Bravery in the face of aggression

I suspect that you have all now seen this photo from Baton Rouge by Jonathan Bachman

Brave woman at Baton Rouge protest

 

This is a photo that probably will become iconic, showing a brave woman standing in the path of the police dressed for a riot. It looks like the photo is taken just before the two policemen uses force on her.

When looking at the photo, I can’t help seeing a parallel to another photo of someone standing still in the path of violence.

 

Tank man at Tiananmen Square

 

Many people will find the comparison between the use of tanks on Tiananmen Square and the use of police in Baton Rouge as over the top, but it is a valid comparison – the difference is just a matter of degree rather than of type.

It is awful quiet around here

Yes, I know, this blog has been pretty much missing in action for a month now. I apologize – that is no way to behave when you’ve just moved your blog.

The silence is mainly due to two facts:

  1. My home computer died on me. I was uninstalling some stuff, because I wanted to upgrade my OS to Windows 10, but somehow I managed to delete something important in the process, turning my computer non-functional.
  2. I have moved apartment. This last happened nearly 10 years ago, and I underestimated how much time and energy it would take.

I won’t promise daily blogposts any time soon, but I will try to write something a bit more often.

Labour politician killed in the UK

There are many ways to try to stop democracy, but one of the most effective, and worst, is to attack politicians that you don’t agree with. This is probably why this is one of the preferred methods in less than democratic countries. Unfortunately, it also happens it countries where democracy is well instituted.

We saw it when Gabrielle Giffords was attacked in the US.

Today, we saw another such case, this time in the UK, where member of parliament Jo Cox was shot and stabbed to death.

Little is known so far, but it appears that the assailant is connected to Britain First, a far-right group. Jo Cox was a member of the Labour Party.

It seems unlikely that the attack was planned by Britain First, but it is not entirely impossible, as they have in the past sought out confrontations and have ties to Ulster loyalists, who committed terrorism in Northern Ireland. Even if they didn’t plan the attack, Britain First has certainly created the environment where such violence could take place, and thus share part of the responsibility for the attack.

The Paranoid Style in American Politics, Trump edition

In November, 1964 Harper’s Magazine published Richard Hofstadter’s now-classic The Paranoid Style in American Politics which discusses how paranoia not only was, but has always been, a part of US politics, going back to the founding of the country.

The article is more than half a century old, but seems all to relevant for the current times.

Reading the article, it focuses on the paranoia that was around back then: anti-communism, and before that anti-masonry and anti-Catholism, but one can’t help think that one could just as well substitute with anti-immigrant, anti-LGBT, and anti-Muslim paranoia, and have a fitting description of the current political environment in the US, exemplified by the Tea Party and the Trump candidacy.

At a recent Trump rally, the paranoia showed itself fully:

Before Trump came on stage an announcer asked – as is customary at Trump rallies – that supporters identify any protesters to security and shout “Trump! Trump! Trump!” until the dissenters were removed.

There were protesters, and their presence was particularly obvious in the smaller, dimly lit venue. When security escorted them out through the emergency exits, the opened doors shot rays of sunlight across the theater.

The suspicion of protesters reached a point at which Trump supporters were informing on each other for not being “real” supporters. One woman pointed security toward a couple sitting quietly in their seats. “Them,” she mouthed.

The couple seemed baffled and denied to a security agent that they were anything but genuine Trump admirers. He waved them toward the exit and said, “Let’s go.”

Afterward the informer, who declined to give her name, grinned as onlookers congratulated her. “I heard one of them say ‘Never Trump’,” she said. “And one held up three fingers, like this.”

She held up her hand in a Boy Scout salute.

What did the three fingers signify?

“I have no idea,” she said.

It is easy to find it hilarious that Trump supporters are turning on each other, but let’s not forget that this is not a healthy political environment, since it allows people like Trump to move to the front.

I hope and believe that Trump will be soundly defeated by Hillary Clinton come the election, but I also think it is important to take a long, hard look at the situation that could allow Trump to become a candidate.

Hofstadter focuses a lot on McCarthyism in the article, and I think there are some very good parallels about how that was addressed and how one should address the GOP (Trump) base. McCarthyism failed for several reasons, but the most important seems to be the overreach, when Senator McCarthy took on the US army. Trump and his irk is likely to overreach in similar ways (e.g. Trump’s accusation that US soldiers stole money in Iraq) – when such episodes happens, it is important that the non-political parts of the establishment stand up against him, and denounce him.

