Thursday, February 26, 2009

No country for irrational men

Ok, at some point we have to take a decision. Do we want to root for someone simply because his parents once arrived to the US from India to pursue the American Dream and succeeded? Or do we want to put things in a much bigger perspective and judge someone by his character, intellect and opinions and not just because he happens to originate from that part of the world where we are from?

Many of us have (hopefully) used the second set of criteria for judging Bobby Jindal. But our media as usual has persistently used the first set to heap praise on this son of our soil who has made it big in this far off land. They need to understand that we don't care if someone is from India or China or Mars if he wants to teach intelligent design in science classes and has a 100% record against abortion where he won't even allow abortion in case of incest. And now recently he is being hailed as one of the future leaders of the Republican party, and- woe be unto the world if it happens- of this country. All this after making a pitch two days back that held forth on some matters which he knew nothing about. According to Mr. Jindal, "something called" volcano research is supposed to be wasteful spending. As Sarah Palin did with fruit flies and John McCain did with bear DNA, so Jindal does with volcano research. Has Mr. Jindal made any inquiries about why scientists might be engaged in such research? Could it just be because they want to predict the occurrence of a volcano in an active site, a prediction that may save thousands of lives? Of course Mr Jindal is certainly not unique in holding these opinions in this land of the free, but it is undoubtedly scary that after 8 years of Bush, he is seen as belonging to the chosen few who promise to resurrect the Republican party on the national stage.

Many people have criticized our slavish admiration for Mr. Jindal on the grounds that he has long since converted to Christianity. We can bet that it's still a long time before a Hindu becomes Governor of Louisiana. But I don't really care about his religion as much as I care about the objective substance of his views. And the complete lack of that substance makes me shudder. It's not that we should be embarrassed that this man is Indian. Again, I don't really care about that. What is shameful is that he panders to some of the most fundamentalist religious strains and irrational ideas in the most 'advanced' nation in the world.

So let's stop touting Bobby Jindal as a great immigrant success story. Sure, it's not easy for a second generation immigrant to become Governor of a US state and I am sure Jindal must have worked hard at it. But the difficulty of a task has nothing to do with the character or wisdom of the individual who participates in it. For me, it's not a question at all about rooting for an Indian or American. It's about rooting for rationality, and in this country irrationality certainly has no nationality. It is the great equalizer.

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Blogger Kunal said...

The point is not whether volcano research is a worthy pursuit for scientists. The point is whether such research should be financed by taxpayers. And even if there is need for such research to be funded from government money, why is it being included in the "Stimulus" bill?

10:57 AM  
Blogger Wavefunction said...

One could argue about the merits of volcano research; the real point is that people like Jindal are decidedly anti-science and usually jump at the chance to criticize any science-related project. More generally, people like Jindal are also prone to criticizing things about which they have no real knowledge.

11:00 AM  
Blogger Kunal said...

Again, he is not saying that there should not be research on volcanoes, but rather that Congress should not be spending money on them, especially right now. A politician should not be categorised as pro-science or anti-science based on how much taxpayers' money he is willing to spend on research.

11:19 AM  
Blogger Wavefunction said...

I would have agreed with that if this were a one-time thing. But Jindal's propensity for being anti-science is well-known, so this seems perfectly consistent with his views. That's the real problem; politicians holding forth on scientific topics when they don't really know much about them. Plus, given the last eight years of poverty for scientific research, the country desperately needs a healthy dose of funds for basic R & D.

11:22 AM  
Blogger Kunal said...

Look, the guy does exorcisms. There is not question that he believes some pretty weird shit.

But this video you have put up is not Jindal holding forth on a scientific topic. The video is Jindal holding forth on a political topic: whether or not volcano monitoring should be funded through the Stimulus. This is what politicians are supposed to do, and fwiw I agree with him. You can have a debate on the merits of a stimulus, or whether the Stimulus should consist of spending or tax cuts. But seriously, spending stimuli should be a little better designed than by taking every Congressman's wish list and voting to give money for their fulfilment.

11:42 AM  
Blogger Wavefunction said...

Certainly Jindal is holding forth on a political topic. Again, I am not criticizing the mere fact that he mocked volcano research. He simply threw around the term without even knowing what it is about. It's not about political disagreement, it's simply about being ignorant about what you are saying.

1:13 PM  
Blogger Alan Smithee said...

Wow! I have to ask. How did you conclude that he is ignorant about what he is saying?

4:53 PM  
Blogger Patrix said...


Why should the government fund volcano monitoring? Because they can avoid spending almost hundred times more on disaster relief when the volcano erupts unexpectedly. Not to mention loss of hundreds of American lives.

Talking about Jindal's state, by his logic why should other Americans pay for hurricane disaster mitigation? Didn't Louisiana get more than $130bn in post-Katrina aid; much of it squandered away in government inefficiences thanks to Bush's Brownie? Should they have not?

6:28 PM  
Blogger Kunal said...


1. Why should the Federal Government fund volcano monitoring in Alaska?

2. How, in the name of the Galactic overlord Xenu, does volcano monitoring in any way stimulate the economy?

7:58 PM  
Blogger Sirensongs: Indologist At Large said...

It's just proof that one can be a great immigrant success story, and still be a conservative nitwit. (How do you think America got the way it is?) ;-)

I think "we" can cheer the fact of Jindal's immigrant success and deride his viewpoints, simultaneously and without contradiction.

2:15 AM  
Blogger sherene said...

Fabulous, a brown Bush, that's about all that the world needs right now =/

Btw, who else finds it grating that people are now using the words like 'economic stimulus', 'bailout' and such as blanket statements as for something vague and conceptual? These are s'posed to be measures with parameters which can be quantified in hard numbers; it's not an 'opinion' or an idea, which can be twisted in many ways to garner votes!

