Saturday, June 20, 2009

A Consistent Ethic of Life

I've been engaged in some interesting discussions on a site for atheists- Why Wont God Heal Amputees. There was a discussion about abortion, and amazingly enough, I was seeing many of the same woo-based arguments against abortion there that I hear from people heavily invested in religion. It set me to thinking- why haven't I set down my exact beliefs on the value and hierarchy of life? So here it is- my (hopefully) logical and consistent ethic of life.

Life is important to me, because it is the only state of being I know. Non-being is frightening to me because it will deprive me of relationships with other living beings and I will cease to be an agent of action. I assume other people feel the same as I do, as they seem to fear the finality of death, too. I imagine other beings share some of these feelings to some extent as well. Therefore:

I reject killing anything that I do not have to kill. For beings that I am reasonably sure are non-sentient (insects, etc),my threshold for killing is convenience. I will not kill a thing that I am reasonably sure is non-sentient unless it inconveniences me. Example: Spider crawls down the wall. If possible, I catch it and put it outside. If it won't go, or I can't catch it, I kill it. I will preemptively kill non-sentient things if I suspect they may cause me or someone/something I care about harm or major discomfort. Example: I put flea treatment on my dog and cats.

For things that have very limited sentience, my threshold for killing is extreme inconvenience or suspicion of harm or discomfort. Example: a mouse gets in my house. I would try non-lethal traps first, but if I found they were hard to operate or weren't effective, I would call in an exterminator. If I felt there was an infestation, or that the presence of a mouse might compromise my family's health, I would skip to the exterminator.

For things that have some level of sentience, my threshold for killing would be immediate danger. Example: A strange dog comes into the yard, growls, corners my son- I grab first available weapon, and use whatever force is necessary to secure my son's safety. If the dog dies in the process, I have no regrets. I would not kill an "unrurly" or misbehaving house pet unless it became an immediate threat.

Probably fully sentient non-human beings such as great apes or some cetations- I would not kill unless I feared that they were going to imminently attack me with the intent to kill. I would first aim to incapacitate the animal, reserving lethal force as a last resort.

I would not attack a sentient human being with the intent to kill unless it attacked me first, or I feared such an attack was imminent. I would only use lethal force if I felt I had no other resort.

Special circumstances: With regard to abortion, I classify embryos/fetuses as non-sentient beings, and would use that standard. People in a perpetually comatose state or vegetative state, or otherwise totally impaired, would fall under the some level of sentience guidelines. As they would be unlikely to present imminent danger to me or mine, I wouldn't personally kill them, but I would support termination if it was shown the chances for them regaining sentience were minimal, and their continued maintainance was a possible detriment to other people. I would not actively kill or have an animal killed for food above fish, possibly fowl level unless I felt it was necessary, though I will eat food products from higher animals(beef, pork, etc.) that were all ready killed for consumption.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Aw, C'mon! Slut Jokes Are Just SO Funny!

Well, David Letterman apologized for his joke about Sarah Palin's daughter getting "knocked up" at a baseball game by Yankee Alex Rodriguez. Cut the poor guy some slack, though- he didn't know at the time it was a rape joke about a minor- he just thought it was a slutty-slut joke aimed at an 18 year old! See! Doesn't that make all the difference...

I, by no means am a Palin supporter/ apologist. I think the woman's politics are wack, and everything I've heard from the people I know in Alaska would suggest she isn't much of a Governor, either. To an extent, her very own actions made Bristol a media target when she acted like a good politician and a lousy mother, and made Bristol's pregnancy a political issue. That's what wackaloon right wing intolerance will get you- spend long enough harping on the eeevuls of sex and contraception and abortion,and when your minor child turns up pregnant, you can't just "dissapear" the problem like most moneyed and influential people. Oh, no. You've got to sacrifice your daughter and the child she'll eventually have, not to mention your own holier-than-thou facade, on the Altar of Family Values Hypocrisy for the whole world to see. That's how True Believerism works, don't you know? Never mind that it proves all the abstinence stuff to be shit, is narrowing the horizons of a young woman, and consigning a child to the "horrors" of the single parent household railed against so frequently in fundie circles. Those are really small prices to pay for sticking to your guns, right?

No, I don't like Sarah Palin, and I think she has a lot to answer for when it comes to her own actions. But none of that justifies making rape/slut jokes about her kids. Or her, for that matter.

