Our understanding of the seasons

In nature, the shortest day of the year is the Winter Solstice.  This means that every day after the Winter Solstice, the days are getting longer.

This doesn’t necessarily translate to things getting warmer, or nicer, but it does mean that, in a sense, the turning point of the new year happens just as most people think that things are bleakest.

Similarly, in the Summer, every day after the Summer Solstice is a decline–even though we think about this being the time of our greatest joy and pleasure.  But it’s not.  Summer is a sinking ship.

But the people who think that Winter is death don’t work in gardens.  Gardeners know that harvest time is really a celebration of death, whereas it’s in the comparative dark and cold of early spring that life begins.

But maybe this hidden wisdom isn’t just applicable to dirt.  Maybe the great rises and falls of civilization aren’t rises and falls, but rather the echoes of those things, identified as happening only after they really did.

The stock market often works this way.  The world sees Bitcoin* rise in price and sees an investment opportunity, but who can say which solstice we’ve just passed?  Was it the one heralding life, or the one heralding death?

It’s been remarked that the triumph of Donald Trump may eventuate the same buyer’s remorse that Democrats felt after putting Jimmy Carter in office.  Perhaps.

Trump’s entrance into the political garden certainly heralded something.  A tax plan unpopular with 2/3rds of Americans certainly means that there are a lot of Republicans not happy about it.  Whither the party of Mitt Romney, Jack Kemp, and Paul Ryan?

At some point in the last few years, the Republican Party looks a whole lot less like Calvin Coolidge and a whole lot more like Bill Clinton.  Perhaps it was the changing of gravity from the West to the Old South of the heart of the Republican Party.  Perhaps it was country music and NASCAR and third marriages.

There was a time where the Republican Party, I think, looked a lot like an adult surround by Democrat teenagers complaining about how unfair everything is.  Republican Policies would be well-thought out, fiscally prudent, and based on the principle that people should be free to earn, live, and spend how they want without too much government interference.

I would not define the Republican Party of 2017 in those terms.  It looks an awful lot more like an ant, who, frustrated at having to pay to support the grasshopper, says “screw it,” quits his job and looks for some other sucker to support them both.

There is no appetite for responsibility in America.  Students given the opportunity to learn don’t.  Adults given the opportunity to work, don’t.  Workers given the opportunity to save, don’t.

For as much as both the Left and Right want to return to the 1950’s (strong unions, WASP values), we can’t have that any more than we can have Scandinavian welfare state-ness.

Scandinavia has hard-working, thrifty, virtue-minded citizens who are not, largely, looking for a handout they don’t deserve.  Neither were 1950’s Americans.

60 years later? Eh…

People get the government we deserve.  We get a venal, disheveled, incompetent government because that’s who we are.

For right now.

Maybe this is the turning point.  Maybe this is rock bottom.  Maybe we’re seeing the cold and forgetting to measure if it’s getting lighter every day or darker.


*Sigh.  The most frustrating thing about the future is the inability to tell tulips from Apples…


Leaves and Conservatism

A few years ago, my wife and I, good little liberal arts grads that we are, started composting stuff from the kitchen (broccoli stems, carrot tops, etc).

I build a little cedar composting bin in the backyard where we would dutifully empty the little countertop bin we bought once a week.

Nothing ever turned into compost.  It just sat there.  Granted, I did not turn it enough, and I didn’t spend a lot of time watering it, and measuring out exact bits of this and that to add to it.  I understand that composting is chemistry, but it’s also a very poor return on time investment the way we do it.

And then I watched  video on youtube where a guy said basically “Stop putting garbage in your composter.  Compost leaves and only leaves and you’ll be fine.”

This is easy.  Leaves are easy to get outside because they’re already there.  A few times running the lawnmower in November with the bag attachment on and you get all the free leaves you want.

You’re middle-class neighbors will be happy to give you theirs, too, because they like nice green lawns.  It’s weird.

Anyway, so I stopped composting everything except coffee grounds and egg-shells and just do leaves now.

But it takes time, especially if you don’t want to do a lot of work besides just piling the leaves up in some chicken-wire enclosures once a year.  It takes about 2 years for the leaves to break down into really good compost (or less, if you’re willing to turn it a lot, which, uh, I’m not).

So you have to plan ahead.

But it’s weird to me that everyone doesn’t do this.  Like, I understand that gardening takes time, but pretty much everyone I know grew up, went to college, got married, has kids, and lives in a house (everyone I know from college lives Leave It to Beaver lifestyles but pretends they’re Patty Hurst raging agains the machine on Facebook).  So, they all have spots in their backyards where they could put in a raised bed or two and throw some tomatoes and cucumbers and peas and teach their kids where food comes from.

