January 2007

This quote:

The government, environmental groups and some of the Netherlands’ “green energy” companies are trying to develop programs to trace the origins of imported palm oil, to certify which operations produce the oil in a responsible manner.

From the New York Times article about the environmental horrors of “renewable” palm oil fuel, reminds me of this wonderful Dilbert comic.


(HT Catherine H.)

Biofuel Stupidity (via Coyote Blog and TJIC).

Once a Dream Fuel, Palm Oil May Be an Eco-Nightmare (The New York Times)

Just a few years ago, politicians and environmental groups in the Netherlands were thrilled by the early and rapid adoption of “sustainable energy,” achieved in part by coaxing electrical plants to use biofuel — in particular, palm oil from Southeast Asia.

Spurred by government subsidies, energy companies became so enthusiastic that they designed generators that ran exclusively on the oil, which in theory would be cleaner than fossil fuels like coal because it is derived from plants.

But last year, when scientists studied practices at palm plantations in Indonesia and Malaysia, this green fairy tale began to look more like an environmental nightmare.

Rising demand for palm oil in Europe brought about the clearing of huge tracts of Southeast Asian rainforest and the overuse of chemical fertilizer there.

Worse still, the scientists said, space for the expanding palm plantations was often created by draining and burning peatland, which sent huge amounts of carbon emissions into the atmosphere.

Considering these emissions, Indonesia had quickly become the world’s third-leading producer of carbon emissions that scientists believe are responsible for global warming, ranked after the United States and China, according to a study released in December by researchers from Wetlands International and Delft Hydraulics, both in the Netherlands.

I’m shocked and amazed that a government program meddling in the market at the behest of special interests has backfired.  It seems I’m not the only one.

“It was shocking and totally smashed all the good reasons we initially went into palm oil,” said Alex Kaat, a spokesman for Wetlands, a conservation group.

Stupid is as stupid does, I guess.

And, with friends like these . . .

Friends of the Earth estimates that 87 percent of the deforestation in Malaysia from 1985 to 2000 was caused by new palm oil plantations.

It only gets better.

To makes matters worse, once dried, peatland is often burned to clear ground for plantations. The Dutch study estimated that the draining of peatland in Indonesia releases 660 million ton of carbon a year into the atmosphere and that fires contributed 1.5 billion tons annually.

The total is equivalent to 8 percent of all global emissions caused annually by burning fossil fuels, the researchers said.

But, this is the most depressing part of it all.

The government, environmental groups and some of the Netherlands’ “green energy” companies are trying to develop programs to trace the origins of imported palm oil, to certify which operations produce the oil in a responsible manner.

It’s like these people just can’t learn.

My wife and I recently spent the night at a wonderful B&B, The South Court Inn, in Luray, Virginia.  At breakfast the next morning, our hostess pointed out the decorative salt cellars placed at each setting.  She explained that in Victorian times, salt was a luxury commodity and such salt cellars were indicative of the host’s wealth and status.

I am reminded yet again how people miss the point when they argue that free trade and technology benefit the rich at the expense of the poor.  Salt is the perfect example.  The rich always had salt.  It was, in fact, a symbol of their wealth.  In contrast, the poor were left without.  Now, through technology and trade, salt is cheap and ubiquitous, available to rich and poor alike.

Milton Friedman put it more elegantly:

Industrial progress, mechanical improvement, all of the great wonders of the modern era have meant relatively little to the wealthy.

The rich in Ancient Greece would have benefited hardly at all from modern plumbing: running servants replaced running water. Television and radio? The Patricians of Rome could enjoy the leading musicians and actors in their home, could have the leading actors as domestic retainers. Ready-to-wear clothing, supermarkets—all these and many other modern developments would have added little to their life.

The great achievements of Western Capitalism have redounded primarily to the benefit of the ordinary person. These achievements have made available to the masses conveniences and amenities that were previously the exclusive prerogative of the rich and powerful.

And, Blackstone had this to say in his Commentaries on the Laws of England:

BUT when learning, by the invention of printing and the progress of religious reformation, began to be universally disseminated; when trade and navigation were suddenly carried to an amazing extent, by the use of the compass and the consequent discovery of the Indies; the minds of men, thus enlightened by science and enlarged by observation and travel, began to entertain a more just opinion of the dignity and rights of mankind. An inundation of wealth flowed in upon the merchants, and middling rank; while the two great estates of the kingdom, which formerly had balanced the prerogative, the nobility and clergy, were greatly impoverished and weakened.  (Book IV, p. 428)

The Englishman at An Englishman’s Castle reminds us that yesterday was the Red Letter Day of King Charles the Martyr, marking the 358th anniversary of his execution.

Charles’s statements at his “trial” from The Society of King Charles the Martyr.

“Remember, I am your King, your lawful King, and what sins you bring upon your heads, and the judgement of God upon this land. Think well upon it, I say, think well upon it, before you go further from one sin to a greater … I have a trust committed to me by God, by old and lawful descent, I will not betray it, to answer a new unlawful authority; therefore resolve me that, and you shall hear more of me.

“I do stand more for the liberty of my people, than any here that come to be my pretended judges … I do not come here as submitting to the Court … Let me see a legal authority warranted by the Word of God, the Scriptures, or warranted by the constitutions of the Kingdom, and I will answer.

