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Since I Never Get the Last Word

Thursday, May 25, 2006
Reuters and Math: Leaves Something To Be Desired?

This morning’s news produced this item giving me my sense that all is correct and good in the world of news reporting, a craft close cousin to writing history.

Sexual harassment "widespread" in armed forces

LONDON (Reuters) May 25, 2006

Around eight percent of the armed forces are women, with the highest proportion, 8.9 percent, in the Royal Air Force…

…The research found 15 percent of the 9,384 respondents said they had suffered a "particularly upsetting" experience and 67 percent had personally been on the receiving end of sexualised behaviour.

More than half found the behaviour offensive…

From the first paragraph we learn that there are many, many agencies in the UK’s Armed Forces and around 8% of the folk who comprise thosearmed forcesare female. We know there are many agencies because the agency with the highest percentage of females is the Air Force which has 8.9%. One concludes there are least 11 other agencies in the Armed Forces (91.1% divided by 8.8) for a total of at least 12 agencies. I know of the Army and the Navy but have no clue what the other nine might be. Or, anotherpossible interpretation is that all the females are in the Air Force.

According to one source, the UK has an Armed Force, active and reserve, of 267,000 people. 8% of that number is 21,360 females. Of that number, 9384 responded to the survey,. 44%

Now, 15% of the respondents had bad experiences. That’s 1400 women.

Now, we have a choice to make. Either 67% of those 1400 women had personally been on the receiving end of sexualized behavior or 67% of the 9384 had been on the receiving end of such behavior. I would think that it makes a difference to the scope of the problem. 67% of 9384 (6288) is is more than 6 orders of magnitude a greater problem than 67% of 1400 women.

Another choice to be made: is it more than half of the total number of women in the Armed Forces who found the behavior unpleasant or is it more than half of the respondents to the survey or more than half of the number I tried to determine in the paragraph preceding this one? So, 4693 women or 3145 women or 470 women found the behavior offensive. A couple orders of magnitude difference there, too.

What’s even more fun to me is that some number of women, almost half, didn’t find it offensive! That's an amazing assumption to leave on the table, isn't it? At any rate, those are the onesI want to share a foxhole with.

Iintend attacking neither the nature nor the seriousness of the problem. I am just astounded at the fuzziness of the reporting, a fuzziness that diminishes both the nature and the seriousness of the problem.

Posted by Dan Bieger 2006-05-25 08:15:26

Wednesday, May 24, 2006
Dan Brown Has Nothing On Me

It is very easy to develop conspiracy theories. For example, here is a paragraph from today’s blurb on This Day in History identifying the death of Copernicus as occurring on May 24th, 1543.. The bold, italicized notation is mine.

“Prior to the publication of his major astronomical work, "Six Books Concerning the Revolutions of the Heavenly Orbs," in 1543, European astronomers argued that Earth lay at the center of the universe, the view also held by most ancient philosophers and biblical writers. In addition to correctly postulating the order of the known planets, including Earth, from the sun, and estimating their orbital periods relatively accurately, Copernicus argued that Earth turned daily on its axis and that gradual shifts of this axis accounted for the changing seasons.” http://www.historychannel.com/tdih/tdih.jsp?category=general&month=10272957&day=10272989

The author of that blurb either failed to accomplish minimal research, merely copied from a history book of the 50s or 60s, or intentionally continued the myth surrounding the knowledge available to Copernicus and other educated folk of his time, before his time, and after his time. The author conveniently ignores the fact Copernicus cited in those six books earlier sources as the basis for his own understanding. What knowledge was available? Consider Wikepedia’s assessment:

“Much has been written about earlier heliocentric theories. Early traces of a heliocentric model are found in several Vedic Sanskrit texts composed in ancient India before the 7th century BC: the Vedas, Aitareya Brahmana and Shatapatha Brahmana. The 1st century Sanskrit commentary Vishnu Purana elaborates on these earlier heliocentric concepts. Philolaus (4th century BC) was also one of the first to hypothesize movement of the Earth, probably inspired by Pythagoras' theories about a spherical Globe.

Aristarchus of Samos in the 3rd century BC had developed some theories of Heraclides Ponticus (speaking of a revolution by Earth on its axis) to propose what was, so far as is known, the first serious model of a heliocentric solar system. His work about a heliocentric system has not survived, so one may only speculate about what led him to his conclusions. It is notable that, according to Plutarch, a contemporary of Aristarchus accused him of impiety for "putting the Earth in motion."

