Cheating With Statistics
Reader Matt Lewis points us to Planet Moron, to an article which tears apart a statistical argument used by the Washington Post, an argument which sought to prove the that majority of cop killings committed were committed with guns legally purchased.
The Post used one of the better known ways to cheat with statistics to claim the exact opposite of what was true—which is that about 70% of cops are killed with illegally obtained guns. The Post‘s sleight-of-hand, statistically speaking, is equivalent to the linking rings: simple enough to fool the causal onlooker, but utterly transparent to the careful observer.
I don’t want to steal Planet Moron’s punchline, for it is deftly delivered: go to their site to see how. But they caught the Post with their pants down and have administered to them a well deserved spanking. However, I’ll happily pass on their aphorism. “Statistics: It’s Like Making Stuff Up, Only With Charts.”
Tolkien Wants A King
David Hart in First Things, after having read of J.R.R. Tolkien’s support for anarchist monarchies in a letter that Tolkien wrote to his son:
These occasional bloodless bloodbaths [elections] are deeply satisfying at some emotional level, whatever one’s party affiliations, because they remind us of what a rare luxury it is to have the right and the power periodically to evict politicians from office.
But, as is always the case here below in the regio dissimilitudinis, the pleasure is accompanied by an inevitable quantum of pain. The sweetest wine quaffed from the cup of bliss comes mingled with a bitter draft of sorrow (alas, alack). Tragically—tragically—we can remove one politician only by replacing him or her with another. And then, of course, our choices are excruciatingly circumscribed, since the whole process is dominated by two large and self-interested political conglomerates that are far better at gaining power than at exercising it wisely.
He also says that “If one were to devise a political system from scratch, knowing something of history and a great deal about human nature, the sort of person that one would chiefly want, if possible, to exclude from power would be the sort of person who most desires it, and who is most willing to make a great effort to acquire it.”
It’s hard to disagree. But it is difficult to find sympathy with Tolkien’s (vaguely expressed) monarchy as a substitute for democracy. Consider: most people have it pretty good nowadays. Very little starvation, violence is rare, disease is occasional and not rife, technology has eased the burdens of all of us. It can be argued that this happy state has been brought about by the blessings of democracy.
It can be argued; but not, I think, successfully. This country, and many like it, began as aristocracies (untitled, in our case) which offered only limited participation in governance. As that participation increased, as, that is, more questions were put to more people, societies became, and are becoming, fractured and factional. When government was an aristocracy it was men that people looked up to, and those men at least attempted to resemble what was expected of them. If someone from the lower class wanted to participate he could, but only by first becoming himself an aristocrat. This process might take a generation or more, but it was not impossible.
Our leadership is now closer to the democratic ideal, where everybody can participate. Or seem to. But because those who used to be aristocrats have had to appeal to everybody and not just other aristocrats, and because the masses have different standards than the aristocracy, and because the masses are always more numerous, the means of winning support of the masses has caused the aristocracy to transform into something more resembling an oligarchy whose only firm ideals are two: money and power. Just look to California to see what happens when the power to decide every small question is put into the hands of all.
People no longer admire men, but an entity, a capital ‘G’ Government, an otherworldly thing from which, magically, all benefits flow. And our leaders no longer talk about people, but The capital ‘P’ People, a mythical set of like-minded folk whose only goal is to support the politician.
This is the key to understanding what is happening. Both sides have divorced themselves from reality and speak of what does not and cannot exist. It will be fascinating to see what flows from this.