read-ing [from ME reden, to explain, hence to read] - vt. 1 to get the meaning of, 2 to understand the nature, significance, or thinking of; 3 to interpret or understand; 4 to apply oneself to; study.
GRADES IN SIGNIFICANT DECLINE
Juliet in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, laments the inability of language to describe reality. Referring to Romeo surname, Juliet observes: "Tis but thy name that is my enemy. Thou art thyself, though not a Montague. What's Montague? It is nor hand, nor foot, nor arm, nor face, nor any other part belonging to a man. O, be some other name! What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet."
Recently Colorado Governor Bill Owens appears to have reluctantly reached Juliet's conclusion. Consider the following. In his January 2000 State of the State Address, the governor called for rigorous grading schools:I believe that every child can learn. We must therefore test in order to ensure that teaching is translated into learning for every child—yearly testing will allow us to measure the progress of our children and of our schools.
You know, Ralph Waldo Emerson once observed that "what we call results are beginnings." Emerson may have had in mind our proposal to produce a Performance Report Card for every public school in the state. Just as students receive grades of A, B, C, D or F, so should Colorado's public schools. Academic performance will be measured using the ACT and the CSAPs, examining each school on overall scores, year-to-year growth and how well all students perform. School safety will also be measured.
Some will say that grading schools is insensitive. They say it is wrong to use the letter "F" because it signifies failure. To me, that is exactly why we need the rating system. Effective reform starts with accountability. Someone should be praised when schools succeed, and someone must be responsible when schools fail. If schools fail, we must be bold enough to challenge the status quo. Our children deserve at least that.
A December 2000 news release suggests that Governor Owen's insistence on specific grade labels has grown more Juliet-like:
In addition to the new funding initiatives, Gov. Owens also announced two changes to his school reform package passed earlier this year by the General Assembly. Rather than use letter grades to measure school academic performance, the Governor announced new measures that inform parents about school performance. The measures will be: Excellent, High, Moderate, Low or Unsatisfactory Overall Academic Performance.
"From the very beginning, my goal in reforming public education has been to ensure that every child has a safe school, a quality teacher and an education that prepares them to succeed," said Gov. Owens. "I've met with and listened to thousands of parents and teachers during the past year. They've told me that the controversy surrounding letter grades is getting in the way of why we are measuring schools—to ensure that no child falls behind or is left behind and to know which schools need our help to get better. Since my goal is to improve public education, not hurt it, I decided to replace letter grades with a different set of easy-to-understand and parent-friendly terms for explaining school academic performance."
New designations will also replace letter grades to signify change in school performance with the following scale: Significant Improvement, Improvement, Stable, Decline, Significant Decline in School Performance during the preceding school year. The mathematical formula using CSAP scores to measure school performance will remain unchanged.—SOURCE: Governor's Home Page, http://www.state.co.us/gov_dir/governor_office.html
GOVERNORS RESOLVE A CRISIS
A serious electrical shortage threatens California and other Western states. Among the possible effects are bankrupt utility companies, rolling blackouts, state seizure of electrical production facilities, more widespread outages, and almost assured price increases for consumers. Whether the situation is temporary or the bleak presage of more severe problems to come is yet undetermined. Nor are the causes clear. Deregulation is cited as a contributor to the problem, but the real villains are probably more complex. One thing is certain, energy production has not kept up with population and some of the other forces driving consumption.
In an effort to focus political energy toward solving the problem, the Western Governors' Association at its December 1, 2000, meeting in San Diego, passed a resolution which gives some background to the issue. The resolution was sponsored by Wyoming Governor, Jim Geringer.POLICY BACKGROUND:
2. Since 1973, the federal government has attempted, through at least six plans, to implement an effective national energy policy. Despite the federal government plans, today we: (a) are increasingly dependent on imported energy supplies, particularly transportation fuels, from unstable regions of the world; (b) do not have in place adequate infrastructure necessary to provide our growing technology-driven economy with reliable, high-quality and affordable supplies of energy; (c) have not adequately improved the efficiency with which energy is used or enabled the demand side of the market to more effectively respond to energy price increases; and (d) have flawed wholesale electricity markets in some areas. These shortcomings are particularly apparent in a year when energy prices dramatically increased and western electricity markets are in the midst of fundamental reforms.
3. In order for the U.S. economy to be sustained and to grow, technologies and policies need to be developed to enable all energy resources to be developed cleanly, efficiently and cost-effectively and to efficiently use energy resources and enable demand responsiveness to energy prices.
