Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Bill Maher is a Small, Skinny Dumbass

I don't watch a lot of
Bill Maher's TV show
. I don't watch it mostly because I find him hideously smug and overly concerned with stupid issues. He loves to act like political correctness is ruining things. He also loves to make fun of people for being fat.

I also don't watch it because he's short. If I were standing next to him I could put my chin on his head.
I don't respect short men
.

In Bill Maher's mind he's doing the right thing
. He talks about the obesity epidemic and how being fat is tied to diseases and how this is a health crisis. He says you shouldn't support people who make bad life decisions in their bad life decisions, that it makes sense to shame people for things that should be shameful.

Through my twitter
feed I'm sometimes exposed to articles on fatphobia. If you aren't attuned to this issue you might not really know what is going on out there. Fat people endure mockery by strangers, they endure nasty looks and comments, they even endure physical violence from people who find fat people's bodies disgusting. Of course there's more to it than being fat. Fat men aren't going to take the same kind of harassment as fat women, for example.

The idea that there is something acceptable or right about treating people this way is stupid. Of course I'm sure Bill Maher would agree with that. He'd say it's terrible to assault someone because you disapprove of their body. He'd say that calling out people on his show for living unhealthy lifestyles isn't the same as making nasty comments to strangers or hitting them. Of course since he's a defender of free speech absolutism there's no point making a comparison between insulting fat people and insulting any other marginalized group and how that promotes this kind of behaviour.

I was watching clips of the View one day and I saw Trevor Noah. Joy Behar brought up the issue of political correctness and how you can't say anything these days without someone getting offended. Trevor Noah took a different view:



Maybe it's a good thing, he said. Earlier in his career he used to make jokes about fat people and he thought he was being edgy, but really he was just being mean. Being mean and propping up the status quo. Maybe it's good that people are learning to be better.

If I have an opinion on an issue and I'm told that one of Bill Maher and Trevor Noah agrees with me, while the other disagrees, I'm going to be thinking, "Oh please! Please let me be on Trevor Noah's side!" For one thing, Trevor Noah is
still funny
.

I don't know why I'm so fixated on Bill Maher with this. Fatphobia is baked into our culture pretty deep. It's just that I wish I could have five minutes to talk to him about his position.

I remember when I was young people criticized the term "homophobia." They said it wasn't fear, it was hate. I think the affix "-phobia" to describe bigotry is often right on the mark. We used to joke that all those bible thumping Republican pastors going after gay people were themselves in the closet. Years later when one after another was "caught" I started to wonder if it was really a joke at all. Lots of people don't like gay people for stupid reasons, but they don't all found a megachurch so they can have a platform to talk about it every day. It seems it takes someone who is afraid of their own sexuality to make a life-time cause of really going after other people's.

The "-phobia" affix seems even more apt for fatphobia. The story our society tells us is that all of us have the potential to be fat or not fat. Almost all of us like cake. So
we
're in the position of the person who is attracted to people of the same sex but who has convinced themselves that this is wrong. If we give in to temptation we become something we don't want to be - something we know we will be judged for being. The temptation is always there.

So I think calling Bill Maher "fatphobic" is probably right on the money. I bet he is terribly afraid of being fat. Terribly afraid that if he doesn't do the things that make him thin he will be subject to the kind of judgment that he currently dishes out. I don't think a person would go on TV to loudly proclaim that shaming fat people was a good thing if they weren't afraid of being shamed for being fat themselves.

Bill Maher presents his idea of shaming fat people like it's revolutionary. Like we now have lots of scientific evidence that
being fat is a hazard to your health
. We have more and more people who are getting fatter and fatter. We have a rise in weight-associated diseases. So it's time we all finally get on the bandwagon and shame fat people!

But Bill Maher probably made fun of fat people as a child, or was made fun of for being fat as a child. He probably made fun of fat people as a teenager or was made fun or for being fat as a teenager. He probably refused to consider dating women because he thought they were too fat. He probably hit on a woman and then when she turned him down
pretended that she was too fat for him
.

People made fun of fat kids when I was kid. People said girls and women were sexually unattractive because they were fat when I was a teenager and when I was in university. Due to my inability to take my own perspective seriously I once followed a societal script and deeply hurt someone I cared about because of their weight when in reality I actually thought they were beautiful. I've heard people my age imply that fat women don't get raped because they aren't attractive enough.

