Saturday, November 08, 2014

If you don't like something, don't try to couch your position with self-contradictory statements and self-rationalization

So I saw this:

The logic employed by the second person seems to either contradictory or highly selfish. His position seems to be that: On the one hand, he doesn't get it and he thinks it's offensive (and he thinks that a lot of other people would find it offensive, too), but on the other hand, if it saves the lives of even a couple people, okay, but then to go back to his first position, it's offensive to him, so no.

First, off, let's recognize that his initial position is couched as in the false logic of argumentum ad populum.
"I just find it offensive, and a lot of other people would as well."
First, this is a relative statement. How many - exactly - constitutes "a lot of other people"? A majority of a population? Well, no. After all, if - in a city the size of Sydney (5.6 million) - you gathered 1,000 people to actively congregate in front of the pink-condom-covered pillar, that could easily be considered to be "a lot of people," despite it being a mere 0.00018% of the city's population. Conversely, if you were considering a tiny town of only 100 residents, "a lot of people" might well mean something approaching the majority (which could never approach anything more than a mere 10% of the hypothetical crowd of 1,000 around the condom-covered Sydney statue). So the phrasing, "and a lot of other people would [agree with me] as well," is a false argument in that it doesn't work to designate an objective measure, but merely refers (in a purely arm-waving fashion, since the person makes no attempt to bracket his statement) to an unknown quantity of people (likely merely presumed to exist by the speaker) that is implied to be of significant numbers (but - as we might argue in the case of 1,000 people gathered in a square in Sydney to be - not necessarily anything close to 1% of a city's population).

Second, even while there is truth in the statement that - in a city of 5.6 million people - you will probably find a large number (say >1,000) of people who are against covering a statue with a large pink condom, it does not mean much more than that in a city the size (and with the diversity) of Sydney, there will be many people who support almost any position that you propose. For example, if you did a poll on the number of people who believe that all English tourists should pay a 100 Australian Dollar tourist tax, there would likely be more than 1,000 Sydney residents who would agree with that decision. However, the fact that you can find 1,000 people in a city of 5,600,000 people means next to nothing. This leads us to the next point.

Third, while one might well find "a lot of people" who find a pink-condom-covered column to be offensive, it does not automatically follow that there aren't "a lot of people" who find a pink-condom-covered column to be affirmative. (And the first person in the clip is one who fits this camp; likely she, too, has "a lot of people" who support her position.) Furthermore, it does not automatically follow that there aren't "a lot of people" who don't give two shits either way. (The numbers of voters showing up to vote in elections where voting is not mandatory is an indication of the number of people who can't really be bothered to vote on their own futures - for whatever reason.)

Fourth, this appeal to the people is not what modern democracies are based upon. The tyranny of the majority is something that many Western democracies, including Australia (and the UK, where the second individual appears to be from), have structured their governments to try and avoid. Under modern democracies, the presence of a constitution that provides rights to all citizens cannot (in theory and in principle) be superseded by the mere will of the voting majority. It is from this that we get the rights of women, the rights of children, the rights of minority groups, etc. In this case, the point of covering a column with a pink condom was to promote HIV/AIDS prevention. HIV/AIDS affects a minority of the Australian population, with 85% of transmission occurring being MSM, and 63% of the cases being among those practicing MSM, which makes it roughly 0.001% of the national population who has HIV/AIDS. This population is a diminishingly small minority of the country, and one for whom protections against the tyranny of the majority ought to be considered. In short, to base public decisions that affect minority populations upon the actions deemed appropriate by a voting majority runs counter to one of the fundamental bases of Western democracies, to which (I imagine) this individual would likely state his personal support.

In sum, the mere fact that you have "a lot of people" who agree with you doesn't mean that your group is of significant size (see point one), it doesn't mean that it's representative (see point two), it doesn't mean that other groups aren't as big or bigger (see point three), and it's not the sole form of decision-making in Western democracies, especially when the protections of minorities are in question (see point four). What it does mean is that you've employed a fundamentally flawed argument.

