Friday, April 15, 2016
Did you know that Bernie Sanders is all but assured of a contested Democratic convention? The Bernie Bots tell us so by a startlingly naive application of simple math. One example is embodied in a picture post that the senator's fans have been passing around and sharing. Its most basic claim is that “In order to prevent a contested convention with Bernie Sanders, Hillary needs to win 65% or more of the vote in every future state.” While I agree that Sanders has enjoyed a remarkable degree of success in the campaign to this point, the supposed reversal of fortune for Clinton seems a bit of a stretch. And it is.
The New York Times keeps a running tally of the delegates in each candidate's camp. As of today, the Times reports that Clinton has 1,307 pledged delegates and 469 unpledged delegates for a total of 1,776 (a nice patriotic number). Sanders by contrast has 1,087 pledged delegates and 31 unpledged delegates for a total of 1,118. The successful candidate will need 2,383 delegate votes to secure the Democratic nomination for president. Thus it's a simple matter to determine that Clinton needs 2,383 − 1,776 = 607 more delegates while Sanders needs 2,383 − 1,087 = 1,296.
Per the Times, there are evidently 1,959 delegates up for grabs in future primary elections and caucuses. Therefore, Clinton must secure 607/1,959 = 0.310 = 31% of the remaining delegates while Sanders has the more formidable task of rounding up 1,296/1,959 = 0.662 = 66.2% of them. How can the Bernie-Bot picture post be so wrong? Easy!
First, assume that all unpledged delegates (the notorious “superdelegates”) are undecided free agents. After complaining bitterly for months that superdelegates are Clinton minions who have “rigged” the nomination contest, Bernie's supporters are now pretending they can be ignored and omitted from Clinton's delegate count. If one insists that the 1,307 formally pledged delegates are all she has, then she needs 2,383 − 1,307 = 1,076. That's a whopping 1,076/1,959 = 0.549 = 54.9%. That's not as dramatic as the Bernie-Bot claim that she needs 65%, but it would still indicate that Hillary needs a majority of outstanding delegates to win the nomination! She's at a disadvantage! Or so we can pretend.
Remember how shocked Mitt Romney was when he lost the election in 2012? He and his campaign team had been taking all too seriously the “corrected” polling data from partisans who insisted that professional pollsters had biased their population samples against the Republican nominee. If you assumed that there would be a lot more GOP voters at the polls than the national pollsters were finding in their sampling, the results for Mitt were great! But wrong.
The power of an unwarranted assumption is great. And it gets even greater when you can't do the math.
Monday, December 28, 2015
Perhaps you have heard we are now living in a “post-truth” era, but it hasn't disturbed you too much because it's merely a manifestation of the low quality of today's politicians. Sure, Donald Trump spouts random nonsense all the time, but he's as undisciplined as a spoiled toddler, so no one is surprised. Carly Fiorina is, by contrast, a conscious liar, but she's an unimportant fringe candidate without credibility, so who cares? Ben Carson's relationship with truth seems pretty strained, but he's always a little spaced-out and detached from reality; besides, his star is fading.
I could go on in this vein, but I think the problem is worse than a simple matter of our candidates being worse than usual during this unfortunately prolonged election season. (It's not even election year yet, dammit!) The post-truth virus is spreading among us. I've seen this post-truth attitude affecting mere mortals, too. People I used to know as classmates, back when they seemed sane and responsible, are in its grip.
One of them posted an inanely patriotic meme from a website she follows. She was sharing a Facebook post:
It was clearly a specious quotation: “When government takes away citizens' right to bear arms it becomes citzens' duty to take away government's right to govern.” How could anyone take seriously a claim that George Washington ever sounded like a spokesperson for the NRA? I looked it up, verified it was false, and let her know with a simple declarative statement:
These words were never spoken or written by George Washington.She soon replied with a charming lack of concern:
Ah, but they are so true!I thought she was missing the point:
I think false attributions should be discouraged. Mainly because they're false.She remained serenely unfazed:
But truer words were neer spoken, no matter by whom.See? True or not, it doesn't matter. The fundamental lie at the heart of the statement is irrelevant because she agrees with the statement. We have a problem.
