Wednesday, August 17, 2016

what are the chances?

I spotted another outing for the old tabloid favourite of a child being born on the same day as its parents last week - this time it was the Ballingalls of Evesham (who all celebrate a birthday on August 1st) who prompted a frenzy of uncritical parroting of nonsense from various drunken hacks, principally the claim that the odds against such an occurrence are 1 in 48 million.

Just to reiterate the point I made at greater length last time, the odds against any random 3-person group (let's say mother, father, baby for the sake of argument, as that seems to have more of a pull for the newspapers, rather than, say, three randomly-chosen people down the pub, although the maths is exactly the same) sharing a birthday are 1 in 133,225. The odds of a random 3-person group all having a birthday on a date you specify in advance are indeed in the neighbourhood of 1 in 48 million, but that's not a situation that arises in any of these tabloid stories. It's easier to see the difference if you just consider one person and reflect on the difference in the answers to the questions "what are the chances of a person being born on May 15th?" and "what are the chances of a person being born on their own birthday?". The odds, given a pair of parents who share a birthday, of their child having the same birthday are - at worst - 1 in 365.

You would expect, if the odds really were 1 in 48 million, for this to be a pretty rare event. You can work out how rare by finding out how many babies are born per day in the UK, and the answer appears to be roughly 2,000 (as compared with just over 350,000 worldwide). So you'd expect one of these events roughly every 24,000 days in the UK; that's about once every 65 years. A very quick Google for similar stories just from the UK reveals the following - there are some variants in terms of which three family members share the birthday, but it doesn't affect the probabilities, and the trigger for the story is always the arrival of a new baby:
  • this story from October 2010 about three siblings sharing a birthday - amusingly, the mathematics professor they wheeled in to give an opinion about probabilities gives the right answer, which the headline writer clearly ignored;
  • this one from January 2016 about a baby sharing a birthday with dad and grandmother;
  • another baby/dad/grandma combo from February 2015.
So, if you include the recent one (but exclude the one in my old post, as that was actually in the USA) that's four in a little under six years, which ought to suggest to the 1 in 48 million folks that they might have made an error somewhere. 1 in 133,225 would suggest an occurrence roughly every 65 days, i.e. once every couple of months. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

the last book I read

Statues in A Garden by Isabel Colegate.

It's the summer of 1914, and Aylmer Weston is a cabinet minister in the Asquith government. It was pretty much a requirement for being a senior MP in those days that you were independently wealthy and didn't have to do anything as mundane and time-consuming as a day job, so Aylmer spends his leisure time hanging out at Charleswood, his country retreat, where his wife Cynthia organises fabulous gatherings and there is much carefree flapping and jolly japery.

Aylmer and Cynthia have three children, Edmund, Violet and Kitty. Edmund is the stolid reliable type, Violet is about to embark on a suitable marriage to a stupendously dull young man, and young Kitty is a bit skittish, so a governess, Alice, is employed to keep her mind on her studies and off unsuitable subjects like ravenously gobbling off unsuitable men. You know what girls are like.

And then there is Philip, Aylmer's nephew, adopted into the family on the death of his parents in India. A more brittle, quixotic character than the others, presumably lacking their easy certainty and sense of entitlement, he soon gets embroiled in an ill-advised business relationship with a man called Horgan, who has some shares to sell in a mining company that is a dead cert for massive profits. So much so, in fact, that Philip would be a fool not to get his family in on the deal; in fact he'd be practically robbing them not to.

So Philip extracts ten grand or so from Aylmer and Edmund (a very serious wedge in those days) and, unsurprisingly, it soon becomes apparent that Horgan's company isn't quite the dead cert he thought it was. As wealthy as the Westons are, losing ten grand or so is going to hurt, but Aylmer is heavily preoccupied with the Irish question and in any case has the upper-class Englishman's desire to avoid confrontation.

So with Violet off doing wedding preparations and Aylmer constantly up in London, Philip finds himself knocking around at Charleswood with little to do and often only Cynthia for company. Eventually the endless rounds of sherry and backgammon start to pall and Philip and Cynthia get down to some serious fucking, discreetly at first but eventually less so, and in the aftermath of one particularly furious encounter the housemaid, Beatrice, finds them in a state of post-coital slumber in Cynthia's bed. Proving that the lower orders really aren't to be trusted, she inevitably blabs to Aylmer in the act of handing in her notice.

Aylmer's uptight stiff-upper-lip upbringing hasn't really equipped him for having to confront his wife with the knowledge that she's been having an incestuous affair with her own nephew/stepson, and after a tense showdown with Cynthia he pops off and drowns himself in the river. Philip feels disinclined to hang about after this, and heads off to London where he immerses himself in Horgan's business and eventually becomes a rich man, partly off the back of some dealings during the First World War which breaks out shortly afterwards, and whose unimaginable carnage puts all the country house shenanigans into perspective.