But these are just four points that undercut the first part of his argumentation. The next thing he says is:
"If it stops a couple of people from getting HIV... brilliant."
This seems to contradict his previous point, since it appears that he is saying here that he does support the pink-condom-covered pillar. But in his next statement, he jumps back to stating that he's against it:
"[pointing to statute] No. That is so... wrong."
So, if he is a person who wants to save the lives of others, then his logic is self-contradictory, since his final stance - that he's against it - runs counter to his position that it could save lives. However, the fact that his final position is to be against it because it is offense to his sensibilities - despite his recognition that it could save lives - then he's saying that he places his personal sensitivities ahead of the lives that could be saved.

To me, it seems like he added his apparently self-contradictory statement as a means of saying, "I'm not really that bad of a guy." It's another example of the "But I'm not a bigot" mentality that I wrote about back in 2010 (and also discussed back in 2012):
In their recently published paper "But I'm no Bigot: How Prejudiced White Americans Maintain Unprejudiced Self-Images", Laurie O'Brien, Christian Crandall, April Horstman-Reser, and Ruth Warner delve into the means by which white Americans can harbor racial prejudice while still viewing themselves as "unprejudiced".
That the case here is of an Englishman in Sydney commenting on a monument covered over with a pink condom to raise awareness about a disease that overwhelmingly affects homosexual men, who (as a population of infected individuals) comprise a vanishingly small population within Australia, makes it slightly different in the performance of the individual's rationalization the he's not a bigot, that he's not prejudiced, etc. However, the same processes are effectively taking place. Putting in phrases like, "If it stops a couple of people from getting HIV... brilliant," appears (to me) to be evidence that this man understands that HIV/AIDS primarily is a disease that affects a group of people that are accorded minority protections (and - by many - special consideration), and this man appears (to me) to be using his phrase as stating that he's not there to be a bad guy. Even though his overall position is to remove the item that he finds so offensive that - even "if it stops a couple of people from getting HIV" - he's against it.

So, in sum, the second individual uses two flawed arguments to state his position that he's against a pink-condom-covered column (in a city and country in which he's not a citizen). I don't know whether he understands why his arguments are logically so flawed, but in my opinion, his position would have been far more logically consistent and - at least to me - valid if he had simply stated, "I find it offensive. [pointing to statute] No. That is so... wrong." All the other false justifications and attempts at self-rationalization merely serve to undercut his entire position. At least in my eyes.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Waiting at government offices is stressful and frustrating. Especially when you have to do it twice over.

I hear that sharing frustrations with people can help you diminish your stress level. To that end, I've decided to write about what was a stressful and highly frustrating two days of waiting at government offices.

I spent much of Tuesday standing in a line at one government office, only to find out that I actually had to first stand all day in a different line in a different office before I could stand all day in the line in which I was initially standing. Why? Because I didn't file my paperwork on time, and so I needed to get a piece of paper from that office to give to the person at this office in order for this clerk to process the papers as normal. *Sigh.* It's really hard not to let frustration turn to anger, even though many people might interpret my state of frustration as a state of anger. (Nope: they are not the same; I actively avoid getting angry.) Since it was already past 2pm - and since Chilean government offices (just like Chilean banks) close at 2pm - I would have to try again the next day. On the plus side, she said that I could come directly to her station when I did get the paper, which would (at least) save waiting in line again at this office. (Ah, the small blessings that come from not getting angry at clerks, who can't change the rules that govern their actions, but can either cut you a break if you're nice to them or make things even more difficult for you if they feel like you're being overly bitchy and/or assholey.)

Side note: The need to go to a different government office in order to pay a fine for not doing a particular piece of paperwork in time was due to a misunderstanding and lack of communications due to presumed knowledge and expected actions due to that fundamental misunderstanding of how the Chilean governmental bureaucracy works. Every bureaucracy has its annoyances, but these can be minimized (at least for people like me) if I understand the internal logic of the particular system. Of course, being a foreigner, I don't know the things that I don't know to ask about (and being nationals, the people I talk to don't know that I don't know until it's way too late). Of course, one of the main annoyances about Chilean government is that some offices are grossly understaffed (i.e., the ones I had to go to), of which I had an inkling on this day, but which I would find out when I went to the other government building.

