Thursday, November 29, 2012

Islands in the dark

Just today I was introduced to this tidbit of philosophical poetry from the 6th century. It struck me as interesting how the concepts of things such as good and evil are presented as elements of a pattern that might be thought of as following some set of physical laws.   Even after two hundred years of the dark ages had perverted civilization in Europe the beauty derived from a shadow of the concept of a deistic god provoked verse.  Europe would remain in the dark ages for another eight hundred years before the ideas in this fragment of poetry could openly bear fruit.

  From Anicius Manlius Severinus Boëthius's Consolatio Philosophiae written in the year 524.  Translated by H.F Stewart and E. K. Rand in 1918. 

Consolatio Philosophiae
Si uis celsi iura tonantis
Pura sollers cernere mente,
Aspice summi culmina caeli.
Illic iusto foedere rerum
Veterem seruant sidera pacem.                                            
Non sol rutilo concitus igne
Gelidum Phoebes impedit axem
Nec quae summo uertice mundi
Flectit rapidos Vrsa meatus.
Numquam occiduo lota profundo                                            
Cetera cernens sidera mergi
Cupit oceano tingere flammas.
Semper uicibus temporis aequis
Vesper seras nuntiat umbras
Reuehitque diem Lucifer almum.                                           
Sic aeternos reficit cursus
Alternus amor, sic astrigeris
Bellum discors exulat oris.
Haec concordia temperat aequis
Elementa modis, ut pugnantia                                            
Vicibus cedant umida siccis
Iungantque fidem frigora flammis
Pendulus ignis surgat in altum
Terraeque graues pondere sidant.
Isdem causis uere tepenti                                              
Spirat florifer annus odores,
Aestas Cererem feruida siccat,
Remeat pomis grauis autumnus,
Hiemem defluus inrigat imber.
Haec temperies alit ac profert                                           
Quidquid uitam spirat in orbe.
Eadem rapiens condit et aufert
Obitu mergens orta supremo.
      If thou would'st see
    God's laws with purest mind,
    Thy sight on heaven must fixéd be,
  Whose settled course the stars in peace doth bind.
      The sun's bright fire
    Stops not his sister's team,
    Nor doth the northern bear desire
  Within the ocean's wave to hide her beam.
      Though she behold
    The other stars there couching,
    Yet she uncessantly is rolled
  About high heaven, the ocean never touching.
      The evening light
    With certain course doth show
    The coming of the shady night,
  And Lucifer before the day doth go.
      This mutual love
    Courses eternal makes,
    And from the starry spheres above
  All cause of war and dangerous discord takes.
      This sweet consent
    In equal bands doth tie
    The nature of each element,
  So that the moist things yield unto the dry,
      The piercing cold
    With flames doth friendship keep,
    The trembling fire the highest place doth hold,
  And the gross earth sinks down into the deep.
      The flowery year
    Breathes odours in the spring
    The scorching summer corn doth bear,
  The autumn fruit from laden trees doth bring.
      The falling rain
    Doth winter's moisture give.
    These rules thus nourish and maintain
  All creatures which we see on earth to live. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The plural of anecdote [is | is not] data

I like stories, and many people I know like stories. You can make a story by gluing together a bunch of related observations. Polish spurious details out of a story with a little context and it can become a metaphor.

Anecdotes are stories that are either: “real and interesting” or “hearsay and unreliable”. Recently I have taken note of the term anecdote being defined both ways in the same talk. Somehow calling a story an anecdote tells you something about the story, but what it tells you depends on something external to the term “anecdote”.

The telling and understanding of stories has been a defining element of human culture possibly dating back to before the emergence of Homo sapiens. How to handle the information in a story can be a defining element of personality, and so the telling of stories stitches a person to a culture.

Anthropologists have used the collected stories of selected cultures to describe important aspects of them. We look to collected stories about happenings in our society to understand its culture, and we often call those stories anecdotes. In this freshly bedded election candidates threw anecdotes around like facts in order to persuade the listeners to invest in their understanding of our culture.

As human civilization has developed the ability to handle information and facts has matured. Though there is still a need for anecdotes we now have “data” and “theories” that themselves are parts of a self-referential context for our cultural understanding.

