Archive for the ‘Who thought that was a good idea?’ category

As The WarCons Reunite, Let Us Trip Down Memory Lane

April 7, 2015

Twelve years ago today, Donald Rumsfeld composed this:

Screen Shot 2015-04-07 at 10.37.26 AM

(h/t Rob Golan-Vilella)

As the entire Republican party brays for war in Syria, Iran, Ukraine, wherever next…remember:  their reunion tour will make us long for Nickleback.

That bad.

Living Large In Football’s Minor League

December 29, 2014

Perhaps the most dog-bites-man headline of this last weekend of regular season NFL play came atop stories on Jim Harbaugh’s move from the San Francisco 49ers to the University of Michigan.  Nearly all of those stories, before and after the news became official, mentioned Harbaugh’s expected salary:  $8,000,000/year, a sum that would make him the highest paid coach in the history of college football, though the latest reports suggest that even that staggering figure is low.

Henri_Rousseau_-_The_Football_Players

Just for the perverse pain of it, I decided to do a few sums.  The University of Michigan charges slightly lower instate tuition for its 1st and 2nd year undergraduates than it does for juniors and seniors.  The average of the two comes to $14,336.  Taking the original $8 million number for  Harbaugh’s salary, that translates into 558 tuition-free rides for Michigan kids.

University of Michigan faculty salaries in 2013 range from an average of roughly $88,000 for assistant professors to an average number around $149,000.  Picking a figure more or less in the middle, and adding in an allowance for benefits, Harbaugh’s reported salary would cover the cost of about 50 faculty — with, among other things, the benefit to the university and society of the research such an addition to the Wolverines capacity to study science, medicine, engineering, social science and the humanities might provide.

To add yet one more comparison:  even in an age of administrative bloat, Harbaugh’s compensation comes to more than the pay given Michigan’s top 16 executives, or all 20 of its deans.

Apples and oranges, football boosters might reply, and they’re right.  NCAA Division 1 football, at least within a major conference, has revenue streams not available to a mere Dean of Engineering or the College of Literature, Science and the Arts.  It’s plausible to me that between TV contracts, merchandise and the rest, the University of Michigan may indeed make a profit on its football operation.  (I’m not sure, though.  I’ve spent enough time in and around the film industry to know that before you simply accept that claim, you have to see the real books on anything as rich in opportunities for financial legerdemain as a big time entertainment business.)*

But even if , as is certainly true, the king’s ransom Jim Harbaugh will now collect doesn’t rob the rest of the university, and would in any event be simply unavailable to any other initiative at the University of Michigan, still, it seems to me useful to pay attention to the scale of that salary against the costs of what are, after all, the core of what a university does.  That would be to educate young adults and to create knowledge valuable in both a practical and liberal sense of value.  Michigan remains a great university, and I’ll be bursting with pride when my nephew graduates in Ann Arbor next year.  And, of course, Michigan is hardly the only football-mad school; it’s just the latest to hit the headlines with a monstrous expression of what it as a microcosm of society prices and hence prizes most richly.

In the end, I guess this whole post is a “get offa my lawn you kids” kind of plaint.  As a society we are so committed to a primitive market view of human relations that I can hear myself telling me that this is simply what the bourse will bear for a top name in a small, big-money field.  There’s a lot of ways to parse that thought for bullshit, of course, but just the fact that I frame it that way before catching myself shows how thoroughly the Reagan revolution has defined our categories of thought.  I will say, though, that the history of decline-and-falls is littered with examples of the already-rich alienating yet more resources from things that actually build the wealth and power of a society.

Oh well.

*I don’t know how to factor in the question of alumni fund raising, because I know of no way to calculate the crowding out problem: how much cash raised for athletics either fosters or crowds out possible support for academics.  If anyone has any insight on this — pop it into the comments, please.

Image:  Henri Rousseau, The Football Players1908  And yeah, I know. Not that football.  But I couldn’t resist such gaily prancing young sportsmen.  Could you?

