William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Author: Briggs (page 1 of 738)

New ‘Children’s’ Book Has Prince Charming Finding True Love With Farm Boy

Stream: New ‘Children’s’ Book Has Prince Charming Finding True Love With Farm Boy

Here is a short argument to keep in mind as you read about a new “children’s” book that promotes homosexual relationships:

If there is nothing morally wrong with same-sex relationships, then there is nothing wrong with exposing children to same-sex relationships.

After all, kids will see same-sex relationships around them in our culture, and some kids will themselves go on to form same-sex relationships, so why not, if there is nothing wrong with such relationships, show kids stories about men in love?

This was the implicit reasoning used by authors Adam Reynolds and Chaz Harris who wrote Promised Land, a picture-book about how “a young Prince and a farm boy meet in the forest and their newfound friendship blossoms into love.”

The Prince’s mother is divorced and has taken up living with an evil man. The evil man covets Farm Boy’s land. The land sits, as expected, in an Enchanted forest.

The book ends with a lovely picture of the Prince and Farm Boy smacking each other on the lips over the words “They got married and started their own family.”

That is, of course, impossible. Two men cannot marry, a metaphysical impossibility, and two men certainly cannot start a family, a biological impossibility. These are not only theological truths, but scientific realities as well.

Well, nobody expects Reality in a children’s fantasy. Magic isn’t real either, but that didn’t slow sales of or enthusiasm for Harry Potter. We shouldn’t therefore be critical of fantastical elements. But can we say anything against positive portrayals of homosexual love?

We cannot. Not if we cannot also say, out loud and in public, that homosexual love is immoral. Now love between two men, or two males, need not be immoral. A father loves his son. A man loves his friend. But if homosexual love is different than the love of two friends, what is that difference? It is sexual desire. Yet that desire is objectively disordered. The desire if indulged in often leads to homosexual acts, which are immoral and sinful.

But if we cannot say that, then we cannot say that Promised Land should not be shown to children. And we cannot say that it should not be shown to children in schools. The only argument we can muster against it would be depressingly utilitarian. “We cannot show the book,” the utilitarian might argue, “Because we do not want to pay for it.” What happens when a generous soul then donates copies?

We have reached a point in our culture where we could teach in schools Promised Land, but we could not teach about the promised land! […]

Click here to read the rest. But not if any children are present.

Happy 3000th Post!

Happy 3000th Post! I know just how you feel. Like it’s 30,000 posts. Still, I am glad you are here. But I have to ask: why are you here?

If you have to question the sanity of somebody who has read all 3,000 gems, most rough, some polished, and you do have to question it, imagine the queries we must put to the author of these precious stones.

What were you thinking?

I can’t remember.

What is your major malfunction?


“For that which I work, I understand not. For I do not that good which I will; but the evil which I hate, that I do. If then I do that which I will not, I consent to the law, that it is good. Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. For I know that there dwelleth not in me, that is to say, in my flesh, that which is good. For to will, is present with me; but to accomplish that which is good, I find not. For the good which I will, I do not; but the evil which I will not, that I do. Now if I do that which I will not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.”

Also, the inability to keep my mouth shut.

What are some of the stranger things people have searched for such that search engines directed these people to your site?

“your cousin is seeing fashionable shoe from overseas.he has requested you to advertise these shoes write out the advertisement” (Buy these shoes, please), “boneless pork rectums” (this one is my fault), “does laverne cox still have male parts” (yes, he will always be a man), “how many geniuses are born each year” (almost none), “why aren’t marbles popular” (because people are addicted to devices), “objections to realism” (the world cannot be what you want it to be), “how does the brain tell the difference between good and bad music” (the former enhances the soul, the latter corrupts it), “calibrate porn” (every carpenter likes tight-fitting joints? or was this some sort of inveterate frequentist?), “can an untucked shirt be worn with corporate shoe without sock” (only at sea).

How do you write?

By binge. Many posts all at once, and then long fallow periods where I stare at the ceiling saying, “I should be writing something more lasting.”

But aren’t you working on other books?

Leave me alone. Oh, did you mean reading or writing other books?


Leave me alone.

Well, what about the podcasts? Didn’t I hear you were getting a camera to do real videos?

I can’t control what you hear.

If you don’t want to talk about what you should be doing, what do you want to talk about?

