Thursday, January 31, 2013

Alive! Gay Pro Life And The Minority Report

It's been some time since we discussed the suspicious @ProLifeAtheists. Unusually for an atheist group, the most common adjective their followers used to describe themselves was 'Catholic', with only two profiles containing the word 'atheist'. Cardinal Dolan and David Quinn featured high on the list of accounts the group felt worthy of following. In short it seemed rather a poor choice for those who posit significant numbers of atheists who oppose abortion. You're welcome to read the post for background.

This post has been rather popular. In fact it's my most popular post of all time, and I was touched by the genuine interest and excitement around the investigation. A recent spike in visits to the post (over 2,000 in one day last week, my thanks to @glinner) caused me to wonder if the masterminds between this cunning deception might have targeted other groups unpopular with American Republicans to create the impression of diverse support.

So I checked.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Hamza Tzortzis, Quantum Fluctuations and the Draft Excluder

I had contact from Muslim apologist Hamza Tzortis last week. He accused me of "childish tactics", said my agenda was "mockery", and asked if I was "always going to be relying on mockery and ridicule".

This requires some background. Back in 2010, Hamza posted what he said was his response to the God Delusion. In February 2012 I came across it and discovered that it bore a remarkable similarity to the work of Christian apologist William Lane Craig. It's rather clear plagiarism; I've placed quotes side by side so you can see for yourself. Have a quick skim, the remainder of this post will make more sense if you do.

Some folk and I attempted to bring this post to Hamza's attention, but it was only when PZ Myers covered the story in June 2012 that sufficient publicity was generated to warrant appropriate citations. To my mind a public apology to Craig would also be appropriate.

I feel I should give Hamza's interpretation of events. He denied any similarities. At least twice. Then he added citations. Now he describes it as an oversight, and would have us believe that he read Craig, reworded Craig (introducing errors in the process) and posted this rewording with the full intention of returning to it at a later date to include citations, before forgetting that he'd reworded Craig and then being of the mistaken impression that the articles were different, followed by remembering and including citations. As the head of research for the Islamic Education and Research Academy it seems rather poor research to leave such an error uncorrected for over two years.

Pro Life Atheist Guest Post

Some time ago, after exposing @ProLifeAtheists as an AstroTurf account, I decided to offer any Irish atheist who wished to write about their opposition to legislating on X a guest post to express their views.

I'm pleased to announce I've had a volunteer. He's sent me a draft, I hope to publish either tomorrow or Friday.

For those who have eagerly enquired to the status of the post I offer this debate on abortion between Matt Dillahunty and Kristine Kruszelnicki. Both are atheists. Hopefully this will tide you over till I publish!
Also, as flyingteacosy and I are exposing another AstroTurf account on Thursday, you may wish to brace yourself for another call for guest posts.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Pro Life Campaign and Preferences for Political Parties

Photo by Andrew Flood
Creative Commons
Much noise is made of a vast, anti abortion groundswell against Fine Gael from former ardent supporters. These thronging masses, we're told, are best characterised by their support of the ostensibly Irish group @ProLifeCampaign.

If only there were some way to gauge the following of a specific Twitter account. Perhaps through some sort of programming or scripting language. In a manner that might, say, output the relevant information in human readable format, and suggest which politicians were favoured.

My first check was to pull details of the followers of @FineGaelToday and compare with that of @ProLifeCampaign. There was a 2.2% crossover. Is this an adequate counter to @ProLifeCampaign's claims? Perhaps not. Some Fine Gael tweeps may only follow their local TDs. It's conceivable that some of them would follow no Fine Gael accounts, though over @ProLifeCampaign's 5,721 followers I would not expect that condition to be exclusively expressed.

So I checked every account followed by more than five of @ProLifeCampaign's followers.

When I did I found that the twelfth most popular account followed by @ProLifeCampaign's followers is, indeed, a politician. A man who celebrates his Catholic faith, is considered right wing, represents a major party and is proud of his Irish heritage. I speak of course of failed Republican candidate for vice president Paul Ryan.

