The Tragedy of Feral Humans - Part II

People who basically give up on life at an early age may regret doing so later on, when living gets a lot harder to do.

We stayed at a "Harvest Hosts" in Princeton, West Virginia, where they have a railroad museum.   It was in a parking lot next to the restored train station.  Although it wasn't required, I sent them a $10 donation by e-check.  It was the least I could do.  It was a pretty quiet night, other than an impromptu fireworks display by one of the neighbors.   Another couple in a Class-B van camper was nearby.

It was all pretty nice, other than a young man who clearly was homeless or living in the margins, was loitering around the railroad station, using their outlets to charge his phone.   Will Rogers once said that America is the only country where you can drive to the poorhouse.  That was back in the 1950's.  Today, it is the nation where you can be homeless and still have a Facebook page and even a YouTube channel.   Stobe the Hobo did it - until he got hit by a train.

Some of these folks are harmless enough, but have emotional issues. Others can be vicious and violent and rob, attack, or even kill you.  Problem is, they all look alike.  And the weird behavior both exhibit makes it hard to tell one from the other.   Also, folks who live on the margins are often living off others.  No doubt the fellow living at the train station is collecting some kind of assistance, maybe food stamps, and Obamaphone, or who knows?   Oh, that and the begging money.

And as a special treat we get in return, he left all his fast-food wrappers in a pile where he was sitting (yes, can't work, have no money, but can afford restaurant food - go figure).   I see this a lot, too - homeless people are not the kind who recycle, unless it is to cash in beer cans to buy more beer.  You can usually tell a homeless encampment by the mounds of trash, and usually the smell of stale urine and perhaps some fecal matter to boot.   What's not to like?

So anyway, all night long, this fellow and a couple of his homeless friend wandered around the grounds, which I guess is innocuous, but he seemed to make it a habit to walk right by our camper (and that of the other couple) and peer in the windows.   Creepy.   Maybe he has mental health issues, and doesn't understand that he is violating not only social distancing, but something called "personal space" which predates this virus.  And there seems to be a pattern to this - bums like to get right in your face, usually when panhandling, but also just in general.   Maybe they know it annoys people and this is the only power they have in life - to disturb others.  Maybe people give them money so they will just go away.

So maybe he just didn't understand what he was doing was inappropriate.   Or maybe he was casing the joint, looking for things to steal, wondering whether we were inside and if not, could he break a window and swipe something.   Well, that's how it works in San Antonio.   Go sometime - it is a lot of fun - the riverwalk, the Alamo, and of course, having your car broken into.   It is a thing there.

What was sad, to me, was that this fellow was in his late 20's at best - the prime of his life - and he was squandering his best years living down by the tracks.  Maybe he had some kind of mental health issues (highly likely) or just was a drug addict (the latter being a choice).  What was sad was that in the area were "help wanted" signs all over the place.  One hotel chain was hiring with the notation, "full-time employees wanted!" which is akin to hitting the jackpot, as usually this means you get benefits including health care

Of course, that would involve work, but sometimes work can be fun.  You can goof around with co-workers to make the day go by, and of course there is a satisfaction in earning a paycheck, no matter how small it is.  When you work for a living, you are your own man, beholden to none - well, beholden to your boss.   But when you are a bum, it may seem like freedom, but deep down, one must realize that one is simply a social parasite.

But beyond that is the logistics of the thing.  At age 25-35 you feel great most of the time, at least physically.    After 35, it goes downhill, slowly at first, and then faster and faster.  If you are whiling away your life, waiting for it to start, by the time you get started, it may be too late.  This almost happened to me.  The lost decade of drug use - which I will never get back.

These young "Antifart" activists are doing essentially the same thing.  You can't be throwing Molotov cocktails and holding down a job - and I suspect the reason they do the former is they can't do the latter.  It seems romantic and important to protest and be part of a "movement" but in the end, these movements fizzle out, leaving you behind with nowhere to go - after everyone has left the room and asked you to turn the lights off before you leave.

My stinking hippie brother did this - living in an unheated barn in Vermont for a decade or more, strumming his guitar to end the war.  Nixon ended the war, because it was unwinnable, not because of the protests.   Most of his friends and even some of his fellow hippies moved on, got jobs, settled down, raised families.   My brother decided to do that - a decade after everyone else had.   It was a lot harder to do at that point, I suspect.   He was fortunate that he ended up in academia, where he can poison the minds of a new generation of protesters.  Others are not so fortunate.