In other words, they should shut him down, similar to how Joseph N. Welch shut down Senator McCarthy during the Army-McCarthy hearings with his famous “At long last, have you left no sense of decency?” reply.

Not that I believe they will have the chance to do so quite so effectively, but I’d believe that a rebuke from the leadership of the US military would carry some weight among certain parts of the GOP base. These people might stop up, and think about what was said, and step away a little away from the paranoid style, moving the country ever-so-slightly towards a more reasonable discourse.

Dear America, please make it stop

Back in 1996, I was traveling around the world with a friend.

As a result of this, I was in the Great Britain, when the Dunblane school massacre happened in Scotland, and in Australia when the Port Arthur massacre happened in Tasmania.

Both of these massacres shook the world, and especially the nations they happened in, leading to a huge public demand for a change of the gun laws. In Great Britain, this pretty much led to the private ownership of handguns becoming illegal. In Australia, it led to a complete overhaul of the gun laws.

The changes to Australian gun laws are well known, and it is also well known that there has been no mass shootings in Australia since then. What is less well know, is that in the years up to the massacre, there has been several mass shooting, but none with the number of victims as the Port Arthur massacre. So it took some time before the Australian public had had enough, and demanded something changed.

Last night, in the US, a gun man attacked a LGBTQ night club in Orlando, Florida, resulting in at least 50 dead.

This is the worst fatality from a mass shooting in the US, eclipsing the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting and the Virginia Tech shooting in deadliness.

America, please let this be your Port Arthur massacre moment.

Ignore for now the possible motive of the killer, and focus instead on the tools used to kill.

Massacres in the US are generally done using legally bought weapons, and it seems likely that this is also the case in the Orlando shooting. The ready availability of legal guns, and the high number of massacres in the US are connected. If you remove the availability of guns, the number of massacres will drop. So, work on reducing the availability of guns.

In Australia, they both changed the laws and bought guns from their owners. Making it harder to get hold of guns both legally and illegally.

The US should do the same.

The 2nd Amendment, and the screwed up way that it has been interpreted by the US courts puts a barrier to sane gun laws, but amendments can be changed – even discarded. I think it is time for Americans to take a long, hard look at the 2nd Amendment, and either change it, so it applies to people in properly state-run militias, or even get rid of it all-together.

America, please wake up. Please don’t continue down the path where you are now, where mass shootings has become a near daily occurrence and only makes the news if there are several fatalities. Please don’t let us wake up to more tragic news like the ones from Orlando.

A young voice silenced forever

I just learned the horrible news that Christina Grimmie, talented singer and YouTube performer, has been shot and killed.

‘Voice’ singer Christina Grimmie shot, killed at concert

I have followed Christina Grimmie on her YouTube channel for years, and have enjoyed the music she has posted there,

It seemed like she was getting her big breakthrough, but then her life was cut short by someone with a gun.

There are no news about the motive of the gunman, but given the shooting took place just after a concert, and she was clearly the target, it might be an obsessed fan.

No matter the motive, Christina Grimmie has become a victim of the gun culture in the USA, which allows people to get easy access to guns.

Since school shootings haven’t been enough to change the US gun culture, I doubt this latest episode will, and I think there will be many more young people who get their life cut short, before the US will change the gun laws – if that will ever happen.

 

The difference between percentage and percentage points

Note: This is a repost from my old blog. It appears as it originally did, except for the correction of an embarrassing math error and the addition of one note.It was originally written as part of the basic concept concept thought out by MarkCC at Good Math, Bad Math. The blog post is the single most visited blog post at my old blog, with daily visits ever since it came up.

Quite often I’ve come across situations where it’s unclear if someone knew the difference between percentage and percentage points, so I thought I’d write a post where I would try to explain the difference.

Simply put, percentage is relative, while percentage points are absolute.

For example, if we say that the number of female CEOs increase by 3%, we mean that the number increase with 3% of the current number of female CEOs.

If we say the number increases with 3 percentage points, we mean that the number of female CEOs increase with 3% of the total number of CEOs.

