Highlights from TED 2010, Thursday: "Shooting mosquitoes out of the sky with lasers"

Here's my round up of highlights from the second day of the TED 2010 presentations. My head is abuzz with all the thought-provoking ideas I learned today. (Here's yesterday's roundup.)

Picture 9-11 Inventor Nathan Myhrvold, of Intellectual Ventures had the most entertaining presentation of the day: a mosquito death ray. It's part of a plan to eradicate malaria and it's being funded by Myhrvold's former boss, Bill Gates.

First Myhrvold showed off a container that can keep vaccination medicine cold and fresh for six months. The old way -- a styrofoam cooler with ice -- keeps the medicine cold for just four hours. The new container loses less than 1/2 watt. It's similar to a cryogenic dewar, with the same kind of insulation. But this one works like a Coke machine, vending out vials one-at-a-time so warm air never gets inside the container.

Next, malaria. Every 43 seconds a kid dies of malaria in Africa. What can we do about it? Spraying is effective, but there are environmental issues. There's not an effective vaccine yet. Bed nets are effective, if you use them, but people use them for fishnets instead, and it won't make malaria extinct.

So Myhrvold and his colleagues have invented several technologies to fight malaria. First is a little gadget to make an automatic malaria diagnosis. It doesn't draw blood. It looks at the whites of eyes or through fingernails for the presence of hemozoin, which is produced by the malaria parasite.

They are also developing a system that filters out the parasites in a patient's blood, like a dialysis machine, but this one relives the parasite load.

Myrvold's invention company has a supercomputer they like to use for modeling. They're using it to figure out the most most effective malaria eradication technique. He showed a map of Madagascar, with every road and village, and rain and humidity information (which tells you if you have standing water for mosquitoes to breed). It displays a heat map of malaria. It waxes and wanes as seasons change from wet to dry. "We want to eradicate malaria thousands of times in software before we do it in real life."

Now the fun stuff: Shoot mosquitoes out of the sky with lasers. ("A pinkie-suck idea.") It can be built with consumer electronics -- a Blu-ray player has a blue laser, a laser printer has fast-moving mirror. You can use them around clinics. The shoot 100% organic photons. You can measure wingbeat frequency and size the of flying insect and decide whether it is worth killing. Moore's law makes technology so cheap we can decide whether or not to kill a bug.

They have one here, built from parts purchased on eBay. They are using a green laser pointer instead of a killing laser, for safety reasons. We see a box of skeeters being tracked and zapped. We hear the mosquito wingbeat.

He ends the presentation showing a high-speed, slow-motion, super-close-up video of mosquitoes getting blasted out of the sky in mid-flight. A wisp of smoke curls up with each zapped mosquito. "This is very satisfying." Here are some videos.


27 million human beings live on Earth as slaves. Kevin Bales is leading the effort to end the contemporary slave trade.

He's the co-founder of Free the Slaves, an organization dedicated to ending slavery around the world in 25 years. I liked his optimism.

In the early 1990s, Bales was at a public event and he picked up a leaflet about slavery. His first reaction: "No way." As a sociology professor, he had never heard of modern slavery and so he didn't believe it. But he did a literature review and found 3000 articles about slavery. Two were about contemporary slavery. He continued researching and started visiting countries with the highest density of slavery: africa, india, eastern europe. "This is real slavery -- not bad marriages or jobs that suck. These are people who cannot walk away without being killed. They don't get paid." (Only Iceland and Greenland have no slaves.)

The recipe for slavery: civil wars and ethnic conflicts create destitute people. The absence of the rule of law -- allowing thugs to use violence with impunity -- turns destitutes into slaves.

The effects of slavery, beyond the obvious human suffering: it's hurting the planet. Slaves are used in destructive, poison-spewing work that ruins the environment.

Here's how to become a slave: live in a country where lawlessness prevails. Have no way to work. Have children who are starving. Eventually man will drive a pickup truck into your village and say: "Want a job? Get in the truck." The guy will look sketchy and you will be suspicious but you get in the truck, because there's no other option. You'll be taken away and ordered to perform dirt,y dangerous work. You won't be paid and you won't be allowed to stop working. You will come to the realization you are a slave.

