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Monday 17 April 2017

President Trump's Taxing Returns

I'm breaking a promise I made not to target overly-political figures on this blog - especially since Trump is such an easy target. Seriously, I don't even have a category for politics and I really don't want to be the author of a bash-Trump blog; however, today is the exception because the smoke-and-mirrors routine this time by the President is just a bit too far into the prevarication range...

The Trump quotes and Trump tweet quotes used here are from:
/trump-blasts-tax-day-protests-says-election-is-over.html (accessed April 16 and April 18, 2017)
and also
/?utm_term=.70bec08b3d90 (accessed April 18, 2017).

So let's take a quick sample of some Trump tweets from the Fox News article. Here's what got me interested in this subject: the article headline, which implies so much.

Trump blasts Tax Day protests, says 'election is over!'

Did you catch the inference here? The Fox article wants you to think that Trump is declaring the whole tax return disclosure issue to be one solely related to presidential elections. So the first the question we should be asking is: did the President really make this inference? To examine that, we need first to review what happened over the weekend.

There's a group out there called They organized a number of protest marches to agitate for the release of President Trump's tax returns. You can check their website out at (assessed April 18, 2017). Most of those marches had some small turn-outs, though the one in Berkeley on Saturday ended up with arrests and some noise in the news media. A friend of mine who is a retired UC Berkeley research scientist posted up photos he took of the fracas, which appeared to show a situation a bit more ambivalent than what we get delivered in the news. Be that as it may, the point is there were some protest marches in various high-profile locations across the country: none of them very large but several of them gaining news coverage, which after all, is the point of such exercises. It's bread-and-butter attention-getting techniques for grass-roots style political protests and business like usual for this sort of thing.

According to the Fox news article, President Trump reacted to the tax return protests with a couple of tweets. The first one said:

Someone should look into who paid for the small organized rallies yesterday. The election is over!

I opine that if this is what Fox News took as the inference behind their headline, then it's a bit sideways. Reading that tweet without any other referents, I personally would take it as an inference that well-heeled Trump antagonists were behind the protests and not as an inference that protests to release his tax returns are unnecessary because the election is over. Given the our President is often obtuse in many of his tweets, I would take the line about the election as a bit of a non-sequitor in the absence of any other related material that might clarify the reference.

Alas poor President Trump: he provided related material. He provided an additional tweet on Saturday to clarify the situation:

I did what was an almost an impossible thing to do for a Republican-easily won the Electoral College! Now Tax Returns are brought up again?

It was so nice of the President to provide us with that second tweet. I think it is indeed clear now that the Fox news headline was dead on the money: Trump really is making a statement that the whole tax return disclosure issue is one related to presidential elections and should now be a dead issue as a consequence. To bad he's dead wrong on the internet one this matter. To elucidate, we will now look at the history of tax return disclosures of both presidential candidates and of US presidents.

Here are the facts, folks: Presidents have commonly disclosed their tax returns or less-commonly disclosed summaries of tax return information to the public since the the 1970s. It all began with Nixon. Remember Nixon? Well, I remember Nixon but I'm probably giving away too much information on how old I am. Anyway, With Watergate breaking out in the news, Nixon made an unfortunate gaff about his federal taxes. Given his declining popularity, there was an increasing demand from both press and public for Nixon to disclose his return. Nixon protested he was under audit but that did not avail. He eventually caved in and disclosed his returns. You can read all about this interesting episode at the Tax History Project website, at:
(accessed 17 April 2017).

While we're on the subject of Nixon, let's revisit the news back in August. That's when candidate Trump stated he would not release his tax return until the IRS was done with its audit of said return. Just to jog your collective memory, here's a Bloomberg article about the subject: (accessed 17 April 2017).

Basically, there's nothing holding Trump back from disclosing his returns, not even audits, other than his refusal. The IRS doesn't care if a return under audit is disclosed because it has no influence on the audit process. The only that matters to the IRS is that the return was signed by Trump when it was submitted, to certify "Under penalties of perjury, I declare that I have examined this return and accompanying schedules and statements, and to the best of my knowledge and belief, they are true, correct, and complete."

So what's the big deal about not disclosing because of an audit? The big deal is that there's no big deal here. It's the law ever since the 1970s that the President's tax return is audited every complete year he or she is in office. Add to this another little fact that every president since Nixon has disclosed their returns despite every one of those returns being under active audit. The nitty gritty details on that are all on the website (under the "Presidential Returns" tab).

Now what about the tax returns of presidential candidates? Again, visiting website will show that just about every major party candidate since the 1970s has disclosed their tax returns. Donald Trump is really looking like the odd man out here. I find it is useful at this point to review some of the things Trump has said about his returns. Pulling from a compilation of Trump quotes made by the Washington Post, back in 2014, Trump said:

he would “absolutely” release returns “if I decide to run for office.”

In January, 2016, we find:

(Trump) Said he was ready to disclose his “very big … very beautiful” returns.