Perhaps this is an unfair cheap shot - Paul Ryan is not the most popular politician on this list. For that we must move up the rankings to examine the man who occupies fourth slot, a Mr Mitt Romney. Despite an exhaustive search of the Fine Gael website I was unable to ascertain which constituency he represented. Perhaps he is new? Do let me know in the comments.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Why Am I Pro Choice?

I promised in an earlier post to provide some positive arguments for the pro choice position. It won't be possible to cover all cases and scenarios in one sitting, but allow me to make a start. This change of material may be spectacularly ill-judged. I have something of a niche in Twitter analysis and (dare I say it) investigative research, undoubtedly the primary draw to this corner of the internet, and switching to an area in which I hold no special skill may lose me a follower or two.

Do stick around though. I have something special planned for the end of the week involving a considerable number of pie charts.

What Is Pro Choice?

To my mind the population is divided into those who feel a woman's reproductive cycle should be governed by society, and those who feel that individuals of the female persuasion are best placed to make decisions involving their own bodies. I consider the latter pro choice, and the former anti choice. It is only fair to remark that the anti choice grouping contains subgroups that would likely violently oppose each other. Supporters of China's one child policy with its attendant forced abortions clearly favour state control of wombs. Closer to home but further back in time, those who wished to restrict child benefit payments for third and subsequent children of Northern Irish parents mixed an urge to influence women's reproductive wishes with their anti-Catholic bias. Societies that pressure women to have abortions or commit infanticide until they are pregnant with a male are similarly an anathema to the pro choice position. They belong rightly on the side of those who judge reproduction unsuitable for a woman to govern without outside intervention.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Caroline Simons and the Mobile Death Squads

Absent a commitment to fact checking or citing sources, many anti choice groups in Ireland are freed to produce prodigious verbiage. Lacking the dollars to employ staff we pro choice bloggers must focus our spare time and efforts on a select few; sadly, many of their contributions pass us by unchallenged.

It was with regret that I chose to overlook a blog post on the Netherlands by Caroline Simons. In an effort to accommodate those with a conscientious objection to performing euthanasia, travelling doctors fill the gap. This desire to respect the beliefs of those with a religious or other objection to helping others end their lives with dignity put Caroline Simons in mind of mobile death squads.

That this description and accompanying questionable figures has gone thus far unrebuked left me saddened. It was therefore with some delight that I received an e-mail from Graeme Lawton (pictured). He's a British expatriate, and describes himself as "living in the Netherlands for the past 21 years, married to a Dutch national and immersed in the culture and a follower of religion based politics and discourse." His combination of local knowledge and a superior commitment to research enables him to counteract many of the statements offered.

But I go on too long. Do enjoy Graeme's article.

I've been following Geoff for a while having seen his word cloud on Stephen Law's blogsite (whom I admire as a philosopher).  I really like the demographic analysis of the clouds and as I have read his articles, I am impressed with his courteous manner and insight.  Consequently, I have been following what the main protagonists have been saying in the Irish debate of abortion laws.  I don't want to stick my oar in there to be honest.  It's a matter for the Irish people and as Geoff has highlighted, religious lobbying seems to be taking place from within America in order to affect the outcome of the debate.  I wouldn't want to be part of that.

But my interest lead to me wondering who Caroline Simons was and what was all the fuss about some video in which she denied appearing.  I "Googled" her and found her blogsite.  I was immediately impressed with a quote placed on the homepage:
‘The law doth punish man or woman
That steals the goose from off the common,
But lets the greater felon loose
That steals the common from the goose.‘                                                                                              
I like that a lot.  In the current climate of banking scandals, one can appreciate the sentiments in this delightful ditty.

I navigated to the page "About Caroline" but found nothing at all saying what she does or stands for. I did notice in the Google results that she is a solicitor. (That impressed me.  I began to think that here was someone who knew the importance of fairness, honesty and representation). Her FAQ page was also bereft of information.  So I clicked on the Blog title and scanned the article headings that appeared.  Quickly, the title "‘Quietus’ in Holland - Mobile Death Squads" caught my eye.  The reason for this is the fact that I live and work for some time now, in the Netherlands (I am British (English)).  Mobile Death Squads?  In the Netherlands?  My word!  I was astonished.  The title itself conjured up images of jack-booted, leather-clad thugs marching around and drowning the elderly in buckets of water.  I didn't know what Quietus was nor was I at all aware of what Mobile Death Squads had to do with the Netherlands.  Did it perhaps relate to the occupation years of 1940 - 45?

