Something Useful the Lame Ducks Can Do—Congressional Medal for Borlaug

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In September, the Senate passed legislation giving Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Norman Borlaug, America's highest civilian award, the Congressional Gold Medal.  In the 1960s, Borlaug's work launched the "Green Revolution" that dramatically boosted crop yields, thus averting massive famines and protecting millions of miles of natural landscape from being plowed down by starving farmers. So instead of wasting time on useless idiotic symbolic culture war stuff, the House of Representatives could vote to let this 92-year old hero know that his country truly appreciates all his hard work at alleviating suffering and hunger in the world. As the commendation passed by the Senate notes:

Dr. Borlaug has saved more lives than anyother person who has ever lived, and likely has saved more lives in the Islamic world than any other human being in history.  Due to a lifetime of work that has led to the saving and preservation of an untold amount of lives, Dr. Norman E. Borlaug is deserving of America's highest civilian award: the congressional gold medal.

See Reason's interview with Borlaug here. My review of a recent Borlaug biography here.

NEXT: "House of Death" Update

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  1. Hurrah!!! They should have done this years ago. It is a great teaching moment to the American public that is normally bombarded by propaganda by the luddite religious greens. Just think, without this guy the whole world would be organic farmers. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?

  2. I have also admired the work of Joel Salatin (www.polyfacefarms.com), in finding ways to make small farms profitable, such that they produce unexpectedly high yields of excellent quality food.

    I wonder how the carrying capacities of the world’s arable land under Borlaug’s and Salatin’s respective approaches would compare.

    It is worth noting that Borlaug’s name may not be a household word, but his influence reaches well into popular culture: the science fiction “topic” of the classic Star Trek episode “The Trouble With Tribbles” was the power of agricultural advances to support the advancement of humanity into otherwise inhospitable regions (not to mention the political power that accrues from simply feeding people). In this episode, the “Green Revolution” is projected into the 23rd century, still going strong. It is very likely that, without Borlaug’s work to provide this historical, technological basis, one of the best-loved episodes of one of our most pervasive cultural icons would simply not exist. In turn, that episode continues to propagate a meme that, perhaps, will inspire the next Borlaug, as other episodes have inspired astronauts and scientists. One can only hope.

  3. Three cheers for ol’ Norman!
    Huzzah!
    Huzzah!
    Huzzah!

  4. So addressing fetal pain is useless, idiotic and merely symbolic but giving someone a medal isn’t? Interesting.

  5. D.A. Ridgely: “Useless” in this case because there is no chance that the fetal pain act will become law.

    Besides, it’s pretty clear that fetuses at the stage of gestation our solons are considering don’t feel pain. It’s a non-scientific claim being deployed by anti-abortion activists to try to dissuade some women from having abortions.

    Back now to praising Borlaug–a man who really has saved a bunch of human lives.

  6. Thank God they didn’t give him a Medal of Freedom.

  7. Mr. Bailey:

    Curiously enough, the language of the conclusion in the link you provided doesn’t quite say that. Instead, it reads:

    Evidence regarding the capacity for fetal pain is limited but indicates that fetal perception of pain is unlikely before the third trimester. Little or no evidence addresses the effectiveness of direct fetal anesthetic or analgesic techniques. Similarly, limited or no data exist on the safety of such techniques for pregnant women in the context of abortion. Anesthetic techniques currently used during fetal surgery are not directly applicable to abortion procedures.

    But perhaps “don’t feel pain” is just objective journalistic shorthand.

    I expect, in any case, you are better versed on the current literature addressing the subject than I am; however, I still find the notion that giving out medals, however worthy the recipient may be (and on that count I agree with you) is somehow less symbolic.

    Of course, whether something is unlikely to be passed into law is one but only one measure of its uselessness, but I’m really not against Congress acting uselessly if only it could avoid acting harmfully or wastefully in the process. (Are you?)

    What is idiotic may reduce to little more than “that with which I strongly disagree” but the latter has at least the advantage of candor.

