Sunday, April 28, 2013

One problem with Getreligion

I link up Getreligion's site, and I think they perform a valuable service in their kind of watchdog role over religious stories in the media. They're well-written, they're informative, and the points of view they deliver are usually solid.

The problem is, quite a lot of their posts are written in a way that takes the media to task for ignorance, or where an article's choice of wording is questioned... but there's this reflexive habit to regard the whole thing as a kind of "what a mystery this is" situation.

For example: why did an article refer to a murdered baby as a fetus? Strange choice of words, for the reasons Getreligion points out.

So Getreligion asks "why, why, why", but - at least in that article - they never suggest some of the obvious potential motivations. They hint at it, and frankly it's an underhanded pitch for anyone with some sense. But they never spell it out. This is the Getreligion standard - point out some situations of biased or questionable presentation, and then ask 'Why did they do this?'

I get that this can be viewed as the most balanced, attempting-to-be-fair way of presenting their observations. But many times I end up reading this and just finding the whole thing too clever, like being in a conversation with someone who wants to do their Columbo impersonation, pretending they're confused and bewildered as stage-drama instead of just getting to the point. Eventually the whole thing just gets dull.

I think part of the frustration is in seeing a site like Getreligion be tremendously perceptive in picking out bias - that sleight of hand between 'baby' and 'fetus' is something that would slip by many - but then they pull back and act as if it's all kind of a mystery. It's like watching Sherlock Holmes pick up a variety of obscure clues, lay out the logic that would indicate the guilty party, but instead of actually following through with an accusation he backs off at the last minute and says "But, you know, I'm not a cop - I'll let the police figure this one out" and the story ends right there.

Open comments thread

It is what it is.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Kermit Gosnell is pretty much Peter Singer's views about infants, enacted

Mike Gene at Shadow to Light points out something about Kermit Gosnell's little infant slaughterfest that I missed. Gosnell's actions towards infants pretty much is just the Peter Singer philosophy enacted. If anything, it was rather restrained - Singer would extend the time period further.

Children made to kiss each other in front of their class as part of anti-bullying workshop

Because anything less would be homophobic, I assume.

I'm pretty sure that eventually the logic of this kind of thing is going to seep out into the culture and hit a point where, at least in some areas, the most masculine, heterosexual guy is going to be depicted as being so 'confident in his sexuality' that he has absolutely no problem sucking cock or getting fucked up the ass. It's those guys who don't want to do it who are sexually confused and probably gay. The special, bad sort of gay.

Conversation Tracking: Rape and sexual assault at Darwin Catholic

Since I'm using this blog to track the longer, better conversations I get in online, here's the latest: a prolonged dust-up over attitudes towards accused rapists over at Darwin Catholic.

Most of the exchange is me finding it absurd that men accused of rape or sexual assault should be, by default, regarded as guilty - not only at the moment of accusation, but even after they've been investigated and cleared. Because, hey - if you weren't guilty, chances are you wouldn't have been accused. Later this turns into something closer to 'good, upstanding moral men will generally never be falsely accused of rape or sexual assault,' which actually cashes out to 'men who look good, upstanding and moral tend never to be guilty of rape or sexual assault', which happens to be one of the very things activists on this subject tend to say is a misconception.

My favorite part was the bit where it was strongly suggested that my comments contribute to rape culture and the site's hosts should ban me because of that, lest they tell the world that Catholic Men don't care about rape. In fact, a good portion of the thread is a stellar example of the modern plague - where the 'I feels' dictate pretty well everything. Do you feel - or claim you feel - like person X is being mean? Well, then X must be dealt with. Immediately. Why should men accused of rape or sexual assault by default be regarded as guilty of it? Because that would create an environment where victims feel comfortable accusing men of rape and sexual assault. Other considerations are a distant second.

Oh, as a bonus, Darwin (whose views are pretty far from my own on this) linked me up to this pdf discussing false rape accusations, etc. There's bias in the piece, and some day I may fisk it, but for now I'm going to end this post on one of the more disturbing parts of the pdf, wherein it's explained why women shouldn't be charged or prosecuted for false rape/sexual assault claims:

For one thing, such a charge is likely to be publicized by the media and this can create problems with future jurors who use it as evidence to confirm their suspicion that many or most sexual assault reports are false. 

