A beautifully told story with colorful characters out of epic tradition, a tight and complex plot, and solid pacing. -- Booklist, starred review of On the Razor's Edge

Great writing, vivid scenarios, and thoughtful commentary ... the stories will linger after the last page is turned. -- Publisher's Weekly, on Captive Dreams

Monday, February 13, 2012

Statistics, Obamas, and Internet Memes

Statistics made visible!!
The Principle of Statistical Inference
One of the many reasons for doing Statistics, besides the fact that it is more fun than one may have sitting down, is that it enables one to draw tentative conclusions about unexamined populations based on carefully examined samples.  In fact, the difference between probability, statistics, and process control can be visualized by means of a sample taken from a box full of beads, some percentage of which are red and the others white.

1. Probability. Knowing the proportion of red beads in the box, how many red beads will show up in a sample of n beads?
2. Statistics.  Knowing the number of red beads in a sample of n beads, what is the proportion of red beads in the box? 
3. Process Control.  Is there a box?

Item 2 is the question of inference, illustrated nicely in an article by the eminent statistician, Donald Wheeler, using a box containing 4800 beads, of which 10% are yellow.  He takes ten successive samples of n=50 beads, counting the number of yellows, for a grand total sample of n*=500 beads per experiment.  He repeats this 20 times and plots the cumulative proportion yellow.  As expected, as the sample size gets progressively larger, the cumulative proportion converges (and the 90% confidence band shrinks as a function of the square root of n*).

Cumulative % of yellow beads in successive samples
Oddly enough, it converges on 11% not on the true value of 10%.  In fact, the true (census) value is outside the confidence interval!  This is even more odd when we consider that the cumulative sample was n*=10,000 while there were only 4800 beads in the box to begin with.  In effect, Wheeler has examined every single bead, twice.  Plus a few more.  And still overestimated by a full percentage point, a bias of one part in ten.

TOF (I hear you say), how can this be? 

The reason is simple.  The real world never measures up to the mathematical one.  All of the calculations are predicted on assumption, two of which are:
  • The sample is a random sample
  • There is a population being sampled from.
A random sample of locations.  If this were 'Iraq,
these would have been radiation monitoring; it it were
global warming, these would be weather stations.
A Good Random Sample is Hard to Find
A random sample is generally considered one in which every unit in the population has a known (typically, an equal) probability of entering the sample.  But the problem is this: We never have a random sample; only the results of applying a sampling and measurement method. 

In the case of Wheeler's bead box, the method was a mechanical, spring-loaded paddle with fifty holes following a vigorous shaking of the box.  I have an identical box (somewhere, I can't lay my hands on it at the moment, so it may be in the storage locker) and I have conducted similar exercises in training classes and at SF cons.  In the more famous example of the Literary Digest Straw Poll of 1936, people who possessed neither telephones nor automobiles had almost zero chance of entering the sample; those who had both had double the chance.  Plus, there was an enormous non-response.  Even though the respondents totaled 2.4 million people, the fact that they chose to respond may have biased the results.  There is no justification for an a priori assumption that non-respondents have the same opinions as respondents. 

In the case of the bead box, it is entirely possible for the agitation of the box to leave the bulk of the beads inside relatively undisturbed, and so the sampling paddle consistently scoops up many of the same beads over and over.  I have accomplished this deliberately on some occasions.

A stratified sample.  This is more like it, whether in 'Iraq
or for weather stations.  Alas, weather stations are
for reasons other than estimating global temperature.
Trouble Comes in Bunches, So Take Your Sample in Bunches
In the illustration, above left, a total of 48 locations have been selected out of 400 locations.  Suppose this were a country and the dots represent weather stations.  How do we estimate the temperature of the whole ball of wax from the 48 locations?  We could simply average them, keeping the previous yellow-bead warning in mind.  But then we notice that there are 16 "zones" or regions of 25 locations each.  There are two zones with only one location while two other zones have six locations each.  If each zone ("stratum") were the same, there would be no problemo.  A simple random sample is sufficient.  But what if there were the possibility of significant variation among zones?  Remember the problem of instrumentation and sampling bias.  In those zones with multiple stations, the stations can be cross-checked against one another, and the results adjusted accordingly.  But what if the single temperature station in those two zones were malfunctioning?  Its bogus reading would be assigned to the whole zone. 