So if 5% of all CEOs are female (the current situation in Denmark, according to today’s newspapers [note: 2007 numbers]), a 3% increase would not be noticeable, since it increased the number of female CEOs to 5.15% of the total number of CEOs.

On the other hand, if we say that the number of female CEOs increases with 3 percentage points, it would mean that 8% of all CEOs would be female. Quite a difference.

Generally speaking, percentage points should be used to measure the difference between two percentages, since it gives a more clear view of the differences than when percentages are used.

Let me give an example of how it gives a clearer view.

Let’s say that a poll in year 1 shows that 10% of the population supports slavery (to take a, hopefully absurd example). In year 2 the poll shows a 20% decrease in the support compared to year 1. However, in year 3, the same number has gone up by 25% compared to year 2.

Many people would get the impression that the number of slavery supporters in year 3 is higher than in year 1, but that’s actually not the case.

In year one 10% supported slavery. The next year, the number fell by 20%. 20% of 10% is 2%, which means that 8% supports slavery. Then the number of supporters increased with 25%. 25% of 8% is 2%, so the total is back up to 10%.

If we have used percentage points, we could just say that in year 2, the number of supporters fell by 2 percentage points, and that the number of supporters increased by the same amount of percentage points in year 3. Thus making it much clearer that the amount of supporters was the same in year 1 and year 3.

The Why Women initiative

There is a new Danish initiative, Why Women, which officially launches next week, but which already has a website. The about page describes the initiative thus:

THE WHY has initiated the media initiative; WHY WOMEN? The project aims to raise awareness about the challenges faced by women and girls today. WHY WOMEN? consists of 10 short films, 2 documentary films, a reportage and various outreach activities.

WHY WOMEN? launches in May 2016, when New York-based NGO, Women Deliver hosts the world’s largest conference on the conditions of girls and women worldwide in Copenhagen, Denmark. THE WHY wants to make use of the momentum created by Women Deliver and initiate a public debate about the challenges of gender inequality.

The short films and documentary films are already online an can be viewed on the website (and elsewhere). I have embedded one of the videos, Striving for Utopias, which is written by Emma Holten and voiced by Dame Helen Mirren. Note that it is NSFW due to nudity in small parts of the short film.

An initiative like this is welcome in Denmark, where there anti-feminism is widespread in the media, and where prominent politicians frequently make verbal attacks on not just feminism, but often specific feminists. I am not naive to think that the initiative will stop that, but hopefully it will help change not only the tone, but also the focus of the debate.

The Australian Sex Party takes a stance for science

The Australian Sex Party is a fairly small progressive Australian party, which formed as a response to religious influence in Australian politics. It holds a number of sensible positions on issues like abortion, asylum seekers (see e.g. here and here), and marriage equality.

In other words, while the name makes it seem like the party is a gimmick, it is actually a serious party with progressive positions on a number of issues.

The party has apparently been contacted by Meryl Dorey, the notorious anti-vaccination front person in Australia, and asked about their positions on current policies relating to vaccinations.

It is worth including their answer in full:

The Australian Sex Party was contacted by notorious anti-vaccination campaigner and science-denier Meryl Dorey, asking for our position on “both No Jab, No Pay/No Play legislation and the right of Australian citizens to make free and informed health choices for their families without financial penalty or discrimination.” Here is our response:

Dear Ms Dorey,

I am pleased to respond on behalf of the Australian Sex Party, to your request for information on our position on vaccination issues. I’d like to request that my response be published in full, and unedited, on both your website and social media. Please do share it widely.

The Australian Sex Party believes in individual liberty, and the freedom to make choices regarding your own life. With this freedom, however, comes responsibility. As members of our community, and beneficiaries of the privileges provided by the community, we have an obligation to ensure that exercising our freedom does not put others at undue risk.

No Jab, No Pay. The Federal Government’s No Jab, No Pay measures aim to reduce the spread of preventable disease1. Knowingly and willingly putting one’s own child and others at risk of dangerous and preventable diseases is irresponsible, reckless, and antisocial. The Australian Sex Party does not believe that those who choose not to participate in our collective enterprise of disease prevention should be rewarded with tax benefits or rebates. In Australia, parents are not forced to vaccinate their children. Those who contribute to the broader community’s health by vaccinating their children (or have genuine medical exemptions), receive a contribution from the community in the form of the FTB-A end-of-year supplement, Child Care Benefit, and Child Care Rebate payments. The Australian Sex Party supports this public health measure.

