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One time several years ago in graduate school, I simply could not remember the word "syrup", so I called it "pancake gravy". That title was already taken(!), so I added "cane" because when I was a child in the Panhandle of Florida (aka Lower Alabama), my family grew sugar cane and made our own cane syrup.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Problems with "Conservative Catholic" Gatekeepers

Two recent disagreements I have had with so-called conservative Catholic blogs (which may or may not have obtained permission from their bishop to use the name "Catholic" in their blog title, as required by Church law) highlight the problem I have with calling myself a conservative.  I am obviously no kind of liberal, but if these self-proclaimed gatekeepers of conservatism tell me I have to toe their line to join their club, well, so much for their club.

The lesser problem came from someone who had a quasi-religious belief that all government regulations are bad.  Well, almost all; I'm 99.999% sure he considers government regulation of immigration not only morally defensible (as do I, even though our immigration system is badly out of whack), but even morally imperative.  Let me be perfectly blunt:  anyone who thinks that "the free market" is sufficient to determine which drugs are safe to take, which kitchens practice adequate hygiene, which aircraft are safe enough to fly, what precautions keep miners adequately safe, and what are safe and appropriate means of disposing of toxic wastes is too stupid to engage in meaningful debate.  Such a person thinks that the only alternatives are his form of "conservatism" and Communism --- a choice I would eagerly put to the public if for some reason I wanted Communism.  Make no mistake about it; we should be cautious in permitting government regulations, and we must avoid the idea that the government can regulate us into some sort of earthly paradise; but some regulation is wise and even necessary, and we must also avoid the idea that the "free market" can create an earthly paradise.

The larger problem came in comments to a blog post that was suggesting that it is a mistake for Catholic charities to ever accept government funds, because inevitably this leads to the government "forcing" the charity to do something contrary to the Faith; the specific example of which is the Church's support for the needs of illegal immigrants, and the ACLU's lawsuit that the Catholic charity involved must make abortion available to the immigrants it serves.  (I am somewhat sympathetic to the argument of the blog post, but it should be entirely clear that just because you don't receive money from the government doesn't mean you are safe from government impositions.)  In this case, the commenter objected that the bishops are "giving aid to lawbreakers" --- not that they are giving aid in law-breaking, nor even that, by making it safer to break immigration laws, they are providing encouragement to break those laws.

This was more than I could take.  I gave a hypothetical:  Suppose someone had been driving faster than the posted speed --- perhaps 70 mph in a 65 mph zone --- lost control, and hit a tree.  He was a lawbreaker, because he had broken the law setting the maximum speed.  Should an ambulance refuse to give aid to the lawbreaker?  Should he be left to die because he broke the law?  In general, should a Catholic hospital never admit anyone who has broken a law at any point in his life?  Or does it matter whether the law in question is one that the commenter has broken himself, or one that he will probably never break?

Now I have often argued that, the personal opinions of ever so many present-day priests and bishops notwithstanding, the consistent Teaching of the Catholic Church does not exclude the possibility of the death penalty, and in fact argues strongly for it.  The mistake made by these well-meaning clerics is easy to understand, though, because although the Church is not opposed to the death penalty, the Church is very strongly opposed to death.  Above all, of course, the Church is opposed to spiritual death --- to sin and to Hell, always and everywhere; yet although is it of secondary importance, the Church is also vigorously opposed to physical death.  Physical death is always to be preferred to spiritual death; it is glorious for martyrs and leads to the Beatific Vision for saints; yet it is also always a physical evil and a punishment imposed on us for our sins and the sin of Adam, in which we have a mysterious participation.  So even though I think there is much good to be had from honestly confronting a criminal with the magnitude of his crimes and the penalty that may be justly levied on him, I am also 100% sympathetic with those who ask, "Is there no way that we can spare this man's life without sin?"  The death penalty should be read out as often as necessary, but it should be carried out as infrequently as possible.