After returning to my apartment (frustrated, fatigued, and trying to figure out explanations to questions that I was pretty sure I was not formulating correctly), I decided that I should probably figure out what my visit would likely entail, and after a lot of figuring and guessing and asking and trying to figure out yet again what the heck is meant by certain legal phrases (because government websites - even those aimed at foreigners - are written by people who implicitly understand the bureaucracy, which means that there's a lot of assumed knowledge that requires additional searching and additional frustration), I finally started to pull together an idea of what I had to do. People - like me - who have to pay a fine to this government agency, need to first wait in line to get a piece of paper from a clerk that says how much is owed. Then I would have to go to the government-run bank and wait in line to pay that amount (I suppose this might be to minimize petty bribes, which is a good thing, I guess, but why you can't just pay directly with a credit card or debit card - which also would minimize petty bribery - is beyond me), from which you will receive a receipt of payment. (Why the automated banking system of the government-run bank couldn't tell the government clerks the same thing as the piece of paper, I don't know; I'm guessing that it's just an anachronism that has remained from pre-cmoputerized banking days.) Then I would have to go back to the same office, and wait in line (again!) in order present the receipt of payment from the government-run bank to the government clerk in order to get the piece of paper that the original government clerk said I needed to have before she could process my paperwork.

Or, to put it more basically, I would need to go to a government office, get a number, wait in line, get a piece of paper from a clerk that says how much I need to pay, go the the bank, get a number, wait in line, pay the amount listed on the paper, get a piece of paper that said I paid, go back to the government office, get a number, wait in line, get piece of paper that confirms that I payed the fine, go back to the original government office (where I was the day before), and go see the clerk I originally saw there in order to get the business done for which I had originally waited in line.

*Sigh* Don't get angry. Don't get angry. Don't get angry. After all, all bureaucracies have really frustrating aspects. The only thing that getting angry would do is to (directly or indirectly) hurt me. Better just wake up early. (Yeah, I suppose this is turning into a mantra.)

Today, I woke up at 6am after a stressful night. *Grogginess.* I left the apartment at 7am, and got to the correct government office at 7:50am. As I pulled up to the main entrance, I noticed that there was no line, and my spirits were buoyed; perhaps this wouldn't take so long after all. But no. When I went in, I was greeted by a line stretching out a side entrance. Following that line, I exited the lobby and found that it literally was already stretched almost to the end of the block. I got in line far closer to the corner of the next street than the entrance to the building and proceeded to wait for the doors to open. Starting at 8:30, the line slowly started to shuffle forward, and at about 9am, I got my waiting-room number: R122 (the monitors were showing R008, alongside three other sets of numbers, against which I would - apparently - be competing). Well, at least I would definitely have enough time to go and get a coffee. This option was far more tempting than waiting in an already-crammed waiting room; so I left in search of an open coffee shop.

Coffee shops in Santiago don't always open early. In fact, many small cafes don't open until 10 or 10:30, but I was able to find one in the main downtown plaza, had a coffee, and forced myself to try and relax. (Forced leisure is difficult, especially when you are in my head space.) During that time, I tried to channel my stress and frustration into something (somewhat) constructive, and I came up with an idea about how to minimize crowding in government waiting rooms that are obviously waaaaay too small to adequately handle the numbers of people waiting in them. I'll talk with the Office of Technology Transfer at the university to see if it might be of use or interest. Fingers crossed.

After stretching out a relatively small and quite expensive coffee for an hour, I went back to the waiting room, only to find that the number had gone up to R018. *Argh!* Well, off again outside I go! I found a couple of Indian textile importers down the street from the government office, some electronics stores, a whole gallery of handbag shops, another gallery of barbers and hairdressers, and yet another gallery of various levels of jewelry. I also noticed scantily dressed women who "just happened" to be standing at regular intervals along the street, doing nothing much more than stand and look at people. Apparently there were many goods and services on sale around the area.

