Friday, January 29, 2010

The Bell Curve 1 - to scare off the wimps

This is the equation that describes how something that can happen only one of two ways, p, and q, will happen if you make it happen n times. Say you have ten coins and you flip them all together 1024 times.

The equation says (very briefly) that in an ideal world you will get:

0 heads and 10 tails - 1 time

1 head and 9 tails - 10 times

2 heads and 8 tails - 45 times

3 heads and 7 tails - 120 times

4 heads and 6 tails - 210 times

5 heads and 5 tails - 252 times

6 heads and 4 tails - 210 times

7 heads and 3 tails - 120 times

8 heads and 2 tails - 45 times

9 heads and 1 tail - 10 times

10 heads and 0 tails - 1 time

Or to put it another way: the probability or "chance" of getting 0 heads and 10 tails is 1/1024 or 0.000976563 (plus or minus a smidge; my calculator can display only 10 digits).

Similarly, the probability of

1 head and 9 tails is 10/1024 or 0.0098 (rounded to four decimal places)

2 heads and 8 tails is 45/1024 or 0.0439

3 heads and 7 tails is 120/1024 or 0.1172

4 heads and 6 tails is 210/1024 or 0.2051

5 heads and 5 tails is 252/1024 or 0.2461

6 heads and 4 tails is 210/1024 or 0.2051

7 heads and 3 tails is 120/1024 or 0.1172

8 heads and 2 tails is 45/1024 or 0.0439

9 heads and 1 tail is 10/1024 or 0.0098

10 heads and 0 tails is 1/1024 or 0.0001

These are shown on the "bell-curve" graph.

Enough with the numbers already. There are two important things to especially notice here:

1, the distribution of probabilities is symmetrical.

2, this is for an ideal situation; in a real test the numbers will not come out exactly like this (but that's the way to bet - the tendency will be towards this distribution especially if you flip the ten coins a "very large" number of times. How big "very large" is, we don't have to think about, Deo gratias).

G.K. Chesterton said in Orthodoxy, Chapter 6, "The Paradoxes of Christianity":

"The real trouble with this world of ours is is not that it is an unreasonable world, nor even that it is a reasonable one. The commonest kind of trouble is that it is nearly reasonable, but not quite. Life is not an illogicality; yet it is a trap for logicians. It looks just a little more mathematical and regular than it is; its exactitude is obvious, but its inexactitude is hidden; its wildness lies in wait."


"It is this silent swerving from accuracy by an inch that is the uncanny element in everything. It seems a sort of secret treason in the universe."

And Damon Runyon (also well worth reading) said: "The race is not always to the swift, not the battle to the strong, but that's the way to bet."

Friday, January 22, 2010

Dies Irae, Dies Illa . . .

Today is January 22, 2010, and we have lived through the awful legacy of Roe vs. Wade and Doe vs. Bolton for 37 years now, with this having happened about 52 million times.

Our present civil leaders in Washington are doing less than nothing about it. "Safe, legal, and rare" -- my ass! Most of them never saw an abortion they didn't like.

We had better get on our knees and beg God for mercy.

(Photo courtesy of Operation Rescue)

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Pink and gray, red and black --- part two

To continue with Michener's book; he is describing the refugees who left Hungary in October and November, 1956.

"Here is a better analogy. Suppose things got so bad in America that the following types of people felt they had to abandon a rotten system: The University of Southern California en masse, The Notre Dame football team and the Yankees, Benny Goodman's orchestra, the authors of the ten current best sellers, the actors in six Broadway plays, Henry Ford III and Walter Reuther, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, all the recent graduates of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the five hundred top practical mechanics of the General Motors assembly line, the secretaries of the eighteen toughest unions, and a million young married couples with their children.

"Now suppose that the average age of these Americans was twenty-three, that they were the kinds of people who might normally be expected to have brilliant futures before them, that there were no aged or sick or mentally defeated among them . . . only the best. Would you not say that something terribly wrong had overtaken America if such people rejected it? That's what happened in Hungary"

"How arrogantly they came, with honor stamped on their faces. Once I met forty-four of the most handsome, brave and cocky young people I have ever seen. They had come from all parts of Hungary. No one had led them, no one had driven them, but from every type of home they had converged on the bridge at Andau, and as they passed me on their way to exile I counted the things they had brought with them: these forty-four refugees had among them two girls' handbags, two brief cases and one paper bag of bread. That was how they left, in the clothes they wore.
"I asked one of them, 'Why did you bring so little?'
"And he said, 'Whatever the communists let us have, they can keep.'
"They came only with their honor."

