Tuesday, May 14, 2013

With Friends Like Morgan Whitaker

Just as two new scandals (Benghazi and IRS vs Tea party) are roiling Obama's public image, one of Obama's friends (Ms. Morgan Whitaker, a producer of Al Sharpton's show) writes a round-up article listing seven other scandals that the mainstream media managed to protect Obama from.Only three of the seven seem significant to me.

Of course, that was about 20 minutes before the mainstream media found out that the Justice Department was glomming AP phone records for some kind of leak investigation.

My reactions to Obama Scandal Number Ten?:

First, it will be interesting to see if the new AP scandal turns out to be related to Number Four on Morgan's list, a National Security leak from the Obama White House that resulted in the appointment of two independent prosecutors.

Second, it will be interesting to see if the new AP scandal becomes Obama's KAL Flight 007. For those of you who are under 30, KAL007 was the incident in 1983 when a Soviet jet shot down a passenger airliner that had strayed several miles off course, and then teh Soviets refused to let rescue crews search for survivors in the frigid ocean. Russia actually faked a search while interfering with the US and Korean searchs.

Almost all the top journalists and news anchors of the day knew someone on board that plane, and some of them occasionally flew the same route. The Soviet bear stopped looking so cuddly to ABC, NBC and CBS (which is all the networks there were), so the media stopped snickering so much at President Reagan's "Evil Empire" rhetoric, and actually had to rethink its reflexive positions.

As a side benefit, President Reagan made GPS available for civilian use, to prevent airplanes from going so far off course again. That's right, the only reason your car and your phone know exactly where you are, is because Russia shot down a passenger jet in 1983, and thereby ensured Reagan's reelection!

So the question is, will the mainstream media wake up and smell the corruption? Or will it decide to stuff the covers back in its ears? I's bet for the covers, otherwise remorse and cognitive dissonance would make their heads explode.

Friday, May 10, 2013

'Climate Science' Jumps the Shark

It's fascinating when a premature scientific orthodoxy, like "global climate change science", or whatever they are calling it these days, starts becoming patriarchal.

Like, when they start burning books that disagree with them. More references can be found here and here and here and here and here.

Apparently, the profs, San Jose State University Meteorology Department chair Alison Bridger, PhD, and associate professor Craig Clements, PhD, thought it was hilarious to burn a book they disagreed with, a process that explicitly adds carbon dioxide to the air. The book, by the way, is “The Mad, Mad, Mad World of Climatism: Mankind and Climate Change Mania” by Steve Gorham, which is reportedly a lively read that doesn't take itself as seriously as these two professors.

Either SJSU or the Meterology department realized the mistake after the picture went viral, and attempted to scrub it off their website, but Climate scientists, just like real scientists, should know that the Internet is forever.

Interestingly enough, they seem to have succeeded in deleting it from the left half the Web, though. I was unable to find reference to it on any major liberal sites. Apparently book burning and climate science are subjects that their readers aren't interested in?

Monday, May 6, 2013

Supreme Court Vs Business

The Minnesota Law Review has posted an interesting study that attempts to decide how pro-business the Supreme Court is. Please go and read it yourself, starting with this lead piece - as near as I can tell, the study is extremely well put together and as fair as possible.

If you can't stand thinking for yourself, an alternative is to go read this NYT article and assume they're only printing their motto - "Half the News that's Fit to print".

The interesting thing to me, and the thing that speaks to good study design, is the discussion of Judge Posner's review and re-coding of the cases in the Spaeth Datasets. In essence, the new codes eliminate some of the old simplistic business-wins-equals-conservative, business-loses-equals-liberal ideology that seems to have warped Spaeth's results.

Another very interesting result is that it appears that business-wins-equals-conservative assumption only holds statistical validity in Spaeth's "Core" business cases, and shows a small negative correlation in the wider set of business-related cases in which business was not the first named party.

Figure 2 shows an amazingly close correlation in Spaeth's dataset, and a splatter in the ones that Spaeth decided not to include - which to me is a clear indication of cherry-picking.

