Oil Price Blame Game

I’m seeing a lot of social media posts blaming the current administration for the recent rise in the price of oil. These posts invariably garner a lot of Republican likes and Democrat rebuttals. Arrogance and snark follow, usually devolving into name-calling. What bothers me is that most of the participants speak fluent not-checking-my-facts-before-opening-my-piehole. Inaccuracies abound and I’m going to clear some of them up.

I’m a data guy, so let’s look at some real numbers.

From a wide perspective, oil was in a bull market until it peaked in 2008 over $133 per barrel and it has largely been in a bear market ever since. Even discounting the 2008 peak as an outlier the oil bear market started in late 2014. That hardly supports the narrative they are trying to paint on social media. You can’t blame any of the past three presidents for oil prices going up, because in the big picture, they are going down.

What if we focus just on the oil prices since Biden was sworn in?

Yes, the price of oil was up 34% from February to August, but the peak is essentially the same as 2018 under Trump. Pointing out that oil prices under Biden have just squeaked past the peak under Trump is not a particularly compelling argument.

Perhaps if we compare Biden to Trump directly? Yeah, no. That’s much worse.

Oil went up 89% during Trump’s tenure. It would have to hit $96 per barrel just to match Trump’s record. As you can see, Biden’s still got quite a way to go.

If you aren’t going to blame Trump for oil prices going up on his watch, it’s mighty hypocritical to blame Biden for a smaller increase in oil prices now. It may be better to just admit that presidents really don’t have much influence on oil prices after all.

Established Science

There is a lot of buzz about what constitutes ‘established science’ on social media these days. It’s largely mentioned in fights between anti-vaxxers, climate change deniers, COVID-19 minimizers (or outright disbelievers) and their respective opponents. You’ve probably seen memes about how ‘science’ told us it was okay to spray kids with DDT or told us that smoking was beneficial or how it was waging war on egg producers, or how it made mistakes about drugs that were later recalled – all aiming to show how scientists are corruptable and wrong and the science always changes and can’t be trusted.

The common thread between all the anti-science crap you see posted is the idea that you can just believe what seems best to you. This is deeply misguided. The whole point of science is to make it harder to fool yourself. Humans are terribly easy to fool, and the easiest person for you to fool is you.

The common tactic employed by these memes is deliberately misconstruing science as a conscious actor. They say that science ‘tells us’ lies or ‘said’ one thing and then another or ‘waged a smear campaign’ or any number of other verbs. Science doesn’t verb. Science is not an actor. Science is a tool. Science is a method for finding answers that are true. You can’t ask your screwdriver to explain the meaning of life and you don’t expect it to wage a smear campaign for the exact same reason. Tools are used (and misused) by humans, not the other way around.

So who is the real actor in these memes? It varies a bit, but mostly the actors are trying to achieve some objective. Some are marketing departments and newsrooms. Some are companies trying to find marketable solutions to problems. Some are governments and public figures. In 100% of the cases, they were humans and therefore prone to error. It doesn’t make sense to blame ‘science’ for when a tobacco company trotted out their paid medical spokesperson to claim that smoking made you healthy. There are plenty of people to blame, but trying to pin it on the scientific method is just a crude attempt to sway public opinion, usually for nefarious purposes.

Why is there so much anti-science propaganda in social media? It turns out that there are a lot of reasons. It’s partially tribalism, identity politics, troll farming, snake oil marketing and even a symptom of the simple effort required to determine whether someone is actually an expert. One issue we clearly face is the problem of limited human knowledge. Science has allowed us to build on one another’s knowledge and experience so efficiently that it now takes decades to become an expert in a given field.

It is possible to verify that others who have spent their lifetimes delving into a specific arena of knowledge are correct, but very few have the time or resources to reproduce experiments in the bleeding edge of our collective knowledge. Becoming an expert in multiple fields is often impossible. Even keeping up with even the implications and developments of new research is very hard work these days. It’s easy to see how those claiming to have a truth that isn’t accepted by ‘mainstream science’ could gain traction, even with high school levels of scientific literacy.

