Guns’n’Gladioli

Front cover of A Light That Never Goes Out by Tony FletcherA Light That Never Goes Out: The Enduring Saga of the Smiths, Tony Fletcher (Windmill Books 2013)

Coke, booze, earsplitting volume. Not a combination you associate with the Smiths. But it was there, as you’ll learn from this book. Towards the end, they were almost turning into Guns’n’Gladioli. Morrissey, of course, was the odd one out: he wasn’t battering his brain-cells with drink and drugs on their final American tour. But back home his Lichtmusik was also lout-music: the Smiths didn’t just appeal to bedsit miserabilists in rain-hammered humdrum towns. No, they appealed to some football hooligans too, including a Chelsea fan who didn’t mind being asked, “You still wanking off over that miserable northern poof?” as he travelled north by train to do battle with Manchester United and Manchester City, who also supplied hoolifans to the Smiths (pp. 509-10). So did football clubs in Glasgow and Edinburgh. The Smiths are easy to caricature, but the caricatures don’t capture their complexity.

Tony Fletcher does capture it: the band, their music, their fans, friends, producers, studio-engineers and record-labels. He’s definitely a Guardianista, but his prose is plodding rather than painful and he does a good job of putting the poof and his partners into context. The 1980s is one important part of that context. So are Irish Catholicism and Manchester. When you look at pictures of the Smiths, you can see two clear divisions. One of them separates the singer, guitarist and drummer from the bassist: the dark-haired, bushy-browed, strong-faced Morrissey, Johnny Marr and Andy Rourke clearly belong to one race and the light-haired, lesser-browed, milder-faced Mike Joyce to another. They’re Irish and he’s English: the British Isles are rich in language and rich in biology too. But Morrissey’s height and handsomeness also separate him from Marr, Rourke and Joyce, like his polysyllabic name. Both must be related to his intelligence, his creativity and his ability to turn himself into the Pope of Mope and become much more famous than any of the other three. Fletcher doesn’t talk about this biology – as I said, he’s a Guardianista – but it’s implicit in his descriptions of Irish settlement in Manchester and of Morrissey’s genius.

Mozza with some flora and fauna

Mozza with some flora and fauna

Is that too strong a word? Maybe. Morrissey is certainly the interesting and original one in this book and it ends with his story only just beginning. You can feel the tug of his later career throughout the book: it’s not discussed, but you know it’s there. But Fletcher isn’t concentrating on Morrissey and doesn’t seem very interested in Carry On and Brit-film in the 1960s, so he’s less good on what might be called the Smythos: the world created by Morrissey in his lyrics and interviews. Morrissey’s influences are better explained in Simon Goddard’s Mozipedia (2009), which isn’t just about the New York Dolls, the Cockney Rejects and vegetarianism. It has also entries for everyone from Hawtrey and Housman to Williams and Wilde by way of Sandy Shaw, Shelagh Delaney and Jobriath. No-one will ever devote an encyclopaedia to Marr like that: music doesn’t have as much meaning and metaphor in it. It has emotion and beauty instead and Fletcher is good at describing how Marr created a lot of both on albums like Meat Is Murder and Strangeways Here We Come.

Front cover of Mozipedia by Simon Goddard

Front cover of Mozipedia by Simon Goddard

I’ve never liked him much, though. I like what he did with the guitar and in the studio, but I don’t like what he did to his body and mind. Or what he put on his body: he didn’t have Mozza’s way with weeds either. In the photos, you can clearly see Morrissey’s narcissism and Marr’s weediness. It’s no surprise that Marr smoked a lot of marijuana, preferred working at night and didn’t eat properly. But he’s weedy in more ways than the physical: there’s also a photo of him with Billy Bragg, the committed socialist behind Red Wedge. This was a collective of musicians and bands who wanted to make the world a better place by fighting Fatcher, fascism and free speech with their fantastic music. Morrissey had his lefty opinions too, but he didn’t like collectives and he didn’t scorn just Margaret Thatcher and the Queen: Bob Geldof and Live Aid got the sharp side of his tongue too. Which is good. Mozza is worshipped by Guardianistas, but he’s not a Guardianista himself.

Or not wholly. The hive-mind hasn’t been able to hum him fully into line, unlike Marr and Bragg. As for Rourke and Joyce: their politics don’t matter and the most interesting thing one of them does in this book is get stung by a sting-ray (pp. 539-40). They were competent musicians, but they weren’t essential to the Smiths. Joyce is most important for causing trouble, not for strumming his bass: first there was the heroin addiction, then the 21st-century court-case in which he sued for more money and earnt Morrissey’s undying enmity. Fletcher barely mentions the court-case and ends the book in the 1980s, with the Smiths exhausted, antagonistic and unfulfilled. They never achieved their full potential and though few bands do, few bands have had more to offer than the Smiths. The Beatles were one and managed to offer it from the nearby northern city of Liverpool. They were Irish Catholic too. But, like the Smiths, they achieved success in England, not Ireland. That’s important and the younger band captured it in their name. “Smiths” is an Anglo-Saxon word with ancient roots and difficult phonetics. It seems simple, but it isn’t. Rather like light.