“The plural of anecdote is data” -- Raymond Wolfinger 1969

The idea that collected anecdotes can comprise a data set is enticingly simple. This definition places stories into a modern context. In much the same way that we can define information content of a particular datum we might be able to quantitatively asses the cultural relevance of an anecdote. This definition even puts the competing definitions of anecdote into place. There is good data and bad data just as there are real and unreliable anecdotes.

I particularly like the Wolfinger’s definition of anecdote as it bridges the divide between a modern understanding of culture and a primitive sitting-around-the-campfire-eating-partially-burnt-gazelle approach to culture. I cannot immediately picture most English majors I have known sitting around a campfire ripping chunks of crispy meat off of a freshly killed gazelle haunch , but the definition also helps to bridge an understanding of cultural relevance between humanities and the sciences. I suppose the definition could be viewed as a good will gesture between mutually misunderstanding branches of study equivalent to the “welcome to our fire” handshake still slippery with the fat of the successful hunt.

Wolfinger is a well-known political scientist who first crafted the definition as a rejoinder to a student of his who was dismissing a piece of data as “just an anecdote”.

"I said 'The plural of anecdote is data' some time in the 1969-70 academic year while teaching a graduate seminar at Stanford. The occasion was a student's dismissal of a simple factual statement -- by another student or me -- as a mere anecdote.” -- Raymond Wolfinger

Many of my readers will immediately identify Wolfinger’s definition as being the opposite of the popular saying that:

“The plural of anecdote is not data” -- Frank Kotsonis or Roger Brinner

It is interesting to note that these competing sayings may have been in informal use long before the time of reliably preserved memories of their usage. In other words there are anecdotal accounts of their use that predate the cited first uses (and the citations I have found for first use are sketchy).

Though I like Wolfinger’s definition because it is simply true the Kotsonis and Brinner’s saying is more accurate.

Data is information that can be used for a purpose. Usually this purpose is formal representation of something. By formal I mean quantitative through the application of specific measures of relevance, but in practice these can be abstracted to some informal description of a representative connection.

At best anecdotes can be representative data elements within a population that describe something similar to the “mode”or median in elementary statistics. They can also be descriptions of other statistical elements; like outliers or even unrelated elements. At worst they are stories designed to misrepresent the population from which they are pulled.

This can be well illustrated by using anecdote as an adjective. Picture a report of a “median income” figure from a state. The idea of median tells you something about the population of the state. Now imagine a report describing an “anecdotal income”. The larger the population the anecdotal figure is drawn from the less actual information it conveys about the population.

Now picture the word “random” similarly used as an adjective. A random income figure from a population says more about the population than an anecdotal figure. The plural of random information is data. Anecdotes are not randomly derived so having many of them does not comprise a data set; at least not a useful data set.

Because of the cognitive bias of the human mind an anecdote over-represents any population it is pulled from. In essence anecdotes are multiplied in the mind until the data set is re-constructed by this clonally derived plural. An anecdote is selected on the basis of some bias (even if that bias is as seemingly innocuous as “being interesting”) and multiplying the anecdote amplifies that selection bias.

“Anecdotes are not selected at random or they would just be data”

Monday, November 12, 2012

Come Home Soon

Today is the day that the people of the United States officially celebrate the service of all those who have ever honorably worn the uniform of one of its armed forces.

Thank you for your service.

An American soldier follows orders that are conceived from mission plans which in turn come from strategies devised to achieve the will of the population of our democratic republic. We all must shoulder the responsibility for the decisions that make young people soldiers, but only the soldiers shoulder the risks when they are put into harms way.

Veteran’s day was grafted as an American observance onto Armistice day following World War Two. Armistice Day marks the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month as that is the time (Paris time) that the armistice marking the end of World War One (The War to End All Wars) took effect. Veterans day is observed on the first Monday after Armistice Day as it is always better to do things with the day off work.

Because of its origins in the international day of celebrating the end of World War One it is not too surprising that one poem that gets trotted out more than most for this ocation was written by a British poet who died on 23 April 1915 en route to Gallipoli at the height of World War One.

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England's, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.

And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

“The soldier” by Rupert Chawner Brooke

Brooke would die aboard a ship; his body wrecked by dysentery and sepsis. There was no “Rich Earth” or “Flowers to Love” where he died.