No Jab, No Play. Victoria’s No Jab, No Play laws were introduced to protect public health2. The Australian Sex Party believes that if a parent wishes to use our community’s early childhood education and care services, they should be expected to play their part in protecting the community from preventable diseases. Those who choose to endanger the health of others by not vaccinating their children should not be welcome to do so in an early childhood care setting.

The right of Australian citizens to make free and informed health choices for their families without financial penalty or discrimination. The Australian Sex Party supports the right of Australian citizens (and others) to make free and informed health choices for their families. The Party does not, however, believe that going against the best scientific information available, represents an informed health choice. The anti-vaccination movement encourages parents to “do your own research”, however doing “research” by reading web-pages is not comparable to actual research done by scientists who work hard to protect us all from dangerous and debilitating disease. The Australian Sex Party rejects the insinuation that expecting all parents to participate in preventing diseases is a form of discrimination.

The safety and efficacy of vaccination is not an area of scientific controversy3. The claim that governments and scientists are all conspiring to mislead us for some nefarious purpose is absurd and irresponsible. The dangers of complications from vaccines are much lower than the dangers posed by childhood diseases such as measles4. The claims of the anti-vaccination movement have been thoroughly debunked5. Choosing not to vaccinate your children amounts to medical neglect; this is a serious ethical issue. Whilst it can be tempting to imagine that we parents have access to some special kind of knowledge that somehow eludes the scientific community, it’s just not so. We at the Australian Sex Party would like to encourage parents who are questioning what’s right for their children, to follow the advice of the scientific and medical communities, rather than charlatans and conspiracy theorists.

Regards,

Darren Austin
Senior Policy Advisor
Australian Sex Party
sexparty.org.au
References
1. http://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/pubp/rp/BudgetReview201516/Vaccination

2. https://www2.health.vic.gov.au/public-health/immunisation/vaccine-safety-myths-facts

3. http://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/no-jab-no-pay/

4. https://www2.health.vic.gov.au/public-health/immunisation/vaccination-children/no-jab-no-play/frequently-asked-questions

5. https://violentmetaphors.com/2014/03/25/parents-you-are-being-lied-to/

 

I don’t think I could ask for a better answer from a political party. If I lived in Victoria, the Capital Territory, or Northern Territory, I’d very much consider voting for the Australian Sex Party in the next local election.

 

Nothing in Medicine Makes Sense in the Light of Homeopathy

Note: This is a repost from my old blog. It appears at it originally appeared on my old blog.

I am not the first person to state this, but I think that it’s important that we all keep up saying this: Testing of homeopathic medicine should end.

Why do I say this? Well, for a very simple reason: There is no evidence that homeopathy works. And what’s more, the whole concept of homeopathy flies against everything we know about chemistry, physics, and physiology.

This blog post is triggered by a truly abysmal study where homeopathic medicine was compared to proper medicine used for treating moderate to severe depressions – there were numerous flaws in the study (which I plan to address in a later post), but the fundamental problem was that it was comparing medicine with remedies based on nonsense.

There is a famous essay by Theodosius Dobzhansky called “Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution“, which goes on to explain how our knowledge of biology wouldn’t make sense except if evolution is true. One could write a similar essay, called say “Nothing in Medicine Makes Sense in the Light of Homeopathy”, in which one explains how all our knowledge of medicine and physiology doesn’t make sense if homeopathy is true.

I don’t think this can be stressed enough.

It’s not just a matter of science not understanding homeopathy. If homeopathy was true, it would mean that the basic building blocks upon which our knowledge is built would be wrong.

Given we know that this is not the case, homeopathy must be wrong. No, that’s too mild; homeopathy must be absolute nonsense.

The basic concepts of homeopathy are things like “like cures like”, miasms, and and the concept of “memory” in water, all of which is nonsense.

“Like cures like” (or law of similars) is the idea that medicine should be based upon things which gives the same symptoms as the original disease. This was perhaps plausible back when Hahnemann first proposed it two hundred years ago, but we now know that there is no truth to this idea. Sometimes the medicine will be based upon substances which gives similar symptoms, but mostly it won’t.