On the other hand, the reversal of sign in the "non-core" cases may actually indicate a failure of the simplistic conservative-liberal axis to accurately state the ideologies at issue. A case where a union member wants to keep his own money in his pocket, rather than let the union give it to a politician, would be coded as "conservative" or "pro business", when really it is a case of liberal or libertarian individual right of free speech and political expression - a classic liberal position.

Oh, and the result is that the Supremes are pretty pro-business at the moment. (Of course, swinging back the pendulum can look like that even if the decisions are just moving the law back to neutral.)

Nice job, Minnesota Law Review!

6-year-old Plagiarists and Ducks

Stephan Dinan of the Washington Times writes about a six-year-old girl whose drawing of ducks was picked as national winner, then rescended because she had traced one of her father's unpublished photos.

The rules prohibited tracing another artist's work, and tracing published photos, but did not explicitly prohibit tracing (with the photographer's permission) an unpublished photo.

OOops - never mind, They rescinded their rescension.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Trolls, Trolls, and More Trolls

Over at Forbes, there's an article suggestingthat it's time to protect startups from Patent Trolls.

Here's a much simpler idea - How about we establish a compulsory license for tech IP, similar to the compulsory license for music?

Here's a basic outline - Let's estimate the maximum percentage of the value of a software product that any IP involved in the product could account for. Let's suppose that amount turns out to be 30% - the exact number doesn't matter for the purposes of discussion, although the industry will want to argue endlessly.

Suppose, then, that every company must pay 30% of its net income (or gross, or whatever) for the ability to use the compulsory licensed products. All of them. From anybody.

That money all goes in a pot, and IP trolls can only sue the pot, not the company. The industry and the stakeholders can come up with rule-of-thumb valuation standards. One of those standards has to evaluate the value added by the creators/sellers, who are also entitled to their cut of the royalties.

Percentage of lines of code, or allocation by importance to the finished product [acceleration methods are critical for games, less so for other things, etc], or any other reaosnable method can be decided by the industry.

The great thing about this schema is that, once the industry decides on such a schema, it becomes the de facto standard for evaluating an IP troll's contribution, If the industry has agreed that at most 30% of the value of the finished product (or 10%, for that matter) is due to the "prior art" that may be incorporated into the product, then no court will give more than that to a troll. And if that percentage of the gross/net has already been paid to a royalties organization, then an IP troll has only one place to go for their alleged infringement.

This leaves IP trolls, who hold patents but do not develop them for use, at a huge disadvantage. Lawsuits stop being an economical way to collect their rent, which drops the value of their IP to whatever value it actually might have in USE, as opposed to its value in barratry.

We're seeing that difference made clear in the Prenda Copyright Trolls case which I referred to here.

This would provide a nice way to daylight the trolls all at once.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Lean In, Be Liked, Join the Fad

Researchers Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman report in the Harvard Business review that "New Research Shows Success Doesn't Make Women Less Likable".

As I read it, the research doesn't actually say that, even if you accept the label "likeability" for the thing that they are measuring. At the very most, their research shows that the women who do succeed are women who are slightly more "likeable", on average, than the equivalent men. But that doesn't mean that ten times as many women who were "likeable" on that scale didn't get blown aside in the struggle for success, so the headline is just not supported by the research.

Here's the quiz itself. Unfortunately Zenger and Folkman demand your full contact information to review it, so here's the items from that list:

  1. Do you stay in touch with issues and concerns of individuals in the work group?
  2. How well do you balance "getting results" with a concern for other’s needs?
  3. Are you trusted by all members of the work group?
  4. Do you promote a high level of cooperation between all members of the work group?
  5. Are you a role model that sets a good example for his/her work group?
  6. Do you give honest feedback in a helpful way?
  7. Are you truly concerned about developing others?
  8. How well do you inspire others to high levels of effort and performance?
  9. Are you trusted by others to use good judgment when making decisions?
  10. Do you work hard to "walk the talk" and avoid saying one thing and doing another?
Some of those questions are reasonably related to likeability, but they just aren't what most people think of when the word comes up, especially as regards female managers. "A concern for others" is properly on the table for "likeable", but the heart of the question asks how well you balance "getting results" against that concern. Thus, it is a question not of likeability, but of effective management. A truly likeable person can score low on that question because he overemphasizes that concern for others, not just because he underemphasizes it.