Many others end up living in the margins the rest of their lives, bitter and angry at a "system" that seems stacked against them, but in reality, was designed to help them.   When you stack yourself against the system, it only seems like the system is stacked against you.  It is a funny thing, but people really do want to see you succeed in life - if you succeed, you are less of a burden to the rest of us, you generate and create wealth, pay into the system, and also can afford to consume.   General Motors doesn't want to see you broke and homeless - homeless people don't buy new cars.   Well, they tried giving them Pontiacs on Oprah, but that sort of backfired.   They don't make Pontiacs anymore.

People also want to see you succeed because most people are decent, believe it or not.

Things are even far worse yet are those young folks who commit criminal acts.  Right about now, many of the SDS members and other radicals who blew things up or robbed banks or whatever, are up for parole, and now in their 70's and 80's are wondering where the hell their life went.   They are remorseful, but some may end up dying in jail - and few will mourn their deaths.   The same is true for the homeless bum who starts breaking into stores and houses to get drug money.   Once you have that string of convictions and spent time in jail, well, life goes downhill pretty quickly and is very, very hard to turn around.

So yea, this homeless guy at the railroad station creeped me out, and I didn't like him because of that.  Screw people like that, invading your personal space and making you feel insecure - and knowing they are doing it, too.   But on the other hand, I felt sorry for this guy, as he was young and in his prime and life has so much to offer, and here he was, bumming around (literally) a small town in West Virginia, already having given up on life.   So much promise, so much to see and do, and so many joys, both great and small - all traded in for the transitory rush of drug and alcohol abuse.

I feel sorry for him.   Well, that is, until he steals my shit.  Then just put him in the electric chair.  Compassion only goes so far.

Freedom versus Fairness

Can a society be both free and fair?

A lot of people from all walks of life seem to be upset these days that our society isn't more fair. They believe we should live in the United States of Even-Steven, where everyone has an equal outcome regardless of their talents, abilities, background, or even effort.  In a way this is kind of naive and infantile, as I noted in my previous posting on White Guilt Unfairness is the norm in the world, and only obnoxious two-year-olds throw temper tantrums and scream 'It's not fair!" as if some fundamental law of the universe has been violated.

At the same time, some people - often the same people as those who protest unfairness - want unlimited freedom.  Freedom to say what they want, do what they want, and be what they want.  I mean, that's only fair, right?  But freedom and fairness are often in direct conflict with one another.   You can't have unlimited freedom with total fairness and vice-versa.

Such is the schizophrenic nature of our society. And this goes back to the founding of our country. The Declaration of Independence which, although, not a legally binding document, sets forth the goals and aspirations of our Republic, holds that these truths are self-evident that all men are created equal.   The irony is, of course, that the people who wrote those words own slaves at the time

Does this make them hypocrites who should be stricken from the history books?  Or does their aspiration to freedom begin in a society where freedom was far more limited?   Did they perhaps realize they were setting their republic on the course that it has?   Good questions.  I don't have answers.

After our false start as a Confederation, we adopted a Constitution which codified inequality based on race. Black people were deemed to be worth 3/5 that of a white person, but only for purposes of counting the number of people necessary for congressional representation. Of course, they wouldn't have the right to vote.  Neither would women.  Or the poor.   Freedom and fairness were far more limited back then.

So here you have these founding fathers blathering on about freedoms, and at the same time enslaving people. And some people want to erase this part of our history by tearing down statues and obliterate the names of those who wrote these documents.  But I think that misses the point. Granted, we should not be lauding the names and images of Confederate Raiders, who basically were little more than terrorists. And even those distinguished generals for the Lost Cause were fighting for a cause that was wrong.

But we have to look at this dichotomy between freedom and fairness in terms of our national history as well as the course of human events. The American Revolution did not occur in a vacuum, but was presaged by the thinkers of the Renaissance and the enlightenment, such as Rousseau, who postulated that men had inalienable rights. Of course they were talking about men, not women. Women were still property of course!

But over the years we've fine-tuned this tension between our two idealistic goals of freedom and fairness. The problem with these two ideals is that they conflict squarely with one another.   If you are free to do with as you please with your possessions, then you can leave your estate to your children or hand them generous sums of money, giving them an unfair advantage in life. This goes against the American concept of fair play, where every person has an equal opportunity to advance based on their merits.

