William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

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Elephant Sausage & The Closing Of The Circus—A Reader Comments

I received the following email about my article that animals do not have “rights” (cut and pasted directly, though I removed an spurious HTML character).

Good afternoon, and just wanted to advise you BEORE you
comment on any IDEA, in the ANIMAL INDUSTRY, THE CIRCUS ANIMALS, for the FELD family, was strictly for PROFIT! Had you done your background, you would have known this. Your stupidity, sir, in your article, shows. You have NEVER, EVER, spent time in the presence of a LARGE ELEPHENT, under their care, in the BARNUM CIRCUS, as I have Witnessed, and PERHAPS, JUST PERHAPS, had your FKING EYES BEEN OPEN, IF YOU EVER HAD, POSSIBLY, YOU, after having to be CONSISTANTLY BEATEN FOR NO REASON, SCARED OUT OF YOUR MIND, POKED WITH TINES, and ELECTRCUTED, for no reason except the FELD FAMILY didn’t want to hire PROFESSIONAL PEOPLE, and then you have UNBELIEVABLE NO ACCOUNT PEOPLE working for them, THEY FEEL THE NEED TO UNLOAD ALL THEIR Uneducated PROBLEMS on the animals….so, I get PISSED AT PEOPLE EXACTLY LIKE YOU, on the other end, making uneducated comments, on NOTHING you
have any idea about. Peta made HISTORY, as they should have as it was the SADDEST SHOW ON EARTH should you ever feel the NEED to be treated as the animals they have in their care, I suggest strongly. go to them for a job…..you are their type. I hope to see in the future a more educated article on them and the YOU tube videos, should help in your research…YOU KNOW THE ONES?? They are the ones of THOUSANDS you must have not seen of BARNUMS being so kind to the animals, and I also strongly suggest, again, write a more informed article, and if you need more help, CONTACT my family, as we have fought to end this RIDICULOUS familys horror all our
lives……thank you for your time.

What I enjoyed most about this email is the mix of foul-mouthed apoplexy and politeness. It is not very unlike Yours Truly. Here is a person I can talk to, I thought.

Dear Barbara,

Well, when you say “IF YOU EVER HAD, POSSIBLY, YOU, after having to be CONSISTANTLY BEATEN FOR NO REASON, SCARED OUT OF YOUR MIND, POKED WITH TINES, and ELECTRCUTED, for no reason” you forget that I went through Basic Training (I don’t dare make a joke about marriage here). Anyway, these sorts of things are legitimate “lifestyle” choices for many these days. Fifty shades of poking and prodding. Don’t be so judgmental. Interests differ.

Some may be critical of your spelling. Not I. I love to pieces your neologism CONSISTANTLY, which is a creative and evocative pasting together of consistently and constantly. I shall use this word often, crediting you when I do.

I think you’re wrong that the Circus “was strictly for PROFIT!” If they had been making a profit, they’d still be making the elephants jump through flaming hoops on tiny tricycles, tug those giant ropes that make the tent poles rise, and providing endless buckets of fertilizer. The real mystery is what was done with this fertilizer. I suspect it was shipped to Washington and turned into regulations. Theories differ.

And I don’t think you’ve considered fully the harm caused by the closing of the circus. I mentioned some economic consequences in the original article. But think of the poor peanut farmers! And what about those unfortunate mice used to frighten the big beats to their hind legs? All thrown out of work! They were probably eaten by the stray cats that used to hook along behind the circus. Yes. Despite years of training and raising awareness by PETA, cats still eat meat. It’s a cruel world.

The next obvious question is: what happened to the elephants? I think they were sent to certain Texas ranches to be bred for meat. It is well known in Kenya, for example, that nothing beats elephant sausage roasted over an open flame. I myself prefer lion: elephant gives me gas. Tastes differ.

I take it kindly that “should you ever feel the NEED to be treated as the animals they have in their care, I suggest strongly. go to them for a job…..you are their type.” It was sweet of you to recall that I am always on the look out for paying work. Now I have been called a clown on this forum so often, that I feel sure I am well qualified for that position.

Alas, with the circus closing they won’t have a slot for me. Maybe I’ll apply at the slaughterhouses down San Anton’ way.

Yours sincerely,


Guardian’s ‘How Statistics Lost Their Power’

Been a wealth of material lately, which explains why we’re just now coming to the Guardian’s, “How statistics lost their power — and why we should fear what comes next“. Now by statistics the author means the old-fashioned, and really to be preferred, definition of “measurements taken on observables”, and not models and math, or not models and math per se.

