by Barry King, November 28 2015

Thanks to Reid's son Forest for introducing me to this book. If you buy it, or buy anything else from amazon.com, please shop at smile.amazon.com instead of www.amazon.com, and select The Virunga Fund as your beneficiary. It won't increase your price, but amazon will make a donation to Virunga.


Book review: Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed, by James C. Scott.

Prototypical scheme: A wild forest was designed by God, or by Darwinian evolution, to "succeed" as an ecosystem capable of sustaining a bio-diverse assortment of plant, animal, insect and bird species (and many other kinds). Modern "scientific" forestry, on the other hand, in its early stages, focused on maximizing board-feet of lumber produced, and chose mono-culture: a whole forest of trees of a single species, planted in rows. Many such projects worked for a few years, then failed as the whole forest ecosystem collapsed for unforeseen reasons involving complex interdependencies. The key insight is: these projects, and many others like them, were promoted as "modern", "scientific" and "rational", but were nevertheless unsustainable.

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by Barry King

For lovers of science and of nature, parasitism is a fascinating topic. An important detail is the complexity of the definition of "success" for the parasite, who prefers to rely on the productivity of others rather than on his own productivity (the cuckoo prefers not to be bothered by the hard work of building a nest, incubating eggs, and feeding chicks, so she just lays her eggs in someone else's nest.) The "success" of parasitism has an obvious strategic limitation in this consequence, that if the parasite is too "successful" the host is overwhelmed and goes extinct. Then the parasite goes extinct because it had become fatally dependent on a now-extinct host. Cuckoos can get away with it sustainably because they are parasitic only gently and on a wide variety of other species rather than on just one. A forest with cuckoos is more (bio)diverse than one without, but if the cuckoos collectively are not careful they will end up subtracting both their hosts and themselves from the biodiversity gene pool. That's why infectious organisms that cause 100% fatality in their hosts are extremely rare: their evolutionary tactic is strategically suicidal within just 1 or 2 generations. In human politics and economics, the analog to parasitism is misleadingly called "rent-seeking" (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rent-seeking) I guess it's a good thing that we humans are not aggressively parasitic organisms - or are we?

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by Barry King

The acronyms mean: Liberal White European Nonsense about the Institute Congolais pour le Conservation de la Nature.

Here I sit in Uganda, just back from a visit to the Virunga National Park in Congo. After reading this article in Foreign Affairs http://fam.ag/1EwFADa  I have figurative steam rising from my ears, like the volcanic smoke from Nyiragongo and Nyamuragira. I'd like to offer my observations about it. Disclosure: I advise and assist ICCN with the operation and maintenance of their airplanes, so I may have a bias in favor of the work they are doing with those planes. I'll insert my own comments between quotes from the article, which is a critique of the recent Oscar-nominated film "Virunga", and implicitly, of ICCN.

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by Reid Fitzsimons (note: this article is generally critical of Silent Spring but is reasonably balanced and discusses a number of redeeming aspects of the book and author)

First some basics- Silent Spring is a book written by Rachael Carson and published in 1962. It primarily discussed the negative environmental effects that liberal use of chemicals, especially in the form of herbicides and pesticides, had on the environment. It was and continues to be considered a landmark book and is largely viewed as the progenitor of the modern environmental movement, and all that it entails. As such, the book is often mentioned disparagingly among conservatives. I was no stranger to mocking the book and, hypocritically, was armed only with references made by others- I hadn’t actually read it. Hence one day I figured out how to download it for free in one format, convert it to a .pdf, and load it on to my Nook.

Fortunately Silent Spring proved to be pretty readable and not too long at a bit over 200 pages. Later I am going to assert there is a conservative interpretation possible of the book, but before that a brief aside. I just happened to review a Common Core literature book (Timeless Voices, Timeless Themes) used in the local high school, which includes the introductory chapter of Silent Spring (this is considered literature?). Not surprisingly the associated comments are highly favorable and slanted, to say the least, including, ‘…a chilling and well-documented warning about the dangers of pesticides.” Nothing remotely negative is offered, including any discussion of the millions (literally) of children who have perished likely due to self-serving and shortsighted environmental policies largely initiated by Silent Spring. But what the heck, one can’t dispute Common Core. ...continue reading