29 March 2015

RFRA

So a neighboring state decided to pass a law. Lots of reactions occur. Some thoughts

The actual text of the law isn't substantially different from the federal statute (passed back in the 1990s over a different issue). The main difference I can find is that it specifically allows for religious-based defenses in private lawsuits (concerning discrimination). This is possibly true in the federal statute but the Supreme Court hasn't issued any opinion on it as yet and there's a circuit court split over whether the federal RFRA protects private individuals from each other or not on this point.

Actually the main difference I can find is that in between this statute being enacted and the federal one, a Supreme Court decision occurred (Burwell), which potentially allowed large scale corporations to have religious beliefs. Smaller scale ones kind of could always do some weird stuff that would pass unnoticed.

A second main difference is that Indiana, among other states, currently has a legal standard owing to court rulings requiring the recognition of homosexual partnerships as marriages. Which is what is primarily what is at issue in these religious liberty exercises sought to be protected is the practice of some small number of people to privately refuse to recognize such by being required to provide services in the attendance of ceremonial duties at weddings between such. More broadly other forms of discrimination against homosexuals such as hiring/firing practices or perhaps residency in apartments or some other manner of discrimination could be at issue for reasons that will be examined in a second.

A crucial aspect of the law is that it requires a "substantial" burden or the possibility of such in order to be invoked at all. On that point I'm a bit confused as to why Indiana is getting a lot of attention and, say, Mississippi is not. Because Mississippi's statute is different and does not require a "substantial burden", just a "burden". But the basics here would be that Hobby Lobby (supposedly) can not purchase certain kinds of birth control when otherwise compelled by law, because it is believed to be relevant to their religious practices (there were factual grounds for dismissing that claim I thought, in that those beliefs were factually wrong and therefore without merit on at least several of the drugs under consideration in that case). I would think this would generally allow for a baker or florist of a fundamentalist Christian affiliation not to be required to provide services at a wedding for which they have some religious disagreement (principally those between homosexuals, though there may have been some that refused service on remarriages or those between divorcees, etc). What it doesn't do is allow a restaurant owner to decide their religion protects and even demands that they not service anyone they believe is homosexual. Or some such related case. That kind of claim is very liable to be dismissed as there is no factual basis for a substantial burden test.

But. Because the Burwell/Hobby Lobby case was decided without having any kind of factual examination for the claim being made (it was simply assumed that the burden existed because the religiously based belief asserted it did), we do have a somewhat wider and weird legal realm where it is unclear what is in between those positions and what will be considered a substantial factual burden on the exercise of someone's religious beliefs and what will not, what will be considered a protected class of action and what will just be discrimination. That I think is worthy of consideration to say that this law was a potential problem in that we do not have a clear legal guideline on what constitutes free exercise, even when discriminatory, and what is just discrimination being masqueraded as religious expression.

The thing I have trouble understanding here is why that same claim isn't applicable to other states that have pre-existing statutes like this, or the US government itself. There are now 20 states with some variety of RFRA, generally similar to the federal statute as Indiana's is. Including Connecticut and Rhode Island and Pennsylvania (it isn't just random loony red-states). Plus another 13 that have something in the pipeline that could be passed within the next year. Plus the federal government. It may be worthwhile to oppose the signing of any new laws, and some laws have been very overt and specific (Arizona's second attempt for instance. The first had already succeeded but apparently didn't go far enough for the "religious liberty" crowd). It may be worth attempting to overturn these statutes even. What isn't clear is what singling out one state does when others have the same basic framework in place. Illinois for instance.

Those other states, or the US government, aren't going to overturn their laws and will suffer no major ill effect from a boycott targeting one state in the attempt to get it to overturn the law. Part of the reason apartheid eventually failed in South Africa or even Jim Crow to some extent was economic pressure. So I understand the impetus to boycott. Just make sure you know where and how wide the net has to go. Or you kind of look silly.

As far as these laws. I'm unclear on how widespread this particular type of discrimination is, both legally and physically. I can definitely imagine there will be some number of businesses try to deny service to homosexuals. Some of them could be hotels or restaurants and likely will be prevented from exercising that form of discrimination as it will not rise to be a substantial burden (there isn't any religious belief that I'm aware of that could apply). Some may try to fire people or deny a job being offered on those grounds (this type of decision usually allows for people to make other determinations and claim those instead. Only morons actively claim that they discriminated against someone purposefully, but there are of course plenty of morons). I believe that's likely fairly widespread but as I insinuated, difficult to prove without specific claims. And some of these businesses may be bakers or florists or photographers refusing service at a "gay wedding" (or as I'd refer to it, a wedding). And those claims may end up being defended by these varieties of laws. I'm assuming there are a number of scenarios in between these that I'm less certain of still or less aware of. I'm unsure of how many of these kinds of cases there actually are, whether the existence of new laws would make them more likely, whether the existence of these said new laws would provide some social bulwark that would sustain them economically in spite of any backlash, and so on.

My general position on any of those claims is that people should be allowed to make them, but that the general public will be made aware of it and be able to coercively respond. In the form of a baker/florist/photographer, the public will usually have other options who won't deny service and word will quickly spread which options will or will not. Those that will not may see their services overall suffer from economic attention and pressure, both from boycotts and from other businesses who do not discriminate. Some of them may change their minds. Which should be the goal. That they change their minds about whether this is a religious expression that they are required to make in the business of offering a service in exchange for money. I think this would, in most states and most localities, work out much differently than Jim Crow, in part because of the standards that anti-Jim Crow legislation eventually provided (that it is morally repellent to refuse service to people at a publicly available business for random and stupid reasons like race, or religion) and that the explicit need for legislation either protecting the right of business owners to do this or the right of consumers to be served is unnecessary. This is something that could be worked out privately on that point. I favor neither the need for any explicit protection to discriminate nor the explicit protection against it in the absence of evidence that either is needed.

There is likely evidence that individuals will be sued over discrimination claims, and likely evidence that without some pre-existing law that recognizes it as a form of discrimination, such suits will not succeed (as they did in New Mexico). This however is not clear to me that using lawsuits is necessarily the most effective method of changing business standards or affecting the bottom line versus other more overt and public methods (boycotts for instance) and that we need a clear legal standard for everyone that allows, if not encourages, lawsuits to be a primary form of working such things out.

I have several major considerations here.
a) Public opinion is still shifting and forming regarding homosexuality and the recognition of proper legal rights regarding marriage. I favor such legal rights being equally extended for what are to me, obvious moral and legal reasons (it improves the quality of life potentially for some number of people to be able to enter into private contracts that are recognized with special rights and privileges by the government and for the government not to extend those special rights and privileges only to those legal contracts over which it approves of, while denying it to those that are similar in any reasonable respect). But I recognize that a large body of the public is still uncertain over this change. Mostly for religious or traditional reasons. I am uncomfortable imposing upon this minority every possible demand we can conceive of in order to get it to shift to be a much smaller minority.

b) Recognizing that the public's opinion has shifted, dramatically at that, this is a change largely coming about not because of the relatively small number of secular people whose minds shifted some time ago, but because an increasingly large number of Christians have changed their minds about what the appropriate legal standards should be, regardless of the standards of their religious congregations. They are recognizing that extending legal rights on a level playing field isn't going to make lots of people suddenly become homosexual (it is unclear to me how that is a bad thing if it did), or make lots of marriages that already exist weaker and invalidated (also unclear), will not harm children adopted or raised in such households, and will also make some number of their friends, family members, co-workers, and so on much happier with their own relationships and affections to be able to affirm them with the same legal sanctions that they did in their own lives. That is a good thing.

c) Recognizing that it is to these Christians who have changed their minds that the cause of gay marriage as a result owes some basis (albeit slowly), those people who favor advancing this as a cause to be protected and tolerated should seek to continue to change people's minds. There are many forms of argument available. The strongest is "you are legally required to do what we say", but this carries with it no requirement or mechanism that anyone actually change their mind and beliefs. They can resume being a bigot or privately intolerant if they find a means to do so. For instance, Christian florists could decide to form a private club where floral arrangements would be provided for a membership fee. Or they could do something else instead of running a flower shop. A weaker argument is "we do not approve of what you are choosing to do by discriminating against these people". But this argument also implies a dialogue can occur rather than imposing a final decision. Which is what has been happening for a couple of decades now is the general public is working out amongst themselves, very publicly at that, why this is a legal and ethical requirement that they should endorse and uphold and shifting toward that state of affairs. If their arguments against this are grounded in religion, so are many of those that have shifted to accept the situation now. Perhaps such arguments may be more compelling than simply issuing demands. Perhaps not. I am inclined to continue to let those arguments work themselves out. They will have to privately anyway. There are fewer ways to craft and impose laws that would compel families to accept a homosexual child, even if there are many ways to allow homosexuals to form families (marriage, adoption, etc).