It’s ironic that real established science is exactly what is empowering people to create and spread anti-science memes. A random person in outer east Mongolia can post something that will be seen by thousands or even millions of people microseconds later, all over the world. This only happens because science works.

There is a pretty good test for determining whether the science is ‘established’ in a given subject. It’s not foolproof, of course, but here it is: Established science means that you can trust that the current theories are going to give you pretty good answers to the questions you ask and it’s going to save you time and effort when you want to do something useful with those ideas. In short, you can be sure that science is established when it becomes engineering.

If you can build something using a theory and people are willing to pay for it, it’s established science. It’s made the transition from hypotethical science to trustworthy enough for productivity. Everyday items fall into this category. Smartphones, WiFi, GPS, blood glucose monitors, CO2 sensors, composites, and so much more. Lots of (currently) politically controversial things fall into this category as well – like climate models, mRNA vaccines, GMOs and anything else that threatens the established economy.

If you can make and sell a million of something, it’s pretty much guaranteed to be engineering based on established science. If you are still arguing that mRNA vaccines aren’t established science, you are about 20 years late.


Everyone on social media in America has seen a GoFundMe for some deserving person with a treatable condition and appalling medical bills they can’t afford. It’s become a regular staple of our digital lives. Cancer diagnosis? GoFundMe. Car wreck? GoFundMe. It’s become clear that a lot of us can’t afford to be ill.

Public fund raisers are well intentioned, but rarely cover the costs and the bills tend to pile up until the individual has no choice but to declare bankruptcy. Research indicates that medical debt is the root cause of two thirds of US bankruptcies. These debts are written off by caregivers, which simply passes the cost on to everyone who does pay their bills. In the end, healthcare is largely funded by the general public via payroll deductions for medical insurance.

Single payer health care is a hot button issue in America, but the reality is that de-facto socialized healthcare is here now, whether you like it or not. The major difference between the good-ole-USA and the rest of the industrialized world is that our healthcare costs are the highest and our outcomes are the worst of all first world nations.

It doesn’t take a lot of digging to discover that the only winner in American style health care is the legalized organized crime syndicates operating in the form of insurance companies. They have arranged, through careful lobbying and ceaseless propaganda to turn us into 330 million dupes gambling with their own lives while they rake in the profits.

When you realize that the insurance companies are also pillaging caregivers via medical malpractice insurance and have the full cooperation of both the judicial and legislative branches of government, it becomes clear why they spend so much money funding anti-social-medicine efforts that threaten to curtail both income streams. The fact that this subject is controversial at all just serves to show how good insurance companies and the people that own them have gotten at manipulating the public.

Ironically, thanks largely to the same indoctrination and a predictable pandemic, medical debt has now become a national emergency that may largely be borne by the same political right wing who has opposed single payer health care. Republicans now have five times the death rate of Democrats from COVID-19 and we can presume, based on better available care late in the pandemic cycle, that they will accrue a similar or even higher multiples of medical debt. When the bills start showing up, this may well change some minds on the usefulness of socialized medicine.

GoFundMe? No. The single most effective way for you to help every single person with a GoFundMe for medical expenses it to tell your legislators you support single payer healthcare.


Hate the Sin, Love the Sinner

People who use this phrase always seem to use it to defend their censure of people who refuse to act or believe the same way that they do. Evangelicals who fought tooth and nail against gay marriage are a recent example that springs to mind. It seems a terribly perverse defense to use the word love when they clearly do not love the people they are referring to. There are no intense feelings of deep affection, only lip service to a dogmatic ideal they do not truly feel.

It is a particularly loathsome statement because its sole purpose is to throw an acceptable looking disguise in front of their true meaning: My dogmatic viewpoint is more important to me than your life and choices.

Someone who loves sinners does not work to outcast them from society. They do not publicly berate their choices, fight against equality for their ‘kind’, damn them in their minds and then backhandely pretend to care about them.

Vocal abusers of this phrase so frequently get caught indulging their own ‘sin’ that it appears quite a few of them don’t actually hate the sin either. I imagine such people are just over-compensating for their self-loathing when they attack others and try to bully and shame them away from the lifestyle they envy.

