William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

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Movie Review: Calvary. Guest Post By The Blonde Bombshell


If you’ve seen the trailer or read a review of Calvary, you may get the impression that the movie is a mystery set in a quaint Irish village. If you’ve read interviews with the director or cast, you may get the impression that the movie’s deeper message has something to do with the sex abuse scandal that has plagued the Catholic Church.

Many non-Catholics and lapsed Catholics cannot get enough of the sex abuse scandal, even though the rates of abuse are reportedly much higher in many (US) public schools. Reports of abuse conducted outside of the Church are often cast off with a shrug, and not met with screams that public education must be reformed and calls that teachers must be married. It is not my intention to minimize the claims of those who have been injured and emotionally hurt by sex abuse, but to plead for a degree of perspective, especially from the media who report on such matters. Abuse of this nature is reprehensible and criminal.

The movie’s name, Calvary, suggests that there will be a sacrifice of an innocent. Calvary, of course, is the spot where Jesus was crucified, but to many Christians, “Calvary” is amplified to mean the crucifixion itself. “The road to Calvary” is not necessarily the geographic route that Jesus walked dragging his cross, but encompasses the events leading up to the crucifixion. The potential of this imagery is powerful, and is not mined to the fullest extent by writer/director John Michael McDonagh.

The movie has a promising beginning with an epigraph from St. Augustine:

Do not despair; one of the thieves was saved.
Do not presume; one of the thieves was damned.

For the uninitiated, when Christ hung on the cross, there were two criminals, commonly believed to be thieves, who were crucified at the same time, one on his right and the other on his left. One of them taunted Jesus, and dared him to “save yourself and us” (Luke 23:39). The second admonished the first by saying: “‘Don’t you fear God…since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom'” (Luke 23:40-42). Jesus turns to the second criminal and answers, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.'” (Luke 23:44).

St. Augustine directs our attention to the first thief who, by echoing the jeers of the Roman soldiers and the elders, damned his soul to perdition. Even as life dripped from his body, he wanted to be in the cool crowd and to be accepted by his tormentors.

If St. Augustine’s remark is meant to be foreshadowing, it is a confused foreshadowing. While nearly every sin of man is exposed during the film, no thievery has been confessed (accusations made, maybe, but no facts). Perhaps “thief” is meant to be “sinner” and that is a thread that can be followed for a little bit, before it unravels. It cannot be said with any confidence that anyone in the movie was or will be saved, and perhaps they all were or will be damned.

The movie opens in the confessional where the priest is warned that he’ll be killed on the following Sunday, and the suggestion is made that maybe he should get his “house in order”. The “penitent” tells the Father James (played by Brendan Gleeson) in startling graphic terms that he had been harmed by a priest in his youth and childhood and reasons that that the priest must pay, even if he is not personally guilty of sodomy.

The appointment for murder on Sunday is a little perplexing, and if the priest were meant to be a Christ figure, one may be inclined to think that he would meet his doom on the Friday before.

Characters and their assorted sins float in and out of the picture. With few exceptions, their lives neither seem intertwined nor dependent on one another. The priest’s daughter (legitimate daughter; born in marriage before he was widowed and took up his vocation), Fiona, enters, recovering from a failed suicide attempt. At one point, in the confessional, she asks her father if suicide is a sin, and he says that he had to give the matter some thought. He didn’t say that he was going to consult the Magisterium, but the viewer is led to believe that the fruit of the priest’s own thought would be able to provide the answer.

Inexplicably, Father James is called on to visit a serial killer/cannibal, who seems neither penitent nor contrite. It seems that he called for the priest more or less for his own amusement, to lessen the tedium of confinement. The murderer snivels, “God made me.” Modern audiences can fill in what is unspoken: God made me; ergo, He must accept and celebrate all that I do.

There is a sexually frustrated young man to whom Father James suggests pornography as a means of relieving his tension. The young man has already availed himself of the outlet, and is on to transsexuals. Father suggests that be might try his hand in Dublin, where the lasses may be more agreeable. The young man thinks that his own salvation will be to enter the military, which causes a problem for the priest: “The commandment, ‘thou shalt not kill’ doesn’t have an asterisk.” “What about self-defense?” asks the young man. “That’s a tricky one, all right,” says the priest.