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Think Ink

Front cover of 50 Quantum Physics Ideas You Really Need to Know by Joanne Baker50 Quantum Physics Ideas You Really Need to Know, Joanne Baker (Quercus 2013)

A very good introduction to a very difficult subject. A very superficial introduction too, because it doesn’t use proper mathematics. If it did, I’d be lost: like most people’s, my maths is far too weak for me to understand quantum physics. Here’s one of the side-quotes that help make this book such an interesting read: “We must be clear that when it comes to atoms, language can be used only as in poetry.”

That’s by the Jewish-Danish physicist Niels Bohr (1885-1962). It applies to quantum physics in general. Without the full maths, you’re peering through a frost-covered window into a sweetshop, you’re not inside sampling the wares. But even without the full maths, the concepts and ideas in this book are still difficult and challenging, from the early puzzles thrown up by the ultra-violet catastrophe to the ingenious experiments that have proved particle-wave duality and action at a distance.

But there’s a paradox here.

Continue reading: Think Ink

Bri’ on the Sky

Front cover of Wonders of the Solar System by Brian Cox and Andrew Cohen

Bri’ Eyes the Sky

Wonders of the Solar System, Professor Brian Cox and Andrew Cohen (Collins 2010)

One of the most powerful images in this book is also one of the most understated. It’s an artist’s impression of a dim star seen over the curve of a dwarf-planet called Sedna. The star is a G-type called Sol. We on Earth know it better as the sun. Sedna is a satellite of the sun too, but it’s much, much further out than we are. It takes 12,000 years to complete a single orbit and its surface is a biophobic -240°C. It’s so distant that sunrise is star-rise and it wasn’t discovered until 2003. But the sun’s gravity still keeps it in place: one of the weakest forces in nature is one of the most influential. That’s one important message in an understated, crypto-Lovecraftian image.

Sedna has been there, creeping around its dim mother-star, since long before man evolved. It will still be there long after man disappears, voluntarily or otherwise. This frozen dwarf is a good symbol of the vastness of the universe and its apparent indifference to life. We don’t seem to interest the universe at all, but the universe certainly interests us. Wonders of the Solar System is a good introduction to our tiny corner of it, describing some fundamentals of astronomy with the help of spectacular photographs and well-designed illustrations. You can learn how fusion powers the sun, how Mars lost its atmosphere and how there might be life beneath the frozen surface of Jupiter’s satellite Europa. The text is simple, but not simplistic, though I think the big name on the cover did little of the writing: this book is probably much more Cohen than Cox. Either way, I enjoyed reading the words and not just looking at the pictures, all the way from star-dim Sedna (pp. 26-7) to “Scars on Mars” (pp. 220-1) by way of “The most violent place in the solar system” (pp. 198-9), a.k.a. Jupiter’s gravity-flexed, volcano-pocked satellite Io.

Pockmarked moon -- the Galilean satellite Io

Pockmarked moon — the Galilean satellite Io

Everything described out there is linked to something down here, because that’s how it was done in the television series. Linking the sky with the earth allowed the BBC to film the genial and photogenic physicist Brian Cox in various exotic settings: Hawaii, India, East Africa, Iceland and so on. I’ve not seen any of Cox’s TV-work, but he seems an effective popularizer of science. And the pretty-boy shots here add anthropology to the astronomy. What is the scientific point of Cox striding away in an artistic blur over the Sahara desert (pg. 103), staring soulfully into the distance near the Iguaçu Falls on the Brazilian-Argentine border (pg. 37) or gazing down into the Grand Canyon, hips slung, hands in pockets (pg. 163)? There isn’t a scientific point: the photos are there for his fans, particularly his female ones. He’s a sci-celeb, a geek with chic, and we’re supposed to see the sky through Bri’s eyes.

But he’s also a liberal working for the Bolshevik Broadcasting Corporation, so he’ll be happy with the prominent photo early on: Brian holding protective glasses over the eyes of a dusky-skinned child during a solar eclipse in India. The same simul-scribes’ Wonders of Life (Collins 2013), another book-of-the-BBC-series, opens with a similarly allophilic allophoto: a dusky-skinned Mexican crowned in monarch butterflies. This is narcissistic and patronizing, but the readiness of whites to “Embrace the Other” helps explain science, because science involves looking away from the self, the tribe and the quotidian quest for status and survival. Of course, Cox and Cohen would gasp with horror at the idea of racial differences explaining big things like science and politics. Cox would be sincere in his horror. I’m not so sure about Cohen.

