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Playing With Numbers

Terrorists and asteroids: John Mueller's overblown vision. Inconveniencing Al Gore. Changing the Gold Channel. Gays and Greek. Plus much more.


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Re: Philip Klein's Don't Look Back:

John Mueller, author of Overblown: How Politicians and the Terrorism Industry Inflate National Security Threats, and Why We Believe Them, is not just any professor at Ohio State. He holds the Woody Hayes Chair of National Security Studies at the Mershon Center. If you hear reports of earth tremors in the Central Ohio area, don't be concerned about impending earthquakes. It's just Woody rolling over in his grave at Union Cemetery.
-- Jay Hoster
Columbus, Ohio

Mr. Mueller uses a very inappropriate analogy when he compares terrorist attacks to asteroid "attacks." The fact that we don't seek out and destroy every asteroid we can find after one hits us doesn't embolden asteroids to redirect themselves to pummel the Earth. On the other hand, as bin Laden noted in his 1996 fatwa, not responding does embolden terrorists. By not responding the probabilities change, for the worse. They will continue doing so until we respond with the appropriate response (overwhelming force, in my opinion.)
-- James M. Mulch
Grand Island, NY

With certainty, it's fair to each of us are risk managers, whether we believe it or not or want to do it or not, since risks cannot be eliminated.

Applying the professor's statistical view of that nuisance called terrorism and his novel approach to de-emphasizing its associated risks, perhaps we should reconsider our view of airline travel, in general, as well as fire prevention and fighting. After all, it's been suggested that the probability of dying from airplane crashes or by fire and flames is, respectively, very, very low or just low.

Maybe we can save some money by cutting back on or even curtailing safety rules for airliners and air travel, research on innovative methods to enhance safety and preventive maintenance on the planes -- or reducing or de-emphasizing fire-fighting methods, prevention measures and departments?
-- C. Kenna Amos
Princeton, West Virginia

While I agree with the thrust of Mr. Klein's article I must take exception to his use of statistics. His describing the odds of a person dieing in a terrorist attack as 1 in 80,000, presumably Mr. Mueller's assertion, "roughly the same odds as getting killed by an asteroid," are not given attribution to Mr. Mueller so I can only assume the analogy is his. There is a rather large problem with his numbers. Assuming that he means 1 in 80,000 in any given year, if the year is 2006 and the world population estimate is 6.5 billion, then we should be having asteroid caused deaths on the order of 8,125,000 annually.

I believe the last asteroid strike on this planet was perhaps the Tunguska event in 1908. I'm sure far less than 8 million people perished then. If I'm in error in what Mr. Klein was saying I'm sure I'm not alone, but if I'm not then off handed comments such as these cause anyone with a calculator to be able to disprove, and dismiss, not just his assertion but his entire argument.
-- Keith H. Lepley
Davenport, Florida

Philip Klein replies:
The statistics and the analogy did come from Mueller, which is why I began my sentence by writing, "In his presentation, Mueller asserted..." I apologize if that attribution wasn't clear enough. Also, Mueller was discussing the lifetime odds, so that makes it a much more complicated equation than simply dividing 6.5 billion by 80,000.

Mueller also elaborates on the point on page 2 of his book:

Astronomer Alan Harris has calculated that at present rates, the lifetime probability that a resident of the globe will die at the hands of international terrorists is 1 in 80,000, about the same likelihood that one would die over the same interval from the impact on the earth of an especially ill-directed asteroid or comet.

Right or wrong, it seems that Mr. Lepley's beef is with Mueller and Harris -- not me.

Re: Rob Bradley's The Gore Who Stole Christmas:

If you want to stay awake nights think of this: Al the dummy (is there any other word for him) Gore nearly became President of the United States of America!
-- Bob Montrose
Fort Lee, New Jersey

So who in their right mind listens to Al Gore anyway? Seems to me that this guy is at least one sandwich short of a picnic and is operating on only about 12 ounces to the pound. Can you say, "Twilight Zone," boys and girls?
-- Jim L
East Sandwich, Massachusetts

Why don't we all make a deal with our Resident Alarmist. We will give up our garish Christmas displays (outside lights, inflatable back lit Nativity scenes, Christmas tree lights etc...) if ALGORE sells his 2 Tennessee estates, his posh Georgetown Condo, and divest himself of all his Occidental Petroleum shares. Further, ALGORE must refuse any mode of travel that requires JP4 jet fuel (i.e. private Gulfstream jet service). Lastly, for this agreement to go into effect ALGORE must trade in any vehicles which get less than 50mpg in the city, and bicycle his way around Tennessee and the Beltway.

