Politics delivered a bizzare insect soundbite this week. A GOP leader was being questioned about policies mandating medically unnecessary transvaginal ultrasounds, limiting access to birth control, and other recent policy initiatives considered anti-woman. His response?
Priebus rejected the idea that Republicans are waging a war on women.
“If the Democrats said we had a war on caterpillars and every mainstream media outlet talked about the fact that Republicans have a war on caterpillars, then we’d have problems with caterpillars,” Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt” airing this weekend. “It’s a fiction.”
How the HELL do you explain that thought path??
Women –> Sluts –> Uterus control –> CATERPILLARS.
Also? Denying there is a war on women only works if, in fact, there isn’t a war on women. Hundreds of bills are being introduced all over the US that limit women’s rights. Just last week Wisconsin quietly revoked an equal pay bill.
The analogy with insects doesn’t work either if, in fact, there actually is a GOP war on caterpillars. Let’s continue to use Wisconsin as an example. Wisconsin sponsors a major project to kill the Gypsy Moth. Go look. It’s WAR, people. There are areas clearly marked for “suppression.”
Texas recently cut health services to many women. They also are persecuting cactus moth caterpillars. In fact, there is a tri-state consortium devoted to killing these caterpillars; here’s some representative language: “In the wake of the Cactoblastis, only death and destruction are found, presenting a threat to human welfare…” Sounds pretty warlike to me!
Michigan, a state that recently banned same-sex partner benefits, has quarantines in many areas, and routinely stops people with firewood for warrantless searches. What are they looking for? GRUBS. The Emerald Ash Borer is marked for elimination. You are even encouraged to turn in suspicious characters by calling a hotline.
The GOP-controlled House introduced a “Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act” in 2011 that would reduce pesticide regulation, including removing some pieces of the Clean Water Act that currently restrict pesticides in watersheds.
There is evidence of flip-flopping by Mitt Romney on the caterpillar issue. He labeled a project to control the invasive species of winter moths as “porkbarrel spending” in 2006, and didn’t fund it. His current position on funding the War on Caterpillars is unclear.
Clearly, the War on Caterpillars is REAL. Of course, there is a reason why caterpillars are targeted by both the GOP and farmers.* It’s simple math that goes all the way back to Malthus. Populations have the potential to grow faster than their food supply. So, if you want to control an insect pest, you attack its reproductive cycle.
But why in the world would you want to prevent women from having access to birth control, or the ability to control their own bodies? This seems counter-productive for a bunch of fiscal conservatives. How will we provide water and food for a expanding population? How will those babies be employed in the future when they grow up? How will all those kids be educated? We are building more prisons than schools, which doesn’t bode well for anyone’s future prospects.
Obviously, I think women should have control over their bodies because it’s a basic human right (recognized since 1968 by the UN, in fact). It just seems like the current focus on womb control is very short-sighted from a fiscal/living-in-the-real-world point of view, as well.
Legislation was introduced to require women to provide a written explanation about why they wanted birth control to their employers. Legislation has been introduced to define you as pregnant 2 weeks before conception. Women who have miscarriages are charged with murder. This is some serious heinous fuckery, people. It’s 2012. The state should not be getting all up in my lady business.
There is an upside to all this. The best thing to come out of the GOP war on caterpillars was the explosion of #GOPWarOnCaterpillars on Twitter. This charge was led by the wonderful John Scalzi, who decided see if he could get the tag to become a “trending topic”. Here are some of my favorites–feel free to suggest more slogans in the comments!
*Actually, these are all invasive species and it’s ok with me if they kill them. But that kind of detracts from my point, so it’s a parenthetical down here.
I read a lot of strange stuff on the internet. I mean, I’ve covered Extraterrestrial Cows and Mail-order public lice. But I really don’t expect to run into silly conspiracy stuff in Forbes, of all places.
In an article entitled “The Black Death: Longing for the Good Old Days,” James Taylor ties together global warming denialism, DDT boosterism, Edgar Allen Poe, and the Black Death (i.e. Bubonic Plague) to make…a really big pile of something that steams.
He suggests that everything was hunky dory when the climate was hot, but when things got cold–OMGPLAGUE:
“What brought about the Black Death? A thousand years ago, Europe was experiencing a golden age. The fair climate of the Medieval Warm Period, with temperatures similar to or warmer than today’s climate, stimulated bountiful crop production, supported unprecedented population growth,….