In February, 2016, he said:

he would release returns “probably over the next few months.”

In May, 2016, he said:

“release my tax returns when audit is complete, not after election!”

In July we heard:

“Mr. Trump has said that his taxes are under audit and he will not be releasing them.”

In that same month, we also heard from Mr. Trump that:

“I haven’t had much pressure (to release tax returns). I’ll be honest, most people don’t care.”

At what point do we need to ship this man a shovel? When every US President for the last 40 years has disclosed tax returns or return summaries despite being audited every year, and when all the presidential candidates disclose their returns or return summaries regardless of any audit activity, some of Trump's verbage on this subject begins to lose some traction, at least for me. Maybe it's fair to play presidential comparisons here: the last US President and Vice President to protest they would not publicly disclose their tax returns were "I am not a crook" Nixon and his guilty-of-tax-evasion vice president Spiro Agnew. In the end, their tax returns were disclosed as part of the vain attempts to salvage Nixon's presidency. Nixon's attempt to dodge the capital gains tax on the sale of his New York apartment showed up in those disclosed returns and the audit on that attempted dodge went against Nixon. That's in the Nixon article cited above. It's pretty interesting reading. So the only person to try to dodge the disclosure bullet since Nixon is Trump and does he really want to be compared to Nixon?

What makes this fodder for this blog right now is his insinuation that the disclosure of tax returns is a presidential candidate issue and not a presidential issue. I think the disclosure of US President returns for over 40 years despite mandatory obligatory IRS audits every year gives the lie to Trump's inference. Your own milage may vary.

As I said, nailing politicians on their foot-in-mouth disease on the internet is just too easy to be decent material for my blog.

Wednesday 22 February 2017

Horatio Admiral Nelson, Salesman and Québécois Legislator

The VipFaq website is always good for a laugh. We've covered the amazing celebrity gossip aggregator website before on this blog because, really, it can be so very wrong on the internet in some really side-splitting ways. What the VipFaq aggregator attempts to do is collect gossip about celebrities and put them in one place. It makes occasional mistakes when it manages to insert historical figures into its aggregator datebase of famous people.

Today's offering from the VipFaq is from

I will leave it to the reader to weigh just how wrong it is. But put the drink down first and don't try to eat anything either. Here it is:

Who is Horatio Admiral Nelson? Biography, gossip, facts?

Horatio Admiral Nelson (October 22 1816 - December 24 1882) was an American-born merchant manufacturer and political figure in Quebec. He represented Montréal-Centre in the Legislative Assembly of Quebec from 1878 to 1881 as a Liberal. He was born in Richmond New Hampshire the son of Ezekiel Nelson and Ruth Harkins and was educated in the United States. Nelson was a travelling salesman until 1841 when he settled in Montreal. In 1841 he married Maria D. Davison.

Just in case you have forgotten what Nelson was famous for, here's a pic of the Battle of Trafalgar mural in the Houses of Parliament

Thursday 22 September 2016

The Great Plains???

I really should make a new category just for mistakes of geography.

Today's target of journalistic foot-in-mouth is an article in the internet version of the magazine The Nation. The article in question is dated 22 September, 2016, by one Brian Ward and titled "Native Americans Are Fighting a New but Familiar Battle at Standing Rock." (ref:

I confess that today I might be suffering from a little bias...though not in respect to today's target mistake on the internet.

Before I anger half my friends, let me just disclaim at the start that I have a great deal of sympathy and understanding for Native American rights, and I say that as someone whose family has owned property surrounded by the Standing Rock Reservation with some knowledge of what the Sioux tribes have endured. My real complaints here are about the ignorance and laziness of many journalists and environmental activists - though I admit that the latter is an opinion, though one that I have formed as a professional environmental scientist.

Now I'm being quite restrained, actually, with respect to this article because I acknowledge that the author has his own opinions about what constitutes Native American property rights and the status of treaty lands in the American West, and also has his own opinions about what constitutes a danger to a water supply. I'm not going to digress that the history between the Sioux and the government of the USA is not as simple or black-and-white as this author paints, nor am I going to discuss the fact that he leaves out several of the precipitating events in the war between the Sioux and allied tribes and the US Army in latter half of the 1870s. I may decide at some point to write a separate blog post about why the pipeline construction discussed in this article is not a danger to the water supply of the Standing Rock Reservation, but that's for another day. After all, it's so much fun trying to convince the scientifically illiterate that there are these things called facts...

The funny odor you detect right now is the sweet smell of sarcasm.

