Posts Tagged ‘ethics’

Lies, damn lies, Same Sex Marriage and press responsibility

September 25, 2017

Should there be some requirement for “letters to the editor” to be fact-checked? What is the editorial responsibility if letters misrepresent the law?

Re—–
Subject: Editorial irresponsibility
Date: Sun, 24 Sep 2017 12:29:40 +0800

To: letters@sundaytimes.com.au

Dear Editor,

In “Your Say” 24 September, Leslie L Cummings suggested that same sex marriage imperils children, Andre Nel claimed that homophobic bullying is a “red herring,” and ID Smith claimed that legal marriage is required for access to IVF, artificial insemination, and adoption. As the “Indicative Survey” is being seen as a serious vote, and as anti-SSM speakers are verging on calls for children to be removed from same-sex couples, I feel it is irresponsible of your paper to print these letters without an associated factual article citing:

– the statistics which show greater psychological and physical
well-being in children raised by same-sex couples (the opponents of SSM generally cite stats from single-parent families to show ill-effects of lack of one gender in the house),

– recent reports of bullying at school of children of same-sex couples because their parents “shouldn’t have children” or are “unnatural,”

– statements of the legal situation in the various States of Australia, for example, lesbian couples can now start a family using IVF in every state and territory in Australia except the NT. 2014 Australian Census data indicate that 12% of same-sex couples have children (3 % of male couples.)

The amount of spreading of false statements about the welfare of
children and the rights to adoption and parenting is nearing
vilification. I hope someone whose children are bullied, or whose house is vandalised, brings a case under the protective legislation.

FYI, I am in an over-30-year hetero relationship, and have 4 admirable adult children. So no homophobic hatemail, thanks.

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When political activism is triggered by falsehoods, what do we do?

November 6, 2016
I was curious about the alleged blasphemy which had been reported as triggering violent protest in Indonesia – none of our local news services cited the inflammatory words.
A bit of googling found several sites saying that it was because a Christian Governor had had electoral opponents citing the Koran to say Islamic believers should not vote for a non-Muslim, and he had responded that the voters were being misled by the use of the Koran verse. More digging found:

According to sites including the Sydney Morning Herald, some Islamic groups had urged voters not to re-elect Ahok, citing verse 51 from the fifth sura or chapter of the Koran, al-Ma’ida, which some interpret as prohibiting Muslims from living under the leadership of a non-Muslim. It is often translated as:

“5:51 O ye who believe! take not the Jews and the Christians for your friends: They are but friends to each other. And he amongst you that turns to them is of them. Verily Allah guideth not a people unjust.”

Others say the scripture should be understood in its context – making allies a time of war – and not interpreted literally – its context excludes those who respect the ways and beliefs of Islam. e.g. http://www.answering-christianity.com/sami_zaatri/friends.htm and http://seekershub.org/ans-blog/2009/09/07/friendship-with-non-muslims-explaining-verse-551/

I wondered whether it was extreme sensitivity to allegations of anti-Muslim bias which led the newspaper and TV  reports I came across to avoid dealing with the misinterpretation of sacred words as a basis for violence. If so, it is a pity – much of the world’s politics is shaped by invincible ignorance or deliberate lies, and we really need some mechanism for dealing with that.

This is a serious topic which has not been addressed by our parties’ policies.  It is time we wrote to our representatives and called for legislative action to protect the ignorant from falsehoods in the political arena as well as in the commercial world.  Maybe even time to picket or pillory those who are caught out misleading the public.  If they should have known better, if they could have checked with reputable experts, if they chose to speak from ignorance while acting as demagogues – they are as culpable as if they had lied.

In this case it is worse than usual, as the protests could be used by those already nervously aware of the Koran’s approach to those who are not of the Christian or Jewish faiths (why not to be an active atheist or pagan in Indonesia or Dubai…) to fear that Muslims could be led to vote for radical candidates purely on the basis of their faith, and thus destabilise our political system.

