Category Archives: politics

Republican New Math

Yesterday, Karl Rove was interviewed by Robert Siegel on NPR. I just about passed out from shock when I heard the following exchange: (transcript via [raw story](
>MR. SIEGEL: We’re in the home stretch, though. And many might consider you on the optimistic end of >realism about —
>MR. ROVE: Not that you would be exhibiting a bias or anything like that. You’re just making a comment.
>MR. SIEGEL: I’m looking at all the same polls that you’re looking at every day.
>MR. ROVE: No you’re not. No you’re not!
>MR. SIEGEL: No, I’m not —
>MR. ROVE: I’m looking at 68 polls a week. You may be looking at four or five public polls a week that talk >about attitudes nationally, but that do not impact the outcome —
>MR. SIEGEL: — name races between — certainly Senate race
>MR. ROVE: Well, like the polls today showing that Corker’s ahead in Tennessee; or the race — polls >showing that Allen is pulling away in the Virginia Senate race.
>MR. SIEGEL: Leading Webb in Virginia. Yes.
>MR. ROVE: Yeah, exactly.
>MR. SIEGEL: Have you seen the DeWine race and the Santorum race and — I don’t want to —
>MR. ROVE: Yeah. Look, I’m looking at all these Robert and adding them up. And I add up to a Republican >Senate and a Republican House. You may end up with a different math, but you’re entitled to your math. >I’m entitled to “the” math.
>MR. SIEGEL: I don’t know if you’re entitled to a different math, but you’re certainly entitled to —
>MR. ROVE: I said you were entitled to yours.
Yes indeed, the same folks who sneered at the “reality based community” saying that they don’t need to *study* reality because they can just create their own reality apparently feel the same way about math. All of us lowly peons out here are entitled to our own silly little math, but Karl Rove and the Republicans are the only ones who have the *real* math, which seems to say whatever they want it to.

Following Up on the Lancet Study

As expected, the Lancet study on civilian deaths in Iraq has created a firestorm on the net. What frankly astounds me is how utterly *dreadful* most of the critiques of the study have been.
My own favorite for sheer chutzpah is [Omar Fadil](
>I wonder if that research team was willing to go to North Korea or Libya and I
>think they wouldn’t have the guts to dare ask Saddam to let them in and investigate
>deaths under his regime.
>No, they would’ve shit their pants the moment they set foot in Iraq and they would
>find themselves surrounded by the Mukhabarat men counting their breaths. However,
>maybe they would have the chance to receive a gift from the tyrant in exchange for
>painting a rosy picture about his rule.
>They shamelessly made an auction of our blood, and it didn’t make a difference if
>the blood was shed by a bomb or a bullet or a heart attack because the bigger the
>count the more useful it becomes to attack this or that policy in a political race
>and the more useful it becomes in cheerleading for murderous tyrannical regimes.
>When the statistics announced by hospitals and military here, or even by the UN,
>did not satisfy their lust for more deaths, they resorted to mathematics to get a
>fake number that satisfies their sadistic urges.
You see, going door to door in the middle of a war zone where people
are being murdered at a horrifying rate – that’s just the *peak* of cowardice! And wanting to know how many people have died in a way – that’s clearly nothing but pure bloodthirst – those horrible anti-war people just *love* the blood.
And the math is all just a lie. Never mind that it’s valid statistical mathematics. Never mind that it’s a valid and well-proven methodology. Don’t even waste time actually *looking* at the data, or the metholodogy, or the math. Because people like Omar *know* the truth. They don’t need to do any analysis. They *know*. And anyone who actually risks their neck on the ground gathering real data – they’re just a bunch of sadistic liars who resort to math as a means of lying.
That’s typical of the responses to the study. People who don’t like the result are simply asserting that it *can’t* be right, they *know* it can’t be right. No argument, no analysis, just blind assertions, ranging from emotional beliefs that
[the conclusions *must* be wrong]( to
[accusations that the study is fake](, to [claims that the entire concept of statistical analysis is
clearly garbage.](
The Lancet study is far from perfect. And there *are* people who have
come forward with [legitimate questions and criticisms]( about it. But that’s not the response that we’ve seen from the right-wind media and blogosphere today. All we’ve seen is blind, pig-ignorant bullshit – a bunch of innumerate jackasses screaming at the top of their lungs: “**IT’S WRONG BECAUSE WE SAY IT’S WRONG AND IF YOU DISAGREE YOU’RE A TRAITOR!”**”.
The conclusion that I draw from all of this? The study *is* correct. No one, no matter how they try, has been able to show any *real* problem with the methodology, the data, or the analysis that indicates that the estimates are invalid. When they start throwing out all of statistical mathematics because they don’t like the conclusion of a single study, you know that they can’t find a problem with the study.

