Just This Once – A Post About One of Our Kids…

… the 8-year old, who fashioned a remarkable-looking double-bladed zombie-slaying weapon as part of his Halloween costume. I asked him what he was going to call it, made lame suggestions, when he came up the ultimate name for a weapon for keeping zombies at bay:

The No-Brainer.

Yes, I’m a proud daddy.

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More Lying With Science…

Or, more precisely, lying while wearing a lab coat so people will think you’re all scientific-y and stuff. Here is the obligatory article saying that Sandy is the result of global warming.  Be that as it may, the lie we’ll focus on today lies elsewhere – here, to be exact:

Last month, Mike Tidwell, director of Maryland’s Chesapeake Climate Action Network and the author of the 2006 book The Ravaging Tide — which detailed the expected rise in extreme weather events that will come with global warming — received a pamphlet in the mail from his insurance company, Travelers. The full-color flier depicted a typical suburban home with a lashing storm looming on the horizon.

Federal disaster declarations are up, the pamphlet declared. Average winter storm losses have doubled since the 1980s. Thunderstorms last year caused over $25 billion in damages, more than double the previous record.

“That flier was astonishing,” said Tidwell. “I couldn’t remember ever getting anything like that before.”

The implication was simple: Given the bounty of scientific and statistical evidence now in hand, insurance companies can’t afford to dither over whether climate change is real — and really, neither can anyone else.

What is wrong with this picture? Let me count the ways:

1.  The actual Traveler’s Insurance brochure is not about global warming, more frequent and more damaging storms or even science at all. It’s not evidence that insurance companies are talking global warming seriously or not taking it seriously – it’s about how expensive it’s getting to fix stuff. It’s an attempt to sell more insurance:

Evidently no one has ever tried to sell Tidwell insurance before, as he claims to have never seen anything like this before. Perhaps his reading comprehension would improve if he took off the global warming colored glasses.

2. The claim that “average winter storm losses have doubled since the 1980s” is hardly surprising – between 1985 and 2011, the cost of pretty much *everything* has doubled – it’s called inflation.

3. And that’s not even counting the increase in population in Maryland – from about 4.2 million on 1980 to about 5.2 million in 2000 – around 22%% more people. More people generally means more stuff – houses and cars, for example – to get damaged in a storm.

4. Putting points 2 & 3 together, the reasonable conclusion would be that real, inflation-adjusted losses due to storms in Maryland have fallen per capita over the last 25 years.  For whatever reason, storm losses when measured in any reasonable manner are declining.

But will such logic stop our intrepid fear-monger? Not in this space-time continuum. But what I sincerely hope is that some people might actually start to see how abusive and manipulative these clowns are, as they bluff and blunder their way through lie after lie, and disgrace the name of science in the process. But I’m not holding my breath.

As in all things, I blame Sagan.

Fredom of Religion: Amazing Levels of Cluelessness on Display

This is one of those thing that is so totally and outrageously clueless (to give people the benefit of the doubt) as to defy comprehension:

Many people are evidently so ignorant of history as to imagine that the problem the ‘freedom of religion’ concept is meant to address is that religion tends to interfere with government.

No.

What any acquaintance whatsoever with any real history – or even current events around the world – reveals is that the problem is and almost always has been government attempting to control religion, not the other way around.  The reason this is so is equally obvious: religion belief is the single most important place where a person can stand in judgement of the government.  Religious people are often far more loyal to their religious beliefs than they are to any government. A government that is growing in power will sooner or later run up against religious beliefs that oppose it as it gropes about for more areas in which to exert itself.

What is happening – what has happened over and over again in history – is that the state is attempting to neuter the churches by legally establishing the right to dictate to religious people what they must do(1). The current administration shrewdly picked an area – contraceptives – over which an existing fault line among believers already existed, then, by means of a bureaucratic regulation, is attempting to 1) fragment its opposition – divide and conquer – and 2) to establish that the government has the legal power to dictate to independently run religiously based organizations what services they must supply regardless of their consciences.  In this case, setting the stage for the Holy Grail of this administration: free to the user abortion on demand anywhere any healthcare is offered. But that’s merely the obvious next step.