What I wrote and what they printed 09 Nov 14

November 9, 2014

Mind you, I didn’t mind all their changes.  A few were good.  Guess which ones I would accept …

What I wrote:

Is terrorism the right word?

In response to the abuse of Muslim people and vandalism of places seen as mosques:

In my time, Hindus, Buddhists, and Christians have oppressed and killed people for having the wrong religion – or the wrong branch of a religion.  Israeli soldiers stood by while Christians came and slaughtered mostly Moslem refugees in a refugee camp. The USA will not accept a non-Christian president, and say that atheists cannot be trusted. Should they be abused and their holy places vandalised?

Every belief system has extremists who (often from deep belief) attempt to force their beliefs on others.  Most religion have aspects of the holy texts and related traditions which evil can use to lead others to horrible action. Catholics and Protestants burned each other at the stake, remember.  Every religion also has people who use only the parts of the creed which lead to tolerance and the best human actions.

I think we could adopt the word “daeshi” to mean “bigot who imposes their views on others.”  (It helps that the Islamic extremists hate the word.) I think that the current “anti-terrorism” actions should be reworded to be “anti-daeshi”, thus making the offence one of promoting the denial of freedom of belief for those one disagrees with, not one of planning violence.  (Yes, a limitation – with criminal penalty – on freedom of religion and cultural tradition.)

Similarly, I think that members of any sect which oppresses others when in power, or which state that they will do so, should be denied refugee status unless they abjure the part of their creed which denies others equal rights regardless of religious belief.

What they printed:

changes in red

Every religion has its oppressors and bigots.

In response to the abuse of Muslim people and vandalism of places seen as mosques, in my time Hindus, Buddhists, and Christians have oppressed and killed people for having the wrong religion – or the wrong branch of a particular religion.

NP Israeli soldiers stood by while Christians came and slaughtered mostly Moslem refugees in a refugee camp.

NP The USA will not accept a non-Christian president, and say that atheists cannot be trusted. Should they be abused and their holy places vandalised?

Every belief system has extremists who (deleted: often from deep belief) attempt to force their beliefs on others.

NP Most religions have aspects of the (was “their”) holy texts and related traditions that (was “which” ) evil can use to lead others to horrible actions.

NP Catholics and Protestants burned each other at the stake, remember.

NP Every religion also has people who use only the parts of the creed which lead to tolerance and the best human actions.

Deleted all of para: I think we could adopt the word “daeshi” to mean “bigot who imposes their views on others.”  (It helps that the Islamic extremists hate the word.) I think that the current “anti-terrorism” actions should be reworded to be “anti-daeshi”, thus making the offence one of promoting the denial of  freedom of belief for those one disagrees with, not one of planning violence.  (Yes, a limitation – with criminal penalty – on freedom of religion and cultural tradition.)

Deleted:  Similarly, I think that) members of any sect who oppress (was:  which oppresses) others when in power (deleted: , or which state that they will do so) ,  should be denied refugee status unless they abjure the part of their creed which denies others equal rights regardless of religious belief.

 

This example free for use in discussion of style, Newspaper editing,  and the politics of free speech.

A quote that got me wondering – and where I went from there.

October 14, 2014

The quote:

I decided to track down the source of an often quoted bit of “Children of Dune” by Frank Herbert:
When I am weaker than you, I ask you for freedom because that is according to your principles; when I am stronger than you, I take away your freedom because that is according to my principles.
 “Quand je suis le plus faible, je vous demande la liberté parce que tel est votre principe; mais quand je suis le plus fort, je vous l’ôte, parce que tel est le mien.”
Conversation avec Augustin Cochin.
but in French Wikipedia it says
Pierre Pierrard explique que cette phrase a été mise dans la bouche de Louis Veuillot par Montalembert sous la forme « Quand les libéraux sont au pouvoir, nous leur demandons la liberté, parce que c’est leur principe, et, quand nous sommes au pouvoir, nous la leur refusons, parce que c’est le nôtre.»  et citée le 3 juin 1876 à l’Assemblée nationale par Jules Ferry.  Elle a depuis, sous des formes changeantes, été constamment r.épétée bien que dès le 6 juin suivant Veuillot eût protesté et affirmé que cette phrase n’était pas de lui.
– that is, he probably didn’t say it.  But people in 1876 thought it was worth having him say it.

