Thursday, May 31, 2007

Jeff Buckley

Like many people, I've been listening to and thinking about Jeff Buckley a lot this last week. Thanks to C4 for their Buckley coverage last weekend.

If JB isn't a character in your world then go here for an introduction. What an incredible loss. Elliott Smith has meant more to me personally over the years (I saw ES once - he was terrible! An amazing recording artist and writer tho'.), but it's clear that JB had more gifts than him, probably more than anyone else. His voice and guitar playing had a special freedom... a pop-folk Coltrane (who died at 40) perhaps. How sad that JB never got to make his Love Supreme or Blue Train. That was coming. Grace isn't it, it's a great, bitsy, light-the-blue-touchpaper kind o' record, exciting for what it is but much more so for what it portends... in a future that was never realized. Too damn bad.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Der Siebente Kontinent

Michael Haneke is one of my favorite film directors - he's an almost perfect mixture of Kubrick and Hitchcock as far as I'm concerned. I just watched his 1989 film, The Seventh Continent. It's superb.
It was interesting to see that Haneke's style and aesthetic were already perfectly formed almost 20 years ago, and it was also interesting to see certain original shots turn up that were stolen/copied/emulated by other directors, Egoyan, Moll, etc. throughout the '90's. The film itself is haunting and brilliant and almost indescribable. Highly Recommended.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Trouble Brewing?

I like young actress Evan Rachel Wood a lot. She's stenciled into my mind from a dozen or more astonishing scenes in Thirteen. Her final scream over the top of the great Liz Phair song "Explain it to me" at the end of the film is a particular keeper. (You may know her as the heartland girl-friend in Green Day's "When September Ends" video.) I like Marilyn Manson quite a lot too, at least when I'm a certain mood.

But I can't say that I'm thrilled about them as an item. Almost everyone has a disastrous, too-intense relationship in college, say. But with someone 20 years older? With Mr Manson? And with death-obsessed, explicit videos such as this not safe for work classic? I know Wood is an actress and that she's a legal adult - if she's old enough to vote, to go fight in Iraq, and all the rest of it then she's old enough to make her own wretched relationship mistakes (if that's what they are). Still, if she were my sister, I'd be concerned... It's weird to feel oneself disturbed by something so far away, and in the grand scheme of things so unimportant and so "none of my business". But our general relationship to ingenue-ish, female movie stars is that we do end up having vaguely protective feelings for them... They were selected for their roles because of their hyper-neotenic features, their impossibly perfectly pristine skin, their supreme openness to the camera..... and we buy them in that capacity. We're right there with them in our imaginations. We love Audrey Hepburn and feel very protective of her... and we want her to be happy, for the world not to defile her, etc. much as we would wish those things for a member of our own family. Evan Rachel Wood isn't the new Audrey H. - no one is - but she works the same part of our celebrity/vicarious emotional musculature (just as Katie Holmes did - hence the grief that Mr Cruise copped). She's our kid sister and we hope like hell things aren't going to hell for her.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

S 59 Debate: Replying to Anon

My April 25 post has launched what I take to be an interesting exchange between myself and one Anon. Anon's first comment is here. Anon's remarks are both penetrating and very well-expressed. I want to thank her for that, and I urge anyone who's still interested in thinking clearly about this issue to read what she has to say there.
This post is just my latest reply to Anon - one that grew and seemed silly left as a comment. I include all of Anon's most recent comment in green type and in order.
You state that, basically, there is no evidence that you know of that smacking causes positive outcomes for children but there is a bit of evidence that there is a correlation between smacking and negative things. Therefore, wouldn't the most appropriate thing to have happen be to ban smacking?
No. For three reasons.