The Iraqi Death Tally Study

I’ve gotten a lot of mail from people asking my opinion about [the study published today in the Lancet][lancet] about estimating the Iraqi death toll since the US invasion.
So far, I’ve only had a chance to skim the paper. But from what I can see about it, the methodology is sound. They did as careful an analysis as possible under the circumstances, and they’re very open about the limitations of their approach. (For example, they admit that there were methodological changes compared to earlier studies to reduce the risk to members of the survey team; and there were several
data collection errors leading to invalid or incomplete data which was then excluded from the analysis.)
My guess would be that this study is a pretty solid *upper* bound on the death toll of the war. Population-analysis sampling based techniques like this do tend to produce larger numbers than other analyses, but over the long term, while the sampling techniques tend to over-estimate, those higher numbers have tended to be quite a bit *closer* to the truth than the lower numbers generated by other techniques.
When I compare this to what the US government has been trying to feed us, I find that I trust these results much more: this study is open and honest, tells us exactly how they gathered and analyzed the data, and is honest and forthcoming about its limitations and flaws. In comparison, the official US estimates are just black-box numbers – our government has refused to provide *any* information on how their casualty estimates were produced.
Faced with that contrast, and the history of causalty recording and analysis in past wars and natural disasters, I’m strongly inclined to believe that while we will probably *never* know the real number of people who’ve died as a result of our invasion of Iraq, the figure of 600,000 deaths as of today estimated by the Lancet study is *far* closer to the truth than the US government estimate of 30,000 as of last december.
Believe me, nothing would make me happier than being wrong about this. I really don’t want to believe that my country is responsible for a death toll that makes a homicidal maniac like Saddam Hussein look like a pansy… But facts are what they are, and the math argues that this mind-boggling death toll is most likely all too real.

Rehashing Conservative Liars: Did Edwards tell the truth about poverty?

You might remember my post last week about [conservatives who can’t subtract][subtract]: in particular, about how a conservative blogger who goes by “Captain Ed” attacked John Edwards for saying there are 37 million people in poverty in the US. It turned out that good ol’ Ed wasn’t capable of doing simple subtraction.
You might also remember a post about [lying with statistics][liar], discussing an article by Tim Worstall, who quoted a newspaper piece about abortion rates, and tried to misuse the statistics to argue something about sexual education in the UK.
Well, Tim (the target of the second piece) was pretty ticked off at my criticism; and so now, he’s back – but not with a defense of his own piece (he tried that already), but with [a response to the criticism of the first piece][liar-subtracts]. Of course, he tries to defend our good captain not by defending his math – that is, by claiming that *the point that he made* was correct; but by moving the goalposts, and claiming that the *real* point about the piece wasn’t to call Edwards a liar, but to pretend that he was *really* making an economic argument about whether or not people below the povertly line are really correctly described as poor – because, lucky duckies that they are, they get some money from the earned income tax credit! So obviously they’re not *really* poor!
>”Thirty-seven million of our people, worried about feeding and clothing their
>children,” he said to his audience. “Aren’t we better than that?”
>and the link is to this table at the US Census Bureau which indeed states that
>there are some 37 million or so below the poverty line.
>Right, so that must mean that there really are 37 million poor people in the
>USA, right? So what’s Tim bitchin’ about? Well, how about the fact that those
>figures which show 37 million below the poverty line do not in fact show that
>there are 37 million poor people? Weird thought I know but nope, it ain’t true.
>For this reason:
>The official poverty definition uses money income before taxes and does not
>include capital gains or noncash benefits (such as public housing, Medicaid,
>and food stamps).
>What is being measured in the first definition of poverty is how many people
>there are below the poverty line before we try to do anything about it.
This is what those of us who know anything about logic refer to as a “non-sequiter”. That is, it’s a conclusion that has nothing to do with what came before it. It’s one of the oldest and sloppiest rhetorical tactics in the book. (Literally – I’ve got a book on classical rhetoric on my bookshelf, and it’s cited in there.)
Edwards was talking about the division of wealth in the US: we have people like the CEOs of big companies taking home unbelievable amounts of money, while at the same time, the income of the people in the middle class is declining slightly in real terms, and the income of the people at the bottom isn’t even approaching what they need to get by. There are 37 million people below the poverty line in this country in terms of their income. Some portion (not specified in the only source Tim and the captain cite) of those people are working, and despite working, are still not making enough money to get by. This is indisputable: there are many people in this country who are working, but who still require government assistance just to pay their bills. That’s what Edwards said.
What does that have to do with whether or not the government gives them some token assistance? The point is that our economic policies quite deliberately *refuse* to do anything to help the people on the bottom of the economic ladder become self-sufficient. Witness the recent refusal to even allow an open debate in congress on increasing the minimum wage, even while the members of congress gave themselves a raise. A person with a family, working full time for the minimum wage is left *below* the poverty line. But it’s not considered an important issue by the people currently running our government.

