Trouble Thinking

May 30, 2012

Is Racial Profiling Tough But Sensible? No. You Idiot.

So this is the best. Some class act named Sam Harris has a radical idea to “reduce waste” during airport security. You will never guess what it oh wait no you totally guessed it’s “only hassle Muslims!”. So this is the dumbest fucking idea. There are a ton of reasons why it is dumb. Thanks to his decision to engage in a debate with Bruce Schneier there’s now a complete rundown of all the reasons why! Luckily, like most people who are conceited as all get out, he can’t figure out when he’s getting schooled so he put the whole debate up online for people to laugh at. Seriously it is embarrassing. He’s just sort of shifting topics every couple of minutes and doing ridiculous point-scoring complaining while this patient man is slowly peeling away the layers of his moronic plan to fuck with a security system he neither understands nor cares to learn about because any new information can only confuse the beautiful simplicity of his shitty goddamn idea.

Smart people can convince themselves of basically anything. It is a real problem, and it’s pretty obvious that Sam Harris has fallen into the trap of being just smart enough to come up with a convincing picture of something and just scared and lazy enough not to actually investigate it.Also, smart people always forget that just being smart doesn’t meant they have any intuitive understanding of statistics. Everyone is convinced that the way statistics work is: there is a correlation between A and B and then I am right, the end. As though that’s the limit of our ability to investigate. It annoys me that someone who claims to be a rational goddamn thinker representing atheism against the godful hordes is this stone dumb.

In case you’re too lazy to read here’s the basics of the exchange:

Bruce Schneier:

The topic of this exchange, and the topic I’ve tried to stick to, is whether it makes sense to implement a two-tiered security system at airports, where “Muslims, or anyone who could conceivably be Muslim” get a higher tier of security and everyone else gets a lower tier. I have concluded that it does not, for the following reasons. One, the only benefit is efficiency. Two, the result is lower security because 1) not all Muslims can be identified by appearance, 2) screeners will make mistakes in implementing whatever profiling system you have in mind, and 3) not all terrorists are Muslim. Three, there are substantial monetary costs in implementing this system, in setting the system up, in administering it across all airports, and in paying for TSA screeners who can implement it. And four, there is an inefficiency in operating the system that isn’t there if screeners treat everyone the same way. Conclusion: airport profiling based on this ethnic and religious characteristic does not make sense.

And while you’ve objected to bits and pieces of this, the only argument you have made for this profiling system is that it’s common sense.

Common sense is code for “I am mad and do not want to think about shit”.

This faux-tough thing is everywhere in modern political and social discourse and it is of course complete fuckwit nonsense. People like to posture about how they’re being “tough but fair” or “tough, unfortunately” or “doing what’s necessary” when referring to cutting programs for the poor, eliminating civil liberties, torturing people, profiling, or bullying. And it always hides the same lazy, frightened, stupid shit. You want to torture because you don’t like thinking about what torture actually entails and you just want to win already so let’s cheat. You want to profile because you don’t like thinking about the actual consequences to security but this line is long and this is dumb and you’re very smart so. Any time someone tells you they’re just being tough, you are about to hear some childish shit.

Related: yo, is this racist?


October 12, 2010

Baseball is serious business

Filed under: Sports, Statistical Anomalies — SrMeowMeow @ 2:34 am

There are two kinds of baseball fans, and I say this without condescension. There are fans who are happy to enjoy the narratives of baseball and enjoy the game as a game, and there are fans who see in baseball something more. This is true of almost everything; for example, I am a fan of movies in the former way. I’ve practically made a conscious decision to avoid movie analysis. I enjoy “behind the scenes” features but afterwards it’s harder for me to enjoy the movie I just saw exposed. My film student friend tells me that the more you learn, the more it enhances the experience; he thinks about lighting and composition while I am happy to suspend disbelief and enjoy the ride.

The parallel to baseball is almost exact. Where another fan sees a clutch hero with the ability to elevate their game when it matters most, I see a statistical oddity. Where he sees grit and guts overcoming impossible odds, I see attribution error. Where he blasts a general manager for a move in hindsight, I look for the probabilities at play when the decision was made. Where he sees a break-out season and a star being born, I see regression on the horizon.

The movie example teaches us two things: one, that there is no right way to enjoy something. In many ways, I enjoy movies how they were meant to be enjoyed and the same goes for my hypothetical “other fan”, with baseball. Two, that the two perspectives are mutually exclusive. Once you know how the magic trick is done, it’s not magic anymore. And once your knowledge reduces a movie to an assortment of techniques, or a baseball game to a cloud of probabilities, you can’t easily regain that innocence.

However, the study of baseball is too great an opportunity to pass up. It is a proving ground for intuition, statistical acumen, and logic, as well as affording frequent glimpses into the machinery of reality. Does that sound grandiose? Maybe, but it’s accurate.

Baseball is the perfect statistical sandbox. It occurs in discrete elements: pitch by pitch, play by play, game by game. The technology is improving rapidly to keep up with the demands of a growing analytical community. Pitch f/x is a free database that tracks the speed, release point, spin deflection, and many more arcane data points on every pitch thrown since it was implemented. Hit f/x is on the way. Baseball has always been a statistical game, but on the cutting edge, baseball cards have been replaced with SQL databases and Excel spreadsheets.