1. Much more evidence is needed on the negative side. The (plausibly) causally interpretable negative stuff is relatively limited at this point: just a single study by Grogan-Kaylor (G-K). At the very least one would want to see that study followed up with more nuanced anti-social-behavior-score (ASBS) dependent variables that clearly separated inside and outside the home behaviors. Moreover, G-K's study is limited in ways that any one study tends to be. Consider that in the overall population from which G-K gets his sample data
the ASBSs are normed to a mean of 100 and a standard deviation of 15. G-K's basic result from his sample is that (controlling for an impressive amount of stuff) smacking boosts ASBSs by 2-3 points on this scale - i.e., by roughly a 1/4 of a standard deviation. That's then a conclusion he wants us to infer as holding about the whole population from which his sample is drawn and beyond that to kids everywhere. But then we want/need to know how representative his sample of 1800 kids is. Well, his sample had initial mean ASBS of 106.9. That's a little odd. First, the sample's skew from the population norm is double the final difference that's identified as smacking-related and then claimed to be inferable back to the whole population. I think that at the very least this confirms that the effect that G-K identified can't be particularly serious. Insofar as half-a-SD change in mean ASBS doesn't destroy representativeness of the sample to that extent a boost of 1/4-of-a-SD keeps one well within the normal variation range by the study's own lights. In this way, at least on one level, G-K's study partially undermines itself as a basis for any recommendations.
Second, and addressing representativeness directly, the standard error of the mean in a sample of 1800 is SD(population)/sq.root(1800) = .353. That means 95% of (N=1800) sample means should be in the range 100±.71 i.e., within two standard errors of the population mean. G-K's sample has a mean that's almost 20 standard errors away from the population mean - it's a hugely improbable, 1-in-a-bazillion, unrepresentative sample. That can be OK. There may be good reasons for having such an exceedingly un-random sample but it does mean that the otherwise very respectable sample size of 1800 doesn't mean what it would if the sample was random. Some quick calculations show that for G-K's sample mean of 106.9 to be within two standard errors of the population mean his sample would have to have roughly N=20. Wow. Does this sort of technical point matter? I'm not sure. I don't like it, but I'm hardly impartial. I do think, however, that this is the sort of technical point that usually only really gets settled by further studies with more representative samples. Conclusion: Needs more study.
For another example, G-K's sample of 1800 kids was coded as 80% no corporal punishment (cp) and only 20% having different positive numbers of cp events in a particular week. Is that a problem for the study or not? I don't know, but it concerns me that, after you control for a few things (e.g., child sex, age, and initial ASBS and family per-capita-income) then the number of individual smacked kids that are being compared at each controlled-for point gets very small (assume just 4 control factors and just 10 levels for each of those and you're down to, on average, 9 smacked kids in each comparison class. And all of that's with setting aside our earlier worries about unrepresentativeness. (Once I've studied up on a few statistical software matters a bit more, I intend to ask G-K for his raw data so I can investigate this properly.) Again, the big conclusion has to be: Needs More Study.

And, look, 1990's Medicine was full of cases in which exactly G-K's analytical tools – so-called fixed effects models – were applied to broadly observational data and they suggested conclusions that were nonetheless completely reversed when proper randomized trials were run. E.g., people eating more fruits and vegetables, which are rich in ß carotene, and people having higher serum ß carotene concentrations were observed to have lower rates of cardiovascular disease and cancer. Fixed effects models then identified the ß carotene as the causally relevant factor. But when people went out and tested efficacy of ß carotene supplements the results were horrifying. In trials where participants randomised to ß carotene supplements were compared with those randomised to placebo, ß carotene supplementation moderately boosted risks of cardiovascular death and carcinogenesis (e.g, here). At the time, this sort of nasty surpise led to a lot of handwringing in clinical medicine and epidemiology about fixed effects models and meta-analyses more generally. Were they valuable as guides to what randomized trials to run in future ("Meta-analysis, schmeta-analysis" was the memorable title of one review paper!)? And, heaven forbid that they were an autonomous basis for drawing serious conclusions and a substitute for actually doing the randomized trials! But in social science where randomized trials are impossible or unethical or both, we're supposed to take our marching orders from such studies and go full steam ahead, no questions asked! It ticks me off that Anne Smith et al. down at U.Otago take this line, and that Cindy Kiro would just parrot it. Sorry, that's unconscionable and I can't be party to it. The only serious conclusion remains: Needs more study.

2. Positive side needs more time to develop. G-K's study only came out a couple of years ago, and it's fair to say that, although it's nowhere near bulletproof as I've just argued, it has raised the bar in the area (which should tell you something about how ineffectual most of the other research on the topic is - see my discussions here and here), and there now needs to be a period during which that research is consolidated/confirmed and alternatives explored and if possible excluded. It would be fairly shocking if it were true that there are no good effects from smacking under any circumstances. I'm prepared to believe that that's so... but not yet! I can't stress enough how narrow the base of casually interpretable negative results is... those results might be able to be importantly reversed just by finding another set of outcomes to check for/measure as the dependent variable. The fairly nasty social and personal trends that have accompanied the decline of smacking over the last 50 years suggests that outside-the-home might be the place to look for (now much weakened!) positive effects (at least in some sub-populations). But I admit it's hard to know even what to measure.... These are big research challenges, I think.