And that's the truth!
Saturday, December 05, 2015
One of my family members posted (or, rather, re-posted) a cheery little Christmas manifesto: How dare anyone besmirch the holiday season by inflicting “Happy Holidays” on Yuletide revelers, thereby harshing their Jesus buzz.
The three exclamation points really clinch the argument, as I'm sure you'll agree. Except that I didn't. I offered a mild demurrer:
This is not something worth a fight over. If someone wishes you “Happy Holidays,” it might just be a polite Jewish person who is mostly left out of the whole Christmas business. It might be a store worker who is merely following instructions not to make assumptions about the affiliations of the customers. It takes away from the spirit of the season to get worked up about this and it's probably not good for the blood pressure.If you're anticipating my relative's reaction, you may well be thinking I was instantly subjected to a barrage of abuse, denunciation, and name-calling. Well, that would be wrong. My relative promptly agreed with me. But check out the actual wording:
Feel the same way. It was meant for those who accuse those of us who are entitled to our beliefs & customs as causing discomfort to other groups when we are expected to be considerate of their celebrations.Ah, yes. It was merely a mild-mannered belligerence in the service of Christian peace and love. How could anyone object?
I put this in the same category as people who wave their Confederate “heritage-pride” flags and pretend to be amazed when others take offense.
Saturday, October 17, 2015
Although we now have more news sources than ever, we don't seem to be getting more information. In their eagerness to contribute to the news glut, media outlets generate increasing amounts of fluffy bits of non-news. It's extremely disappointing to find National Public Radio getting in on the act. On October 15, 2015, NPR's “lead digital reporter” Jessica Taylor posted a shallow item titled New Clinton Spanish Posters: Hillary or Evita? Although Taylor took the trouble to learn that Clinton's staffers disclaimed responsibility for the Spanish-language posters and images appearing in Texas, she used the rest of her short article to muse about resemblances to icons of Eva Peron, Madonna (as Eva Peron), fashion designer Carolina Herrera, and Shepard Fairey's 2008 Hope poster. The mystery of the poster's origin remained unsolved.
Perhaps it was too much trouble to do the minimal amount of research required to uncover something about the poster's origins. The earliest example I found with a quick Google search was in December 2012, when a site called “The Right Perspective” (not exactly friends of Hillary) ran a very similar image (only the background differs) with an article about Clinton's expected presidential campaign. Essentially the same illustration appeared in May of last year on the “Bearing Arms (Guns & Patriots)” site with an opinion piece mocking Clinton's position on gun control.
Zazzle has it on posters and other paraphernalia. Politico reports that a copy was posted in Clinton's Brooklyn campaign office, although that falls a bit short of establishing it as officially sanctioned by the campaign, especially given its non-campaign antecedents.
Yes, it's a tiny little non-story. And it's something a “lead” reporter for NPR wastes time on—and not very well.
Saturday, September 05, 2015
Panic-struck evangelistic Christians are desperate for solace in the wake of the Supreme Court's decision establishing marriage equality throughout the nation. Some of these narrow-minded people, like Kim Davis of Kentucky, are unsuccessfully asserting their right to “nullify” laws and court rulings with which they disagree. Others are less well-positioned to try to express their distress. They can flock to preachers like Billy Crone, who is well-prepared to speak untrue words to comfort them.
Crone was recently the featured guest on the radio program of Southwest radio church, giving a two-part presentation on A Christian Response to the Supreme Court Decision. It's unclear whether Crone is a fool or a liar, but he's at least thorough, touching on all of the most popular anti-gay tropes. For example, homosexuality is a “choice” and people cannot be “born that way” because not all pairs of identical twins grow up with identical orientations.
