"Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics"

Mark Twain popularized the phrase "lies, damned lies and statistics" explaining that these were the three kinds of lies people told. The media has become notorious for using the them all to try to create the narrative they want instead of reporting news as it is.

As if the
hype building up to Hurricane Irene wasn't enough, the storm is now being hyped after the fact.
The NY Times says the damage could rank in the top 10 catastrophes in terms of costliness. I wonder...is that really true? [Hilarious video here of in-storm reporting - it reminds me of the videos people make to look like their climbing (you know where the turn the camera 90 degrees so it looks like they're scaling a sheer rock face when in fact their crawling on the ground) and then a dog or little kid or something runs in and totally ruins the whole thing.]

If the top ten in this list are adjusted to the actual dollar value of their respective years, they break down this way(
This list does not include anything beyond March 2011):
  1. Hurricane Katrina (2005) - $108 B, (p. 9)
  2. Heat Wave/Drought (1988) - ~$60B
  3. Heat Wave/Drought (1980) - ~$20B
  4. Hurricane Andrew (1992) - $26.5B
  5. Midwest Flooding (1993) - $15B
  6. Hurricane Ike (2008) - $29.5B
  7. Hurricane Rita (2005) - $12B
  8. Hurricane Wilma (2005) - $21B
  9. Hurricane Charley (2004) - $15B
  10. Hurricane Ivan (2004) - $19B
These numbers adjusted to 2011 dollars would be as follows:
  1. Hurricane Katrina - $124B
  2. Heat Wave/Drought (1988) - $114B
  3. Heat Wave/Drought (1980) - $54B
  4. Hurricane Andrew - $42B
  5. Midwest Flooding (2003) - $23B
  6. Hurricane Ike - $31B
  7. Hurricane Rita - $13B
  8. Hurricane Wilma - $24B
  9. Hurricane Charley - $17B
  10. Hurricane Ivan - $22B

Early estimates of Irene's damage are somewhere around the $7 to $10B mark, obviously in 2011 dollars, which is below any in the above list and would likely rank it somewhere in the top 20 but not the top 10.

Now, don't get me wrong. The damage from Irene is devastating. The flooding from the heavy rain is awful. I have friends in North Carolina (which has only been a footnote to the situation in the Northeast) who had damage to their homes with fallen trees. I certainly don't want to belittle the fact that people are suffering as a result of Irene, but it needs to be kept in perspective. From 25-28 April of 2011, a major outbreak of tornadoes hit the US, particularly Mississippi to Virginia. The damage estimate for that outbreak is roughly $10B, about the same as Irene (not to mention the 350 lives lost in that outbreak - about 7 times the number from Irene). While certainly a costly (and deadly) storm outbreak, I've found no article calling the tornado outbreak "one of the 10 costliest catastrophes in the nation’s history." Why is that, considering they both the tornado outbreak and Irene carry roughly the same preliminary estimates for damage?


Thomas Jefferson's Canons of Conduct

WWTJD? (What would Thomas Jefferson do?)

  1. Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today.
  2. Never trouble another with what you can do yourself.
  3. Never spend your money before you have it.
  4. Never buy what you do not want because it is cheap.
  5. Pride costs us more than hunger, thirst and cold.
  6. We never repent of having eaten too little.
  7. Nothing is troublesome that we do willingly.
  8. How much pain have cost us the evils which have never happened.
  9. Take things always by their smooth handle.
  10. When angry, count ten before you speak; if very angry, a hundred.


Lemmings and Sheeple Are Still Unpatriotic

A combination of my previous two Independence Day blogs can be summed up in the statement, "Dissent is the sincerest form of patriotism."


It's a Screwed Up World...

Eh, it's been a little over two weeks since I last posted. I have a few thoughts and then might do a little catching up before this is all done.

First, the flooding in Nashville is really sad. It's amazing that so much damage can be done with "just rain" and no hurricane or other tropical system. When a strong hurricane comes on shore, it's expected that there will be a good deal of damage, particularly flooding with storm surge and heavy rains. It's doubtful than anyone predicted the enormity of the flooding that inundated Nashville.
While it may not be on par with the damage left behind from hurricane Katrina, Nashville is still a large city reeling from the devastating effects of Mother Nature. New Orleans at least had a chance to mobilize and prepare for Katrina. I very seriously doubt the people of Nashville could have been prepared for this past weekend.

