William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

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Let’s Polka! Or How Polka Can Save The World — WMBriggs Podcast

The Polka Police say, “Let’s Polka!” And there’s no better way to polka than with the Schmenges, a.k.a. The Happy Wanderers, who are a must for any polka lover. That’s really Eugene Levy playing the according, though John Candy fakes (excellently) the clarinet. We’re listening to the whole piece…

Cabbage Rolls & Coffee

My first ever meal out, when I was still fresh, was cabbage rolls sans coffee at the Sanders on Michigan Avenue, right off Telegraph in Dearborn, which was still there, at least ten years ago. I’m scared to go back and see if it’s disappeared.

Polka isn’t, like most dance music, the sort of music you sit and listen to. There are exceptions, some of which we’ll meet here. There’s scarcely any intellectual component, yet it’s fun and perfectly harmless. A huge selling polka album was entitled Music for Happy People. And unlike most modern dance music, polka is always melodious and joyful.

Machine-generated music

There’s hours of that sort of thing, which sounds like a robot factory gone sour.

Unlike other people’s, or folks, or volks music, polka has a lot to say about food. It is the music to drink beer to. And, judging by the number of tunes devoted to the subject, the music to eat sausage to.

Who Stole the Kiska?

What goes on sausage? Besides mustard, I mean. Right: sauerkraut. Just a taste of this next one:

Sauerkraut Polka

Meals are not made of sausages alone. There are also dampfnudelen. We’ll eat the whole thing here.

Dampfnudel Polka

Everybody knows In Heaven There Is No Beer, which we heard a few seconds of, but perhaps you weren’t aware that the best rendition is by Da Yoopers. Da UP is north of the Mackinaw Bridge, eh, and people who live above it are Yoopers. I was one myself, having lived in the Soo (Sault Ste. Marie). Eh.

Plenty of cold and clouds in the UP, which might explain this classic from Da Yoopers, The Second Week In Deer Camp.

The Second Week In Deer Camp

Skipped right past the adorable little German girl yodeling. Saying “German girl” conjures in your mind an image which is now politically correct. As is yodeling. Who remembers this from a couple of years back? “Austria: Judge Rules That Yodeling Offends Muslims.

Austrian man fined after his yodeling offends his Muslim neighbor.

It seems as though in Austria, the popular yodel is an insult to Muslims.

An Austrian court has recently fined a citizen for yodeling while mowing his lawn, according to a report in The Kronen Zeitung newspaper.

The citizen, 63-year-old Helmut G., was told by the court that his yodeling offended his next-door Muslim neighbors, who accused him of trying to mock and imitate the call of the Muezzin…

Unfortunately for Helmut G., his neighbors were in the middle of a prayer when he started to yodel. The Kronen Zeitung reported that he was fined 800 Euros after judges ruled that he could have tried to offend his neighbors and ridicule their belief.

In honor of that judgment, here is an honorary Austrian man yodeling. Don’t try this at home.

Bert’s Yodel

Yodeling isn’t confined to the hinterlands of Bavaria and suchlike places. A goodly number of Germans settled in the hill country of Texas; places like New Braunfels and Fredericksburg. This accounts for the glory that was Don Walser, yodeler extraordinaire, who reigned in Austin and died in 2010.

Rolling Stone From Texas

Is yodeling political, then? The answer must be yes. Go back in time seventy-some years and we find this: “Fair Enough” by Westbrook Pegler, from the Evening Independent, 15 April 1938. Story opens:

Der Fuehrer Is Queerly Indifferent About Those Germans Who Are Suppressed by Mussolini

No sensible person would doubt the sincerity of [democratically elected] Chancellor Hitler, but there is something strange about his indifference to the plight of the 250,000 conquered Austrian Tyrol, where Mussolini more than a decade ago forbade the native yodel as a subversive expression. The unhappy German yodelers were terribly distressed by this cruel and unusual edict, and some them daringly continued to yodel in cellars at night in very subdued undertones, but the nervous strain was almost unbearable, nevertheless. A Tyrolean forbidden to use his natural means of expression is like a dog forbidden to bark. Tyroleans tried yodeling to themselves, yodeling in their sleeves and yodeling in their pillows at night, but Mussolini’s police seemed to be everywhere, and the captive minority were cruelly harassed.