Contemporary slavery is the same as old slavery, with an important exception: there is a complete collapse in the price of human beings. Slavery used to be very expensive. Now slaves are incredibly cheap. You can buy one for $5 or $10 in India. If you live in the United States, you'll pay between $3,000 and $8,000 for a slave. In any case, human slaves are like "styrofoam cups. You use them then throw them away."

Perversely, this is good news, because it means the slave trade is not very profitable. Other "good" news: slave labor generates just $40 billion a year. That's the smallest number ever, adjust for inflation. The slave trade is "standing on the precipice of its own extinction." The total cost of sustainable freedom for 27 million slaves is just $10.8 billion. That money cannot be used to buy people out of slavery. That won't work. "Liberation and the work after liberation is the answer." We must learn from the "botched emancipation" of 1865, in which slaves were liberated then dumped, sentenced to generations of violence, poverty, and discrimination.

Ex-slaves are working to free others. "Frederick Douglass in in the house!" For first time in Ghana, three human traffickers were imprisoned for trading in child slaves for the fishing industry.

Are we willing to live in a world of slavery? It's a horrific fundamental violation of our civil liberty. If we can't end slavery, are we truly free?

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Nicholas Christakis at TED2010, Session 4, "Reason," Thursday, February 11, 2010, in Long Beach, California. Credit: TED / James Duncan Davidson


Your genes have a lot to do with your place and behavior in social networks, says Nicholas A. Christakis, a Harvard medical doctor and social scientist who "conducts research on social factors that affect health, health care, and longevity."

Christakis has been analyzing obesity and social networks, looking for correlations. It turns out that obese people cluster together in social networks. Also, you can see clusters of smoking, drinking, altruism, and divorce.

"The network has a memory, it moves, things flow through it. Is has a resilience that allows it to persist over time. It's a living thing."

Emotions, too, flow through networks. When we have emotions we show them and others can read them, and they copy them. They're contagious.

There are different kinds of emotional contagions. One kind is the "punctuated outburst," like a riot. The other kind of emotional contagion spreads over time with larger numbers of people. These "emotional stampedes" ripple through social networks. Christakis found "happiness clusters" and "unhappiness clusters." It's like a patchwork quilt, with happy and unhappy patches, and your happiness depends on what patch you are in.

Here's the difference between the happy and unhappy patches: Unhappy patches are on the edges of networks; happy patches are in the center of the quilt.

Christakis showed a social network with connected nodes, each node representing a person with lines representing links to friends. He pointed out two nodes, each of which was connected to four friends. In one case, the four friends were connected to each other, and in the other case the four friends were not connected to each other. I found his comment about this especially interesting: "Your genes determine whether your friends know each other or not. Some people like to introduce their friends to each other and knit their network tightly. Others like to keep their friends separate.

The connections in a social network defines the nature of the resulting "superorganism." Compare a lump of coal with a diamond. Same atoms, but the pattern of the connections gives them different properties. In a social network, the patterns of connections confer different properties on groups of people. The architecture of ties between people defines the kind of superorganism you are in.

Final thought: Social networks can be used to spread good and bad things, but social networks are fundamentally related to goodness. "If I made you sad or gave you germs, you would cut the ties with me," so those network paths get pruned and the nodes become isolated to the edges. But nodes that spread good ideas, love, and other things of value get more connections.

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Michael Sandel at TED2010, Session 5, "Provocation," Thursday, February 11, 2010, in Long Beach, California. Credit: TED / James Duncan Davidson


Harvard political philosopher Michael Sandel started out with a quote from Aristotle: "justice means giving people what they deserve." He gave the example of distributing flutes to people. He asked the audience: "Who should get the best flutes?" The audience shouted out opinions: "Give them to the best players," "the worst players," "distribute them randomly."

Aristotle said the flutes should go to the best players. Why? One audience member said, "We'll hear better music if best players get the best flutes. We will all be better off."

Aristotle's reason was different: We give the best flutes to the best players because that's what flutes are for. To be played well, and we must honor and recognize the best musicians.

Sandel described a court case involving a pro golfer by the name of Casey Martin. He was born with a defect in his right leg that makes it very painful (even dangerous) for him to walk very far. He asked the PGA if he could use a golf cart in tournaments. The PGA deliberated, came back and said "No. That would give you an unfair advantage over the other players who must follow the rules that require them to walk."