Speaking of Katrina, it's interesting how the federal government (personified in George Bush) received so much blame for the problems that plagued New Orleans as a result of Katrina, particularly in dealing with people who didn't evacuate before the storm, but also I find it equally interesting that very few (and no one in the MSM) are hinting that the federal government is at fault for the severity of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. In the New York Times today, the question was raised as to just how bad the spill will eventually be. Some are wringing their hands over the specter of one of the worst environmental disasters ever, although at this point, the spill is not near the size and scope of the worst spills ever. President Obama has said the spill is "a potentially unprecedented environmental disaster." No matter how you slice it, it ain't good.

The federal government has also been quick to point the finger at British Petroleum (BP) as the point of blame and also to stress that BP will finance the cleanup and compensatory claims. However, what the federal government (including the White House) is not saying is that the federal government has actually had a plan in place to contain such spills, a plan that dates back to 1994. Unfortunately, the federal government did not have any of the necessary tools in place along the gulf to put the plan into effect. By the time the USCG acted on the plan, the spill had been growing for eight days. In a flash of incompetency reminiscent of FEMA's Michael Brown during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, "USCG Mary Landry said the government had all the assets it needed." Right. Except the one that the plan for containing an oil spill in the Gulf actually called for!

Bottom line: The geographical devastation of Katrina probably could not have been averted, however, the human suffering could have possible been ameliorated...but not by the federal government. The immediate blame for the human element of devastation in New Orleans lies primarily in three places: first, the people who could have evacuated but refused; second, for those who were unable to evacuate on their own, the city of New Orleans made no provision whatsoever to evacuate its residents; third, Governor Kathleen Blanco waited until the last minute to activate the National Guard, making it almost impossible for them to mobilize to adequately assist those who remained behind for whatever reason. Had these three been done correctly in the first place, the pressure on the federal government would have been lessened and likely done more efficiently (although that's doubtful, after all, it is the government we're talking about).

While BP should certainly be held accountable for their shortcomings, the federal government, under the leadership of President Obama, as commander in chief, and the USCG, whose responsibility it should have been to contain the spill by putting into effect the plan to do so developed over 15 years ago, should also be held responsible for allowing the spill to grow to its current size. Of course, with offshore drilling such an issue these days, we can't expect the federal government to "let a good crisis go to waste," huh?

In the midst of the environmental disaster looming because of the ineptitude of the federal government, we should remember the families of those 11 workers who died as a result of the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon. The loss of their lives has been turned into a political football much like the deaths of the 29 miners in West Virginia.

In other news, the FBI captured the suspected "mastermind" behind an attempt to explode a car bomb in crowded Times Square on Saturday night. By the way, for those keeping score at home, the suspect, 30 year old Faisal Shahzad, is a naturalized American citizen from Pakistan. Odd, that, considering New York's mayor Michael Bloomberg's early description of the perpetrator invoked images of Timothy McVeigh, or a militia group (or maybe a Tea Party group?), saying the suspect was probably "home-grown...somebody with a political agenda that doesn't like the healthcare bill..." Seriously? Threats came from all over the place after Comedy Central aired an episode of South Park "depicting" Mohammed, and the immigration bill in Arizona has created quite a stir. Really? The healthcare bill?

Finally, how about some local flair. A principal at a local K-8 school (in a not so great neighborhood to say the least) was given leave without pay for shaving off half of a kid's eyebrow. Apparently, shaving slits in one's eyebrow is some kind of gang sign so she'd told the kids not to do it anymore. One did so she got a razor and shaved half of it off so it wouldn't show the slit. Like one person I heard comment on the situation said, if she had slept with the kid, she'd still be getting paid while on leave.


Forced Generosity and Charitable Taxation...

Much ado has been made about how taxes are used to do good that private agencies could not do because they would lack the funding if they had to rely solely on private donations. If this is indeed the case (which I won't concede but will still entertain for the time being), the following numbers may give a little insight (slight though it may be) into why it may be the case.