Even more important, such media coverage can serve as a serious deterrent for victims of sexual assault who might consider report-ing the crime to law enforcement but fear that they will not be believed.

Given the size of the caseload that most investigators and prosecutors handle, it seems difficult to justify the inordinate time that would be involved in investigating and prosecuting someone for filing a false report—given that it is typically only a misde-meanor offense. 

While it is understandable that investigators might want to prove that the report is false out of a sense of frustration and a determi-nation to get to the truth, this is probably not the best use of limited resources. Rather, the decision regarding whether to charge someone with filing a false report should simply be based on the investigative findings already documented in the case file. 

Let me stress what you just read: the National Center for the Prosecution of Violence Against Women recommends that men falsely charged with rape/sexual assault not result in their accusers being prosecuted. It's regarded as unimportant in the grand scheme of things, a waste of resources, and besides, that would give the impression that false reports of sexual assault or rape are a problem, which would then discourage victims.

There's more insanity in the article, but that one? That one is just a gem.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Argument by date - what is this fallacy called?

From the Dallas News reporting on the Boy Scouts decision to admit openly gay troops:

Last month, at a public forum in Washington, D.C., Bill Gates, the billionaire chairman of Microsoft — and a former Boy Scout — was asked by Mike Allen of Politico whether the BSA should rescind its ban on gay members and leaders.
“Absolutely,” Gates replied, without hesitation.
“Why?” Allen said.
“Because it’s 2013,” Gates responded.
Notice that this is absolutely devoid of content as an answer. You can supplement reconstructions in your head of what Gates is saying - but as an reply itself, it is as close to non-substantial as you can get. He may as well have said he holds his view because grass is green, or because Dr Pepper has caramel coloring.

But, for a lot of people, Gates just gave a reply. The very idea of asking him to actually explain himself would not only seem unnecessary, but actually somewhat rude. And it helps to illustrate what I mean about the sea change in opinion on these: it's not the result of argument, or  reasoned thinking, or much else that's substantial. It's due almost entirely to emotion, feel, and attitude.

What was the cause of the Boston bombing? "Religion" and "Faith", says AP

Of course it was.

There's that nice, broad brush, not to mention the abysmal vocabulary. So faith, generally, led to this bombing? Religion, generally, led to this bombing?

Left-wing sympathies or politics are hardly ever blamed for North Korea's general state or their belligerence. When a country goes to war for oil or money or power, you never hear anyone talk about 'secular desires' being the driving cause of their war declaration.

But if an Islamic radical carries out a bombing, it was 'faith' and 'religion' that was the culprit. Not 'Islam', or a specific variety of Islam, but 'faith' and 'religion' generally. And it's done so people can feel confident in going on to attack and criticize the religions they dislike, but which aren't responsible for this bombing, while they can remain quiet about the religion that it's not politically correct to criticize too strongly.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

I don't give a shit what George Jetson has to say about my abortion position

Now and then in discussions online, I run into the "in X years, your position will be considered vile!" claim.

In 50 years, history will look back on your opposition to gay marriage as putrid and hateful! is one common claim. Sometimes it's 20 years. Sometimes it's 50. Almost always it's measured in decades, or even centuries.

I think part of the imagined force of this argument comes from a mistaken translation of scientific progress to moral progress. Skeptics of the Wright Brothers and the ability to fly turned out to be wrong, entirely wrong, and that's not going to change. Skeptics of rocket technology? Likewise. They were wrong at the time, they're wrong 50 years later, and they'll be wrong arguably for all of time.

That's the unspoken assumption that comes with these proclamations of society eventually and overwhelmingly regarding such and such moral claim as wrong: it's not just that in 50 years a lot of people think you're wrong and that your position is immoral. It's that in 50 years, and unto eternity from that point on, your view will be regarded as wrong and immoral.

The first problem is, at least for me... I really do not give a shit whether the whole of the sentient universe, at some arbitrary but past-my-life point in the future, believes that the position I take on such and such is immoral and wrong. I'm concerned with objective morality, the will of God and my eternal life. If George fucking Jetson regards my views on abortion with shock and horror, it's of little concern to me. The very idea I should care is alien. Now, if I'm wrong about objective morality, the will of God or on an issue that may affect said afterlife, well then, that's a concern to me *right now*. You don't to bring the Jetsons into this at that point - they remain moot.