A stratified sample allocates the sample proportionately among all strata, then samples at random within the stratum.  In this case, 3 per zone.  So if a county has one-third each Republicans, Democrats, and Independents, then one-third of the sample ought to be from each group.  And so on. 

Is There a Box?
Item #3 up above may have seemed a trifle Zen, but the question Process Control asks is essentially whether the contents of the bead box remain the same from time to time (or equivalently, from group to group).  Process control samples are therefore stratified by time intervals.  Wheeler presents an example of batch weights in kilos exiting a blending operation.  The cumulative mean is:
Cumulative average batch weight after blending.
which you can see does not converge on any particular value, biased or not.  The reason is simple.  Unlike the bead box, this process does not have a single mean value being repeatedly estimated.  Here is a time-plot of the data, plotted on an XmR chart (Individual X and Moving Range).  The moving range provides an estimate of the short-term variation used to calculate the limits of random variation.
Batch weights on upper chart.  Range between consecutive batches on lower chart.
Lower chart is used to calculate limits of random variation on upper chart. 
There is no "process" and it's getting worse. 
As you can see, the data are not compatible with a single process mean.  Therefore, the aggregate data does not comprise a single population for purposes of inference.  As Wheeler puts it, the data have multiple personality disorder.  (BTW, We have seen much of this before, regarding global temperature anomalies.)

Now, I told you that to tell you this.

The halo is a nice touch.
Obama-rama-bo-bama, Banana-fana fo-fama.
Fee, fie, fo, fum.  Something smells.  But what cannot be done by the People's Representatives openly in Congress Assembled must be imposed stealthily by autocratic orders from the Besserwissers.  Yes, I speak of the recent central government command to employers to supply contraceptives for their female employees.  (Though not condoms for their boyfriends.  Go figure.) 

This power grab was evidently made not so much to control the birth of untermenschen as to assert the Executive's authority to order private citizens to buy Stuff the Executive thinks is Really Kool.  (cf. Obamacare wrt buying insurance).  It has nothing to do with whether contraceptives are a good idea; nor with whether they are legal, nor with whether lots of people want them.  It does have to do with the Omnicompetent State instructing a religious body as to which of its activities are "truly" religious and which are not.  That is explicitly forbidden by the First Amendment to do so.  As Jefferson said, “To compel a man to subsidize with his taxes the propagation of ideas which he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.”

But this president said, long before his election, that the Constitution was an "obstacle" to doing the right thing and has on more than one occasion expressed the wistful desire to rule by decree - though quickly backing off after doing so.  And after worrisome applause by his audience.  The appeal of fascism did not die with the 1920s and 30s. 

Why is this man laughing?
Now, the old encyclical Humanae Vitae warned of four trends that would result from freely available contraception.  These can easily be seen as raving delusions of a "slippery slope."  He predicted: 
  • a general lowering of moral standards throughout society; 
  • a rise in infidelity; 
  • a lessening of respect for women by men; and 
  • the coercive use of reproductive technologies by governments.
As you can see, none of these...  Er, um...

Good for health;
best if taken with
OK, well, but good idea or not, nonetheless it's legal.  Well, it’s legal to buy pork chops; but should the government compel Jewish organizations to serve them in the cafeteria because of the protein value of America's Other White Meat™?  Gun ownership is legal, but should the government compel Quaker meetings to provide a free ammo employee plan or pay for their membership in shooting clubs because a well-regulated militia is necessary for a free republic?  Would it matter if lots of Jews have eaten pork or even that some Quakers have gun licenses?

(Don't laugh.  What if the One Ring falls into the Wrong Hands; that is, if the Other Party wins an election and inherits the power now being arrogated?)
But how dare the Church bar contraceptives for non-communicants?  

Well, of course, she doesn't.  She merely says that she will not pay for them.  That a citizen has the right to purchase contraceptives does not entail the right to send someone else the bill.  Membership in a health club would also be "good" for health, but that does not impose on you the obligation to pay for my membership.  “Reproductive rights” are no more impaired by such a refusal than “digestive rights” would be if others failed to pay your Weight Watchers dues for you.

