Reviews

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

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Tarachódocracy


Beasts and their young in travel cages.
From the Greek, meaning 'rule by the obstreperous.'

It suffices for an intransigent minority –a certain type of intransigent minority –to reach a minutely small level, say three or four percent of the total population, for the entire population to have to submit to their preferences. 
-- Nassim Nicholas Taleb, "The Most Intolerant Wins: The Dictatorship of the Small Minority"


Note that the lion is not shown pouncing upon the zebra.
Although the zebra warily keeps the elephant between them.
RECENTLY, FROM THE NOOZ, TOF learned that the cover art on boxes of animal crackers has been changed to remove the cage bars (and the baby animals). This was not because a great wave of artistic preference swept through the body politic. Ask anyone the day before to list their top ten concerns -- indeed, their top 100 concerns -- and chances are that the package art for Animal Crackers would not have ranked very high among them.

This change came about at the behest of PETA, which apparently believed the old retro circus art was somehow double-plus ungood and possessed the causal power to entail extinctions. It did not come about because of a groundswell of grassroots demand. This illustrates a curious point:









Change comes about from instransigant minorities within societies, not from the majority or the "consenseus." This is not because the minority convinces the majority, but because there is frequently an asymmetry in choices.

Ratchets permit motion in only one direction.
The animal cracker artwork mattered terribly to the snowflakes at PETA, while everybody else didn't care much at all. Therefore, PETA (which is not concentrated in a mountain compound, but spread throughout the country and inexplicably not yet in cages. That makes it like a ratchet, permitting motion in one direction and blocking it in the other.










One example of the Ratchet is kosher soft drinks. Almost all beverages are kosher. The reason is that those who keep kosher will drink nothing else, while those who do not don't care one way or the other. Since the cost differential in minimal and those who insist on kosher are scattered throughout the population, bottlers find it much cheaper to just make everything kosher than to keep two inventories. (That is not always true for other rules; or for intransigant minorities who are concentrated in a few areas, or if the cost differential is large.)

National Helium Reserve
 ONCE AWARE OF THE RATCHET, we see its appearance everywhere and realize its explanatory power. Government subsidies and boondoggles, for example. Suppose a bill is passed -- remember when bills had to pass through Congress before we discovered the excellently swift power of the Executive Order and bureaucratic Regulation? -- and it provides lunches and conferences and salaries for the sugar industry, or advertisers, or Head Start, or someone else. We now have a minority -- say, the sugar growers -- who are intransigently opposed to cutting the subsidy, because National Security! (or the Children!™ or whatever rings the bell) The majority abides because it only costs them pennies at a time. That's why they are seldom repealed -- there is always a lobby to support them, not always a lobby to repeal them. That's how the national helium reserve, set up to ensure the Navy would have plenty of helium for its blimps, outlasted the Age of Airships itself. By 1996, it was evident that zepplins were not making a comeback and the use of helium was almost entirely private, so th ereserve was ordered privatized. But in 2013, lo!, the need evidently returned like the Walking Dead and federal control was reasserted. Similarly, the ATF was not disbanded when Prohibition was repealed. They just found other stuff to do. The telephone excise tax, enacted in 1898 to help pay for the Spanish-American War was renewed and revised repeatedly to pay for other wars or depressions and shortfalls in government revenue, until 2000, and only because the internet had mooted the concept of a "phone call." Even so, Clinton vetoed the repeal bill and it lingered unto 2011 or so.

Some folks don't trust GMO foods
Much is explained by tarachódocracy, from the trivial to the portentious. Taleb notes that transgenic-GMO eaters will eat nonGMOs, but not the reverse. Those who don't like GMO food, will usually not eat it. Therefore, much food is marketed as "Contains no GMO incredients." Likewise, books don't get banned by majority vote, but because a minority feels so strongly that they won't back down or compromise on it. The National Socialist Worker's Party never won a majority in any vote, and in fact lost seats in the Reichstag in the last election before the Machtergreifung; but Hitler was appointed chancellor nonetheless because shouting down speakers, rushing the platform, and the like were so effective and the Christian Democrats just wanted the disturbances to stop. "Once you have ten percent or more women at a party," says Taleb, "you cannot serve only beer. But most men will drink wine. So if you serve only wine, you only need one set of glasses."

Islam prevailed in the heartland of Christianity because of a Ratchet. If a Christian [or other non-muslim] man married a muslim woman, he had to convert. (Christian woman could be kept by muslims without converting.) But any children would have to be raised muslim, and no convert could revert under pain of death. This ensured that all changes in religion were one-way; and even if the original converts had done so cynically to avoid taxes or some other burden, their grandchildren were likely to be sincere.

In the US, the "minority rule" is still largely compartmentalized. On most issues, the several states must decide for themselves. If, as some wish, the country became a unitary state rather that a federation (often expressed by "reforming" the Electoral College) then tarachódocracy would preveil acoss the nation and a stubborn minority could impose their desire on the whole country rather than on say Texas alone.

Nicholas Rashevsky, the "father" of mathematical biophysics, also wrote a book applying mathematics to historical processes, including what later became "tipping point" theory and incorporated the idea of "partisan" groups who could never be won over. But Warren Weaver, in his discussion of complexity in science, wrote that "organized complexity" consisted not only of many individual units but also the interrelationships among them. Readers my recognize thia as matter and form. Such systems were beyond the organizing power of mathematics or statistics or even human intuition and had to be grasped through models. But "all models are wrong," and the outputs of them are likely to be Wrong. Taleb points out that "in complex systems the ensemble behaves in way not predicted by the components." These are called emergent behaviours, or formal causes. That's because the connections among the units matter more than the units themselves. [See Warren Weaver, "Science and Complexity," American Scientist, 36:536 (1948)]

All good ideas originate with some small initial group that will not take No for an answer. The trouble is, all bad ideas start the same way.

