Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Empty Vessel

I've discussed my feelings on the Ron Paul "Movement" before in this space, but things really are getting out of hand, so I feel compelled to say a bit more.

For some time, I've been working on the theory that the ronpaulians are "the New Gnostics". I'm not actually going to expound upon that just yet, but if you're familiar with second- and third-century Gnosticism, you can probably grasp my meaning. What I'd rather focus on now is Ron Paul's function as, as my title indicates, an empty vessel.

What do I mean by that? Well, as opposed to the "empty suit" accusation often leveled at certain politicians, in which they don't actually stand for much of anything and serve only as a figurehead for their political party (Mitt Romney, I'm looking at you), I think Ron Paul, the individual (not ronpaul the movement), does indeed have very principled, albeit nutty, positions. However, he is an "empty vessel" in the sense that his supporters largely seem to latch on to one or two aspects of his philosophy (namely, either his anti-war position or the vague notion that he is some sort of Libertarian scion), and then these supporters pour into him all their hopes and dreams and desires for revolution and sweeping change.

Let me illustrate this succinctly with a single case in point: one of the apparently popular icons of of this movement is the "Ron Paul rEVOLution" graphic, in which the lettering of the E-V-O-L in the last word is reversed and colored differently than the rest of the slogan, such that it spells out "LOVE" when viewed in a mirror. What, precisely, is it about Ron Paul's views that make "LOVE" a central, or even relevant theme of his campaign? Is it his desire to return to the goldcommidity-based monetary standard? That's got nothing to do with "LOVE". How about his anti-war stance? Maybe in a weird, 60's-throwback, "make love not war" sort of way, but his own opposition to war seems to stem from a strict isolationistnon-interventionist philosophy rather than any sort of anti-military pacifism. Trading with autocratic and despotic regimes rather than using force to remove them (my understanding of Ron Paul's position, as related by one of the local ronpaulians) may make them nicer to us, but it hardly demonstrates "LOVE", particularly to the oppressed people ruled by those regimes.

How about his libertarian-ish-ness? Love and liberty are two independent things. Consider the example of a friend who is falling into illicit behaviors. I can show love by either cutting him loose to face the consequences of his behavior rather than condone and/or enable those behaviors, or I can lock him up, confront him with his problems, and coerce him into reforming his ways. Both of these approaches demonstrate, I think, genuine love, and yet the former approach may be construed as a libertarian approach, whereas the latter could be seen as the authoritarian approach -- both would be considered "tough love", though.

And yet the "rEVOLution" icon endures, and even flourishes. This is because individuals for whom an actual "revolution of love" resonates have, for inscrutable reasons, latched onto the ronpaul movement, and poured their own desires into it.

Stupid hippies.


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Wanted: Better Terminology

I think the movement to define the institution of marriage as being strictly between a man and a woman suffers from some terminological issues that other hot-button social issues do not, to the detriment of the cause. The abortion issue has its "pro-life" and "pro-ritual-infant-sacrifice choice" factions, each signifying precisely what those sides are all about. Same with "pro-gun" and "anti-gun". But for the issue of whether or not to allow homosexuals to marry, the best we have is "anti-gay-marriage". That, by itself, suffers from a bit of... hyperhyphenitis. Also seen in print is "anti-gay marriage", which speaks of the support of some form of marriage which is, in its very essence, anti-gay. Strange. Then one has "anti gay marriage", which is just wrong, since anti is merely a prefix in our oh-so-limited English language, not a stand-alone word. Same deal with "anti gay-marriage".

Clearly, the culprit here is the phrase "gay marriage". We need a single term that encapsulates the issue, and yet is fair to all. First of all, "gay marriage" seems to be a bit of a misnomer, as it has been my understanding that "gay" refers largely to homosexual males, rather than all homosexual individuals (although it can apparently stand in for homosexual women in a pinch), and "gay marriage" encompasses the union of virtually all "alternatively sexual" individuals.

