Sunday, March 20, 2011

Women are not livestock

A bill aimed at restricting abortion clinics in Illinois has recently been unanimously passed through committee in the Illinois General Assembly.  The bill was sponsored by Republican Representative Darlene Senger of Naperville and will require clinics that provide abortions to be regulated as surgical outpatient clinics.  

Many if not most such clinics would need to undergo extensive remodeling and purchase a lot of expensive additional equipment.  This is very obviously intended to cause the closing of clinics that cannot afford to meet these new regulations and to make abortions much more expensive in those clinics that remain open.  This would also serve to disproportionately effect clinics in poorer areas, that are already underserved in Illinois.

However, the part of this I find most disgraceful is that this human health, medical regulatory bill was not submitted to a legislative committee that commonly deals with such matters but was instead submitted to the Agriculture and Conservation Committee.  This bill was submitted and passed unanimously by a committee that works on legislation for livestock, hunting, and soil conservation -- not human medical health laws.

This bill had no Earthly business being considered in the Agriculture and Conservation Committee when there are more appropriate health specialized committees available.  I am ashamed of my state's Assembly for this stunt.  I am ashamed of that committee which I am connected to by virtue of being an Illinois farmer for passing that bill unanimously instead of refusing to consider it as inappropriate for their committee.  

What the hell is wrong with these people?  What the hell was Representative Senger thinking when she purposefully submitted this bill to the Agriculture and Conservation Committee instead of the Human Services or Health Care Licenses committee?  Can't any of them see how dehumanizing, disrespectful, inappropriate this is?  Women are not livestock.  

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Teach the controversy

Teach the controversy?

What do you mean by controversy? That evolution is controversial to some of the  public? Yes, clearly it is. That the theory of evolution is controversial among scientists who study it? No, it isn't. The general concept of evolution by natural selection is accepted science. 

Creationism versus evolution is no more a controversy in modern science than is alchemy versus chemistry or astrology versus astronomy. Scientifically these debates were settled long ago. 

There is no scientific controversy to teach.

[Images borrowed from:]

Science saved his soul

If you read a lot of science or skepticism websites, you might have already seen this video by philhellenes. It is entitled "Science Saved My Soul" and it is a well crafted 15 minute film of personal thoughts about big ideas. Please take some time to watch it, listen to it, and perhaps be inspired to thought by it.

Monday, March 14, 2011

FOX News Isn't Just Biased

Fox News has a well known bias towards reporting the news that conservatives prefer. That isn't something I'm inclined to rant about since it is usually an editorial bias concerning which stories to run. So they skip coverage on things that embarrass their allies or emphasize coverage of their enemies, big deal.

Where I have an issue with Fox News is when they intentionally misrepresent the facts of a story, distorting the news to align with their political agenda. That isn't just editorial bias. It is deliberate misinformation being passed off as news. It is lying.

Today's example of "creative use of the truth" concerns the tragic case of Canadian Baby Joseph who is dying of a neurological condition and has been transferred to a hospital in the US. Fox is presenting this story as a clear case of the evils of socialized medicine, with a brave American pro-life group stepping in to rescue the baby from certain death by bringing him to the US for medical care that the Canadian system refused to perform.

Here is a quote from the Fox News article: "Priests for Life staff toiled through the night for many nights, working in concert with dozens of people to make this possible," Father Pavone said in a statement. "Now that we have won the battle against the medical bureaucracy in Canada, the real work of saving Baby Joseph can begin."

The trouble is that the FOX News angle on this story is incomplete and very misleading. Some quick research into other sources reveals a different story that despite being covered by many journalists still produces a consistent narrative of verifiable facts that is at odds with the coverage by Fox News.

For example, Baby Joseph's parents aren't currently disputing that their little boy is dying. The procedure they wanted was not intended to be life-saving. The dispute between the parents and the hospital apparently revolved around whether or not to do a tracheotomy which the parents feel (against medical advice) will help Baby Joseph's inevitable death be less traumatic.

