William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Page 149 of 614

Will Someone Please Laugh At These Jokes?

Well, I think these are funny.

Update And then for something not as funny.

Update This is for my number-two son.

Coming Out Christian: Guest Post by Hut Evenest

Nothing better to keep you warm in winter.

Readers should understand bestiality is allowed in many countries. Hut Evenest is a writer from Finland, a country in which the practice is legal. Their preferred term is zoophilia. The picture was my idea.

How faithful zoophilics are transforming our churches.

Coming out of the closet is the simplest tool of the zoophilia movement, yet it’s proven to be the most powerful and even the most spiritually profound. On the political side, Statistics Finland data this year found that knowing someone who is zoophilic was the most common reason people switched to supporting inter-species marriage, and the percentage of people who know someone openly zoophilic has risen over 25 points since 1993.

But on a more personal level, coming out is a practice of honesty and integrity—no more “pronoun games,” no more hedging and sudden silence when the conversation turns to romance or visions of one’s future. The coming-out narrative transforms a source of shame and stigma into a freely accepted, simple truth, which no longer excludes one from the ordinary social world. Coming out allows deeper bonds to be formed: not only romantic relationships but deeper friendships, more honest familial ties, and more pointed and relevant relationships with spiritual guides such as confessors or pastors.

As the zoophilia movement has enjoyed remarkable success, a new kind of coming out is occurring, in which zoophilic or interspecies attracted Christians openly discuss both our sexual orientation and our desire to live according to the historic teaching of the Christian church, which bars sexual activity between people and animals. As zoophilic Christians—an unavoidably reductive term—come out, our presence is changing the culture of our churches.

When I became Catholic, in 1998, I didn’t know of a single other openly zoophilic Christian who intended to follow Church teaching on sexuality. I made my way through what appeared to be a trackless wilderness armed with good friends, cheap vodka, and hubris. Nowadays an undergraduate in my circumstances could simply Google and find scores of websites with names like Odd Man Out and Sexual Authenticity. The blog Spiritual Friendship brings together a relatively wide range of writers with different sexual orientations, vocations, and church affiliations. (I’m a contributor there.) Those online communities have led to many real-life connections: it seems like every week I see somebody on Facebook posting about his road trip to meet other animal-loving Christians.

In July, Kristus Finn magazine profiled three Finnish “evangelical church leaders who experience interspecies attraction,” all of whom used real names and photos. Over the summer, in an uncoordinated movement that reflects a rapidly changing culture, several bloggers who had used pseudonyms began to use their real names instead. Bestiality is being transformed from a faceless, shadowy problem “out there” to an umbrella term for a wide range of experiences that affect ordinary people you might pass on the street or pass the peace to in church.

Many celibate zoophilic Christians have found support from their friends and church communities—although acceptance can take a long time.

We’re often ashamed to admit that we suffer. It’s humiliating and it makes us feel like we’re not good enough Christians. This is bizarre since there are very few aspects of Jesus’ own internal life that we know as much about as His suffering. Jesus—unmarried, marginalized, misunderstood, a son and a friend but not a father or spouse—is the preeminent model for zoophilic Christians. In this, as in so many things, we are just like everybody else.

She said what?

No, I’m only kidding. The real piece is from Eve Tushnet (Hut Evenest is an anagram) at American Conservative (did he say conservative?). I only switched telltale words: “gay” with “zoophilic”, “Pew Research” with “Statistics Finland”, and so forth. I did not change the names of the blogs Tushnet references. Readers are welcome to check me.

Was just curious to see how the increasingly common argument used by Tushnet would play using other “orientations.” Tushnet went on for treble the length of the excerpt and it’s a useful exercise to continue the substitutions because, as said, this line of reasoning is showing up everywhere.

I gather Tushnet’s “soft words”, digressions, and dancing around the point are meant to invoke the bully response, provoking opponents to dismiss her argument using untactful or distasteful language, so that Tushnet supporters (she’d be too polite to answer) could retort, “Quit picking on her!” Lost will be whether Tushnet’s approach makes any sense. Does it?

No, I’m not comparing men who lust after men and women who lust after women with people who lust after the beasts of the wood. “Orientations” are what “orientations” do. Bestiality is legal in Finland and other venues. Remember, Jesus never said you couldn’t date your Yak. And isn’t any increase in love a good thing?

