Tuesday, June 13, 2006

I, for one, do not welcome our new insect overlords

London city council last night voted 13-6 in favour a ban on the residential use of pesticides for cosmetic purposes. The outcome of the vote could not really have been said to have ever been in doubt. Once the jurisdiction over private property and private interests had been settled in favour of municipal governments, the exercise of that jurisdiction has been almost entirely at the discretion of the city, a discretion that yields more easily and more often to temptation than to forbearance. But whether temptation or forbearance, decisions over the use of private property have long been removed into the political arena, farther away from the judgments of ordinary citizens and into the less penetrable sphere of moneyed activists and lobbyists jockeying for the privileges and exemptions over other people's property that politicians dispose — a system that admirably suits all three classes at everyone else's expense. "Sensing the political winds in an election year…"

And so it is easy to imagine the self-congratulatory satisfaction of Imagine London supporters today. Imagine London, also known under the dummy front of the London Coalition Against Pesticides, is a small group of disaffected political activists who describe themselves as a "coalition of civic, neighborhood, labor, environmental, and student leaders," which is meant as an affectation of broad representation that the numbers and quality of their membership actually lack. Except they must be just a little less disaffected these days, having prevailed in the course of less than one year upon the preemptory authority of, first, just one person, and now of thirteen persons to act as surrogates for their own pretentions to power to implement their agendas of redistricting London's electoral wards and a pesticide ban respectively. And they speak of democracy! They have seen their investment in politicking pay off much more handsomely and absolutely than any effort at moral suasion — moral authority of their activism is now theirs by default, acclaimed by the force of legislation. 2+2=5, by enactment of city ordinance #R371G. Emboldened by their success, one can hardly wait to see what legislated interventionism they have planned for the rest of us next!

The debate over the pesticide ban has been cast on one side as an issue of health and on the other as one of property rights. Of course, it is an issue of property rights, first and foremost, to which the health issue must properly be understood as precipitating from the issue of property rights. The question is fundamentally: who gets to exercise control over private property, the city or the owner? Many proponents of the ban are inherently sympathetic to socialism as a political means of exercising proxy ownership over other's property and are publicly uncomfortable with the adversarial concept of property rights. But when confronted with property rights, ban proponents cite the corollary to property rights that the free enjoyment and use of property ends where another's enjoyment and use begins. That is, one cannot do something with his property that damages another's — and property includes the person himself. True enough, nobody would argue with that, but the demonstration of harm to someone else's property (or person) must be conclusive and demonstrable for the government to exert its force in the matter — otherwise the exercise of force cannot be considered anything but one of arbitrary political power. When your rights are subject to the arbitrary whims of political power, it is generally understood to be a tyranny. But the corollary does properly bring the debate to the science of pesticides: can the use of pesticides by a property owner be conclusively demonstrated to impinge upon the property rights of others, which is the only legitimate reason to restrain it?

It cannot.

Ban supporters concede there's little or no scientific evidence showing a direct link between pesticide use and health issues, but argue banning cosmetic use of the materials is needed as a precaution because of casual links and associations between various ailments and pesticides.
Nor, it will be admitted, is there conclusive evidence that pesticide use does not pose any health risk at all. But there does not need to be proof of that — but opponents of the ban can be forgiven for trying to supply it when flattering the pretensions of council to be able to arbiter science is imposed as one of the rules of the game. For the bylaw to stand on any claims to legitimacy instead of being an exercise of arbitrary tyranny, the burden of proof necessarily and finally must rest with the prohibitionists. And the proof does not exist.

Both sides of the debate have cited studies supporting their propositions, but the studies all have one thing in common — they prove nothing at all about the effect of residential use of pesticides on human beings. In fact, the studies cited by ban proponents are at best only suggestive, extrapolating from extreme scenarios that bear almost no passing resemblance to the actual experience of a city-dweller. I would go further and say that most of the studies suggesting the dangers of pesticides make their appeal more from acclamation of the precautionary principle at the say-so authority of self-declared experts in fields outside the actual research, such as bureaucrats working in the health field. Profiting from the same administration over other people's property as politicians, their acclamation is entirely self-serving, and it is no coincidence that council would cite the same precautionary principle.

