Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Forests in the US.

Every Eastern gardener knows well how much nature wants to turn your garden into a grassy weed-patch, then into a woodland. Humans force nature to obey with great difficulty. Everyone who sanctimoniously bemoans deforestation in South America and Africa should first look out their window to see one’s local deforestation.

Our Great Plains, it is believed, were at least partly the result of Indian burning practices and wildfire. And the Scottish moors? The result of deforestation too, but they are beginning to re-plant. Permanent deforestation is definitely a bad thing from a conservation standpoint, but often not from a human economic standpoint. Manhattan Island is now pretty nice without the forest.

Environmentalists Pick Up Where Communists Left Off.

For a century, an ambitious, arrogant, unscrupulous knowledge class -- social planners, scientists, intellectuals, experts and their left-wing political allies -- arrogated to themselves the right to rule either in the name of the oppressed working class (communism) or, in its more benign form, by virtue of their superior expertise in achieving the highest social progress by means of state planning (socialism).

Two decades ago, however, socialism and communism died rudely, then were buried forever by the empirical demonstration of the superiority of market capitalism everywhere from Thatcher's England to Deng's China, where just the partial abolition of socialism lifted more people out of poverty more rapidly than ever in human history.

Just as the ash heap of history beckoned, the intellectual left was handed the ultimate salvation: environmentalism. Now the experts will regulate your life not in the name of the proletariat or Fabian socialism but -- even better -- in the name of Earth itself.

Why Jim Webb would make an awful running mate.

The Wife and I were talking about this last night. We concluded that Obama already has enough problems without any help from Jim Webb.

17% of Voters Believe that Reporters Unbiased

Normally I'd say that number was too high but when you consider that 6% of Americans think the moon landing was faked (with an additional 5% undecided) it's probably about right.

The politics of oil shale.

You'd think with gas prices topping $4 and consumers crying uncle, Congress would be moving fast to spur development of a domestic oil resource so vast - 800 billion barrels of recoverable oil shale in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming alone - it could eventually rival the oil fields of Saudi Arabia.

You'd think politicians would be tripping over themselves to arrange photo-ops with Harold Vinegar (whom I profiled in Fortune last November), the brilliant, Brooklyn-born chief scientist at Royal Dutch Shell whose research cracked the code on how to efficiently and cleanly convert oil shale - a rock-like fossil fuel known to geologists as kerogen - into light crude oil.

You'd think all of this, but you'd be wrong.

Prisons and Politics.

American policies were driven by public opinion while British ones were shaped by elite preferences. As a result, victim surveys show that by the late 1990s the British robbery rate was one-quarter higher and the burglary and assault rates twice as high as those in this country.

This raises the interesting question of why elite views should be so different from popular ones. Some possible explanations: Elites can more easily protect themselves from criminal attacks; elites tend to have a therapeutic rather than punitive view of crime; elites in parliamentary regimes are protected against sharp swings in public moods.

There are a lot of criticisms one can make of prisons, but sending offenders there, provided it is done correctly and without abuse, is an eminently democratic strategy: We deprive guilty people of liberty to make innocent people safer.

Cities for Living.

American visitors to Paris, Rome, Prague, or Barcelona, comparing what they see with what is familiar from their own continent, will recognize how careless their countrymen often have been in their attempts to create cities. But the American who leaves the routes prescribed by the Ministries of Tourism will quickly see that Paris is miraculous in no small measure because modern architects have not been able to get their hands on it.

Elsewhere, European cities are going the way of cities in America: high-rise offices in the center, surrounded first by a ring of lawless dereliction, and then by the suburbs, to which those who work in the city flee at the end of the day. Admittedly, nothing in Europe compares with the vandalism that modernists have wreaked on Buffalo, Tampa, or Minneapolis (to take three examples of American cities that cause me particular pain). Nevertheless, the same moral disaster is beginning to afflict us—the disaster of cities in which no one wishes to live, where public spaces are vandalized and private spaces boarded up.

The Reign of Thuggery.

If Robert Mugabe returns to power this month, it will continue a nightmare of open, repressive brutality – thanks to the refusal of Thabo Mbeki and other African leaders to intervene.

Barack H Obama and Friends