4. The West is particularly critical to the implementation of national energy policy because of the significant fossil energy and renewable energy resources of the region. The West already produces almost 65 percent of the nation's natural gas, 64 percent of the nation's oil, more than 50 percent of the nation's coal, and a major portion of the nation's renewable resources.
5. The United States presently relies on fossil fuels (oil, gas, and coal) for approximately 85 percent of its total energy needs and almost 70 percent of its electrical power.
6. Renewable energy should be developed and energy efficiency promoted to provide sufficient affordable and reliable energy as part of a diverse portfolio that includes fossil fuels as sources for electric power, transportation and heating. As efforts continue to develop technologies to enable a transition to renewable energy, it is important to ensure American consumers can reduce demand and utilize clean burning natural gas, oil and coal.
7. In order for the U.S. economy to maintain sustained growth, all sources of energy should be developed cleanly, efficiently, and cost-effectively through the development of a comprehensive energy policy. To accomplish this, an initiative must be developed and implemented to provide energy security, reliability, diversity, and affordability and to ensure environmental protection. Such an initiative must capitalize on current and future opportunities to improve the efficiency with which energy is used.GOVERNORS' POLICY STATEMENT:
2. A national energy policy should be guided by: a. Effective and functional market-oriented approaches to energy supply and use that enable the above goals to be met; b. Appropriate government support of energy research in the development of new technologies and commercial applications, with demonstrations by the private sector; c. Performance-based federal and state environmental standards implemented by the states; d. Strategic alliances with our international partners in the Americas; and e. Conservation by end-users in the transportation, industrial, residential, and commercial sectors.
3. Western Governors believe that an Energy Policy Roundtable is needed to provide a forum for governors, members of Congress, the federal administration, state agencies, and experts to examine issues, policies and programs necessary to assure secure, reliable, diverse, affordable and environmentally-sound energy into the future.
SHOOTOUT AT THE SOFT MONEY CORRAL
Having recently observed one of the best elections money can buy, a campaign reform movement seemed inevitable. Arizona Senator John McCain and his Wisconsin colleague, Russ Feingold, have pledged to take on the issue early and often. As McCain said last fall, "My friends, I want to promise you this: The Senate will not proceed next year until we take up and dispose of the issue of campaign finance reform" (Senator John McCain on MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, October 12, 2000). Common Cause explains how the McCain-Feingold bill would affect current campaign practices:The bill that Senators McCain and Feingold will bring to the Senate floor includes, first and foremost, a ban on soft money. The language prohibits parties and federal candidates from accepting or soliciting soft money. The bill also prohibits state parties from spending soft money on activities that influence federal elections.
During the 1999-2000 election cycle, the national party committees raised more than $457 million in these unregulated and unlimited funds through November 23 [see chart]. Republicans raised $239.2 million, slightly outraising Democrats, who raised $218.3 million. Much of this money was spent on advertisements either promoting one candidate or discrediting another—while merely avoiding a prohibited set of so-called "magic words" like "vote for" or "vote against." In many cases, though, these soft money ads are virtually indistinguishable from ads run by the candidates themselves.
Much of this money would be illegal if given to candidates directly, such as money from corporations and labor unions. Although corporations and unions may establish political action committees (PACs), they are prohibited from making donations to parties' federal accounts and candidates directly from their treasuries.
Also included in the McCain-Feingold bill is a provision dealing with broadcast campaign ads run by outside organizations in the last 60 days of a campaign. This language was crafted by Senators Jim Jeffords (R-VT) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and is designed to ensure that these ads' sponsors are treated equally and evenhandedly under the law. It requires disclosure of who paid for such ads, and disclosure of how much was spent on the ads. Groups that want to run campaign ads that mention federal candidates could do so but would be prohibited from using corporate and labor union treasury funds to pay for these ads—but only inside this 60-day window.
—SOURCE: Common Cause, http://commoncause.org
FEATHERS FROM DIFFERENT WORLDS
Would it ever be "right" to allow the hunting of wildlife in a National Park or Monument? Would it ever be acceptable to deny American citizens the right to worship as they see fit? These are a few of the questions plaguing the U.S. Department of the Interior. Hopi Indians living just east of the Wupaki National Monument have asked permission to continue their centuries old religious tradition of gathering baby eagles from the high cliffs inside the monument. A preliminary Interior Department ruling has taken the side of the Hopis.Critics call the rule a poor decision by a lame-duck Clinton administration. "This rule violates the department's own regulations," says Patricia Lane of the Humane Society of the U.S., an animal-rights group that Lane says will consider taking legal action if the rule goes through. "They're trying to go against their own statutes and precedents."