In theory, statistics should help settle arguments. They ought to provide stable reference points that everyone — no matter what their politics — can agree on. Yet in recent years, divergent levels of trust in statistics has become one of the key schisms that have opened up in western liberal democracies…

Rather than diffusing controversy and polarisation, it seems as if statistics are actually stoking them. Antipathy to statistics has become one of the hallmarks of the populist right, with statisticians and economists chief among the various “experts” that were ostensibly rejected by voters in 2016. Not only are statistics viewed by many as untrustworthy, there appears to be something almost insulting or arrogant about them. Reducing social and economic issues to numerical aggregates and averages seems to violate some people’s sense of political decency.

Not trust the ever-burgeoning bureaucracies official numbers? Heaven forfend! Why, bureaucrats, NGO flacks, and politicians are entirely disinterested actors, who only want what is best for one and all. Yes? They would never consider cooking books so that things came out in favor of requiring more of their services, would they? No, sir!

After all, liars figure but figures don’t lie. Yes? To gauge unemployment, all we have to do is count those without jobs, right? And the number of folks needing a government service? Easy too, with no chance of bias. Yes?

Well, that’s counting. There is also modeling.

The declining authority of statistics — and the experts who analyse them — is at the heart of the crisis that has become known as “post-truth” politics. And in this uncertain new world, attitudes towards quantitative expertise have become increasingly divided. From one perspective, grounding politics in statistics is elitist, undemocratic and oblivious to people’s emotional investments in their community and nation.

The Guardian, of course, of the Left, and of the old-guard Left, a group well used to victory, having had them with only rare interruptions for the last century. Until recently. One of the explanations the Left has given to themselves about why they are losing is that the “other side” has abandoned “truth”. Which it has, if you define “truth” as that which accords with progressive ideology.

In Germany, for example (from where we get the term Statistik) the challenge was to map disparate customs, institutions and laws across an empire of hundreds of micro-states. What characterised this knowledge as statistical was its holistic nature: it aimed to produce a picture of the nation as a whole. Statistics would do for populations what cartography did for territory.

This is still, and still should be, the goal of official statistics. Dry facts, which almost are accompanied by their uncertainties. God bless the statisticians provide this wealth! Yet…

The emergence in the late 17th century of government advisers claiming scientific authority, rather than political or military acumen, represents the origins of the “expert” culture now so reviled by populists.

A concern of the author is preserving democracy, which, as I often say, is populism by definition. It’s the losing side that throws the term “populist” out as one of derision. Bad statistics have nothing to do with populism. The reason the Guardian’s enemies dislike traditional experts is because (a) they are far too often wrong, and (b) they confuse measurement with ought. For example, government, activist, and bureaucrats have promised us we would have plunged into another ice age by now, or something like it, with bodies stacked by the side of the road like cord wood. It didn’t happen. Not only that, all the experts’ “solutions” to fix this non-problem were nuts.

And then came global warming…but that is a story for another day. Our author then admits:

Not every aspect of a given population can be captured by statistics. There is always an implicit choice in what is included and what is excluded, and this choice can become a political issue in its own right…In France, it has been illegal to collect census data on ethnicity since 1978, on the basis that such data could be used for racist political purposes.

Somebody ought to suggest the latter move here, at top levels and at campuses and work places. But, nah. Proscribe asking about race and euphemistic statistics would quickly take their place.

The potential of statistics to reveal the state of the nation was seized in post-revolutionary France. The Jacobin state set about imposing a whole new framework of national measurement and national data collection.

The potential of statistics wasn’t the only thing seized by the Jacobins.

During the 1920s, statisticians developed methods for identifying a representative sample of survey respondents, so as to glean the attitudes of the public as a whole. This breakthrough, which was first seized upon by market researchers, soon led to the birth of the opinion polling.

How well did that turn out? Hate to mention it, but doesn’t this smack, just a little, of populism? I’m just asking.

We can agree with this:

Yet in recent decades, the world has changed dramatically, thanks to the cultural politics that emerged in the 1960s and the reshaping of the global economy that began soon after. It is not clear that the statisticians have always kept pace with these changes. Traditional forms of statistical classification and definition are coming under strain from more fluid identities, attitudes and economic pathways. Efforts to represent demographic, social and economic changes in terms of simple, well-recognised indicators are losing legitimacy.

Is this not admitting experts are falling more often into error? I’m just asking.

The article goes on—and on—and on—and on—even coming to the expected criticism of Steven Bannon and Donald Trump. But it’s long on wind and short on solutions.

Which are? The more open source the better, and the more numbers are given with predictive uncertainties, the better, too.

Number Of Christians Against Biblical View Of Same-Sex “Marriage”

So this PRRI group did a survey in 2016 of over 40,000 folks to ascertain their views on same-sex “marriage” and the like, in Most American Religious Groups Support Same-sex Marriage, Oppose Religiously Based Service Refusals. The picture above is the main result, asking folks from various religions whether they favored or opposed “allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry legally.”