Nobody's born that way. It's a choice.... That's one of the lies that they say out there, that there's no way we can turn around and people are born that way. Well, that's another lie that we expose on this study. All right, because they say, ‘Just back off and leave us alone because, you know, we're born this way.’ Well, that's not true. And we know that's not true, folks, because you have the prime example with identical twins, okay? If genetics determine a person's sexual orientation, i.e., you're born this way, then it should manifest itself every single time, one hundred percent of the time, with twins, who by nature share the exact same genetic information. Well, guess what? It doesn't!Apparently Crone embraces the notion that “genes are destiny” and remains ignorant of epigenetic issues (either because he's never heard of them or finds them inconvenient for his thesis).
Crone continues in this vein, pointing out the “logical” conclusion that gay rights must perforce lead to rights for other criminals. The reasoning is simple (like the reasoner):
A guy goes and he robs a bank—right?—he stands before the judge and says, ‘Hey, I'm sorry, judge, you can't prosecute me. You can't send me to jail. I was born this way! It's my civil right.’I have to admit it's difficult to argue with statements this stupid, but Crone speaks with great assurance and authority. He keeps averring that his statements are “logical,” speaking to the degree that his sectarian blinders are firmly in place.
A familiar equation pops up in his rhetoric. He hates the word “homophobia” because it is used against his co-religionists.
Oh, and by the way, this term, homophobic. How is disagreeing on an issue automatically get you this label homophobic? There's plenty of people in the world who disagree with all kinds of behavior. People disagree about lying, or coveting, or stealing, or hatred, or mockery, or pedophilia. Does this mean we now label these people as liar-phobes, or covetophobes, or mockophobes, or theftophobes, or pedophilia-phobes?See how smoothly he mixes in pedophilia with his jeremiad against homosexuality? It's all part of the same problem (in his mind).
Crone skips lightly through statistics on physical and mental illness in gay people, life expectancies, and other warped data. (At least he didn't cite Paul Cameron by name, but the stench of Cameron's fake research hovered over Crone's summary.)
But my favorite moment in Crone's entire presentation came early in the first installment, the moment six minutes into the broadcast when he offered comfort to his afflicted listeners. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, Crone insists that opposition to same-sex marriage commands a huge majority in our nation:
When you look at the voting statistics, folks, on those who were against—in the states—that used the voting procedure, not one judge overruling the voice of the people in that state—that's not what our system is set up to be—okay?—and not only a handful of people on the Supreme Court, okay?—but when you look at the voting statistics of the states, the thirty-one states that voted against this, versus only three that did, you play the statistics there, and we are in the majority twelve to one. Twelve to one is the majority of people who are against this, so we are not in the minority; we're in the majority on this issue and so we need to stop listening to the media and thinking that you might as well roll over and play dead.By what magic did Crone conjure up this cataclysmic landslide against marriage equality? It's simple, provided you ignore enough data! While he gave no citations of sources, it's clear that Crone must be clinging to outdated tallies of anti-gay victories at the voting booth. Various on-line lists identify thirty or thirty-one states with constitutional definitions of marriage that support the “traditional” version (where “tradition” in this instance means “one man and one woman,” and does not includes the various polygamous arrangements of several Biblical patriarchs and kings). If we accept Crone's count of thirty-one state votes against same-sex marriage versus three votes in favor (or, at least, not against), we still do not get a ratio of twelve to one. It's more like ten to one. (And for all of you math pedants out there, yes, it's actually ten-and-a-third to one.) Crone is prone to exaggeration. But that's not the main point.
Crone's numbers are stale, well past their freshness date. The earliest state ban on same-sex marriage goes back to Alaska in 1998, when 68% of the voters placed the one-man-one-woman definition of marriage in the state constitution. However, Public Policy Polling found in 2014 that Alaska's voters favored same-sex marriage by a 47 to 46 plurality. This is a state that does not belong in Crone's anti-gay tally, especially since the national trend directly contradicts his claim about a massive majority being on his side.