Sun is free.  Rain is free.  Dirt is free.  Leaves are free.  You can literally plant the seeds from vegetables you buy at the store instead of throwing them away.  So, I mean, the wood for the bed might be an investment, but it’s not that much.

Time-wise, gardening doesn’t have to be super intensive.  Sure, if you’re competing in a life and death struggle for survival against aphids or whatever, you might need to put in some elbow-grease.  But there’s plenty of planting methods that essentially eliminate (or don’t care about) weeding, so really all you have to do is plant a bunch of seeds and then see what grew in a few months if that’s all you wanted to do.

Anyway, this is a political blog, so I should talk about conservation for a while.

Today on NPR I heard a story about some evangelical preacher who was part of some environmental thingie.

And like, yeah, it made sense to me, but that’s always been part of the Christian ethos.  Respect for life includes respect for where people are living, and being good stewards of God’s creation seems like a no-brainer.

It’s weird.  I watched Captain Planet as a kid and all of the villains were evil, greedy corporations, and today, my friends on the left essentially think that all Republicans and corporations (who donate more D than R, but, like, whatevs…) are hell bent on raping mother earth.

Which just seems really at odds with the Conservatives I do know, who generally seem to be thrifty, which is the heart of environmentalism.

I mean, when it comes to taking care of the environment, for some reason I tend to trust the rural voters who, like, actually live in the environment rather than the people who live in cities and never have to mow a lawn, trim a shrub, or harvest a turnip.

Anyway, I’ve posted before about how capitalism is really just the theory that people should be free to turn raw materials into more valuable finished ones that they then get to keep.

So to me, investing in the work to collect and compost leaves isn’t environmentalism–it’s capitalism.

But maybe it’s both?


In medio stat virtu

Yesterday, Nazis and Communists fought each other in Virginia, much as they duked it out in Germany in the 1930’s.

Goddam Nazis and Goddam Communists.  Swastikas and Hammer and Sickles.

Now, not all members of the alt-right are Nazis, but they truck with them, and they engage in common cause, and I think they’re tainted by them.  There’s a lot racists who aren’t also national socialists, but it feels an awful lot like the Alt-Right doesn’t seem to mind them being there.

Now look, here’s my take on the Alt-Right (and their defenders) and a few ways of looking at them:

  1. The racist edge of Republican Politics. This is non-helpful.  They are, strictly speaking, not Republicans.  They showed up for Trump, but wouldn’t have for Rubio.  They are anti-free market, pro-big government, and, in-general, against most of the Libertarian wing of the Republican Party.  They’re the racist wing of American Politics, and they’ll swing R or D based on whose running.  These are the blue-dog Democrats that Clinton and Gore (two Southerners) tried to woo.  They don’t mind Nazis as long as everyone is white.  Examples: David Duke.
  2. The defenders of Western Civilization against a domestic threat to the nation.  This is how most of them see themselves.  The Alt-Right looks at Detroit and says “This is what happens when we let black people be in charge.”  It looks at Ferguson and says, “Ferguson used to be a very nice place when it was white, and it turned into a hell-hole when black people moved there.”  It looks around their own little small town and says, “This place was great 20 years ago, and now all these Mexicans are here illegally.”  Theirs is not a terribly nuanced understanding of how demographics work, or how big H History works, or how the forces of Macroeconomics works, but it’s an easy message to sell to a lot of people.  They don’t mind Nazis because Nazis are fighting for the same culture they are (they think).  In terms of racism, you’d be hard pressed to find actual racists in this group, as most of them are okay with the idea of slow immigration as long as it’s accompanied by integration.  Examples: Victor Davis Hanson (whose endless columns about the Mexicanization of California are easily obtained).
  3. Fed-up conservatives who got mugged by an Atticus Finch* moment.  The American Center (which is a better term than “Conservative”) generally believes that free speech is important and that the American Way includes winning over your opponents by rational arguments that appeal to their better nature.  For some, though, the game appears overwhelmingly rigged by a media infested with Communists (the enemies of the American Center are Autocracy and Socialism–which is an umbrella of both Fascism and Communism).  For them, trying to win a nuanced debate when your enemy holds all the cards is tantamount to bringing a spork to a gun fight, and so they’re willing to make common cause with one branch of Socialism (Fascism) to fight the other branch of Socialism (Communism) that they see as a bigger threat.  In general, there is no racism or Nazism here.  Example: Ann Coulter.

In terms of relative sizes, the Western Civilization Defenders make up (by far) the largest group, probably followed by the racists and then the ex-conservatives.  But all of them, even if they’re willing to say “I don’t support Nazis” are willing to march with them.

And so, it is hard for me to be sympathetic to their plight.  Screw ’em.