Longer winters and cooler, shorter summers decimated crop production throughout Europe. The rains that fell were cold, persistent, and slow to dry up. Famine and plague, which had largely disappeared during the Medieval Warm Period, became the norm rather than the exception. And by 1350, the grim, cold climate brought about the dreaded Black Death.”
He goes on from this to imply that environmentalists want to curb global warming in order to kill us all by bringing back the Black Death. Oh, and malaria, but we’ll get to that part later.
I actually have spent a lot of time over the years researching Bubonic plague, and the 14th century European “Black Death” in particular. I have never read of climate being implicated as a cause for the European plagues. Never.
I would also like to point out that the Little Ice Age actually occurred several hundred years AFTER the period of the bubonic plague outbreaks in Europe. A recent review paper listed the start date around 1570. So, the dots he’s trying to connect, in addition to being unrelated factually, are also unrelated chronologically.
The more interesting theories about why the Black Death was so devastating to Medieval Europe center on increasing urbanization and commerce. In order to have a massive epidemic, you need populations of potential victims to be concentrated. If you get the plague in the middle of nowhere, you will die horribly…and that’s it. There is no one to transmit the plague TO.
On the other hand, if you have concentrations of people in cities and towns; and you have movement of both people and animals between cities and towns, then you have a situation that is ripe for an outbreak. If you add in poor sanitation, it’s a dream for a disease bacterium.
There is a well-documented timeline of outbreaks moving from Asia over to Italy, and then up through Europe. Rats in grain and rats in ships moving from place to place for commerce were probably the primary movers of the disease. (In case you’ve forgotten, fleas are the vector of plague between humans and other animals. In other words, fleas transmit the plague bacteria from infected people/rats to new victims.)
Mr. Taylor is a lawyer working for the Heartland Institute, which advocates for unregulated trade (and also says that cigarettes are harmless). Somehow he seems to have missed the obvious connection between free markets and plague. Hmm.
So, what else? Oh, the Malaria–right. From the article:
“Malaria was becoming a distant memory 50 years ago, but the World Health Organization now reports that over 200 million people contract the disease each year and nearly one million people die from the disease each year. A single, small application of DDT to the inside walls of a hut – in which malarial mosquitoes most frequently infect their victims – will keep malarial mosquitoes at bay for months, but environmental activists have forbidden this chemical infringement on The Natural Condition.”
Let’s start with that first sentence. 50 years ago, Malaria was becoming a memory for the US and Europe; they launched very successful campaigns to control mosquitoes. Malaria eradication was not, however, successful in Africa, Asia, or Latin America. In fact, some areas never were part of any Malarial control campaign. It’s certainly correct to say that too many people die of malaria each year; but it is not correct to say that more die now than in the past. If you look at WHO data for most regions, there is a clear downward trend. Global control of malaria has been slowed by resistance to treatment drugs, as well as mosquito resistance to DDT.
Which brings us to his next claim. In his second sentence, he claims that DDT can be applied to the walls of a “hut” and provide protection from malarial mosquitoes. News flash–not everyone lives in huts–your imperialism is showing. But, hey, let’s run with it.
This is an incorrect statement for a variety of reasons. Indoor Residential Spraying (IRS) is actually not a preferred methodology for the World Health Organization Malaria group; they specifically recommend against using the same chemical year after year. Increased resistance to pesticides is strongly tied to indoor sprays in the report I linked. A quote: ”it is unlikely that universal vector control coverage can be achieved in Africa by IRS alone.”
Taylor’s pollyanna approach ignores the the reality of DDT and malaria in the world today. A hundred countries currently have a malaria problem. It is patently absurd to think that one single chemical (and methodology) can solve a problem that is global in scope.
There isn’t only ONE species of malaria mosquito–there are dozens (And they don’t all bite you when you are inside). There is not just ONE kind of ecosystem in which people and malaria interact. Designing a malaria control methodology has to take into account the political, environmental, and socio-economic situation of a particular community. What, if any, data do we have on the resistance of the mosquitoes to insecticides? It is not a one-size-fits-all problem with one solution.
His last sentence is also untrue. DDT is part of current WHO treatment guidelines. It is not “forbidden”. But DDT is only one piece of a huge, huge complicated problem, and over-reliance on it can actually make things worse by leading to greater insecticide resistance.
What I want to know now is–Why did Forbes let this douche write an article full of BS that was VERIFIABLY FALSE? And what are they going to do about it?