d) One crucial aspect is whether the "public" as formed into governments may discriminate. This I think is a wholly different question than from what the diverse set of individuals may privately do in their homes and businesses. This is among the more compelling arguments for why the rights and privileges governments establish as coming along with our private arrangements for marriages should be equally available to both straight and gay couples seeking them. So a government would not be able to prevent someone access to public services and assistance, housing, licenses, and so forth on the basis of that person's personal sexual orientation. These laws are not centered around this question. Rather we are arguing about how much we can compel the public at large to decide the operation of their businesses and private affairs, and how much the government could compel such decisions. For instance by restricting business licenses. Eg, the case of the doctor in Michigan who denied her personal services in pediatric care for a lesbian couple and their child and demands by some that her medical license be taken away post haste. Medical licensing is done by the state (a somewhat less dubious state requirement than most). I'm uncomfortable with the state making that as a determination. What was most alarming was the unprofessional manner and the lack of dialogue (a refusal to engage with the couple once a decision was made, when that decision was a clear reversal of prior arrangements to boot), and for that some variety of sanction is perhaps appropriate. But what I do not wish to see is the public effectively demanding that everyone must orient themselves immediately and without delay to a world that has radically shifted over the last couple of decades. I do not expect that businesses will necessarily stop demanding drug testing for marijuana even in states where it has been legalized (either for medical or recreational purposes). That also has been a radical shift. I am not prepared to demand that employers must accept marijuana use as they tend to with alcohol (even though they should probably tolerate the former more than the latter, especially if someone is showing up drunk to work).

When we are making major changes in society's laws and operations, we should expect that some people resist those changes, sometimes for very dumb reasons. It is incumbent on us not to accommodate stupid reasons, but to recognize that they are there and convince people that they are in fact stupid and not reasons. This is, by and large, working in the case of gay marriage (and to some extent drug legalisation, albeit so far just a couple of presently criminalised drugs). I would advise that we continue to let that process work itself out and shake out where the bugs are going to be. If these are more widespread problems than I estimate that they will be, that there will be dozens of legal cases per year, every year in a given area instead of one or two say, then more action may be warranted.

Keep in mind also that I do not advise people not to boycott or to organise non-discriminatory alternatives, among other sub-governmental (but legal) actions to be available to respond to these as problems, employee strikes or walkouts could be another option, and so on down the line. I also do not think that such actions are a form of repression, nor do I think there would be some way to legally protect against them even if governments are to become compelled to allow people to be discriminatory on the basis of their religious beliefs. These actions are coercive, but they do not automatically force anyone to shutter a business or change their religious beliefs. Instead more people who tried to practice their beliefs in this way would have to engage with the uncomfortable notions that they may be wrong about their beliefs, or how those beliefs must intersect with their work at any rate, and they may also be able to try to present an argument as a result as to why their beliefs do or why they are correct. That is a good thing to have beliefs being challenged and argued in this way.

26 March 2015

A set of amusing evaluations

By Christians of atheists. 

There were several interesting elements pulled out for comment by them.

"Skeptics represent one-quarter of all unchurched adults (25%). Nearly one-third of skeptics have never attended a Christian church service in their lives (31%)."
-The first statistic matters because the "nones" are frequently used as a calling card for both the skeptical/atheist community and the Christian community rather than a direct signal of who such people are. If only about a quarter of the "nones" are "skeptics", by that definition, then that's only about 5-6%. Which is about what you'd expect and doesn't sound like a major rise or something to worry about. If the "nones" population is instead more like 20-25% and comprised mostly of atheists/skeptics, then the claims made by religious folk that "we" have too much influence on public policy and they are being "discriminated" against, or otherwise actively repressed start to make more sense. But as it is, it sounds more like a large proportion of people who are bored or disaffected by churches, and just not willing to stick up for those who aren't so disaffected when they wish to impose upon others.

I'd also imagine the non-attendance of a Christian church figure would be somewhat lower if one expanded it to include any religious faction (Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, etc). The narrow focus on Christianity is to be expected from a pro-Christian group but it ignores that people are potentially leaving any religious tradition for similar reasons as they may leave that state of Christendom behind.

"Given their antipathy or indifference toward the Bible, it is remarkable that six out of 10 skeptics own at least one copy. Most have read from it in the past"

This is "remarkable" in the sense that it is worth a remark. It isn't "remarkable" in the sense that it ought to shock or surprise anyone. Yes I've read it. Yes I have a copy (digital, but still). No I wasn't impressed. Indeed, I've talked to many skeptics that the process of reading the "good book" itself was a major factor in their now stated disbelief. So having a copy around is kind of a reminder of that process for most of them. I could not quote chapter and verse myself as it did not make that grand of an impression on me to memorize entire passages. I don't remember Greek myths word for word either yet those were a little more pragmatic and entertaining I found. I also don't bother re-reading them now, decades later.

Given the widespread nature of influence on public policy and sometimes the private lives of others, I perhaps should heed the theological implications and interpretations of scripture (upon others) somewhat more than I do. But in so far as someone identifies a strictly religious basis for their positions as to what the government should do, I rarely find this will be an interesting debate and will rarely draw upon any serious scholarship to back such positions. In many cases, it will not resemble at all the theological writings and interpretations they believe backs their opinion in the first place. This is because I rarely find most religious people take the process of theology all that seriously either. Serious theological study is intended to bring all the text under the same architecture, placing it in context or in interpretative philosophical positions alongside the rest. Most people are not doing this. Most of them pick and choose to their convenience and ignore other matters entirely. Whole passages and indeed entire books within the canon are often ignored or unheeded. I'd say the percentage of people who have even read the entire text is much lower than is commonly believed, much less the percentage of people who are taking the process of how to believe as a serious intellectual pursuit.

"Perhaps the biggest transition of all is the entry of millions of women into the skeptic ranks. In 1993 only 16 percent of atheists and agnostics were women. By 2013 that figure had nearly tripled to 43 percent. This enormous increase is not because the number of skeptic men has declined. In fact, men’s numbers have steadily increased over the last two decades—but not nearly as rapidly as among women."

This should be a little more surprising, and most definitely reassuring for atheists/skeptics. The more prominent figures in the "atheist" community, such as any exists, are typically older white males (Maher, Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, Dennett, etc). "On the ground", there's more women than one would think would be the case from that feature. Keep in mind that women are also becoming "more religious", so the ones who are not leaving are becoming more conservative and more tied to their faith. That may also be true for the men, but on different grounds. I would guess the key appeals for women to leave a religion are most likely not a rejection of church authority in favor of a more anti-authoritarian world but a rejection of the use of that authority to abuse or discriminate against other human beings, including women (based on conversations).

"Churches have done little to convince skeptics to reevaluate. In fact, because more than two-thirds of skeptics have attended Christian churches in the past—most for an extended period of time—their dismissal of God, the Bible and churches is not theoretical in nature." - This is not surprising that the large majority in a largely Christian country have past experience with church.

"Most skeptics think of Christian churches as:
Groups of people who share a common physical space and have some common religious views, but are not personally connected to each other in meaningful or life-changing ways" (sounds about right)
"Organizations that add little, if any, value to their communities; their greatest value stems from the limited times they serve the needy in the community" (definitely true)
"Organizations that stand for the wrong things—wars, preventing gay marriage and a woman’s freedom to control her body, sexual and physical violence perpetrated on people by religious authority figures, mixing religious beliefs with political policy and action" (seems like a major factor for the youth disappearing, and there has been a long tradition of Christians seeking to divide public policy and religion for which such activities are often offensive and divisive. This also doesn't address the possibility of Christianity increasingly being seen as offensive and in opposition to science and research, where it often was not for much of the last century)
"Led by people who have not earned their positions of influence by proving their love of humankind, and are thus not deserving of trust" (this critical attitude toward authority isn't limited to religion, it's heavily involved in many institutions today, but religion and Christianity in particular has done considerable self-harm under this arc certainly).

"The data does lend support to the notion that college campuses are comfortable places for young people to abandon God and assume control of their own lives."

That line I find is telling not because of the college aspect, but the "assuming control of their own lives" part. One implication of it is that "we" are supposed to be telling them what to do and they're not listening anymore.

"One of the unexpected results we uncovered is the limited influence of personal relationships on skeptics. They are considerably less relational and less engaged in social activities than the average American."
I'm not sure what "less relational and less engaged" entirely means. Introverts anonymous unite, each in your own homes? But in as far as skeptics are less likely to do or believe something simply because their friends or families do, yes. I agree.

"It’s a chicken-or-egg conundrum to identify which came first: the atheist celebrity or an uptick in the number of atheists. Whatever the case, atheism has shifted in the past 50 years from cultural anathema to something the “cooler” kids are doing."