The bottom line is that the researchers selected pre-existing questions about managerial or executive competence from their database, and rechewed that existing data based on relabeling those questions "likeability". They come to the following conclusion based on their results:

Our conclusion? Likability and success actually go together remarkably well for women. Parents can accurately and unhesitatingly tell their daughters, "Aspire for positions of power and influence, and when you get promoted, it is totally your choice whether you act in a way that will have people continue to like you or not."
Not a bad advice, whether or not the data tends to support it. But I also note the following quote and think there's another piece of important advice to be had.

Both men and women took a hit in likability when they moved from first-level supervisor to middle manager. But this drop was more precipitous for men. After that, the women made up some ground, while men's standing continued to erode, significantly widening the gap between them.
The advice is for men, and it's this: when you get into management, spend some time giving honest feedback, developing others, and letting people know you are in touch with their concerns, even when you aren't necessarily going to decide their way. It will make you seem more effective, and also more "likeable", at least as defined by Zenger and Folkman.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Simple Charity

There's a very interesting article over on the Harvard Business Review by someone named Jacquelline Fuller. She seems to be associated with a philanthropic organization called Google Giving which gives out Global Impact Awards. Fuller assumes you know her background, and Google doesn't give any clues as to who works for Google Giving, so I had to reread it a couple of times to gain confidence I knew who she was. Anyway, interesting thought - there's an organization called GiveDirectly that just gives micropayments to people in third world countries and sees what happens to their lives. Turns out, it's good! Such a surprise.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Expensive Study, Trivial Results

Yep, there's another politically biased study out of Harvard, this time by an Eric Fleegler, about guns.

Here's a chearleader's view from Boston's NPR station, which doesn't seem to be able to understand the statistics involved.

Here's the scant praise that comes for the study from Garen Wintemute, an emergency medicine physician and director of the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California, Davis:

"In the end, Fleegler and colleagues provide no firm guidance and leave us with more questions than answers. Do the laws work, and if so, which ones? Should policymakers enact the entire package, or just some of the measures?" he said.
Professor John Lott had a more pungent analysis here

But the report is based on embarrassingly bad statistics that are rigged to get the result the authors wanted.
How would that work? I mean, it's a scientific study, how could it possibly be wrong?

In addition, we calculated household firearm ownership rates per state using the firearm suicide/total suicide ratio, which is the proportion of all suicides in a state caused by firearms.
Okay, so we're first going to figure out what percentage of gun ownership is by using the suicide rate (with guns) as a proxy.

Then we're going to calculate how much gun control laws reduce crime by comparing the gun violence rates (including suicides) between the various states.

And the result, of course, is that more gun ownership means more violence, because the numbers above can't come out any other way. If people are going to commit suicide anyway, easy access to buying guns means more of the suicides are accomplished with guns. That increases both the "household firearm rate" and the "overall firearm violence rate".


The study authors admitted that the difference only became significant if you compared the bottom quartile to the top quartile.

The study authors conveniently omitted Washington DC, which has extremely onerous gun laws and a sky-high gun violence rate.

The study authors conveniently did not omit Louisiana, which has lax gun laws and a sky-high gun violence rate.

(According to Power Line, dropping out louisiana from the study results in the remaining bottom 25% in gun laws being 12% safer than the top 25% in gun laws.) The study made no attempt to figure out how much violence there may have been that gun ownership prevented.

Cheat, much?

Friday, March 22, 2013

Good Research - And Marshmallows!

Okay, so sometimes the government funds research that actually is both interesting and not politically biased into nonsensicality. Here's one about Marshmallows!

No, really, this is good stuff. There's an old psychology test for children where you ask them if they want one marshmallow or two. (Two, always, duh!)

Then you tell them that you'll leave one marshmallow in the room with them, and if they wait to eat it until you get back, then you'll give them the second one. Some kids wait, some don't. The result - the kids that wait are the ones who are good at delaying gratification. The ones that don't, maybe have bad impulse control, because it's obvious that waiting for two is better than just getting one.