There is the town floozy, to put it nicely, who is married to the butcher but who is sleeping with the mechanic (among others, so it seems) but all three march up to receive the host, and it is all okay. God made them, too.

There is the elderly writer that Father visits and brings food and drink. He requests a gun from the priest, to help him off this mortal coil, should the need arise. Father does manage to procure a gun from Inspector Stanton, but first we have to be introduced to his unstable gay lover who slyly suggests that he also passes time with the bishop.

This gun, unlike Chekhov’s, is tossed off a cliff and is rendered useless—that is, after the priest takes in too much beer and whiskey and shoots up the pub. This is after a quite moment when the proprietor confidentially tells him that he is facing foreclosure.

The nearest thing to the thief is the rich man, played by Dylan Moran (Black Books). He fears that charges will be brought against him for financial irregularities. His family has already left him, and it is just himself rambling around in his old house, where he is free to urinate on masterworks of art. It is a small mercy that the rich man does not gallop in with his checkbook to save the day for the pub owner or that the town does not band together to hold a raffle and a bake sale to save their favorite watering hole.

There is tourist who is mortally injured in a traffic accident and Father is called in to give last rites. The widow, who survived, is perhaps the most faithful and godly character in the movie, but she is only on screen for a few minutes. She is heartbroken, but she will survive. Father asks her to pray with him, and he starts, “Hail Mary, Full of Grace…” This may be an error, as I don’t know if the intention was to pray the rosary, which usually begins with the Apostles’ Creed.

After his bad night at the pub, the priest (inexplicably) heads to Dublin under the soothing tones of Roger Whittaker. We see him in the airport where he encounters the widow again, and we see a worker lean on her husband’s casket as easily as he would lean across the bar. Apart from showing the lack of reverence for the dead, it is not clear why the priest went to Dublin.

The movie is crisscrossed with other characters and events that may or may not be related to the denouement, and the viewer is left with a mystery. The movie is billed as a “black comedy”. There are light moments, and there are genuine comedians playing dramatic roles, such as Chris O’Dowd and Mr. Moran; however, “comedy” may be an overstatement.

In an interview with the San Diego Reader, writer/director John Michael McDonagh said:

(Having been married) I think that the priest is more able to comment with authority on moral issues. He’s somebody who has lived a full life. If he’s, say, mediating between a warring couple, he can actually speak about marriage and sex and everything else. I mean, most priests obviously can’t, and yet they do. Why have they got that authority to talk about something they don’t know anything about? Father James has it. But also, he struggled with alcoholism. So, he’s suffered, and he’s battled, and he’s not an entirely saintlike person. But he’s trying to be…

The writer/director has had some religious education when he was younger, but there are some gaps in that he doesn’t quite grasp the teachings of the Church or fully appreciate the gifts of scripture and tradition. A priest does not have to have the misery or joy of married life to intervene in a troubled marriage. In fact, even with Father James’s vast experience with married life, he was unable to bring peace to the butcher’s difficult marriage.

Perhaps it was a tricky one, all right.

New York City’s St Patrick’s Day Parade Caves: Update

The three is for the Trinity.

The three is for the Trinity.

In the end they caved for the oldest of reasons. Money. And now, flush with cash, the world has yet another parade devoted to (anti-evolutionary) sexual desire.

As if we needed it.

Last year, anti-Catholic brewers Guinness and Heineken pulled funding for the parade in the name of “diversity” and “inclusion” and, of course, sodomy. This encouraged other sponsors to either do the same or threaten it this year.

Parade organizers, anxious for their fees, caved, though each undoubtedly wondered whether political leader Timothy Dolan, this year’s Grand Marshall, would forget that the purpose of the parade was “honor of the Patron Saint of Ireland and the Archdiocese of New York“.

They needn’t have fretted. The far-left New York Times reports Dolan saying that “[I] pray that the parade would continue to be a source of unity for all of us.”

