William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

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Comments on The Flight 93 Election. Let’s Roll


From reader Dean Ericson and from many other sources, the required must-read “The Flight 93 Election” by Publius Decius Mus at the sober Claremont Review of Books. If you support Hillary or are a “never” Trumper, which is the same, you are particularly encouraged to read it.

What follows are only a few highlights (not necessarily in order) and comments. More to come as The Choice nears. Since the original, Mus has published an answer to criticisms, and these where appropriate will be threaded in.

2016 is the Flight 93 election: charge the cockpit or you die. You may die anyway. You—or the leader of your party—may make it into the cockpit and not know how to fly or land the plane. There are no guarantees.

Except one: if you don’t try, death is certain. To compound the metaphor: a Hillary Clinton presidency is Russian Roulette with a semi-auto. With Trump, at least you can spin the cylinder and take your chances.

Hillary is guaranteed Doom, says Mus. She will not be “business as usual”, something we can “get through.” After however many years she makes it without coughing out the last of her lungs, this country will never be the same. Trump is at the least a chance of survival: “one must wonder how buffoonish the alleged buffoon really is when he is right on the most important issues while so many others who are esteemed wise are wrong.”

Even if you don’t (yet) believe Trump is not the fool he has been painted, one thing is certain sure: “conservatives” have been of no help.

One of the paradoxes—there are so many—of conservative thought over the last decade at least is the unwillingness even to entertain the possibility that America and the West are on a trajectory toward something very bad. On the one hand, conservatives routinely present a litany of ills plaguing the body politic. Illegitimacy. Crime. Massive, expensive, intrusive, out-of-control government. Politically correct McCarthyism. Ever-higher taxes and ever-deteriorating services and infrastructure. Inability to win wars against tribal, sub-Third-World foes. A disastrously awful educational system that churns out kids who don’t know anything and, at the primary and secondary levels, can’t (or won’t) discipline disruptive punks, and at the higher levels saddles students with six figure debts for the privilege. And so on and drearily on. Like that portion of the mass where the priest asks for your private intentions, fill in any dismal fact about American decline that you want and I’ll stipulate it.

Conservatives spend at least several hundred million dollars a year on think-tanks, magazines, conferences, fellowships, and such, complaining about this, that, the other, and everything. And yet these same conservatives are, at root, keepers of the status quo. Oh, sure, they want some things to change. They want their pet ideas adopted—tax deductions for having more babies and the like. Many of them are even good ideas. But are any of them truly fundamental? Do they get to the heart of our problems?

No. Yet “if [conservatives] are right about the importance of all this to national health and even survival, then they must believe—mustn’t they?—that we are headed off a cliff.”

They don’t believe it, though. Not really. Too many of them want to retain the status quo. Mus (as others have) casts conservatives as the Washington Generals, the team that’s paid to lose. At least they’re still on the court.

Let’s be very blunt here: if you genuinely think things can go on with no fundamental change needed, then you have implicitly admitted that conservatism is wrong. Wrong philosophically, wrong on human nature, wrong on the nature of politics, and wrong in its policy prescriptions. Because, first, few of those prescriptions are in force today. Second, of the ones that are, the left is busy undoing them, often with conservative assistance. And, third, the whole trend of the West is ever-leftward, ever further away from what we all understand as conservatism.

If your answer—Continetti’s, Douthat’s, Salam’s, and so many others’—is for conservatism to keep doing what it’s been doing—another policy journal, another article about welfare reform, another half-day seminar on limited government, another tax credit proposal—even though we’ve been losing ground for at least a century, then you’ve implicitly accepted that your supposed political philosophy doesn’t matter and that civilization will carry on just fine under leftist tenets. Indeed, that leftism is truer than conservatism and superior to it.

Poor Ross Douthat! Perhaps he think he’ll won’t be forced to put a pinch of incense in the fire for his left-handed support of Hillary. You’d think a man as well read in history as he would realize that it is folks like him that are the first on the line.

A Hillary presidency will be pedal-to-the-metal on the entire Progressive-left agenda, plus items few of us have yet imagined in our darkest moments. Nor is even that the worst. It will be coupled with a level of vindictive persecution against resistance and dissent hitherto seen in the supposedly liberal West only in the most “advanced” Scandinavian countries and the most leftist corners of Germany and England. We see this already in the censorship practiced by the Davoisie’s social media enablers; in the shameless propaganda tidal wave of the mainstream media; and in the personal destruction campaigns—operated through the former and aided by the latter—of the Social Justice Warriors. We see it in Obama’s flagrant use of the IRS to torment political opponents, the gaslighting denial by the media, and the collective shrug by everyone else.