Frustratingly, though, is the fact that the Alt-Right is absolutely correct in that most institutions in America (especially schools, the media, and one of the two major parties) has been completely taken over by Communists, and that attempts to oppose Communism in Academia, the Media, or the Democrat Party through reasoned argument or debate is impossible, because all non-Communists will be shouted down, ignored, or excommunicated.

Here’s the thing.  Do some google searches on “Alt-Right condemns Nazis” and you’ll pull up some stuff where prominent people in the Alt-Right at least pay lip service to the fact that they’re uncomfortable marching with Nazis.  Then do some google searches on “Antifa condemns Communists” and you get nothing.

This is because the entire–the entire–left-wing, social justice movement not only marches with Communism, but actively supports it.  It is red, root to branch.

So on one side of the protests, you have (mostly) a group of people who don’t want America to turn into the United States of Detroit (which is kind of hard to argue against), but who accept among their ranks a few neo-Nazi cranks.

And on the other side, you’ve got a mass of violent communists, intent on overthrowing the government and murdering the kulaks in their sleep (which plan this kulak is a little uncomfortable with…).

Part of me wants to believe that there are still enough of us left in the middle that can condemn both sides, but part of me also knows that the death of freedom in a nation is a one-way ratchet.  It’s a zip tie noose that only gets tighter and tighter.

When American freedom fails, there will be nowhere else for it to flourish.  If the arsenal of democracy becomes the arsenal of communism, there will be no place where freedom can exist, no lender of last resort, so to speak.

Oremus metus meos falsos…


*In To Kill a Mockingbird, the woman accusing the black defendant of rape assures the jury that he attacked her using his left hand, which it turns out he doesn’t have.  This and other evidence overwhelmingly clears Tom of the crime, but he’s convicted anyway, which causes the reader to truly understand that the game is rigged by outside forces.

Pocket Knives Matter

Today I was denied entry to a hospital while my wife was in the emergency room because the security guard would not let me through with my pocket knife (It’s a Gerber Dime; the blade is about an inch long).

When I protested, she said “Weapons aren’t allowed inside.”  I responded that it’s not a weapon, it’s a tool, and she said, “Neither are tools”.

This is not the first time this has happened to me.  I had a pocket knife given to me by my father confiscated at an airport in Peoria, one time.  I was barred from entering a municipal building where I needed to serve jury duty until I walked outside and hid my knife in the bushes.

Today, I offered to leave the knife with the guard, or leave it next to the door, where I’d get it on my way out.  She, and then her supervisor, refused, saying that someone could just take it.

I eventually had to make a 20 minute round trip back to my car to drop it off–while my wife was in a gurney in the emergency room.

This trip took me back through the hospital, just not through the Emergency Department.  So, to be clear, to prevent me from bringing a knife into the hospital, he sent me back through the hospital to put my knife back in my car.

I have a lot of respect for the rights of businesses.  I think there’s a good case to be made that most private businesses be allowed to deny service to whomever they want.  I can understand why a hospital might not want people openly carrying guns around in it.

What I can’t understand is the effort to infantilize a culture.  Me having a screw-driver and a way to open a blister-pack is not a weapon.  It poses no danger.  It only serves to make me more helpless in a variety of circumstances.

A pocket knife is a way to say to the world, “I can survive.  I’ve equipped myself.  I’m prepared.  I can help.”

But our society does not want these things.  It wants people unable to fend for themselves, unable to help ourselves.  It’s the Life of Julia, where we’re expected to call someone to change a lightbulb, screw in a wall-sconce for us, or unclog a toilet.

This is not the America I want.

It is not an America that can survive.

Yours, Mine, and Ours

This week, the White House came out with a list of proposed budget measures it would like to take.  Among those are cuts or eliminations of dozens of programs.

People lost their minds.

This is because people are greedy.

This is because people are people.

Let me take a step back.

John Locke and Jean Jacques Rousseau taught that mankind was good by nature, and that it was civilization which makes him evil.

Theologically, this is troubling to Christians, who see our broken nature as a consequence of the actions of our first parents.  This stain in inherent to us as people; it’s part of our genetic and spiritual code.

But, theology has a funny way of revealing itself in the non-theological, as well.

Jails do not fix people.  Schools do not perfect people.  Throwing kids onto a desert island doesn’t make them angels.

These are demonstrably false ideas, preached by progressives since the early 1800’s.  They are immune to criticism, however, on theological grounds.

The theology of progressivism is the perfection of man through government, its prayer is money.  If the prayers have not been answered, it’s because we’re not praying hard enough.  Thus, it’s immune to all criticism, since its solution–total control of the lives of the populace by the government–has never “really” been tried.

[Right?  This is how arguments go with progressives?  “Oh, you can’t say Head Start hasn’t worked–it hasn’t ever been fully funded,” “You can’t say communism doesn’t work, it’s never really been tried,” etc.]

