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The Other H’s

When the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) unveiled its draft biological opinion of the Columbia River hydropower system on 27 July, it was accompanied by a broader strategy written by nine federal agencies covering all the factors implicated in salmon decline. Fisheries scientists have long identified these factors as the “four H’s”: hydropower dams, harvesting, habitat degradation, and hatchery misuse. Read More ›

Can Science Rescue Salmon?

PORTLAND, OREGON–For now, at least, the dams will stay, as the controversy swirling around them escalates. At a press conference on 27 July, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) released a long-awaited plan to save the Columbia River’s endangered salmon by restoring fish habitat, overhauling hatcheries, limiting harvest, and improving river flow. What the plan did not do, however, was Read More ›

The New Century Contrary to Calendar, 20th Century is History

It turns out that Jesus was really born between four and six B.C., not in the year 0, as you might expect. A sixth century monk named Dionysius Exiguus, who was given responsibility for settling a dispute over the date of Easter, miscalculated the chronology of Jesus's life and placed his birth several years late. This scholarly error, which was perpetuated in later calendars, means - if we take the middle range of the error - that we already are entering the 21st century, and, for that matter, the Third Millenium. Of course, there was some good to the 20th century, and some necessary change. For example, we probably did need a civil service to replace the political spoils system, though we later got carried away and let bureaucracies regulate away many of our freedoms. We did need civil rights protection through central government action in order, finally, to right the great wrong of slavery and to fulfill the spirit of the Declaration of Independence. But the best intellectual innovations of the 20th century were in the fields of science and technology - medicine and communications, notably. Most of the others were of lesser significance or were baneful. The 20th century brought us the scourges of fascism and communism, and it also brought us what Alexis de Tocqueville correctly foresaw as the "democratic tyrannies" of socialism and the welfare state. Specialization and expertise flourished, bringing benefits in some areas, but also contributing to the depreciation of the liberal arts. Over-emphasis on expertise also tempted leaders in one field to claim authority in others, which is always a moral usurpation. Some generalists claimed the label of science for arts and crafts that did not deserve it. This holds true for several of the "social sciences," but especially for something that grandly calls itself "political science." Even economics claimed more scientific stature than it deserved, guided by the conceit that the qualitative can always be quantified. What the experts and pseudo-experts did was separate ordinary people from their government and culture, robbing them of their authority and undermining their morale. Read More ›

The Essentials Of Self-Preservation

The word “decadence” derives from the medieval Latin de cadere — to fall away, by implication from some previous height or standard of virtue or excellence. Some years ago, literary critic Robert Adams fleshed out this meaning and its application to human affairs. In Decadent Societies, he described historical decadence as the process whereby “societies that without suffering a grievous wound Read More ›

Designer Trees? I Say ‘Humbug!’ to These Fashion Zombies

I suppose I'll make a lot of people mad and start some household fights, but I have to say it: Designer Christmas trees aren't the real thing. I'm willing to accept all varieties, sizes and shapes of Christmas trees as genuine. So long as the ornaments are many-colored, I'll go for all white lights, since the early trees had candles on them, after all. I'll even admit that some artificial trees from Thailand or China can qualify as "real;" in fact, our family has been thinking of getting one (we are always thinking of getting one). But I draw the line at self-consciously arty trees, especially those of monochromatic decorator design. You know them: the elegant ones with, maybe, all gold balls and gold ropes and bows. A two-color scheme isn't much better: the maroon and silver numbers, for example, with (yawn) all maroon ribbons and silver baubles and perhaps a silver light cleverly shining down on them from the ceiling. Such self-conscious concoctions are to real Christmas trees what robots are to human beings; they lack souls. Read More ›

Clinton Risks Leading Us Into Quagmire of ‘Vietnam II’

