Thoughts At Large

Passionate thoughts on random topics

Month: September, 2012

Dullard Nation

Five people were killed yesterday in a workplace shooting in Minneapolis.  A father accidentally shot and killed his 15 year old son last night in Connecticut.  These were six of the 87 people killed by a gun yesterday.  Eighty-seven, every day, equals over 31,500 killed every year in the United States.  Since 1968, the year Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy were assassinated, over one million Americans have been killed by a gun.

We need to acknowledge that the first ten amendments to the Constitution included in the Bill of Rights are not the same thing as the Ten Commandments.  Stop treating the 2nd Amendment as if it were part of the Decalogue handed down to Moses in Deuteronomy (the sixth edict of which states, “Thou shall not murder”).

The Constitution lives and breathes in two ways.  First, it is open to the interpretation of the Supreme Court and second, it is amendable through a purposely rigorous process. Embrace that it is amendable, and change this anachronistic law or get used to ever more stories like those above.  I hate to be a “glass half empty” guy, but I’m afraid there are too many right-wing, “Day of Confiscation” governmental fear-mongering, opportunistically and selectively religious dullards out there.  The next story is coming, and the one after that.  Neither the ink nor the tears will dry and the blood will continue to flow.

A Bug’s Life

I saw a bug yesterday, a beetle actually.  It was in the parking garage attached to my building at work.  It was black and shiny, almost iridescent, about an inch long.  It lay on its back, legs flailing helplessly, trying to right itself.  I flashed my badge at the sensor on the door and walked by, my morning coffee in one hand, my lunch bag and computer bag in the other.  It was 7:15 AM.  At 5:30 PM, pleased with the day’s accomplishments and eager to get home, dreading the hour commute, but looking forward to seeing my wife and dog, I left the building and walked to the garage.  There, in the same spot I had seen it earlier in the day; lay the beetle, now motionless.  It was dead.  Why had I not helped it?  Why did I feel guilty?  It was only a bug.  I had stepped on, swatted at or killed hundreds of bugs in my lifetime. Why did I feel guilty?   As I walked into work this morning, I looked for the beetle, half hoping not to see it.  Why does it still bother me?

Moon Shots

ImageIn the third season of The West Wing, at the end of the episode titled “100,000 Airplanes,” Deputy White House Communications Director Sam Seaborne deletes from his computer the following passage from a final draft of President Bartlet’s upcoming State of the Union speech:

“Over the past half-century, we’ve split the atom, we’ve spliced the gene, and we’ve roamed Tranquility Base. We’ve reached for the stars, and never have we been closer to having them in our grasp. New science, new technology is making the difference between life and death, and so we need a national commitment equal to this unparalleled moment of possibility. And so, I announce to you tonight, that I will bring the full resources of the federal government and the full reach of my office to this fundamental goal: we will cure cancer by the end of this decade.”

Politics prevented the fictional president from making this statement.  I would submit that politics has prevented every actual president from making this proclamation as well.  However, it is the private sector (coupled with federal initiatives) that rises to meet this monumental challenge.  Through the tireless efforts of countless researchers over the past few decades, major advances have occurred in the fight against cancer.  This past Sunday (September 23, 2012) Nature published an article identifying four definitive types of breast cancer following a comprehensive genetic study.  This study is part of The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA).  Funded as a pilot program in 2006 with a $50 million investment from both the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), the TCGA pilot project concluded that a compendium of DNA “errors” could be categorized for specific cancer types. The National Institutes of Health has committed $175 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) to continue the program.

Four days earlier, on Wednesday, September 19th, the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center launched its Moon Shots program designed to “accelerate the pace of converting scientific discoveries into clinical advances that reduce cancer deaths.”  The cost of the Moon Shots Program will be an estimated $3 billion in the first 10 years. It will be funded through M.D. Anderson institutional earnings, philanthropic donations, research grants and earnings gained from new discoveries.

Cancer knows no boundaries, takes no prisoners and ensures its own destruction by ultimately killing its host.  War against such an enemy can likewise know no mercy.  ImagePresident Kennedy, in his famous speech at Rice University on September 12, 1962 wherein he committed the United States to reach the moon by the end of the decade said, “William Bradford, speaking in 1630 of the founding of the Plymouth Bay Colony, said that all great and honorable actions are accompanied with great difficulties, and both must be enterprised and overcome with answerable courage.”  Let neither great difficulties, nor politics dissuade us from reaching this “moon.”

