Saturday, March 29, 2008

Twisted Truth

Some day, psychologists will conclude that conservatism is caused by a personality disorder; at least regarding conservatives who don't belong in the top 0.0001% income bracket. I am quite confident of that. And one of the symptoms of this disorder is projection, or seeing their own personality flaws in everyone else.

I'm dealing with one such wacko right now on my post on Obama's pastor. Not only is this guy accusing me of all the things he continues to do, but it's obvious that his entire debate schtick consists of him regurgitating material people have used effectively against him, but without him understanding what the words meant. Like when he continues to insist I'm playing games with semantics, when we haven't had any sort of semantic debate at all. It's obvious he just thinks that's some accusation you use against somebody when they won't agree with you. He also thought my use of the word "nutjob" to describe him in a non-debate setting consisted of an ad hominem argument. It took me awhile just to convince him it was a basic insult and nothing more. His arguments are bad enough as it is; ad hominem is the least of his worries.

And the funniest part about him is that there really is no basis for any of his arguments, other than that he's right. Everything else he writes stems from that one basic point. He's right and all the liberals who debate him are irrational hypocrites who "obfuscate" and "prevaricate" because they aren't admitting that he's right. I'm telling you, if you're bored and into that kind of thing, I recommend reading the comment board on that. But...don't feed the guy unless you really want to go down the rabbit hole. You've been warned.

Only the Facts

And I was thinking about that now when I went to Snopes and read yet another of those crazy ass emails that rightwingers send around to prove how right they are. And I think these play a much larger part in why these people are so ignorant than they're given credit for.

This one was all about criticizing liberals and the media for distorting the number of deaths caused by Bush's blunderous war. It has a list of military causalities from 1980 to 2006, which they took from a CRS Report for Congress(PDF) and supposedly shows that 14,000 soldiers died during Clinton's presidency, while only 7,033 died during Bush's. And you can just guess at what this was supposed to indicate.

I quote from the email:
These figures indicate that many members of our Media and our Politicians will pick and choose. They present only those "facts" which support their agenda-driven reporting. Why do so many of them march in lock-step to twist the truth? Where do so many of them get their marching-orders for their agenda?

And unless you can't guess, no, that's not what the numbers showed. In fact, it's entirely predictable that the numbers they cite were entirely bogus. First off, they completely excluded 1985 - 1987. No explanation for that. But even worse, they added an extra 6,607 deaths to Clinton's numbers, while excluding 1,759 from Bush's numbers. And finally, the numbers they cite are the total number of deaths from any cause, including homicide, suicide, and illness; not just war-related deaths. Twisting the truth, indeed.

And so rather than showing that there were almost twice as many soldier deaths during Clinton's presidency (which was a longer period anyway), we see that there were 7,500 deaths under Clinton and 8,792 under Bush. And remember, this only went through 2006. Snopes says that over 1,000 troop deaths happened in Iraq and Afghanistan alone in 2007, and doesn't include non-war related deaths. So there were many more deaths during eight years of Clinton as seven years of Bush. And this compares to 17,201 deaths under Reagan and 6,223 under Bush Sr.

Just to even things out, here are the annual averages per president:

Reagan - 2,150
Bush Sr - 1,556
Clinton - 938
Bush Jr - 1,465

And to be fair to Reagan and Bush Sr, I suspect the reason deaths went down for Clinton is because the total size of our military went down. Reagan averaged 666,219 more total troops than Clinton did; while Bush only had 28,080 more troops than Clinton.

Here are average troop deaths as a percentage of average size of military:
Reagan: 0.094%
Bush Sr: 0.071%
Clinton: 0.057%
Bush Jr: 0.088%

And whether or not you're as into number crunching as I am, it seems one thing is clear: The guy who wrote that email was totally full of shit. In every conceivable way, Clinton's numbers looked better than any of the four presidents; while Bush Jr seems to be reversing a trend. Oh, and just so you know, I'm excluding Carter from this completely, as the numbers only had one year of his, which isn't enough to establish a trend.

Hostile Death

But of course, total military deaths really isn't the number the person was going for. I mean, if the whole issue is anti-war people complaining about war-related deaths, then you'd think that only war-related deaths would be of concern. But perhaps the person who wrote it just didn't know where to find the more appropriate number, which was all the way on the next page of the report they were reading. And if they had so hard a time that they couldn't include every year or get the numbers right, it probably was a bit over their head to look at the right table. We should just be thankful that they actually used any numbers at all, rather than their gut feelings on this stuff.

Table 5 of that report shows cause of deaths, such as Accidents, Hostile Action, and Terrorist Attack. And surprise, surprise, Bush Jr also has the worst numbers if we focus on Hostile Deaths and Terrorist Attacks. And again, this only goes through 2006.

Here they are, with Hostile Deaths first, followed by Terrorist Attacks (my apologies for not making a proper table):
Reagan - 58 293
Bush Sr - 170 2
Clinton - 1 75
Bush Jr - 2,596 55

And there we have it. Four presidents, and the Democratic president has the fewest soldiers killed, and Bush Jr's numbers were super high; just as you'd expect to see. But of course, Clinton averaged the fewest deaths too, so this just makes sense. As usual, it appears the Democrat knows how to make things safer, while the Republicans don't.

But all the same, you can bet that there were lots of folks who have read that email and have accepted every word of it. They probably don't even think about it. It's all part of their background facts. And what the hell was the dude who wrote this thinking? I mean, how can anyone knowingly falsify this stuff while acting all snotty about it? But I suppose it's the same thing we're dealing with from Bush, as well as the nutjob commenter who keeps harassing me with his ridiculous arguments: They start from the position of knowing they're right, and justify everything from that.

For them, it's not a matter of uncovering the truth. It's just about finding the right argument, facts, or anecdotes to demonstrate their mastery of reality; even if their arguments are laughable, their facts are wrong, and their anecdotes pointless. They know they're right, and the fact that you don't already agree just shows how irrational you are because all the smart people already know it's true. Mental disease.

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