For my regular visitors, if you find that this blog hasn't been updating much lately, chances are pretty good I've been spending my writing energy on my companion blog. Feel free to pop over to Home is Where the Central Cardio-pulmonary Organ Is, and see what else has been going on.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

When emotion overrides logic, part two

Okay, so I goofed on my last post by somehow completely forgetting to write about part of the protester's commentary in an image folks I know on the left are passing around - I've seen it a few more times in the two days since I wrote my last post

So let's get right to it.  Here's the question from the first part.  Is Obama anti-war (the protester's sign says he's not).

Personally, I haven't got a clue.  To begin with, I don't know what the protester considers "anti-war."  Frankly, I thing most people, left or right, think war is a bad thing and the world would be a better place without it. The question I would ask is, at what point does a person decide that going to war is a better option than not.  At one extreme, I know people who insist that there is never, ever, any reason good enough to go to war.  I have to disagree, since it's thanks to people willing to go to war that my parents survived to meet, marry and to produce me and my siblings.  On the other hand, there are some far too willing and eager to go to war.  Like the late Saddam Hussein when he invaded Kuwait.  Or Hamas with their constant rocketing of Israel. 

Since we're looking at US politics, I think it's safe to assume the protester's sign refers to the ongoing struggles in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Add to the fact that most of the people I know who use the term also consider G.W. Bush to be a warmonger and believe he went to war in the Middle East, not because the US got attacked on 9/11, but because of oil.  With that in mind, let's assume that anti-war means pretty much the opposite of anything GWB supported.

So let's do some digging.  Oh, how handy.  There's a webpage comparing Obama vs McCain in regards to the war on Iraq.  This is what Obama officially campaigned on and part of what he got elected for.  Is Obama pro- or anti-war?  The site states:

- Obama was against the war in Iraq (anti-war)
- he opposed Bush in re: to Iraq, stating the US should focus on Afghanistan (anti-war on one, pro-war on the other)
- he vowed to end the war within 16 months (anti)
- advocated focusing on Bin Laden and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan (again, pro- for Afghanistan, anti- for Iraq)
- claims opposition to the war in Iraq but supports allied efforts and "would engage the world community in combating terrorism."  (again, anti- on the one hand, pro- on the other).

This leaves me to wonder.  While running for president, he was clear about opposing the war in Iraq, but supportive of continued action in Afghanistan.  So ultimately, he would have to be considered pro-war - at least under specific circumstances.  However, since I know the people sharing this image are anti-Bush and against the war in Iraq, using that as the deciding factor, Obama would be considered anti-war. Except that, as senator, when it came time to vote, he apparently cast votes that favoured the war.  I'd link to that, but the original sources keep coming up dead.  Instead, I'm finding commentaries like this.  He was playing both sides of the field.

What about since he was elected?

Well, aside from Obama's speech declaring the war in Iraq over, I'm not finding very much other than opinion pieces.  Very little that's any official position.

So what can we conclude from this?  Well, Obama was officially anti-war in Iraq, but pro-war in Afghanistan.  He's also continued a number of Bush's policies, such as continuing Guantanamo Bay (not that he has much choice, there).  So he's... anti-war... except when he's pro-war...

The problem with drawing a conclusion is, where on the sliding scale of anti- and pro- is he?  He's not far enough in either direction to be declared one or the other.  As someone who believes that, as much as I'd prefer war never happening, there are times when war is necessary, I can understand that.

However, if we go back to the protester's sign and the interpretation of anti-war that the people I know sharing this have, Obama is officially anti-war, which is the opposite of what the protester's sign claims.

Unofficially, or what he may be forced to do, is something else entirely.

So what about the other side of the protester's equation?  Is Jesus anti-war?  According to the protester's sign, he is.

I'll have to do some digging here, as well, as I don't recall Jesus talking about war.  He certainly wasn't the pacifist some people try to paint him to be.  He showed anger, even violence, when He drove the merchants from the temple.  War, however, is a whole 'nother ballgame.  Was Jesus actually anti-war?

The question has been examined rather thoroughly by others.  Here are a few I found well worth reading.