 Where I went from there

 Many countries have signed the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees

the term “refugees” applies to any person who:

“Owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.”

I know that most –isms and religions have some extreme adherents, who honestly believe that the rest of the world should  follow their beliefs.  Some of these form groups devoted to achieving this.   Some of these groups believe that failing to follow their beliefs makes one less than human, and that non-believers should not have equal rights with believers – for instance,  it may be that atheists, agnostics, and miscellaneous pagans cannot get employment documents.  Some go further and believe that force should be used to make some others comply – for example, live peacefully with “People of the book” but use threat of death to convert everyone else.   Some go further still, and wish to kill  even those who hold to  a  different interpretation of their holy books while  following the same version of the divine, or whatever other social belief is important to them.

Being a devout agnostic, I am deeply aware of these groups. I have met people who assume that I am worse than untrustworthy because I don’t claim to have a god I believe in, even though those who lie about their beliefs or ignore their religions’ rules are much less trustworthy (Seen the statistics on child abuse?)  I avoid going to certain countries because  I don’t want to have to lie about beliefs in order to travel safely.  I worry about their spread.  Especially the extremists who believe that abortion clinics should be bombed, and that no non-christian should ever be President,

 I suggest that all members of the United Nations publicly state the following: 

We will only give refuge to those who commit to reciprocal tolerance of others’ belief and lack of belief,  and to recognition of all human rights.

The extreme case

Where people are  of a social or religious or political group that believes that unbelievers / some other group should be oppressed,  unless they will commit to leaving that group, they should be treated as they would treat others.    If their group generally  say that those who convert from their belief should be killed, they  must not be given refugee status unless they renounce that aspect of the belief, and if they later recant the death penalty should, logically, apply.  If they deny others’ evidence equal weight before the law, their evidence should so be discounted in the country of refuge.   If they would tax unbelievers more heavily than their own, they shall be taxed heavily in the country of refuge.

The moderate case – or is it?

Where people are  of a social or religious or political group that believes that unbelievers / some other group should be oppressed,  unless they will commit to leaving that group, they should be  denied refugee status.  If they are refugees from another such group of differing belief – well, that is fair exchange of oppression.

The interaction of this with overseas oppression

Where a government oppresses others in such a way as to make people become refugees, that government should not generally be assisted if another oppressive group attempts their overthrow.  Intervention should only be on a humanitarian basis. Refugees should not be sent back to an oppressive regime, as they have renounced the oppressive culture and will therefore be liable to greater risk.

If a self-proclaimed government attempts to invade other nations and enforces oppressive beliefs,  that requires immediate and forceful response from the United Nations – Peace Makers, not Peace Keepers.  The attempted invasion  is not just a war, it is a denial of human rights extending across borders, which is a much more serious and urgent matter.  If we stand idly waiting for someone else to fix it, we encourage all extreme belief groups to try their hand at the same game.

And that, I would pay higher tax to avoid.  I would travel to be a “grumpy old pensioner” on the battlefront, to embarrass the invaders until they stop that so that my grandchildren will be safe.   (Besides, it beats relying on the social system in old age, now that the illiberal and small-hearted are running the county.

 

A Newspaper’s exam hints – (sigh.)

March 9, 2014

In “10 writing tips when sitting a written exam”  I read – yes, I read on despite the probable quality  given  the title’s poor construction – :

“Affect / Effect – Effect is a noun.  For example – Cyclone Connor had a great effect on the town.  Affect is a verb(doing word).  For example, – The virus affected Libby so much that she had two days off school.”

(Sunday Times “Chillout” NAPLAN liftout, 09.03.14)

This explanation is, to be polite, sub-optimal.  The explanation given means that the students are not prepared for real world uses of the words. Both words ARE  used as noun and verb.  The REAL difference lies in the prefix.

