Essay Prompts: Correlation is not Causation

Here’s an interesting fact: Humans are stupid. I don’t mean to imply we don’t have intelligence (although some who claim to have a high IQ, well, let’s just say they get elected to public office on other qualities). Rather, we put our trust in things we shouldn’t (and not just politicians). We are horrible at judging risk. We often see things that just are not there. We often believe the most ridiculous nonsense about cooking, such as fresh ground salt is better.  Worst of all, we often confuse correlation with causation.

  • Correlation: a mutual relationship or connection between two or more things
  • Causation: the relationship between cause and effect; causality.

Here are two examples of this confusion I’ve seen in my news feeds and on FB:

One fellow wrote about a friend of his that got a good report from the doctor in a followup visit, stating: “He’s definitely living proof that God answers prayers.” No, he isn’t. It is wonderful that the friend is doing better, but there is no causality here. You can pray to God or a Saint and get better, but that is not proof that God or the Saint was *why* you got better, no matter what the Pope says. There is no proven or provable, testable, repeatable method of showing that one action causes the other.

Another fellow wrote about high tax states, citing a article that he believed said that “high state taxes cause people to leave those states, making it very difficult to actually increase tax revenue, no matter how high their tax rates get.” Again, there’s no causality here. Yes people leave high tax states, but they leave low tax states as well, for many many reasons. Taxes may be a reason, but typically it isn’t the precipitating reason. And in the absence of clear evidence that whereever taxes are higher, people leave, this is just correlation. There are many high tax states where people don’t leave (witness property values in California) and high tax countries where people don’t leave. Further, “people” is far too nebulous a category, for all people are not the same. Are you talking those with wealth? Those on fixed incomes? Retirees? People in particular industries? The issue is just too nebulous to attribute to causality.

Always remember storks and babies. I had a statistics professor explain it this way: You may think there is a causality between storks and babies, because whereever there are more babies, there are more storks. But that’s a spurious correlation: there are more babies where there are more storks because there are more babies in big cities, and big cities often have zoos, which have more storks. No causality there.

Keep this in mind as you read your papers.


Things Come and Things Go

Today’s collection of news chum addresses two areas of interest to me: origin stories, and reports of things disappearing. Origin stories are interesting because we don’t often know where some popular things come from; many come from new or emerging trends. Disappearance stories, on the other hand, are often reflective or indicative — again — of trends in society.



Let Them No More

Reading about today’s shooting in Texas got me thinking — a dangerous thing.

For the longest time, what has been our answer as to why some man (and, yes, they are typically almost always all men — and often white men) has done something that has injured or killed one or more people?

Because they can.

Why did this shooter shoot up that place? Because he can.

Why did this man sexually harass that woman? Because he can.

Why did this man rape, that man abuse, that other man cheat, that still other man steal? Because he can.

But you know, that’s the wrong answer. The correct answer is: Because we let them.

We let weapons of destruction get into the hands of people that abuse them (be they guns or cars — they were in the hands of a man who used them for bad). We look the other way when that off-color joke or remark is made. We look the other way when women and minorities are paid less and treated badly. We let our leaders not pass laws or create restrictions or programs that might stop these actions.

Because we let them.

But you know what? That must change. We must say: Let them no more.

People with mental illness buying and owning guns? Let them no more.

People using positions of power to abuse and harass people? Let them no more.

People treating others as inferior? Let them no more.

It’s a simple movement: Let them no more.


Feeling Crafty

This collection has taken a while to ripen to fruition:

  • Knitting as a Patriotic Duty. Here’s an interesting article on how knitting helped us win the war. From knitting for the troops to encoding information in garments, knitting has been vital.
  • The Welcome Blanket. Here’s an interesting knitting project: The Welcome Blanket. The aim of the project is to use 2,000 miles of yarn to knit blankets. The significance of that staggering number? It’s the approximate length of President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall between the U.S. and Mexico. Those participating in the project are asked to knit (or crochet, or sew) a blanket that is 40 inches by 40 inches, which averages 1,200 yards. That means about 3,200 blankets will be needed to meet the goal. Participants are encouraged to make their blankets “something you would like to receive” and think of it as “a gift to a neighbor.”
  • Baby Hats. Don’t want to knit a blanket? How about baby hats? Oklahoma needs 5,000 of them, all in purple. Why? The campaign is part of an effort to raise awareness of Shaken Baby Syndrome, a form of abusive head trauma that’s a damaging parental response to excessive crying and can result in serious brain injury. The effort, dubbed “Click for Babies” after the sound knitting needles make, is intended to highlight the potential hazards of improper infant care. Why purple? Because the National Center for Shaken Baby Syndrome refers to an infant’s period of prolonged crying as the PURPLE period. The word is an acronym for reminders about the syndrome: L, for example, stands for Long-Lasting. Babies can cry for five hours a day, up to four months of age.

