Sunday, September 24, 2017

Ethics and Christianity

In first Samuel, chapter 15, we learn that Saul was commanded to:
 "[Attack] the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys."
This is the first genocide that is recorded in history, so far as I know.  It is a "final solution" far more complete than that of Hitler against the Jews.  It has important ethical considerations with regard to Christianity.  Specifically, any form of Christianity which is literalist enough in its interpretation of the Bible such that Samuel's command to Saul to slay the Amalekites was in fact a command from God is committed to the view that genocide is sometimes the morally correct thing to do.  Indeed, given that the 'offense' of the Amalekites was to attack the Israelites as they sojourned from Egypt (Exodus 17), even moderately literalist Christians are committed to the view that genocide can be the morally correct thing to do based on the actions of the forebears of a people, 13 or more generations beforehand.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Hurful anti-gay propaganda

The ABC reported on a hurtful and mean spirited poster used in Melbourne on Aug 21st.  The poster shows a child, huddled into themselves while two men stand over him with rainbow coloured belts, doubled up as if to deliver a beating.  It leads with a headline statistic that 92% of children of same sex parents have experienced abuse; which from the context of the poster must be interpreted as physical abuse.  That statistic, and others used on the poster come from a poor study by Paul Sullins published last year (Invisible Victims: Delayed Onset Depression among Adults with Same-Sex Parents).

The abuse statistic, as noted above, is incorrectly portrayed by the poster.  The study actually reports:
"Retrospective questions at Waves III and IV asked about adult mistreatment during childhood, including whether a parent or caregiver had “slapped, hit or kicked you,” said “things that hurt your feelings or made you feel you were not wanted or loved,” or “touched you in a sexual way, forced you to touch him or her in a sexual way, or forced you to have sex relations.” Respondents reporting any physical, verbal, or sexual abuse at either Wave were coded positive for abuse victimization. Four-fifths (79%, 95% CI 77–80) of reported mistreatment was verbal abuse."  (My emphasis.)

So, only 19% of children in the study reported physical and or sexual abuse, with the other 73% being cases in which there was at least one instance of at least one of their parents saying something which "... hurt your feelings or made you feel you were not wanted or loved".  What is more, from the way the question is phrased, the parent who thus abused the child need not have even been one fo the same sex couple, but may have been the partner in a prior opposite sex relationship of their natural parent.

What is more, there is something very hypocritical about this poster.  The majority of opposition to marriage equality is religious based, and in Australia in particular, based on the Christian religion.  It is a precept of the Christian religion that, "Those who spare the rod of discipline hate their children. Those who love their children care enough to discipline them."  Paraphrasing based on the poster (and the study), "Whoever does not abuse their child, hates their child."

That, of course, is a ridiculous paraphrase, but likewise the poster is an absolute distortion in following the study in not distinguishing between actual physical abuse carefully adminstered discipline, and between actual abuse and words that merely hurt feelings.  It should be noted, however, that to the extent that Christian's actually believe, and follow the teachings of their bible, one hundred percent of children of Christian parents will have experience abuse, by the standards of the poster and the study.

The study itself has face devastating criticism from Nathaniel Frank ("Comment on “Invisible Victims: Delayed Onset Depression among Adults with Same-Sex Parents”").  Frank writes:
"Sullins claims that his study examines “children raised by same-sex parents into early adulthood.” But in fact, he has zero basis to draw this conclusion, as he is applying a wholly untenable definition of “raised by.” All he knows about his dataset is that his subjects, who ranged in age from 12 to 18, spent some of their teenage years with a parent who at some point had a same-sex partner. Since we do not know if that partner was ever actually a parent, legally or otherwise, it is inaccurate to characterize such households as “same-sex parented” as Sullins does eleven times. It is even more inaccurate to claim that those living in these households were “raised by” same-sex parents, since we know nothing about the youths’ parentage before their teenage years."
That criticism is a little overstated in that, "The partner parents in [Sullins'] sample were thus all designated by the children in their care as a parent, as their “mother,” “step-mother,” “father,” “step-father,” or similar."  That is, they may not have been legally parents of the children, but were considered to be parents by them.  But what is not overstated is that the same sex partners of the natural parents typically had not been so from birth.

Sullins defends himself on that point by saying:
"On the broadest measure of tenure, that is, time in the care of the longer-tenured parent, average parental tenure was close to current age and did not differ between same-sex and opposite-sex parent families. ... There are good grounds to say the children were “raised by” these parents."
But that response is evasive.  Of course the children had spent their lifetime, or nearly their entire lifetime with their 'longer-tenured parent', ie, their natural parent in the vast majority of cases.  But that in no way implies they had spent a similar period with the other parent, ie, being raised by that couple.  In fact, children of same sex parents had typically spent just 51% of the time living with both parents as they had with the "longest tenured parent", compared to 91% for children of opposite sex couples in the study (see Table 1).  In other words, the children of same sex parents had lived about half their life (on average) without their natural parents new partner, during which period they may have had multiple other step parents, or none.  They are likely to have gone through at least one traumatic separation from a prior parent.

