Monday, June 16, 2008

When to Stop

Remember the spotted owl? I was just a kid when the fight heated up over this little, old-growth-loving bird but I still remember the choice put forth by the logging companies: Owls or jobs. Protecting the owl's habitat, we were told, would cost thousands of loggers their jobs. The thing about this argument is that, even if it was technically true, it was total crap. It wasn't the owl that eliminated those jobs, it was logging. The owls habitat was being protected because most of the old growth-timber in its native range had already been logged.

Old growth is not a very renewable resource. Old-growth trees are typically centuries old and they acquire their sought-after close grain and high density from growing slowly in the shadow of pre-existing, centuries-old trees. Thus, the question is, if the Pacific Northwest had been logged down to a few owl-islands in a little over a century, what were they planning on doing once they'd logged the rest of a resource that takes a good chunk of a millennium to replace? The issue wasn't whether or not to stop logging. It had to stop. The issue was whether to stop before or after destroying an entire ecosystem.

A similar issue stands before us today. Oil prices are rising, apparently as a result of tight-supply in the face of rising world demand. This puts stress on the economy, most directly manifested here in the closing of the GM SUV plant in Janesville. To combat rising oil prices, many would have us drill in areas currently closed to resource exploitation due to environmental sensitivity. We need that oil.

The issue here, again, is that, even if drilling in the Alaskan National Wildlife Reserve and elsewhere could provide immediate relief (it can't), we'd only slightly postpone the inevitable. We're going to run out of oil and, as production declines and demand continues to rise, it's going to get more expensive. Until SUVs run on something other than gasoline, they're just not going to be that practical. GM would've done well to realize that earlier and re purpose that plant before things got this bad. They didn't.

We will find a way to meet our energy needs without fossil fuels. The choice before us is how much of our world we'll irrevocably destroy before we do.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Just du . . . stupid

Some things you should just let slide. I'm not capable. I was reading a State Journal editorial today and this sentence caught my eye, "Why not? Because a painted chest ban is a dumb idea."

I agree with the thrust of the editorial; banning painted chests at WIAA events does seem to be a solution in search of a problem. What annoys me is that the State Journal Editorial Board seems to be stuck in grade school. I don't remember exactly when it was that it was explained to me that "dumb" means mute, not stupid, but I'm pretty sure it was well before a box of crayons ceased to be a requisite school supply.

Generally, I'm not one of those people who thinks we should all be speaking Victorian English out of reverance for the grand edifice of the English Language. Our language has been changing for as long as it's existed but that's not what's going on here. The editors weren't using some new bit of common parlance to keep up with the times nor were they, in this instance, fudging arcane grammatical rules to match common speech (something that can also drive me insane). They simply chose to use the wrong word. The State Journal could defend this as an attempt to sound less like the literary elite if it weren't for the fact that most people who don't know what "dumb" means haven't learned to read yet. For those people and the State Journal Editorial Board, here are a couple helpful examples of "stupid" and "dumb" properly used in sentences.

1. It's stupid to use a word in a published article that doesn't mean what you're clearly trying to say.*

2. I was literally struck dumb by the inanity of that State Journal editorial.**

. . . Now you try.

* Note my use of the second-person in this sentence where the third would be more formally appropriate. I'm totally hip.

**I also might have underlined "State Journal" but I'm not using the full title and it's the wild, wild internets. Anything goes. Language policing always balls up into a petty game of tit for tat but, really, words should mean what they mean.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

I will still not have met the president

My last year in college, after semesters of sniping at their columnists in the feedback forums, the Badger Herald offered me a column of my own. I hadn't expected there to be any journalistic trappings but, one morning, I found myself heading to Milwaukee with some colleagues to a forum on the USA Patriot Act sponsored by the American Civil Liberties Union.

We were the first people to wander into the room and, after I'd relished first pick of the donuts and continental breakfast, I took a seat just near enough the end of the U-shaped conference table to be inconspicuous (any closer would've looked weird for the first people in). As I enjoyed my fruit medley, a well-dressed gentleman sat down next me. It was ex-Clinton-nemesis turned libertarian evangelist, Bob Barr. He was accompanied by his lovely wife and we had a polite conversation innocuous enough that I've completely forgotten what we talked about; then he and ACLU President Nadine Strossen gave a presentation on the abuses of the Patriot Act.

All in all, my encounter with Bob Barr was thoroughly unremarkable. He's a pleasant, principled man . . . who will not be president.