Month: August 2012

Marriage and the language of submission

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You’ve got to admire the blinkered way that some people go about their lives. And the smug satisfaction from knowing that all they need to live their life is in the bible.

So it is with Archbishop Peter Jensen, as exemplified by this opinion piece on marriage.

On one hand, he predictably believes marriage is the only way to go, but does acknowledge people are opting out because:

for many marriage has become an arena of suffering, exploitation and disappointment.

But instead of exploring the reasons for this fairly meaningful observation, he turns to the bible for instructions on how to fix marriage.

(At this point, we once again see that good ol’ ploy of the religious: if it’s all good, then god did it, if things are bad, then someone else is to blame, so let’s go back to the bible.)

So let’s get this straight – that god-given institution of marriage is broken, so let’s go back to god for more instructions, right? Yep, that’s exactly what he’s saying.

He goes on to tell us that ‘public promises make a marriage‘. To me, this is rather pathetic. It seems that the religious really do need watching don’t they? First they need the threat of hell to ensure they behave in general. And now we find that they also need public scrutiny to live up to any promises they make when they marry. That’s pretty weak. Do they have no intrinsic goodness or intention to do good? Is it all simply a facade based on the expectations of other humans?

What follows is a couple of dogma-paras on submission and obligation and a man loving his wife the way Christ loved the church (say what?). Really, does he really think this is persuasive in any shape or form? No, rather than trying to persuade non-believers with some sort of rational analysis rather than dogma, he instead goes the boot:

Secular views of marriage are driven by a destructive individualism and libertarianism. This philosophy is inconsistent with the reality of long-term relationships such as marriage and family life.

Tell that to all the wives in women’s refuges, who no doubt have been loved like a church (again, what?) at some point, but have since suffered much worse than a crucifixion. And Peter, what is your evidence for this deep observation? And as if to underline his bible-driven paternalistic view of the world, he adds:

When a husband promises to love his wife as Christ loved the church and give himself up for her, he is declaring his intention to be a man of strength and self-control for her benefit and for the benefit of any children born to them. Such qualities, properly exercised in the spirit of self-sacrifice, enhance the feminine and personal qualities of his wife.

And the kicker,

Her submission rises out of his submission to Christ.

It’s all about the submission, isn’t it? What a depressing way to live a life. He follows up with a huge non-sequitur, calling for a ‘serious and respectful debate about marriage‘, but then informing us that the bible contains ‘great wisdom on this fundamental relationship‘. It’s a non-sequitur because any reference to the bible doesn’t encourage debate – it trumps debate. You’ve heard it before: Person A says “In my opinion, it’s reasonable that X & Y happen”, followed by the usual debating tactics by Archbishop B of: “Ah yes, that may well be, but the bible says….”. End of debate.

His closing sentence is actually the best bit of the article, and I also happen to agree with it:

It’s time to rethink marriage from first principles. It really matters.

Yes, let’s do that. Let’s think about why we marry, and why we allow some forms of marriage and not others and for what fundamental principles. It certainly matters to those who are currently not allowed to be married.

The bottom line is that if the institution really is broken, then rather than point the finger at ‘individualism’, or ‘libertarianism’ or any other perfectly reasonable way to live your life, let’s take a long hard look at the religious underpinnings based on submission and obedience – I’m tipping that’s where the problem lies.

Dumb Things Churches Say, #2,111,413,011

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It’s great to see the spirit of christian fellowship at work. NOT.

What motive is implied for issuing forgiveness? It leads us to the inescapable conclusion that forgiveness is being wielded as a weapon.

The message is: if they’re not with us, then destroy them.

A tad sadistic for my liking.

(and note the mis-spelling of ‘Chruch’! Thanks Blamer.)

Elmore – the empire strikes back

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Just as things go quiet on the Elmore front, a new and energetic attack thread appears, but is buried in the comments of a past article.

For those interested in the never-ending saga that is Elmore, take a look at the exchanges in the comments here.

