William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

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Six Rules For Wearing Suits For Beginners

Don't ever do this

Don’t ever do this

I was looking through the Fedora Lounge and somebody asked whether Details’sThe Complete Guide to Suits: 57 Rules of Style” were of any use.

I thought not. There were too many and they were too persnickety, with too many ‘rules’ mere observations about some suits they happened to have on hand. Worst, there were too many wrong answers. Here’s a better guide.

1— Wear one. If you’re not used to wearing one, you’ll be frightened to do so, particularly if your wardrobe consists of “ironic” t-shirts and ugly jeans which you think look good on you (they do not).

When you finally screw up the courage and don the wool you’ll think everybody’s looking at you. They will be, too, because you’ll be acting like you’re sneaking contraband.

So begin with a jacket. This way you can keep your teenager-gear, but you can mask it with a bit of adulthood. Start with a navy blazer, but eschew shiny buttons. You’re not ready for them yet. Then get a gray. After a few weeks of mixing the two, substitute the t-shirt for a man’s shirt, which is one with a collar and cuffs which extend to your wrist. Give that a go for a solid month and then, on a Wednesday, switch over your high school pants for genuine trousers. If you’re still weak, cotton will do. But if you’re made of sterner stuff, keep to wool, linen, or silk.

Stay with this regime for another four to six weeks, and then add a tie, also on a Wednesday. If anybody asks, tell them your mother’s here to visit. This gives you the excuse to wear a tie several days in a row. People soon won’t notice you have it.

At that point, put on the suit.

2— Some say, “Don’t dress better than your boss.” You know who says this? People who aren’t bosses. Dress better than everybody.

3— Some say, “I don’t care what other people think of how I look.” These people always tell the truth. They become the sort of neighbors who paint their house shocking orange with green trim and never mow their lawn. Or they never brush their teeth, reasoning they’ll just eat again so why bother. “If somebody has to see my fuzzy teeth, that’s his problem.”

These folks forget the main reason to dress well is to please other people, to contribute positively to civilization, to not become a walking eyesores.

4— Which suits not to wear? Don’t wear the suits featured in Details unless you are 22, boyish, and want to look like a slave to fashion, which is to say, advertising. People will assume you watch the shopping channel and drink flavored vodka. Consider, every Details model is anemic and looks to be suffering from depression. Tragically hip. If your underpinnings are no thicker than a supermarket bratwurst, you don’t want to advertise the fact by wearing skin-gripping trousers. You’ll look like the weak one in the herd.

5— Which suits to wear? Go to the most expensive men’s store you can find which is old and not devoted to “brand names”. Once there, examine the wares. You won’t be able to afford these clothes, so when whichever salesman wins the arm wrestling contest to serve you sidles over and asks if he can help, you can say, “I can’t afford any of this stuff. I’m just looking.” He will flee from you as fast as a professor of literature meeting an evangelist. When you go to places you can afford, you’ll know what best approximates top-of-the-line.

If you’re not near any stores, surf over to Paul Stewart, J. Press, Oxxford and the like. You can’t see texture well in pictures, nor can you feel the quality, but it’s better than nothing.

Do not look at Brooks Brothers: they assume all men’s bodies are in the shape of squat parallelepipeds, i.e fat robots. Do not bother with Men’s Wearhouse. Third rate. Joseph A Bank can work. Sometimes. You can be very pleasantly surprised by Macy’s and the like, particularly off season.

6— Which material? You’ll see Super 100s, Super 120s, Super Duper 150s, Super Duper Wowwee 180s, and ever finer. Terrible stuff if you want to wear the suit regularly. The higher the number, the more marketing has been pumped into the material, the easier it wrinkles, the quicker it wears. Look instead for higher weight wools (12+ ounces) which have looser weaves, especially for spring, fall, and winter. Or wear linen, seersucker, or silk (but coarse) for summer. Ask any Bedouin, heavier but looser weaved material will be cooler than any tissue-thin Super Duper Wowwee 180s, which doesn’t breath.

Update John Cook reminds us that one of our most brilliant minds, John von Neumann, was a snappy dresser. For those who don’t know, von Neumann was the computer geek. So there’s no excuse for you.

At his 1926 doctoral exam, the mathematician David Hilbert is said to have asked but one question: “Pray, who is the candidate‚Äôs tailor?” He had never seen such beautiful evening clothes.

Update My collection of posts on men’s fashion.

