William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Page 395 of 559

World Cup, Statistics, Movie Lines, Cracked, and Clubbing

USA 1, Small Island Nation 1

Fabio Capello Fabio Capello, pictured left, shows us the tracks his tears took after Robert Green revealed his American sympathies by suspiciously letting a shot through—a shot so weak that it could have come from my old mother.

I’m not saying I know anything, but Capello—who was beautifully dressed in a perfectly cut three-piece suit, incidentally—ought to check Green’s locker for small bags stuffed with Franklins. If found, they could explain a lot. I guess England will now have to reconsider the importance of the now-ubiquitous phrase, “Going Green.”

Teaching

Tomorrow, I start my two-week class at Cornell. Because of this and other commitments, I will not have a lot of free time. So I might turn the blog over to a journal of the class, or at least a record of the lessons.

Trying to cram all of probability and statistics plus require all students complete a project in two weeks is impossible. Finding the shortcuts and compressions to make it work is what makes it interesting. Call it probability as poetry. Tomorrow 9am: logic and knowledge.

Movie Lines I Long to Use

“Hey big guy. Circus in town?” Spoken by Johnny Twennies (Gibson Frazier) to a giant, lumbering oaf in Man of the Century. This charming favorite features the redoubtable nightclub singer (now deceased) Bobby Short.

Frazier wrote and directed the movie, which tells the story of a man who resides in modern-day Manhattan but who lives as if it’s the 1920s. The oaf is a bodyguard to Roman Navarro (Frank Gorshin; yes, the Riddler) who is “auditioning” young hopeful Virginia Clemens (Cara Buono). Johnny escorts Virginia to Navarro, oblivious of his ill intent, but eventually comes to the lady’s rescue, after first dispensing with the oaf.

“Beauty is but a curse to our women.” This is one of the howlers from The Ten Commandments which I treasure. It is always there, at the back of my mind, looking for an opportunity to come out when the circumstance is just right. So far, no joy.

Global Warming is Good For You

Reader Nate Winchester sends us over to Cracked magazine, which is where we now have to go to read fair and balanced journalism on global warming.

They tell us the obvious: warmer temperatures could mean greater crop production and fewer deaths from the complications of cold weather (such as freezing).

Relying on Cracked is sort of like how we had to wait for the National Enquirer to report the sordid story of ambulance chaser and Vice President wanna-be John Edwards.

It’s not all bad for traditional journalism: the main-stream press does do a solid job of reprinting SEIU press releases.

Only $375 A Bottle

The New York Post has another hard-hitting article on how difficult it is to gain entry to the city’s nightclubs. One of these pieces appears roughly every six months.

They sent six models dressed variously as geeks, guidos, and Jersey girls to see if they could slide past the gorillas pawing the velvet ropes (“Hey big guy. Circus in town?”). Depending on the hipness-factor of the club, they either had little trouble or were absolutely denied.

The geeky girl didn’t pass on looks, but the models with stick-thin bodies favored by the predominately homosexual men and ex-young ladies who run the fashion industry slid through the cracks, no questions asked.

In some instances, doormen were lenient to Post crew, but required pledges of hundreds of dollars to “reserve” a table, or they demanded credit cards on which the club would charge $375-dollar bottles of booze.

The desire to enter one of these establishments is a pathetic thing to see. Entrants must know they are going to be gouged; they must realize that they are about to be surrounded by a zombie-like crowd of vapid, shallow, emaciated people whose idea of a good time is to be surrounded by a zombie-like crowd of…well, you get the idea. Looks are everything. Beauty is but a curse to these women?

Perhaps this is why the music at these places is turned up to punishing levels. The sounds called “music” at ordinary volume would meet the old Geneva-convention definition of torture, but the decibels reached at the club level are beyond cruel. The music is so loud that it is almost liquid.

Yet people pay to enter. It is—and I do not exaggerate—my idea of hell.


