I Want the Freedom to Pour Hot Coffee on My Balls

We know from the last Green Chain post, that Jerry Brown (aka Governor Moonbeam) is a Prophet. Fewer folks know that he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth–son of Edmund G. “Pat” Brown–and a stick up his butt. As a prophet (a Jesuit one, at that), he believes that people ought to turn back (i.e., repent) and give up their evil profligate ways. We, the great unwashed, simply use too much water, fuel, land, air, everything.

Welcome to California. A land where coffee the state warns you that they’re sure it endangers your health. Photo by the author.

What does this have to do with me pouring hot coffee on my balls? I’m getting to that.

And being a progressive, he advocates for the improvement of society by reform. In his ideal world, the well-being of the state is more important than the well-being of any individual, and the individual should be damn glad that he (or she) can contribute to that noble goal. Sit down, shut up, and row, plebe.

Progressives believe that they are: experts serving the public good, identifying the public good, and knowing how to achieve the public good. As progressives, Brown and the California legislature are confident in their ability to diagnose a problem and dictate the cure.

“…I see the day in our own lifetime that reverence for the natural systems–the oceans, the rainforests, the soil, the grasslands, and all other living things–will be so strong that no narrow ideology based upon politics or economics will overcome it”. — Jerry Brown, 1979, Governor of California.

 

“We can’t fight nature. We have to learn how to get along with her.”–Jerry Brown, 2018, Governor of California.

The latest progressive effort by California to color inside the lines and get along with nature is telling its citizens to cut back on their use of municipal drinking water. The stick up his ass must be a divining rod, always pointing toward proper policy. Bend over citizen and take your “medicine.”

Here is part of what California’s legislature and its governor prescribed:

  1. Use no more than 55 gallons per capita daily for Indoor residential use.
  2. Outdoor residential use – To be deternmined
    1. The standards shall incorporate the principles of the model water efficient landscape ordinance adopted by the department pursuant to the Water Conservation in Landscaping Act (Article 10.8 (commencing with Section 65591) of Chapter 3 of Division 1 of Title 7 of the Government Code)..
  3. Commercial water uses – To be determined
    1. The department, in coordination with the board, shall conduct necessary studies and investigations and recommend, no later than October 1, 2021, standards for outdoor irrigation of landscape areas with dedicated irrigation meters or other means of calculating outdoor irrigation use in connection with CII water use for adoption by the board in accordance with this chapter.
  4. Find ways to stop water losses – To be determined.
    1. Identify water management objectives based on the water budget to improve water system efficiency or to meet other water management objectives. The agricultural water supplier shall identify, prioritize, and implement actions to reduce water loss, improve water system management, and meet other water management objectives identified in the plan.
  5. Establishes a method to calculate each urban water use objective – To be determined.
  6. Requires the department (of Water Resources) to provide or otherwise identify data regarding the unique local conditions to support the calculation of an urban water use objective. – To be determined.
  7. Requires annual reporting of the previous year’s water use with the urban water use objective.
  8. Requires the department and the board to solicit broad public participation from stakeholders and other interested persons in the development of the standards and the adoption of regulations pursuant to this chapter.
    1. The studies, investigations, and report…shall include collaboration with, and input from, a broad group of stakeholders, including, but not limited to, environmental groups, experts in indoor plumbing, and water, wastewater, and recycled water agencies.
  9. Provides one-time-only authority to the department and board to adopt water use efficiency standards

Is there a better way to allocate a scarce resource than having legislators solicit help from special interest groups, such as the Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, the Environmental Working Group, et alia?

Yes. Markets are extremely good at allocating scarce resources. It’s what markets do. “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner,” wrote Adam Smith, “but from their regard to their own interest.”

As libertarian environmental attorney, Jonathon Wood put it a year ago on his FREEcology blog:

“The primary benefit of water markets is that it encourages people to put their money where their mouth is. In political arguments, it’s too easy to say you value more fish, streams, healthcare, or any other good above all else, if you know someone else will have to pay for it. Everything is assigned infinite value in the world of political rhetoric but, in the real world, we all constantly recognize and make tradeoffs.

“Water markets encourage people with conflicting interests to work together to make those tradeoffs. If environmentalists value an extra acre foot of water in a stream more than a farmer could profit by using it to grow crops, there’s an opportunity for a beneficial exchange. If they don’t, there isn’t—and the water will go to farms where its most valued, as it should.”