So ... is Crone merely lying ... or is he a fool?
Saturday, August 29, 2015
The front page of the San Francisco Chronicle on Tuesday, August 25, 2015, made it perfectly clear: The stock market had crashed. The headline “Plunging markets” was accompanied by an illustration that made the disaster graphically clear—provided you didn't read the fine print along the margin. The understated labeling of the vertical axis was, fortunately, reinforced by the actual numbers. The Dow Jones was merely down 588.40 from 16,459.75, a drop of 3.5748% (which the Chronicle over-rounded to 3.58%). Yes, that's a significant market correction in a market widely viewed to be overvalued. Not exactly an apocalyptic result. Nicely eye-catching headline, though.
A better perspective on the issue shows why the market chart would have been quite underwhelming if drawn to a scale that including the zero point. The grid lines representing 1000 points on a hard copy of the Chronicle were separated by 6 centimeters and ended at 15,500 along the bottom edge of the graph. To extend the chart down to its zero-line would have required an additional 93 centimeters (36.6 inches). That's right: It would have extended an additional yard below the printed chart and (since the newspaper isn't that long) more than two feet below the paper's bottom margin.
A fold-out extension would have attracted more attention to the front page, but ruined the message.
By way of comparison, a real economic disaster on the order of the notorious crash that ushered in the Great Depression involved a 13% drop on “Black Monday” (October 28, 1929) and another 12% drop on the immediately following “Black Tuesday.” The losses continued to accumulate and full recovery, as we know, took decades.
What about this week's “plunge”? The Business Insider published a report with an appropriate title: “After all that, the stock market finished the week higher.”
Saturday, July 18, 2015
We live in an age when everyone, whether enthusiastically or grudgingly, gives at least lip service to diversity. Most people acknowledge diversity as a strength, others may claim they find it excessively politically correct, but a surprisingly large number of people seem to forget all about it in certain venues. I notice it all the time, like when it happened multiple times at a series of seminars earlier this year. How often have you heard speakers address groups with remarks like these?
Sometimes you just need a beer, right?No. Never. I belong to the approximately 13 percent of the U.S. population that eschews alcohol. The man extolling the virtues of beer had about one hundred people in his audience, so about a dozen people were left out of his all-encompassing declaration. He probably never considered saying, “You know, I really need a beer sometimes.” Even the handful of nondrinkers could have chuckled in sympathy with that remark.
Last night, of course, we were all watching the game!No, I wasn't. I'm not even sure what game you're talking about. It's even worse when the speaker wants us to cheer for a particular team. Not everyone is fascinated by sports teams.
Just think back to your senior prom!I didn't bother to go. I didn't bother with the junior prom, either. Not my thing.
Then there's funerals. Nothing beats the last rites for unleashing mandatory group-think, whether you're inclined to go along or not.
We can all take comfort in the thought that she's in a better place now. She and her late husband are together again.People try to coerce you into prayer. They inflict inane pieties on you and prate about an afterlife. It is, of course, the maximally inappropriate venue to insist on dissent. No individuals are allowed.
Tuesday, June 23, 2015
The most vigorous defenders of the flag always bring up “heritage” and “Southern pride.” They cite the bravery of fallen ancestors, whom they imagine fighting till their last breath and last drop of blood for states' rights beneath the waving Confederate flag. Ah, but which flag? Ironically, many of those revered rebels probably never even saw the flag that their descendants regard as sacred to their memory. Unless they were part of General Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, which used the infamous banner as its battle flag, Confederate soldiers went to war under other colors—including even Lee's troops.
Stars and Bars, first adopted and flown in the CSA's provisional capital city of Montgomery, Alabama. Its resemblance to the USA's Old Glory made its use in battle problematic, insufficiently distinguishing the two sides. The Stars and Bars acquired additional stars as the CSA incorporated (or pretended to incorporate) more renegade states and remained the Confederacy's official banner till it was set aside in 1863 in favor of a new design.
designer as representing “the cause of a superior race.” Now a different problem arose. The generous use of white made the Stainless Banner appear in some circumstances to be a white flag of surrender. It was back to the drawing boards one more time, resulting in the third and final iteration of the CSA's national banner in 1865.
