There’s gloom and anguished hand-wringing from a new U.N. report soon to come out, as reported in the U.K.’s Telegraph.

The world’s biodiversity is threatened by the economic growth of countries like China, India and Brazil, the study will say.

While Western countries are increasingly aware of the need to protect endangered species, the developing world’s appetite for raw materials is destroying vulnerable ecosystems, the report’s authors will warn.

Population growth, pollution and the spread of Western-style consumption are also blamed for hitting plant and animal populations.

It builds on recent work for the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) which showed that 21 per cent of all known mammals, 30 per cent of amphibians and 35 per cent of invertebrates are threatened with extinction.

Not stated in this report is the simple solution to protecting all these mammals, amphibians, and invertebrates: prevent the developing nations like China, India, and Brazil from developing. I’m sure that will be a tough sell to the people of developing nations. Imagine being in their shoes: would you rather have dependable electricity, or remain in the economic backwoods if it means the survival of the snail darter and the hairy-chested nut scratcher?

But I take a slightly longer-range view of extinction than the U.N. report does. History tells us that of all the species that have ever lived, 90% are now extinct. It seems to me that extinction is the norm.

And of course no news story about extinction is finished until the author can sneak in some jab at Western civilization in general or the United States in specific:

[Ahmed Djoghlaf, who heads the Convention on Biological Diversity] added: “It’s a problem if we continue this unsustainable pattern of production and consumption. If the 9 billion people predicted to be with us by 2050 were to have the same lifestyle as Americans, we would need five planets.”

What dear Mr. Djoghlaf doesn’t explain is that it is only in the developed nations of the West, like criticized America, that the common people can affords them the luxury of worrying about species extinction. When you are struggling for that next meal, it very well may be fried snail darter or roasted hairy-chested nut scratcher on a stick. And you’d be glad to have it.

I work in the software industry. It is an industry standard for software to go through different versions over time. The idea is to improve the program with each release, but that isn’t always the case. Just look at the bad press that Windows Vista has received since it was released.

Likewise, our nation has undergone several versions. It began with a beta release on July 4th, 1776 and progressed to version 1.0 on March 1st, 1781, when the Articles of Confederation were ratified. As is common with initial releases, what looked good on paper didn’t work very well in real life. The thirteen states were sovereign, with a small, toothless federal government. Eventually the flaws led to a convening of the Second Continental Congress and the drafting of the U.S. Constitution.

When the ninth state ratified the Constitution on June 21, 1788, America 2.0 was released. This version proved to be much more robust than version 1.0, and it continued, with small patches, for almost 100 years until the crisis of the Civil War. Version 2.0 was coded with strong states and a stronger, but still limited, federal government. Many southern states split from the mother country over the issue of slavery, arguing they had the right to do so under the Ninth and Tenth Amendments, and it took years of bloody fighting and two more amendments to bring the nation together again.

President Lincoln’s efforts brought about America, Version 3.0. With the advent of this release, people stopped referring to the United States as separate sovereign states, and began referring to them as a single unified nation. A strengthened federal government took charge of America 3.0, leading the way for the next decades; Americans began to become familiar, if not comfortable, with the federal government dictating what individual states could and could not do.

America 4.0 appeared as part of President Roosevelt’s efforts to ameliorate the Great Depression. This version created a major societal shift, as American citizens went from being largely self-reliant to being largely dependent upon the government for job creation, policies that affected everyday life, and relief from every woe. President Johnson further altered social paradigms with the release of Version 4.5, an expansion of the welfare state with an associated reduction in individual self-reliance.

And now that the House has passed the Senate’s Health Care Reform Act, America 5.0 is almost here. It will begin when President Obama signs the bill into law, effectively taking over one-sixth of the nation’s economy and shouldering the responsibility of providing health care for every individual within its borders. If you are ignorant of American history and America’s founding principles, you might be looking forward to this new version. But I believe America 5.0 will create ever more monolithic government control over state and individual freedoms, as begun in version 3.0. Socialized health care will create fewer services at a higher cost, as every such program has produced in every nation where it has been tried; the only beneficiary will be government officials and bureaucrats, who will now have more control than ever over how Americans–who were meant to be sovereign citizens–may choose to live their daily lives.