No, today's target is the following statement from the above-mentioned article:

"in 1876, the Great Plains was home to the Battle of the Little Big Horn"

Let's skip over the incorrect verb tense as an act of charity and notch up the mispelling of "Little Bighorn" to an honest and easily-made mistake. The problem I have with this statement is that the Battle of the Little Bighorn was not on the Great Plains. The battle was in the intermountain valley of the Little Bighorn River. The Little Bighorn River flows out of the foothills of the Bighorn Mountains called the Rosebud Range and down its own little floodplain valley between the Little Wolf Mountains and the much larger Bighorn Mountains. Here's a picture of the geography of the region looking west-southwest, snatched from and annotated in Google Earth:


The Little Wolf Mountains are in the foreground. The Bighorn Mountains are in the background. The Valley of the Little Bighorn River is between the two. The field of view is from the approximate location of Miles City.

Sadly, I expect that most environmentalist activists make a mess of history and are usually uneducated about real environmental science, but is it too much to ask to at least get the geography right?

Sunday 2 August 2015

In the Market for a Shiny Object?

Today's offering to the Blog God is something I spotted on Amazon. After ordering a new pair of bike gloves, Amazon tried to tempt me with other things to buy. The very first of those things to buy was a "Portland Design Works Shiny Object." I'm not making this up! Here's a screen dump of the shiny object:


What really had me rolling on the floor was the customer review rating of four and a half stars! I had no idea that shiny objects were in such demand that there were 210 customer reviews, mostly favorable. The next time I need a shiny object, I now know who makes them and where I can buy one.

Of course, if you know bikes, you may recognize that this is a gizmo that fits over a tire valve. In this case, this is the end to a CO2 inflation gadget. In fact, if you click the link for the shiny object, you go to its webpage on Amazon where you can see the whole title of the shiny object, which is "Portland Design Works Shiny Object CO2 Inflator."

Of course, what happened here is that the last two words of the product description were cut off on the strip display box that Amazon showed me. That makes today's example of being wrong on the internet a failure of web page formatting curtesy of Amazon's CSS code...

Monday 19 January 2015

How Not To Be An Atheist

Today's post is about the Facebook graphic shown below from on the Facebook page of a group at These folks are out there on the liberal fringe - so far out, in fact, that they advocate that everyone should eschew the technology of the modern world and go live off-grid on self-supporting homesteads. Ideologically, the folks on this facebook page are true communistic anarchists - complete with a strategy of destroying modern society by refusing to participate in it, by walking away and ignoring it in a true anarchistic fashion. They are against all governments and all religions. As they are Marxists, they advocate atheism so it isn't a stretch that the following was posted to their facebook page during November 2013:


I'm not going to address the ideology of these folks at all or even say anything about believing or not believing in any religion. Today, I am merely going to point out the copious errors about the King James Bible (KJB) from this Facebook post. Frankly, if the author of this FB graphic-full-of-errors wanted to successfully promote atheism, he or she should have at least done enough research on biblical translation and the creation of the KJB to get the facts right.

The information I'm using today is so mainstream that most of it is from the Encyclopedia Britannica. The author of this Facebook graphic really has no excuse since correct information from universally-acknowledged authoritative sources is easily accessed on the internet. In a way, I think the author of this gem is doubly damned since even the Wikipedia entries on the KJB and the oldest biblical manuscripts are really very good.

Let us deconstruct the text of this Facebook graphic.

"The King James version of the New Testament was completed in 1611 by 8 members of the Church of England."

For the KJB, the translation of the Gospels, Acts and the Apocalypse was done by a committee of 10 scholars. The translation of the Epistles was done by a committee of 7 scholars. So the number of translators for the New Testament was 17, not 8. As for the Jewish scriptures compiled into the Old Testament and the Apocrypha, those were translated by four committees of some 35 additional scholars. When the translations were complete, they were peer reviewed by a committee of four known and several unknown scholars who were not on the original translation committees. The work of producing the KJB took 6 years and produced something that's rather mind-boggling: the only work of great literature ever produced by a committee.

"There were (and still are) no original texts to translate."

Okay, this is a bit underhanded. It certainly is true that there are no original texts to translate so long as one is clear that the texts under question are those known as autographs, i.e. texts in the handwriting of the actual authors. On one hand, yes, not having originals is a problem, especially from the point of view of our literate and lettered 21st century modern society were the written word is taken as the highest form of reliable evidence for everything. "He said, she said..." is always trumped by "get it in writing."

The lack of original autographs of New Testament works - or Old Testament works - is problematic but it's a problem that is universal for almost every manuscript source in existence. No written work from Antiquity exists in autograph manuscript form - not a single one. Not the Bible, not Cicero, not Caesar, not the Koran, not the Lotus Sutra, not the I Ching, not Confucius, not Homer, not Ibn Batuta, not even a single play of Shakespeare exists as an original in the hand of its author. The entire edifice of classical (i.e. from Antiquity) western learning rests completely on copied texts because before the printing press, everything eventually existed as a copy.

To protest that the validity of a text can be challenged on the basis that the only surviving manuscripts are copies and not originals is a bad argument. The implied argument here is that because copies can be errant, all texts that rely on copies are errant; however, the potential for errors in a copy does not make any particular work of literature invalid. Now one can argue further that the possibility of copying errors is sufficient to cast doubt on any work that relies on copies but that's actually specious.