The root is the Latin facere, “to do or to make” – the same root as “factory”.  The prefixes are ex– (outward or out of) and ad-  (towards or onto)  which assimilate to the “f” of facere to make the words effect and affect.

The noun is the outcome of the verb.  Thus, when you effect a change in something, you have an effect on it – the change goes out from the one who is the centre of our attention.

Affect is the change from the point of view of the one changed: If you affect an accent or a style of dress, you put it on your self; the virus affects you when it has an effect on you.  It is usually used as a verb, but is also a noun.  The noun “affect” means feeling or visible emotional response: “The depressed man showed flat affect.”

This leads to different understandings of other words.  For example, consider “Affection”: feelings making one want to go towards a thing, a different play on the same root and prefix;   “Affectation”: a style or behaviour  affected for effect.

Explaining it this way leads to improved comprehension and spelling, as more words are analysed in terms of their prefixes, suffixes, and roots.  Seeing our words as Lego-like constructions is a powerful literacy approach – and a great tip to help with written exams.

How hard is it to get it right? If newspaper conglomerates can’t afford an academic’s consulting fee, how much does a literate journalist cost?  Remember, the ones most likely to read them are the ones who have few other sources to check.  Do newspapers have a social responsibility here?

Anorexic approach to “Cutting the Fat” in the Australian public service: cut the fat at the Executive level instead.

January 2, 2014

The Centre for Policy Development   says  that the Australian public sector is as efficient as the private sector once different responsibilities (e.g. more at-risk students going to state schools) are taken into account, and that OECD 2010 reports said Oz had 5th lowest taxing government in OECD but still 9th most effective.

Current State and Federal Oz governments are denigrating their public service staff performance, cutting staff without cutting duties, and not giving the staff guidance as to which officially required activities should be cut when there isn’t time to do everything.  They are  trumpeting “increased investment” in areas when the money is spent on basic construction for aging infrastructure and increasing population,  but actual staff-hours-per-thousand-clients are cut.  They are calling for us to match the  best of OECD results despite lower taxes, less cultural support , and more diverse population – and they dread talk of increasing taxes. Their political philosophy echoes USA conservatives.

It still looks better here than in the USA (read  http://www.viralnova.com/hospital-bill/  ) – but the local politicians are working on matching USA’s treatment of the most vulnerable.  They are even continuing to negotiate “Free Trade” agreements without provision for “Human Rights and OH&S” tarriffs.

It makes sense to learn from others’ mistakes, but our politicians seem determined instead to repeat the errors their predecessors made in using slaves (cheaper than the working class) in Ancient Rome and in too-rapid attempts to balance budgets when dealing with the recovery from the Great Depression.  (See Bill Fawcett’s “Doomed to Repeat”)  We aren’t using slaves?  Consider the conditons in the third-world countries to which work is “outsourced.”

That’s Modern Western democracy in action: “leaders” too much led by daily polls and the “perceived self-interest” push of their wealthy backers.  Alas,  the wealthy backers do not remember that a great gap between employee income and owner’s income leads to social problems which can destroy a civilization.  And our civilization is now global.

So, how about all shareholders (and Oz is, famously, a nation of shareholders – we just don’t usually vote our holdings) getting together and giving our proxies to some socially aware groups, on the condition that they vote to make companies limit the highest pay rate per hour (maximum 24 hours / day 365 days/year)  for any organization to be twenty times the hourly pay of the lowest paid employee – including those overseas, and including those hired by subcontractors.  This includes directors’ “remuneration.”  Remember, as voters, we can limit our politicians’ pay if we choose.   And add an “insult tax” where people are paid too much more than others : where the poorest in your country live on $13,000 pa and the median income is $43,100  an income over $800,000 is a dire insult.

Too hard?

Consider  limiting the “remuneration” to twenty times the workers’ pay as expressed as a percentage of average weekly earnings (AWE) in the county in which the work is performed, and remuneration in terms of the AWE of the Director’s country of residence.