Nationalizing health care is a dramatic code rewrite of the ideas put forth in the U.S. Constitution of America 2.0 about individual freedoms and responsibilities, but with the passing of the health care bill, Version 5.0 will be the law of the land. The question remains whether this will be a good change or a bad one. Looking at the way other nations have changed with the adoption of socialized medicine, I believe this change will be far worse than those which came before. If you think Windows Vista got nasty reviews, wait until you discover the “undocumented features” of America 5.0.

As much as certain people try to claim that Microsoft has a monopoly on operating systems, there are alternatives available to those who want them. The computer software market allows you to go with the competition if you dislike the current market leader. But when government controls your health care, who can you turn to when a bureaucrat decides your health, or even your life, is expendable? As messy and crazy as a free-market health care system can be, it allows for individual choice. But when the government is the only choice, you get one-size-fits-all care or nothing at all. That doesn’t seem like much of an upgrade.

January 17, 2005 was Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Many Americans spent the day remembering how Dr. King worked for equality, and how he cried out on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Oddly enough, on the opposite side of the nation, a very different goal is being planned.

Spokane is a city on the eastern side of the state of Washington, and it is notparticularly recognized for its diverse culture. But some residents want that to change. Local business owner Marvin Reguindin envisions a gay district in Spokane, similar to gay districts in San Francisco, or in Seattle on the other side of the state. “We’re talking about an actual physical part of town we would like to establish as a gay district,” Reguindin explained. “It would help youth struggling with their sexuality to realize they don’t have to go away to a big city to be gay. You can be gay right here in Spokane.” This city of 200,000 people already has businesses that cater to gays, an openly gay City Council member, and the Stonewall News Northwest, a gay newspaper. But what Reguindin and others want is a physical neighborhood for gays to congregate.

In any newspaper story worth its salt, there has to be some sort of conflict, and the OregonLive.com article from which I have quoted does not disappoint. Several citizens have voiced their opposition to this idea. Most of the people who disagree do so because of religious reasons. “A gay Mecca is not what we’d like to see Spokane marketed as,” said Penny Lancaster, director of the Community Impact Spokane, a network of evangelical Christians. “I’d rather see us promoted as a conservative, family-oriented community without any reference to sexual orientation.” Bishop Walter Mize of the Christ Holy Sanctified Church worries about the sexual predators and other social ills that tend to plague homosexual areas in the U.S. “Most people don’t know about the underbelly of it,” Mize said. “It’s a culture based upon sex.” Whether you think a gay neighborhood would be a good or bad idea, it’s hard to disagree with Mize’s final statement: gay culture is based upon and almost wholly defined by sexuality.

Personally, I take a pretty libertarian view on this issue. I frankly don’t care what people do in private. I don’t parade my sexuality in public, and I expect others to be similarly circumspect. But I do find the idea of founding a gay neighborhood distressing in the sense that it appears to be a step backward, toward the segregated society of our past. Dr. King struggled peacefully for a tearing down of the barriers that separated black and white people from each other. No longer do people have to sit in the colored section of a bus or restaurant. No more do we need white-only and colored-only drinking fountains. No more do black families, traveling cross-country, have to sleep in their cars because they cannot find a motel that will take them in. We are all Americans, and we should see past the limiting factor of the color of one’s skin and look instead to the content of one’s character. At least that was Dr. King’s vision.

But this vision isn’t shared by the people who, I believe with good intentions, want to foster a gay neighborhood. They are certainly free to establish one, and they are not trying to do it through the ham-fisted force of government; for that I applaud them. “It is our desire to create an environment where diversity and different interests and lifestyles of all types can flourish,” said Tom Reese, an economic development officer for the city of Spokane. He explained that the city government was neither promoting the idea nor standing in opposition to it. The development of such a neighborhood is dependent on independent contractors and developers, and at this point there isn’t a firm idea whether the neighborhood should spring up in an existing part of the city or be created new. This is an issue the developers and the people of Spokane will have to determine.