All of this bodes ill for the long-term survival of the Republic. Tolerance of free speech means tolerating even those calling for the banning of some speech, and tarachódocracy means their views will come to dominate. Such minorities cannot or will not ever concede.

Reference
Rashevsky, Nicholas. Looking at History through Mathematics, The MIT Press  (1968)
Taleb, Nassim Nicholas. "The Most Intolerant Wins: The Dictatorship of the Small Minority,"
 Weaver, Warren. "Science .and Complexity," American Scientist, 36:536 (1948)

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Is God Made of Soap?

Ninth Article
Is God made of soap?
We proceed thus to the Ninth Article:
Objection 1: It would seem that God is made of soap. For whatever is highest in a genus must be predicated of God. But the highest in the genus of cleanliness, which the Philosopher says is next to godliness, is soap.
Objection 2: Moreover, Scripture says, "Wash me, and I shall be clean indeed." But it belongs to soap to wash.
Objection 3: Furthermore, Dionysius says in On the Divine Names, "For the being of the Most High, being beyond Being, which is what is, can only be denied, as of foamy lather that surpasses even the most excellent conception." But the principle of foamy lather is soap, and where the effect is found, there must the principle be posited.
On the contrary is the opinion of Saint Augustine, who says, "I did wander long among vain fancies, thinking that thou wert as the soap that cleanseth all things, and that evil was a grimy blot on thy purity."
I answer that, 'Soap' can be said in two ways. In one way, soap is the material principle of cleanliness as such. But we have already shown that there is no material principle in God. Therefore, God is not made of soap. But in another way, 'soap' is said of whatever is highest in the order of efficient causes directed towards cleanliness secundum quid by an order that is less than formal with respect to the finality of an end, simply as such, without respect of quiddity in potentiality to the sensitive appetite. And in this sense all men say that God is made of soap, and that in the highest degree, as is plain from the definition.
Reply Obj. 1: Soap is not the highest in the genus of cleanliness, as the Saponians heretically maintain, but only in the genus of material ablutions, which is related to cleanliness in the way that principles of natural reason are related to the eternal law, as the Psalmist says, "How shall a young man cleanse his way? By keeping to your law."
Reply Obj. 2: Scripture also says, "I will wipe away every tear from their eyes." But soap is an efficient cause of tears, and not of their remotion. Therefore, God is not made of soap.
Reply Obj. 3: In this place Dionysius understands 'foamy lather' in accordance with the way of remotion, so that it implies only the lack of such qualities as are inconsistent with foamy lather, as shortness of duration and irritation to the skin.

This lost part of the Summa was discovered by Thomas Williams (Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Iowa) while a graduate student at Notre Dame.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

The Singing City

Just sold a short story to Analog, entitled "The Singing City. The opening paragraphs are:

The Singing City

by Michael F. Flynn

All during the party Theresia has been remarkably subdued. Oh, she has smiled at all the right jokes and chatted with all her guests, but Bill has seen her smile wink out the moment she thinks no one is watching. It is as if her face were a moon, reflecting the gaiety of those around her, but not shining through its own inner fires. Who can blame her, he thinks. It must be hard to bid a husband farewell. He remembers how his own father had been absent for months at a time, and how bravely his mother had borne it.

His eyes, dancing across the crowded family room, pick out his father’s curly, silver-white hair and sun-darkened face where he sits and talks wise words with the other old men. Rehashing the good old days, as such men always did; though Ed Mercado has a great many more days worth the hashing than most.

His father will not be around much longer, Bill realizes with a sudden pang. When you lived hard, you wore out faster.

His father notices his regard and tips his bottle of El Presidente toward him. Bill waves and moves off to the edge of the crowd. Everybody says how wonderful it must be having a hero for a father, but they hadn’t been there. They hadn’t known of the long absences and the strange, skinny man who would reappear from time to time to bend down and, laughing, swoop him into the air. Or the schoolyard fights, obliged to defend his father’s honor against those who felt equally as obliged to belittle it. What did your Dad do in the Crisis? Nothing much. Saved the world once or twice, but that’s all. Later, as he matured, Bill learned that there had been other men and women, thousands of them, and many had done and sacrificed far more than Dad. And yet, every morning when he looks into the mirror to shave, Bill Mercado does not see “Flaco” there.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Numbers, We Got Numbers.

Or not.

Biology is sorely deficient in math when compared to physics or chemistry, and is therefore a sort of Junior Varsity member of Team Science -- at least from the 18th century, Scientific Revolutionary perspective. You may recall that one of the Pillars of that Revolution was the privileging of Mathematics as the Language of Discourse for Science. See Descartes for details. (It is possible to quibble with those details -- after all, if the only tool you allow yourself is a hammer, all you will ever see is a nail, and by restricting themselves to what was mathematically "visible," the Scientists blinded themselves to that which was not measurable.) And so we have equations for Newton's Theory, Maxwell's Theory, Boyle's Theory, Einstein's Theory, and sundry others. But we have, alas, no equations expressing Darwin's Theory.

Fair is fair. Math does show up here and there in biology, usually in biophysics and biochemistry. It appears also in genetics, which was pioneered by Br. Gregor Mendel, trained as a physicist be it noted, who conducted a real, no-foolin' designed experiment, the first in all biology. One also sees biostatistics. But statistics is not mathematics and a regression equation, though it bears a passing resemblance to a mathematical equation, is not actually of the same species. Think of it as mimicry. This distinction is a topic for another day, except that the softer the science, the worse its statistical praxis. And when the science is social the praxis gets downright mushy, usually learned via cookbooks in "Stats 101" courses.

Which brings us to today's topic: correlation. Ever since David Hume, correlation has held pride of place over causation due to the inability of inductive reasoning ever to establish causes. It establishes only a co-relation between two (or more) variables measured on the same unit. Thus, it requires:
  • measurements
  • on the same units
Neither is as simple as it sounds.

