Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Religious justifications for government support of anti-SSM positions are not valid (and are not useful)

I am caught up in what's happening with how two issues of same-sex marriage (SSM) are being framed and argued before the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS). I am also looking at how others in my Facebook are talking about the framing issue (taken mostly by the anti-SSM side).

One friend quoted another's position that using a Christian justification for maintaining an anti-SSM approach is not valid Constitutionally:
Why do we debate gay marriage? People against gay marriage cite religion. They are not for separation of church and state. They feel the state should be THEIR church, not someone else's, and thus gets to define marriage for everyone. We're lucky they are OK with Hindus getting married without the True God's blessing.. as I'm pretty sure the church doesn't recognize those marriages. There's no arguing with that. Why do people repeat the same ostensibly self evident arguments over and over again about equality? They don't care about equality. They want everyone to bend to their faith, and for other people's faith to not count. They want the government to give THEIR faith preeminence over other faiths. That's their faith. That's why some people demonize the concept of faith and stay within the realms of reason, leaving the vast world of what is unknowable just that.
And he's right: if you are a Hindu (or any non-Christian, or even if you are a different kind of Christian), then it's not at all likely that any Christian church will recognize your marriage in their church. ... but the state will recognize your marriage. If the argument against SSM is because it's not something in Christian doctrine, then it's a bad argument.

Extending this further, another friend wrote:
I just don't get it... The constitution calls for a separation of Church and State, and so I don't want to hear any religious arguments to preserve Proposition 8 or DOMA. America was created, and legitimized in the Constitution, to protect people from the same religious hate-mongering they experienced in the Old World. If you want to be in the Old World, then go back in time and to the Old World! It is no wonder that many conservatives favour ruling Proposition 8 and DOMA unconstitutional - it is because they are "constitutionalists", and not the extreme tea-partiers that have helped put this country into regression.
Exactly. I agree with this sentiment exactly. Why do some people not understand that marriage is a government-regulated, government-enforced, government-documented legal agreement IN ADDITION TO something that a religion might do? After all, there is no major problem between (A) naming a baby and registering that name with the government at the birth of that child and (B) a religious naming ceremony, such as a christening. Nor is there is no major problem between (A) having a male child register for "selective service" at the time of adulthood and (B) a coming-of-age ceremony, such as confirmation or bar mitzvah. There are, in fact, many civic and religious acts that are analogous to each other and that don't cause any real problems. Why, when it comes to marriage, does the civic aspect of marriage-as-a-legal-arrangement fly out the window? It's just a really bad civic argument.

Even Bill O'Reilly - not known as being a supporter of SSM - seems to get it:
The compelling argument is on the side of homosexuals. That is where the compelling argument is. We’re Americans, we just want to be treated like everybody else. That’s a compelling argument, and to deny that you’ve got to have a very strong argument on the other side. And the other side hasn’t been able to do anything but thump the Bible.”

Furthermore, trying to debate what you believe your god to say a social issue is one thing; saying that your interpretation of what your god says is the way that society should be governed is a completely different thing. And it's not surprising that Christians do understand this (just as any religious minority immediately understands it), and have even discussed why being pro-SSM is the Christian position. Of course, even religious arguments for a position that one favors is not a good thing. To a Buddhist, what is the value of a Christian argument against (or for) same-sex marriage? Arguably, it has the same value as the Buddhist argument does to the Muslim, Jew, Christian, Wiccan, etc.: not a whole lot, except in the case where the non-religious, civic action matches between individuals. However, to hang a constitutional argument upon the framework of one person's religion (or even that person's perspective of their religion) automatically serves to alienate all others who don't share that religion (or that perspective). Right from the get-go.

However, beyond the lack of a good civic argument, thumping the Bible as your main argument against SSM is also a bad moral argument, since there are so many examples of heterosexual Christians who effectively make a mockery of this supposedly sacred institution.

Now, however, the DOMA decisions have been released. Time for a time-suck as I read them.

