Archive for the ‘Issues’ Category

Handy guide to killing

April 3, 2005 4 comments

In the wake of Terri Schaivo’s killing, there seems to be a bit of confusion about when it is OK to kill a human being.  If you are involved in killing decisions, print out this handy guide:

Stem Cell Research Absolutely not.  Those frozen cells left over from in-vitero fertilization procedures may be destined to be discarded anyway, but they are persons just like you and I, and have the same rights.
Contraception Since it prevents the sperm and egg from meeting each other in the first place, this is probably not killing.  But it’s still bad.
Morning-after pill No. It prevents a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterine wall.  See Abortion
Abortion Never. A first-trimester abortion of a developing foetus that does not have brain waves yet, is the same thing as a grisly partial-birth abortion, which is only done by heartless people who just like to kill babies for no reason.
Cop shootings Almost always OK.  The cop will impartially tell us his or her good reasons for opening fire on the citizen.  We can’t second-guess them.
High-speed chase Sure – cops know best.
Impaired driving Usually OK.  As long as we prosecute drunk driving (to show we care) it’s OK to tailgate a motorcyclist while exhausted, angry, on cold medicine, and talking on a cell-phone.
Corporate negligence What are you, anti-business? Hippy.
War Perfectly acceptable. You’re not going to get a case of the vapors because of a little unavoidable “collateral damage,” are you?  They’ll thank us someday, once they get over their dead kids.
Other intelligent species Not even an issue. Whales, dolphins, and elephants have convoluted cerebral cortexes like ours, complex languages like ours, and apparently mourn their dead.  But it doesn’t mean they are sentient beings.
Assassination No.  Most people are against assassination even if it would avoid a war, let political prisoners go free, or correct a long-standing foreign-policy mistake (such as in supporting a tyrant.)
Death penalty Sure, that’s fine.  After all, they’re usually guilty anyway.
Health policy Irrelevant. Millions of children all around the world die every year of cheaply preventable diseases.  It’s a shame, really, just a shame.  Would you like some coffee?
Unhealthy habits Really more of a suicide issue than a killing issue.  We’ll sit on our asses watching Survivor eating takeout pizza, then demand incredibly expensive medical care when we have a heart attack. (And then sue our doctors)
2nd hand smoke Nonsense. Hey, they shouldn’t bring that asthmatic kid to the restaurant in the first place.  Our legislatures are apparently not smart enough to distinguish between restaurants and bars.
Medical errors Hey, nobody’s perfect. Thousands of people die every year from medical errors – usually the wrong drug prescribed or delivered.  The problem is that people sue and it drives up the cost of health care.  The solution is to keep them from suing.
Prescription drugs Surprisingly OK. Mostly a by-product of the FDA fantasy that all risk can be avoided, so trusting consumers tend not to study the risks of the drugs they’re taking.
Aids It’s their own fault. Millions of people are dying of aids and condoms really do help prevent it.  But that offends some people.  So we’ll just tell ‘em all to “keep it zipped” and they’re sure to understand and comply.
Street violence We accept it. Mostly a by-product of the “war on the American people” also known as the “war on drugs.”  It’s supremely important that people aren’t allowed to get high, giggle, listen to Pink Floyd, and get the munchies.
“Pulling the plug” Almost everyone agrees: they don’t want to live hooked up to a machine.  But if you are unlucky enough to fall into that state without putting your wishes in writing, we must assume you want to be hooked up to any extraordinary medical measures available, no matter the suffering, the prospects for recovery, the agony it causes for their loved ones, the indignity, or the cost.  Well, except in Texas, where the law says if you can’t pay, no feeding tube for you.
Euthanasia What are you, a Nazi?  We want to make sure everyone feels all their pain, no matter how bad it gets!  And even if by some miracle they do get the palliative care they need, they should not be able to decide their own fate.  We, who are feeling just fine, decide that for them.

There!  I hope that clears everything up.  If you think of any others, hit the comments and I’ll add ‘em to the list.