The Confluence of Idealism and Pragmatism

Progress occurs when idealism and pragmatism merge.  However, whether due to the explosion of the internet, or globalization in general, rather than having a better understanding and acceptance of our fellow earthlings, we have splintered society to the point where we only associate with like-minded individuals or groups.  Discussion, debate and compromise have given way to intransigent positions and hatred of others.   All issues now have rabid followers with hardened stances, whether it is gun control, abortion, unions, welfare or UFO’s.   Carl Sagan wrote,

“The chief deficiency I see in the skeptical movement is its polarization: Us vs. Them — the sense that we have a monopoly on the truth; that those other people who believe in all these stupid doctrines are morons; that if you’re sensible, you’ll listen to us; and if not, to hell with you. This is nonconstructive. It does not get our message across. It condemns us to permanent minority status.”

(By the way, it was Richard Feynman who replied to the notion of UFO’s with this calculated response:

“…from my knowledge of the world that I see around me, I think that it is much more likely that the reports of flying saucers are the results of the known irrational characteristics of terrestrial intelligence than of the unknown rational efforts of extra-terrestrial intelligence.”)

No more fractious issue exists than abortion.  Since the Supreme Court’s decision was handed down on January 22, 1973, Roe v. Wade has been a lightning rod for generations and has resulted in a binary opinion status with their corresponding labels of “Pro Life” or “Pro Choice.”  No discussion, no debate, no compromise.  Passion runs deep on both sides.  Each side batters society with horror stories and images designed to persuade an imaginary, nonexistent, undecided populace.

In response to the image below, my son has attempted to suppress emotion and rely on fact to convey a rational position.

Here, for your consideration, is my guest blogger’s post:

Claims:

1. Abortion is murder

2. Liberals “want to force taxpayers to pay for her to be killed”

3. Liberals value the egg of an eagle more than a human fetus

4. The punishment for murdering an eagle is greater than that of infanticide

Responses:

1.  Abortion is not infanticide. Abortion ends the life of a fetus, but it is not murder. Abortion is not murder in any sense of the word other than the biological. Personhood does not begin at conception. The death of a fetus can in no way be equated to the death of a conscious adult.

Mary Ann Warren, in her article “On the Moral and Legal Status of Abortion” identifies five traits that differentiate personhood from merely the biological definition of being a person. These are consciousness, reasoning, self-motivated activity, the capacity to communicate, and the presence of self-concepts. Neither a human fetus nor an eagle fetus possesses these qualities. Therefore, the fetus is not a person and the eagle fetus is not an eagle. To equate abortion to murder, especially using such a juvenile and slanted phrase as “not only is it legal to kill her” does nothing but cheapen and delegitimize the “pro-life” argument.

2.  Three percent of all Planned Parenthood health services are abortion services. Other services provided by Planned Parenthood:

– Preventing more than 584,000 unintended pregnancies annually

– Providing 770,000 Pap tests and 750,000 breast exams annually

– Providing more than four million tests and treatments for sexually transmitted infections annually

– Providing educational programs for more than 1.1 million young people and adults annually

http://www.plannedparenthood.org

“The Hyde amendment, passed in 1976, excludes abortion from the comprehensive healthcare services provided to low-income people by the federal government through Medicaid.”

ACLU – “Public Funding for Abortion”

“If a woman chooses to carry to term, Medicaid (and other federal insurance programs) offer her assistance for the necessary medical care. But if the same woman needs to end her pregnancy, Medicaid (and other federal insurance programs) will not provide coverage for her abortion, even if continuing the pregnancy will harm her health.”

ACLU – “Public Funding for Abortion”

The Supreme Court case ‘Webster v. Reproductive Health Services’ ruled that states were not required to fund abortions that were not medically necessary.

The duty of the government is not to bow to the bigotry of religious groups or overpowered lobbies. Individual objections are not enough to deem abortion legal or illegal. The simple truth is that abortion is the choice of the woman. No panel of elderly men or amount of Bible quotation can be allowed to strip this right from women. Responsibility and freedom cannot be political footballs, only mentioned when they are convenient.

3.  Liberals support a woman’s choice, not the denial of all human potential. The debate is over potential human life, not the “slaughter of babies”. Every prominent Supreme Court ruling has agreed with this, rejecting the “fetus’ right to life” argument.

4.  Infanticide is prosecuted as homicide. Killing bald eagles is not. The chief difference here, which should be obvious, is that eagles are not people. They do not have Warren’s five qualities of personhood. Yes, bald eagles were taken off of the endangered species list in 2007, but those who kill them do face possible prison time and fines. Any person who kills another person faces a lot more than a fine, and rightly so. Animals do not have more rights than humans. Abortion has nothing to do with the economy. Government funds are disallowed from funding abortions.