And so progressives want everything, they want you to love government with all your heart, all your mind, and all your soul.  There is no option between the State and Mammon.

But I digress.

People are inherently flawed, which is why we are greedy.  Some of us are honest about it and work against our nature to higher purpose.  As they say, the first step is admitting you have a problem.

Others don’t.  Others are caught up in “Immagoodpersonism”, which states that if you want the correct things (i.e. peace on earth and food for the poor), then your actions or inactions are immune from criticism.

For example: “I want people to be healthy” doesn’t have to be supported by actual programs or initiatives that produce health.  As long as those are the goals, the results are irrelevant.  “I care about poor women and children” can include the support of agents explicitly devoted to killing the poor children of poor women.

And of course: “I want Sesame Street” can justify “I want you to give me as much of your money as I want.”

Which is, of course, the essence of greed.  You want something, you covet someone with the means of having that something, which leads you to steal those means.

But progressivism inoculates itself against charges of greed through Immagoodpersonism.  It can’t be considered greed if it’s “for the children.”

Nobody is trying to outlaw Big Bird.  Illegalization and unwillingness to pay for something are not the same thing.  If you want to drink, go ahead, don’t expect me to pay for it.
























Sports and Capitalism

So I’m fat.

Like, fat fat, not fat fat fat.

Since High School, I’ve put on about a hundred pounds.

This is tough for me, because I was always athletic growing up (I played basketball in high school and ran track in college…sigh…now I can’t even run…).

Anyway, so I’ve recently recommitted myself to going to the gym, which has made me think about what a great example of capitalism sports is, and how underutilized this metaphor is for teaching youngsters what capitalism is all about.

For those who are new to my blog, my working definition of capitalism is “the voluntary transformation of raw materials into finished products,” which I think is at least as good as any other definition out there.

So in sports, everyone kind of starts out as these useless lumps of raw material, which, in and of themselves, are not particularly helpful in the given situation.

Being tall is helpful in basketball, but there are tons of examples of tall people who turned out to be terrible at the sport, because a raw material is never as useful as a finished good.

Instead, the raw material of our mortal coil must be transformed, often through hard work, dedication, and study, into something more suitable for the task at hand.

Nobody is born being good at shooting free throws.

Sure, there are some people whose genetics lend themselves to being easier to transform into athletes than others, but there are also some fruits that lend themselves better for making pies than others.  Just as a good chef can make something edible out of something disgusting like a filthy, gross fig, any human can build up his body into good physical condition.

So, there’s the raw material aspect being changed into a finished product.  This is easy for kids to understand.  They can see that the kids who spend the most time playing basketball become the kids who are the most talented at basketball.  They can see that the kids who put in the most work in gym class end up getting the most out of it.

They’re not dumb, you know, they’re just young.  They can put 2 and 2 together.

The next good aspect of capitalism represented in sports is creative destruction.  That is to say, capitalism involves an awful lot of failures before a spectacular success can be achieved (the ballpoint pen is a good example of how many failures a simple idea has to go through before someone gets it right).

Businesses have to open and close.  Ideas have to be created, tested, and either accepted or rejected before the cycle starts again.  This dynamism represents a kind of communal machine learning wherein better ideas replace less efficient ones.

The same is true in sports.  Practice is the heart of any athletic endeavor, and practice is essentially just an organized regimen of failures.  Every time a hitter misses the ball, every time the pitcher misses his spot, every time a shortstop misses the throw is one more failure that teaches and grows a better player.

You don’t have to be a Rich Dad / Poor Dad disciple (or Katy Perry fan) to know that one of the reasons most people never flourish is that they are afraid to fail, and so they never try to succeed.  Sports does a great job showing kids that failure isn’t the end of the story.  There can always be another shot, another pitch, another race.

Finally, sports does a great job showing kids how important cooperation and trust are, which are similarly important foundations for capitalism.

The most fundamental necessity to capitalism is fair laws and the fair application of those laws.  You can read Deirdre McCloskey, or you can just watch youth sports and see how kids react to bad reffing.  They know what’s up.  The rules are supposed to be applied equally to everyone.

But that’s only one side of trust. The other is with your teammates.  Teammates don’t have to be friends or like each other, but they do have to trust that everyone on their team is going to uphold their share of the communal load.

Capitalism requires that lots of people get together to share their raw materials with each other.  Lemonade requires someone with lemons, someone with sugar, someone with water, and someone with time.  More often than not, it’s not all going to be one person with all those things, it’s going to be a few people pooling their resources together to build a finished product (or one person outsourcing his needs to others, which is the same thing).

Trusting your supply chain is the same thing as a quarterback trusting his center.