We could always fall back to the weather. Except even that has been politicized. Insanity. It is as if solar neutrinos suddenly became politically important, and you had nitwits running about moral signalling, saying idiotic things like “Tau neutrinos are more important than electron neutrinos.” Yet if you asked these morally upright folks just what a proton-proton chain reaction is they couldn’t answer. Substitute ‘global warming’ or ‘sustainability’ for neutrinos and you get the same thing.

That’s a strong opinion. I already know not to get you going on gender ideology.

Feel free to ask. Hey, there really is such as thing as gender! Nouns, for instance, can be masculine, feminine and neuter, animate or inanimate. But people can only be male or female.

What’s your opinion about the burgeoning government bureaucracy?

It causes more misery than it does good. It will choke civilization to death. And nobody can stop it. Short of a military coup. Or perhaps a giant rock from space. Or our Lord’s parousia.

Let’s not be too gloomy. This is an anniversary, a time of celebration. What do recommend readers imbibe?

Torpedo ale from Sierra Nevada brewing. Delicious.

Speaking of beer, what can you tell me of the term session ale?

It’s asinine.

When cleaning a fish, should you scale or gut it first?

Gut it first. That way you can grab the now-empty space by the head for extra purchase. If you cut off the head, cut off the pectoral fins, too, where it’s difficult to remove scales. And then hold up the guts to terrorize the squeamish.

Which animal you have hunted that tastes unexpectedly delicious?


I understand you are fully independent. Do you accept donations?

Do I!

Thank you. I look forward to another 3,000 posts.

Yeah, but who’s going to write them?

What Is Communism? Part I — Guest Post by Ianto Watt

Editor’s note. A particularly apropos (leisurely paced, so relax) essay on the nature of Communism. Recall this is 2017, one hundred years after the successful revolutions in Russia.

Just what is this thing called Communism? Is it really what we think it is? For that matter, is there any agreement as to what we think it is? Has there been another word that has been used more often in the past two hundred years? I can’t think of one. Yet, I’ll bet if you were to ask a hundred people what it is (or was?), you’d get at least fifty different answers. Anything from perdition to paradise, with everything in between. And that’s a big part of the problem we have in our inability to deal with this Platypus of a word. Because, after all, if you can’t get a common definition of something, you can’t get a common answer to the question of ‘how do we deal with it?’

There does seem to be a lot of commonality to the many described facets of this thing. But because it’s so big, like the blind men and the elephant, there’s going to be a lot of variation in the answers. Yet all are actually describing different parts of the same thing. And since this thing we talk about so much has had such a huge impact on the world for at least two hundred years, I think we would be well served to examine it more in depth. And then, perhaps, we can begin to see just what it is we have really been describing. And then to understand what it isn’t.

Let’s number the leading descriptions, and see if we can find a way to link them together. Its promoters (primarily Western academics) call it an economic theory. Its operators call it a means of liberation for their peoples. Its subjects often call it enslavement, a prison, a Gulag. Its instigators (usually Germans) call it a means of revolution. Other Teutons call it Evolution. It’s economic opponents often called it expropriation, outright theft. Its economic promoters say it’s simply a means of Labor achieving equality with Capital. Its religious opponents called it Hell on Earth. But its ‘religious’ proponents would call it Divine Justice. Not that they believe in the divine. Unless you count man as divine. Which they do, of course. You see the problem? Obviously. And this is only a smattering of the breadth and depth of it.

I believe we can find a common understanding if we do one simple thing. All we have to do is to separate two words which, in the minds of many, opponents and proponents alike, seem to be synonyms. Yet I believe that the two are actually antonyms. The problem we have today in understanding them both is that we have conflated them and their true meanings. So the task we have is to see if there is an actual historical difference between them. Then, we might be able to converse with our neighbors about the historical actuality we have before us without falling into semantic confusion. Because, as you know, I believe semantics is everything. So then, let’s see what it is we’re really talking about as we attempt to talk to each other.

What are these two words I deny are synonyms? Well, Communism is one of them, obviously. But the other, viewed with suspicion and approval alike, is this; Bolshevism. I contend that in most every instance, speakers who use the first word are actually referring to the second. Whether they approve or disapprove of what they are describing, they’re actually talking about Bolshevism. Which, by the way, is also a misnomer, from the political perspective, as it simply means ‘the majority’. But let’s leave that aside for now, although it has further meaning, that meaning is apart from this conversation.

