Odds & Ends: Dangerous Wetlands; Up in Smoke; Haider Ho; Who’s This Hayek Guy, Anyway?

They Ban Aerosol Cans, Why Not Wetlands?

A big dilemma is shaping up for the environmental left. Scientists from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in Southern California write in January’s Nature magazine that, after CFCs, the second largest fraction of substances produced that destroy ozone in the atmosphere is emitted by–get this–wetlands.

Up in Smoke Remember in 1998 when the states announced their staggering $200 billion settlement with the tobacco industry? That money was going to go for anti-smoking efforts, right? But a Los Angeles Times story on Christmas revealed that the money is going to fuel the profligate spending of state governments, not to counter supposed evils like teen smoking. The story cited a National Conference of State Legislatures statistic that just 8% of the money has been earmarked for anti-smoking programs (which means 92% is going elsewhere). It also noted: “In Texas, lawyers for the state will get 10 times the amount this year that is going into anti-smoking programs. In Michigan, not a penny of the settlement money will fund tobacco control.” The spokesman for Michigan’s Republican governor John Engler insists, “It’s the governor’s opinion that people know that smoking is dumb, and to spend another $10 million wouldn’t be much use.”

Aim High, Boys!

Trial lawyers, along with bureaucrats, are among the few classes in American society for which entrepreneurial vigor is a vice, not a virtue. Take David Jaroslawicz (please), whose spirited efforts have turned towards enriching himself by ferreting out the latest social injustice: sexual harassment in Silicon Valley. According to an excellent story in The New York Observer, he has filed a number of $10 million sexual harassment suits on behalf of clients against internet companies. How does he come up with the figure? “Mr. Jaroslawicz claims that the $10 million cap to damages that he cites in [the] lawsuits is ‘arbitrary, whatever the secretary types in’–just as long as it has enough zeros. The number indicates the maximum damages award that the plaintiffs would seek to obtain from a jury, ‘so you put in some high absurd number, because you can always take less.’”

Getting a Head Start

Press reports out of New England say that an unidentified Boston College senior is suing a national testing service, claiming her attention deficit disorder entitles her to extra time to take the graduate school entrance exam. And just what advanced degree does she hope to pursue? Juris Doctor, naturally.

Mea Copta

Massachusetts Lt. Governor Jane Swift was shocked–shocked!–that Bay State citizens were up in arms over what she thought was a perfectly acceptable use of government services. After all, she only used a state police helicopter to take her home, and regularly counted on members of her staff to baby-sit her 14-month-old daughter. After initially insisting she had done nothing wrong, Swift changed her tune and apologized. But the damage to her reputation ought to be enough to ensure that voters don’t confuse her name with her judgment.

En Fuego!

The Earth Liberation Front claimed credit for a New Year’s Eve arson fire that caused hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage at a Michigan State University lab. The ELF was out to destroy scientific research on biotechnology from a MSU program funded by Monsanto and the US Agency for International Development. According to the AP, the group has previously taken credit for a $12 million fire in Vail in 1988 and an inferno at the headquarters of an Oregon timber company last year.

What Do They Have Against Biotech, Anyway?

Swiss researchers recently announced a biotech breakthrough in Science magazine: They engineered a type of rice that could eradicate vitamin A deficiency in developing nations. Lack of vitamin A is a common cause of blindness in third world countries. The new crop, called “golden rice,” will be rich in beta carotene, the source of vitamin A.

Don’t Pressure Us to be Better!

In early January Pizza Hut won a federal court ruling requiring competitor Papa John’s to stop its “Better Ingredients; Better Pizza” ad campaign. Claims that something is “better” are usually regarded as puffery in advertising law; they’re considered pure opinion, for which supporting documentation isn’t required. In this case, however, a jury actually found that some specific Papa John’s claims regarding its sauce and dough were factually misleading. Whether this issue should have reached a jury is an interesting legal question. But regardless of how one views the Papa John’s ad campaign, one aspect of the court’s opinion is pretty memorable. The court noted that, in response to these ads by its upstart rival, Pizza Hut itself “undertook a broad and in-depth campaign to improve” its own pizzas. So here we have a case of advertising that crossed the line between puffery and deception, but still ending up giving us better pizza. If only political advertising worked as well.

The Hills Are Alive…

…with the thundering silence of hypocrisy. National and international condemnation rained down on Austrian politician Joerg Haider as he prepared to take his place in the nation’s new coalition government. Haider is under attack from an international cast of characters ranging from the US State Department and the European Union to New York Senate aspirants Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani for, among other things, praising veterans of the Nazi Waffen SS as “men of honor,” and referring to Nazi concentration camps as “punishment camps.” Fair enough. But why no similar criticism of new Russian president Vladimir Putin? He hasn’t merely said good things about the KGB, the Soviet Union’s murderous secret police. He actually served as a colonel in that villainous organization prior to the evil empire’s collapse. And just a couple of years ago he commanded Russia’s post-Soviet version of the KGB. So what do those outraged at Haider’s folly say about Putin? Not much. At the very moment the Austrian was being vilified on the international scene, US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was in the Kremlin to, as the New York Times put it, “praise Putin” for his “can-do approach.”

Can Do? No Kidding!

Those like Secretary Albright who think communism wasn’t so bad that it should warrant international opprobrium for its former advocates should pick up The Black Book of Communism, recently translated into English, which conservatively estimates that during the 20th century no fewer than 85 million innocent people were slaughtered by Marxist regimes. Newspaper reports didn’t indicate whether this topic was broached in her meeting with President Putin.