Perhaps the most important things kids can learn from sports is the glorious order that can be generated out of chaos.  Sure, it’s nice when a play is perfectly executed, but it’s the broken plays that require fast thinking, remarkable skill, or maybe even a little luck that stick in athletes’ minds.

When you’re holding a basketball, there are literally infinite vectors, speeds, and rotation that you can shoot a basketball.  Yet, somehow, even in this field of infinite possibilities, the human spirit manages more often than not to generate the order necessary to complete a pass, make a shot, set a pick, or toss up an alley oop.

In a lot of ways sports is beautiful not because it’s scripted, but because anything can happen on any given Sunday.

Is it any different in capitalism?












Crops and Taxes and Incentives

Planting stuff is hard work, especially for an urban gardener like me.  There are dozens and dozens of containers of dirt that my wife and I plant in each year.  There’s mulching, there’s watering (sigh…so much watering), there’s picking and drying and canning and, well, there’s a lot of work in trying to grow food for yourself.

But the upside is that once you’ve put in some work, it gets easier on the margins.  That is to say, if I have 6 tomato plants growing on a trellis and there’s room for one more, it’s pretty easy for me to put a 7th on there.  If I take the time to put in a raised bed one year, I have freed myself, to a great degree, of having to do the same work again.

Gardening is a great thing because the more you do it, the more rewarded you get.  Getting ready to plant your eight pea plants is much more financially rewarding than putting in the effort to plant pea number 1.

In fact, lots and lots of stuff is like this.  Most hobbies fall into this realm.  The better you get at crocheting, the more cost-effective and time-effective your crocheting is; you can create more, with better patters, with more reward for your investment.

Exercise and sports are good examples of this.  Getting in shape takes some steep initial investment, but once you’re in shape, you get to do some pretty impressive things with your body.

Now, it’s important to note that the return you get on these things isn’t infinitely increasing.  When I run out of good sunny area in back yard, it becomes really, really tough to find ways to grow more plants.  It’s pretty easy to get yourself into shape, but getting yourself into Olympic-athlete-shape takes levels of commitment almost nobody would think of (If a fat guy like me spends a year running and walking, I can probably halve my mile-run time.  Olympic Athletes spend a year trying to shave off a second from their time).

And so, when I run out of places easy for me to grow food, I might try to be a little inventive, but I’m not going to break my back going from pea #9 to pea #10 if pea#10 is going to be twice as much work as pea#9.

Similarly, I’m going to be happy putting in 30 to 60 minutes at the gym each night to get in shape, but I’m not going to shoot for Olympic athlete if it means I have to be in the gym 8 hours a day.

The return on investment just isn’t that good in these scenarios at the margins (i.e, once you’ve picked all the low-hanging fruit), and so it becomes really hard to convince oneself to do it.

I mention this as tax day is fast approaching.  This year my wife and I, both professionals, saw ourselves with an awful lot of our taxes in the 25% bracket from our jobs (she’s a manager, I’m a mathematician working in the bowels of the federal bureaucracy).

That’s not why I’m writing this though.

For the last two years, I’ve been teaching math at a local community college.  Now, I’m not the world’s greatest teacher, but I’m competent, and I try to approach teaching math from a “hey I use this every day in a real job, and here’s how you could use this in a real job, too” perspective, which I think serves the students better than “I’m a math teacher and you have to learn this because it’s in the book.”

I think my students generally benefit from having me in the class, and I know the college is happy they have someone competent and reliable in the classroom offering real-life examples of when math is useful.

I make about $1850 this semester, for teaching 16 3-hour classes.  Besides that, I spend about 3 hours the night before prepping for class, and about another 2 hours the night of the class making copies, grading, entering grades, helping students, or whatever.  This means I put in about 8 hours of work each week into the class.

My paycheck is about 230 every two weeks. About 27 comes out in non-tax deductions.  At 25%, I lose another $57.5, and so it ends up being right about 145 dollars that I clear every two weeks.  Or, at 16 hours of work, a little over 9 dollars an hour.

Now, in order to get into the 25% tax bracket, I’ll tell you that my wife and I aren’t working for 9 dollars an hour at our regular job, and me being tired two days a week because of my 9-dollar an hour job isn’t going over so well at my regular, lots-more-than-9-dollar job.

Now, I don’t mind that I don’t make a lot of money as an adjunct professor at a community college (It’s the motto on the business cards they pass out).  What I mind is that 25% of the little I do make gets taken in taxes.

And so, I think, this is going to be my last semester teaching at community college.  The tax disincentives for me working there are so discouraging that it outweighs the happiness I get from teaching.  In a lot of ways, I’d much rather be doing the whole thing for free than for 9 dollars an hour…

So here’s my question: would we intentionally disincentivize a gardener from growing more food?*  Does it benefit the gardener or her community to have less food around?