Certainly some who use the phrase mean nothing at all by it except to attempt to fit in with their peer group. These are almost dismissable except that even the least empathetic among us should be able to see that such words are hurtful to the ‘sinners’ involved. If this applies to you, this is your notice to desist or be thought of as a cowardly douche by some random blogger on the internet.

The rest of them should get no such leniency. Hateful words and deeds should always be called out and rejected, particularly when they align with your belief system. If such a thing as the dark side of the force exists, chosing dogma over kindness is its first shadow.

Participation Trophies

Children are inexperienced, not stupid. So why do we treat them like they don’t have eyes or brains? When they see a table full of trophies at an awards ceremony for their little league team or spelling bee or whatever else, they will notice that there is one big one, one a little smaller, one a little smaller than that, and as many tiny ones as there are kids left. A kid who is too young to make the connection may be happy with anything, but almost no kid over eight wants the tiny one. These will, with few exceptions, be tossed in the garbage in short order because that’s what they are.

It’s not just a dumb idea, it’s harmful. Even if this idea works and all the kids are happy to get their little trophies, it is a disservice to the children to let this be an example for their lives. Some of the games we play are zero-sum. The only way we win is for someone else to lose. Pretending that sports competitions are non-zero-sum games won’t help that grown-up kid deal with their emotional reaction when they make a bad trade in the stock market or don’t get a second interview or any of the thousands of disappointments waiting for them in life.

Children need to fail. It’s critical to their development into functioning adults. We all fall short and we need to learn how to deal with it. Trying to protect them all from every emotional trauma only harms their emotional maturity. It would be better for the loss to cost them something rather than benefitting from failure.

At their worst, participation trophies are a misguided attempt by adults to protect themselves from having to deal with their children’s disappointment, and in the process, modeling behavior that perpetuates a cycle of inability to cope with others’ negative emotions.

Go ahead and give the little ones a shiny medal to wear. It’s just a toy to them anyway. But once they understand that there are winners and losers, an award for losing is worse than useless.

Hating Freedom

They hate freedom! This phrase and variations have become a stock answer for a variety of questions. It gets repeated so often, it goes unquestioned. Why do so many Arab Muslims feel that America is evil? They must hate freedom. Why do Democrats want to tax the rich to pay for universal health care? They oviously hate freedom. Why would someone support a vaccine mandate? Freedom hater. Why don’t they stand with their hand over their heart for the flag? Hate filled freedom loather.

I imagine those who repeat such misguided inanities actually mean well, but for hell’s sake, can you at least try not to sound like such a fucking tool?

Not one single person in history has ever ‘hated’ freedom. There have been plenty who have tried to take it from other people, but each one wanted freedom for themselves or some group of people. The idea of hating freedom is absurd and everyone knows it. Continuing to say such a stupid thing shows a lack of introspection bordering on blindness.

They hate freedom isn’t really what they even seem to mean. ‘They hate what we do with our freedom’ might be a little closer. They might be right about this. Arab Muslims might indeed be tired of drone strikes killing their neighbors and American foreign policy propping up dictators to keep gas prices down. Democrats may indeed be tired of American getting the worst healthcare for the highest cost of any industrialized nation. Vaccinated Americans are probably getting damned tired of watching the ICUs fill up with imbeciles while they patiently wait for everyone more concerned with their political identity than decency. I know for damned sure that people of color are sick and tired of being shot by the thin blue line.

So yeah. Maybe some people do hate the way certain folks USE their freedom. I certainly do. You can’t say they hate freedom itself, though. Keep saying it and you’ll only need two slices of bread to make yourself an idiot sandwich.

Glorifying Violence

Why is it that a brutally severed human torso is acceptable for public broadcast so long as any female nipples are covered? What kind of sense does that make?

Crime shows vie to show new and more graphic violence in each episide. You can witness body parts being stabbed with random implements and watch the person die then re-live the scene with moving models showing exactly which organs are pierced along with squelching sounds and catchy music. 

It no longer suffices to kill a single victim or mundane cause of death. It has to be exceptionally horrifying. We have to have serial killers who off people creatively, like drilling out their spleens with a rusty paddle bit after weeks of feeding them rotten eggs and spiders.