The obvious thing to say about Statues In A Garden is that it ploughs a similar furrow to the other Isabel Colegate on this list, The Shooting Party. The other obvious thing to say in relation to that comparison is that the later book (Statues In A Garden was published in 1964, The Shooting Party in 1980) is much better, for a number of reasons, not least because the later book introduces some interesting tension between the above- and below-stairs characters. The lower orders don't feature much at all here, apart from Beatrice's moment of glory and some slightly Driving Miss Daisy-esque interaction between Aylmer's mother and her driver, Moberley. It's almost as if Isabel Colegate thought: I really fancy having another crack at that upper-class types on the eve of war thing, only with a richer and more compelling story.

That said, there's nothing wrong with this, beyond its slightness in terms of story. Obviously a bit of the old incest is a compelling plot point, just as it was in previous books in this series here, here, here, here, here and here. Stories featuring the lead-up to World War I are a sort of popular sub-genre of the That Last Golden Summer Before Everything Went To Shit genre, a non-war-related example of which can be found here. A revelation of some sexual shenanigans culminating in a key male character faceplanting fatally into some water was also a climactic plot point in A Fairly Honourable Defeat.

Monday, August 01, 2016

highway 61 not revisited

Another major, another round of 63 to add to the list. This time it was Robert Streb at the USPGA at Baltusrol; this one was via the long-birdie-putt-on-last-hole variety, like Stenson's at the Open.

Jimmy Walker won, so Streb's round makes the current score 23-7 in favour of a 63 not leading to a victory.

Johnny MillerUS Open1973finalWONJohnny Miller
Bruce CramptonUSPGA1975second2ndJack Nicklaus
Mark HayesOpen1977secondtied 9thTom Watson
Jack NicklausUS Open1980firstWONJack Nicklaus
Tom WeiskopfUS Open1980first37thJack Nicklaus
Isao AokiOpen1980thirdtied 12thTom Watson
Raymond FloydUSPGA1982firstWONRaymond Floyd
Gary PlayerUSPGA1984secondtied 2ndLee Trevino
Nick PriceMasters1986third5thJack Nicklaus
Greg NormanOpen1986secondWONGreg Norman
Paul BroadhurstOpen1990thirdtied 12thNick Faldo
Jodie MuddOpen1991finaltied 5thIan Baker-Finch
Nick FaldoOpen1993second2ndGreg Norman
Payne StewartOpen1993final12thGreg Norman
Vijay SinghUSPGA1993second4thPaul Azinger
Michael BradleyUSPGA1995firsttied 54thSteve Elkington
Brad FaxonUSPGA1995final5thSteve Elkington
Greg NormanMasters1996first2ndNick Faldo
Jose Maria OlazabalUSPGA2000thirdtied 4thTiger Woods
Mark O’MearaUSPGA2001secondtied 22ndDavid Toms
Vijay SinghUS Open2003secondtied 20thJim Furyk
Thomas BjornUSPGA2005thirdtied 2ndPhil Mickelson
Tiger WoodsUSPGA2007secondWONTiger Woods
Rory McIlroyOpen2010firsttied 3rdLouis Oosthuizen
Steve Stricker USPGA2011firsttied 12thKeegan Bradley
Jason Dufner USPGA2013secondWONJason Dufner
Hiroshi Iwata USPGA2015secondtied 21stJason Day
Phil MickelsonOpen2016first2ndHenrik Stenson
Henrik StensonOpen2016finalWONHenrik Stenson
Robert StrebUSPGA2016secondtied 7thJimmy Walker

Speaking of Henrik Stenson, one of the things sports journalists had to be careful about after his Open win was hailing him as the first Swedish man to win a major championship, there being a long and glorious history of Swedish women winning majors, most notably Annika Sörenstam who won ten of them.

Similarly, I should be clear that the list of 63s above represents the lowest rounds ever shot in a men's major golf championship. The women's list (well, lists, actually) is rather different. Let's start from the beginning: as far as I can tell the round of 63 shot by Patty Sheehan at the 1984 LPGA was the first in a women's major. This set a record that was equalled twice, as follows:

Patty SheehanLPGA1984thirdWONPatty Sheehan
Helen AlfredssonWomen's US Open1994firsttied 9thPatty Sheehan
Meg MallonLPGA1999firsttied 11thJuli Inkster

Rather than grow to gargantuan proportions like the men's list, though, the women's list was brutally truncated to a single entry by Minea Blomqvist's 62 at the Women's British Open in 2004. This set a new record that was equalled once:

Minea BlomqvistWomen's British Open2004thirdtied 8thKaren Stupples
Lorena OchoaKraft Nabisco Championship2006first2ndKarrie Webb

But, again, all this was wiped from the record books in 2014, when 19-year-old Korean Hyo-Joo Kim shot 61 on her way to winning the Evian Championship.

Hyo-Joo KimEvian Championship2014firstWONHyo-Joo Kim

That round remains the sole occupant of the women's list. This is what will inevitably eventually happen to the men's list once one of those lip-out putts finally drops and someone shoots a 62, or just hoofs the door down completely and shoots 59 or something.