There is no easy answer to any of this, despite what some people tell you. Some people, it seems, want fairness to mean that everyone has an equal outcome regardless of their capabilities, abilities, advantages, or even effort. Such a system rewards lack of effort and thus become a race to the bottom.  It is the simple reason why communism never worked and why socialism struggles.

Over the years, we have tried to level the playing field to emphasize Fairness while still allowing for Freedom. We've enacted a progressive tax system which punishes those who make more money, to bring their income levels down to those who make less. We created a Gifts and Estates tax to prevent people from transferring enormous sums of wealth from one generation to the next, creating the family dynasties that strangle the economies of both Mexico and South Korea.

Of course, there is always pushback. Republicans value Freedom more than Fairness, and push for the abolition of what they call the "death tax," believing that a family should be allowed to pass on legacies between generations and create family dynasties. The problem with this model is it the guy who got there first and accumulated the most amount of land and wealth ends up owning everything.

Long before New York City was New York, it was New Amsterdam.  The Dutch families who got here before the English laid claim to vast tracts of land.  And that is why the proper society of 5th Avenue in the 1800's all had Dutch names.  It's why we had not one, but two Roosevelts as President. Before the creation of the income tax, there was no limit as to how much wealth you could accumulate, and the person who got here first accumulated the most amount of wealth. And too bad for Johnny-come-lately.

All that has changed, of course, as we no longer talk about Dutch dynastic wealth.   But of course, new dynasties were formed over the years. Industrialists of the late 1800s and early 1900s accumulated vast sums of wealth, most of which has dissipated today, in part because of the income tax, in part because of mathematical progression.  However, a new generation of entrepreneurs are accumulating even more fantastic amounts of money, mostly in the valuations of their stock in their tech companies. Whether they can create family dynasties or not remains to be seen. But they do have a louder voice than the rest of us on how the country is to be run.

We've enacted many laws to try to push fairness to the forefront. Equal opportunity is one of these laws, and very controversial. Those who criticize this law claim that it pushes forward token individuals who have no qualifications for their jobs or place at University.  Proponents argue that it's necessary in order to push people in positions of power so that in the future there is less discrimination.

The point is, we're trying.  But try as we might, I think we'll never really resolve this conflict between Freedom and Fairness. Because when everything is completely fair, is it an ideal communist state, and there is very little in the way of freedom. Freedom comprises more than the ability to say and do what you want, but also freedom in the economic field.  As I've noted before, freedom of speech sounds like a nice abstract concept, but the first thing a person does when they have freedom of speech is to stand on their soapbox complain about their taxes.  Economic freedom is personal freedom and vice-versa.

Thus, the freedom to accumulate wealth is a fundamental freedom. And if you want to take this all back to the Black Lives Matter movement and the history of slavery in this country, it is this fundamental aspect of Freedom which is at stake.  Abraham Lincoln probably said it best in that one of the fundamental horrors of slavery was it a man would toil and not benefit from any of his labor.

Not only was that unfair, it was not free. So in a way, Fairness and Freedom are tied together as part of the same concept. You cannot have Freedom without Fairness and you cannot have Fairness without Freedom. But you have too much of one or the other and you get neither.

It sounds nice - and speaks to the American spirit - to think that everything should be made 'fair' - but not only is that not possible in its entirety, every step toward fairness takes away from freedom.  There has to be a middle-ground between absolute freedom and absolute fairness.  We can't have both, or even one or the other.   We have to compromise, as messy and "unfair" as that sounds.

And by the way, fairness is nowhere mentioned in the Constitution.

What I'm Talking About!

a close up of a map

Fake News - articles designed to get you to click, regardless of whether they are truthful or not!

Recently, I did a blog entry on understanding statistics.  I opined that a lot of journalists don't understand statistics, or intentionally misrepresent data in order to sell eyeballs:
Similarly, how charts are prepared can make trends look more alarming than they are. A chart that shows a stock price skyrocketing doesn't show the scale (or does in small numbers).  It is only when you realize the Y-axis begins at $20 and has a spread of ten cents, and the X-axis is showing a timeline of the last ten minutes, that you realize the "big spike in share price!" is nothing more than statistical noise.
Alarmist title? Check! 
Misleading Data?  Check! 
Graph with Y-axis not at zero?  Check!
Missing X-axis labels?  Check!
It covers all the bases.  In this case, the misleading title is that "nearly half of all Americans are unemployed" which is deceptive, as it talks about the employment rate not the unemployment rate which are two different things.   Yes, your 93-year-old grandmother in the nursing home is "unemployed" but that is not counted in unemployment statistics as she is not looking for a job just yet.   It also includes me, as I am retired.