Martin sued, saying the PGA's ruling violated the Americans with Disabilities act. Sandel polled the TEDsters: if you were a judge how would you rule? There was a good division of opinion. A woman in the audience, named Charlie, said she would rule in favor of Casey because, "walking the course is not part of the game of golf." Another audience member, named Warren, replied that the "endurance element is an important part of the game." (When asked if he golfed, Warren said, "I'm not a golfer." Charlie fired back, "And I am!")

Sandel described what happened in the case. The lower court brought in golfing greats to testify -- Nicklaus, Palmer. They all said that the fatigue factor is an important part of the game and therefore walking is fundamental to the nature of the game. But when the case went to the Supreme Court, the judges ruled 7-to-2 in favor of Casey. The majority of the judges agreed that walking was not part of the essential nature of golf. Scalia dissented, saying it's not posible to determine the essential nature of a game like golf. Since a game has no purpose other than amusement, it is impossible to say if any of a game's arbitrary rules are essential.

Scalia's opinion is questionable: if sports fans thought rules were arbitrary and not designed to bring out the best in the people who played the sports they wouldn't care about the game.

With golf, as with flutes, it's hard to decide what is justice without looking at the essential nature of the activity and what qualities are worthy of honor and recognition. You can look at same-sex marriage through the same lens. Sandel asked the audience whether or not same sex marriage should be allowed (I saw one man raise his hand opposing same sex marriage). People against same-sex marriage consider the nature of marriage to be procreation, and people in favor say lifelong loving commitment is the nature of marriage.

Sandel's conclusion: A way towards mutual respect is to engage directly with each other's deepest moral convictions. This will restore democratic discourse.


  1. —From Paul Simon’s “Boy in the Bubble”

    “And I believe
    These are the days of lasers in the jungle
    Lasers in the jungle somewhere”

    Seriously, though, lasers in the jungle… What doofuses. Oh, they are smart, but most smart people are also very stupid. It’s simple “Game Theory”… What is cheapest? What is most effective? What are the resources for spreading it? Is there a way to make a vaccine?

    Here’s what I’d do: Oil to Africa.

    They killed it in Panama during the canal project by dumping oil in the standing water.

    This suffocated the “Gills” the mosquito nymphs used to hold above the water to breathe. Nowadays, we’d use vegetable oil being more environmental minded, but Africa’s a pretty dry country, not that much water, especially standing water. Break the cycle by killing all the mosquitos at the birthing stage, you won’t have any Malaria in Africa. Just spend a few months keeping all the standing water oily, along with lots of bottled water, energy efficient ovens and food giveouts so the project is communicated and people get healthier, can get screened for disease, etc. Along the way, we can give them vitamins, medicine for a few types of worms and do mass vaccinations for Rabies.

    A project like that would cost a few billion dollars and require massive Red Cross/UN coordination, but it’s benefits would be incalculable.

    1. Finally, science has caught up with my long-held dream of eliminating flying pests with lasers. This is a great day.

      What are you doing reading Boing Boing when you could be saving Africa from Malaria?

  2. I wonder what happened to the plan to genetically modify the anopheles mosquito to prevent it carrying malaria.

    There was also a plan to introduce huge numbers of sterile female mosquitoes into the wild so the males would waste their efforts.

    Google to the rescue.

  3. Nathan Myhrvold would like us to think he’s dedicated to good things like eradicating malaria, but _think about it_. He made his fortune in a huge, still operating, extortion racket. His current “Ventures” is another, potentially even bigger, legal-extortion racket.

    Blasting mosquitoes with lasers sounds fun — and almost certainly is — but does absolutely no real good for anybody under threat from malaria. This is a person who thinks extortion is good business. Should BB be helping replace “Myhrvold = extortion” with “Myhrvold = malaria eradication”? He’d like that.

    (That said, I understand there is a particular wavelength of light — probably ultraviolet — that catalyzes the breakdown of chitin, the structrual protein of insect wings and exoskeletons. As a consequence, given the right laser, a remarkably low intensity should suffice to dissolve their wings.)

  4. I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt and presume that’s fishing-nets, rather than fishnets.

    I swear I had an immediate mental image of women cutting their mosquito nets to appropriate lengths, wrapping them around their legs and sewing up the back, as ‘a stocking..