At press time here, it was unknown whether Dolan offered that prayer to Saint Patrick.

Good thing for organizers they have Dolan and not some more recalcitrant leader like, say, this gentleman:

In 1993, then-Cardinal John O’Connor, facing gay protesters who staged a sit-in during the parade, vowed that he “could never even be perceived as compromising Catholic teaching” by entertaining their admission as an identifiable group in the event. “Neither respectability nor political correctness is worth one comma in the Apostles’ Creed,” O’Connor declared in his homily at a Mass for St. Patrick’s Day that year.

The parade has always allowed adulterers, murderers, thieves, pederasts, puppy haters, those who don’t call their mothers, and yes even those who are sexually “oriented” toward goats or toward those of the opposite sex. But none of those sinners—and each of us is—was allowed to carry a sign “celebrating” their personal favorite perversion.

Now they are.

Strike that. Now only the homosexuals are. Those sinners without advocacy groups will either have to get organized fast, or continue to disguise their noncomformities.

I ask you: is that fair?

Well, maybe it isn’t. But your mother was once legally allowed to ask you rhetorically, who said life was fair?

The dominoes have already began to tumble. The press is gleeful, naturally. Dolan, a masterful politician, murmurs nice-sounding nothings. And even walking volcano William Donohue, president of the Catholic League and former fighter-to-the-death, has been quieted. He said “there should be no controversy” at this year’s parade.

The committee that organizes the parade insists that it is “remaining loyal to church teachings”—except, of course, for those teachings which are expedient to disavow.

Which makes one wonder if these people really understand what they have done. Doubtful, very doubtful. Why?

Yours Truly lives in Manhattan and has been to this parade many times. The loudest cheers are usually for the garbage men who scoop up horseshit, though at times, active duty military units have had that honor, and on one notable occasion, even the cops (in 2002).

But is there anybody who will bet against me, for any amount, that this year it will be the unit which advertises it sexual hobbies? The press will be there in force. The other 300-some units, except for a bagpipe group which will flit across your screens to set the context, will be ignored. The parade will be all sodomy all the time.

We’ve all seen “pride” parades, and to call these lewd and lascivious would be a gross understatement. Yet the St Patrick’s parade probably won’t meet that fate, if only because snow is not rare on March 17th, and the route is cold and long. Still, I predict at least once incident of near undress, probably in the audience. Don’t worry about missing it. The media will be sure to spotlight it.

Since there will be at least two cameras per “LBGT” marcher, the high-school and pipe bands, police benevolent groups, and military veterans will become jealous. After this year, a few groups will elect to eschew the parade, half for the jealousy and half because of the abandonment of tradition.

The organizers this year are only allowing one “orientation” unit. This will not be seen to be enough. The 2016 parade will have at least three.

Finally, there will be some squirming about the name. Saint Patrick? Isn’t that rather religious? Why not be more inclusive and call it Paddy’s Day? An event where “all” (where “all” means politically active) are welcome?

Update Monsignor Pope: It’s time to cancel the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and the Al Smith Dinner. Looks like Msgr Pope took the post down. Curious, that.

Update Here’s why.

Update Rorate Caeli has the entire text of Msgr Pope’s original post. Worth a read. “We don’t need parades and dinner with people who scoff at our teachings, insist we compromise, use us for publicity, and make money off of us. W’’re being played for (and are?) fools.”

Exposure To Fracking Reduces Low-Birth-Weight Babies

Natural gas naturally leaking from ground in Taiwan, in the absence of all corporate and government supervision. Source.

Shouldn’t a peer-reviewed paper which purports to tie chemicals produced in the manufacture of natural gas (fracking etc.) to birth defects actually measure exposure (of fetus carriers, i.e. “mothers”) to those chemicals?

If you answered yes, you’ll never make it as an academic or government bureaucrat. Those folks know that successful careers are those which produce the most work for government.

As proof of this, take the peer-reviewed paper “Birth Outcomes and Maternal Residential Proximity to Natural Gas Development in Rural Colorado” in Environmental Health Perspectives by Lisa M. McKenzie and a slew of others, each of whom relies for their living on government.

