Monday, June 30, 2008

Gun Control

Reason has an article today talking about the reversal of the DC gun ban. For the most part it tries to refute the claim that gun control makes people safer. They talk about murder rates pre, during, and post gun control, do a little massaging of the statistics, and declare that gun control doesn't work.

I dunno, its a shaky argument, but even if that were the case, I think they're shooting themselves in the foot (haha). If a study were done that showed gun control undeniably made people safer and reduced murder rates, would Reason become pro-gun control? I don't think so.

The real argument is that safety isn't a sufficient condition for prior restraint and restrictions of autonomy. Some things are more important in the long run than personal security.

I wonder what my DC reader(s) think of the gun ban?

Penn agrees with me

Psychics: What's the Harm?

There is a girl named Victoria who lives in Barrie, Ontario. Victoria has a severe form of autism, and is nonverbal. It can be extremely difficult to raise an autistic child, even at the best of times. I work with autistic people, I know this. Their brains work in a very different way, making meaningful communication next to impossible, even for verbal people. Victoria lives in a completely alien world.

One day Victoria's mother got a phone call from the school. She went for a meeting, where she was told that they had reason to believe Victoria was being sexually abused.

"That's when I got sick to my stomach," [Victoria's mother] said. "I was shocked the whole meeting."
That's one of the most devastating things a parent can hear, particularly a parent of such a vulnerable child. Even if completely untrue, such a claim can have a terrible emotional effect on the whole family. So you'd think the school would be a little bit cautious about tossing around such dire allegations.

Yeah, you'd think.

Turns out the suspicion of abuse was raised by Victoria's educational assistant - you know, the person in charge of protecting and watching over her when her parents cannot - who had visited a psychic who told her that a child with a 'V' name was being abused.

That's it, that's the evidence of abuse the school went on when they called the Children's Aid Society, which is obligated to investigate any possible abuse case, although mercifully they acknowledged that the whole psychic thing is completely ludicrous.

Even though the claims are absolutely baseless, and Victoria was certainly not abused, this kind of thing causes harm. The emotional stress on the family, the level of trust in the educational aids and the school, the waste of resources spent investigating, and the lingering suspicion that the community will have for years to come are all very real harmful side effects.

The next time someone asks "what's the harm" of going to a psychic, tell them about Victoria.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Still Alive

I'm not dead. I have been on vacation, at The Amazing Meeting in Las Vegas, hosted by the James Randi Educational Foundation.

It. Was. Awesome.

Hopefully I can get some posts about it up this week.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Truth Matters, Seth

The always brilliant Seth Godin writes about Authenticity and Reality and Intention, arguing that truth doesn't matter quite so much as our interpretation.

  • A very skilled cover band is indistinguishable from the original, so it doesn't matter that they're inauthentic.
  • A comedian who delivers pre-written material is still funny.
  • A vegetarian who is served trace amounts of chicken broth won't mind, if she doesn't know.
  • A YouTube video of cell phones popping popcorn doesn't resonate any less because it is a hoax - a staged video of a physically impossible occurrence.
I'll give you the first two. The essence of good music is the patterns of sound. If you can replicate that, the music can be just as enjoyable, in a completely honest way. Same with the comedian, if all you care about is laughing, a funny joke from an actor will do (like George Burns who said, the secret of acting is sincerity, if you can fake that you've got it made).

Perhaps a vegetarian won't care if she eats a little chicken. What if instead of a vegetarian, you serve trace amounts of peanuts to someone with a severe allergy. Now all of a sudden the truth matters, urgently.

The cell phone corn popping video only resonates if we think it's true. The resonant reaction is "oh my god, my cell phone can do that, and I put it next to my head?!" If the video is fake, then the entire experience is instantly negated.

The point is that you must identify the relevant piece of the experience, and preserve the honesty of that. Good marketing is about delivering real experiences to people. Perhaps you manufacture the setting or context, but the relevant piece cannot be faked. A cheerful salesperson might not actually be happy, but the customer doesn't really care about that, they just want to see a smile.

Using false information to scare people into or out of some behaviour, when there is no real threat at all is slimy marketing. Seth is usually above that.

p.s. Seth, it's more than generally assumed the video is fake. This is science, we're pretty damn sure.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Stephen Colbert, Eat Your Heart Out

"You just put yourself in overdrive and try and not get yourself killed," Shorter said. "It's an amazing amount of adrenaline going through yourself.… You get lots of thoughts going through your mind but you think about, obviously, your family and it's worth living, so fight."

After killing the bear, Shorter picked up his rifle and staggered back to his vehicle.

"I got back in my pickup, grabbed a drink of water, got my thoughts straight. I noticed my shoulder was dislocated. I managed to pop it in myself and thought I'd better go and get some help," Shorter said.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Pirate Wednesday - Review and Summary

I don't have any pirate news that stands out as requiring its own post, but I do want to keep on top of this PW thing and not let it go too long between them. Here are the pirate related items that I have come across since the last PW.

O Camembert

Hat tip Strange Maps

Monday, June 2, 2008

Catholic Doublethink

Aisha Taylor, executive director of the Women's Ordination Conference, issued the following statement about the Vatican's decree that ordained Roman Catholic women and the bishops who ordained them incur latae sententiae excommunication, which means excommunication that is immediate and self-imposed.

"The Women's Ordination Conference is outraged by yesterday’s Vatican decree, which reminds Catholic women once again of the animosity they face from the hierarchy, despite being the backbone of most Catholic parishes throughout the world."
Ugh, I just don't understand this stuff! I've talked about the cognitive dissonance inherent to religion before - how you have to hold two mutually exclusive beliefs to avoid hell in some cases.

If these women are catholic, then that means they believe the Vatican is an infallible source of knowledge that comes straight from God. If the Pope says it, then God wills it. It is official church doctrine that women are inferior to men. That's nothing new, but it has recently been reasserted. I'd like to know what right the Women's Ordination Conference thinks they have to argue with the Pope. This is not a religion that allows individual interpretation of the bible, this is a religion with a top-down authority. They don't even like people reading the bible without a priest present to tell them what it means.

I dunno, I don't have a lot to say about it I guess, except that I think they're stupid. If you don't like the way the Catholic church is run, then leave it. If you actually believe all that bullshit you wouldn't dare to question it anyways so you can't be very serious.