Categories: Issues, News

“We have to grow up”

April 1, 2005 3 comments

Issues are like chemical elements; few stand alone.  In the periodic table, there are only a few “noble gasses” that won’t (usually) combine with other elements.  Oversimplification in commentary consists of pretending to separate out what is inextricably bound with another issue, and trying to address it in isolation.

So it is with Terri Schiavo.  I count eighteen issues wound together:

  • What did Terri Want?

  • Did her husband know that?
  • Assuming he did know, did he have a reason to lie about it?
  • Did he have standing to speak on the issue?
  • Did her parents know her wishes?
  • Assuming they did know, did they have a reason to lie about it?
  • Did they have standing to say what her wishes were?
  • In absence of a living will, can judges (given the stakes) decide?
  • What was Terri’s condition?  Her prospects for recovery?
  • Is it all right to refuse medical treatment?
  • Is a feeding tube medical treatment?
  • Do we withold a lethal injection of morphine just because we’re gutless?
  • Isn’t letting her body die of dehydration much worse?
  • If she is going to go live forever with God and have a new body and be happy, what are we holding onto?
  • Does the federal government have an interest in the outcome of the case?
  • Shouldn’t congress have stayed the hell out of it, if it’s a state issue?
  • Shouldn’t all the braying opportunistic jackals who have latched onto this case all go straight to hell?
  • How about all the idiots with their protest signs insisting that the rule of law has to be thrown out the window if they didn’t like the outcome?  Shouldn’t they all go straight to hell, too?

That’s enough to keep a blogger in carpal-tunnel pain for weeks or months, but I would like to add another issue:

Why don’t we all just grow the hell up?!!
People die horribly all the time and we’re so wrung out with trying to pretend otherwise that we end up making life worse for people who are dying.

If you’re really hurting, you can’t have enough morphine because the federal government is afraid you might become addicted.  Please, lie here in agony on this bed with tubes in your body, knowing you’re dying (or deceived by lying relatives and doctors).  Or, insensible, your brain gone, please lie here because we just can’t face an ugly reality.  This is an improvement?

I feel like taking a broom and sweeping those eighteen issues up in a dustpan and staying with that last one.  Because – that’s the one for which I feel confident about an answer.  I found a pretty good summation on James Randi’s website:

Please, don’t write accusing me of lacking respect for the human who was once Terri Schiavo; nothing could be further from my true feelings on the matter. I am deeply grieved and dismayed that we, as a community, could admit and accept that she died fifteen years ago, that we kept her tissue functioning for all that time, and then opted to starve her body until it failed. I could do nothing, in the face of the present attitudes and philosophies of those who administer our laws. We were all victims of this embrace of irrationality, and we must all take responsibility for the pain that the Schiavo family suffered because we encouraged their groundless hopes and their rejection of reality. They — understandably — clung to every hint that Terri might still have been “there,” because that’s what they wanted — needed — to be true. It was not true.

We have to grow up, at some point. We had this opportunity to move in that direction, and we failed.
- James Randi

Categories: Issues, News

Reasoned legal opinion

March 25, 2005 1 comment

Of course, no judge has decided in the abstract that Terri Schiavo would be better off dead than alive. Rather, multiple court proceedings have found clear and convincing evidence that it would be her intention to be liberated from artificial life support.
-Steve Sanders, Reason and Liberty

Certainly no one has been able to demonstrate to the court(s) that Terri’s intention was for her brainless husk to be kept warm and twitching in a ghoulish excess of misguided medical intervention. 

For all the lawyer jokes we hear, it’s easy to forget that for every amoral, corporate tool sucking the life out of our society, there are a number of even-headed, worthwhile human beings at the bar who take the time to understand how things fit into the legal framework we call a stable society.  Steve is a law student on his way to becoming one of those people. I wouldn’t be surprised if he became a judge someday, and we’d be the beneficiaries if he does.

The quote above is from his post, Have the Schiavo parents crossed a dangerous line.  Here, Steve examines the intent of the supporters who have surrounded the Schindlers – activists who want to undermine trust in the judiciary.

