Monthly Archives: August 2015

We All Cook Out

I’ve lost count of how many weeks it’s been since we’ve had a normal summer day.

The talking heads doing the weather reports look especially strained — I imagine Management telling them to keep those Smiles Plastered In Place as they talk about yet another Southwestern Heatwave.

How refreshing it would be to see this, instead:

Keep those fans running, friends and neighbors.


More Simple Math

In the wake of this morning’s shooting, which, according to Mass Shooting Trackerwas actually the second of the day,

I’d like to present two maps, and dismiss a logical fallacy.


Bang bang
Bang bang

No doubt, you have seen something like this before, and it usually only serves to reinforce the idea that the poorer, disenfranchised Red States are more violent. So — let’s put this in context with

Map 2:

Our Cities are on a par with Entire Countries!
Our Cities are on a par with Entire Countries!

To quote journalist Richard Florida in his fine analysis for the Atlantic :

The pattern is staggering. A number of U.S. cities have gun homicide rates in line with the most deadly nations in the world.

  • If it were a country, New Orleans (with a rate 62.1 gun murders per 100,000 people) would rank second in the world.
  • Detroit’s gun homicide rate (35.9) is just a bit less than El Salvador (39.9).
  • Baltimore’s rate (29.7) is not too far off that of Guatemala (34.8).
  • Los Angeles (9.2) is comparable to the Philippines (8.9).
  • Boston’s rate (6.2) is higher than Nicaragua (5.9).
  • New York, where gun murders have declined to just four per 100,000, is still higher than Argentina (3).

… Yes, it’s true we are comparing American cities to nations. But most of these countries here have relatively small populations, in many cases comparable to large U.S. metros.

The sad reality is that many American cities have rates of gun homicides comparable to the some of the most violent nations in the world.

The fallacy I’d like to dispel with is the one that goes something like this:

“More people are killed with stuffed animals than with guns every year. Should we ban stuffed animals, too?”

I pains me to spell this out, but here goes:

We have two countries:

Country SG has Stuffed Animals and Guns.

Country SG
Country SG

Country S just has Stuffed Animals.

Country S
Country S

In both countries, the same number of people die from exposure to Stuffed Animals, and an additional (nearly equivalent) portion of the populace dies from gunshot wounds in country SG.






Or to put it another way, in closing, if John Lennon had lived in Country S, he’d probably still be writing great music.

Ah … not so much, no.

The Curious Incident of the Barely-literate Mother

Well, Tallahassee isn’t known for its Nobel Laureates, so it’s not surprising that an ignorant, hypersensitive Baptist woman would try to make choices for an entire school district based on her own deeply-ingrained religious phobias.

The Tallahassee Democrat story, in short, notes that pressure from a handful of parents — whose combined cranial capacity probably amounts to a handful — got The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time pulled from the Lincoln high school summer reading list. A woman named Sue Gee is featured as a principal instigator.

The Democrat story calls Mrs. Gee a “teacher.” That’s stretching it a bit. A quick look on LinkedIn shows her to be the Minister of Preschoolers & Children  (preschoolers aren’t children?) at Immanuel Baptist Church, a tidy little enclave of roughly 2,000 deeply troubled souls — and oddly enough, one of ten such Baptist churches clustered within a 1-mile radius, just northeast of the town center. This is Ground Zero for corn-pone credulity and feeble-mindedness, hiding beneath a mask of “faith.”

Never Mind that this Book Has Won Countless Awards -- It's Got Cuss Words In It!
Never Mind that this Book Has Won Countless Awards — It’s Got Cuss Words In It!

Before we descend into the maelstrom, it is worth noting that Mark Haddon’s book has won the 2004 Boeke Prize, the 2003 Whitbread Book of the Year award,  the 2004 Alex Awards, which “honor the 10 top adult books with appeal for adolescents,” the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize, the Book Trust teenage fiction award, and was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize. To-date, it has sold over 2 million copies worldwide.

A quote sums up the situation in all its piteous ignorance:

“The foul language and the religious skepticism alarmed Sue Gee, former teacher and a mother of an incoming Lincoln eleventh-grader.
‘I am not interested in having books banned,’ Gee said. ‘But to have that language and to take the name of Christ in vain – I don’t go for that. As a Christian, and as a female, I was offended. Kids don’t have to be reading that type of thing!’ “

I don’t care that Sue Gee is a stupefied, obtuse bint. I care very much that she and others like her are able to make public policy of any kind.