The data is then skewed to show this alarming title is "true" technically.  But what it fails to make clear, unless you really look at the numbers is that even in the best of times, only about 60% of the population in the United States is gainfully "employed" at a job.  Housewives don't count. College students don't count.  Retired people, institutionalized people, people in jail - they all don't count.

So they resort to using a tricky graph which seems to show employment falling off the face of the earth - plummeting to nearly nothing!   But of course, the graph zeros out on the y-axis at 52.5%, making the change seem more alarming.  Blow up any chart large enough and even the most trivial change seems dramatic.

Is the whole thing a lie?  Well, no, not technically, but does the author of this piece sleep well at night, thinking he is following a long line of illustrious journalists?  I hope not, because this "reporting" is just crap.

Yes, it is true that unemployment is up because of the virus.  A lot of people are not seeking work, however, because their unemployment check is larger than their paycheck was, with the "stimulus" check being a nice bonus.   But it is not a rise to 30% unemployment as in the Great Depression, and hardly 50% as the article implies.  The latter is a baldfaced lie, and you know what I say about liars - the relationship ain't gonna get better.  You can pretty much write-off anything published by CNBC at this point, if they vet an article like this as suitable for publication.

The journalists who wrote this dreck should be ashamed of themselves.  But I doubt they are - they are laughing all the way to the bank!  Selling out their fellow man - and their country - for a few bucks.   How pathetically sad.

White Guilt Won't Work

Not surprisingly, the folks on Reddit didn't understand this comic.

We've been though this before - they even have a name for it, slacktivism.  People post memes on their Facebook page, or sign meaningless "online petitions" because, they care and they're doing something to stop racism, feed the homeless, or end war, or whatever.

Problem is, they aren't doing anything, and oftentimes, what they are doing isn't helping.

I noted before that some folks, in response to the recent killing of a black man, George Floyd, in Minneapolis, are going online and feeling they need to lecture the rest of us on how it is to be black. Problem is, these are comfortable, middle-class white people living in the suburbs, who have no real idea what it is to be Black, Hispanic, or even poor. They have theories about this, though!  After all, they went to college!

Again, it is nice that people want to be supportive, and people all over the world are protesting the killing of George Floyd.   Problem is, some of these people showing up at protests are rioting, and people have been murdered - including police officers - as a result of this.   It stopped being about Black Lives Matter days ago, when the looting started.

Just as some white folks feel "white guilt" for what is going on, other white folks feel they are entitled to set fire to black neighborhoods to support Black Lives Matter - when in reality, they are just looking for a thrill.

What is "White Guilt" and why won't it work to change things?   Well, I had a revelation while driving through rural South Carolina.   We went by a tidy single-wide trailer home (with a tidy lawn with no junked cars or children's toys on it) and they had a neat "TRUMP 2020" sign in the front.  Living in a trailer home, it doesn't seem like the Trump economy has done much for them, although it appeared to be recently re-sided, so there's that.

But I got to thinking about the folks who might live in that trailer.  Why were they for Trump?   Were they racists?  Did they feel "White Guilt"?  I concluded that they probably didn't consider themselves to be racist, nor did they feel any "White Guilt" given that their own standard of living was pretty modest.   What goes on the big cities is probably a mystery to them, and they likely are as confused as many are by these "pressing issues of the day" such as transgender restrooms.

You'd have a hard time convincing them of "White Guilt" as they worked hard all their lives, and tried to eke out a meager living.  They kept their trailer clean and went to church on Sunday. They are not evil people, and trying to paint them as such for not marching in someone else's parade isn't going to work.   While the world is an unfair place and many minorities in the United States start off with an unfair disadvantage, the same is true all over the world.  Whether it is racism, class, religion, or just economic level you are born into, the game is stacked against you in many instances.   Not always, and not necessarily meaning you have no options.   But unfairness is the fabric of life.

And by the way, speaking of unfair disadvantages, many young white kids grow up in poverty with few options in life.   That's life in general.  What is unfair is that per capita, more black kids face this than whites.  But in terms of overall numbers, well, there are more poor, disadvantaged whites in this country, simply because whites still make up 73% of the population.  Yea, you read that right - all this talk of "extinction" of the white race is a little premature.  It also illustrates that if you want change to occur, you have to convince at least a substantial portion of that 73% of your cause.  But I digress.

