ALF Releases 10,000+ Mink In Iowa

The Animal Liberation Front recently claimed responsibility for the release of about 10,000 mink valued at $400,000 from a farm in Iowa in one of the largest animal releases by the group to date. Activists struck the Earl Drewelow and Sons Mink Farm in northeast Iowa, opening pens that held about 14,000 mink.

A North American Animal Liberation Press Office release claimed that all 14,000 animals had been set free, but an Associated Press story reported that about 4,000 of the mink remained in their pens.

Meanwhile of those animals that did escape, hundreds were killed by passing cars on nearby highways.

“These mink are farm animals, know nothing about life off the farm and are completely dependent on the farmer,” Lenny Drewelow, co-owner for the farm, told the Associated Press. “They will die in a few days without human help.”

In its press release, the NAALF quoted ALF spokesperson David Barbarash as saying,

Today’s raid marks the 68th action of its kind carried out by the ALF and other people since 1995. The war against the fur industry is far from over, as long as animals are kept in cages and killed for vanity luxury items.


14,000 Mink Set Free In Iowa. North American Animal Liberation Front Press Office, Press Release, September 7, 2000.

Vandals free 10,000 animals from Iowa farm. The Associated Press, September 8, 2000.

Sixteen percent of Americans are Libertarians?

    Rasmussen Research, an independent polling organization, recently performed one of the few large, scientific polls of American political attitudes based on the World’s Smallest Political Quiz which attempts to gauge political views more broadly than just liberal, conservative and moderate.

    The interesting thing is that although the poll found that, based on their answers to policy questions, 16 percent of Americans are libertarian oriented, only 2 percent of those polled self-identified themselves as libertarians.

    In fact among those who self-identified as libertarians, Green Party candidate Ralph Nader and Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan each received almost as much support as Libertarian Party candidate Harry Browne. Something’s wrong when even a majority of self-identified libertarians reject the Libertarian Party.

Public Subsidies: Sports Team and Theme Parks

    USA Today had an article last week (More Bowls, More Problems, Sept. 7, 2000) discussing how sports subsidies have gotten so out of control that cities and states are even beginning to subsidize bowl games — the irony being, of course, that the bowl games are supposed to be the big ticket source of money that makes college football profitable and justifies all the subsidies already thrown at that sport.

    In fact, most college football teams — even when they’re nationally ranked — tend to lose money or just break even. The costs of running a big time Division I football program are enormous. The university I work at, Western Michigan University, has a small time Division I program that occasionally beats a lower-level big team (the football team here beat Iowa over the weekend, for example) but is just as often over-matched by the Mid-American Conference opponents it faces. And the available data indicates the team is a net liability on the balance sheet.

    Anyway, what really surprises me is how far down the subsidy mania has passed. In Kalamazoo, where I live, the city commission several years ago decided to underwrite the construction of a small stadium in an effort to lure an independent league baseball team and soccer team to the city. I remember distinctly talking to a friend who is now a city commissioner who thought that lots of people would turn out to watch and this would really help revitalize the city. I, on the other hand, maintained there was a limited market for athletes whose abilities were less than a good college team, and that the project was destined for failure.

    A couple years ago, the city announced it was going to have to spend $2 million bailing out the stadium project after the baseball team pulled out due to low ticket sales, and the soccer team had similar problems.

    But does that dampen people’s enthusiasm for government-sponsored entertainment? Of course not. Many years ago as a teenager I happened to be one of the few Americans unlucky enough to visit another state-backed entertainment scheme — Autoworld. If you haven’t seen Michael Moore ridicule Autoworld in his film, “Roger and Me,” here’s the deal: the failing city of Flint decided it could revitalize itself if it spent many millions of dollars of taxpayer funds creating a museum/theme park centered on the history of the automobile. Flint projected millions of visitors, but in fact after it opened it quickly tanked with very few visitors compared to the projections and the money that had been spent. The only thing I remember about it that was semi-interesting was the video arcade which had a sit-down version of a popular Star Trek arcade game at the time (whereas the arcade near my house only had the lame-o stand-up version).