BTW, the parallel with digestive rights is instructive.  Both are the result of a collision between the desire to indulge an appetite (sexual or gustatory) without getting fat.  The notion that one ought to be able to eat whatever one likes without gaining weight is generally perceived as a failure of the intellect and no one supposes that the government ought to mandate health insurance coverage to include emetics, so as to enable bulemia.  

But TOF (I hear you say), what has all this to do with that wondrous subject, "Statistics," on which we started?  TOF is glad you asked.

98% of Catholic Women

Sample conclusions apply only to that
population whose members had a
random chance to enter the sample.
A basic rule of statistical inference is that the conclusions of a sample apply only to the population from which the sample came.  If the Literary Digest sampled only telephone owners, a legitimate conclusion cannot be drawn about all voters, only those who have telephones.  If a survey covered only left-handed Iowans, no conclusion can be drawn about right-handed Michiganders.  Get the picture?

Now, one meme that has been repeated in the current foo-foo is that “98% of Catholic women use contraceptives.”  How this obligates the Catholic church to pay for them is unknown, since Church dogma is not determined by popular vote, but by either revelation or (as in this case) natural reason.  Since the Church has been described as "a hospital for sinners, not a country club for saints," we would expect that there are many at least nominal members who do not adhere to the moral law.  I know I haven't.  I bet 98% have pilfered office supplies from their place of work, too; but that does not suggest the government should mandate the underwriting of kleptomania.

However, the 98% figure is bogus.  It comes from Figure 3 in a Guttmacher Institute study of the kinds of contraceptives women choose.  Now, the mission of the Guttmacher Institute is to propagandize the use of contraceptives, and their studies should be viewed in that light.  However, this particular study, though statistically primitive, does not itself make the claim attributed to it by the statistically illiterate. 

The 98% seems suspicious.  What of the elderly?  What about nuns?  What about the proverbially fertile Catholic mother?  Do they comprise only 2% of the Church?

Remember what we said that the results of sample S can only be projected onto the population P from which it was randomly selected?  Ignore for a moment the issues related to methodology, randomness, etc.  What was their population? 

We discover that the study was restricted to "women at risk for unintended pregnancy." [emph. added].  They defined this group as those:
  • aged 15-44 
  • who were “sexually active” in the three months prior to the survey 
  • but were not pregnant, postpartum or trying to get pregnant 
Fits Guttmacher profile
IOW, it excluded any woman participating in the Darwinian effort to colonize the future.  Excluded are Catholic women who are married, trying to have a baby (or at least open to the possibility), nuns and other virgins, and any woman older than 44 years or younger than 15.  This may actually exclude a fair number of "Catholic women" from the population.   

So the study tells us only that 98% of women of child-bearing age who want to have sex without having babies use some form of birth control.  That qualifies as a sort of “d’uh” moment.
(Remember, Guttmacher focused on this group because their interest was centered on which form of birth control different groups used.  It was not they who made the unwarranted inference to "all Catholic women.") 
BTW, you will notice the criteria also excludes anyone sexually active in the preceding three months, using contraception, but who became pregnant anyway.  That would be an interesting number.  
Catholic women.  On the Pill?
Now what about those "Catholic women."  Figure 1 in the Guttmacher report provides a breakdown of religious participation.  We find that only 30% of the “Catholic women” in their study reported attending church weekly, versus 11% who said “never” and 29% who said less than monthly.  IOW, 40% of those claiming to be Catholic are either Easter Bunnies or never attend Mass.  It’s unclear how “Catholic” such women really are.  But it certainly seems as if they are less likely to have been touched by catechesis. 

But what about the Public Interest in controlling the birth of untermenschen?  The poor are having Way Too Many of Them versus Not Enough of Us.  I mean, dude, Darwin himself worried about this. 
With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated; and those that survive commonly exhibit a vigorous state of health. We civilised men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination; we build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed, and the sick; we institute poor-laws; and our medical men exert their utmost skill to save the life of every one to the last moment. There is reason to believe that vaccination has preserved thousands, who from a weak constitution would formerly have succumbed to small-pox. Thus the weak members of civilised societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man itself, hardly any one is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.
-- Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex (2nd ed., 1882) pp. 133-134.
So we don't want those worst animals breeding, now do we?