Jesus Christ and war
Jesus: War or Peace?  On Swords
What does the Bible say about war?
God and War: What the Bible Says About the Just War theory

In the end, Jesus seems to be saying that war is an inescapable part of living in this world.  Sometimes we're called to avoid conflict, but others we're to take up arms.  Different people have different interpretations about when and what circumstances would have us choose one over the other.

But was Jesus anti

What about the war in Iraq?  Does this fall into what's considered a "just war?" 

Well, that certainly leaves things up for debate, and I can easily see people being able to use the "just war" theology to bolster either view, depending on how they already felt about the war.

In looking at the protester's claim, that Jesus was anti-war, I would say that, according to the Bible, the answer is actually no, even though he certainly wasn't pro-war.  In using the interpretation of anti-war I see among my friends on the left, I'm not so sure. On the one hand, a lot of them claim there is no such thing as a "just" war, and all war is evil, but since pretty much all of them are also atheists, they wouldn't believe in Jesus, anyhow.  Their use of this image isn't because they actually agree that Jesus was anti-war, but a dig at what they describe as the religious right (because, apparently, there's no such thing as a religious left).  What they're actually doing is using this image as just another way to mock anyone who disagrees with Obama as a racist hypocrite.  They are the ones projecting an interpretation of Jesus as a pacifist; something Christians don't agree on themselves. 

The leftists I know who are passing this image around and tittering away at how cleverly the right is being skewered with their own hypocrisy clearly haven't examined what the sign is actually saying.  Let's recap the statements it makes, with my conclusions in (brackets).

Obama is NOT brown skinned.  (Well.. duh!  Of course he is.  The left can't seem to let us forget that.)
Obama is NOT anti-war (officially, he is, but it's questionable)
Obama is NOT a socialist (by definition, as a Democrat, he is; the only question is where on the scale he falls between free market capitalism and communism)
Obama is NOT trying to give away free healthcare (quibbles about what "free" health care actually is, passing the "Obamacare" was one of the things he ran on and got elected for.).

On the other hand, they are saying:

Jesus WAS brown skinned (as a Jew, Jesus would be classified as a Caucasian, which is considered lighter skinned or white.  In reality, the term includes peoples of varying shades of brown.  The best we can do is compare Obama to modern ethnic Jews, at which point we'd have to say that no, he was unlikely to have had skin as dark as Obama's Caucasian/Kenyan genetics.)
Jesus WAS ant-war (debatable, but unlikely.  Jesus was not a pacifist, and He was clear that war was pretty much the normal state of affairs for this world.)
Jesus WAS a socialist (Jesus taught that we, not the state, are responsible for caring for our fellow man.)
Jesus WAS giving away free healthcare (Jesus may have performed miracle healings and taught that all people are deserving of care, not just those of wealth and status, but nothing about the state providing health care for "free.")

Now, each of these points were pretty easy to counter - especially the laughable "brown skinned" point.  Considering each point made on the sign is essentially false (though some are open to interpretation), you'd think the quote would have been something the folks on the right would be sharing among themselves, tittering at how an Obama protester was embarrassing him (her?) self by holding it up. 

Instead of calling out the obvious errors made in the sign, the leftists, always keen to promote their own visceral disgust and hatred of the right, neglect logic. 

And make fools of themselves, instead.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

When emotion overrides logic and reality

It's always interesting to see what sorts of images, articles and editorials get shared by people of strong political or religions beliefs.  In some cases, it displays the willingness of the sharers to suspend logic, so long as it supports their emotionally based positions.

Take this image, being passed around by people I know on the political far left, as something that points out how /har har/ stupid and foolish anyone who disagrees with Obama is.

So what are we looking at here?  It appears to be some sort of demonstration, but that's about it.  You can't see who's holding the sign.  There's no context given.  All we have is the text of the sign.  From that, we can assume the person holding the sign is an Obama supporter, and that the sign reflects what that person thinks of Obama and those who oppose him.

Let's examine what the sign says, then.  It says that Obama is *not* a brown-skinned anti-war socialist who gives away from healthcare.  Then it implies that Jesus was all of those things.

Let's look at the first, three part statement.

