The Week That Was
December 14-21, 1997

The holidays finally arrive this week, but activists, junk scientists, and busybody regulators have done their best to eliminate the "happy" and "merry" part. Along with the usual holiday news stories about how we're all going to get fat from over-indulging, go broke from over-spending, and be pushed to the brink of insanity by relatives demanding that we see them (How dare Grandma ask us to come and visit!), we noticed a few interesting new twists from the Grinch.

Parents, for example, learned this year that by taking their tots down to the mall to sit on Santa's knee they were engaging in a form of child abuse. As reported by the London Daily Telegraph, psychologist Jim Hoot, who directs an early childhood research center at the State University of New York in Buffalo, says children under 18 months suffer from separation anxiety when they lose sight of their parents, even for a few seconds. Older children, he says, can become confused because being put on Santa's lap appears to contradict parental exhortations about not speaking to strangers (i.e. watch out for kidnappers)--let alone being cuddled by them (ditto molesters). "I've seen so many terrified children thrust on Santa's lap. I don't know how you cannot conceive that that is abusive," says Dr. Hoot. He suggests that if Mommies insist on taking their children to see Santa, they should also sit on Santa's knee as a reassuring gesture. (Perhaps someone should inform Dr. Hoot that U.S. Army basic training has already incorporated this idea but with rather mixed results.)

In Washington, in a seasonal display of moral superiority--especially to homeowners whose Christmas lights cause annual neighborhood brown-outs--Energy Secretary Federico Pena announced in an official press release that this year the lights on the National Christmas Tree were being powered by solar panels. When President Clinton flipped the switch, said Pena, he actually "reduced emissions of greenhouse gases, which are the cause of global climate change." Not surprisingly, this claim was quickly denounced as by the Washington Times as nothing more than "symbolic junk science." As experts pointed out, a considerable amount of energy is consumed in creating solar cells. So much energy, that it will take more than a century of National Christmas Tree displays before the White House realizes any savings on emissions. Let's hope Pena wasn't the one crunching the numbers after Kyoto.

Speaking of global warming--er, climate change--Moscow is shivering through the coldest December since 1882. Temperatures in the Russian capital have reportedly dropped to 18 degrees below zero, killing one person and sending 200 people to the hospital with frostbite and hypothermia. In the U.S. last week, up to 10 inches of snow fell in a swath across southern Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama--an area that typically sees .7 inch of snow all winter. The Kyoto warriors have not commented as yet, but perhaps there's no need. As Professor Patrick Michaels of the University of Virginia has pointed out, calling it "climate change" instead of "global warming" means that if it's hotter than normal, colder than normal, wetter than normal, drier than normal, more normal than normal or more abnormal than normal, we can assume we had something to do with it.

Elsewhere on the planet, it was hardly peace on Earth, goodwill toward men. In Bishop's Waltham, England, December 13th, animal rights activists wearing masks and armed with baseball bats, waded into a crowd gathered for the start of the Hursley and Hambledon Fox Hunt. Six people were injured and 31 activists were arrested. In Orimattila, Finland, that same week animal rights activists staging a 2 a.m. raid on a fur farm, the third visit in as many months, woke up the farmer who went after them with a shotgun. Three activists were wounded. The farmer has been charged with aggravated assault. The activists, still in custody, are charged with disturbing the peace with malicious intent.

In Sweden, the Parliament has authorized closure of the Barseback Nuclear Power Station, the first step in the planned phase out of nuclear power in that country. As was noted a few months ago, the Swedes have been experimenting with burning corpses to generate power. That's not the kind of plan that could be implemented on a large scale, however--unless, of course, they start importing "fuel."

And at the Environmental Protection Agency, Administrator Carol Browner has announced that the Stratospheric Protection Division is launching a children's education initiative designed to alert children in grades K-6 about the dangers of overexposure to UV-B. The government still hasn't documented any increase in surface UV-B from the claimed depletion of the ozone layer, but Ms. Browner is going to do her best to scare the kiddies anyway. Don't visit Santa. Don't play in the sunshine. Sounds like child abuse to us.

