Wednesday, January 27, 2010

State Of The Union Recap

--The only sensible thing Obama suggested was ending the ban on gays in the military, but he could've said something at the beginning of his term rather than wait this long. Probably just a ploy.

--Tonight: Obama proposes $10,000 tax credit to offset college costs.
Tomorrow: Average college tuition rises $10,001.

--Saying he hated the bank bailouts but they were necessary to save our economy is bullshit. Banks still are not lending money to businesses, and enabling them to do so was the rationale for the bailout. Now Obama wants to give more money to banks so they can lend money to businesses.

--A proposal to build more nuclear energy plants actually makes sense. I'm shocked he had it in him.

--His tie made me sad Christmas is over and peppermint-stick ice cream won't be available for another ten months. Everything else he said made me sad for potentially more important reasons.

REPUBLICAN RESPONSE BONUS: To demonstrate the GOP's longstanding commitment to women and minorities, they scored a twofer by posing a black woman onscreen just behind Virginia's governor Bob McDonald.

Dinosaurs Were Redheads Too!

As if dinosaurs weren't awesome enough already:
Scientists have for the first time confirmed color in a dinosaur. Don’t think purple Barney, but reddish-orange Conan O’Brien .... That 125 million-year-old tail has the same internal cellular coloring agents as the hair of a red-haired person, said study lead author Mike Benton, a professor of paleontology at the University of Bristol in England.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Cynicism Of Pascal’s Wager

During a recent debate between my atheist self and a nominative Christian, he mentioned Pascal’s wager as a justification for why I should cast my lot with the churchgoing crowd.

In a nutshell, the wager says that the existence of God can’t be proved or disproved, but you may as well act as though God exists because the payoff’s so great if He does (and so awful if you’re wrong about it).

This makes sense if you think “behave as though God exists” is synonymous with “behave morally” (however you define that). It still suggests a low opinion of human nature – I refrain from harming people not because I fear God or even the cops, but because my own conscience won’t allow me to do harm – but I take a dim view of human nature myself, so I don’t fault Pascal for that.

But whenever I – an average American who came of age in the late twentieth century and is now well into the twenty-first – hear anyone mention Pascal’s wager it’s always in the context of why I should be a Christian.

And that’s where the wager falls apart. Christianity doesn’t promise heaven, or even hell-avoidance, based on what people do but on what they believe. How can Pascal’s wager cover that? Threats or bribes can alter people's words or actions, but not their beliefs. Consider: suppose I’m invested with the supernatural power to give you anything you desire – up to and including eternal life and youth. In addition, or instead, I can also inflict great suffering, up to and including eternal torment. The one thing I can’t magically do is force you to believe or disbelieve anything; I can only try to persuade.

Whether I offer you the carrot or the stick – happiness eternal or torment everlasting – here’s what I want you to believe, with true sincerity and all your heart: that our world is flat.

“The world is flat.” You can easily make yourself say this, write it or announce it to the world, if you think the payoff's worth it. But can you make yourself truly believe it? Ignore everything you know about geography, geology, gravity, physics and history until you sincerely believe Earth is flat, and when your friend goes on a round-the-world cruise you’re worried he’ll fall off the edge?

Not without copious use of mind-altering drugs powerful enough to fry your brain forever, and that’s not what Pascal was talking about.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Why I'll Never Have Kids, Part MMMCCXVIII

There exists among many the pernicious idea that if ever a woman catches pregnant, she becomes a mere vessel for the procreation of the fetus, regardless of the woman's wishes or needs.

No, this isn't an abortion-rights story. It's something even scarier:
For three days, a pregnant Samantha Burton was confined to Tallahassee Memorial Hospital against her will, ordered by a Florida court to bed rest and any medical care necessary to sustain her troubled pregnancy.

Burton was in her 25th week of pregnancy in March 2009 when she began to go into premature labor and willingly went to the hospital on the advice of her doctor.

But when the 26-year-old resisted -- learning that she might have to stay months until her delivery, away from two toddlers at home -- hospital officials obtained a court order to force Burton to submit to anything to "preserve the life and health of [her] unborn child."

Anything including the neglect of the children she already has. Burton miscarried three days later, and was released. Had she not lost the baby, she presumably would have remained imprisoned at the hospital until giving birth three months or so later. She's now suing with the help of the ACLU, not for money but to ensure no other woman suffers what she did:
Burton was never offered a second opinion or any compromises, such as a nursing home or less restrictive facility, according to [her lawyer David] Abrams. At one point a friend who lived near the hospital had offered to take Burton in ....When Burton refused to stay, the hospital called the state, which appointed the hospital lawyer to prosecute the case and got an order from the Leon County Court.

Burton was appointed a lawyer "after the fact," said Abrams.

"The court order was so broad it was one of civil commitment," he said. "It basically said any treatment deemed necessary to respect the fetal health and made her a ward of her doctor."

"This was not refusal of medical care, it was about who decides and in what setting," he said. "When I walked into her hospital room I saw no monitor, she was alone in a bland room, not unlike a prison cell, not the kind of place you'd want to spend three months alone in separated from your family."

Burton's doctor, Dr. Jana Bures-Forsthoefel, did not comment on the case or her willingness to forcibly convert adult patients into her legal wards. Nor does the story mention if any of Bures-Forsthoefel's other pregnant patients decided to find themselves another doctor with more respect for their decisions. Lawyers for the hospital and Florida attorney general's office insist they did what was right, good and legal to Protect The Unborn.

What are the implications if this ruling is allowed to stand? Abortion is still legal through the twelfth week of pregnancy, so presumably no doctor could force a woman into hospital confinement then. But the minute she reaches her thirteenth week of pregnancy she cedes all right to make medical decisions -- or even decide where she lives -- if any such decision might threaten the life or health of the fetus.

Of course, the only women who'd risk imprisonment during their last six months of pregnancy are the ones who register on some doctor's radar by seeking regular pre-natal care, as Burton did. The law would make such responsible behavior foolish for any woman worried about her right to live freely at home rather than as a captive. Those valiant protectors of Burton's miscarried child all call themselves "pro-life," but their callous disregard for Samantha Burton, her husband and their two young children shows how clearly they believe "life" not yet out of the incubator is more important than lives already born.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Ha-ha, Grinch! Try Stealing Christmas Now

With the holiday season finally over, my heart gets a warm and fuzzy glow from knowing it'll be almost twelve months before TSA gets another chance to ruin Christmas. Over at the Guardian's America blog I discuss how they ruined the last one.

Previous writings on the TSA include: Facecrime; How I Smuggled Six Ounces Through Airport Security; I'd Make A Great Terrorist Mastermind; Homeless People Go Boom; Only Terrorists Have Good Hair; and Never A Disaster That Our Leaders Can't Make Worse.

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