04/26/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

High-Tech Luddites and Stupid Number Tricks

Guess what? That volcano in Alaska just exploded again - twice, in fact. The Associated Press reports that "the larger burst (sent) an ash cloud 65,000 feet in the air." Oh ... and the ash was "razor-sharp."

No doubt critics will renew their carping about Bobby Jindal's use of "something called volcano monitoring" as a laugh line in his response to the President's speech before Congress last month. "What Congress should be monitoring is the eruption of spending in Washington," he said. Some will point out that airliners could have flown into these ash clouds had there been no monitoring, causing considerable loss of life.

They may well add that the self-proclaimed "pro-business" party seems unaware that businesses need some warning in order to protect their inventory from a rain of "razor-sharp ash," or they could experience billions in losses.

But I'm struck by something else: These anti-technology sentiments were delivered with the finest technology known to humanity. From teleprompters to television cameras, the GOP used countless scientific discoveries in order to get Gov. Jindal's message to the American public. Why, they even used the Internet, which was created as the result of a government-funded research project to improve the flow of data traffic between computers (back when computers were rare).

I can just imagine what Bobby Jindal would've said back then: "Congress would be smarter to improve the flow of data traffic between its ears."

And John McCain's been using Twitter, the latest fad technology from that silly traffic-flow machinery, to make fun of scientific allocations in the Federal budget. "900,000 for fish management - how does one manage a fish?"

Note to Sen. McCain: Americans spent $42 billion last year for recreational fishing, and the NOAA says commercial fishing contributed $28 billion to the U.S. economy. Fish imports are second only to oil. We import more than 60% of our seafood, creating a trade deficit of more than $7 billion annually.

Sounds like a little "management" is in order, don't you think?

But it's the Twitter part of this story that gets me. Once again the anti-science crowd is using the fruits of scientific labor to get its message out. It's as if the original Luddites, those factory-destroying rebels from 19th Century Britain, decided to destroy those industrial looms ... with a steam engine.

And the Luddites had a genuine economic complaint. These folks are just doing it to get votes. Here's a suggestion: If you don't like science, send your next anti-science message by carrier pigeon.

They're playing games with numbers, too. I just heard it again: Congress has voted so much money for the stimulus bill that you would have to spend a million dollars a days since Jesus was born just to match it.

This is what we might call a "stupid number trick." It's a way of taking figures from one class of measurement - in this case, a calendar - and combining them with another for simple shock effect. In the case of this video, they also juxtaposed well-loved Jesus images with a clip of Sen. Chuck Schumer, who has a pronounced New York Jewish accent.

(Wonder why they picked him?)

The "every day since Jesus was born" idea makes it sound really big. But let's play with it a little: Let's suppose you started a town and added one person for every single day since Jesus was born. What would you get? You'd get a city smaller than Charlotte, NC. And what if you bought 18 cars a day, every day since ... well, you know when. You wouldn't have as many cars as pass over the freeways of Los Angeles in a typical 24-hour period.

Let's do a little more with numbers. The "million dollars a day since Jesus" comment was first made by Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. 18,000 Americans die every year from lack of health insurance, according to the National Academies of Science. McConnell and his allies have been fighting universal coverage since he entered politics in 1967.

So if you allowed a sick man, woman, or child to die in front of your eyes every day since Jesus was born, you still would not have caused as many deaths as have been caused by GOP policies during Mitch McConnell's career.

Remind me: What did Jesus say about the Good Samaritan?

Then there's the cost of the Iraq war. If you spent a million dollars a day killing people in the Nazarene's part of the world you still wouldn't have spent as much as we've spent on this war. And while we're on the subject, nearly two million Iraqis have become war refugees and half of them are children.

If you drove one child from his home every day since Jesus was born, that still wouldn't be as many children as have been made homeless by this war.

Then there's the $12 billion in cash that the Bush administration lost to corruption during the occupation (and that's just what we know about). If you lost $18,000 in cash from your wallet every day since Jesus was born ... Yep. You guessed it. That's how much they lost in this snafu alone.

Let's do one last number trick. Let's calculate what it will cost per person for all of us to pay for that "fish management" project that Sen. McCain mocked, and what it has cost so far for us to pay for the war that he so strongly supported:

Estimated per-capita cost of Iraq war (to date): $1,975.63
Estimated per-capita cost of fish study: $0,000.03

And the fish study may actually make us safer.

RJ Eskow blogs when he can at:

A Night Light
The Sentinel Effect: Healthcare Blog

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