A few surprises as we wrap up December. A U.S. District Court judge has ordered Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt to round up his grey wolves and ship them back to Canada. Lawyers with the Mountain States Legal Foundation brought suit against Interior, arguing that the Wolf Relocation Program had violated the Endangered Species Act, which clearly states that experimental populations of endangered species can only be placed in areas where they are not "naturally occurring."

Mountain States lawyers pointed out that as many as 100 grey wolves already existed in the Rocky Mountain West before 1994, having migrated on their own from Canada into Montana. Under the ruling, roughly 150 wolves and their offspring, the group the Interior Dept. crated into Yellowstone National Park in 1995, would have to be removed. The judge stayed his order, pending appeals from the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Justice Department, but Mountain States thinks it's on firm legal ground. Ranchers have lost more than 200 sheep, cattle, and dogs since the Wolf Relocation Program began.

Over at Science magazine, the journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, more evidence that ideology is out and objectivity is in. According to a report in the Chronicle of Higher Education, editor-in-chief Floyd Bloom nudged the magazine's book review editor Katherine Livingston out the door and into retirement (after 33 years) after she orchestrated a particularly nasty review of The Flight from Science and Reason, a book examining the anti-science trend among postmodern academics. Livingston commissioned Paul Foreman of the Smithsonian, the nation's leading postmodern academic, to make the assessment and, predictably, it was less a review than an scathing attack on science itself.

Letters and angry telephone calls came pouring in from AAAS members. "You couldn't possibly have published a better parody of what passes for scholarship in the postmodern world," said James Trefil of George Mason University, adding that Foreman simply resorted to name-calling whenever he got into material he didn't understand. Joseph D. Robinson of the Health Science Center, SUNY Syracuse, said Foreman's review "exemplifies why the current science squabbles can be so unrewarding," and a mathematician at Rutgers University sent Bloom a list of other anti-science book reviews Livingston had published, some dating back 10 years. Bloom was so disturbed by the large number of complaints that he called Livingston on the carpet and, in her words, "chewed her out." Bloom wrote her a formal reprimand, required her to submit all reviews for approval before publication, informed her that her section was merging with two others and that she would have to start editing videos, and finally said if she stayed on she'd have to take a pay cut. Livingston decided retirement was the better part of valor. One small victory in the science wars.

Associated Press reports that city governments are fighting the EPA over the so-called "brownfields" regulations that have created costly delays in redeveloping urban industrial sites. Tired of seeing new industries--and jobs--lost to the more pristine suburbs, city governments are calling on Congress to enact regulatory and legal reform to get the EPA off their backs.

Officials with the World Health Organization have officially called for the renewed spraying of DDT in tropical countries where malaria is out of control, noting that the pesticide breaks down rapidly in warm climates and should not have been banned there. Malaria reportedly kills some 3 million people each year.

In West Virginia, Christmas tree growers are incurring huge losses from a white tail deer population estimated at between 900,000 and 1 million. Oak trees produced a meager crop of acorns this year, which means that hungry deer have already begun foraging on farms, eating Christmas tree seedlings and stripping the lower needles off the larger trees. Thousands of seedlings will have to be replanted. Farmers can petition the state for permits to kill the deer, but acknowledge that there are now so many deer that the solution is only temporary.

Ducks Unlimited, National Audubon Society, the American Bird Conservancy, and other organizations have announced that populations of snow geese have grown so large that, unless something is done soon, the damage to habitat and other wildlife species could be "catastrophic." What they propose is extending the hunting season, easing restrictions on some hunting methods (golf clubs?), and liberalizing bag limits in order to reduce the snow goose population by half by the year 2005. Next thing you know, wildlife conservation groups will be distributing "We love the NRA" buttons.

Finally, Greenpeace Finland has closed up shop, adding more fuel to reports that this international band of in-your-face activists is in serious trouble. Greenpeace USA closed all 10 of its regional offices this year, after seeing its budget drop from $54 million to $21 million in just 5 years. Greenpeace International was just last week slapped with a $27 million lawsuit filed by two European chemical companies. Greenpeace put out a press release saying soft rubber toys leach polyvinyl chloride when children chew or suck on them. The chemical company representatives say no way. Now the courts will decide.

Merry, merry.

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