It’s absurd to assume that any of this would stop or slow—would do anything other than massively intensify—in a Hillary administration. It’s even more ridiculous to expect that hitherto useless conservative opposition would suddenly become effective. For two generations at least, the Left has been calling everyone to their right Nazis. This trend has accelerated exponentially in the last few years, helped along by some on the Right who really do seem to merit—and even relish—the label. There is nothing the modern conservative fears more than being called “racist,” so alt-right pocket Nazis are manna from heaven for the Left. But also wholly unnecessary: sauce for the goose. The Left was calling us Nazis long before any pro-Trumpers tweeted Holocaust denial memes. And how does one deal with a Nazi—that is, with an enemy one is convinced intends your destruction? You don’t compromise with him or leave him alone. You crush him.

The emphasis is mine—and it should be yours, too. Next time some idiot calls you a “racist”, say “I’m a sexist, too.”

Solutions? What do you mean “solutions”? He said it at the beginning. Fight.

If it hadn’t been abundantly clear for the last 50 years, the campaign of 2015-2016 must surely have made it evident to even the meanest capacities that the intelligentsia—including all the organs through which it broadcasts its propaganda—is overwhelmingly partisan and biased. Against this onslaught, “conservative” media is a nullity, barely a whisper…

Second, our Washington Generals self-handicap and self-censor to an absurd degree…Our “leaders” and “dissenters” bend over backward to play by the self-sabotaging rules the Left sets for them. Fearful, beaten dogs have more thymos.

Yes, Trump “departs from conservative orthodoxy in so many ways that National Review still hasn’t stopped counting.” So what. In almost any category you can mention, except perhaps hair care, which is a wash, whatever you can say bad about Trump you can say worse about Hillary.

The key realization is that you are not voting for Hillary: you are voting for the permanence of leftism, for the dominance of the system, the end of the republic. Did you think if you elected her you’d get only her?

[Conservatives strategy] is insane. This is the mark of a party, a society, a country, a people, a civilization that wants to die. Trump, alone among candidates for high office in this or in the last seven (at least) cycles, has stood up to say: I want to live. I want my party to live. I want my country to live. I want my people to live. I want to end the insanity.

Yes, Trump is worse than imperfect. So what?

So “simply building a wall and enforcing immigration law will help enormously, by cutting off the flood of newcomers that perpetuates ethnic separatism and by incentivizing the English language and American norms in the workplace.”

And if it doesn’t work, what then? We’ve established that most “conservative” anti-Trumpites are in the Orwellian sense objectively pro-Hillary. What about the rest of you? If you recognize the threat she poses, but somehow can’t stomach him, have you thought about the longer term? The possibilities would seem to be: Caesarism, secession/crack-up, collapse, or managerial Davoisie liberalism as far as the eye can see…which, since nothing human lasts forever, at some point will give way to one of the other three…

But for those of you who are sober: can you sketch a more plausible long-term future than the prior four following a Trump defeat? I can’t either. [First ellipsis original.]

If Hillary wins it “will represent, in my view, an irreversible triumph for the administrative state…The country will go on, but it will not be a constitutional republic…If you are in the managerial class, you will probably do well—so long as you don’t say the wrong thing.”

My bet, if Hillary wins, is on managerial Davoisie liberalism. But if you argued for Caesarism, I wouldn’t try to talk you out of it.

Uncertainty and the World: An interview with W. M. Briggs at Ordeal of Consciousness


Our friend Dover Beach, perhaps after having taken a fall or because he stood too close to Hillary and caught her disease, considered it would be well to interview Yours Truly at his site The Ordeal of Consciousness.

Please go there and read that. When you’re done, don’t miss his interview with Jim Kalb. Or his many excellent links and videos to topics philosophical. Put his blog on your regular list of stops.

As good a job as Beach did, he left out a few essential questions, which I take the liberty of asking myself.

WMB Who are you?

Briggs Like Pope Francis said, a sinner.

WMB What is your favorite color?

Briggs I’m no racist. I don’t see color.

WMB Why aren’t more men wearing vests, also known as waistcoats?

Briggs Fear of being thought too well dressed.

WMB I understand that you identify as a yak?

