Mark Kennet: ‘A couple of thoughts from down here in darkest Peru. First, let me say that I have been a vegetarian for over twenty years, and that I am one for purely philosophical reasons. However, my philosophical reasons are not just the ones you note, although I certainly believe in minimizing harm to other sentient beings to the extent reason permits. I simply believe that it is wrong to devote resources to feeding cows, pigs, and chickens when there are people who could eat basically the same food and thus be prevented from starving. The old adage that it takes about ten pounds of grain to put one pound on a pig, and ten pounds of pig to put one pound on a man, is approximately correct: If the grain goes directly to the person, only ten pounds are required to put the pound on, but if it has to go through the animal first, then 100 pounds of grain are required. Obviously, this argument is not 100% valid when you consider that in the case of free-range animals, much of the food consumed by the animals is matter that would otherwise go to waste: the animals graze on land that is not suitable for cultivation. Similarly, few would argue that fish caught in the wild are diverting resources that would otherwise be used by humans. Nevertheless, (a) at least in the US, relatively few animals – particularly chickens – are raised as free-range; and (b) even if the ratio needs to be changed to reflect those animals that are free-range, it is still less efficient in terms of the calories and protein to feed people meat than grains and legumes. Given that in many parts of the world there is still hunger, I believe that there is an ethical argument to be made against consuming meat.’

☞ I had heard seven pounds, not ten, for beef and three for chicken. But whatever the ratios, the real comeback to this compelling line of thought (at least for those of us living in the U.S.) is presumably: Yes, but how does our feeding grain to pigs lessen the amount of grain available to starving people? Even with all our meat-eating, we can produce far more grain than we can sell. What’s needed are the networks to distribute it to the starving and, where those exist, someone willing to pay the bill. The really immoral (and stupid) thing is that we don’t devote more than one-tenth of one percent of our GDP to programs to help modernize the Third World. If we did, they could afford to buy our grain and perhaps even our tractors, and that would be a pretty great win-win.

Mark continues: ‘As for your other recent topic, playing football with and without rules, I think my Peruvian experience backs up your point, but only somewhat. Walking the streets of Lima (or biking, as I do daily) leaves one longing for an ARMY of referees, if only to stop people from making right turns from the far left lane without signaling. Similarly, it would be nice to know that when one boards a taxi or bus that a referee has recently checked to make sure the tires, brakes, and other safety features are functional; and many people would be willing to pay a referee to ensure that the food they eat was safe (one of my colleagues is on medical leave because he contracted hepatitis from a restaurant) or that the buildings they enter conform to fire safety standards (the daughter of friends of ours was tragically killed in a discotheque fire a few months ago).

‘On the other hand, it depends on the rules. Rules against off-sides or fouls obviously make a lot of sense (and I suppose you would argue that the Republicans want to eliminate those rules, and that’s why they’re wrong). But what about rules that force a kicker to sign a permission slip before he is allowed to kick the ball? Or rules that force one team to give points to the other every time they get ‘too far’ ahead? And what do you do about the problem of corruption, where even when rules make sense, payment to the right person prevents their enforcement?’

☞ As with most things, no extreme works well. Balance and judgment are needed. And it depends on the context. In 1920, we needn’t have worried much about motor vehicle fuel efficiency or pollution, let alone dependence on foreign oil. Today we do. So today, increased fuel efficiency standards make sense. But should they be sudden, radical or unreasonable? No. (Is it pathetic that the fuel efficiency of our fleet is lower today than it was 15 years ago? Yes.)

One great, quick read for anyone who doubts the lunacy of some of our regulations (could there be even one doubter left?) is Philip Howard’s The Death of Common Sense. But it would be a mistake to brand all regulation bad or unnecessary. Indeed, as we become ever more crowded on this planet (6.1 billion of us now, up from 2.5 billion when I was born), and as life becomes ever more complex (automobile traffic, air traffic, airwave traffic), it takes generally more collective management, not less, to minimize the collisions and the road rage – and to keep from fouling our collective nest too terribly.


Don’t miss Molly Ivins.


Maybe Neville Chamberlain Wasn’t So Smart, After All

Alex: ‘I strongly disagree with Mr. Bonham’s defense of Neville Chamberlain yesterday. The Czechs had an excellent army that was thrown away at Munich and the Germans used the Czech industry to produce armored vehicles to overrun Europe two years later. The Allies were stronger relative to the Germans at the time of Munich than in September 1939 or May 1940. And a whole lot fewer innocents would have died in the concentration camps had the West been willing to fight earlier.’

David Smith: ‘Mr. Bonham’s comment is historic revisionism at its finest. France had the largest standing army in the world at the time Chamberlain et al signed over Czechoslovakia. Germany was viewed largely as dangerous but manageable due to their past economic troubles and the restrictions on their military imposed by the Treaty of Versailles (which, interestingly enough in light of current events in Iraq, Germany repeatedly violated as France and England watched and ignored). The unveiling of the Blitzkrieg concept to the rest of the world was still more than a year away when Czechoslovakia was abandoned by its allies. In addition, German insiders warned the allies repeatedly of Hitler’s intentions. France would not commit to Czechoslovakia’s defense unless Chamberlain did as well. They both backed down to Hitler rather than risk war. That’s appeasement. General Keitel admitted at the Nuremburg Trials that Germany would not have carved up Czechoslovakia had England and France backed Prague. In fact, despite being informed of a plot by German generals to arrest Hitler and his principal associates should he try to attack Czechoslovakia in defiance of France and England, appeasement won.’

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