The problem, as I see it, is that very few people today are able to distinguish between these two words for one simple reason. They lack historic perspective. In other words, we are idiots, historically speaking. And why is that? It’s because most of us think these two items, Communism and Bolshevism, have a common history. But they do not. Most emphatically, they do not!

Even fairly educated people often see the rise of both as occurring in the mid 1800’s, with the coming of Karl Marx and the European revolutions of 1848. Yes, some actually can see it in the French Revolution of 1789. Or the Paris Commune of 1871. The rest of the masses think everything occurred in November of 1917. Or in Red October, if you’re still on the Old Calendar. But they miss the mark by 1500 years when they talk of Communism. And they are equally off the mark when describing Bolshevism.

Not only that, these same people confuse East and West when pointing to the true origins of these words, and what they mean. They all, almost to a man, would identify Bolshevism with the East, with Moscow. And that leads them, in their historic amnesia, to conclude that Communism too has an Eastern origin. Or at least a Central European one. Which, to a Londoner, would mean ‘eastern’. And truth be told, Bolshevism is actually an Eastern phenomenon. But like Communism, it too is much more ancient than generally thought. We’ll get to that. Right now, I’m more interested in what people think about Communism. Why is that? Because, Komrade, Communism is a Western invention.

The origins of Communism are far older and far more Western than most suppose. And the reason for that lies in the roots of the word itself. Semantics, again. Time for a drink! And a smoke. You do smoke, right? Just remember, God made tobacco. So it must be useful.

The root of Communism would be The Commune. Or The Commons as we say in the Benedictine West. Huh? Where is that? In Christendom, of course. You know, the place Benedict of Nursia built when Imperial Rome ran away from the Barbarians. The same place where Holy Rome had to take up the task of administering justice and dispensing mercy when Caesar fled to Byzantium. The same place where the monastery became the heart of civic life, replacing the Forum. Where The Family regained its rightful place, displacing The Force.

Yes, Benedictine Europe is where Communism began. And it is the only place Communism could actually work. The only place it could actually be productive. And the reason for this is because that Europe was based on the family. And the family is based on love. In the late 400’s, when the Empire’s grip was receding from Western Europe, there was very little love available. Why? Because the Emperor had stolen most of it. And by stealing (taxing) the family to near-death, he had rendered the Empire defenseless. After all, it is one thing to have money to pay the Legions. It is quite another to raise those Legions. And if nobody wanted to join (like the Patricians of Rome) and the Plebes couldn’t afford many (or any) children, then who would you get to defend your Empire? Right-O. You’ve got to hire your enemies. The Barbarians. The Auxiliaries. And you’d better meet the payroll, or heads will roll. Ask Alaric what happens when payday is late.

Anyway, as the Legions drew back towards the new center (Constantinople), this void drew in the Barbarians who were not on the Emperor’s payroll. Or was it the other way around? Well, maybe it’s both? In any event, the vacuum created when the Empire shifted allowed other powers to exercise theirs. And this was to the detriment of the civilized people of the Empire. And the chaos that ensued dissolved the cities, those anchors of civilization, as they were plundered in turn. Which is where Benedict stepped into the breach. He abandoned the wealth that was his (by birth) in his effort to re-establish the root of civilization, the family. And who was he emulating? Aeneas, of course.

What? What do I mean? Well, read The War at Troy by Quintus of Smyrna, and you’ll have a clue. If you knew why Aeneas was saved from death by Calchas, the pagan Greek Seer (his sworn enemy), you’d know why this is supremely important. So let’s review what Calchas said as he stopped his own men from slaying the one good man left in Troy. Never mind the first part of this prophecy, although that too is divinely sublime. Let’s look at the second part of the utterance of Calchas. Here is why he said Aeneas should be spared:

…And let us, in any case, keep our hands away from this man, because in preference to gold and all his other possessions, things that preserve a man when he goes as an exile to a foreign land, in preference to all of this, he has chosen his father and his son. A single night has revealed to us a son marvelously kind to his old father, a noble father marvelously kind to his son. (The War at Troy, Quintus of Smyrna, Combellack’s translation, p. 243.)