Naturally, we have no choice but to hear from the Mitchell Trio (circa 1964). This one is for all you reactionaries listening.

I Was Not a Nazi Polka

So polka is politics. Well, everything is in a democracy. Don’t take my word for it. Polka saves lives. From the film It’s Happiness: A Polka Documentary. Polka saves the world!

It’s Happiness clips.

This security guard, who has been for many years watching over the annual Polka Festival in Bird Island, Minnesota agrees.

Security guard speaks.

Perhaps we are too serious. Not everybody likes the accordion, you know. The benighted are ever among us.

Hot Shots clip

The accordion is the window to the Russian soul! On the other hand, you can’t be serious enough!

Naked Gun clip

Did somebody say Al Yakonvic? Dr Demento surely did.

Demento documentary

Everybody knows Now-Not-So-Weird Al. But you’ve probably never heard this rare concert footage from, I think, 1984. Here is a snippet.

Weird Al

That’s it! We never had enough time. I couldn’t cover The Man Who Would Be Polka King, a film about Polka superstar, and associate of Donald Trump, Jan Lewan. Jack Black is rumored to play him in an upcoming movie. And don’t forget Polka Kings, the “reality” series about the Chardon Polka band, a group whose biggest success was to invent a polka for a mixed martial arts fighter to walk into the ring with.

We started with the Schmenges, we must close with the Schmenges. Ladies and gentleman and yaks,
The Last Polka.

The Last Polka

Update More Polka! Blonde Bombshell and I were in residence at the Hofbrau BierHaus on 3rd Avenue tonight. There may have been singing. Another benefit of polka. The Polka Brothers were there, playing all the favorites. They’ll be at Boyne Falls this August for the annual Polish Festival. Hope to see you there!

Here Comes The Gene-Editing Research In Human Embryos


The mechanistic view of man and the universe has consequences, the most important of which is that man is seen as a machine. Well, he must be if everything is machine.

Being a machine is not special, though there are specialized machines. Machines can be built, and machines fall apart. A man is sentimental when he becomes too attached to a machine. Machines can be improved.

That machines are routinely improved accounts for the headline “Gene-Editing Research in Human Embryos Gains Momentum: Experiments are now approved in Sweden, China and the United Kingdom“.

Imagination fails the machine-men directing gene-editing research. They, being progressives as all good people are, can see only the good that comes from tinkering. That the unexpected or the deleterious can come from “improvements” is not to be thought of. Mary Shelley had it over us. So did the ancients. Hubris is a dead word.

“A team led by Yong Fan at Guangzhou Medical University in China used the gene-editing technology CRISPR–Cas9 to try to introduce a mutation that makes humans resistant to HIV infection.” Suppose this technique is perfected and HIV (in its current form) can no longer be caught. Result? Huge increase in sodomy, almost surely, along with the cultural degradation which accompanies it.

“Briggs, you’re evil. You want people to die of AIDS!”

No, my statement was true, and stating a truth is not stating a desire. Anyway, we already know how to not catch HIV. Don’t have anal intercourse and don’t use dirty needles. Abstinence, that is. Not only can you live HIV/AIDs- and drug-free, society itself benefits from the absence of the dangerous acts.

Even this will be seen as cruel, because abstinence “denies” desires, and why shouldn’t machines have what they desire? Yet an HIV-infected man sodomizing another is not such a good libertarian, no? Skip it. What else does removing the ability (yes, ability) to catch HIV do to the body? Nobody knows.

The argument that an embryo is a human being, just as a child is a human being and an adult is a human being and a corpse is not a human being, and that an embryo is not a dandelion or a diamond or a ’65 Barracuda, and is therefore, as a human being, entitled to its life, is not convincing to a mechanist. Why?