Thus, I propose a change of terminology. Let's stop calling it "gay marriage" and start calling it "queerriage". The whole "alternate sexuality" movement seems to have embraced the term "queer" anyhow -- from the early chants of "We're here; we're queer, ad nauseam" to modern acronymic abominations like LGBTTQBBQABCOICU812, so they can't claim offense to its use, right? (unless this is like the "N-word" and blacks -- is it? I don't know.) Moreover, this term is more inclusive than "gay marriage" since "queer" seems to mean "I get turned on by men, women, dogs, cats, umbrellas, furniture, fire hydrants, and/or, you know, like, whatever." Thus, one can be "anti-queerriage", "pro-queerriage", "agnosto-queerriage", or "queerriage-curious" without any awkward sentence construction or over-hyphenation.

As for some parsing: Bruce asked Lance, "Will you queerry me?", and Nancy and Hillary went down to the Multicultural Center to get queerried by, and to, their aerobics instructor." are both valid uses of the term.


Friday, October 12, 2007

In Defense of the Icky

I'll be honest: despite being a hard-core arch-conservative on just about every issue, I find Ann Coulter to be unpleasant, and have never really read much of her stuff (I also fail to understand the physical attraction many conservative males feel for her -- ok, she's leggy (in an awkward way) and blonde (in an artificial way, I assume). She's also got a horseface and an adam's apple. Is that attractive?). She's a classic "bomb-thrower" for the Right, and frankly, I think the coarseness she brings to the table in her rhetoric far outweighs any benefits that might be gained from such an aggressive approach. Particularly insulting was her insistence after 9/11 that, of the perpetrators, "we should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity." Invade their countries? Sure. Kill their leaders? Absolutely! Convert them to Christianity? Okay, Torquemada, you seem to have misunderstood the nature of faith in the same way the Islamofascists do -- faith cannot be coerced, and the only being that might arguably (if you're a Calvinist, which I am not), transitively convert anyone is the Holy Spirit.

And yet, in light of recent events, I find myself compelled to speak, however futilely, in her defense. The "crime"? On CNBC's "The Big Idea" with Donny Deutsch (who?), she declared, inter alia, that "it would be better if we were all Christian" (Donny's accusation, which Ann affirmed with a simple "yes", to be fair), that "we should just throw Judaism away and we should all be Christians" (same as before -- Donny's accusation, Ann's affirmation), and (here's the big bombshell) that Christians "just want Jews to be perfected" (her own words, this time).

Now, of course, liberals are incensed by all this, with cries of "Anti-Semitism" and "religious discrimination" and "offensive hate-speech" being leveled all around. First of all, before drawing any conclusions, take the time to read the entire transcript of this exchange, provided in the link above. It is clear from the fragmented back-and-forth of the talk-show format that Ann actually has a reasonably solid understanding of the theological relationship between Jews and Christians, at least according to a Dispensationalist outlook.

First, the notion that we would all be "better off" if we were all Christian: an adherent to any religion which preaches that it is the sole source of salvation must, logically, believe this, or quit the religion altogether. This is especially true with orthodox Christianity, in which our Founder declares "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Light; no one comes to the Father but through Me." This, and many other scriptural sources, indicate that our very fundamental beliefs require us to profess that Jesus Christ is the only source of salvation. If salvation is a Good Thing, then how could the world possibly be worse off if everyone were saved? And for everyone to be saved, they must be Christ-followers.

As for the notion that we should "do away with Judaism": read Ann's comments about Christians being on the "fast track". It seems clear that she subscribes to a theology in which the Covenant between God and the Jews still holds; this view (and, frustratingly, the opposite view, that the first coming of Christ wholly superseded and obsolesced this covenant) is indeed supported scripturally. She merely points out, in her own uniquely blunt way, that Jews still must observe the entirety of the Mosaic Law in order to be made righteous, whereas Christians are made righteous simply by faith in Jesus Christ, "like Federal Express", as she says (she doesn't even delve into a logical discussion that such required obedience to Mosaic law is, technically, currently impossible so long as the Dome of the Rock stands where the Temple is supposed to be, but I digress...).

