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

Friday, November 22, 2013

Odds and Ends

Here are the minitopics for today's tab clearance:
  1. The Obamarama Roll-out
  2. There Are People Who Write Like This
  3. A Novel Proposition
  4. The New Phrenology
  5. Government of the zombies, by the zombies, for the zombies
  6. Ancient critters you never heard of
  7. Diversity in Your Fiction
  8. The Pope Reads Science Fiction

1. The Obamarama Roll-out
Yeah, I'm looking at you.
The amazing thing is that anyone has been amazed at the massive screw-up. What part of "government program" was hard to understand? The genius of the Federal system was always that we could run 50 separate experiments on how to do something and then build consensus around that which worked best. Instead, we get a top-down system design by policy wonks living in a bubble. Why would anyone ever expect that it would have worked? And if they messed up a simple thing like a web portal this badly, wait until the system itself begins rolling and people slowly discover that the problems it was supposed to "cure" have actually gotten worse. For a technocratic discussion of the Web Portal Madness, see The Obamacare Rollout: What Really Happened?, with prescient comments on all large-scale systems: Why Software Fails.
Charette: They said that they needed five weeks at the minimum to test it, and they’re still making all these changes. Where will that five-week window fit? If they had stopped right then and tested it for five weeks, they wouldn’t have been able to finish on time. And five weeks was probably the absolute minimum they needed, assuming everything worked. They’re patching the system as they go along and as Sebelius admitted, they’re doing very local unit tests (which, by the way, is what got them into this mess in the first place, with each contractor saying, "Well, my stuff works"). If they discover something major, they may have to run the whole system test again.
Jones (IEEE): So they’ll most likely gain functionality, but security is not a given.
Charette: Yes, unfortunately. It would be very surprising if there isn’t some type of breach, either at the federal or state level, by this time next year. If you can breach some of these high security defense department or intelligence systems, what’s the probability that the Obamacare website is not going to be breached? That likelihood approaches zero if it isn’t zero.
Why aren't people who think they can repeal the laws of actuarial science called "science deniers"?  Who knows what will come out of this massive transfer of wealth from young, low-earner families to insurance companies?  It just won't be insurance.  Next, they will legislate the value of pi to be 3.0.  Makes the math much easier.

2. There Are People Who Write Like This
At The Nation, one Mychal Denzel Smith reports (There Is Still Misogyny in Progressive Movements) on a contretemps at a correctness meeting: 
Last week, Brittney Cooper, a professor at Rutgers University and contributor to, spoke on a panel at the Brecht Forum in Brooklyn, New York, on the concepts of “ally, privilege, and comrade” when building coalition across social justice movements. By her account of what happened during this discussion, the theme of the evening was completely undermined. At the Crunk Feminist Collective blog, she writes:
So there I sat on a panel with a white woman and a Black man. As a Black feminist, I never quite know how political discussions will go down with either of these groups. Still I’m a fierce lover of Black people and a fierce defender of women.
The brother shared his thoughts about the need to “liberate all Black people.” It sounded good. But since we were there to talk about allyship, I needed to know more about his gender analysis, even as I kept it real about how I’ve been feeling lately about how much brothers don’t show up for Black women, without us asking, and prodding, and vigilantly managing the entire process.
In a word, I was tired.
I shared that. Because surely, a conversation about how to be better allies to each other, is a safe space.
This brother was not having it. He did not plan to be challenged, did not plan to have to go deep, to interrogate his own shit. Freedom-talk should’ve been enough for me.
He goes on to rant and even throw a cup of water at the writer, which act is classed as an assault. There is much here for amusement, in addition to the appalling behavior reported.  Not least are the official usages of terms.  The term Black is capitalized, but white is not. (The implication is that the one is a woman who happens to be white while the other is essentially black who happens to be a man.) Building coalition (not 'building coalitions' or 'building a coalition.' Note the implicit reification.) A feminist collective blog.  Allyship (what happened to "alliances"?)  Keeping it real. Show up for. I shared that. Interrogate his shit. (TOF would worry if the shit broke down under torture and confessed.)