Friday, March 08, 2013

Unit Conversions and Significant Figures

Getting around in science requires that you learn how to convert units and also know how (and when) to do your rounding. Here are some pointers/reminders:

(NOTE: The video forgot to round up at 09:57, but the rest of the video is good.)

The benefit of knowing how to do unit conversion is that you can - literally - switch between different units, so long as you know the appropriate conversion factor. Recently, I was trying to determine how many gallons of water were pumped from the ground each day on an average Michigan farm in the production of corn. I had the following information:
  • # Farms of >14 acres: 114 farms
  • # Irrigated acres: 9,899 acres
  • 2006 Estimated Water Withdrawn: 4.85 million gallons per day (MGD)
  • Average Farm Acreage: 179 acres/farm
I need a final unit of gallons per day/179 acre farm, which means that I can do the following unit conversion:

gpd/average farm = [(1,000,000 gallons/day)/# farms]/[irrigated acres/# farms]*179 acres/average farm
=[(1,000,000 gallons/day)/114 farms]/[9,899 irrigated acres/114 farms]*179 acres/average farm
=[42,543.86 gpd/farm]/[86.83 irrigated acres/farm]*179 acres/average farm
=489.95 gpd/irrigated acre*179 gpd/average farm
=87,700.78 gpd/average farm

Final Answer (with sig-figs): 87,700 gpd/average farm

Thursday, March 07, 2013

ISO 8601: The Best, Most Useful Way to Write the Date

I wrote about this on 12/12/12, but now I found an xkcd comic that captures the whole thing much better:

I didn't know that there was an ISO for what I figured out on my own several years ago, but it makes sense that this was made into an industry standard. For more info, check out the Wikipedia page for ISO 8601.

The hidden text for the comic is just perfect: "ISO 8601 was published on 06/05/88 and most recently amended on 12/01/04." Just perfect.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

After Lunch in Llay-Llay

It sits well and good,
Lunch in Llay-Llay.
The sun sidles down, soaking
Leaves, roof tiles, walls, and road.

Dogs lie down after eating
Lunch in Llay-Llay.
Their sides heaving up and down, panting
Looking to find a place to nap.

In the cool office after
Lunch in Llay-Llay,
I look to a side street that borders a plaza,
Sandias y melones are for sale.

Women's voices chat over
Lunch in Llay-Llay.
In sideways discussion over the town's life,
Noting, examining, judging, and moving on.

Life rumbles to a halt during
Lunch in Llay-Llay,
And the repast is a side-effect of this daily event,
Reaping smiles from what was sowed.

Monday, March 04, 2013

Once Again: On BMI

It seems like I write something about BMI each year (2009, 2010, 2011), save (strangely) last year. The main thing that I keep pointing out is that BMI is:
  1. An objective measurement that is
  2. Used improperly, which leads to
  3. People imbuing tons of social construction into BMI, because
  4. Objective numbers (for some reason) are psychologically powerful (probably because they can't be refuted on their own).
Well, we should all know by now that BMI is definitely not a measurement of an individual's health, of fat, or or anything else other than weight/(height^2).

And what is the significance of weight/(height^2)? About as much as the significance of:

which provides the user with the annual average water discharge of India's Ganges River, based on the total upstream watershed area (A), the annual precipitation of the upstream watershed (P), and the % of the upstream watershed that is in the Himalaya mountains. It's actually a highly predictive formula, with an R-squared of 95.5%, which is - for such large-scale modeling - pretty damn good for using only three variables.

However, this formula is next to useless in determining what the flow of the Ganges river is in any one year, in any one season, or during any one day. Why? Because it doesn't actually measure any of those.

And BMI - much like the simple equation I derived for my master's work - does not measure health or fat simply because it doesn't actually measure those things. It is merely a statistical regression equation that is based on a specific population (19th Century Belgian men) and split into arbitrary categories that mapped (during the 1970s or 1980s) onto concepts of health and obesity.

The BBC World Service did an episode on the efficacy of the BMI and a possible new equation for calculating BMI. (The story did a good job of also showing why the new formula is about as useful for giving individual advice as the existing formula.)