"And there was one freedom fighter with no legs, and no wooden legs to replace them. This man caught a bus ride from Budapest to a point about fifteen miles from the border. These last fifteen miles he covered by pulling himself along on his hands. When we got to him the stumps of his legs were almost rubbed raw, and his hands were cut and bleeding from the frozen soil. Nobody said much about this man, for there was nothing that words could add."

"The aspect of the revolution which surprised me most was the profound longing with which the Hungarian intellectuals wanted to return to the community of European nations. Many spoke of this with fervor. 'Of all that Russia robbed us of,' my chance interpreter said that night, 'the most precious was communication with our fellow citizens of Europe.'"

[I'll have more to say about intellectuals in my next serious post, about The Bell Curve.]

All in all, says Michener, about two hundred thousand Hungarians left their homeland simply because -- in general -- they simply couldn't stand it any longer. "For the most part, however," says Michener, "each human being who walked out of Hungary in late 1956 represented a personal tragedy, as well as a momentary triumph. He was walking into freedom, true, but he was also walking away from his homeland and its future, and that it a pathetic thing for a patriot to have to do."

If you want to know the things these people walked away from, read the book.

If we want to help prevent the same thing happening here (and I believe it is beginning to happen, don't believe it can't), the first thing we can do is not trust anyone who talks or acts against God, marriage, or the family unit. An old Ukrainian lady told me those were the three main targets of Soviet Communism.

Pink and gray, red and black --- part one

Back about 1957, when I was thirteen, fashionable colors were pink and black. I hated the combination then, and I do now, for different reasons. Pink is socialism, that makes its whole world a gray, dull, dreary, dirty dungeon. Red is communism, achieved only by spilling lots of blood, and I think it's significant that long-dried blood is black.

Also in 1957, a little book titled The Bridge at Andau by James A. Michener was published in the U.S.A. It was the story of the Hungarian uprising against Soviet Communism in Budapest in October and November of 1956. I bought a copy with my paper route money; it was one of the first books I ever bought. About the time of its third or fourth printing, the Soviets put Sputnik, the first artificial satellite, in orbit; and the talk in the street here was that if they could put up a satellite, they could put up a bomb.

I would like to think that the presence of Sputnik over our heads, and the story of the savage repression of the Hungarians by the Communists, woke up a lot of otherwise indifferent people to what Soviet Communism was really all about. "Workers' paradise? -- don't make me laugh!" "Dictatorship of the proletariat? -- bullshit!" "Paradise on earth? -- Hell on earth is more like it."

James Michener was in a little town called Andau, just on the Austrian side of the Austria-Hungary border. He must have interviewed scores of refugees; the personalities in his book are all composites, made up of cross-checking one refugee's story against another, double-checking, and checking again. "But it was not I," he said, "who chose to use composites. It was my Hungarian narrators, who said simply, 'If the secret police identify me in any way, they will kill my mother and father.' A writer thinks twice before betraying an identity in such circumstances . . . ."

The refugees: [All the words are Michener's; emphases and comments are mine.]

". . . I have never witnessed anything like the Hungarian emigration. First, there was the unprecedented youth of the emigres . . . while I was at Andau, it was the finest young people of the nation who were leaving; their average age was only twenty-three. Second was their spirit. They were not dejected or beaten or maimed or halt. In considerable joy they were turning their back contemptuously upon the Russians and their communist fraud. Third, they were young people with a purpose. They wanted to tell the world of the betrayal of their nation. . . . Fourth, it was difficult to find among these people any reactionaries, any sad, defeated human beings looking toward the past."

". . . Consider, for example, eleven groups that had left their homeland, and imagine the loss they represented to a nation.

"One, at the university in Sopron five hundred students, thirty-two professors and their entire families simply gave up all hope of a decent life under communism and came across the border. . . .

"Two, the finest ballerina of the Budapest Opera walked out, with several of her assistants.

"Three, enough football players left Hungary to make several teams of world-champion caliber.

"Four, the three finest Gypsy orchestras of Hungary came out in a body. . . .

"Five, some of the top mechanics in the factories at Csepel left and were eagerly grabbed up by firms in Germany, Switzerland, and Sweden.

"Six, a staggering number of trained engineers and scientists in almost all phases of industry and research fled, some carrying slide rules and tables applicable to their specialization, others with nothing. I myself have met accidentally at least fifty engineers under the age of thirty. A careful census would probably reveal more than five thousand. . . .

"Seven, a majority of both the Budapest symphony orchestras came out . . . . Several of the best conductors came with them.

"Eight, many of Hungary's best artists crossed the border.

"Nine, and many of her notable writers.

"Ten, several members of the Hungarian Olympic team decided to stay in Australia, others defected along the way home and still others refused to take the final plunge back into communism. This was a major propaganda defeat.