Examples of this sort of behavior are too numerous to list. Here are a few broad examples:

– the Divine Right of kings (something Thomas Aquinas denied in the 13th century)

– China’s Patriotic Catholic Association;

– centuries of lay investiture, leading to centuries of anti-clericalism;

– Henry VIII;

– the Committee for Public Safety;

– the requirement that Christians burn incense to Caesar or die.

And yet people who claim to be the objective, intelligent, well-informed population pretend to fear what has never really happened in a modern democracy: that a government has been taken over by religious fanatics who then use it to persecute all the other people. They seem to believe ‘V for Vendetta’ is based on history rather than on a comic book (2).

The exception is, of course, Islam (if we set aside that there’s never been anything like a modern democracy with a majority population of Muslims unless we want to generously include governments  imposed by some western colonial power). But fear that  Sharia law will be imposed is never presented as part of the argument  – it’s always some ginned up outrage against people who would like words like ‘marriage’ or even ‘rights’ to retain some shred of objective meaning.

The supposed outrage over religion – meaning, for all practical purposes Catholics and Evangelicals – interfering with government – meaning, in this case, not getting in line with the most holy and sacred tenets of the Sexual Revolution – is a diversion. Sure, there is a vast herd of people for whom modern sexual mores are the be-all and end-all of their political thought. They qualify as useful idiots, here. If these narcissistic libertines think that, once all the shackles of religion and tradition – of reason, ultimately – have been destroyed, that they will not be thrown under the bus as soon as it becomes expedient for their keepers to do so, they are sadly mistaken. Redefining rights as whatever ‘we’ want them to be ignores the little problem of defining who ‘we’ are – the powerful prefer to keep that number as small as possible.

One last thought: governments weigh their need for religious approval against their lust for power, and calibrate their actions accordingly: Stalin thought religious fervor might help the war efforts, so he opened the churches during WWII, even though he was in principle dedicated to their destruction; for many centuries, most European monarchs contented themselves with controlling all the bishops and abbots – nobody got any power in the local church without, at the very least, being vetted by the powers that be. Henry VIII represents the extreme of this policy. Or, if you’re a tyrant feeling you oats, maybe you’ll attempt to snuff out religion – meaning, again, Christianity, practically speaking – entirely. Just how much religion you allow is just business, merely prudential.

The key: governments have sought always to control the religious beliefs of their subjects, to the point of slaughtering people who don’t comply. Freedom of religion means a government can’t do that, or it means nothing.

(1) – don’t for a minute think that this is just the same as the government’s power to declare slavery and polygamy, for example,  illegal over the religious beliefs of some southerners and Mormons. That was about beliefs that were not central and were clearly at odds with specific rights and societal norms. This is a different game entirely – religious institutions that have long provided needed public services – healthcare and education – are being forced to provide some readily available but morally objectionable ‘services’ – abortifants and sterilization – as a way of making them burn incense to Caesar or be driven out of businesses the government clearly and dearly wants to run.

(2) – you could maybe argue that Cromwell fits the bill – a Puritanical zealot who ruled England. But I think a closer look will reveal that he is one brutal, blood-thirsty ruler in an age of brutal, blood-thirsty rulers. At any rate, he did not rise to power in a democracy.

More Science Headline Shenanigans…

This article is headed:

“EARTH was a BAKING LIFELESS DESERT for 5 MILLION years”

OK, thinks I, are we talking about a couple billion years ago, where there is no  evidence of life of any kind? Or is there really a clean gap in the history of life on earth, where life covered the globe for millions of years, vanished, and returned?  Nope. Turns out that after the Permian die-off, earth was still what we would typically call ‘teeming’ with life – just not in the tropics, and just not with big forms of life, like fish and trees.

