Tuesday, November 25, 2008

First, they came...

I'm a nanny-state liberal hippy socialist goth non-comformist anti-'War On Terror' anti-'War On Drugs' type. Therefore, some portion of the people who potentially could read this may be surprised that I am about to speak out against 'Political Correctness'. But for the sake of the world, as many people as possible need to speak out, even if their voices seem swallowed up by the abyss of the web. And, should I speak out, more people will have spoken, than had I not.

I am referring, some may know, to a UN resolution spearheaded by 'Muslim states'. When it probably passes later this year, it will lay the groundwork for treaties that will encourage anti-blasphemy laws. What is currently set is asking the world as a whole to enact laws against the 'defamation of religion'. There are several problems with this idea.

First off, how does one go about defaming a religion? "defamation [...] is the communication of a statement that makes a false claim, expressly stated or implied to be factual, that may give an individual, business, product, group, government or nation a negative image."-Wikipedia article on defamation, final edit of November 17, 2008. Continuing the resolution's habit of referring to religions as entities unto themselves, how would such entities be defamed? The religion itself is its collective teachings, which are not, legally speaking, true. (At least not around my neck of the woods. The question of how this would apply to rival theocracies, attempting to enforce their laws over the internet, segues into)

Point two: it's somewhat rare, but some things are religions in some countries, and not in others. The most obvious example is Scientology. A sufficiently determined international effort could trick them into losing all sorts of protections in various countries by manipulating tax codes, but more reallistically: again: sometimes, it's a religion, and sometimes not. With any organization free to pursue this bizarre patchwork status, the anti-defamation laws can't apply sensibly.

So, as 'defamation' here either means something that people can do involuntarily, or can't do at all, I'll demonstrate something now:
All religious dogma contains elements of falsehood, treasured and nurtured for the course of the religion's existence. Such falsehoods frequently create, sustain, or justify social injustices, all throughout their existence, such as slavery or the caste system. Any religion that refuses to have its teachings examined critically ('ideological confrontation'?) is implicitly forfeiting the right (privelige?) to be taken seriously by the world as a whole. The resolution positively notes the contribution of religions to culture and knowledge, but conveniently ignores the many times when religion has, confronted with some significant advance or irreplaceable knowledge, utterly screwed the pooch. It then goes on to conflate 'defamation of religion', whatever that is, with defamation of religious people. In I hate it when people like this book, I said, in essence, that people who liked that book were perfectly entitled to their factually indefensible opinion. That didn't mean that I hated them as people, or condoned violence, etc, etc. In essence, this resolution makes the case against incitement, but asks for protection from criticism.

It's probably best if I stop here for now, before my momentum carries my into talking about organized religion and power.

Regardless. The voices must be heard. Tell a friend. Tell a neighbor. Tell the world.

(Edit: and Sum ergo cogito, cogito ergo dubito: Freedom of speech is far too complicated to let religion get in the way looks to say what I want to say, in a more coherent and collected fashion.)

Saturday, November 22, 2008


EDIT: I've had some independent critiques of this post, and they both made many good points. As such, I should look through this in detail and note everything that's totally invalid. As is, some random set of assertions that you don't agree with, and which undermine the argument, I've since reconsidered. EDIT ENDS.

Again and again, atheism is stated to be "just another religion" by people who, in the context of the first amendment, would rather it weren't. (Agnosticism doesn't get this nearly as much, possibly because, well, to me, it seems kind of wishy-washy.)

I invite those who make this claim to consider the vast history of things that we agree are religions, and take note: what are the religions doing, that atheism does not? Among other things, religions schism. Interpreting things very generously, we've got three members of the atheist spectrum: strong atheism (there are no gods), weak atheism (I don't think that there are gods), and agnosticism (we can't know whether there are gods).

(Why this last group doesn't apply methodological naturalism to the kind of belief espoused by, say, Pascal's Wager in the context of the vast multitude of available religions to convert to eludes me, but they probably have a good reason. It is quite likely that this good reason is that I'm a complete wacko for mixing philosophies like that.)