Worried about talented people going overseas?  Consider: if they want more than the limit,  and don’t want to support the poorest, what attitudes will their children bring to our schools?  Do we want that in our society?  What type of society do we want our politicians and business leaders to aim for?

Imagine being known as a country dedicated to equality of opportunity,  and with an underlying belief in “from each according to ability, to each according to need, with our descendants able to live as we do.”  Imagine a society where your value is not measured in money.

Now help make reality fit the dream.

Should we intervene when chemical weapons are used, if we don’t when guns and bombs are used?

October 7, 2013

At one point, listening to Tim Minchin’s address to a University ceremony reminded me of – among many things, as he is a thoughtful comedian –   an argument I observed continuing on the web.

That reminder leads me to write about the train of thought which followed my observations.

The point Tim Minchin made was that extremist positions lead to false dichotomies, and that good decision-making is difficult if we forget that reality is complex.  It was enhanced by his advice to learn as much as you can about everything, not be limited to a goal-driven life.

 The argument is about the “correct” response to the use of chemical weapons.  If we don’t intervene if a government is shooting or bombing its citizens, why should we suddenly do so if chemical weapons are used?

The train of thought which followed my observation of the argument follows:

The responses I observed seemed limited by the limited vision of most of those taking part: they seemed to see any death or injury as equivalent to any other,  they seemed to think that the question could be considered without considering the opinions of those who had experienced both sorts of weapons, and they had little knowledge of history.

The situation  reminded me of the distinction scientists make between different ways of being wrong: for example,  considering only one of a number of equally valid theories to explain a result; “experimental error” – we are not perfect, and random elements are inevitable; “not even wrong” in the sense of a theory being not a testable hypothesis; “totally wrong“, in the sense of having an appalling flaw in reasoning; and “bad science” in the sense that someone is lying about what the figures show, taking some belief system as being correct even when measurements contradict it, or ignoring agreed basic measurements which have repeatedly been found to be accurate without strong proof that the measurements are affected by a confounding factor.  Scientists see the last one as a distinctly different and morally reprehensible type of error.   The crunch is that  followers of science assert that assuming that all wrong theories are equally wrong is “wronger than wrong.”  

Similarly, I feel that those who discuss interventions by equating conventional  and chemical  weapons  are “wronger than wrong.”

Just as scientists are the ones to consult about different ways of being wrong in science, soldiers and the health workers dealing with the injuries resulting from war are the ones to consult about different forms of warfare.  In World Wars I and II the soldiers knew what it was to be shelled, hit by machine gun fire, cross barbed wire, be taken prisoner … and they saw the opposing forces have the same experiences.  They knew what the horrors of modern warfare could bring, and hated them while believing that they sometimes had to be faced.

However, soldiers saw a difference in type between classes of weapons of war, just as they saw a difference in type between “proper” prisoner-of-war camps and  Andersonville  (American history – Confederates imprisoning Union soldiers)  , Stalag III-C  etc. (German history – Soviet soldiers and other non-influential people),  and the Thai-Burma railway labour camps (Japanese history – Allied soldiers).  For example, I have heard old men who served in WW II speak of enemy flamethrower-operators in the same way as they speak of the people who authorised napalm bombings – with plain disgust, and quite unlike the respect with which they spoke of the other soldiers.

Similarly, in WW I the experience of chemical weapons proved profoundly different from the experience of the other horrors experienced – so different that it was felt to be of a significantly different type, and so deeply horrible that the deployment of such weapons was felt to be morally reprehensible.  After WW I it was the horror experienced by soldiers and medical workers which led to the push to have certain weapons outlawed, and for their first use to be stated, internationally, to be a war crime.  (You know before you use them that you will be in deep trouble… except for the slimy exceptional cases which the diplomats put into the treaty, so that the major powers keep developing the weapons…)  Despite the disgust at flamethrowers, they were not hated with the deep passion which led to the continuing and developing agreement to stop the use of chemical weapons.