What is sad is how the complainant seems to perceive herself as merely an intersection of categories rather than as a person.  Sadder still is the male panelist's actions.  But what can one expect once chivalry has been expunged as incorrect but a rise in unchivalrous behavior?

3. A Novel Proposition
put forward by J. Scott Armstrong and friends is called Evidence-based Forecasting for Climate Change Policies.  There is something enticing about that "evidence-based" thingie, but TOF doubts it will ever catch on. One is reminded of the turn of the past century when a Representative began a speech by saying, "I've been thinking, Mr. Speaker, I've been thinking..."  And Speaker Thomas B. Reed (R-ME) spoke up and asked that no one interrupt the man in his novel effort.  One of the interesting aspects is the use of a system audit to audit the system.  Armstrong comments elsewhere:
The IPCC modelers were apparently unaware of the many decades of research on forecasting methods. I along with Dr. Kesten Green conducted an audit of the procedures used to create the IPCC scenarios. We found that they violated 72 of 89 relevant scientific forecasting principles. (The principles are freely available on the Internet.) Would you go ahead with your flight if you overheard two of the ground crew discussing how the pilot had violated 80 percent of the pre-flight safety checklist?
Perhaps TOF will consider commenting on sources of error in predictive models or some other YOSian sort of topic. 

4. The New Phrenology
Thoughts of a deceased salmon.  'E's kicked the bucket, 'e's
shuffled off 'is mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined
the bleedin' choir invisibile!!  This is an EX-SALMON!
The mainstream scientific press is beginning to notice the weave on the new imperial wardrobe. Namely, that the new phrenology represented by fMRI scanning is less than meets the eye.  But the basic ill is more widespread: scientists in general do no get Published by doing confirmation studies, so it is often the case that initial "findings" -- often based on the inevitable occurrence of false positives whenever statistical studies are done in large numbers -- go unchallenged.
In 2005, epidemiologist John Ioannidis published a bombshell of a paper called "Why most published research findings are false". In it he catalogued a litany of failures that undermine the reliability of science in general. His analysis concluded that at least half, and possibly a large majority, of published research is wrong.
Elsewhere, we read:
A few years ago, scientists at the Thousand Oaks biotech firm Amgen set out to double-check the results of 53 landmark papers in their fields of cancer research and blood biology.
The idea was to make sure that research on which Amgen was spending millions of development dollars still held up. They figured that a few of the studies would fail the test — that the original results couldn't be reproduced because the findings were especially novel or described fresh therapeutic approaches.
But what they found was startling: Of the 53 landmark papers, only six could be proved valid.
So we can conclude that Ioannidis was a starry-eyed optimist. Nor were Amgen's results unique.
[T]he more important flaw in the publication model is that the drive to land a paper in a top journal — Nature and Science lead the list — encourages researchers to hype their results, especially in the life sciences. Peer review, in which a paper is checked out by eminent scientists before publication, isn't a safeguard. Eisen says the unpaid reviewers seldom have the time or inclination to examine a study enough to unearth errors or flaws.
5. Government of the zombies, by the zombies, for the zombies
1. Eat their brains
2. Get their votes
in that order.
Thirty-seven percent (37%) of American Adults believe the federal government would do a better job than zombies running the country today. But the latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that most Americans don’t share that view, with just as many (37%) who feel zombies would do a better job running the country and another 26% who can’t decide between the two. -- Rasmussen Reports
Additional comment seems superfluous.  Pollsters and their respondents sometimes like to have fun.