The second, and arguably larger problem, is that the claim requires moral views to be evaluated like scientific claims - and every indication is that it's a mistake to think of moral claims this way. Even wannabe 'scientific moralists' like Sam Harris are forced to realize that, at the end of the day, their talk of morality is extraordinarily reliant on fundamental arguments, axioms, and reasoning that is ultimately rooted in philosophy and metaphysics (in principle) or emotion and self-interest (in practice). While the gates of hell may not prevail against the Church, history says it can prevail against the rest of the world just fine. Really, it's far more surprising when those gates DON'T prevail.

The short of it is, even if my view is universally regarded as wrong in 50 years, in 100 years or 1000 years the lay of the land may change yet again. In fact, change 'may' to 'likely will'. If someone isn't particularly upset that their views will likely be on the moral outs with society at some undetermined point(s) in the future, why should I care that my view may be in the same position at some arbitrarily distant point in the same future?

So really - the shifting culture of the arbitrary future is not a concern to me, and I wonder if anyone who does care about it is really thinking it through.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Fisking a rape statistic

This site caught my eye.

And here's the claim that really had me curious: Factoring in unreported rapes, about 6% of rapists will ever spend a day in jail.

Interesting stat. Let's see how they run their numbers:

  • 60% of rapes/sexual assaults are not reported to police, according to a statistical average of the past 5 years.  Those rapists, of course, never spend a day in prison.  Factoring in unreported rapes, only about 6% of rapists ever serve a day in jail.
  • If a rape is reported, there is a 50.8% chance of an arrest.
  • If an arrest is made, there is an 80% chance of prosecution.
  • If there is a prosecution, there is a 58% chance of conviction.
  • If there is a felony conviction, there is a 69% chance the convict will spend time in jail.
  • So even in the 39% of attacks that are reported to police, there is only a 16.3% chance the rapist will end up in prison.
  • Factoring in unreported rapes, about 6% of rapists will ever spend a day in jail.
If you run the numbers, you pretty well come out to around 6.5%. But man... something seems wrong here.

First, look at bullet point one: 60% of rapes/sexual assaults are not reported. To understand why it's a problem to casually group 'rape' and 'sexual assault' together, let's take a good look at the big list of sexual assault definitions on this site:

  • Being bathed in a way that feels intrusive,
  • Being ridiculed or teased about your body
  • Being told all you are good for is sex
  • Being involved in child prostitution or pornography
  • Being shown sexually explicit movies
  • Being made to pose for seductive or sexual photographs
  • Being subjected to unnecessary or intrusive medical treatments
  • Being kissed in a lingering or intimate way by an authority figure, adult, or older youth
  • Having your breast, abdomen, genital area, inner thigh, or butt fondled, or being asked or forced to do this by an authority figure, adult, or older youth
  • Being involved in oral genital contact
  • Experiencing finger or object penetration
  • Experiencing penetration of the rectum, and/or vaginal area
  • Being exposed to adult talk about specific sexual acts
  • Being exposed to chronic nudity, or nudity at inappropriate times
  • Being forced or exposed to hearing or watching adults or teens having sex
  • Being exposed to sexual name-calling
  • Living in constant fear of sexual abuse occurring in your life
  • Lack of privacy in bathing or changing rooms
  • Being watched
This runs quite the gamut, doesn't it? 'Being exposed to adult talk about specific sexual acts' and 'Being exposed to sexual name-calling' is grouped in with 'being involved in child prostitution and pornography' or 'being subjected to unnecessary or intrusive medical treatments'. So being called a slut or a cocksucker is categorized here right alongside your doctor fingering you while you're drugged.

Now, that's questionable enough on its own. But if the 60% statistic is being culled by filing rape and sexual assault under the same heading, noticing a 60% lack of report, and then assuming that 40% of rapes are going unreported... that's a shot in the dark. It'd be a little like counting the number of murders and assaults that go unreported, and then using that number to estimate the number of unreported murders. If the FBI/crime statistics are using a definition of 'sexual assault' equivalent to the site's, I'm going to get worried.