While one cannot provide evidence of the specific dangers of pesticides, one can suggest the proportion of apparent danger that will actually be addressed by the pesticide ban. A study in the Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia found that 24% of applications of pesticides by volume were done by residential users. Significant, yes? But of that 24%, swimming pool and spa applications made up 88% of the total by volume, and these applications are to be exempted in the ban. This leaves a maximum of 2.64% of total applications by volume that could even be considered cosmetic use by residents in the Annapolis Valley. Even accepting that Annapolis Valley is not as urbanized as London, the proposed ban will have only a small effect on the overall amount of pesticides to which Londoners are exposed. Further, the study only measured outdoor applications of pesticides — but pesticides are found in many household products as well, further minimizing the actual benefit of the ban. Additionally, the law of unintended consequences of government action will obtain in this case. Applications of pesticides still legal for purchase will become furtive, no longer with the knowledge of passers-by, and will be made without the benefit of trained supervision, adding the risk of over-application or unsafe misuse.

One would be forgiven for asking at this point if council really felt that pesticides were a danger to health. Exemptions in the bylaw permit pesticide application for farming, golf courses, swimming pools, utility rights of way, playing fields, lawn bowling greens, insect infestations, and the rather vague "threats to human health" — presumably effecting a regime of request forms and bureaucratic approval to comply with the last two exemptions. But, combined, these uses far outweigh residential cosmetic use. If pesticide exposure does constitute a danger, the proposed ban will have a negligible effect at the cost of degrading property rights. So what is the pesticide ban going to accomplish? For Londoners, very little indeed… But to politicians accrue the political benefits of having been publicly seen to apparently do something about perceived and exaggerated fears — fears that are warped and manipulated to serve political agendas that seek to extend the influence of politics over property.

And, compounding the insult, homeowners will be paying for the interdiction placed on their own property:
City staff estimate enforcement will cost up to $300,000 a year, while an education campaign could cost $300,000…
At the end of the day, a reasonable distillation of all the science and innuendo that has been bandied about during the debate is that prolonged exposure in the immediate vicinity of pesticides may pose a potential but not inevitable health risk — but for those concerned it's certainly nothing that the simple and formerly common courtesy of staying off other people's property can't prevent. And that goes double for politicians.
  • In favour of a pesticide ban: Mayor Anne Marie DeCicco, Controller Gord Hume and councillors Fred Tranquilli, Bernie MacDonald, David Winninger, Susan Eagle, Sandy White, Judy Bryant, Ab Chahbar, Cheryl Miller, Joni Baechler, Bill Armstrong and Harold Usher.
  • Opposed: Deputy Mayor Tom Gosnell, controllers Bud Polhill and Russ Monteith and councillors Roger Caranci, Rob Alder and Paul Van Meerbergen.


Honey Pot said...

Lord thundering Jesus, stop your whinging. It is a democracy. If you are too fucking stupid or lazy to get out there and put some work into what you believe, that is sad, and too fucking bad.

This handful of people (who would like nothing more then to stick me in a cannon and blow me off the face the earth) took their beliefs and turned them into action. The odds were so against them. No money backing them, they did it with sheer will. I take my hat off to them, they did a good thing.

bonnie abzug said...

"This handful of people (who would like nothing more then to stick me in a cannon and blow me off the face the earth)..."

Honey Pot, you're being too hard on yourself. It's that damn persecution complex you enjoy walking around with. We all love you. And I mean that. The only cannon I've heard referenced when talking about you is the "loose" type.

Honey Pot said...

Bonnie, I am so insulted...a loose cannon. I just go with what works. I love you guys too, and I am so thrilled that you guys did what needed to be done.

Anonymous said...

Did you even read the post?

MapMaster said...

I hope that you are not suggesting, Honey Pot, that I did not put any work into what I believe. Unfortunately for myself and others, it is much harder to work for inaction than for action, when the temptation to use arbitrary authority almost without check is just lying around waiting to be picked up.

But in a sense you are correct when you say that it is a democracy — and the particular feature of democracy in the 21st century is that it has invested a handful of people, some elected and some not, with near-plenary powers. Imagine London plied their beliefs on one and thirteen persons, respectively (all of them inherently sympathetic to the appropriation of property by view of their having attained the positions that they did), to turn them into action, and what this says about democracy is unflattering. What this says about Imagine London is that they are thugs (and they certainly are backed by money, even if not a lot — I understand from private correspondance that they have been backed by the Urban League of London which is in turn supported by the taxpayers of London, but I have been unable to follow the trail). Sheer will? It has taken some will, of course, but especially on the issue of the pesticide ban, not too terribly much I think.