    Then I remembered Africa isn’t 1940s-Europe, and stockings are not the status symbols they once were.. *sigh*

  5. “Spraying is effective, but there are environmental issues.”
    Actually, DDT is one of the safest and lowest-impact pesticides ever invented (contrary to Rachel Carson’s work of fiction, it doesn’t weaken birds’ eggs). It’s also extraordinarily cheap, and its use in Africa could reduce incidence of malaria to the point of near-eradication.
    But, you know. Unfounded fears about dead birds are more important than children’s lives.
    On the other hand, TED is super cool, and so is killing mosquitoes with lasers. I’d probably buy a mosquito death-ray.

    1. since when is rachel carson a “fiction writer”? i don’t think you’re a troll, i think you’re just one of those people who doesn’t give a fuck about facts, in order to perpetuate your own reality.

    2. I agree about DDT. It is so safe that it can be applied directly to the skin. Only too much use (which was widespread) causes problems but then elimination of DDT has killed millions of people due to malaria and replacement of DDT with pesticides that are actually much worse then DDT. Agent Orange is safe too. It was only a by product that caused cancer. 2,4,5 T is a plant hormone. It has also been replaced with more toxic alternatives.

  6. Lasers and moving mirrors blasting things from the sky? Wasn’t that the project that Professor Hathaway was developing for the CIA in Real Genius in 1985?

    1. Sounds like Total Annihilation.

      When he mentioned Dewar flasks all I could think of was AKIRA OH GOD HE’S WAKING UP

  7. I red some thing a year or 3 back talking about eradicating malaria & it said DDT was the best thing for it, applied to the walls of the bedroom. The mosquitoes fly in, light on a wall, then go to bite. The wall application delivers the poison in an effective dose w/o getting it into the environment in quantities that will cause thinning of eggshells & all the other nasty stuff. Cheap, safe & effective. The US ruined DDT’s reputation by using it indiscriminately & cause all sorts of problems with it.

  8. Even if the technology doesn’t make sense for Africa, I can’t wait to get myself a laser bug zapper.

  9. So let me get this straight: African countries that are so poor that they can’t buy antimalarial nets for their citizens are going to spend tens of billions of dollars acquiring millions of Star Wars anti-mosquito lasers.

    This is a serious “let them eat cake” moment. I’m not surprised that Myrvhold – a man who has convinced himself that his patent extortion racket is good for innovation, and who paid millions to commission his own personal (private) working model of a 150 year old computer because hey, why not? – has fundamentally misunderstood the nature of the malaria problem. The problem is not that there is not enough cool technology around. The problem is that nobody in the developed world cares enough to buy enough ACT tablets and mosquito nets to stop malaria in its tracks.

    Anybody who knows anything about fighting diseases is familiar with the concept of decreasing marginal returns. In areas with little infrastructure and poor hygienic conditions, the most effective interventions are often the cheapest. Only after an entire country is saturated with mosquito nets and ACT tablets and knows how to use it should we even consider trying to shoot mosquitos down with lasers or filtering the parasites out of the blood. A single day of hemodialysis in the US costs around $100. For that price, 80 people could receive life-saving ACT, or aid organizations could buy 20 pesticide-impregnated mosquito nets. And let’s not even get into the cost of the device itself, or the cost of the infrastructure buildout that would be required to support this approach on a large scale. Even a dollar spent on these devices is indefensible.

    Myrvhold and his ilk ought to be publicly censured. When every child in Africa is protected by a mosquito net, and has instant access to ACT if he/she does get malaria, we can start to talk about anti-mosquito lasers. Until that day comes, all of this tech-wrangling is nothing more than an exercise in smug self-satisfaction.

    1. Did you read the article? The laser was the most fun part, but was the last thing after more effective screening and treatment options.

      Sheesh, get over your hate already.

  10. There’s nothing magical about DDT. The main reason it isn’t used more extensively (the ban doesn’t apply in most tropical countries) is the fact that widespread spraying would lead to mosquitoes developing resistance to it. And they would. Just like they’re developed resistance to every other insecticide that’s ever been tried.

    1. It’s also persistent and toxic. It kills all the way up the food chain. It can sit in your fat cells for decades, and poison you when you lose weight.