People claim life is unfair, even when they got a decent shake out of it.   For example, people living in the United States, black or white, rich or poor, working or on welfare, or even in jail are far wealthier than a majority of people living in the rest of the world.   But for some folks, nothing is ever enough.  Consider this dweeb, who owns a rental property (evil landlord!) and has a job, a spouse, and a nice place to live, and yet is unhappy because his "friends" all have more, and had unfair advantages in life, he thinks.  He denigrates the beautiful meal on his plate, because his neighbor appears to be having more.   I suspect, however, that his neighbor is heavily in debt, and his "wealth" is an illusion.  And if your friends run you down as "poor" then find new friends.  Or let them think that, so they pick up the tab when you go out to eat.  Feigning poverty is excellent urban camouflage.

Of course, his "friends" may feel nervous as his lifestyle is calling into question theirs.  The guy who just leased a new SUV and is dead broke is going to make fun of you for driving a used, paid-for Camry for 150,000 miles.   Your lifestyle calls his spendthrift behavior into question.   You'll never be popular on the cul-de-sac at Foreclosure Mews Estates unless you drink the Kool-Aid like everyone else.

But his narrative is one that is popular today, particularly among the privileged white class - college kids.   They bitch and moan how awful they had it because they had to go to college and study for tests and write term papers and now they have to pay back loans.  So hey, why not riot and set fire to a McDonald's?  Never mind that "Black Lives Matter" isn't your fight, you have to show you care and are better than those other people.

Ah yes, damning and shaming - two of the ten irrational ideas in life.   In a way, this is simply a form of status-seeking.  The "Antifart" young activist has no money, as he has defaulted on his student loans to "make a statement to the man!" and thus activism becomes a new form of social status, much as a fancy car or SUV is to the suburban dweller.   The more "woke" they are, the higher the status, because they care and anyone who isn't as outraged as they are (all the time, of course) is a heartless bastard who runs over children in the street for fun.   This is the "silence is assent" mantra crowd - you not only have to agree with them (in every matter) but if you are not marching with them, you are part of the problem!

I've never owned slaves.  I've never discriminated against blacks, latinos, gays, straights, women, or whites.   I'm not responsible for the plight of inner city youth any more than I am responsible for the plight of Appalachian youth or the poor anywhere, for that matter.  Did I create poverty in India as well?   Does my modest wealth represent something "taken away" from others?  That's the real deal, right there - the idea that wealth and labor is finite, and the only thing left to do is divide up the pie into smaller and smaller slices, all directed by an all-powerful government.

Maybe that is the answer, but I am not convinced. In Batista's Cuba, dark-colored Cubans were discriminated against.   Today, supposedly there are equal opportunities in that country for everyone, regardless of race - but those opportunities are meager and limited, because of the very nature of the Communist system (and no, please put away your tired arguments about how an embargo by one country is causing Cuba grief).

But more to the point, are those the only two choices? Does equal opportunity mean only Communism, and does Capitalism mean only discrimination?   I think not, for a number of reasons.  For starters, our county is hardly 100% Capitalist.  We have a progressive tax system, even if it has been weakened by Bush and Trump.  Don't like that?  Vote.   Surprising how many "Antifarts" want change but won't even register to vote.  I am no big fan of Ms. AOC, but her election (and what looks to be re-election, as well as election of fellow progressives) is an example of how voting can create change.  Not right away, but over time.    If her ideas have merit, more of her ilk will be elected or re-elected and as they gain seniority, will be in larger positions of power.  That's how the system is designed to work.   If their ideas are a lot of hooey, they will lose re-election and other ideas will take hold.   Just because your pet theories are not popular with the majority of the country doesn't mean the system is broken.   On the contrary.

But getting back to white guilt, the US has been trying for decades to improve the plight of minorities.   It has been a struggle lasting since before the civil war.  And over time, things have gotten better and we have to recognize that. Companies are now actually trying to hire more minorities and the problem they are facing isn't institutional racism, but a lack of qualified minorities to fill these positions.   There are not many young blacks setting out to be computer geeks, Wall-street wizards, or whatever.   Education is still not valued in the ghetto - and if you are smart, you are still accused of "acting white" and will get the shit beaten out of you.  That needs to change.