Categories: Issues, News

Governor acting really scary

March 24, 2005 2 comments

I had a lot of trouble coming up with a headline for this post.  It’s just too extreme, too hard to fathom, and words fail me -

BBC News Online: “A judge in the US state of Florida has rejected a bid by Governor Jeb Bush to become the legal guardian of brain-damaged woman Terri Schiavo.”

This simply boggles my mind.  Just when you thought it couldn’t get any friggin’ crazier…

Is there ANY MORE DOUBT these nutcase whackos want to invade every aspect of our personal lives?  Can we just explain it away anymore?  It’s like watching a train wreck – awful, but you can’t take your eyes off it.

Categories: Issues, News

Terri Schiavo updated post

March 20, 2005 3 comments

I’ve been ignoring the Terri Schiavo case for a while now, but since the feeding tube was removed on Friday, it has come to a head.  Congress is holding a special session today – well, the Right wing of congress, anyway – to consider her case and try to get the feeding tube inserted. 

What is it about her that tugs at their heartstrings so?  Or is that what’s happening?  After all, Texas has a law, passed by gov. George Bush, that says if you can’t pay, and Medicare won’t pay, no feeding tube for you.  Not to mention… the “presumption of favor” for life doesn’t seem to extend to possibly innocent death-row inmates.  What’s going on?

Well first of all, let’s be honest about this:  Terri (who, like the rest of us, consists of her cerebral cortex – the center of conscious thought) is already gone.  She’s an organ-bank in a bed, so that’s not what they’re fighting about.  There’s no chance she’ll recover and everyone except her poor, distraught, exploited parents knows it.

No, it isn’t Terri, so something else is going on.  And that something is precedent law.  By exploiting her case, the NeoCons hope to set a precedent that human tissue can have protection of law with or without the hope of consciousness.  It’s all part of a long-term strategy against abortion. 

I’m not keen on second-guessing other people’s motives but in this case it’s so transparent that it’s just unavoidable.  It is not about Terri because there’s no one by that name living there anymore.

There are two terrifying aspects of this case:

- Federal intervention in state issues
- Federal intervention in personal issues

NeoCons like to complain that governments over-regulate big business, and they’re mostly right about that.  But they want to have that cake and eat it too, where it means over-regulating individuals.  No one’s asking, Who the hell asked them to step in my most personal decisions?!!

Imagine: from conception to grave, decisions about your very existence will be made by remote interests in Washington.  No matter what your religious convictions, that should at least give you a cold shudder in the night.  Brr!

I know many people who live in fear of being “hooked up to machines” and Terri’s situation is the reason why.  One guy had “Do Not Resuscitate” tatooed on his chest, and who can blame him?  How many different ways do we need to say; “I would rather die than live like that!”  Do we have to put it in smaller words?

Image swiped from Pharyngula kind of says it all. 

Go read PZ Meyers’ analysis there if you want to know what the image means to someone who knows a lot about brains.

Majikthise: Lies Terri Schiavo’s parents told me

Dispatches: on Terri Schiavo

Reason and Liberty: Schiavo and the meaning of a government of laws

I was hoping ***Dave would weigh in on this and he did not disappoint, making the best comment so far:

…if I were to lapse into a Persistent Vegetative State, I would trust my wife — hell, I would trust my previous wife — to choose the best course for me, both per se and far, far, far more than I’d trust Bill Frist or Tom Delay or George Bush (or anyone of either party living part-time in Washington)…

Update on Tuesday: Congress passed a law that proclaims “We are all politically spineless jerks who couldn’t give a damn about separation of powers, and president Bush signed it.”  So far it looks like federal judges are refusing to overturn Florida’s ruling, however.  More details as they come in.

Wednesday:  it looks like despite Congress’ illegal $35m session and Frist’s & Bush’s grandstanding, that the federal courts are refusing to reverse the decision of the Florida courts.  This is as it should be. 

Hopefully it will be over soon.  Rest in peace, Terri. 