What Not To Wear To A Comet Landing

November 12, 2014

Amidst all the (justified) celebration of Rosetta and Phylae today — it really is a big deal when a ten year mission ends with the first landing on a comet evah!) — there  was one truly sour note.  This:

Screen Shot 2014-11-12 at 4.59.54 PM

That’s Matt Taylor, Rosetta project scientist.  If you read the profile at (where else) The Daily Mail, you’ll get two impressions. One, that Dr. Taylor really loves his job, his science and this mission — all of which is great.  But two:  he and his interviewer are oblivious about what it might mean to stand in front of millions of science fans, wearing that schmatte.

Nah, this is just dudebro fun, no worries, no-harm-no-foul, why don’t you have a sense of humor stuff.

But it’s not.  There’s not a lot to say that isn’t f**king obvious.  This was and is a truly special occasion.  Lots of people thrilled to watch human reason and ingenuity reach towards the stars have been playing really close attention. Many of them are women.  Some, lots, are girls who might be thinking science could be a really fine life’s work.  That shirt tells them, pretty explicitly:  science ain’t no crap-free zone.

We’ve ample evidence that’s true, sadly.  But damn, way to drive the message home, Matt!

I’ve had friends, women in science, contact me today, asking when this shit will ever stop.  I don’t know.  Not soon enough.

My son is taking his first high school physics class this year.  Last night I was helping him with his homework on momentum, impulse and collisions — kind of relevant to today’s events.  I don’t know if his teachers broke with the curriculum today to watch the Rosetta live feed — but now I’m almost hoping they didn’t.  The girls — and the boys too, dammit — in that class deserve better.

I’ve never met Taylor.  I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s against discrimination in science (or anywhere else),  one who would defend any woman on his team.  I don’t know.

Maybe he’s just clueless stem to stern, with no idea how what he might say or do affects anyone around him.  Or, in fact, he could be a sexist asshole.  Still don’t know.  I generally, perhaps naively, default to that “clueless” rather than “f*cked-up” explanation, until I have affirmative evidence to the contrary.

But as we’ve learned over and over again in issues of race, of gender discrimination, of same-sex rights, it’s not what you believe that matters.  It’s what you do — and Taylor chose to wear this shirt in front of the largest audience he’s ever likely confront.  He may or many not be a sexist guy; he did a sexist thing, one with real world implications.

Repair work is needed.  The ESA/Rosetta folks should to do some, and so should Matt Taylor, however much of a goof he thought he was having.

Oh, and just in case he might accept some fashion advice, here’s Skepchik’s Dr. Rubidium with some very good natured suggestions.  A possible path to repair lies there, Dr. Taylor.

What Could Possibly Go Wrong? Border Cosplay Edition

August 31, 2014

Via TPM:

A border patrol agent fired several shots at an armed militia member while chasing a group of immigrants Friday near Brownsville, Texas…

the man was wearing camouflage and was carrying either a rifle or shotgun.

Claude_Monet_-_Jean_Monet_on_his_Hobby_Horse

 

The self appointed guardian of the galaxy was lucky — the border patrol officer (like most people) was no Dead-eye Dick, and our last line of defense from the Ebola-carrying and Mooslim terrorist hordes of twelve year olds crossing our southern border was unhurt.  But, as we say in the portending business, It’s Only A Matter Of Time.

The shorter:

The sheriff said militias really aren’t needed at the Texas-Mexico border given the number of law enforcement agencies already working to secure the area.

“It just creates a problem from my point of view, because we don’t know who they are,” Lucio told the AP.

This has been another episode of Listen To The Man.

Image:  Claude Monet, Jean Monet on his Hobby Horse1872.

Too Dumb To Live: Meet The Pre-Darwin Award Contenders

July 7, 2014

I actually caught this phenomenon a couple of days ago (and was twitted on Twitter for being so late to the party), but the phenomenon of “Coal Rolling” is now an object of wonder and bemusement at a number of the usual suspects.

For those of you who have managed to enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to this point without suffering the knowledge of this particular stupidity, here’s David Weigel to explain it to you:

Forty-five second YouTube clips don’t come any more American than “Prius Repellent.” It starts with a camera angled from the passenger side window of a truck, pointed at the namesake Japanese hybrid car. After 12 establishing seconds, the cameraman moves and points out the back window, where viewers can read the ominous decals:

←PRIUS REPELLENT→

At 23 seconds, the engine revs and the viewer finally learns what the arrows were pointing at. Smoke pours out of dual stacks, right in the path of the Prius, which retreats into the rear view. The truck’s passengers share a well-earned chortle.