This entire charade of alarmism is becoming more and more surreal. We have multi-millionaires flying around the world in expensive private jets giving lectures to people whose worth is 1/1000th their own about cutting back their consumption. We also have nations who made a big deal about joining the Kyoto protocols; yet, these same nations haven't even come close to meeting their CO2 goals. Like the Yankees and the salary cap, the carbon credits mean nothing.

It would be an interesting exercise to go around to the some of the loudest backers of global warming alarmism and photograph their vehicles and properties. I wouldn't be surprised to see a lot of GMC Suburbans, Ford Excursions, and Escalades, as well upscale energy hungry mansions and condos.
--- JP

Why, in the body of his excellent article, was Bradley reluctant to use the word Christmas: e.g., "holiday lights." I thought AmSpec was not PC.
-- C. Michael Mellor

I came home from work the other day to see my wife watching Oprah gaze adoringly at Algore as he pontificated about this and that.

I told my wife that if she watched stuff like that her hair would get real curly and she would go blind...
-- Roy Patterson
San Jose, California
14th Armored Cav 66-69

Re: Lawrence Henry's In Terms of Television:

The Golf Channel, with "The Big Break" (people hitting balls into panes of glass), "The John Daly Show" (study in arrested development), and "Natalie Gulbis Show" (trashy strutting sexpot), is just following the money to the lowest common denominator in America's taste in entertainment. Those shows are merely electronic cartoons, which apparently make money for the network, but have only a shadow of connection to the game of golf. By their affirmation of self-indulgence, exhibitionism, and sale of self respect for money, they actually represent the antithesis of golf's traditions. The Golf "Channel" has indeed been lowered and diverted into the larger river of polluted effluvium in which we are immersed -- popular "culture."
-- Fred P. Baggett
High Point, North Carolina

It is sad to watch the Golf Channel's descent into mainstream style reality television. The first few iterations of Big Break were interesting, especially the first one to feature women. I was surprised to see how catty these ladies could be. With the current slide, I wonder when we will start seeing late night video adverts on TGC of "Beer Cart Girls Gone Wild!"
-- Donald Parnell
London, UK

Re: James Bowman's review of Unaccompanied Minors:

In our family we watched television and movies with the Mystery Science 3000 "analyze by wisecrack" on loud. The immediate question that would come to mind in the case of this movie is, "What would happen if you really tried this?" Both my boys would have immediately spotted the fact that the airline is responsible for unaccompanied children and in fact the families will "sue the pants off" the place if they just tossed them all in a single place with no supervision, because somebody would be seriously hurt or killed and it would not be funny then or later. The next thing that would happen would be that they'd send in the cops who would not be outwitted by smart-aleck children "and somebody might get shot."

Finally would come the opinion that in an emergency like a massive blizzard, what everybody has to do is work together, especially at Christmas, to be unselfish and not cause trouble, and to remember that the airport people are responsible for anything that happens on their property and they are going to do their best to make sure nothing bad happens.

In point of fact I spent Christmas 2004 in the Memphis airport, stranded both by bad weather and a wildcat baggage handlers strike, and at no point did anybody run wild in the airport. The one woman having a screaming tantrum in baggage claim because she couldn't find her car seat was surrounded by airport security who were treating her with the firm advice to calm herself that Mama would have used on any of us that behaved the same way, except they were not threatening to put her outside in the snow and see if she liked that better. People worked together and the airport did all it could to make us comfortable. (Northwest Airlines, however, were buttheads, telling us that they did not care if it was Christmas Day or Judgment Day, they had no responsibility and screw off, and I will never fly with them again.)