Categories: Issues, News

Darwin Smackdown

March 9, 2005 6 comments

Mainly I just wanted to write about this as an excuse to use this great illustration by Eric Chapman from our local paper, The Pantagraph.  Pardon me, but I think Jesus and Darwin as professional wrestlers is just genius.  (click the picture to embiggen)

There was a long time when the whole issue seemed to be pretty much settled and creationists were a fringe belief that stayed in the background.  But with the decline of science education (most people don’t really know what science is, or the difference between science and technology) and national paranoia focused on Islamist fundamentalism, creationism is back – in a slightly more polished wrapper called “Intelligent Design,” or ID…

The idea behind ID is that certain anatomical features of many species are too complex to have evolved because their logical sub-structures convey no survival benifit to any predecessors and thus could not be promoted by natural selection. (…and therefore some intelligence must have designed them, but we’re not using the “G”-word) This concept has the rather stout title of “Irreducible complexity” and sounds as if it would be really a big problem for evolutionists. ID arguments also often make the claim that scientists are beginning to reject evolution in large numbers.

Online this has turned into something of a smackdown.  Some of my favorite bloggers on both sides of the issue have completely lost patience with the other side, and take the other side’s hostility as evidence that they are substituting emotion for factual objectivity. 

It usually goes something like the following.  I’ll use the initials YEC and EB for “Young Earth Creationist” and “Evolution Blogger” for the characters, and try to exclude some of the less reasonable approaches.  I’ve seen this many, many times:

YEC:  “Hi!  I am a seeker after truth.  Evolution is only a theory, and it can’t be true because eyeballs are too complex to have evolved to their present state (or there aren’t any transitional fossils, or any of a dozen other common creationist claims) Bet you never thought of that, huh?!”

EB: Having heard all this before, patiently explains the difference between a hypothesis and a theory, and that not only has irreducible complexity been found to be a bogus idea, but that eyeballs in particular may have evolved independently several times (or that there are indeed many transitional fossils, and so on.)

YEC: Brings up a dozen more related misconceptions.

EB:  Finally tires of explaining and getting nowhere.

YEC: Declares victory and writes entry on his own blog.

YEC & EB: think to themselves “What a jerk!” and move on.

A day or two passes, and EB finds another YEC in his comments, with the same misconceptions, half-truths, and outright gibberish.  This time, he is less patient.  The YEC senses his discomfiture and moves in for the kill:

YEC: “Hah!  You’re just hiding behind scientific orthodoxy because you’re afraid of the truth!”

Both sides do the same thing as last time.  The next day (and nearly every day) another YEC drops in with the same garbage as if he were the first person to ever raise a question.  By now the EB’s patience isn’t just worn thin – it’s gone.

EB:  “Oh, look!  Another YEC idiot babbling in my comments!  Well, YEC, you just don’t know enough for us to have a meaningful discussion about this.”  (add profanity and sarcasm in liberal doses depending on age of EB)

YEC:  “Well, there you have it.  Evolution is revealed as a defense against the claims of God!” (or words to that effect.)

If you’re a creationist and you’ve read this far, you might think I have no sympathy for the YEC, but that is not true.  In fact, I think I can explain the EB’s hostility in more helpful terms.  Let’s use the characters, “CB” for Christian Blogger and “ASA” for atheist smart-aleck.

ASA:  “Communion is just like cannibalism!  Christians are cannibals!  Hah!  I bet you never thought of that, huh?”

CB: patiently explains the symbolic meaning of communion as a sharing of the sacrificial redemption by Christ of sinful humanity.

ASA: trots out Webster’s dictionary as if it were the final authority on everything in the universe, says “You Christians are all superstitious idiots!” and leaves.

CB: thinks to himself “What a jerk!” and moves on.  But the charm of this encounter wears mighty thin by the fifth ASA, or the tenth ASA, who stops by CB’s blog to dispense the same junk.  Eventually, CB stops being polite, if he ever was originally. 

(I’m not sure how common this second kind of encounter really is – do atheists visit Christian blogs to try and evangelize?  I suspect Christians are more into evangelism than atheists generally are.  But this is only for illustrative purposes.)

So here’s what worries me:  in this climate, is there any way to get back to where Americans can even stand each other again?  Whether it’s gay marriage or global warming, or evolution/creation or R/D – we really seem determined to lump those who disagree with us into the category of total idiots, and the disagreers seem determined to prove us completely right. 