(Me, I’m draconic, and the parent of twins.  From this background I would say that I don’t care who did it, as soon as chemical weapons are used “the rest of the world” should arrive in force and disarm both sides.  Completely.  No guns or tanks or warplanes left, just household implements.  Maybe get the Chinese army to sweep step-by-step across the whole country.  And then all go and leave them to it.)

So, from this thought, and remembering the Rwandan and Bosnian Genocides,   I found myself wanting to start a different discussion:

How do we get our peoples to discuss these questions outside of the context of a specific instance of  oppression:

  • What sorts of oppressions should warrant intervention in another country – ethnic, religious, gender, political…?
  • Does it matter whether it is oppression by a government or an influential group?  (The government denies all responsibility…)
  • Does a democracy have the right to elect a tyrant – and if they do, are they allowed to complain about and resist tyranny?
  • If we object to other religions trying to make us follow their laws, but they get democratically elected to govern another country, do we have the right to stop them using their religious laws to oppress their citizens who are of their religion? Of other religions? To oppress travellers?  What do we do if they call for their co-religious to force other countries to accept their rules?  How is that different from us calling for intervention in their country?
  • When does resistance against oppression become terrorism?
  • How oppressive must the treatment be before other countries intervene?
  • How should they intervene?  What effective interventions are available?
  • If we intervene, how do we arrange to leave the country if the divisions are profound and the culture favours violent retribution?

Only after we have thought about these seriously can we start on the next batch – for example:

  • If a major power unreasonably blocks United Nations approval, under what circumstances should our country intervene without it?
  • What penalties should there be for unjustified (by whose standards?) intervention in the internal affairs of another country?

So, that was my train of thought.

However, it wasn’t my discussion – I was kibbitzing on someone else’s interests – so I said nothing and put it aside until the thoughtful entertainer made me think.  And that thought was  that I should make some effort to raise the questions, recognising the complexity of the problem.

So, if you’ve read this far, how about talking about those questions with your friends?

Newspaper Editor at work: a call for change to journalists’ behaviour becomes a call for MPs to be ethical.

September 15, 2013

I have noticed that the media now mainly quote (or sound-bite) people without giving background facts or historical context.  I object to this, as many of the consumers of modern media haven’t the energy or training to do this for every factoid that gets spread.

Wanting journalistic responsibility, wanting facts over factoids, I wrote to a newspaper demanding action.  The letter was published – sort of.  I give both versions here.

This gives a resource for English and Society & Environment teachers:  How could the letter be improved? (See below.)  How could the letter be shortened while keeping its intent? What changes have been made in the published version?  How does the new meaning compare with the original?  What is, and what should be, the duty of reporters and editors in the media when it comes to reporting factoids?  And when editing letters?

What I wrote:  904 characters

There is much reporting of Mr Abbott’s claim to a “mandate”. Mandate: in politics,the authority  to carry out a policy, seen as given by the electorate to a party or candidate that wins an election.

When reporting Mr Abbotts claims, journalists should add that, by the intent of our constitution, the candidates which won election on a policy against to Mr Abbott’s have the mandate to oppose his efforts, and also have the ethical duty so to do.  Also, they should remind their audience that the Senate system was designed to let people who liked part of the major winner’s policies elect senators to block the parts they dislike.

They should do this EVERY TIME the Coalition claim that the others should cave in to their “mandate.”

Any Green or Labour MPs or Senators who vote against the policies in their election platforms will be betraying the mandate the voters who put them into parliament.

What they printed:  608 characters

There is much reporting of Mr Abbott’s claim to a “mandate” (n: In politics, authority to carry out a policy, seen as given by the electorate to a party or candidate that wins an election).

It should be added that the candidates elected on a policy against Mr Abbott’s have a mandate to oppose his efforts, and have the ethical duty to do so.  Additionally, the Senate system was designed to let people who liked part of the major winner’s policies elect senators to block the parts they disliked.  They should do this every time the Coalition partners claim that the others should cave in to their “mandate”.

(I see many errors.  I’m sure they weren’t there when I typed the email – but then, I didn’t do a hardcopy.   Another point to raise in English:  do students find they can proofread beter on paper?)