Any true religion would have schismed several times over by now, at the very least along political lines. If a liberal atheist and a conservative atheist have a discussion/argument/flamewar so intense that the internet itself is ripped asunder from its moorings and tumbles into the abyss, they don't call each other 'atheist lite' or 'atheist in name only'. They call each other passionless drones and money-grubbing nannies. Another possibility for schism, of course, is over doctrinal differences.

The observant reader will have noted that I outlined each of the three doctrines in a sentence each. Even if a religious doctrine were to start out that compact, normative influences would make it pick up the flavor of its community in perhaps as long a span of time as a generation. And yet, the core pure doctrine of atheism is preserved for centuries, without extraneous accretion. Wow! All the people crazy enough to use the KJV as the 'original' version of the bible should look into this 'atheism' thing! It seems, so far as uncorruptible teachings go, that we've got a lock! Ride your unicorn over here and we can talk.

Monday, November 17, 2008

CWA and data analysis

EDIT: I really should show my work on this. Some of the numbers I got are ridiculous. That said, I really don't need to use numbers, since supporters of reparative therapy are a minority among psychological professionals. EDIT ENDS.

There is much, I am sure, to critique in this article posted on the CWA website, but I am first and foremost a man of SCIENCE.

The article mentions two studies, one that claims that of some sample of identical twins in which at least one was gay, the other was gay "only" 52% of the time. (Oddly, Shaun Waymire didn't quote the same article that provided the 52% figure on significantly lower numbers... right next to it, and given a higher credence. CWA doesn't have a problem with quote-mining, but it's seriously counterproductive to use it to skew quotes against your argument. The numbers are, in fact, lower than the lowest ones (out of two) that he attributes to the next article. I frankly can't figure out what he's doing.) The other figure, mentioned in the preceding parenthetical rant, is 20%, from the Australian twin registry.

The articles in question all crow that the lack of a 100% perfect correlation refutes the idea that homosexuality has a genetic component. Let's examine this in an extremely condescending fashion for a moment. If there is no genetic component, then identical twins would be just as likely as any pair of people to both be gay. This means that, given one gay person, and, indeed, not given a gay person, any random person has a 52% chance of being gay. In other words, gay people are common enough to form a majority bloc and control all elections ever.

Wow! CWA was right about the gay agenda! I mean, if 52% of the world's population is gay, I guess we really can't be a persecuted minority.

Let's add some rigor. The aforementioned study producing the 52% figure was flawed, but the data still kind of means something.
"The study found that 29 of 56 pairs (52 percent) of the identical twins were both homosexual; 12 of 54 of the fraternal twins were both homosexual and six of 57 of adopted [brother]s were both homosexual." Percentages: 52%. 22%. 11%. (The following figures reflect the genes that vary within the population as a whole.) Identical twins share 100% of genes and an environment. Fraternal: 50% of genes and an environment. Adopted: A theoretically negligible percentage of genes, and an environment.

Comparing just twins, heritability squared is equal to twice (the percent correlation of identical twins minus half the percent correlation of fraternal twins). Crunching all of the numbers gives a heritability of 91%. (This is much higher than the percent concordance because differences in environment between siblings decreased concordance.) Unfortunately, this produces some utterly nonsensical values (44i%) for other statistical measures, so the study doesn't really say much of anything.

Which means I was joking about gay people's being a majority. And Shaun (and the articles he cited) was wrong about what these studies say about homosexuality and genetic basis. Sadly, I'm not dedicated enough to get the Australian concordance data they mention, so I'll mention only that, should the 20% figure hold, there are more gay non-black people in the US than there are straight black people.

That's all for now.

(Later that week, an addendum.)

Another possible explanation for the high concordance rates, aside from heritability, is that the environment produces a tendency towards homosexuality (provided it's not solely our sinful choice that will destroy our lives via vaguely insincere-sounding composite life sketches). In which case, in order to hold the Homosexual Menace™ in check, you'd think they'd be compiling lists of acceptable and unacceptable traits in a family environment. Then, to combat the 30% heritability (I don't have all the data that they used, but that sounds, you know, about right, maybe.) that *shudder* NARTH reports, they could proscribe the proper way to raise a child so as to avoid X% (Where X depends on who's quoting survey data.) of the next generation plunging into depravity and disease. But what about the families, you may ask. Are they to be explicitly told how to raise their child, and make no decisions on their own? If that is what it takes to save the CHEEEEELDREN from the grasp of my pernicious subculture, then so be it, right, CWA? I mean, you totally support the idea of legislating how people can relate to each other, yes? Remember, it's not big government to pass laws that require more governmental effort and experience to enforce.