"It will radically alter the national park system," adds Buono of PEER, a former assistant superintendent at Mojave National Preserve and Joshua Tree National Park. "A special rule at Wupatki is just the first of many such special rules which will open up many parks to the Indian tribes' taking of animals." Buono adds that other special-interest groups like the National Rifle Association may be waiting in the wings to hunt in the parks.
Park Service administrator Dave Kreger, who is overseeing the environmental assessment on the rule, says the Interior Department is "concerned about the cumulative impact" of the rule. But he adds that no other tribes are currently requesting permission to take animals from national parks.
"This is a specific response to a specific request," says Patricia Parker, chief of the agency's American Indian Liaison Office. "It's a sincerely held belief that has a documented practice, and we wanted to see if we could accommodate it in the context of the park system."
—SOURCE Tim Sullivan, "When Two Traditions Collide," High Country News, Volume 32, Issue. 24 http://www.hcn.org
One factor driving the western energy crisis is the high rate of population growth in many western states. Recent census figures show that Nevada leads the nation with a monstrous 66.3% increase since the 1990 survey. The table below reveals that ten of the twelve fastest growing states in the country are located in a broad band sweeping from Texas through Oregon.—SOURCE: U.S. Census
What is "nature?" Should it defined by present or past criteria? If we desire to replant an area in native plants, how do we decide which historical epoch to use as the standard for determining vegetation's nativeness? Is the nature of nature constant or changing? What forces drive natural change? What is place of human beings in nature? David W. Kidner, writing in the University of North Texas journal, Environmental Ethics, raises these and more questions about how nature might be defined today.Nature…appears to us to arise out of various technologically amplified discourses; and urban or agricultural environments provide few opportunities to assess the accuracy of these discourses. If we venture into one of the few remaining areas of wilderness, however, we may find our assumptions painfully contradicted by a nature which knows and cares nothing for our languages and cultures. As Holmes Rolston, III points out, "All those persons who did not think that 'lion' refers to a real predator lurking in the grass are extinct." But his position understates the extent of our predicament, for in the industrialized world, our assumptions are often widely accepted and underlie global practices, and may therefore ultimately be fatal to civilizations rather than to individuals.
…If nature, then, was not constructed by technology and language, it is in many ways in the process of being reconstructed by these means; and the metaphor of "construction" assumes the absence or obliteration of natural structure, so that the world is simply made up of verbal or physical "raw materials." This demolition of the nature that frames and transcends human awareness, and its replacement by a "nature" which is defined and constructed by industrial and discursive activity from the fragments of the original nature, implies a corresponding redefinition of the person to fit a rational, commercial world….
—David W. Kidner, "Fabricating Nature: A Critique of the Social Construction of Nature, Environmental Ethics, Vol 22, No 4, Winter 2000, p. 344-345
THE JOY OF READING
Robert Getchell of Carmel, California, has been a screenwriter for 20 years. He has also been a reader of books. Shortly after Annie Dillard's novel, The Living, was published, Getchell wrote to Dillard and asked her "Who are you, that you write so well?" Dillard responded, "Who are you, that you read so well?" This small anecdote titles and begins Getchell's essay about reading as it appears in the Winter 2000 issue of Cimarron Review. Detailing his early encounters with and eventual addiction to books, Getchell recalls:The box of books arrived. Probably it was the same box that sat near the old woman in the cream-colored outfit, but I can't say for sure. What I do know is that it was a book from that box which gave me the sharpest most specific reaction I'd had from the printed page, and which helped to hook me forever to words on paper.
The book was called Bad Little Hannah, or at least that was the heroine's name. I have never heard of the book since, do not remember the author's name or much about the story. What is indelible, though, is this: I was alone in the living room, reading the book while sitting on a straight-backed chair. I can see the maroon sofa, see the linoleum on the floor, feel the dusk at the windows. Suddenly I laugh. Something in the book has made me laugh out loud.
And I am amazed. I drop the book onto my lap and say out loud, "Oh, look what this can make me do."
