I became insane with long intervals of horrible sanity.
Edgar Allen Poe

The trouble with fighting for human freedom is that one spends most of one's time defending scoundrels. For it is against scoundrels that oppressive laws are first aimed, and oppression must be stopped at the beginning if it is to be stopped at all.
- H. L. Mencken

Many people would sooner die than think; In fact, they do so
-Bertrand Russell

What I have been telling you, from alpha to omega, what is the one great thing the sigil taught me — that everything in life is miraculous. For the sigil taught me that it rests within the power of each of us to awaken at will from a dragging nightmare of life made up of unimportant tasks and tedious useless little habits, to see life as it really is, and to rejoice in its exquisite wonderfulness. If the sigil were proved to be the top of a tomato-can, it would not alter that big fact, nor my fixed faith. No Harrowby, the common names we call things by do not matter — except to show how very dull we are ...
-James Branch Cabell

March 29, 2013 - 11:09 a.m.

Long Live Math

I'm not starting with a complaint today but an observation. The alarm woke me up this morning. It has been waking me up every morning. For years it never woke me up, even when I had to get up at 4 AM to volunteer at WFUV. This is not a good change. Oh wait, does that make it a complaint?

Yesterday was unusual. I didn't go out. My original plan was to go home after school then cook dinner then go out. I was feeling run down and did neither. I stayed home and I watched a lot of Phineas and Ferb on Amazon Prime.

Since I didnt do anything interesting I can write about ideas. When I was watching Kate Nash my brain got into one of those states that I love. It was racing all over the place. It wasn't inspired by her lyrics as I couldn't hear any of them. But perhaps the energy helped. I really should have written what I was thinking about yesterday when I could still remember it. Now my mind is not racing but I'll make a feeble attempt to recreate some of my thoughts. I am not succeeding as what I can think of was inspired by something else. Maybe I developed it then. Oh well I'll give it a try.

I read Justice Flunks Math in the NY Times. It is about how judges' misunderstanding of math leads to miscarriages of justice. I'd go further that innumeracy, perhaps even better arithmophobia, leads to bad policy. Many people have pointed out that the liberal social agenda has seen tremendous progress but not the economic agenda. After deciding to write about this Robert Reich accommodated me by giving me an example,
Why Politicians Are Sensitive to Public Opinion on Same-Sex Marriage, Immigration, and Guns, But Not on the Economy
. I agree with Reich but powerful vested interests aren't the whole story. People get passionate about social issues but not economic ones even though they affect them so strongly. Part of the reason is that the arguments are numerical and that acts on many people like garlic on a vampire. Paul Krugman is a hero of mine I link to his columns and blogs on Facebook far more often than I do anyone else. He is one of the most influential liberal voices. But when I read why I don't see the person I admire. People write about his anger. As if he was about emotional arguments,. But it isn't. He rejects those. What I love is that he writes reasoned mathematical arguments and his anger is directed at those that don't. He is not a left wing Rush Limbaugh, that would be Michael Moore. Notice I never quote him.

So many people changed their profile pics to show support for gay marriage. Would people do that to support an economic stimulus program? Do I even have to answer that? Some of you are thinking it's a ridiculous comparison. It isn't. It would alleviate a huge amount of suffering. The entire trajectory of young people's lives would be changed. Moreover unlike same sex marriage it beyond the pale politically because it is thought to be political suicide. There are plenty of people passionately against it but hardly any for it. It might make an actual difference if people voiced their support.

The Occupy Wall Street movement was an effort in that direction but it never made the switch to a coherent program. Of course not that would require quantitative thinking, dry things, things nobody is interested int.

Krugman often says that the facts have a well-known liberal bias. They do but people don't want to deal with those kinds of facts.

I'm am of course arithmophile, those are my favorite arguments. My eyes don't glaze over. The open wide.

Then there are all the misunderstandings. One of my pet peeves is people don't realize that numbers are only big or small in context. This excerpts are from Arms Airlift to Syria Rebels Expands, With Aid From C.I.A. in the NY Times.

A conservative estimate of the payload of these flights would be 3,500 tons of military equipment,

The former American official noted that the size of the shipments and the degree of distributions are voluminous.

People hear the amounts flowing in, and it is huge, he said. But they burn through a million rounds of ammo in two weeks.

In other words the amounts flowing in aren't huge, in context. But people will act like they are huge. That is what happened with the original stimulus. Calculations showed it wasn't big enough but all people could see was that it was in the hundreds of billions.

People over-react to dangers. If you were told that something had a one and a million chance of killing you would you worry? No. But if people are told that something would kill 314 Americans in a year they get up in arms even though that's one in a million. And the same people are fine with keeping cars legal even though they killed 35,900 people in 2009 according to the last census. What we need to think about is cost-benefit ratios but that's ratios, that's fractions and that's scary. So better to not think at all.

"The facts have a well-known liberal bias." That's why scientist is the most liberal profession. They don't run away from quantitative reasoning. At the top levels it becomes more extreme. Nobel Laureates are extremely liberal. I love that I got on liberal mailing lists after I subscribed to Scientific American. They know the connection.

I bet you would have been happier if I wrote about the other thing I was thinking about at the concert, Rock and Roll. I just couldn't figure out what to say other than "It's only rock and roll but I like it." and "Rock is dead they say, Long live Rock!" Rock has had a nice long run, my entire life. I'll be sad to see it go.

Now for breakfast. I have to get to school early to help a student.





Annoying People - September 03, 2016
This Play Was The Pits - September 02, 2016
Banking on Getting Better or Avoiding Katastrophe. - September 01, 2016
Unlike Gilligan I Got Off the Island - August 31, 2016
Call of the Wilder - August 30, 2016




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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 License. Horvendile March 29, 2013
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