Contrary to the popular movie perception and in contrast to what every child knows, people running amok in an emergency is not funny; it is simply wrong. Especially at Christmas.
-- Kate Shaw

Re: Paul Chesser's Repentance Lost and Roger D. McKinney's letter (under "Repentance Found") in Reader Mail's Passions and Composure:

The scriptural quotes provided in the article "Repentance Lost" to support the argument that homosexual acts are sinful and that those who perform them and/or other deadly sins need repentance are certainly appropriate and need frequent repetition to ensure that they are not forgotten in the battle against the ongoing push to overturn the norms of nature and society. However, more relevant, timeless, even prophetic scriptures can help explain why so many people are deceiving themselves in our ever-increasingly "God-free" age. The first chapter of St. Paul's letter to the Romans spells it out as clearly and unambiguously as the nose on your face.

The relevant portion runs from verse 17 and continues through verse 32. For brevity, I only quote portions, but the text should be read in its entirety to understand why so many people now think it is quite fine to do those things that were unspeakable only a generation ago. Says Paul (NAB):

17 ...
19 The wrath of God is indeed being revealed from heaven against every impiety and wickedness of those who suppress the truth by their wickedness.
20 For what can be known about God is evident to them, because God made it evident to them.
21 ...
25 They exchanged the truth of God for a lie and revered and worshiped the creature rather than the creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.
26 Therefore, God handed them over to degrading passions. Their females exchanged natural relations for unnatural,
27 and the males likewise gave up natural relations with females and burned with lust for one another. Males did shameful things with males and thus received in their own persons the due penalty for their perversity.
28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God handed them over to their undiscerning mind to do what is improper.
32 Although they know the just decree of God that all who practice such things deserve death, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.

Lack of repentance is only a symptom of what has been lost. It is the understanding of the relationship between the created and the Creator that has fallen on hard times. First things first. More power to those who, like the subjects of Mr. McKinney's letter, recognize the Truth and are willing to wage battle with their temptations in the never-ending quest to align their lives with It.
-- Patrick Minnis
Yorktown, Virginia

Paul should stop citing English translations as though they are the inspired infallible word. The word homosexual was not even coined until the 19th century so it is quite problematic to use it when translating the original Greek. Similar problems arise for the word sodomite. The word used in the Greek here has no relation to the Hebrew word for Sodom, and there is no Greek word for Sodom. One must remember that the biases and the prejudices of the translators interfere with the transmission of the original meaning of the Greek, and that the translators received no special revelation any more than a translator of the Iliad or Odyssey. Only the original texts are the inspired word of God.

There is no direct English translation for the word arsenokoites (Paul C. rendered it as homosexuals). It is not found anywhere else in Greek literature and therefore is usually assumed to be a word Paul (the apostle) coined that would have direct meaning for his hearers, but may not have made much sense when taken in its composite parts (much like the term homophobe in the modern vernacular means hostility toward homosexuals, but when interpreted simply by its composite parts means fear of sameness).

The word malakos (Paul C. rendered this one as sodomites) directly translates to the English "soft". This word carries all of the same meanings of the English word soft and has in various English translations of the passage you cited been translated as effeminate. However, when Christ uses the very same word here, "that they who wear soft clothing are in king's courts" (Matt. 11: 8) no one interprets this as saying that king's courts are full of drag queens. The obvious textual clue here is royalty's fondness for finery.

In 1Cor there is no such textual clue for either arsenokoites or malakos. Malakos could just as legitimately be translated as cowardly. The scripture often speaks of those who turn away due to persecution as eternally lost, and the church was undergoing great persecution at this time. Only the bias of the translators could insist that this is the only possible way to interpret this passage.