3. Don't Ban. Inform. Even if the negative effects case went from strength to strength and the positive effects case never panned out at all then unless the negative effects in question are huge, which they aren't as far as we know (see point 1 above), I tend to think that the right move is to just give parents the relevant data.... Compare: some parents doubtless don't feed their kids especially well... still one doesn't want to criminalize giving kids coke or chips etc.. (Although perhaps that's something Sue Kedgeley will want to explore! Dear God let's hope not! But illiberalism abhors a vacuum of freedom...) Or if divorce or sole parenthood has predictably mildly negative effects on kids.... well, while people should be told about any data to this effect, systematically penalizing divorcees or sole parents through family law, let alone criminalizing them seems completely inappropriate. The criminal law and probably law more generally just seems to be the wrong instrument with which to address the sort of arguable, localized sub-optimality that all manner of parenting and life decisions tend to involve. The good news from psychology that I referred to in my last comment is that kids are remarkably resilient and almost distressingly impervious to our efforts to influence and nurture them. Babies seem to develop roughly the same personalities, IQs etc. regardless of what you do or don't do at home, and of who (e.g., biological or adoptive parents) raises them. Ndugu in his mud hut ends up just as visually acute and as smart as genetically comparable little Susie from Mirimar with her room full of allegedly brain-expanding mobiles and pretty pictures. (Most of what you can do to influence your kid's development is chose the neighborhood/school/out-of-home environments in which he or she grows up. Susie's ultimate advantage over Ndugu will largely consist in this. Judith Rich Harris's books are invaluable sources of references on this sort of stuff.) That's part of what makes official equanimity about diversity of family arrangements possible I think. But then tolerance of different parenting styles - styles that are as different as jazz is from rock or as classical is from blue-grass - with attitudes to discipline and rules and duties and consequences being a major variable generating that diversity, should I believe be part of that.
You also state something along the lines of, 'perhaps we're both too self-conscious and reflective to ever be fully successful-convincing smackers'. This implies that there are parents out there that are less self-conscious and reflective than us, which there is. I am not of the opinion that I am excessively self-conscious or reflective but am just trying to do the best by my child. Therefore, do you not think that there should be a ban on smacking until the vast majority of parents here in New Zealand are more self-conscious and reflective?
Parents, and people more generally differ quite a lot, both in their personalities and in their situations. I'm a hyper-verbal, high-stress, lots-of-regrets sort of person (e.g., I'm always amazed when I hear people say they have no regrets about anything - I always respond internally "Wow, then I guess I have nothing in common with you then!"). There are lots of advantages to being someone like me but many disadvantages too. Many people are much more practical and solid and down-to-earth, more "hands on", and doubtless more comfortable in their own bodies than me. I suspect that that's the kind of difference that probably does make a difference with respect to smacking and who it's gonna work best (or at all) for. And I simply don't see any reason why everyone should be expected to converge on my mindset and personality with its associated squeamishnesses and liabilities. Reflectiveness etc. at least to anything like the degree I have it is a slightly odd phenomenon and should not be a requirement for anything much! Vive la difference.
Note that one reason that randomized trials for behaviors are essentially impossible (as well as being unethical) is precisely because the behavior as an action of yours has to make sense from your perspective. If you as a non-smacker get assigned to the smacking group in our trial, say, then that's not just gruesome for you, you really don't believe in it and then there's absolutely no reason to believe that you can fake it convincingly or completely over-come your internal self-selection against that group and what it represents.
During the smacking debate I often heard hyper-verbal types saying "Wow, I'm amazed that anyone could ever smack a child, I guess I have nothing in common with such people!" In my view that's entirely analogous to my finding people who never have "regrets" somewhat unintelligible. The beginning of wisdom in both cases seems to be to force oneself to see that there could be advantages to not being like oneself and to having a society where not everyone had the same instincts or personality or way of being in the world. I'm an atheist and deep down find it very mysterious that theists should believe the things they do. But with a little effort I can see that there might be serious advantages to believing that there's a meaning behind everything (or whatever core theistic commitments boil down to). Too bad that that's apparently not an option for me then. (Of course if you're Richard Dawkins, you'll regard that kind of open-mindedness with suspicion, think all religious up-bringing is child-abuse pure and simple!) And so on. I think this basically answers your question, but maybe it just raises further questions...