But there's something more unsettling going on here. Let's run the numbers.

Starting off with the poorly supported 40% reporting claim for rapes, we then see that 50.8% of these will result in arrest. Okay, that brings us to 20.32. 80% of those will be prosecuted - now we're at 16.256. 58% chance at conviction - okay, 9.429%.  69% chance at jail time gives us 6.51%. (Doing some rounding up here.) Seems solid, right? Math is math.

Here's the problem: not only is the information about unreported rapes, at least by the page's numbers, suspect... but the numbers, in order to be solid, require the unspoken assumption that 100% of all reported rapes are actual rapes, and that 100% of the 60% unreported claims of rape/sexual assaults are also legitimate.

That bears repeating: the numbers I just ran, in order to arrive at the claim that "only 6.5% of rapists will ever serve jail time", requires that 100% of all reported rapes are legitimate, such that if someone is found not guilty, then the state just let a rapist walk free.

I'm not going to comment more about that right now. I just want it to sink in, so anyone who finds this page can understand exactly what is going on with the statistic I just quoted, and why it may be a something to take with a grain of salt.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Nice to see a victory on gun ownership

Even better, a victory that came in spite of a huge media push and a lot of emotional knife-twisting.

This is one of those issues that has helped shake my confidence in rational argument. I've run into too many people who cannot have a rational conversation about guns, and who think that any discussion's winner is determined by who gets more emotional and panicked. 'Newtown' is supposed to be a blank check to pass pretty well whatever gun restrictions desired, regardless of whether they would have really prevented Newtown, regardless of whether they're good ideas at all.

What's really insulting about the media coverage is this attempt to treat the NRA as the bogeyman, without really explaining why the NRA was successful: their ability to directly get their message to voters, and their ability to get those voters to vote. People seem to get the idea that this is an organization that wields power by directly throwing money at political campaigns - but while rank 228 is certainly high, that means there's 227 groups that outperform them. It's that rank of 15 in 'outside spending' - on direct voter outreach - that makes them powerful. That and their effectiveness with communicating their message.

But that's the real terror, isn't it? That's not supposed to happen. The media at large is against gun ownership. That's supposed to determine what message is getting heard. Can you imagine an organization so powerful that they can override the manipulation of news and entertainment media, AND a president? We can't have that, can we.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Ethics in the virtual trenches

I've been playing a game lately called BattleNations on the iOS. It's one of those time-release games where the bulk of your time is spent managing your farm that takes 8 hours to yield anything, etc, but it's unique in that it's mixed in with a very interesting, well-written storyline (along with some good gameplay mechanics.)

At one point your characters find the enemy using chemical weapons on you. You start off doing some research about what this is and how to defend against it, which eventually culminates in producing samples of the chemical for testing purposes, and finally you're producing chemical weapons of your own - over the objections your high-minded civil engineer.

What I found interesting was that the protagonists' use of chemical weapons was portrayed as rather morally ambiguous - kind of a no-no nowadays, though the game is obscure enough that they can get away with it. In fact, the 'protagonists' are considerably unique in that respect: they're a bunch of Imperial soldiers who initially were where they were to occupy and colonize a territory with none-too-happy natives on it. They didn't all come to the realization that what they were doing was wrong either - they ended up playing the natives off each other, in fact, though they ended up solidifying some allies in the process. A very different perspective from the norm, and the last time I saw something like this was in The Elder Scrolls: Morrowind*.

But back to BattleNations. Anyway, after you make use of the chemical weapons and drive off the enemy (who were using the weapons on you initially), the commander of the camp has a brief interaction with his civil engineer. It went roughly like this.

A: I've been thinking over the ethical implications of chemical weapons.
B: Oh? And did you discover anything interesting?
A: Yeah. It turns out, if someone is trying to kill me and everyone I know, I don't really care if they get poisoned.

Something about that just seemed apt. I understand why chemical weapons are condemned. I agree with the condemnation in large part, insofar as I've thought about it. But there's something admirable about a blunt statement like that all the same. I don't have to agree to think it's well put.

