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Archive for November 10th, 2012

A Qualit’s tribute to Quants

Saturday, November 10th, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron — now the election dust has settled, let’s hear it for Nate Silver, Megyn Kelly, Zeynep Tufekci and xkcd ]


I’m about as Qualit as you can get on the Qualit vs Quant side of things, and if I had a bête grise, it might well be statistics. Why? As Albert Einstein once said, or is said to have said:

Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts

Look, it’s even on his blackboard:

But look: votes can be counted, and what can be counted is Quant territory. So here’s a little hommage from a Qualit to a Quant — Nate Silver, in this case — with a bow to Megyn Kelly for calling out Karl Rove like that (upper panel, above), and a tip of the hat to xkcd (lower panel) for the usual spot-on commentary from his “webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language”.

Quality work, Quants!


Ah — but then, what should we do with Colbert‘s comment?

Math has a liberal bias

Joking aside, one reading I’d add to Zen‘s post-election list would be Zeynep Tufekci‘s In Defense of Nate Silver, Election Pollsters, and Statistical Predictions.

Noor Inayat Khan, GC

Saturday, November 10th, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron — east, west, music, espionage, pacifism, war, the Resistance, the Nazis, Dachau, and exceptional gallantry ]

A Muslim woman — born in Moscow of princely Indian paternal descent, her mother an American from Albuquerque, her father a great North Indian classical musician and Sufi master of pacifist leanings…


Noor Inayat Khan was a student of Western classical music in pre-War Paris under the great Nadia Boulanger, escaped the oncoming Nazis and made it across the channel to England, where she told a British officer during a recruitment interview that she would indeed support Indian independence from Britain after the war — but that defeating Hitler took precedence and she would gladly fight for the British…

She thus became the first female radio operator sent by the British Special Operations Executive into Nazi-occupied France, where she worked courageously as a vital link between the French Resistance and Churchill‘s London until she was finally betrayed, imprisoned, and finally executed by firing squad in Dachau.

After the war, the British awarded her the highest civilian award for bravery, the George Cross, and France the Croix de Guerre.


Yesterday’s Guardian reports:

On Thursday afternoon, in a corner of Bloomsbury, Princess Anne unveiled Britain’s first memorial to an Asian woman. The bust is of Noor Inayat Khan, a woman who was a pioneer in so many things: an Indian princess who was also a gifted harpist; a Sufi who wrote Buddhist fables for children; an anti-imperialist who spied for the British empire – and the first female radio operator sent into Nazi-occupied France.

Her Twenty Jataka Tales is available here.
Shrabani Basu‘s biography of Noor Inayat Khan is here.

I raise a virtual toast to Noor Inayat Khan.


h/t David Foster at Chicago Boyz.

Numbers by the numbers: Twone?

Saturday, November 10th, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron — parallels and opposites, with a pinch of Shakespeare and a digression into philosophical theology ]

My friend Peter Feltham steered me towards an intriguing Telegraph piece about something called the Rolling Jubilee project. The accompanying image caught my eye —

because it reminded me of another image I’d seen years ago, when I took a class in movie directing at UCLA extension.

The upper image (above) illustrates the Telegraph piece, which depicts the Rolling Jubilee thus:

The Rolling Jubilee project is seeking donations to help it buy-up distressed debts, including student loans and outstanding medical bills, and then wipe the slate clean by writing them off.

The lower image is from Jean-Luc Godard‘s film, La Chinoise, which is apparently about a bunch of French Maoist radicals in the 1960s — the “wall” in the image is made of countless copies of Chairman Mao‘s Little Red Book.

And bundles of twenty dollar bills are pretty much the intellectual opposite of stacks of Little Red Books, no?


So what? Where do we go from here? Is there anything actionable about those two images?

Does the lower one mean the Rolling Jubilee project is Maoist? Or that capitalism has triumphed over Marxism in the 45 years since Godard’s film was produced? In China? Or in the world at large? Or (ironically?) that capitalism, like communism, is a failed system? That there’s a Hole in the Wall?

Should we be thinking of Pyramus and Thisbe, the play within a play in Shakespeare‘s Midsummer Night’s Dream?

This man, with lime and rough-cast, doth present
Wall, that vile Wall which did these lovers sunder;
And through Wall’s chink, poor souls, they are content
To whisper.

Is there idea that there’s a chink in Wall Street?


I’m asking all this because we can take all manner of conclusions from a juxtaposition — it naturally lends the mind to associative thinking, extrapolation, the derivation of one or more meanings. And I surely want to emphasize the “or more” here.

But also because it brings up, with force, the issue of parallels and oppositions.

We don’t say Oxford is the opposite of a Fouquieria columnaris cactus in the Huntington Gardens — they’re too disparate to be opposite. No, we think of Cambridge as the opposite of Oxford because they’re so similar, they’re almost the same — as I’ve said elsewhere on ZP, there’s even a single word for both: Oxbridge.

Opposites are similars with difference, while parallels are differents with similarities — and is that one insight, or two?

We talk about a “two-way street” — in city traffic terms, that’s just one street, but the traffic flows in two directions — and it’s probably best to keep ’em separate.


Zoom in, and you’ll see differences, zoom out, and you’ll see samenesses — is that true? true when applied to concepts, debates, arguments, elections, partisanship, wars? day and night? sun and moon? war and peace? life and death?

Apples and oranges?

I don’t think we’re terribly good at thinking about this sort of thing — and I also think binary thinking is both a primary and a frequently divisive factor in the human condition, so we’d best get better at it.

Sun and moon are an interesting pair, because even though they are vastly different both in size and distance from our planet, they each subtend almost exactly the same angle on the eye — thus allowing for the brilliant halo effects of full eclipses of the sun.

Alchemists see in that sameness a marriage of opposites or coincidentia oppositorum. But here’s my pair of questions for you:

  • is that similarity a matter of entirely random coincidence, or is it evidence of immaculate care and design?
  • and how different would the entire history of human belief be, if the moon and sun were not even close to the same as each other in (apparent) size?
  • For one thing, if the moon seemed smaller than the sun, we’d have no total solar eclipses — the impact of that alone would be interesting to consider.

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