That was the moment of ignition, the moment I became a reader for life. It was that night when I seemed to find a small, secret door that opened onto a world of books. They were everywhere, I found, and so, thrilled, greedy, I read: that same year, when I was nine, Albert Payson Terhune took me by the hand, led me to a country manor house in New Jersey where all his wonderful collies ran "faster than a speeding greyhound." The next year, at ten, I traveled by book to Brooklyn where Francie O'Connor and her tenacious tree both flourished. I was through the door and into a land of books, but now I floundered. How to know which book to pick up, which book to let lie? My parents divorced; my mother and I moved another six times before I graduated from high school, and I knew no one who read well, and so, for six years, I pinballed my way from book to book, without volition or taste or (in retrospect) much good sense. Ben Ames Williams? Absolutely. Edna Ferber? A too-young-for-me-by-far children's novel called Chula Son of the Mound Builders? Absolutely. Phyilip Wylie? Black Beauty? The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew? The Well of Loneliness? Yes. Anything. Whatever came to my hand I read indiscriminately, gulped it down as if starving; and if nothing else was at hand (though this was a final, desperate move) I'd page through a dictionary that had come to me along the way, looking for an odd word or an eye-catching illustration.
—Robert Getchell, "Answering Annie Dillard," Cimaron Review, Winter 2000, pp. 112-113
AMERICAN CUISINE = WESTERN FOOD?
Is American food best characterized by the limp, paper-wrapped fare provided by interchangeable fast food restaurants now available around the world? What is the relationship to food and self? Lynn Houston, a doctoral student in English literature at Arizona State University in Tempe, describes her experiences in preparing, explaining, and justifying American food to her European friends:It was toward the end of my first year of graduate study abroad in Switzerland, when I began adjusting to life in Europe and when I finally formed a group of friends at the University of Geneva, that I first thought profoundly about myself in relation to food, in relation to the food of my country. During the time I was living in Geneva, I came to think about how the food I ate (and how, when, and with whom I ate) told a story about me and how this story represented me and was read by others.
…One of the most fascinating experiences in my culinary interactions with my European friends was that in response to their help in initiating me into European cuisine, I countered with attempts to introduce them to home-cooked American meals; when faced with introducing my friends to the food of my country (and this puzzles me still), I turned to the preparation of American southwestern dishes. The fact that, though born and bred in the state of New York, I was representing my American heritage with burritos and gorditas, shows the complexities of our self-conception as Americans and the intricacies of self-presentation through food choices.
This is not to say that I did not meet with resistance from my European acquaintances when I attempted to valorize the American contribution to gastronomy. Perhaps because of comments (such as "America has no real national food of its own; it is all adulterations of European cuisine" or "Americans don't know how to cook; they only know how to order from MacDonalds"), I turned to cuisine of the southwestern part of the United States, drawing from pre-encounter traditions. Using this theater of food in which to perform my national heritage testifies to the subtle relationship between how we conceive of culinary history (and of how it signifies) and how we construct subjectivity. In this particular instance, we have a "white" woman from New York, who was born in 1972 and who had never traveled to the Southwest, sharing her idea of being American through the preparation of a type of cuisine distinctly marked by the encounter of Europeans with the indigenous peoples of the Americas. It would seem that in endeavoring to understand the ways of thinking about ourselves and the world around us and the foods we choose, we are engaging in a politically charged interplay between ways of thinking and ways of being, particularly in how they form concepts of cultural dominance and the perceived availability of choices in constructions of identity and in modes of self-expression.
—Lynn Houston, "Food, Ideology, and Performing Self," Proteus, Spring 2000, p. 25.
A FEW OF THE THINGS WE'VE DONE
In a remarkable effort to make sure that the public realizes the accomplishments of the Clinton presidency, the White House web site has recently introduced a series of summaries detailing the work the administration has done. The following text represents about half of the President's claimed accomplishments in the environmental area.PRESIDENT CLINTON AND VICE PRESIDENT GORE
—President Clinton, January 11, 2000
PROTECTING AMERICA'S NATIONAL TREASURES
Preserving our Lands Legacy. Seeking permanent funding of $1.4 billion a year through the Lands Legacy initiative to expand federal efforts to save America's natural treasures and provide significant new resources to states and communities to protect local green spaces and protect ocean and coastal resources. Won $652 million for Lands Legacy in the FY 2000 budget, a 42 percent increase.
Protecting America's Forests. Launched effort to protect over 40 million acres of "roadless areas," which include some of America's last wild places. Dramatically improved management of our national forests with an ambitious new science-based agenda that places greater emphasis on recreation, wildlife and water quality, while reforming logging practices to ensure steady, sustainable supplies of timber and jobs. Balanced the preservation of old-growth stands with the economic needs of timber-dependent communities through the Pacific Northwest Forest Plan.