And there you have it. Benedict, like Aeneas, decided that he would rather fight to save his family instead of fighting to preserve to rotted Empire. And the gods were in awe of this. Or at the very least, they were forced to yield. Forced? By whom? Well, who’s got that kind of clout? How many guesses do you want?

The result, for Aeneas, was the founding of Rome. And what would become Holy Rome, as this foundation was based on The Family, and not The Force. Benedict did the same as Aeneas. But in his case, being celibate, he grew his family by adopting all the fatherless foundlings of the ebbing Empire. And he did it in the midst of the wilderness. Thus grew the new Rome, the Rome of Christendom that built and ruled Europe for a thousand years. Yes, this is the Europe tourist go to see. Nobody visits the Continent to marvel at the European Central Bank. Benedict’s monasteries became the nexus of the new cities of Europe, peopled by the refugees of both the Plebian orphans and the good Barbarians who despised their own people’s pagan ways.

What’s this got to do with Communism? Simply everything, Komrade. Because Communism is the approved operating system of The Family. Just ask Karl Marx: ‘From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs‘.

Or ask yourself this: what are the abilities of an infant? And are they vastly outweighed by that same infant’s needs? So here we have the only situation where the disparity between one persons’ work and another person’s need to benefit from the other’s work will be met with approval by all involved, and not jealousy or resentment. What father will give his child a stone when the child asks for bread? If the parents bring the child up rightly, then the child will become a productive adult, and the cycle will repeat itself. And the former child will repay the parent by taking care of them as they age. This system worked for over a thousand years. Forget ObamaCare. Forget Medicare. Forget the State. Only the Church has a moral imperative to treat it’s members as something more than cattle.

Communism is actually a description of how the family should operate. And that by extension, the Church, the Big Family, should (and actually does) operate on this same principle. And all at the local level. Who invented hospitals? Who created orphanages? Who built the universities? None of them were for-profit ventures in their origins. They were built for love, not money. But when you remove the parental love from the equation by substituting The Emperor for the role of The Father, you have removed the one element that will keep envy and jealousy from entering the community equation. We’ll examine this substitution shortly.

How does this small, nuclear example of the family grow to encompass society as a whole? The answer is so simple. It is the concept of The Commons. Eh? You know, the lands owned by the monasteries of Benedict and his men. The lands tamed of Barbarian ways by fierce warrior-monks who would lovingly kill outside malefactors who threatened their larger family. As any good father would. Now these monks never went anywhere, let alone looking for trouble. They didn’t have to. It always found them first. But they never ran from it either. Which is why we call these Priest-Monks by their deserved title of Father. Forget the Emperor. He wants you to fight to protect him. These men will fight to protect you. For free. Why? Because you are their sons and daughters.

(By the bye, I once was associated, loosely, with a bunch of poets. Not by choice, mind you. I was looking for recruits. But these fellows only wanted to talk about love. A passive love, one that never had to act, let alone with force. They said they would gladly die for their wives. Idiots, I said to them. A man must be willing to kill for his wife. Because if he dies for her, the killer gets his wife. Is that what you want, I asked? Is that what she wants? Idiots! Killing is love in action. Yes, we must love our enemies. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t kill them when they’re scaling the walls. Later we can have a Mass said for them. By the monks, of course.)

Anyway, these same Benedictine villages (and then cities) that grew up surrounding the protective aura of monasteries in the wilderness were totally dependent on the monastery. Why? Because if you were part of the community of belief, you were given the right to farm and graze the Commons owned (and cleared) by these same monks. The same monks that fed and protected you spiritually also saw that you were fed and protected physically. But you had to be a man about it. You had to farm this land yourself (along with your sons). And your faithful participation in this pact of love meant that your children would have the perpetual right to this same land, this same protection, this same participation in the Big Family of God.

When the marauders returned (as they always do), you had to help man the walls of the monastery where you and your family took shelter. You had to lay your life on the line to protect your family, and by extension, your community. Just like the Monks had done to begin with. And so it was. These same monks, who gave their own lives to tame the land and build the walls of protection and who made them available to all who shared their faith. Common faith, common land, common destiny. Communing together, in peace. Communism. And it worked, for over a thousand years. Until Henry (and his eastern imitator, Ivan III) destroyed the monasteries and stole their lands, and introduced the new paradigm; poverty for the masses. Welcome to today. Now you know why Donald won. The poor have revolted. But what is it they will embrace?