6. Ancient critters you never heard of
Presented for your enlightenment.

7. Diversity in Your Fiction
Juliette Wade takes a census of her fictional characters to learn if she has unconscious biases. Such self-consciousness may lead to overcoming certain blindnesses in one's own fiction, but it may also lead to artificial tokenism. TOF sez: realism must be the guiding principle. There are very few milieux in which everyone is the same.  For example, the Krenken in Eifelheim are noted as being of several races and ethnic groups. Louis L'Amour in Sackett's Land, a "Western" set in colonial North Carolina features not only Catawba Indians (who would be hard to omit!) but an African sailor on Sackett's ship.  There were not a few such men in those days who took passage as sailors.

But as important as diversity in accidental features may be, do no neglect diversity in attitudes, beliefs, and such-like matters.  Folks of conservative bent are not unknown, even in contemporary America. The Directorate of the French Revolution featured a revolving and fulminous mix of political commitments.  The Krenken included several diverse factions: tourists, scientists, crew; hopeful and despairing; and so on.

Do you believe in other worlds?
Does the Pope wear a funny...
Oh, wait.  He doesn't.
Fictionally most intriguing is the diversity represented within a single character.  Harking back to Louis L'Amour, Tom Sunday in The Daybreakers is worth studying and L'Amour reveals his character to us in bits and pieces and we see how he changes. This matters at least as much as Tyrell Sackett's chicana wife.

8. The Pope Reads Science Fiction 
Namely, this one

Okay, so it's a 1907 SF book.


  1. The nose-counting form of "diversity" is a subtle trap: if you have too many characters as pale as yourself, then you're not inclusive and get called names. But if you do use a lot of characters whose skin color doesn't match your own, then you're "appropriating" and get called names.

    1. Oh, I wouldn’t call it subtle. The whole point of Political Correctness is that it’s impossible to be politically correct: someone always has a free pass to attack you for something. Just as the whole point of Sustainability is that nothing is ever really sustainable, so someone can always attack you for insufficient dedication to Mother Gaia. Modern Leftism is not about doing what is right; it is about believing that everybody else is wrong, and always having a stick handy to beat anyone you want to beat.

  2. (TOF would worry if the shit broke down under torture and confessed.)

    That's just excellent. Are you writing a novel these days? Because I think I need more of this.

    1. I wish. There's one that's blocked right now. Not quite 1/3-done, but already 90 kilowords, so I need a machete. A series of novelettes is appearing in ANALOG concerning Teodorq sunna Nagarajan the Ironhand, whom some may recall from UP JIM RIVER. I'm about to start on the fourth one.

  3. I took a look at the Ioannidis and then read up on a few counter-shots. His wiki page has links to criticisms by Goodman and Greenland, but I don't have the chops to pick sides after reading his retort. Fairly interesting to see his methods dinged a few times but for Amgen and Bayer to back up his predictions with observations of failed studies. I'm curious to know what the parameters for falsity were for the Amgen and Bayer studies.


    1. Apparently, they tried to duplicate the original studies and did not get the same results. This is pretty common. As I understand it, Publish or Perish has no patience for studies that don't discover important effects, and so scientists are incentivized to discover important effects, even if they have to data-mine to find them. There is also a prejudice against follow-up studies, since if they do confirm the results they are not making NEW findings.

      Since most scientists use a knee-jerk significance level of 5%, we are almost guaranteed a fair number of false positives. If there is no effect whatsoever, about 5% of studies will find one. And that's assuming randomness, independence, lack of technical bias, and other fatalities in the design and conduct of the study.

  4. I can't find an email to send you this link. I thought it is an interesting sidenote to the dead fish brain scan.

    1. Thank Ghu for the Gnu Phrenology, or else he may not have known!

  5. Many thanks for to the pointer to the book by RH Benson (available on Gutenberg). A great read, though he missed the mark on asbestos furniture.

  6. #2

    An illiterate disquisition
    Sells out logic for superstition:
    Your brother's no brother
    But an alien Other.
    None expect the fecal Inquisition!


Whoa, What's This?

adam amateur theology anthropology 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 Hunters Moon 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 thought for the day 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 wuv xmas you can't make this stuff up