Not if it's for the children.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Remember when I said "things that make me unhappy"? Well, that applies to coding, sometimes...

So, I have some potential projects that will use server-side Python for various things. Naturally, I want to be able to use cgi with them. Easy enough, right? It's Python, surely the cgi module will be well-documented? About the only useful thing I could derive is that 'you don't have to worry about whether it's a get request or a post request, the same class handles it all!'. Sounds a little bit sketchy, and it gets me horribly confused, trying to figure out whether some method is for extracting name-value pairs or uploading files...

Point is, on the advice of a friend, I open up the source code. And see why the documentation is so patchy and confused: the cgi module is a baroque, elaborate, obsolete MESS. The FieldStorage class that was supposed to take care of every request for me? It's a dict-style class, that much I knew. However, it's dict-style due to emulation, rather than subclassing. Why, Max, you must be asking, gentle readers, all statistically .00001 of you, was the FieldStorage class not subclassed from dict? It's deceptively simple, dear readers, and I will no more prolong the artificial suspense: it wasn't subclassed from dict because it wasn't subclassed from ANYTHING. That's right. An old-style class in a 2.5.2 module. (My target platform hasn't yet added 2.6, and it seems I haven't either.) And what an old-style class. The initialization parameters were passed around like state variables with disassociative identity disorder. The determination of which request type is being handled occurs on the fly, and conceptually remaps the meaning of variables in blatant violation of their documented purpose. I know this isn't obvious unless you look at the code like I did, but this... thing... looks nigh-unmaintainable. Which might explain the old-style classes. Perhaps all that's truly changed is the opening comments...

In any case, I cannot let this stand. As of now, Massively Moaning Online and Fermat's Margins are on hold until I gin up a sane replacement for this dinosaur.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

I hate it when people like this book

Atheists are often accused of being angry at the mere fact of other people's beliefs. We attempt to rebut these beliefs, point out logical flaws in them, because the idea that somebody places their faith in a book drives us into some kind of hulk-like rage. Many deny it. I would like to be clear, however, that in my case, it's true.

The Walking Drum, by Louis L'Amour, is a terrible book, and anybody who says otherwise is objectively wrong. I admit I didn't get very far, but that was not from lack of trying. It was like trudging through molasses that was teeming with hungry piranhas, where the molasses represents the pace, and the piranhas represent how much of an asshole Mathurin Kerbouchard came off as in the parts that I managed to read through. I certainly didn't share his puzzlement over why people wanted to kill him: he had all of the charm of a mildewy wifebeater, dropped in a puddle of mud. When I see all of those 5-star reviews on Amazon, my blood boils. Kind of makes me a bit uncomfortable, feeling that on the inside of my veins and whatnot, but there you are. Also, it was apparently historically innacurate. Meh.

People can like it. It's just that doing so is factually incorrect.