"There can be no science of any hard empirical variety when the very act of identifying one’s object of study is already an act of interpretation, contingent on a collection of purely arbitrary reductions, dubious categorizations, and biased observations. There can be no meaningful application of experimental method. There can be no correlation established between biological and cultural data."
-- David Bentley Hart, "Daniel Dennett Hunts the Snark"
An example recently promoted by "The Gift that Keeps on Giving," a.k.a. Jerry Coyne, is that "the happiest countries are the least religious." It is itself a happy¹ illustration of Thucydides' dictum that people will swallow anything if it accords with their prior beliefs.² Also that experts who wander off their reservation are no more insightful than the rest of us fools. Herewith, the evidence in chief as cited by the True Coyne:

We note first of all that the author of the graph (who was not Coyne) is unfamiliar with Edward Tufte's classic work, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. Fair enough, since the display is not, strictly speaking of quantitative information at all.
Notes:
1. happy. Lucky, fortunate. See also mayhap, happen, happening, happenstance; also hapless.
2. Thucydudes, History of the Peloponnesian War, Book IV, 108

Happy, Happy! Joy, Joy!

The Coynester has committed the scientific gaffe of reifying abstractions: to wit: both happiness and religious. Countries cannot be "happy" (or "religious"), only human beings can be either. Perhaps Coyne meant that "the majority of the people in country X" are happy, but this raises the question of how this can be known. How were they contacted? By sample? Was the sample randomized? Stratified? In some countries, folks do not have telephones; indeed, in some countries they do not have street names or addresses. In some, they do not have streets. How do you randomly sample in Burkina Faso? Is it as straightforward as in Singapore? San Jose, Costa Rica, has streets, but the houses are not numbered. How does one identify a sampling frame from which to select random units? Did the data collector even bother to do so? And, if not, in what manner could the results be generalized from the sample to the target population? Allow TOF to express Profound Doubts on these points. To learn that these data were collected by Gallup is encouraging, although that they were gathered under UN auspices is not.

About 1000 people were surveyed in each country in each year. The reported happiness results are the combined results for all the years from 2014-2016. (Although not all countries were surveyed in every year.) Results from multiple years were combined in order to tighten the confidence interval via larger nominal sample sizes. A confidence interval is a mythic figure regarding a parameter of a statistical distribution. Multiple surveys can be combined in this manner only if there has been no substantive change in the population during the time when the various samples were taken, nor any change in the manner of data collection.³ Otherwise, you may be averaging apples and oranges.
Notes.
3. combining surveys. For example, suppose in the prior year there had been much anticipation that candidate X would be elected and usher in the eschaton because the Opposing Party had been cozened into nominating a Bull Goose Loser. But then in the following year, the Bull Goose Loser unaccountably has won the election, causing much weeping and tooth-gnashing. There might be a sea change in happiness, at least within some strata of the population. 
Next, how do you measure "happiness"? With a hap-o-meter? (Preferably one calibrated to a standard certified by NIST). This is perhaps more evidently a problem to a physicist than to a biologist or a social "scientist." The latter in particular is conditioned to accept a questionnaire as an "instrument" and to confuse the answers to a suite of questions with a "measurement." And indeed, so it happened.

The Happiness Scale was measured [sic] using the Cantril life ladder. The English Language version of the key question runs as follows.
“Please imagine a ladder, with steps numbered from 0 at the bottom to 10 at the top. The top of the ladder represents the best possible life for you and the bottom of the ladder represents the worst possible life for you. On which step of the ladder would you say you personally feel you stand at this time?


That's right, it's all about feelz.

Note that the life ladder begs the question of what the "best possible life" means to different people, especially in different cultures. One easily imagines countries in which the "best possible life" is not very good at all; but one also imagines situations in which access to television has introduced formerly happy people to the life of Western Europeans and the sin of envy, which is defined as unhappiness at the good fortune of others.

The original survey also asked about other factors, such as: GDP, life expectancy, social support ("If you were in trouble, do you have relatives or friends you can count on to help you whenever you need them, or not?"), generosity ("Have you donated money to a charity in the past month?"), corruption perception ("Is corruption widespread throughout the government [or throughout business] or not") etc. Collectively, the UN Report claims, these factors account for nearly all the variation in happiness in the world.
Looking ahead, none of these factors included "religiosity." Hence, there was no "room" in the model for religion to account for happiness positively or negatively. Naturally, this stopped Coyne and his religious enthusiasts in their tracks.
Ho, ho. TOF jests. One meaningless social science exercise does not forestall another.

Ordinal in the Court! The Happiness Scale is an ordinal scale, not a ratio scale. A response of "10" on the ladder does not mean that the respondent is twice as happy as someone answering "5". Not like 10 cm. is twice as long as 5 cm., or 10Ω is twice as resistant as 5Ω. This is an illusion created by the imagery of the "ladder" and its "rungs." Without a ratio scale, the whole procedure of averaging and correlating is bogus from the get-go.⁴

It is not clear what the steps on the "ladder scale" mean. A happiness of "8" is eight whats? Not volts, TOF is sure. Happiness is said to "light up a room," so perhaps eight lumens? But TOF doubts it.

