Saturday, August 17, 2013

Lettuce Prey

A fun religious post for you all!  I once considered Lettuce Prey as my Internet handle but decided against it.  Here it can stand for one of the many interesting religious transformations which exist when it comes to the beliefs some hold.

Take pastor Steven  L Anderson of the Faithful Word Baptist Church in Tempe, Arizona.  The principles of his church are listed on the church website and include:

We believe that the King James Bible is the word of God without error. 
We believe that life begins at conception (fertilization) and reject all forms of abortion including surgical abortion, "morning-after" pills, IVF (In Vitro Fertilization), birth control pills, and all other processes that end life after conception.
We believe that homosexuality is a sin and an abomination which God punishes with the death penalty.
We oppose worldliness, modernism, formalism, and liberalism.

Sounds like a fun place.  I love the first of the rules, about the King James Bible being God's word without error, given that it is a translation (of other translations, probably).   The church also believes that God punishes homosexuality with a death penalty and that birth control pills are abortifacients and so on.

But none of that is why I write about our nice pastor Anderson.  The reason for that has to do with his advice on how to bring up daughters in his creed,  to keep them virginal until marriage.  The solution is to lock them up, pretty much.  Or, as Anderson states, after telling his congregation that he will teach his sons to avoid fornication:

I say I’ll teach that unto my sons and you say, well, aren’t you gonna teach that to your daughters? 

I’m gonna tell you this: It’s not gonna be humanly possible for anyone to commit fornication with my daughters. [Laughter] And you know what? You’re laughing but I’m not kidding… You say, what about when they go get a job? Well, they’re not going to get a job. Why would my daughters go get a job? What do they need a job for? You know what, I’m gonna pay for them, I’m gonna pay their bills. And you know what? When I’m done paying for them, their husband’s gonna pay for them. 

And I hope that he doesn’t fail in his responsibility to provide and send them off to work or something, but you know what, at that point, it’s none of my business. At that point, it’s not my responsibility. But you know what? When I pass off my daughters unto their husband, I’m gonna be able to guarantee that they’re a virgin because I’m gonna make it to where it’s not even humanly possible. Because I’m not gonna have them out gallivanting around town. I’m not gonna have them going off to work, and going out with all these people…
The bolding is in the original.

But the really thrilling sentence is the one which begins the third paragraph in that quote:

And I hope that he doesn’t fail in his responsibility to provide and send them off to work or something, but you know what, at that point, it’s none of my business.
It's a perfect circle.  First daddy decided about his daughters and then the hubby decides about his wife.  Reminds me of some other extreme types of right-wing religions. 

First daddy will decide how the daughters are brought up (dependent, perhaps without marketable skills) and then hubby will decide how the wife lives (perhaps he makes her go out to work, should he choose to do so). And considering that having just one breadwinner can be very difficult in the US, pastor Anderson's views are also more likely to place his daughters in tougher financial circumstances.

The justification for all this is in pastor Anderson's choices about how to interpret the Bible.  The King James version is God's word without error, but pastor Anderson's views also matter.  Because the Bible doesn't actually say that women should be housewives, but Anderson decides that it does:

And you say, well why the double standard? Um, ’cause everything in the Bible’s a double standard?! ‘Cause I’m not a feminist?! ‘Cause men and women are different? ‘Cause my sons are gonna be taught to be independent. My daughters are gonna be taught not to be independent. [Fake crying noises] My sons are gonna be taught to go out and work hard and make a living! My daughters are gonna be taught to be a homemaker, okay? You don’t like that? Well, whatever, that’s what the Bible teaches…
Bolds are in the original.

Friday, August 16, 2013

A Different Angle to the Role of Newspaper Comments on the Net

Than in my previous post, both because I put that one out while quite ill and because this article is interesting.  It doesn't change my basic opinions on the issue (which is that moderating is a necessity, for tone and hatred), but it adds an important nuance to it.  Here's what Tim Dunlop writes at Comment Is Free, after condemning abusive comments and e-mails in general:

To put it plainly, I have nothing but contempt for those who engage in this sort of behaviour, and am happy to see them pursued and exposed. But I am also a fan of online discussion more generally, whether it be on social media, on blogs, or in the comments section under stories in the mainstream media. 
Such interactions have significantly changed the nature of the media environment, giving voice to sections of the community who have never before been able to contribute. These developments are not the democratic panacea cyber utopians sometimes pretend they are, but they are a vast improvement over the top-down media models of the past, where the audience was relegated to the role of passive consumer. We need to be careful not to let this abuse discourage us from pursuing online interactions in a way that enhances democratic participation.
Dunlop then points out that worrying about trolls can be used to squash access by those the editors don't like and that attempts to get rid of Internet anonymity are misguided:

It is very easy for those with the institutional backing of, say, a political party, a trade union or a newspaper to demand that everyone use their own name when entering online discussions, but it isn’t that simple. Without that sort of institutional support, and without the experience of involvement in public discussion, many ordinary people feel vulnerable – anonymity is the one tool they have to level the power differential.
The key terms in Dunlop's text are "enhances democratic participation."  It's not clear to me what he means by this, about trolling:

The word once had quite a specialised meaning limited to a particular sort of disruptive behaviour, but it has now become a catch-all term to describe any behaviour that some journalists and editors deem inappropriate. Their responses to what they call “trolling” often seem less about combating abuse than reasserting their role as gatekeeper, to restore to themselves the right to decide who gets to speak in public and who doesn’t. It is what US academic Susan Herbst calls “the strategic use of civility”.
I'm going to assume that he means moderating comments threads.  That might not be what Dunlop means by the gate-keeping activity.  Still, because I want to talk about moderating anyway I'll go with that:

I've surfed the net long enough to deserve Surfer Pension, and I'm pretty certain that not-moderated comment threads can, over time, lead to the very opposite of "enhanced democratic participation."   I can think of examples where people with the opposite political views set up home in the comments thread of a political publication (the Nation, a few years ago, for one case) and consequently made posting there a gantlet run for most other people.

I can also think of examples where the comments on some site have degenerated into anyone's worst nightmare, possibly through the process of some people essentially bullying all who cannot take extreme hatred or prejudice etc. away from the site.

Then there's the hate group aspect of commenting:  A call seems to go out for commentators of a particular flavor to discuss certain articles, and when those commentators use the language of hate those who belong to the hated group have a higher commenting fee to pay to participate:  They must be willing to take verbal abuse.  The way women are often treated* in the comments of a feminist article, say, is a good example of this.  And to have a higher entrance fee for some commentators may not be terribly democracy-enhancing.

Thus, while I agree that comments can have a democracy-enhancing effect, that effect will not be present when the discussion is not moderated.  The parable to that might be to remove all rules about how to carry out elections and to tell people just to run for the ballot boxes, elbow each other away, and tuck as many ballot tickets as possible in the boxes.  No other rules.  If you wish, you  can keep others from getting to the ballot boxes, too, and you can gang together to accomplish that.

Maybe that is too strong.  But my point is that anarchy is not the same as democracy.  And yes, I understand that moderating and other forms of regulation can work to stifle real democracy.   So does not moderating at all.

That's why I think moderating for hate is crucial.  And yeah, I get how difficult that could be, without stifling the argument embedded in that hate.  But if certain types of hateful comments are banned the participants might learn how to make their point in a more civil manner.   You think?

*I get called interesting things in comments threads, by the way.  I think "a foaming c**t" is the most fun (sadly, not true, though I think having that ability would be great). 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

On What Internet Comments Might Achieve in Science Stories

As per one study:

A new obstacle to scientific literacy may be emerging, according to a paper in the journal Science by two University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers.
The new study reports that not only are just 12% of Americans turning to newspaper and magazine websites for science news, but when they do they may be influenced as much by the comments at the end of the story as they are by the report itself.
In an experiment mentioned in the Science paper and soon to be published elsewhere in greater detail, about 2,000 people were asked to read a balanced news report about nanotechnology followed by a group of invented comments. All saw the same report but some read a group of comments that were uncivil, including name-calling. Others saw more civil comments.
"Disturbingly, readers' interpretations of potential risks associated with the technology described in the news article differed significantly depending only on the tone of the manipulated reader comments posted with the story," wrote authors Dominique Brossard and Dietram A. Scheufele.
"In other words, just the tone of the comments . . . can significantly alter how audiences think about the technology itself."
I haven't looked at the study itself.  But if its results hold something similar might apply to other topics than science.  For example, angry MRA comments on anything that is written on women.  Or pick your topic, pretty much, because angry comments are the flavor of the day on the many and varied Internets.

So the deeper question (assuming, once again, that the above study is OK in execution) is what the benefits of having non-moderated comments are supposed to be.

From The Duh Files: Women who use ‘pull out’ birth control method at greater risk of unintended pregnancy

The link is here.  The "duh" doesn't mean that the topic isn't worth studying, by the way.  What if the study had found the reverse?  Then it would be plastered over everything! 