    Back indeed now to Borlaug, lest my question regarding what seemed to be a completely gratuitous aside on your part be deemed an attempt to threadjack.

  8. So addressing fetal pain is useless, idiotic and merely symbolic but giving someone a medal isn’t?

    LOL, Mr. Bailey is unparalleled in his ability to insert a dig at pro-lifers into any topic, whether it makes any sense or not.

  9. John,

    “Just think, without this guy the whole world would be organic farmers.” Fact-challenged again, I see.

    Borlaug’s work involved old-fashioned cross breeding of existing strains. It has nothing to do with organic/non-organic designations.

    Wouldn’t it be nice if you knew something, and didn’t try shoe-horn every fact you see into your kulturkampf against hippies?

  10. Crimethink,

    I don’t know. Every time I see congress trying to deal with technical, scientific or medical issues, they seems to make complete fools of themselves. Witness “the internet is a series of tubes.”

  11. joe: Actually, John is right. Of course, you are right the Borlaug succeeded in creating dramatically more productive crop varieties by conventional crossbreeding techniques, but the yields were boosted by larges doses of inorganic fertilizers — specifically ammonia.

    As Canadian agronomist Vaclav Smil argues in his seminal book Enriching the Earth: Fritz Haber, Carl Bosch, and the Transformation of World Food Production, “The single most important change affecting the world’s population — its expansion from 1.6 billion people in 1900 to today’s 6 billion — would not have been possible without the synthesis of ammonia.” Today the world produces over 130 million tonnes of ammonia, most of it used for fertilizer. “Without this [Haber-Bosch process]” Smil writes, “about two-fifths of the world’s population would not be around — and our dependence will only increase as the global count moves from 6 to 9 or 10 billion people.” As Smil likes to say, we can live without computers, cars, light bulbs, and planes, but we cannot live without food. And much of the world eats because of Fritz Haber. See URL: http://www.anansi.ca/pop_excerpt.cfm?book=238.

    D.A.Ridgely: I would think that calling something “idiotic” would strongly suggest that I disagreed with it. Also, I would think that the blog item would also be pretty clear that I was advocating the “useful” symbolic act of awarding a medal to Borlaug over the “useless” symbolic act (with which I disagreed and therefore called “idiotic”) of passing a bill that would not become law.

  12. “joe: Actually, John is right. Of course, you are right the Borlaug succeeded in creating dramatically more productive crop varieties by conventional crossbreeding techniques, but the yields were boosted by larges doses of inorganic fertilizers — specifically ammonia.”

    Thanks Ron. Joe thinks everyone who disagrees with him is fact challenged. And yes there was more to the green revolution than cross breeding, fertilizers and pesticides as well.

  13. I still remember one of my first assignments as a new attorney was to do a complete Lexis search/background check on Borlaug for a billionare client who wanted to invest a lot of money on some projects with him. After finishing the research all I could think was, “Why have I never heard of this guy?” His name should be a household name.

  14. Dr. Borlaug has saved more lives than anyother person who has ever lived

    Kudos to Borlaug, but as far as saving the lives of the particular humans who now exist, top honors go to the guy who saved Mitochondrial Eve as she was about to fall into the tar pits.

  15. Hear, hear to everything about Borlaug. The man should be nominated for sainthood.

  16. House of Representatives could vote to let this 92-year old hero know that his country truly appreciates all his hard work at alleviating suffering and hunger in the world.

    I have taken the liberty of drawing up a “Letter To My Congressman” (partially cut ‘n’ pasted with material from this web page) for anyone who wants to help make this happen. Click on my name for the blog entry…

  17. There’s no need. The House just approved the medal.

  18. There’s no need. The House just approved the medal.

    Excellent..Details?

  19. http://desmoinesregister.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20061206/NEWS/61206023

    Washington, D.C. – A congressional gold medal, the nation’s highest
    civilian honor, would be awarded to Iowa native Norman Borlaug under a bill
    approved today by the U.S. House.

    Bailey speaks and congress listens.

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