(* In that game, the Empire occupies the dark elves land, and very clearly is suppressing some of their religious beliefs and moral views. The twist is that one of the things the Empire won't tolerate - and which makes them very unpopular with the dark elves - is their outlawing of slavery and frowning on institutional racism. Now, they were also exploiting the populace in other ways, but really, it was interesting to see a flat out colonial setup where the occupiers weren't simply moustache-twirling villains with no moral upsides.)

Monday, April 15, 2013

Fucking: it really does exist, you know.

I've been having a nice little conversation in my combox over sodomy and natural law. Anyone interested can see the discussion for themselves - largely I'm outlining why sodomy and certain sexual desires are seen as immoral, injury or otherwise on Natural Law. My go-to example with this kind of thing is the Pepperbees sketch. I think Doug Thomas is an open and shut case of someone whose sexual appetite, despite being entirely consenting, despite not leading to permanent bodily harm (at least unless you consider anal penetration harm - in which case, game over already), is nevertheless wrong, immoral, indicative of a disordered desire, etc.

One of the objections that came up, however, is one I just see again and again - and every time, it strikes me as the most frail objection in the world:
And I would actually say that its pretty obvious to me that acts of sodomy often do have redeeming effects. Relationships can be and are often enriched by a variety of sexual activities. I'm not speaking here simply to lust, but also to love, trust, vulnerability, giving, self-expression, etc
This is the sort of claim that sounds very nice and sweet so long as we A) keep 'redeeming effects' as general as possible, and B) keep 'sexual activities' as vague as possible. It's actually pretty hard to connect 'love, trust, vulnerability, giving and self-expression' to, say... fucking a girl up the ass, in any way but the most flimsy and strained. The best you'll generally get is gesturing in the direction of 'feeling' talk - 'it's a very special, private act I share with my lover, a way to show how special and loving and...' On and on it goes. It relies on the extreme flexibility of human subjectivity, and subjectively speaking, you can talk up coprophilia in poetic terms if you like. I'm not too concerned whether someone subjectively feels a special bond and closeness with their mate as a result of consuming their waste. I'm more concerned with whether this is, you know, actually a moral act, or morally neutral, or - more importantly - a healthy, ordered desire in and of itself.

But I think what really bothers me about this sort of move is that it ignores the reality of sex. I remember a George Carlin bit about pornography where he defended it on the grounds that (giving a quote that wasn't original to him) 'I'd rather watch two people making love than two people trying to kill each other.' That made me wonder if Carlin ever actually saw any pornography in his life, because 'lovemaking' is pretty thin as a theme. The same goes for sex - there's a whole lot of fucking going on out there, a whole lot of fetishes and sexual interests, and 'love' isn't exactly a central component to much of any of it. Hell, a fair share don't even require another human being. Are those acts immoral? Are they disordered? Does their lack of love render them immoral or disordered?

Those are the questions I'm going to be concerned about, and I think for quite a lot of sex... the reason it's not openly talked about isn't because of puritan shame about discussions involving nude bodies and orgasms. It's because it's so, so personal. So personal, in fact, that I think many people themselves try not to think about it. The guy who just loves to get bent over and fucked in the ass may not want to think too deeply about why he considers that the height of sexual pleasure. Maybe the guy fucking a girl in the ass doesn't want to think too deeply about it either. The answers may be too psychological, too strange, too complicated, too confusing. Introspection comes well-recommended by the ancient philosophers, but not because it's particularly pleasant.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

More Kermit Gosnell news

Megan McArdle weighs in. I notice that she tepidly admits that the media - and keep in mind, we're talking collectively about the national media nearly as a whole here - has refused to cover the story largely because of their pro-choice leanings. She tries limp-wristedly to turn the whole thing into a pro-choice cause: 'This is the very thing being pro-choice is supposed to keep from happening!' - but I think she knows it's a strained narrative at best.

I'll offer my own estimation: yes, the media at large has avoided the story because they fear it can't be spun in a way that does anything but make abortion look horrible. But more than that, it's because it's a story where the realities of abortion are front and center. You can't talk about Gosnell and, in a sterile-fashion, reference 'a woman's right to choose' (and always leaving out what is chosen) or 'reproductive rights' so easily. At the end of the day you have babies getting killed at a mother's whim, by the morally depraved. And this time, you have to talk about that.