A lot of people are of the opinion that the Bill is like the Government trying to tell parents how to raise their children. It's not really like that when it comes down to it, but it is just placing a limit on what parents can do to control their children, which is obviously completely understandable.
Well there was a limit before - reasonableness - and a range of clarifications and tightenings of that limit were offered and all were rejected.... so it's wrong to suggest that Bradford's Bill merely draws a limit, rather it's a very specific zero-tolerance policy/prohibition that (setting aside various indeterminacies) makes every smacker at least an unindicted criminal. In that sense it expresses the view that insofar as you correct your child by smacking them to that extent you're a bad parent, regardless of what the big picture is about your parenting, and indeed regardless of what good smacking may be doing the child (perhaps because the negative evidence is ultimately going to melt away or maybe just because your child is anomalous in some important respects, and with all your special detailed private knowledge of your child you can see that that is so). That's fairly highhanded and controlling in my view. Punishing parents who take their kids to McDonalds (zero-tolerance for coke and chips for kids) or who don't breast feed or who circumcise or who give their kids a religious up-bringing would seem to be able to justified in exactly the same ways. And that's a bit of a nightmare.
I must say that the insensitivity of the left on this sort of point simply astounded me. The kicker for me was the following passage from the Select Committee report that was supposed to address the practical worry (which never concerned me much) that parents might be prosecuted for assault willy-nilly if S 59 were repealed:
"We note that there are several potential offences directly related to the care of children that are rarely prosecuted. Such an example is if a caregiver sends a child to its room against its will, this technically constitutes kidnapping under section 209 of the Crimes Act. However, the police are not regularly prosecuting parents for this."
Even setting aside the bizarro world we've entered when one insists on thinking that kidnapping applies, even in principle, to paradigmatic exercises of parental authority, the basic move here is simply nightmarish for its intended audience. It's not at all reassuring to someone who thinks that losing S 59 amounts to an invasion of their home to hear the govt say, "Of course, technically, we could get you for kidnapping any time..." Compare: telling someone who's bugged by your latest hate-speech law, say, "Don't worry about the hate-speech law since, technically, we could do you for sedition any time..." In both cases, the basic picture is incredibly troubling: a government is arrogating to itself control in principle over every aspect of human life. Every aspect of your life is being gathered into govt hands/made indictable and only then granted back to you, by its leave. That stinks. I suspect that every time Clark or Bradford recycled the kidnapping point in interviews thereafter Bradford's Bill rightly lost another couple of points of public support. (The kidnapping point was actually legally incorrect as well with S 59 on the books. S59 makes correction no offense not just not-an-assault - see here for more on this point.) It was a classic case of the tone deaf left having absolutely no ability to understand (or interest in understanding) any sensibility other than its own.
Let me explain things from my side a bit more: without a ban on smacking, children are subjected to smacking at times when it is inappropriate, being smacked too much, being smacked for accidents like spilling milk, being smacked because the parent is angry or frustrated with other aspects of their life such as their work, those kinds of things.
I discuss this sort of worry here. I agree that parents are going to make mistakes of various sorts, but am not bugged by that too much. Angry, inconsistent parenting is another thing entirely. It is, I take it, paradigmatic bad parenting, and to be deplored. But that's a problem whether smacking is in the picture or not.
Until there is an appropriate checks-and-balances system put in place, not even light smacking should occur legally.
I'm not sure what you have in mind by "checks-and-balances". Neighborhood parent juries to which parents can appeal and ask to issue special time-limited smacking licences? (Anti-smacking researcher M. Straus once suggested that birth certificates should have "Warning: can be harmed by smacking" printed on them by analogy with govt. warnings printed on cigarette packets!) Or are you referring to utopias in which there are no more bad- or even any less-than-ideal or parents?