Yet curiously, in a front page statement of “Competing Financial Interests”, those authors “declare they have no competing financial interests.”

It’s a side point, but all authors who rely on the increase and status of government should and must declare a conflict of interest just as authors who work for industry do. (More on this another day.)

Back to McKenzie. Here’s how Think Progress summarized her findings: Preliminary Studies Show Potential Health Risk For Babies Born Near Fracking Sites.

Preliminary, potential, risk. Who said science is political?

McKenzie was interested in the causes of congenital heart defects, neural tube defects, oral clefts, preterm birth, and term low birth weight. Besides naturally occurring genetic defects and defects caused by maternal folate deficiency, smoking drunkness and drug use, and other such things, it is suspected that exposure to benzene, toluene, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and petroleum based solvents might also cause congenital birth defects.

Here’s the winning phrase from the paper: “Many of these air pollutants are emitted during development and production of natural gas (referred to herein as NGD) and concerns have been raised that they may increase risk of adverse birth outcomes and other health effects” (and she cites herself as a source for this assertion).

Many of these pollutants are emitted? Okay, I’ll bite. Which? Which exact pollutants were the women in her study exposed to, and at what concentrations?

Answer: McKenzie doesn’t know. Nobody does. The epidemiologist fallacy has struck again.

The best she could do was to measure how far from a well location each mother lived at the time of birth. Where were those mothers before birth? Same addresses? Did they spend most of their pregnancy near the wells or away on vacation? What genetic characteristics did the people who lived near gas wells have that people who lived near the country club do not? How many women were drunks or druggies?

Answer: McKenzie doesn’t know. Nobody does.

McKenzie arbitrarily (to us readers, anyway) picked a 10-miles radius to label mothers “exposed”—to what, always remember, we don’t know. But doesn’t saying “exposed” sound scary? And being “exposed” to a mere gas well can’t hurt you unless you stub your toe on one.

And then came the wee p-values.

But not before manipulating the data in order to get it to work. Inexplicably, McKenzie divided living-near-gas-wells (what she called “exposure”) into terciles.

Unfortunately for headline hunters—I’m still amazed Think Progress missed this—wee p-values were found for decreased risk of low birth weight and preterm birth. Why did we not see in large print “Exposure To Fracking Reduces Low-Birth-Weight Babies”?

Or maybe the mothers who live away from the country club are younger and eat more heartily? Nah.

Another oopsie: oral clefts also appear to decline in frequency for some “exposed” women. So says a wee p-value. And no go for neural tube defects or congenital heart defects for the majority of “exposed” women. No go in the sense of no wee p-values for the “exposed”.

Only those in the highest arbitrary tercile evinced wee p-values (and small effects) for congenital and tube defects. Yet we have to ask which method McKenzie used to correct for the multiple statistical testing she did, i.e. all the hunting for signals. Well, you know the answer.

“Still, Briggs, what about those high terciles? Even if McKenzie manipulated the data, isn’t there something there?”

You’re forgetting that McKenzie never measured exposure to anything, but only distance from listed home residence to gas wells, and that some of her analysis showed benefits from this “exposure.” And since this isn’t real exposure, we have to adjust the analysis to account for the uncertainty of substituting addresses for exposure to unknown chemicals. Once that is done, the wee p-values would almost certainly swell past publishable size.

There is nothing but surmise, conjecture, wishful thinking in papers like this. Believing that fracking is bad for babies based on this paper is like convicting an accused murderer simply because he lived near the victim.

Dan Farber, Berkeley Lawyer, Confused Climate Clinger

According to the public figure's Facebook page, this is a self portrait.

According to the public figure’s Facebook page, this is a self portrait.

For the art of the sophist is the semblance of wisdom without the reality, and the sophist is one who makes money from an apparent but unreal wisdom. —Aristotle

Dan Farber calls himself a “public figure“, and I believe him.

Unfortunately, it’s not a distinguished category, and, given his performance (outlined below), the appellation invites unfortunate comparisons.