Protecting the Homeland: the Terrorists' Target List

Longtime readers of GM/BM will remember [this post][homeland], where I discussed the formula used by the Department of Homeland Security for allocating anti-terrorism funds. At the time, I explained:
>It turns out that the allocation method was remarkably simple. In their
>applications for funding, cities listed assets that they needed to protect.
>What DHS did was take the number of listed assets from all of the cities that
>were going to be recipients of funds, and give each city an amount of funding
>proportional to the number of assets they listed.
>So, the Empire State building is equal to the neighborhood bank in Omaha. The
>stock exchange on Wall Street is equal to the memorial park in Anchorage,
>Alaska. Mount Sinai hospital is equal to the county hospital in the suburbs of
>Toledo, Ohio. The New York subway system (18.5 billion passenger-miles per
>year) is equal to the Minneapolis transit system (283 million passenger-miles
>per year). The Brooklyn Bridge is equal the George Street bridge in New
>Brunswick, NJ.
Well, according to the [New York Times][nyt] (login required), it appears that I gave *too much credit* to the DHS. They weren’t saying that, for example, Wall Street was equivalent to the memorial park in Anchorage. What they were saying is that the Wall Street stock exchange is equivalent to the Mule Day Parade in Columbia Tenessee; Mt. Sinai hospital is equivalent to an unnamed Donut Shop; the Macy’s thanksgiving parade is equivalent to the Bean Fest in Mountain View, Arkansas.
Questioned about the foolishness of this insane list, a DHS spokesperson responded “We don’t find it embarrassing, the list is a valuable tool.”
Don’t you feel safer now that you know how the government is using what they keep stressing is *your money* to protect you?

Subtraction: Math Too Hard for a Conservative Blogger

This has been written about [elsewhere][lf], but I can’t let such a perfect example of the fundamental innumeracy of so many political pundits pass me by without commenting.
Captain Ed of [Captains Quarters][cq] complains about a speech by John Edwards in which Edwards mentions 37 million people below the poverty line:
>Let’s talk about poverty. Where did John Edwards get his numbers? The US Census
>Bureau has a ready table on poverty and near-poverty, and the number 37 million
>has no relation to those below the poverty line. If his basis is worry, well,
>that tells us nothing; what parent doesn’t worry about putting food on the
>table and clothes on the children, except for rich personal-injury attorneys?
>That threshold is meaningless.
Now, let’s look at the very figures that our brilliant captain links to:

Table 6. People Below 125 Percent of Poverty Level and the Near Poor:
1959 to 2004
(Numbers in Thousands)
Below 1.25      Between 1.00 - 1.25
____________________ ____________________
Year      Total      Number   Percent     Number   Percent
2004.....  290,605     49,666      17.1     12,669       4.4

Ok… So, approximately 50 million people below 1.25 * the poverty line… And approximately 13 million people above the poverty line, but below 1.25 times it…
Now, What kind of brilliant mathematician does it take to figure out how many people are below the poverty line from this table? What kind of sophisticated math do we need to use to figure it out? College calculus? No. High school algebra? No. 3rd grade subtraction? There we are.
50 – 13 = ?
My daughter, who is in *kindergarten* can do this using her *fingers*. But apparently math like this is completely beyond our Captain. (As much as I hate to admit it, this isn’t a phenomenon of people on the political right being innumerate; this kind of innumeracy is widespread on both ends of the political spectrum.)