“It is not a slight thing you are about. I am sworn to keep the peace, by that duty I owe to God and my country; and I will do it to the last breath of my body. And therefore ye shall do well to satisfy, first, God, and then the country, by what authority you do it. If you do it by an usurped authority, you cannot answer it; there is a God in Heaven, that will call you, and all that give you power, to account.

“If it were only my own particular case, I would have satisfied myself with the protestation I made the last time I was here, against the legality of the Court, … it is the freedom and the liberty of the people of England; and do you pretend what you will, I stand more for their liberties. For if power without law, may make laws, may alter the fundamental laws of the Kingdom, I do not know what subject he is in England that can be sure of his life, or any thing that he calls his own.

“… It was the liberty, freedom, and laws of the subject that ever I took – defended myself with arms. I never took up arms against the people, but for the laws …

“For the charge, I value it not a rush. It is the liberty of the people of England that I stand for. For me to acknowledge a new Court that I never heard of before, I that am your King, that should be an example to all the people of England, for to uphold justice, to maintain the old laws, indeed I do not know how to do it.”

No, Charles was not talking about the European Court of Justice, but I can see where one might get confused.

Edit:  In an interesting piece of trivia, the Virginia Colony, now the Commonwealth of Virginia, was given its nickname of “The Old Dominion” by Charles II because it had remained loyal to Charles I during the English Civil War.  And, anyone who has read David Hackett Fischer’s wonderful book, Albion’s Seed, would not find it surprising that Virginia remained Royalist.

Working in patent law, I somehow got on the mailing list for Intellectual Property Today.  In the back of the magazine each month is a Classified Services section.  This section contains, among other things, classified ads for Positions Available and Situations Wanted.  Typically, the Situations Wanted section includes ads from practitioners looking for overflow/contract work or patent search work, but the December issue had an ad that caught my eye.

US/China Position

Attorney with 12+ years experience as Corporate Legal/IP (primarily biotech & pharma) Counsel, seeking position with U.S. company having operations in China (or vice-versa).  Initially relocate to China to intensively learn Chinese language, business customs and operations; and then travel to China on as needed basis.  Email: (removed)

I guess there is something to be said for knowing what you want and going after it, and he plans not just to learn Chinese but to learn it intensively.

Worldmapper is a wonderful collection of world maps, using equal area cartograms, where territories are re-sized on each map according to a particular variable.  For example, this is a cartogram based on geographic area, pretty similar to the traditional world map with which we are all familiar.


This cartogram is based on population.  Notice that India and China are much larger proportionally, while Canada and Australia are much smaller.  Each country’s size is shown in proportion to its relative percentage of the world population.


Some interesting comparisons can be made, such as net immigration . . .


. . . versus net emigration.


Finally, having three young daughters, I didn’t find the toy imports surprising at all.


Most imports of toys (US$ net) are to the United States, followed by the United Kingdom. Toys are fun but not necessities. Thus toy imports give an indication of disposable incomes.

The lowest imports of toys (US$ net) per person are to territories in Africa and also Tajikistan (in the Middle East).

Interestingly enough, my daughters have some toys imported from Tajikistan, though I’m not sure I consider Tajikistan part of the Middle East.

Leonard Leo, Federalist Society EVP, is emailing daily reports from the World Health Organization’s Executive Board Session in Geneva.  Today’s session focused on the “prevention and control of noncommunicable diseases: implementation of the global strategy.”  I think the eradication of smallpox is one of the greatest triumphs in human history, so I was ready to cut the WHO some slack.

When I read “noncommunicable diseases,” I thought cancer, sickle-cell anemia, down syndrome, etc.  In fact, these diseases are called non-contagious diseases.  By noncommunicable diseases, the WHO means issues such as “unhealthy diet,” “physical inactivity,” and “tobacco and alcohol use.”  When did bad habits earn the imposing title of “noncommunicable diseases”?  The word disease connotes something that is beyond personal control.  Diseases afflict people; people don’t choose diseases.  I must admit, though, that the idea is seductive.  I’m not overweight because I sit at a desk all day and eat too much.  No, I suffer from a disease.

“For its part, the US Delegation acknowledged that the problem with non-communicable diseases is ‘extensive,’ but also noted that they are ‘among the most preventable diseases.'”  I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that, at least in the developed world, noncommunicable diseases are entirely preventable.

What is the proposed solution?  Why, regulation of course.

Several NGOs–Consumers International, in particular–called for “national measures to regulate marketing,” “transparency in food labeling,” and an “international code for marketing to children” that would “restrict marketing of unhealthy food to children.”

The Federal Trade Commission tried this once already, and it didn’t work out too well for them.

The children’s advertising proceeding was toxic to the Commission as an institution. Congress allowed the agency’s funding to lapse, and the agency was literally shut down for a brief time. The FTC’s other important law enforcement functions were left in tatters. Newspapers ran stories showing FTC attorneys packing their active investigational files in boxes for storage, and entire industries sought restriction of, or even outright exemptions from, the agency’s authority. Congress passed a law prohibiting the FTC from adopting any rule in the children’s advertising rulemaking proceeding, or in any substantially similar proceeding, based on an unfairness theory. It was more than a decade after the FTC terminated the rulemaking before Congress was willing to reauthorize the agency. (Beales, 12 Geo. Mason L.R. 879-80).

This is just another in a line of “diseases” that aren’t really our fault.  In another example, Russell Roberts of George Mason University writes and talks about intermittent explosive disorder.  But, by far the worst case seems to be Restless Heart Syndrome.

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