But a funny thing happened on the way to the birth rate.  In the US, the birth rate has been declining steadily, a sine wave on a decaying exponential trend, since at least 1820.  You remember, do you not, that that was the year when President Monroe instituted a government program supplying cheap contraceptives to the poor frontiersmen and slum dwellers.  

US Birth Rates, showing effectiveness of Govt Contraceptive program
instituted in 1820 by President Monroe.  "Replacement level" is at 21
per 1000 people.  Thank goodness for immigration. 

Oh, wait.  There was no such program.  Yet the birth rates did come down.  Very strange.  How could people do things without being told by the government, financed by taxes, and led by the vanguard of the besserwissers?  TOF must plumb this mystery; but he has already overstayed your patience, and will leave that for another day.  But today's takeaway is this: Why do some people suppose that people today need to be managed by the government, when their grgrgrandparents did not? 


  1. Wonderful. I recently had an acquaintance source Guttmacher, to which I just had to sigh and shake my head. Lies, damn lies, and statistics.

  2. 90% of the time, statistics are wrong.

    1. Or just made up on the spot. :)

  3. Looks like at least one corner of the MSM has come to its senses as well:

  4. 87% of statistics are made up on the spot.

  5. "Gun ownership is legal, but should the government compel Quaker meetings to provide a free ammo employee plan or pay for their membership in shooting clubs because a well-regulated militia is necessary for a free republic?"

    Obviously not. Because gun ownership is a BAD IDEA! Guns are not Really Cool Things!

    The only rights this administration will go to the mat for are ones not explicitly recognized in the Constitution (formerly known as 'the Supreme Law of the Land).

  6. The passage from The Descent of Man quoted here is incomplete; Darwin went on to say

    The aid which we feel impelled to give to the helpless is mainly an incidental result of the instinct of sympathy, which was originally acquired as part of the social instincts, but subsequently rendered, in the manner previously indicated, more tender and more widely diffused. Nor could we check our sympathy, even at the urging of hard reason, without deterioration in the noblest part of our nature.

    Puts a slightly different complexion upon what might be inferred about Darwin's opinions about his fellow from his writings.

    One might almost think that there's an attempt being made here to make the old fellow look bad, by selective quotation.

    1. It's also incomplete in that it started earlier, too.

      Take a look at the terms in which he backed away from the abyss.
      o an incidental result of the instinct of sympathy
      o acquired as part of the social instincts
      o rendered more tender and more widely diffused by religion, et al.
      o Nor could we check our sympathy, even at the urging of hard reason, without deterioration in the noblest part of our nature.

      IOW, logic tells us we ought not let our worst animals breed, but we are helpless victims of our dashed inherited instincts of sympathy. Strangely, other devotees of hard reason did not find that it led them to that particular abyss in the first place.

      In his private letters, Darwin makes no secret that he regards the Irish as among those lesser breeds who are, inexplicably, outbreeding superior races like Darwin's own English. He also notes (without advocating) the forthcoming extermination of the Negro and the Australian, who are unable to compete with Caucasians. When they and the gorilla are extinct, he feared that the relationship between man and ape would become harder to discern.

      He was an English country squire of the Victorian Age; better than many from our point of view, but still hopelessly imprisoned by the prejudices of his time. While he did not go as far as his cousin Galton or his followers Huxley and H.G.Wells, he would really really need a PR spin doctor in today's world.

      See Andrew's comment and remember that Nietzsche would have regarded the Nazis with contempt.

  7. One might almost think that Lars has difficulty interpreting satirical context and sarcastic voice.

    1. No, not in the least. But an abbreviated quote, leaving out Darwin's own qualifications of the situation as he saw it, in such close juxtaposition to references to "untermenschen", is suggestive, to say the least. Perhaps I just don't find such suggestions really all that humourous.

    2. Actually, I have always read that as a wistful regret that our inherited sympathy impedes us from doing what our reason allegedly dictates. Especially when read in conjunction with other statements regarding Negroes, Irish, and so on. He was a man of his times. As I said, perhaps a bit more genteel than most. He hated above all else controversy and argument.