Brooke’s close friend William Denis Browne attended his death. William was a British composer and pianist who knew of Rupert’s desire to be buried in the earth. William took Rupert’s body ashore at Skyros, and had him buried in an Olive grove there. William would die at Gallipoli on June 4th.

Today thousands of veterans have returned home from conflicts old and new. Today many more of them return home “only” wounded. Today the American soldier is more likely to take his own life than to have been killed in conflict with an enemy.

Too often when two veterans meet for the first time the only conversation they have is: “Where and for how long?” Though this might be more pronounced amongst former frontline grunts the veteran who simply affixed missiles to a drone in some distant base will also see something in the fleeting distance as if part of their poetry was washed away with blood.

Ironically we remember only Rupert’s death wishes as they relate to his being a soldier. It is as if we have heard his poem a hundred times, and only asked: “Where and for how long?” Rupert may have died before his thirtieth birthday, but he lived his life more fully in that time than could be captured in describing his few short months in the Royal Navy.

O dear my loves, O faithless, once again
This one last gift I give: that after men
Shall know, and later lovers, far-removed,
Praise you, "All these were lovely"; say, "He loved."

from “The Great Lover” by Rupert Chawner Brooke

On occasions like today it is a great pleasure to say “Thank you for your service” to our veterans. However, on every day it is a greater pleasure to be able to say “Welcome Home!”, and when asked to remember those who have not made it home I would rather say “He (or She) Loved!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Bob Crandall

On August 14th miners from the Century coal mine near Beallsville Ohio were told by their employer that attendance of a political rally for Mitt Romney was mandatory. The mine they worked at was shuttered for the day, and the not-so-subtly implied threat was that there would never work for them at the mine if they were discovered to have not attended the Romney rally.  Exactly five years earlier another mine owned by one of Robert E. Murray’s companies was also shuttered. On Monday, August 6, 2007, at 2:48 A.M. the Crandall Canyon mine near Huntington Utah suffered a collapse that trapped six miners; on August 14th the mine was still swarming with increasingly despondent rescuers.

In 2007 Bobb E. Murray was the figurehead of several mining companies that were being fused into a continuous coal mining operation that leveraged techniques to maximize profitable production from the mines; they were able to lap up existing operations, and whip them back into profitability. Accident rates at Murray-owned mines were often several times the national average for comparable mines. In 2003 just one of his mines in Kentucky earned Murray’s company (in this case KenAmerican Resources) a total of $306,000 in fines.

I take the safety of my miners to bed with me every night." – Robert E. Murray to the Columbus Dispatch years before 50 Shades of Gray was published.

Murray’s company had only owned the Crandall mine for a few months when it collapsed, and so his group had only amassed $12,000 in fines. This was undoubtedly a small amount in comparison to the increased profit the new mining techniques at Crandall were bringing in.

Though it is not new to the world retreat mining was apparently new to the Crandall mine. They had been removing the coal using a method called Room and Pillar where columns of coal are left behind to hold up the roof. In retreat mining miners go in and take out the columns of coal.

On August 6th 2007 a large section of the roof collapsed causing a large bump. So much material moved that it registered 3.9 on the Richter sale to local seismographs.

Bob Murray contributes large amounts of money to political figures. He testifies on safety matters. He influences the tenure of mine safety bureaucrats. Of all the candidates he has supported Mitt Romney was one of his favorites. He was emotionally driven to get his miners to the rally this august.

In his August 2007 appearances he was also described as emotional. He was also described as “Angry” and “Rambling” and “Melting down”. Pictures from one of his post collapse press conferences for the families of the trapped miners show him tracing the path of mock tears on his face with his fingers. Though Murray was emotional at the collapse conference he was not attune to the emotions of those to whom he was speaking. He was described as “Callous” and “Damaging”.

Murray seized upon the 3.9 seismographic reading. He insisted that it was a natural earthquake, and promised proof. He never suggested that a natural earthquake might have aftershocks (or might be a preshock) that would endanger the rescuers. Apparently the insistence from all scientific sources that the characteristics of the seismograph readings were those of a mine bump not a natural earthquake were good enough when determining the safety of his workers; it only fell short when it came to blame-shifting.