Creating New National Monuments: Protecting Utah's Red Rock Canyon. Created the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah, protecting 1.7 million acres of spectacular red rock canyonlands, artifacts from three ancient cultures, and the most remote site in the lower 48 states. Protecting the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Designated the new Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument in Arizona to protect just over 1 million acres of deep canyons, mountains, and buttes on the north rim of the Grand Canyon. Saving Prehistoric Treasures. Created the Agua Fria National Monument 40 miles north of Phoenix, which features some of the most extensive prehistoric ruins in the Southwest, including spectacular petroglyphs, terraced agricultural areas, and rock pueblos. Preserving Coastal Riches. Created the California Coastal National Monument encompassing thousands of federally owned islands, rocks, and reefs off the California Coast providing critical feeding and nesting grounds for seabirds. Expanding a 92-Year-Old National Treasure. Expanded California's Pinnacles National Monument, created by President Roosevelt in 1908, to preserve the monument's unique geologic resources. Safeguarding Ancient Sequoias. Expanded California's Pinnacles National Monument, created by President Roosevelt in 1908, to preserve the monument's unique geologic resources.
Defending the World's First National Park. Reached an historic agreement to halt the massive New World mine three miles outside Yellowstone National Park, protecting the area from toxic runoff and other threats. Protected 9,300 acres in the Royal Teton Ranch adjoining Yellowstone National Park, a critical step to preserve the famed bison and geysers of America's first national park.
Restoring the Florida Everglades. Secured nearly $1.2 billion for Everglades restoration over the past five years. Proposed a $7.8 billion plan to nearly double the amount of fresh water available in South Florida, ensuring clean, plentiful flows for the Everglades, and adequate supplies for the region's cities and farms. Worked in close partnership with interested parties to acquire and protect critical lands, accelerate scientific research and strengthen water quality programs targeted at restoring the Everglades. Added nearly 70,000 acres to Everglades National Park.
Saving California's Ancient Redwoods. Forged an agreement and secured $250 million in federal funds to preserve the Headwaters ancient redwood forest in Northern California, saving trees up to 2,000 years old and protecting critical habitat for threatened and endangered species.
Restoring the California Bay-Delta Ecosystem. Secured $190 million to help restore the California Bay-Delta ecosystem through CALFED—a joint Federal-state initiative to develop a long-term strategy to ensure adequate water supplies to meet the state's urban, agricultural, and environmental needs—plus $30 million for Bay-Delta water management activities supporting CALFED's long-term objectives.
Improving Our National Parks. Issued new standards to clear the haze and restore pristine skies to our national parks. Signed Omnibus Parks legislation that creates or improves over 100 national parks, trails, rivers, and historical sites. Created Death Valley National Park, the largest park in the lower 48 states, and Mojave Desert National Preserve in the California Desert. Blocked attempts in Congress to close some national parks and expand road building in others. Issued new rules to restore natural quiet to the Grand Canyon by creating new and modified air tour routes over and around the Grand Canyon and require aircraft to increase their maximum flight elevation (altitude) from 14,499 feet to 17,999 feet. These rules will allow continued access to all, while also helping to restore the natural quiet of this timeless treasure.
Protecting Natural and Historic Sites. Protected scores of natural and historic sites around the country by securing over $2.5 billion over the past seven years through the Land and Water Conservation Fund for acquisition of threatened lands. Projects include completing the Appalachian Trail, protecting Civil War battlefields, and preserving New Mexico's majestic Baca Ranch.
Safeguarding the Arctic Refuge. Turned back attempts by Congress to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling.
Forging Conservation Partnerships with Farmers. Provided farmers with new conservation tools by proposing and signing a Farm Bill that authorized $2.2 billion in additional funding for conservation programs such as the Conservation Reserve and Wetlands Reserve. Created new federal-state partnerships that targeted over $1 billion—in Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, and Washington—for farmers and ranchers to voluntarily remove lands from production to improve water quality and wildlife habitat.
ENSURING PUBLIC HEALTH
Cleaning Up Auto Emissions. Adopted a uniform tailpipe standard to passenger cars, SUVs and other light-duty trucks, producing cars that are 77 percent cleaner—and light-duty trucks up to 95 percent cleaner—than those on the road today. Set new standard to reduce average sulfur levels in gasoline by up to 90 percent. Once fully implemented in 2030, these measures will prevent 43,000 premature deaths and 173,000 cases of childhood respiratory illness each year, and reduce emissions by the equivalent to removing 164 million cars from the road.