I'd like to have seen this pulled apart quite a bit more. The main reason I suspect it was cultural anathema was the association, still but less often casually made, that "atheism" or "godlessness" was for some reason synonymous with "communism". While there's a strong political association among atheists with more progressive policies, particularly on social issues but also on economic positions, this is no longer a common affiliation that most people will make. Or at least, a more neo-liberal economic consensus dominates the landscape, and a variety of policies are available and accessible both to people on the political left and for skeptics to assess and support (or oppose). One way to look at this would be that the end of the Cold War placed "communist" as a dirty word worthy of scorn for the damages it wrecked upon humanity, it no longer left "godless" as a strong affiliation one way or another. European/Western societies have become increasingly secular throughout both the 20th century and the Cold War. While there are non-serious attempts to show they are "socialist", it is rarely declared they're the second coming of Stalin or Mao either. I would suspect that lacking this cultural ability to point to someone's godless nature as an endorsement of the Soviet Union, the great enemy of the last generation, there's not as much compunction to be seen as god-fearing or whatever instead and that this has far more to do with the cultural shift than anything Dawkins is saying or has written. (And indeed, the post-Soviet Russian political landscape includes a reclamation of the Russian Orthodox church both politically and culturally, even as the Russian state remains a considered opponent to US hegemony).

The second aspect is the accessibility of the internet has made information and critiques of Christian apologetic works much more widespread. One doesn't need to have read Dawkins or Hitchens at all where this was probably a much more influential need 20-25 years ago.


15 March 2015

NCAA rankings Final Madness edition

All records are top 100, with top 50 only records in parentheses.

1) Kentucky 23-0 (17-0) Gap closed a bit here. They will probably win the title, but if you're looking for a dark horse, don't expect one to appear until the Final Four (they would potentially play Arizona or Wisconsin, who are in the same region).

2) Arizona 12-2-1 (4-0)
3) Wisconsin 20-2-1 (13-2)
4) Villanova 19-1-1 (11-1)
5) Virginia 17-3 (9-3)
6) Gonzaga 9-2 (4-2)
7) Duke 20-4 (8-4)
Those are the best shots for a darkhorse. Duke is pretty clearly not a good choice however (lots of people are picking them and they're the worst of the group).

8) Utah 9-7-1 (2-4) - Fell out of the previous tier. I think with good reason, they didn't win many good games, and they didn't win on the road.
9) Oklahoma 14-9-1 (10-6)
10) North Carolina 14-11 (8-10)
11) Kansas 21-8. That's not a typo. That's basically their overall record. (13-6)
12) Notre Dame 15-5 (10-3)
13) Iowa State 18-7-1 (13-5)

14) Baylor 16-9 (10-8)
15) Michigan State 11-9-2 (8-8)
16) Wichita State 8-4 (1-2)
17) Ohio State 9-10 (4-9)
18) Louisville 12-8 (6-7)
19) Northern Iowa 8-2-1 (3-2)
I don't like Ohio State being this high, mostly because they look terrible record wise and don't win on the road. If they weren't playing VCU in the first round, they'd look interesting as an upset special team for a couple of rounds.

20) Texas 8-13 (3-12)
21) Butler 8-10 (4-9) (yes these two play each other in the first round)
22) Xavier 11-9-4 (8-5)
23) Georgetown 9-10 (5-9)
24) West Virginia 12-9 (6-9)

25) SMU 12-6 (0-5) Yes that's a 0 for wins in the top 50.
26) Iowa 9-10-1 (6-7)
27) Arkansas 13-8 (7-6)
28) BYU 3-6-3 (1-5) - Basically snuck in a play-in game because of the Gonzaga win.
29) San Diego State 10-6-2 (2-4)
30) Providence 12-8-3 (6-6)
31) VCU 13-8-1 (5-4)
32) Maryland 13-6 (8-6)

33) Davidson 8-5-2 (2-4)
34) North Carolina State 14-11-2 (4-9)
35) Georgia 10-10-1 (6-6)
36) Oklahoma State 9-12-1 (5-9)

37) Florida (Not in the tournament) 8-16-1 (3-14) - They're the highest rated in part because they played a lot of games against tough competition and played many of those games competitively. But lost almost all of them so they weren't going anywhere (probably not to the NIT either).
38) Miami 9-10-2 (also not in) (4-7)
39) LSU 11-6-4 (8-3)
40) Purdue 11-10-2 (7-8)
41) Mississippi 10-10-2 (5-8)
42) Cincinnati 8-7-3 (4-3)
43) Dayton 8-6-2 (3-3)
44) Stephen F Austin 1-3-1 (0-3)
45) Indiana 9-11-2 (5-11)
46) Boise State 6-5-3 (2-2)
47) St John's 9-9-2 (5-8)
- This group has the last set of teams to worry about as upset potential in the early rounds. None of them looks like a deep run team however.

48) Vanderbilt 9-11-2 (3-8) (not in tournament)
49) UCLA 4-10-3 (1-7) - I have little idea how this team was even considered for the NCAA tournament. Note that almost all of the at-large teams above have more than 4 wins against the top 100, and more than 1 win in the top 50. UCLA also appears to have been considered more highly than BYU (BYU is in a play-in game), which is baffling.
50) Stanford 5-10-2 (1-6) - Note the similarities in Stanford and UCLA. It seems strange that one was okay and the other was not.
51) Texas A&M 7-10-1 (4-7) - not in
52) Oregon 10-7-2 (3-5)
53) Illinois 6-12-1 (4-8) - not in
54) Buffalo 3-4-5 (0-2)
- There's a mix of "not-in" teams listed here for comparison. I do not think much of any of the teams that are in as a result.

66) Valparaiso 3-1-4 (0-0)
67) Georgia State 1-4-5 (0-1)
92) Wofford 2-3-3 (1-2)
94) New Mexico State 2-6-4 (0-2) - Not sure how they ended up with a 15 seed.
96) UC-Irvine
97) Harvard
102) Wyoming 7-4 (3-3)
111) Northeastern
- This grouping is possible upset fodder, but not much potential beyond that.

126) Albany
129) Eastern Washington
131) UAB
133) North Florida
145) Manhattan
146) Coastal Carolina
148) Belmont
168) North Dakota State
178) Robert Morris
186) Lafayette
190) Texas Southern
253) Hampton
- None of these teams should win a game.

Other bubble considered teams that did not get in.
62) Colorado State 7-3-3 (2-3)
63) Temple 8-9-1 (2-6) - This to me was the strangest exclusion when compared to UCLA.
64) Old Dominion 5-2-5 (2-0)
As I see it, these teams are all in the low 60 ranking wise anyway, so their inclusion would be quite strange as it is. If I had to pick a team to put in, it would have been Miami, followed by Temple or Texas A&M.

Bubble gut check

Last six in
62) Colorado St 7-5-1 - Wyoming winning both helped and hurt as it meant their two in-season losses weren't as bad, but it also meant there's a good chance they are the next team on the chop-block.
20) Texas 8-13 - Should be safe.
63) Temple 8-9-1 - Probably safely in.
44) Boise St 6-5-3 - Probably in. Wyoming winning also helped/hurt here (they were also swept by Wyoming)
28) BYU 3-6-3 - Win at Gonzaga is basically it. They're very highly rated but didn't win very many games.
45) Indiana 9-11-2 - Probably should be in, but probably won't be.

Last six out
43) Mississippi 10-10-2 - I think they should be in, but if it's between them and Indiana, that's not good for Mississippi.
50) UCLA 4-10-3 - No idea why this team is in the conversation.
77) Tulsa 6-8-2 No idea here either.
42) Miami 9-10-2 - Probably should be in, but won't be.
51) Texas AM 7-10-1
64) Old Dominion 5-2-5

Connecticut is not on the bubble and has a pretty good chance to beat SMU today, which that would knock another team out.

10 March 2015

Quick sports thoughts. Basketball version

1) Harden-Curry looks to me still like the best cases for MVP. Westbrook has passed Harden in many discussions publicly but I see two major downsides to his case. He missed too many games, and his team isn't actually playing that great record-wise despite his run of insanity. Durant being out for a portion of that time has not helped, but Harden has had Howard out and basically ineffective most of the season and Houston was not fighting for it's playoff life the way Oklahoma City was for much of the season.

2) I'd still take the odds that Kentucky goes undefeated to be pretty high. They have an insane high chance to win the tournament, depending on how the seeding goes. I've not seen a team over 20% in a while. They're projecting over 40%, and were almost 50%. That will make winning your NCAA pool a little harder. Unless you pick someone else AND that team wins, which is what happened in 1997 for example, when Arizona won and upset both Kansas and Kentucky in route (both teams that were heavily favored). 50-60% still suggests a lot that could happen, but I'm also not sure who else I would take right now either (Arizona again looks like the best potential).

3) Draymont Green isn't a household name. But he should win defensive player of the year pretty handily. He might not because voters are weird. Really the best competition is a 6th man (Gobert, apparently being called the "Stiffel Tower"), a really old guy (Duncan), and a guy who was hurt off and on (Kawhi). That's it (two of them are on the same team, which may be important in the playoffs). But for some reason DeAndre Jordan keeps getting mentioned as a favorite. He has important skills for playing defense and does it rather well, but I do not buy that he is a great defender when I see the Clippers playing. The team defense moreover is pretty average (except at getting rebounds, which is Jordan's main value). Golden State's is fantastic.