Did happiness ratings within a country form a single statistical population? If not, there may be no average for that country. Consider the paste weights of battery grids which were made at different times using different batches of paste, milled fortuitously at different densities. The resulting weights had two distinct averages, not one: those grids pasted prior to 4:00 PM and those pasted after the batch change. 
 If you stick your head in the oven and your feet in the freezer, on the average you're comfortable.
An average is a measure of central tendency, and not all processes have a central tendency. In that sense, there is no average, even if you can calculate one.  What is the central tendency of the number of testicles possessed by human beings? But we digress.⁵
Notes
4. ratio scale. See Deming, The Statistical Adjustment of Data for discussion.
5. testicles. The average is just less than one. Half of all humans have zero. The other half usually have two, but there are occasional accidents and elective surgeries.
Holy Mackerel!
Most of the same points apply to the religiosity scale. What exactly is "importance of religion"? What is meant by a "religion"? Is shamanism even the same kind of thing as Buddhism? In those countries possessing established churches, citizens are enrolled in the approved churches for tax purposes, whether they attend church or not. Does this count? Does pro forma attendance? Does the devoutness of the attendees? Who measures such subjective attitudes? How do they do so? With what precision? Does "religiosity" mean the same thing in China as it does in Bolivia?⁶ Some folks like to point out that atheistic countries like the quondam Soviet Union are "really" religious because communism is "really" a religion. (See Midgley, Evolution as a Religion for a discussion.)

Notice that an individual may regard "religion" (broadly speaking) as "important" (broadly speaking) even if he himself is not a believer.

It is not clear what the scale measures, except that it appears to be a proportion running from 0.00 to 1.00. If so, it is at least a ratio scale.

These religiosity "data" were not collected in the same survey as the happiness "data." That is, the X and Y "measurements" were not performed on the same units. And yet a correlation was performed! 
Notes
6. cross-country comparisons should be made with great care because different countries often use different operational definitions of the variables. Infant mortality is a well-known example. Even within a country, definitions sometimes change. See the discussion sections in the Historical Abstracts of the United States for examples.

Rules of Engagement

A vital issue: Were the happiness and the religiosity "measured" on the same units (people) or only within the same geographical region (country)?

Imagine trying to determine the relationship between the nitrogen content and tensile strength of steel if the two properties were not measured on the same heats of steel. Even a biologist might hesitate to rely on such results -- even if he did not notice the metallurgist rolling on the floor laughing his guts out. As a thought experiment, imagine Coyne's reaction to a correlation between cancer rates in US census districts versus the usage of lawn services in those same districts, with no attempt to discover whether the households experiencing the cancers were the same households employing the lawn services!

Another issue to be considered is whether one should treat all countries as equal units when they vary widely in size: Singapore is small and compact; Brazil is not.

The reported correlation coefficient is r= ‒0.58. No self-respecting engineer would entertain such a value or r for a New York minute, although TOF has been told that soft "scientists" put much stock in any r greater than zero, provided they have wee p-values. This can be ascribed to their training in "cookbook statistics". But let it be said that you can have a very high "confidence" around a very wrong value. A confidence interval is a statement about the precision of an estimate, not about its accuracy, let alone its appropriateness. An r= ‒0.58 means an r²= 0.34. This means that only about one-third of the variation-among-countries in happiness is "explained" by its association with religiosity of those countries. (Whatever that means.)

Hot Dogs and Hamburgers

A correlation coefficient, so beloved by soft "scientists" is almost meaningless. Among the assumptions built into the woodwork is the assumption that the data come from a statistical population. That is, that the data represent a constant system of common causes. But out in the wilds, we most often encounter mixtures of populations: units produced at different times, from different material lots, under different operational conditions. Sometimes these differences have no practical effect on the measurement of interest, but sometimes they do. You cannot leave that to assumption. TOF has seen cases where it mattered who the operator was who ran the machine, or made the measurement, or even what time of day. And if these muck up manufactured product, where the output is supposed to be uniform and to specifications, how much more so wild data which is under no such domesticated obligation?




It is not clear that the scatterplot is a hot dog or a hamburger with a tail. That is, the weak appearance of a correlation is due to multiple clusters of points. The vast majority of points form an amorphous ball on the right. A second cluster in the northwest consists of Western Europe and a third cluster in the southwest consists of Eastern Europe and East Asia. This is a common pattern on scatterplots.

Apparent correlations between X and Y can indeed come about when:
  1. X is a cause of Y
  2. Y is a cause of X
  3. Z is a lurking cause⁵ of both X and Y
  4. coincidence

The correlation in the left hand plot apparently shows that errors decrease with increasing workload on the clerks. The managers were delighted. To reduce errors we will give the clerks more work! But wait. There were two clerks: Adam and Betsy. Betsy was more experienced. She got more work done and made fewer errors than Adam. There was a causal relationship, but it was not between X and Y! It was between Z and X and between Z and Y. (In the actual case, there were four clerks. The case has been simplified for presentation purposes.)

These are all technical issues associated with the use of the statistics; but there are also substantive issues associated with the hypothesis supposedly being tested.

Everyone gives lip service to the fact that correlation is not causation, but then turns around and acts as if it were. The Coynester is no exception to this rule and chortles over the "fact" that religion does not result in happiness for its practitioners. (Notice the leap in logic here. That is not even what the data is supposed to show. These are countries, not people.)  But why should anyone suppose that "religiosity" however defined should be expected to entail "happiness" however defined? It may be the opposite case: unhappiness may entail religiosity, at least of certain types. Recall


Notes
5. lurking cause. A nice article on the subject is Brian Joiner. "Lurking Variables: Some Examples." The American Statistician 35(4): 227-233 (Nov 1981)

Sunday, June 24, 2018

This is Way Kool

The Earth at various epochs. Get rid of the clouds. Your mouse or touchpad can make the Earth rotate to different positions. A dialogue lets you set a locator for your hometown so you can see where it was when e.g. dinosaurs walked the land.

http://dinosaurpictures.org/ancient-earth/#750


Saturday, June 9, 2018

Keeping Tabs on Things

Many unposted items

1. Remember Çatalhöyük?

Who could forget that remarkable discovery that gave Anatolia pride of place for the world's first big city? It turns out that one of its investigators may have fudged a bit. A bit of a Piltdown situation, eh what? Though a bit more clever. Now, like the DNA lab that faked some of its results or the detective that planted some of his evidences, all of the data now needs to be revisited. What a bummer.