The Return Of Eugenics

Recommended reading

Today’s article is at Crisis Magazine.

The academy is no longer satisfied with raising consciousness. Progress has been too slow, you see. Something quicker has been judged necessary lest Utopia forever recede into the distance. But what?

Since the Bokanovsky Process has not yet been perfected (let him that readeth understand), academics looked elsewhere. They have already convinced us that to kill the lives inside women is A-Okay because these lives are inside and not outside. Well, sometimes outside. As long as nobody’s looking.

Anyway, the tenured asked, “Why not use this killing more systematically, more scientifically?” Instead of just killing to free up a woman’s time for more shopping, we could kill those lives inside women who were judged suboptimal. Brilliant!

The old way was to let the lives escape into the wild and then sterilize them if they weren’t up to snuff. Too messy. Inefficient, too. Not to mention expensive. Killing, as history shows us, is the cleanest method.

Think I’m exaggerating? Read the article to see that I’m rather underplaying it.

Update “In vitro eugenics” is coming, predicts Australian bioethicist…

Good Ways Of Speaking About Truth

Quid est veritas?” Pilate asked. Famously, his interlocutor did not answer, perhaps because Pilate didn’t give Him the chance. Then Pilate may have been (understandably) addled because the Answer was standing there.

Anyway, Aristotle, under less pressure, had a go at a definition (one that Pilate almost certainly would have known). He said, “To say of what is that it is not, or of what is not that it is, is false, while to say of what is that it is, and of what is not that it is not, is true.”

That is lovely, understandable, and complete. It—the definition—is called realism, a pleasant and accurate label. Actually, it is called Aristotelian or ‘moderate’ realism to distinguish it between the hyper and over-literal realism of his pal, Plato. That difference makes no difference to us today.

There are other ideas of truth, all of them wrong, which follow two main roads: idealism (everything exists in your head, therefore your head doesn’t exist) and nominalism (what’s in your head doesn’t exist, therefore there is nobody there to think up and fret over nominalism). But we’ll pass these by today, too.

Yesterday, we agreed it was true that ‘all men are mortal’ and that ‘2 + 3 = 5′. It is the nature of men to die and for integers to behave undeviatingly according to certain rules. These are universal truths. There also exist contingent truths, which are propositions that accord with Aristotle’s definition conditionally. Unfortunately, there is only word in English for both, which means universal and contingent truths are often confused—which leads to hurt feelings.

To explain. Universal truths are those which begin with indisputable axioms and lead inexorably and necessarily to certain truths. For example, once we accept, without proof and based on no evidence save introspection, that “For all natural numbers x and y, if x = y, then y = x” and a couple of other similar sounding axioms, it is necessarily true that ‘2 + 3 = 5′. Because we don’t know why or how the axioms can be true—we just know that they are—we don’t know why or how ‘2 + 3 = 5′ is true, except in the weak sense that we say the equation is true because the axioms and intermediate theorems are. But we cannot say why it didn’t turn out that ‘2 + 3 = 7′ (don’t even think of arguing over the symbols).

Contingent truths are those propositions which follow from premises that might themselves not be universally true. For example, if we accept “All cats speak French & Whiskers is a cat” then it follows, i.e. it is contingently true, that “Whiskers speaks French”. Yet nobody but a cat lady would run into the street and claim Whiskers’s linguistic ability were universally true. That’s because the first premise is, according to other well known premises, false. Therefore, on that evidence, the conclusion, while contingently true, is universally false. True and false simultaneously, at least speaking loosely, and therefore something to fight over.

The “Laws” of science are all contingently true. Any one or even all of these Laws may be universally true, but we don’t (possibly yet) know it. If they were universally true, then they would all be in the same epistemic boat as mathematics and logic. We would start with introspection, decide what follows from beliefs we just know are true, and then build theorem upon theorem until we reached the Law of Gravity.

That’s almost how it works, but not quite. Inside the Law of Gravity are several fudge factors, “constants” of the universe which are derived via observation, i.e. which are not deduced from first principles. And (we read) there are one or two other dicey premises which are not entirely convincing. The Law of Gravity, which nobody doubts in practice, cannot be said to be universally true (no pun; nay, not even from me), even though it contingently is.

Because the Laws of science are only, or at least, contingently true the premises which accompany them may be argued over. It is not unscientific to do so. It is prudent. When physicists argue over gravitation, it is clear to everybody that the conclusion is accepted because it is observed to hold in most places, and so discussion centers on the premises which would make the Law hold in all places.

