Thursday, January 29, 2015

The High Cost of Dissing Science

The Curmudgeon finds himself very busy these days with a variety of activities that keep him away from the Macbook Air keyboard a lot, so the frequency of posts is down significantly. Consider yourself blessed: a lower volume of his high-volume rants!

The two top stories on last night's news:
  • A winter hurricane batters New England, causing untold millions in damage and crippling many cities
  • Measles, once thought to be eradicated, is now spreading through the United States
What do these stories have in common? Both are the end result of a refusal on the part of the paranoid and paid-for politicians to accept the consensus of scientific experts.
We begin with the winter hurricane. I don't ever remember hearing about one, let alone seeing it on the nightly news. But it is here.
Climate scientists (or, as I like to call them, experts) have been telling us for two decades that the heating of our planet will inevitably result in greater and sometimes catastrophic weather anomalies.
No single weather event is proof that climate change is severely altering weather patterns. But the pattern is clear: droughts, record-setting temperature extremes, record-setting storms ... they are before more and more frequent, and the costs add up to untold BILLIONS of dollars.
2014 was the warmest year in recorded history. Nine of the 10 warmest years in recorded history came in the last decade.
Yet we have a majority of members of the United States Senate who refuse to accept the idea that pouring tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere has something to do with this. We have a Senate majority leader whose political existence depends, in large part, on protecting one of the two greatest sources of greenhouse gases, coal. They all begin their objections to getting serious about carbon emissions with the phrase "I'm not a scientist" as if that is a badge of honor. They get their talking points from the Koch brothers whose massive fortune is built around the largest privately held oil company in the world.
Many of these same folks also are not doctors who ignore the consensus of the World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control, National Institute for Health and every professional medical organization on the planet. Instead, they take their cues from actress Jenny McCarthy who has learned through Google that vaccinating children against diseases is bad bad bad.
Larry Wilmore (the successor to Stephen Colbert in Comedy Central's 11:30 p.m. slot) summed it up well in his opening monologue on The Nightly Show earlier this week.

Parents have the right to raise their children as they see fit. But there is also a responsibility, recognized by all civilizations, to protect their children from harm. You have to use a car seat for infants and toddlers, you have to insure they get an education, you have to feed them. If you fail to provide your child with a safe environment, society will take them away from you.
In the view of The Curmudgeon, parents who intentionally fail to vaccinate their children because they think Jenny McCarthy knows more about autism than every doctor on the planet should be branded child abusers.
It is especially insane when you consider the use of vaccines has led to the eradication of small pox and soon will lead to the eradication of polio. (The latter victory is being delayed, ironically, by just three countries which apparently believe in Jenny McCarthy: Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria, where the disease remains endemic.)
Not only are they endangering their own children, they endanger others. Thankfully, rational people are fighting back. Some school districts now will not admit kids who haven't been vaccinated for dangerous contagious diseases like measles, whooping cough, mumps. In San Francisco the father of a boy with leukemia is fighting back against those who would unnecessarily expose his son to the risk of a potentially fatal disease.
The paranoia about "the government" and total distrust of anyone with a degree is costing us huge amounts of money and putting lives in jeopardy. (It also is fueling the epidemic of firearms sales in the United States, but that's a story for a different rant.)
To everyone who says "I'm not a scientist" or "I'm not a doctor" and then makes scientific or medical judgements contrary to the consensus of experts, The Curmudgeon suggests you instead just say "I'm a gullible idiot."

Saturday, January 17, 2015

We're Back for 2015

The Curmudgeon returns from a hiatus during which he enjoyed the two things offered by Florida that is missing from Michigan: warm winter temperatures and pothole-free roads. His marriage even survived the onslaught of same-sex marriages that began with a deluge in most (not all) Florida counties. Despite being exposed to all that gayness, the marriage Mr. and Mrs. Curmudgeon was not destroyed and neither of them caught The Gay.

Climate Change

Lansing started 2014 with the worst ice storm in
memory. Weather extremes are, scientists say,
a symptom of climate change.
Many thinking people in Florida are rightly concerned that their homes will someday be under water as ocean levels rise. Billions of dollars in beachfront property will slowly disappear. In the process, many of those properties will face shorter-term water damage as the result of storm surges which climb higher and higher onto the land.
The specter grows even more grim with the report that 2014 was, globally, the hottest year in recorded history. #1. And it is no fluke: the ten hottest years ever have been recorded since 1997.
Part of the problem with the policymakers in Washington is that we are talking about GLOBAL warming, not American warming. The eastern U.S. actually was a pocket of cooler weather in 2014, but it was an anomaly. (And don't tell drought-plagued Californians that 2014 was a cooler year.)
2014 was also a year in which we seemed to experience more weather extremes than normal, something predicted years ago by climate scientists.
Climate change is a universal, worldwide issue. As the world's number one source of greenhouse gases, the United States must take the lead instead of giving in to the carbon-fuel industry and their shills in the Congress.

Supreme Court to Rule on Marriage Equality

Does the Roberts court have the balls to overturn what is now a recognized right for 70% of Americans? (Map from the group Freedom to Marry.) Will Michigan rejoin the Union, recognizing Equal Justice Under the Law?

Walberg Gets It Right

You can count the number of times I have sided with uber-Conservative Congressman Tim Walberg on one finger (you pick the finger).
But that has changed with Walberg's drive to end the horrific practice of policing agencies seizing property on flimsy suspicions it is related to criminal activity. Seized assets (usually cars and cash) have become a major source of funding for some local police departments.
Walberg, along with Sen. Rand Paul, has been very vocal about stopping this abuse of state police powers. The Obama administration now agrees with them. Eric Holder has basically told greedy police agencies nationwide to cease and desist immediately – at least, in those seizures where the feds are involved. (They are still able to confiscate private property, without a warrant, under some state laws.)
Congratulations Tim! You got this one right.