A Simple (But Not Short) Stats Question

From reader JH:

Thank you again for taking the time to write your blog. It is exceptionally thought-provoking.

My job involves much of the six sigma “capability” studies and such. I have lots of tools available to “quantify” our measurement data. But I’m wondering now if much of this approach isn’t baloney.

Given my questioning of our corporate orthodoxy, I decided to try a different approach to testing one aspect of a part. I’m curious what embedded fallacies I may have indulged in doing so?

Let’s say I want to demonstrate that the torque required to damage something is > 80. I have a capable measuring system and a representative sample and my uncertainties are (to our knowledge) randomly distributed (or presumed to be, given they are unknown).

The first measurement comes in at 280. Statistical value? Worthless. It’s a single data point.

The second data point comes in at 270. Ok, perhaps slightly less worthless. I could theoretically calculate my mean (275) and standard deviation (5) from a whopping two data points. Indulging corporate orthodoxy, I could say that my goal of > 80 is a whopping 39 standard deviations below my mean, and generate some impressively high probability that all future parts are going to be > 80. From two little points.

Has anything actually been demonstrated? If I shift the “mean” down to the lower-95% T-value (which is ~230.077 for these two points), can I claim ‘there is at least 95% probability that the population mean is > ~230.077’? If so, that still doesn’t let me calculate P{x>80} unless I assume some kind (Gaussian kind?) of distribution.

It feels wrong, but I can’t clearly articulate the source of error beyond assuming a “normal” distribution just because. Who knows what the actual distribution is?

Terrific set of questions. First, there is no actual distribution. Statistical, or rather probability, distributions are purely epistemological, i.e. measures of information, and are not properties of actual things.

Now this torque you are measuring. It actually was, once, 280, and another time 270. You have thus conclusively demonstrated the torque is, or can be, greater than 80. That is, given the measurements and assuming the measurements are without error, the probability the torque can be greater than 80 is 1. You are certain.

Questions like this next one are entirely different: M = “The next measured torque will be greater than 80.” The probability of that given just your two measurements—and nothing else—is, as is obvious, greater than 0. How much greater than 0 cannot be quantified unless you are to make (what are probably) ad hoc assumptions. Or the probability doesn’t have to be quantified, but can be made sharper if you were to add implicit information about these kinds of torques. Something like, “Given my experience of these kinds of machines, 280 and 270 are way above 80”, and then the probability of M with that implicit premise and given the two measurements is “high”.

Again, to say how high is “high” is requires ad hoc assumptions. Saying a normal distribution represents uncertainty in torque measurements is one such assumption. Then you can say the probability of M given this ad hoc assumptions, and given the two measurements, but leaving out the implicit expert knowledge about your experience.

This is all fine because, as is proved in this one-day best seller, all probability is conditional. Probability is not a property of any system, which is why there are no correct distributions to use—unless the probability can be derived from information you know or assume to be true about the process at hand. That kind of information appears to be missing here.

So, yes, Pr(M > 80 | x = 280, 270, and assuming a normal distribution with certain known central and spread parameters 275 and 7.07) = 1 (or, rather, .999 with about 160 or so 9’s). That probability will be less if you assume you don’t know the parameters and they are instead estimated from the data (something like .999999).

These are the correct numbers given these assumptions—and no other assumptions.

Instead of a normal, you could have used your ad hoc freedom to use any of hundreds of other standard distributions, and none of these would be any more correct. That is, they all would have been correct. Conditionally correct. Since the distribution is not derived, or deduced, from known causal principles about the process, that’s the best you can do.

Unless you bring in outside, expert knowledge. We saw above how that works: and it works well. Problem is, the hunger for quantification. Management wants a hard number, not an opinion. It rarely matters were the hard number comes from; that it is hard is what counts. This is why Six Sigma is so beloved. It gives precision where precision is desired. Not that it is giving useful precision, or numbers from which excellent decisions will be made.

The final answer is—drum roll, please—there is no answer. Unless you’re willing to live with expert knowledge and non-quantified probabilities, there is no way to come to numerical probabilities without making ad hoc assumptions.

You can use history, too, as expert knowledge. For instance, you’ve found normal distributions to work well in the past, hence you use them again. This is weakly ad hoc.

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