    3. Lars, I meant it half-jokingly, but I'm afraid that if you think all satire and sarcasm are "humorous", you really don't know anything about either satire or sarcasm.


      How wistful it is, I don't know, but that something like regret is there does indeed seem to be suggested by the part Lars selectively doesn't quote after the part he does quote:

      The surgeon may harden himself whilst performing an operation, for he knows that he is acting for the good of his patient; but if we were intentionally to neglect the weak and helpless, it could only be for a contingent benefit, with an overwhelming present evil. We must therefore bear the undoubtedly bad effects of the weak surviving and propagating their kind; but there appears to be at least one check in steady action, namely that the weaker and inferior members of society do not marry so freely as the sound; and this check might be indefinitely increased by the weak in body or mind refraining from marriage, though this is more to be hoped for than expected.

    4. @Brandon
      True. It has just occurred to me that some Post Moderns may associate eugenics with active elimination of the undesirables, the lebensunwertes Leben. But that was not the case in England or Sweden or even in the USA, where it was deemed sufficient for court-ordered sterilization or, for as Darwin hoped for and Galton pursued, the use of marriage licenses to prohibit the wrong sort from breeding. There is something charmingly naive about Darwin's belief that refusing a marriage license to John and Mary Lowerclass would actually prevent them from breeding.

  8. Lars,

    Your quote indicates that Darwin himself would not have been prepared to support the policies that his theory implied, since he retained an awareness of "the noblest part of our nature". He did tease out those implications, though, and others were willing to make such policy recommendations. Others again, later, were more than williing to act on them.

    I don't suppose that Mr. Flynn is trying to make Darwin look bad so much as to hint at where these ideas got started.

    1. Andrew - I take it that you're referring to various forms of "scientific racism". But those ideas got started a long time before Darwin came along. Various efforts were being made to fit the races of humanity into the Chain of Being (a non-evolutionary structure) well before Darwin's time. Its hierarchical nature required that not all human races stood upon the same rung. And consider the origin of the term "Hamitic", with all of the baggage that it bore in the Western world.
      Any excuse will do, if you're willing to do harm for profit. The hierarchical ordering of worth and ability among the races and classes of humanity preceded Darwin and evolutionary thought by a good margin, and persisted despite him. Mr. Flynn might have given Darwin credit for his true contribution to our understanding of the human situation, that we're all related and not much different. But he didn't.

    2. Actually, the notion that "we're all related" and share a common descent, insofar as humans are concerned, goes back to the myth of Adam. You can find it in Augustine's City of God more than a millennium earlier. Darwin did believe all humans were related, and he detested slavery; but he also believed some breeds were superior to others.

      I'm still not clear on the relevance to executive overreach or the abuse of statistical inference.

  9. Certainly, the last graph provided overwhelmingly drives home the premise that governments do not (in the current age, in the U.S. at least) need to be in the business of limiting fertility, as people are doing it themselves, and have been for decades.

    But the question were people limiting their fertility through those years? Was it by abstinence alone, the only method accepted as not "gravely immoral" by the Catholic Church? Hardly. Contraceptives and (sadly)abortificants have been around for thousands of years. Onanism was probably practiced endemically.

    For the Catholic position to be valid it must follow the demands of a Kantian Imperative. Thus, if every person never used contraceptives, coitus interruptus, autonomous stimulation, but only abstinence (remember effective NFP has only been around for about 4 decades) as a means of controlling their fertility, that graph would look very different.

    Many with whom I have spoken say that high, and very high fertility is a good thing...always, and that the resources of the world are infinite. I suppose if that is your position, then the graph above reveals sad and terrible news. But most acknowledge the finiteness of our world, and would feel relieved that runaway fertility is not a given, and that measured growth (or no growth at all) is desirable. The author himself seems to want to assure us that we are not in a dire state of unlimited fertility, and he seems to imply that he sees that as a reassuring good. But, if that good is only possible via immoral means...can it ever be good?

    1. Not sure here. The point of the ramble was the overweening extension of Executive Command in defiance of the Constitution, not whether the thing being commanded was moral or immoral or, if immoral, venial or mortal. The birth rate chart simply indicates that if poor white frontiersman did not need a government program to secure their numbers, it is the height of paternalism to suppose that today's "undesirables" need such enlightened guidance.

