Numbers, what they really mean?

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Since figures backstop fact, numbers are the meat and potatoes and forks and knives of journalism. They are, in a word, beautiful, and, like true beauty, they can take your breath away.

For example, in the faint light of early Aug. 10, my daily newspaper reported that Tom Laughlin would mark his 81st birthday that day. Get out of here, Billy Jack is 81?

Good grief, that makes me… well, a lot older than we all were when, in 1971, Laughlin, playing Billy Jack on film, used his bare feet to kick the tar out of bad guys and the bigotry out of injustice, two items that never seem to age.

Political funds. Nor does money in politics. In mid-August, Politico Daybook, a daily email newsletter on all things political, ran a short item that illustrated the tiny impact one citizen with a skinny checkbook has on politics today compared with modern fat cats. Recently, a librarian in Lexington, Ky., after writing a $100 check to the Obama reelection campaign, said she thought her $100 had “just as much worth” as the million-dollar checks now being tossed into the estimated, $1 billion presidential campaign.

Hah, snorted Politico.

In fact, “It would take 100,000 (of you) — nearly all the registered Democrats in Lexington — giving $100 apiece just to match the $10 million that casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson and his wife dropped into the super PAC boosting (Republican presidential nominee, Mitt) Romney in a single day in June.”

But the $10 million man only gets one vote, right? No one has felt this summer’s heat and drought more than America’s farmers and ranchers. The devastation caused by both won’t be known until after this year’s baked and broiled crops are harvested. We do, however, have some initial numbers on just how hot this summer was.

Weather records

For instance, according to weather watchers, June’s temperatures broke or tied 3,215 record highs across the nation, and that oven of a month followed the warmest May ever for the Northern Hemisphere. May, in fact, was the 327th consecutive month — that’s over 27 years of months — that the earth’s average temperature topped the 20th century’s average temperature.

Even more incredible, wrote Bill McKibben in a mid-July piece that included the above information, is that the “odds of… simple chance” where this red-hot record might occur in nature are 1in 3.7 x 10 to the 99th.

And that’s a number “considerably larger than the number of stars in the universe,” noted McKibben. Iowans are making a dent in this carbon-fueled problem; 20 percent of all electricity generated in the Hawkeye State comes courtesy of wind. According to numbers released by the Iowa Wind Energy Association, clean, free wind also generates 7,000 jobs statewide and nearly $15 million in annual lease payments to local farmers.

All could be blown away by politics because continued expansion of the green technology turns almost entirely on federal tax credits that expire two months after the presidential election.

That means that wind — rather than hot air — could be the deciding factor in who wins Iowa, a swing state, in November and maybe the election because one, the president favors extending the wind credits that the other, Mitt, wants to end.

More numbers?

Recently, while sifting through tax return material for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the Humane Society of the United States, one figure in each group’s 2009 IRS Form 990 leapt from the page: what each paid their top dog.

HSUS, the well-funded ($100 million annual budget), big (11 million members), rich ($200 million in assets) animal welfare group paid its CEO, Wayne Pacelle, $234,026.

NCBA, however, with one-tenth of one percent of HSUS membership, one-tenth of its savings, and a non-checkoff connected budget far under $10 million, paid its top hand, Forrest Roberts, $336,584 in salary and $19,942 “other compensation” in 2009.

See what I mean about numbers being forks and knives of journalism. Well, at least knives.

2012 ag comm

The Farm and Food File is published weekly in more than 70 newspapers in North America. Contact Alan Guebert at http://www.farmandfoodfile.com.

About the Author

Alan Guebert was raised on an 800-acre, 100-cow southern Illinois dairy farm. After graduation from the University of Illinois in 1980, he served as a writer and editor at Professional Farmers of America, Successful Farming magazine and Farm Journal magazine. His syndicated agricultural column, The Farm and Food File, began in June, 1993, and now appears weekly in more than 70 publications throughout the U.S. and Canada. He and spouse Catherine, a social worker, have two adult children. farmandfoodfile.com More Stories by Alan Guebert

One Comment

  1. Pat says:

    FACT CHECK:

    HSUS DOES NOT HAVE 11 MILLION MEMBERS, THEY HAVE ABOUT ONE MILLION. CHECK PAGE TWO OF THEIR TAX RETURNS.

    HSUS LIES ABOUT IT’S STRENGTH OF SUPPORT IN ORDER TO HOODWINK THE MEDIA, LEGISLATORS AND FOOD COMPANIES INTO DOING THEIR BIDDING.

    THE AGRICULTURE COMMUNITY NEEDS TO STOP PARROTING THESE BLOATED STATISTICS AND FIGHT BACK AGAINST THE LIARS.

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