Sounds reasonable, right? Maybe even self-evident?

Well, there's a new study that points out something else that should have been obvious.

The kids aren't told how long they'll have to wait. The researcher said "a few minutes" or "a little while". Now, how often have you heard a parent use that phrase for something that you knew couldn't be done in less than an hour? I was always as specific as possible with my toddler, but almost every other parent I know uses fuzzy language like that for anything from literally a few minutes, to literally days.

So, in a very real sense, the children have no idea if the researcher is ever going to come back and give the children that second marshmallow. The guy may be gone for days. Maybe their parents will come to get them before he gets back.

The researchers went on to study related issues in adults.

“Our intuition is that when we are waiting for something, the longer we wait the closer and closer we get to that thing, which is what we see when we ask people about familiar things, like how long a movie will last,” Kable says. “But what we’ve found is that, if you don’t know anything about when the outcome will occur, the longer you wait the more you think you're getting farther and farther away from that outcome.”
Good stuff, well worth funding more of. We can wait for the results.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Why Can't Morgan Whittaker Tell Black Men Apart?

A man named Morgan Whittaker claims on MSNBC that the actor playing the Devil in The Bible was intentionally made up to look like President Barack Obama. Even more hilarious, the article appears under Al Sharpton's PoliticsNation banner, where the standard picture of Al Sharpton looks like.... well, you tell me. Unfortunately, blogger is refusing to upload the JPG file I made, so you'll have to go look at the pictures yourself.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Exactly Backward, Again...

Dave Reed at policymic.com apparently can't get his head around the idea of citizens owning guns as a defense, and what effect that might have on crime.

"Protection" is Now Main Reason For Gun Ownership, Despite Dramatic Drop in Crime Rates

A recent Pew poll [found here] has found that the number one reason for gun ownership is that of protection. This differs from 1999, when hunting was the most common explanation for possession of firearms. Despite this change, crime has decreased across the country as a whole during the same period. Taking into account these seemingly contradictory, facts, the changing climate of gun-ownership must surely be influenced by other factors.

Okay, so if I buy a gun for self protection, and then criminals leave me alone, that's contradictory, and you think you have to go find an explanation other than "protection"?

Sigh. Maybe if you found some "diverse" friends, including maybe someone who owns a gun, he can explain it to you.

I was checking the Pew paper to see whether a bunch of new people had bought guns, or if gun owners have just changed their public rationale. The odd thing is, the Pew paper doesn't discuss the change in ownership, either numerically or as percentage of the public. There are other odd things about the Pew's presentation of the results - some items are compared to 1993, others to 1999. Why do you suppose that is? I would expect that it results from the political bias of the Pew.

I did find some other, pretty nonspecific graphs From what I can tell, the total percentage is roughly the same, so the number of gun owners has gone up by roughly 20-25% over the last 14 years.

From a guess, it looks to me like about 6-8 million citizens changed their reason from hunting to protection, and another 10-12 million citizens bought guns for protection, either from criminals or from some theoretical future government.

While I was looking for the mysteriously omitted missing information, I found this article by John Lott over at Imprimis:

In January 2002, a shooting left three dead at the Appalachian Law School in Virginia. The event made international headlines and produced more calls for gun control. Yet one critical fact was missing from virtually all the news coverage: The attack was stopped by two students who had guns in their cars.
Interesting stuff. I also found an article at Mother Jones on all the mass and spree killers in the last 20 years. Did a quick statistical analysis on what's going on - looks like 2000-2003, under George Bush, were anomalously low. Remember 9/11? Major drop in wackos - probably largely due to a major increase in vigilance among the populace. Take out that drop, and the average is pretty flat at 3 per year.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

What They Won't Tell You about Pew

Interesting new data from the new Pew study.

You'll see lots of talking heads pick this up, but there are a lot of truths they won't say.

Here's How they won't phrase it -

  • On average, men put in more hours than women. When the father is the sole breadwinner, he puts in 11 more hours than his spouse or partner.
  • Since 1965, men have more than doubled their housework, while women have about halved theirs.
  • Men do 64% of the work outside the house, while women do 64% of the household chores.