We can watch people tortured, bloody battles fought, and whole planets annhilated for our amusement and we hardly think anything of it. But less than two seconds of a real live female human nipple appears on the screen and people lose their collective minds.

What is so particularly offensive about genitals? Surely we have by now seen far uglier and perverse things many times over. Any episode of Criminal Minds will provide examples. Half of us have a penis and most of us like them, but you show one on TV and suddenly it’s a national emergency. Broadcasting affectionate lovemaking on national television would cause a firestorm of epic proportions.

We claim that such censorship is intended to protect children. Protect them from what exactly? The body parts in the mirror? “You can do that when you are older, kid. It can be a beautiful thing. For now you can only watch other humans be dismembered.”

How is it okay to show a child the darkest imaginings of human nature we can contrive while hiding the most delightful and natural aspects of what it means to be human? Why do we shrink from displays of affection between lovers and seek to show the worst and most hurtful human behaviors?

Is it more harmful to see people  have consentual sex than a rape? Can you guess which one gets depicted more?

Is it worse to show a person being burned or licked from head to toe?

This is wrong. It would be far better to show real human love in all its varied imperfect beauty than the violence and horror we are encouraged to consume.

Demonizing body parts has clearly failed to make us better people. Perhaps we should try shaming ignorance and dishonesty instead.

Living Off The Land

There was a time when there was an inherent ‘Plan B’ for almost anyone. Given all sorts of possible disasters, a person could load up their family and a few posessions and drive up past the end of a dirt road. There, they could stake out a future in the wilderness and make due with what they could catch, gather and kill for quite a long time.

I’m here to tell you that that window of opportunity has closed. This is no longer a viable ‘Plan B’ for anyone that doesn’t own a really large plot of land with fences around it and sharpshooters to protect it. In short, unless you are already rich and have the means to bug out to another country anyway, you are screwed.

First off, there is insufficient unoccupied land to support a hunter-gatherer lifestyle for humans. Nearly all the productive land has already been turned into cities, farms and suburbs. The remainder is almost all sufficiently desolate that the heat, cold and lack of water will make it uninhabitable for all but the most hardy and fit. (i.e. maybe one in a thousand people)

Second, Even those who have personally and recently hunted and butchered an animal for food are going to find that that skill set isn’t going to be that useful. If Armageddon started today, one of the first things that would happen would be a huge traffic jam up every back road, scenic byway and 4×4 trail in the land.

You can bet that every bit of furry wildlife in any wilderness area accessible to humans (which is pretty much everywhere) will be executed within a the first few months. There are too many mouths to feed and too little protein per square mile when all the folks with guns and ammo and half a plan leave town at once.

Before long, the biggest threat will be from other humans trying to take your food, your supplies and even your life. Even presuming you can get over this hump, you’ll find that the lack of medical care and clean water will soon become primary problems rather than conveniences that are taken for granted.

Like all rules, there will be exceptions. Don’t count on being the exception. Your best bet is to work hard to make your community self-sufficient, to volunteer for the common defense and to oppose all calls for rule by force and suspension of civil rights.

This is Going to End Badly

I’m no psychic. I’m just concerned that things have gotten badly out of hand and there may be no way out without some pretty ugly conflicts.

In years past, anti-vaxxers were a small subculture of homebodies trading vinegar toxic cleanse recipes in the back alleys of the internet. No one took them seriously because they weren’t a big enough influence to be a threat. As the pandemic came and lockdowns started, anti-vaxxers started railing against vaccine efforts and championing alternative treatments.

MAGA hat wearing acolytes have had quite an emotional rollercoaster in 2020. They went from haughty disdain of BLM to rage and fear of the new ANTIFA boogeyman; then from denial the panemic was real to denial that Trump lied about its severity; then from fear of election fraud to fury over baseless claims.

As 2020 wore on, internet hucksters and conspiracy nuts piled on and amalgamated with the above groups to form Q-anon. And where they went one, they went all. The echo chambers of the far right and fringe views became a rapid breeding ground for fantastic stories of every possible form of evil done by elites that control the world.