These textual concerns are the actual root of much of the debate between evangelical churches that hold to conservative theology and still accept homosexuality and those conservative churches that do not. This is not the classic "cafeteria Christianity" of liberal theology. Paul C. does a disservice to everyone when he sets up straw men instead of dealing with the actual argument. The argument in this case being that the scripture does not condemn same sex attraction or relationships. Many who would argue that same sex erotic relations are not condemned would argue that anal sex is prohibited based on the OT writings and classical understanding Romans 1. This passage is today used to condemn gay men and lesbians, but for centuries before it was thought to condemn anal sex whether male to male or male to female (which would take away any scriptural basis for condemning same sex female activity since there is no mention of it in the OT or anywhere else in the NT) The argument is not that we can ignore the scripture in order to accept everybody or that sin can go unrepented, but that homosexuality is not sin and is not presented as one in the original scripture. You owe your readers open honest discussion, not straw men and question begging.

Let us also remember that Jesus told those who in his day exploited religion for political power (the Pharisees) that they would have it worse on the day of judgement than would the people of Sodom.
-- Michael D. Harding

Re: Jeffrey Lord's Reagan and the Art of Leadership:

I have been waiting for months, maybe years, for Mr. Lord's article. I remember some years ago Ed Meese said something like "There were times during the Reagan administration when the only Reaganite in the White House was Ronald Reagan himself." I do believe President Bush is facing similar isolation, and I desperately hope he doesn't cave. I hope someone, everyone, in the White House reads Mr. Lord's article.

I wish you would print it in pamphlet form and hand it out on street corners. Everyone needs to read it.
-- John R. Matthews
Abilene, Texas

Mr. Lord does a nice job of reminding us of why Ronald Reagan was a great President, but he fails to realize that President Bush is following in his political mentor's footsteps by NEVER raising taxes (not a fact of the Reagan legacy), calling for a guest worker program, ignoring the complaints of the left and right on a host of issues and refusing to surrender to Islamic imperialism despite the cacophony of defeatism among liberals, the media and too many conservatives. We are NOT losing in Iraq and if we do the fault rests squarely in the laps of the same American public that snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in Vietnam.

To conservatives falling for the media BS about Iraq please educate yourselves before parroting their gloom and doom. As a Marine Colonel recently told his deploying Marines, "I knew I was doing a good job in Iraq and that we were winning until I came home and watched the news and heard the opposite from people who are too stupid or dishonest to tell the truth." Oorah!

I know like most Americans many conservatives are bored and think we could "win" this thing if we'd just raze the country or actually fight Not only would razing the country insure defeat in Iraq, but it would unnecessarily widen the war. To those who think that would be a good idea, do you really believe America would support fighting Syria and Iran if they don't have the will for a long war in Iraq? As to fallacy that we're not fighting in Iraq, don't say that to a Devil Dog on his 6th deployment. Sometimes conservatives are just as insulting to the military as liberals.

Rather than offering unneeded strategic and tactical advice please do the one thing you can do and support the President. That would go a long way in restoring public confidence in a war we are winning.
-- Michael Tomlinson
Jacksonville, North Carolina

Re: Russell Seitz's letter (under "Frost Warnings") in Reader Mail's Passions and Composure:

My thanks to Mr. Seitz for clarifying the long-term issues regarding CO2 stability. My only follow-up question would be in regards to his statement that CO2 only lasts "decades" before ending up as limestone or biomass. I'm assuming in the case of biomass that Mr. Seitz is referring to plants processing CO2 and getting bigger (why can't people just SAY that?) while producing lots of O2. So the question: is the issue that the conversion "process" doesn't occur fast enough? If one looks at the equation CO2 = limestone + biomass +O2, it looks like the end result of 200 billion tons of CO2 supposedly eructated from man-made causes is a lot of rock, a lot of grass to cut, and lot of good air to breathe. Maybe we're just making a lot of oil for whatever humans are left here in 65 million years....

As far as why I said Mr. Seitz was a global warming advocate. It's because he calls those who disagrees with the theory contrarians, at best. Perhaps I'm in error and Mr. Seitz is only using the word in the sense of referring to those who don't agree with global warming. If that's the case, then I withdraw my accusation that Mr. Seitz in an advocate, perhaps he's just a contrarian (from my perspective). But I'll take his advice on word usage.