Question:  Is Obama brown skinned?  This sign says he isn't, but of course he is.  In fact, the political left seems to be obsessed over his brown skin.  They also seem to assume the right is, as well, and that the right views the colour of Obama's skin as a negative.  Now, certainly there are racists, but any articles, editorials, etc that I've read from people on the right, the colour of his skin is never rarely brought up (correction: it's brought up, usually in response to accusations from the left or pointing out how the race card keeps being played, but when the authors deal with the issues and why they oppose Obama, they talk about what he says and does, not his skin colour).  Yet the left seems to assume that anyone who opposes Obama does so because of the colour of his skin, rather than, say, the fact that he's added a trillion dollars to the US debt, or any of a number of other issues people have problems with.

Curiously, this would imply that, because Obama has brown skin, this should exempt him from any criticism, and that he should be getting some sort of free pass because of it.  Which sounds pretty racist itself. 

This also calls to mind the frequent accusation from the left that the right just won't accept that we have a black president.  Again, they're assuming the colour of his skin is the only thing that matters (the frequency of this claim makes me think they, themselves, can't get past the melanin content of his skin and are projecting that onto those they disagree with), but they are also ignoring the fact that, ethnically, Obama is half white.  Why the obsession with the black half of his genetic make up and not the white?  This implies a dual racism; a patronizing racism that forgives his flaws because of the darkness of his skin, as well as displaying racism in downplaying/ignoring/whatever that he is part caucasian, as if the white half of his ethnicity is something to be embarrassed about or something.  Examining the possible motivations behind all this is an interesting thought experiment.

Next question: Is Obama a socialist?  Again, the sign says he isn't. 

First, let's look at the definition of socialism.

so·cial·ism (s̸həl iz′əm)
  1. any of various theories or systems of the ownership and operation of the means of production and distribution by society or the community rather than by private individuals, with all members of society or the community sharing in the work and the products
    1. a political movement for establishing such a system
    2. the doctrines, methods, etc. of the Socialist parties
  2. the stage of society, in Marxist doctrine, coming between the capitalist stage and the communist stage, in which private ownership of the means of production and distribution has been eliminated


adjective: communist, Marxist, Labour, red, progressive, social democratic, leftist, Fabian, Leninist, Trotskyist, syndicalist, members of the ruling Socialist party

noun: left-winger, communist, Marxist, red, social democrat, leftist, Fabian, Leninist, Trotskyist, syndicalist, Labourite, progressivist.  His views have always been popular among socialists.
So is Obama a socialist?

Is the Pope Catholic?

The fact that Obama is on the left side of the spectrum makes him, by definition, a socialist.  The real question is; with socialism being a stage between capitalism and communism, where does he fit?

Third question: Does Obama give away free healthcare?  Again, the sign says he doesn't.  At this point, one would have to argue the various points of "Obamacare" and whether or not it's really free (it isn't, of course - "free" health care isn't free; it's just paid for through taxes rather than individuals directly), and so on.  Quibbling of details aside, however, from a pragmatic view, the answer would be, yes, he does.

Now, let's look at the last part; the implication that, while Obama is none of these things, Jesus is.

Let's look at those three questions again.

First: Was Jesus brown skinned.

Well, it's hard to say.  We don't know what he actually looked like.  Jesus was, however, a Jew.  Throughout their history, Jews discouraged marriage to outsiders, which is probably why the term "Jew" is both ethnic and religious.  So we can look to modern, ethnic Jews to answer this question.

The answer?

I'm not sure.  Part of the problem is that "white" has a pretty broad spectrum, too.  Usually when people say "white" they refer to caucasians.  Let's go back to the dictionary, shall we?

Cau·ca·sian  (kô-kzhn, -kzhn)
a. Anthropology Of or being a human racial classification distinguished especially by very light to brown skin pigmentation and straight to wavy or curly hair, and including peoples indigenous to Europe, northern Africa, western Asia, and India. See Usage Note at race1.
b. Of or relating to a racial group having white skin, especially one of European origin; white.
2. Of or relating to the Caucasus region or its peoples, languages, or cultures.
3. Of or relating to a group of three language families spoken in the region of the Caucasus mountains, including Chechen, Abkhaz, and the Kartvelian languages.
 So while it generally means people with white skin, the category also includes very light brown to brown pigmentation.  Oops... take a look at the thesaurus portion of that link.  It includes Semites.
Semite [ˈsiːmaɪt] less commonly, Shemiten
1. (Social Science / Peoples) a member of the group of Caucasoid peoples who speak a Semitic language, including the Jews and Arabs as well as the ancient Babylonians, Assyrians, and Phoenicians
2. (Social Science / Peoples) another word for a Jew
So not only does caucasian include Jews, but Arabs as well.

