Nature abhors a vacuum.

These new “secondary” forests are emerging in Latin America, Asia and other tropical regions at such a fast pace that the trend has set off a serious debate about whether saving primeval rain forest — an iconic environmental cause — may be less urgent than once thought. By one estimate, for every acre of rain forest cut down each year, more than 50 acres of new forest are growing in the tropics on land that was once farmed, logged or ravaged by natural disaster.

“There is far more forest here than there was 30 years ago,” said Ms. Ortega de Wing, 64, who remembers fields of mango trees and banana plants.

I've seen this before. I've spent some time around the battle field at Monmouth, NJ, and several years ago the park started an initiative to 'restore' parts of the battle field to its condition at the time of the battle in 1778. This pretty much involved cutting down a whole lot of vegetation that had grown up since end of intensive cultivation in central NJ. (by that I mean people who were doing tings like gathering firewood in addition to working the land) Grim knows what I mean.

It's hubris to think we really can damage nature on any long-term scale.

via American Digest

I love the hand gestures.



I'm traveling again, this time on business, so I can't promise to be around much for a bit.



In case you can't read the text in the screen snap, it says "Lawmaker Wants Grilling Of Libya Minister on Lockerbie"

These Congress Wallahs are just a bunch of big brutes.



I'm sorry, I should come up with something more significant to say about hahahahahaha:

Moments before a conference call with reporters was scheduled to get underway on Tuesday morning, Charles E. Schumer of New York, the No. 3 Democrat in the Senate, apparently unaware that many of the reporters were already on the line, began to instruct his fellow senators on how to talk to reporters about the contentious budget process....

Mr. Schumer told them to portray John A. Boehner of Ohio, the speaker of the House, as painted into a box by the Tea Party, and to decry the spending cuts that he wants as extreme. “I always use the word extreme,” Mr. Schumer said. “That is what the caucus instructed me to use this week.”

A minute or two into the talking-points tutorial, though, someone apparently figured out that reporters were listening, and silence fell.

Then the conference call began in earnest, with the Democrats right on message.

“We are urging Mr. Boehner to abandon the extreme right wing,” said Ms. Boxer[.]
You do have to give them some credit here. It took a certain amount of guts to go ahead and hold the call. The guts it took to go ahead and repeat the spin with a straight face?

My hat's off to you, ma'am.

Some days it seems as though nothing goes right:

An eagle ray weighing as much as 300 pounds landed on top of a woman on a boat in the Florida Keys last week, throwing her to the deck and pinning her underneath it -- the "scariest thing" that's ever happened to her, she said.

The woman, Jenny Hausch, was on the chartered boat Friday with her husband and three children, taking pictures of a group of eagle rays as they flew out of the water.

.... the ray kept "slamming and slamming on top of (Hausch), trying to swim away."

...Klein said the animal measured 8-feet across, and probably weighed a good 300 pounds.

"It's just massive, it has a 10-foot tail," she added.

I know just how she feels.

Against the Law

Against the Law:

One of the points of unity among you in our recent debate about Dr. Cronon was the importance of the concept of "the rule of law." I want to set aside the particulars of that case entirely, and discuss the idea of "the rule of law" independently. This is an idea that has always struck me something other than an unalloyed good (to use Cassandra's phrase). I want to offer some objections to the idea of adopting it as a principle for ourselves.

Before I do, I want to recognize that I understand why so many people have adopted "the rule of law" as a principle. The principle is laid out so beautifully in A Man for All Seasons:

The principle as Sir Thomas More lays it out is exactly correct, and I don't dispute it at all.

To understand how I can dispute the principle and not Sir Thomas More, it is necessary to recognize the distinction between the People and the state; and that Sir Thomas More was speaking as an agent of the state. The argument that an officer of the state should 'give the Devil the benefit of the law' is an argument about the state recognizing legal limits to its power. Just as the play says, if we accept the state setting aside the lawful limits of its power to deal with evildoers, we will soon find it accepts no limits when it deals with anyone else.

The "we" who are accepting or rejecting the state's powers here are "We, the People." The distinction between the People and the State is that the People are those who retain the power described in the Declaration of Independence:

[T]hey are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.
"The rule of law" is therefore not a principle for the People to accept as a first principle. They are the judges of whether "the rule of law" has become destructive to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Their first principles must be these three things.

The rule of law is a means to that end; when it becomes destructive to those ends, the law must be set aside in spite of itself.

If the law is unjust, "the rule of law" means the rule of injustice. Before we the People speak of 'giving the Devil the benefit of the law,' we must not forget that the Devil often has the best lobbyists. We should not commit to a moral principle that commits us to pursuing injustice on those occasions when the wicked have captured the law.


There is a second argument that applies even when the law is not unjust; even when it may be perfectly just.

The law is an exercise of the power of the state, and the power of the state is coercive -- it is based on violence, that is, even when an individual instance is not violent. Every act of "law enforcement" is an act of coercion.

