Archive for January, 2020

Ride-hailing services won’t be accessible to all | Vancouver Sun

Tuesday, January 21st, 2020

I think it was with good reason that BC has been slow to allow ride-hailing services to undercut the service provided by well-regulated and market controlled taxis and encourage people to jump into cars with random unvetted strangers. But I would have thought that after years of delay they would have come up with something better than this!

Source: Ride-hailing services won’t be accessible to all | Vancouver Sun

Other jurisdictions which were quicker to allow these services (such as Toronto) managed to include a guaranteed minimum percentage of accessible vehicles so how did BC manage to fuck it up so badly?

Something to Celebrate!

Tuesday, January 21st, 2020

It may be a “one off” in the light of recent Canadian and US decisions but let’s hope that whether or not it gets overruled this marks the trend in global jurisprudence.

Source: Swiss Judge Acquits Credit Suisse Protestors – The Energy Mix

And of course there’s also evidence that some financial leaders are thinking it might well be.

Choosing Death

Wednesday, January 15th, 2020

Interesting article with good comments

Source: If you could choose, what would make for a good death? | Aeon Essays

Spurious Appeals to “Science”

Sunday, January 12th, 2020

Sex is complicated. Some plants require the cooperation of more than two different gametes to produce a viable seed, and some animals live parts of their lives as male and part as female while others switch sex according to chemical signals in their environment and others are hermaphroditic (and in some cases even capable of self-fertilization) while yet others are capable of parthogenesis (by means of forgoing meiosis). Among humans true hermaphrodism is rare but not unknown (though not sfaik with evidence of fertility in both directions), and various other intersex body forms can arise from genetic abnormality or fetal environment. Even more common than intersex bodies are the cases in which behavior is different from the norm for the apparent body type and/or genome. This includes both cases of gender dysphoria and exclusive homosexuality (with the latter being so common as to apply to on the order of 10% of all humans). The range of secondary sex-related characteristics is of course huge – with bearded women and breasted men being far more common than is visible after the adjustments of depilation, makeup, and clothing. Not to mention the range of other physical attributes, sensitivities, and attitudes, which, despite perhaps being distributed bi-modally with high correlation to apparent sex, are nonetheless of such variance that sex is a poor (and in any case inappropriate) predictor.

Getting back to the two most highly correlated variables (namely chromosome pattern and externally apparent genital structure), they do indeed define two non-overlapping clusters in the multi-dimensional spectrum of human sex types which almost encompass the entire species.

Because of the dominance of these two particular clusters  and because of the correlation of these clusters with variation in physical size strength and aggression (and maybe other factors as well) those who identify with the “weaker” sex may feel at risk or disadvantage when exposed to the other group in vulnerable situations or in athletic competition. As a result, certain facilities and competitions are segregated, but then the question arises of how to deal with those who, for physical or psychological reasons, don’t fit into one of those two clusters.

Some people feel genuine terror at the prospect of entering an almost exclusively male environment (especially one involving public nudity) and others feel equally genuine terror at the prospect of not having certain spaces free from people who have penises (or in some extreme cases even from people who have some secondary male characteristics despite being biologically clearly female).

Some people who have changed their social presentation want to engage in sports in the category that they identify with, but many women feel that it is unfair to have to compete athletically with people who have the advantage of having grown through adolescence with typically male bodies and hormones.

These are not easy issues to resolve, but calling the latter groups above a derogatory term like TERF (or “bigoted fuckface”) is offensive – and so too is insisting on calling the former men and referring to them with male pronouns when that is easily avoided. (My personal preference is to refer to a person by whatever pronoun she or he prefers, but if someone feels unable to do that I don’t object so long as some other way is found of avoiding the pronouns that are known to be hurtful.)

Unfortunately both sides in the “debate” are most wrong when they claim that “science” supports their view.

YES it is true that, in humans, sex is almost always binary and immutable, BUT it is not always that way and it is certainly not a universal pattern in biology.

YES there is a (multi-dimensional) spectrum of sexual categories, BUT if anything, this contradicts the idea that one not in one of the two dominant categories can be appropriately assigned to one of them (either just by declaration or by some other means).

Science does not tell us how to behave, and in particular it does not tell us how to respond to people’s desire to appropriate an identity in a way that others feel is inappropriate. What we need for that is empathy, caring, and maybe a bit of wisdom.


The first principle is that you must not fool yourself – Butterflies and Wheels

Tribal Skepticism (in the Age of Gender Ideology)

Using Phony Science to Justify Transphobia

What is happening at Unist’ot’en?

Sunday, January 12th, 2020

With regard to the question of who speaks for the nation with regard to the use of its land, one answer is provided in this video:

But although the existence of a competing claim from the elected band council is acknowledged, its validity is denied without including any of their voices. And although I might prefer the position of the hereditary chiefs from an environmental perspective, I also feel strongly that hereditary (or other) authority has no legitimacy anywhere unless it is regularly endorsed by a clear mandate from the majority of the people whose lives and land it claims authority over.

If the people accept that authority, let them say so in a way that is clearly unforced like a secret ballot. Any claim to represent them without that is just as invalid as that which used to be made by the hereditary chiefs of my own homeland (where it took a civil war and a beheading to start the process of reform – which was slower but less bloody than those required in many other places).