If you don’t like zoophilia, why not try substituting bisexuality or pedophilia? Or…but need I continue the list? People didn’t like it much when a group of priests got caught orienting themselves toward teenage boys, though. As you read this, ask yourself: am I being judgmental?

Or—show of hands—who’s for the asking people to keep quiet about who or what they want to have sex with? Do we want men who lust after women donning club t-shirts and running around church saying, “Look at the keister on that one. Whoa! Too bad Church tradition forbids me a pinch. I’d be all over her except I remember Matthew 5-38: ‘But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.'”

Voting (And Wisdom Of The Crowds)

First read Wisdom of the Crowds (and Voting).

There are in this great land of ours some 315 million souls. Citizens, I mean. Another 12 millions (or so) are, as the euphemism goes, undocumented. If democracy is defined as one-man-one-vote then democracy does not exist in the USA for the very simple reason that only about seven out of ten are permitted to vote in national elections. And even those eligible are not allowed to vote on everything.

It’s true, I promise. Somewhere around one-third of all people are forbidden to vote for candidates for office. And the numbers barred from casting ballots in other governmental matters? Monumental.

Are you scandalized? Is this an affront to Equality, that great and noble goal? Should we march?

In a “pure” democracy everybody votes on everything. We are thus not a pure democracy, but something else (we used to say “republic”). Some think a pure democracy undesirable because it is absurd. It is absurd because most of us do not want infants and children voting (but then we’re not all progressives), and we do not want citizen-wide votes on every matter which arises.

Ask yourself what receives more praise than Democracy, that system as bad as all the others except somehow superior? Why, it even garners more veneration than diversity! It is so wonderful we’re intent on exporting it by force. Peoples will be democracies, we say, even if it kills them.

So we’re not a democracy, but we aim towards one. Take a gander at this:

Onwards and upwards!

Onwards and upwards!

The percent of citizens eligible to vote in presidential (a position of increasing power) elections has been inching ever upwards, and so has the percent of voters who showed up.1 Some of this increase is due to structural changes, such as the fifteenth (race) and nineteenth (women) Constitutional amendments, but more interesting to us is the twenty-sixth (extending the vote to 18-year-olds); and some change is due to shifting age distributions (the greater the proportion over eighteen, the more eligible to vote).

Citizens have also been encouraged to vote in more matters, such as latterly for Senators (seventeenth amendment), or directly for legislation, thus far only at the State level (right, California?). This is all in the direction of pure democracy; however, nobody, except possibly academics, thinks we’ll ever get there.

It’s become a staple of talk radio to quiz dazed-looking folks as they exit polling stations in presidential elections. Oddly, few of these voters can name the Vice President, almost none know the Secretary of State. How many can define (say) the difference between the deficit and the debt? Or could name the ambassador to China? Ignorance abounds, but still people vote. And let’s don’t forget ardor: voters sure love their man.

Why vote? Because there are disagreements. Why are the disagreements? Because there is uncertainty in the sense that people base their decision on different information. People also have differing near-term or small goals, though presumably voters share the meta-goal of “making a better country” (or whatever).

And so finally we return to the Wisdom of the Crowds, which has (as we showed) three forms. Averaging votes—here, as a guess of the best man for the job—can work when the crowd is operating on (largely) unbiased information, when they have some clue about the real answer but have uncertainties that vary from person to person. Elections for small-town council members are a good example. So is voting where to go to lunch.

Wisdom of the Crowds can also be a formal fallacy. When a crowd is ignorant of its subject matter it cannot reliably provide accurate guesses, i.e. good votes. Darts thrown blindfolded are just as dependable. Votes of ignorant crowds will in general be harmful. High school seniors escorted to the polls on a bus driven by democracy-loving teachers is an example of a voting bloc best stuck in traffic.

The third and most insidious form is biased information. Averaging biased votes gives biased resultes. Now a good proportion of populaces in democracies imbibe willingly drafts of information from sources far more dubious than the moustachioed man from our last example. Bias therefore abounds.

And must, necessarily. As the proportion of a population eligible to vote increases, both ignorance and susceptibility to bias must increase. This result assumes the tacit premises that intelligence is subject to variation, which most accept, and that the young are less wise and more swayable than the old, which everybody believes.

The result is that the closer a state comes to a pure democracy, the larger the mistakes it is capable of making in voting.

