Monthly Archives: February 2008

Astrology – why it used to be resonable and why it ain’t so anymore

Once upon a time, Astrology was a big thing. Astrologers ruled the world. Now they clatter in the back pages of second-rate magazines. Why were they so big and what’s happened to them?

We shall begin by following a line of thought that was very strong in many parts of the classical world. So strong, it was reason enough to deport Anaxagoras from Athens (he was advocating the stars were nothing but “hot stones in the sky”). The Epicureans made the fight against this view a focal point of their moral philosophy.

So, imagine you live in a society with a technology which is less than modern – there are no cars, no planes, etc. Now, observe: what things have “innate movement” (to borrow the Aristotelian term)? Living things, of course. Only living things can move without being moved by an external force.

Our second observation is this: all living things decease (given enough time).

All? Well, look at the sky – there you will find heavenly bodies moving perpetually in well-ordered paths. If living things are the only candidates for self-induced movement, then the heavenly bodies must be alive. They are also perpetual, hence immortal. They also seem to be moving in a nice circular fashion; hence they must be highly intelligent sentient beings (they know geometry! And circles are the most perfect of geometric forms).

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How to cheat on a poll without actually lying

As you can read on various blogs (I did on Mark Chu-Carroll’s), there is some fuss over Washington State Republican caucus. Apparently, the GOP stopped counting votes on 87%, declaring McCain a winner before all votes got counted, and said the final results would be determined sometime next week. Now I won’t get into the gory details of the Republican party’s election methods (and gory they are, what a mess!). Some people, however, claim none of it matters. After all, was this really cheating? Isn’t the GOP right? They’ve counted 87% of the caucus. McCain has an edge, so what’s the chance that the total caucus will be different?

Well, today we shall answer that first question. Bottom line: it does matter, it was cheating, and pollsters do cheat like that all the time.

This is election lesson no. 1:

How to cheat on a poll without actually lying

What if Huckabee did have an edge? Suppose, hypothetically, that he had 55% of the votes, and that the other 45% were McCain’s. The chairman, who is a McCain supporter, supervises the votes counting. There is a very simple thing which he can do if he wants McCain to win – he can wait for a McCain to gain a temporary advantage, then stop the count, and declare McCain the winner. If you like riddles, you should try this question out, and then skip to the end of the post: what are the chairman’s chances of success?

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