01 May Silent Spring; You Gotta Love the SEC (or how to spoil a clever insider trading plan)*
Silent Spring (with apologies to Rachel Carson)
If you were driving a car in the 1980s, you’d have had to pull off the highway from time-to-time to clean the windshield because of the number of insects that had met their fate at 60 mph … especially on long night drives. Cleaning the windshield isn’t necessary anymore. At least not in most of North America or in other developed parts of the world. No matter where you drive, even in swampy regions, you’ll no longer encounter huge, annoying swarms of insects. They’re gone. We humans have gotten rid of the pests. Windshields now remain relatively insect-free.
If you were oblivious to the disappearance of insect carcasses, so was virtually everyone else. People were happy that they no longer had to stop periodically to clean their windshields. They also were freed of the annoyance of incessantly buzzing, biting and splattering insects. Some undoubtedly further recognized that they were not as many annoying flies, mosquitos, yellow jackets, wasps, bees and other flying and crawling pests. But only a relative few, and fewer yet wondered why.
What has happened to all those insects?
They’ve been dying. Their populations have been decimated over the past 30-40 years. A number of scientific studies have shown that many species have lost between 40% and 70% of their populations. That’s 40-70% and over a very short period. Scientists speculate that up to 40% of the world’s insect species could become extinct over the next several decades.
A poster-insect for the problem of declining insect populations has been the North American honey bee. The decline in the bee population has received widespread media attention because people love the honey they make. There’s a clear human benefit to their continued existence. Their distinctive food-creating ability and idiosyncratic appearance have put bees in the spotlight. Other insect species have a far lower media profile … and yet have seen similar rates of population decline. In fact, there appears to be little difference in the rate of decline in the populations of all developed-region insect species.
Insects are responsible for pollinating 75% of flowering plants and 35% of the world’s food crops. They’re integral to the food chain. Insects provide the principal source of food for birds and bats (the populations of both of which have been declining) and break down and recycle plant nutrients. Insects are crucial for human survival.
So what’s going on?
There are any number of theories about the causes of insect population decline. Take your pick from among one or more of pesticides, genetic engineering of plant species, the reduction in plant diversity from the encroachment of human habitation, climate change, declining populations of non-insect species on which insects depend, etc. The reality at this time, however, is that no one knows. There is insufficient data because there has been insufficient study over an inadequate period of time. No one knows where a tipping point might be for any one or more species, or even if there is one. It may be possible that entire insect populations can be destroyed without adversely affecting non-insect species or human food production. Or, perhaps the destruction of insect populations will have disastrous consequences for the environment, the food supply, and human health. No one knows. No one knows which factors are important or even contributory. And no one knows where in the curve we are today because the only data available has been gleaned only over the past few decades. The good news is that, based on existing data, scientists believe there is no near-term threat of an insect apocalypse … but there is a disturbing trend that could portend serious problems in the not-so-distant future.
Some scientists draw comfort by arguing that the eradication of non-insect species that at one time were perceived as threats to human survival enhanced, rather than damaged, the quality of human life without any apparent adverse effect on the environment. Whenever humans have needed a source of food, that source has been consumed … often to extinction. Whenever humans have perceived a threat, that threat has been eliminated … often to extinction. We killed off the Mastodons – they were both a food source and a threat. No more. We eliminated Saber Tooth Tigers – they were a threat, too. Giant Sloths are gone. The population of whales is a small fraction of what it was before humans perceived a need for whale blubber and whale meat. Many whale species remain on the endangered species list. Elephants, rhinos and giraffes are now endangered … and they are neither food sources nor threats. They are being hunted to death solely for sport because of the value of their body parts. Populations of lions, tigers, leopards, jaguars and other predators that impinge on expanding human communities and endanger human lives all are under threat of extinction. Homo sapiens has tamed its environment, eliminated competitors both large and small, domesticated animal sources and modified vegetable sources. Wild foods of all kinds for the most part have been over-hunted, over-caught and/or over-harvested. We humans have refashioned the planet to suit our needs, to make it feel safer, to make it seem better for human life. That’s been our definition of progress. Our metric has been a short-term one. If we’ve perceived that something is in our way, it has been exterminated. We have destroyed the habitats of species that limited our expanding populations. We have eliminated those species that we perceived as threats to human lives. We have domesticated those species that we believe provide the optimal food sources without considering possible consequences. And we are continuing to do so. It’s worked so far. Insects are merely the most-recent victims of human progress. The question is whether what we’ve been doing might be making the world more dangerous for sustainable human life. The cumulative effects of human progress are only now becoming apparent. The precipitous decline in insect populations without an understanding of the causes is disturbing.
You Gotta Love the SEC (or how to spoil a clever insider trading plan)
Some “John Does” apparently learned about a pending takeover offer by Chevron for Anadarko Petroleum. They set up accounts in the UK and Cyprus where they were not required to disclose their identities and bought a bunch of out-of-the-money call options on Anadarko stock right before the offer became public. When that happened, their options quickly showed a $2.5 million profit. Brilliant! But the SEC was watching and, although the SEC doesn’t know the names of the John Does and has no proof that their purchase wasn’t completely innocent, it persuaded the Federal District Court for the Southern District of NY to freeze the assets in the accounts. If the John Does come forward and satisfactorily explain the coincidental timing of their purchases, they’ll get their money. If their explanation doesn’t hold water (as My Cousin Vinny might say) If the John Does come forward and it turns out that they had some connection with a person or persons who was knowledgeable about the merger, they won’t get their money. They instead will go to jail. Nicely done, SEC!
Finally (from a good friend)
A revised Creation Story:
- In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the Earth and populated the Earth with broccoli, cauliflower and spinach, green and yellow and red vegetables of all kinds, so Man and Woman would live long and healthy lives.
- Then using God’s great gifts, Satan created Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream and Krispy Creme Donuts. And Satan said, “You want chocolate with that?” And Man said, “Yes!” and Woman said, “and as long as you’re at it, add some sprinkles.” And they gained 10 pounds. And Satan smiled.
- And God created the healthful yogurt that Woman might keep the figure that Man found so fair. And Satan brought forth white flour from the wheat, and sugar from the cane and combined them. And Woman went from size 6 to size 14.
- So God said, “Try my fresh green salad.” And Satan presented Thousand-Island Dressing, buttery croutons and garlic toast on the side. And Man and Woman unfastened their belts following the repast.
- God then said, “I have sent you heart-healthy vegetables and olive oil in which to cook them.” And Satan brought forth deep fried fish and chicken-fried steak so big it needed its own platter. And Man gained more weight and his cholesterol went through the roof. God then created a light, fluffy white cake, named it “Angel Food Cake” and said, “It is good.” Satan then created chocolate cake and named it “Devil’s Food.”
- God then brought forth running shoes so that His children might lose those extra pounds. And Satan gave cable TV and a remote control so Man would not have to toil changing the many channels. And Man and Woman laughed and cried before the flickering blue light and gained pounds.
- Then God brought forth the potato, naturally low in fat and brimming with nutrition. And Satan peeled off the healthful skin and sliced the starchy center into chips and deep-fried them. And Man gained pounds.
- God then gave lean beef so that Man might consume fewer calories and still satisfy his appetite. And Satan created McDonald’s and its 99-cent double cheeseburger. Then Satan said, “You want fries with that?” Man replied, “Yes! And super-size them!” And Satan said, “It is good.” And Man went into cardiac arrest.
- God sighed and created quadruple bypass surgery.
- Then Satan arranged for cuts to the Health Care System.
*┬® Copyright 2019 by William Natbony. All rights reserved.