So, in addition to inflating the abuse statistic by the very low bar ("hurt feelings"), Sullins is comparing children of stable, long term opposite sex marriage to children of same sex couples who have gone through either at least one relationship breakup, or lived most their life in a single parent household, and who are currently living with a step parent.  He does not control for these extra factors.  Nor does he control for the extensive bullying of the children of same sex parents that until recently was the norm, nor (come to that) the extensive persecution of their homosexual parents which used to be the norm, and which his statistics are being used to perpetuate.  Like many studies aimed at attacking the LGBTI community, Sullins' study gains its results by comparing apples with oranges.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Here is the rainfall within 128 Km of the Mount Stapylton radar near Brisbane.  The first map is for the 24 hours up until 9:00 AM, Thursday the 30th of March, 2017.  The second map is for the following 23.5 hours.  Combined they give a good idea of where the rainfall from ex-tropical cyclone Bettie ended up as it passed over Brisbane.

Looking at the map, Brisbane proper got of lightly.  Regions near the city center copped as much as 200 mm, but other regions only got about 100 mm (including where I live).  In contrast, areas near Caboolture copped 300 to 400 mm, as did the head waters of the Logan River (the area in the triangle formed by Greenbanks, Beaudesert and Boonah).  That is the likely cause of the Logan River setting a record flood.  Worst was the Gold Coast, with the area centered on Murwillumbah, which has copped more than 400 mm of rain, with some receiving as much as 500 mm.  Small bickies compared to Proserpines 1 meter of rainfall in 24 hours, but still a lot.  Indeed, a very lot for rivers with short catchments to handle.

For more information, the ABC has a good round up.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Debunking Presidential Election Myths

It's probably time to debunk some myths.

The first myth is that America voted for Trump. In fact, more people voted for Hillary Clinton than for Donald Trump. Politico shows that 59,814,018 voted for Clinton, while 59,611,678 voted for Trump. That is Hilary Clinton received 202,340 votes more than Trump, thereby receiving 50.08% of the vote of those voting for a major candidate. There are two reasons why Trump got elected despite Clinton receiving more votes. The first reason is that the system is rigged against Democrats. That fact is that in the US, for Presidential Elections, not all votes are equal. That is because Article II, Section 1 of the US Constitution requires that each state have a number of members in the Electoral College equal to the combined total of their Members of the House of Representatives, and their Senators (ie, 2 per state). Because Wyoming (population 429,000) has two Senators, just as does New York (population 19.8 Million). The result is that a vote for President in Wyoming is worth 3.6 times as much as a similar vote in New York. Slate plotted the power of electoral college votes in 2012:

A comparison with a map of Red and Blue States shows a distinct bias in favour of the Republicans:

Of greater concern is the practice in most states of giving the person with the most votes in that state all the Electoral College votes from that state.  Thus in Florida, while Clinton trailed Trump by 1.3%, receiving 47.8% of the vote, Trump received all 26 of the Electoral College votes.  A difference of 0.1% of the national vote made a difference 52 in the relative Electoral College count.  Indeed, had 60,000 Trump voters in Florida voted Clinton instead, we would have a knife edge election with Clinton currently on 254 Electoral College votes to Trump's 253.  Nevada (6 votes), Pennsylvania (20 votes) fell to Trump by similarly close margins.  Without this bizarre feature in which a persons vote is set at nothing if they did not vote with the majority in their state, Clinton would have won the majority of the Electoral College votes in a close run election despite the pro Republican gerrymander mentioned above.

Whatever can be said for this system, that it is democratic is not one of them.  It is unlikely, but in principle this system could deliver the Presidency to a person with less than 25% of the popular vote.  That it only occasionally produces a President with a minority of the popular vote (the last time being to George W Bush) is down to good luck, not to any merit in the system.  And while Trump will happily accept a victory on these terms, the evidence is strong he would not have accepted a defeat where he had more of the popular vote.

