Friday, March 25, 2011

Popular press coverage!

Some of the things I argue for regarding voting, specifically, letting at least some of those under the age of 18 participate through voting, have recently made their way to the popular press.  The Advertiser in Adelaide had a pretty big article citing my work on Tuesday.

Interesting to see what kind of a popular reaction there is to the idea.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Lies and the lying liars who tell them. (Part 1: Chch Quakes)

Things that seem not just like a bad idea, but wilfully irresponsible, include predicting severe earthquakes in Christchurch on the basis of some bollocks about the moon.

Of course, we could be generous, and suggest that rather than being an irresponsible liar, he actually believes this rubbish.  But that may well be worse.

Playing on the fears of a whole lot of people who survived two very nasty quakes doesn't seem like something any decent person would do.  Especially not when the goal is... personal aggrandisement? 

Friday, March 18, 2011

Is anti-fat equivalent to anti-gay?

Paul Campos argues that is is in an article at the Daily Beast, wherein he claims that the characterisation of obesity as a harmful situation, to be eradicated through government intervention in the behaviour of the young, is functionally equivalent to the discrimination against gay people that arose from false beliefs about homosexuality being unnatural.

I can see a couple of reasons to be sceptical of this equivalence.  Firstly, being gay is not harmful.  It doesn't endanger your physical or mental health (particularly not once other variables are controlled for).  By contrast, there are a long list of harmful consequences from obesity, many of which are more harmful to obese children than to those who become obese later in life.  Secondly, and dependent on the health objection, there is an obligation on governments to protect the well-being of their populations (even more so for countries other than the USA, who have ratified the ICESCR, but even for the US, which hasn't).  That obligation provides reason for governments to do things in the obesity case that isn't present in the gay case.

Despite these initial concerns, it is a very interesting article, do go read the whole thing.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Proper responses to aggression?

The Australian media is in a storm today about cell phone footage of a bullied kid responding violently to the bully, and dumping said bully rather emphatically on the ground.  Apparently as a result, both children were suspended, with the bully receiving 21 days, and the bullied, 4.

Some experts are claiming that this response is entirely appropriate, as it is never legitimate to respond to violence and aggression with violence and aggression of your own.  See this piece from ABC news, in which Michael Carr-Greg is quoted as saying:
"It's just moronic to say, hit back. When you hit back and a kid falls over and basically bangs their head and is either dead or brain damaged, is that a really clever solution?"

I am worried about such a response.  I agree that it would be wonderful if bullied kids never resorted to retaliation in kind.  But it would also be wonderful if they never resorted to suicide to escape bullying, and further, it would be wonderful if bullying never happened.  It would be much more likely that kids wouldn't respond in kind if bullying was effectively dealt with by schools, parents, police, or someone.  I would suggest that Carr-Greg's reaction shows a fundamental lack of consideration for the social situation of the bullied child in this instance.  Retaliation is obviously not a clever solution, but that doesn't mean it wasn't reasonable from the perspective of the bullied kid.

Some further features of this particular case that make me think there is an ongoing failure on the part of the school to resolve a tension that reached a head in this incident include the visible size differential and the apparent age differential between the two students concerned.  The bullied kid, the larger of the two in the video, is apparently 16 as compared to the aggressor who is 12 and much smaller.  From this, it should be clear that the larger kid is seen as a bullying target, that others bully him, and that this young kid thought that he too could do so with no personal risk.  I can think of few situations other than one in which the bigger kid was a passive recipient of bullying over a long period of time, that would lead a much younger and much smaller child to deliberately provoke and actually physically assault a larger, older child.

Suspending the bullied child is not the right answer here.  Suspending the aggressor obviously is.  The reason suspending the bullied child is inappropriate is that the bullied child is suffering because of a failure of the school to provide a reasonably safe environment.  This incident wouldn't have occurred if the school fulfilled its duty to protect the kids enrolled there.  This conclusion is entirely consistent with Carr-Greg's claim that retaliation isn't a clever solution, but it acknowledges that from the perspective of the bullied kid, it may well have been an appropriate response.

It should also be noted that this isn't meant to suggest that retaliation would always be an appropriate response, even from the perspective of the bullied.  The particular circumstances of this case are suggestive of a wider issue present in the school.

(As an aside, I cannot help but feel sympathy for the bullied child, and also some guilty pleasure in the obvious aggressor getting a richly deserved and painful reaction to his obnoxious behaviour...  Better that it not happen at all, but also better this than the bullied kid committing self harm or even suicide as a result of being tormented through school.  When blame is to be laid, its the aggressor who deserves it)

Friday, March 11, 2011

Horrible people doing horrible things: Abortion Law in the US

LGF (and C&L, linking to LGF) tell me horrible things are afoot in Nebraska, with a woman being forced to give birth to a baby she knew would die, and then to watch said baby die.  All because Nebraskan law on abortions provides no exemptions for abortions to occur after the 20th week, even when the fetus is non-viable outside the womb.

People who support this kind of thing disgust me.

Julie Schmit-Albin, who heads Nebraska Right to Life, told the AP in a Sunday interview that the tragic outcome was better than an abortion:

“We acknowledge the tragedy that occurs with a poor prenatal diagnosis for the baby. But isn’t it more humane for the baby to die in a loving manner with comfort care and in the arms of her parents than by the intentional painful death through abortion?”
Answer: Clearly not, when a non-viable child gets to slowly suffocate in its mothers arms, before having any capacity to appreciate that contact.  It is also abundantly clear that this horrible, evil woman doesn't once stop to think about the woman being forced to give birth to a dying fetus.  How anyone could even consider, let alone accept that it is humane to force someone to give birth to a non-viable fetus is boggling.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Do you make unit readings available online?

I would like to do so, but apparently my university has a policy against doing so (or at least, my faculty does).  The argument is that they have to order printed versions in to the bookshop, and the faculty must pay for any un-purchased copies.  To me, this seems like a pathetic reason for making things difficult for your students.  As a student, if I have a kindle or a laptop, and I want my unit readings available in that format, and it really doesn't seem an unreasonable request.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Today on... 'Clutching at Straws'

Fox News tries to convince its viewers that the people of Wisconsin are evil terrorists bent on destroying America.  But the reporter tasked with this mission fails to follow through.  After claiming to have been punched by a protestor, the following conversation between reporter and news anchor occurs (Thanks TPM):

"Just update them on the assault that took place over the weekend," pressed host Megyn Kelly.
It was here that Tobin had to admit he was never in any mortal danger.
"Assault's kind of a big word," Tobin demurred. "I got a couple of charlie horses and..."
"It is an unwanted touching," Kelly corrected. "Actually, it's a battery, technically, under the law."
"Technically," Tobin allowed, "but I got punched in the arm. It didn't even leave a bruise."

Really guys, if you are going to run with a mortal danger to reporters in Wisconsin line, make sure your own reporter isn't going to undermine you on live TV.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

It begins again

Teaching has started up.  My building is inundated with students, and still inundated with construction workers.  Lines are long and everywhere.  Oh, the joy of semester time at university.

On the plus side, My students in Human Rights Theory are engaged and enthusiastic on both campuses, and given what is happening in the Middle East, it could be a good year to be teaching Human Rights.