Many times in life we find ourselves in disputes with others, and we could rely on rules and force to push people to accept our way. We might also be able to sit down, talk things through, and achieve a compromise position that everyone can live with. The second approach means that we do not get exactly what we wanted, but we do get a society that is more pleasant to live in. Very often, this second approach is the foundation of friendships and good relations with neighbors.

This is why we respect the old breed of "peace officers" more than the sort who consider themselves "law enforcement officers." A peace officer is preserving the order of society, but this often means letting certain things slide if an agreement can be reached between the parties in dispute. The law here is a tool, certainly, but he does not stand on 'the rule of law.' He mentions the law, and then talks people into sorting out their problems so that no one has to go to jail. The "law enforcement officer" is a tool of state coercion with his every act; the "peace officer" often is able to preserve the peace and common order through agreement.

The fact that the law permits us to do something is almost irrelevant to the moral question of whether or not we should do it. If the law forbids something, that fact is relevant to our moral calculations because breaking the law is a serious act, to be done only in cases of the type discussed in the first section. There are some laws we must morally break; the rest we must not break.

Once we have determined that the law permits something, however, the law is finished informing our moral decision. We have to make the choice of whether to do what the law permits us to do, or to refrain from doing it, on other grounds.

Like the peace officer, we often have powers we choose not to use. We often don't use our legal freedom to spend all our money on booze and gambling. We often have disputes with neighbors that we settle out of court. We often don't arrange protests just-this-side of our neighbor's property.

We often treat people better than we must, and that is a very good thing. The more a society relies upon the law to settle its disputes, the less stable that society is. That is to say that the more the People turn to the state to resolve their disputes, the more of their power they are ceding to the state.

A society that resolves its disputes according to the law instead of socially has given all its power to the state, and is at the mercy of the state. Do you wish to be at the mercy of ours? Do you trust our politicians to 'give the Devil the benefit of the law', or would you rather have the hedge of your neighbors just in case? You will have it only if you extend it to them as well.

It may be the case that our society has grown so unstable that we are running out of options. While last chances exist, to extend hands and rebuild some of the social power that guards us against exposure to state power, I think we ought to try. Certainly when we are dealing with thugs on the other side, or on our own, we should do nothing for them; but when we are dealing with ordinary and decent people, it is in all of our interests to try.

Dissidents and Migration

Dissidents and Migration

Mark mentioned migration in a comment thread below about one of the possible responses to a dissatisfaction with government. By coincidence, I just received an email today from my sister about her genealogical studies of our family. It turns out that our family tree is stuffed full of folks who fled Europe to escape religious persecution:

We have Elder John White, Puritan, who came to Massachusetts in the 1630s; Alexander Kilpatrick, Presbyterian, who left Northern Ireland and the boot of the Church of England (this is the story of the "Scots-Irish") in 1730; Jacob Hermann Arndt (later the name was changed to Arrant) who came to Philadelphia in the 1730s, when virtually all German immigrants to Pennsylvania were German Pietists (a religion with much in common with Quakerism) who were being persecuted or burned at the stake in Germany; and the Huguenots forbears who had to escape the massacres in France. . . . Then there is the story of all the folks after they got here. As far as I can tell, no matter which line you trace back, no family stayed in one place more than a generation or so. This may seem more normal to you, but there are many, many people I know in Philadelphia whose families have been here for centuries . . . .
I suppose the family trees in Texas are more likely to include the wandering branches than those on the East Coast. By moving to Philadelphia as an adult, my sister was making a retrograde movement that placed her among people with a much stronger tendency to put down roots generation after generation.

It seems that my ancestors had a higher-than-average problem with authority. For myself, if I have a problem with authority, it has scarcely revealed itself in geographical movement. I've barely moved from the location of my birth, and that only at a time in my life when I was not starting either a business or a family. On the other hand, I'm in a part of the U.S. that has been settled by Europeans only for what amounts to the blink of an eye, and therefore retains something of the tradition of exiles or malcontents. Our home is built on property that, as far as I know, had never been occupied by Europeans at all before us. At most, some had run a few cattle here, more than a century ago, before most of the present woods grew up. There was a bit of commerce here before the Civil War, and even a salt works not too far away, but the Union forces put an end to all that. Things mostly grew wild again until about the middle of the 20th century, when a slow trickle of people began to move back in. These were not, to put it mildly, the sort of people who would be living in New York if only they could figure out how to get there.

Would my fugitive ancestors be horrified that I joined the Episcopal Church, barely distinguishable from the historically oppressive Church of England? Perhaps not, since the Episcopal Church today would probably strike my most dissident ancestors as a hotbed of heretical license.

Starship Troopers

Starship Troopers

And now, for the same kind of ingenuity, but in a sillier vein (but I definitely want one):

Actually, we saw a car with front doors that opened in this peculiar fashion just last week, obviously on its way to South Padre Island beach for spring break. I don't know if the owners of that car could make the doors rotate and flap, too, but if so, I'm sure they picked up all the chicks they could handle, especially since the car was painted in a fetching metallic blue with a faux-alligator roof and all kinds of Barbarella-style chrome ornaments.