Aryabhata in India anticipated Copernicus' discoveries by over 1,000 years and formulated a heliocentric model in which the Earth was taken to be spinning on its axis and the periods of the Earth and the planets were given with respect to a stationary Sun. He was also the first to discover that the light from the Moon and the planets were reflected from the Sun, and that the planets follow an elliptical orbit around the Sun. The 14th-century Arab astronomer ibn al-Shatir developed mathematical techniques similar to those used by Copernicus, and it has been suggested that Copernicus might have been influenced by them.

Copernicus cited Aristarchus and Philolaus in an early manuscript of his book which survives, stating: "Philolaus believed in the mobility of the earth, and some even say that Aristarchus of Samos was of that opinion." For reasons unknown (although possibly out of reluctance to quote pre-Christian sources), he did not include this passage in the publication of his book. Inspiration came to Copernicus not from observation of the planets, but from reading two authors. In Cicero he found an account of the theory of Hicetas. Plutarch provided an account of the Pythagoreans Heraclides Ponticus, Philolaus, and Ecphantes. These authors had proposed a moving earth that revolved around a central sun. Copernicus did not attribute his inspiration to Aristarchus as is sometimes stated. When Copernicus' book was published, it contained an unauthorized preface by the Lutheran theologian Andreas Osiander. This cleric stated that Copernicus wrote his heliocentric account of the earth's movement as a mere mathematical hypothesis, not as an account that contained truth or even probability. This was apparently written to soften any religious backlash against the book, but there is no evidence that Copernicus considered the heliocentric model as merely mathematically convenient, separate from reality. Copernicus' hypothesis contradicted the account of the sun's movement around the earth that appears in the Old Testament (Joshua 10:13).

It has been argued that in developing the mathematics of heliocentrism Copernicus drew on, not just the Greek, but the Islamic tradition of mathematics and astronomy, especially the works of Nasir al-Din Tusi, Mu’ayyad al-Din al-‘Urdi and ibn al-Shatir “



The conspiracy I construct requires all significant knowledge to be Eurocentric. Thus, Western historians can ignore Eratosthene’s measurement of the Earth’s circumference 200 years B.C. Measuring a circumference means the person performing the measurement understands the object under study to be spherical. While Aristotle speculated on the spherical nature of the Earth, Eratosthenes believed in it enough to fairly accurately measure what the size of the Earth might be. 300 years later, Pliny the Elder knew of Eratosthenes’ measurement. And 1500 years later, Copernicus had access to the material.

Here’s a nice conspiratorial question: why did Copernicus, living in land-locked Poland, have access to this material and no one else did? Did he discover a hidden treasure buried beneath the Collegiate Church of the Holy Cross? If so, why was it buried there? Copernicus went to schools and studied with real people. He had real teachers and real classmates who also must have had access to the material. Thus, it wasn’t a quantum leap from no knowledge to a working model of the universe; it was disciplined scholarship. This takes nothing away from the man; he had the courage to publish his findings.

The obvious question is what happened to all this knowledge whilst the Dark Ages played out? Who needed it to disappear? An answer is available and it makes for a fine conspiracy, a conspiracy being continued today through maintenance of the necessary myths, such as “European astronomers argued that Earth lay at the center of the universe, the view also held by most ancient philosophers and biblical writers.”

Posted by Dan Bieger 2006-05-24 09:29:55

Tuesday, May 23, 2006
A Plague of Commas On Your House

Before me, on my desk, are three books purporting to explain to me everything I never wanted to know about commas. Let me state up front that I believe commas are necessary to good writing but I cannot seem to develop any affection for the beasts. If I could understand them, then perhaps I could develop a relationship with the little devils but understanding commas is very much like attempting to understand certain politicians and heads of state: you know it is theoretically possible but you cannot shake the suspicion it is probably not worth the effort.

