Bad laws for science and all growing things

Now it’s getting personal. When the Republicans were just dedicated to making the poor poorer and the rich richer, I could shrug it off. When they kept arguing for the righteousness of bombing foreigners (well, Democrats do that too), I could console myself that they weren’t bombing me, yet.

But now they’re aiming to destroy science in the US, and I have to complain.

The legislation, being worked up by Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX), represents the latest-and bluntest-attack on NSF by congressional Republicans seeking to halt what they believe is frivolous and wasteful research being funded in the social sciences. Last month Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) successfully attached language to a 2013 spending bill that prohibits NSF from funding any political science research for the rest of the fiscal year unless its director certifies that it pertains to economic development or national security. Smith’s draft bill, called the "High Quality Research Act," would apply similar language to NSF’s entire research portfolio across all the disciplines it supports.

Oh, the “High Quality Research Act”…given the Republican’s fondness for giving their bills the most misleading names possible, we already know this intends the opposite.

What they intend to do is write patriotism into the funding of science. Our work most promote AMERICA, and also must be of utmost importance, where importance is to be defined by Texas a-holes in shitkickers and big ol’ cowboy hats, who probably don’t care much for them fruit flies.

1) "…in the interests of the United States to advance the national health, prosperity, or welfare, and to secure the national defense by promoting the progress of science;

2) "… the finest quality, is groundbreaking, and answers questions or solves problems that are of utmost importance to society at large; and

3) "…not duplicative of other research projects being funded by the Foundation or other Federal science agencies."

If the Republicans really want to start a brain drain, pass that bill. Great way to poison science.

Oh, and yeah, I also hate what they’ve done to both domestic and foreign policy. Is there anything Republicans do that is less than soul-destroying evil?

Fortunately for Matt Yglesias, Lindsay Beyerstein only leaves him in a metaphorical smoking crater.

A couple of commenters here have persisted in defending Matthew Yglesias’ odious bleat that life is cheaper in Bangladesh because it ought to be because reasons, and that any anger we Westerners might feel about the horrendous loss of life in the recent factory collapse ought more helpfully be directed to buying clothes made in those collapsing sweatshops so that eventually the people making a few hundred dollars a year will have flat screen televisions just like us.

Yglesias is doubling down. In a followup post, he stands by his conclusion that poor countries need to have less stringent workplace safety standards, and adds, as a prelude to accusing his critics of “poisoning the atmosphere,” [see update at end of post]

I’m not really sure what Americans can constructively do to get better enforcement of building codes in Bangladesh

As it turns out, Lindsay Beyerstein has a possible answer:

A group of Bangladeshi and international trade unionists put forward a bold plan to make the garment industry in Bangladesh safer. A surcharge of 10 cents per garment over 5 years would raise $600 million a year, enough to radically transform the infrastructure of the garment industry in Bangladesh. Walmart and the Gap rejected the proposal in 2011.

So that’s pretty handy: All America has to do to make sweatshops in Bangladesh safer is to stop fucking obstructing their being made safer. It’s win-win!

Oh, and a protip to Yglesias: If you persist in discussing the worker safety aspects of US investment in South Asia, you might want to consider not using “poisoning the atmosphere” as a way to tone-troll your critics. We have a 30th Anniversary coming up late next year that will turn that phrase a bit unfortunate.

Updated: in comments, nialscorva correctly points out that I misread Yglesias’ reference to “poisoning the atmosphere.”  My bad. Leaving the post as it was for transparency’s sake.

Yankee brainlessness

The craven tools in congress can’t get up the nerve to increase gun control so our kids won’t be as likely to be shot in school, but that just creates opportunity for capitalists. You can now buy bulletproof backpacks.

Lined with ballistic material that can stop a 9mm bullet travelling at 400 metres per second, the backpack is only one of a clutch of new products making their way into US schools in the wake of Newtown school massacre. As gun control legislation grinds to halt in Washington, a growing number of parents and teachers are taking matters into their own hands.

The Denver company that supplied Jaliyah’s rucksack, Elite Sterling Security, has sold over 300 in the last two months and received inquiries from some 2,000 families across the US. It is also in discussion with more than a dozen schools in Colorado about equipping them with ballistic safety vests, a scaled-down version of military uniforms designed to hang in classroom cupboards for children to wear in an emergency.

Parents “taking matters into their own hands” in the most selfish and stupid way imaginable. If only that effort could be focused on getting assault rifles out of the hands of self-righteous assholes…but there is no money for Elite Sterling Security in improving actual security, but there’s a lot in increasing fear.

It’s Matthew Yglesias’ world: we just get blown up in it.

I haven’t had much use for The Lizard of K Street since he posted this sociopathic little gem in 2004:

Did the president really gut the Endangered Species Act yesterday while no one was paying attention? So I’ve heard, at any rate. If so, good riddance. You’ll all yell at me, I suppose, but really: Who cares? Species die, shit happens, get over it.