I returned to the waiting room at 11:30 to find that the number had risen to D025. *Sigh.* Well, off again outside I go! Since I was near the old central plaza, the main cathedral, and a couple of old churches, I decided that I'd play tourist for a bit. To that end, I checked out the cathedral (lots of school kids on field trips, very few worshippers, and renovation work going on all around), as well as another stonking big church nearby (a nearly empty mass presided over by a priest who literally mumbled and stumbled through his holy litany) and then decided to get lunch (arroz con pollo at a small eatery tucked between two government buildings and looking out on a fountain).

Back to the waiting room at noon. In the intervening 30-ish minutes (yes, it was a very quick lunch, and a very quick look around the churches), the number had "rapidly" climbed to D055. Well, considering that the offices would close their doors at 2pm, I decided to stay (with the hope that things would continue along at the rate of the previous 1/2 hour, instead of at the rate of the initial 2 hours). However, at the back of my head, I knew that I had to *still* go the bank, wait there and then return to this same waiting room before going back to where I was yesterday.


During the next 1/2 hour, I played sudoku, and after one (somewhat) tough game, I looked up to see: D107! Well, I'd best get ready, then! My number was thrown up on the board at 1pm. Forward I stepped, and just as I looked for which clerk I needed to see, the D123 was called, and I was left in the lurch, not knowing where I was supposed to go. Luckily, the guard helped me out and one of the clerks said that I could see her after she was done with the person she was helping at the time. *Phew.* I was already having images of having to wait in line all over again, but luckily that didn't happen.

I then proceeded to wait nervously in front of the withering gaze of the hundreds of people stacked in the waiting room, with me seeming like I jumped the queue. Ah, well, screw 'em. I was supposed to be here, and anyway the clerk was finishing up.

I was called forward, and the clerk went through the papers and told me perhaps the best news of my predicament that I could have heard: there would be no charge for the paperwork I needed. This mean that that she would issue me the paper immediately. I therefore wouldn't need to stand in line at the bank, and I therefore wouldn't need to stand in line again at this same office. However, there was one catch. The paper she would issue me was an extension for only this day, which meant that I needed to go back to the first government office within the next hour (since they would close at 2pm), or else I'd have to come back tomorrow to get another copy of the piece of paper she was handing to me.

Three things went through my mind: "Yay!" "Crap." and "Fuck that." There was no chance that I would stand in line yet again, so back I biked to the offices I was at yesterday, and, there, I skipped the queue and went directly to the clerk who I met with the day before. (Hello, do you remember me? Yeah, I was the guy who did this, and who you told that, and I've come back with all the appropriate papers. Oh, and do you remember that you told me to come to see you directly? Yeah, I'm back. Hello again.) Luckily she did remember me, and after about 10 minutes, I was done.

Yeah, I know that I will likely have to wait at government offices again. But at least it won't be for a while yet.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Support for SSM continues to grow, but unevenly. (Also, what constitutes a "large portion" of a population?)

I recently saw this graphic from YouGov about the various levels of support and opposition for same-sex marriage:

Pretty cool graphic. The accompanying text pointed out that "Americans who are likely to vote in the upcoming elections tend to support (48%) rather than oppose (39%) allowing gays and lesbians to marry." This confirms reporting about polls showing general support in the US population for SSM. And - unlike inter-racial marriage - the popular position is leading the legal position, as xkcd shows in another of his amazing graphs:

Pretty neat stuff, especially for data, graph, and map nerds like me.

And then... I read the comments...
Well, I made the mistake of reading the comments, and I found - at the end of one relatively short string of back-and-forth - a statement by "William," who (for some reason) couldn't understand how the non-discrimination language of the 14th Amendment worked to alter the 1st Amendment. (In brief - and remember: IANAL - the 1st Amendment disallows Congress from making state laws about the establishment and practice of religions. The 14th Amendment disallows any state from discrimination, even if it's religiously justified discrimination. There. Not too hard to understand.) This is what he wrote:
Where is the lack of equal protection? Gay people have equal protection. What gay people want is a special classification for their perverted behavior and for everyone to accept that perverted behavior. Acceptance of the homosexual perverted behavior will Never be accepted by a large portion of the United States.