But those ban proponents, including possibly some members of Imagine London, who are actually well-intentioned have been duped. Trafficking in politics with politicians is a risky business, as their objectives are hardly your own — their objectives are to exercise and extend their authority, and their means are simply to appear to act in the interests of their constituents. And so you now have a bylaw that, while sacrificing a minority of Londoners (those homeowners who wish to use pesticides) and a little business for lawn-care companies, will make a negligent difference in the amount of pesticides Londoners are actually exposed to. Council protects those uses of pesticides (golf courses, swimming pools, etc.) that are going to be most enjoyed by the elite with which they associate, and does only the most minimal damage to their association with the elite's investment in chemical production and other businesses.

That's why the polls released before the vote were so useful to council — they can now sit back and reap the benefits of having appeared to listen to popular will, without having done much to address the actual concern but extending their own authority at the same time. Pretty much win-win for them. And the pesticide issue will sit on the back burner for some time to come now, so that even if they did constitute a danger, nothing will be done. The health of Londoners are completely secondary, if it has any importance at all, that is, to the political benefits that accrue to council.

And, in the meantime, Imagine London suffers the contempt of those Londoners who value property rights — a contempt which, I would add, is entirely deserved and which I would encourage, but which is less than the contempt that council deserves. For the politicians, though, it is useful to have such a vocal activist group to absorb so much of it.

Honey Pot said...

Yeah, I am suggesting that Map. Not too much work goes into inaction, whole whack of that apathy thingmajig going around.

Map,I didn't see too many down there waving signs reading "We love our pesticides."

You are not suggesting that city council is doing a swell job at governing are you? Word on the street is that they are as useless as the tits on a boar. There is a big surprise coming for them this upcoming election. We are all very aware of how the game of politicking is played. City council dropped the ball. It has been taken away from them, and there is no fucking way they are going to get it back by November.

Trying to paint Imagine London as the bogeyman is going to backfire on them. Has already as a matter of fact. Some bfg's waiting in the wings to be called into action. All Imagine London needs is the support of the common people. They don't like to give it much, that is why you don't ask for it all the time. Explain to them they have one shot to turn this assholiea of a city around. That can be done easily enough.

MapMaster said...

Quite sorry, Honey Pot, I momentarily gave Imagine London the benefit of the doubt and took them at their word that their objectives were altruistic, no matter how misguided. Of course, since their objective is to gain political power, as you so correctly point out, they are quite capable of looking after themselves. You are in a better position than I am to know. I appreciate the reminder that they are not the "common people."

Do you suppose that satisfaction with the status quo is the same thing as apathy? I guess it sounds good on the press releases.

I would never suggest that council is doing a good job — it is the mission of the London Fog to demonstrate that it is not. But there are quite a few councillors that I'd rather take my chances with than a horde of socialists with firecrackers down the cracks of their asses.

Err... what's a bfg?

Honey Pot said...

...big fucking gun. Of course they want political power. Anyone who says they don't is full of shit. Do I agree with everything they say and do? Nope. They even have a closet tory or two in sheep's clothing licking their chops waiting for a go at the henhouse. I just happen to see their way of thinking slightly closer to mine than the status quo on council.

bonnie abzug said...

Mapmaster says "Imagine London suffers the contempt of those Londoners who value property rights...." That's a little over the top, don't you think, Mapmaster. Contempt?

You and I are not likely to agree on a lot of things. But I'd like to think that if we sat down for a nice cuppa and chatted, we wouldn't come to blows. I certainly don't despise you or the set of values and beliefs that you espouse. In fact, I respect it. I am sure that we would both think the other to be misguided, but why do you feel the need to demonize people who certainly feel as strongly about their values and beliefs as you do about yours? I just don't get it. Maybe I'm too old-fashioned. Or maybe just too old?

Pietr said...

I feel contempt all the time;but that doesn't mean I demonise people, it means I just don't like them.
Of course, if, to you, my preferences represent some sort of law, then you might demonise yourself.

bonnie abzug said...