Back to the question: was Jesus brown skinned?  Being Jewish, he would be classified as caucasian, which is associated with lighter skin of various hues.  Since this is a comparison to Obama, we would have to clarify by asking, would Jesus have had a skin colour as dark as Obama's?  I think we could safely say the answer is no, though it is impossible to be know for sure.

Next question: Was Jesus a socialist?

The most basic answer would have to be no.  Socialism didn't really exist during the time Jesus.  Neither did democracy.  There was no "left" or "right," as we use the terms now.  Even the early forms of both are quite different from how they are practised and defined today.

Let's look again at the definition of socialism and rephrase the question.  Go ahead and scroll up and reread it.

Since we're looking at the modern, political definition of socialism, I think we'll have to go beyond definition number one; it's too generic for our purposes.  One of the things I note is that political socialism tends towards atheism (Marxism, communism, Leninism, etc.), at which point Jesus couldn't possibly be a political socialist.  Socialism itself, however, isn't anti-religious, and there are Christian socialists.  Would Jesus be a modern socialist?  I find it highly unlikely, simply because modern socialism relies on government to take on responsibilities that Jesus taught were the realm of individuals.  We are supposed to be charitable, care for each other as a community, etc., not the government.  When it comes to modern, political socialism, that answer to whether or not Jesus was a socialist would have to be, no.

Then there's the final part: Did Jesus give away free healthcare?

Well, the Bible does describe Jesus performing miracle healings.  That's not exactly equivalent to free healthcare, though.  He also rejected the notion of only the wealthy and important being deserving of care, as he treated the poor and nameless as those of means.  Certainly, we're expected to treat all who are in need of it, regardless of wealth or status.  But "free" health care?  I think that's a bit of a stretch. 

At this point, I think we need to examine just what people mean when they say "free health care."  This would require examining what the "Obamacare" package will actually do.  That's something even the people who wrote it can't agree on - no surprise considering the proposal is a 3000 page monstrosity.  From what little I do know about it, however, I would have to say that no, Jesus would not be giving away the sort of "free healthcare" found with "Obamacare."  I'll leave you to research it more on your own time, but for now, I'll leave you with this opinion piece I was rather surprised to find.

To bring it back to our protesters sign that my leftist friends found to be such a wonderful dig at those racist folks on the right, they've once again allowed their emotional and visceral hatred of all things right to override reality.  Even if one didn't believe in Jesus, the first part alone is completely wrong.

Obama is brown skinned, he is a socialist, and he is trying to provide "free" healthcare.

Not of that seems to matter, though, if the leftist think they're making a good dig at the right.

update: Silly me!  For some strange reason, I missed the "anti-war" part of the sign completely.  I'll deal with that in a separate post.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

How not to do science...

While perusing through the health tab on Google news this morning (why, oh why, do I inflict this on myself?), I came across a group of articles with headlines that caught my attention. They all dealt with a newly released study that showed First Nations babies in Quebec were suddenly having much higher birth weights than "normal" and that these bigger babies were more likely to die.  Eventually, I found the actual "study" these stories were based on.  Rather than link to a bunch of articles, I'll just link directly to the pdf.

What a horrifyingly bad example of what passes for "science" these days!

To read the news articles, First Nations babies in Quebec are suddenly being born much heavier than normal - the heaviest in the world, in fact (at least as for as the authors of the study know) - and that these "macrosomia" babies are at much greater risk of dying.

How was this determined?  Have medical professionals in First Nations communities noticed these higher incidents of vastly increased birth weights?  Have they expressed concern because so many of these kids are dieing?  Has some strange malady emerged that is causing babies to develop into abnormally large size?

The answer to all of the above would be "no."

It turns out these researchers didn't talk to a single First Nations person at all, nor did they talk to anyone who actually medically treats a high number of First Nations women and their babies.

The study is a data dredge.

That, in itself, is bad enough (and to be fair, in the paper, they did acknowledge some problems with this method).  There are so many other things that make it worse.

First, let's look at what "infant macrosomia"actually is.  In this study, it's simply babies greater that 4 kg in weight.