Miasms are an old concept, in which diseases are caused by pollution or bad air. This idea was replaced by the germ theory of diseases, and is not taken serious by anyone except for certain branches of alternative “medicine” such as homeopathy, where they have added their own twists to the concept, but still stay largely true to the old Medieval concept.

The “memory” of water (or sugar for that matter) is the explanation used to explain how homeopathic medicine can have any effect. Homeopathic remedies are based upon the concept of diluting, in which the remedies are diluted to a degree where none of the original molecules are left (see this rather poor Wikipedia article for the numbers).

Oh, and the homeopaths also claim that the more diluted a remedy is, the more potent it is. Yes, this is really what they claim. No, it doesn’t make any sense.

So, all in all, we know that homeopathy doesn’t work. So, why the hell are we continuing to test it against proper medicine?

There are a lot of alternative “medicines” which might work, even if the concepts they are based upon are nonsense (e.g. acupuncture), and it makes sense to test these (so far, the effect of acupuncture seems to be placebo), but this is most certainly not the case with homeopathy. There is no way in which that can work.

Homeopaths might claim otherwise, but then it’s up to them to explain how our basic understanding of chemistry, physics, physiology, and medicine is wrong in this matter, and yet works in every other case. In other words, it’s up to the homeopaths to propose new theories in which homeopathy works, and which still supports our current state of knowledge, and until then, they should be ignored.

Not shunned, but ignored. Like we ignore perpetual motion machine builders, flat-earthers, and other weirdos.

Conventional medicine is not perfect, and our knowledge is expanding all the time, but theories like the germ theory of diseases are well established through science. We understand the mechanisms at play, and this knowledge enables us to fight diseases more efficiently. Much like our understanding of vira has helped us fighting other diseases more efficiently.

Why does claims of memory in water and strength through dilution bring to the table? In what ways are they expanding our knowledge? What diseases are we able to cure because of them? Nothing, none, and none are the answers. So stop bringing them to the table. Instead focus on the many valid ideas, which don’t fly in the face of all the collective knowledge of the sciences.

Woos like to bring up Nobel Laureates Barry Marshall and Robin Warren, and their discovery that ulcers were caused by the bacterium Helicobacter pylori as an example of how outsiders can turn conventional knowledge on its head.

This is of course pure wishful thinking from their side. Marshall and Warren were very much part of the established scientific community, and while their proposal was received skeptically at first, it was not dismissed out of hand for some very simple reasons:

    • It was built upon evidence.
    • The mechanisms etc. all worked within conventional science and the mechanisms known at the time.
    • There seemed to be some problems with the prevalent hypothesis at the time.

In other words, not only did they work within the established science, they actually addressed some known issues and presented evidence for their claims.

Yes, it took some time (and a very drastic demonstration) to convince people, but the scientific and medical community was very willing to be convinced, and as soon as there were sufficient evidence, the new explanation was universally accepted in quite a short time.

This is how it is done.

So, in what way has proponents of homeopathy done any of this?

The truth is that most people with a basic understanding of science understands that homeopathy is nonsense of the worst order, yet money is still spent on testing this nonsense, demonstrating again and again that it doesn’t work. Why? We know that it doesn’t work, since we understand the fundamental flaws in the premises behind homeopathy, and we know that homeopathic remedies are nothing but water, alcohol, or sugar (depending on whether they are liquid or in pill form), so they cannot work any better than placebo – they ARE placebo.

Let’s put an end to this.

All it does is to lend credibility to homeopathy in the eyes of observers who don’t know any better. They think that since homeopathic remedies are continuously being tested, there must be something to them. Why do we let this misconception continue? Science wins nothing from these sham studies, and it only lends cranks an aura of respectability. Stop it.

Yes, I am very passionate about this – we are allowing a lie to continue perpetually. That’s wrong. Homeopathy has been around for 200 years, providing no value to society as a whole, and generally decreasing the general level of health, and it’s time to stand up and say so.

It goes without saying that I have only contempt for hospitals and doctors who provide homeopathic remedies to their patients. Homeopathic practitioners are usually acting in good faith, believing in their nonsense, but doctors and nurses should know better – they have an education behind them, which provides them with the knowledge necessary to understand what nonsense homeopathy is.