I am so sick of women being nothing more than their place on the Fuckability&trade scale. Everything revolves around how attractive you are to men, or the implication that you aren't attractive to men, and are then only fit for the "lesbos". If you are conventionally pretty and you know it, you are a slutty-slut. If you are conventionally pretty and you don't flaunt it, you are some librarian-prude, or perhaps a cryptolesbian. If you aren't conventionally pretty, you are some "bull dyke", or humorless feminazi, or pathetic Cat Lady, or worse yet- invisible. And whatever you are, you just need to "lighten up" if you find being called any of these things offensive.

Bitchez just can't take a joke.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Can You Really Be A Rational Pro-Lifer?

The short answer to this is "no". Not any more than you can be a rational believer in Christ, or Kali, or Rael. Faith is, by its very nature, irrational. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing, mind you. We all have irrational beliefs. However, on issues of public policy which affect the bodily integrity of half the human population of this country, irrational beliefs should not be relied upon.

First, let's look at some definitions (All from Merriam Webster Online).

Reason: a sufficient ground of explanation or of logical defense ; especially : something (as a principle or law) that supports a conclusion or explains a fact d: the thing that makes some fact intelligible : cause

Rational: having reason or understanding b: relating to, based on, or agreeable to reason

Irrational: not governed by or according to reason .

So, when I say something is irrational, I'm not necessarily saying it is stupid. (Though in this situation, I think there is a case to be made that "pro-life" beliefs, are in fact, based on a rather stupid premise). Rather, I am saying it is not backed up by reason.

There is no proof of an embryo or fetus being equivalent to a sentient, born person. As a matter of fact,all scientific proof points to the opposite, with the necessary structures/ brain patterns needed for sentience not being formed until the 24th week. Which, ironically enough, is the standard for viability recognized by Roe v. Wade. Even since the early 70's, that threshold has not advanced appreciably, due to the fact that the structures necessary for independent life just haven't been formed until then. And of course, let's not forget that even at the 24th week, most fetuses will not survive without extensive medical intervention, and even with medical intervention, survival rates are fairly grim.

It is also important to point out that one being involved with the pregnancy is a fully sentient, human person from start to finish- the mother. Of that, there can be no doubt. If the real pro life argument is that all animal life should be valued equally, sentient or otherwise, the killing apes, dogs, flies, or amoebas would carry the same weight and penalty as killing a human. However, I have never seen a "pro-life" support of this particular viewpoint. The only consistent application of this principle I have noted is within Jainism, which does not enjoy a wide following here in the US. As a matter of fact, many "pro-lifers" believe the death penalty is just. Most believe participation in this country's armed forces is honorable and appropriate. Almost all believe killing in self defense is justifiable. And mind you, all of these acts could kill a sentient person, not just a "life" in the generic sense.

So where, exactly, does the "pro-life" movement come from? A recent net phenomenon can be used to explain the "genesis" of the movement. A woman in Chicago blogged about her supposedly doomed pregnancy, gaining support from the pro-life community as they urged her to see the pregnancy on through to the bitter end. The blog and the pregnancy were a hoax, as it turns out, but the emotional outpouring from the faithful was real.

I believe the pro-life movement stems from a clinging to an outmoded model of human development-
Preformationism, or the belief in a homonuclus, or fully formed miniature human, residing in the uterus from the moment of conception. That preformationism coincides nicely with the Christian concept of creation is no accident. Quite simply, the pro-life movement seeks to keep alive the fairytale of faith that modern science has threatened to disrupt.

Let's go back to "April's Mom", the hoax blog. When the people reading that blog were urging the supposed mother to continue on with her pregnancy, it is highly doubtful that they were envisioning a developing embryo or fetus at whatever stage of development the pregnancy would indicate. Nor, I am sure, were they envisioning an anencephalic infant, (anencephaly is what the hoax-fetus supposedly suffered from). Instead, they were envisioning the perfect homunculus, a thinking, feeling being trapped in it's mother's womb, wanting only a "chance" at life, a chance to fulfill the God- given purpose it had been patiently waiting to live out since the beginning of time.