Vietnam started, too, with limited purposes in service of a universal goal (containing communism, in that case.) And it ended with a goal of merely getting our prisoners home - and with years of disillusionment. President Clinton, who cut his political teeth on opposition to the war in Vietnam, has learned some of the lessons of that conflict, but not the most important one: Don't send troops into a war unless you have a way to win and get out. Yes, of course, "peace enforcement" is not war, supposedly. But it also is not mere "peacekeeping," and in Bosnia even the latter resulted in the deaths of more than 200 United Nations troops. When the president says that the United States mission "may well involve casualties," and that if U.S. troops are attacked "they will have the authority to respond immediately and . . . with overwhelming force," what then follows, if not war? In explaining to the American people and Congress why he had avoided direct intervention earlier, the president said, "I decided that American ground troops should not fight a war in Bosnia because the United States could not force peace on Bosnia's warring ethnic groups: the Serbs, Croats and Muslims." Just so. But why does he think he has "forced" that outcome now, when the Bosnian Serbs are still uncommitted and when whatever commitments are made on paper mean so little in the Balkans anyhow? There have been 34 "truces" and "cease-fires" and other "agreements" before this one, and none has held up. What enables peacekeeping is a manifest and genuine desire for peace on all sides or, even better, the defeat and disarmament of the aggressors. Is someone planning to go door to door to disarm the Bosnian Serbs? Read More ›

Only A Fathead Would Ban Fat Substitute From My Junk Food

This confession, I realize, is hardly unusual enough to get me on the "Jenny Jones Show." Half of all adults in America and a fifth of our children are overweight, and my case is only marginal. But I probably would have ballooned up like the Michelin Man if it hadn't been for the sugar and fat substitutes that food companies considerately began inventing just as I entered middle age. Diet drinks are approaching a third of the market in some areas. You have to look hard for the sugar behind the little pink and blue packets of sugar substitutes at the latte stands; but who's looking? Now, it turns out that the good people at Procter and Gamble Co. are nearing the end of a long, expensive effort to get Food and Drug Administration approval for "olestra," a product that allows potato chips, tortilla chips and other "savory snacks" to be cooked with all the taste of the crunchy little devils we love today but with none of the fat and few of the calories. Soon enough, if the FDA agrees, olestra also can be used to prepare conscience-free french fries, peanut butter, cookies, cakes and ice cream. But the CSPI's evidence is misleading. For example, it cites a study wherein five of 17 people who used olestra products came down with "diarrhea, gas, bloating (or) nausea." Urp! That sounds bad. But CSPI doesn't mention a far bigger and longer study of 3,357 consumers that found no differences in digestive effects between the olestra snacks and regular, full-fat snacks. It also claims that potato chips made with olestra may block absorption of certain vitamins, but neglects to note that the same is true of regular potato chips, and, for that matter, milk. Read More ›
Photo by Daniel Lincoln
man standing near hole
Photo by Daniel Lincoln via Unsplash

Burying the Engine

When my children are grown, I hope they think of themselves as environmentalists, if that means they are filled with wonder at the sight of a bald eagle and the workings of a wetland. And I hope they think of themselves as humanists, if that means they are equally filled with wonder at the sight of a Van Gogh painting and the workings of the New York Stock Exchange or even an internal combustion engine. Read More ›

Coming Soon: The C.S. Lewis Readers’ Encyclopedia

Zondervan’s landmark Lewis reference volume is scheduled for release on 1 June 1998. The C. S. Lewis Readers’ Encyclopedia offers a wealth of information and insights from about 40 contributors. (For an annotated list of contributors who subscribe to The Lewis Legacy, see p. 13.) Among other features, this book includes a unique 4-column timeline of events in Lewis’s life, Read More ›

C. S. Lewis Notecards

On 8 August 1933 the Lewis brothers visited St. Mark’s, their family church in Belfast, to see the triple window they had commissioned for their parents there. It depicts Saints Luke, James, and Mark. To commemorate the 1899 baptism of C. S. Lewis by his grandfather, Thomas Hamilton, St, Mark’s is now offering beautiful notecards showing the colorful Lewis window. Read More ›