Finally, the one thing she is a little bit guilty of is speaking "Christianese" to an aggressively secular audience, when she declares that Jews should be "perfected" by becoming Christians. A non-Christianese-speaker would probably assume this means that she views herself, solely by virtue of her Christianity, as "perfect", in a secular sense -- blameless, flawless, etc. Even some Jewish conservatives take it this way, incorrectly. The "perfection" of Judaism, here, refers only to its completion, that is, the arrival of the Messiah for the salvation of all manking, Jewish and Gentile. Jews are made complete by taking their faith to its logical, consistent, and scriptural end in Christ Jesus. Us Gentiles merely get to "opt in" at the eleventh hour.

You know, if she had not spent the last several years cultivating a persona in which liberals can tell that they are meant to take offense at her merely by determining whether or not her lips are moving, this wouldn't be an issue. This message is no different than the message presented by any orthodox Christian in the last 2000 years. Then again, sometimes the Truth is the most offensive thing to say.

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Pathetic Statistics

One of the top-of-the-fold articles at Fox News describes the latest release of worldwide abortion statistics as recently published in The Lancet. Currently, the headline reads "1 in 5 Pregnancies Ends in Abortion", which, while tragic, is at least believable. The sub-headline, however, is an absolute shock: "New study finds that 90 percent of women worldwide will have an abortion during childbearing years, based on 2003 data."

Now, my jaw hit the floor on this one. Fortunately, the very first paragraph of the article reads:
The study also found that, on average, 90 percent of women worldwide will have an abortion before the age of 45, based on 2003 data. However, many women will have had multiple abortions and many none at all to come to this average.

In other words, journalists are retarded.

Ignoring the incredibly poor wording of the above paragraph, the statement itself is completely absurd from a statistical standpoint. Based on the last sentence, here's what I assume they (the journalists, rather than the folks who wrote the article, I hope -- although The Lancet seems prone to publishing complete and utter garbage when it comes to "public health statistics" -- e.g., the Iraq War casualty studies indicating over 600,000 "excess deaths", etc. -- and if you want to argue with me over those numbers, ask me about death certificates) did to arrive at that "statistic": they took the number of expected abortions over the lifetime of all women up to their 45th birthday, and used this number to divide the number of women who could, presumably, have abortions, thus yielding this absurd "number of women per abortion" "statistic." Let's assume that all women, from age 10 to age 45, could become pregnant and have an abortion. A quick check at the UN world population database (what? The UN, actually good for something? You didn't hear that from me!), and some quick number crunching of that data, indicates that, in 2005, there were just shy of 1.8 billion women in that age bracket. If my assumption is correct, this ratio would come out to be 0.9, and thus, "90 percent of women will have an abortion". By implication, then, the expected number of abortions comes out to be approximately 1.8 billion / 0.9, or 2 billion abortions.

This, like I said above, is just plain stupid, and shows an impressive amount of innumeracy on the part of both journalists and their editors who let this junk get posted on the front page of Fox News. A reasonable statistic that actually contains information would be the inverse of the above statistics, which would tell is precisely, "on average", how many abortions any particular woman might have. While still a bit misleading, saying that "on average, a woman will have 1.1 abortions in her life" would at least be a true statement (based on my assumptions), in a statistical sense. While I could go off on a rant about why the number they present is not, in any sense, "on average", I won't, because I don't feel like typing out the math, and as far as I know, there's no native support for Latex equation display on Blogger (and I'm too lazy to double-check this). But let me illustrate it with a simple extension. Suppose it was expected that, instead of 2 billion abortions, only 1.5 billion abortions would be performed over the life of all women before the age of 45. There is nothing, physically or mathematically, to prevent this result. Then, Fox's startling statistic would have to read: "New study finds that 120 percent of women worldwide will have an abortion during childbearing years!!!!!!"

No sane person would draw that conclusion: like I said, such a statistic is utterly meaningless, and presumably generated purely for shock value. This is a simple reductio ad absurdam, in which an impossible result is generated using an underlying premise, thereby proving the premise to be incorrect.