2. The Outlook for Russia and China

Is not so rosy, according to the Manhattan Contrarian, especially now that they can have a president for life.
Yes, it's the old Roman Empire model for governance.  It seemed like such a good idea when Octavian/Augustus took over in 27 B.C. and ruled gloriously for 41 years of unprecedented power and stability.  But within another couple of decades you had Caligula, followed shortly by Nero, and on downhill from there.  Soon enough, emperors were being assassinated every couple of years by a new guy trying to take over.  Or maybe we should call it the Venezuela model for governance; or the Zimbabwe model; or the Cuba model.  Each of those places had powerful leaders who swept in to great excitement and seemed to many to be by far the best guy to lead the country.  But as dictators the leaders clung to power for life, ran their countries into the ground in their later years, and left no means other than a power struggle to choose a successor.  And, at some point these guys can't quit, because their personal safety is in huge jeopardy as soon as they lose control of the state security mechanism.
 In Russia, the population is stagnating, the economy is stagnating, investment is stagnating. Who's going to invest money in a country where it could get stolen by the kleptocrat the moment you fall out with him? The US, with a population about double that of Russia, attracts ten to twenty times the foreign investment. 

China's economy is up to two-thirds the size of the US, but it has four times the population, so its GDP per capita is smaller than Mexico's or Brazil's and less than one third the size of Taiwan's. On a per capita basis, China is doing worse than Russia at attracting foreign capital. (This is because of their habit of first requiring a Chinese partner for the investor then then appropriating the foreigner's share.)

3. Hail Caesar! Now Buzz Off.

The good news, at least regarding Roman Emperors is that they never had the kind of power that the rulers of our modern scientific states wield. One reads of imperial edicts all the time and they sound very wise or very cruel depending on whether the imperator's wind blows our way or not, but these edicts are really just proclamations of what the emperor said, and whether anyone else in the curia or imperial administration goes along with the gag depends on how persuasive ol' Caesar is -- and how much of a hassle compliance is.
Despite the increasing attempts by later emperors to control affairs across their domains more closely, the Roman Empire was still rather ramshackle in its administration of laws compared to later states. Laws of this kind usually began as a suggestio: a report or statement of a situation needing attention. Officials in the Imperial consistory would then meet and frame a response and, if this response was acceptable to various counsellors and advisers, it would be submitted to the emperor for approval. It would then be distributed to the praetorian prefects, who often added amendments and additions, and then distributed by them to regional governors, who in turn could add to it or amend it to fit local conditions. Finally, it was up to these local officials to see the edict implemented and to enforce it as much as they could. This all meant that what began as a statement of the emperor’s desire could get watered down as it passed down the administrative chain and could also be largely unenforced if the local prefect or diocesan governor was not enthusiastic about the decree. And even if he was, many of these broad statements were very difficult to enforce with any uniformity. As a result, what various laws and decrees said and what actually happened on the ground were often two very different things. The fact that some laws of this kind had to be repeated several or even many times shows that subsequent emperors recognised that previous decrees had gone essentially unenforced and there was often little they could do about this.
Tim O'Neill, Review – Catherine Nixey “The Darkening Age”, History for Atheists (29 Nov 2017)
For example, the edict of persecution against Christians issued by Diocletian and Gratian was mostly ignored by vice-Emperor ("Caesar") Constantius, the father of Constantine. This is a very different milieu than the modern State, whose enforcement tentacles are ubiquitous and rationalized and winked at only at hazard by either subjects or bureaucrats.

 Speaking of ancient emperors and modern tyrants.

4. Sociopaths Rule!

H. sociopatheticus
The estimable Joseph Moore points out the key role of sociopaths in today's society, one of whom he tags as Mr. Zuckerberg, founder of the Book of Faces. Really, sports fans, can anyone suppose that this device was ever intended as anything other than a vehicle for delivering personal information to various advertisers, commercial and political? How do we suppose they made their billions? Remember, the product is that for which someone pays cash money; and where Facebook is concerned, advertisers pay cash money for the eyeballs of the users. You, mi amigo, are the product.

Some advertising guru once noted way back in the days of Mad Men, in between sleeping with their secretaries and each others wives, that only about half of all advertising was effective. The problem was that no one knew which half. And so the public was spattered with twice as many ads as necessary in the hopes that half of them would stick. In the Fifties, it was believed that the sight of a man in a white lab coat using approval-words like "scientific" would entice people to purchase the desired shampoo or toothpaste; but this has changed to images of alluring models clinging to the product and using the approval-word "sexy," thus signalling a new mode of processing sales pitches.

The Lost Generation discovers
sex right in their back yard
A hundred years ago, advertising contained thick blocks of text with complete product specifications. Ho ho. How naive our great grandfathers were! Or else they were more hard-headed and no-nonsense and preferred their sexy babes live and in person rather than in magazines. (There were no televisions.)

The genius of the Book of Faces was to replace broadcast with narrowcast. People hated getting flyers and brochures for crap they didn't care about. So by carefully sorting through people's interests as expressed by themselves, advertisers could ensure sending adverts pretty much to people who had some interest in the material to begin with. So far, so good. No need for Big Brother to spy on us when we could spy on ourselves for free.

Well, you can't expect politicians to pass that up. After all, they are also in the advertising business, and this would enable them to spend their campaign money sending flyers, info, robocalls, and all the rest of that welcome and heartwarming outreach to people who might actually be inclined to listen. (TOF pauses to clean up the hot-beverage-snarfed-out-the-nose from your keyboards.)

