Clearly, I’m not the first priest to go to Def Con! Here’s a photo from Def Con 7 in 1999.
Clearly, I’m not the first priest to go to Def Con! Here’s a photo from Def Con 7 in 1999.
One of today’s Bible readings is Matthew 13:24-30, the Parable of the Wheat and Weeds. In the ESV, it goes like this:
He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”
Today I was also reading Cory Doctorow’s new novel Little Brother. In chapter 8, the Department of Homeland Security seeks to root out terrorists by testing an individual persons’ behavior against some normative behavior. The test passes and the person is innocent (wheat); the test fails and the person is a terrorist (weed). Trouble is: statistical error makes this kind of discernment difficult. In the words of Cory:
If you ever decide to do something as stupid as build an automatic terrorism detector, here’s a math lesson you need to learn first. It’s called “the paradox of the false positive,” and it’s a doozy.
Say you have a new disease, called Super-AIDS. Only one in a million people gets Super-AIDS. You develop a test for Super-AIDS that’s 99 percent accurate. I mean, 99 percent of the time, it gives the correct result — true if the subject is infected, and false if the subject is healthy. You give the test to a million people.
One in a million people have Super-AIDS. One in a hundred people that you test will generate a “false positive” — the test will say he has Super-AIDS even though he doesn’t. That’s what “99 percent accurate” means: one percent wrong.
What’s one percent of one million?
1,000,000/100 = 10,000
One in a million people has Super-AIDS. If you test a million random people, you’ll probably only find one case of real Super-AIDS. But your test won’t identify one person as having Super-AIDS. It will identify 10,000 people as having it.
Your 99 percent accurate test will perform with 99.99 percent inaccuracy.
That’s the paradox of the false positive. When you try to find something really rare, your test’s accuracy has to match the rarity of the thing you’re looking for. If you’re trying to point at a single pixel on your screen, a sharp pencil is a good pointer: the pencil-tip is a lot smaller (more accurate) than the pixels. But a pencil-tip is no good at pointing at a single atom in your screen. For that, you need a pointer — a test — that’s one atom wide or less at the tip.
This is the paradox of the false positive, and here’s how it applies to terrorism:
Terrorists are really rare. In a city of twenty million like New York, there might be one or two terrorists. Maybe ten of them at the outside. 10/20,000,000 = 0.00005 percent. One twenty-thousandth of a percent.
That’s pretty rare all right. Now, say you’ve got some software that can sift through all the bank-records, or toll-pass records, or public transit records, or phone-call records in the city and catch terrorists 99 percent of the time.
In a pool of twenty million people, a 99 percent accurate test will identify two hundred thousand people as being terrorists. But only ten of them are terrorists. To catch ten bad guys, you have to haul in and investigate two hundred thousand innocent people.
Guess what? Terrorism tests aren’t anywhere close to 99 percent accurate. More like 60 percent accurate. Even 40 percent accurate, sometimes.
What this all meant was that the Department of Homeland Security had set itself up to fail badly. They were trying to spot incredibly rare events — a person is a terrorist — with inaccurate systems.
Is it any wonder we were able to make such a mess?
Telling the difference between actual wheat and a weed is pretty easy. That test has just about no chance of error. But for someone without a green thumb, telling the difference between the good plants and the weeds isn’t as easy. Just the same way, you can’t tell the difference between a terrorist and an innocent person very easily. Cory estimates that 40-60% accuracy is about right, but I’m not as optimistic.
It’s an interesting collision of two readings today. Saint Matthew and Cory Doctorow both put the same paradox of false positive into the mouths of Jesus and Marcus. Be careful when trying to root out the weeds (you probably aren’t as good at it as you think)! For now, the wheat and the weeds will just have to live together.
The answer is, instead of building small churches for these subdivisions of houses, what has happened is, each suburb has a gigantic mega-church within driving distance (at least the ones in Phoenix that I’m familiar with did). Now, with all this complaining about social capital being squandered, it would seem, prima facie that the maximum opportunity for people to interact is being provided on Sundays at these mega churches. However, the opposite is happening. After all, one of my simultaneously favorite and also least-favorite things about mega churches is the anonymity they provide. When i lived in Phoenix, I went to mega churches occasionally before I found a PCA church to attend. One of the loneliest and most ironic experiences is entering a gigantic church where communion with one another as well as with God is supposed to happen and actually finding a more anonymous experience than entering a darkened theater to watch the latest blockbuster.
Frankincense lowers anxiety in lab mice and is considered to be psychoactive. From ThinkGene:
Religious leaders have contended for millennia that burning incense is good for the soul. Now, biologists have learned that it is good for our brains too. In a new study appearing online in The FASEB Journal (http://www.fasebj.org), an international team of scientists, including researchers from Johns Hopkins University and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, describe how burning frankincense (resin from the Boswellia plant) activates poorly understood ion channels in the brain to alleviate anxiety or depression. This suggests that an entirely new class of depression and anxiety drugs might be right under our noses.
Also from Science Blogs from the Hippie perspective.
The folks from Hackers for Charity are talking about having a meet-up at Def Con 16. I’m making my plans to go and meet with Johnny Long and the gang from our AOET project. Just the other day, the list of Def Con speakers got published, and I’m excited for what’s on the menu (especially the EFF panel).