What does all this mean? Well, at the very least, that I get outraged as much by junk mathematics as I do by abortion. And if you know my feelings about abortion, that's saying a lot. It also proves that, as I said about, journalists (or, possibly, Lancet "scholars", but to be fair, I expect this is not their fault) are imbeciles. Finally, it, and the whole study, which shows abortion numbers decreasing both in raw value and as a percentage of population, proves that we who care about the sanctity of innocent human life have a long way to go, but at least we're on the right track.

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

Bayes' Best Bet

Some time ago (too long ago for me find in the archives), someone over at The Corner (I think it was Ramesh Ponnuru) proposed, or at least described a Bayesian approach to determining who a party's "best bet" was: i.e., which candidate to vote for in the primary given their chances in the general election. For those unfamiliar with statistics, or those who didn't read that post some time ago, "Bayes' Rule" can be expressed in a number of different forms, but is a very fundamental building block for much of mathematics and statistical analysis. In the form relevant to this discussion, it can be stated as follows: Suppose there are two events, A and B. The probability that B occurs given that A has occurred is exactly equal to the probability of A occurring given that B has occurred, times the general probability of B occurring, divided by the general probability of A occurring. Or, expressed in somewhat sloppy mathematics: P(B|A) = P(A|B) * P(B) / P(A)
(The vertical line means "given".)

How does this apply to politics? First, let the event "A" be "Candidate Q receives his or her party's nomination." Then, event "B" is "Candidate Q wins the 2008 election." Thus, the "best bet" for your party of choice is formulated by answering the question: Given that candidate Q receives his party's nomination, what is the probability that he or she will be elected president? Or in the terms laid out above, "What is P(B|A)?"

So: how do we fill in the rest of the numbers? The most confusing is actually the simplest: P(A|B), or the probability that candidate Q received the nomination, given that they won the election. In our nice, neat, two-party system, a candidate can not realistically win the presidency without first winning a party nomination, so this probability is trivially 1.0, or a 100% probability for you non-math-types. That leaves us with two other numbers to find: P(B), the probability that the candidate will become president, and P(A), the probability that the candidate will receive his or her party's nomination.

Where, then, can we get these numbers? The author of my above-mentioned reference suggests that, rather than opinion polls, exchange/gamling sites such as Intrade serve as reliable estimates of these numbers (after all, when you put your money on the line, you're less likely to attempt to lie about the truth your profits depend on). Let's assume this is a reasonable assumption. Fortunately, Intrade itself provides us with exactly these two numbers. Without delving into how it works, suffice it to say that the price of a given candidate for either the nomination or the presidency, treated as a stock to buy or sell, is a good reflection (sufficient for this calculation) of the probability that that particular candidate will be, respectively, the nominee or the President. So, I ran these numbers, as of today, with some interesting results:

For the Republicans:

Candidate P(A) P(B) P(B|A) x 100%
Giuliani 0.388 0.152 39.2%
Romney 0.241 0.087 36.1%
Thompson 0.181 0.071 39.2%
McCain 0.053 0.022 41.5%
Paul 0.060 0.022 36.7%
Huckabee 0.030 0.005 16.7%

And for the Democrats:

Clinton 0.674 0.461 68.4%
Obama 0.114 0.066 57.9%
Edwards 0.042 0.025 59.5%
Richardson 0.007 0.001 14.3%

The big (bolded, for your convenience!) punchline first: the Republican's best bet is to nominate, of all people, John McCain. And as if this surprises anyone other than John Edwards' secret lover (ht: K-Lo), Hillary is the Dems' best bet.

What's more interesting, at least superficially, is the rest of the numbers. Notable, with the sad exception of Huckabee and the very surprising inclusion of theronpaulexperience, is the overall closeness in viability of the Republican candidates -- while McCain is on top, the spread is very narrow (and very unfavorable for Republicans, but that's not what this is about). Also, seriously, Ron Paul having a better chance than McCain of getting the nomination (see below)? I smell a ronpaulswarm (say what you will about the nutjobs who follow him, but they are True Believers).