Making fun of fat people is not some revolutionary act, Bill. It's just being the same kind of zero-empathy dipshit that you were
when you were five.


If fat shaming made people thinner, there wouldn't be many fat people around. It's been the policy of our culture to shame fat during the entire growth of the "obesity epidemic" that Bill Maher is so concerned about. And that's not some coincidence, at least some of
us
are fat because we use sugary foods to medicate our mental health issues. Shaming is not a very good solution for that. That's the kind of how-things-work-in-real-life thing that I'd think Bill Maher could understand. There's no always a straight line between incentive and outcome. He gets that making weed illegal doesn't make people stop smoking weed.

And I don't want you to read that paragraph and think I'm buying into the idea that being fat is a bad thing we should minimize. Fatphobia means a lot of bad policy. It means we measure health far too much using
a very bad proxy for health
. It means that we when we talk about "ideal weight" we define it to be a weight that is statistically
not even maximizing longevity
. Not to mention that the way we measure fat, and research into how being fat affects health
is racist
. We have a lot more to gain, healthwise, by accepting people's bodies than we do by warping our assessment of health around a bigoted classification of bodies.

Which is all totally secondary to the fact that we are dehumanizing people, and we have been our whole lives, and we are pretending it's okay. If you eat something you think you shouldn't and say you feel fat, you are saying to everyone who is fat that you use their body as a proxy for "bad". If you are prone to do that, try doing something you think you shouldn't and mournfully saying you feel like a member of a racial group that has been stereotyped as stupid. You probably won't try that since it would make you feel awful about yourself. What was that nonsense about short people being untrustworthy that I wrote near the beginning of this post?

Reasons why some people are fat and some people are thin are extremely complex. That cultural idea I mentioned that people choose whether to be fat or thin may not be quite as nonsensical as the insistence from some bigots that people choose whether to be gay, but it's in that direction.

I don't think Bill Maher is all that stupid. But intelligence can be just as useful in rationalizing a bias as it can be in examining it. Of course he gets why making weed illegal is bad policy but doesn't get how shaming fat people is bad. He smokes weed, he isn't fat. It's all about what works for him.

You don't have to be stupid to be a dumbass.

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

Schrödinger's Axiom

Schrödinger didn't believe in Schrödinger's Cat. He created the story of the cat to demonstrate the ridiculousness of the idea of superposition. Einstein praised his thought on the matter, noting that, "Nobody really doubts that the presence or absence of the cat is something independent of the act of observation."

The wikipedia entry on the cat has brief summaries of numerous other interpretations of superposition and collapse, some of which I'm pretty familiar with but some of which I'd never heard of. My favourite is the Relational Interpretation which is summarized by saying:
To the cat, the wavefunction of the apparatus has appeared to "collapse"; to the experimenter, the contents of the box appear to be in superposition. Not until the box is opened, and both observers have the same information about what happened, do both system states appear to "collapse" into the same definite result, a cat that is either alive or dead.
Which sounds a lot like saying
"different people might know different things and that's okay."


I've been thinking about the cat recently, and about the idea that some things in reality are undetermined until they are observed, and it struck me that this is circular reasoning.

How does science work. We craft hypotheses based on information we have, we concoct tests based on those hypotheses, we either disprove our hypotheses or we give them weight by conducting our tests. The key to this entire process is that there is something in the world that would let us know the difference between a world where we are correct and a world where we are incorrect.

Victor Stenger made this point very well in his book "God: The Failed Hypothesis". While one resolution to the debate about the existence of God is the idea of "
non-overlapping magisteria
", Stenger points out that a great many of the things that are asserted about God can be tested.

For example, if God exists in the way that God is described by some Christians, then praying for another person's health would help them recover sooner from an illness. We can test this and know that it isn't true. As long as a claim has any observable result, it's the domain of science. If a claim doesn't have any observable result - that is, if the universe as we are capable of knowing it would be the same regardless of whether the claim was true - then that claim would fall into the other magisterium.

We might say, well, if it makes no difference that is possible to detect in any way, then it doesn't matter, it doesn't exist. But that statement isn't the conclusion of quantum physics, it's the bedrock on which the entire idea of science is built.