Calling Unitarian-Universalists religious is, of course, fair, in the same sense as calling progressives religious is fair, but U-U ties to Christianity are at best a distant, and for the most part unpleasant, memory. It is thus a curiosity why 2% of U-Us were opposed to gmarriage. Note: gmarriage means government-defined marriage: governments are free to call marriage whatever they like, whereas realists and traditionalists must follow Nature and God.

Point is, that 2%, plus the 4% of the U-U folks who refused to answer the question give some idea of the uncertainty in the numbers. Whether these exact same fractions would apply were we to poll all U-Us is not likely; however, the numbers probably aren’t too far off, either.

Christians by far outnumber all other religious groups, and the numbers of Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims are small, and so their extrapolated numbers—and don’t forget these are all in the USA—would be more variable, too. United States Buddhists, for example, are not of the same hip tribe (and I don’t mean race) as those in East Asia, and so pushing their 85% support to, say, residents of Thailand would be folly.

Catholics, to pick a group of interest, support gmarriage to the tune of 63%, or thereabouts. It’s “thereabouts” because we can’t know how many supporters were in the 9% who refused to answer. Either way, this is a remarkable number. It’s the same for White mainline Protesting Christians.

Now the correct number—whether you yourself are a believer—according to orthodox Christianity, should be zero supporters. The proof of this we can leave to Roger Gangnon and his magisterial (I use that word for good reason) The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics. Christian supporters of same-sex activities have been known to meet the fate of Lot’s wife after reading only one Chapter. Yours Truly wept when considering the sheer amount of labor that went into writing this essential reference.

Anyway, whether, as I say, you yourself are a Christian, and whether you enjoy or support same-sex activities, it must be acknowledged that the harsh and unbending proscription of homosexuality, transgenderism, cross-dressing and the like is a tradition that stretches back to Noah. The only view that accords with Biblical Christianity is that of Saint Paul’s. Of course, that fine gentleman’s condemnations run to more than effeminacy and homosexual conduct (a reminder we are all doomed unless we seek repentance). It is only that lately the world wants to embrace same-sex conduct as a good.

Point is, if push comes to pinch (of incense), an approximate quarter of Catholics, and maybe up to 60% of white evangelists, would hold the line. No, that’s too opaque. Let me be blunt: these numbers represent a reasonable estimate of an upper bound of the number of Christians who would not apostatize if required to by government. Here’s another form of the estimate.

The question PRRI asked is not well put. They asked, “Do you favor or oppose allowing a small business owner in your state to refuse to provide products or services to gay or lesbian people, if doing so violates their religious beliefs.”

One of the main problems with gmarriage is that marriage (and not gmarriage) is a not a contract between a husband and wife, it’s a mating. But there is an implicit contract with that couple and the rest of society. You see a mated pair and you acknowledge they are man and wife. But with gmarriage, an orthodox Christian (or Jew or Muslim) cannot agree that two men or two women are married. It is an impossibility. It is a sin to agree, a sin in concert with one that cries out to heaven for vengeance.

Now a pharmacist can sell a man with same-sex attraction a bottle of aspirins, just as a florist can sell two same-sex attracted woman a posey, and almost nobody disagrees with this, which is why the PRRI question is badly worded.

If you are in favor of gmarriage, answer these questions (and your lack of willingness to answer will be telling). Should a Christian photographer be made to film a homosexual pornographic video? These videos are, after all, legal. To refuse the business is discrimination. Should a Christian caterer be forced to cater a homosexual private, adults only party at which there will be open displays of sexual activity? These activities are legal. To refuse is discrimination.

Well, you can make up dozens more like this, each involving discrimination. Now the discrimination will be religious for the Christian and perhaps based on disgust for the non-believer. As is stands, disgust is still a legal motive for discrimination, but religion is not.

Gmarriage if it cannot be accommodated isn’t life threatening. A Christian refusing to participate in a gmarriage ceremony causes almost no burden on the participants. Yet society would force orthodox Muslims (which would be Islamaphobia), Christians, and Jews to participate, and the answer why this is so is not far to seek. Hate.


Item: “A mother-and-daughter bakery did not discriminate against a potential customer when the owners refused to make a cake with an anti-gay slogan, an administrative law judge decided this week.” Message? “Homosexuality is an abomination unto the Lord.” Christians are forced by point of the sword to bake cakes, but non-Christians are free.

Item: “No Republicans Need Apply”; “If you’re racist, sexist, homophobic or a Trump supporter please don’t respond.”

Summary Against Modern Thought: The Active & Passive Intellect

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.