"Eleven, and most impressive of all, were the young couples with babies. No group came across the bridge at Andau without its quota of young married couples. . . .

"For an American to understand what this great exodus meant, this comparison might be meaningful. When the final count is in, it will probably be found that about two per cent of the total population of the nation has fled. If this happened in America, about 3,400,000 would leave this country, or the population of Philadelphia, Boston, Providence, and Fort Worth combined. If that happened, it would be obvious that something was wrong with the United States.

"But even this comparison misses the essential truth, for it was not the total population of a city like Boston -- the young and the old -- that left Hungary. It was mainly the young, often the elite of the nation.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Just Plain Silly

"Show me where Joe Stalin is buried and I'll show you a Communist plot."

ROTFLMAO really means "Respect Our Trusted Fearless Leader MAO."

Dolphins have phins.

"Oh, well, that's life."
"What's life?"
"Life Magazine."
"Where do you get it?"
"At the drugstore."
"What does it cost?"
"A dime."
"I haven't got a dime."
"Oh, well, that's life."

What has four wheels and flies?
A garbage truck.

It was a dark and stormy night. The explorers were sitting around the campfire. The leader got up and said:
"It was a dark and stormy night. The explorers were sitting around the campfire. The leader got up and said:
'It was a dark and stormy night. The explorers were sitting around the campfire. The leader got up and said . . . ' "
. . .and so on ad infinitum . . . .

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A quick comment on comments

I received a comment the other day and, after some thought, decided to reject it. I like comments -- you know, screaming and adoring groupies who toss money onto the stage ;-} -- but this one I couldn't read. If I can't read and understand it I won't publish it. And there are the usual other reasons for rejecting a comment: incivility, cussing, etc. As Caveman (God bless him)
said, it's my blog.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Military Meditation on Isaiah 53

The fifty-third chapter of Isaiah, I think one of the best readings of the liturgical year, is always read on Good Friday. When I was head lector at St. B's years ago, I used to hog it for myself. Verse 5 is key to what I was thinking the other night.

I happen to be the block club leader, partly because I have more time than almost all my neighbors do; those who are also retired are partly or fully disabled, and I'm still reasonably able-bodied despite my years (I was 14 or 15 when Cavey was born). So, using a neighbor's 8hp snowblower (I call it "The Monster"), I try to clear driveways and sidewalks of my less able neighbors. This is what neighbors do.

So I'm out the other night after a 3" snowfall, doing driveways, when Isaiah 53:5 pops into my head: "But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; by his stripes we were healed."

Then it occurred to me: "stripes" also has a military connotation. Stripes on a sleeve are a mark of authority. The best authority (so I'm told) is held by sergeants and CPO's and such who put their troops' needs above their own. In "Band of Brothers," the platoon master sergeant is given a field commission and made platoon leader for just that reason. His service to the platoon earned him that. He was given authority because he had accepted responsibility and done his duty.

And rather like the master sergeant, I do what I can to look after my neighbors. It's what neighbors do, but I just have this notion that if I'm to have the authority of block club leader, I have the duty to go the extra mile on my neighbors' behalf.

Jesus' stripes were the wounds of the whip on His body, not cloth on His sleeves, but the message to me is clear: Jesus has the stripes, He loves me and takes care of me, he has given me the Church and the sacraments (the best is Himself, of course), so by His bearing the stripes I am healed. In the orthodox traditional sense, His suffering and death were the atonement for the sins of the world.

In my imaginative sense, Jesus is like a good sergeant who got his stripes the hard way and whose authority over me I accept; I can always trust Him to do what's best for me, even if it means giving me orders I don't quite understand. (Like his Mother said at Cana to the servants: "Do whatever He tells you.") We're at war against the devil and his creatures, and Jesus Christ is a commander-in-chief we can trust all the way to the end.

Odd meditation for a subzero January night. Maybe the cold was affecting my brain . . . but I don't think so.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Papal Humor

Scene: second 1978 conclave. The cardinals are arguing vociferously about the best man for the job. One stand up and says, "Brothers in Christ, this contention is most unseemly!" Quiet descends. The cardinal continues: "Before the next ballot, let's take an informal poll."

Scene: Spring 2005

Don't call him "The German Shepherd," because that eggs Benedict.

God bless our Holy Father, all good bishops and priests, and all of YOU!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

I don't think I'm going to like this.

Alternative captions:

We are born naked, wet, cold, and hungry, and it's downhill from there.

What happened?!

What have I got myself into?

I don't like it here! I wanna go back!

Oh, shit . . . . .

Monday, January 4, 2010

Thoughts on the Northern Winter

Many are cold but few are frozen.