The second myth is that Trump was elected by the working class.  Wikipedia has a rundown of the demographics the people who claimed to vote for Trump in exit polls.  Liberals and Moderates voted for Clinton, while Conservatives voted for Trump.  Republicans and independents voted for Trump, while Democrats voted for Clinton.  Woman voted for Clinton, while men voted for Trump, but married women voted for Trump while single men voted for Clinton.  Whites voted for Trump, while all other racial groups voted for Clinton. Protestants and Mormons voted for Trump, while people from all other religious affiliations voted for Clinton.  Those under forty voted for Clinton, while those older voted for Trump.  And here are the kickers, those without a college education, or with a post graduate education voted for Clinton, but those with only an undergraduate degree voted for Trump.  Those on $50,000 per annum or more voted for Trump, while those with less voted for Clinton.  Finally, those living in suburbs or the country voted for Trump, while who lived in cities voted for Clinton.

If you make a profile from this, you do not get somebody from the working class.  Rather, you get a white married person in middle age, or older who has a college education and is on above medium income.  The are not the people who lost jobs in the rust belt, but rather people who are doing reasonably well and are seeking to protect their advantage.  In short, the profile of a Trump voter fits the profile of a Tea Party member to a "t".

Trump was not voted in by the disaffected working class, but by the radical, irrational right.  By that body of the American public that have trained themselves to believe utterly irrational things, be it about global warming, the location of Barack Obama's birth, or the cause of the collapse of the Twin Towers in 9/11.  Having trained themselves in irrationality, they have been suckers for it in the form of Donald Trump.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Same Sex Marriage and Children

Many opponents of same sex marriage use as their bedrock argument, the claim that the children of same sex relationships fair poorly when compared to those from stable, heterosexual marriages.  I do not think that is the case.  In the USA, the children of African-American couples fair more poorly than do the children of same sex relationships, as do the children of people having an income below US$25,000 a year  (Rosenfeld 2010).  In both cases the performance is significantly less than is the average for the children of heterosexual married couples (significant to the 99.9% level).  Yet we do not on that basis argue that the marriage act should be amended so as to forbid the marriage of African-Americans or of the relatively poor within our society.  The reason we do not apply a parallel argument to that used against same sex marriage, even though the evidence supporting the argument is stronger, is that we do not think that race or wealth are morally relevant criteria on which to make that distinction.  Not only that, we do not think that the comparatively poor outcomes for the children of African-American or impoverished couples are sufficient basis to make them distinct moral categories with respect to marriage.  I think we can be stronger than that.  For most of us, including me, we think it would be morally offensive to argue for a ban on the marriage African-American or impoverished couples on that basis.

It follows from that, and that for some people they consider the outcomes of children relevant to the same sex marriage debate that they have already included the moral distinctness with respect to marriage of same sex couples as a premise in their argument.  Had they not already included that distinction, then the evidence with regard to children would be as irrelevant as it is in the case of race or poverty.  So, rather than being an argument from the moral distinctness of same sex relationships when it comes to marriage (as it purports to be), the argument from the welfare of children already assumes its conclusion in it premises.  It acts as an apologia to reinforce prejudice rather than as a reason that stands on its own.

Why there are no good arguments against same sex marriage

"Just so you know, I think support for marriage equality is a no brainer. The argument that same-sex marriage contradicts the definition of marriage is obviously false. We do not react to as we do to phrases like "a perfectly round square".

Nor is true that we are overly keen to preserve traditions all traditions of marriage.  In the Western European tradition, it used to be that the tradition was that marriage required no consent. It used to be that marriage could be solemnized with children as young as 12. It used to be that on marriage, women lost all legal standing. It used to be that on marriage, all of a woman's property became legally her husbands. It used to be that on marriage, a woman could not dissent from sex with her husband, so that if he forced her, it was not legally rape. All of these traditions (with there associated traditional definition of what marriage involved) we have been glad to get rid of as frankly immoral. That we should now further depart from the traditional Western European custom to, IMO, amend a grave, immoral restriction is no more troubling than that we no longer consider marital rape acceptable in law and custom. Certainly, the argument that we should preserve that tradition because it is the tradition fails in the face of these repeated amendments of what was involved, by law and tradition, in marriage.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Convention and ethics

Mathematics is a convention, but not an arbitrary convention. You cannot make a coherent mathematics in which the Peano axioms of arithmatic do not exist, or fail to define the natural numbers, addition, subtraction , multiplication and division. Likewise, ethics is just convention, but not arbitrary convention. Specifically, you cannot have a fully rational ethic in which it is acceptable to treat people as purely means to ends, or to consider their needs and desires fundamentally less important than your own. It follows that rape is wrong in any truly rational ethical convention, as is murder, and even dishonesty. Evil is just the persistent choice of an irrational ethical convention for your personal convenience, or perhaps for that of an ideology you hold. It is like insisting that 1+1 = 0 when adding up what you owe to others, but that 1+1=3 when adding up what others owe to you.