That’s right.  These Real Americans™ pay good money to modify their vehicles so that they can run less efficiently and pollute more, because, you know, that’s how Hydrocarbon Jesus wants it.

I know, I know.  The good Lord must have loved assholes because he made so many of them.  But these folks are double-secret-probation cute that way:

There are videos of “hot babes” getting rolled on, and a mega-popular video (more than 3 million views) of an annoying Prius driver complaining about diesel. “She makes me want to do a John Force style burn out right in front of her,” observed one critic on DieselBurners.com.

The derp is deep here.  Let’s say you want to roll some of your own coal.  There are sites to help you do that.  Here’s one — complete with a bit of pure weasel DNA up front:

 

Disclaimer: This article has been published for entertainment/educational purposes only. We do not recommend you modify your truck in any manner for the sole purpose of soot/smoke production. Not only may excessively high EGTs cause engine damage, but these acts are having detrimental repercussions on our industry. Consider reading the article “Smoke Responsibly” for further information, including how you can help. There is a time and a place to roll some coal – don’t give the tree huggers any ammunition to support further emissions restrictions.

I’m trying to imagine the time and place…and too late re the tree huggers.  TPM reports today that this is (obviously) illegal as hell anyway.  But never mind, it turns out that there’s a way to roll coal the “right way”:

The best way to blow some serious black smoke is to go all out. Larger injectors combined with aggressive custom tuning will let you lay down some massive clouds of black smoke – the ultimate coal roll. Injectors increase the amount of fuel that can be dumped into your engine per injection cycle, while the tuning keeps the engine thinking it needs more diesel. Throw in a larger injection pump to keep fuel pressures high and add a water-methanol injection system to keep EGTs down and you have the perfect combination. With the flip of a switch, leave your challengers in a stream of thick black soot and then clean up the exhaust stream to keep the authorities happy.

I don’t know what’s most pathetic.  The idea of some strangers just trying to get from here to there as “competitors” — think of the terror hidden in that statement, the sheer gut-churning fear of the unknown — or the urge to spend the most possible money to spend more money doing nothing but half-burn all that $4-and-up diesel.

A lot of us liberals pointing and laughing at these assholes have noted that the whole idea is a way for the carbon-industrial-complex to screw more cash out of the credulous, but a lot of folks seem to have missed the other point.

Black_Country_–_Borinage

Partially combusted diesel is…no way to put this gently…not good for you.  Not at all:

Exposures have been linked with acute short-term symptoms such as headache, dizziness, light-headedness, nausea, coughing, difficult or labored breathing, tightness of chest, and irritation of the eyes and nose and throat[citation needed]. Long-term exposures could lead to chronic, more serious health problems such as cardiovascular disease, cardiopulmonary disease, and lung cancer.[11][7][8] The NERC-HPA funded ‘Traffic Pollution and Health in London‘ project at King’s College London is currently seeking to refine our understanding of the health effects of traffic pollution. Ambient traffic-related air pollution was associated with decreased cognitive function in older men.[10]

Mortality from diesel soot exposure in 2001 was at least 14,400 out of the German population of 82 million, according to the official report 2352 of the Umweltbundesamt Berlin (Federal Environmental Agency of Germany).

Since the study of the detrimental health effects of nanoparticles (nanotoxicology) is still in its infancy, and the nature and extent of negative health impacts from diesel exhaust continues to be discovered.

Obviously, the goal of the hardcore coal roller is to give angst and maybe a whiff of the nasties to the fearsome folks who presume to traverse America’s roads in a Prius.  But as videos like this one show — the most likely consumers of soot and other particulates produced by the deep need to f**k up one’s own nest are the folks who want to show the world how much smoke they can blow.

The wheels of Darwin grind slow…but very sure.

By the way — all of this can be considered a distant early preview of my conversation on Wednesday.  In this month’s edition of my rotating gig as host of  Virtually Speaking Science, I’ll be speaking (again!) with Naomi Oreskes, now a professor of the history of science at Harvard.  Naomi was my first guest on the show, back in 2011.