I’m afraid I probably engaged a little too long with one correspondent, but felt obliged to address the scatter-gun mix of put-downs and logical fallacies.

And it turns out that I’m condescending. Who knew?

Read the comments, and see what you think, you insignificant peons.

Swisse vs. Reality

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Back in July I had a crack at Swisse – one of the biggest marketers of questionable supplements and alternative therapies currently going around. I got a really interesting comment from correspondent Pam, and felt it was worth putting the comment up in lights, rather than having it languish in a comment thread. She had this to say about the subject:

After a PET scan showed multiple ordinary-nothing-to-worry-about cysts on my liver (as part of a work up to diagnose breast cancer bone mets) I decided to take Swisse Liver Detox tablets to help support my liver function. I don’t drink alcohol and have a good well balanced diet. The only reason I decided to try them was because an osteopath friend of mine suggested finding something with milk thistle in it – so stupid me I did! Within a fortnight of taking them my entire body is itching terribly (to the point that I am now cover in little sores) and when I had my blood test this week the oncologist phoned me to tell me my liver function was badly ABNORMAL when previously it had been perfectly normal!! Needless to say I stopped taking the tablets three days ago but I am still itching terribly. This is an allergy to the tablets and they have caused my poor liver to now not function properly! I have to have another blood test in a fortnight to reassess its function now! Not happy! There is nothing on the Swisse website for Liver Detox warning about this sort of reaction.

Pam’s story is a timely warning  that these ‘feel good’ treatments don’t guarantee that you’ll actually feel good. Or even better. They really don’t guarantee anything. In Pam’s case I wouldn’t be surprised if she had some legal recourse for what she has suffered.  So don’t believe the hype, or even the anecdotes  (see my Elmore threads for good examples of those), and ensure you check with your doctor (of Real Medicine) about whether the supplement will help or hinder. At least this way if something goes wrong, it will be quicker to diagnose.

And for those cynics out there, who want to yell at me: “hypocrite, you’re just citing an anecdote yourself” – good work! Your critical thinking skills are coming along. Yes, it’s an anecdote, and yes, Pam could work for an opposition supplement company. Or Pam could be part of the Big Pharma conspiracy aiming to kill the ‘real treatments because they’re so effective’. But the difference is that it’s an example of what could happen, not a guarantee of what will happen. It’s  a warning, not encouragement. Buyer or user beware.

And how is Pam doing now? Her most recent update is:

My second blood test after stopping the Liver Detox tablets showed a marked improvement although it was still not back to the normal level it showed pre-self medicating!! Never again!!

Good luck with it Pam. To really get that liver humming, I recommend 1 litre of Elmore Oil daily. I drank some, and my liver is just dandy.

Thought for the week

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Most religion is like doing semaphore without flags. Folks just go through the motions and don’t really think about the message.

– George Hrab

Rolling the dice on climate change

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Hot on the heels of a fresh data analysis by Richard Muller to which I referred in this discussion, here is another damning analysis which should give climate change deniers pause for thought.

I like the approach taken by this author, James Hansen, because he addresses the simplistic fallacy made (intentionally) by many deniers, and intuitively by those who simply go on gut feel and recent experience. I refer to the ‘but this winter has been so cold‘ or ‘but it’s been raining cats and dogs and our storages are full‘ approach to climate analysis. Some denialists drag out some more numbers to illustrate, but that’s their general point. Look no further than Andrew Bolt for example.

In this article Hansen refers to his new peer-reviewed study, (which you can read in full here) published by the US National Academy of Sciences, which makes clear that not only are average global temperatures steadily rising due to a warming climate, but that the extremes are actually becoming much more frequent and more intense worldwide. The interesting thing about this conclusion is that climate scientists have been avoiding this conclusion until this point – that is, they have not been willing to go on record to say that the increased rate of natural disasters is in any way linked to climate change, let alone man-made climate change. Why? Because they haven’t had the evidence. Hansen says:

… our analysis shows that, for the extreme hot weather of the recent past, there is virtually no explanation other than climate change. The deadly European heatwave of 2003, the fiery Russian heatwave of 2010 and catastrophic droughts in Texas and Oklahoma last year can each be attributed to climate change. And once the data is gathered in a few weeks’ time, it’s likely that the same will be true for the extremely hot summer the US is suffering.