This year, President Obama's household federal tax liability was $1.8 million out of $5.5 million (approximately 33% of their adjusted gross income). (The president's $1.4 million Nobel prize money was not included because he gave it all to charities. Frankly, to be consistent, he should have been taxed on the amount then left to give the rest to charity, but that's beside the point.) Anyway, out of a $5.5 million income, their charitable giving was $329,000 spread out to 40 different charities. That's roughly 6% of their income. Only 6%.

For the vice president, the numbers are even more telling. The Biden household paid $71,000 in federal income taxes on an income of $333,000 (roughly 21% of their adjusted gross income). The Bidens' charitable deductions for the year were $4,800, a whopping 1.5% of their adjusted gross income.

With generosity like this, who would imagine private charities being able to do what government does with the forced donations (i.e. taxes) is receives? Joe Biden once said that it was "patriotic" to pay taxes. Being the devout Catholic that he is, one would think he would know that it's the Christian thing to do to be generous if one has been blessed financially. One would think.

In any case, I'm not one of those people who thinks you have to tithe or "God'll getcha". You have to give within your means to give. All I'm saying is that personal charity and generosity should be more important that forced appropriation (taxes). Bottom line...governments can only hurt charity in the long haul.


Good Friday...2010...

Today is Good Friday. Two years ago (not to the day, duh), I wrote a blog about it. (It's linked there, but I'm going to put a lot of it in this blog entry, too.) Anyway, so much has changed in two years...some good, some...well...not so good. C'est la vie, I suppose. Some want to call today a "spring holiday." Whatever. I understand not everyone shares my understanding of the significance of the day. I don't share the understanding of winter solstice or Ramadan or Yom Kippur. Not a problem.

So if you share my understanding and belief about Good Friday as the day on which Jesus, the Christ, of Nazareth was crucified, the story linked below is the story of Easter told over Pink Floyd's "Time." It's about 15 1/2 minutes long...just so you know. If you don't share my understanding and belief, not a problem. If nothing else you can here a probably familiar story told in a new way. Either way, go here to hear it.

I always think about the following description of crucifixion from a medical perspective when Easter comes around. I guess I should think of it more often really.

What is crucifixion? A medical doctor provides a physical description: the cross is placed on the ground and the exhausted man is quickly thrown backwards with his shoulders against the wood. The legionnaire feels for the depression at the front of the wrist. He drives a heavy, square wrought iron nail through the wrist deep into the wood. Quickly he moves to the other side and repeats the action, being careful not to pull the arms too tightly, but to allow some flex and movement. The cross is then lifted into place. The left foot is pressed backward against the right foot, and with both feet extended, toes down, a nail is driven through the arch of each, leaving the knees flexed. The victim is now crucified. As he slowly sags down with more weight on the nails in the wrists, excruciating fiery pain shoots along the fingers and up the arms to explode in the brain--the nails in the wrists are putting pressure on the median nerves. As he pushes himself upward to avoid this stretching torment, he places the full weight on the nail through his feet. Again he feels the searing agony of the nail tearing through the nerves between the bones of his feet. As the arms fatigue, cramps sweep through his muscles, knotting them in deep, relentless and throbbing pain. With these cramps comes the inability to push himself upward to breathe. Air can be drawn into the lungs but not exhaled. He fights to raise himself in order to get even one small breath. Finally, carbon dioxide builds up in the lungs and in the blood stream, and the cramps partially subside. Spasmodically, he is able to push imself upward to exhale and bring in life-giving oxygen. Hours of limitless pain, cycles of twisting, joint-renting cramps, intermittent partial asphyxiation, searing pain as tissue is torn from his lacerated back as he moves up and down against rough timber. Then another agony beghins: a deep crushing pain deep in the chest as the pericardium slowly fills with cerium and begins to compress the heart. It is now almost over. The loss of tissue fluids has reached a critical level. The comrpessed heart is struggling to pump heavy, thick, sluggish blood into the tissues. The tortured lungs are making frantic effort to gasp in small gulps of air. He can feel the chill of death creeping through his tissues. Finally, he allows his body to die.

All this, the Bible records with the simple words "and they crucified him." (
Mark 15.24)