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

The View From 1932

A fairly standard, e.g., here and here, broad-brush way of understanding the 20th Century holds that the main line of world economic development (via the formation of global supply chains, communications networks, relative borderless markets for both labor and capital, and comparative advantage working on the grandest possible scale) came to a screeching halt with the outbreak of WW1 in 1914 only to restart with a vengeance in 1989-1990. See
I'm starting to wonder whether there aren't larger cultural continuities with that pre-WW1 period. For example, Darwinism/nature is back big-time, and nurture (and some of the utopian social theorizing that went with it) is history. Is there anything else like that? Got any thoughts? links?

Just got around to renting V for Vendetta. I was shocked: it's tedious, (cinematically and otherwise) illiterate trash. Avoid (the cartoon Road to Serfdom can be read in under 5 minutes, has more content, and is better looking). Sin City is the only successful (and, be warned, sick-as-hell) graphic-novel/artsy comic-book film adaptation in my view.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Public Address: Ape-like Chest-beating 2

1. Consider the following from Russell Brown:
'Perhaps I've missed some comments, but I've been struck by the way that [Simon] Barnett, who rarely misses a chance to remind us of his parenting credentials, has equally rarely granted that the present law needs changing at all, despite it being absolutely evident that a great many kids suffer much more than the "light smacking" that has become the most overused catchphrase of the whole debate.
Yes, Mr Barnett, we understand that you only ever smack your children briefly, lightly and lovingly, but it would be nice to hear you condemn parents who believe they have a legal and moral right to thrash their kids on a regular basis. The fact that you don't - and instead seem to regard society taking an interest in those homes where those thrashings take place as a much greater evil - makes me think ill of you.
Some pretty weird people have been drawn to the flame of this bill. And that was no doubt in John Key's mind when he made his decision. He'd wound up on the same side as the moral conservatives, the angry and resentful, the.....' (my italics)
I haven't kept especially close tabs on Simon Barnett's views but my general sense is that Barnett was happy with anything that didn't criminalize people such as himself, and that he certainly could have lived with something like the Borrows Amendment or NSW's S 61AA. Once that bare criminality issue was off the table I'd further guess that Barnett would be happy to support "positive parenting" or "anti-thrashing" education/promotion or whatever it might be.
The point, however, is that it's not just psychologically understandable for Barnett to focus on his own (sort of) case, it's also logically fair for him to do so.

Bradford, Brown, et al. are trying to ban something and as I've pointed out before, that imposes obligations on them that opponents such as Barnett do not share. If you want to ban almost all abortions, say, then you have to explain (roughly) why (almost) all abortions are bad/banworthy. That means you have to front up to relatively ideal aborters – women who were young, broke, in a horrid relationship, as objectively "barely able to look after themselves", "not close to being ready to be parents" as you want, etc.. You have to explain to them why what they did was bad and shouldn't be allowed. You don't get to focus on what are for you (i.e., the banner) the easy cases: people who have 5 or more abortions, people who have arguably very frivolous abortions (because it would interfere with skiing dah-ling), or whatever it is. And you certainly don't get to have that latter focus if, as the debate develops, you go on to dismiss various pro-choice compromises that are designed, however awkwardly, to address your alleged concerns about super-aborters and frivolous aborters (e.g., lifetime limits on abortions, anti-frivolity counseling, etc.). If you dismiss all such offers/compromises then you've absolutely clarified that you're not opposed to frivolous-abortion or routinized-abortion or whatever it is in particular, rather you think abortion is bad/banworthy in general. OK then, now you have to face up to the relatively ideal cases.... And you absolutely must not make a Brownian move as follows:
'Perhaps I've missed some comments, but I've been struck by the way the ideal aborters rarely grant that the present law needs changing at all, despite it being absolutely evident that there are all these super-aborters and frivolous aborters out there.... Yes Ms Ideal Aborter, we understand that you only abort rarely and seriously, but it would be nice to hear you condemn those who aren't so scrupulous. The fact that you don't - and instead seem to regard society taking an interest in the super-aborters etc. as a much greater evil - makes me think ill of you.'
If you make a move of this kind you reveal yourself to be a contemptible, equivocating demagogue. Or at least a dick.

2. One of the most irritating features of Public Address's coverage of S 59 matters is its insistence that only nutjobs or worse really might have any problems with Bradford's bill. One of Barnett's strongest points is his ability to remind people that this is a distortion both by his example and by his astute quotation of people. Most of what I know about Barnett comes from this story. There Barnett nicely remarks:
"Dr Cullen said, `This bill is opposed by religious fanatics and extremists, as well as other various forms of strange people.' I just think that is extremely arrogant, given that the Colmar Brunton poll had 83% of New Zealanders were against it."
PA's line is the same as Cullen's with the added fillip of arguing that the polls are meaningless didn't ya know? Barnett is absolutely correct to call Cullen on his arrogance and general divorce from reality here. Mutatis mutandis, the same is true of PA.

