The GOP War on Caterpillars

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.

caterpillar 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.

change

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!

Share
CATERPILLARS AREN’T REAL CATS. OR PILLARS. WHY TRUST THEIR LIES #GOPWarOnCaterpillars
Thu, Apr 05 2012 16:53:14
  1. Share
    IF WE LEGALIZE CATERPILLAR MARRIAGE, THE CHILDREN WILL BE CONFUSED. MOSTLY BY CATERPILLARS GETTING MARRIED. #GOPWarOnCaterpillars
    Thu, Apr 05 2012 16:51:09
  2. Share
    RT @markokloos: THE CONSTITUTION DOESN’T MENTION THE RIGHT TO PUPATE #GOPWarOnCaterpillars
    Sat, Apr 07 2012 18:43:14
  3. Share
    BUTTERFLIES AND RAINBOWS: NOT A COINCIDENTAL PAIRING #GOPWarOnCaterpillars jezebel.com/5899482/war-on…
    Fri, Apr 06 2012 04:16:37
  4. Share
    ECDYSIS IS JUST A FANCY WORD FOR STRIPPING! CATERPILLARS=SLUTS! #GOPWarOnCaterpillars
    Thu, Apr 05 2012 17:03:05
  5. Share
    Back in my day, we told the caterpillars to just hold an aspirin between each pair of knees. Took a whole bottle, tho. #GOPWarOnCaterpillars
    Thu, Apr 05 2012 18:19:10
  6. Share
    YOU SHALL HAVE MY CHRYSALIS WHEN YOU PRY MY COLD DEAD FINGERS FROM IT. #GOPWarOnCaterpillars
    Thu, Apr 05 2012 16:37:24
  7. Share
    .@scalzi HOW CAN YOU TRUST A CATERPILLAR WHEN THEY ARE THE WORLD’S OLDEST SPIN DOCTORS? #GOPWarOnCaterpillars
    Thu, Apr 05 2012 17:01:51
  8. Share
    CATERPILLARS WILL FORCE YOUR CHILDREN TO READ ABOUT THEIR LIFE CYCLE IN SCHOOL #GOPWarOnCaterpillars
    Thu, Apr 05 2012 16:56:55
  9. Share
    @scalzi In the tradition of “Freedom Fries,” Caterpillar Trucks will henceforth be called Bald Eagle Trucks. #GOPWarOnCaterpillars
    Fri, Apr 06 2012 01:22:17
  10. Share
    I don’t believe there is a #GOPWarOnCaterpillars. After all, Republicans support the right to woolybear arms.
    Thu, Apr 05 2012 18:04:52
  11. Share
    Breaking: Republicans oppose law to require paid leave time for metamorphosis, calling it “socialist”. #GOPWarOnCaterpillars
    Fri, Apr 06 2012 13:04:44
  12. Share
    LOOK ALL I’M SAYING IS METAMORPHOSIS IS A LIFESTYLE CHOICE #GOPWarOnCaterpillars
    Thu, Apr 05 2012 18:57:54
  13. Share
    If butterflies came from caterpillars HOW COME THERE ARE STILL CATERPILLARS?! #GOPWarOnCaterpillars
    Thu, Apr 05 2012 21:47:03
  14. Share

    #GOPWarOnCaterpillars http://twitpic.com/9634g4
    Thu, Apr 05 2012 19:46:01

*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.

Forbes hits the Conspiracy Trifecta

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?