That would be 8.8 pounds.

The average birth weight for a healthy, full term, baby is between 7 and 8 pounds (males average slightly higher than females).

Low birth weight has long been the primary concern; in fact, reducing the number of low birth weight babes is often used as a measurement of a nation's success in improving the general health of the population.

Here, they're talking about babies in the 90th percentile or higher.

For the record, my own kids were born at 9 pounds and 9 pounds 6 ounces, which put them in the 95th percentile on the growth charts.  I grow big babies.  This was considered a good thing, back then.

Now, there can indeed be concerns in regards to unusually large children, when it can be shown that this size is in some way unnatural and harmful.  For example, if the mother had T2 diabetes, or some other health complication that can affect the growth and development of the fetus.  Does this study factor in any of this?


They do know that diabetes rates tend to be higher among First Nations, but that's not something they looked for in this study.  They didn't look at maternal health at all.  They only looked at birth weights.

Oh, then we have another issue.

In the first article I found, I was astounded to read that they were comparing First Nations births in Quebec with births to women who's mother tongue was French.

They were comparing an ethnic group to a lingual group.

On finding the paper, however, I discovered this report was wrong.  They were actually comparing ...

... two lingual groups.

Since this was a data dredge, they defined who was First Nations and who wasn't by what was listed as the mother's primary language.  (They excluded women who spoke Inuit.)  They do go on to describe how this might not be all that accurate, since some First Nations women in Quebec might actually have French as their mother tongue, but figured that this worked out all right, because they had a much larger group of French speaking women (over 600,000) to compare against the First Nations language speaking group (over 5,000).

So it wasn't an ethnic group being compared to a lingual group.  It was two lingual groups being compared to each other, and one of those groups is about 120x larger than the other, which made it okay.

At this point, the study is already useless.  We have one group defined as First Nations, but we don't know if they actually are First Nations; we only know the mothers spoke a First Nations language.  Even if the mothers were actually First Nations, mothers are only half of the genetic equation; fathers aren't even mentioned.  Then we have another group defined by French being their primary language.  Again, we don't know the actual ethnicity of these mothers.  We don't know anything about maternal health.  We don't know anything about where they live, and if that might be affecting them (though the paper does speculate that First Nations women isolated enough to not have French as their mother tongue might also be isolated enough to not have access to medical care - more on that later).  Not only is it a data dredge, but the definitions of who fits into the parameters is essentially arbitrary, and there are so many factors not taken into account, the whole thing is essentially rendered meaningless. 

Ah, but that didn't stop our intrepid researchers!

On to the next point!

Let's look at the parameters they use to determine that bigger babies among "First Nations" women are faring worse.  It's pretty straightforward.  They look at the death rates, with postneonatal deaths defined as between the ages of 28 days and 1 year.  They determined that "macrosomia" babies have postneonatal death rates 8.3 times higher in the "First Nations" group than in the "French" speaking group.

So now we're looking, not at health, but at mortality.  We don't actually know anything about the health of any of these babies, just that X number of them died.  We don't even know how or why they died, other than SIDS, which has its own category.  For all we know, some of these babies died in accidents, not because of ill health.  Also, since we're only looking at mortality rates, we don't know if the bigger babies that didn't die are at all unhealthier than their smaller counterparts.

They did try to factor in the remoteness problem, acknowledging that lack of timely medical care could lead to increased deaths.  How did they do this?

They defined a remote area by looking at census data for how many people living in the postal code areas listed for the mothers commuted to urban centres for work.


As the paper is concluded, the authors talk about such things as how we know about the higher rates of diabetes among First Nations, so improving treatment for mothers might help reduce incidence of macrosomian among First Nations babies - except that they didn't actually have any data about diabetes or glucose tolerance.

Then they say more research in needed.  Yeah... and more research grants, I'm sure!

When I first started reading about this, and how it was talking about there was an increased trend towards macrosomia (what a strange word - it sounds like a sleep disorder) among First Nations babies in Quebec, I assumed it was actually recent.  It turns out that all these numbers they looked at are for births from 1991 to 2001.  They explain why in the paper.  The babies in this data dredge that didn't die in their first year would be turning anywhere from 10 to 20 years old this year.  It would be safe to assume at least some of these children have died in the last one to two decades.  There's nothing to tell us these bigger babies that didn't die in their first year have any more or less health problems than average sized or smaller babies, just as we know nothing about their actual health in their first year; all we know is that they didn't die.

