Statisticians never die, they’re just broken down by age and sex…

Those of you who read this from time to time know I like simple jokes, and I like that one because of the way statistics can be misinterpreted on a whim. And who better to do that than politicians?

The only thing politicians enjoy more than juggling stats is sheer chutzpah, i.e. brazenly telling people half truths or downright lies, often couched in the language of fallacy. Things like:

 “I’m not here to tell you how ineffective the president has been on Iraq” (they just did)


“Anyone who doesn’t understand how this president has destroyed health care is either a blind man or a fool” (which are you?)

There is a great book on this subject, written by Masden Pirie back in 1985 (gosh, that dates me) called The Book of the Fallacy: A Training Manual for Intellectual Subversives, which may not have sold all that well, but a quarter of a century later retails on AbeBooks starting at US$ 192.50. I am the proud owner of a copy, just hadn’t realized what a good investment I made at the time.

But it’s true that Obama hasn’t done such a great job in Afghanistan, his mistake being that he thought he could. In this case, No We Can’t. It’s also true that America is a “can do” nation, so that slogan would never wash. History makes it abundantly clear than the Balkans and the Hindu Kush are like seismic epicenters, regions of permanent discord. In the case of the Balkans, it’s the border between Christianity and Islam, and for Afghanistan and Pakistan it’s hell’s cauldron of Shia, Sunni, and Hindu.

To write, you must read, and when you read, you learn. I found a website suggesting that Hindu Kush, the mountain range that spans one thousand miles from Pakistan to Iran, means Hindu Slaughter.  On the web you must crosscheck, lest you become enrolled in Google University, and this interpretation is hotly disputed by a Muslim author. No matter what it means, it’s certainly the site of many a massacre. The recent events in the Khyber Pass, with wholesale burning of tanker trucks, are nothing more than a reenactment of bygone days.

Ever since the one-eyed mullah scurried off on his motorbike, never to be seen again, America has been finding out what the British already knew (and apparently forgot): an Afghan’s loyalty cannot be bought, only borrowed.

That’s what makes history valuable. The lands that were occupied by the Portuguese, following in the steps of the discoveries, were never really conquered. The same can be said for many other occupations, including the Nazis in France or the British in India. The control of large cities means only that, and the extent of occupation is not much more. Two centuries ago, news of insurgency travelled slowly, if at all. But it was always there, terrorists for some, patriots for others. Conquering a country is like owning a cat.

U.S. army posters from the 2003 invasion of Iraq (operation "Iraqi Freedom")

Bush Junior showed his symmetric understanding of assymetric war when the fall of Baghdad was seen as the conquest of Iraq. The US most certainly contributed to justice by removing the dictator Saddam Hussein, and there it pretty much stops. Iraq has shifted from Sunni to Shia, with the helping hand of the Iranians, always anxious to do America a disservice, no matter how small. The Baghdad government is inexistent, and the choice of timing for US troop withdrawal potentially leaves the local troops with no political command.

On the home front it’s jobs, jobs, jobs. The jobs won’t come back until the people are prepared to pay the cost of producing a good part of their goods and services stateside. For now, Americans are busy paying the salaries of the Chinese, Koreans, and many others, and paying the cost difference to their fellow countrymen as unemployment benefit by means of taxes.

Of course none of this is an Obama creation, neither does it really have Obama solutions. As a result the Democrats are preparing for a severe trouncing in the mid-terms. But no one thinks the Grand Old Party is blameless in the mess. Enter the prophets of doom, the messianic visionaries that translate life into simple truths and harvest the votes of the people in troubled times.

Complex problems; simple solutions; usually wrong. 

On Nov. 2nd the Tea Party candidates come up for election, drawing on the likes of Sharron Angle. Her spelling and her politics are equally bizarre. On the East Coast, Christine O’Donnell. Ms. O’Donell’s recent press brings up supposedly salacious stories of a night on the town. It’s an extraordinarily silly tale of a rather drunk young woman picking up a guy and then… nothing happened! Why is this newsworthy? What did the poor girl do wrong? The only interesting novelty for me, naive as I am, was the concept of a born-again virgin, Ms. O’Donnell’s alleged excuse for not having sex.

Thw world around us is a goldmine of foibles and fragilities. Apparently abstention from sexual relations for one year qualifies you for born-again status. I’m not entirely sure what sort of verification procedures are in place. But I am sure that some incredible nonsense goes with the concept. One misguided soul writes: “For a girl, it would be someone that has made a commitment to give up sexual intercourse and eventually their hymen will regenerate. At that point a girl can be considered a born again virgin.”

Oh well, pigs might fly. Please could we have born-again brains? 

The established duopoly has no idea how to defeat the Tea Party, just as America has no idea how to defeat Al Qaeda. The rules of engagement have changed, and both movements flourish through grass roots support in their own constituencies, rather than through a strong organizational structure. 

I asked Google “What does the Tea Party stand for?”

Twelve million hits, the first from Princeton University: a party at which tea is served. And there I was thinking it had to do with the one that got spilt. Midway down, one link seems promising. It’s called Burning Platform. when I click, the site has gone down in flames with a 404 error.

So I hit in search of wisdom. The core values are:

Illegal Aliens Are Here illegally.
Pro-Domestic Employment Is Indispensable.
Stronger Military Is Essential.
Special Interests Eliminated.
Gun Ownership Is Sacred.
Government Must Be Downsized.
National Budget Must Be Balanced.
Deficit Spending Will End.
Bail-out And Stimulus Plans Are Illegal.
Reduce Personal Income Taxes A Must.
Reduce Business Income Taxes Is Mandatory.
Political Offices Available To Average Citizens.
Intrusive Government Stopped.
English As Core Language Is Required.
Traditional Family Values Are Encouraged.

I can easily see how those simple ideas are appealing. I can also see a host of contradictions in the ideas themselves, when it comes to concepts such as reinforcing the military, cutting personal and business taxes, and simultaneously reducing the budget deficit. Data on the military vary, but a number of around 30% of tax dollars seems most probable. Which is a lot.

As for political offices available to average citizens, Ms. Angle’s family ran a small motel for 20 years, and she subsequently worked as a substitute teacher, art teacher, and ran a one-room school and a gym. Sounds pretty average to me. And she is running, right? So where’s the issue?

Obama was elected from a ten percent minority, his roots are an immigrant parent, a broken home, and a turbulent youth. How long do you guys think it will take to elect Europe’s first black head of state?

I was disappointed to see no emphasis in those core values on religion. After all supposedly this is the grass roots movement of the religious right. But then I spotted it.

Gun Ownership Is Sacred.


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