      There are more resources in one modest-sized asteroid than the world uses in a year. And there are tens of thousands of asteroids. We could do the math.

      Regarding fertility, remember that the 20th century liberal welfare state is predicated on 19th century fertility rates.

    2. Yes, as I said, I understood the thrust of your argument.
      Could you point me to some documentation from which you come to the conclusion that asteroid resources are so plentiful and available?

    3. Not on-line. But there was a nice article with all the math from a great many years ago. It was in Jerry Pournelle's collection of science columns A Step Farther Out. Might be available.

    4. Nothing on earth really goes anywhere, except for maybe atmosphere stripping.

      So, as long as we manage the resources, and considering that we are ourselves finite, the world is infinite, in a sense. Matter is neither created nor destroyed. Sustainability and all that.

      Even if our fertility did rocket off the charts and we found ourselves in dystopian armageddon of frenzied uncontrollable over-reproduction, think it through, what would happen? The human population would just suddenly gain a higher mortality rate as they started dying off from famine, wars and disease.

      And to be frank, people would start eating each other (as far more available food sources), before they manage to depopulate plants and animals off the earth and out of the sea to doom future humanity.

      That's assuming this armageddon ever came to pass, although it seems like humanity is weirdly designed to reach an equilibrium, population wise. Who's going to want to get it on when you're starving to death? I'm pretty sure there's a negative correlation. I doubt that fertility would be unaffected by availability of food.

      'Sides, if it does happen, that'd just be Revelation. Time to pack up for the Rapture. :P

    5. Crap. I didn't notice the year of posting. Lol. My bad.

  10. "For the Catholic position to be valid it must follow the demands of a Kantian Imperative"

    Why is that imperative?

    1. From Wiki: "Kant defines the demands of the moral law as "categorical imperatives". Categorical imperatives are principles that are intrinsically valid; they are good in and of themselves; they must be obeyed in all, and by all, situations and circumstances if our behavior is to observe the moral law"

      Therefore, if Catholic doctrine is true regarding sexuality, it must be true for all, for all time.

      We can imagine a world where everyone stopped murdering, stopped lying, stopped committing adultery etc. But a world where everyone eschewed contraception (including Onanism etc.) would be a world of very, very, very high birthrates....forever. Clearly, in a finite world this presents a problem. Perhaps it is not a problem today or in the very near future. But, had world fertility rates not fallen, sometime in the future we would have had to deal with the finiteness of the earth. I cannot see any way around this.

    2. @Gyan
      I think correspondent Mary is concerned with the content of the Catholic doctrine rather than with the Government telling the Church whether they may practice it. The latter is, of course, contrary to Amendment I, regardless whether one things the doctrine foolish or not. A brief glance at history reveals birth rates never so high as she supposes; but then a brief glance at history fails to reveal an era when the Triumph of the Will was so complete that people could not imagine refraining from that which was immediately pleasurable. It could be that, in our Nietzschean world, contraception is necessary to make women available to men anxious to avoid the responsibilities of family. Or else, it is necessary to shake of the Ghost of Nietzsche.

    3. "A brief glance at history reveals..." Which history are you referring to? TFR's at 5 or 6 were the norm in Europe for centuries, as they continue to be in the agricultural, poor states of Africa where child mortality is high and female education is low.

      Just as small increments below replacement level fertility have large demographic implications (TFRs of 1.7 might not SEEM alarming given a replacement value of 2.1, but they are), TFRs of 3 or 4 can have huge consequences.

    4. For the record, I am adamantly against the HHS Mandate, and see it as unconstitutional and really just a calculated, political move.

    5. Rural families are always larger than urban families. This is largely because another kid on the farm is an asset. He or she begins to contribute to the well-being of the family at an early age - by feeding the chickens or something. Another kid in an urban industrial family is a net liability. He can't help out in the foundry or the office. It is poverty that causes larger families, not vice versa.

      (In medieval times, the family unit was something we might call the "clan". Not the same as "nuclear" or "extended" family, but also the reason the Church was so strict on consamguinity.)