    So you’d think, based on the history of Autoworld, that people would be skeptical of such projects. Not here in Michigan. There’s a halfway decent flight museum on the edge of town. The current proposed boondoggle is to spend upward of $80 million of taxpayer funds to turn it into an enormous museum/theme park of air and space flight. It’s Autoworld all over again. The backers have projections showing that literally more than a million people would probably visit the center on an annual basis, which would completely revitalize and transform the city.

    Build it and they will come is apparently the only economic theory that government officials understand is build it and they will come.

    Which is kind of surprising since there is already a very nice flight and space center about 40 minutes from Kalamazoo which not only has some cool planes like our little flight museum does, but also has a space capsule from one of the Apollo missions as well as moon rocks, etc. It’s a fun place to go but it hardly attracts millions of people each year.

    The bottom line is the same for these large theme park projects as it is for sports teams: if it really will generate millions and millions of dollars in revenue then it doesn’t need public support. Such a project should easily generate more than enough private financing. If, however, supporters have to resort to public financing because private funding is unavailable, this is the best indication that the project is not worth doing.

The Bizarre Firing of Bobby Knight

So Indiana finally fired Bobby Knight. This is something that should have happened a long time ago.

I was pretty sure Knight’s career was over when I saw him give a press conference over the weekend which had me laughing out loud. Describing the many restrictions and ultimatums he had been given about his behavior back in May, Knight looked out at the sea of reporters and actually said something like “I’d have to be a moron to do what this student alleges I did.” Does Knight think people outside of Indiana believe he is a mental giant? I turned to my wife and wondered why Knight was confessing on national TV.

Myles Brand’s press conference announcing the firing was also surreal, since it was basically one long apology by Brand for having to fire Knight. Not surprising from the same cowards who refused to fire him back in May even after it became apparent that Knight lied about his claim that he never choked Indiana basketball player Neil Reed during a 1997 practice. Unfortunately video tape surfaced of that incident. Some of the other stuff that Knight either admitted to doing or refused to deny doing were so bizarre that he should have been fired a long time ago.

Everybody talks about what an incredible record Knight had, 661-240, but in fact any number of people could get high performance out of their employees or players by using unethical methods. It is almost as if Knight’s supporters deny this and reason back that since Knight wins it must mean that his methods aren’t really unethical.

Good riddance Bobby Knight.


Coach’s tirades overshadowed titles until the end. CNNSI.Com, September 12, 2000.

The Galileo Legend

Professor of rhetoric, Thomas Lessl, has a very good piece in the latest issue of the New Oxford Review concerning The Galileo Legend. Lessl points out that the story of the suppression of Galileo’s findings by the Catholic Church, often told in introductory science texts and elsewhere, has a number of components that are simply erroneous. Not a surprising view considering New Oxford Review bills itself as “An Orthodox Catholic Magazine,” but Lessl is correct about the almost urban legend-like errors that have crept into the Galileo story.

While certainly part of the reason for the errors is the general over-simplified view of the Catholic Church as anti-science, more broadly a bigger problem science history in general. Most people would be surprised if a general introductory course on American society covered only events of the last 10 years — surely events that happened in the 1780s, not to mentioned the 1880s and 1980s, are necessary to understand current American culture.

With science, though, almost all that is ever taught to students is the latest theory about how the world works with little background on how we arrived at the current state of knowledge about the world. Just like American culture, however, it is very difficult to understand and put science into context without the historical background.

An interesting example I see of this is among animal rights activists who claim that experiments on animals have never yielded any knowledge about disease applicable to human beings. They can get away with saying this in part because very few people alive today know about how the fundamental theories of disease were first formed and tested in the 19th century. Most people might know that Louis Pasteur has something to do with bacteria thanks to the widespread pasteurization of milk today, but I’d be surprised if more than 5 tenths of a percent of laymen know about the critical importance of his experiments with rabies and dogs that first demonstrated not only that rabies was a communicable disease but also resulted in the first treatment regimen for humans bitten by rabid animals.

And biology is just one small area. You would no doubt find similar ignorance for key discoveries in other areas of the sciences. It is a shame that the history of science gets so little attention.