This changes the picture. Hansen’s report apparently shows that heatwave and drought and other extreme climate events in the last decade or two are well outside what he describes and ‘natural variability’. This natural variability is what your old aunt is referring to when she says that this winter has been particularly cold, so how can there be global warming? Hansen describes the situation nicely with a dice analogy thus:

The odds that natural variability created these extremes are minuscule, vanishingly small. To count on those odds would be like quitting your job and playing the lottery every morning to pay the bills.

Years ago, I introduced the concept of ”climate dice” to help distinguish the long-term trend of climate change from the natural variability of day-to-day weather. Some summers are hot, some cool. Some winters brutal, some mild. That’s natural variability.

But as the climate warms, natural variability is altered, too. In a normal climate without global warming, two sides of the dice would represent cooler-than-normal weather, two sides would be normal weather, and two sides would be warmer-than-normal weather. Rolling the dice season after season, you would get an equal variation of weather over time.

But loading the dice with a warming climate changes the odds. You end up with only one side cooler than normal, one side average, and four sides warmer than normal.

So what does this mean in practice? He goes on to say of extreme weather events:

Such events used to be exceedingly rare. Extremely hot temperatures covered about 0.1 per cent to 0.2 per cent of the globe in the base period of our study, from 1951 to 1980. In the past three decades, while the average temperature has slowly risen, the extremes have soared and now cover about 10 per cent of the globe.

This is the world we have changed, and we have to live in it – the world that caused the 2003 heatwave in Europe that killed more than 50,000 people and the 2011 drought in Texas that caused more than $5 billion in damage. Such events, our data shows, will become even more frequent and more severe.

This is certainly a gloomy and frightening outlook. What is his solution?

There is still time to act and avoid a worsening climate but we are wasting precious time. We can solve the challenge of climate change with a gradually rising fee on carbon collected from fossil-fuel companies, with 100 per cent of the money rebated to all legal residents on a per capita basis. This would stimulate innovations and create a robust clean-energy economy with millions of new jobs. It is a simple, honest and effective solution.

From where I sit, the approach being taken by Australia is a no-brainer. And I don’t mean introduction of a carbon price was done without thinking it through. What I mean is that it takes very little in the way of brains to conclude that the science is telling us that we need to act. And even if you are not a fan of the science, just think through the economics of those extreme weather events – sure, we’re now in effect paying a form of tax, resulting from the price rises resulting from the introduction of a price on carbon for the big polluters. But we are paying a much higher tax in the form of a flood levy for recent events in Queensland. (This levy is 0.5% of gross income above 50k, rising to 1% over 100k. This far exceeds the impact of the carbon price on low income earners.) And as extreme events continue, that ‘remediation’ tax will only increase.

In fact, here’s a challenge to Alan Jones and all those ‘axe the tax’ nutters – apply the same standard to the Queensland flood levy – ‘axe the levy’ (ok, I need a catchier phrase, but you get the idea). After all, the levy is a tax which is hurting Australia’s working poor etc etc.

I won’t be holding my breath.

Curiosity – Pictures roll in

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Here’s a small selection of pics from the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL, or Curiosity) lander, to warm the heart of a space-tragic.

You can see all that’s on offer from NASA here, but for now, enjoy these.

Of course, the growing library of pictures will still not be enough to convince the conspiracy theorists that we ever went to Mars. If you’re one of those, perhaps just enjoy the photo-shop skills on offer from NASA.

#1: A view of Mt. Sharp, and the lander’s shadow.

#2: The MSL lander and chute caught in descent by another orbiting instrument, the High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE):

#3: The HiRISE picture with the MSL bit magnifiied