Some were radicalized enought to storm the capitol building in an effort to stop the certification of the vote.

Many more are convinced that the medical community means them harm or is at a minimum incompetent and won’t take the vaccines, preferring instead whatever flavor-of-the-month treatment is currently being touted on alternative social media. And they keep believing it despite hospitals filling to capacity with COVID-19 patients and none with vaccine side-effect patients

Many still claim the election was fraudulent, despite all claims failing in court and republicans getting elected on the same ballots.

It gets worse. As frightening as all this is, it is a pale shadow of what is being passed around in growing and increasingly warped alternative-internet. This space, once reserved for only the outcast ideas that society has rightly rejected, has festered into a living horror that has infected the minds of people we once thought were stable and sane. Somehow, all critical thinking has been suspended and anything, so long as it can fit a narrative where elites do evil and control everything, is accepted and passed along. I suppose it’s rewarding, in a way. Those in the alter-net get to know stuff and they can feel superior to everyone else, who are all just shills or dupes.

The real problem is that wrong information leads to improper decisions and bad outcomes. The pandemic has now claimed 1 in 500 Americans, in no small part due to the constant stream of misinformation pouring out of the alter-net. The viral subculture lurking in cyberspace has evolved to kill in the real world.

I am afraid that the genie can’t be put back in the bottle. A reckoning is coming. I don’t know when or how, but I don’t think anyone is going to like the outcome.

Thou Art God

No. Really. The power of a god, to an individual, is proportional to their ability to impact their life. I suggest, then, that everyone is more powerful than any god, real or imagined, from that person’s perspective.

Look back. Who has made the biggest impact on your life? Who pulled up the bootstraps and got you back on your feet? Who made the hard choices and who put in the work and kept on grinding to reach your goals?

Heresy, Right? Perhaps not this time. You don’t have to reject god(s) to accept that you have more power than them from your perspective. Let me explain.

Divine influence may exist. There are thousands, perhaps millions of personal testimonials to that effect. People of (almost) every religion claim experiences of personal divine influence. Even accepting each experience at face value, we still don’t know which deity did the deed, or indeed if a deed was done.

Which God? Suppose a Catholic has a strong urge that tells them to ‘turn left’ while driving down the road. They comply and are narrowly missed by a drunk driver rather than killed in the collision. How does a Muslim interpret these events? A Mormon? A Wiccan? A Zoroastrian? Which God/force/etc. saved them? All of them? None of them? The only conclusion that we can draw is that God(s), if they exist at all and assuming ability to reason, do not want us to know.

We don’t know. We have tried and failed throughout history to find proof that God(s) exist. We have created lovely logical arguments, but each has been shown to include all too human error. God(s) are a mystery and it seems that it is either a deliberate one or none exist at all. The more knowledge we gain and more of the world we can explain, the less we can attribute to the acts of deities. Earthquakes, strange lights in the sky, sickness and drought all used to be the exclusive domain of God(s). Now God(s) are banished to pockets of scientific ignorance. We have gotten so good at understanding our world that divine influence has become nearly impossible to distinguish from chance.

It doesn’t matter if God(s) exist. Looking broadly over the reported lives of humans and in light of the endless surveillance and recording technology has enabled, it has become clear that God(s) use their power so discretely as to be objectively undetectable. The ability of a God to directly impact your life can only be measured by the difference between the results of their acts and random chance. If we cannot tell the difference, then their effective power over our lives is zero.

Our acts matter. The same person who avoids a car accident by divine influence, by feeling the vibrations around them, or by pure blind chance probably also got up that morning, combed their hair, showered, made breakfast and set off to work. These simple acts have a bigger impact on their life, on average, than car accidents. They may also have fought off a depressive episode or taken their insulin or a hundred of other critical steps to keep their life on an even keel. Suppose they hadn’t. Suppose they lay in bed and refused to act. The results vary, but none are good. Our acts have power that is almost never zero.

Thou Art God. You have more power in your own life than any outside force. Your continual decisions to act or not act in each moment have more influence on your life than people, governments, or even God(s) ever will. You may not be divine or perfect. None of us are. But, you are unavoidably the God of your own life. Act like it.