As far as "faith based" belief is concerned, I've seem more that a fair share of that from the global warming advoca... excuse me, contrarians. One need only look at the Weather Channel for a day and you'll find they make an almost constant case for the issue. I get tired of them constantly reporting deviations from the "average" without any reference to other factors, such as variance or standard deviation. Sure, most people don't understand those concepts, but there ARE ways to present the data without the aim of scaring the crap out of people. Unless that's your intent.

There's one commercial for a show called "The Climate Code" hosted by Dr. Heidi Cullen, proclaimed "expert." (How does one become a climate expert?) In the commercial some kid asks "why was last January the warmest on record?" The simple answer is "because!" Looking at one small data point in a "series" of unknown length is the height of folly, a "witch hunt" when there isn't a witch.

And I'll fondly remember the Fall-long emotional highs and lows as their announcers followed every low-pressure system off Africa anticipating a new hurricane. The inevitable disappointment was enlightening.

The "predicted" hurricane season of 2006 didn't appear, and I wonder what scare tactic will be used next season. There are reports that the oceans are cooling, though I suppose I should question those to avoid being accused of faith-based opinions. CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere were MUCH higher in the past, and life didn't end as a result. Some of the current warming advocates were recent (in a geological sense, at least) global COOLING advocates, and found no problem changing direction when required. Add to that the fact that a lot of their gloom and doom predictions have not come true, and it should be obvious why there are a lot of people who haven't bought into the contrarian GW theory.

Nature isn't static; it's constantly in flux. From what I can ascertain, whether from observation or "faith," the climate is always either cooling or warming and never at the same rate. The GW contrarians seem to want to both accept this and ignore this at the same time.

There, I feel better.
-- Karl F. Auerbach
Eden, Utah

Something I have never understood about the ozone hole CFC wrangling. How can a much heavier than air molecule like CFC released at low pressure at ground level manage to climb many miles into the stratosphere and also pass from the Northern Hemisphere to the Southern Hemisphere and then this "phenomenally stable -- Freon-12" breaks down right where it is needed to release it's chlorine and destroy the stratospheric ozone over the South Pole.

I can understand how HCl shot out of a huge volcano in Antarctica can show up as chlorine in the stratosphere above Antarctica and affect the ozone there. That is understandable. The believing other is more of a "act of faith" than of reason.
-- Geoff Bowden
Battle Creek, Michigan

Re: Frost's letter (under "Pacifiers") in Reader Mail's Passions and Composure:

Frost is entitled to his views on pacifism, and I myself don't claim that it is the appropriate position to take in all situations. If we haven't learned anything else by now, we should at least know that aggression begets aggression, and it is usually a mistake to think that one ethnic group can indefinitely subjugate another that has equal claims to a region without expecting a violent backlash. We can't know what the present situation regarding Israel and its neighbors might be if its leaders had more closely resembled Mahatma Gandhi than Ariel Sharon. Pacifists can be as shrewd as anyone. It is simplistic to suggest that every pacifist is a reincarnation of Neville Chamberlain.

My primary point is that the U.S. has been dragged into conflicts in the Middle East that it could just as easily have ignored, with no significant negative consequences. If the region didn't contain the largest known oil reserves in the world and Christ had been born in Lithuania, we would have about as much interest in Israel as we have in Tasmania. That is why I reject the meddling by AIPAC and other pro-Israeli organizations in our foreign policy. I agree that Carter is not the most compelling thinker on this issue, and you would do better to check out this link. That article's main subject is liberal sellouts, but I fully concur with all of Judt's views. It is a great shame that there are so few thinkers of his caliber writing today.
-- Abe Grossman
Pleasantville, New York

Re: Ben Stein's Dinner With the Bushes:

Ben is right, this is the greatest country in the world and that is why everyone wants to live here! Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukah to all and especially to the members of our armed forces, their families and loved ones!
-- Patrick R. Spooner, P.E.
Windham, New Hampshire

Re: Frank Natoli's letter (under "Why Dresden?") in Reader Mail's Passions and Composure:

A great letter on several levels.

I am recommending my high school English teacher son share it with his students as a great example of thoughtful, economic writing.

All the Best,
-- Randy Ferrari
Western Springs, Illinois

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