Oh, and the actual number of larger babies dieing before their 1st birthday in the space of ten years?

Nine out of 1,424.

In the same time period, for postneonatal babies in the 10-90th percentile, 19 out of 3, 542 died.

Adjusting to per/1000, that's a change from 5.4 deaths of average sized babies (though 10-90% is a rather huge range to compare against) to 6.3 for larger babies.

The difference between postneonatal mortality rates in the 10-90th percentile vs the greater than 90th percentile works out to be an increase of .9/1000 births over the space of ten years.

One would suspect that there's far more than infant size that's causing the disparity in death rates between the First Nations language group and the French language group. 

Based on all this, the authors state "Parents and caregivers should be vigilant about the substantially elevated risk of postneonatal death among macrosomic infants of First Nations women."  However, their data also shows that being bigger might actually have protective qualities for perinatal babies.  So... up to the first 28 days, being bigger is good, but after that 28 day mark, their size is suddenly a risk factor?

There is so much wrong with this "study," it was hard to actually read it.  The entire foundation it's based on is meaningless.  They could just as easily be telling us that speaking a First Nations language leads to higher infant mortality rates.  This, however, seems to be what passes for "science" these days.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A glimmer of hope

Egyptian Muslims Protect Coptic Christians on Christmas Day

Muslims Make Human Shield to Protect Christian Worshippers in Egypt

A hopeful sign when moderate Muslims brave their deadly brethren to form a human shield around their Christian neighbours.   Acts of courage like this are needed to confront the violent, Islamist minority.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Sending prayers and condolences (updated)

I just want to emerge from my other project long enough to send out my deepest sympathies to the victims of the Arizona shooting.  My condolences to the families of the victims who died, and prayers for healing to those who survived.  Hopefully, Arizona congress member, Garbrielle Giffords, who at this writing has survived made it through surgery and was apparently the intended target of the shooter, makes a full recovery. 

From what we're learning at this time, the shooter seems to have been paranoid and delusional, believing in a government conspiracy.

Unfortunately, there has been a rather disturbing and disgusting response to this shooting.  Having been away from the computer much of the day, I had a lot to catch up on when I finally got on.  Looking at my facebook news feed, I saw some people I know on the political right sharing stories and comments about the incident.  They universally made comments of condolence, prayers and comfort to the victims while either ignoring the shooter completely, or mentioning him only to condemn him.  They focused on the victims.

Then I started to see what the folks I know on the left where sharing, and I was stunned.  No thoughts on the victims.  No condemnation of the shooter.  No, they were busily blaming the Tea Party and Sarah Palin for the shooting!  One particularly vile Huffington Post article was a favourite to share and comment on. As I continued catching up on my news, I saw the same pattern everywhere.  News sources and people on the left spent more time finding ways to blame the the right than anything else - especially in the comments sections.  Even the more "neutral" ones still managed to bring in a TEA Party and/or Sarah Palin angle. Thankfully, I few opinion pieces and editorials were already up, condemning those who were using this tragedy to attack the right.

What is perhaps the most ironic about this is that, while the shooter was pretty open about his distrust of the current government (while rambling almost incoherently), he had been described by someone who knew him as being "far left" and "very liberal."  This has been barely mentioned by anyone - and rightly so, since from his writings, his actions had little to do with partisan politics and everything to do with his one delusions.  The right *could* have taken this and run with it, using it to attack the left.  But they didn't.  They kept the blame firmly on the shooter.  Completely the opposite of what I'm seeing from the left.

It's disgusting beyond belief.

update:  Names have now been made public.  My condolences to the friends and family of:

U.S. District Judge John Roll (63)
Christina Green (9)
Gabe Zimmerman (30)
Dorothy Morris (76)
Dorwin Stoddard (76)
Phyllis Schneck (79)

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

All is quiet on the Western front...

... but not so quiet in the East. ;-)

We're just wrapping up our Christmas season, as tomorrow is Three Kings Day.  Posts might still be a bit light, however.  Eldest and I are putting something together right now, but it won't be officially up until the "foundations" are laid.

Thanks for your patience.