      It’s used in the tropics because the toxicity is considered a good tradeoff for the decrease in mosquito-borne diseases…and because the people there don’t have the power to object to the permanent poisoning of their land.

    2. I hope that mosquitoes won’t develop resistance to frikken’ lazers. That would truly, truly suck.

      Great peace dividend, though, eh? Commoditize it as a dustbin-sized self-contained unit, solar panel on top (some networking kit comes like this now). Set ’em up near standing water and break the breeding cycle.

      The future is awesome.

    1. Wiping out the anopheles mosquito would be a good thing. And with modern genetic science it might be possible.

  11. If they had a mosquito zapping machine built from off the shelf parts, they should release an open-source version of the plans. I would love to build one for my deck.

  12. DDT is an effective pesticide that can be used to reduce the incidence of malaria when used correctly. It is also a potent toxin that can have all sorts of nasty environmental effects. Harun is right, DDT has great potential as a persistent indoor pesticide, but it’s not the toxicity that does it. DDT is an excellent repellent as well as a pesticide. When used in this manor, mosquito populations don’t develop resistance to it, as it’s not actually exerting selective pressure. It’s just keeping them away.

    The bed nets are a fascinating story though. Not only are they used as fishing nets, the pesticide impregnated ones are used preferentially over the plain ones. I have no idea why.
    Minakawa, Noboru. “Unforeseen misuses of bed nets in fishing villages along Lake Victoria” Malaria Journal 7 (2008):165.

    A better model for the elimination of malaria is Italy. It’s one of the only cases where malaria was once endemic, and has actually been eliminated completely. It was a combination of social and environmental change, widespread access to preventative health care, and massive application of pesticides that did it.

  13. As much as I enjoy the thought of zapping those pesky mosquitoes, I’d like to know what might happen to the birds and other creatures that consume the mosquitoes. If we create a shortage of mosquitoes, what happens?

    1. As much as I enjoy the thought of zapping those pesky mosquitoes, I’d like to know what might happen to the birds and other creatures that consume the mosquitoes. If we create a shortage of mosquitoes, what happens?

      I once thought of using lasers to lower the pigeon population, but then no one wants to see pigeons randomly fall out of the sky.

      I also thought of a system to stop sharks from attacking humans by seeding the ocean with small machines carrying vials of human blood that would squirt out in random spots and cause aggressive sharks to go after it, only to waste tons of energy to get to a place with no food.

      I was never mad enough to actually implement either of these idle ideas because who knows what the long-term effects would be? Apparently killing off insects is totally ok though.

  14. Yeah, nothing like DDT to get the right all worked up. China, India, and Mexico crank out as much as they want- India alone has a capacity of over 10,000 metric tons/year- but the problem is that skeeters ’round the world have developed resistance to the stuff. We’ve known this since 1959, when DDT resistance was first detected in Anopheles culifaciens in 1959. Countries didn’t stop using it because we told them to, or we stopped paying for it- they stopped using it because it stopped working. It’s just not an effective solution anymore.

  15. What in the name of all that is holy and scientific is an ORGANIC PHOTON?


    All of you buying “organic” food, YOU let this happen. You officially killed the word organic. It doesn’t mean a thing anymore.

    1. I did a facepalm on that one too. But maybe out there somewhere is some miserable factory farm where photos and bred and slaughtered all the while cooped up in some little pen. like a calf.

  16. DDT can also end up in crops making it impossible for African farmers to sell to EU countries (I believe they test for DDT). Potentially devastating to local economies. But then again high mortality from Malaria is generally bad for the economy.

  17. The first time I ran across an insect death ray was in David Brin’s science-fiction novel “Earth”, circa 1986. As I recall, it was a teenage girl’s solution to Killer bees disrupting her backyard apiary.

    That novel was set in 2050. Apparently, the future came a little earlier than expected.


  18. Lasers shooting 100% organic photons? Are we in the dark ages? I seem to recall a war on malaria nearly won by a Dr. Campbell, who was nominated for a Nobel prize in conscripting bats in the war against malaria. Bats, as many of you might know, are some of the happiest mutants on the planet, and comprise near a full quarter of all mammalian species. And they’re mostly happy, and nice to people. Also, they eat mosquitoes. Like crazy. Here’s a link to Dr. Campbell’s tower, that was once upon a time beloved by bats and spectators alike, starting in 1907, (It also eradicated malaria in the region):

  19. Meh. I had that idea well before 1980. Only my laser wold have been carried on the backs of specially bred flying spiders.

