Starbucks controversy: The Way I See It #289 (global warming)

September 17, 2007

Found this on my coffee cup today:

The Way I See It #289

So-called “global warming” is just

a secret ploy by wacko tree-

huggers to make America energy

independent, clean our air and

water, improve the fuel efficiency

of our vehicles, kick-start

21st-century industries, and make

our cities safer and more livable.

Don’t let them get away with it!

Chip Giller
Founder of, where
environmentally-minded people
gather online.

Starbucks Coffee Cup, The Way I See It #289

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DDT snake oil salesmen of the month: August 2007

September 17, 2007

Since my post noting DDT being sold as snake oil, good for any and all ailments, readers have called to my attention to already-existing calls to use DDT to fight West Nile virus, a use that no public health official has asked for, and a use that would be particularly ironic since broadcast spraying of DDT also kills the chief victims of West Nile: Song birds.

So, here’s our list for August 2007:

Snake Oil Salesmen of the Month

Milloy’s winning contribution is particularly brilliant. He notes that there are other pesticides that are effective, but, because they do not continue killing for years uncontrollably, he calls for DDT. It’s a column Dave Barry could not dream up for parody:

West Nile virus has killed seven people in Louisiana this year, two in Mississippi and at least 145 people in six states have been infected. A 12-year-old Wisconsin boy died last week of mosquito-borne encephalitis.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says West Nile virus is in the U.S. to stay. The virus may now be found in 37 states, including every state from Texas to the Atlantic.

CDC Director Julie Gerberding called West Nile virus an “emerging, infectious disease epidemic” that could be spread all the way to the Pacific Coast by birds and mosquitoes.

Louisiana has been monitoring the virus since 2000 and has one of the most active mosquito-control programs in the country — and yet it is the state with the highest death toll.

It’s time to bring back the insecticide DDT.

Currently used pesticides, such as malathion, resmethrin and sumithrin, can be effective in killing mosquitoes but are significantly limited since they don’t persist in the environment after spraying.

This award has to be retroactive — Milloy wrote this in August 2002. Since then, it is still true that no public health official has asked for DDT, and it is also true that the West Nile outbreaks continue to plague birds more than humans. (I regret I did not find this article earlier, to use as an example of the craziness of the advocates.) Tiger mosquitoes don’t change their stripes, Milloy’s piece should remind us.

Miller’s winning entry is notable for the way it completely ignores contrary data, and rather overlooks 35 years of tough work to ameliorate damage from DDT.

In the absence of a vaccine, eliminating the carrier — the mosquito — should be the key to preventing an epidemic. But in 1972, on the basis of data on toxicity to fish and migrating birds (but not to humans), the Environmental Protection Agency banned virtually all uses of DDT, an inexpensive and effective pesticide once widely deployed in the U.S. to kill disease-carrying insects. The effectiveness and relative safety of DDT was underplayed, as was the distinction between the large-scale use of the chemical in agriculture and more limited application for controlling carriers of human disease. There is a world of difference between applying large amounts of it in the environment — as American farmers did before it was banned — and using it carefully and sparingly to fight mosquitoes and other disease-carrying insects. A basic principle of toxicology is that the dose makes the poison.

Miller fails to note that there is not a world of difference between applying large amounts of DDT on crops and applying large amounts of DDT on swamps, which is what he appears to be advocating.

To control mosquitoes that carry West Nile virus, the pesticide would need to be used extensively — and it should be. DDT should be made available, immediately, for both indoor and outdoor mosquito control in the U.S.; and the government should oppose international strictures on the pesticide.

Miller doesn’t mention that the deadliest, most uncontrollable actions of DDT were in waterways, especially when applied to kill mosquitoes in the past. The poison bio-accumulates as it rises through the food-chain, so that the dose a raptor like a bald eagle, osprey, or brown pelican gets from spraying for mosquitoes is a dose 10 million times more potent than was originally received by the mosquito.

Miller’s piece is highly ironic in its timing, coming about six weeks after the bald eagle was removed from the endangered species list. America has worked for 35 years to get rid of the effects of DDT, whose spraying ended prior to 1972, and we are just now seeing good results that merit celebration — Miller urges that we poison the birds all over again.

I predict West Nile virus will be the chief selling point for the DDT snake oil salesmen during the month of September. With the West Nile season winding down, however, one wonders what disease will crop up next for which the DDT snake oil will be touted as a cure: Rocky Mountain spotted fever? Lyme disease? Diabetes? Heart disease?

Stay tuned.

River blindness “curse” lifted

September 17, 2007

Editor’s note: Dr. Vincent Resh of the University of California at Berkeley addressed the distinguished, long-lived Commonwealth Club of San Francisco on August 22, 2007. Below is a column by Resh which appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle a few days before the speech, covering much of the same material.