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Castrate People To Prevent Global Warming Suffering?

For another take, be sure not to miss this.

When I was much younger and vastly stupider, I made a snide remark to my father who was engaged in what I thought was a drudgery. He shot me a look that was so at once so gentle and so withering that I have never forgotten it. “And here I thought I was enjoying myself,” he said.

This lesson in minding my own damn business was one of the crucial inoculations I received that prevented me from catching the disease of intellectualism.

But it was more than that. It also taught me what should have been obvious: we are often not the best judges of another’s happiness. True, there are limits and universals—there can be no proscription on proscriptions—and as parents we must act as judges, but for the nearly infinite mundane activities of mankind, we should not criticize, nor direct, nor legislate, nor regulate, nor bureaucratize, etc.

Pete Singer has not learned this lesson. He, and many of his fellow academic intellectual—many of whom are award winning—philosophers say that it would have been “better” if you had never been born; further, that it would be “better” if you never have children.

For people who categorize themselves as brilliant, what is most amazing is that those who promulgate such theories never see the immediate contradiction. If the brilliant had never been born, then the world would never have figured out that they should never have been born, either. For if these vast intellects never appeared, then mankind would have gone on procreating and saying to itself, “And here we thought we were enjoying ourselves.”

But never mind. It is an un-shakeable premise with the intellectual that any human necessarily suffers, or that the probability of a miserable life for the unborn is non-zero.

The first suggested premise is obviously false—it can be believed only if you insist that anybody who claims to have led a useful, happy, productive life is lying. And once you start believing that, you are no longer worth arguing with.

The second suggested premise is just as obviously true. But the probability is non-zero only because anything that might happen to us is contingent. The probability of misery is not large for all, and near zero for many. To say that it is large is to ascribe to yourself predictive powers that have been empirically shown not to exist. But who needs evidence when you have belief?

Singer quotes approvingly from David Benatar, author of Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence (by quoting, Singer admits that Benatar’s existence has been useful: the contradiction again). Singer:

To bring into existence someone who will suffer is, Benatar argues, to harm that person, but to bring into existence someone who will have a good life is not to benefit him or her…[E]veryone will suffer to some extent, and if our species continues to reproduce, we can be sure that some future children will suffer severely. Hence continued reproduction will harm some children severely, and benefit none.

The premise that, accepting someone will have a good life, but that that life is not a benefit to him is so discreditable that it is not even false. But it is necessary that you accept it as not just true, but laden with a kind of mystical significance of the kind that ordinary mortals cannot be brought to see but that intellectuals can.

So, is it to the gas chamber with us unhappy people? After all, if our lives are not a benefit—we are a blot on nature!—and that we are only seemingly happy, then it would be better to snuff us out as quickly as possible, would it not?

Singer says that because of the suffering sure to be wrought by global warming, we should “make ourselves the last generation on earth.” How? Well, “If we would all agree to have ourselves sterilized then no sacrifices would be required.” Italics all mine, baby: this is the second time in a week we meet those would use castration to fight global warming. Hey, Petey, if you’re looking for sacrifices, then there’s no better way than to set the example.

A world without people is a blissful place to the intellectual. Why, just think: “No one’s rights will be violated”! One of the many, many commenters anxious to agree with Singer’s religion says, “I love the idea of a planet devoid of people, healing itself from our damage, taken over by animals and plants.”

Ah, the contradiction again, this time in a different form. The intellectual somehow believes he will be able to smile down on creation after mankind has been exterminated. He will then say, “Now is better than before” and be oblivious to the counterfactual, which is that we cannot know what the world would have been like had we never been here.

There is much more to be said, but I have gone on too long. Besides, it’s nearly time to pretend to enjoy myself watching Greece tackle South Korea.

Oh, did I mention that Singer is “Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University and Laureate Professor at the University of Melbourne”? My, such honors. It must therefore be that I am wrong.


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Will Nature’s Lust Force A Change In Peer Review?