Don’t knit. Here’s a non-knitting item:



Household Chum

Sometimes news chum is just useful information. Here’s a bunch of items, all related to your house or your household:



Generations and Growing Up

This news chum post has coalesced around the theme of generations, generational changes, and growing up:

  • Dealing With The Stuff. Actually, the title of this article says it all: “Boomer parents: ‘One day, this will all be yours.’ Grown children: ‘Noooo!’“. Basically, dealing with our parent’s stuff. They collect it. It has meaning to them. They leave it to us. We have no idea what to do with it. We keep some, donate the rest, and accumulate stuff with meaning to us. Which we then leave to our children. Which they don’t want.
  • The Casserole. Quite likely, some of that stuff is Pyrex baking casseroles. Compared to modern kitchen items, vintage Pyrex — which is heavy, increasingly expensive and not dishwasher safe — doesn’t seem immediately practical. Yet people remain obsessed with the old Pyrex — not just to look at but to actually use. And they collect it. And this article is about their collecting it.
  • Working Online. For the younger generation, there is the belief that they can be the next “You Tube” star with their video log, or with their written fashion or makeup blogs. Think again. Most fail.
  • Man-Boys. No, I’m not talking about Peter Pan again. Rather, the spoiled white men who never seem to grow up. Here’s an interesting opinion piece on the subject (from the NY Times), exploring why society allows them to get away with it (cough, Trump, cough), and how that ability is denied to non-whites.

Better Get Them To Sign It In The Next Coupla Days…

Every year I post this on the 4th of July. For all that certain groups purport to know what this country’s founders wanted, I think it is best expressed in the sentiment “life, liberty, and the purſuit of happineſſ”. We still have that, for all the complaints. At times we may not like our leadership, at times we may think that those running for (or elected to, or appointed to) political office are clowns or buffoons, and at times we may be frustrated at how our government is working (or not), but it is still the best system out there. Lastly, as much as I get annoyed at what those on the other side of the political spectrum say, I am still pleased to live somewhere where they have the right to say it. Happy Independence Day!

But first, however, we rise for the National Anthem:

Rumplemeyer’s Horseshoes
Are the best you can use
What so proudly he nailed
Onto all kinds of horses
Whose broad backs and bright eyes
As they smile in their stalls
Give proof through the night
That they wear Rumplemeyer’s
Ask the horse who owns one
He’ll say, “Son of a gun
Rumplemeyer’s Horseshoes
Are, by me, number one”
That’s Rumplemeyer’s Horseshoes
Spelled R-U-M-P-L-E-Meyer’s
Twenty-seven Chestnut Street
Ask for Harry or Dave

And now, on with our narrative:

Narrator: The trouble continued to brew. It was a time for action, a time for words. On a hot July night in 1776, Benjamin Franklin was aroused from his work by the call of destiny. Read More …


Useful Stuff

One of the folders I have on my list of bookmarks is something labeled “Useful Stuff” — a collection of references and links that I keep coming back to because they are so useful. As I just added one today, I thought I would share the list with you:

  • Temporary Email Addresses. Have you ever had to give an email address to a site when you didn’t want to? Matadors CCU wrote about an interesting solution to that problem today: provides a free disposable email address that lasts as long as you have the window open. Email sent to the account automatically pops up, but everything about the account goes away when you close the window.
  • Network Tools. The DNS Toolbox provides a large number of DNS-based tools. However, it can’t do the good traceroute to (you must try it). For that, use the Online Visual Traceroute.
  • Finding a Real Person. Tired of calling a number and ended up in voice-menu hell? Here’s how to get a real person. Also useful is
  • Credit Reports. Federal law (until Trump changes it) requires each credit reporting agency to give you one free report a year. Here’s how to request it. Hint: Do a different agency every four months, rotating, to keep up to date.
  • 2FA. We all know how important it is to use two-factor authentication. What if you lose your phone and it is the 2nd factor. Here’s what to do. By the way, if you don’t know how to turn on 2FA, here’s how for many sites. Also useful is the 2FA List.
  • URL Encoding and Decoding. If you practice good security hygiene, you know what the URLs are before you go to them. But that’s difficult when URLs are encoded with loads of % codes, or it is a tiny URL, or a URL in an email. URL-Encode-Decode allows you to encode or decode a URL from the UTF % forms. GetLinkInfo takes a URL and follows all the redirections to the end, letting you know if it is safe.
  • Characters and Emojis. Three useful sites here. The Character Entity Reference Chart is a list of all HTML encodable character. Character-Code provides a list of all sorts of characters that you can cut and paste, including some iconic symbols. Both are incomplete when it comes to Emoji; for that, you need Emojipedia.
  • Time. Figure out the time anywhere with XKCD Now.
  • Password Generation. XKCD can also help you with XKPassword, a password generator. I also like the nonsense word generator.