The situation is different in climate science, for example, where the conclusion itself is in doubt (rampant global warming will kill half the population by 2009—oops, I meant 2017), and where the premises are so beloved that they are Not To Be Questioned. The (suitably modified to keep current) doom conclusion is contingently true, but that does not make it truly true, i.e. universally true. Failing to understand that distinction is what leads the weak to shout “Denier!”

Bad Ways Of Speaking About Truth


It is true that all men are mortal. It is also true that 2 + 3 = 5. Yet it is not “true” that all men are mortal, nor is it “true” that 2 + 3 = 5.

True means true. We learn from David Stove (and by experience) that by supplying scare-quotes “true” means “not true, but believed by so-and-so to be true”; which is to say, “true” means false, or, at best, unknown. Waving your fingers around truth is like becoming the assassin who puts his arm around his victim and calls him friend—as he knifes him in the back.

Yet scare-quotes are not the only, or even the best, way to sabotage logical expressions.

A slier method is to embed a truth conditionally. This example comes from Michael Voris (drop the S.T.B. Mikey, and learn to crack a smile!): “Jesus has risen from the dead, we Catholics believe.” (Voris recognized the mistake.)

This way of phrasing gives comfort to those who don’t want to acknowledge the truth—it is only the curious “belief” of some religious sect—while also releasing the teller from his duty of proclaiming a truth. So much less confrontational, you see.

Saying a truth conditionally is to kill with slow poison, not violence. “P is true, so-and-so believes”, “I believe P”, and “My professor said that P” no more imply P is true than does saying “P is ‘true’.” In other words, it is not an argument for P to say “I believe P”. It is the mere announcement of your mental state at some particular time. Since it is not an argument, there is nothing to refute, for there is no definitive way for me to know your mental state (no, not even with an electric phrenology device, i.e. an fMRI). And then all history suggests there is no point in arguing over somebody beliefs.

Update The main and obvious disadvantage of speaking this way is that it sets you back on your heels, puts you on the defensive immediately, when truth is always an offensive weapon.

Not easy

So much for the easy stuff. Let’s now talk about scientists and academic philosophers and their love of talking about conditional truths (i.e. theories) as if conditional truths were truths Stove (from his Rationality of Induction, p. 117), where he gives us three arguments:

(a) “Hume is a father, therefore Hume is a male parent”,

(b) “All male fathers are parents & Hume is a father, therefore Hume is a male parent”,

(c) “If Hume is a male parent then Hume is a father & Hume is a father, therefore Hume is a male parent”.

The first, (a), is a valid argument, which is to say that its conclusions follows from the accepted premise. Since the conclusion of (a) follows from its premise, we can augment that premise, which is why (b) and (c) are also valid (rule of logic: “if p entails q, then p-and-r entails q, for any r“).

But (b) is an example of the formal fallacy ‘undistributed middle term,’ and (c) is an example of the formal fallacy ‘affirming the consequent’ (look them up). Even so, (b) and (c) are still valid. This means that something is wrong with the formality, i.e. the theory, which declares them invalid. Yet philosophers, like scientists, are loathe to abandon a beautiful theory. This creates a severe difficulty, and even psychic pain, for those who cherish the formality (theory):

[T]he formal logician cannot call (a), (b), or (c) valid, consistently with his professional creed: hence his disapproval of them. But he dares not call them invalid either: hence his unease.

A situation so painful as this one is bound to produce distress signals, even if only half-conscious ones. Some of the commonest of these signals sound as follows. ‘Argument (c) is invalid in propositional logic‘; (b) is not valid in predicate calculus‘; ‘(a) is neither quantificationally valid nor truth-functionally valid.’ You can easily see how suitable such phraseology is to the distressed logician’s situation. A phrase like ‘invalid in propositional logic’, for example, by including the word ‘invalid’, has the effect of setting the desired tone, the tone of disapproval; while at the same time it is admirably non-committal, because after all—as the formal logician himself will hasten to assure you—‘invalid in propositional logic’ no more entails ‘invalid’, than (say) ‘suspected murderer’ entails ‘murderer.’ [p. 122]

The gist: “Arguments are not ‘in’ predicate logic, or ‘in’ any other artefact that logicians may happen to make. Still less is their invalidity or validity ‘in’ anything at all, except the arguments themselves.”

In other words, all arguments have to be evaluated individually.

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