Friday, September 6, 2019

Bureau of Specious Statistics, Hurricane Division

Our government and the media are lying to us.

One way to win a debate is to control the vocabulary.   And if you can't control the vocabulary, then change the definition of words.   I noted before how government agencies have produced alarming "child homelessness" statistics by arguing that any child living in a trailer park or with his grandmother is "homeless".   Unless they are a nuclear family in a three-bedroom house, they might as well be orphans!   This is, of course, ridiculous.

And it is interesting that homelessness is deemed a "crises" and gets a lot of press, when the actual numbers are very low - a fraction of a percentage (0.17%) -  of the population.   In terms of breaking into your parked car or pooping on the sidewalk, yes, it is a crises - but a crises often of our own making, by stipulating that bums have "rights" but that taxpayers have none - other than the obligation to pay for the former.  And no, these drug-addicted bums don't want "food" or a "job" but just more money to buy drugs.  Stop feeling sorry for criminals!  But, if you run a non-profit that serves the homeless or feeds the non-existent "starving" in America - or you are an editorial writer for The Guardian, who wants to write another USA-bashing piece - alarming (and false) statistics are handy to use.  They generate clicks and back up government grants!

People use specious statistics to back up specious arguments all the time.  Whether it is their searing indictment of McDonald's as stripping the rain-forest (for the record, no) or "proving" that capitalism has once again failed, you can find numbers to bolster your position - provided you ignore those numbers that detract from it.   For example, the fact that the average student loan balance in America is a measly thirty-seven grandDoesn't seem like much of a crises, do it?

Of course, alarmist statistics have been used with major storms in recent years.   We are told that each hurricane or even snowstorm produces piles of dead bodies and other "victims" (the nature of their victimhood often unstated - many look rather healthy).   We are told that more than a decade after hurricane Katrina, that some people are still "victims" of that storm.   Of course, this all plays into the victimhood mentality that permeates America today - on both sides of the political spectrum.  There are real victims of the storm, of course.  Then again, there are idiots who drive into flooded rivers and people who refuse to evacuate and morons who run generators in closed garages.

It looks like hurricane Dorian, after flattening the Bahamas once again, gave Florida a light touch and seem to avoid our little island entirely.  The outer banks looks like it will get hit, which should come as no surprise to residents there - it is a hurricane magnet.  We monitored the track of the hurricane on the NOAA site and also looked at the live webcams for nearby St Simons Island.   It didn't appear the waves were all that high and people were milling about downtown St Simons and even driving their cars - during the height of the storm.   We got lucky - there was literally no damage and very light damage in Florida.

Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control has already recorded the first three deaths of the mainland United States from Hurricane Dorian.  "Wait a minute," you say, "How can there be deaths from a hurricane that barely touched the US so far?"  And the answer is, when a hurricane or other major storm occurs, government officials count almost every death that occurs as being "related to" to the storm.

So if you get in a car wreck, you are a statistic in terms of automobile fatalities.  But if you got into a car wreck during a snowstorm, then you are a fatality as result of the snowstorm.  The government can then claim the storm killed so many people, when many of these people might have just died anyway.

In the article cited above, three recent deaths which were totally unrelated to the storm are being counted as such.  One fellow evacuated to the Disney World Resort in Orlando, which is a pretty comfortable place to wait out a hurricane.  Some people call that a vacation.  He died from unknown causes but the corner is calling it a "hurricane-related death" for some reason.   I guess it's not a Disneyworld-related death and the people at Disney are probably happy about that.

Another fellow was cutting limbs off his tree with a chainsaw and fell out of the tree and died.  This is just a sad accident and an example of why you should hire a tree service to do your tree trimming. You could argue that it was related to the storm because he was trimming the limbs in anticipation of the storm, but on the other hand, he probably would have trimmed those limbs eventually, storm or not. This is not a storm-related death.

Yet another person was reported dead as a result of a heart attack that occurred while he was "preparing for the hurricane" which makes it a hurricane-related death.  Chances are, he had a weak heart or was overweight or had clogged arteries or whatever, that lead to the heart attack. Eventually he would have had a heart attack, hurricane or not. For some reason again, this is being called a hurricane-related death.  I don't see it.  It's just a guy who died while a hurricane was 100 miles offshore.

This gets me to thinking that our government is lying to us. We are told about these horrific death tolls from various storms in recent years, and some of the numbers are astronomical.  When I was a kid growing up, our snowstorms didn't kill anybody, even though the 1970s were very cold.  And we did get some major snowstorms in central New York back then.  However, today, each snowstorm is listed is having a number of fatalities associated with it. What is going on here?

Simply stated, back in 1975 or so, we'd get a major blizzard and think nothing of it.  Blizzards were a way of life back then. Somebody cracked up their car into a light pole, and that wasn't considered a "blizzard related death" but an automobile accident by a careless driver.

Somewhere along the way - and I blame cable television, in particular The Weather Channel for this - we became paranoid about storms.  When I moved to Washington DC, whenever there was even a forecast of snow, government employees would raid all the local grocery stores and buy every last loaf of bread, carton of eggs, and carton of milk. It was almost comical how people would strip the store shelves bare, as if the end times were coming instead of just two inches of snow.

Sensationalism sells.  And the News industry has become an entertainment industry and wants ratings.  So if you can get people paranoid about a storm, it will boost your ratings as people will watch for hours, non-stop.  For example, as I noted before, newscasters would say, during the "teaser" at 8 o'clock, "Snow in the forecast? Stay tuned for news at 11!"  In the time it took them to tease you about the snow storm, they could have just said there's no snow or there's going to be snow and gotten real information to you.

But that's not the point.  The point is they want you to watch the newscast at 11 o'clock, through its entirety, including all the advertisements, with the weather report, of course, being at the very end. Only at that point do they tell you there's not going to be any snow.

So the media loves these "deadly storm" narratives, even though many of the people logged as "victims" of the storm would have died even without the storm present, or the storm was only tangentially-related to their death.  This serves the media interest by cranking up anxiety about the weather, which in turn leads to depression, and depressed people make excellent consumers - nice and pliable, and willing to watch hours and hours of television.

Why the government is doing this is less clear.   Some government agencies no doubt can bolster their budgets if they can make the weather seem more alarming than it is.  Politicians - of all parties - make hay by flying in helicopters over the disaster area and declaring that relief is imminent (even if it isn't really - borrowing money, which is all a lot of disaster aid amounts to, isn't really making you whole, but just digging a hole even deeper.)

And of course, there is the issue of global warming.   I've worked with a number of NOAA scientists on Patent Applications and they are smart folks.  Global warming isn't a hoax - let's be clear about that.  But some folks have overstated it a wee bit - claiming that islands in the Pacific are already underwater and that Miami will be below sea level within a decade.   The reality is, sea levels are rising, but it is a slow process.   I am not sure that hyping each weather event as "more proof of global warming" is a good idea.   We will have snowstorms and hurricanes, regardless.

The danger is, if you cry "wolf" often enough, people stop listening.  When Florida fails to sink below the waves in 10 years (as the media breathlessly reports) people will start to think that global warming is a hoax - and that is the real danger.

In any war, truth is the first causality.   And it seems we are at war these days, with words, with each other, and with the truth.   We are told truth is subjective and that what you perceive is truth and there is no underlying truth.  Such talk usually ends us up in a bad place later on, as the reality of reality collides with "perceived reality".

We need to stop making up data to suit our preconceptions.  We need to stop generating specious statistics!