Certainly, there are problems with any written text that has come down to us from antiquity because copyists make mistake and always have. In addition, when it comes to copying things that people consider to be scripture, a copyist who sees something in a text that is at odds with personal belief can be tempted to make changes in that text like changing an inconvenient word or adding a few lines here and there. In fact, we know this happened in certain ancient texts, like the ending of the Gospel of Mark and the gloss in Josephus's Jewish Antiquities about Jesus. We know about these because scholars have taken the time to assemble the oldest copies of ancient texts to compare them for the express purpose of finding additions and changes made by copyists through time.

One of the benefits of academic scholarship is that people who study ancient texts, literature and scripture - in all fields, not just biblical studies - find and publish their findings on texts which only exist today as copies. Because of the work of such scholars, we are able to know about changes and glosses in the works of antiquity. Some of this scholarship is hard to access, only appearing in academic journals or presented at conferences of scholars; however, because scriptures are important to a wide range of non-scholars, a lot of this scholarship on textual analysis of the Bible is available to the general public. For example, in superior publications of biblical texts, the kinds used in academic and congregational bible studies, you'll often find footnotes in the text to tell the reader there were variations of a word in different ancient manuscripts. For example, in my copy of the Revised Standard Version published by the Oxford University Press, the word "freed" in Rev. 1:5 has a footnoted alternative reading in some manuscripts of "washed." This alternative reading likely arises from a copying mistake of writing LUSANTI (freed) as LOUSANTI (washed).

The problem of mistakes, willful changes and additions to texts while copying is actually addressed in the New Testament itself, though you might not realize this. Here's the passage, which is the third to last sentence in the New Testament:

I warn every one who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if any one adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if any one takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.

It's St. John the Divine's curse to discourage copyists from making willful changes in his text. Personally, I suspect he was doing hallucinogenic mushrooms while on Patmos.

"The oldest manuscripts we have were written down hundreds of years after the last apostle died. There are over 8,000 of these old manuscripts, with no two alike."

Biblical Scholars date the writing of the Gospel of John before the reign of Trajan, which began in 98 AD. The oldest known fragment of the Gospel of John has a probably date of 117 to 138 AD. Most of the other New Testament books have fragments which date from the second century AD, though sadly, the earliest known fragment of the oldest Gospel, Mark, is dated to the third century AD. The reason that fragments can be identified is because their text matches more complete but more recent manuscripts. In a way, the existence of fragments is reassuring because it shows that copying drift in the text is not too bad. And consider that every new fragment or manuscript found improves all future translations.

There are four ancient bibles known as the four great uncial codices. They are: the Codex Sinaticus dated between 325 and 360 AD, the Codex Vaticanus dated between 325 and 350 AD, the Codex Alexandrinus dated between 400 and 440 AD, and the Codex Ephraemi dated ~450 AD. Most modern translations of the New Testament rely heavily on the Codices Sinaticus and Vaticanus.

Yes, there are thousands of surviving manuscripts and fragments. This wealth of surviving texts makes it possible for scholars to correct copyist mistakes that have crept in over the centuries. And yes, each manuscript or fragment is unique because each was written by hand. That's the nature of handwritten texts. But the author or authors of this Facebook graphic are insinuating that the differences are proof of errancy. That's the gimmick in this sort of argument. It works like this: the word of God should be inerrant because being God means being perfect - but because we can find errors in a Bible, that means it's not the word of God. This again is specious because to make this work, one must impose a precondition on God that God would intervene to insure the error-free transmission of the scriptures. If that unstated precondition is in force, then the existence of errors would imply that the bible was not the Word of God. The problem is that you can't assume that God would intervene to prevent human error. The absence of divine intervention is not proof of the absence of the divine.

"The King James translators used none of these, anyway. Instead they edited previous translations to create a version their king and parliament would approve."

My first quibble here is that many of the manuscripts and fragments we know about today were unknown in 1604 when the translators began their work on the KJB; however, the KJB translators did not just slap a bible together based on previous translations. That statement is just plain incorrect. They used multiple sources, including Greek and Hebrew biblical texts and rabbinical commentary on Hebrew scriptures as well as utilizing the Tyndale and 1572 Bishops' Bible as a base upon which they built the new translation. One of the sources that they relied upon the most was the Greek New Testament compiled by Theodore Beza. Beza's work relied heavily on previous compilations by both Erasmus and Estienne and also on a 400 AD New Testament, the Codex Bezae Cantabrigensis and a 550 AD New Testament, the Codex Claromontanus, both of which were among the oldest complete Greek New Testaments of their day. For the Old Testament, they used the Hebrew Rabbinical Bible published in 1525 by Venice printer Daniel Bomberg. In addition, they used the Vulgate in places. Basically, they obtained what they believed were the best resources at the time and used them to create the KJB translation.

The quip about the King and Parliament is a red herring.