Which is why Ms. O'Donnell (and her limited grasp of the First Amendment) never got elected to Any Office. Yay!
Which is why Ms. O’Donnell (and her limited grasp of the First Amendment) never got elected to Any Office. Yay!

Hannah’s Sweets: My Thoughts on the Solution

In June of this year there was an outcry amongst UK sixteen-year-olds in the wake of this GCSE probability problem:


So, speaking as a mathematician (and a former college professor), here’s my take on this:

First and foremost, you can be sure of two things:

  • There is a solution, and

  • It’s simple.

Test-makers at the public-school level do not have time to plow through great, long, unwieldy answers to basic maths problems.

We *really* don't want to see this.
We *really* don’t want to see this.

You may be caught off-guard momentarily, but calm down, use what you know , and Keep It Simple.

So, what do we know? Well …

The first thing that jumps out at me is that quadratic.

It would be easy to write in an equivalent form:

n2 – n – 90 = 0


n2 – n = 90

What number, when subtracted from its square, equals 90?

Why, 10 of course!

So now, “Show n2 – n – 90 = 0″ becomes the much simpler equivalent statement

“Show n = 10.”

Sweet, eh?

Note: we are talking about a whole number of candies, so a small, simple number like 10 makes sense.

Onwards: back to What You Know.

Pulling one out of 6 orange sweets,and then one of 5 (remaining) orange sweets, from a bag of n (10, remember?) sweets looks like this:


This resolves to    FracsB

Recall that the probability is one- third, and you get


For n = 10 you get the true statement


I know it’s easy to armchair-quarterback these things when you’re not sweating in a timed test– for what it’s worth, that’s my approach.

Secular Sunday, Part Deux: Faith Healing

This is too good to not share. In this bright, catchy, calypso piece (with a full orchestra!), Tim Minchin brilliantly destroys the idea of faith healing:

“… Now I understand how prayer can work:

A particular prayer in a particular church
In a particular style with a particular stuff
And for particular problems that aren’t particularly tough,
And for particular people, preferably white
And for particular senses, preferably sight
A particular prayer in a particular spot
To a particular version of a particular god

And if you get that right, he just might
Take a break from giving babies malaria
And pop down to your local area
And fix the cataracts of your mum!

Secular Sunday: The Good Book

In this wonderful song Tim Minchin combines two bible verses to prove a point:

Deuteronomy 22:28-29

“If a man meets a virgin who is not betrothed, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are found, then the man who lay with her shall give to the father of the young woman fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife, because he has violated her. He may not divorce her all his days.”

Deuteronomy 21:18-21

“If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them:
Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place;
And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice;
And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear.”

Delightful, no? No.

I really enjoy Penn Jillette’s very polite, very straightforward examination of the Bible’s contribution to his own atheism:

Why would reading the Bible make you an atheist?

1:54-3:26  :  “I think because what we get told about the Bible is such a lot of picking and choosing. When you see, you know, Lot’s daughter gang raped and beaten and the Lord being OK with that; when you actually read about Abraham being willing to kill his son, when you actually read that, when you read the insanity of the talking snake, when you read the hostility toward homosexuals, towards women, the celebration of slavery; when you read in context that “thou shall not kill” means only in your own tribe.

I mean, there’s no hint that it means humanity in general. That there’s no sense of a shared humanity, it’s all tribal, when you see a god that is jealous and insecure, when you see that there are contradictions that show that it was clearly written hundreds of years after the supposed facts … read what the Bible says. Going back to the source material is always the best. When someone’s trying to interpret something for you they always have an agenda. So read the Bible.”

Wednesday PSA: A Picture and Two Quotes


“Probably the only place where a man can feel really secure is in a maximum security prison, except for the imminent threat of release. The problem of recidivism ought to have shown young men like John Greenaway1 just what sort of a notion security is, but there is no indication that he would understand it.

Security is when everything is settled, when nothing can happen to you; security is the denial of life. Human beings are better equipped to cope with disaster and hardship than they are with unvarying security, but as long as security is the highest value in a community they can have little opportunity to decide this for themselves.”
Germaine GreerThe Female Eunuch

1. [School of Economic and Social Studies, University of East Anglia, UK; author of Drink and British Politics Since 1830: A Study in Policy-making]