I am not suggestion we should not hold passionate opinions – but I’d be lying if I claimed to have a way to reconcile that with the need for national dialog.

Categories: Issues, News

A democracy tipping over the edge

March 2, 2005 4 comments

From the Volokh conspiracy: Harsh criticism of religion outlawed.  It seems that in Austria Australia, speech that disparages a religion or a group of people is now punishable by law. 

Is this where we’re headed if we can’t overcome our reluctance to offend people?  This is an amazingly, astoundingly, incredibly bad, very awful idea.  And NOW would be an excellent, very appropriate time to stop and reconsider the real consequences to democracy of political correctness.

Categories: Issues, News

Random thoughts

February 21, 2005 6 comments

A few thoughts that flew into my head today:

  • Cats are mystified by all the moving we do.  All that activity, and so little cat food results from it!

  • Note to drivers:  judicious use of steering, brakes, throttle, and turn signals are far more effective than the horn for preventing collisions
  • We tell children, “Learning is fun!  Let’s stop lying to them.  Learning is work; and as entertainment, work is overrated.  But knowing is fun.
  • Political correctness is the new McCarthyism.  When the president of Harvard can’t express one unpopular thought during a long speech without his career being in jeopardy, what else would you call it?
  • Corrollary to previous point:  the woman who actually got “short of breath” and walked out at the offending sentence didn’t do the cause of equal rights any favors
  • Corrollary to previous corrollary:  philosophically speaking, if masculinism is garbage, what is feminism?
  • I’m kind of fond of humanism, myself

Shame on me…

Categories: Issues, News

“Democracy is not a tea party”

February 8, 2005 Comments off

Author Salman Rushdie has a great article on Open Democracy, responding to Britain’s latest attempt at enforcing thought-crime laws: Defend the right to be Offended.  Here’s a sample:

“Offence and insult are part of everyday life for people in Britain. All you have to do is open a daily paper and there’s plenty to offend. Or you can walk into the religious books section of a bookshop and discover you’re damned to various kinds of eternal hellfire, which is certainly insulting, not to say overheated.

The idea that any kind of free society can be constructed in which people will never be offended or insulted is absurd. So too is the notion that people should have the right to call on the law to defend them against being offended or insulted. A fundamental decision needs to be made: do we want to live in a free society or not? Democracy is not a tea party where people sit around making polite conversation…”

It’s good, good stuff; check it out. 
(Thanks to The Revealer for the link)

Categories: Issues, News

Why we need a Peace Department

January 31, 2005 2 comments

In an article entitled, “The best defence, New Scientist author Chris Langley reports that worldwide, military spending is expected to be $1 trillion for 2004. 

No, I’m not one of those peaceniks who thinks we should all join hands and plant daisies together, but it’s the R&D that particularly has my interest.  The US alone is spending around $63bn a year just thinking up new ways to blow stuff up.

Sometimes, stuff needs to be blown up, and by cracky, we’re the best at it.  Nobody blows stuff up better than we do.  (I’m including all kinds of other nasty things we know how to do under the “blowing stuff up” umbrella.)

We might actually be safer, and more secure, if we’d spend some – not all, I said I’m not a hippie peacenik, but some – of that money figuring out how to fix stuff.  Innovative ways to sneak education into third-world countries.  Effective treatments for malaria to stabilize countries where too many people are dying of it to run a good economy. 

An infrastructure for peace studies and action, wholly owned and controlled by US.  (Thanks, U.N., we’ll let you know if we need you.  Go trade some oil-for-food somewhere.)

How about an assessment of the destabilizing effects of our massive arms sales.  After all, no one sells more arms to the third world than we do.  Even the Chinese take a back seat to our sales figures.

In the past, foreign aid has mostly wound up in the pockets of dictators while their brainwashed people only hated us more.  So we’ll have to be smarter in the future.  The performance requirements of Gates’ Foundation philanthropies are a good model.

How much would it cost to be running several humanitarian “Manhatten Projects?”  A “Peace Department.”  Would it kill us to try?  Feel free to hit the “comments” link if you think it would…

Categories: Issues, News