06 March 2015

More still thoughts on anti-theism

Something which has occurred to me in observing the vast majority of other atheists is that they come from a religious tradition that they have abandoned or escaped or rejected. To the extent that this represents an often significant portion of their lives that were expended in what now are visibly wasteful time and effort, or inspired them to hold to beliefs that they found inconsistent or harmful, or otherwise amended their behavior in ways they now find to be unnecessary (or were harmful to others), the level of animus toward that former religious entity is understandable. I did not experience this break personally, and I have a hard time processing the pre-eminence it seems to take for other secular-minded persons without reminding myself of this experience.

There are obvious advantages in such people and their stories and identified issues however. They can demonstrate first hand where a faith and its practices have gone astray and become harmful, which is necessary if we wish to focus effort on reducing the amount of harm religions and religious persons can do to a society. They can also identify a path that helped them to recognize that that faith and its practices were harmful or no longer something they could hold to, which may be helpful to lead people to become less religious, non-religious, or at least stop practicing and believing the most egregious and destructive aspects of a faith.

But there's a limitation to this as well. It reminds me of how political exile communities are treated where there is an unpopular dictatorial regime we wish to replace somewhere on the globe. In that it is easy to give to such voices too much credit that they know and understand the mind and intentions of many, if not most, of the body of adherents to the faiths they have left behind. Political exiles are apt to be somewhat unusual, sometimes elite bodies of people who were capable of escaping a previous circumstance in part owing to some outside world connections that permitted it and this makes their credibility in criticizing or providing intelligence as to the public sentiments of a foreign country somewhat less reliable than might otherwise be the case. There's also a strong incentive if the goal is to overthrow and/or replace the regime to provide misleading intelligence of the sort demanded by the powers that could assist. Religious "exiles" are in a similar circumstance, that they are often escaping to Western liberal societies, and often live and work in largely secular communities (such as academia or the media). There will be few voices available to say, "that's fine, but that's not how I experienced my faith". And it is telling that when such voices do arise, they are often told "that's not how you experience your faith", or if not that brazenly, that's not how "other people not myself do or did". This variety of mind-reading may have some merit where they have firsthand experience with other persons and the mindset that was imposed, as they see it, upon them for a portion of their lives. But it has limited utility for people who did not in fact share that mindset, which is likely to be the majority of adherents to a particular religion. No religion is that uni-polar that all or even many of its adherents experience it, practice it, interpret it, and believe in its dogmas and dictates in the same way. This is a common occurrence that these exiles seem to lack this nuanced expression of how other people must be experiencing religious devotion or beliefs and by this declare that it is the beliefs themselves that are harmful as an entire structure (be that Islam or Christianity).

In less freedom tolerating societies outside of the Western world, where religious belief is often compelled by law and violence, perhaps this is so, or perhaps it is more true at least than it is in the West. But as indicated in my last bit on this, the western world is the field on which most of us will experience interaction with religious persons as most of us will not travel widely to areas outside of that arena and will have little or no interest in the foreign relations that lead us to intercede in the affairs of those countries. So it is the secularized West for which our interactions and assessments of fear are largely predicated. And in the secularized or secular-ish west, such experiences as a uniform "truth" as it applies to all Christians, or all Muslims, are not typically bound up in legal traditions that compel people to believe in a particularized, often radicalized way (nor is that prevented, provided it does not lead to violence or compulsion by force). It is more likely that it isn't the beliefs that are at danger or issue in this world and environment but that the people are largely selecting religious beliefs to justify things they already want to believe and practice. In that light, beliefs which command or appear to command violence are dangerous if they expound beyond mere beliefs about the nature of unbelievers or apostates or homosexuals, to cite some examples. But given that much and most violence in the US occurs without such commands, this appears to be a very unusual concern to place highly on our list of issues to be afraid of is the religious theology of command morality. It is well that humanists or atheists are not well-represented among the prison population, but this says more about where humanists and atheists are typically drawn from (well-educated, middle class or upper middle class, Caucasians, all groups who are also unlikely to be in prison), than it does about the apparently or supposedly religious motives of the prison population when viewed in this perspective. That is: that it is unlikely that any variety religion and religious belief is uniquely dangerous as a process in the life of the average Western atheist. They are dangerous in legal or political terms at times, but this is distinguished from the low probability of death or imprisonment by the state or via extra-legal means.

This all leads to the highly specious assertion that removing religions, or religious beliefs, or specific more uniquely "dangerous" religions would be of great benefit in alleviating the risks of violence across or within societies. I submit that this is unlikely to have a great effect on the rates and causes of violence if the only change is to eliminate religious beliefs and practices and that the intended focus point here is wrong as a result. If the problem is that some religious beliefs are bad, or harmful, and dangerous to societies, and that the practice of those beliefs results in violence and other offenses, and is otherwise an impediment to a form of moral progress or enlightenment, then it is these specific things that our energy should turn toward seeking ways to eliminate or restrict, and to challenge the theological or logical grounding of such beliefs. If that means that more people embrace a form of "liberal" religion, instead of strict adherence to a fundamentalist mindset, then that's one option. If that means that many people must lose their religion entirely and work must be done to see that this occurs, that too is an option. Religious beliefs or practices have also over time tended to moderate some of these more annoying and destructive perspectives. It takes longer sometimes than it should and much harm is done in the meantime. But it is possible to do. They do not necessarily remain moderated either. Which is also something to be on guard about.

The progress of a society governed by the reforms of the Enlightenment era in Western history is substantial but not guaranteed. As a historical example, both the Roman and Ottoman Empires experienced long and enormous gains in civilized behavior and societies themselves, and both eventually disintegrated and were broken apart or conquered, with the civilized gains in agriculture, urbanization, law, trade, philosophy, science, and education lost or abandoned for many years after, lacking the infrastructure to support them. In this respect, the work of anti-theists represents a defence of these gains against encroachment from the past eras of squalid and cruel destruction. It does not necessarily represent or propose an advance however. Which seems a far more interesting moral and social goal to promote than a rear guard.

05 March 2015

More thoughts on anti-theism

The persistence of the murders in North Carolina as an internal discussion among atheists or secularists seems a point on which I should chime in with some features that I've observed or thought of over that discourse.

Implicit bias research in psychology would be an essential response to be aware of. This suggests that people "other"-ize people from other social groups, such as people belonging to religious entities that are poorly understood or largely unknown, or people from other racial groups. Most commonly such research suggests biases when interacting with darker-skinned people, Africans for instance. And most of these forms of bias are more subtle than what we typically refer to as racist. These are not people who drop the n-bomb casually, or who tell or email each other racist jokes, and so on. But they may describe a 12 year old boy as a threatening monster who must be shot given a set of conditions that might result in a firm talking to for someone Caucasian. And they may see a Muslim family when engaged in a fairly mundane concern like a parking dispute and pour a little extra on the hot sauce, so to speak, that it may end up violently resolved rather than the usual inane and heated exchange. We do not know enough about the particulars of that situation to know whether this was an armed man who escalated a simple domestic dispute over parking into murder, or whether this was an armed man seeking to execute people who committed, or were perceived to, minor transgression for what amounts to prejudicial reasons that border on or track into a hate crime, as we might legally define it.

Most Americans are very familiar with "Christians", in so far as they can't walk outside without meeting someone who professes to be so affiliated, practices some of the traditional rituals, and holds some of the beliefs so required. There are some atheists who hold a degree of hostility toward such persons, and certainly many secularists can find the behavior and policy views of many Christians annoying, if not illegal. But by and large, most Christians are not "feared", in the sense of representing a direct threat to the life and safety of atheists in the US. Even religious extremists like Ken Ham or the WBC or Pat Robertson are mostly sources of mocking amusement for the absurd things they believe and say in public as even as there are substantial populations who agree with them, few of their most absurd beliefs are popular enough to mandate into legal actions (and none of those would withstand a court challenge). This is so even among anti-theists in many cases.

These are not commonly professed actions as it regards Muslims; who are seen as an actual or literal threat to Americans more broadly, and perhaps to secularity or a tangentially involved project like liberalism as well, in an existential or actively violent manner in these cases. And such activities and views are attributed to be unique threats posed by Muslims rather than Christians or Buddhists or other theistic views. Anti-theists in prominent public positions (Sam Harris for example) have expended a good degree of time and energy speaking or writing in professing this view, particularly post 9-11, often doing so while justifying a set of repressive policies or aggressive foreign policy interventions they prefer to see enacted (in Harris' case, profiling, torture, and invasions or assaults on several countries, and the possibility of pre-emptive nuclear strike should an "extremist" Islamic nation-state such as Iran obtain or be close to obtaining nuclear weapons, others have suggested severe immigration restrictions as a similar course of action). It would be reasonable given these views as accepted to apportion a certain degree of bias and animosity or fear toward the infrequent encounter an American citizen has with Muslims within the borders of the United States.