But there are wonders within us as well as without us and though you won’t hear about them on the BBC, the tsunami of HBD, or research into human bio-diversity, is now rolling ashore. It will sweep away almost all of Cox’s and Cohen’s politics, but leave most of their science intact. It isn’t a coincidence that the rings of Saturn were discovered by the Italian Galileo and explained by the Dutchman Huygens and the Italian Cassini, or that the photos of Saturn here were taken by a space-probe launched by white Americans. But the United States has much less money now for space exploration. That’s explained by race too: as the US looks less like its founders, it looks less like a First World nation too. It’s fun to see the world through Bri’s eyes, but he’s careful not to look at everything that’s out there.

Stories and Stars

A story is stranger than a star. Stronger too. What do I mean? I mean that the story has more secrets than a star and holds its secrets more tightly. A full scientific description of a star is easier than a full scientific description of a story. Stars are much more primitive, much closer to the fundamentals of the universe. They’re huge and impressive, but they’re relatively simple things: giant spheres of flaming gas. Mathematically speaking, they’re more compressible: you have to put fewer numbers into fewer formulae to model their behaviour. A universe with just stars in it isn’t very complex, as you would expect from the evolution of our own universe. There were stars in it long before there were stories.

A universe with stories in it, by contrast, is definitely complex. This is because stories depend on language and language is the scientific mother-lode, the most difficult and important problem of all. Or rather, the human brain is. The human brain understands a lot about stars, despite their distance, but relatively little about itself, despite brains being right on the spot. Consciousness is a tough nut to crack, for example. Perhaps it’s uncrackable. Language looks easier, but linguistics is still more like stamp-collecting than science. We can describe the structure of language in detail – use labels like “pluperfect subjunctive”, “synecdoche”, “bilabial fricative” and so on – but we don’t know how that structure is instantiated in the brain or where language came from. How did it evolve? How is it coded in the human genome? How does meaning get into and out of sounds and shapes, into and out of speech and writing? These are big, important and very interesting questions, but we’ve barely begun to answer them.

Distribution of dental fricatives and the O blood-group in Europe (from David Crystal's )

Distribution of dental fricatives and the O blood-group in Europe (from David Crystal’s Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language)

But certain things seem clear already. Language-genes must differ in important ways between different groups, influencing their linguistic skills and their preferences in phonetics and grammar. For example, there are some interesting correlations between blood-groups and use of dental fricatives in Europe. The invention of writing has exerted evolutionary pressures in Europe and Asia in ways it hasn’t in Africa, Australasia and the Americas. Glossogenetics, or the study of language and genes, will find important differences between races and within them, running parallel with differences in psychology and physiology. Language is a human universal, but that doesn’t mean one set of identical genes underlies the linguistic behaviour of all human groups. Skin, bones and blood are human universals too, but they differ between groups for genetic reasons.

Understanding the evolution and effects of these genetic differences is ultimately a mathematical exercise, and understanding language will be too. So will understanding the brain. For one thing, the brain must, at bottom, be a maths-engine or math-engine: a mechanism receiving, processing and sending information according to rules. But that’s a bit like saying fish are wet. Fish can’t escape water and human beings can’t escape mathematics. Nothing can: to exist is to stand in relation to other entities, to influence and be influenced by them, and mathematics is about that inter-play of entities. Or rather, that inter-play is Mathematics, with a big “M”, and nothing escapes it. Human beings have invented a way of modelling that fundamental micro- and macroscopic inter-play, which is mathematics with a small “m”. When they use this model, human beings can make mistakes. But when they do go wrong, they can do so in ways detectable to other human beings using the same model:

In 1853 William Shanks published his calculations of π to 707 decimal places. He used the same formula as [John] Machin and calculated in the process several logarithms to 137 decimal places, and the exact value of 2^721. A Victorian commentator asserted: “These tremendous stretches of calculation… prove more than the capacity of this or that computer for labor and accuracy; they show that there is in the community an increase in skill and courage…”

Augustus de Morgan thought he saw something else in Shanks’s labours. The digit 7 appeared suspiciously less often than the other digits, only 44 times against an average expected frequency of 61 for each digit. De Morgan calculated that the odds against such a low frequency were 45 to 1. De Morgan, or rather William Shanks, was wrong. In 1945, using a desk calculator, Ferguson found that Shanks had made an error; his calculation was wrong from place 528 onwards. Shanks, fortunately, was long dead. (The Penguin Dictionary of Curious and Interesting Numbers, 1986, David Wells, entry for π, pg. 51)

Unlike theology or politics, mathematics is not merely self-correcting, but multiply so: there are different routes to the same truths and different ways of testing a result. Science too is self-correcting and can test its results by different means, partly because science is a mathematical activity and partly because it is studying a mathematical artifact: the gigantic structure of space, matter and energy known as the Universe. Some scientists and philosophers have puzzled over what the physicist Eugene Wigner (1902-95) called “The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences”. In his essay on the topic, Wigner tried to make two points:

The first point is that the enormous usefulness of mathematics in the natural sciences is something bordering on the mysterious and that there is no rational explanation for it. Second, it is just this uncanny usefulness of mathematical concepts that raises the question of the uniqueness of our physical theories. (Op. cit., in Communications in Pure and Applied Mathematics, vol. 13, No. I, February 1960)

I disagree with Wigner: it is not mysterious or uncanny and there is a rational explanation for it. The “effectiveness” of small-m maths for scientists is just as reasonable as the effectiveness of fins for fish or of wings for birds. The sea is water and the sky is air. The universe contains both sea and sky: and the universe is maths. Fins and wings are mechanisms that allow fish and birds to operate effectively in their water- and air-filled environments. Maths is a mechanism that allows scientists to operate effectively in their maths-filled environment. Scientists have, in a sense, evolved towards using maths just as fish and birds have evolved towards using fins and wings. Men have always used language to model the universe, but language is not “unreasonably effective” for understanding the universe. It isn’t effective at all.

It is effective, however, in manipulating and controlling other human beings, which explains its importance in politics and theology. In politics, language is used to manipulate; in science, language is used to explain. That is why mathematics is so important in science and so carefully avoided in politics. And in certain academic disciplines. But the paradox is that physics is much more intellectually demanding than, say, literary theory because the raw stuff of physics is actually much simpler than literature. To understand the paradox, imagine that two kinds of boulder are strewn on a plain. One kind is huge and made of black granite. The other kind is relatively small and made of chalk. Two tribes of academic live on the plain, one devoted to studying the black granite boulders, the other devoted to studying the chalk boulders.

The granite academics, being unable to lift or cut into their boulders, will have no need of physical strength or tool-making ability. Instead, they will justify their existence by sitting on their boulders and telling stories about them or describing their bumps and contours in minute detail. The chalk academics, by contrast, will be lifting and cutting into their boulders and will know far more about them. So the chalk academics will need physical strength and tool-making ability. In other words, physics, being inherently simpler than literature, is within the grasp of a sufficiently powerful human intellect in a way literature is not. Appreciating literature depends on intuition rather than intellect. And so strong intellects are able to lift and cut into the problems of physics as they aren’t able to lift and cut into the problems of literature, because the problems of literature depend on consciousness and on the hugely complex mechanisms of language, society and psychology.

Intuition is extremely powerful, but isn’t under conscious control like intellect and isn’t transparent to consciousness in the same way. In the fullest sense, it includes the senses, but who can control his own vision and hearing or understand how they turn the raw stuff of the sense-organs into the magic tapestry of conscious experience? Flickering nerve impulses create a world of sight, sound, scent, taste and touch and human beings are able to turn that world into the symbols of language, then extract it again from the symbols. This linguifaction is a far more complex process than the ignifaction that drives a star. At present it’s beyond the grasp of our intellects, so the people who study it don’t need and don’t build intellectual muscle in the way that physicists do.

Or one could say that literature is at a higher level of physics. In theory, it is ultimately and entirely reducible to physics, but the mathematics governing its emergence from physics are complex and not well-understood. It’s like the difference between a caterpillar and a butterfly. They are two aspects of one creature, but it’s difficult to understand how one becomes the other, as a caterpillar dissolves into chemical soup inside a chrysalis and turns into something entirely different in appearance and behaviour. Modelling the behaviour of a caterpillar is simpler than modelling the behaviour of a butterfly. A caterpillar’s brain has less to cope with than a butterfly’s. Caterpillars crawl and butterflies fly. Caterpillars eat and butterflies mate. And so on.

Stars can be compared to caterpillars, stories to butterflies. It’s easier to explain stars than to explain stories. And one of the things we don’t understand about stories is how we understand stories.

2:1 Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, 2:2 Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him. 2:3 When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 2:4 And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born. 2:5 And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet, 2:6 And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel. 2:7 Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared. 2:8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also. 2:9 When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. 2:10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. 2:11 And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh. – From The Gospel According to Saint Matthew.

Neuclid on the Block

How many blows does it take to demolish a wall with a hammer? It depends on the wall and the hammer, of course. If the wall is reality and the hammer is mathematics, you can do it in three blows, like this:

α’. Σημεῖόν ἐστιν, οὗ μέρος οὐθέν.
β’. Γραμμὴ δὲ μῆκος ἀπλατές.
γ’. Γραμμῆς δὲ πέρατα σημεῖα.

1. A point is that of which there is no part.
2. A line is a length without breadth.
3. The extremities of a line are points.