Science is the idea that the way to know thing is by observing them. Science is the idea that is a thing cannot be observed then it is not real.

So it seems that the whole observation issue is sort of a breaking point for science. It's coming full circle and proving your first axiom as an important theorem. We already know that is a thing is not observed then science necessarily has nothing to say about it.

This is all just me thinking, and there's a good chance someone will read this who has a better understanding that I do. I guess my question is, what would be observably different about the world if it were the case that things that couldn't be or that had never been observed were still very real? This might be letting philosophy get in the way of reality, but it strikes me that the answer to that question can't possibly be anything.

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Cloak of Invisibility

If you've read the title of the post, you might wonder whether I'm going to be constructing some elaborate metaphor about marginalized people or whether I'm posting about video games again.

It's video games.

I've been playing a lot of Hearthstone dungeon runs. It's very fun single player content which is what I want out of computer card games. I find Hearthstone fun to play, but when I play against other people, those people use up an
entire minute
deciding on their mulligan and then another entire
minute
before passing the turn without doing anything on turn one. I open up video games to play video games, not to fantasize about other humans beings choking.

I've written about hearthstone single player content previously. Sky at Bright Cape Gamer had written about the challenge in single player content and I had a very different take where I largely disparaged the idea of challenge in single player content. This time I am also launching off of something Sky wrote but instead of woe I am writing with incredulity. I agree with Sky's assessment - I like the dungeon run, there is challenge but it doesn't feel like just rolling the dice over and over, it's fun to keep doing even after you win. He's also right about
Potion of Vitality
. But he raises something I find super weird:
I have found it super interesting that people have wildly differing ideas of the power level of various items.  Some are obvious, such as the Captured Flag which gives your minions +1/+1.  It is excellent, one of the best for every class and strategy.  However, there is one in particular, the Cloak of Invisibility, that seems to have some serious disagreement on its strength.
Okay, so I guess I'm not surprised that Hearthstone players are not sold on the power of Cloak of Invisibility. Apparently people weren't sold on Dr. Boom when he came out. I heard people disparaging Darkshire Councilman when it was first available. The Hearthstone community is not good at evaluating how good cards are.

As above, Sky is right. It's good. Partly because it allows you to have good trades in combat, and partly because it has the potential to break the game against some encounters, particularly the Darkness, leaving them stranded with a full hand and unable to do anything for the rest of the game.

But what struck me is that anyone could even debate whether it's good or not in a general sense. I'm sure no one is debating whether doubling your battlecries is "good". There are a couple of decks that effect is very good in, but for most decks it's very close to useless.

Cloak of invisibility gives all your units stealth permanently. That doesn't obviously interact with cards the way double battlecries interacts with battlecry cards or sceptre of summoning interacts with cards that cost 8, 9 and 10.

Hearthstone is full of minions that have devastating effects while they are on the battlefield. It's
pretty obvious
that if your opponent can't remove your KelThuzad you win, but there are plenty of other cards that are very problematic if they stick around. Pirate and murloc decks that have cheap minions that buff other minions become very difficult to beat. Cards with powerful inpires like Thunder Bluff Valiant and Nexus Champion-Saraad are brutally overpowered when they can't be attacked. Frothing Berserker sometimes seems outrageously unfair when you can attack it, but when it can't be attacked it's easy to trade other minions while you beat them dead with a 15/4.

Cloak of Invisibility is the most broken effect of any of the passive treasures. Breaking the game is good, but you have to make sure it breaks in your favour.

It would be silly to try to say whether Robe of the Magi or Ring of the Justicar are good without thinking about what class you are playing. Khadgar's Scrying Orb is sometimes good and it sometimes isn't that good, but you can't evaluate it the same for
a warrior and a shaman
.

Active treasures lend themselves a little better to a strict ranking list where some are just plain a lot better than others. But aside from
a few
that are just all-around good and
one
that is all-around bad, the value of all passive treasures is "it depends."

Monday, 18 December 2017

Sex-Blindness

I was reading an article from the Atlantic about the American Republican party's troubles holding onto supporters who are female. I'm not exactly recommending it, since it could be summarized pretty easily by saying that the Republicans have long thought that they have a problem in the way the communicate with women, and they are being rudely awoken to the fact that they have a problem with their actual policies.