In as far as there are Muslims so identified as having committed atrocities, acts of aggression, violence, or terror around the world, these are indeed plausible fears. In so far as these are unique attributes, it tends to overlook the majority of violent incidents or events in both the US and the world or ascribes more comfortably to those events a non-religious basis for the activity. For instance, a border dispute could be framed in ethnic or national interests, rather than a religious conflict. The actions of a lone shooter or bomber can be viewed as the behavior of a deranged lunatic, or as part of a political ideology, rather than having religious connotation. Likewise, acts of terrorism are sometimes conveniently absolved or overlooked where they are or were committed widely by non-Muslims (the IRA, LRA, Tamil Tigers, various Mexican cartels, etc). All of this structure is intended to form and defend a narrative that these problems and tactics or strategies are unique to a particular religion. If such a narrative is true, it might be reasonable to respond to minor transgressions and forms of aggression by adherents to that faith with a degree of belligerence to dissuade future aggression, or to focus public attention and scrutiny and so on. If such narratives are not true, and are instead forms of cognitive bias, then such responses are unlikely to have much impact and will be viewed as needless and destructive meddling at best.

Unfortunately what is likely the case is that the situation is more complicated than these polar positions and this explains a great degree of the ability of both sides in such discussions to cherry pick examples of support. ISIS is not, for example, much of a significant threat to US security or US interests, or even to some of our regional allies or partners (Israel or Turkey for instance), and as such it seems unlikely that our involvement is likely to either succeed or be more effective than allowing regional powers to collaborate on a strategy to oppose them. But it is a regional threat professing and attempting to justify for itself a certain religious base for its ideological and territorial goals. In as far as it adopts a most extreme or warped interpretation of Islam's canonical texts and laws, it is little different from some Christian (or Hindu or Buddhist) groups who do likewise. But in as far as it actively controls or attempts to control and conquer territory through violent means, and represses alternative histories or ideologies/religions (by destroying artifacts or temples for instance), it is a uniquely dangerous world agent. None of this necessarily follows that our conclusions of action are and must be what are suggested by the more "belligerent" among the anti-theist community. Nor does it follow that this is either unique to Islam, or uniform belief and practice among Muslims.

The point would be that we should be cautious in recognizing that we may also have potential biases here, ill-informed by a lack of familiarity with people of a sometimes distinct cultural grounding.

In as far as this intersects with secularist or anti-theist communities specifically, one aspect that I feel tends to define secular communities is a desire to apportion belief and especially action based upon belief toward the best available evidence. That is: if we are to put forward a plan of action, that plan of action would be formed based upon our best understanding of what should or has worked and which ideas have failed to work or seem unlikely to succeed given the available alternatives. If we are to support a policy of torture, or invasion and nation-building, or use security and police to profile particular persons, or to identify a unique danger of particular kinds of countries having nuclear arsenals, it behooves us to examine the likelihood of those projects having the intended effects and succeeding, or whether we are in fact overinflating the dangers in order to justify particular belligerence.

Profiling for instance has a long history of use in policing. It has limited utility in deterring ordinary crime versus digging up a lot of suspicious stops and searches by police instead. Given the NYPD and FBI's use in counter-terrorism, it seems to have zero practical use in deterring and detecting terrorist activity also. The NYPD followed Muslims around for years and generated zero leads or arrests, for example. While several of the terrorist attacks that occurred were warned about, often by other Muslims, and often little action was taken. Similarly, we can point to torture's lack of identifiable results, and severe departure from the special case exemptions that many people might find morally plausible (the "ticking time bomb"), to suggest that neither of these are policies that will have a beneficial effect upon American's marginal security, and may actually be damaging in so far as they may enrage the populations that are so afflicted by them, or at least demonstrate a double standard or hypocrisy in the profession and insistence of the protection of human rights, as they apply to all people. Likewise, we can point to the rogue state of North Korea and its nuclear arsenal, or to the rather immoderate and "backward" Muslim-majority state of Pakistan to suggest that the "Iranian-death-cult" theory favored by many belligerents in the Iranian, or previously the Iraqi, discussions are misplaced or overblown fears. The world has lived with the threat of nuclear annihilation for 60 years and for the last dozen or so has stomached the emergence of more unstable powers to the nuclear club without the world ending. And I think the examples of Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo, Sudan, Libya, and others over the last two decades suggest that nation-building and regime changes are unlikely to succeed in solving our problems with these other countries, to say nothing of the destruction our campaigns can inflict upon the people living there and whether such things as a military campaign on our part will result in a better circumstance for the country and its people itself that we should claim it was on their behalf. Against this, it seems questionable why people who profess to be guided by evidence and reason would persist in demanding similar attempts at these same policies for years at a time. It might even be reasonable to assume a degree of bias is involved if they are unwilling or unable to consider other options as more effective or necessary, or even unwilling to consider the ineffectiveness of their own preferences even if they assume other methods would be non-meaningful and effective instead.

A further complication is one often seen in analysis of religious communities themselves. This would be that the adherents of religiously conceived beliefs and practices and rituals are not always in step with a leadership or theological scholarship of those beliefs, practices and rituals. It may be that leaders profess or stress very different passages, interpretations vary widely, and in general may practice a faith in a very different way than those who consider themselves to be listening attentively to such guidance. One reason for this may be that we are selective in what we want to hear or accept as beliefs ourselves, and another more nefarious construction would be that we are often selective about what we tell other people we ourselves believe, sometimes for manipulative purposes and ends. As a more religious example, Bill O'Reilly was commonly portrayed by some as insisting on the death of George Tiller by publicly identifying him as a murderer of babies through his work in an abortion clinic. O'Reilly never calls for his death specifically, but in identifying another person as a commissioner of actions commonly perceived as heinous, more radical adherents to those beliefs perhaps took this to be a signal of identifying a particularly egregious individual worthy of assault or death by those actions. Political speech also strays into this realm (the Palin map with bullseyes upon various Congressional districts, followed by a personal attack on one of these Congress members in Arizona). It is not clear that all such cases like this intend on the death of those identified, or that the commission of the acts themselves were at all tied to the public declarations in the first place (many are not). What can be clear is that if a group does not wish to be publicly associated with such actions, they may choose their claims and battles carefully, perhaps avoiding the most incendiary claims or demands for action. Antitheists are not typically advancing "militant" or "radical" claims, departing substantially from atheists or secularists more broadly. But they are more likely to evince a degree of hostility toward the concept or practice of faith by other human beings. Atheists are no more likely to be entirely a population of calm, rational people, even as they are less likely to be commissioners of ordinary violence and crime, which to me suggests that inflammatory rhetoric carries no less risks to be used by atheists and antitheists than it does when anyone else does it, that it may err to stray forward to invite violence even if as a philosophy, humanists and secularists will work to condemn such actions.

Bear in mind that various religious orders frequently disavow any approval for acts of violence or terrorism purportedly committed in their name, and these disavowals may fall upon deaf ears and go ignored by those insisting that such groups should disavow such violent methods, particularly where such groups are in the minority as Muslims (and atheists) are, and we should recognize the dangers involved in putting forward even the modicum of force and violence in our ideas versus the forceful presentation of ideas and arguments.

Anti-theism does well in stressing critiques of religious orthodoxies and dogmas in the destructive potential such beliefs and practices can inflict. It should be careful not to assume that these define the whole of religious practice and belief, when they plainly do not, or to assume that such critiques should be backed with violent intention, as some have insisted at the policy level (not at the individual level). It should be a reasoned response to the dangers of a fervently theocratic society, and cognizant of the actual ability of "outsiders" to affect swift and just changes upon societies and states disordered relative to a progressive liberal status quo sought by Western powers. The caution I would demand for the first point is twofold. Avoid broad-brush guilt by association behavior. This will generally place many people who have little common cause with terrorists, extremists, or religious fundamentalists on the defensive rather than leaving such people open to ameliorating the worst injustices of their beliefs as practiced and as afflicted upon societies at large. Secondly it focuses public attention upon those more egregious and dangerous and prejudicial behaviors rather than much smaller transgressions and works to place such behavior and practice of faith in that way to be out of bounds in a polite, tolerant society. The avoidance of violent means unless absolutely necessary, such as in self-defence, also should be stressed anywhere a response is needed to those forms of aggression by religious agents. The application of force and violence should be reserved, and the resolution of disputes sought out through the arenas of free speech and debate through the political process where ever possible.

To summarize.

I do not think that most secularists or anti-theists are spending time and energy and effort demanding violent revolution against religion, or insisting upon violent means of resolving our disputes with such. Much of what is painted as "radical/militant atheist views" is pretty standard: that religious orders or beliefs can be harmful, for example. And this is not very controversial, even among many religious persons that their faiths have flaws in practice or outdated concepts of belief that they no longer practice.