Strengthening Clean Air Protections. Approved strong new clean air standards for soot and smog that could prevent up to 15,000 premature deaths a year and improve the lives of millions of Americans who suffer from respiratory illnesses. Defending the standards against legal assaults by polluters.
Accelerating Toxic Waste Cleanups. Completed cleanup at 515 Superfund sites, more than three times as many as the previous two administrations, with cleanup of more than 90 percent of all sites either completed or in progress. Secured $1.4 billion in FY 2000 to continue progress toward cleaning up 900 Superfund sites by 2002.
Providing Safe Drinking Water: Proposed and signed legislation to strengthen the Safe Drinking Water Act and ensure that our families have healthy clean tap water. Required America's 55,000 water utility companies to provide regular reports to their customers on the quality of their drinking water.
Established EPA's Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF) that provides grants to States to finance priority drinking water projects that meet Clean Water Act mandates. To date, the DWSRFs have provided $1.9 billion in loans to communities.
Awarded nearly $200 million in Department of Agriculture (USDA) loans and grants for over 100 safe drinking water projects in rural areas of 40 states. USDA grants and loans target rural communities plagued by some of the nation's worst water quality and dependability problems.
Expanded Safe Drinking Water Act protections to protect 40 million additional Americans in small communities from potentially dangerous microbes, including Cryptosporidium, in their drinking water.
Ensuring Clean Water. Launched the Clean Water Action Plan to help clean up the 40 percent of America's surveyed waterways still too polluted for fishing and swimming. Secured $3.9 billion since 1998, a 16 percent increase, to help states, communities and landowners in reducing polluted runoff, enhancing natural resource stewardship, improving citizens' right to know, and protecting public health.
Strengthening Communities' Right to Know. Strengthened the public's right to know about chemicals released into their air and water by partnering with the chemical industry and the environmental community in an effort to provide complete data on the potential health risks of the 2,800 most widely used chemicals. Nearly doubled the number of chemicals that industry must report to communities, while expanding the number of facilities that must report by 30 percent. Expanded the communities' right to know about releases of 27 persistent bio-accumulative toxins (including mercury, dioxin, and PCBs). These highly toxic chemicals are especially risky because they do not break down easily and are known to accumulate in the human body.
Making Children's Health a Priority. Signed an Executive Order to reduce environmental health and safety risks to children. Requires federal agencies to coordinate their research priorities on children's health and to ensure that their standards take into account special risks to children.
[and the list goes on….]
I've Stopped Laughing
by Sherwin W. Howard
Every year, legislators gather in their respective capitals to pass new laws. It is one of the great rituals of democracy. Then like spring run-off, after the laws have melted their way through hearings, votes, and executive approvals, they rush downstream to our communities where most of them slip like silt beneath the lake-surface of everyday life.
As a result, we have layers of submerged law telling us how and where to ride our vehicles, what to eat, where to sleep and with whom, how much of our money we can keep, which drugs are good, which are bad, which plants are weeds, what our schools should teach, what we can sell, etc.
The consequence of these laws is evidenced in another ritual of spring, our forced encounter with incomprehensible federal and state tax codes. My family income is not complex, but we still use computer software to enter the information my wife organizes. We put in the numbers carefully and honestly, yet when finished, I know in my heart that somewhere, unknowingly, I have violated some arcane provision of the 4,500 page federal tax code.
I don't think I'm stupid, but a few years ago, when we filed state returns in both Utah and California, I made mistakes three years running that cost me penalties, in spite of formal appeals that I had followed the instructions precisely as they were written. The problem was the instructions did not fit the code.
I'm not saying we have all the laws we need, but I question whether we need all the laws we have. Like silt, the legal accumulation has begun to displace the very things we require for successful commerce and social relations. It's time to dredge the lake.
And I have criteria to offer for which laws to keep or add to the canon. Thomas More, writing in the 1500s, outlined the rules which governed his Utopia: "They have but few laws…for they think it an unreasonable thing to oblige men to obey a body of laws that are both of such a bulk and so dark as not to be read and understood by every one of the subjects."
Four hundred years later Will Rogers observed: "When I make a joke, nobody's injured; when Congress makes a joke, it's a law." I've stopped laughing.