Hey, sorehead, don't demonise (demonize) me. I just thought that "contempt" was a little harsh for Mapmaster. Now, it it had come from Lisa, I'd have congratulated her for exercising self-restraint.

Lisa said...

Now, it it had come from Lisa, I'd have congratulated her for exercising self-restraint.

That's a rather contemptuous comment Bonnie. But I suppose it's easier on the bean to pick at someone's choice of words than to actually address their argument.

MapMaster said...

Bonnie, I was ascribing contempt for Imagine London, its methods, objectives and plans for the rest of Londoners, much as I would ascribe it for communism. Moreover, I was in fact imputing the feeling as belonging to Londoners who value property rights in general. Taking it personally is a detraction from the debate.

In fact, I have many friends who are borderline communists with whom I carry on in a friendly fashion without making a personal matter of our philosophical disagreements — I simply don't want them or their ideological sympathies to govern me. You and I would not only not come to blows, but I suspect could have an entertaining conversation and respect for each other as individuals. Quite frankly, I would be inclined to extend the offer some day after I finish my degree. Now, if you were the mayor on the other hand…

MapMaster said...

Honey Pot says:

Of course they want political power. Anyone who says they don't is full of shit.

Ah, the self-loathing of the socialist that must degrade the rest of humanity to its own contemptible level. To the self-loather, everyone else must loathe themselves and each other equally to acquit themselves in society. So we must all be repellent vermin that scavenge and fight tooth and nail for political pickings to club competing scavengers with. Honey Pot, you are an advertisement for modern democracy.

It would come as a surprise to you, no doubt, that some people actually just want to be left alone.

bonnie abzug said...

Lisa says, "But I suppose it's easier on the bean to pick at someone's choice of words than to actually address their argument."

Why, yes it is, Lisa. But its not nearly as easy as demanding rights without responsibilities. Or maintaining that your rights are of a higher order than someone else's rights. Or forgetting how it is that you got to the place where you are. You're ever so similar to the modern corporation with its insistence on privatizing the benefits of doing business while socializing the costs.

I'm sorry but there is just something inherently nasty and anti-social in your prose that sets me off.

MapMaster said...

Bonnie, I'm astonished at your uncharacteristically clumsy attempt to defame Lisa. Whether you find the tone of her writing disagreeable or not is a matter of taste, but the assertions you make about her ideas are incredible, and unfounded in anything but your imagination.

demanding rights without responsibilities

Isn't that what Imagine London is doing, demanding a right over other people's property without having to take responsbility for it? What responsibilities are you talking about? The only responsibility inherent in natural rights is that one respects other's rights — a responsibility that is consistently maintained by Lisa, and I don't know where you can cite otherwise.

maintaining that your rights are of a higher order than someone else's rights

Huh? The right to life, and its precipitates the rights to property and liberty, are of course equal to everyone. We do not subscribe to other rights because they are artificial privileges and immunities that must be exacted at the cost of someone else's natural rights. Please cite an example where this has been misconstrued by Lisa, and we'll discuss.

forgetting how it is that you got to the place where you are

Well, frankly I have no idea what you're talking about here. I suspect that you are accusing Lisa of having benefited — consciously or otherwise — from social or other government programs in the past, and so biting the hand that feeds her. Correct me if I'm wrong. But accruing those benefits that are offered is only quite natural and, in many cases, pretty much unavoidable (eg., monopolistic public health care) — but is a remarkably self-serving argument for government programs that would render them absolutely and finally permanent. Must one abdicate natural rights because of this state of affairs? I think not.

You're ever so similar to the modern corporation with its insistence on privatizing the benefits of doing business while socializing the costs.

Excuse me? Rather, privatizing the benefits and costs, please. We adamantly and consistently abhor special privileges and immunities granted to any one person or association of persons, corporations included. "Socializing the costs" is a vague euphemism for an equally inscrutable and unquantifiable standard of redistribution that is used to extract concessions for some people at the expense of others and that cannot ever be refuted because of its meaningless. Making the accusation, perhaps you can define it for us and suggest for us where Lisa has promoted it.

I would rather have expected these sorts of accusations, made less verbally polished perhaps, from Honey Pot.

bonnie abzug said...