I do think that much of the advocacy for militant action either via force or politically via specific police powers against particular groups is counter-productive for Western educated and residing secularists. Not because Islamic militant groups like ISIS are not dangerous and do not deserve any public attention as a cause worth attending to by someone (intelligence agencies for example, or other Islamic countries or groups that are more locally threatened). But because they and their views are not representative of the much larger but diverse and spread out populations of Muslims most Westerners would ever encounter at home, and are thus unlikely to directly or existentially threaten Americans or Europeans in a meaningful way. Nor are the actions and atrocities of such agents in places that we would have considerable influence and the power to prevent them and by which we should want to spend that much time and attention worrying about the behavior and violence until such a point that we might possess the power and understanding to sway and influence to prevent such actions. Meanwhile various Christian groups are much more numerous and active and organized politically to influence public policy in what seems to a humanist ethic a negative way, and are often using western influence and interventionism to influence local policies (as an example: Uganda and the attempts at very stern, potentially lethal, anti-homosexuality bills were heavily influenced by American missionaries and anti-homosexuality propaganda). We have the power and influence to prevent these things. It is still anti-theist in nature to work against the propagation of religious ideas through public policy, and, more to the point, we are seeing progress on these fronts as states and nations adopt tolerance of consensual homosexual partnerships or traditional "vice" crimes like the consumption of certain narcotic substances.

I do not think this means that secularists and anti-theists should spend no time and attention speaking out against atrocities or human rights violations pertaining to the Islamic world, nor that they should not advocate for violent methods of reprisal should such violations be made upon ourselves as well, or that people cannot advocate for their views more broadly as they apply to the purported dangers of various religious entities. These are indeed problems afflicting millions of human beings on the globe and we should be sympathetic to the issue and attentive to opportunities to resolve or alleviate such suffering where we can. But I do think that the unique approaches called for in combating the purported Islamic threats are either ineffective, based on the evidence, or simply not likely to produce a positive effect, and that the amount of time and effort expended by some suggests an unhealthy level of worry and concern over these abuses and issues for which we have limits on our time and ability to control such. More over, I do think that it is possible the anti-theist view can become too narrowly associated with these views, of anti-Islamic views in particular and by this often strays into Islamophobic attitudes which can stereotype or position any or all Muslims as a potential threat to liberal ideals or the western lifestyle, or whatever. This should be avoided as such stereotypes are unhelpful both to the cause of advancing a secular mindset/worldview and to opposing and highlighting the actual dangers and harms performed by religious orders upon actual human beings.

03 March 2015

Why is Golden St not the favorite?

A team with a high point differential, a good coach, a good defense, should be regarded as a heavy favorite to win a title. Add to this having an MVP candidate, Curry, to the "best player on the court usually wins" theory.

As a comparison. Currently GS's SRS rating (a combination of schedule strength and margin of victory) stands at 9.87, which is one of the highest of all time. The Celtics highest rating is around 9.3, and nearly every time they have been over or around 7.5 they have won a title (one exception was 2009 when Garnett was hurt). The 6 Bulls titles, the lowest came in at around a 6 (the year they beat the Suns). Three came in over a 10. This is a common theme to see "Won Finals" next to a very highly rated team.

There was only one team I could identify that was in the same elite ballpark, over a high 8 or low 9 and did not win a title with a "clear path" (no better team around).

The 2008-09 Cavs, who were upset by Orlando in the conference finals (but probably would have lost to a healthy Celtics team also).

There are several teams in the high 7 or low 8 range that lost however.

88-89 Cavs - "the Shot", Bulls upset them in the first round
02-03 Mavericks - lost to the Spurs in the conference finals. Note this was not the 06-07 team that lost to Golden St in the first round, or the 05-06 team that lost in the Finals.
72-73 Lakers - lost to the Knicks in the Finals
71-72 Bucks - this is the only team over a 10 that lost. And they lost to an even better Lakers team in the conference Finals.
85-86 Bucks - swept by an even better Celtics team in the conference Finals
72-73 Bucks - upset by the Warriors in conference semis
73-74 Bucks - lost in the Finals to the Celtics. If you are sensing a theme here, the answer is "Kareem was on the wrong team".
12-13 Thunder - lost in conference semis to Grizzlies, Westbrook got hurt the round before. Very good Spurs-Thunder and Heat-Thunder rematches were denied by that injury.
93-94 Sonics - upset by the Nuggets in the first round, probably the most improbable first round upset in NBA history.
94-95 Sonics - upset by the Lakers in the first round, probably the second most improbable, except the Lakers were a #5 seed (looking at their roster, I have no idea how).
67-68 Sixers - lost to Celtics in conference Finals
80-81 Sixers - lost to Celtics in conference Finals
90-91 Blazers - lost to Lakers in conference Finals, Bulls were better than both that year anyway.
01-02 Kings - lost to Lakers in conference Finals in one of the series widely considered tainted by an officiating scandal.
00-01 Spurs - swept by Lakers in conference Finals
03-04 Spurs - lost to Lakers in conference semis
96-97 Jazz - lost to Bulls in Finals, Bulls were much better anyway
94-95 Jazz - lost to Rockets in first round

A theme to these: either they lost to a better team in many cases or lost to specific teams (Lakers, Celtics, Bulls) that were likely to have gone on to win and in most cases were reasonably close in competitive value. The Warriors have no one in that range. Should they be pretty healthy, I see no reason not to favor them in the playoffs.

NCAA rankings March edition

1) Kentucky 18-0
Remains pretty well ahead. The lead has shrunk slightly, mostly because of a game they gave up almost 80 points (they scored over 100).

2) Arizona 11-2-1
3) Virginia 15-1
4) Wisconsin 15-2-1
5) Villanova 16-2
6) Gonzaga 12-2
7) Duke 18-3
8) Utah  8-6

9) Oklahoma 12-8-1
10) Baylor 15-8
11) Kansas 17-6
12) North Carolina 11-9
13) Wichita St 8-3
14) Ohio St 7-8
15) Louisville 11-6
16) Iowa St 14-7

17) Notre Dame 10-5
18) Butler 9-8
19) Michigan St 7-8-2
20) Northern Iowa 7-2-1
21) Texas 7-12
22) West Virginia 11-7
23) Xavier 10-9-3
24) Georgetown 8-9
25) BYU 4-8

Ranked Teams
27) Arkansas 10-6
28) SMU 7-6
30) Maryland 12-5
75) Murray St 1-2-2

Bubble discourse
I count 10 spots that are "bubbles", that could shift and are not totally certain and locked up going into the conference tournaments this week and next, and I see 15 teams that are in bubble discussion (plus two that I ranked lower than 48th that appear to be comfortably in, Dayton and Oregon). Syracuse would be right on the cutline also except they took themselves out of post-season play for the year.

Teams
21) Texas - Big win tonight put them back in the conversation officially. Their biggest issue: they were swept by all the Big 12 bigs (Oklahoma, Iowa St, Kansas, plus Oklahoma State), the split with Baylor and West Virginia helps. Wins over Iowa and Connecticut aren't bad, but don't help enough. The big help: no losses outside of the top 50. I would say they should be in comfortably but they'll be floating on the cut line all week and will need another win at least to be safe.

25) BYU - The win over Gonzaga might put them in. Being swept by Pepperdine doesn't help (barely top 100 team). Losses to Utah and Purdue and a win over Stanford is about it on the resume otherwise. They're highly ranked because they have crushed weaker teams they were supposed to crush and didn't lose any of those games.

33) North Carolina St 11-10-2 - Win over North Carolina on the road probably puts them in but the loss to BC following it up didn't help. They've beaten Duke and Louisville in conference as well so I'd think they're perfectly safe. Losses to BC and Wake Forest hurt. They've also played a ton of quality opponents. Out of conference they've got wins over Richmond, Boise St, and Louisiana Tech and losses to Wofford, Cincinnati, and Purdue. None of these are teams that are outrageously strong, but all are quality top 100 games. They should be in easily without discussion. I'm guessing RPI is the only reason they are not. I haven't checked that wacky thing yet.

37) Davidson 6-4-2 - Not many quality wins. Win over Dayton is it. Lost to St Bonaventure and St Joe's. Probably one of the last teams out.

39) Stanford 5-7-3 - Not many quality wins here. Beat Texas in OT. Lost to DePaul (by 15?), Washington St, and Colorado, all bad losses. I don't think they qualify without at least two good wins as that's too many bad losses to overcome a win over Texas as the only good win.

43) Purdue 9-8-2 - Beat OSU, BYU, NC State, Iowa, swept Indiana, and got blown out by Notre Dame, and lost to North Florida and, somehow, Gardner Webb (both at home). I think they're safe but they could use another good win to secure it. 

45) Boise St 7-3-4 - Swept San Diego State and split with Colorado State. Losses to Utah St, Loyola, Fresno St and Wyoming. Probably in, but that's a lot of bad losses.

