Archive for September 18th, 2008|Daily archive page

Protecting fisheries

The Economist has an interesting story about privatising fisheries. Or, as we Americans would write, privatizing them. This is an important issue, since a 2006 study indicated that all of the world’s fisheries could collapse by 2048 if current trends continue. Preventing overfishing is extremely important, but without any regulation fishermen have an incentive to simply grab as much as they can as quickly as they can, leading to the tragedy of the commons.

The article in question describes a system currently in use in 121 of the worlds approximately 10,000 fisheries that allocates how much a company can catch through use of Individual Transferable Quotas, which, as the name implies, can be bought and sold. ITQs can be held long term, so companies have a strong incentive to maintain the fishery in which they have a large stake. Research into those areas where ITQs are used indicates that they can halt, and even reverse, the collapse of fisheries, on which much of humanity depends for food and livelihood. Promisingly, fishermen grasp the usefulness and value of this system to themselves and their own long-term prospects. Market forces and intelligent planning can lead to a situation that’s better for consumers, workers, business, and the environment without heavy-handed government regulation.

The Economist warns against government micromanaging the system, which would eliminate many of the free market benefits, leading to a less efficient system, and which would be prone to undue lobbying influences.

Gilchrest endorses Obama

Outgoing Republican Congressman Wayne Gilchrest (MD-1), who has endorsed Barack Obama

Outgoing Republican Congressman Wayne Gilchrest (MD-1), who has endorsed Barack Obama

One of Maryland’s two Republican Congressmen, Wayne Gilchrest, has endorsed Barack Obama for President. He says “My perspective is that the ticket is Mr. Obama and Mr. Biden that they have the breadth of experience, I think they are prudent, they are knowledgeable. . . . We just can’t use four more years of the same kind of policy that’s somewhat hazardous, which leads to recklessness.”

Gilchrest represents Maryland’s 1st Congressional District and has served in the House of Representatives since 1991. A moderate, generally pro-choice Republican, he lost his 2008 primary battle to conservative State Senator Andy Harris. As I blogged about earlier, Gilchrest has endorsed Harris’s general election opponent, Democratic State’s Attorney Frank Kratovil. A former U.S. Marine, Gilchrest was one of only a few Republicans who voted for a timetable for withdrawing troops from Iraq last year, a move which many think led to his primary defeat.

Obama gained another GOP endorsement from former Los Angeles Mayor Dick Riordan. Both California (55 electoral votes) and Maryland (10 electoral votes) are considered safe states for Obama.  Gilchrest and Joseph Lieberman are the only sitting members of Congress to have endorsed the other party’s nominee. Though, technically an independent, Lieberman caucuses with the Democrats. Some predict that the Connecticut Senator is likely to lose his committee chairmanship over his endorsement of McCain and speech at the Republican National Convention.

Dag Hammarskjöld

“Never measure the height of a mountain, until you have reached the top.  Then you will see how low it was.”  Thus wrote Dag Hammarskjöld, a Swedish diplomat who died on this date, September 18th, 47 years ago (Wikipedia bio). He served as the second Secretary-General of the United Nations, heavily shaping the office and according to many, including Kofi Annan, he is the greatest person to have held the post; John F. Kennedy praised him as “the greatest statesman of our century” and he remains the only person to win the Nobel Peace Prize posthumously, having been nominated prior to his death.

U.N. Secretary-General and Christian mystic Dag Hammarskjöld at his desk

U.N. Secretary-General and Christian mystic Dag Hammarskjöld at his desk

Hammarskjöld died in 1961 while on a mission to negotiate a cease-fire between warring factions in the Congo and his plane crashed. Unfortunately, conspiracy theories have grown up surrounding this event, but it appears likely to have been nothing more than an unfortunate accident.

A Christian mystic in the tradition of Thomas à Kempis, Hammarskjöld is remembered now not just for his diplomatic accomplishments but for a thin volume of writings that he contributed to throughout his life which was published posthumously under the title Markings.  I find the book remarkable, and would describe it as a cross between the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius and Thoreau’s Walden.  Like the former, it was not intended for publication but merely to collect his thoughts for his own purposes.  Here are a few excerpts.

From 1955:

Sun and stillness. Looking down through the jade-green water, you see the monsters of the deep playing on the reef.  Is this a reason to be afraid?  Do you feel safer when scudding waves hide what lies beneath the surface?

On Christmas Eve, 1956:

Your own efforts “did not bring it to pass,” only God–but rejoice if God found a use for your efforts in His work.  Rejoice if you feel that whast you did was “necessary,” but remember, even so, that you were simply the instrument by means of which He added one tiny grain to the Universe He has created for His own purposes.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has placed Hammarskjöld on their calendar of saints, recognizing him annually on this date as a “renewer of society,” a designation he shares with Martin Luther King, Jr., Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, and Florence Nightingale, among others.  He is in very good company.

As a young man he penned the following poem:

Tomorrow we shall meet,
Death and I–
And he shall thrust his sword
Into one who is wide awake.

But in the meantime how grievous the memory
Of hours frittered away.

Hammarskjöld’s tomorrow did not come for decades after that, but ours may come at any time.  May Death not find us frittering away the hours.

California’s Proposition 8

Flag of California

Flag of California

Actor and philanthropist Brad Pitt has donated $100,000 to fight Proposition 8, which California citizens will be voting on this November. The measure is the result of In re Marriage Cases, a case decided by the 4-3 California Supreme Court in May that held “that the California legislative and initiative measures limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples violate the state constitutional rights of same-sex couples and may not be used to preclude same-sex couples from marrying.” (Text of the decision, PDF) The decision struck down Proposition 22, passed in 2000 with 61.4% of voters in favor, which prohibited same-sex marriage by statute.

The summary of the measure, prepared by the Secretary of State and provided to the people in their voter information guides, reads as follows:

ELIMINATES RIGHT OF SAME-SEX COUPLES TO MARRY. INITIATIVE CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT. Changes the California Constitution to eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry in California. Provides that only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California. Fiscal Impact: Over next few years, potential revenue loss, mainly sales taxes, totaling in the several tens of millions of dollars, to state and local governments. In the long run, likely little fiscal impact on state and local governments.

Initially, polls showed a small majority of Californians supported the measure. Polls taken since May, however, have shown a majority opposed to it. One recent poll shows 54% opposed and 40% in favor of the measure; however only 47% personally favor allowing same-sex couples to marry, the same percentage as are personally opposed. The survey found that 80% of respondents believe the outcome of the vote is “important.”

Much of the measure’s support comes from socially conservative religious groups, like James Dobson’s Focus on the Family and the Church of Jesus Christ of Later Day Saints (the Mormons). However, all six Episcopal Bishops whose sees are in the state signed a letter opposing the ballot measure. The statement says in part:

As Episcopal Bishops of California, we are moved to urge voters to vote “No” on Proposition Eight. Jesus calls us to love rather than hate, to give rather than to receive, to live into hope rather than fear. . . . We believe that continued access to civil marriage for all, regardless of sexual orientation, is consistent with the best principles of our constitutional rights. We believe that this continued access promotes Jesus’ ethic of love, giving, and hope. (full text of letter in pdf)

The poll numbers have been steady for several months, so I would predict the measure will fail approximately 55-45%. If I were a Californian, I would certainly vote against Proposition 8. Bronze age purity codes should not to be enshrined in current constitutional law–if they should be, everyone is in trouble. This will be an interesting one to watch on election night.