Nature is one sexy item. All the top scientists ogle it and want to possess it. It wears a slick, glossy cover, speaks only in seductive tones, and feels its company is so valuable that it charges scientists $17,000 to get between the covers.

That figure is for what Nature is asking the University of California and other university libraries to store a year’s worth of copies, including (partial) electronic access. They used to want a quarter of that fee, but since they figured out that they are so desirable, they’re bumping up the cover price to—as president O would say—unprecedented levels.

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education (linked from A&LD), the UC system is fighting back. The chief librarians are floating the “B” word.

As in boycott, an activity of such familiarity to Californians that the state provides checklist refrigerator magnets so that earnest residents can recall who the many people/businesses/governments they’re protesting against.

The librarians are asking UC profs to cease submitting articles to Nature and its sister publications, resign from editorial boards, and to just say no to requests to review articles.

Now, you can ask UC profs to protest nearly anything, especially if that thing is related to Western high culture or tradition. But here they’re being asked to protest against themselves. Having an article in Nature counts as much as having three or four elsewhere. Being listed on the editorial board is practically a tenure guarantee.

Still, according to the Chronicle, similar protests have happened before. And if anybody can protest, it’s a Californian.

And do you know, in this case, I am with them. Nature has the absolute, inviolable right to charge whatever they wish for their publications. If they want one-million per, why, God bless them. But I have the right not to pay.

Besides, in the case of Nature papers, I can safely ignore them and wait for the full paper to appear elsewhere, such as on the authors’ websites. Nature papers are brief; most are no more than three or four pages and present only a precis of the research. Papers which expand the concepts nearly always appears elsewhere in time.

The UC and other university libraries pay about $4,000 to $8,000 for each journal subscription. The average number of publications subscribed to is about 8,000 per library. That’s about $40 million a year, which is, even in California, big bucks. Add that figure up over the hundreds of libraries, and we’re talking real money.

Scientific publishing is a lucrative trade. About once a week I receive an email announcing the creation of yet another title, all with names like “The Far East’s North-West’s Corner Journal of Modern Thought”. A little less often, I receive emails asking me to submit my name for consideration to the editorial board of these journals. The emails always mention what an honor it is to be asked.

That the number of journals proliferates without end is no surprise. The number of universities and colleges is also increasing, as are the sizes of the extant ones. That, of course, means more professors, who must publish, publish, publish. Their papers must appear somewhere, and since there just isn’t room in the old journals, new ones must appear.

Those papers all undergo “peer review”, which is a system whereby an editor (usually unpaid; sometimes provided with funds for a secretary if the journal is large enough) reads through a mountain of dross, and sends most of it out to referees. The referees receive $0 per paper for their efforts.

The authors of the papers that are accepted are sometimes asked to pay page charges—-yes, you read that correctly. The authors pay for the publishing; but this usually only happens in journals put out by non-profit professional organizations. The libraries are still charged for subscriptions, though.

Authors also sign over their copyright to the journals, a very strange thing to do, especially since we all violate those copyrights. We need to! Without stealing liberally from other people’s work, there would be no progress.

Authors are even charged for so-called open-access publishing; the page charges are hefty, too. Open-access journals are accessible freely for anybody, even libraries (there may be exceptions). The page charges fund the editorial process (secretaries, fact-finding junkets, and lunches) and server fees.

The solution? Eliminate peer-review as it is now known. Return to the old system in which it was non-existent except in the weak sense, where editors alone would decide what was worthy of reading. Such a thing can be overlaid on, for example, arxiv.org. Call it the Editor’s Choice Arxiv (by subject)—but keep arxiv as it is.

Besides, as everybody who actually takes part in peer review already knows, the system is at best only a crude filter of truth. We will do no worse than eliminating journals and using arxiv.

But how will departments know whom to promote when they no longer can just count published papers? Sadly, quite, quite sadly, they’ll have to return to the hard work of judging each applicant on his merit. Hell, teaching might even become important again.


