William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Old Lodge Skins’ Prayer Of Thanksgiving

The real Little Big Man.

The real Little Big Man.

In what is now a tradition, here is the death prayer from Old Lodge Skins, which comes at the close of Little Big Man by Thomas Berger (who died this year).

Then he commenced to pray to the Everywhere Spirit in the same stentorian voice, never sniveling but bold and free.

“Thank you for making me a Human Being! Thank you for helping me become a warrior! Thank you for all my victories and for all my defeats. Thank you for my vision, and for the blindness in which I saw further.

“I have killed many men and loved many women and eaten much meat. I have also been hungry, and I thank you for that and for the added sweetness that food has when you receive it after such a time.

“You make all things and direct them in their ways, O Grandfather, and now you have decided that the Human Beings will soon have to walk a new road. Thank you for letting us win once before that happened. Even if my people must eventually pass from the face of the earth, they will live on in whatever men are fierce and strong. So that when women see a man who is proud and brave and vengeful, even if he has a white face, they will cry: ‘That is a Human Being!’…”

I stood there in awe and Old Lodge Skins started to sing, and when the cloud arrived overhead, the rain started to patter across his uplifted face, mixing with the tears of joy there.

It might have been ten minutes or an hour, and when it stopped and the sun’s setting rays cut through, he give his final thanks and last request.

“Take care of my son here,” he says, “and see that he does not go crazy.”

He laid down then on the damp rocks and died right away. I descended to the treeline, fetched back some poles, and built him a scaffold. Wrapped him in the red blanket and laid him thereon. Then after a while I started down the mountain in the fading light.

Incidentally, eschew the movie of the same name, which shares only the title and the names of a few characters from the book, a book which is the moral and historical opposite of the politically correct film. It is a book which contains no anachronisms, itself a matter of great celebration.

Also highly recommended (as historical orientation) is the classic The Fighting Cheyennes by George Bird Grinnell, who was born in 1849 and who wrote the book in 1915 (it’s still in print). It is a non-patronizing, non-romantic look at the battles the Cheyenne fought in, as much as was possible, their own words.

Berger wrote Little Big Man at a time (1964) when white boys still wanted to run off and be Indians. Nearly twenty years later, the TV show Grizzly Adams fulfilled the same function. What little boys want to be now they had best keep quiet about or out come the pills.

Old Lodge Skins was Little Big Man’s adoptive grandfather. The scene takes place shortly after the Battle of Little Big Horn which the Cheyenne called the Battle at the Greasy Grass.

There is much in this prayer that still works. Men, remember to offer it or one like it as thanksgiving today.

The 2014 CS Lewis Lecture By RR Reno: The Piety of Pedagogy. Guest Report by The Blonde Bombshell


The working topic for the lecture was “CS Lewis: First and Second Things“, no doubt inspired by the words of the Master himself, and perhaps with a wink toward a certain publication. However, RR Reno pivoted to present a talk that was subtitled: The Pedagogy of Piety.1 Dr. Reno’s remarks focused on the intersection of culture and academic life and how the students are poorer for it.

The talk was inspired by a letter signed by Columbia and Barnard College faculty urging the continuance of the ban on ROTC on campus after “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was rescinded:

But here is the most profound point of opposition between the military and the university as institutions: ROTC, and the military in general, trains people for obedience to the chain of command, whereas the university cultivates a critical and constantly questioning consciousness.

The phrase that Dr. Reno honed in on was “the university cultivates a critical and constantly questioning consciousness.” Ah, yes, critical thinking. He noted that while curriculum committees can disagree about course content and measures of success, all faculties, across all campuses, can stand with one voice for “critical thinking.”

When Reno taught classes on ethics, he would duly assign the pro and con readings on abortion, assisted suicide, and other controversies. Once the students were versed in both sides of an issue, Dr. Reno employed what he called a “pseudo-Socratic” method, which he did not find to be very successful. He realized he wasn’t imparting the ability to think critically.

Students who have been incubated in “critical thinking” exhibit a “fear of error” at the cost of truth, and are “overcommitted to things that are only half true.” Reno alluded to Pascal’s Law, “the certainty of our knowledge is inversely proportional to its significance.” Today, “only small truths are affirmed” and “expertise without wisdom” reigns.