  20. I have been thinking of killing mosquitos with laser for years! Great some one is finally making this real!

  21. From people in the biz, I hear the problem isn’t usually that bed nets are used for fishing or women of the night. The problem is that they aren’t wildly disseminated and there typically isn’t enough infrastructure to make sure they are dipped every year. I think a lazer zapper is an interesting idea, but I’m guessing for the unit price you could buy a lot of bednets and even a few fishing nets if that makes them get used correctly.

    The proposals for returning to DDT typically center on peridomestic mosquitos and only spraying around houses, which is not the same thing as spraying everywhere, like last time. You could argue that it is ineffective for mosquitos that don’t land in houses. DDT has lots of negative effects, but used properly, I think the arguements against it are about as first-world-hissy-fit as the arguements against genetically modified golden rice.

    Regarding malaria eradication, it gives each generation of professionals concerned with malaria control a headache. However, it was eradicated from portions of the world in the last century. Unfortunately, the high cost, drug resistance, and insecticide resistance meant it was not completely erradicated, thereby allowing it to reinvade. If malaria eradication was impossible, than Americans in the Southern United States would have something more scary than West Nile virus to contend with.

    This fellow’s work is cool (especially the vaccine container) and I know this was supposed to be a short story about this presentation, but it would be swell if Boingboing could get some interviews with big kahunas of public health when they do these stories (Bill Collins for example would give a good interview).

    I think, for example, of the last story about malaria (malaria-in-the-usa-1.html) where I gave a number of corrections: Anonymous #4 21:02 on Mon, Dec. 7. I also think of an earlier piece by Mr. Doctorow regarding influenza where my comments must have been deemed trollish in some way, because he moderated them out of the comments section. This was a nice little piece, and I like boing boing generally, but the public health coverage makes me a little twitchy.

    Thank you for bring this interesting work to the general public’s attention.

  22. Lasers that shoot down mosquitoes? I saw that concept 25 years ago. An episode of HBO’s “Not Necessarily the News” featured a fake commercial for a system of lasers that would shoot down flying insects in your home. It was meant to make fun of Reagan’s Star Wars program and I think it incorporated “Star Wars” in its name (although I don’t remember exactly what it was called). That’s the first thing I thought of when I read this.

  23. I wouldn’t want to kill all the mosquitoes. That would kill all the dragonflies and several species of fish, and severely impact the bats, and leave a hole in the ecosystem that something else would fill. Maybe something much worse, like bot flies on steroids, for all I know. Tampering with a working ecosystem is like dumping a barrow-load of wrenches into Big Ben and hoping it’ll stop running five minutes slow… you might get lucky.

    The malaria comes from humans. It doesn’t come from the bugs, the bugs are just a medium of transmission. Cure the humans and you stop malaria. After all, that’s what we in the United States did. We still have mosquitoes, but there’s no significant malarial reservoir in the human population to be tranmitted by the bugs. Wikipedia says of the 1,059 cases of malaria in the USA reported in 2002, only 5 were actually contracted in the USA. Because the USA made a concerted effort to cut the contact between bugs and infected humans down to the point where the disease was no longer able to maintain its life cycle, it got wiped out. But there’s no law that says you have to use DDT and paris green, that’s just one possible means of attack. A vaccine would work in places where mosquito control is impossible or impractical.

    A vaccine would be a much better idea, and could probably be created for less than the cost of four years of American military adventuring in the Middle East. Or at least, it’d be a better use for the money even if you didn’t succeed. But personally I prefer to think a race that can zap flying mosquitoes with lasers can find a vaccine for a protozoan.

  24. actually, mosquitos provide mankind a valuable service by keeping them out of the lowlands, thereby increasing their quality of their water and fish supplies. what we really need is a death ray that kills human babies.

  25. If the laser zaps don’t also completely kill the Malaria Parasites, then all Nathan has succeeded at is creating Malaria Rain.

    1. If the laser zaps don’t also completely kill the Malaria Parasites, then all Nathan has succeeded at is creating Malaria Rain.

      If those particular parasites could get into your blood that way then they wouldn’t bother traveling by mosquito in the first place.

