I was sitting on the deck the other day when a bumblebee fell out of the sky and dropped onto the chair beside me. It didn’t fly down — it just dropped. No buzzing, no humming. I got my phone out and took this short video of it as it quivered and twitched for a few seconds, then lay still.
There’s a lot of rhetoric flying back and forth these days, some of it productive, most of it of the “Me, too!” or “You suck!” variety. Some posts, however, have numbers to back them up, which is a good thing. But numbers (statistics) require interpretation, context and understanding — they are not conclusions in and of themselves. Here’s a case in point.
Discussion and debate over COVID-19 policy is a healthy thing – it enables us to get our heads wrapped around the issues. But whether you support or attack getting the country back to work, you should do so honestly, using facts, logic and reason, and refraining from deliberate attempts to deceive. This is something Heather Cox Richardson – a frequent critic of, well, damn near everything – is unable to do.
Smart people know they shouldn’t go grocery shopping when they’re really hungry. Or shoot guns when they’re on crystal meth. Or drive under the influence of alcohol. Yet many of us do not see the danger of having our leaders make important decisions for us when we are afraid.
Someone posted this on Facebook today — it’s a news brief on protests going on in Michigan against Governor Whitmer’s handling of COVID-19. I have been concerned about this for some time, and I’m glad to see that people are protesting, and doing it safely and with respect for other people. But there’s more to it than that.
A couple of very dear friends posted this article on Facebook recently. At first glance, it seemed like a well-written essay. A bit wordy here and there, somewhat redundant in other places. Not world-class, but certainly literate. The author has a good command of the language, and he writes with engaging passion and enthusiasm. I found myself for a moment getting caught up in it and thinking to myself “Yeah…, yeah!”
Or, Why Joe Biden Scares Me
I had a dream last night. No, not the kind of Martin Luther King dream that is uplifting in its embrace of equality of opportunity and the recognition of the worth of the individual based on his own merits. I had the kind of dream that leaves you in a cold sweat in the middle of the night.
It involved Joe Biden’s pick for VP should he get the nomination, which seems almost certain at this point. There’s been lots of speculation, but only a few have imagined the nightmare scenario that played out in my mind.
Suppose — just suppose — that Sleepy Joe’s handlers (puppet-masters?) decide to make Elizabeth Warren his running mate? Wow — that would certainly capture a certain demographic that would even vote for El Chapo if he identified as a woman. And all sorts of liberals would go ga-ga over his brave choice of a woman while commending him for not going full-idiot and choosing Bernie.
Or, God forbid, they might go old school and take Hillary Clinton out of mothballs, update her pantsuit with a matching N95 mask and prop her up beside ol’ Joe. Lots of people would go for that over a wasted but virtue-signaling write-in vote for a spoiler like Bernie.
But that’s not the horrible part of the dream. The horrible nightmare oh-my-god-I-can’t-stand-this part is the motivation behind it. They want Joe Biden to be president, because they know he’s a doddering, senile fool. The man can’t even read a teleprompter or see where the camera is. He drools when he talks. He can’t construct two decent sentences in a row. He gropes women, and likes to have kids feel the hair on his legs. He hardly knows what year this is. He can’t speak coherently, even when he’s lying.
And the best part — for the Democrats, that is — is that with him in the White House, there are two possible paths to take:
Option 1: Biden does what he’s told, and his handlers work him like a Jeff Dunham puppet; this will work until there is a public outcry, even for Democrats, to do something about his lack of a mind, in which case they go to …
Option 2: They create an ‘astroturf’ movement to remove him on medical grounds, pretending all the while that it’s a Republican effort. But they’re actually OK with it, because guess who gets to be President then?
That’s right. Think about it, folks. Now you understand why I chose the title.
This news headline sparked my interest. It reads “New York coronavirus deaths on the rise again after temporarily staying flat, Cuomo says.”
Now, I accept on face value that Cuomo said that. What I don’t accept is the truth of it. One data point is not a trend, so it’s absolutely and unequivocally unjustified to say that ‘deaths are on the rise again’. I repeat, this is absolutely and unequivocally unjustified. The future may validate the claim, or it may falsify it. We don’t know yet, and it’s irresponsible to pretend we do.
Here are the facts.
On day N, deaths were 594, on day N+1 deaths were 599, and on day N+2, deaths were 731.
I get that the number today (N+2, April 7, 2020) is higher. OK. What annoys me is that Cuomo, and those who follow his words like the Gospel, can look at a few raw numbers and make pronouncements about trends.
This is a discrete function, folks. The only way we can make reasonable judgments about it is by looking at long term trends, not by looking at individual numbers under a microscope.
For example, suppose that the number of people in New York City who died of rabies each year for the past 10 years was 1. One person per year, steady as a rock.
Then one year, 2 people die of rabies in the same year. Does that mean that the rate of deaths from rabies in NYC has doubled? Holy cow — call out the National Guard! Call the President. Drop to your knees and pray!
Now technically, in some sense, the ‘rate’ has doubled, but only if we understand and accept that the ‘rate’ we are talking about is an inference from discrete and incomplete data. It is subject to statistical fluctuations and most of all to interpretation.
Suppose that we later discover that both of those two deaths occurred in the same week? And in the same town? And in the same house?
Ah, the picture becomes clearer now, as we discover that an elderly couple had a cat, and the cat died of rabies. They didn’t know about the rabies, so they carried it out to the backyard, kissed it goodbye and buried it.
My point is not that this is the same as the death rate in NYC. Just that it pays to consider everything we might want to know about numbers before accepting the hype behind them. And we might want to consider that statistical fluctuations that can lead the unwary into panic.
Remember — the news media has a vested interest in scaring you, because you want to know more about it. That means more viewers, which means more ad revenue, which means more news, which means more hype, which means …. well, you get the picture.
Oh, by the way, the Governor of Massachusetts has shut down all gun stores and ranges, despite the Federal government advisory that they are essential businesses.