The difference between “critique” and “criticism” was noted: a critique “pulls down” and is not able to build up, which is a perfect segue to Descartes.

Descartes’s willful destruction of the “old house of knowledge” and his replacement of one much more attractive and comfortable to the skeptical mind leads to the present day, where professors are dedicated to promoting “the critical” and who are “constantly questioning consciousness.”

The first step to getting a student to engage in critical thinking is to ask him or her to “step back” from whatever belief or tradition that they have previously held dear or had some esteem for. Once he is unmoored from his previous experience and education, he is ready to think critically; or, as a cynic might put it, is primed to more easily accept the word of the professorial clergy.

Today’s academics have a studied “distance” and “coolness”. They lead lives “untroubled by the big questions.” They are “freed from truth.” They adopt “culture for the sake life” rather than the other way around.

To paraphrase John Henry Newman, “souls are made for knowing” and the modern academy does not offer much in this regard. Reno’s primary point is that the university system cannot tell students how to “live well.” It cannot tell students what to say to their dying mother, or determine whom they should marry. The big questions are things that students, and former students, are left to grapple with on their own (and again, without the solace of any organized belief system that may have had the misfortune of being formed before one’s eighteenth year).

How can we pull ourselves up from this lowly state? Drawing support from Aristotle and Plato, Reno’s solution is more math and more literature (but not literature that is a front for the social theory du jour). Mastery of math allows students “the foretaste of knowing”, it helps them to “savor truth”, it “trains souls to recognize truth.” Literature can fulfill somewhat of the same purpose, but perhaps not as completely or robustly as mathematics. Spenser’s The Faerie Queen was cited as example of writing than can contribute to the “pedagogy of piety.”

What is missing from higher education is the “wise man”—the man who has a “settled conviction” and exercises “purity of thought” which leads to “purity of soul.” There is much to be learned from the Bower of Bliss.

In the Q&A, Reno noted that culture in the US “hasn’t changed since 1969″ which brought an energetic objection from Dr. Como. Reno said the clothing hasn’t changed; blue jeans are still commonly worn. “When I go into a coffee shop, the music is the same as it was in 1969. It is as if I were still in high school.” Como could not overcome this point and settled back in his seat.


1There was a fuller title, but not recorded. Your unintentional correspondent did not think to pull out paper until the remarks were well underway. The remarks may not be recorded as originally ordered.

A footnote: Taking the subway on the way home after the lecture, I could not help but notice a young girl across from me with the spanking-new Grateful Dead backpack and wearing pants which were a curious patchwork of corduroy that my babysitter would have worn in 1969, but with a red label sewn in the seam to indicate their expensive nature. The only difference is that my babysitter would have sewn her equally garish garment herself. That is probably the biggest change from 1969: the accouterments of culture can be purchased, and do not have to be manufactured at home.

Ferguson Open Discussion

Our dear leader said that the reaction in Ferguson was “understandable.” That implies that the reaction was a necessary or likely consequence of this particular white cop unfortunately having to shoot this black criminal.

I think our leader meant by “understandable” some form of “justifiable.” That’s certainly the legacy media’s, academia’s, and the everyday activist’s take. To these curious people, arson and looting and mayhem are a sort of natural phenomenon, like a hurricane or tsunami: somewhat predictable and of known characteristics. And fun to watch. The media tell themselves they are brave for standing close to the flames.

I don’t think our leader meant by “understandable” something like “that which follows from a long series of unfortunate, pandering, self-worth-draining policies and from the knowledge, well known to potential troublemakers, that they have license to misbehave—as long as they do so in concentrated regions for a limited time.”

My tweet above was not meant to be inflammatory, but a raw statement of fact. I don’t and can’t speak for all whites; but for myself, I don’t have even the slightest, barest, merest guilt for being white and for the (limited, very limited) success I have attained. I started with twenty bucks in my pocket and the clothes on my back and built up from there. Nor have I ever chased a man down the street because of his skin color, though this happened to me, once at 125th street (by the 6 train), and I was spat upon at Coney Island. Hate crimes.

Now it is indisputable, for whatever the reasons, blacks are more murderous than whites (about 8 times more), and commit far more crimes. It’s also true that much crime occurs in areas in which government beneficence is largest: the two go together like politicians and corruption.

