- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 25, 2002

Noble: Paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould, a principled independent who passed away this week at age 60.
Mr. Gould was an evolutionary thinker who punctuated his prolific scientific writings with an insight and wit that both the scientific establishment and the general public found simply irresistible. While he was an expert on Cerion land snails and helped inspire the comparatively new field of evolution and development, perhaps his greatest contribution was in developing (with Niles Eldredge) and popularizing the theory of punctuated equilibrium, which proposes that evolutionary change happens in explosions over short time periods, rather than at a steady state.
Steady state, however, might describe Mr. Gould himself, who scribbled 20 best-sellers and a series of 300 consecutive science essays for Natural History magazine between 1974 and 2001. He brought the scientific essay genre back from the brink of extinction, often linking completely different lines of thought from dinosaur bones to baseball.
Whether it was because he was extremely generous with his opinions (whether or not they were right), or because he became so popular that his likeness appeared on "The Simpsons," Mr. Gould acquired a number of critics as might be expected.
Still, the ideas he so eloquently popularized may well live on until the next extreme punctuation in the planet's evolution.

Knave: Vermont Sen. James Jeffords, an unprincipled independent who switched parties a year ago this week.
Mr. Jeffords is a political animal whose explosion of pique caused a catastrophic change in the Senate. Ostensibly, Mr. Jeffords made his offensive shift because he felt that the Republican Party was underfunding special education. But he bagged a committee chairmanship for his trouble, and he still hasn't collected on the $20 or so billion he was holding out for (even though the cows of his dairy compact got plenty, thanks to the ridiculous agriculture bill signed by President Bush).
Piggish laws and pecuniary motives aside, Vermont's voters have been shifting steadily to the left for some time, and it's reasonable to suspect that political survival was not a minor matter to Mr. Jeffords. Besides, if his Damascus-road-like discovery of independence was as strong as he maintained, he should have simply resigned from his office and allowed his constituents to decide which person, and which party, they wished to be represented by.
Instead, Mr. Jeffords stayed on, ensuring that judicial nominations would stall, energy bills would suffer, and government spending would be stratospheric. He's now campaigning for several Senate Democrats, possibly because he believes in their principles, but probably because he is desperately interested in hanging on to his precious chairmanship.
Perhaps the only good news about Mr. Jefford's inane action is that it will punctuate Republican fund-raising letters for the rest of his sorry career.


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