Machines can be turned into other machines by suitable attachments or rearrangements of parts. Embryos, then, are only (non-speaking) machines and the only real thing that distinguishes them from dandelions or muscle cars is the number of parts. Which is why, obviously, experimentation is needed.

You’ll have noticed that mechanists are inconsistent in their treatment of most human beings who make it past the womb, beings who are not usually considered machines. Ah, but it would be cruel to expect consistency from anybody, let alone a mechanist. Besides, the movement towards raw pragmatism is well underway.

This paragraph caught my attention:

But Lanner doesn’t expect his work, which will explore early human development, to cause such a fuss. A year of discussion about the ethics of embryo-editing research, and perhaps simply the passage of time, seems to have blunted its controversial edge—although such work remains subject to the same ethical anxieties that surround other reproductive-biology experiments. “At least in the scientific community, I sense more support for basic-research applications,” says Lanner, who gained approval for his experiments last June.

Blunting of controversy is signal curse of our time. The majority is worn down by an indefatigable enemy, mostly because the majority has by now accepted the major premise of their enemy, which is mechanism. Point is, the water-drip torture form of argumentation has worked, is working, and it is therefore rational to suppose it will continue to work.

Research involving the editing of human embryos will begin soon elsewhere in the world, if it hasn’t done so privately already.

I’d bet it has; and I’d bet it’ll continue, despite any laws passed to ban it. The USA isn’t the only country, after all, and the Chinese are mechanists from way back. Indeed, the same magazine predicts the first lab-engineered human machines will be produced in China.

In theory, genome editing could also be used to ‘fix’ the mutations responsible for heritable human diseases. If done in embryos, this could prevent such diseases from being passed on.

Genetic diseases don’t exist on their own, of course, so nobody knows what “removing” a disease from somebody’s genes will do, especially because genetic disease are not so easy to de-engineer or disentangle. We’ll discuss the nature of this kind of evidence another time.

Another point to keep in mind: how these new purposefully made-superior beings (there will be claims of engineered higher intelligence, etc. etc.) will be viewed by us normals.

None of these considerations will matter. The prize of perfection is too gleaming.

Ritual Sacrifice Promoted Evolution Of Stratified Societies: A Statistical Fallacy


His Majesty

Every human society except one is stratified. The exception is the empire of William I, a small sand island that comes and goes by a remote and isolated bend in the Chippewa River, depending on the rainfall. This kingdom is the only known truly egalitarian culture in existence.

Because why? Because this Island Empire has only one permanent resident, your Majestic Host, hence all inhabitants are necessarily equal.

We hesitate to tell you this because, given the mania for Equality, the solution we have hit upon might appeal to the zealous, and we have grown fond of many of you.

In any case, every other society and culture is stratified and unequal. At the least, in the countries which approach or claim egalitarianism, parents preside over their children, and treat their own progeny differently than the children of others, and the majority who vote or act one way establish dominance over the minority who oppose them.

Off with their heads

This is important to understand because some scientists, led by Joseph Watts, in a peer-reviewed paper in Nature, tell us that ritual human sacrifice produced stratified societies. This isn’t opinion, it’s scientific theory: “According to the social control hypothesis, human sacrifice legitimizes political authority and social class systems, functioning to stabilize such social stratification.”

Let’s scour the memory banks on this one and see if we agree. Well, in a society those that kill are at least more important than those who are axed, plus, as discussed above, every society with at least two members is stratified, so Watts’s theory appears to be on solid ground. We agree that there is “strong support for models in which human sacrifice stabilizes social stratification”, but we disagree that stabilization occurs only “once stratification has arisen” as Watts says, because stratification is ever present. What’s true, we suppose, is that the type of stratification would be set in blood.

“The methods of sacrifice [they studied] included burning, drowning, strangulation, bludgeoning, burial, being crushed under a newly built canoe, being cut to pieces, as well as being rolled off the roof of a house and then decapitated.”