What does the above have to do with me pouring hot coffee on my balls? Let me tell you…

This week Anthony Bourdain took his life while on location in Paris. As of this writing, there is no indication why, though many are guessing at severe depression. In an interview with Baylen Linnekin, he said, “This notion that the government owes you food absolutely free of any risk or dirt is an unreasonable one,” he tells me, calling it a “worldview that seems to be shared by Republicans and Democrats . . . I think a reasonably intelligent person doesn’t need a warning label to tell them not to pour hot coffee on their balls.”

Is it too much to hope for that our governments acted as though their citizens were reasonably intelligent and allow them to live their lives without being told how to live it and  that hot coffee might scald their genitals.

Apparently it is in these United States, and especially in progressive California.

 

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Let Me Tell You a Story

“Muse reading Louvre CA2220” by Klügmann Painter – Jastrow (2006). Licensed under Public Domain

We love a good story. In fact, we are hardwired for stories.[1] [2] “And the elements of a good story are always the same,” says journalist Dan Gardner. “It has to be about people. And it has to have novelty, drama and conflict.”[3]

“The elements of a good story are always the same. It has to be about people. And it has to have novelty, drama and conflict.”

Stories follow a pattern called the Hero’s Journey.[4] Often the Community’s way of life is threatened by a disturbing change. As a result, one, or a group, from the community will venture out of his or her normal life to try to defeat the thing that is harming the community to bring the world back to the way it was.

Hero stories have been told ever since humans became humans. They were, and are, ways for us to understand what is happening around us. Before there was science to postulate, test, and interpret how everything works, there were myths—stories that related the tribe’s past events and, usually, how their gods’ caused and fixed those. Everything within the world served their god’s or gods’ purpose.

The storyteller, who is often a shaman, relates and reveals unknown “facts” to the listener. He or she manipulates minds, often with the acquiescence of the community; they believe the story is the truth.

The scientific method, which started during the Enlightenment, has not completely supplanted mythology. Scientists talk of probabilities. Storytellers speak of truths.

Michael Pollan, Mark Bittman, Greenpeace, Sierra Club, to name a few are good storytellers, telling stories to alert their tribe to the dangers of new technology—genetically engineered food (aka genetically modified organisms—GMOs), industrial farming, and processed food. The old ways are being destroyed. These technologies threaten them. They say that no good can come of it. They say that “real food” is, and according to them has always been, what our great-grandmothers would have recognized.

That they are stupendously wrong about food safety and the new technology’s environmental impact does not seem to matter a whit. They tell marvelous stories. They may even believe the stories they tell, certainly many of their listeners do. They can repeat sayings from the story: “If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don’t.” – Michael Pollan, Rule #19.

Scientists tell lousy stories. Instead of  “novelty, drama and conflict,” their stories have complexity, data, and confusing conclusions, not tidy and neat answers. And herein lies a problem. Non-scientists, which is the majority of us, tend to be innumerate. We use story to inform our actions. “Scientists like to say ‘anecdotes aren’t data’ but human nature actually sees things the other way around,” Gardner says, for us non-scientists, “numbers are nice but stories are truly meaningful.”

“Numbers are nice but stories are truly meaningful.”

Science storytellers cannot expect the population to become numerate. They have to tell their story in a way that connects to people.

The stakes could not be higher. Unfortunately, the stakes are numbers: the number of people, primarily children, who will die every year from malnutrition[5], the number of acres of rainforest that will be slashed and burned[6], the number of acres of critical habitat lost to organic crops (because organic practices require more land to grow equivalent harvests compare to conventional farming)[7], the number of farm workers exposed to dangerous “natural” pesticides.

But people won’t care. They know the mythmakers tell the truth.

Those other things are just numbers; those people and places aren’t “real.”

[1] Roche, Loick, and John Sadowsky. 2003. “The Power of Stories (I): A Discussion of Why Stories Are Powerful.” International Journal of Information Technology and Management 2 (4). Inderscience Publishers: 377. doi:10.1504/IJITM.2003.004233.

[2] Haven, Kendall. 2007. Story Proof: The Science Behind the Startling Power of Story. Greenwood Publishing Group. https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=uspfMRlGXVoC&pgis=1.