Briggs I used to. I now identify as Holy Roman Emperor William I of the World. Only bigots and holyromanemperorophobes fail to acknowledge this.

WMB What will be your first acts as Emperor?

Briggs The elimination of democracy, the public flogging of pornographers, the restoration of hard currencies, both electronic and gold, the strict control of borders (any who want to leave can), the requirement that all men wear hats while outdoors, the civic recognition of the Church, and, if necessary so that there be no misunderstandings, vivid demonstrations of Authority. That’s day one.

WMB What proof have you of your Emperor status?

Briggs My assertion is all that is needed. To demand objective, scientific proof is to be a hate-filled holyromanemperorophobe.

WMB What sort of hats?

Briggs There will be many, depending on one’s status, age, rank, and, naturally, the weather. Ball caps will be proscribed outside of stadia and golf courses.

WMB What can you tell us of your future relations with Vladimir Putin?

Briggs I will negotiate for the steady importation of pelmeni and dill in exchange for barrels of Old Overholt or near substitutes.

WMB Thank you for your time. In closing, would you like to tell us a good joke?

Briggs One snowman said to the other, “That’s funny. I smell carrots, too.”

On Habits Good & Bad


Our neighbor up on the lake was old and growing infirm, and he had let my dad know that he needed some yard work done. My dad sent me over. There’s nothing remarkable in this story except that I recall the first thing the old man said to me, “Are you feeling ambitious?”

I’m not sure why that question stuck, but it did. I answered the old man in the affirmative, which wasn’t so close to the truth. I did the work, but it wasn’t a bang-up job. Maybe not even the bare minimum. I feel bad about it now, but not so much then.

This was a regularly occurring tendency with me, laziness, and so it’s a good thing I grew up under my father who wouldn’t stand for it (I tried not to make his job easy, though). And then from home into the military which also wasn’t inclined to dismiss half-assed efforts.

Laziness in the form of non-ambition with me was a habit, a bad habit (and certainly not the only one I ever had), which was turned around only by diligent instruction. I say “turned around”, but it’s always there ready to creep back. But I keep it at bay with another habit, a good one, which is the Just Get It Done theory of work, a theory which explains itself in its name (it is surprisingly effective).

Habits are not something you do all the time, but only most or all of the time in certain circumstances. A man might have the good habit of checking his rope for frays, but only when he climbs a mountain. Or he might have the bad habit of boasting, but only when he attends his class reunions. This implies you can avoid bad habits in two ways: avoid the circumstance, or eliminate the habit altogether. Eschewing circumstance is easy enough to understand. If you’re worried about getting drunk, don’t go to the bar.

Changing the habit is different. The thing to notice about habits is that they are like political arguments. They are the premises which are always assumed, the givens, the unquestioned basis for the start of any argument. They are the conditions which are just there and which aren’t questioned because they’re not really thought of. They are the launching points. Habits are mental reflexes.

This is why breaking a bad habit is hard labor. You have to stop what you were about to do each and every time, and then go over all the assumptions which convinced you what you were about to do was right. And since the number of assumptions behind much of what we do are many, the work required to do this thinking can be immense and painful. You have the goal immediately and front of you, and the map is clear, yet you must stop and wait. It’s easier to proceed.

This is not news. Aristotle said “moral virtue comes about as a result of habit” and habits are require work: “the virtues we get by first exercising them, as also happens in the case of the arts as well. For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them, e.g. men become builders by building and lyreplayers by playing the lyre; so too we become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate acts, brave by doing brave acts.”

This, then, is the case with the virtues also; by doing the acts that we do in our transactions with other men we become just or unjust, and by doing the acts that we do in the presence of danger, and being habituated to feel fear or confidence, we become brave or cowardly. The same is true of appetites and feelings of anger; some men become temperate and good-tempered, others self-indulgent and irascible, by behaving in one way or the other in the appropriate circumstances. Thus, in one word, states of character arise out of like activities. This is why the activities we exhibit must be of a certain kind; it is because the states of character correspond to the differences between these. It makes no small difference, then, whether we form habits of one kind or of another from our very youth; it makes a very great difference, or rather all the difference.

Since men do change at least sometimes for the better, Aristotle’s first judgment that learning good habits while young makes a very great difference is closer to the mark.