The problem here, at least potentially, is that someone might be lead by this headline to assume that all life was wiped out and then re-emerged 5 million years later, which would be something. Just not something there’s any evidence for.  A sufficiently dogmatic and uninformed person might even imagine that this total-destruction-of-life, reemergence-of-life thing proves that life arose – and arises – inevitably out of completely natural processes. which may be true, but is not proven or demonstrated by the Permian die-off.

A more biologically sophisticated reader might agree with the headline to the extent that today’s ‘lifeless, barren’ deserts are, you know, often teeming with life – just not the kind (and size) of life you’d find in a forest or ocean reef.  Death Valley blooms with wildflowers; brine shrimp show up on salt flats.

But the article is really only talking about the tropics, leaving the temperate and polar zones to ‘teem’, as it were.

This is a minor and relatively harmless case of lying via science headline, yet it contributes to the whole science-as-belief-system error so damaging to the modern world.

A pox upon both parties, sure, but…

This is cracking me up: two women who are Facebook friends of mine relentlessly post anti-Republican, pro Obama items gleaned from the unchallengeable  wisdom of the Internet, including especially items that show that Democrats are smart and reasonable while Republicans are stupid and irrational.

The hilarious part: one of them also often posts her horoscope; the other links to ‘the Secret’.

The first victim of politics may be the truth; the second is surely any sense of irony.

Education, and all that

Over at the erudite John C. Wright’s blog, a discussion of what science fiction books should be included in a proper 11th and 12th grade curriculum. I blather some there.

My 2 cents, perhaps not worth even that, as I am not very well read in SciFi:

– Canticle for Liebowitz

– Collected short stories of Cordwainer Smith (maybe 3-4 stories – they’re all pretty good, I don’t want to pick right now.)

– Lewis’ Space Trilogy

Those give a taste of the high themes and beauty one can find in SF

– 1984 & Brave New World

But things can go wrong. So very, very wrong.

That’s probably enough. I like Asimov and William Gibson and a bunch of other stuff, but if 16 and 17 year olds could get that list under their belts, that would be a vast step forward.

 

Headlines versus Reality: Politics Division

Unfortunately, the headline went down the Google News memory hole before I thought to capture it in a link, but I do it justice with:

Stocks Up on Improved Jobs Data

Across from this superficially unremarkable headline on the right margin were that day’s stock market results: the DOW was up 0.26% – noise, essentially. The broader indices were down. Sooo – come again? One narrow measure – the DOW only includes 30 companies – is up an insignificant amount, while broader indices – the S&P track something over 500 companies, the NASDAQ several times that – are down. So, basically, as stated without any caveats, that headline is what we used to call in simpler, more primitive times, a lie.

Then you start digging around. What job data are we talking about? The government calculates employment numbers by doing a statistical projection based on samples of businesses and households. In this latest report, it is stated that businesses reported 110,000 new jobs came into being, yet, in the same report, the number of unemployed dropped by 456,000 – um, did the extra 346,00 die, retire, move to another country? Or just stop looking for work and thereby drop out of the statistics? Inquiring minds would like to know.

But that’s only mildly baffling compared to what comes next:

Total employment rose by 873,000 in September, following 3 months of little change. The employment-population ratio increased by 0.4 percentage point to 58.7 percent, after edging down in the prior 2 months. The overall trend in the employment-population ratio for this year has been flat. The civilian labor force rose by 418,000 to 155.1 million in September, while the labor force participation rate was little changed at 63.6 percent. (See table A-1.)

Okay – so, businesses can add 110,000 jobs, while people find 873,000 jobs… At the very least, this calls into question the methodology used to collect data and calculate numbers. And that kind of gob growth would be expected in a booming economy – which, last I checked, isn’t what we have.

If you read to the end of the linked report, you will also find that the last half is corrections to previous reports – in other words, it is taken for granted that these snapshots for the previous month will get revised once more data is available. Stay tuned.

Further bulletins as events warrant.