The proposed laws changing the punishments for infanticide are based on mental health studies and illnesses. Referencing them in this to prove the conservative position is completely inappropriate here.

Conclusion

The comparison between the egg of an eagle and a fetus is inflammatory. Every position or fact in this picture is exaggerated. It paints liberals as hateful murderers and conservatives as the moralistic, enlightened few. Abortion is legal in the United States of America. I can only hope that this continues to be true. The current trend of conservatives having medieval stances on social issues can do nothing but slow progress in civil rights. Abortion is not infanticide. Abortion is not murder in the comparative sense that this photo implies. In the history of The United States, when has the side of freedom and choice not won in the end? The bigots and the judgmental have an alarming habit of converging on one side where abortion is concerned. The loudest voices among us are not always correct.

That Buzzing in My Head

Image

When I was in college at the University of Connecticut, three hundred years ago (from 1983-87), we endured the occasional bomb threat.  Students rolled their eyes and trudged outside into the slush soaked mud where grass used to grow in the fall (before students commandeered it for the traction and width it provided instead of risking a broken neck on the iced-over and far too thin walkways). 

Bomb threats were a nuisance, they disrupted classes and schedules and not once did they prevent a test or quiz from being given.  If class was cancelled, they were given the next day.  We all knew who had called in the threat.  It was always some nitwit who had been out partying the night before instead of studying.  He was either hung-over or just plain unprepared for the exam.  No media frenzy was created.  Parents only found out about the threat if students bothered to mention the disruption to their schedule on their next visit home.  Sure, there was always that buzzing in the back of your head, “but what if it’s real,” however, we pushed that aside and went about our business.

In the years since, the world has changed, both for the better and worse.  The internet has evolved as our main source of information.  IPhones, iPads and MacBook Pro’s have replaced landlines in the dorm room, student discounted newspaper subscriptions and renting a typewriter in the bowels of the main library for $1.00 an hour.  We have also endured the paradigm shifting event of September 11, 2001.  The equivalent of our grandparent’s December 7, 1941 (but closer to home) and our parent’s November 22, 1963 (but more personal), enduring that day changed forever the way we see ourselves, our country and the world.  It was as if, in the instant the second plane hit the South Tower, we ripped out the partially written pages of the rest of our lives and inserted blank, blood stained pulp instead.  Living in Rhode Island, halfway between the origination of the flights (Boston) and their initial targets (NYC), my children’s elementary school was in lockdown mode for hours, my wife stationed outside the main door waiting to scoop them into her protective arms.  Unimaginable horror had reached our shores.  The great oceans that had buffered us in two world wars gave way to the globalization of terror.  Nobody was safe anymore.  The buzzing had intensified.

Now my children are in college, freshmen at the University of Texas at Austin.  Three days ago, they suffered through what I remember as a disruptive, but innocuous event caused by an unprepared knucklehead.  Instead, they heard the campus-wide siren wail for attention followed by text messages to clear all buildings.  A caller, who claimed not to be a student and affiliated with Al-Qaeda, said he had placed bombs all around campus and that they would detonate in 90 minutes.  Two other schools also reported bomb threats that day.  The FBI is investigating to see if they are connected.  My children, although they performed quickly and efficiently in evacuating campus together, were shaken by the event.  Following the adrenaline crash that night, they were almost nonverbal when we video chatted with them.  You could almost see the effect the buzzing in the back of their heads was having on them.

I’m all but certain this was the result of yet another unprepared student, separated generationally from my era, but convinced, nonetheless, that this was the only way to avoid a catastrophic grade.  However, given the world in which we live, that faint buzzing in the back of my head now takes on the scream of airliners overhead and the horrific thud of those who decided to jump rather than burn.  I will never forget those sounds and I can never assume that terrorism, either foreign or domestic, has not visited upon my children’s lives.  Text messaging and phone calls link me to them during these times, if the cellular network withstands the spike in usage.  We have to let them leave the nest and fly, but now I no longer shrug when I hear of a bomb threat on campus.  The buzzing is too loud.

Burning Holes in the Calendar

My grandparents had December 7th, my parents, November 22nd.  My generation had September 11th.  Let us brand in fire no other days on the calendar as those of terror, anger, fear or sadness for our children or grandchildren.

NASA Photograph of NYC on September 11, 2001