Tuesday, May 20, 2008

California Supreme Court did the Right Thing and Took the Right Road

Today's Washington Post featured a column by E.J.Dionne, Jr. entitled Two Roads to Gay Marriage, wondering whether the right thing was done the wrong way.

Here was my answer: As with the dissents in California and the majority in New York, EJ Dionne is taking the road more traveled in his "Two Roads to Gay Marriage". First, constitutional law is above all about protecting minorities from dominant majorities. Which means to weigh the harm to the minority against the possible injury to the majority.

Second, judicial leadership is just as important as "democratic" leadership, and because operating more often in the realm of facts, logic and law, has a better chance of being more farsighted than voter leadership, be it from electors or elected representatives.

Third, as has become a popular phrase, the arc of history tends toward justice: we will eventually get there; the question is not whether, but when. This case presented a prefect moment in history for the largest state in the union with a conservative bench, to see through the obfuscations and prevarications of the majority, intent as it is to cling to its privileges.

Fourth, the heterosexual majority suffers no harm. As the Court majority in California pointed out, allowing gay men and lesbians to marry takes nothing away from heterosexual marriage. It simply adds the dignity of marriage to those for whom that fundamentally social status has been denied. And that is what the California court focused on as its central premise. Under California domestic partnership laws, same sex couples already enjoy virtually all of the state level rights of marriage of opposite sex couples, but they lacked the basic equality of having their relationships honored in the same way, to the same degree, as opposite sex couples do. And, importantly, their children will not be second class children of a "domestic partnership" or "civil union."

Nattering on about whether the practical effect will speed or slow social progress misses the importance of leadership. The road more traveled is by definition more congested and slower.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Nature, Gardens, Logic and the Future of Earth

In March I wrote about Douglas Tallamy's book, Brining Nature Home, on the basis of a book review and a pod cast. Having read about 1/3rd, I feel an urgent need to expand on the basic point.


The reason is amazingly simple: non-"native" plants have not co-evolved with the insects and birds and animals in a given area. They are immune (good selling point in the bad old days) from "pests." They are like plastic flowers to local insects.

Birds need massive amounts of protein, particularly when they are raising they hatchlings. Insects, particularly those that eat leaves, like caterpillars (that turn into butterflies) and the like, are a higher source of protein than beef.

So, when the insects go, can't survive on the plastic diet of non-native plants, the birds vanish. Slowly, perhaps, but vanish.

At the same time, non-native plants, that don't have "pest" insects to keep their numbers in balance by eating their leaves, (and trunks, and sap, etc.), proliferate in their new environment. No enemies. Wheeeee. Plus, the birds that eat the fruit of the non-native plants fly away and poop elsewhere, fabulously spreading the seeds of the non-natives, who begin to flourish in a new area, clear of "pests."

Finally, he makes the point that the importation of non-natives, beautiful exotics, has inevitably brought plant diseases with them. No amount of protective agricultural laws can keep out microscopic infestations. The imported plants co-existed and co-evolved with the imported exotic. But, domestic plants didn't. They had zero evolved protection from predation by the new plant diseases.

And, voila, the death of the American Chestnut, majestic trees that populated the whole east coast, the death of the elms, the approaching death of conifers native exclusively to the Smokies, and so on.

So, we have kudzu, pansies, giant irisis, Japanese Maples, peonies, roses, any plant from any where else but where it co-evolved in the web of local natural life. All of which contribute to the death of nature around us.

Kill all the English Ivy you can find!