Lying with Statistics: Abortion Rates

Via [Feministe][feministe], we see a wingnut named Tim Worstall [trying to argue something about sexual education][worstall]. It’s not entirely clear just what the heck he thinks his argument is; he wants to argue that sexual education “doesn’t work”; his argument about this is based on abortion rates. This
is an absolutely *classic* example of how statistics are misused in political arguments. So let’s take a look, and see what’s wrong.
He quotes an article from the Telegraph, a UK newspaper. The telegraph article cites statistics from the UK department of health. Here’s what Worstall has to say:
>Yup, gotta hand it to them, the campaigners are right. Sex education obviously works
>Abortions have reached record levels, and nearly a third of women who have an abortion have had one
>or more before.
>Department of Health statistics reveal that abortions in England and Wales rose by more than 700 in
>2005, from 185,713 in 2004 to 186,416.
>Some 31 per cent of women had one or more previous abortions, a figure that rises to 43 per cent
>among black British women.
>The ever increasing amount of sex education, the ever easier provision of contraception is clearly >driving down the number of unwanted pregnancies.
Clearly, Worstall and the author of the telegraph piece want us to believe that there’s a significant *increase* in the number of abortions in the UK; and that this indicates some problem with the idea of sex-ed.
So what’s wrong with this picture?
First, let’s just look at those numbers, shall we? We’re talking about a year over year increase of *700* abortions from a base of *185,000*. How significant is that? Well, do the math: 0.37%. Yes, about one third of one percent. Statistically significant? Probably not. (Without knowing exactly how those numbers are gathered, including whether or not there’s a significant possibility of abortions being underreported, there’s no way to be absolutely sure, but 1/3 of 1% from a population of 185,000 or so is not likely to be significant.)
But it gets worse. Take a good look at those statistics: what do they measure? They’re a raw number of abortions. But what does that number actually mean? Statistics like that taken out of context are very uninformative. Let’s put them in context. From the [statistics for England and Wales][stats]:
In the year 2003, there were 621,469 live births, and 190,660 abortions. In 2004, there were 639,721 live births, and 194,179 abortions. Now, these stats from from the UK Office of National Statistics. Note that the numbers *do not match* the numbers cited earlier. In fact, taken as bare statistics, these numbers show a *much larger* increase in abortions: about 1.8%.
But, put in context… Take the number of abortions as a percentage of non-miscarried pregnancies (which we need to do because the miscarriage statistics for the years 2003 and 2004 are not available), and we find that
the number of abortions per 1000 pregnancies actually *declined* from 292/1000 in 2003 to 290/1000 in 2004. And that number from 2003 was a decline from 2002, which was a decline from 2001. So for the last four years for which statistics are available, the actual percentage of pregnancies ending in abortions has been nearly constant; but closely studying the numbers shows that the number has been *declining* for those four years.
In fact, if we look at abortion statistics overall, what we find is that from the legalization of abortion in the UK, there was a consistent increase until about 1973 (when the number of abortions reached 167,000), and since then, the number has ranged upwards and downwards with no consistent pattern.
So – what we’ve got here is a nut making an argument that’s trying to use statistics to justify his political stance. However, the *real* statistics, in context, don’t say what he wants them to say. So – as usual for a lying slimebag – he just selectively misquotes them to make it *look like* they say what he wants them to.

Who would have guessed? Dick Cheney can do the math

Or at least his financial advisers can.
Kiplinger’s, via MSN Money, are [reporting that Dick Cheney is betting that the economy is going to tank][cheney-invest]. When you take a look at the numbers: the deficit, the state of the dollar, the price of energy, stagnant wages, and the way that the economy is only being propped up by consumer spending, it’s hard to be optimistic about the economy. And apparently, despite what he says, Cheney’s not betting his own money on the success of he and George’s economic policies.
He’s put *at least* 10 million in a municipal bonds fund that will only do really well if interest rates keep rising; at least another mil in a money market fund that also depends on rising interest rates; and at least 2 million in “inflation protected” securities. Inflation protected securities are basically bonds and bond-like securities that pay a low interest rate, but that are structured to ensure that the principal grows with inflation. They’re really on only a good investment if you believe that inflation is on the rise and the dollar is going to sink.
Overall, our vice president has somewhere between 13 and 40 million dollars invested in things whose performance is based on interest rates and inflation rising, and the dollar tanking.
According to the same public disclosure documents from which this information was originally taken, his net worth is somewhere between 30 and 100 million. What that means is that it looks like the majority of his fluid money is solidly bet against the success of the policies of the government he is a part of.
Not pretty. But what did you really expect from a corrupt, power-hungry
asshole who considers the government to be a great big racket for rewarding
his buddies?
(See also [Attu sees All][attu]’s take on this.)

