Sunday, September 28, 2008

Who will protect our pic-a-nic baskets?

Stump speech version: "My friends we spent $3 million of your money to study the DNA of bears in Montana. Now I don't know if that was a paternity issue or a criminal issue, but it was a waste of money."

Debate version: "You know, we spent $3 million to study the DNA of bears in Montana. I don't know if that was a criminal issue or a paternal issue, but the fact is that it was $3 million of our taxpayers' money. And it has got to be brought under control."

When I mentioned John McCain's favorite pork-barrel spending example on Thursday I didn't realize he would be citing it again in the presidential debate on Friday.

Although I'm sure there are numerous examples of wasteful government spending, and I agree that the earmark system is prone to abuse, McCain seems to take particular pleasure in mocking the bear study and specifically calls it a 'waste of money'.

Several things seem odd about McCain picking this particular example:
  • It isn't really that much money. In all the talk of billions and trillions a $3 million study is tiny. I'm sure there are much bigger and much sillier projects. In fact the project has received further funding since Senator McCain first attacked it (I think it's more like $4.5 million now) and released their results literally a few days ago.
  • A moment's consideration makes the project seem like a good idea. Passively sampling fur from bears and then identifying individuals from the fur is faster, cheaper, safer and more accurate than the alternative. Surely there are projects that were funded that after several hours study still leave people scratching their heads?
  • The study is supported by almost everyone apart from Senator McCain, not just environmentalists but also ranchers and farmers - albeit for different reasons. This makes a nice tie in with Thursdays lecture since everyone in this issue might reasonably claim to be interested in bear conservation and, temporarily at least have the same goal - getting the grizzly bear off the endangered species list. However beyond that the goals are very divergent. Once off the list, areas of land would be opened up for logging and drilling - an outcome that could financially dwarf a $3million DNA study.
I can only assume that, like Stephen Colbert, John McCain just has a problem with bears.

Sunday's bonus trivia question: Given that Yogi bear was a casual kind of bear why did he always wear a necktie? (An especially odd choice of dress since he never wore pants.) Answer after this nice video of USGS biologist Kate Kendall describing the project. More information is also available at the USGS Northern Divide Grizzly Bear Project website.

William Hanna and Joseph Barbera realized that cartoons were going to move from the cinema to TV but needed a way to make them more cheaply. One of their pioneering techniques was to have minimal movement and frequent recycling of backgrounds. If you look at many of Hanna-Barbera's most popular characters - Fred Flintstone, Yogi Bear and Scooby Doo - you will see that they wear a necktie or have a prominent collar. This meant that the body could remain static when the character was speaking, and the artists would only have to re-draw the character's face in each frame. So it's actually Yogi's collar that is important, not the necktie. I guess the tie was added because a collar alone would be silly on a bear. Like a bear wearing pants, that would be really silly. If they were drawing the cartoons today they could give him a radio collar and forget the necktie.....

1 comment:

Katherine Emery said...

I did some more digging on Yogi and bears wearing neckties and the debate is still out whether Yogi was a black or grizzly bear. For more info see:

Maybe Hanna-Barbera could have advocated for some "bear monitoring" in this popular cartoon???