Since preformationism posits that conception is merely the setting in motion of a pre-ordaned, pre-made human life, the mother is nothing more than a carrier of this life, tasked to be the intermediary between this world and the next- nothing more. Also, since preformationism is explicitly non scientific, it would look at a diagnosis of anencephaly by the medical establishment with a jaundiced eye. Undoubtedly, there were readers of the "April's Mom" blog who believed the force of their prayers might "cure" the anencephaly, or that the doctors might have been wrong from the start. After all, it is difficult to reconcile the belief that a thinking, feeling entity is just waiting to be born into this world with the reality of a severely deformed fetus missing most of its brain. As a matter of fact, the old preformationist line often held that congenital defect was the fault of some "wickedness" on the part of the mother, or some intervention by the Devil or one of his minions. In the preformationist worldview, perfection is the default mode of all homonuculi- defect is caused by external forces, and is reversible, by acts of the faithful, or God himself.

So, as we can see, there is no rational support for the pro-life position. Scientific evidence conclusively shows that first and second trimester embryos and even some early third trimester fetuses do not possess the structures necessary for independent life, let alone sentience. Christian theology does not call for the absolute respect for and preservation of all life, and US Christians do not practice such across-the-board reverence. While other religions do embrace a wider respect for life, they are not at the center of the US pro-life movement. Absent certain religious convictions that center on the embro/fetus being a pre-formed, pre- ordained human person from the moment of the creation of this world,there is no possible reason for the virulent anti-abortion rhetoric prevalent in this country. I would go further, and say that while a portion of the pro-life movement sees the preformationist belief as reason in itself to reject abortion, there exists a sizable portion of the movement that uses preformationist dogma to enforce a cynical and misogynist worldview that seeks to reestablish firm patriarchal control over women and their bodies as either an end unto itself, or as a way of re-establishing an order of domination thought to be preferable to the Christian God.

Is that really what you want public policy to be informed by?

Who Goes to a Creationist Museum?

You always find the funniest things over at PZ's Place! Yesterday, he was critical of this BBC article about the infamous "Creationist Museum" in Kentucky. While I normally agree with PZ on matters of creationist wackaloonery, I've got to admit that I found this article very funny. It didn't need to be explicitly critical of the museum to thoroughly skewer it, and the kind of people who would go to such a place.

So, who does go to a creation museum?

Dan Schoonmaker, 26, drove 11 hours from Alabama with his family after his wife Kristy heard about the museum in a Bible class. The Army helicopter pilot (who as a member of the military gets in free) described himself as a "creationist in training", admitting it needed "a lot of faith". "I personally don't know, but natural selection seems to be the only thing people go on. It should be more open," he says. "There are sometimes better explanations for things, I mean people thought the earth was flat." Theories other than evolutionary science should be given more prominence and there should be an option to study creationism in schools, with parents given the choice, he believes. "I'm a creationist in training, I don't really go to church but I'm curious about Genesis."

Robert Mailloux
Robert Mailloux, 68, flew 1,200 miles from his home in Colorado Springs just to visit the museum. The retired businessman dismisses Darwin's theory as "not even a low grade hypothesis" and said it had "no substantial science" in it. "The Bible says God created the Earth in six days and we flat believe that. There are over 100 ways science is able to look at the Earth and 90 say it is thousands of years old - only 10 say it's real old." He adds: "The way liberals and evolutionists win an argument is to outlaw freedom of speech... they won't let us in. Why is Darwin buried with kings at Westminster Abbey? He's not a king. He's the king of the atheists' movement, of people who don't want to deal with the guilt that's put on them by sin... it's a weight and a bondage, they become their own God."

Laurie Geesey
Laurie Geesey, 57, made the 560-mile trip from Wisconsin the night before with her husband Richard. The former high school teacher, who says she believes God created "everything visible and invisible", feels people look down on her views "especially under the current [White House] administration". "It interferes with their lifestyle, you know 'If it feels good go ahead and do it' - the Bible doesn't teach that," she says. In fact, she's not sure Darwin believed his own theory. Husband Richard Geesey, 67, a retired university professor, says he was "very impressed" by the museum and liked the fact that scriptures backed up the exhibits. "I believe in a lot of this and wanted to see how accurate it was," he says. "I believe the Earth is around 5,500 years old. If you don't believe in Genesis, you don't believe in anything else."