The Potsal Survis Strikes Again

Last month UpDate reported that the US Postal Service screwed up its promotional posters for the NATO anniversary by referring to it as the North American Treaty Organization. Turns out they screwed up again, but in a much bigger way. The USPS had to destroy 100 million stamps celebrating the Grand Canyon because they placed the national treasure in Colorado, not Arizona. So they printed new ones, but there’s another problem: The photograph of the canyon is flipped. No big deal, say postal bigshots. They’re sticking with these. Oh, and they’re also sticking with their plans to raise the price of a first-class stamp this year.

Lead (paint) Balloon

Emboldened by successful assaults on tobacco, asbestos manufacturers, and gunmakers, trial lawyers have set their beady sights on the lead industry. But a New York state court dealt a blow to the theory of “market-share liability” trial lawyers had been counting on to nail companies like Sherwin-Williams and Glidden for alleged lead paint poisoning. Never mind, as the American Spectator pointed out last month, that “the manufacturers voluntarily took the product off the market more than 40 years ago when health risks first came to light.” The tort sharks who knew they couldn’t really prove who did what, if anything, hoped to have liability assessed according to percentages of market share. But the State Supreme Court Appellate Division, reports the Syracuse Herald, ruled last month the plaintiffs will have to do a little better than that.

Defenestration Thrown Out the Window

Animal rights activists claimed victory in Spain when the town of Polvorosa agreed to end its annual tradition of throwing a goat out of a bell tower window into a tarp held by villagers. The ritual commemorated the legend of a priest’s goat, whose milk fed the poor, which accidentally fell from the bell tower but was saved by townspeople holding a blanket.

Finally, One Came True!

Legendary environmentalist Hazel Wolf passed away in January at the age of 101. Said her New York Times obituary: “She told the oral historian Studs Terkel, who profiled her in his 1995 book Coming of Age, that she intended to live until the year 2000. ‘Then I’m going,’ she said.” Congrats to Ms. Wolf. That prescient call was one of the very few environmentalist predictions about the turn-of-the-century that ended up being correct. Paul Ehrlich and the Club of Rome, on the other hand, ended up missing completely.

A Red in Dem Clothing?

More from the Wolf obit: “She joined the Communist Party during the Depression, attracted by its support for social welfare programs like food subsidies, unemployment aid, and social security.” As CEI’s Senior Environmental Fellow Jonathan Adler pointed out, that is the rationale given today for why people join the Democratic Party.

Happy New Year! Try the Human Pâté!

A government hospital in southern China did a bang-up New Year’s business selling human livers. According to wire reports, it turns out the healthy organs were procured from the great glut of end-of-the-year executions carried out by the Red Chinese. Going price: $20,000.

The Gang of 1,000

In Beijing, meanwhile, authorities are attempting to do something grand to show the world that the Revolution is ready for prime time in the new millennium. Reuters reports that the Chinese Performing Arts Society wants to stage a May Day concert on the Great Wall with 1,000 saxophonists performing ragtime, jazz, and traditional Chinese folk numbers. Trouble is, where do you get that many saxophonists? Try the United States. The Chinese have contacted a San Francisco based saxophone sextet called the Nuclear Whales. The Whales are sending out a chain-letter email recruiting musicians. Funny, one would think a nation of a billion people could muster 1,000 saxophonists. If not, shouldn’t it really be trying something else?

Judge Bork to the Set!

Corporate America and Big Business have been stock bogeymen in Hollywood in recent years. In this age of the Microsoft persecution a new twist may be emerging on the Silver Screen. United Artists is said to be developing a movie about a computer programmer who discovers that his ruthless high-tech employer will stop at nothing to derail an anti-trust lawsuit.

Due to the Cold, the Global Warming Crisis is Being Postponed

The official global warming alarmists in the Clinton/Gore administration looked a little foolish during a January Washington, DC, snowstorm. The Office of the US Global Change Research Program sent out a blast-fax memo saying, “Due to the snow emergency and the shutdown of the federal government we have cancelled today’s US Global Change Seminar, ‘The Earth’s Surface Temperature in the 20th Century: Coming to Grips with Satellite and Surface-Based Records of Temperature.’” The office rescheduled the seminar for a date in May, when presumably temperatures will be a little warmer.

Hey, Check This Out!

The New Yorker, self-styled arbiter of the national discussion, ran a surprising and fairly laudatory profile of F.A. Hayek early this month. What raised eyebrows here was the fact that David Remnick and his fellow high priests acted as if they were revealing lost wisdom to the masses, as with the aid of the Rosetta Stone. The article’s subtitle read, “The Long-Forgotten Economist Whose Controversial Theories Help Explain Today’s Market Mania.” It treated Hayek as if no one should possibly know who he was or what he had done. Of course, we barbarous, unenlightened types not so privileged as to reside in Manhattan seem to recall a recent president who knew exactly who Hayek was and invoked him regularly. By relying on the ideas and writings and counsel of F.A. Hayek, Ronald Reagan helped place the US on an unprecedented ride of fabulous prosperity and wealth creation that shows little sign of slowing. Guess that doesn’t count for much in David Remnick’s New York.

Real, Substantive Change, Nothing Cosmetic Here

Presumably the residents of the District of Columbia wanted real reform in the post-Marion Barry era when they elected Anthony Williams mayor. What kind of innovative changes has DC seen? In the wake of a recent blizzard the city’s residential streets weren’t plowed. And there are still complaints that trash isn’t being picked up. Surely, you say, something must be different. Not to worry. According to the Washington City Paper, the Department of Recreation and Parks is changing its name to the Department of Parks and Recreation.