Murray's political efforts do not end at supporting political candidates. He attacked the notion of climate change and Al Gore by prophesizing: “the destruction of American lives and more death as a result of his hysterical global goofiness with no environmental benefit." as a result of cap-and-trade. Hillary Clinton was “Anti-American”.

On August 16th 2007 the Crandall mine suffered another collapse. Three resue workers were killed, and six more wounded. The bodies of the three rescue workers were recovered, but the bodies of the initial six trapped miners still remain in the mine.

Murray’s company was levied over $1 million in fines as a result of the Crandall collapse. The fines were appealed for years, and on September 27th 2012 settled with the Federal government on the last of the fines to a tune of $1.1 million.

Murray still maintains that the bump was caused by a natural earthquake, but has yet to produce any of his promised evidence. All of the geologists who have examined the seismographic data have declared that it was a product of the bump, and not the cause.

A few weeks after settling on the fines Murray’s candidate for president was defeated.

The day after the election Murray fired about 150 workers. About two-thirds (105) of them had worked in Utah.

In addition to the pink slip the fired miners were given a copy of Murray’s “Prayer for America” that explained the motivation for the action.

Here is the text of Murray’s “Prayer for America”:

Dear Lord:

The American people have made their choice. They have decided that America must change its course, away from the principals of our Founders. And, away from the idea of individual freedom and individual responsibility. Away from capitalism, economic responsibility, and personal acceptance.

We are a Country in favor of redistribution, national weakness and reduced standard of living and lower and lower levels of personal freedom.

My regret, Lord, is that our young people, including those in my own family, never will know what America was like or might have been. They will pay the price in their reduced standard of living and, most especially, reduced freedom.

The takers outvoted the producers. In response to this, I have turned to my Bible and in II Peter, Chapter 1, verses 4-9 it says, “To faith we are to add goodness; to goodness, knowledge; to knowledge, self control; to self control, perseverance; to perseverance, godliness; to godliness, kindness; to brotherly kindness, love.”

Lord, please forgive me and anyone with me in Murray Energy Corp. for the decisions that we are now forced to make to preserve the very existence of any of the enterprises that you have helped us build. We ask for your guidance in this drastic time with the drastic decisions that will be made to have any hope of our survival as an American business enterprise.


Many right-wing religious nut-jobs are angrily despondent over the re-election of POTUS Obama. My look-alike -Glenn Beck- has advised his listeners to buy up farmland and guns.

Ted Nugent, who owns lots of farmland and guns, suggests that "Pimps and Whores" " hav a president to destroy America".  I think he was talking about Glenn. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Election 2012

I don’t think a single candidate I voted for won last night’s elections. I did not expect them to win; though it would have been nice if my presidential candidate had gotten at least 1% of the popular vote.  Despite this overwhelming loss I’m happy the way things turned out in many of the elections.

If Florida is not decided in the next year could we just carry over the votes to the 2014 elections?

Some of my co-workers are physically ill at the result from the re-election of Barak Obama. One man ushered me out of his office after tears welled up in his eyed when he mentioned that Mitt Romeny lost. It was as if saying it suddenly made it real to him.

It looks like Romney carried Utah by less than a three-to-one margin [73% Romney 25% Obama]. There must be a major liberal wave washing over Utah.

The communists-taking-over-everyone-looses-there-jobs-mandatory-gay marriage rhetoric will surely subside as Thursday dawns without a zombie apocalypse. Several people have pointed out that the world will be ending just before Christmas anyway. I almost wish it were legal to hand out emergency Prozac just to help everyone through this apparently rough stretch of life.

There were two races I had mentioned earlier. Neither of the two candidates I mentioned won.

There is no Love in congress; at least not from Utah. Though Mia Love may not have been the African-American statesman that Allan West was she was able to get millions of dollars to finance her campaign for congress. I hope people simply wondered what the mayor of a tiny outer-burbia town would bring to Washington. Her failed campaign cost more than the operating budget of her town.

Dick Jones lost his bid for Granite School Board 1 by about the same margin Obama lost the Utah’s Electoral College votes. I kinda wonder how anyone could cast a vote for him. Perhaps they had a bottle of Purell in their pocket?

I am happy about outcomes in the rest of the nation. However, I wonder if more contests would have gone favorably if I had published a set of endorsements. I will have to think about that for 2016; assuming the world and this blog are still around then.