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.

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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.

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.

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.

Dorothy Sayer on What Passes for Reasonable Discussion…

… from Mike Flynn’s excellent blog, from “The Lost Tools of Learning,” by Dorothy Sayers (1947):

“Have you ever, in listening to a debate among adult and presumably responsible people, been fretted by the extraordinary inability of the average debater to speak to the question, or to meet and refute the arguments of speakers on the other side? Or have you ever pondered upon the extremely high incidence of irrelevant matter which crops up at committee meetings, and upon the very great rarity of persons capable of acting as chairmen of committees? And when you think of this, and think that most of our public affairs are settled by debates and committees, have you ever felt a certain sinking of the heart?”

And so on. Read the rest there, and contemplate how things have most definitely not gotten better.

 

 

The Nonexistent Seductive Powers of Ayn Rand

There is of course an unlimited list of things I will never understand, me being finite and the universe being effectively infinite (not to mention God and all that). High upon that list, just under why people, under no threat of torture or death, voluntarily watch Dukes of Hazard, Charlie’s Angels and ‘reality’ TV, is the appeal of Ayn Rand. Specifically, I don’t understand why anyone would read more than about half of either of her novels.

To hear her fan boys and fan girls talk reminds me of the first time I ever made a snowball. After growing up in Los Angeles, where we wisely keep our snow up on the mountaintops where we can admire it from afar as we work on our January tans, I ran into my first snowfall up close and personal a couple months into my first semester of college up in Santa Fe, New Mexico. About a 16th of an inch if snow had fallen, and I just had to scape about a quarter acre of landscaping to come up with a workable snowball, which I threw at a friend – a friend from Colorado.

He looked at me with a mixture of bemused disgust, as I had just cemented in his brain every goofball stereotype of the stupid Californian. By the third day, any enthusiasm I harbored for wintery outdoor activities had died, and I settled into waiting for Spring. I had learned what every Midwesterner and Northerner knows in his heart: snow sucks.

Basically, if you’ve never read a book with ideas in it, never thought a thought deeper than to wonder if anything good is on TV, never had occasion to exercise the thinking part of your brain at all – then, well, I suppose Rand could be kind of bracing, at least for a short while.

But if you’ve read anything good, you’d immediately recognize Rand as a writer of pot-boiler dreck. If you’d ever actively entertained any of the real thoughts out there in the world, like the stuff in Plato or the Bible (read to understand, not for proof texts)  or Chesterton or Tolkien, then Rand’s ‘ideas’ would be instantly recognized as utterly sophomoric posing. Or, finally, if you’d ever loved a child or someone old and ‘useless’, then you see Rand as pure evil.

Make your snowball, throw it at somebody you love, and get over it.

Romney’s Income Tax Returns

Let me say this about that:

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHH!!!!!!!

Now that that’s out of the way: This morning on NPR, talking heads were speculating on why a usually astute politician like Romney would not release his income tax returns. One fellow guessed that Romney may have taken a beating on some of his holdings during the downturn, and might have paid no income tax, which, it went without saying, would look bad to us little people.

Just to be clear: the idea is that every year, each American who made any money in the previous year is supposed to fill out a bunch of forms to see if they owe the federal government any income taxes. If, after following the rules and doing the math, you made any “taxable income” you have to pay some tax.  Boo hoo. 😦   However – now, follow this closely – if you discover you have not made any taxable income, you don’t have to pay any tax for that year. Sometimes, due to some complicated rules in the tax code, you might even get some of the money you paid in previous years back! Woo Hoo! 😉

So, here it is: Romney, it is suspected, lost a bunch of money when assets he owned decreased in value due to the late economic unpleasantness. It might turn out that he lost more money in one place than he made in total everywhere else  (such as salary). Overall, therefore, he lost money that year – technically, he had no taxable income. He then would pay no taxes for that year, and might even have gotten some money back.

(Usual disclaimer: not an apologist for Romney – he’s a cipher on a good day. Both our major parties are despicable.)

Here’s the catch: we, the voters, are assumed (alas! correctly assumed) to be too dense to understand this. We are assumed (again, correctly in most cases) to believe that Romney is cheating, is a rich dude who didn’t pay any taxes, and that’s so unfair!

Now, it may be true that rich people don’t pull their weight in supporting our federal government – I tend to think that’s roughly true. But, as I’ve explained at length elsewhere on this blog, income taxes are not a material concern for the truly wealthy.  They own assets that produce more wealth, and would only pay income taxes on that wealth if they sold it – and even then, with prudent planning, you can minimize income taxes.

Keep in mind, there are people like you and me, who have to work for a living, to whom income taxes are a real material issue – we see our paychecks reduced by withholding, or have to write checks to the government regularly – and, it’s not always what we’d prefer to do with our money. But there are also people like the members of the Walton family, for whom work is strictly optional – their assets – largely ownership of billions of dollars worth of WalMart stock – are making them wealthy whether they work like a dog or lie around drunk all day. They don’t care very much about income – wages and salaries, and the taxes on wages and salaries, are for the little people.

Romney may be a bad man for all I know – but it’s not because he may have not paid income taxes one year. If you really think that’s unfair, then you’ll have to come up with some way to tax his assets, because some years he may just not make any taxable income.

Good luck with that.