I’m planning to be up-front about my identity and wear a clerical collar for the event. Last year’s ejection of an NBC Dateline reporter is evidence enough to avoid anything discreet or undercover. I’ll probably be met with some resistance from people, but hopefully it can open up a conversation here and there.
As I’m preparing, I’m thinking of the questions I’ll be exploring during that visit and in my follow-up study time. Here’s a few:
People from the engineering disciplines appear often to be atheists or at least non-Christians. Is this in fact true? Why? Why are a spectrum of other educated professions represented in the Church but engineers relatively thin on the ground?
Why hack “for charity?” What values, ethics or morals are being put into action here? Are these principles traditionally found in Christianity or not? Where do these principles or values come from in a largely atheistic group?
Similarly, what about the sense of values, ethics or morals distinguish “white hat” and “black hat” hacking?
Why should Christians care about concerns of hackers, especially privacy and security? How can we mutually benefit from one another’s concerns? How might engineers serve the Church and how might the Church further some of these values and principles?
Hopefully in the next few months I can do some reading and preparation so that I might be ready to take advantage of two days in Las Vegas and have something to write as a result.
Typically I stay away from ecclesiastical controversies when I write on this blog. There’s plenty of sites that cover that stuff. It gets tiresome fast. The discussion goes nowhere fast and devolves into rhetoric and the abuse of Godwin’s Law very fast. (See also: my piece on Christians attacking a MySpace group for Atheists and any other entrenched conversation such as Democrats vs. Republicans, Pro-choice vs. pro-life or Tastes Great vs. Less Filling.)
But there’s a conversation of local interest that’s been happening. I can report the discussion going on in Concord, NH. On Sunday (May 18), the Concord Monitor ran an article about Bishop Gene Robinson’s new book, In the Eye of the Storm: Swept to the Center by God.
The article, The Bishop Who Doesn’t Back Down, is a balanced one. It teases out Bishop Robinson’s dilemma within the Anglican Communion but also criticizes the book as not broadening the conversation enough.
While the original article offered a balanced critique of the Bishop’s book, Cote and Parry rush in to condemn and repeat the Bible’s well-known “clobber verses.” Here is our sign of an entrenched conversation: there is no recognition that thoughtful Christian folk have offered responses to those verses or that others have responded to those responses and so on. Quite simply, the conversations remains locked in the Somme, soldiers never advancing and content to fire mortar across a wide distance.
There will always be people willing to fight in the trenches. This warfare seems to degrade the soul and isn’t much for me, but it seems it will always be with us. My greater concern is that the Concord Monitor prints and re-prints these letters, re-inforcing the trenches. As a newspaper the Monitor ought to be invested in facilitating and furthering public conversation. They should be helping factions find reconciliation rather than set up barbed wire and widen the no-man’s land.
The Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University reports that the Millennial generation is just as generous as previous generations when it comes to philanthropic giving. Any suggestion that Millennials are less giving than other generations is not tied to their generation, but correlated to any number of other factors.
This is good news for anyone involved with young adult ministries!
Here’s a lengthy quote before you go read it all:
The study of more than 10,000 individuals across five generations examines differences in giving trends, including motivations for giving, types of causes supported and amount donated. While those in the Millennial generation (born after 1981) are generally less likely to give and tend to give less when they do make a donation, the study found that this trend is associated with income, education level and religious attendance, rather than generation. All other factors being equal, the average giving level of Millennials was roughly equivalent to that of other generations.
“There’s a perception in the nonprofit world that young people aren’t as philanthropic, so this is great news,” says Shaun Keister, Ph.D., annual giving consultant with Campbell & Company. “A lot of the members of the Millennial generation are still in school or have lower salaries because they’re at the beginning of their careers, so this suggests that their giving may rise along with their earning power.”
Other key findings of the Center on Philanthropy study included:
- Members of the Millennial generation are more likely than any other generation to cite the “desire to make the world a better place to live” as a key motivation for their philanthropic giving.
- Members of the Silent generation (born between 1929 and 1945) are more likely to cite “need to provide services that the government can’t or won’t” as one of their most important motivations for giving.
Individuals in all generations who attend religious services at least once a year are more likely than those who never attend to support both religious and secular organizations.
OK, so this picture isn’t really about net neutrality, but it gets at the main point. This is our future if you want to pay what you pay for Internet now and get only “200 websites in all!” The least expensive option offers what you already get on TV: ABC, NBC, Disney.
If this plan takes off, it will cripple the user-driven nature of the web that we have in (for example) Wikipedia, Facebook, and Blogger. To reverse Clay Shirky, “There Goes Everybody!”
Keep the net neutral! Equal access for all!
Mostly best summed up as “the future will follow current trends and not be more of the same.” This is as good material when looking at church statistics as when predicting technology trends.
Last week, this study upset a lot of people. Christian Research reported, through twists of statistics, that Muslims will outnumber Christians in the UK by 2035. As typical, some have gone hysterical in one direction or another.
The more moderate might take the position of this Telegraph article, “The Church isn’t dying … but it needs to evolve.” George Pitcher looks beyond the hysteria (conservatives predict doom, liberals cry foul) and looks for an Anglican Third Way:
But at the risk of summoning discredited spirits, there must be a third way. It’s part of the Church’s genius that it evolves contextually in our society while maintaining eternal constants. It needs to meet its new-millennial people where they are, rather than where they used to be. It needs to redevelop the pluralistic and tolerant voice that has been at the heart of Anglicanism at its best.