    6. seem to be missing my point. How exactly do you think these urban dwellers of days gone by curtailed their reproductive capacities? It sure wasn't the old rhythm method that was based on an incomplete understanding of female cycles. To be sure it was through the withdrawal method, homemade contraceptives and abstinence via masturbatory behavior. Sadly...some abortion. There is nothing magical about being a city dweller that makes one able to be abstinent.

    7. Either that, or there may have been something about not being a Late Modern/Early PostModern, Triumph of the Will kind of guy that did make abstinence more thinkable. We always tend to project current categories of thought onto the past.

    8. Urban dwellers of days gone by didn't necessarily have access to good nutrition or hygiene. Poor nutrition and ill-health affect the fertility of both men and women, both the ability to conceive and the ability for a woman to carry the pregnancy to term. So, Mary, please don't assume that my Catholic great-grandparents, who had only two children, were involving themselves in the various sins that you name.

      Mr. Flynn is also correct that abstinence was probably more thinkable--and perhaps more doable--for people of times past.

    9. "abstinence was probably more thinkable--and perhaps more doable--for people of times past."

      Why would this be so? Again, STD's rely on the opposite of this, and they were quite common. They did not die out during this period.

  11. But, the very existence of sexually transmitted diseases evidences fairly constant and high rates of fornication etc. These diseases evolved in and are perpetuated by sexual contact with multiple partners. If it is true that the men of these eras were chaste in great numbers then surely these diseases would have become extinct!

    1. I am persuaded by your reasoning: Yes, Onanism and the like were probably pretty endemic in the urban areas. But this does not really hit the heart of the issue you have:

      You're concerned that the Church's mandate does not fit the Kantian moral imperative. Why?

      If your worry is catastrophic overpopulation, this takes a too abstracted view of the human person into mere "humanity." Not everyone is a consumer. Many are producers.

      Also, this worry forgets the whole of Catholic sexual teaching. If the world were Catholic and Kantian about it, we'd have a continent of continents.

      If your worry is the flipside, a dwindling of finite resources, there are several other points that can be made.

      If we accept that necessity is the mother of invention and tie it to the proposition that everyone in the world practiced acceptable sexual activity or acceptable alternatives, we can look at the first objection upside down. To wit, we would have the necessity of using far fewer resources far sooner, and invention would occur.

      Also, large families consume fewer resources per member than small families, and necessarily. If they use more resources in an aggregate way, the point is that resources are used more efficiently towards the end of

      Jennifer Fulweiler did a nice little write-up on this lately.


      In writing the above, I've accepted the artificial restraint of not mentioning God. This effectively takes a partial view of Catholic moral teaching into something of a straw man. It is as if a general practioner only looked at your skeleton during an annual check-up, indifferent to your beating heart. Because He is the author of all things, and more to the point because we are all called to a particular vocation, there is eschatalogically no problem.

      If we really were Kantian about being Catholic, suppose also our resources were completely exhausted; if we really did have nowhere else to turn; if in billions and billions years should the universe die of heat death --- we would find, if we took our vocation seriously, that our vocations may have prayerfully become religious or secular continence. But suppose even this is not the case.

      If our universal vocation become not just holiness but holiness in what we call matrimony, I think the best use of the last bit of energy in the universe would be the conception of the last new life our Cosmos ever produced.

      And if even this is false, it only means the last use of energy in the heat death of the universe is meant by God to be used for something even more unimaginably creative. Maybe it'll be the next Big Bang. Maybe, by the grace of God and the truth of a redeemed Cosmos, there would come an even greater Creation.


      In writing both sections above, I've assumed the intention, purpose, and substance of God, and this is always folly, especially because I'm not even sure I understand the intention, purpose, and substance of your comment.

      Anyway, I hope this helps.

    2. Ugh. Missed finishing a sentence.

      ... towards the end of production, so there is a net gain, not loss. Sooner we use resources but sooner we use them better; sooner we pierce the sky and sooner we pierce it better; sooner, God willing, we spread through the stars and sooner we spread like butter.

    3. Great way of explaining, i loved way of drawing, pictures always more helpful to make understand, sure in future want to follow it..

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  14. I see I forgot to say, back when this was new-- thank you very much for posting this! I linked and did a small quote, but it seems much more polite to directly say "thank you."


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