Both the Stainless and Blood-Stained CSA banners featured a canton displaying the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia, which had adopted the starred saltire cross in late 1861 in preference to the confusing Stars and Bars. Despite the battle flag's role as the banner under which General Lee surrendered, it had a vigorous post-war life. Decades after the war was over, the battle flag (often in rectangular rather than square form) was favored as the official emblem of various associations of Civil War veterans in the South. It outlasted the official flags in its identification with the Confederacy and its Lost Cause.
Later the battle flag found favor with the Ku Klux Klan and other organizations that promoted “white power” and suppression of the civil rights of black citizens. It can hardly be mere coincidence that Georgia chose to revive the battle flag and incorporate it in its state banner in resistance to the desegregation mandate of 1954's Brown v. Board of Education. (The illustration depicts the change enacted in Georgia's flag in 1956.)
The racist component of Southern heritage was there at the outset, as detailed in the constitution of the seceding states and the declarations of the Confederacy's officers, but it was compounded and exacerbated by the era of Jim Crow and the South's segregationist state governments. The Confederate battle flag can no more be purged of that association than the swastika of Germany's National Socialist Party can be restored to its pre-Nazi status.
It's time for the battle flag to fade away, the sooner the better.
Wednesday, June 10, 2015
The end of each semester is a time for reflection and renewal. The school term is over, the new term has yet to begin, and the days are free for contemplation, consideration, and ... complaining students. You can always count on the student who learned the “squeaky wheel” adage better than he learned the subject matter. He imagines that his grade is negotiable and fails to note that no negotiating is actually occurring. It can take weeks for the spate of wheedling communiqués to peter out.
If ever there was a time to consider a grading scheme where if the majority of your exams are A's including the final you get an A. My dad said he got a math teacher to bump him up a grade by doing a card trick. Are you game?Family legends and Rudyard Kipling notwithstanding (“If you can make one heap of all your winnings and risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss”), skill at sleight of hand does not translate into grade points in my class. Sorry about that. He moved on to plan B:
My grandmother would give an A if you got an A on the final but maybe she gave harder finals or something.Not to criticize the young man's sainted grandmother, with whom I should never be confused, the old girl was offering her students the ancient “sucker bet” routine. I've seen it often enough before. It's deadly.
I never offer my students the sucker bet. My student was undeterred.
Just curious now; did anyone else get two A's on exams and an A on the final and still not get an A? Is there anyone I can commiserate with or is this an anomaly?Although misery may love company, privacy considerations intervened. I answered him:
Yes, there were two other students, so it wasn’t exactly an anomaly. It was a matter of getting relatively low A’s that were counterbalanced by lower grades, preventing the composite score from being in the A range. You’d be welcome to commiserate with them, but privacy concerns forbid me from sharing their names. —ZMy student kept harping on his “majority” argument and insisted on ignoring the relative strength of his scores. The semester grade was a weighted average of six scores: one for homework and quizzes, four chapter tests, and one final exam. The composite score was computed thus:
Comp = 0.15*HQ + 0.70*E_average + 0.15*Final
My diligent correspondent had a low A for HQ, a high C for E_average, and a low A for Final. His Comp result was 83.4. That's not A territory. Interestingly, he kept his focus on the exams and ignored the HQ result. Thus his argument was, in effect, three A's on five exams should work out to an A in the class. But here are the exam scores:
Exam 1: 90, Exam 2: 80, Exam 3: 95, Exam 4: 54, Final: 92
He had one more card up his sleeve:
Is there nothing that can be done... a test I can take to challenge?Lord have mercy! Can you imagine? I tried to be nice:
No, there isn’t anything. If you think about it a little bit, you’ll realize for yourself there couldn’t be any after-the-fact exam that students could take to tweak their grades. Otherwise the college would spend the first several weeks of summer vacation giving the special exams to students who were unsatisfied with the outcome of the semester. Six of your classmates who earned B’s did better than you; ten did more poorly. You earned an unambiguous mid-range B in the class, a good solid grade. —ZIt did not satisfy him. I received one more lengthy message in which he noted his regular attendance, active participation, his “majority” of A's, and his work ethic. “It seems that for one reason or another, I end up coming up short somehow.”
