An occasional sputtering of literary output, rants and opinion.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

The Science Of Religiousness

I read this post in the Australian about the correlation between religiosity and crime, STD's and other indicators of societal dysfunction; and was both intrigued and appalled. Intrigued because it matched a suspicion I have long held about religion being an indicator of social illhealth, appalled because, at least as presented in the article the drawing of conclusions was shoddy science. Mostly because it implies causation from correlation. The research article on which the article in the Australian was based was published in the Journal of Religion and Society by Gregory Paul , the money quote in the Australian's version is:

"In general, higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy and abortion in the prosperous democracies. The United States is almost always the most dysfunctional of the developing democracies, sometimes spectacularly so."

Which tells you that indeed there is a correlation, and that of developing democracies, those with high rates of religiosity experience a correspondingly high rate of social dysfunctions (as measured by murders per capita, prevalence of gonorrhea, etc.).

In the JRS study there is also this decidely less sexy passage:

This study is a first, brief look at an important subject that has been almost entirely neglected by social scientists. The primary intent is to present basic correlations of the elemental data. Some conclusions that can be gleaned from the plots are outlined. This is not an attempt to present a definitive study that establishes cause versus effect between religiosity, secularism and societal health. It is hoped that these original correlations and results will spark future research and debate on the issue.

Which in my mind at least puts Dr. Paul in the position of having his work sensationalised by the Australian. As a first pass at mining the available data about the effect of religion on society the JRS article is intriguing in that it does show the existence of a correlation between disparate events, a correlation that many would discount in advance in fact. I suspect that religiosity is neither a cause nor the effect of the many social dysfunctions it appears in tandem with. My hypothesis is that religion and the other social dysfunctions of which it is a marker, are caused by perceived financial and social insecurity.

To scientifically test this hypothesis it is merely necessary to construct multiple isolated societies and to vary the parameters of wealth and individual security so as to test all the permutations, the hypothesis is falsified if the incidence of religion in the model does not vary with the individual security parameter.(note this last sentence was a joke).

Sunday, September 25, 2005

For Shame.

This is one of those predictable, and yet shameful outcomes of war. Yes we know there is war porn, and that there will always be some people who find that sort of thing stimulating, and the fact that there was a certain amount of public outrage generated by the torture pornography of Abu Ghraib shows that there is some hope left, but the veneer of civilization is showing it's wear and tear, and the savagery underneath is all too visible.

I wish I could offer some glib solution that could make it all better, but I can't.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Desperate Choices, Disparate Responsibilities

2 egrets in swamp w/ hill
2 egrets in swamp w/ hill,
originally uploaded by L. A. Price.
A Friend asked me to explain how this
is Bush's doing.

The euthanasia of patients who could not be evacuated is an act that will weigh heavily on the conscience of the doctors and care personnel involved. They know it is their responsibility, and I can only hope the strain does not break them.

But what is the president's responsibility in this situation?

from the article:
"""Their families believe their confessions are an indictment of the appalling failure of US authorities to help those in desperate need after Hurricane Katrina flooded the city, claiming thousands of lives and making 500,000 homeless."""

In a bad situation with no good alternatives people will end up facing desperate choices with no good solutions. Do I move someone and have them die in transit, leave them here to die of thirst or flooding and lack of care, or give them a dose of morphine strong enough that they won't spend their last hours alone and in agony.

What Bush is responsible for is the weakening of those agencies tasked with disaster relief, and the creation of an adversarial culture, where partisanship causes a breakdown in communication between federal and local authorities.

Absent that failure of leadership, would those doctors have had to face the desperate choices they did? Who knows. But if Leadership means anything, then yes, those deaths too are Bush's responsibility.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Unsolicited Advice to the Democratic Party

Since there does not appear to be anything rational or even sane about american politics, it seems likely that the many people who are not even remotely qualified will be contending for the 2008 democratic candidate slot.

In the spirit of getting way out ahead of most mainstream political pundits, let me offer this thought for the consideration of the panjandrums of the DLC (the L is silent); run Al Gore. He's known and he's got the goods as a reform candidate, or even a corrective candidate.

He has a Natural Constituency that could be grown and shaped. The toxic waste from the last campaign will have to be dealt with. But for an america groaning under the weight of the corruption, mismanagement, incompetence and general pathology of the second Bush administration he would be a welcome breath of fresh air.

If the United States of America exists as a recognizable country in 2 years, he shouldn't be ruled out.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Oh Yay!

Our Glorious Leader has given us a new reason to stay in Iraq. I laughed with disbelief when I saw this. I stopped laughing when I realised he was most likely serious, and expected this to become the new 'official line'.
How did we elect this clown to any position that carries more responsibility than hall monitor? Oh right.

Heavy Weather

Bruce Sterlingwrites about his visit to Singapore and mentions in passing the contrast between the competent technocracy of the City Of Lions and the squalidly self-justifying incompetence of our own in relation to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Bruce's novels Heavy Weather and Distraction foretold the social backdrop of the drowning of New Orleans. The omnivorous network, the certain knowledge that no one with any actual power has a clue, much less a grip, the dazed victims eating state-of-the-art self-heating meals in squalid and unhygienic surrounds, botched and ill-conceived attempts at making things better that actually make it worse. He was quite visionary about the social future and predictably wrong about the technical one in some respects.

Friday, September 02, 2005


Lights in the dusk
Lights in the dusk,
originally uploaded by L. A. Price.
The drowning of New Orleans feels like yet another turning point of history. Where 9/11 was a convulsive wakeup call of our vulnerability, the aftermath of which was a call to honour for many. This storm came so much foretold as to seem ordained, and it's aftermath reveals us as grubby, desperate, fallible human beings fighting in the ruins.