More fundamentally, the Church exists precisely in order to give aid to lawbreakers.  How any Catholic can fail to understand that is beyond me.  It is not for nothing that on Palm Sunday and Good Friday we are made to cry out with the crowd, "Crucify Him!"  That is the true meaning of each of our sins.  It is to give aid to lawbreakers that the Church has the sacrament of Confession.  It was to give aid to lawbreakers that Jesus laid down His life on the cross and took it up again on the third day, and we are all of us like one of the two lawbreakers who were crucified alongside Him; it is our choice whether we will be more like the Good Thief or the other thief.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

OK, here is my prediction for this year's tournament.  I ran it several times until it produced Kentucky as the final champion, because (1) Kentucky is local here and (2) Kentucky really does seem to be the best team.  This model actually does a pretty good job of fitting several statistics to those produced by real tournaments, but it still looks a little wrong -- there seem to be too many wild upsets.  A high school student is working with me to refine the model.

Based on my current model, the odds of picking the whole tournament correctly are optimized by assuming no upsets, and they are about 1 in 15.445 billion.  This is about 600 million times more likely than the "official rules" of last year's "billion dollar bracket" competition estimated.

In the SOUTH Regional

In the 2nd Round:
16 NFL/RMU  @  1 Duke  -->  1 Duke
15 N. Dak. St.  @  2 Gonzaga  -->  2 Gonzaga
14 UAB  @  3 Iowa St.  -->  3 Iowa St.
13 Eastern Wash.  @  4 Georgetown  -->  4 Georgetown
12 S.F. Austin  @  5 Utah  -->  12 S.F. Austin
11 UCLA  @  6 SMU  -->  11 UCLA
10 Davidson  @  7 Iowa  -->  7 Iowa
9 St. John's  @  8 S. Diego St.  -->  9 St. John's
In the 3rd Round:
9 St. John's  @  1 Duke  -->  9 St. John's
7 Iowa  @  2 Gonzaga  -->  2 Gonzaga
11 UCLA  @  3 Iowa St.  -->  11 UCLA
12 S.F. Austin  @  4 Georgetown  -->  4 Georgetown
In the Sweet 16:
4 Georgetown  @  9 St. John's  -->  9 St. John's
11 UCLA  @  2 Gonzaga  -->  2 Gonzaga
In the Elite 8:
2 Gonzaga  @  9 St. John's  -->  2 Gonzaga
In the WEST Regional

In the 2nd Round:
16 Coastal Car.  @  1 Wisconsin  -->  1 Wisconsin
15 Texas Southern  @  2 Arizona  -->  2 Arizona
14 Georgia St.  @  3 Baylor  -->  3 Baylor
13 Harvard  @  4 N. Carolina  -->  4 N. Carolina
12 Wofford  @  5 Arkansas  -->  12 Wofford
11 BYU/Miss  @  6 Xavier  -->  6 Xavier
10 Ohio St.  @  7 VCU  -->  10 Ohio St.
9 Oklahoma St.  @  8 Oregon  -->  8 Oregon
In the 3rd Round:
8 Oregon  @  1 Wisconsin  -->  1 Wisconsin
10 Ohio St.  @  2 Arizona  -->  10 Ohio St.
6 Xavier  @  3 Baylor  -->  6 Xavier
12 Wofford  @  4 N. Carolina  -->  4 N. Carolina
In the Sweet 16:
4 N. Carolina  @  1 Wisconsin  -->  1 Wisconsin
6 Xavier  @  10 Ohio St.  -->  10 Ohio St.
In the Elite 8:
10 Ohio St.  @  1 Wisconsin  -->  1 Wisconsin
In the EAST Regional