The main reason, as best as I can tell, is that you're a B student whose grades range across the spectrum from A to F. It's not mysterious.
I'm sure you're tired of this by now.Quite.
Saturday, June 06, 2015
When it comes to irrational right-wing extremism, Joseph Farah lives in a surreal bubble of his own special brand of derangement. He is the founder of WorldNetDaily, a Web-based journal almost impossible not to cite as WorldNutDaily. WND serves up regular heaping helpings of paranoia, propaganda, and crackpottery.
Farah has been wringing his hands over the fate of traditional biblical marriage. (Please note: “Traditional” marriage means the one-man/one-woman definition from the Bible exemplified by Adam and Eve—and not the one-man/two-women example of Jacob with Leah and Rachel nor the one-man/seven-hundred-wives/three-hundred-concubines example of good old King Solomon.) In his WND column of June 3, 2015, Farah proposes secession from the United States if the Supreme Court allows same-sex marriage throughout the nation.
Is there one state in 50 that would not only defy the coming abomination, but secede in response? The rewards could be great. I would certainly consider relocating. How about you?Okay, that mention of Jacob is a trifle unfortunate, but at least his wives were of the opposite sex.
The founders of this country found a place of refuge in America and shaped it into the greatest self-governing nation in the history of world. Just think what one state could do if it simply stuck to the principles that made this country great? Americans wouldn’t have to cross an ocean to rediscover what brought most of our ancestors here. We could simply drive.
Are any states so inclined?
I haven’t heard this question raised by anyone else. So I’m raising it now. We don’t have much time before the nine high priests in black robes decide to follow Baal instead of the One True God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Farah calls his proposal an “Exodus strategy.” Commenters on sites like Crooks & Liars have been quick to suggest that Texas is the state that should secede (or be thrown out) to serve as a haven for Farah and his followers. I think this is much too generous. Abandon Austin? Dump Dallas? Leave Houston high and dry? (Actually, I guess they might appreciate that right about now.)
I have a counter-proposal. Let Farah and his crazies colonize the Texas panhandle. Let's carve out a nice rectangular space for an independent nation named Gilead. (There's a nice literary reference for you.) Amarillo and Lubbock would probably fit in just fine. While saner people might flee to the greater portion that remains as Texas, there should be plenty of opportunities to obtain good deals on the residences left behind by the flight of Farah's adherents (especially in Plano). A plebiscite could determine whether Oklahoma's panhandle should be included for good measure. (Those who think Panhandler would make a good name for this new nation should take into account that the imbalance between taxes paid and federal dollars received would no longer be an issue—unless the new nation demands a lot of foreign aid from the US, in which case Panhandler might be exactly right.)
There are other aspects to this win-win situation: (1) Texas goes blue more quickly. (2) Jobs are created in the border patrol and border-crossing stations will have to be constructed. (This would be true in New Mexico and Oklahoma, as well as in the new Texas. Possibly in Colorado and Kansas, too.) (3) Other parts of the United States would improve as their nutcases emigrated to Gilead. (4) Ted Cruz would lose his political base (unless he moves to the new country to become its Priest-King).
I'm not certain what would support the economy of Gilead, though it's likely that Lubbock's cotton industry and Amarillo's meat-packing would remain mainstays. However, opportunities to promote tourism might be sketchy. Would Americans be eager to visit a nation based on a Christian version of sharia law?