"21st Century Christians believe the 'Word of God' is a book edited in the 17th century from 16th century translations of 8,000 contradictory copies of 4th centuries scrolls that claim to be copies of lost letters written in the 1st century."

I'm afraid my flabber is gasted here. Lost letters? I think the author is referring to the Epistles but the Epistles are only part of the New Testament and the New Testament doesn't include the Apocrypha or the Rabbinical Bible portions of the Christian Bible. Fourth century scrolls? Is the author referring to the Great Uncials? The Great Uncials are all codices. There are no surviving complete Bibles from antiquity in scroll form. I'm going to take issue with the author saying "claim to be copies." There's no claim here. We know the surviving oldest biblical texts are all copies and the existence of fragments consistent with younger whole texts shows that the chain of copying gets us to within 30 years of some of the original texts with some confidence that the essence of the originals is not lost to us.

The author of this piece has equated every single Christian with English-speaking Protestant biblical literalists and I don't think I need to detail just how wrong that it.

Frankly I've seen some brilliant anti-theodicy arguments in my day. This isn't one of them. All this FB spew has shown me is that someone didn't do their homework before spewing.

Post Script One

One of the most famous editions of the King James Bible is known as the Wicked Bible, printed in 1631. There was a typographical error in the Ten Commandments, where Exodus 20:14 reads:

Thou shalt commit adultery.

Post Script Two

For an excellent work on how errors sneak into scripture and how scholars ferret them out, try Misquoting Jesus by Prof. Bart Erhman. While Wikipedia has some really marginal pages in it, its article on early biblical manuscripts is really good. Check it out at:


  • Biblical literature. 2015. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Retrieved 19 January, 2015, from
  • Ehrman, B. D., 2005. Misquoting Jesus. Harper Collins Publishers. ISBN 0-06-073817-0.
  • Great Uncial Codices, 2015. Wikipedia Retrieved 19 January, 2015, from Retrieved 19 January, 2015, from
  • King James Version (KJV). 2015. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Retrieved 19 January, 2015, from
  • King James Version, 2015. Wikipedia Retrieved 19 January, 2015, from Retrieved 19 January, 2015, from
  • Norton, David, 2005. A Textual History of the King James Bible, Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-77100-5.
  • Rylands Library Papyrus P52, Wikipedia Retrieved 19 January, 2015, from Retrieved 19 January, 2015, from

Thursday 7 November 2013

The Great Obama Healthcare Cover-Up!

Today's subject is an article by Ann Coulter. Looking at the lead article on her website, Health Care for the Pushy, (, accessed 07 Nov 2013), I could not fail to notice several misstatements.

The premise of Coulter's article is that Obama lied about people being able to keep health insurance they like. Regardless if one agrees or disagrees with Coulter's opinion on Obamacare, she doesn't seem to have a good handle on her facts. For instance, she says:

Eighty-five percent of Americans were happy with their health care before Obamacare, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index -- higher than almost any other product or service polled.

Well, if you go and look at the American Customer Satisfaction Index (, accessed 07 Nov 2013), 72% of people with health insurance in 2012 were satisfied with what they had. If we consider that approximately 85% of Americans had some kind of health insurance in 2012 (ref:, accessed 07 Nov 2013), this means that approximately 61% of Americans had health insurance that they were happy with. I have no idea where Coulter got her numbers - certainly not from the American Customer Satisfaction Index.

In the first 100 words of Coulter's article she cites sources for two statements. The first is simply "Obama lied." Her citation link takes you to the page for her new book, Never Trust a Liberal Over 3, Especially a Republican. That crackling noise you hear is the sound of my mind boggling. I don't think can we hold up Ann Coulter as someone to emulate for her citation style though her marketing style has much to admire.

Coulter's second citation is attached to this statement:

Even without the 2010 Health and Human Services (HHS) report admitting that 93 million Americans would lose their health insurance, anyone with half a brain (which is a pre-existing condition) knew that millions of Americans would be thrown off their insurance plans under Obamacare.

That's quite a statement, and since Coulter was so obliged to provide a link as citation, of course I had to check it out. It turns out that Coulter's citation-by-link takes you not to a government report but to an October 31 article on the Forbes magazine website. The article is Obama Officials In 2010: 93 Million Americans Will Be Unable To Keep Their Health Plans Under Obamacare, in a regular column called The Apothecary by Avik Roy (, accessed 07 Nov 2013).

In the Forbes article, the author cites "an obscure" 2010 study in the Federal Register as support for his contention that:

Obama administration knew that Obamacare would disrupt private plans. If you read the Affordable Care Act when it was passed, you knew that it was dishonest for President Obama to claim that “if you like your plan, you can keep your plan,” as he did—and continues to do—on countless occasions. And we now know that the administration knew this all along. It turns out that in an obscure report buried in a June 2010 edition of the Federal Register, administration officials predicted massive disruption of the private insurance market.

