Thursday, August 24, 2006

a NYT editorial offers a practical approach to an interesting scientific/ethical dilemma - how to reconcile the interests of commercial butterfly producers with the probability that released butterflies damage ecosystems.

Butterfly Kiss-Off - New York Times: "So we have a classic industry-conservation conflict: the North American Butterfly Association versus the International Butterfly Breeders Association. The conservation group advocates banning the release of commercial butterflies (an unlikely development) while the breeders deny that there’s a problem (a risky wager). So what’s the answer?

There are reasonable compromises that address the most serious concerns, which, it is fair to say, are more educational and ethical than environmental. For weddings, butterfly farms could be required to ship only sterile adults. Of course, research would be needed to find the right dose of radiation or chemosterilant for a butterfly species, but the breeders claim to be concerned about wild butterflies and the butterfly association could “walk the walk” of conservation by offering some money for studies. The neutered butterflies might be a bit more expensive, but cost can’t be a big issue for a father of the bride who’s already plunking down $300 for the “Fill the Sky” package.

But what about the eager students and future (might we say, larval) entomologists?

Kill them. Not the students, the butterflies. If the point of the educational venture is to teach important lessons, then here’s one: We are responsible for the harm that we may cause in the world. So once the butterflies have emerged, pop them in the freezer. Tell the children that protecting our environment is not always easy, that we must accept the responsibility that comes with bringing a life into the world, and that like other animals produced for our needs and wants (the industry refers to the butterflies as “livestock”) we owe the butterflies a quick and painless death.

If this is too harsh a lesson to teach in a culture that assiduously avoids confronting death, then a savvy teacher could work with students to collect local caterpillars, raise them and release the butterflies whence they came. That’s a real lesson in science — and ethics.

Jeffrey A. Lockwood, a professor of natural sciences and humanities at the University of Wyoming, is the author of “Locust.’’"
From an unbelievable, or maybe all too believable, article in the new york times.

Oh, America.

To Outsiders, a Town Seems a Cartel by Any Other Name - New York Times: "VERNON, Calif. — With 44,000 workers by day and 91 residents at night, Vernon is no ordinary small town. Its motto, “Exclusively Industrial,” says it all. This 5.2-square-mile city a few miles south of downtown Los Angeles is strictly for business, with a few homes dotted amid warehouses, factories and meatpacking plants.

Donald Huff, left, with his lawyer, moved to Vernon in January and ran for office in April. City officials have put the ballots under lock and key.

Vernon has no movie theaters, parks or high schools. But despite its tiny population — or maybe because of it — it has not escaped accusations of small-town corruption. In April, Vernon held its first contested election in 26 years, and local leaders, would-be City Council members and state officials have been battling ever since.

Vernon officials have refused to count the ballots, saying they will await the outcome of litigation filed by City Clerk Bruce Malkenhorst Jr. against three Council opposition candidates and their housemates over their right to run for office and to vote or even to live in Vernon.

The dispute has resulted in a number of lawsuits.

Judge David P. Yaffe of Los Angeles Superior Court has ruled against the town, saying it cannot invalidate the election. Another Superior Court judge, Aurelio Muñoz, said in court that Vernon was “run like a fiefdom,” and rejected its attempt to strip the opposition of their right to vote. But lawyers for Mr. Malkenhorst, whose father retired as city administrator in 2004 with salary and perks of nearly $600,000 that year, say they will appeal.

The impasse has fueled debate over the ability of small towns to run their own elections. The California secretary of state, Bruce McPherson, has called on Vernon officials to count the votes, and Mr. McPherson supports a bill to strip the city of its power to administer elections for two years.

“This is an egregious abuse of the process,” Mr. McPherson said in a letter endorsing the bill, which would give Los Angeles County power to run Vernon’s next election. “Although this bill would not settle this issue for this election, it would ensure that future elections are conducted according to law.”


Mr. Malburg, the grandson of John B. Leonis, Vernon’s founding father, warmly greets lunch patrons at La Villa Basque, which has had the same d�cor and some of the same employees since it opened in 1960. But with outsiders, city officials seem guarded. When asked for comment after a recent City Council meeting, the mayor just smiled and walked away.

Silence, in fact, appears to be policy in Vernon. Other city officials said nothing when asked their names or if they would comment on the lawsuit and Judge Mu�oz’s ruling. Phone calls requesting comment were not returned.

According to the Chamber of Commerce, 44,000 people commute to work in Vernon. The city owns nearly all the homes in Vernon, and most residents work for the city and pay cheap rent. Vernon has its own police, health, utilities and fire departments. Owners of many of the 1,200-plus businesses in town praise the city leaders for excellent services, low taxes and inexpensive utilities.

Although Judge Mu�oz ruled against Vernon, he agreed with city officials that the newcomers were trying to gain power. He cited the youth and the lack of education and employment of most of them, but rejected the city’s attempt to cancel their voter registrations, saying in court that “power grabs aren’t illegal.”

Prof. Richard L. Hasen, an election law expert at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said he had “never heard of a situation anywhere where votes had been cast and then a clerk makes a decision not to count the votes.”

“Vernon’s like the Wild West,” Professor Hasen said. “The idea that they can just lock up the ballots — not only does that violate election laws, but it’s outrageous.”

Several business leaders said those in control of Vernon did a good job. “What city doesn’t have some corruption?” said Todd Levin, president of Todd’s Incorporated, a packager of dried nuts and other snack food. “I’m not saying they’re corrupt. I just know I get a great deal here, and they’re great to work with.”"

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

On Mary Douglas from Wikipedia:

Mary Douglas - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: "Douglas is best known for her interpretation of the book of Leviticus, and for her role in creating the Cultural Theory of risk.

In Purity and Danger, Douglas first proposed that the kosher laws were not, as many believed, either primitive health regulations or randomly chosen as tests of Jews' commitment to God. Instead, Douglas argued that the laws were about symbolic boundary-maintenance. Prohibited foods were those which did not seem to fall neatly into any category. For example, pigs' place in the natural order was ambiguous because they shared the cloven hoof of the ungulates, but did not chew cud.

Douglas claims that rituals of purity that focus on sexuality are meant to mark the boundaries of the human body, in the same way by which the boundaries of society are marked.

She begins 'Purity and Danger' at stating what she considers obvious, that “ambiguous things can seem very threatening” (xi) and claim that “taboo is a spontaneous device for protecting the distinctive categories of the universe… taboo confronts the ambiguous and shunt it into the category of the sacred”."
on Clifford Geertz, from Wikipedia:

Clifford Geertz - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: "At the University of Chicago, Geertz became a 'champion of symbolic anthropology', which gives prime attention to the role of thought (of 'symbols') in society. Symbols guide action. Culture, outlined by Geertz in his famous book The Interpretation of Cultures (1973), is 'a system of inherited conceptions expressed in symbolic forms by means of which people communicate, perpetuate, and develop their knowledge about and attitudes toward life.' The function of culture is to impose meaning on the world and make it understandable. The role of anthropologists is to try (though complete success is not possible) to interpret the guiding symbols of each culture (see thick description). Geertz was quite innovative in this regard, as he was one of the first to see that the insights provided by common language philosophy and literary analysis could have major explanatory force in the social sciences."