I think many already know this, but mentioning it is considered gauche.


1Population data was compiled from the US Census Bureau, with linear extrapolations between decades prior to 1900. Turnout was found here and here. The percent turnout differs in different sources: it is often an estimate, which means it is the product of statistical models, the precisions of which I don’t know. Meaning, all results above are not entirely certain.

Wisdom Of The Crowds (And Voting)

Ramses III had a petite honker.

Have you heard of Mesd-su-Re? One of the participants of the Great Harem Conspiracy under Ramses III? Probably not. But I need to know the length of his nose right before he died (don’t ask why). I thought I’d invoke the “wisdom of crowds”, i.e. the Internet, and run a reader poll. Send this request to everybody you know, the more the better. Write down what you think the length was (inches or centimeters) and I’ll take the average. Got to be a pretty good guess, right?

Let’s tweak it, make it better. Suppose we run a national campaign to raise awareness about estimating Mesd-su-Re’s nose. TV ads, radio spots, pundits, community organizers, teachers, even bureaucrats all getting the word out about this important subject. That’ll really bring ’em in!

Before we begin, I should tell you that only vile racists guess lengths under four inches. Only those sympathetic with the war on women go short. The right side of history is with the long nose! Elites stand as one. Stars and starlets agree: length matters.

Okay, everybody. Put down your numbers. I’ll wait here.

Argumentum ad populum.

He said what?

Ignore the blatant political prompting and suppose only that I had asked for the length of Mesd-su-Re’s nose. If people had no information, other than the usual olfactory arcana we all possess—e.g., none of us has seen a human nose longer than one meter and noses can’t have negative length—there is no reason to suppose just guessing-and-averaging is helpful. How could it be? Ignorance plus ignorance divided by two is still ignorance. Ignorance-averaging is a fallacy which is actually well known; goes by the name The Chinese Emperor’s Nose. I changed it to an Egyptian Prince here for variety and for a second reason to be revealed below.

The proof the Wisdom of Crowds is the Chinese Emperor’s Nose fallacy is somewhat involved, but here’s a rough sketch. People’s guesses about Mesd-su-Re’s nose will have a minimum, maximum, and some arithmetic mean which lies between (or at one of) these two. If people have no idea about the length (except possibly rough bounds; this is the key) then the mean of guesses is probably near the midpoint, the center of maximum minus minimum. Then regardless of where the real answer lies, the error (distance from guess to real answer) averaged across people will be the same as the error using the mean. In other words, crowds have no wisdom of subjects in which they are ignorant.

Wait! That the Wisdom of Crowds can sometimes provide reasonable predictions is obviously true. It could work in the sense as when an economist throws an equation at a list of stocks which sticks. But that’s (credentialed) luck. Crowd wisdom is also successful when people have some idea, some unbiased idea, of the answer. If individuals in a group had opinions like, “I don’t know exactly what the answer is, but I know or can see it’s X plus-or-minus” then averaging might provide superior guesses to the average individual.

Yet when a crowd is fed biased information the game is off.

Example. You might look at that jar of pennies (long-time reader and contributer DAV reminded me of this example) and know that it can’t contain a million pennies; no, nor a hundred thousand. But we all know pennies and many of us have jars of change, so we could all form a crude but not insane idea of the number. The average of many in this case is likely to be a good guess.

Then imagine a moustachioed slickster standing by the jar whispering, “Psst, buddy. There’s a solid cone of cork in the middle. Only looks like there’s a lot of pennies. Word to the wise.” Finger on the nose and everything. Hey, he might be in on it: could be a hot tip—and if many think so there goes the accuracy of the average (supposing he’s fibbing).

Recapitulation. Wisdom of the crowds isn’t worth squat when individuals are ignorant of the subject matter they’re guessing. Averaging is okay, but only when folks are using unbiased information. The bad news is already well known: spreading misinformation works. People, even groups of them, will come to wrong conclusions conditioning on flawed premises.

So what does this have to do with voting? Well, everything. But that’s for another time.

Meanwhile, here’s the answer. Zero, you racist. Inches or centimeters. The length of Mesd-su-Re’s nose at the end of his life. Ramses had it sliced off for daring to corrupt his (Ramses’s) harem. Ouch. The lesson is: don’t guess unless you have to, and when you do, be less confident.

See also Voting (And Wisdom of the Crowds).

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