That is the astonishing, world-shattering opening in one of the strangest – and sanest – books ever written. It’s twenty-three centuries old, was written by an Alexandrian mathematician called Euclid (fl. 300 B.C.), and has been pored over by everyone from Abraham Lincoln to Bertrand Russell by way of Edna St. Vincent Millay. Its title is highly appropriate: Στοιχεῖα, or Elements. Physical reality is composed of chemical elements; mathematical reality is composed of logical elements. The second reality is much bigger – infinitely bigger, in fact. In his Elements, Euclid slipped the bonds of time, space and matter by demolishing the walls of reality with a mathematical hammer and escaping into a world of pure abstraction.

• Continue reading Neuclid on the Block

Flesh and Binary

It’s odd that probability theory is so counter-intuitive to human beings and so late-flowering in mathematics. Men have been gambling for thousands of years, but didn’t develop a good understanding of what happens when dice are rolled or coins are tossed until a few centuries ago. And an intuitive grasp of probability would have been useful long before gambling was invented. Our genes automatically equip us to speak, to walk and to throw, but they don’t equip us to understand by instinct why five-tails-in-a-row makes heads no more likely on the sixth coin-toss than it was on the first.

Dice from ancient Rome

Dice and gambling tokens from ancient Rome

Or to understand why five-boys-in-a-row makes the birth of a girl next time no more likely than it was during the first pregnancy (at least in theory). Boy/girl, like heads/tails, is a binary choice, so binary numbers are useful for understanding the probabilities of birth or coin-tossing. Questions like these are often asked to test knowledge of elementary probability:

1. Suppose a family have two children and the elder is a boy. What is the probability that both are boys?

2. Suppose a family have two children and at least one is a boy. What is the probability that both are boys?

People sometimes assume that the two questions are equivalent, but binary makes it clear that they’re not. If 1 represents a boy, 0 represents a girl and digit-order represents birth-order, the first question covers these possibilities: 10, 11. So the chance of both children being boys is 1/2 or 50%. The second question covers these possibilities: 10, 01, 11. So the chance of both children being boys is 1/3 = 33·3%. But now examine this question:

3. Suppose a family have two children and only one is called John. What is the probability that both children are boys?

That might seem the equivalent of question 2, but it isn’t. The name “John” doesn’t just identify the child as a boy, it identifies him as a unique boy, distinct from any brother he happens to have. Binary isn’t sufficient any more. So, while boy = 1, John = 2. The possibilities are: 20, 21, 02, 12. The chance of both children being boys is then 1/2 = 50%.

The three questions above are very simple, but I don’t think Archimedes or Euclid ever addressed the mathematics behind them. Perhaps they would have made mistakes if they had. I hope I haven’t, more than two millennia later. Perhaps the difficulty of understanding probability relates to the fact that it involves movement and change. The Greeks developed a highly sophisticated mathematics of static geometry, but did not understand projectiles or falling objects. When mathematicians began understood those in Renaissance Italy, they also began to understand the behaviour of dice, coins and cards. Ideas were on the move then and this new mathematics was obviously related to the rise of science: Galileo (1564-1642) is an important figure in both fields. But the maths and science can be linked with apparently distinct phenomena like Protestantism and classical music. All of these things began to develop in a “band of genius” identified by the American researcher Charles Murray. It runs roughly from Italy through France and Germany to Scotland: from Galileo through Beethoven and Descartes to David Hume.

Map of Europe from Mercator's Atlas Cosmographicae (1596)

Map of Europe from Mercator’s Atlas Cosmographicae (1596)

But how far is geography also biology? Having children is a form of gambling: the dice of DNA, shaken in testicle- and ovary-cups, are rolled in a casino run by Mother Nature. Or rather, in a series of casinos where different rules apply: the genetic bets placed in Africa or Europe or Asia haven’t paid off in the same way. In other words, what wins in one place may lose in another. Different environments have favoured different sets of genes with different effects on both bodies and brains. All human beings have many things in common, but saying that we all belong to the same race, the human race, is like saying that we all speak the same language, the human language. It’s a ludicrous and anti-scientific idea, however widely it may be accepted (and enforced) in the modern West.

Languages have fuzzy boundaries. So do races. Languages have dialects and accents, and so, in a sense, do races. The genius that unites Galileo, Beethoven and Hume may have been a particular genetic dialect spoken, as it were, in a particular area of Europe. Or perhaps it’s better to see European genius as a series of overlapping dialects. Testing that idea will involve mathematics and probability theory, and the computers that crunch the data about flesh will run on binary. Apparently disparate things are united by mathematics, but maths unites everything partly because it is everything. Understanding the behaviour of dice in the sixteenth century leads to understanding the behaviour of DNA in the twenty-first.

