Jindal versus the volcano monitoring

Bobby Jindal, the young (37), non-white (his parents are immigrants from India) Republican governor of Louisiana has been touted as one of the rising stars of the GOP and a possible candidate for president in 2012.

With that in mind, the party selected Jindal to give the traditional opposition response to President Obama’s address to Congress Tuesday. If you missed it, you can watch it here (it’s about 12 minutes altogether).

Unfortunately for Jindal, and I suppose for the Republicans (who could use some good news), the reviews— including from conservatives– were almost universally bad.

A number of people have compared his look and speaking style (with some fairness) to that of the NBC page Kenneth on the sitcom “30 Rock.”

There is something indelibly dorky about Jindal. And in my experience, Republicans aren’t huge fans of dorkiness.

But what struck me as his most foolish moment came when Jindal– explaining his opposition the the $787 billion economic stimulus package signed by Obama– complained that it included “$140 million for something called ‘volcano monitoring.’ Instead of monitoring volcanoes, what Congress should be monitoring is the eruption of spending in Washington, D.C.”

Volcano monitoring? Ha ha. Can you imagine anything so ridiculous?

It’s true there are no volcanoes in Louisiana. But there are in other parts of the US. And they can endanger lives and property when they blow.

As Andrea Thompson of LiveScience writes:

The $140 million to which Jindal referred is actually for a number of projects conducted by the United States Geological Survey, including volcano monitoring.

This monitoring is aimed at helping geologists understand the inner workings of volcanoes as well as providing warnings of impending eruptions, in the United States and in active areas around the world where U.S. military bases are located.

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 [in Washington state] 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).

So the program that Jindal ridiculed provides gainful employment for people in a scientifically-useful and potentially life-saving endeavor that is unlikely to be undertaken in the private sector. Utterly laughable, huh?

Jindal’s crack about volcano monitoring simply enhances the GOP’s reputation as a party that doesn’t take science seriously. I suppose it’s possible that Jindal– an otherwise intelligent fellow– really doesn’t understand the importance of volcano monitoring. But perhaps he was simply trying to appeal to what he imagines are voters too narrow-minded or uneducated to appreciate the value of scientific research. If so I think he underestimated the American people and made himself look foolish.