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Castrations To Increase Due To Global Warming; Or, Reindeer Not Having A Ball

See if you have the smarts to follow this: global warming is going to cause “thick ice layers on top of [the] snow” in Norway, which will make “it harder for reindeer to reach the lichen that they feed on beneath.”

More global warming means more ice and less lichen. OK so far? Now, you are an ordinary, compassionate sort of fellow (or fellowette), are you not? You’d hate to see Santa forced to cancel Christmas because his heard of sleigh-pullers crapped out for the lack of lichen, isn’t that so?

What would you do? Well, if you were an intellectually inclined academic, first thing you’d think of is slicing the jingle bells off the males.

See, boy reindeer who retain their apparatii lose their antlers during the winter, while boys who were not quite quick enough to outrun the bite of the lead wolf retain theirs. This inversion of expectation, odd as it is, is the result of chemical interactions. It is a sort of compensation provided by Mother Nature for the poor dears who have suffered that most shocking of accidents.

Point is: this perfect negative correlation between packages and points is a fact which can be exploited in the fierce battle against global warming. If boy reindeer can keep their antlers, they can use them as shovels to dig through the ice and expose their dinners—which they will no doubt altruistically share with their conspecifics.

Eli Risten “Blades” Nergård of “Sami University College and the Norwegian School of Veterinary Science at the IPY Oslo Science Conference,” and thinker-upper of the above-mentioned plan, tells us that girl reindeer, lacking that which boy reindeer carry with them always, never lose their antlers.

But, he says—is this sexist?—girl reindeer don’t have the upper body strength to muscle through the ice. They must needs rely on the opposite sex to provide their meals. Yet because of rampaging global warming, Nergård expects there will be too much ice for antlerless boy reindeer to punch through the white to the green beneath.

Providing a mechanism for males to retain their antlers is a necessity, Nergård says, so that “females and young reindeer can exploit the holes made by castrated males.” Of course, the opposite will no longer be possible, if you understand me.

Anyway, Nergård would equip Norwegian biologists with scalpels and have them lurk in the folds of the fjords, and hide behind the spruce and majestic goat willow. When a boy reindeer walks by—slick!—it’s one more set of antlers that won’t drop off. I envision a system in which entrepreneurial environmentalists are paid by the number of furry marbles they collect.

No, I’m kidding. They’ll actually use tongs, and put the squeeze on. One can only wonder how they’ll get the reindeer to sit still for it. Perhaps they will patiently explain that the tongs are for their own good. After all, bearded men with PhDs have worked out what is optimal. How can un-degreed animals disagree?

Regardless of how they’ll force cooperation, they figure tongs are easier than the “traditional biting technique” used by the Sami people of northern Norway. Now that is a real man’s way to castrate.

Nergård has also been experimenting with “vaccines.” Apparently he is unaware that that word is reserved for curative or preventative treatments.

But shoot up reindeer with a syringe full of withering potion when they could use the “traditional biting technique”? Sigh. How far the Norwegians have come from the days of the Vikings.

Biologists insist that the government-program reindeer stand a better chance of survival than the “entire” males who were able to escape care. Further, the betonged reindeer won’t “lose weight and body condition during the rutting season.”

And there, dear reader, you have everything you need to know about why intellectuals are a danger not only to themselves, not only to others, but also to poor, defenseless woodland creatures. For I imagine that the government-program boy reindeer won’t partake of the annual rutting festivities with the same élan they used to before they were “helped.”

In fact, I don’t imagine that these “fortunates” will show much spirit when asked to dig up the ice, either. The winking of the girl reindeer certainly won’t be as effective as it used to. What we’ll probably end up with is a heard of listless, dour, dispirited animals whose malaise will just allow them to wander down to the nearest government office looking for a handout of free feed corn.

They won’t be playing in any reindeer games, either.

Thanks to reader Willie for sending the original link.


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