46) Illinois 6-10-1 - Beat Baylor, Maryland, and also Michigan St (on the road), and then Purdue also. Loss to Nebraska on the road hurts the most. This seems like it should be enough given some of the other resumes are pretty barren, but they look to be out right now.
47) Minnesota 5-10-2 - Beat Michigan St, Iowa (both on the road), and then also Georgia, Purdue, and Illinois. Lost to Northwestern at home, and Nebraska. Also probably out. In both of these two cases, the RPI is probably at issue.

48) Cincinnati 6-6-3 - Swept SMU, Beat NC State and San Diego State. Losses to Nebraska, Tulane, and East Carolina hurt. Probably in though. 

50) Miami 7-9-2 - Beat Duke (at Duke, by 16), swept by Louisville. Lots of "good" losses, such as that is. Wins over Illinois and NC State help. Got blown out by Eastern Kentucky at home as the biggest red flag. I think they should be in based on the eyeball test on the resume, but again, RPI is probably killing them.

66) Colorado St 6-2-3 - Splits with San Diego St and Boise is basically it here. Got swept by Wyoming and lost to New Mexico. Seems thin. They probably get in by having a gaudy overall record, but most of those wins were against mediocre teams. Georgia St is the best team out of conference they have played.

69) Pittsburgh 7-8-3 - Beat North Carolina and Notre Dame, swept by Louisville. Got blown out by San Diego St and NC State. Swept Syracuse. Losses to Wake Forest, Virginia Tech, and Hawaii hurt. Probably out without another win. 

72) Tulsa 6-5-1 - Zero meaningful wins. Crushed by every good team they played basically. Swept Temple. Somehow lost to Oral Roberts. Should not be in. Texas win over Baylor this evening might have moved them out. Their schedule out of the top 100 does not include any teams from the top 150, and few of those. Mostly chewing up very bad teams. If they weren't being mentioned as a bubble team I wouldn't even be tracking this team at all.

73) Temple 6-8-1 - Big win over Kansas early in the season seems to be it. They got blown out by Duke and Villanova and Cincinnati. Swept by Tulsa. What helps is the only bad loss was to St Joe's (by 2). They appear to be likely to get in.

Team that would make it based on rank but have no shot.
42) Florida 6-14-1 - Just too many losses racked up and no big wins. The loss to Missouri is baffling.

Most interesting "bubble" question that won't come up
Valparaiso vs Green Bay. Basically whoever wins the Horizon League gets in and the other is out. They're right next to each other on my rankings at 67 and 68 and I'd rather take one or both of these teams if they don't win the conference tournament than a couple of those listed above. 

24 February 2015

Focus points for secularists?

In the wake of some of the "anti-theist" business and any sniff of this being tied to violence, I thought it useful to outline some social focus points of atheists and secularists as they might apply to the lived experiences. That is: does this form of demonstration of faith actually conform to a form of oppression that demands a response, or is this form of demonstration of faith causing a form of oppression upon other people (eg, not necessarily atheists/secularists) and demand a response. And if these are in conflict, where should priorities or loyalties lie.

Some groundwork or disclosures may be of use here though first.

1) I have pretty much always been an atheist or secularist. I did not de-convert, as it were, as I was never compelled to believe in any deity. I find the concept frankly baffling that other people have had to or expend much time and energy discussing the merits of the demands of such entities (as though they could be interpreted in declarative manner anyway), or would expend much time and energy having to convince other people the entire edifice is absurd, or would expend much time and energy on the portion of life where they did share in these beliefs. This is an important distinction I expect in the level of animosity and annoyance toward the religiously inclined that I feel and the practicability of the goals as set out.

2) I also have been finding that reading many secularists or atheists I am frequently at odds with what I perceive as their projected ends, their methods, or their conclusions of truth in that they too often resemble a similar level of certainty to that brought by their adversaries and subsequently expend precious resources and time fighting relatively meaningless battles that seem to do little to advance a secular cause, or at least a humanist one. Even if we assume the goal is to make more people secularly inclined, I do not think much of this activity in punching down on religions necessarily does this and has mixed results as far as making more people inclined to so identify if they are already broadly in agreement. It may be emotionally satisfying as a project but most probably does less than we think to advance any practical and effective objections to the projects and intentions of religious groups and peoples. It tends to resemble either "group therapy" of a self congratulatory variety or picking on the dumb kid a little too often to serve any broader purpose.

If people are merely looking for the most obvious tie-ins to how people might become more secularly inclined I would suggest the following:
a) raise children who aren't explicitly brought up in, or prevented from being exposed to religious ideas. They will seek out ideas on their own, including religious concepts from theology and secular concepts from science or philosophy. Curious minds are open to questioning and looking at uncertainty as opportunity to try to learn.

b) raise children who read and have an interest in multiple faith traditions. Comparative faith exercises is unlikely to make people into affirmative believers to any particular faith tradition at the very least, and may establish a degree of tolerance.

c) most obviously start with mythology also. The stories of the Greeks and their pantheon of gods had a strong anthropological influence on whether to accept the stories of the Hebrews or the Arabs as anything distinctive. I typically find it amusing that fundamentalist Christians complain about prayer being taken out of school or trying to remove the theory of evolution and don't spend time trying to take Greek mythology out. Darwin's theory is elegant and has a variety of complicated factors owing to the multiple lines of evidence for it marshaled to support its basic claims. Most children, even teenagers, are not going to take away from it very much even if they get a decent primary education. Most children can take away from reading about Zeus that this isn't something people take seriously anymore and that religion is sort of like a comic book story. The way they start to treat the concept of Santa as they get older. And that this has implications for other religious traditions.

d) possibly read a good deal of fantasy or science fiction growing up (or watch TV/movies of same).

e) failing all of that, raise children in an explicitly and literal fundamentalist religious tradition and take your chances that any of those beliefs will survive long on contact with reality. Evidence suggests that it certainly might, depending on a level of cultural isolationism, but is much more likely to crumble than a more liberal and interpretative religious tradition. A more liberal, interpretative faith is more amorphous and vague, and undoubtedly more annoying to argue with but by those lights is also flexible enough to incorporate many secular ideals and attempt to gloss over or entirely concede areas of disagreement to work together to deal with issues of suffering, for example (in this way, it is similar to ideological disagreements).

The advantage of the more liberal, interpretative version is that it leaves room for doubt and mysteries that can be made more compatible with the empirical processes of science and the examples of human history. The more literal version requires a degree of certainty that ultimately requires rejecting far too much of reality, or deliberate attempts to seclude from its effects, to survive.

One of the first and most obvious breaks I would find is that I do not think it is worth a great deal of time arguing with religious people over theology, or attempting to de-convert people away from religious belief. I do not argue that this project has no merit, but that it has very little chance of resulting in a very broad population of people who are now rendered "faithless" and also has very little chance of replacing a Christian or Buddhist or Muslim set of ethics with something workable in a diverse and secular community. If it has any impact of generating disaffection with religion, it mostly results in a lot of people who are pissed off at organized religion instead of productively engaged in a project of moral and social exploration. To the extent I find organized religions repellent and often socially harmful, that's fine. But it's not like religion is going anywhere as a social feature of its own and the best we can do in the meantime is seek to mitigate its most destructive features instead. The project of investigating why other people are religious is interesting as an intellectual exercise and most religious people are reasonably happy to oblige in such a discussion, but suggestions that it will on its own have much impact on the minds of the involved parties are unlikely to achieve much. The argument is best used as a vehicle for others to observe the ideas or back and forth and decide, but has potentially little value to the participants themselves to illuminate errors or falsifications they are making.

Secondly. I expect this is more controversial and difficult to articulate, but the main goal and project as I see a secular ethic of requiring of an individual is in discovering what a secular ethic should or might be in the first place. Abandoning the simple world where all things are black and white and complete with moral certitude and all things are decreed as in or out of bounds by received wisdom or authority compels people to determine for themselves the utility or damage of their deeds and intentions. Aristotle's line "I have gained this from philosophy: that I do without being commanded what others do only from fear of the law." should be instructive here that we should be constantly seeking to understand how these oughts and is's are actually working, and what is demanded of us not merely in the negative sense of doing a thing because there are penalties to our non-compliance (don't kill people because you could go to jail), but advantages to a society where people do not do a thing (don't kill people because a society where people do not have to worry about being randomly killed is much more prosperous and capable of achieving a variety of ends instead of dedicating an infinite quantity of finite resources to security). I am aware there are a wide variety of secular and humanist persons, and religious persons to boot, who engage in this as a process. What I do not see is this being undertaken as a particularly public project versus making emotionally satisfying attacks on those ridiculous faithful people. The majority of attention on these concerns of how to live as a social question seems to go elsewhere, into these less useful enterprises. 