Concerning sentences 1 & 2
Well... The first two sentences are a patent misunderstanding (whether deliberate or not) of why anti-SSM creates a lack of equal protections. Maybe William should go read explanations online (such as at Wikipedia).

Concerning sentence 3
The third statement (discounting the obvious and heavily biased point of view) is just a case of special pleading on his part. As Ricky Gervais points out:
Same sex marriage is not gay privilege, it's equal rights. Privilege would be something like gay people not paying taxes. Like churches don't.
I couldn't have said it more succinctly. But perhaps William just doesn't like Ricky Gervais. Well, the edited volume by Rimmerman and Wilcox has a better explanation as to why SSM isn't a "special classification" and isn't actually the conferral of special privileges:
Antigay groups insist that allowing gay couples to marry represents granting gay people a special right on top of the right they already have. ... The Family Research Council compares laws restricting marriage to opposite-sex couples to laws preventing cousins from marrying and laws preventing adults from marrying children... "since these restrictions apply equally to every individual" (Sprigg 2003).
          In other words, since a gay man could marry a woman and a lesbian could marry a man (as many gay people have done -- often resulting in unhappy and dysfunctional marriages), they have the right to marry. But for a person who is attracted to and capable of falling in love with someone of the same sex, such freedom or right is pretty meaningless. In fact, these restrictions do not "apply equally to every individual" but limit the ability of gay people only to protect their life partner relationships.
          People on death row, mass murderers, rapists, and child molesters can all get married as long as they are marrying someone of the opposite sex. Yet gay and lesbian people are denied this fundamental right because the people they love are of the same sex. Their right to marry someone of the opposite sex doesn't mean much; it doesn't allow them to marry the person they love.
(Emphasis mine. Emphasis in the original.)

Perhaps William would respond with some version of the slippery slope argument (since many anti-SSM arguments usually fall back on some version of the argument of, "Well, if we allow men to marry other men, then what's to stop plural marriage, incest, or bestiality?" I'll let John Corvino take this one.

Concerning Statement 4 (the real "Hunh?!?" statement to me at this time)
But it was the last statement that had me scratching my head: "Acceptance of the homosexual perverted behavior will Never be accepted by a large portion of the United States."

Ummm... But SSM is already accepted and supported by the majority of the United States population. This - by definition - means that SSM IS "accepted by a large portion of the United States."

A recent Pew poll shows a 54% majority in favor of same-sex marriage, and the anti-SSM position is only 39% and falling.

In other words, "the homosexual perverted behavior" that William contends will "Never be accepted by a large portion of the United States" is actually - right now, today, throughout the United States - accepted by the majority of the populace. This means that the largest portion of the United States supports "the homosexual perverted behavior" (or at least allowing people who are homosexual to get married to another person of the same sex).

Now, William could say that what he actually meant by "large portion" is actually some portion of the population that is smaller than the majority, but that is still "large." But that raises the question of when is a "large portion" no longer large? Based on nothing more than the idea of a pluarlity being a portion large enough to become a ruling party (and assuming a three-party system like in the UK), I'd argue that 33.333% (i.e., 1/3 of the population) is scraping the bottom of credulity for what it means to be a "large portion." (I could have used the Italian multi-multi-multi-party system, but that case is far more complex than the three-majority-party system of the UK.)

(As a side note, I'd extend the above logic to say that  anything less than 1/3 changes is no longer a "large portion," and it enters into "minority" territory, although I'd be generous and say that anything more than 1/10 makes a group a "sizeable minority," but a minority nonetheless. In other words, if a position is supported by less than 1/3 of the population, I'd argue that it's not a position held by a "large portion" of the population.)