Scott Rubin
Scott Rubin, 42, says he turned to God late in life. The father-of-three, from Chicago, was a business consultant when he "had an encounter with Jesus" and became a youth pastor. "Evolution is a good theory, I don't believe in it, but parts of it are sensible and parts of creationism are sensible," he says. "When it comes down to it, how can you know for sure? What I do know is God's changed my life. I believe God created the world in six days, I do believe that." Mr Rubin, who is visiting the museum ahead of a baseball game in his home town of Cincinnati, says he grew up in the church but did not pay much attention to it. "I never intended to be the church guy. It makes sense why people believe in evolution, especially if they've not had the encounter with Jesus I've had."

This stuff is priceless. Really. As I said in comments at Pharyngula, this could be an Onion article, only these people, sadly enough, are real. I actually feel bad for these folks. They are obviously searching for meaning, and instead, they are having to settle for a $27 million dollar pseudoscientific fantasyland complete with "tail wagging dinosaurs".

Ironically, Mush and Peanut squared off over this very Creation Museum.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Top Ten Movies

If anyone is out there, I would love to hear what your top 10 movies are in your Netflix queue. A lot of people do this with music on their blogs, and I find it a great way to discover new and exciting songs, so I'm trying it with movies.

The movies at the top of my queue currently ( I count series disks as one place on the list):

1. Ranma 1/2 Outta Control
2. Ju-Rei: The Uncanny
3. Shutter
4. Mahoromatic: Automatic Maiden
5. Rocket Science
6. Please Teacher!
7. Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter...and Spring
8. Kamichu!
9. Carved: The Slit Mouthed Woman
10. City of God

A lot of the stuff on there is anime (Ranma, Mahoromatic, Please Teacher!, Kamichu!). I'm also a big J-horror fan, so that accounts for Ju-Rei, Shutter, and Carved. Rocket Science and City of God were recommended to me by friends who though the movies were "me". Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring is a Korean movie that has been praised for its lush cinematography and profound message.

Stuff that I've watched lately that I liked: The Wrestler, The Amazing Screw-on Head, The Spirit, The Quiet American, Moon Child, Death Note II: The Last Name, L: Save The World.

Like I said, please share your list if you read this! I'm always looking for interesting new movies to watch.

My Obama Report Card

Well, President Obama has been in office for almost six months now, and I think it is fair to really weigh in on his performance. (I vehemently disagree with the "100 days" crap- that's just not long enough to make real policy decisions). This is my personal opinion, of course, and is heavily weighted towards the issues I see as pressing.

Foreign Affairs- A I think Obama has done a really good job of mending the fences internationally. After Eight years of Bush doing everything he could to inflame hatred of America and Americans globally, Obama has made a real effort to back away from the former administration's incendiary rhetoric. He's had a couple of missteps- the gift gaffe and a generally weak response to North Korea- but overall, he's been saying and doing what needs to be said and done. I especially commend his Egypt speech- a conciliatory statement to the Muslim community was long overdue.

Economy- B Obama, by and large, is as much along for the ride on the whole economic runaway train just like the rest of us. He inherited the tanking econ, he inherited the bailout, he inherited the underlying causes of the problem. All he can do now is stay the course, which is pretty much what he has done. I, for one, have no problem with things like the "nationalization" of GM, but I would like to see more emphasis on corporate responsibility and accountability so that we don't keep ending up in these messes.

Iraq/Afghanistan/War on Terror Abroad- C After a really strong start on Guantanamo, Obama has really been floundering with his policies and statements on these issues. Six months after taking office, I have seen very little actual change in the war, and the Guantanamo and torture backpedaling are most disheartening. Obama needs to fulfill his campaign promises by getting us out of Iraq, articulating a timeframe and goals for Afghanistan, and unequivically renouncing the use of terror or the holding of "detainees" without due process.

Civil Rights- D This is where Obama is really falling down. He needs to end DADT now. It would be so easy, and would cost him so little. While he was at it, I wish he would start pushing hard on the restrictions on women in combat. He also needs to use the bully pulpit to move towards federal recognition of same-sex marriage. There is simply no good argument against same sex marriage, and unless Obama wants to be on the wrong side of history, he better act now. It would also behoove him to take a firm stand for womens' reproductive freedom. Repealing the global Gag Rule was an excellent first step, but all of this "abortion is a necessary evil" talk he puts out needs to end. He is giving the high ground away to the forced birthers, and we can clearly see what they do with the "high ground"- see Dr. Tiller's assassination.

Health care- B- OK. Obama has put health care on the national agenda, but he needs to articulate a vision, and stand firm. The system is irretrievably broken, and wishy-washy stop gap measures are not going to fix it.