It is not exactly news that Matthew Yglesias is a tepid thinker. Poking holes in Yglesias’ vacuous, self-absorbed puffery has long been a popular pastime among bloggers from the progressive left to the hard right. He’s got himself a cushy gig these days, squirting out incontinent posts with no detectable logical or factual value, and as long as people give his outlets page views it’s all good. Eyeballs are eyeballs, and it doesn’t matter much if those eyeballs are rolling upward hard enough to burst blood vessels.

But this shit? This shit is inexcusable.

Bangladesh may or may not need tougher workplace safety rules, but it’s entirely appropriate for Bangladesh to have different—and, indeed, lower—workplace safety standards than the United States.

The reason is that while having a safe job is good, money is also good. Jobs that are unusually dangerous—in the contemporary United States that’s primarily fishing, logging, and trucking—pay a premium over other working-class occupations precisely because people are reluctant to risk death or maiming at work. And in a free society it’s good that different people are able to make different choices on the risk–reward spectrum.…

Bangladesh is a lot poorer than the United States, and there are very good reasons for Bangladeshi people to make different choices in this regard than Americans. That’s true whether you’re talking about an individual calculus or a collective calculus. Safety rules that are appropriate for the United States would be unnecessarily immiserating in much poorer Bangladesh. Rules that are appropriate in Bangladesh would be far too flimsy for the richer and more risk-averse United States. Split the difference and you’ll get rules that are appropriate for nobody.

There are three main problems with Yglesias’ argument.

  1. Yglesias’ argument is profoundly immoral. People are willing to take bigger risks to feed their families when they’re burdened by poverty, yes. But arguing that we should use that unfortunate fact as a basic design feature of global workplace safety regulations is vile.
  2. Yglesias’ argument is profoundly ahistorical as well. Workplace safety regulations — and environmental laws, and education for women, and all of the thousands of other social goods we fight for — don’t magically appear when societies’ wealth passes a certain threshold as a result of the airy  fapping of the invisible hand. Those regulations come into being because people fight for them, often dying in the process, against the opposition of the entrenched powers that make the regulations necessary in the first place.  And here Yglesias is on the side of the entrenched powers, willing to wave away yet another workplace disaster so that he can continue to enjoy the cheap cotton shorts, running shoes, and tablet computers he sees as his birthright.
  3. Yglesias’ argument is essentially plagiarized from a 1991 memo by Laurence Summers written when the latter was the chief economist at the World Bank. A salient sampling from that memo:

I’ve always thought that under-populated countries in Africa are vastly UNDER-polluted, their air quality is probably vastly inefficiently low compared to Los Angeles or Mexico City. … The concern over an agent that causes a one in a million change in the odds of prostrate[sic] cancer is obviously going to be much higher in a country where people survive to get prostrate[sic] cancer than in a country where under 5 mortality is 200 per thousand.

An individual human life is worth fewer U.S. dollars in Bangladesh, and so betting that lower-value life against the possibility that you might actually survive your $432 per annum minimum wage job just makes better sense there than it does here, eh Matt? Hell, if the typical Bengali minimum wage worker survives his or her job for three or four years before they get crushed to death by an unsafe building, they may actually have come out well ahead of the game!

It’s a repugnant argument.

Matthew Yglesias should be ashamed of himself.

How do we reduce crime?

Increasingly, this is the image we have of the police.


Terrifying, isn’t it? Once again, America reduces an abstract problem to the metaphor of war, and proposes armored vehicles and armored men with big guns as the solution. All we have to do is go in and kill crime, and we’ll be victorious!

Maybe, instead, we should try these 12 tactics that work first. Addressing the sources of the problem constructively seems infinitely preferable to waiting for criminals to do wrong so we can blow them away.

Some people are born for Twitter


Twitter is a horrible medium for making any kind of lengthy or subtle argument, but it’s great for the casual bon mot—and sometimes it’s a good way to reveal the idiocy of bubble-headed celebrities. Case in point: Donald Trump. Behold, Trump revealed in just 3 consecutive tweets:

Amazing, isn’t it? Torture! Denial of Due Process! Watch My Show!

And this man thought he should be president. I never thought I’d see someone hunting for that office who was dumber and more evil than George W. Bush, and there he is…which probably means he’ll get elected sometime in my lifetime, given my track record on these things.

Our joyous Libertarian future

The last inspection by federal regulators of Adair Grain Inc.’s West Fertilizer Co. was in 1985. It was inspected by Texas regulators 7 times in the last ten years, and it has received a string of piddling fines — a few thousand dollars here and there. It was storing 270 tons of ammonium nitrate.

Lobbyists for the chemical industry are already complaining that there is too much regulation.

Lobbying groups for these plants say the risks are limited and they now face a panoply of regulations and oversight.