Take a look at the details. Between work, chores and child care, men work more total hours on average than women (54 vs 53 hours).

Among two-earner families, the men do 5 hours more work, 1 hour less chores, and the same number of hours of child care as men in the average family. The women do 10 hours more work, 2 hours less chores and 2 hours less child care than women in the average family. So, the hours at work is the factor that puts the women in two-earner families with a slight edge over the men (59 vs 58 hours).

Of course, none of this means anything anyway, because if you, me and Bill Gates are standing in a room, on average we're billionaires. I'd love to see the median figures - whatever the median of a three-dimensional graph would be.

Dang, I probably knew that once back in college calculus-based stats. If I had to make it up, I'd probably base my method on the physics center of gravity of the whole mess.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Obesity, Lesbians, Federal Money, Bias and Blindness

Okay, so it's all over the internet that the Federal government decided to fund a multimillion dollar study to find out why lesbians are fat. That's one way to put it.

The Atlantic writes a couple more:

All of which is to say, these headlines would have been accurate as the inverse: "Obama administration spends $1.5 million to figure out why straight men are fat." Or: "Obama administration spends $1.5 million to figure out why gay men have rocking bodies." Or perhaps: "America is overweight (except for gay men?) and scientists are trying to determine why."

Which is not quite true, though. Read this quote from one of the researchers, which appeared in a CNS news piece:

“It will be impossible to develop evidence-based preventive interventions unless we first answer basic questions about causal pathways, as we plan to do,” they said. “Our study has high potential for public health impact not only for sexual minorities but also for heterosexuals, as we seek to uncover how processes of gender socialization may exacerbate obesity risk in both sexual minority females and heterosexual males.”

So, you can see that it is not a study to see why lesbians are fat at all. It is a study to see how processes of gender socialization make lesbians fat.

That's just sad. A total blindness on the part of the researchers. Heck, even a caller on the Rush Limbaugh show can come up with an obvious, sensitive, scientific and rational explanation that has nothing to do with "processes of gender socialization".

The lesbian woman doesn't have to deal with a visual, shallow man. She just has to please her partner, and usually women are less concerned with physical attributes and more concerned with ... their personality and so forth. And the homosexual man, he has to please a man, who is visual and shallow. Therefore, if a woman doesn't want to give up all her cookies and it's okay with her partner, no big deal, okay?

I've tidied up the quote out of habit, but the "likes" and "you knows" are there in the Limbaugh transcript if you really need them.

So, let's pretend for a moment we were actual scientists, trying to identify the possible factors that lead to 75% of lesbians being obese, as compared with 50% of heterosexual American women. Let's list the theories, shall we?

  • Whatever brain and body chemistry causes homosexuality in women also predisposes them to obesity. (The "Made That Way" Theory)
  • Their lovers' acceptance of bodily variation reduces the stigma associated with obesity in homosexual women, thus allowing more of it. (The "Less Stick" Theory)
  • Since women have a greater acceptance of bodily variation, some obese heterosexual women may choose to become adaptive homosexuals. (The "More Carrot" Theory)
Okay, so there's a few obvious theories that fit the observed facts and can be intuited by anyone possessing even a rudimentary understanding of sociology, biology, and psychology. Notice, none of those theories require "processes of gender socialization" in order to apply. In fact, I can't figure out what the so-called scientists that produced this report might even mean. Let's pretend they're not total wackos, and make up another theory or two, hey?
  • Some traumatic events that cause women to become homosexual predispose those women to (over)eating disorders. (The "Trauma Implant" Theory)
  • Some homosexual women unconsciously overeat in order to become less attractive to men. (The "Guys are Icky" Theory)
  • Gender socialization in heterosexual women gives them a gender-identity-based ability to resist obesity. (The "Better To Be A Babe" Theory)
Those are reasonable ideas, and not particularly controversial in the abstract and on the margin. The percentage of lesbians who have experienced sexual trauma is extremely high, at least according to the few dozen that I've had intimate conversations with. (I used to live and hang out near Santa Cruz and Monterey, California.)