However, there is one aspect of the story that deeply disturbs me. In an attempt to reveal the economic might of Spokane’s gay populace, the Inland Northwest Business Alliance, an association of gay and gay-friendly businesses, is planning on launching a “visibility campaign.” This campaign is aimed at all city businesses. Business owners will be asked to mount publicly visible signs describing their support for the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered populace of Spokane. In return, members of the GLBT community will drop off special cards at such businesses, letting the owners know just how much of their business is due to patronage by the gay community. I object to this campaign because it smacks of financial blackmail. If you, as a business owner, don’t go out of your way to put out the welcome mat for the GLBT community, you must obviously be a bigot and the GLBT crowd will stay away from your shop. But answer me this: if I am a fast-food restaurant owner and you visit my restaurant, what does your sexuality have to do with the burger and fries you just ordered? How does a rainbow sticker on my window make the super-sized Diet Coke you are drinking taste any better?

Spokane business owners will thus be forced to make a decision: should they run the risk of alienating their non-GLBT patrons by putting up the signs, or losing their GLBT visitors if they choose not to display them? This campaign is a passive-aggressive way for the Inland Northwest Business Alliance to demand of all business owners, “We expect you to make a visible choice: us or them. And we will be watching.” In a relatively small city like Spokane, an act of this nature can cause a fairly deep divide–not just between the gay and straight communities, but between those who approve and disapprove of the signs. While this campaign is intended as a way of showing support for the gay community, it will tend to divide more than to unite Spokane’s residents. Quinn’s First Law is in full force.

For centuries, people have gathered into communities based on their similarities. Sometimes these gatherings were forced on people, as with the Jewish ghettos of Europe, but more often than not people will gather of their own free will. Most large cities have sub-communities which spring up this way. San Francisco is known for its gay districts, as well as for Chinatown and other ethnic enclaves. When The Pirate King and I visited San Francisco in October, we drove through areas where the signs were written almost exclusively in Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Russian or Spanish. Each was an area where people of similar language and background gathered. Celebrate diversity, right? But diversity for diversity’s sake isn’t automatically a good thing. A metal bar comprised of different layers of metal isn’t very strong, because the different layers can be split off from each other with a well-focused force. But if you mix the metals into an alloy, the bar will be far stronger and harder to break.

It is not our Chinatowns that make America great. America is great because of the second and third generations of Americans who don’t see the need to stay bound to an ethnic enclave forever. America is not great because of its diversity, it is great because of its unity. Thence comes the motto E Pluribus Unum. Out of many, one.

Last time I wrote about countries with single or multiple political parties. The American political system, however, is geared toward two major political parties.

George Washington decried political parties, but even before he left office, two parties had formed. To the right, I have outlined how the two major parties have shifted over the years. The first two to form were the Democrat-Republicans, centered around Thomas Jefferson, and the Federalists, centered around John Adams and Alexander Hamilton. Other than the election of John Adams after Washington, the Federalists failed to elect another president from their party. By the 1820s the Federalists had atrophied and disappeared. In fact, all four candidates for president in 1824 were Democrat-Republicans. The Democrat-Republican name was awkward and often shortened to either Democrat or Republican. At the time, the name Democrat brought to mind the mob rule of revolutionary France; it was sometimes used by the Federalists in a derogatory manner. Since the Constitution guarantees a republican form of government, this term was a neutral and vague title, and was generally preferred for use by the party. However, after his election in 1824, Andrew Jackson officially shortened the name of the party to Democrat. At this time, the remaining Federalists and the Democrats who opposed Andrew Jackson banded together to form the Whig party. The Whigs were strongest from 1824 to 1856, and they succeeded in electing four presidents during that time: William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, Zachary Taylor, and Millard Fillmore.