The next step will be to control the DNA-dice as they roll. China has already begun trying to do that using science first developed in the West. But the West itself is still in the thrall of crypto-religious ideas about equality and environment. These differences have biological causes: the way different races think about genetics, or persuade other races to think about genetics, is related to their genetics. You can’t escape genes any more than you can escape maths. But the latter is a ladder that allows us to see over the old genetic wall and glimpse the possibilities beyond it. The Chinese are trying to climb over the wall using super-computers; the West is still insisting that there’s nothing on the other side. Interesting times are ahead for both flesh and binary.

Appendix

1. Suppose a family have three children and the eldest is a girl. What is the probability that all three are girls?

2. Suppose a family have three children and at least one is a girl. What is the probability that all three are girls?

3. Suppose a family have three children and only one is called Joan. What is the probability that all three are girls?

The possibilities in the first case are: 000, 001, 010, 011. So the chance of three girls is 1/4 = 25%.

The possibilities in the second case are: 000, 001, 010, 011, 100, 101, 110. So the chance of three girls is 1/7 = 14·28%.

The possibilities in the third case are: 200, 201, 210, 211, 020, 021, 120, 121, 002, 012, 102, 112. So the chance of three girls is 3/12 = 1/4 = 25%.

Chicks, Dicks and H.B.D.

Britain has recently been entertained by a cat-fight conducted at Twitter, The Observer and other loci of liberalism. Or perhaps “cat-and-castrated-tom-fight” is a better way of putting it. In the cat corner: a pair of self-righteous feminist egomaniacs called Julie Burchill and Suzanne Moore. In the castrato corner: lots of self-righteous transsexual egomaniacs and their supporters. It’s been one of those fights you wish both sides could lose, but it’s also been interesting from a hateful, bestial and demonic point of view. That is, from an HBD POV. HBD stands for human bio-diversity and is about looking at how human biology influences social, cultural and political patterns. Transsexuality is obviously a biological phenomenon, but I think feminism and female writers are too. Read on, if you’re man enough, and I’ll explain how.

The fight started when Suzanne Moore wrote an essay about “female anger” for an anthology published by the booksellers Waterstones. I don’t know or care what the anthology was about, but Moore’s essay included these lines:

The cliché is that female anger is always turned inwards rather than outwards into despair. We are angry with ourselves for not being happier, not being loved properly and not having the ideal body shape – that of a Brazilian transsexual. (Moore article)

Moore was then politely challenged on Twitter by a transphilic woman who detected a hint of transphobia in her remark. Moore refused to retract it and was even sarcastic about the notion of “intersectionality”, i.e., the multiple oppressions suffered by, say, black homosexuals with bad legs, who will suffer not just from racism, homophobia or disabledism, but from all three. Finally, pushed too far, Moore announced that:

People can just fuck off really. Cut their dicks off and be more feminist than me. Good for them. (Transphobic tweeting)

Moore then left Twitter because of the “bullying” she was experiencing. Her friend Julie Burchill came to her defence in The Observer (i.e. The Guardian-on-Sunday) in an article that began like this:

Hey trannies, cut it out

Where do dicks in terrible wigs get off lecturing us natural-born women about not being quite feministic enough? (Burchill article)

Burchill went on to excoriate “dicks in chick’s clothing” and “bed-wetters in bad wigs” who have had their “nuts taken off”. Further uproar ensued, the “transsexual community” complained long and loudly, and The Observer withdrew the article and apologized for the offence it had caused. All this has been entertaining but also, I think, an example of the poisoning of politics described by Britain’s Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks:

Sacks: Multiculturalism threatens democracy

Multiculturalism promotes segregation, stifles free speech and threatens liberal democracy, Britain’s top Jewish official warned in extracts from his book The Home We Build Together: Recreating Society… [Jonathan] Sacks said Britain’s politics had been poisoned by the rise of identity politics, as minorities and aggrieved groups jockeyed first for rights, then for special treatment. The process, he said, began with Jews, before being taken up by blacks, women and gays. He said the effect had been “inexorably divisive. A culture of victimhood sets group against group, each claiming that its pain, injury, oppression, humiliation is greater than that of others.” (Multiculturalism threatens democracy, The Jerusalem Post)

By claiming “pain, injury, oppression” and so on, transsexuals want to make themselves immune from criticism. Saints could be trusted to behave well when immune from criticism, but saints wouldn’t demand to be so. Transsexuals are, I think it’s safe to say, no more saintly than Jews, blacks, women or gays. All the same, I also think Moore and Burchill have shown bigotry – in the proper, rather than politically correct, sense – towards transsexuals. This transphobic twosome obviously don’t like their feminist franchise being challenged by transsexuals, i.e., people who were born in men’s bodies, but think they’re really women and have had surgery to prove it. From my own bigoted, biocentric point of view, I am happy to accept that bodies do not always match brains and that someone with a female mind can be born in a male body. Or vice versa. It’s an interesting phenomenon, scientifically speaking, but it must also sometimes be a distressing phenomenon, psycho-socially speaking. Burchill’s sneers about “phantom limbs” and “bed-wetters in bad wigs” don’t show much female solidarity, let alone imaginative sympathy. But then she doesn’t seem to accept that a real woman can be born in a male body:

Shims, shemales, whatever you’re calling yourselves these days – don’t threaten or bully we [sic] lowly natural-born women, I warn you. We may not have as many lovely big swinging PhDs as you, but we’ve experienced a lifetime of PMT and sexual harassment, and many of us are now staring HRT and the menopause straight in the face – and still not flinching. Trust me, you ain’t seen nothing yet. You really won’t like us when we’re angry.