3. Long-time readers of PA will have some sense of what's going on. It may be useful to review how Brown performed the last time one of these controversial pieces of legislation came down the pike....Cast your mind back to March 2005. The Relationships (Statutory References) Bill (later Act, RSRA) was wending its way through select committee. There are massive problems with how de facto couples and relationships more generally are treated in that Bill and in its predecessor the Property (Relationships) Act, and a spirited and intelligent campaign had forced the Select Committee led by Tim Barnett to concede the point. Go here for the Herald's report on the press conference at the time at which Tim Barnett said that the Bill would be changed in response to some of those concerns and that the Law Commission would be asked to reflect further on the deeper questions that had been raised, and that had proved more than the select committee itself could handle. The trouble is that despite Tim Barnett's statements at that press conference, no changes were made to the Bill/Act after the select committee reported back, and 2 years after the RSRA became law, the Law Commission still hasn't received the terms of reference for their further report. (The Law Commission announced a forthcoming report, pending receipt of terms of reference in March 2005. This report was then dropped from their work schedule in June after no terms were received.)
Here's Russell Brown flakking for Tim Barnett after that press conference:
The select committee recommendations on the Relationships (Statutory References) Bill ought to mollify the concerns of most critics - and if it doesn't, it would be fair to wonder what their motives are in the first place. Clear daylight has been established between the rights and obligations attached on one hand to marriage and civil unions, and on the other to de facto relationships. The language used to refer to civil unions is now to be clearly distinct from that referring to marriage. Also, the gnarlier questions on treatment of de facto relationships will be referred to the Law Commission before the final bill is drafted. (my italics)
But the "clear daylight" (about intestate succession and a few other things) Brown mentions never actually made it into the Act - the Bill passed unchanged - and, as I mentioned, the Law Commission's action on "gnarlier questions" that Brown asserted would happen before the Bill was passed, i.e., before the end of March 2005, hasn't occurred as of May 2007. As far as I know, Brown has never followed up on this. Apparently impugning people's motives (Brown means to insinuate that critics of the RSRA are anti-gay) is more fun.
Tim Barnett lied pretty seriously in my view, and Brown flakked for him most egregiously. Then we were into an election cycle etc., crucial members of select committees changed, game over.

4. Thus, PA and Brown in particular functioned as a propaganda bureau for an unscrupulous Labour Government.
That's what has happened and is happening again over S 59. We've reached the point in this new debate where Brown is again mixing faux magnanimity with (i) weird quasi-papal hectoring ("ill of you"), (ii) lying (conclusions of the American Psychological Association that aren't), and (iii) flippant deceptiveness (Barnett is said to think the "sky is falling", but surely Bradford et al. were the ones saying that that was true insofar as their Bill didn't pass, that it must in fact have already fallen in places such as NSW, etc.). The details of the crime-scene differ, but the same fingerprints, political techniques, and rhetorical strategies are everywhere. Undogmatic PA readers, if any exist, should be aware of this.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

S 59 Debate: 'Pressions

I don't feel qualified to assess the political strategy involved, but the intellectual terms of National's capitulation on Sue Bradford's bill are depressing.
John Key apparently accepts that smacking your child is currently assault, and hence that S 59 is simply about adjudicating criminal responsibility for an offence. That's false. He also appears to accept Chester Borrows's buttressing view (which is quite at odds with S 59 let alone the vast majority of NZ-ers) that smacking is at best a mistake and a human frailty for which parents should not be harshly treated.
One has to hand it to Bradford, Clark, Public Address, No Right Turn, Just Left,.... Get a very substantive anti-smacking, or anti-(x≥smacking) bill passed while
  1. Denying that that's what you're doing (and decrying anyone who says that that's what you're doing as hysterical, and that instead you're really only anti-(x>>smacking)), and
  2. Fending off all compromises that would have narrowly tailored a smacking exception (an anti-(x>smacking) bill) as incompatible with your anti-(x≥smacking)/all-physical-punishment-is abusive/bad-parenting/human-rights-violating etc. views
Getting away with either 1 or 2 would be an achievement, but getting away with both at the same time is little short of amazing. I'm impressed in roughly the same way that I was impressed by the Bush admin. doing what it wanted on Iraq:
"We'll invade this country, see.... Anyone can do such a thing with lots of international support and lots of good evidence. Then it's easy! We'll do it with no support and no good evidence at all, just because we can. We create our own realities...."
Key and co. are playing what we might call the "Hillary Clinton" role. Whether that's a shrewd accommodation of difficult parliamentary realities, or evidence of soft-headedness in the face of opponents' slipperiness and unscrupulousness, or both remains to be seen.
More on the Iraq comparison: there was a case for invading Iraq, just not the hideous one that the Bush people made. Similarly, there was a reasonable case to be made for repealing S 59, just not the insulting dog's breakfast of lies, smokescreens, ad hominem attacks, genetic fallacies, question-begging, and guilt-by-association reasoning that Bradford et al. have served up. In both cases, any conceivable enthusiasm for the underlying message was utterly destroyed by the duplicity and general vileness of the messengers.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