The Forbes article bravely gives the reader a workable link to the study in the Federal Register and even goes so far as to quote and cite the study's contents by page:

The Departments’ mid-range estimate is that 66 percent of small employer plans and 45 percent of large employer plans will relinquish their grandfather status by the end of 2013,” wrote the administration on page 34,552 of the Register.

Have you ever spent time trying to read statutes and regulations issued by the federal government? My sympathy to those, like me, who have had to do so in pursuit of employment. (Frankly, if I never have to see another EPA rule on drinking water standards, I will die a happy camper.) It is well known that federal regulations have off-label uses for curing insomnia and driving mothers-in-law into long-term care in a sanatarium. The Federal Register document cited here is no exception.

If you visit page 34,552 of the 2010 Federal Register, what you will find is a page that's in the middle of an analysis to estimate how many grandfathered employer-provided health insurance plans would be retained or relinquished for new plans as a function of different market conditions. It looked at existing patterns of insurance plan turn-over, the availability of plans with more competitive pricing, annual increases in insurance costs and factors that might lead a small business to drop employee health insurance altogether, to name some of the variables examined.

It's worth looking at this section of the Federal Register document a little closer. Here's the section and sub-section titles:

Estimates of Number of Plans and Employees Affected
  1. . Methodology for Analyzing Plan Changes Over Time in the Group Market
  2. . Impacts on the Group Market Resulting From Changes From 2008 to 2009
  3. . Sensitivity Analysis: Assuming That Employers Will Be Willing To Absorb a Premium Increase in Order To Remain Grandfathered
  4. . Sensitivity Analysis: Incomplete Flexibility To Substitute One Cost-Sharing Mechanism for Another
  5. . Estimates for 2011–2013

In a nutshell, this analysis began by explaining how the estimates would be derived, looked at data from 2008 and 2009 as an aid in making estimates, pushed the data through two different scenarios to test how different market conditions would impact the numbers calculated, and then made estimates based on all of that. Forbes neglected to say anything about the character of this speculative analysis, and in fact, Forbes managed to leave off the first clause of the sentence it quoted directly. Here's the whole statement, including what Forbes left out:

Under this assumption, the Departments’ mid-range estimate is that 66 percent of small employer plans and 45 percent of large employer plans will relinquish their grandfather status by the end of 2013.

Did you catch that? "Under this assumption..." This statement is conditional on an assumption. What assumption is that? Let's the Federal Register speak for itself:

Estimates are provided above for the percentage of employers that will retain grandfather status in 2011. These estimates are extended through 2013 by assuming that the identical percentage of plan sponsors will relinquish grandfathering in each year. Again, to the extent that the 2008–2009 data reflect plans that are more likely to make frequent changes in cost sharing, this assumption will overestimate the number of plans relinquishing grandfather status in 2012 and 2013.

Basically, this document looked at employer-provided insurance plan turnover data from previous years and then used it to extrapolate those rates for 2012/13.

This is a far cry from saying that Obama knew that 93 million people would have their insurance cancelled on them.

Here's the kicker, at least for me - the title of this Federal Register document is:

Interim Final Rules for Group Health Plans and Health Insurance Coverage Relating to Status as a Grandfathered Health Plan Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act

Right below this title you will find:

ACTION: Interim final rules with request for comments.

This analysis included in this Federal Register document isn't a "2010 Health and Human Services (HHS) report" as Coulter described it, nor an "obscure report buried in a June 2010 edition of the Federal Register" as it was described in Forbes. This analysis was the internal commentary of the proposed final form of the regulations governing grandfathered health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, complete with a call for commentary to be considered prior to the issuance of the final regulations.

Were there any statements in these Interim Final Rules on grandfathered health plans that the Obama administration knew 93 million Americans would have their insurance cancelled on them in 2013? I think there are two ways to answer that. The first is easy: no, there is no such statement in this Federal Register document. The second is similar: an estimate that approximately half of all employer-provided health plans will relinquish grandfathered status due to market conditions is not the same things as saying 93 million people will have their health insurance cancelled on them. Those statements may look the similar but they are not the same. A citron is not an orange despite the fact that they are both round juicy citrus fruits. And I don't buy the sudden discovery by pundits that the current administration knew the sky would fall back in 2010 and knowingly kept it from everyone. Publication of proposed regulations with requests for commentary in the Federal Register is not at all obscure. In addition, are conservative pundits really so dense that they missed calling Obama out on the keep-your-health-plan comment when folks like took him to task in 2009 for it? Say it ain't so!

The real issue at hand is not the misquoting the Federal Register. The real issue is that President Obama said that people would be able to keep the health insurance plans they liked. The patent absurdity of that statement was blown out of the water in the same year that Obama uttered it, by no less than that great non-partisan debunker of political hyperboles, (see, accessed 07 Nov 2013).

I think Obama is going to regret what he said about people keeping their health care plans. I think it's going to be the greatest foot-in-mouth moment of the Obama presidency, one just as reknowned as "Read my lips - no more taxes" and "I'm not a crook!"