That last one’s a little harsh, no? You’ve already suffered the indignity of being rolled off a roof, but then to have your head cut off, too? Even the killing methods are egalitarian. There is more dignity being crushed under a new canoe instead of a soiled one.

Have we lost track, here, dear reader? Ah, yes, we need more if we’re going to make this commonsense observation into science. We need quantification.

Watts looked to “93 traditional Austronesian cultures from the Pulotu database” and classified societies thusly:

Cultures that lacked inherited differences in wealth and status were defined as lacking social stratification, and were coded as egalitarian. Cultures were coded as moderately stratified if there were inherited differences in wealth and social position with the potential for status change within a generation, and highly stratified if there were inherited difference in wealth and social position with little or no possibility of status change within a generation.

We’ll give them this, but it’s not to be believed because no society is truly egalitarian. Even the great egalitarian society of the once United States gives preference to inherited status; just ask Jeb Bush; just ask your own children.

Watts et al. saw that ritual sacrifice “was practiced in 5 of the 20 egalitarian societies” and at greater rates in “moderately stratified” and still greater rates in “highly stratified” societies.

This accords with the commonsense model that the more killing there is, the more the killers secure their and their families’ positions, lest they find themselves under the canoe or rolled off rooftops.

Now there might be some interest in predicting, à la Hari Seldon, the rate at which priests in such (carefully defined) societies become hereditary. Once somebody hits upon the swell idea of killing to appease the gods, the society in which this happens surely changes. The nature of that change is an excellent question.

All this is fine, but the authors—and in this they are in no way unique—had to booger it up with a statistical (Bayesian!) model. What they had to do but did not was to examine, society by society, how the type of stratifications which existed before sacrifices began solidified or morphed after the heads came off.

Instead they used their models to “prove” that stratification and sacrifice were “linked” causally. But statistical models are silent on cause, so the authors committed a formal fallacy. The conclusion of their fallacy—societies in which ritual killings exist are more rigidly stratified—is true. And we understand it is true because we understand human nature. Yet the authors said the conclusion was true because some Bayes factor exceeded some number, which is a fallacy.

For a concrete example, they said: “The results from our second series of analyses indicates that human sacrifice increased the rate at which cultures with human sacrifice gain high social stratification, but did not function to stabilize high social stratification once it had arisen.”

They could have had that same result without a model, just by looking and counting and analyzing the societies—no model needed!—and therefore the result would have been on firm ground. It is only a coincidence that that statistical model agreed with reality. Just think: the rigidity of stratification could have occurred because of sacrifice in only one society, but because it was only one, the statistical model would have said the phenomenon didn’t happen!

Plus, they (and we) would have learned more if they examined why which societies fell into sacrifice and which did not. That would have taken real work; certainly more than an afternoon playing with numbers.

Statistical analysis is so often a tool of the lazy that it’s unremarkable that it occurred here. And then you wonder why they bothered at all, when they say at the very end this: “Throughout human history the practice of human sacrifice was often used by social elites as a display of power, intended to instil [sic] fear of the secular and supernatural consequences of transgressing ruling authority.”

Seems they already knew the answer before they began. Which indicates they thought the statistics would give formal proof of what they knew, which is false. Statistics should only be used when we don’t know what’s going on and need to quantify uncertainty of what might happen.

Allure of theory

Finally came this nugget, the last sentence of the article “Unpalatable as it might be, our results suggest that ritual killing helped humans transition from the small egalitarian groups of our ancestors, to the large stratified societies we live in today.”

Thwwwppbbt. This is too far, too much. There is no warrant to extrapolate from the some dumb model to such a gross simplification of human history as this.

Thanks to the many readers who brought this article to my attention. Since these were on Twitter, I’ve lost who they were!

Summary Against Modern Thought: God Can Do Everything Not Logically Impossible

This may be proved in three ways. The first...