Rosie “9-11” O’Donnell is a public figure, and so was Bozo the Clown (though the latter was beloved). And who could forget the People’s own scientist, comrade Trofim Lysenko?

But when I first read Farber’s “From germ theory to global warming, science denialism is beyond parody”, given the extreme violence he committed to calm reason and his mutilation of informed argument, the semblance which sprang to mind was public figure Jeffrey Dahmer.

Don’t think I’m picking on this heretofore unknown Dan Farber, God bless him. He is merely a symptom and not the disease. Delineating symptoms is an important part of understanding illness, however, so think of this article as a physician’s case report, all the while keeping in mind we’re dealing with a larger phenomenon than the mental corruption of one man.

Farber, like many, is a Climate Clinger. A man who, at least according to his public record, has no background in the science of fluid flow—would he, off the cuff, even know the atmosphere is a fluid? Did you?—yet who feels he knows enough to lecture his betters on (say) the modeling of radiative transfer using statistically derived inputs from satellites. How does instrument drift affect the input uncertainty?

Unburdened (it seems) with this knowledge, Farber apparently believes, and probably desires, the solution to global warming, but who (it’s a good bet) possess no real knowledge of the subject, beyond which he gleans from the media and other not-too-technical sources.

It’s surreal. It’s as if the bien pensant have been given their “talking points”, which they are able to parrot without having done the hard work of thinking, and who are so eager to please their masters that whoever is able to wound their enemies with the most vicious, facts-be-damned insult is to be awarded the highest position in that bright future which is to come.

Consider Farber’s feeble attempt to tie climate scientists who doubt the theory of apocalyptic global warming to those who deny the germ theory of illness.

If you’re inclined to doubt science, why not start with the germ theory of disease? After all, isn’t it implausible that illness, death, and even mass epidemics are caused by tiny invisible organisms that invade our bodies?

And what’s the evidence for that, really? Just the findings of scientists who can get big grants from NIH to study these so-called bacteria — not to mention studies financed by Big Pharm which makes a lot of money with supposed cures — and the views of doctors whose professional status and incomes are pumped up by their use of chemical antibiotics to treat diseases. And don’t forget about the massive government spending for sanitation and water treatment to eliminate “germs,” and the extensive regulation of the food industry, Big Government in action!

Sigh. This proves Farber has only read lightly, or has only retained little, of science history. That vapors, miasmas, and bad humors were the cause of disease was the consensus of the early nineteenth century. Why, 97% of scientists, and maybe even more, toed that line, and not only dared anybody to cross it, but they slew those who did.

Consider Ignaz Semmelweis who pleaded with his colleagues—with The Consensus—to at least listen to his arguments. Semmelweis’s reward? He was fired and hounded to an early grave.

The continued criticism and lash out finally broke him down. By 1865, he was suffering from depression, forgetfulness and other neural complaints and was eventually committed to an asylum. He only lasted there for two weeks and died on August 13, 1865 at the age of 47.

“When I look back upon the past, I can only dispel the sadness which falls upon me by gazing into that happy future when the infection will be banished…The conviction that such a time must inevitably sooner or later arrive will cheer my dying hour.”

Farber must have been possessed of a vague intuition that his intimation was ignorant, for he also said, “it turns out, there actually are germ denialists who accept that germs exist but don’t think they’re the real cause of disease. Rejection of the germ theory is found across the political spectrum…”.

That’s true, but misleading; because the stereotypical modern germ “denier” is a forty-four year-old first-time mother who aggressively pushes her stroller (affixed with faded “Obama-Biden 2012” sticker) around Park Slope, Brooklyn, actively looking for reasons to be aggrieved. Curiously, this woman will also wholeheartedly “believe” in global warming.

So much for the disease. The cure? Since the malady feeds on (perceived or real) approbation, cut off its supply. With, say, articles like this.


Readers might have noticed the unusual number of qualifiers (“seems”, “probably”). Farber is a lawyer, and these folks when wounded have been known to abandon truth and to start barking about the law. It’s a good strategy, because it distracts their opponents while allowing them to avoid admitting they were wrong.

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