As far as legacy quotes are concerned, it's nowhere as good as "I did not have sexual relations with that woman!"

Friday 12 July 2013


If you recall - and even if you don't - I sometimes have a bit of fun exposing sloppy citations. There are various forms of sloppy citation on the internet. One that often turns up in news media blogs involves citing some other blog as a reliable source; however, the cited blog also got things wrong due to its own sloppy citations. It's possible to get a whole chain of sloppy citations like the one I discussed on March 6 (1). The problem here stems from the use of bad secondary and tertiary sources. The solution involves eschewing all but the most authoritative sources. The Encyclopedia Britannica is an authoritative source; Wikipedia is not.

Writers who use sloppy citations should be sent to the tenth pit of the eighth circle of Hell, along with impostors and perjurers (2). Just saying...

The following link will take you to a brilliant graphic that illustrates one mode of creating a sloppy citation:

(1), accessed 13 July 2013. (2) Dante, "The Falsifiers," Canto XXX, The Divine Comedy,, accessed 12 July 2013.

Monday 24 June 2013

NASA, NOAA and the Geography of Idaho Potatoes

You might have spotted the amazing imagery from the NASA/NOAA SUOMI NPP satellite in the news over the last few days. It's been all over. I spotted it first as a news item on the weather website It was also featured on the websites for Discover Magazine, Science News, and many national newspapers including the Washington Post ( among many others. There are almost too many of these links to post so I have given you what I think is the best of them, which is the photo gallery at the Washington Post. Unfortunately, some time in the future, I know that link at the Washington Post will die, but for now, feast your eyes on some really cool imagery.

In addition, there is a lovely less-than-four-minute web video from NOAA which gives an overview of the SUOMI NPP vegetation program, which is must-see in my book. Note I'm recommending you watch this web vid and I'm someone who absolutely hates web videos. Just saying... The URL for the NOAA vid is

Yeah - way cool science, n'est pas? Now I'm afraid that the captions to the photos that NASA wrote to accompany the photos had a few small problems. I'm not sure most folks would have picked up on the so-called green fertile crescent of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers which really was hardly green at all... But it was photo number three in the photo gallery that is the reason there is a blog post today. Before we zoom in on photo number three, I need to make a brief digression about the nature of "press packages" of materials given to the press by the government of the USA.

If you look at the reporting on the NASA SUOMI NPP satellite images in the press, you will notice that every instance of this news piece is identical in content in every publication on the internet. The number of photos, the photos themselves, the order of the photos and the text of the captions that go with the photos is identical REGARDLESS of the news outlet; only the individual "wrapping" unique to each news site varies - but everything else is the same. There's a reason for this and it has to do with how federal agencies interact and feed news to the press. The way it works is that NASA or NOAA or the USGS or some other federal agency will assemble a coherent media package of photos plus captions or narrated video for the press to use. The material is free for anyone to use with the proviso that the government has a rights restriction that the released material must be presented as the coherent package with adequate attribution of its source (i.e., the gov't agency making the material available has to be credited). The benefit for the federal agency is that is gets to put out its "story" the way it feels it should be presented to the public. The benefit for the press is that they get a nicely done slick presentation for free.

So now that you understand that it was a government press liason who mated photo and caption, let us now look at photo number three from the NASA/NOAA SUOMI NPP satellite presentation.


Yes, it's what folks in the USA call the "Pacific Northwest." (I've always wondered what the folks who live in BC call it.) The caption is the reason for today's blog post. Here's the NASA/NOAA caption:

The Pacific Northwest: In deserts and mountainous regions with sparse vegetation, the amount of reflected visible and near-infrared light are relatively high, so the Rocky, Cascade and Coast mountain ranges shown here dominate the landscape of the Pacific Northwest. Potato farms and other agriculture can be seen in the bottom center of the image, as the Rockies give way to the plains of Idaho. NASA/NOAA

At this point, all the folks I know from Idaho are collectively rolling their eyes. I hope that everyone else reading this is too - but in case you're not up on your Idaho geography, I will now give you a guided tour of exactly where it is that people grow their spuds in Idaho. And for those of you who don't know this, I still own a house in Idaho, in the town with the leading claim to being the spud capital of nation, just six blocks from the Idaho Potato Expo (a museum all about spuds, online at and hometown to the leading manufacturer of potato farming equipment, the very aptly-named Spudnik Equipment Company of Blackfoot, Idaho (

Let us start with the SUOMI NPP image, but this time with a few places actually labeled so you have an idea of what the image covers.