That won't do. That is the absolute last thing you're ever supposed to actually discuss when pro-choice. Abortion is supposed to involve, you know.. a hysterically sobbing 12 year old black girl who was raped by her white stepfather and now is terrified and also if she has the child she will die, and also she's halfway through her first trimester at most. That's supposed to be what people think of when they think of abortion. A dead infant in a toilet with its throat slit? No, we're not supposed to think about that. Not yet, anyway. Not until the Singerisms and Cult of Gnu beliefs become more acceptable.

Still, the Gosnell incident does have one silver lining: it's provided some more evidence that the national media is corrupt. At this point you have to be goddamn blind, stupid or dishonest to claim otherwise.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Just a reminder about what America's culture is like now

The Kermit Gosnell story continues to be ignored by most major media. You know, the story about the abortion doctor gruesomely killing children, keeping trophies, etc. Somehow this is judged not to be worthy of very much attention - because, after all, it's just some local story. Nothing to get worked up over? Major media concerns itself with national issues.

Let me ask: does this seem like where we're headed as a country? Or are we, with adjustments made for technological and cultural differences, already there?

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Getting pretty tired of science journalism.

Stephen Hawking says that humans will not survive another thousand years without escaping earth.

Let me say right away that I'm extremely sympathetic to the spacefaring idea. Frankly, I'm shocked we haven't already devoted serious resources towards this. We meaning 'America'.

But Hawking has no authority on this subject. He's just another guy with an opinion. Not that you'd know that from the article.
Stephen Hawking, who spent his career decoding the universe and even experienced weightlessness, is urging the continuation of space exploration — for humanity’s sake.
Decoding the universe? See, I wonder if this flowery BS is owing to someone just wanting to build up Hawking, or if it was more of a 'wow, what does this guy actually do? Woah, this looks boggling - time to punt!' thing. It should be required by a journalism code that a scientist can only be described by what he actually does, in vulgar terms. 'Jerry Coyne, an expert in getting fruit flies to fuck, had this to say.'

Also, is it just me or is the 'experienced weightlessness' line just sort of thrown in there? Not to mention it pales in comparison. 'Decodes the universe, AND he went to Space Camp!' is close to 'Studies the very thoughts of the Lord of Hosts, and he even was on Star Trek once!' in terms of a step down in awe.

Normally I'd be quick to attribute this to Hawking being full of himself, but this time it seems like it may be more of a lazy SEO Writing thing. The whole article is just a mish-mash. But what caught my eye is that damn line about the survival of humanity, with the suggestion that this is the opinion of an Actual Expert, and not just some guy shooting into the dark.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Online conversation experiment

Had an interesting moment today. One of the more popular sites online (I won't say which) has a forum for LGBT people. I decided, why not go read what's going on there? In the process, I stumbled on a religious/Christianity thread. You know, 'How do you square your sexuality with your church's teaching?'

After reading for a while, I decided to weigh in and clarify Catholic teaching on same-sex behavior, etc. No, the Church doesn't condemn you just for being gay. No, such and such is not sinful, this is. No, it's not just 'God says', here are some Natural Law considerations. Staying polite, and also relatively on-topic for the thread. I mean, I tend to argue these things on Catholic or Atheist sites. But this? This is relatively new.

Boom. In comes the ban. (Seems to be a thing lately - I should really keep a tally of this.) I knew it was coming - but I couldn't shake the impression that if someone were posting and was a huge bigoted idea of the 'You faggots are disgusting and going to HELL' variety, I'd have been able to stick around. You know, the whole WBC thing. Presenting that image of people who are critical of same-sex behavior is important.

The whole experience was positive, however. In fact, the ban in this case was the most encouraging part of all. It's a glimmer, but it tells me that a calm, level-headed, direct and fair treatment of this subject spooks some people in the LGBT activist brigade. I couldn't have asked for a more straightforward endorsement in a way.

I think I'm going to dial back on this issue for a bit and comment on some other things soon - I find the topic fascinating, but I don't want a monofocus; there's other issues worth talking about.