person C, a third party uninvolved in the communication, to interfere.

This is just a first-cut; it may need some refinement (national security, juveniles, crowded theaters, etc.), but I think it works pretty well. If Alice asks Charlie to carry a message to Bob, Bob has every right to refuse. But if Alice is speaking to Bob, Charlie has no right to stop her. Similarly, if David agrees to carry a message from Alice to Bob, it is wrong for Charlie to stop him.

This applies whether or not Charlie is the government. If Charlie is the government, the First Amendment applies. If Charlie is just an ordinary busybody, Alice doesn’t have any First Amendment protection, but it’s still wrong for Charlie to interfere with her speech.

That’s what was going on in the Duck Dynasty affair. Phil Robertson critics were trying to censor him; they had no part in his communication with Duck Dynasty’s audience. On the other hand, A&E was involved, so they had a right to cancel his program. (If the audience dwindles, they surely will.) Nevertheless, by doing so in that situation, they were knuckling under to censorship. As Americans they should have done better.

(Via Patterico.)


The scientific tea party

May 22, 2014

This will come as no surprise to actual Tea Party people, but a major shock to the left:

Yale Law professor Dan M. Kahan was conducting a n analysis of the scientific comprehension of various political groups when he ran into a shocking discovery: tea party supporters are slightly more scientifically literate than the non-tea party population.

Shocking? Well, maybe to readers of the New York Times and the Huffington Post (i.e., liberals):

I’ve got to confess, though, I found this result surprising. As I pushed the button to run the analysis on my computer, I fully expected I’d be shown a modest negative correlation between identifying with the Tea Party and science comprehension.

But then again, I don’t know a single person who identifies with the Tea Party. All my impressions come from watching cable tv — & I don’t watch Fox News very often — and reading the “paper” (New York Times daily, plus a variety of politics-focused internet sites like Huffington Post & Politico).

I’m a little embarrassed, but mainly I’m just glad that I no longer hold this particular mistaken view.

(Via Monster Hunter Nation.)

In related news, conservative republicans are the most likely to know that the earth revolves around the sun, and the least likely to believe in astrology. Liberal democrats are the most likely to believe in astrology. Conservative and moderate Democrats are the least likely to know the earth revolves around the sun. (In fairness, liberal Democrats do decently well on heliocentrism.)

POSTSCRIPT: And, for the record: a rebuttal to a rebuttal of the Democratic astrology result.


A break in the space-time continuum

May 22, 2014

I’m catching up on a big backlog of articles to remark upon. Some of these aren’t very timely any more, but I still want to note them.


Coup in Thailand, no liberal freak-out

May 22, 2014

Fox News reports:

Thailand’s new military junta announced it suspended the country’s constitution Thursday. The news came a few hours after Thailand’s army chief announced a military takeover of the government, saying the coup was necessary to restore stability and order after six months of political deadlock and turmoil.

But, unlike the 2009 non-coup in Honduras, in which Democrats demanded that the ousted president be returned to office, no one seems to care much. Evidently coups (or, in Honduras’s case, extraordinary legal steps) are only a problem when communists are being turned out of office.