Resh tells the story of a public health victory in Africa against a disease called river blindness. People victimized are made blind by a parasitic worm which lives in the victim’s eyes. I relate it here because Resh tells how the victory is achieved without resorting to the use of destructive DDT, which had been proposed. Note carefully what Resh says about DDT. This is one more chunk of evidence against the broadcast use of DDT, a story in support of the ban on DDT imposed in the U.S. since 1972. Rachel Carson was right.

  • Vincent H. Resh has been a professor of entomology at UC Berkeley since 1975. He was the senior environmental adviser for the onchocerciasis control program.

This article appeared on page E – 5 of the San Francisco Chronicle.


River blindness ‘curse’ lifted

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Insect-transmitted diseases typically come to our attention through local news reports of the threat of West Nile virus or of dengue fever in our neighborhoods. The works of the Gates Foundation have made us more aware of malaria, the mosquito-transmitted disease that kills well more than a million people each year. But there are scores of insect-transmitted diseases that affect humans, and the insects responsible for many of them live in water.

River Blindness Cycle, Carter Center - Alberto CuadroClick on thumbnail image for a chart showing the life cycle of river blindness from the Carter Center, by Alberto Cuadra

DDT and its descendents were initially effective in controlling the water-dwelling vectors of human diseases. However, the effects of these insecticides on environmental health also had significant, indirect effects on human health. The fish in rivers, which are the main protein source for humans in most developing countries, were drastically reduced by these poisons.

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Utah voucher advocates take low road

September 17, 2007

Utah’s voucher referendum vote is just over six weeks away. From here in Dallas, it appears the anti-voucher forces are leading.

Why do I say that without looking at a single poll? The pro-voucher forces have gone dirty, by Utah political standards: They’re pushing an opinion piece that says God and the Mormon pioneers favor vouchers, according to an AP report via (radio and television).

It the occasionally peculiar language of Utah politics, it’s a desperate move, intentionally below the belt, in hopes of crippling the opposition so a win by default must be declared, even over the foul.

A conservative think tank is distributing a lengthy essay on the history of education in Utah that implies that if Mormons don’t vote in favor of the state’s school voucher law that they could face cultural extinction.

The “conservative think tank” is the Sutherland Institute (SI), which would be a far-right wing group in most other places. SI published a 40-page brief in favor of the Utah voucher plan, and its director, Paul Mero, is on the road in Utah speaking before every Rotary Club, Chamber of Commerce and gathering of checkers players he can find. An excerpt appears at their website, and this appears to be the subject of the current controversy.

Education is one of the key values of the Latter-day Saints Church (LDS or Mormon). “Knowledge is the glory of God,” reads one inscription on a gate leading to the church’s flagship school in Provo, Brigham Young University (BYU).  Schools were always among the first things built in new Mormon settlements.  The University of Utah — originally the University of Deseret — is the oldest public university west of the Missouri, founded in 1850.  Mormons take pride in their getting of education, and in the education establishments they’ve created.

Mero’s argument is that the Mormons were forced to give up their private schools for public schools in the anti-polygamy controversies leading up to Utah statehood in 1896.  This is a weak hook upon which to hang the voucher campaign.  He’s trying to appeal to Mormons who worry about government interference in religion.

The foundations of his argument do not hold up well.  “[LDS] Church spokesman Mark N. Tuttle issued a two-sentence response to the essay, saying the church hasn’t taken a position on school vouchers,” the AP article notes.

Utah’s voucher program is the standard vampire voucher structure, taking money away from public schools in favor of private and sectarian schools, and not putting any new money into public schooling.  When the Utah legislature passed the program, public opposition was so strong that a petition to put in on the ballot as a referendum captured a record number of signatures in a record period of time.

More to come, certainly.

Stone of Destiny and Ian Hamilton

September 17, 2007

For U.S. students there is an uncomfortable nexus between mythology of the Arthurian style legend, Biblical mythology and history, and British history that fascinates me. The Stone of Destiny has a provenance stretching back 5,000 years to the Jewish patriarch Jacob, and which features a blog by one of the last men to steal the stone — with several stops along the way to open the story to trickery, hoaxes and uncertainty. It’s a fabulous story that too few people know.

Ian Hamilton, as pictured in his blog's masthead

And, as I noted, one of the last men to steal the thing is blogging away on politics today — on the topic of Iraq and how we treat our veterans, for example. Is history great, or what?

This is a long way of getting to recommending Ian Hamilton’s blog for an interesting read, which we’ll do below the fold, after a bit of history.

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