In the 2nd Round:
16 Lafayette  @  1 Villanova  -->  1 Villanova
15 Belmont  @  2 Virginia  -->  2 Virginia
14 Albany  @  3 Oklahoma  -->  3 Oklahoma
13 UC Irvine  @  4 Louisville  -->  13 UC Irvine
12 Wyoming  @  5 Northern Iowa  -->  5 Northern Iowa
11 BoSt/Dayt  @  6 Providence  -->  11 BoSt/Dayt
10 Georgia  @  7 Michigan St.  -->  7 Michigan St.
9 LSU  @  8 N.C. State  -->  9 LSU
In the 3rd Round:
9 LSU  @  1 Villanova  -->  1 Villanova
7 Michigan St.  @  2 Virginia  -->  7 Michigan St.
11 BoSt/Dayt  @  3 Oklahoma  -->  11 BoSt/Dayt
5 Northern Iowa  @  13 UC Irvine  -->  5 Northern Iowa
In the Sweet 16:
5 Northern Iowa  @  1 Villanova  -->  1 Villanova
11 BoSt/Dayt  @  7 Michigan St.  -->  7 Michigan St.
In the Elite 8:
7 Michigan St.  @  1 Villanova  -->  1 Villanova
In the MIDWEST Regional

In the 2nd Round:
16 Manh/Ham  @  1 Kentucky  -->  1 Kentucky
15 N. Mex. St.  @  2 Kansas  -->  2 Kansas
14 Northeastern  @  3 Notre Dame  -->  3 Notre Dame
13 Valparaiso  @  4 Maryland  -->  4 Maryland
12 Buffalo  @  5 West Virginia  -->  5 West Virginia
11 Texas  @  6 Butler  -->  11 Texas
10 Indiana  @  7 Wichita St.  -->  10 Indiana
9 Purdue  @  8 Cincinnati  -->  9 Purdue
In the 3rd Round:
9 Purdue  @  1 Kentucky  -->  1 Kentucky
10 Indiana  @  2 Kansas  -->  2 Kansas
11 Texas  @  3 Notre Dame  -->  3 Notre Dame
5 West Virginia  @  4 Maryland  -->  4 Maryland
In the Sweet 16:
4 Maryland  @  1 Kentucky  -->  1 Kentucky
3 Notre Dame  @  2 Kansas  -->  2 Kansas
In the Elite 8:
2 Kansas  @  1 Kentucky  -->  1 Kentucky
1 Villanova  @  2 Gonzaga  -->  1 Villanova
1 Kentucky  @  1 Wisconsin  -->  1 Kentucky
1 Kentucky  @  1 Villanova  -->  1 Kentucky 

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Joint Editorial on the Death Penalty

I'm glad to see I'm not alone in insisting that something important is lost if the death penalty is not, at least in principle, a possibility.  There doesn't seem to be much more that needs to be said in addition to what I have already said and what is in those two links.  On the other hand, I feel very disappointed in the National Catholic Register, which has, at least in some of its blogs and columns, been rightly critical in the past of what is called "chronological snobbery" and "consequentialism", yet here the Register is guilty of both faults.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Biased Thinking

One of the current political conflicts is over immigration and Obama's executive orders regarding immigration.  The immigration policies of both parties, to the extent they are sufficiently coherent to be said to exist, are deeply flawed, but that is not my subject now.  Obama's executive orders, like his recess appointments and many other actions, are an attempt to circumvent the Separation of Powers; other presidents, Republican and Democratic, have done the same thing; but that is also not my topic.  My topic is the reaction to the attempt by the Republican Congress to reverse those orders by attaching legislation to that effect to the bill funding the Department of Homeland Security.

The Democrats, attempting to defend Obama, have accused the Republicans of putting their immigration policy over homeland security, and this accusation has been duly reported.  Fair enough.  What is not mentioned -- ever -- is that Obama, by threatening to veto the bill funding the Department of Homeland Security if it violates his immigration policy, is doing exactly the same thing.  This does not seem to be just an omission in the reporting; the Republicans themselves seem to share this blind spot.  Nor is this merely an example of the press favoring the Democrats; there has been the same bias in the past favoring Republican presidents.