There aren’t any data which show cops preferentially target blacks in disproportion to their criminality. Even so nanny-like a figure of Mayor Bloomberg was right when he said that, if anything, blacks were targeted at rates far less than those rates implied by crime statistics. Whites are targeted more.

In any case, the blacks that complain that cops are after them more than whites are right about that observation. But they are wrong about the causes. Cops go to crimes, not the other way around.

Update It is of course a well known and oft repeated academic theory, and a religious tenet, that all whites are guilty of racism. Even those whites who don’t commit overt racist acts are racist. Microracists. Insanity.

Question one: what sort of executive order might flow from this?

Question two: if a president gives a wink to violence, will that encourage or dissuade future violence?

Question three: what new forms of appeasement do you think will be implemented because of these riots?

Question four: what do you think?

Update Justice.

Update It is a must for all to read the microaggression article. Don’t skimp. Read it all. From these things Fergusons flow.

Don’t Use Statistics Unless You Have To

It's catching.

It’s catching. (Image source.)

We’re finally getting it, as evinced by the responses to the article “Netherlands Temperature Controversy: Or, Yet Again, How Not To Do Time Series.

Let’s return to the Screaming Willies. Quoting myself (more or less):

You’re a doctor (your mother is proud) and have invented a new pill, profitizol, said to cure the screaming willies. You give this pill to 100 volunteer sufferers, and to another 100 you give an identically looking placebo.

Here are the facts, doc: 72 folks in the profitizol group got better, whereas only 58 in the placebo group did.

Now here is what I swear is not a trick question. If you can answer it, you’ll have grasped the true essence of statistical modeling. In what group were there a greater proportion of recoverers?

This is the same question that was asked [before], but with respect to…temperature values. Once we decided what was meant by a “trend”—itself no easy task—the question was: Was there a trend?

May I have a drum roll, please! The answer to today’s question is—isn’t the tension unbearable?—more people in the profitizol group got better.

Probability models aren’t needed: the result is unambiguously 100% certain sure.

As before, I asked, what caused the difference in rates? I don’t know and neither do you. It might have been the differences due to profitizol or it might be due to many other things about which we have no evidence. All we measured was who took what substance and who got better.

What caused the temperature to do what it did? I don’t know that either. Strike that. I do know that it wasn’t time. Time is not a cause. Fitting any standard time series model is thus admitting that we don’t know what the cause was or causes were. This is another reason only to use these models in a predictive manner: because we don’t know the causes. And because we don’t know the causes, it does not follow that the lone sole only cause was, say, strictly linear forcing. Or some weird force that just happened to match what some smoother (running means, say) produced.

Probability isn’t needed to say what happened. We can look and see that for ourselves. Probability is only needed to say what might yet happen (or rather, to say things about that which we haven’t yet observed, even though the observations took place in the past).

Probability does not say why something happened.

I pray that you will memorize that statement. If everybody who used probability models recited that statement while standing at attention before writing a paper, the world would be spared much grief.

In our case, is there any evidence profitizol was the cause of some of the “extra” cures? Well, sure. The difference itself is that evidence. But there’s no proof. What is there proof of?

That it cannot be that profitizol “works” in the sense that everybody who gets it is cured. The proof is the observation that not everybody who got the drug was cured. There is thus similar proof that the placebo doesn’t “work” either. We also know for sure that some thing or things caused each person who got better to get better, and other causes that made people who were sick to stay sick. Different causes.

Another thing we know with certainty: that “chance” didn’t cause the observed difference. Chance like time is not a cause. That is why we do not need probability models to say what happened! Nothing is ever “due” to chance!

This is why hypothesis testing must go, must be purged, must be repulsed, must be shunned, must be abandoned, must be left behind like an 18-year-old purges her commonsense when she matriculates at Smith.

Amusingly for this set of data a test of proportions gives a p-value of 0.054, so a researcher who used that test would write the baseless headline, “No Link Between Profitizol And The Screaming Willies!” But if the researcher had used logistic regression, the p-value would have been 0.039, which would have seen the baseless headline “Profitizol Linked To Screaming Willies Cure!”

Both researchers would falsely think in terms of cause, and both would be sure that cause was or wasn’t present. Like I said, time for hypothesis testing to die the death it deserves. Bring out the guillotine.

Since this is the week of Thanksgiving, that’s enough for now.

« Older posts

© 2014 William M. Briggs

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