That is echt essentialism – indeed, physio-fascism. Burchill seems to believe that you can’t be a real woman unless you’re born in a female body. The bit about “lovely big swinging PhDs” is a sneer too, but a funny one: Burchill is an entertaining writer who combines masculine vigour with feminine illogic. Look at her reasoning here, for example:

…their lot [i.e., transsexuals] describe born women as “cis” – sounds like syph, cyst, cistern; all nasty stuff…

If “cis” is nasty because it sounds a bit like “cistern”, presumably “sister” would be even worse. Like Burchill, Suzanne Moore has no time for the nasty male invention of logic; unlike Burchill, she isn’t an entertaining or amusing writer. I’d never read anything by her before this cat-fight and I don’t intend to read anything again. The fight itself seems a good example of narcisso-sisters playing tyranny-trumps and poisoning politics, as the Chief Rabbi warned. Burchill and Moore themselves seem good examples of testotero-sisters: they’re masculinized in both psychology and physiognomy. It’s not just their aggression and coarseness: take a look at their faces:

Suzanne Moore and Julie Burchill

Suzanne Moore and Julie Burchill

I suggest that Moore and Burchill, despite their female bodies, are less psychologically female than some transsexuals who were born in male bodies. Both of them are left-wing and opponents of biological determinism, but they are cruder in their bio-determinism than the supposedly right-wing psychologist Hans Eysenck (1916–97), who was writing about HBD before HBD existed under its present name. In his book Sex, Violence and the Media (1978), Eysenck discussed that idea that “there is a strong biological determinant which predisposes individuals in the direction of greater or lesser ‘maleness’”:

Some of the strongest evidence for this point of view comes from the work of Dr Wilhart Schlegel, a Hamburg physician who made an exhaustive study of the shape of the pelvis in men and women. In men, typically, the pelvis is shaped like a funnel, tapering down to a narrow outlet; in women, the pelvis is shaped more like a tube, with a broad outlet. There is much variety within each sex; thus there are men with tube-shaped pelvis outlet structures, and women with funnel-shaped ones. What made Schlegel interested in the pelvic outlet is that its shape is apparently determined at the foetal stage by precisely the kind of hormonal burst [determining masculinity or femininity] already described; if such androgenic material is supplied, the pelvic shape will be masculine; if not, feminine. This led Schlegel to study in detail the social and sexual behaviour of men and women having typical and atypical pelvic shapes, using over a thousand men and women in his researches. (Op. cit., H.J. Eysenck and D.K.B. Nias, Maurice Temple Smith, London, 1978, pg. 230-1)

Schlegel discovered a strong correlation between pelvic shape and behaviour:

A masculine-type pelvis correlated with leadership, an active sexual role, dominance and a preference for a younger sexual partner, in men and women alike. A feminine-type pelvis correlated with empathy, suggestibility, and compliance. In other words, behaviour in both sexes seemed to be determined by the same hormonal factors which originally produced skeletal features of the pelvis, namely androgen secretion at the foetal stage.

Faces, like pelvises, are shaped by hormonal factors and I suggest that Moore and Burchill have masculinized faces. I also suggest that, as female writers, they are not unique in this. Another example of a masculinized female writer seems to be Hilary Mantel, winner of last year’s Man-Booker Prize for her novel Bring Out the Bodies. Mantel has been placed under scientific analysis by Eysenck’s protegé Chris Brand at his g-Factor blog:

Hilary Mantel

Hilary Mantel

Incomprehensible bug-eyed leftist old bag authoress Hilary Mantel was welcomed by the London Review of Books to put in her two pennorth slagging off the gracious, cheerful and pregnant Duchess of Cornwall… Broad-beamed Mantelpiece was a leftie born and bred – a matter which her publishers had contrived to conceal for several years. Of Irish parentage, she was raised a Catholic by parents who separated (she never saw her father after age eleven). She gave up Christianity at twelve and progressed to full-blown socialism, as was readily compatible with her studies at the London School of Economics and the University of Sheffield. Her own lack of husband and family was perhaps traceable to gynaecological problems so serious that she had been treated by doctors for psychosis during her twenties. (IQ & PC – By Chris Brand, Monday, February 25, 2013)

Mantel’s unusually broad features seem to occur elsewhere among female writers:

L-R: Jane Austen, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Pearl S. Buck, Iris Murdoch

L-R: Jane Austen, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Pearl S. Buck, Iris Murdoch

L-R: Joyce Carol Oates, Maya Angelou, Alice Walker, Arundhati Roy

L-R: Joyce Carol Oates, Maya Angelou, Alice Walker, Arundhati Roy

I suggest that the particular genre in which a writer works would also be reflected in her – or his – biology, but female writers are a small, self-selected group and don’t seem typical of women in general. This also appears to be true of female politicians. I first began to notice their unusual features in the 1990s among women like Hillary Clinton and Madeleine Albright:

Hillary Clinton and Madelaine Albright

Hillary Clinton and Madelaine Albright

Like Moore and Burchill, Clinton and Albright are left-wing and opponents of biological determinism. But the reality may be that a rejection of biological determinism is itself, in part, biologically determined. The subjective self-confidence and aggression of a masculinized woman may lead her to deny any influence of biology on politics, even though there is more and more evidence that such influence exists:

The GOP has a feminine face, UCLA study finds

At least when it comes to female politicians, perhaps you can judge a book by its cover, suggest two UCLA researchers who looked at facial features and political stances in the U.S. House of Representatives. “Female politicians with stereotypically feminine facial features are more likely to be Republican than Democrat, and the correlation increases the more conservative the lawmaker’s voting record,” said lead author Colleen M. Carpinella, a UCLA graduate student in psychology.

The researchers also found the opposite to be true: Female politicians with less stereotypically feminine facial features were more likely to be Democrats, and the more liberal their voting record, the greater the distance the politician’s appearance strayed from stereotypical gender norms. In fact, the relationship is so strong that politically uninformed undergraduates were able to determine the political affiliation of the representatives with an overall accuracy rate that exceeded chance, and the accuracy of those predications increased in direct relation to the lawmaker’s proximity to feminine norms. (“The GOP has a feminine face, UCLA study finds”, Meg Sullivan, September 27, 2012)

Faces and pelvises are indirect guides to brains and it would be very interesting to have more direct data about the brains of female politicians, whether left- or right-wing. It would also be interesting to know how many children they have and the sex-ratio of those children, because that is also influenced by hormonal factors. Like Burchill and Moore, Hilary Mantel and Hillary Clinton would no doubt dismiss HBD as hateful, but all of them are biological entities and none of them can escape HBD. Neither can I or you or any other human being, but the more we know about ourselves the better we may be able to understand politics and culture. And the more we know about human biology, the more we may also understand that some forms of politics are far less caring and compassionate than they claim to be.

Hateful, Bestial, Demonic

Who is the world’s saintliest womun? I would say Hillary Clinton, but she’s white, alas, so I’ll go for Aung San Suu Kyi and/or Winnie Mundela instead. But who is the world’s evillest woman? (sic) I don’t know, but I do know someone who is trying damn hard for the title: the keyly committed hate-blogger called HBD-Chick, who engages issues around an über-misanthropic unter-movement called H.B.D. This stands for Human Bio-Diversity, i.e., the hateful, bestial and demonic notion that biological “differences” between groups of humun being can help explain social, cultural and political patterns. HBD-Chick, for example, tries to explain levels of “corruption” and democracy in “different” countries by looking at how “in-bred” their populations are.

’Cuse me while I throw up. Yes, HBD is not just evil, it’s so pseudo-scientific that it makes tea-leaf reading look like gamma-ray astronomy. As proper scientists like Stephen Jay Gould, Jared Diamond, Steven Rose, Richard Lewontin and Karl Marx have taught us, humun beings floated free of biology during the Pleistocene and are best regarded as disembodied social units that just happen (for the time being) to have a corporeal component. It follows from this proper science that all social, cultural and political dysfunction can be explained by racism, sexism, homophobia and other forms of hate-think invented by white male Europeans of Christian heritage. And, like cornered rats baring their yellowed fangs and squealing their defiance, this despicable demographic has created HBD in an attempt to over-turn the hard-won scientific insights of Gould et al. If you’re a good persun, you won’t be taken in by the HBDers’ lies, deceit and pseudo-science. HBD-Chick is plainly a bad person (sic), because she has been taken in. But, as a womun, she isn’t really to blame – here are some of the real vectors of this diseased and depraved ideology:

Steve Surfer – KKKalifornian krank who invented and popularized the term HBD

West Hunter – run by pseudo-scientists Greg Cochran and Henry Harpending, the former of who/whom is responsible for an unspeakably hateful theory about the origins of homosexuality

JayMan – mendaciously claims to have Community-of-Color heritage and has added more hate-think to Cochran’s hate-theory

Evo and Proud – White, Male and Evil, more like

Dienekes – so pseudo-scientific it makes aromatherapy look like quantum physics