But, here's the question: If you studied those last three theories, and found them to be true, what would the resulting societal prescription look like? Nothing that requires theories of how "processes of gender socialization" cause the problem in lesbians, right? The only gender socialization in any of those theories is the one that draws heterosexual women to emulate Barbies.

If this study was designed or overseen by the person that wrote that revealing quote, and if the study authors really see "gender socialization" as the likely source of the critical difference that needs to be studied, then the study isn't science, it's some kind of pseudo-scientific social agitation, having nothing to do with obesity at all. They have their eyes closed to several obvious factors that each is an order of magnitude more significant than anything having to do with gender socialization.

Dang, I'm starting to type that phrase without quotes...

It's too bad, because an actual study on the reason for the difference might be interesting and worthwhile. Don't expect anything rational or insightful out of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Mass, though. Sigh.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Feminists and their Stereotypes

Marlo Thomas, posting over at Huffington about "Guys Who Get it", clearly doesn't get it herself.

Here's a riddle:

A trucker is sitting in a bar next to a feminist. They've both had a lot to drink and they're arguing. The feminist says women have been oppressed for centuries -- the trucker says they haven't. The feminist says women deserve equal pay -- the trucker says they don't. The feminist says a woman should be president -- the trucker just laughs. They simply don't see eye to eye.

What's the one thing the trucker and the feminist have in common?

They're both men.

Um, no, neither "person" in that riddle is a man, Marlo. They are both stereotypes out of the eighties and seventies, respectively, and boring stereotypes at that. Here's a more realistic version, one that also has the advantage of being arguably funny:

A feminist and a trawler captain are in a bar, and the feminist has had too much to drink. The feminist is getting loud, trying to impress the captain, and says, "Women have been oppressed for centuries!"

The captain looks at him, obviously annoyed by the posturing, and scowls.

"Ain't now."

"I believe in equal pay for equal work!" proclaims the feminist.

The captain, thinking about the hardy crew of the trawler, looks the feminist up and down, lingering only briefly on the feminist's untoned arms.

The captain shrugs. "You'd starve."

Oblivious, the feminist continues his conversation with himself. "I think a woman should be president."

The trawler captain picks up her mug, drains it, and sets it back down, gets up and saunters toward the door. At the last moment before the captain hits the door, she gives the feminist an impish grin over her shoulder.

"I like Palin, too."

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Capital Punishment for Educational Conglomerates

Forbes reported in January that a major for-profit educational conglomerate called ATI Enterprises was quietly liquidating itself rather than commit sepukku in bankruptcy court:
ATI, based in Texas, started as a small operation 50 years ago that eventually turned into a major money maker for the entrepreneurs that grew it to as many as 23 schools across five states, including seven in Texas. Despite the money and brainpower put into the school, in November the company decided to close all its schools under the ATI brand following a devastating two-year litany of bad press and regulatory scrutiny.

Why not declare Chapter 11 reorganization? There's a little problem of eligibility for federal student loans under 20 USC 1094:

1094(a) Required for programs of assistance; contents

The agreement shall condition the initial and continuing eligibility of an institution to participate in a program upon compliance with the following requirements:


(3) The institution will establish and maintain such administrative and fiscal procedures and records as may be necessary to ensure proper and efficient administration of funds received from the Secretary or from students

(4) The institution will comply with the provisions of subsection (c) of this section and the regulations prescribed under that subsection, relating to fiscal eligibility.

So the lenders are out of luck, because if ATI declares bankruptcy like a normal business, its major source of funding its sales dries up. Of course, if the government notices that ATI's liquidating assets, that would likely incur the same capital punishment, unless it has sufficient internal controls to wall off the unit's it's still operating.

So, why all the scrutiny that brought down ATI's other units? A 2012 Senate report had this to say:

A 2-year investigation by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions demonstrated that Federal taxpayers are investing billions of dollars a year, $32 billion in the most recent year, in companies that operate for-profit colleges. Yet, more than half of the students who enrolled in in [sic] those colleges in 2008-9 left without a degree or diploma within a median of 4 months.