But there was one part I found a very interesting insight into how patriarchal policies work:
“This is one of the main differences between the left and the right: We don’t see every issue as being a ‘man’s issue,’ or a ‘woman’s issue.’ It’s not a men-against-women, us-against-them mentality,” said Sue Zoldak, the head of communications for RightNOW Women PAC. “I don’t understand the idea that something is a ‘women’s issue.’ I don’t comprehend that as a statement.”
This is an interesting way of casting right wing thinkers as the righteous ones on sex equality. Well, I say "interesting". It's not that interesting because it's exactly what they do with race as well.

The subtitle of The New Jim Crow, which I do recommend, is "Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness". The book explains at great length how "colorblind" language is used to justify policies that as a matter of fact disadvantage people of colour, but that never overtly target people based on colour.

The penalties for drug possession don't actually say that black people will be put in prison for longer than white people, but the laws against drug possession have clearly been used as a tool to incarcerate black people.

It's undeniable there there is a difference in the wages people get paid based on their sex. If you were to choose a sex based purely on maximizing salary, you'd choose male. While there are fools who deny it, some of this gap is based on straight up inherent bias - the employer simply offers a person who looks like a woman to them less money than a person who looks like a man. However, there's lots of reason to think that kind of bias is only a fraction of the gap.

This Vox article goes through a bunch of data and puts together a few patterns:
  • jobs where certain hours are of higher importance and jobs where working long hours are valued tend to be jobs where the gap is higher
  • the gap increases when people are 30 and 40 and then goes down when they are 50 and older
  • women are disproportionately doing the work of raising children
You put all that together and it looks an awful lot like women's duties to their families prevent them from achieving the same salary as men in jobs where work hours are very inflexible and/or long. None of this is all that new to anyone who's watched this discussion. It's actually a very common explanation of the wage gap from people who want to downplay it's importance - that the wage gap results from real world differences between how men and women work. If a man gets paid more because he was willing to work longer hours, then that wage gap is justified, they say.

The Vox article doesn't go this way, but instead suggests that something we could do to help close the wage gap is change our attitudes about work. Some jobs have inflexible hours for very legitimate reasons, others have them just because that's how it's always been.

What it stops short of saying is that financially rewarding people for their ability to adhere to inflexible work hours are a discriminatory practice hidden behind a veil of sex-blind language.

We like to think there is a clear ordering of things, a clear way to say what causes what: A person who is male has their wife take on more of the after work childcare duties which means they can stay late which makes their boss think that they are more committed to getting the job done which makes them more likely to get promoted or get a bigger raise, which creates a gender wage gap.

But that way of telling stories is systemically discriminatory. I could tell the story in reverse: It is pointed out that there is a gap between the wages of men and women at a company which causes people who are in charge of determining wages to come up with a rationalization for that gap that doesn't make them look sexist, which causes them to latch onto working longer hours as a reason to promote people and give them higher wages, which causes them to actually promote people based on that criterion despite the fact that everyone knows it's a poor criterion.

I could tell the story starting in the middle of the chain and cascading in both directions. I could tell the story as feedback loops with no clear beginning or end.
We can write stories in lots of ways.


The same goes for the story that women don't negotiate as hard for salary when they start a new job, or that women take maternity leave. We know that paying people more because of their salary negotiations and that paying people less if they took a year off to look after dependents are two ways of doing things that result in women being paid less than men. But we refuse to acknowledge that those two things are themselves sexist policies because they are coated in sex-blind language.

I think one way we can emphasize how sexist these policies are by pointing out that they serve no real world purpose. Rewarding people for working longer hours is likely counterproductive. The Vox article briefly mentions this:
It also means not giving disproportionate rewards to those willing to work the longest, either. Numerous studies find that long hours aren’t always productive. One study published last year found that managers couldn’t tell the difference between those who worked an 80-hour week and those who pretended to. 
"The research is clear," the Harvard Business Review declared last summer. "Long hours backfire for people and companies."
This isn't a revolutionary idea from last summer, though, it's been standard, accepted theory of business administration since Henry Ford if not longer. People who work longer hours are not more productive.

Similarly, is paying people more because they drove a harder bargain during their interview actually a way to get better employees? It might make sense if you are hiring people to do sales since for sales staff their ability to drive a bargain is a direct asset. For most jobs I think the answer is almost certainly no.