Energy/Environment- C Obama needs to get on the ball, and really articulate a vision here. The time is ripe- people want to see change in this area. With the grassroots behind him, Obama could take on big business, and force change.

Domestic Terrorism- C Obama needs to make strong, sweeping statements against things like Dr. Tiller's assassination, and the shooting at the Holocaust Museum. He also needs to use these incidents to draw out the links between so-called mainstream "conservative" groups and the actions of this terrorists, because believe me, there IS a connection. The president MUST go on record strongly condemning such acts AND the organizations that spew the hatred that agitates the actors. In short, he must frame them as terrorism.

Overall- B- Obama is off to a good start, but he has plenty of room for improvement. He needs to worry less about political strategy and expending political capital, and more about being true to the vision he articulated during the campaign. It was that vision that got him elected, and it is only that vision being realized that will keep him there.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Now What?

In the wake of Dr. Tiller's assassination, I have submitted an application to be a Planned Parenthood volunteer. I can't sit back and do nothing. I hope a lot of other people decide they can't sit back, either. I hope that this tragic murder will be the thing that finally galvanizes sane, fair-minded individuals to act, to stand up to the hatred the "pro-life" camp is spewing. I'm tired of all of the vicious bullshit, actually. It turns my stomach every time I read some loon talking about the slutty sluts who get late term abortions, the evil of "abortionists" who kill innocent babies, etc. Feministe has compiled patient stories that show the true face of late term abortion, and Dr. Tiller's work. I'm also scared to death that only two doctors in the country are prepared to continue this vital work.

So, I'm doing what I can. It won't bring back Dr. Tiller, it won't give more options to those women facing the traumas that lead to late term abortion, and it won't change the hardened hearts of the anti-abortion movement, but its the best I can do.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Dr. Tiller's Death, and Anti-Abortion Terrorism

Let's call this out for what it really is. The Anti-abortion movement, whether intentionally or not, has fanned the flames of domestic terrorism. Dr. George Tiller's assasination yesterday, as he stood in the door of his church, is the DIRECT RESULT of decades of the "Abortion is murder" campaign. I don't care how "mainstream" or "peaceful" a group alleges to be, if they go around spouting the abortion is murder line, they have helped create the climate of hatred that spawned this attack. In a reply to a post on Pandagon, I summed up my position on what needs to be done about this:

The so called condemnations of Dr. Tiller's assassination were anything but. They never once condemned the parties responsible inciting this kind of violence, never once called for all of the "pro-life" faithful to renounce such people or tactics. The National Review fanned the flames even more by continuously referring to Dr. tiller as an "abortionist" or even "late-term abortionist". Someone needs to call them on this at a national level. NARAL's response, while doing a good job of highlighting the pattern of ant-abortion violence, fails to make the critical connection between the mainstream rhetoric and the violence itself. Planned Parenthood never even approaches the connection. NOW is the only prominent national organization I've seen thus far to call this out-and-out terrorism. Dr. Warren Hern, another late-term abortion provider said exactly the right thing in his interview with the Wichita Eagle:

Warren Hern, a Colorado physician and close friend of Tiller's -- who described himself now as "the only doctor in the world" who performs very-late-term abortions -- said Tiller's death was predictable.

"I think it's the inevitable consequence of more than 35 years of constant anti-abortion terrorism, harassment and violence," he said.

When Obama was elected last fall, Hern predicted that anti-abortion violence would increase, he said. Because Obama supports legalized abortion, Hern said, its foes "have lost ground.... They want the doctors dead, and they invite people to assassinate us. No wonder that this happens.

"I am next on the list."

This is the message that needs to be repeated endlessly. I don't have much of a soapbox- I think I have about three regular readers at my blog ;-). However, Pandagon reaches a lot of folks, and I know there are readers here who have well-read sites, too. Let's spread the word that the time is past to be conciliatory, to pretend that the "abortion is murder" rhetoric has no bearing on actual terrorist acts. I'm going to contact NARAL and Planned Parenthood, urging them to issue stronger statements highlighting the link. If anyone else has media contacts, or ideas, let me know- you can comment on my blog, or react to my comment here. This is intensely personal for me, as it literally "hits me where I live"- the suspect in this case is from my metro area.

Please join with me in setting the record straight. We didn't start this "culture war" crap, but we've got to meet in face on.