So the Great Scandal of Cambridge Analytica was not that they scraped Facebook Data, but that they did so for the purpose of helping the Devil Incarnate, i.e., Donald Trumphiltler and/or Brexit. Had they done so to benefit Hilary Clintonstalin, we would never have heard squeak about it, for then it would have been in aid of Heaven's Purpose, i.e., the Worker's Paradise, or Venezuela. (We know this because no one had a cow about the Obama campaign scraping customer data back in the 2008 election, indeed they were lauded for being "tech-savvy.")

The one thing we have not heard is whether anyone paid the slightest attention to any of the ads that were intended to move them to get out for Trump. Indeed, the fact that people's eyeballs cruise over nasty (or nice) ads seems to have very little influence at all, despite either the boasts of providers of these services or the apocalyptic warnings of the fear-mongers. We are only told that folks were "exposed" to them, as if people were particles devoid of will, moved by mechanical forces. But since the whole purpose of the exercise was to identify those who were inclined to Trump in the first place, it's hard to see the horror of it all. Unless there is Something we're not being told beyond the "boo words" of our information being "weaponized."

Of course, the real danger of the giant rumor mill/echo chamber known as "social" media is that it is simply a set of bubbles and not very social at all. It's a way of sealing ourselves off under the illusion of being "connected." At least, in the old "broadcasting" paradigm you ran the occasional risk of a chance encounter with something that you were not already interested in. A point of view that was not already your own. A product or book or movie that was not already on your radar screen -- and you might, might, decide to give it a shot and find that it wasn't half bad. Or that what the Other Side said about itself was not the same as what Your Side told you that They had said. And your bubble might expand, even if just the tiniest bit.

Or not.

5. Speaking of Russia

Which we were, sorta.

What exactly was the "meddling" which the Russians were supposed to have done? It's not very clear, only that it was surely nefarious, it involved the infamous Internet. and it was engineered by people who do not use articles or the present tense of the verb "to be." Despite all the news stories about how bad the meddling was, it has never been made entirely clear to TOF of what the meddling exactly consisted. Was it like, say the meddling in the Iranian election of 1953 when the CIA helped overthrow the elected government; or the interference in the Chilean election in 1973 with the overthrow [and killing] of Allende.  Or Italy in 1948, or the Clinton-assisted election of Yeltsin in Russia?

No one has ever accused the Russians of being more deft than the US, but it seems that the Russian interference has created barely a ripple on the surface of a still pond, while sundry US interferences have created choppy waters indeed. Surely, the CIA is more adept at this sort of thing. Or is this more like pranking than serious "interference"? To TOF, the term "interference" implies a perturbation in the outcome of the election, or at least in the process. As far as we can tell, the only ones trying to alter the election outcomes are Tammany Hall and its allies in media, academe, and the Deep State.

The Nation, a somewhat left-of-center journal, notes:
A $100,000 Facebook ad buy seems unlikely to have had much impact in a $6.8 billion election. According to Facebook, “the vast majority of ads…didn’t specifically reference the US presidential election, voting or a particular candidate” but rather focused “on amplifying divisive social and political messages across the ideological spectrum—touching on topics from LGBT matters to race issues to immigration to gun rights.” Facebook also says the majority of ads, 56 percent, were seen “after the election.” [emph. added]
-- Aaron Maté, "Russiagate Is More Fiction Than Fact" The Nation (October 6, 2017)
As nearly as TOF can tell, the Russians -- TOF fondly remembers when they were "the Reds" and the Republicans railed agin' them and the Dems favored detente -- supposedly hacked the emails of the Democratic Party and gave them to Wikileaks and furthermore -- and this is the connection with the previous item -- placed Fake News™ on Fakebook in order throw Shade on the Election.

If this last were the Russians' objective, then we must ask ourselves who has been running about casting doubts on the legitimacy of the recent Election, because they are the ones furthering the Russian agenda. But no one seems to be asking that, so we are cast back on wondering anew at the incredible subtlety of the Russians.

Feel the Bern
No one, least of all when they were embarrassing George W. Bush by leaking all that stuff about the Iraq war, suspected that Wikileaks was a secret tool of Russian intelligence. Wikileaks itself claims that the emails came from a disgruntled Democratic insider. (From the appearances, it would seem to have been a Bernie supporter who was disgusted at the way the Party had, against its own rules, taken sides in the primaries against the Bern and for the Hill.) Consequently, enough Democratic Socialists sat on their hands during the elections that the Blue Wall cracked and Mr Trump, after completing his assigned task of wrecking the Republican Party, found himself in unexpected possession of the oval office and to all appearances unsure what to do with it. Mrs Clinton, deceived into expecting a petal-strewn coronation by a worshipful media, found herself gobsmacked by flyover country and unable coherently to account for it.
The "Blue Wall" -- the "reliably Democratic states" -- cracked red in 2016:
A few hundred kilovotes shifted WI, MI, PA. Even MN stayed blue by a mere 44,765 votes.
Darned clever, those Russians, I say. Or was it Comey?
The Russians also apparently planted false or slanted stories in Fakebook -- quelle surprise! -- although TOF has not seen any illustrative examples cited. Since more than half of these ads appeared after the election had already taken place, we are doomed. The Russians have already violated causality. They have found a way to meddle largely after the fact!

However, planting false or misleading stories is a fine old tradition in US politics. Remember when the Democrats (the president of Yale University, no less) spread stories that John Adams was a "hideous hermaphroditical character"? Or the Federalists told us that Jefferson would create a nation where “murder, robbery, rape, adultery and incest will openly be taught and practiced” by Jefferson's Democrats? [OK, so the Federalists came close...] TOF suspects any fables of specific Russian origin would have been lost in the chum of those planted by Democrats, Republicans, news reporters, bloggers, and other free-lance operatives. Any spurious stories about Mrs Clinton, we suspect, would be swallowed only by those already inclined to swallow spurious stories about Mrs Clinton. IOW, not likely to shift any votes. (BTW, the converse is true of spurious stories about Mr Trump. But this is harder to perceive because you already believe those stories and don't realize they are spurious. You are probably still hiding your wimmin from the notorious Mr. Jefferson.)