S 59 Debate: Aucklander at Large

A blogger Aucklander at Large (AAL) says a bunch of stuff that is depressingly typical. I'll comment on a couple of AAL's paragraphs which I render in green type and in order:
I have to hand it to the right on this one - they really have won the battle on public misinformation over repealing Section 59. According to people like my good friend Bob McCoskrie, this is about turning lightly smacking your children a criminal offence - mums and dads across the country will end up in prison - but luckily the police won't prosecute if you do smack your children, so the whole thing is pointless. And the public have lapped this up. (my italics)
This opening paragraph is curious in various ways.
We're told that there's misinformation afoot.... and a "good friend" is cited as purveying this misinformation. But what is the misinformation? Sue Bradford's bill does criminalize light smacking+, so that can't be it. The answer seems to be the claim of "aboutness": the good friend is right about what the Bill does but misinforms to the extent he suggests that the Bill is "about" what it does. This is a fairly bizarre move to make. Who cares what a Bill is "about"? It's what it does/says that matters (surely that's what the "good friend" would insist). Compare a prohibition of alcohol or a zero-tolerance level of alcohol for drivers: one can go on till the cows come home about "preventing hideous smashes" or "saving lives" or whatever else taking such steps might be "about", but ultimately all of that just distracts from assessing the merits of the prohibition/additional criminalization itself. A bad Bill can't be saved because it's "about" something good nor should a good Bill be damned because it's allegedly "about" something bad.
Maybe the police won't prosecute because that's not what Sue Bradford's bill is all about. It is simply about giving children the same rights as every other citizen of New Zealand, in that parental discipline will no longer be a valid defence for beating the crap out of your children.
Bradford's Bill criminalizes smacking one's children for correction but that's supposed to be OK because it's "about giving children the same rights" etc.. As we went into in detail here this
is a silly way to put things: children have exactly the same or greater protections against arbitrary adults that adults do, it's just that their parents stand in a very special relation to them, which makes all the difference. Bradford's Bill de-acknowledges one traditionally very important dimension of/possibility within that special relationship... one can tryy to see that as a rights issue if one wants but that's a big step: you're then saying that even if smacking had demonstrable benefits for children parents couldn't provide them because it would violate child's rights to do so. At any rate, like so many other writers on the issue, AAL shows no understanding of these different dimensions of what he's suggesting.
The remark about S 59 being a valid defence for "beating the crap out of kids" is a cheap shot, after all everyone agrees that "beating the crap out of" is not covered by S 59 defences (that would be "unreasonable force", right?). Of course the occasional S 59 case will succeed in that way - mistakes/false positives are made with every defence both statutory and common law. And there will always be close calls where reasonable people and different juries can and will disagree about where the line is, and what should be allowed, what's reasonable. That's life. And to the extent that one really wanted to reduce the false positive rate and eliminate cases of misclasssified "beating-the-crap-out-of" cases, well then the various Borrows-type amendments were available.... which Bradford and AAL opposed. Truly then we're in emotive red-herring-land here.... So depressing.
But, no, of course it's a big leftwing conspiracy against all parents who "undertake good parenting" and occasionally smack their children, and will turn mum and dad New Zealanders into criminals.
And this takes the biscuit! After high-velocity mongering of a variety of distortions AAL accuses others of making stuff up... citing stuff that's factually correct as some of the stuff that's made up! Good grief.