For more perspectives see this G&M opinion piece and this from BIV

Moral Foundations

Friday, January 10th, 2020

Biased presentation of a potentially good idea

Using the Moral Foundations Questionnaire, Haidt and Graham found that libertarians are most sensitive to the proposed Liberty foundation,[4] liberals are most sensitive to the Care and Fairness foundations, while conservatives are equally sensitive to all five/six foundations.[6] Joshua Greene argued however that liberals tend to emphasise the Care, Fairness and Liberty dimensions; conservatives the Loyalty, Authority and Sanctity dimensions.[17]

Source: Moral foundations theory – Wikipedia

What I find a bit offensive about Haidt’s version is the failure to recognize that the scales used to measure responses to the different “foundations” are independent.  There is really no meaning to the claim that conservatives are “equally sensitive” to all of them while liberals are “most” sensitive to the Care and Fairness foundations, since just changing the survey questions to include more extreme examples of Sanctity violations and more modest ones of Care and Fairness would have produced results showing equal response from liberals and a bias towards Sanctity among conservatives.

Also the whole model fails to distinguish between sensitivity and moral judgement.

For example I may feel disgust at things that I do not feel are morally wrong, and indeed there are cases where I may consider my disgust at something to be a moral failing on my part.

Similarly, with regard to group loyalty, I may feel that (except for the obligation to honour voluntarily accepted commitments) it is not a virtue because it limits the scope of our willingness to care for others.

Indeed if I were to adopt Haidt’s metrics then I might say that they indicate that conservatives lack a moral compass and just judge as morally good whatever pleases them, whereas liberals can distinguish between what they like and what is good. But that would be abusing the data so I won’t do it.


Can Renewables Suffice?

Monday, January 6th, 2020

A Tyee debate:

It Bears Repeating: Renewables Alone Won’t End the Climate Crisis | The Tyee

Memo from a Climate Crisis Realist: The Choice before Us | The Tyee

Don’t Call Me a Pessimist on Climate Change. I Am a Realist | The Tyee

OK Doomer | The Tyee

Other sources:

Jacobson et al

My analysis to follow (maybe)

More on Philosophical Expertise

Monday, January 6th, 2020

In the recent Aeon essay Is there anything especially expert about being a philosopher? , David Egan draws an analogy between the relationships between philosophical and scientific expertise and between acting and music. I found it interesting and potentially relevant to the ongoing furore about whether physicists “need” the help of philosophers. But am still struggling with how it fits into the mix.


Saturday, January 4th, 2020

Aeon has re-circulated an essay from last March which claims that belief in meritocracy is harmful without even identifying exactly what “meritocracy” is. In order not to be accused of the same omission I will identify a meritocracy as a social context in which power, wealth and/or other rewards are determined primarily by some kind of objectively measurable and universally recognized “merit”. There are of course many potential measures of both merit and power/reward, and so there are also many different kinds of meritocracy. The Aeon article appears to be concerned mainly with rewards of material wealth, and with merit as some vaguely defined combination of innate talent and hard work but it doesn’t explicitly say so and does not acknowledge any alternatives (such as those which apply in the academic world for example).

Another major problem with that article is that, despite claiming to make the distinction between reality and aspiration, it ends up nonetheless using arguments that conflate “belief in meritocracy” as a goal and as an opinion about the existing state of affairs. It starts by proclaiming the distinction and discussing the latter, but its main goal is to denounce the former and its arguments in that direction are where the conflation occurs.

Those who believe that we actually live in a meritocracy may indeed be unsympathetic to those who are less well off (and I am not unaware of the problem that if we actually did live in a meritocracy that might lead to an undesirable level of unconcern); but in fact we obviously do NOT live in a true meritocracy (where wealth and power are determined primarily by some kind of objectively measurable and universally recognized “merit”), and so the opinion of anyone who thinks we do is, to say the least, suspect (and I hope not representative of what would actually be the response of most people if we actually did live in such a meritocracy).

But the article then goes on to assert that having meritocracy as a goal also leads to hardening of unfair discriminatory attitudes. Some of the referenced research does seem to correlate a hardening of attitudes with a belief in the goal of meritocracy, but even in that research, not enough effort seems to have been made to clarify the distinction between what is desired and what is believed to be real – nor to discount the effect on one’s attitudes of thinking about an ideal alternate world without focusing on it’s difference from our own. In particular, for example, in the study by Castilla and Benard which “found that, ironically, attempts to implement meritocracy leads to just the kinds of inequalities that it aims to eliminate” the “companies that explicitly held meritocracy as a core value” may have followed the usual corporate practice of asserting that one embodies a value and expecting everyone to agree rather than admitting that one does not actually embody that value and working to identify and correct deficiencies.

I actually suspect that a fairly subtle change of wording in some of the questions in those surveys might have had a dramatic effect on the responses and “conclusions”. (And most of what passes as social science “research” these days is similarly worthless because of the ease with which minor changes in protocol can be used to manipulate whatever outcome one desires to “prove”.)

What in my opinion is harmful about belief in a certain kind of meritocratic ideal is the lack of concern for the hardships of those we judge to be less deserving. But the belief that only those with some level of merit deserve a reasonable life is only a particular kind of meritocracy and there is no indication that holding to a kinder form leads one towards the more cruel. Leaving aside the tedious debates about whether the real Bill Gates fortune is due primarily more to talent or to luck, there is no need for a meritocracy which permits such wealth to deny the provision of a respectable floor below which no person’s wealth is allowed to fall.