Cultural values promoted to blacks suggest that thuggery and criminality are part of what it means to be black.  In any sketch comedy program, for example, the black character is always shown menacing other characters - at least in jest - while the white characters react in fear.   Yea, I'm talking about SNL, the folks who brought you episode after episode of Black Jeopardy, where black contestants are shown to be ignorant fools, schooled only in ghetto culture.   Who is writing this stuff?  Black writers?  Who is performing it?   Black actors.   Aren't they a little bit ashamed of promoting these racist stereotypes of blacks?  Oh, it's OK, so long as black people are doing it to themselves.

In the 1930's, they had a radio program called Amos 'n Andy, which was based on negative black stereotypes.  The two voice actors who performed the parts were white.   Racist?  You bet.   But when television came along, they hired two black actors to play the parts.   Was that still racist?   Hard call, for that era.   Back then, for many minorities, seeing "one of their own" on the screen was more than they were used to, even if the depiction was a stereotype.

I digress, but not by much.  I guess the point is, maybe this BLM thing will amount to something if blacks themselves, in addition to demanding change, change themselves and their own attitudes.  Because blaming all of your woes in life on "whitey" is a classic example of externalizing.   There are financially successful blacks in this country - I've met more than a few.  In fact, as a typical white person, that is mostly the blacks I do meet.  Many are from black middle-class families, so they have that boost in life - better educational opportunities, but more importantly, better cultural values.  I've also met a few folks - both black and white - who managed to pull themselves up from poverty, mostly by moving away from the trailer park in West Virginia, or the "Projects" in Philadelphia.

That is a problem right there.  A young black man from a prosperous family doesn't grow up in the inner city and have the same values and acquire ghetto slang.  He is as uncomfortable around inner-city blacks as I am among rural whites.  They can tell by my manner, dress, and accent, that I am not a local.  Discrimination is not just about skin color, it is also about social standing, cultural values, and a host of other subtle cues.  The idea that it will be eliminated forever in any form, is something of a fantasy.  We can improve the system, but mostly we need to improve ourselves.

Even in eras where discrimination was much worse, people still succeeded.  In an era where there are more opportunities than ever, effort is still required.  There is a mythology among many in the Left that some privileged folks have it easy in life.  They go to college and get a degree and are immediately rewarded with a corner office and a six-figure salary.   The Moneyist article cited above is an example of this - someone who has done well in life, but is unhappy because they are convinced others had it easier, or at least that appears to be the case.

The irony is, that many of these young "Antifarts" who believe this sort of nonsense have firsthand experience that it is not true.  Their union High School teachers promised them high-paying jobs if only they would go to college and get a degree in French Literature.   They know firsthand that there is  no guaranteed "in" by going to the right school or joining the right fraternity, whether you are white or black.  And yet they go rioting, decrying the unfairness of life, in that others somehow succeeded in this scheme, where they failed.   Maybe not taking advice from unionized government employees is a great start - unless you want to become one yourself.

White guilt is a non-starter, only because the majority of whites don't feel guilty and Americas are overwhelmingly white.  In order to effect change, you have to convince a huge portion of those white folks of your cause. Trying to shame them for something they didn't do simply isn't going to work.  Most white people in this country never discriminated or otherwise disadvantaged a black person, and few have ancestors who owned slaves.   Many white folks in the US have ancestors who came to America in the 1900's, and struggled to fit in, facing discrimination of their own.    How are they responsible for the plight of blacks?

Not only will "White Guilt" not work, it will backfire in a big way. The Democratic party has one huge image problem, and that is the image of the scolding schoolmarm telling everyone what rotten people they are, and how they need to fork over all their money so it can be given to others.   It is not a cheerful image, and as I noted before, the reason why Trump is popular with his "base" is that he tells them they are beautiful people and have nothing to be ashamed of.    Which  strategy will work in the long run?    People eventually get tired of being told they are pieces of shit, even if they are masochists at heart.

As a result, there could a backlash - a very powerful one.   People will get tired of the rioting, arson, and looting, and demand - and back - a strong response to this.  Law-and-order will win the day in the long run, unless this "movement" can coalesce around a leader or leaders who present reasonable and feasible demands.   Open-ended protests that go on forever with no real goal or point, on the other hand, will accomplish nothing, particularly if the protesters allow rioting and lawlessness to occur.

Understanding Statistics

Understanding statistics goes beyond understanding the mathematical aspects.

We are bombarded with statistics every day.  Everyone wants to get a point across, financially, politically, medically, or whatever - and are willing to use statistics to prove their point.   At first, statistics seem like an irrefutable argument - the ultimate cite to authority, expertism run wild.  How can you argue with the numbers?