Okay, but you can't earn a real diploma in 4 months full time. How much of that $32 billion was for other half of the students - the ones who didn't wash out in the first 120 days? If $30 billion is for the ones who worked their way through it, and $2 billion for the washouts, then it might be money well spent. On the other hand, if it's $18B and $14B, then clearly the government needs to recalibrate the rules to pay for performance. Considering that the default rate from all for-profit students (see appendix 16-17 of the Senate report) is around 17-19%, that suggests that about $6B out of the $32B is at risk.

I haven't finished perusing the appendixes to see what the equivalent numbers are for public institutions. I would expect that there are subdivisions of most public institutions that have a worse record for student payback, but I'm sure public institutions hide that by reporting the university as a whole or by college, not by degree program.

Hopefully, Congress will force a little more accountability on both types of institution.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Theology and Anti-Theology

Christopher hitchensLots of talk about Atheists, Christians and bigotry on the web this week. I have no idea what week that was, this post sat in draft form for a LONG time.

Christopher Hitchens over on Slate discusses what he finds lacking in Rick Warren's theology, and finds it bigotry that there might actually be entrance requirements to the Christian heaven, requirements that include, oh, before you die, agreeing to go there.
However, if the speaker says that heaven is a real place but that you will not get there if you are Jewish, or that Mormonism is a cult and a false religion but that other churches and faiths are the genuine article, then you know that the bigot has spoken.

The basic problem with this is that it starts off with the assumption that all religions are equally right or wrong. This is not a given, if there exists a God, Allah or JHVH.
Heather MacDonald over on Secular Right replies to Hitchens that there is another possibility rather than his idea that Christians are evil bigots.
Either believers live with an extraordinary degree of cognitive dissonance between the inclusive values of their society and the dictates of their religion, or they unconsciously mitigate those bloody-minded dictates as atavistic vestiges from a more primitive time.

Here's my reply:
There is something my pastor once said, that sticks with me when dealing with massively sad things like natural disasters, and applies equally well to the question of who will or will not go to Hell.
“I’m not the Christ.”
I don’t have to bear the sorrows of the entire world on my own shoulders. I don’t have to be responsible for everyone making the right decisions and everything coming out all right. I don’t have to bear that cross.
That’s God’s place.
This knowledge is not incompatible with free will and an existing Hell where all those who do not accept the supremacy of God will go. And, while I can do my best to help illuminate the darkness, I am not the light, and if someone chooses to live in the dark, I can be sad for them without being responsible.
Mr Hitchens and Ms MacDonald both should understand that.

Elsewhere, Tony Woodleif on the Wall Street Journal refutes uber-atheist Richard Dawkins' belief that letting a child believe in Santa Claus or other magic is harmful.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Sexual Jealousy Vs Sex Discrimination

Over on Justia, columnist Joanna L. Grossman has written about what she calls an "Absurd Decision on Sexual Jealousy and Employment". It appears to me, on the other hand, to be a direct reading of the laws involved against the facts involved in the case. Dr. Grossman appears to be one of those free-thinking legal minds who believes that an injured plaintiff should win even when they sue for the wrong thing.

On the other hand, Martha Zackin over at jdsupra gets her analysis right on the dot, ending with this quote -

Nevertheless, based both on precedent and the underlying purpose of anti-discrimination laws, the Court properly found that the law does not protect an employee from unfair decisions or romantic jealousy.

Richard Tuschman at jdsupra says roughly the same thing.

So, now I'll tear into Dr. Grossman's "case". Her conclusions of fact and law rather easily demonstrate her legal sloppiness and bias, and her failure to address the actual law and precedents, rather than her own preferences. I'm not sure whether she actually reviewed any of the court records and discovery documents to come to her conclusions, or whether she even bothered to read the whole ruling itself.

First, Grossman tells us that

"According to the available evidence, the in-person comments and texts of a sexual nature seemed to emanate exclusively from Dr. Knight."

Then, in the next paragraph, Grossman says this -

A comment by Nelson about infrequency in her sex life met with this retort from Knight: “That’s like having a Lamborghini in the garage and never driving it.”