Thus, if we are going to want all research properly discussed, it's really important to also cover the studies which support the null hypothesis (a fancy way of saying that the new treatment was no better, that nothing exciting was established and so on).

So I'm glad to see the results, however "duh" they are, published in the popular media.

Today's Weird Dream

This is one of the costs that come from writing on the topics I do, I guess:  My unconsciousness giving me this dream instead of one ones about flying airplanes just above people's heads:

I'm standing as accused in a court.  I'm not quite sure what the jury consists of, but perhaps of angels or of devils.  I'm asked this question:

If you could give the world five minutes of complete peace by relinquishing both your life and any hope of a life-after-death,  would you do it?  Four minutes?  Three minutes?....

Probably should add that this was  a fever dream.  Sorta how prophets are created?

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Speed Blogging August 13, 2013. From Moscow Olympics via Iran, Internet Harassment to Left-Handedness.

I promise that not all my future posts will be of this sort. 

First, the question about Moscow Olympics and the Russian anti-gay laws.  There's much to be said about all this, and better-informed people have done so.  The small bit I wanted to add is that different countries can indeed have different average public sentiments about human rights, the proper place of women or LGTB and different views about race and racism. 

I know that sounds obvious but the political treatment of those differences in the US can be quite tricky, what with religion and culture and economics entering the fray.  When do we refrain from criticizing the traditions or views of another culture or country and when do we criticize them?  What determines the difference?  I struggle with this myself. 

Second,  this is an informative article on the question of Internet harassment and its possible relationship to free speech, especially when the harassment is gender-based.

Third, Iran's new president, Hassan Rouhani,  nominates a female vice president, Elham Aminzadeh.  Assuming that the nomination will be approved, she will serve as the Vice President for Legal Affairs.  I don't know how meaningful this nomination is, as a gauge of Rouhani's view on women's proper place.

Fourth, this study about white Californians' reactions to various ways of determining who gets into college is interesting.  I haven't looked at the study in any detail, however.  But it's probably true that we humans are often good at thinking that fairness is the same as the likely success of people not unlike ourselves.  The wider point is, of course, that there is no one perfectly objective way of deciding who gets into college.   Meritocracy, completely untainted by any other consideration, is probably impossible, not to mention the difficulty of defining by what we mean by it.  And so on

Finally, today is the international day of the left-handed. 

Monday, August 12, 2013

Speed Blogging, Monday August 12, 20013: On Media, Fracking, Gender and Death Panels.

Today's funny cartoon.  As you may note, I'm still frustrated about the collapsed anthill aspect of public debate.

But it's better than the alternative, which appears to be one future possibility:  A world where a few very rich men decide what we are to learn, what news we will get and what facts we will not obtain.  I hope that is a science-fiction nightmare and not the actual world in a few generations.  Let's keep it that way, please.

Fracking.  I don't know enough of it to write about its desirability in general (though I doubt mother nature likes it much), but this example highlights the blindness of free marketeers and the profit motive when it comes to externalities.  Things are interconnected.  We live in a giant web, and someone cannot just go and madly snip all threads in one corner, expecting nothing else to be affected.

Or put in other ways, those in power should use that round ball thing which serves to keep their ears apart for something more than that.  And no, it's not just a hatstand, either.

Cordelia Fine has put together some criticisms about the popular culture fad of viewing our brains as pink or blue.

Finally,  death panels.  For the innocent and serene among us, death panels (by Democrats)  are part of the mythology of the American political right, to be filed under the same heading as the arguments that Barack Obama is not a legitimate president because he supposedly was born abroad (Hawaii, though it's not abroad) or that Obama is a communist (rather than a politer version of most former Republican presidents) and so on.  The weird nightmarish ideas about what a country run by Democrats might look like.

The idea behind the death panels is a simple one:  The conservatives argue that the new healthcare system will have panels which decide who will die.  Paul Krugman wrote about a recent example of this argument.

The argument is deliciously muddled!  It's horrid to limit Medicaid spending!  But we MUST limit Medicaid spending.  The latter is what the Republicans usually do.  So they are for death panels, except when they are against them.

That whole idea deserves a much longer post, but the gist of it is that care will always be "rationed" by something, either by price or by more direct restrictions on access.  Every day the health care markets "ration" care, both because insurers refuse coverage for something or because the patients or their families no longer have enough funds to cover care out-of-pocket.  Inability to pay for care can also be a death panel.   Or at least an odd sort of triage.