Friday links! Correlation vs. causation edition

When you get right down to it, everything that happens happens because of everything else. Sure, I took the kettle off this morning because it was whistling, but I also did it because Dowager Empress Cixi’s resistance to reform slowed the pace of industrial development in China, leading to a 21st-century state where it’s still profitable for kids to make housewares. Of course, I wouldn’t have bought that kettle at Montana Target had I not gotten into grad school many years ago, caused in part by a story I wrote about a person born with his heart on the outside of his body. So thank you, Kids In the Hall, for this morning’s coffee. It’s not so much that correlation is not causation as everything is causation, and correlation is therefore not that special. Today is Friday, for some reason, and our link roundup is full of startling forces that may or may not determine the course of our future. It’s all in how you look at it. Plus some of it is in immutable truths that could easily kills us no matter what we believe, but those will only be discernible in retrospect. Won’t you look back with me?

First, some terrifying news: 46% of Americans believe that god created human beings in pretty much their present form about 10,000 years ago. That’s creationism, right there, and 46% is damn near half the country. It’s an example of the obstinate power of belief over convincing. It’s also an example of why you should not read Huffington Post for news, since you have to get through the whole 750-word story with tables and graphs to get to this sentence: “Overall, in the last 30 years, there hasn’t been a significant shift in Americans’ belief in creationism or evolution.” That startling statistic about the 46% is roughly the same as it was in 1982. I’m still going to take it as proof that everyone is dumb and the country is going to hell.

But I want new news in my biased news, dammit. That’s why I like this remarkably detailed overview of Mitt Romney’s “evolving” position on whether he wanted to fight in the Vietnam War. Props to Ben al-Fowlkes for the link. Back in 2007, Romney told the Boston Globe that he “longed in many respects to actually be in Vietnam,” and described not being there with other young men of his generation as “frustrating.” In 1994, on the other hand, he said he didn’t want to go to Vietnam, but that he also did not “take any actions to remove myself from the pool of young men who were eligible for the draft.” It turns out, though, that he applied for and received four deferments. Fortunately, this borderline draft-dodging/straight-up lying about it is not likely to impact the 2012 campaign, since both candidates are pro-war and haven’t fought in any.

You don’t have to participate in something awful to believe in it, just like you don’t need to believe in something to be part of the problem. That’s the gist of the 500-page United Nations Environment Program report released Wednesday, which urges us to please acknowledge that large portions of the planet are about to die. The report contends that we are approaching several “thresholds” after which irreparable harm will be done to the earth’s ability to sustain life. The link is chock full of terrifying statistics, so I’m just going to pick one: “90 percent of water and fish samples from aquatic environments are contaminated by pesticides.” Seriously—we have received an A-minus in the project of getting Roundup into every source of water on earth. Just because that happened after chemical pesticides were invented, though, doesn’t mean that we did it. Correlation is not causation.

You can use sophistry for whatever. That’s the whole point of sophistry, and it’s also fun. Enough reasoning can justify anything, which is why I enjoyed Banksy’s specious but stirring attack on intellectual property laws. The whole point of advertising is to get in your head. For advertisers to put their brands and slogans in your head and then say you can’t do anything with them is like a burglar declaring himself a tenant. “Any advert in a public space that gives you no choice whether you see it or not is yours,” Banksy or someone claiming to be Banksy says. It’s an unsubstantiated assertion, but it’s also hard to falsify.

Plus it makes YouTube okay. Behold, the opening track to the new Japandroids album:


Reason makes us weak. Only rock will make us strong.


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  1. An estimated 2.1 million served in Viet Nam. (Over 9 million served in active duty during the Viet Nam era.) It’s estimated that from 8 to 14 million “wannabes” have claimed to have served in-country.

    In saying he “wished he’d served”, Romney adds his voice to any number of guys who now want the meager benefits of prior service after having stripped their gears to avoid it.

    This is a bigger phantom army than the French Resistance.

  2. Is Jay’s Upstairs still a Missoula thing? I would love to see Japandroids play Jay’s Upstairs. That would be the perfect match of musicians and setting.

    What I am saying is that I miss Missoula and I love the new Japandroids in a very specific and nostalgic way, and the two are correlated in a way that defies any attempts of mine to demonstrate causality flowing one way or the other.

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