For me, the holy grail of baseball analysis is measuring true talent. True talent is the mythical exact “value” of a player: he “is a .305 hitter”, and then luck and defense and the quality of opposing pitching and wind blowing in and wind blowing out all conspire to give us a number, his batting average for the season, that is a function of his true talent but not the thing itself. We will never know a given player’s true talent; the story of baseball analysis is the story of approximations and the story of incomplete information. The key concept is context neutrality: take a player’s season batting average and factor out his bad luck and his good luck and the stadium he played in and the defenses he played against and the pitchers he faced and many, many more things, and the more you work, the closer you get to his true talent.

Baseball has everything a keen mind could want, and every question you ask raises deeper ones, until you’re wondering about the nature of value itself, all because you want to know if your favorite team would have done better to sign Player X than Player Y after all. You ask yourself about determinism: was making Trade Z a bad decision because it played out badly and couldn’t have played out any other way and therefore should have been predictable and therefore should have been predicted, or do you just look at the information available at the time?

Think about it. Read about it. There are hidden depths to be uncovered, and this is a living science. Seriously, I’m neither exaggerating the potential for unique, creative thought nor the difficulty of some of the questions you’ll find yourself confronting.

April 21, 2010

Baseball Ramblings

Filed under: Sports, Statistical Anomalies — callmegeo @ 4:40 pm

Now before anyone does something rash and violent to wake themselves up from a suspected dream:  No, you are not hallucinating.  The topic line for this post does in fact contain the word Baseball.

“But, Trouble Thinking” I hear you ask, “Why would such esteemed gentlemen such as yourselves, who are clearly men of character and conscience,  defile this blog with mention of the lowly sport of baseball?”  It is a fair question, but sadly a misguided one.  For you see, Baseball isn’t just a slow and largely uninteresting game watched by middle aged men who are on medication for erectile dysfunction and an enlarged prostate.  Baseball is very much a game of numbers and statistics; Which intelligent handsome males such as yours truly find interesting.  Additionally, as an admitted follower of the sport, I seek solace and comfort in ranting about a string of unlikely losses by my favorite team through online text-based media.

Let us begin:

On the night of April 20th, the San Francisco Giants squared off against the San Diego Padres at the Padres home stadium of PETCO Park (enlightened sponsorship, to be sure).  For those of you unfamiliar with the teams, a quick rundown:

The Giants in times past were the home of a few well known baseball players like Willy Mays and Barry Bonds, so you should at least be aware of their existence as a professional baseball team.  Last season they finished 4 games shy of making the playoffs, and are blessed with incredibly talented young pitching.  Unfortunately, the Giants also have the batting ability of that 7 year old pigtailed girl you knew from gym class, who couldn’t hit a baseball sitting stationary on a tee, and cries when you yell at her for having total motor skill ineptitude (which I will elaborate on later).

And in the blue corner:

The Padres, or as I like to call them, “That Stupid Team from San Diego”.  They’re an unremarkable team, in that they have a penchant for locking up 4th place in the division every year.  They aren’t the worst team in baseball, as it takes a lot of work to lose more games than the Orioles, but they certainly are in the bottom third in my opinion.  Their stadium is sponsored by a pet supply company, and they’re named after Spanish missionaries.  Their alternate home uniforms are desert camouflage.  To answer your impending question: No. I don’t believe they actually have a common theme linking these three things.

Now that you’re introduced, on to the actual numbers:

Giants: 0 Runs, 6 hits, 0 Errors

Padres: 1 Run, 1 Hit, 0 Errors

Since the winner of a baseball game is the team which scores the most runs… the Padres won.  It was the second time in Padres history that they won a game in which they only had 1 hit.  That’s the second 1 hit win out of nearly 6500 games played.  For the Giants, it was the first time they lost a game in which they gave up only 1 hit to the opposing team since moving from New York to San Francisco back in the 50’s.  What makes it even more remarkable is that the Padres’ one hit was only a single, which scored after a steal of 2nd base, advancing to 3rd on an out in foul territory, and a sacrifice fly to bring the runner home.

On the other side of the coin, the Giants out hit the Padres by 600%, but went 0 for 9 with runners in scoring position, including failing to score a runner from third with no outs.  Even if the team collectively batted a lukewarm .250 average, that equates to two hits with runners in scoring position.  What’s more remarkable is that over the past 3 games, the Giants are 1 for 25 with runners in scoring position: a pathetic .040 batting average when it counts.

The Giants’ starting pitcher, Jonathan Sanchez, earned a Loss that game despite a pitching performance that was outright dominant: 7.0 Innings Pitched, 1 Hit, 1 Earned Run, 3 Walks, and 10 Strikeouts.  Talk about being a hard luck loser.  Enjoy your loss, Jonny.

A similar unfortunate event happened the game prior where the Padres’ David Eckstein hit a winning 1 run home run off of Giants pitcher Jeremy Affeldt in extra innings.  The statistics nerds over at estimate that such a homerun would occur only 31 times in 10,000 plate appearances between the two, which equates to a 0.31% chance of soul crushing heartbreak, if like me, you actually care about the Giants.

So in conclusion… should you care about all this stuff? Probably not, but you’re now armed with the knowledge that I’ve been brought to my knees by an unfortunate combination of statistical outliers the likes of which the modern world has rarely seen.  Direct all complaints about the content of this update to Durandal, who is too much of a little pansy visiting his grandmother to talk about something you enjoy.  For the benefit of you readers (whose existence I still question), I’ll try to talk about other topics in the future, like rockets, or science, or scientists with rocket packs.

Until next time, good luck and godspeed…

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