04
Jun
09

Mid-week misanthropy, vol. 41

Earlier this year, I invoked the dread powers of basic arithmetic to discover that the Canadian government’s planned $2,300,000,000 (USD) gift to bailout of Chrysler would have been better spent by, among other things, giving each laid-off worker an $85,000 severance package.  At the time, I thought that was a lot of money.

Now, the purpose of words like “million” is to make large numbers easier for our small-number intuitions to grasp — so when people read things like “$1.4 million” they tend to focus on the “1.4”, whereas it’s the “million” that dominates the expression.  $1,400,000 is a lot of money for one person.  Now, I realize that a lot of it goes into corporate overhead and pension funds and the like, which expenses will have to be justified on their own merits; let’s conservatively guess that the actual per-job component, there, is a mere $450,000 — less than a third of the total.

Suppose that instead of giving Governmenteneral Motors and Chrysler $1,400,000 per job they promise to keep around until they eventually implode regardless*, the federal government instead gave those two auto companies the finger and gave $450,000 to each former GM and Chrysler employee who quit immediately.  What could a skilled, hard-working, and motivated former auto worker do with $450,000?  Perhaps it’s enough money to start a new business — to outfit a machine shop and start cranking out high-quality replacement parts for Chevys and Dodges, or to buy a bunch of mortgages in downtown Vancouver as the real estate market bottoms out.  Surely it’s enough to support a family for five years while earning a degree in, say, mechanical engineering.  I’d hazard a guess that it’s also enough to relocate to Alberta and work in the oil industry, or to the southern United States where Toyota’s ramping up production.  I’ve probably missed a few (hundred) options.

Is there something about political life that destroys the left hemisphere of every Member of Parliament’s brain?  How is it that no-one was able to look at a figure like “$1,400,000 per job `saved'” and think “that sounds awfully high”?

——

I suppose we can take a perverse sort of comfort in the next story, in that it shows that abject innumeracy is not a permanent effect of holding high office — in this case, the appointed Chairmanship of the United States Federal Reserve Bank.  It is, however, an irretrievably tarnished silver lining in the sort of storm-cloud that produces city-eating hurricanes:

*facepalm*

This is a joke, right?  Some sort of bizarre, elaborate prank?  This guy:

Helicopter Ben

said, with no trace of irony:

“Unless we demonstrate a strong commitment to fiscal sustainability in the longer term, we will have neither financial stability nor healthy economic growth.”

The man is, of course, correct: sustainability isn’t just a buzzword among environmentalists.  And in a way I suppose we should be pleased that one of the main architects of the TARP bailout is coming to his fucking senses.  However, there’s only one way to atone for such a cataclysmic fuckup:

429px-Budd_Dwyer_NES

——

Next we sample a different flavour of dumbfounded outrage, in which the “zOMG CHEMICALS” wing of the hysterical-whackjob environmentalist** movement shows us once again how much it loves Africa:

(Hat tip: Reason Hit & Run)

Zimbabwe’s main consumer rights group, the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe (CCZ), has started raiding shops and supermarkets found selling Genetically Modified Foods (GMO) on grounds that it is unhealthy.  Most supermarkets and shops in the country’s biggest cities are flooded with GMO foods imported from South Africa and Brazil as local industries are still struggling to find their feet after a decade-long economic crisis.

Now, surely the CCZ have some reason for pulling food off the shelves in a country that has spent the past decade or so trying to starve itself to death?

“We have received a lot of reports of people, mainly children, getting sick after consuming the foods which in most cases will be expired,” said Comfort Muchekeza, the CCZ spokesperson. “We have raided and closed several shops and supermarkets in Bulawayo for selling expired GMO foods. We are working with the health ministry to bar GMO foods from entering the country. The health ministry has mounted check-up points at the country’s borders to inspect foodstuffs coming to into the country.”

(Emphasis added.)

Yup, clearly it’s genetic manipulation by demon godless Science that’s causing the problems here.  Fucking Mendel — food never rotted before he got all clever with his damn peas.

——

On a somewhat less heartbreaking note, Derek Lowe chimes in on the theme of freaking out over made-up menaces:

As is often the case, it started with a good idea:

The idea is that a materials safety data sheet collects all the relevant toxicity, handling, and disposal information for a given chemical so it can be referenced by users, emergency responders, and so on.

But then things got all government-regulated:

I refer interested readers to the famous example of the MSDS for sand. Sea sand.The first thing we find is that it is a cancer hazard. Then we note that “Prolonged exposure to respirable crystalline quartz may cause delayed lung injury/fibrosis (silicosis)”. Which is true, but (of course), we have no idea of what “prolonged” means in this context, and we may not realize that sand, in its commonly encountered forms, is not easy to inhale. One should ” Wear appropriate protective clothing to prevent skin exposure”, but if we were to contact this substance through our own carelessness? We should “Immediately flush skin with plenty of water for at least 15 minutes while removing contaminated clothing and shoes.”. We should take care at all times: “Do not let this chemical enter the environment.” But that should go without saying, since we’ve been enjoined to “Use only in a chemical fume hood”.

Now, what this thing is trying to tell us is that extensive exposure to finely ground silica dust is bad for the lungs. This is absolutely true, even if lawyers have been trying to make dubious fortunes off of it. A person should take care not to inhale sand dust, and should take particular care if exposure to such dust is a regular feature of one’s job.

I remember spending hours as a child playing in a backyard sandbox on hot afternoons.  I doubt my parents realized that it needed a fume hood, and I certainly did nothing to discourage skin exposure to the lethal carcinogenic stuff.

Then again, until LCD monitors started getting ubiquitous, I routinely spent hours at a time sitting directly in front of an electron gun at ranges between two and four feet.  I’m probably doomed.  After all, things are dangerous in direct proportion to how scary they sound, right?

——

We close this week’s Misanthropy with a comfortingly familiar tale of bureaucratic bellicosity from Great Britain.

The dubious elegance of the Daily Mail’s reporting is that it largely fits into the headline, sparing customers the arduous task of actually reading the article.  Any who indulge in the full story will discover the cherries on top of this particular fail-icious sundae: Lambeth city council managed to lose the “offending” car for upwards of three weeks, and had neglected to inform residents of the road work.

But it’s all in a good cause, claim the city council:

`[T]his is very much an isolated incident, and all our figures show that in general parking is becoming fairer in Lambeth.’

What’s fair?  Well, y’see, you’ve got these two white yellow lines….

——

* See also the fantastic government-intervention success story of British Leyland

** As opposed to more pragmatic types of environmentalist


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