Does it benefit my community to have one less good-quality math professor around?

And does it ever think about the lost opportunities from the other people just like me realizing that the marginal costs of them working a second job are too high for them to bother doing that second job?

Or does it only think “Boo hoo, another rich guy complaining about his taxes” and never see the class that doesn’t get taught because there’re note enough teachers, or the engineer who has to delay graduation for a year waiting for the class to get run, or the bridge that doesn’t get built because that engineer is a year behind schedule?

Sadly, we both know the answer to that one.

[*Sigh.  Don’t get me started on the gross immorality of food subsidies.  One day God is going to be very angry at us and say something to the effect of “What?  I gave you all this great farmland and you just let it go to waste?  And then you burned some of the food as bad alternatives to the plentiful supplies of fossil fuels I provided you with? Argh! Smite! Smite!”]

When Scientists Commit Scienticide

So, I’m a language guy, and one of my favorite things about knowing Latin is adding the suffice “-cide” to the ends of things to create words that mean “the killing of ___”.

There’s lots of fun outcomes from the familiar (regicide) to the useful (ludicide–which is what high school actors do to good plays) to the sad (genocide, which was the goal of Margaret Sanger*).

Scienticide is, to be Latin-y, the killing of knowledge.  But I think we should also get to include in it the deliberate obfuscation of knowledge or the short-circuiting of the scientific method to present something as good science when it is, in fact, not good science.

I’m a big fan of science.  When I was a kid, I used to hide things in the refrigerator to pull out weeks later and examine mold growth on.  When I told my middle school science teacher that I had become a language teacher, she was disappointed I hadn’t wound up surrounded by test tubes and beakers.  My wife is a capital-S Scientist and I appreciate what she does.

But me, I’m a statistician, and statisticians look at knowledge or “knowing things” a little differently than other people.  I guess, in a way, it’s because statisticians write the code, so to speak, for how modern science knows things.

Like, okay, some science also uses mathematics, so let’s talk about the two for a second.

Mathematics is a set of philosophical tools, based on logic and reason.  Mathematics is aloof and very, very self-assured when it says that something is true, because it is.  The more mathematics a field uses (I’m looking at you, physics), the better ground it has for when it says that something is true or not.

Statistics is a lot more wishy-washy in what it can do.  Statistics can do a super great job at telling you when something is probably true (and even how probably true it is).  It can do a super great job telling you when something is probably not true (and how probably not true it is).  What the field of statistics cannot do (and don’t believe anyone who tells you differently) is tell you that something is absolutely true or absolutely not true.

And here’s the thing, pretty much all modern sciences use statistics, not mathematics, to make judgements about the truth of a claim.

This means that if, say, a psychologist, sociologist, or climatologist tells you that something is true or not true, you should immediately be skeptical of their claims and tell them that you want to see the confidence intervals.

Confidence intervals are the wiggle-room that statistics produce as a byproduct of creating an estimate.  They are the fuzziness inherent in statistical sampling of data.  (When you see a poll, and it says “margin of error xxx%” or “plus or minus xxx%”, those are the confidence intervals, only phrased differently).

When a biologist has 10,000 flies and weights 100 of them to get an average weight, it doesn’t just produce the right, true answer.  It produces a range of probably true right answers. (“Range of probably true right answers” is probably as good a definition as any for what a confidence interval is).

So let’s say the biologist has two groups of 10,000 flies.  She feeds diet A to group A and diet B to group B.  At the end of the study, she weighs samples from group A and from group B.  She’ll get a RoPTRA (Range of Probably True Right Answers or “confidence interval”) for group A and group B.  If there is any no overlap between the two groups (say group A was between 14 and 20, and group B was between 21 and 27), then the biologist is allowed to say “there is a statistically significant difference between the two groups.”

However, if there is aaaaaannnnnnyyyyy overlap at all between the two groups (say 14-20 and 19-25), then she is not allowed to say that there is a difference, she is only allowed to say “there was not a statistically significant difference between the two groups.”

Note, either way, she’s not allowed to say anything about “truth.”  She’s only giving the most likely result based on the data.

And this is the basic rule for any two sets of confidence intervals.  Let’s say that instead of flies, she was measuring dudes at a college to see if they were getting chubbier over time.  If she took the confidence intervals from one year to the next, and then compared them, and they overlapped, then she should conclude that there’s no statistically significant changes happening between those two years.

So, here’s the data claiming that 2015 was the hottest year on record:


From this, climatologists claimed that 2015 was the hottest year on record.

Sigh.  See where there is overlap between 2015 and 2014?  That means that what the scientists who used this data said is the exact opposite of what they were allowed to say.