But no one has provided evidence that anyone previously inclined to vote for Mrs. Clinton voted for Mr. Trump instead as a result of any of these ads, let alone as a result of a specifically Russian ad. Or vice versa. IOW that, as a practical matter, there was any effective meddling by anyone except the DNC, who apparently very effectively torpedoed the campaign of Mr. Sanders.

6. Numbers, We Got Numbers.

Or not.

You have to remember that biology is sorely deficient in numbers when compared to physics or chemistry, and is therefore a sort of Junior Varsity member of Team Science -- at least from the 18th century Scientific Revolution perspective. You may recall that one of the pillars of the Revolution was the privileging of Mathematics as the language of discourse in Science. And so we have equations for Newton's Theory, Maxwell's Theory, Boyle's Theory, Einstein's Theory, and sundry others. But we have, alas, no equations expressing Darwin's Theory.

Well, fair is fair. Math does show up in places in biology, usually in biophysics and biochemistry; but also in genetics and in biostatistics. Although statistics is not the same thing as mathematics. A topic for another day, except that the softer the science, the worse its praxis in statistics. And when the science is social it gets downright mushy.

Case in point, as Rod Serling used to say: correlation. Ever since David Hume (or perhaps since al-Ghazali), correlation has held pride of place over causation because of the inability of inductive reasoning ever to establish causation with any certainty. Correlation establishes only a co-relation between two variables measured on the same unit. This requires:
  • measurements
  • on the same units
An example recently promoted by "The Gift that Keeps on Giving," a.k.a. Jerry Coyne, is that "the happiest countries are the least religious." It is a happy¹ illustration of Thucydides' dictum that people will swallow anything if it accords with their prior beliefs.²

We first note that the Coynester has committed the scientific crime of reifying an abstraction. Countries cannot be "happy" (or "religious"), only a human being can be either.

Second issue: how do you measure "happiness" even on an individual? With a hap-o-meter? (Preferably one calibrated to a standard certified by NIST). This is perhaps more evident a problem to a physicist than to a biologist or a social scientist. The latter in particular is conditioned to accept a questionnaire as an "instrument."

More particularly, did respondents mean the same thing by "happiness" in Bhutan as they did in Tanzania? Was a person who scored a happiness of 6.4 on the "happiness scale" twice as happy as one who scored a 3.2? That is, is the happiness scale a ratio scale? If not, the whole procedure of averaging and correlating is illegitimate to begin with.³ Did happiness ratings within a country form a single statistical population? If not, there may be no average for that country. (What is the average number of testicles possessed by a human being?)

All of the same questions apply to the religiosity scale. What exactly is "importance of religion"? What us meant by a religion? Is shamanism even the same kind of thing as Buddhism?⁴ In those countries possessing established churches, citizens are enrolled in the approved churches for tax purposes, whether they attend that church or not. Does this count? Does pro forma attendance? Does the devoutness of attendees? Who measures such subjective attitudes? How do they do so? With what precision? Does "religiosity" mean the same thing in China as it does in Bolivia?⁴


Notes:
1. happy. Lucky, fortunate. See also may-hap, happen, happenstance, hapless.
2. Thucydudes, History of the Peloponnesian War, IV, 108
3. ratio scale. See Deming, The Statistical Adjustment of Data.
4. Buddhism. Yeah, we know which religion they really mean; but let's go with the flow.


A vital issue: Were the happiness and the religiosity "measured" on the same units (people) or only within the same geographical region (country)?

Imagine trying to determine the relationship between nitrogen content and tensile strength of steel if the two properties were measured on different heats. Even a biologist might hesitate to rely on such results even if he did not notice the metallurgist rolling on the floor laughing his guts out. As a thought experiment, imagine Coyne's reaction to a correlation across US metropolitan areas of the cancer rates in census districts versus the usage of lawn services in those same districts, with no attempt to discover whether the households experiencing the cancers were the same households employing the lawn services!

Another issue to be considered is whether one should treat all countries as equal units when they vary widely in size: Singapore is small and compact; Brazil is not.

The reported correlation coefficient is r= ‒0.58. No self-respecting engineer would entertain such a value or r for a New York minute, although TOF has been told that soft "scientists" put much stock in any r greater than zero, provided they have wee p-values. This can be ascribed to their training in "cookbook statistics". But let it be said that you can have a very high "confidence" around a completely wrong value. An r= ‒0.58 means an r²= 0.34. This means that only about one-third of the
variation-in happiness among-countries is "explained" by its association with religiosity of those countries. (Whatever that means.)

But is that even the correlation? A good correlation will often form a 'hot dog' pattern on a scatterplot; a poor one, a 'hamburger.' It is not clear that the scatterplot here is a hot dog or a hamburger with a tail. That is, the weak appearance of a correlation may be due to multiple clusters of points. See below, right. The vast majority of points form an amorphous ball on the right. A second cluster in the northwest consists of Western Europe and a third cluster in the southwest consists of Eastern Europe and East Asia. This is a common pattern on scatterplots: several hamburger clusters so arranged that they line up as a hot dog.

Apparent correlations between X and Y can indeed come about when:
  1. X is a cause of Y
  2. Y is a cause of X
  3. Z is a lurking cause⁵ of both X and Y
  4. coincidence

A hot dog [l.] is actually tow hamburgers [r.].
The correlation in the left hand plot apparently shows that errors decrease with increasing workload on the clerks. The managers were delighted. To reduce errors we will give the clerks more work! But wait. There were two clerks: Adam and Betsy. Betsy was more experienced. She got more work done and made fewer errors than Adam. There was a causal relationship, but it was not between X and Y! It was between Z and X and between Z and Y. (In the actual case, there were four clerks. The case has been simplified for presentation purposes.)

