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Rusty Shackleford

Norman Borlaug, one of the world’s greatest men

Last Friday marked what would have been the 97th birthday of Norman Borlaug, undoubtedly one of the greatest men ever to walk the earth.  It’s unfortunate that his is not a household name, whether by accident or by the vagaries of politics and fashion.  Everyone is familiar with the good done by Lincoln, Gandhi, and Mother Theresa. Only one person, however, has been credited by the United Nations and the United States Congress with saving the lives of over a billion people. John Lennon famously said that the Beatles were bigger than Jesus, but Norman Borlaug is the only miracle worker in modern history.Borlaug came from a relatively humble background in rural Iowa to earn a Ph.D in plant pathology from the University of Minnesota.  His development of sturdy, high-yield crops for Third World countries sparked what came to be known as the Green Revolution, through which Mexico, India, and Pakistan saw their grain harvests increase by a factor of two or three over the span of a few years. These new crops allowed millions upon millions of people to eat when they would have otherwise starved, and because they generated such a high yield per acre, saved huge swaths of virgin land from being cleared for agriculture.  His accomplishments speak for themselves, and more detailed accounts of his work are easily available to anyone curious about agriculture and crop engineering. I’d prefer to take the time to emphasize two key lessons that Borlaug can still teach us, even though he passed away in 2009.The first is that, even in a world of increasing wealth per person on an annual basis, there are tradeoffs. In what has become known as the Borlaug hypothesis, he expressed the view that increasing productive efficiency for a given amount of land will lead to less… Read More

Newburgh GA Reform was Right on Target

When it comes to politics, I generally follow what happens at the state, provincial, or national level, because the idea of having hundreds of career politicians hanging out in one room or building is a guaranteed recipe for hilarity and absurdity, the likes of which even the men of Monty Python could not match.   I don’t pay much attention to what happens on campus unless something really outrageous or nonsensical is going on.  But over the past few weeks, the debate over reforming the General Assembly has utterly confounded me.   I simply fail to understand why anyone would think it a bad idea to move to an online voting system for approving SSMU referenda.Zach Newburgh’s proposal seems to me to have been a very elegant and straightforward solution to the various problems inherent in the structure of the General Assembly.   I’ve only attended one GA, and for the three or four hours I was there, I noticed several serious obstacles to an efficient and fair democratic system for students.  As a politically unconnected student, entering the cafeteria was intimidating.  The student presence quickly divided into factions with specific and obvious agendas, and some of the more savvy operators were able to either delay the process or subtly steer it in their preferred direction.   The process for debating and amending motions was tedious, and for those of us who were there just to cast a yes or no vote, attending the GA just didn’t seem worth it.One of the worst aspects of the current General Assembly is that it imposes significant costs on students who wish to attend.  It’s free to go, of course, but for students with a heavy workload, who live far from campus, or who simply have a slew of classes first thing in the morning, the time… Read More

The Ridiculous Policies of the TSA

What will happen to airport security if a terrorist decides to smuggle a bomb in his butt?  That’s a question that has plagued me for some months now, as travel to and from US airports becomes ever more restrictive and humiliating, all with the Obama administration’s seal of approval.  After the so-called Underwear Bomber was allowed by security officials to board a plane over the holidays in 2009, the Transportation Security Administration has begun in earnest to phase in new scanning devices capable of performing a virtual strip search.Travelers in and out of the country must either pass through the scanner or face a pat-down, depending on which airport they are flying out of (not all US airports have the machines yet), but the Transportation Security Administration  plans to install scanners in each and every one of them).  When travelers started to opt for the pat-down, the TSA changed its policy, transforming what had amounted to a light frisk into a full-on groping, the likes of which are rarely seen outside of searches in prisons or cases of sexual assault.  It’s not terribly surprising that this is what the president meant when he promised to respect civil liberties.   After all, this is the same man who called his deficit-exploding budget for fiscal year 2010 “A New Era of Responsibility.”What Americans (and travelers into the US) now face is a choice between bad and worse.  A passenger can either been seen naked by strangers, or be physically assaulted by government officials.  This applies to almost everyone: be it children, the elderly, pregnant women, clergy, or any other sort of non-threatening, normal person, all must go through the scanner or face the groping hand of the TSA.  Of course, it doesn’t apply to airport employees, some of whom actually have unrestricted access to… Read More

Winning the Future? Not Likely!

I’d like to buy a new dictionary for President Obama. He keeps using the word “responsible” when describing his proposed budgets, but I can’t quite grasp how pushing the US farther along the road to fiscal hell demonstrates good judgment.  The deficit for Fiscal Year 2012 will be in the neighborhood of $1.1 trillion, with proposed spending at $3.7 trillion (this year’s deficit was $1.6 trillion, larger than the GDP of Canada).The president’s proposed budget path over the next ten years can be summed up quite succinctly: permanent deficit.  Given that the US debt is already at $14 trillion, nearly one hundred percent of GDP, one must wonder if it is “responsible” to follow the trail blazed by pillars of fiscal prudence like Greece or Italy.As Megan McArdle of the Atlantic noted earlier this week, the president’s budget paints the rosiest picture possible, relying on estimates of GDP growth that are considered optimistic by the Congressional Research Service and the Congressional Budget Office, and assuming that all the more politically difficult choices (which he responsibly leaves to be made until well after he faces re-election) will actually be made.  Long term issues, such as the solvency of Medicare and Social Security, are just pushed down the road a bit – Obama is satisfied to wave his hands and make a speech about “winning the future,” one of the uglier turns of phrase to come from his speechwriters in a while.The United States is facing one of the most serious crises in its history, and its government refuses to acknowledge just how bad things will get if budgetary problems are not fixed now.  If policy continues on its current course, the federal government will run a permanent deficit of 10% of GDP through 2060 and beyond, and Social Security and Medicare… Read More

Republicans Right on Planned Parenthood

I’m glad that House Republicans voted last week to defund Planned Parenthood and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.  Both are political lightning rods that fall outside the original scope of the federal government – Congress has no business giving money to such groups.  The CPB strikes me as being a particularly useless organization.  It is the self-defined “steward of the federal government’s investment in public broadcasting,” but what could be the purpose of such an investment?  Where is the pressing need for the government to put programming on your TV?  Who watches PBS anyway?I don’t think Planned Parenthood is more deserving of cuts than any of the other private organizations receiving money from the federal government... It serves as an ugly reminder of the bigotry inherent in early 20th century progressivism and of the fact that eugenicists were once looked upon favorably by the ruling class in North America.But while the CPB seems as harmless and silly as Big Bird, another notorious television welfare case, Planned Parenthood, conjures up more sinister images.  I’m not talking about abortion – I like to think I take a principled centrist stance between those who would abolish and those who would unconditionally permit. Planned Parenthood does a lot of good work in ways that anyone could appreciate.  They provide sex education, women’s health services, and cancer screenings for both sexes.  The history of the group, however, is far darker than many of its present activities would suggest.  It was founded in the 1920’s as the American Birth Control League by Margaret Sanger, a birth control and sex education activist with repulsive views.Sanger was a eugenicist: she favored the forcible sterilization of the mentally disabled and insane and founded the ABCL in part to further these goals.  She hoped to purify the population of the… Read More
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