Innaugural post: I rant

As most everybody knows by now, a majority of voting Californians voted in support of Proposition 8, which, if it’s not overturned, will amend the state constitution to state that marriage contracts can only exist between a man and a woman.
The No on Proposition 8 website claims that some who voted for it were misled as to its intent, so I address this question only to those who voted for it, and possess the reading comprehension skills necessary to understand what it means to vote for something called “Eliminates Right of Same-Sex Couples to Marry”: why? How would it hurt you? In what way is the restriction that marriage contracts may only be issued if each party is different in a category mediated by the government to usually reflect a social category (How does transsexuality fit into their claims about needing distinct gender roles or whatever?), which further usually reflects anatomical and genetic categories, many of which (Klinefelter’s syndrome, Turner syndrome, XXXX syndrome, XXYY syndrome, XXXXX syndrome, XXXXY syndrome, etc. IIRC, Klinefelter’s is the most likely to be relevant, simply because it’s the most common.) don’t adequately correspond to any of the higher-level categories, at all beneficial to you, the voter?
It appears that one set of arguments in favor asserted that, in a slightly roundabout fashion, allowing gay marriage would force schools to teach that gay marriage is “moral”. First off, it is, all else being equal, and second off, if you didn’t believe that first point, California law allows parents to selectively opt out of any particular lesson related to family, health, or sex ed.
As of November 8, http://www.protectmarriage.com/ asserts that one argument in favor is that state-issued marriage licenses will force people to be tolerant and open-minded. Thank you, protectmarriage.com, thank you for shattering all of the positive stereotypes I had about California and open-mindedness.
http://www.whatisprop8.com/ asserts, in addition to the above argument about schools, that various organizations who refuse to serve gay couples on religious grounds could lose tax exempt status (churches) or face litigation (everything else). First off, I don’t think religious institutions should be tax-exempt, but that’s something for another time. The other side is examples of businesses facing consequences for not doing their job. As a counterpoint: some of the supporters of Prop 8 were not regular, or, indeed, ever churchgoers. I hope that was the argument that swayed them, because, if so, I’m going to declare myself a religious organization and claim tax-exempt status on everything I do, and claim that a complex combination of holy days prevents me from working unless I really want to. The thing about a religion is that it can say nearly anything.
NOM California’s preferred “talking point” is “People have a right to live as they choose; activist judges don’t have the right to redefine marriage for the rest of us.” Which is fine and dandy until you realize that allowing gay people to marry doesn’t change your marriage in any tangible way. What thought process is this supposed to appeal to? I’m sorry, but anything that you feel is cheapened by some other people also being able to do it, when you’re fine with most other people being able to do it, can’t be worth all that much in the first place. I’ll admit that this did stop me dead. I think it was the combination of hypocrisy, disingenuousness, and sophistry. They expand upon this idea, saying “The people of California do not want the government teaching our children or grandchildren that our deeply cherished ideas of marriage are just bigotry or like racism.” I imagine the bigots and racists of yesteryear would be rather unhappy about today’s curricula, as well. This isn’t about you. It’s about gay marriage, which has nothing to do with you unless you let it. “Marriage is about bringing together men and women so children can have mothers and fathers.” And divorce is sometimes about children just having one parent, and growing up regardless. And marriages in Vegas are about getting drunk and making front page of the supermarket tabloids. Speaking as somebody who may well enter into a “traditional marriage” (though without the position of unquestioned authority, ownership of wife as property, only white people can do it, etc) I feel safe in saying that it’s not necessarily pretty. It’s really just about getting pretty people to participate. “Who gets harmed? The people of this state who lose our right to define marriage as the union of husband and wife, that’s who. That is just not right.” That seems like a narrowly applied right that simply means imposing your personal feelings on the law. Prop 8 may have passed democratically—narrowly—but that is simply the tyranny of the majority. “But marriage isn’t just any kind of love; it’s the special love of husband and wife for each other and their children.” I missed this point before: do you think that a husband and wife who don’t want children are subverting marriage? Should married couples be required to have children, to keep their license? Although children can be, and usually are, part of marriage, sometimes marriage is just about being a family. A small family, perhaps, but a family. “Every man and woman who marries is capable of giving any child they create (or adopt) a mother and a father. No same-sex couple can do this.” I wonder how you feel about widows or widowers with children. Should they remarry as soon as possible? I’m going to consider that a rhetorical question, because the sheer crassness... eugh.
Various of those sites also argued that this whole argument is unnecessary, because gay couples can already enter into domestic partnerships. So, it’s separate from marriage, but provides approximately equal rights. Sounds familiar, for some reason...
That’s all I’m going to address for now, but I hope I made myself clear on those points. In addition, I hope that my belittling of talking points and, once or twice, sanity and intelligence, will spur discussion of some kind, because I seriously don’t get why people would vote to define it as between a man and a woman, when “man” and “woman” are legal codifications of social concepts that do not encompass all etc etc.