As in the past two weeks, we’re in territory which is no longer in live dispute. There are still some nuggets useful for us, however; only these will be highlighted. Next week are two more Chapters in which we will—finally!—wrap up this historical diversion. Then, in two weeks time, the juicy stuff starts. Proof of the immortality of the soul!

Chapter 76 That the agent intellect is not a separate substance, but part of the soul (alternate translation) We’re still using the alternate translation this week.

1 From the foregoing it can be inferred that neither is there one agent intellect in all, as maintained by Alexander and by Avicenna, who do not hold there is one possible intellect for all.

2 For, since agent and recipient are proportionate to one another, to every passive principle there must correspond a proper active one. Now, the possible intellect is compared to the agent intellect as its proper patient or recipient, because the agent intellect is related to it as art to its matter; So that if the possible intellect is part of the human soul and is multiplied according to the number of individuals, as was shown, then the agent intellect also will be part of the soul and multiplied in like manner, and not one for all…

4 Just as prime matter is perfected by natural forms, which are outside the soul, so the possible intellect is perfected by forms actually understood. Natural forms, however, are received into prime matter, not by the action of some separate substance alone, but by the action of a form of the same kind, namely, a form existing in matter; thus, this particular flesh is begotten through a form in this flesh and these bones, as Aristotle proves in Metaphysics VII. If the possible intellect is a part of the soul and not a separate substance, as we have shown, then the agent intellect, by whose action the intelligible species are made present in the possible intellect, will not be a separate substance but an active power of the soul…

6 Then, too, if the agent intellect is a separate substance, its action must be continuous and not interrupted; or at least it is not continued or interrupted at our will—this in any case must be said. Now, the function of the agent intellect is to make phantasms actually intelligible. Therefore, either it will do this always or not always. If not always, this, however, will not be by our choosing. Yet we understand actually when the phantasms are made actually intelligible. Hence it follows that either we always understand or that it is not in our power to understand actually.

7 A separate substance, furthermore, has one and the same relationship to all the phantasms present in any men whatever, just as the sun stands in the same relation to all colors. Persons possessed of knowledge perceive sensible things, but so also do the ignorant. Hence, the same phantasms are in both, and these phantasms will in like manner be made actually intelligible by the agent intellect. Therefore, both will understand m similar fashion.

Notes Yet not all will understand all things, as is also obvious and as the next paragraph shows.

8 Even so, it can be said that the agent intellect is, in itself, always acting, but that the phantasms are not always made actually intelligible, but only when they are disposed to this end. Now, they are so disposed by the act of the cogitative power, the use of which is in our power. Hence, to understand actually is in our power. And this is the reason why not all men understand the things whose phantasms they have, since not all are possessed of the requisite act of the cogitative power, but only those who are instructed and habituated…

15 And again, present in the nature of every mover is a principle sufficient for its natural operation. If this operation consists in an action, then the nature contains an active principle; for instance, the powers of the nutritive soul of plants.

But, if this operation is a passion, the nature contains a passive principle, as appears in the sensitive powers of animals.

Now, man is the most perfect of all lower movers, and his proper and natural operation is understanding, which is not accomplished without a certain passivity, in that the intellect is passive to the intelligible; nor again, without action, in that the intellect makes things that are potentially intelligible to be actually so.

Therefore, the proper principles of both these operations must be in man’s nature, nor must either of them have being in separation from his soul. And these principles are the agent and the possible intellects…

17 Furthermore, no thing operates except by virtue of a power formally in it. Hence, Aristotle in De anima II [2] shows that the thing whereby we live and sense is a form and an act. Now, both actions—of the agent intellect and of the possible intellect as well—are proper to man, since man abstracts from phantasms, and receives in his mind things actually intelligible. For, indeed, we should not have become aware of these actions had we not experienced them in ourselves. It follows that the principles to which we ascribe these actions, namely, the possible and agent intellects, must be powers formally existing in us…

19 Again, a thing that cannot initiate its proper operation without being moved by an external principle is moved to operate rather than moves itself. Thus, irrational animals are moved to operate rather than move themselves, because every one of their operations depends on an extrinsic principle which moves them.

For the sense, moved by an external sensible object, places an impress upon the imagination, thus giving rise to an orderly process in all the powers, down to the motive ones.

Now, man’s proper operation is understanding, and of this the primary principle is the agent intellect, which makes species intelligible, to which species the possible intellect in a certain manner is passive; and the possible intellect, having been actualized, moves the will.

Therefore, if the agent intellect is a substance outside man, all man’s operation depends on an extrinsic principle. Man, then, will not act autonomously, but will be activated by another. So, he will not be master of his own operations, nor will he merit either praise or blame. All moral science and social intercourse thus will perish; which is unfitting. Therefore, the agent intellect is not a substance separate from man.

Notes Unfitting indeed. We are not puppets.

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