This is like a game of chicken.  It's stupid to say that a collision is the fault of the blue car driver, because he didn't pull off, and is not at all the responsibility of the red car driver, because he had said he would not pull off.

In this case, once again it is the Republicans who have chickened out.

Monday, February 23, 2015

March Madness and Inevitability

Last year I proposed a very simple model that could be used to generate plausible brackets for March Madness under the assumption (not to be taken too seriously) that a team's seeding accurately reflects the team's overall ability.  I will post my predictions for 2015 shortly after Selection Sunday, but in the meantime I have had some fun by simulating 100,000 tournaments to see how often each seeding tends to win.  The results are displayed on the graph above.  About 37.5% of the time, a 1-seed wins the tournament.  In the real world, they win about 62% of the time, so the model needs to be tweaked.  It is interesting that the likelihood of winning drops off approximately exponentially with the seed value, but it is not immediately obvious why that should be.

I have succeeded in tweaking the model to produce more realistic brackets, but sadly at the expense of simplicity.  The difficulty comes in having 1-seeds dominate the championships while still having a reasonable number of early-round upsets.  The tweaked model has a 1-seed winning about 61% of the time, but again it has the odds of bringing home a championships fall exponentially with seed.

Just as importantly, there is a 47% probability that at least one 5-seed will lose to a 12-seed in what I will continue to call the First Round (the NCAA now calls the play-in games the First Round).

As for "inevitability", I find that it is easy to come up with story lines for the brackets I am generating.  For example, Cinderellas emerge and go deep in the tournament only to suffer heartbreaking losses late.  A team "gets hot at the right time" or "was snubbed by the committee" -- except I know that in my model that the committee was right about which teams were better and which worse, and it is only by luck that anyone but a 1-seed wins a championship.  This no doubt happens all the time in real sports, which is why sometimes the NCAA Tournament winner did not win their conference tournament.  

It happens in history and in life, too.  I'm not one to dismiss the guiding hand of God in earthly affairs, but we have a strong tendency to misunderstand that and pretend that issues were never really in doubt, or even that the future is not really in doubt, because we know how "the story" is supposed to go.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Rosa Parks a Bigger Threat Than ISIS?

Bigger Threat Than ISIS?
DHS warns of domestic left-wing terror threat
The U.S. government says these are extremists who believe they can ignore laws and that their individual rights are under attack in routine daily instances, such as a bus ride.
Wait, that's not right.  The story actually says the threat comes from the right wing, and that "individual rights are under attack in routine daily instances, such as a traffic stop."  I guess this means that Obama is a right-wing extremist now?  It's an odd story to come out during the month -- proudly observed by CNN! -- that celebrates Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks for "ignoring laws" and "saying their individual rights [were] under attack in routine daily instances."

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Don't Steal the Hotel's Towels?


Actually, I've never been tempted to steal hotel towels, but this story reminds me of one time I sneaked them out of the hotel.  In 2011, I attended the March Meeting of the American Physical Society, which that year was held in Dallas.  I had lived near Dallas not long before this, so I welcomed the opportunity for a return visit.  

Sadly, the hotel I had booked for the whole week -- a member of a mid-priced chain at which I had never had any previous problems -- was, to put it very kindly, shabby.  One look at the sheets told me I wanted no physical contact with them; fortunately, there was a Walmart nearby, so I bought a sleeping bag.

The hotel's towels were no better.  They were thin and not very clean-looking, so I bought a package of white wash cloths and took them to a local laundromat, where I washed them along with the larger towels I had smuggled out of the hotel.  After a cycle in the washer with some bleach, they all looked clean enough to use.  Of course I left them, along with the wash cloths I had bought, so I didn't subtract towels -- I added them.  Likewise, I didn't have room in my luggage for a sleeping bag, so I left that, too, with a note that the cleaning staff could keep it.

And no, I don't use that chain any more.