Because there is overlap between 2014 and 2015, statistics does not allow them to say that there was a statistically significant

It’s easier without the deceptive blue line there:


In fact, if you look at the data from 2001 to 2014, they all look pretty similar.  Even 2015 is within the range of 2014, 2010, and 2005.

Was 2015 the warmest on record?  Maybe, but the data doesn’t show this.

The worst part is that the same scientists reported 2014 as the warmest on record, when the confidence interval for that year clearly overlaps with almost the entirety of the rest of the data presented.

Climate scientists aren’t using mathematics in their work, they’re using statistics, which means they have to explain their data in terms of statistics, which these scientists clearly are not.

So why would a scientist explain that a graph means the opposite of what it actually means?  There’s only two options:

  1. They’re not good at their jobs, i.e. they don’t know how to read a graph.
  2. They’re liars.

Now, Hanlon’s Razor notwithstanding, option 1 is probably not what’s going on here.

So what would cause someone who struggled all the way through graduate school and, let’s face it, you don’t become a climatologist for the chicks and drugs–you do it because you care about the job, to risk their career fabricating results?

A few options spring to mind:

  1. They really, really think that global warming** is happening, even if the data doesn’t support it.  They feel that in order to head off a catastrophe, it’s okay for them to tell some white lies about science to save the planet.
  2. They need the money.  Scientists who publish “we didn’t find anything” papers don’t, uh, get published.  So they get fired.  This is a huge problem in academia, and I’d assume, at all research institutes.
  3. They want to be important.  They want to be the guy who broke the story and that everything thinks is so great and now they all listen to him

Here are my tips for combatting such non-science from scientists.

  1. Ask to see the confidence intervals when people tell you stuff.  If they can’t show them to you (or won’t), they’re not actually doing science.
  2. Be skeptical of experts until they prove that they’re not trying to game you.
  3. Become an expert yourself.


[*I’ve always felt a certain kinship with African Americans and Jews in this regard.  Being of Sicilian heritage, we three groups were the poster children of the unfit that Sanger sought to eradicate from the earth.  Goddam WASPs, always coming for us.]

[**Even after “climate change” got popular because of all those years when there was no rise, the true believers never abandoned “global warming”]

[***Additional note:  I’m not even nitpicking on methodology for how these things are measured, which is a whole lot of other cans of very wormy worms.]

Obamacare, and what it broke

Both my mother and brother were kicked off of their health plans as a result of the ACA being passed.  Both of them had health policies for around $250 a month.

My mother, recently widowed, received very heft premium discounts (around $500 a month) since she had very minimal income that year and ended up paying $250 a month for her new policy.  However, a few death benefits for my father sent her checks, which counted as income, and at the end of the year, my mother had a tax bill of $3000, based on repaying those premiums since her “income” had gone up.

So, my mom went from paying $250 a month on a plan that was fine for her, to paying $750 a month for an equivalent plan.  Moreover, even had the subsidies that she thought she was entitled to kicked in, someone(s) else would have paid an extra $500 a month for her to have coverage.

In essence, either way, the world was poorer $6000 because of what happened to my mother.  But in this case, it was specifically my widowed mother who was $6000 poorer.

The American people did not want the Affordable Care Act.  Lots of people in congress did not want the Affordable Care Act.  This makes it very different than other times when America governmentized parts of its collective life.

People wanted Social Security and were okay with governmentizing retirement (even though its a bad system).  People wanted Medicare and Medicaid and welfare checks and job training and food stamps and were okay with governmentizing charity (even though its a bad system).

These were giant, massive (and bad) programs started by the government to make citizens’ lives better.  But they were bipartisan.  They were politicians on both sides giving the people what they wanted.  Trying to unentangle America from Social Security, Medicaid, and the rest of the “security net” we’ve woven for ourselves is impossible.

The same will be true of Obamacare.  Regardless of repeal and replace plans, the genie is out of the bottle.  There’s no more going back to “26 year olds should be parents at that point, not still children” or “we can’t put you in the insurance pool because you have cancer already”.

It is a crazy, very slow, economic suicide that we’ve set ourselves upon.  Imagine if we did this with house insurance and let people buy policies after their homes were flooded.  For the price of a single premium, the other people in the insurance pool would have to cover their damages.  Or if a car owner could buy an insurance policy after he’s in a wreck.  It’s an insane way of running any kind of risk-management system.

But the economy is the least of what Obamacare broke.

Obamacare broke politics.

George W. Bush could still be the president who passed bipartisan education policy (NCLB), and a national, bipartisan drug entitlement.  He could even try to advance a very middle-of-the-road approach to immigration reform.

No president will ever be able to pass a bipartisan policy agenda ever again, because there is no more bipartisanship left.

Because Obamacare broke it.