Thirdly, pick and choose battles more wisely. The black and white "this is wrong" may be true, that a behavior may be discriminatory, but is it aggressive proselytizing, or does it compel an overall social policy goal that is at odds with a secular and inclusive or diverse society. I do not much care about a diner offering a discount for prayers not because it isn't discriminatory, but because I do not see it as a sustainable business practice. I similarly do not worry very much about the question of whether a variety of discrimination should be bound up with automatic legal penalties (be they fines or other objects). I do not oppose such a project automatically either, but I find it more productive to convince more people that what they are doing is wrongful in the first place through discourse and then failing a resolution, to move toward a variety of other civil society actions (economic boycotts for instance, or publicizing the dispute, etc). Changing laws is a less flexible or adaptive approach to amending behavior that I would prefer remain reserved for the most egregious and most harmful behaviors. 

I see a strong undercurrent of people in a recent story demanding what seems like blood involving a doctor refusing her own services (but not that of the practice entirely) to a lesbian couple and their child; that the license to practice medicine should be stripped out for instance. We are in a society that is only recently shifted to a position of dominance for the practice of tolerance or acceptance toward homosexuals and the families they may (now) seek to create as adults. We can perhaps afford to be relatively charitable in how people who are still uncertain or intolerant should be treated in how they come to terms with that society. This is hardly an atypical story within secular circles for how many react to it, with demands for heads on spikes. I see such a reaction as sometimes overblown and sometimes necessary and there does not appear to be as much flexibility in how we choose which principles must be applied with rigidity and force (state action if necessary) and which can be achieved through other methods of persuasion, or at least much less force. Much of living in a diverse society is learning how to deal with people who will ultimately disagree about something. That something may be very important, say whether a country should go to war against a perceived enemy or how criminals should be punished for serious crimes, or even what constitutes a serious crime, or it may be moderately important, say an appropriate tax policy or set of reforms, or it may be fairly trivial, as in which sporting team is best and what kinds of foods we enjoy. 

What becomes visible in noting that people disagree is that they also disagree over what sets of things are or should be prioritized. Vegetarians may or may not place great importance on whether other people share in this practice, for example, and internal divisions between say, vegans and vegetarians can become visible over these as priorities. Environmentalists likewise may have a variety of views that to oppose makes one no longer a presentable member of the group, expelled from that society for not appropriately being concerned with nuclear power or GMOs or fracking and by this favoring a set of policy proposals. Similarly religious organizations and traditions have a long history of disposing themselves in the process of declaring other groups to be heretics. The issue is not necessarily that such groups divest some portion of time and efforts on defining what the parameters of membership within their groups are, but that the visible and ugly process of disagreement over what the parameters of membership often becomes a means of dissuading others to join in shared goals and no longer makes identification with a group palatable, either because the group appears to demand (but usually not actually demand) a certain set of fealty to a certain set of ideas in an unreasonable way. This is one reason I do not worry very much about ISIS since it spends an enormous quantity of its time killing other Muslims for these putative heresies in acts of brutal tribalism. This is appalling morally but a self-limiting and self-defeating principle for advancing any of its other aims to control territory outside of a limited base of support that declarations of it as a threat to national security seem obviously overblown. Or else because the group spends too much time engaging in this project of self-cleansing itself of heathens and their radical ideas to actually advance any of the plausibly useful and interesting notions it claims to actually support of its own (modern Republicans/conservatives and their agendas versus say, libertarians with a variety of civil rights concerns). 

"Atheist" in a similar fashion has been expending a lot of energy as a movement at times debasing itself in public by having prominent members who are often too inflexible and averse to nuance in public statements, and by this weakness often evincing a level of incuriousness toward questions of oppression or subjugation of other groups, such as say, women or minorities, both within the greater society and even within the community, such as it is, of like-minded atheists and secularists. Other atheists even commonly argue that these are not required projects for atheists to concern themselves with, or that a project of humanism does not require us to distinguish these as unusual problems to proliferate our work toward alleviating. To an extent this is true. The problems identified in feminism or racism in society are a human problem, but to gloss over these as effectively unimportant or unworthy of effort, perhaps because there are bigger fish to fry elsewhere or because we believe there might be more important matters is not an effective solution either. The problem does not disappear because we may want to close our eyes to it. It clings on to us then as a situation we may ignore until it is dangerously myopic in what we have instead focused upon. Civil societies have often attempted to set aside such issues as slavery, racism or religious intolerance, the status of women, of homosexuals, or even more basic concerns as the issues of economic opportunity generally to young people, or the care of the elderly and infirm, or the conduct of the justice system and its agents, and so on only to find that these issues again and again become too pressing to ignore. The situation now in Iraq comes about in part because a government there sought to repress a religious group and the religious group sought affirmation in agents that were willing to fight back. By any means necessary. 

This is not to say that we as a society or as a subset within it with distinctive cultural goals should be automatically attentive to any and all claims of complaint and grievance by others, or raised by other members internal to our aims. Rather, that we should not so easily become dismissive to say "well that's not a real problem" or "that's not worth my time". Sometimes it will not be, sometimes it most definitely is. Not all of these claims will be legitimate and need to be respected as such or not always will we be in a position to help. Even if our goal and wish is only to advance concerns of our own that others do not (yet) share it can be beneficial to take up other interests that we could or might share with others that we may otherwise disagree. As a human being, these are often worthy debates to plunge into and try to understand, as it may be shown with the questions of what motivates religious belief above. It may not emerge from that understanding that a thing can be done, or at least that the things that others think are necessary can be done or will resolve our concerns. But without at least some attention, human beings can be perceived as callous and indifferent to the sufferings of others. Libertarians or economic conservatives are often so-labeled where a question on say, an economic inequality arises. It is in fact, incumbent on interested people to identify this question as a situation of note, and whether or not it requires particular solutions then becomes an experimental or empirical question on whether those solutions would resolve it and at what cost or whether some other concept would work better, and then a values question on whether that resolution is worth the cost or whether the solution is needed. One of the weaknesses I see commonly committed is a degree not merely of indifference and incuriousness to these concerns of others, forgivable if sometimes regrettable, but active intolerance toward the idea that such and such a problem is even worth any attention at all by anyone at all. Other people have taken up these issues as their concerns. We may be able to convince them that their concerns are invalidated by evidence (unlikely), or at least convince others that these concerns are wacky and foolish, but we are not at liberty to decide these are concerns that are out of bounds. 

To take a more extreme example. I do not agree with pro-life advocates who protest at clinics and their behaviors or claims should be met by others who disagree. But I also recognize they have firm convictions on which they think their claims rest and for which they are willing to do a great manner of sometimes ridiculous things. There are all manner of arenas in life for which other people have decided "this thing really matters to me". So we have arguments over children and child-rearing. We have arguments over cooking or ethical farming. Over trade, over taxes, over carbon emissions, and on and on. Some of these arguments are based upon incomplete or ineffective reasoning and data, or made out of understandable but misplaced fears. Some are based upon quite reasonable fears but out of ideological malice toward specific outcomes. The point is not that all of these arguments possess a truth making them of equal merit for our speculation and attention. The point is that we don't really get to declare that they are of no merit to anyone at all. We don't care about it and are not persuaded by others that we should, and maybe we can offer up what might convince us that we should at worst to occupy time and attention instead of some other thing, or what might convince us ourselves not to concern ourselves overly with that other thing. For a secularist in a society of religious persons and the influence of religion still being quite expansive upon laws and what things are determined by laws, these are questions that should concern us I would think from a strategic perspective. Is it really worth spending that much time trying to get Christians to stop putting up a display at Christmas (despite the obvious legal and moral implications of the state doing so if it goes up at a public building, where this issue is concentrated), maybe, maybe not is a big deal. It seems more pertinent that we have a justice system built upon concepts of retribution rather than rehabilitation and is thus overly punitive (even by the assessment of its people), or a set of laws that punish consensual behaviors (vice laws), but perhaps those are not actually projects that should concern a secular people to amend. I would argue most secularists and indeed most members of a civil society should be concerned with those things, but this isn't surprising. Those are things I care quite a lot about already. 

It is the effects of having a large quantity of Christians in a society practicing their perspective of what Christian ideas and dogma are that concern me more than the insidious ways that they attempt to legitimize a position of state recognition. If their religious beliefs were not harmful in the impact on public policy, I wouldn't care very much if they try to promote them. As such I care more about what precisely they are trying to promote than that they are promoting it or attempting to. As with most things, I am concerned much more with what the effects of the story are than that there was a story being told. If a thing doesn't work, the utilitarian calculus I feel that public policy demands us to make when assessing these various goals and interests in governing how society is run and by what rules it abides suggests we throw it out and find something that does. In observing the behavior of many, but by no means most or all, atheists and secularists, I find myself often concerned that these are often a people not very concerned with what actually results from not being too concerned with the story that attempting to do something projects, a valid concern for political questions when trying to convince disinterested parties to get involved also, and also not being too concerned with whether attempting to do something actually has the intended impact, a valid concern for political questions when trying to make a functional society. 

That to me leads to me to question what it is that other atheists and secularists are concerned about in the first place if they're apparently not concerned with outcomes and they're not concerned with process.