The hospital in Canada was refusing the tracheotomy, but had offered to bring Baby Joseph home while still connected to life support systems. So that there at home he could be disconnected and die in the arms of his parents. But the parents still wanted the tracheotomy and have accepted the financial help of Priests for Life who transferred Baby Joseph to SSM Cardinal Glennon Children's Medical Center in St. Louis, Mo. It is unclear whether Baby Joseph will now get the procedure his parents wanted. 

This is more than a case of interpreting the news in a different way. This is more than simple bias. FOX News left out important facts and created a completely new narrative in line with right wing politics. This degree of misinformation isn't harmless. It isn't just poorly researched journalism. It is deliberately dishonest. It is propaganda that cynically takes advantage of a family's tragedy to promote an ideology with lies.

[Note: I've used screen captures of websites in this post, so that you can refer to the articles I read as they were when I read them. Sometimes articles get rewritten or revised and a link would go to the most up-to-date version, which might be very different from the version originally I saw.]

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Free unions and collective bargaining

"They remind us that where free unions and collective bargaining are forbidden, freedom is lost."

-Ronald Reagan
Labor Day Speech at Liberty State Park, Jersey City, New Jersey, September 1, 1980

You can fast forward to 7:30 to hear the quote above.

Let us keep in mind that what happened last night in Wisconsin was not intended or even able to save the state money, balance the budget, or solve a fiscal crisis. All of those parts of the legislation had been removed, so that the anti-union and anti-collective bargaining parts could be passed through the Wisconsin Senate to the Wisconsin Assembly despite the absence of quorum.

"After stripping the bill of fiscal measures that require a 20-member quorum for action, Senate Republicans abruptly passed the measure 18-1. Republican Sen. Dale Schultz cast the lone no vote.
Analysts say the bill would cripple most of the state's public employee unions."

Crippling the unions is the whole point of this exercise and pretending otherwise has become untenable.  In the words of Wisconsin Republican 
State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, "If we win this battle, and the money is not there under the auspices of the unions, certainly what you’re going to find is President Obama is going to have a much difficult, much more difficult time getting elected and winning the state of Wisconsin."

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Pale Blue Dot

In 1990 at the request of Carl Sagan, NASA turned the camera of Voyager 1 back towards the inner solar system to capture an image of Earth.  Already beyond the orbit of Neptune the Voyager 1 craft was at the end of its primary mission and was over 3.5 billion miles from home, from us, from the tiny point of light that is Earth in the photograph it took.

Dr. Sagan would later write a book in which he composed the following passage as inspired by that photograph.  In my opinion, rarely have more meaningful words been assembled.

"From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of particular interest. But for us, it's different. Look again at that dot. That's here, that's home, that's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known."

Where is Voyager 1 now?  It is plunging into the vast darkness of interstellar space.  

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Let The Right One In

What follows is a brief comparison of the novel Let The Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist, with the original Swedish film adaptation Let The Right One In directed by Tomas Alfredson,  and the American film Let Me In directed by Matt Reeves.  There are some spoilers below, so be warned.

I've had a chance to see both films as well as read the novel that inspired the original movie.  I liked them all.  There are some differences in the plot with the American version having a more condensed, tighter story that utilizes fewer characters.  The important events remain similar enough and the emotional content has largely the same impact.  But the American version is a remake of the Swedish film, not a reinterpretation of the novel that the Swedish film is based on, which I mean as an observation not a complaint.

For example, in the American film the old man who cares for the vampire is clearly indicated to be a former little boy that the vampire befriended years ago.  That is definitely not the case in the novel where the old man was pedophile that was "adopted" by the vampire just a few years before the story.  The Swedish movie could be interpreted either way.  The book also makes the back story and sex of the vampire explicitly clear.  The Swedish movie gives less back story but still provides strong clues that the vampire is a mutilated boy.  The American version retains the line by the vampire saying that he/she isn't a girl, but that is it.  

The little girl actress in the Swedish version portrayed a much more creepy, inhuman, and isolated character than the little girl actress in the American version who came across as much more vulnerable and sweet.  But overall the American version had better acting, even taking the subtitles of the Swedish version into account.  It certainly had much better special effects.  But I was pleased to see that the style of the cinematography used in the American version paid some homage to that used in the original film.  Despite the differences, the overall mood carries through the various versions of the story.

Thumbs up for all three versions.