[3] Gardner, Dan. 2008. “Numbers Are Nice, but Stories Matter.” CMAJ : Canadian Medical Association Journal = Journal de l’Association Medicale Canadienne 179 (1): 108. doi:10.1503/cmaj.080848.

[4] Campbell, Joseph. 2008. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. New World Library. https://books.google.com/books?id=I1uFuXlvFgMC&pgis=1.

[5] 3,100,000 source: http://cdn.static-economist.com/sites/default/files/imagecache/original-size/images/print-edition/20140510_USC830.png

[6] All of the rainforests

[7] 30% more land

 

Further Reading

Burke, Katie L. 2015. “12 Tips for Scientists Writing for the General Public?» American Scientist.” American Scientist. http://www.americanscientist.org/blog/pub/12-tips-for-scientists-writing-for-the-general-public/.

 

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Is Campbell’s GMO Announcement Mmmm mmm…good?

Campbell Soup Company (NYSE: CPB) today [January 7, 2016] announced its support for the enactment of federal legislation to establish a single mandatory labeling standard for foods derived from genetically modified organisms (GMOs)….Campbell is prepared to label all of its U.S. products for the presence of ingredients that were derived from GMOs.

There’s an interesting post over at Philoskeptic, “Campbell’s Soup and the Ethics of Food Labeling.”

I recommend the whole post to you. I found we had areas of agreement and (apparent) disagreement in regards to the meaning of Campbell’s labeling, specifically about choice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I agreed with:

“Labeling itself is fine, such as including the names of allergens (milk, soy, wheat, etc.), or ingredients which could potentially harm a sub set of the population (such as phenylalanine), but labeling genetically engineered food is simply a bad idea.”

Indeed, one reason (of the many reasons) is that GMO is a placeholder, not an actual thing. Nathaniel Johnson has pointed out on Grist, “It’s practically impossible to define ‘GMOs.‘” that “GMOs, like other cultural constructs — think of gender, or race — do have a basis in reality, of course: We can roughly define ‘male’ or ‘Asian,’ but when we try to regulate these divisions, all kinds of problems crop up. And definitions of ‘GMOs’ are much messier — ‘nerd’ might be a roughly equivalent category. You know what a nerd is, but things would break down fast if you were required to label and regulate all the nerds. The definition of a nerd depends on the context; it depends on who’s asking. Same with GMOs.”

But I take issue with: “Choice is overrated…” He links to a Ted Talk by Barry Schwarz who says, according to the Ted Talk site, “…choice has made us not freer but more paralyzed, not happier but more dissatisfied.”
As Matt Ridley points out in his book, The Rational Optimist, “[According to political scientist Ronald Inglehart]: the big gains in happiness comes from living in a society that frees you to make choices about your lifestyle –– about where to live, who to marry, how to express your sexuality and so on. It is the increase in free choice since 1981 that has been responsible for the increase in happiness recorded since then in forty-five out of fifty-two countries. Ruut Veenhoven finds that ‘the more individualized the nation, the more citizens enjoy their life.'” [Emphasis mine]

I disagree that there are some things that we the people should not be free to choose. Philoskeptic says, the issues of “health and environmental safety, are probably far too serious to be left to the whims of consumer choice….The decision should not be made by consumers, but by an appropriate regulatory body which has the requisite knowledge base to make appropriate decisions regarding food. ”

This argument is akin to an “appeal to authority,” that is, “using the opinion or position of an authority figure, or institution of authority, in place of an actual argument.” In this case technocrats, a la Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), would make decisions for us. So why worry our pretty little heads about such things?

The EPA’s track record is spotty at best. It has always amazed me that the “Best Available Science” applied by the EPA (or other government agency) seems to be highly affected by the party affiliation of our chief executive, the President of the United States.

One thing social media has shown is that the majority of people are quite astute at calling bullshit on organizations and governments and holding them accountable. Companies especially know that the “long shadow of the future hangs over any transaction”(1) and we customers (having choices) will take our business elsewhere if we are not happy with the company’s policies or product.

Again let me stress that Philoskeptic and I do not think Campbell’s call for a federal label is a good one. GMO labeling is as unnecessary as it is costly. Go here to read the complete post.

Footnotes:

  1. Matt Ridley

 

 

 

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