I say superficially, because it's important to look at the nature of numbers themselves. For Fred, Rudy, and Mitt, their numbers are sufficiently high that rounding errors are minimal. However, on Intrade, the smallest apparent gradation in price is 10 cents, which translates into a probability value of 0.001. Therefore, the smaller a candidate's numbers, the more likely that rounding errors exist in the overall calculation, and the more unreliable the overall "best bet" statistic becomes. Thus, both John McCain, Mike Huckabee, and Ron Paul's numbers should all be taken with a grain of salt, as should Bill Richardson's.

But if these were God's Own Truth, then the message is clear: if you're voting in the Republican Primary, and all you care about is a Republican victory, vote McCain. And if you wanna be extra-sneaky, switch parties and vote Democrat in the primary, for Bill Richardson!

One last thought: comparing McCain's numbers to Paul's numbers generates a somewhat counterintuitive result of Bayesian inference: both of their winning-thepresidency probabilities are the same, at 0.022. By virtue of McCain's lower chance of getting the nomination, he has a higher value as our "best bet." That's a feature worth mulling over for a while. People who don't understand that are likely the same ones who argue against the truth of the Monty Hall Problem.


Friday, October 05, 2007

Something To Hide, Just A Bit, Maybe?

Jonah Goldberg has a great column in response to being named "Worst Person in the World" by Herr Olbermann on his show MeltdownCountdown. The gist of it deals with the Dems' constant protestations of having their patriotism impugned, when in fact, frequently, no such accusations have been leveled at them.

It occurs to me that these protestations are very much akin to a big burly redneck constantly attacking people, with no provocation, for implying that he's gay ("Yew callin' me gay, yew sumbitch?"), when in fact he's caught himself, alone and late at night, thinking that Alan Jackson sure does look sexy in them tight jeans.

In other words, the Lefty doth protest too much, methinks.

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Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Never Say Never

First, this post by strident pro-life (among other things) blogger The Anchoress, describing the futility of disgruntled, anti-Giuliani conservatives in forming a third party to vote for the "perfect (Christian) candidate". Citing the '92 election, Ross Perot, and Clinton's 42% "victory", here's a key paragraph:
The third-party pipe-dreamers will once again make the Clinton tag team victorious. And with a Supreme Court likely to need three quick replacements in ‘09, the third party folks will watch as the court becomes a permanent 5-4 liberal majority activist court - for decades. Decades, folks. The America you think you’re going to “preserve” with your third party candidate may become unrecognizable in a very short time. The Roe v Wade you think you’re going to reverse with your unelectable third candidate will seem almost quaint when compared with the “compassionate” euthanasia and the “practical, community-serving, environment saving” limitations on life you’ll be watching get handed down as law by an activist court determined to see the Constitution as a “living” and flexible document.

Now, I don't agree with everything she says, particularly in her comparison of Rudy Giuliani to the "sinner" rather than the "saint" in Luke 18:10-14, on which The Anchoress bases much of her blog post: there's a large difference between a repentant sinner and someone who claims to be Christian but lives a life completely counterindicative of that.

Nevertheless, the gist of her message certainly gives me pause. I've heard the message before, however -- that it's "all about the judges" and that, therefore, any Republican president would be preferable to any Democrat. What remains unpersuasive is her tacit assumption that Giuliani would indeed appoint "strict constructionist" judges, favorable to a life-affirming political and social climate, his own lip-service notwithstanding.

In a similar vein, however, is this post at "Slublog". In addition to reiterating the same points about judges, the blogger there has this to say:
Here is a list of people on Giuliani's Justice Advisory Committee. It's a sneak peek into the people that will be appointed to judicial posts in a Giuliani administration. These are strict constructionists, and far from the types of people we're going to see appointed under a Clinton administration.

Now, obviously, one should take that with a grain of salt as well, but if what that blogger says does indeed check out, it certainly gives me pause. Will I now willingly hold my nose and vote for Giuliani if he receives the Republican nomination? It's too early to tell; and besides, I live in a state where it's not liable to make a difference anyhow. Not that I had any plans to vote third-party, but it certainly speaks volumes against that. I've said before, on this blog and elsewhere, that I would "never vote for Rudy Giuliani". I'll certainly continue to oppose him in the primaries (although, for the life of me, I can't find anyone 'round here who actually likes the guy), but I should perhaps be more cautious to "never say never".