That’s when we talked about the lessons of her book (written with Erik M. Conway) Merchants of Doubt, on the ways a handful of Cold War anti-Communist scientists figured out how to sell lies wholesale, leading to the implausible success of a tiny handful of people in casting enormous doubt on the reality of climate change.

Now she and Larsen have followed that work up with a novella, The Collapse of Western CivilizationThis little work — it’s just fifty pages, not counting notes and such — imagines a future historian analyzing how 21st societies allowed them to fall victim to climate catastrophes that they/we knew/know are in prospect.

It’s a depressing work, and speculative, and the more important for all of that.  If we do go down the road of catastrophe as Oreskes and Conway lay it out, folks like our coal rollers will be a (small but exemplary) part of the reason why.

Tune in.  It should be a useful downer — and funny too.  Naomi is a hoot, the more so given the pathologies she studies

Image:  Constantin Meunier, Black Country–Borinage, before 1905.

Porcine Flight 476, You Are Cleared For Landing

June 20, 2014

Go check on your friendly neigbhorhood Sus scrofa.  Examine the potbellied porker ambling down your too-hip avenue.  Make sure the boar in the corner sty (you could name it Dick Cheney if you’re that kind of person) is still properly rooting about in his muck.  Now look extra carefully:  any ailerons, flaps, wings?

Max_Liebermann_-_Schweinekoben,_Wochenstube

They’ve got to be there.  See this, from our old friend BoBo:

The Iraqi state is much weaker than the Rwandan one, but, even so, this quick survey underlines the wisdom of the approach the Obama administration is gesturing toward in Iraq: Use limited military force to weaken those who are trying to bring in violence from outside; focus most on the political; round up a regional coalition that will pressure Iraqi elites in this post-election moment to form an inclusive new government. [Emphasis added.]

Now I confess to deep uneasiness about everything David Brooks writes, given the argument from negative authority.*  I lack the knowledge to assess but have no faith at all that his potted history of post-genocide Rwanda is reliable.  And then there’s Brooks’ usual reflexive nod to the political value of elite authoritarianism.   Most of all, nowhere does Brooks acknowledge explicitly that the Bush years were a colossal f**king mistake/moral disaster, nor that he was a complicit cheerleader in that catastrophe.

But here you see Brooks implicitly acknowledging the failure of the neocon adventure and, mirabile dictu stating without a hedge, an “on the other hand” or any qualifier that President Obama is getting it right, is wise.

Smacked in the gob am I.

All I can say is:  be careful standing under today as those flocks of pigs fly by.

*I.e. While it’s never reliable to say that because someone is labelled an expert in something, anything they say is likely right (see, e.g. Shockley, William…), it is a very useful heuristic to assume that someone who is wrong a lot is going to be similarly wrong going forward.  That’s especially true for someone — so many in our pundit class — who are wrong for a living.

Image:  Max Liebermann, Schweinekoben, Wochenstube [My German sucks, but the Google machine tells me that this could be read as “Pigsty, Maternity room” — any help from the commentariat gratefully received], 1887

Oklahoma, Jake

March 13, 2014

I have to confess.  Can’t claim I’m terribly surprised by this:*

There’s not been a lot of discussion of evolution in Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos so far, and yet a very slight reference to it was so upsetting to Fox’s Oklahoma City affiliate that they just “happened” to run a promo for the nightly news over the show’s sole mention it, as you can see in the above video.

Hit the link (to the delightful io9) to see what so spooked the delicate sensibilities of the good folks at Fox25 Oklahoma City.

quot+God+is+an+ever+receding+pocket+of+scientific+ignorance+quot+_a3dcb3c771a4785a3e2fa249e2b4633e

On the one hand, I’m glad:  the competitive advantage of the science-friendly states can only grow in the face of willed ignorance elsewhere.  On the other, I’m terribly sad.  I don’t live only on my block; I’m a citizen of a commonwealth, a country and a member of  a global commons.  The more such idiocy persists, the more we all lose.

*Back when I was working w. Neil deGrasse Tyson on the NOVA series Origins, I made the film on the evolution of the universe to the chemical conditions compatible with earth-like life.  I wanted to call it “In the beginning,” for obvious reasons.  My elders and betters morphed that to “Back to the Beginning” — which manages to offend those who would be offended anyway while losing all the force of original.  So it ain’t just Fox, ya know.

Image via.


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