Be the Customer – E-Book Marketing Ideas

One of the things I have always been fascinated with is products that get a lot of financing and support from the business end but then flop in the marketplace. From movies to computer programs to web sites I keep running into these failures and think “Didn’t they try to watch this movie or use this product? Surely if they had, they would have done something differently.” A big part of a lot of the failures is precisely the inability for the company to at some point put itself in the position of the consumer and ask, “If I were in the market for a product like this, would I really find this useful?” And, on the other hand, the times I find products that really excite me are when the people producing them are the same people who are using them.

One of the markets, for example, where I think companies are fundamentally misunderstanding consumers is in the emerging e-book efforts. I am interested in this since I have been working on a couple books over the past year that I have decided I will end up releasing as e-books. Like most authors I’d also like to get compensated for my efforts. On the other hand, I’m also an avid reader and most of the e-book offerings today do little for me since they fundamentally misunderstand how I, as a reader, use a book.

Expensive Pricing. Many E-book retailers are apparently going to try to charge prices for E-books that are close to what consumers would pay for a hardcover book at a retail outlet. This is crazy. Have publishers forgotten the lessons of the mass market paperback market? E-books will likely maximize their revenue when they are priced low enough that they compete with mass market paperbacks for price. At that point, the incentive to pirate E-books also declines.

Limited Formats/Encryption. One of the things I hate about current E-books is the move to proprietary standards in an attempt to use digital rights management schemes to make it impossible to copy the E-book. Clearly publishers are worried about people pirating E-books, but again I think that is largely a function of high costs that will disappear with realistic pricing. Moreover, this completely interferes with legitimate uses by paying consumers. If I buy an E-book, I want to have instant access to it whether I am sitting at my work computer, my home PC, working on my laptop, or browsing my Palm while waiting in line at the bank. That means not only does encryption stink, but retailers need to make their books available in as many formats as possible. If I pay for an E-book, I want to be able to download it in ASCII, PDF, HTML, Microsoft Reader format, PDB format for the Palm, and even a WAP version if need be — the rule should be “support as many formats as is feasible” and let customers download the book in any or all of these formats.

Current Licensing Schemes Stink. I know few people who like the licenses software companies force on them, and even fewer who want to license book content, largely because such license are one way streets — they give the software or content company all sorts of rights while simulatenously absolving it of all liability. Today’s licensing arrangements are not all that different from the sort of contract a schoolyard bully offers his victim before stealing his lunch money. Why not change that and make licenses a positive thing? Specifically I would like to buy (and sell) a license for a book that includes essentially a lifetime subscription. The books I am working on, for example, are nonfiction. Many nonfiction books, if they become popular, tend to get revised and go through several updated editions. It will go completely against current conventional wisdom in the publishing industry, but for my money I want a license not only for the current content but also for any future revisions. Publishers could even use this as a substitute for the price discrimination exemplified by paper vs. hardcover. Sell me the current version of the book for say $5, but offer to give me a lifetime license for $10 if you are selling a book that is likely to be revised every few years. This would be an easy way to add a lot of value to electronic books compared to the physical versions (an alternative from the software world might be to offer the first edition of the book for say $7 and then subsequent editions for an upgrade price of $3, but the costs of managing who bought what version might be too high to make this worth it).

A still outstanding issue is what the role of publishers will be in E-books. I could be wrong, but I suspect they are probably doomed in the long run since once E-books take off, the economics really shift back to the individual author. Consider, for example, if I write a non-fiction book on the above model and charge $10. Over a 5 year period I revise the book substantially a couple times and manage to convince 5,000 people to buy/license the book. Assuming my overhead for things like credit card transactions, etc., are 5 percent, I have made $47,500 — a lot more than most authors make and on a book whose sales are probably not high enough to keep a traditional publisher interested.

On top of that, if I am smart enough to write said book and persuade about 1,000 people a year to pay for it, I’m probably smart enough to realize that I can enhance the value of the book by building a larger community around it, and getting together with authors of similar books to create larger meta-communities around a cluster of books. This is taking genre book marketing to the next level — whereas in traditional publishing if I write a book on say animal rights and two other publishers recently published similar books, the market is probably too saturated for my book. On the Internet, however, assuming all three of our books are of high quality, the existence of one probably ends up increasing the market of the other two given the possibility of low prices (i.e. I do not want to buy three $29.95 hardcover books on the topics, but if I am interested in the topic, three $9.95 E-books might be an excellent value).