You know what, Mapmaster, you are absolutely right. It was badly done and served no useful purpose. I would like to apologize to Lisa. That is not to say that I don't find her prose nasty or anti-social - it's the whine that really sets me off - but it's the ideas that should be debated, not the personalities.

I was directly involved in neither the pesticide lobbying nor the Imagine London campaign for governance reform. But many of my friends were, and I've watched the time and effort spent by them in working for something that was near and dear to their hearts. It was their money that was spent, their assets on the line when talks of lawsuits and payment of court costs were broached. When we impugn motives in such a ham-handed fashion, we diminish ourselves. They believe in what they are doing just as strongly as you feel their efforts to be misguided. Respect needs to flow both ways. And we don't respect one another when we accept as fact trial balloons floated by the local rag at the instigation of the paid lobbyists for special-interest groups.

As for my statment - "forgetting how it is that you got to the place where you are" - we both know that you know exactly what I meant. To characterize it as "accruing [social or other government program] benefits that are offered is only quite natural and ...pretty much unavoidable" is, in itself, a rather clumsy attempt to explain away a inherently unavoidable conclusion.

MapMaster said...

I appreciate the comment, Bonnie, and the rapprochement offered. I will respond more fully to your comment tomorrow, as I must be up early tomorrow and must retire for the night. Good night for now...

Honey Pot said...

Well I am glad that is settled. I will put it in plain text for the rest of the folks. Here ye! Here ye!.....Everyone has a right on London Fog to tell each other to fuck off.

MapMaster said...

Yes, and everyone has the right here to respond "fuck you, too," but I hope that the comments can be a little more productive anyways.

Bonnie, I had begun to believe you were a member of Imagine London from Honey Pot's comment, although I suppose by denying "direct" involvement you are not exactly refuting membership. But that doesn't matter. While we're disclosing things, I will say that I do not myself own property in London, nor would I spray pesticides on it unless I had an infestation I could not control by any other means. Just to establish my sincerity…

But, anyway, you're still discussing personalities. Let's grant for the moment that the folks at Imagine London and LCAP are entirely sincere and sacrifice their time and energy not for holding political power themselves but only for something they passionately believe in — I daresay that's true of most of them anyway. Are we to absolve them of their actions on the basis of their sincerity? If not seeking political authority over others directly, they have certainly been active in acquiring it vicariously. In fact, they have been quite sincere about their contempt for Londoners, although they would not recognize it as such, for they have not sought so much to persuade people of the merits of their attitudes toward either municipal governance or pesticides by the force of their arguments, but have taken the easy route and persuaded one OMB board member and a couple of handfuls of councillors — to whom the appeal is more likely assisted by a general practice and disposition to authority than to reason — to have their views imposed on the rest of the population by legal force. You speak of being ham-handed?

I also quite realize that your friends consider pesticide use to be an injury to themselves, and I respect their right to believe that, and to try to persuade or negotiate with their friends and neighbours. But while they cannot demonstrate the injury from which they make their appeal, the injury that they have wrought on the rights of their neighbours and friends is absolute and uncontestable.

So, they are sincere and self-sacrificing… I will commend them for that if you like, for what it's worth, but their actions still merit contempt at least in proportion to the contempt that they have demonstrated to other Londoners. Where does justice obtain by mutual respect? It all depends on what you mean by respect, I suppose, but I certainly respect the natural rights of all Londoners, special interest group or not. I wish that more Londoners would reciprocate.

Oh, and here's a quote from CS Lewis that I'm quite fond of:

Of all tyrannies a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.
— from Mere Christianity

One more thing, though, Bonnie. For the second time in all the comments you have left here, I confess that I am at a loss to understand what you mean despite being advised that I do (I never did find out the last time). I have turned it over in my head, and apart from my first interpretation, the only other one I can come up with would be a scurrilous insinuation of a lowbred upbringing, which I'm sure you could not mean. Is it a test, then? I fail. Yes, my attempt on that point was clumsy, I admit, but it's hard to be adept when I don't know what you're talking about. I will have to leave the "unavoidable conclusion" in its current state of inscrutable rest.

Honey Pot said...

Condense it Map. No one reads it after the first five lines. You started off well, that was very clear.