You’ll forget, perhaps, when it broke.  It was at a meeting between Obama and some Republican lawmakers to discuss health care reform.  The Republicans had a list of things they wanted changed/added to the bill.  They weren’t going to stop it, they just wanted a hand in it (for pork or pet projects or whatever.  They’re politicians, not saints.  If 30 million Americans are going to get insurance, they want a say in how that happens or they can’t brag about it to their constituents).

And that’s when a very young Barak Obama looked at a very old war hero named John McCain, who was a very middle-of-the road Republican, and said “The election’s over.”

And that’s when politics in America broke.

There would be no compromise.  Democrats would not give an inch.  They would not seek to include Republicans on this.  They had won.  But not like Eisenhower or Kennedy had won, where there was a sense that winning didn’t mean powerlessness for the losers.

This new kind of winning was a “fuck you” kind of winning.  There would be no bridge building, no bipartisanship, because it was no longer a goal of legislating.  The goal was now to win an election and then do anything you can get away with, and screw the guys on the other side.  You won, you don’t have to listen to anything they say.

My dad used to tell a story about a kid he played sandlot baseball with when they were kids.  Because there were never any refs, this kid would never swing at any pitch he didn’t like, whether or not it was a good pitch and would have been in the strike zone.  “No ump!” he’d call out, and then wait for the frustrated pitcher to just send him up something soft to get the game moving.  There was nothing except human decency to keep the kid from doing this, but human decency isn’t really enforceable, and so this kid got to dictate the rules of the game.

It’s the same idea as not bringing a knife to a gun fight.  Both sides can agree on what they’re going to bring (like in West Side Story), but if one side unilaterally starts bringing pistols, the other side isn’t going to take the high road and stick to switch-blades.

The lowest, meanest, dirtiest guy sets the rules and drags everyone else in the fight down into the mud with him.

Obamacare wasn’t just about playing for victory, though.  It fundamentally changed the level of caution politicians required of themselves when changing the American compact. The really big changes to the role the government plays in people’s lives (income tax, social security, the welfare system) had always come from at least some confluence of the right, center, and left.  Even if there was disagreement from the fringes, the center held.  (And still holds.  There are virtually zero real national politicians who talk openly about eradicating the welfare state, instead merely discussing ways to improve its efficiency and solvency. These programs are overwhelming popular with the voting classes).

These, like the ACA, weren’t another law or regulation or statute like “no more BPA in plastic bottles,” which are nuisance laws, but don’t change the interplay between citizen and government.  The are un-reversable.  And for that reason, politicians had always cautiously sought to pass them with support from both sides.  The ACA was the first time this did not happen.

So politics is broke now.  The precedent is set.  There are no more decency standards Trump will be held to.  Executive orders?  Governing by pen and phone? Obama did it.  Governing without input from the minority party?  Claiming that the election results give you carte blanche? Obama did it.  Ramming whatever you can get away with down the throats of your enemies?  Cue Butters complaining.

The Republicans were the party of “no” for six years (it’s easy to forget that Obama had two years of Democrat control over both camera and the White House and that, if he’d wanted, immigration reform, entitlement reform, other bipartisan things could have happened then.  There were no TEA party members wearing vaginas on their heads at Obama’s first inauguration.).

And now the Democrats will be the part of “no” for the foreseeable future. Although Dems assure us that they are standing on principal and American values when they obstruct, unlike those filthy, racist Republicans who obstructed because of filthy racism.

It might not be Obama’s fault.  I don’t know if he knew what was going to happen because of those three words.  Maybe he was just the spark that lit off a powder keg after Clinton’s impeachment and the “Bush lied /people died” crowd had started infiltrating DC.

In Corde Hiemis Nivumque

I don’t write as much about outdoors as I would like to.

A thousand curses upon an election year now in the past.

Speaking of the past…

We like to think of Winter as the end of the year.  It’s not.  In both Christian and Calendar standpoints, Winter marks the start of the new year, not the end of the old (that would be Autumn, the last season).*

And so, just like fresh snow on the ground, this winter isn’t just a time for gloom and death–it’s the start of preparation for new life.

Winter, for gardeners, is a time to make sure you’ve got your little pots and seeds and grow media and stuff.  It’s a time to remember how the last harvest went and start planning on what you want to do (or do differently) next time.

It’s also a time of preparation.  Spring will be when animals get frisky and produce tiny adorable foods-to-be.  That’s like the regular season in football.  Winter is the practice and meetings and learning the playbooks and whatever.  It’s the time that will lay the groundwork for the rest of the year.

And so, I’d recommend that we look at winter as an opportunity for planning, for preparation for the exciting things to come in the next stage of the year.


*Yep, I totally know that the earliest Roman calendars put the start of the new year in March, and that January 1st wasn’t totally established until pretty recently.  Just endure for a little while here; I’m going somewhere with this.