Well, as it turns out, a number of ways.   Believe it or not, some statistics are entirely made-up.  Yes, act shocked, people lie to get their point across.   But even if they aren't lying, the raw data they may be using to get their point across may be flawed.

Telephone surveys, for example, are problematic, in that they only survey people with telephones or people who answer telephones.  Back in 1948, many people in rural areas didn't have phone service, so the newspapers called the election for Dewey, as their urban readers when surveyed by phone, all claimed to be supporting that New York Govenor.

And of course, that is what they claimed.   Surveys are the worse sort of statistics of all, not only in the way they are accumulated, but in how people self-filter by answering them.  The idiot who fills out a ten-page survey on his car-buying experience has filtered himself out as the kind of chump who answers ten-page surveys.   And people lie in their answers - again with the lying!   We lie to ourselves and we lie on surveys.  "How many drinks do you have a day, 0-1, 1-2, 2-3, or 3 or more?"  Oh, 1-2 surely.

So, raw data and the way it is collected is the first area where statistical data can be deeply flawed.  How it is processed and displayed is a second.   For example, in the "gun violence" chart I discussed earlier, not only was the data apparently faked, the criteria used - "gun deaths among wealthy countries" made the US appear to be an outlier.  But when you factor in all countries, we come out behind Mexico and Montenegro, among others.   This is not to say gun violence is not a problem in the US (and apparently in Montenegro) but that false comparisons to make a point don't really make the point - but actually discredit your argument.

Similarly, how charts are prepared can make trends look more alarming than they are. A chart that shows a stock price skyrocketing doesn't show the scale (or does in small numbers).  It is only when you realize the Y-axis begins at $20 and has a spread of ten cents, and the X-axis is showing a timeline of the last ten minutes, that you realize the "big spike in share price!" is nothing more than statistical noise.

Noise is something that most people don't understand.   As an Electrical Engineer, you know about it - the background static that appears in any signal, if from nothing else, echos from the big bang, or solar flares or whatever. There will always be minor statistical variations in any signal, and it is often easy to confuse these with meaning.  A share price goes up or down a few fractions of a percent - it may mean nothing, or it may be a start of a trend.   You don't really know until you accumulate more data and that takes time.   Trading on some transient condition can result in disaster.

But there are other ways to skew the presentation to make your point.  I noted before that not putting data in terms of per capita is a way of making it seem more alarming.   The US has more deaths due to Corona Virus than anyone else!   But in terms of per capita (at least at the time) the rates were far lower than Italy or Spain.  Sort of an insult to the dead in those countries, no?    The media loves to publish charts showing the cumulative deaths or infections from the virus - charts which by their very design will always show numbers shooting up, up, up.

The chart above is the "our world in data" Corona Virus death chart.  I like to use this chart to see how things are going, as it seems these folks have no dog in the fight.   But they can only chart the data that they get from sources.  And it turns out, each country or even State reports these statistics differently.   So even though it is comforting to look at this chart and see the deaths going down, we really have no way of knowing whether this really is true or not.  And the recent "spike" in the chart illustrates why - several States (and I can only guess which ones) have upped their body count recently to include "probable" deaths, which is an interesting concept.   So the data spikes for one day, but that one-day spike doesn't represent a sudden flood of bodies in the morgue, but rather numbers added based on guesswork, to a one-day total, from "probable" deaths over a period of time.

The infection rate data has the same problem, and yes, President Trump is right in that if you test more, you will find more infections (and I am sure the real infection rate could be far, far higher than we presently report).   But the media dismisses this out of hand, while at the same time saying the same thing - that so many people are undiagnosed.  They dismiss what Trump has to say, as they want to do a story about infections "spiking" because of millenials romping on the beach in Florida, and anything that disagrees with that narrative is dismissed.

It is sad, but both sides of the political spectrum are making hay from this nonsense. Florida, for example, is trying to force New Yorkers to quarantine for 14 days if they enter the State (is that legal?).  Not to be outdone, in a Red State-Blue State tit-for-tat, Governor "mob boss" Cuomo is now requiring residents from Florida to quarantine for 14 days upon entering New York. I'm glad both sides have put aside petty politics in this time of crises.

Like I said before, good data is hard to come by.   We like to believe the government is expert in accumulating and processing this data, but the reality is it is an inexact process, and we need to take these numbers and their methodology with a grain of salt