In her book, Margaret Shertzer provides 31 rules for commas. Diana Hacker – what a lovely name for a grammarian – provides ten dos and seven don’ts. But, engineers beware! Shertzer is prone to statements such as “the use of the comma after phrases and clauses at the beginning of a sentence is not an arbitrary requirement.” Contrast that statement with Hacker’s second rule: “use a comma after an introductory clause.” Lynne Truss only identifies seven rules in her book, the title of which directly addresses the comma problem. She, at least, has the most useful of all comma rules: “don’t use commas like a stupid person,”

With the most assiduous self-analysis, when it comes to commas, I cannot claim for certain that I am not a stupid person. Consequently, I am contemplating a new plan. When writing a story, I will remove all the commas I think necessary and place them at the beginning of the prose. Then, the reader can use this supply of commas to demarcate the text wherever the reader believes it necessary. This seems no more bizarre to me than e.e. cummings refusal to employ capitalization. Hence:

Available commas: ,,,,,,,,,

“Of course I expected something to happen. HNN does a story and something is bound to happen.” The speaker male middle aged first tinges of grey showing at his temples has a whining quality to his voice that makes him even more irritable than his topic.

“Well then Arnie what’s your problem?” She should have known better; she’d been his live-in for more than three years. All that experience should have been brought to bear but she wasn’t really dialed in to this conversation; they’d had it too many times before. Predictably Arnie exploded.

There, now,that seems a reasonable compromise.

The Elements of Grammar, The Essential Guide to Refining and Improving Grammar, Margaret Shertzer, MacMillan Publishing Co, 1986

Rules for Writers, Fourth Edition, Diana Hacker, Bedford, St. Martin’s, 2000

Eats, Shoots & Leaves, The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation, Lynne Truss, Gotham Books, 2003

Posted by Dan Bieger 2006-05-23 09:37:43

Monday, May 22, 2006
People Moving

Using 1997 data, the most visited country on Earth was France. She hosted nearly 67 million visitors that year. The next closest was the US with nearly 48 million visitors followed by Spain with more than 43 million. That means that France took in more than 10% of the available tourist dollars.

The US spends more moneyadvertising tourism than any other country while France is in the number 5 position with respect to tourism spending. Germany spends almost as much as the US but ranks 13th in tourists. Brazil ranks 15th in spending but has yet to crack the top 15 in number of tourists hosted. I suppose there must be a relationship between product and marketing success but it’s hard to develop from this data. The top tourist countries in order were France, USA, Spain, Italy, UK, China, Poland, Mexico, Canada, Hungary, Czech Republic, Austria, Germany, Russia and Switzerland. The big advertising spenders were USA, Germany, Japan, UK. Italy, France, Canada, Austria, Netherlands, China, Russia, Belgium, Switzerland, Poland, and Brazil. Kind of surprisingdata.

On the other hand, 28.9% of the 1999 population of Boznia and Herzegovina were refugees. 15.6% of Yugoslavia’s population and 14.9% of Sierra Leone’s were refugees. In hard numbers, Iran hosted the most refugees; they had 1.836M refugees compared to Boznia/Herzegovina’s 1.109M and the US’ 1.093M. Germany had 1.239M refugees in 1999. The top 15 countries hosting refugee population had 14M refugees to worry over.

Excluding refugees, during the 1990s, 112.5M people migrated from one place to another. The US received 21% of that number, Europe 22% and Asia 34%. During the 1990s, Australia's population included more than 20% immigrants while the US and UK populations included 5-10% immigrants. During the 1990s, almost 2% of the world’s population shifted from one place to another.

In the interest of good sf, suppose that all people on the Earth decided to get together in one spot. We could get everyone into Phoenix, and its surrounding areas. Phoenix occupies @450 square miles and we would need - assuming 4 square feet per person and 6.6B people, 947 square miles. We couldn't feed them or supply water but we could get them all standing there. Now, if we did that, got all those people together like that, would anyone know what to say to their neighbors?

Posted by Dan Bieger 2006-05-22 11:08:05

Saturday, May 20, 2006
Significant Day in History

My long ago history teachers attempted to drum into my head that some days are more important than others and – every now and then – The History Channel manages to convince me they were correct. For instance, this day, May 20th, is more important than most other days because on May 20th in 1873 Levi Stauss patented Jacob Davis’ system of copper riveting the major stress points on Straus’ canvas pants. The canvas gave way to blue denim and the blue denim pants became the Levis I grew up wearing. I still wear them. No other pants that I ever owned, including all those things the US Army required me to wear, including the Bermuda shorts,have ever matched up to the comfort and durability of my Levis.

So, mark this day, May 20th, down as one of the more important – to me – days in history.

Posted by Dan Bieger 2006-05-20 10:56:18

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