This may be proved in three ways. The first…

See the first post in this series for an explanation and guide of our tour of Summa Contra Gentiles. All posts are under the category SAMT.

Previous post.

Last week was meatier, showing God cannot do the logically impossible; this week our saintly guide shows God can do what isn’t.

Chapter 26 That the divine intellect is not constrained to certain determined effects (alternate translation)

[1] FORASMUCH as it has been proved that the divine power is not limited to certain determined effects, and this because He acts not by a necessity of His nature, but by His intellect and will; lest some one perhaps should think that His intellect or knowledge can only reach to certain effects, and that consequently He acts by a necessity of His knowledge, although not by a necessity of His nature: it remains to be shown that His knowledge or intellect is not confined to any limits in its effects.

[2] For it was proved above that God comprehends all other things that can proceed from Him, by understanding His essence, in which all such things must necessarily exist by a kind of likeness, even as effects are virtually in their causes. If, then, the divine power is not confined to certain definite effects, as we have shown above, it is necessary to pronounce a like opinion on His intellect.

[3] Further. We have already proved the infinity of the divine intellect. Now, no matter how many finite things we add together, even though there were an infinite number of finite things, we cannot equal the infinite, for it infinitely exceeds the finite, however great.

Now it is clear that nothing outside God is infinite in its essence: since all else are by the very nature of their essence included under certain definite genera and species. Consequently, however many and however great divine effects be taken, it is always in the divine essence to exceed them: and so it can be the ratio of more. Wherefore the divine intellect, which knows the divine essence perfectly, as we have shown above, surpasses all finitude of effects. Therefore it is not necessarily confined to these or those effects.

Notes Not for the first time Aquinas gets his math right; and recall there are infinities and infinities, one larger than the next. Mathematicians have an idea of a final or largest infinity, and perhaps not uncoincidentally it is strikingly similar to Anselm’s ontological statement “we believe that thou art a being than which nothing greater can be conceived.”

[4] Again. It was shown above that the divine intellect knows an infinite number of things. Now God brings things into being by the knowledge of His intellect. Therefore the causality of the divine intellect is not confined to a finite number of effects.

Notes Numbering the hairs on your head, or all the quarks in the universe is nothing for God, because these are all finite in number, and anything finite is infinitely far from infinity.

[5] Moreover. If the causality of the divine intellect were confined to certain effects, as though it produced them of necessity, this would be in reference to the things which it brings into being. But this is impossible; for it was shown above that God understands even those things that never are, nor shall be, nor have been. Therefore God does not work by necessity of His intellect or knowledge.

Notes God has choice, free will.

[6] Further. God’s knowledge is compared to things produced by Him, as the knowledge of the craftsman to his handiwork. Now every art extends to all the things that can be comprised under the genus subject to that art: thus the art of building extends to all houses. Now the genus subject to the divine art is being: since God by His intellect is the universal principle of being, as we have proved. Therefore the divine intellect extends its causality to whatever is not incompatible with the notion of being: for all such things, considered in themselves, are of a nature to be contained under being. Therefore the divine intellect is not confined to certain determined effects…

Notes Appropriate here to remind us that metaphysics is the subject of being, a subject about which science is necessarily silent.

Chapter 27 That the divine will is not confined to certain effects (alternate translation)

[1] IT may also be proved from the foregoing that neither is His will, by which He works, necessitated to produce certain determinate effects.

[2] For it behoves the will to be proportionate to its object. Now the object of the intellect is a good understood, as stated above. Hence the will has a natural aptitude to extend to whatever the intellect can propose to it under the aspect of good. If, then, the divine intellect is not confined to certain effects, as we have shown, it follows that neither does the divine will produce certain determinate effects of necessity.

[3] Further. Nothing acting by will produces a thing without willing. Now it was proved above that God wills nothing other than Himself of absolute necessity. Therefore effects proceed from the divine will not of necessity but by its free ordinance.

Notes The same goes for us in N=nothing acting by will produces a thing without willing, of course.

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