Quitting a bad habit “cold turkey” isn’t the only way to change, as our good saint Aquinas says: “repeated acts cause a habit to grow. If, however, the act falls short of the intensity of the habit, such an act does not dispose to an increase of that habit, but rather to a lessening thereof.” But bad habits are only finally “destroyed altogether by long cessation from act”. Skipping the dessert once does not eliminate a sweet tooth. The even better news is that some “habits are infused by God into man”. He can infuse “into man even those habits which can be caused by a natural power.” These are infusions worth asking for.

New York Times Is Looking For A Climate Change Editor. That’s Me!


Dean Baquet and Sam Dolnick
New York Times
New York, NY

Re: Climate Change Editor

Dear Misters Baquet and Dolnick,

Please accept my application for the position of Climate Change Editor, the details of which I saw on line.

About the material your paper has been printing about global warming, I’ve concluded that you guys need me as badly as Bill Clinton needs an audience. Better, just as you want, I’m “obsessed with finding new ways to connect with readers and new ways to tell this vital story.”

For instance, here’s an angle you haven’t so far considered. We could show readers that global warming models have failed at higher rates than Larry King’s marriages. Budget forecasts by President Obama are more accurate than the temperatures predicted by global climate models (GCMs). A smart man would trust a GCM as much as he would a politician’s campaign promise.

Five’ll get you twenty, your readers don’t know how lousy the models are. And I’d bet my first-year’s salary (I heard you paid well) that they’ll cheer when reminded that it was once a firm scientific principle that rotten models imply busted theories. In this case it means the existence of serially unskillful GCMs are nearly certain proof that carbon dioxide is not the demon gas its been painted.

We’d run this headline: “Wonderful News: Global-Warming-Of-Doom Proved Almost Surely False”. We’d lead with a cheering paragraph that we don’t need to be as nearly panicked as your (and I hope soon my) paper has been.

I know what you’re thinking. Same thing our readers will be thinking. “But how can this be? I thought it was certain that the world was soon to end unless massive government programs were instituted?” We’d have them hooked! Guaranteed boost in circulation.

I envision a series in which we expose the schemers, hangers-on, band-waggoners, activists, fund-raisers, self-deluded, egos (I almost said “politicians”, which would have been redundant), and even frauds and bamboozlers whose claimed knowledge of fluid physics on a rotating sphere is as artificial as that thing perched on Donald Trump’s cranium. Let’s call out these folks who have turned “climate change” into an unhealthy living.

How many times have we heard psychologists, sociologists, philosophers, economists, and other un-trained scientifically ignorant (I use this word in its technical sense) academics lecture us on the horrors that await us under “climate change” when they wouldn’t know a cloud parameterization from a sigma coordinate? I’ll tell you: too often.

I do know, though. It is the Times’s tremendous luck that I’m at liberty, ready, and willing to take on this monumental task. Together we can screw people’s heads back on straight and get them to worry about something really important. Like the rise of politics dictating science and the corrupting influence of money.

I am an actual bona fide scientist. I have published actual articles in the Journal of Climate, among many others. My specialty is in the value and goodness of models, and the expense and badness of bad science. I’ve written a best-seller (my mom bought two copies) on the subject. Uncertainty: The Soul of Modeling, Probability & Statistics. I know this is a presumptuous questions, but if I get the job can I get this reviewed in the Book Review? Might boost sales.

Climate models have the stink of old garlic on them, but they smell like the purest roses next to the putrescence of some models loved by academics drive beyond their ability to resist to publish (or perish). There is limitless material we can mine, exposing scientism, correcting massive over-certainty, putting science back on rational grounds.

Given its tone, it’s understandable if you think this application a lark. It isn’t. I’m in earnest. If offered, I’d take the job and do better with it than anybody else you’d find. With me, you’re assured of always getting my true and honest opinion.

Bonus: Roger Kimball called me “the civilized world’s most amusing statistician”.

Here’s a list of pieces I’ve written at The Stream: https://stream.org/author/williammbriggs/. All these were meant for a general audience. And I have hundreds at my place: http://wmbriggs.com. Many of these are more technical or difficult and do not illustrate how I’d write for a Times audience; nevertheless, the give you an idea of the scope and range of my interests.

Look forward to hearing from you. I can start any time. I’m only a few blocks north of your offices.

William M. Briggs

Update In case it’s not clear, I did apply for the job officially, and this is the letter I sent.

Upate Facebook censored this post? Can somebody else try and report back? https://twitter.com/mattstat/status/775453838128001024

Update https://twitter.com/swcrisis/status/775474788005453829

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