Conservative Morons

I know this is outside my usual subject area, but I just saw a spectacularly stupid quote from moronic conservative, and I just had to mock it.
From AllThingsConservative, an explanation of why we should thank god that Ronald Reagan was president:

If not for Ronald Reagan, and his vision and leadership, we would now be at the mercy of that lunatic in North Korea. Instead, we have a workable missile defense against the threat. Not only are we still working on a space-based system, but the technology now being deployed was developed due to the efforts started by Reagan.
We should definitely shoot down the test missile.

Y’see, if if weren’t for the fact that Ronald Reagan was president, we wouldn’t have spent billions of dollars building a missile defense system that doesn’t work. And if we didn’t have a totally non-functional missile defense system, then we wouldn’t have the kind of safety that only a non-functional missile defense system can provide.
After all, remember: this is the missile defense system that hasn’t been able to knock down a missile even under the most insanely favorable conditions. A system that has failed a majority of its tests, even when they knew exactly what trajectory the incoming target was going to take and the target missile was carrying a homing beacon.
Yup, we can all sit back and feel secure in the knowledge that we’re being protected by the genius of Ronald Reagan. Because if the North Koreans tell us exactly when they’re going to launch a missile at is; exactly what trajectory they’re going to use, and they’re kind enough to put a homing beacon on the warhead, we’ll have a slightly less than 50% chance of successfully shooting it down.
I feel so greatful, don’t you?

Help the SB gang help schools.

Janet over at Adventures in Ethics and Science has gotten a bunch of us SB folks to get involved in raising money for school science programs. As the only current resident math geek around here, I’m expanding it from just science to also math.
What we’re doing is trying to get people to donate to That’s an organization where teachers who’s classrooms lack the supplies that they need can submit proposals, and donors can select specific proposals that they want to support. Each of the participants from SBs has picked a bunch of proposals that we think are valuable, and we’re asking you guys, our readers, to look at those proposals, and donate some money to whichever ones you think are worth supporting.
This is something that is very near and dear to my heart. Back in my college days, I did some teaching for something called the Educational Opportunity Fund in NJ. EOF is now gone due to budget cuts. But back then, the idea of it was, take a bunch of really smart kids from really bad schools, and bring them to Rutgers for the summer. For the summer, they worked two days a week, and took classes three days a week. During the school year, they also had to go to EOF classes every weekend. If they continued to participate in this all the way through high school, then EOF would give them a scholarship to Rutgers. I taught for the EOF summer program for three years. And I got to know some of the smartest, greatest kids you could ever hope to meet.
One of the things about working for EOF that used to depress me was talking to my kids about their normal schools. They went to schools where there weren’t enough textbooks – or often any textbooks – much less any better school supplies. If it wasn’t for EOF, most of these kids would never have had any chance to get to college: not because they weren’t smart enough, and not because they weren’t willing to work hard enough; and not even because the teachers in their schools weren’t good enough to prepare them for college. They would have had no chance simply because in a classroom with no books, with no paper, with no chalk – there’s no way to teach them.
My daughter started kindergarten this year. Her kindergarten classroom – just one kindergarten classroom for 20 kids – has more supplies for teaching math than the entire schools that my EOF kids went to.
It’s a god damned crime. Every school should have textbooks, blackboards, and the basic teaching materials that teachers need. Kids like the ones I taught in EOF are getting screwed over every day by schools that simply do not have the materials that they need to teach them.
So, I’ve gone through the proposals for math classes in the NYC area, and selected a big list of proposals, ranging over pretty much every grade level. They’re mostly small proposals for basic supplies that every math class should have.
Our wonderful Seed overlords have donated a bunch of goodies, as have a variety of other organizations drafted by SBers. If you want to donate some money to any of the things proposed by any of the SBers, send a copy of your contribution confirmation email to, and you’ll be entered into a drawing to get one of those.
Go throw a few bucks at donorschoose. The GM/BM challenge is here. You can find all of the SB challenges through Janet’s post here.
I’ll be throwing in a couple of hundred dollars worth of pledges this afternoon. Why not help, and go over now and give them some money?