“It’s extraordinarily out of the ordinary to have this kind of experience,” Kathy Mathers, vice president of the Fertilizer Institute in Washington, said in an interview. “Both the producer and retailer side are heavily regulated.”

Oh, look at it’s prime location:


A good chunk of that town was flattened, and many people killed and injured, when the plant blew up. Are those costs factored into the chemical industry’s profit-and-loss measurements, or are they advocating a reduction in regulation because they know they’ll never have to pay that price?

We’re bullying the manly studs with guns?


Yesterday, I could start the day with the happy news that New Zealand had passed progressive legislation, and then burst into song. Today I have to look at my home country, and…goddamn, but we’re a dysfunctional mess. America is basically a rogue state, run by plutocrats and incompetents.

After Aurora and Newtown, there was a surge of sentiment in favor of checking the extravagant dissemination of deadly weapons in this country. It’s just a little too easy for hateful lunatics and demented haters to get their hands on weapons of mass murder, and so people proposed taking baby steps and moderating America’s addiction to guns just a little bit. So a bipartisan bill made it to the senate that would have made small changes: it would have required more background checks for gun buyers, and it would have banned assault weapons and high capacity clips. These are not terribly restrictive rules. Who could possibly want felons or people with violent mental illnesses to be able to buy guns casually? Who needs a 60-shot magazine for an assault rifle?

The bill was defeated in the Senate. No word if the attending senators rose up and were led in a rousing chorus of Wango Tango by Ted Nugent afterwards.

Take a look at the roll call for the vote. It was almost perfectly split with the Republicans voting against it (Harry Reid joined them!) and the Democrats voting for it (with John McCain!). It was a simple, common-sense bill and the Republicans united to vote it down. I think it’s way past time that we voted every damn Republican down.

Gabby Giffords agrees. In her editorial on the vote, she says,

Mark my words: if we cannot make our communities safer with the Congress we have now, we will use every means available to make sure we have a different Congress, one that puts communities’ interests ahead of the gun lobby’s. To do nothing while others are in danger is not the American way.

She’s wrong about one thing: to let neglect and crime rule is the American way. We have to change it. It’s going to take more than just elections and laws, though, we’re going to have to change American culture. Because it’s ripe with assholes.

For example, one prominent right-wing, pro-gun voice is Instapundit. You might want to savor his response to Giffords.


Stunning, ain’t it?

He’s telling a woman who was shot in the head and saw friends gunned down to stop bullying the gun lobby. We’ve got people who want to be able to make impulse purchases of weapons designed with one purpose — killing people — and Instahack calls the victim of one of their assaults a bully because she’s trying to promote sensible gun laws.

You can’t deny it. His is one of the voices of America.

But it’s long past time for the rest of us to tell the gun-obsessed macho boy-children to fucking grow up.

Please read Brian Leiter’s very polite gutting of Instapundit. It’s a thing of beauty.

Or we could all just move to New Zealand

This is Maurice Williamson, a member of the New Zealand parliament, speaking in defense of marriage equality.

I would like him to leave New Zealand, move to anywhere in the US, run for the Senate or House, win, and bring some sense and humor to American politics. If he’s not willing to do that, can we at least have a few more Americans with that attitude replacing the pious nitwits we’ve got now?

And then the bill passes, and…everyone stands up and starts singing?

Damn. It’s so weird to see politics working and doing good. The equivalent over here would be a session opening with some loud stupid prayer, the majority of the politicians napping or skipping out, a few ludicrous bureaucrats droning pro forma over whether we should torture distant brown people or drop bombs on them, or tweaking a bill to give more money to the rich.

Then they don’t sing or express any joy at what they’ve done. I could imagine them standing up and maybe singing some grim dolorous hymn, or better yet, humming the Imperial March from Star Wars, but that’s about it.

Wouldn’t it be awesome to have politicians who were pursuing their career because they wanted to make the world a better place?

Bobby Jindal opened his mouth again

He was asked about education. He replied with a tired creationist excuse.

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Bottom line, at the end of the day, we want our kids to be exposed to the best facts. Let’s teach them about the big bang theory, let’s teach them about evolution, let’s teach them — I’ve got no problem if a school board, a local school board, says we want to teach our kids about creationism, that people, some people, have these beliefs as well, let’s teach them about ‘intelligent design.’

The first sentence is sort of OK — yes, let’s teach the best ideas, the best evidence, the best science, the facts as we know them, and that includes good science like evolution and the big bang. But what Jindal then throws up as examples are bad science, claims without evidence, bad ideas that are contradicted by the evidence. Creationism and Intelligent Design Creationism are not the “best facts”, they don’t even cut it as “adequate facts” — they are bad and they are non-facts.

Can Jindal not tell the difference?

And since when is good education about teaching kids what their less-well-educated parents want them to know? How about if we teach them the truth, instead?