The image is looking at the upper half of the state of Washington and the southern portions of British Columbia and Alberta. Over on the right edge are the two well-known lakes of the Idaho panhandle: Lake Pend Oreille and Lake Coeur d'Alene. The star labeled as "Coeur d'Alene" is the town with the same name at the northern end of the lake. If you've ever been lucky enough to make the drive from Seattle to Missoula, Montana, Interstate-90 climbs up the river valley that connects Spokane and Coeur d'Alene and then winds its way along the north shore of the lake for about 10 miles of amazing scenery, best right at sunrise or sunset. The drop down through the passes from Lake Coeur d'Alene to Missoula is pretty eye-popping too. Here's a zoomed-in view of the Spokane to Idaho panhandle region, with yellow arrows pointing to Lake Pend Oreille and LAke Coeur d'Alene. You can match the lakes on this image with the labeled lakes on the SUOMI NPP image. ID_panhandle_1.png

It should be obvious by now that the potato farms of the "plains of Idaho" on the SUOMI NPP image is really the middle of the Columbia River Plateau in the middle of Washington. As someone who spent several productive years as a working geologist in that part of the world, please take my world for it that the Columbia River Plateau is a big layer cake of basalt a few thousand feet thick, as anyone who has driven the Columbia River Gorge can attest. Since this flat region between the Cascades and the Northern Rockies is in the Cascade rain shadow, agriculture is limited to areas of sufficient soil thickness and sufficient run-off or irrigation. Farming tends to be concentrated along the west, north and east rim of the plateau in Washington, leaving agricultural bare spots centered between Yakima and Kennewick. Fruit and root crops, mostly onions, are prominent around Yakima on the backside of the Cascades. To the west of Kennewick, Pasco, and the Columbia River, apples, pears, cereals and root crops dominate in that order. (ref: If you've ever driven I-90 or I-82 across Washington, you already know that onions and spuds are the root crops of choice.

Well, so much for the spud rich plains of Idaho on the SUOMI NPP imagery...

Here's a USGS image of Idaho.


What's most noticeable about the state is that it's more mountainous than not. If you've got sharp eyes, you can spot Lake Pend Oreille and Lake Coeur d'Alene up north in the panhandle. Now in the south, across the bottom of the state is the "smiley-face" formed by the Snake River Plain. Weirdly enough, that flat smiley face was once all mountains too - but that was before the Yellowstone Hotspot passed through. The path of Yellowstone magmatism from southwest to northeast across the bottom of the state is what created the smiley-face. The physical form of the smiley face is basalt, hundreds of small basalt eruptions that barfed out onto the ground in the wake of the Yellowstone Hotspot. The heat signature of the transiting Yellowstone super-volcanoes plus the fluid nature of the post-hotspot basalts flattened the once bumpy landscape into an elevated high plain between mountains to either side. This didn't happen overnight, mind you. The Snake River Plain took 16 million years of active ongoing tectonics to achieve its present form. If you're interested in the geology here, check out the geology pages on the Digital Atlas of Idaho website, built by my friend Prof. Paul Link of Idaho State University at

The flat smiley face in the south of Idaho is where most the spuds are grown. In fact, since a lot of the plain is still bare basalt, only relatively-depressed areas along rivers and streams with soil accumulation are cultivated, as shown on the figure below. land_of_spuds.png

The areas within the red dotted line are where most of the spuds are grown in Idaho. Spuds are the number one crop in Idaho and comprise a third of the total yearly potato crop in the USA. The other major crops on the Snake River Plain are peas, sugar beets and barley in the eastern half of the plain. Idaho is the number one producer of spuds, peas, and barley in the nation. (ref:

What's the bottom here? It's that two federal agencies put out a joint press package with some stunning faux pas mistakes of geography. The Eurasian mistakes were minor, more or less. But putting the spud fields of Idaho in central Washington was a bit much, especially for two scientific powerhouses like NASA and NOAA. How bad was it really? Here's a final graphic that illustrates just how far astray their geography went...


Thursday 9 May 2013

Foot in Mouth Disease and Freudian Projection

paulryanhead.jpgThere are times when a politician says something so obnoxious and outrageous that the temptation to comment on it can not be resisted. This is one of those times.

I suspect that some of you are familiar with the psychology concept of projection. Here's a brief description and example from the Encyclopedia Britannica.

Projection is a form of defense in which unwanted feelings are displaced onto another person, where they then appear as a threat from the external world. A common form of projection occurs when an individual, threatened by his own angry feelings, accuses another of harbouring hostile thoughts.

For the sake of complete disclosure, I must fess up. What you are about to read is not based in fact or observation. It's personal opinion, pure and simple. But today's target of being wrong on the internet is about politics - and we all know that truth is optional in politics. It's possible to be both honest and factual but it's rare in Congress. I haven't spotted any congress members of this ilk since Lowell Weicker and Rev. John Danforth (R - Missouri) retired. YMMV!

I confess I may be biased here since Rev. Danforth was one of the priests at the church I attended in St. Louis.

Anyway, I was making a pass through and spotted a gem with the following title:

Paul Ryan: Progressivism Is 'Arrogant And Condescending'

If that's not a case of projection, I don't know what is!

refs:, (accessed May 9, 2013): (accessed May 9, 2013).