3:57 AM  
Blogger Chetan said...


I don't understand why you took off on a tangent to the topic with all this talk about the stimulus. Ashutosh, as far as I gathered, was talking about Jindal's views on Science in general and how his dismissive tone regarding volcano research fits into a pattern with his holding brief for intelligent design, opposing embryonic stem cell research etc. He doesn't think Jindal's other accomplishments override this flaw and as such Jindal should not be supported by Indian Americans just because he is of the same ethnicity.

Also, Jindal never said something like,'Although volcano monitoring is important, but it is upto the States to decide whether to spend their stimulus money on it' (unfortunately, United States Geological Survey is a Federal Agency) or 'Although, volcano monitoring can save lives and property, the stimulus bill meant to kick start the economy at such a critical moment is not the right time to be spending money on it.' Instead, he characterised 'something called volcano monitoring' in a tone loaded with ridicule as 'wasteful spending,' stimulus bill or not. That doesn't inspire me about his prospect of being the President of the United States. Obviously, as far as you are concerned, the only barometer for a good candidate seems to be opposition to government spending, all other values be damned. That is not enough credentials for me and others and I hope you do forgive us for evaluating a prospective presidential candidate on the basis of something apart from his propensity for limited government.

Also, the Democrats won the election fair and square. They didn't campaign on the plank of fiscal consveratism, prudent as you may consider it to be. Given this reality, they have as much right to wastefully spend taxpayer dollars on their agenda as the Republicans had for their wars and faith based initiatives. If you are a libertarian, too bad. You better start proselytising voters fast. Though, as you can see given the widespread negative reaction to Jindal's speech it is not going to be easy to appeal to people using the libertarian talking points about wasteful spending.

Now, coming to the spending itself, the 'something called volcanic monitoring is actually:
The conference agreement provides $140,000,000 for Surveys, Investigations and Research instead of $135,000,000 proposed by the Senate and $200,000,000 proposed by the House. The Survey should consider a wide variety of activities, including repair, construction and restoration of facilities; equipment replacement and upgrades including stream gages,seismic and volcano monitoring systems; national map activities; and other critical deferred-maintenance and improvement projects which can maximize jobs and provide lasting improvement to our Nation’s science capacity.

This article does a good enough job of explaining how that money is going to be spent.

Most of the money from the stimulus bill earmarked for monitoring (only about a tenth of the total going to the USGS) will go to modernizing existing monitoring equipment, including switching from analog to digital and installing GPS networks that can measure ground movements, said John Eichelberger, program coordinator for the USGS's Volcano Hazards Program. Much of the expense of this technology comes from the manpower required to make and install it, he added.

"Ultimately most of this creates jobs or saves jobs that would have been lost" to recent budget shortfalls Eichelberger told LiveScience.

Among the scenarios in which the USGS's monitoring can assist - the catastrophic eruption of Mount St. Helens on May 18, 1980, which killed 57 people (including a geologist monitoring the mountain) and was the deadliest and costliest volcanic eruption in U.S. history ($2.74 billion in 2007 dollars). This event was preceded by thousands of earthquakes in the two months before the volcano blew its top; some of these prompted the governor of Washington to declare a state of emergency and many residents were evacuated from a designated danger zone.

"This is a hazard we can do something about," Eichelberger said. "We can spend a modest amount of money and prevent a tragedy."

Volcano monitoring likely saved many lives - and significant money - in the case of the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines (where the United States had military bases at the time), according to the USGS.

The cataclysmic eruption lasted more than 10 hours and sent a cloud of ash as high as 22 miles into the air that grew to more than 300 miles across.

The USGS spent less than $1.5 million monitoring the volcano and was able to warn of the impending eruption, which allowed authorities to evacuate residents, as well as aircraft and other equipment from U.S. bases there.

The USGS estimates that the efforts saved thousands of lives and prevented property losses of at least $250 million (considered a conservative figure).

Volcanoes, of course, aren't the only potential natural disaster that scientists monitor to give people warnings of imminent danger. Hurricanes, tornado-producing storms, earthquakes, tsunamis and flooding events are also watched and forecast.

While those predictions can result in mitigating the damage and losses that result from natural disasters, the research is only useful in a practical sense for residents if authorities pay heed to it. For instance, in the case of Hurricane Katrina, the Natural Hurricane Center was watching the situation like a hawk, but the subsequent preparations and responses by authorities was insufficient to prevent wholesale destruction of large parts of New Orleans and the loss of more than 1,800 lives.

9:03 AM  
Blogger Kunal said...

I will admit I did not read your comment entirely*. To answer your first question, however, that is because I am a quibbler. You can write a long essay with which I agree wholeheartedly, but if one of the bits of evidence you use is wrong IMO, I will challenge it.

Also, that I don't think I ever said that BJ (hahah!) is either good presidential material, or in possession of any scientifical bonafides or anything remotely to that effect. Or even that Democrats don't have the right to pass whatever piece of legislation is not forbidden them by the Constitution. I am just saying that if the guy is complaining about $140 mil extra for volcano monitoring that does not mean he questions the scientific justification for the project, or that he thinks it is unnecessary, or anything. Also, when an appropriation for $200 mil (thats the subsection that includes volcano monitoring in Title VIII subtitle E of the Stimulus) is buried in the middle of a bill that has nothing to do with the recipient of the appropriation, that is generally understood to be pork. Also known. amongst theless metaphorically-inclined, as "wasteful spending".

* I have a dream. My dream is that some day, on some forum, you will respond to something I say in less than 500 words. If that day ever comes, with Ashutosh as my witness, I will buy you a beer**.
** Follow up comments do not count.

5:33 PM  

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