The modern Republican party was formed in 1856 with a strong anti-slavery plank, and John Frémont, the first Republican candidate for president, ran on the platform of “Free soil, free labor, free speech, free men, Frémont.” This party incorporated many former Whigs, and as the Republican party ascended, the Whig party ceased to exist. With the 1860 election, Abraham Lincoln became the first Republican to be elected president. Since this time, the American presidency has passed between the Democrat and Republican parties. There have been numerous third-party candidates, mostly formed around a specific person (the “Bull Moose” party around Theodore Roosevelt, the Reform party around Ross Perot) or an idea or philosophy (Anti-Masonic, Free Soil, Greenback, Socialist), but none of these parties has succeeded in electing a candidate to the presidency or generating long-term support.

The American system works best with two large political parties. This is caused by ballot laws that promote the major parties, but also by the “winner-take-all” method of votes. Basically, winner-take-all means that in an election for a position like mayor, the candidate with the most votes will “take all” — being elected to the mayorship, while the rest get to make concession speeches. This is known as “Single-Member District Plurality” in political science, but other than poli-sci majors and Jeopardy contestants, who really cares? OK, I like Jeopardy, so here’s a great Final Jeopardy answer: “This principle asserts that a winner-take-all election system naturally leads to a two-party system.” If you said, “What is Duverger’s Law?”, you should look at competing against current Jeopardy champion Ken Jennings.

People have made a big deal over Vice President Al Gore getting more votes than President George W. Bush in the 2000 election, but Americans do not elect their president based on the popular vote. The Founding Fathers of the United States were hesitant to create a true democracy, where the majority vote wins, since they knew that system is inherently unstable. Once a democracy learns it can vote itself goodies from the public coffers, the people quickly vote themselves into bankruptcy. It is also susceptible to the tyranny of the majority, where the rights of the few are trampled by the mob.

Rather than the popular vote, the president is chosen by the Electoral College. The individuals in a state are not really voting for a president; they are voting for an Elector who will then vote for the candidate. Each state has the same number of Electors as it has people in Congress. So Wyoming has three Electors for its one Representative and two Senators, while California has 55 for its 53 Representatives and two Senators. In our “winner-take-all” system, the political party whose candidate gathers the most votes gets to select all the Electors for that state, except in Maine and Nebraska where the winner gets two votes (for the Senators) and the rest of the votes are distributed according to the winner of each congressional district. Confused? You can read all the trivia and history about this that your poor eyes can stand at the Electoral College’s website.

With the closely-contested election of 2000, and in pretty much every election cycle, people have discussed getting rid of the Electoral College and shifting to a nationwide election for president based on the majority of votes. While we now have the technology to do this, I believe it isn’t a good idea. First, it would require changing the Constitution, an act not easily achieved. Second, it would negatively affect states with smaller populations. Let’s pick on Wyoming with its sparse population to illustrate this. In our current system, Wyoming’s 3 electoral votes out of 538 is more than three times the percentage of Wyoming’s population divided by America’s population. In an election determined by popular vote, the candidates would only need to campaign in the most populous states and kiss off the smaller ones. But since the president represents all Americans, it’s a good idea to all states from populous California down to meager Wyoming.

Since 270 electoral votes or more are necessary to elect a president, it is critical that a presidential hopeful have the greatest number of votes in each state. In our two-party system, the voters may chose to elect either a Democrat or a Republican for president. A commonly seen corollary of Duverger’s law (and you thought I wouldn’t bring it up again) is the spoiler effect of a third-party candidate, effectively siphoning votes away from one of the two leading candidates. You could make the argument that Ross Perot’s 1992 presidential run pulled enough votes away from George Bush to push Bill Clinton into the lead. This was definitely the case in the 1912 election. Theodore Roosevelt pulled enough Republican voters away to his “Bull Moose” party (officially called the Progressive party) that Democrat Woodrow Wilson was elected. You can spend some time (as I did) at Dave Leip’s Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections site and look at elections such as 1884, 1888, and 1892 when third-party candidates had more votes than the difference between the first two candidates. Had these third-party candidates not run, the numbers had pulled could have thrown the election either way.

My wife asked if there had ever been a third party that managed to get a president elected. In a word, no, and for a tautologous reason: once a third party succeeds in placing one of its candidates in the presidency, it has become a majority party. This last happened 144 years ago when the then four-year-old Republican party succeeded in putting Abraham Lincoln into the White House.