These are all technical issues associated with the use of the statistics; but there are also substantive issues associated with the hypothesis supposedly being tested.

A flawed hypothesis

 Everyone gives lip service to the fact that correlation is not causation, but then turns around and acts as if it were. The Coynester is no exception to this rule and chortles over the "fact" that religion does not result in happiness for its practitioners. (Notice the leap in logic here. That is not even what the data is supposed to show. These are countries, not people.)  But why should anyone suppose that "religiosity" however defined should be expected to entail "happiness" however defined? It may be the opposite case: unhappiness may entail religiosity, at least of certain types. Recall that the Church is sdaid to be a hospital for sinners, not a country club for saints. One would no more expect religious people to be happy than hospital patients to be well.

Furthermore, the original UN survey on happiness concluded that happiness was correlated with other vatiables like social support, GNP, and other factors.People sampled from Western countries were happier because they were wealthier and had more Stuff. not because they were less religious.

Although he is only a biologist, Coyne acknowledges much of this scientific lore, and even admits that religious people may be unhappier because their unhappiness leads them to seek the consolations of religion rather than vice versa; and then suggests that, once their creature comforts are ensured, they can let go of religion.

Perceptive TOFians will realize that since religiosity questions and happiness questions were not asked of the same people, he can' even say that much.

Notes.
4. (a)cross-country comparisons should be made with great care because different countries often use different operational definitions of the variables. Infant mortality is a well-known example. Even within a country, definitions sometimes change. See the Historical Abstracts of the United States for examples
5. lurking cause. A nice article on the subject is Brian Joiner. "Lurking Variables: Some Examples." The American Statistician 35(4): 227-233 (Nov 1981)


7. Instantaneous Propagation of Causation Without Violating Relativity

This is regarded as impossible by non-Aristotelians, but is trivial to Aristotelians. The example is derived from Matt Briggs, based on Heisenberg's interpretation of quantum mechanics.

Suppose you and your buddy Nathan Detroit have agreed to meet tomorrow evening at a social club run by Sky Masterson at six PM for beer and skittles. The probability that you will do so is now P=1.

However, unbeknownst to both you and Nathan, the IRS has raided the joint this very afternoon for running a numbers game -- i.e., something very like the state lottery, but not authorized by the State, and therefore unfair to the betting public -- and has closed and padlocked the establishment. The probability that you and Nathan will meet there tomorrow for beer and skittles has now become intantaneously P=0. There is no speed of light limitation on the propagation of this cause. It became effective immediately [no time lag] everywhere [even widely distant places] once it was served. (Of course, you will not know about it right away, but that is epistemic, not ontic.)

Spooky action at a distance? Who'd'a thunk it?

8.Foam armor

One of the cute features of the Spiral Arm series was a vault warded by a door of marshmalllow. Cf. The January Dancer and the excerpted short story, "Sand and Iron" [Analog, Jan 2008]. Now we have this announcent. Even SF set thousands of years in the future is not safe!
foam aluminum [Wikipedia]
Researchers have discovered that composite metal foam offers greater protection than traditional armor steel plate at a third of the weight. The discovery has broad implications for armored vehicles, and could result in stronger, lighter vehicles better able to protect occupants from the impact of kinetic weapons, explosive shockwaves, and fires.
Scientists at North Carolina State University and the US Army’s Aviation Applied Technology Directorate have invented what they call Composite Metal Foam (CMF). “Metal foam” is exactly what you think it is—metal with sponge-like holes in it.











Saturday, May 19, 2018

AnLab Awards


DELL MAGAZINES
PRESS RELEASE


New York, NY—We are pleased to announce the winners of Analog Science Fiction and Fact’s AnLab Award. They are:

Analog Science Fiction and Fact
Analytical Laboratory Winners

Best Novella:               “Nexus” by Michael F. Flynn (3-4/17)
Best Novelette:           “For All Mankind” by C. Stuart Hardwick (7-8/17)
Best Short Story:         “Paradise Regained” by Edward M. Lerner (1-2/17)
Best Fact Article:        “The Quest for the 2:00 Marathon” by Richard A. Lovett (9-10/17)
Best Poem:                  TIE: “Barriers” by J. Northcutt Jr. (3-4/17)
                                    TIE: “Hypothesis/Assertion” by Daniel D. Villani (3-4/17)
Best Cover:                 July/August 2017 by Rado Javor

Whoa, What's This?

adam amateur theology aphorisms Aquinas argument from motion Aristotelianism art atheism autumn of the modern ages books brains breaking news captive dreams cartoon charts chieftain clannafhloinn comix commentary counterattack crusades culcha dogheads easton stuff economics eifelheim evolution factoids on parade fake news fallen angels Feeders fir trees in lungs firestar flicks floods flynncestry flynnstuff forecasts forest of time fun facts gandersauce gimlet eye global warming glvwg headlines henchmen high frontier history home front how to lie with statistics humor hush-hush hypatia in the house of submission irish Iron Shirts irrationalism january dancer jihad journeyman kabuki kool letter lion's mouth lunacon maps mayerling medieval metrology miscellany modern mythology moose zombies music new years nexus odds odds and ends paleofuture passing of the modern age philosophy philosophy math poetry politics potpourri psyched out! public service quality quiet sun quote of the day razor's edge redefinition of marriage religio reviews river of stars scandal science science marches on scientism scrivening shipwrecks of time shroud skiffy skiffy in the news skools slipping masks some people will believe anything stats stories stranger things the auld curmudgeon the madness continues the new fascism the russians are coming the spiral arm the writing life thomism thread o' years tofspot topology untergang des abendlandes untergang des morgenlandes up jim river video clips vignettes war on science we get letters we're all gonna die whimsy words at play xmas you can't make this stuff up