So, with some trepidation and lurid interest, I began to read the article.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

In Defence of Catholics and Choice

Yesterday's Pro Choice Planning day afforded me the honour of meeting many speakers and activists. I was able to put faces to Twitter handles and meet in person people I already considered friends. Geraldine Kennedy was kind enough to say she enjoys my blog. I remain starstruck. Still, of all the people I spoke to that day the one who's been most in my thoughts is Brigid.

It's not her real name. I recall our longest conversation: she took me aside and with near painful shyness said she'd rather not have her picture taken, "in case people back home found out". Before that I'd offered her a newspaper. She seemed to have arrived alone and made quickly for the rear row of seats. I read her as nervous; a woman of my parent's generation in a room that at the time leaned heavily towards those in their twenties. She seemed determined to do something but worried of ramifications. We'd been briefed of potential anti abortion disruptions.

She sat quietly through the initial presentation. Then came questions and answers, with her hesitantly raising her hand and then thinking the better of it. A few questions from others saw her resolve returned and she asked for the microphone. Finding her voice she told us she is a mass-going Catholic, how she is pro choice, and how hard it can be for her believing abortion to be a matter of personal conscience in a setting so hostile to the expression of such views. The Irish Pro Choice movement does not do free buses;  Brigid had travelled considerable distance at her own expense to be able to freely state her position.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Who Is More Reasonable?

It's often hard to have a dispassionate conversation about legislating on X, and one could be forgiven for thinking that those against abortion rights in Ireland have chosen to capitalise on this. The language used is selected for its ability to elicit an emotional response - for fetus they say unborn child, for blastocyst they say person with potential, and to describe the debate we're currently almost having they use the term literal tsunami of death. Their choice of images also falls foul of this criticism - be it faked pictures of late-term abortions or smiling, cherub-like babies the appeal to emotion is obvious.

True, facts are used, but more often than not they're flat out wrong. Pro Life Campaign's most recent video culminates in an impassioned speech saying that Ireland is the world leader in maternal healthcare. Now I see no need to rest on such laurels and avoid providing doctors with the legal clarity needed to perform lifesaving operations, but a more significant counterargument is that their statement is untrue. We are not the world leader in maternal healthcare, a fact that can hardly have escaped those behind Pro Life Campaign, and it's hard to take them seriously when such gross inaccuracies are present. It would be like their chairperson forgetting they were in a video with a group that promotes gay conversion 'therapy' while falsely associating vaccinations and autism.

These groups tend to say they represent the majority opinion in Ireland despite 64% of Irish people favouring legislation on X. It's also instructive to note that their supporters on Twitter seem overwhelmingly to be American Republicans, not to my mind a group that should have significant representation in Irish affairs.

Inaccuracies and misstatements aside, is there a downside to leaning on emotional argument? I think there is.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Who are the Coalition for Marriage? And Why I Support Marriage Equality

The Coalition For Marriage are dedicated to ensuring that two men or two women in love cannot avail of the same societal recognition of their commitment enjoyed by my wife and I. Curious about the group, I pulled the Twitter biographies of each of their followers and put them in a word cloud:

Click if you'd like a larger version. Remember, these are the words followers of Coalition for Marriage choose to describe themselves, and more frequently used words appear larger. You'll note that 'Husband' is larger than 'wife', indicating significantly more self-described husbands as wives. With that I wondered what sort of gender balance their followers had. I can estimate this with reasonable accuracy based on first names of the followers. By separating the Micks from the Marys I found the following:

Male 72% Female 28%
It seems marriage equality may be an uncomfortable dinner table subject: the preponderance of husbands and paucity of wives indicates that these men often do not enjoy the support of their partners.