      1. Malaria Parasites can and do enter the bloodstream via skin abrasions or the like. This is why one is supposed to shoo mosquitoes off the skin and not squash them.

        Regardless, Malaria Rain sounds really awful — would you go stand out in it?

  26. what we really need is a death ray that kills human babies.

    Oh, we already have lots of those. Most of them shoot very chunky and interupted rays composed of lead, but they kill human babies just fine, and they aren’t solving the problem you mentioned. Something more creative than simple violence will no doubt be required.

  27. It’s easy to attack Scalia’s opinion, when you reduce it to a sentence and ignore most of his reasoning. Here’s a quotation from Scalia:

    “My belief that today’s judgment is clearly in error should not be mistaken for a belief that the PGA TOUR clearly ought not allow respondent to use a golf cart. That is a close question, on which even those who compete in the PGA TOUR are apparently divided; but it is a different question from the one before the Court. Just as it is a different question whether the Little League ought to give disabled youngsters a fourth strike, or some other waiver from the rules that makes up for their disabilities. In both cases, whether they ought to do so depends upon (1) how central to the game that they have organized (and over whose rules they are the master) they deem the waived provision to be, and (2) how competitive—how strict a test of raw athletic ability in all aspects of the competition—they want their game to be. But whether Congress has said they must do so depends upon the answers to the legal questions I have discussed above—not upon what this Court sententiously decrees to be “decent, tolerant, [and] progressive,” ante, at 13 (quoting Board of Trustees of Univ. of Ala. v. Garrett, 531 U. S. 356, 375 (2001) (Kennedy, J., concurring)).

    And it should not be assumed that today’s decent, tolerant, and progressive judgment will, in the long run, accrue to the benefit of sports competitors with disabilities. Now that it is clear courts will review the rules of sports for “fundamentalness,” organizations that value their autonomy have every incentive to defend vigorously the necessity of every regulation. They may still be second-guessed in the end as to the Platonic requirements of the sport, but they will assuredly lose if they have at all wavered in their enforcement. The lesson the PGA TOUR and other sports organizations should take from this case is to make sure that the same written rules are set forth for all levels of play, and never voluntarily to grant any modifications. The second lesson is to end open tryouts. I doubt that, in the long run, even disabled athletes will be well served by these incentives that the Court has created.”

    Scalia gives two reasons why courts can’t decide what is “essential” to a sport. First, the sports organization is “the master” of the sport’s rules. The PGA creates the rules of golf on its tour and decides how strictly each will be enforced. The court may deem a certain rule “essential,” but the PGA is still free to eliminate that rule. The PGA’s greater authority to create the sport’s rules includes the lesser authority to decide which rules are minor and waiveable. To inform the PGA it is wrong about which of its own rules matter is absurd.

    Second, Scalia points out that the PGA has no “legal obligation to play classic, Platonic golf.” The section of the ADA at issue was designed to protect disabled customers, not professional athletes working as independent contractors for the business at issue. To treat golfers as customers of the PGA, subject to ADA protection, makes a mockery of a statute designed to protect truly disabled people who couldn’t access the basic services of modern life.

    Your argument that sports rules are not arbitrary, because they are designed to bring out the best in athletes, is nonsensical. No matter what the rules are, athletes will try their best to win. What if NBA hoops were 11 feet high instead of 10? There may be less dunkers and lane play, and more three-point shooters. but basketball would still “bring out the best” in its players. The content of what’s “best” varies by the rules, which the organization defines.

    You ignore Scalia’s more down-to-earth concerns. First, sports organizations will now enforce every rule strictly, to ensure no court will have grounds to deem it “inessential” later. This deters organizations from voluntarily waiving rules for disabled athletes on a case-by-case basis. If they waive it once, the court will decide they can waive it again. Second, organizations will cease open tryouts, and instead only invite non-disabled competitors to private tryouts. This avoids lawsuits from disabled competitors seeking to alter what the organization and its competitors have deemed essential rules.

    That competitive sports should have their rules dictated by federal judges, to ensure competitor equality, comes close to a dystopian vision. As Scalia says, “The year was 2001, and ‘everybody was finally equal.’ K. Vonnegut, Harrison Bergeron, in Animal Farm and Related Readings 129 (1997).”

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