When we have widespread implementation of a policy that seems to sacrifice better outcomes in the name of producing more sexist ones, it's probably pretty easy to think of that policy as sexist. What about a policy we can make sense of, like paying people more if they have worked more years?

Maternity leave seems to connect to the idea of seniority. You pay people who've been there for five years more than you pay people who've been there for one. Therefore you pay someone who has been there for ten years more than someone who has been there for nine - that is, ten but took one of those years off.

But if you think that pay for seniority comes out of the idea that people with more experience are better at their jobs, I think you're applying a contemporary reasoning to a policy that has existed in many places for a long time. It's just as true that pay for seniority is about rewarding people for staying because turnover is hard on companies. For that latter explanation, a year of maternity leave doesn't change the reasoning for why you would pay an employee more. The rationalization we choose for our cultural tradition affects women's equality, and we chose the rationalization that goes against equality.

My arguments that these polices are sexist are, in a way, speculative. What I can say for sure is that discussing any of these polices without acknowledging their contribution to the gender wage gap is definitely sexist. Unequal pay based on gender is a bad thing. If it is the consequence of a policy, that policy had better be at least good enough to outweigh the harm.

Like if a company pays sales staff by commission and is convinced that paying by commission greatly increases the success of the company, they may acknowledge that it can also contribute to a gender wage gap by rewarding working for longer hours but say that it is nonetheless a policy they need to keep. Firefighters don't relax their rules about how much you have to be able to carry even though those result in discrimination based on sex. You can justify a policy as being important enough to overcome it's downside. But choosing not to even evaluate gender-based wage inequality as a bad thing is
explicitly
promoting sexism. It's shouting sexism from the rooftops.

Trying to frame policies in a way that is blind to discrimination is directly promoting discrimination. Policies may promote discrimation, they may reduce it, they may have no effect. If you don't care which one of those your policy does, you don't care about discrimination, and that means that you
support
whatever form of discrimination shows up in popular culture.

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Solving the American Healthcare Debate

Whenever someone raises the idea starting a single-payer healthcare system in the United States, someone says it would cost too much. They act like people are naive and say things like, "I want a free pony too!"

According to OECD numbers, Canadians spent $4071 of public money per person in 2015. Americans, by contrast, spent $4692 of public money per person in 2015.

The Canadian system doesn't just cost less, it costs fewer public dollars than the American system. The private dollars poured into it by individuals are on top of this public spending.

We aren't talking about free ponies here. We are talking about stopping paying the full cost of a pony plus 15% to make sure no one has a pony, and then telling people they have to buy their own pony if they want one. I can't think of a reason for such a public policy other than lawmakers who feel indebted to the pony industry.

But I started thinking about those numbers. Suppose American lawmakers could wave a magic wand and having the Canadian system. In addition to all the private money that could be used for other things, the government would save $621 per person for 323.1 million people. That's just barely over $200 billion.

So you might think they are throwing $200 billion in a hole, but they aren't just throwing it in a hole, they are spending it. They are spending it to kill Americans. A 2009 study concluded that being uninsured meant about a 40% higher risk of death. America has a death rate of 823.7 per 100,000. The uninsured rate in America is was 11.3% in the first quarter of 2017. That death rate, is therefore composed of the 11.3% of people who have a 40% higher risk of death and the 88.7% who have a "normal" risk of death, which means the "normal" risk of death is 788.1 per 100,000. So the excess death rate caused by lack of insurance is 35.6 per 100,000. With 3231 groups of 100,000 Americans, that would give us
115,092 Americans dying each year from lack of insurance
.

Divide that into $200 billion and you get a price of about $1.74 million per american killed.

Now, let me ask you, what do you think it costs to hire an assassin?

That's not something I can google easily, nor is it even something I want to type into google. But I feel like it's safe to say you could procure that service for less than a million dollars.

So I have a solution to the current American healthcare problems. First, implement a single payer system that works much like Canada's does. Second, in order to mollify the people who don't like assistance from the government, also hire assassins to kill about 100,000 Americans a year.

Better health outcomes, lower prices. That's a win-win.