Now time for a thought experiment!
Okay, now that we've got a cut-off of what a (semi-credible) definition of "large portion" actually might be (I'm saying that it's 1/3 of the population), we need to determine how quickly the anti-SSM position will fall below that threshold. We have data from Pew on anti-SSM polling, and it's apparent that - since 2009 - there has been a relatively linear trend (whereas before 2009, anti-SSM sentiment bounced around without any major trend). Now, given this strong trend since 2009, let's just assume that the popular trends of anti-SSM from the Pew poll continue along the paths of the that they have been on since 2009. (Yes, I am well aware of the problems of doing linear extrapolations into the future, but this is just a simple thought experiment.) Plugging the data into Excel, we get a linear trend for the anti-SSM from 2009-2014 has an R^2 of 0.9069 (which is pretty friggin' high, given that the maximum is an R^2 of 1), and using the regression equation, we get the following projection:

2015: 36.07%
2016: 33.44%
2017: 30.81%
2018: 28.19%
2019: 25.56%
2020: 22.92%

Yowzers. If the anti-SSM trend continues (and that's a big if, supported by nothing other than arm-waving conjecture), then it will be around 2016 that the portion of the US that holds William's position drops below 1/3 of the country, and - as such - it can no longer be counted as a "large portion." Furthermore, it will be sometime in 2020 that the portion of the US that holds William's position can no longer (at least in my books) be counted as a "sizable minority."

But what if I took the entirety of Pew's polling, and go all the way back to 1996? Well, the slope will be less steep, which does change the resulting percentages (but the R^2 drops to 0.8853, which - admittedly - is still pretty good):
2015: 40.73%
2016: 39.34%
2017: 37.96%
2018: 36.57%
2019: 35.19%
2020: 33.80%

So... not as drastic. If we assume (again, based on nothing) that the overall trend from 1996-2014 is actually the more realistic trend in the anti-SSM position, then William's position will only cease to be a "large portion of the US population" sometime in 2021 by this estimation. Still 7, years is still a lot faster than his contention of "Never."

Of course, there's a reason for this trend: a major generational shift. As Pew reports on this crucially important fact:
"Currently, 68% of Millennials favor [SSM], compared with 55% of Gen Xers, 48% of Boomers and 38% of the Silent generation."

Or, to put it another way the kids (aged 5-13) in the video below will become eligible voters in 2018-2026 (when the members of the Silent generation will be aged from 73-88 in 2018 and 81-96 in 2026):

Sunday, August 31, 2014

When symbology means something completely different to you

I saw that one of my friends changed his Facebook profile pic to this:

The first thought that came into my head was, "Well, so, too, were the dodo and the passenger pigeon..."

The next was, "...and shouldn't it read, 'You are the result' - unless the message is for a 3rd person plurality, which is strange given how signs accompanied by messages to "you" are generally meant for the 2nd person...?"

My thoughts on grammar continued with, "...and shouldn't it be '... evolutionary successes...' since evolution is a process requiring consistent - and relatively constant - successes in mating and survival...? I know that the sign could mean to use success in the uncountable form, but that would be incongruous, given how "results" is used in its countable form."

My thoughts then strayed back to the implications of the wolf, given the message, and it was something like, "...and what's the point of using a wolf... a species that has been extirpated in much of its native range, and is - in many ways - a prime example of a species that, despite it being the culmination of billions of years of evolution, has until recently been going the way of the dodo and the passenger pigeon?"

Maybe - as an ecologist with an evolutionary background and a great interest in grammar - I'm just thinking about this too much?

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Apparently Russia and Canada can't agree on what belongs to Russia

NPR had a fun-with-maps story about how Canada's delegation to NATO tweeted the following map to show where Russia is (and isn't):
This was in response to Russia claiming that the Russian military convoys and vehicles that had entered Ukraine were just lost... or something similarly implausible.

However, look at the map that the Canadian delegation sent. It fails to label Kaliningrad as being part of Russia. By the way, here's a handy map showing you where Kaliningrad is:
Whoops! Apparently the GIS program that the Canadians were using didn't automatically include Kaliningrad as Russia. But the lack of recognizing Kaliningrad as part of Russia was apparently less important than showing that Crimea was Russian and that Abkhazia wasn't Georgian. This is the "corrected" map that Russia tweeted back to the Canadians:
(Never mind that almost the entire world doesn't recognize Abkhazia. Never mind that almost the entirety of the world doesn't recognize Russia's claim to Crimea, either.)

Friday, August 29, 2014

Mozart rap: Great advice for growing up

Wish I knew some of these things when I was a teen. Wish that I had followed up earlier on some of these things that I knew.