Ok, I’m a couple of days late to this, but that’s mostly because I had to wait until I could stop cussing and breathing in a bag to calm down. If you haven’t already heard, Anthony Cognato got sandbagged by Fox News when they sent Tucker Carleson in to interview him about a grant he received from NSF to upgrade the MSU insect collection facility.
They called it wasted stimulus money! OMGWTF?
I think the issue of why keeping historic specimens is important has been addressed elsewhere, and Anthony had a pretty good answer in the video–it’s a library of the past, that we need to preserve. Aside from just knowing what species occurred where, the genetic material in those specimens is invaluable. How have insects changed since the introduction of different agrochemicals and introduced competitors? It’s all in this library of dead insects.
I’m sure my friends at the NCSU Insect Museum can provide a better and more detailed explanation of the value of insect collections. (*cough* HINT!) Their blog makes their work more public, which is a great idea! People don’t value what they don’t understand. Witness: The Fox “news” story.
Those of you who have not worked with historic collections (insect or otherwise!) may not be aware that dead insects and other animals are very fragile things. It is a constant battle to keep them from being eaten or decaying. The primary culprits are dermestid beetles–little larvae that can wreak havoc on everything from a 200-year old insect specimen to your favorite sweater.
In fact, dermestids are good enough at eating things that they are commonly used by museums in another context–to clean off all the remaining flesh from a vertebrate skeleton.
Many, many students have made fabulous insect collections, but not listened to my admonitions to use a tightly sealed box with moth balls or other repellents …and ended up with a box of brightly colored dust. It is very, very difficult to keep dermestids out, because they are so tiny. You need specially sealed cabinets. And that is why MSU applied for, and received, a grant to upgrade their storage for a collection that dates back to 1867.
An additional issue is human health: everything that is commonly used to repel insects from collections is toxic to people. While I find the aroma of mothballs relaxing and homey, most people recognize it as a carcinogen. And keeping those vapors sealed tightly in a cabinet is healthier for entomologists.
Want to know more?
Check out this National Park Service publication for horrifying photos of the kinds of damage that dermestids (and other insect pests) can do:
Anthony explains what the grant was for…without the entomophobia hype or anti-gubmint crap:
Want to skeletonize something at home? How to Skeletonize a mammal with Dermestids (UofM Museum)
Yeah, so here is what I found on my doorstep Saturday morning. We also received the liver and heart. In fact, they put the heart on top of Mr. Bug’s car.
Definitely a threat, and it is related to my RL job. I have a pretty good idea who my Redneck Don Corleone is, but will be busy dealing with this and other items this week.
I hope to be back with some posts from the Entomological Society National Meeting in Indy after the 12th!
There will be a special symposium on native bees and honeybees, which I am quite excited about.
If you haven’t heard of Dr. Boli…well, he’s rather hard to explain. Sort of a Victorian-era Monty Python?
“As mosquitoes are the primary cause of malaria, homoeopathic remedies and preventatives for malaria are naturally made from mosquitoes in highly diluted form. One or two mosquitoes suffice to produce an entire year’s supply of homoeopathic treatments for the whole continent of Africa, the remedies being for the most part produced by a number of private laboratories in Lagos. The mosquito is ground in a tiny mortar with an even tinier pestle, and the extract added to a certain quantity of distilled water, a small portion of which is then diluted again in a greater quantity of distilled water, and so on until a 13C or greater dilution is achieved.
The dilution is only half the battle, however, as homoeopathic principles also require that the solution be subject to succussion, or shaking up. This is achieved by pouring the solution into a number of hollowed-out balls and allowing the natives to play cricket with them. After everyone has enjoyed a rousing game, the balls are collected and emptied, and the solution sold in compounding pharmacies all over Africa.
Note that this preparation will not in fact either prevent or cure malaria. It does, however, provide priceless entertainment to the natives, many of whom have advanced degrees in science and have never seen anything so silly.”
Sadly, his parody explanation is probably pretty close to the truth. There really are homeopathic remedies for sale for malaria, which are, of course, an utter crock of shit.
Sense about Science found that many pharmacies were selling homeopathic remedies for malaria, dengue, and yellow fever in 2006. Last month, the head of a chain of organic stores in the UK was on the BBC touting homeopathic malaria remedies. The transcript of the segment is mindboggling. (Additional coverage at Quackometer).
You can read about why homeopathy is fakery at Quackwatch, but hopefully you already know that it’s bogus. It is snake oil for people who flunked math and chemistry.
The companies peddling this crap are despicable–and I hope someone who used this stuff sues them for all they’re worth.