A Note for Those Interested in Making a Counterpoint
The math in this post looks simple but it's not that simple. Estimating the number of people who die from a lack of insurance is hard to impossible, and some people dispute there being any causal relationship between those two things at all. Some people want to say that no one dies from lack of access to healthcare, some people would probably point out that my figure of 115,000 is much higher than any other estimate, almost three times as high as the estimate from the study cited in one of my linked articles that was conducted before the ACA when there were more uninsured Americans.

So why would I use such a high estimate? I was being generous towards the current system. My calculation was the cost per American killed. More Americans killed by the current system means a lower cost per American killed. If a million Americans died a year from the lack of single payer healthcare, the cost would only be about $200,000 per death. At that point, you might say, "Humbabella, can you really get assassins for $200,000 a target? Maybe you could under some circumstances, but through government procurement processes?"

Then I'd have to admit that my plan probably wouldn't save money. But if only 10,000 Americans die for lack of healthcare then the cost is $20 million per American killed. There's no way that assassins aren't cheaper than that.

And if you think that no one dies for lack of healthcare, like some American politicians seem to, then I have two things to say.

First, you are transparently disingenuous and think I am stupid. Otherwise, you wouldn't want healthcare for yourself. If something that saves lives costs a penny more, other things being equal, some fraction of a statistical person dies. There's no way around that math.

Second, in that case you are paying $200 billion and not killing even a single one of your citizens for that? What the hell are you paying for?

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Dating Advice

I was watching a stream when one of the people in chat asked the streamer what to do in a romantic situation. The asker liked a girl but had done something to put her off. I didn't see the details because I don't real chat.

The streamer started answering that the best approach was to find ways to spend more time with her. Like walking home alone the same path she does. It doesn't matter if you actually live in that direction if she doesn't know where you live, the streamer explained. If she doesn't want to walk with you that's fine because it's not illegal to walk down the street. If she started running, you can run alongside her, because it's not illegal to run.

The streamer was joking. I was glad they clarified that because there wasn't really a way to be sure.

I can't rule out the possibility that the asker wasn't asking because they had a real problem but because they thought it would be funny, so maybe everyone got what they wanted. But it wasn't the first time that I've seen people in a chat for a Twitch stream treat the streamer like a kind of father figure who can provide advice about life. It feels odd to me. I don't think I have any reason to believe someone who streams videogames is going to also do well in a Dear Prudence type role.

But whatever the reason it got me thinking about what advice I have for the young people who see me as a source of wisdom. To be clear, there are none of those, but because of that, I want to offer the following.

If you are a
boy and you like a girl
and she doesn't notice you or doesn't seem to like you or just doesn't like you the way you like her, use that as an opportunity to learn that you are capable of tolerating your emotions.

First, realize that the feelings that are tormenting you are your feelings and they aren't something she is doing to you. There is nothing she can do to help you feel your feelings. Even if it turns out she's crazy about you, you are still going to have feelings. Sure, you'll recontextualize them as wonderful instead of agonizing, but you still need to deal with them.

Second, remember that feelings tend to get more intense when you try to deny them or avoid them but get less intense when you accept them. That doesn't mean you should profess your undying love so as not to "deny" you feelings. Professing your feelings to someone else is asking that person for help in dealing with your feelings, not dealing with them yourself. I'll borrow from Jalaluddin Rumi's "The Guest House" and say that we ought to treat emotions as welcome guests in our mind and invite them in to entertain them. That's not an easy thing to do, which is precisely why it's a good idea to get some practice in with your highschool crush.

Third, I said that telling someone else about your feelings was asking for help. I didn't mean not to do it. In fact, you should ask for help, but ask an appropriate person for help. It is pretty obvious that going up to someone you are infatuated with and saying, "I don't know how to handle my powerful emotions about you, perhaps you'd help me even though you don't really know me?" is not a strategy for a successful relationship. But going to a friend and talking about the anguish you are experiencing might help. If you don't have friends who you think you could talk to, that's actually a bigger problem than the infatuation situation, and you should probably seek some emotional support in the form of counselling. If you are a teenager or in university/college you undoubtedly have free resources available to help you.

Do not grow up to be a man who thinks that every time he is tormented by a powerful feeling there must be
someone else
to blame. That's way more important than getting someone to reciprocate your infatuation.

Also, if you want to get laid, start a band.