Ummm. So Nelson allegedly telling Knight about infrequency in her sex life was not a comment of a sexual nature? Really? If Grossman wasn't trying to destroy her own credibility, she's managed to give it a pretty good ding getting it out of the garage.

Later, Grossman says this -

The question under Title VII—and the analogous Iowa statute under which this claim was brought—is whether Nelson was fired “because of sex.” Under the statutes the question then, is this: Would Nelson have been fired if she were a man? The answer is clearly no. In reaching the opposite conclusion, the court made a series of logical and doctrinal missteps, which I will describe below.

No, Dr. Grossman, that was not the question. That was Nelson's primary argument, on her sole count against Knight, and that argument went down in flames under years of precedents, properly read and presented by the defendant. If you would read the entire ruling, you'll see what the proper question might have been. But even adjusting your erroneous question any of several ways shows that you are wrong on both the facts and the law.

If Nelson was an attractive man, to whom Dr Knight was terribly attracted, would he/she have been fired? Yes. (Oh,and by the way, you haven't explained where you got your stereotypical idea that Dr Knight is only attracted to women. That claim does not appear to have been made or stipulated by either side in the case, nor was it decided by the Court itself in the ruling.)

If Nelson had been an unattractive woman, to whom Dr Knight was not attracted, would she have been fired? No.

If Nelson had been an attractive woman, whom Dr Knight's wife did not perceive as a threat to the marriage, would she have been fired? No.

The answer is thus clearly that Nelson was not fired because of her sex, but because of her attractiveness to Dr Knight, and more importantly, due to the personal feeling of Ms Knight that Nelson was a potential threat to the marriage.

This is not discrimination on account of sex, read per the statutory language or the tons of case law that the Court did not and cannot blithely ignore, because they are jurists, not columnists.

Notice, I'm not claiming (nor did the Court) that Knight's termination of Nelson was right or fair or even nonactionable under some other theory. It just happens to be a legal fact in the state of Iowa that firing a person because you are attracted to her and your wife is jealous is not "discrimination on account of sex."

The money quote in the Nelson V Knight Dec 21st 2012 ruling is this -

Title VII and the Iowa Civil Rights Act are not general fairness laws, and an employer does not violate them by treating an employee unfairly so long as the employer does not engage in discrimination based upon the employee’s protected status.

Ms Grossman, if you'd like to act like a legal professional and address the actual statutes and precedents and show why the court's analysis is in error, then I'd love to read it. You can start by showing where the Court is wrong in their long discussions and application of Tenge v. Phillips Modern Ag Co 446 F.3d 903, 905–06 (8th Cir. 2006) and of Platner v. Cash & Thomas Contractors, Inc., 908 F.2d 902, 903–05 (11th Cir. 1990). Of course, that would mean you would have to achieve what Nelson's attorneys did not.

Again, here's the Court on Dec 21

Significantly, although Dr. Knight discusses Platner at some length in his briefing, Nelson does not refer to the decision in her briefing or attempt to distinguish it.

In other words, Nelson's trial and appeal lawyers, just like Dr. Grossman, blithely ignored the relevant laws and precedents involved, didn't do their homework on this specific case in this jurisdiction with these facts against these statutes and these precedents, and didn't argue their case (the word is "distinguish") sufficiently to win. That's what legal professionals call "a losing strategy".

Grossman is correct where she later notes that the facts of the case are more akin to a sexual harassment case than a sex discrimination case. Which is exactly why the Ohio Supreme Court ruled 7-0 against the plaintiff in this case on these facts regarding this law. Nelson brought her case under the wrong law and the wrong theory of that law. Which is exactly how you lose a case.

When the defendant is guilty of stealing a car, you don't charge them with stealing an airplane. That type of case won't fly!

So, the take-home message is, if you want to win a civil case, don't hire a columnist and "Distinguished Professor of Family Law" like Dr. Grossman, hire a working plaintiff's attorney. And when your attorney files your case, make sure for yourself that they have filed under every possible cause and every possible theory of damages, and ask for even your resume photocopy and Kleenex(tm) tissues and job-search expenses as damages, because they might, under some reading of the facts and some law, make the difference in whether you finally prevail.