Friday, 8 September 2017

I'm Not Really An ACLU Fan

So I read an ACLU blog post today about a case where a wedding cake designer is discriminating against gay customers.

The case is clear cut discrimination. A gay couple went into a bakery that makes custom wedding cakes, asked for a wedding cake, and were turned away because the shop did not make custom wedding cakes for gay weddings. Anyone who doesn't agree that is
discrimination
is not sufficiently engaging with reality. A state-level court agreed with this obvious conclusion, though the decision that it was illegal discrimination was a little more complicated than you would think. I'll get back to that in a moment.

The government of the United States of America has decided this is a really important case that they'd better get themselves involved in. So they've filed an
amicus brief
in favour of the cake shop owner. That's no surprise because the Department of Justice is run by a bigot. But even though it's obvious straight up bigotry, the brief does actually make a legal argument, and one that might sway a judge.

The defense of the cake shop owner is that making wedding cakes is a matter of personal expression. He would sell any baked good in his shop to a gay couple, but he won't engage in a personal creative effort to express support for a gay wedding. That is, he's saying it's his first amendment right to not express himself in a way that violated his religious beliefs.

The court that ruled on the case originally considered this argument, they didn't dismiss it out of hand. The question was whether creating the wedding cake was a sufficiently expressive thing to trigger the first amendment. They said it was not, but part their reasoning noted that the couple hadn't actually discussed details or custom messages of the cake before leaving the shop. So the cake shop owner hadn't refused to write, "I love butt sex" on a cake, he had refused to make a cake merely on the basis of the couple being gay. If he had kicked the couple out of his store for wanting him to write that on a cake,
we wouldn't be having this discussion
.

The ACLU post engages in a very silly slippery slope argument where they suggest that if this ruling was made a doctor might refused to treat people who are transgender or a restaurant might refuse to follow food safety laws citing food preparation as a kind of free artistic expression.

Neither of those make any sense at all. You don't trigger first amendment freedom of expression protections by employing technical skills like medicine. Your right to free expression has never included the right to poison other people and never will.

I think what the ACLU is doing here is encountering cognitive dissonance as they realize their position on the first amendment generally is a pro-discrimination opinion. When Charlottesville tried to deny a permit to hold a rally to neo-Nazis, the ACLU came to the defense of the Nazis and precipitated the events of August 12. Their position was that it is more important to protect free speech than to prevent Nazis from marching in our streets. They've been grappling with that position since, and they've decided they won't support violent hate groups that plan to bring weapons to rallies. So basically they will continue to stand up for first amendment right to advocate genocide, but won't do it if people are also exercising
second amendment rights
. Fundamentally, their position hasn't changed, though: crowds shouting pro-genocide slogans in the street should be protected.

If someone wrote custom poetry to be read at weddings and didn't want to write poetry about gay love, the argument the US government is making on behalf of the cake shop owner would work. In fact, based on the factors considered in the lower court, we'd never be at this stage, as the lower court would have supported this as
protected first amendment speech
.

Legally speaking, the constitution of the United States protects freedom of speech and does not protect gay people against discrimination. Well, it seems to protect them from discrimination within the legal system by guaranteeing equal protection under the law, but it doesn't protect them at a bakery. The case for the baker rests on a legal quibble about whether the first amendment applies, but if the first amendment applies, the ruling is clear. The argument that the baker is using to defend his decision not the make the cake is legally the same argument that another baker would use to refuse to make a cake with a swastika on it. The difference is that in one case a baker is refusing to acknowledge the validity of gay people's love, in the other they are refusing to acknowledge the validity of Nazi ideology.
Without noting that this is a question of rights butting against one another
, we can't tell those two things apart.

If I'm being kind, I think they ACLU, and Americans in general, have to grapple with the fact that giving one kind of human right - freedom of expression - primacy over other kinds of human rights - the right to be treated equally without regard to race, sexual orientation, etc. - means devaluing the latter right. It means being against the latter right in some cases. There are decisions to be made about how to proceed with that information.

If I am not being kind, I'd say the ACLU's readiness to engage in spurious slippery slopes from wedding cakes to doctor's visits combined with their unwillingness to engage in factually supported slippery slopes between Nazi rallies and violence means
they are an anti-semitic hate organization
.