Thursday, August 26, 2010

Dumb Letters: Stem Cells Are People Too

See if you can spot the flaw in this argument from today's NYT letters section. We're talking stem cells here.

I commend Chief Judge Royce C. Lamberth for issuing a ruling on Monday preventing the Obama administration from carrying out its embryonic stem cell research. The American people should not be forced to pay for experiments that destroy human life.

Human life begins at conception with the formation of a genetically complete, self-directing human entity, the embryo.

Human beings are not raw materials that can be exploited or commodities that can be bought and sold. We must help those who are suffering, but we may not use a good end to justify an evil means. The respect for every human life is an essential condition of our society.

Any method of genetic manipulation that involves the alteration or destruction of human embryos is nothing more than Frankenstein science.

Did you catch it? It's a bit clever.

My first question to this letter writer would be "Where do the embryos in question come from?" I'm guessing they aren't yanking them out of women's bodies after they have been heteronormatively inseminated by their lawfully wedded husbands. These embryos, for the most part, have been created in petri dishes with the express purpose of being selected for their health and desirability and then placed into women's wombs with "scientific" implements, after choosing among several of them so that the customers can keep the best one(s) and discard the rest.

"Conception", in this case, takes place in the lab. And the embryos in question are "commodities" that are being bought and sold already. That's why they exist in the first place. The fact that the ones being used for research were going to be thrown away doesn't seem to affect the writer. How is this evil? Sounds like the creation of these embryos should be classified as evil, if the writer wants to be consistent. Either that or we need to keep every single one we create frozen forever. We can keep them with Ted Williams's head, I guess.

Oh, and "self-directing"? Not sure what that's supposed to mean. But I'm sure it's some kind of religious code.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Now Fewer Americans Than Ever Believe in Facts

Just when I think we can't get any dumber.

I had always thought that polls were supposed to be about people's opinions. I mean, they used to call them, more descriptively, opinion polls. "Who do you think should be president?" "What do you think about the bottle bill?" "Who's hotter, Megan Fox or Newt Gingrich?"

Apparently, we've added a new subsection of polling...fact polling. We ask people if they believe if something factual is actually factual. No, I'm not talking about asking whether people believe in God. I'm talking about this poll.

Holy crap.

We have reduced facts to nothing more than one more thing we can have opinions about. "Is the president a muslim? What's your opinion?"

The only value a poll like this has is to show just how fucking stupid we are. What's possibly worse than the 18% of people who believe (based on what?) that Obama is a muslim is the 43% of people who "don't know", more than the number who think he's a christian. This could just be chalked up to inattention. I mean, I don't know what religion some people are. (But we're usually not talking about the president of a religion-obsessed nation here.) But the same poll last year showed only 34% who didn't know. Huh? Did they forget? Or did they get stupider?

Let's have some more polls, shall we?

"Is Dick Cheney bald? What's your opinion?"

"Do the New York Yankees play in Yankee Stadium? What's your opinion?"

"Is the moon orbiting the earth? What's your opinion?"

"What's the name of that thing pumping blood through your body right now? What's your opinion?"

"Does the F train stop at Broadway-Lafayette? What's your opinion?"

Next week, only 53% of Americans think that the "heart" is what pumps their blood, down from 57% last year.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Dr. Laura Jumps the Shark (Again, But This Time She Gets Eaten on Purpose)

Okay, this is puzzling.

So Dr. Laura spends 30 years insulting people on the radio and basically being just a nasty bigoted person. Then one day recently, a black woman calls and complains about some mildly racist things said by her white husband's friends. Dr. Laura responds by ranting about why it's okay for some people to use a certain word while it isn't okay for others to use it. Some people criticize Dr. Laura. (Nothing new here.) Dr. Laura then apologizes. (Definitely something new there.) Then Dr. Laura quits her show.

Wait. What? She quits her show? What the hell for?

It isn't like this is the first time she's pissed people off. She didn't quit then.

Frankly, I don't think that what she said was all that controversial, in the grand scheme of things and in relation to some of the other crap that's come out of her mouth. Certain black comics do use that particular word a lot. And the rules can be confusing. (Tip to Dr. L and everyone else: When in doubt, don't use it.) She was just basically an insensitive ass about it. Which is the norm for her. Even if her viewpoint has some validity, she still wasn't sensitive to other people's views of the word, regardless of how it's used by certain entertainers (and people in my neighborhood). And she particularly wasn't sensitive to her caller, who asked her to refrain before Dr. Laura used the word several more times.

But she did apologize. And her apology was startlingly coherent and (it seemed) sincere. I thought she'd just go back to being this horrible...person (I refrained from using another word that people find offensive here) on the radio with a niche audience and that would be that.

But she quit. Okay, fine. she quit. But here's the problem. Why did she quit, according to her? (Do you want to wait for it? No? Okay.) Her First Amendment rights are being violated.

Oy. Presumably this is what she was talking about. Not sure how it applies, but whatever.

Dr. Laura, this is an honest question for you. Did the government come in and tell you that you couldn't say what you said? Did they shut down your show? Did they threaten to? Because that's how your First Amendment rights get violated. Not by other people exercising those same rights to tell you that you're full of shit and a bunch of sponsors siding with them. You don't have a constitutional right to have a bunch of corporations pay you for being a bigot.

I don't think the First Amendment is the problem here. I think it's you. I think you were sick of doing your show and wanted a way out that could be used to paint other people as the problem. Sorry, no. I actually had a bit of sympathy for you for a few seconds there. You're welcome to go away now.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


Bedbugs? Really? These things were supposed to have been eradicated during World War II.

What the crap?

And at the movies, no less. And in office buildings. And, by the way, not just here in New Bug City. They've even gone international.

I haven't seen them in my building yet (although I've heard rumors of them being dangerously close). But just thinking about it is making me itchy.

No matter what you think you've done, you just cannot eliminate something that's been around for 40 million years. They were here long before us and they'll be here long after we're gone.


Sunday, August 15, 2010

Freedom of Religion*

* Some restrictions may apply. Not valid for muslims within a two-block radius of specific construction sites.

Oh no! The president has stated matter-of-factly that our constitution means more than the paranoid ramblings of Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin and everyone else who thinks that allowing a muslim community center to be built (and really, do they need our permission?) is tantamount to treason.
"As a citizen, and as president, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country. And that includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances. This is America. And our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakeable."
Really, in a sane society this would be about the most non-controversial thing a president could say. And all of you "strict constructionists" out there may want to stop and think how you feel about this. But, as much as a non-issue this should be, the people on the news seem to have another thing that they can milk for ratings. Controversy!

"Will this be an issue for Obama and the Democrats in the fall?" Crikey, I hope so. Let's have them point out just how bigoted and non-strict-constructionist the knuckleheads on the right are being here. Can we please please please have this debate with the tea party people who are soooo in love with our constitution? I'd love to see them attempt to defend their position on constitutional grounds. That'd make a fine and tasty pretzel, I'm sure.

Listen, people. There is nothing remotely controversial about saying we should follow the law and let private citizens build a legal building on a site that they own. And do not bring up the sensitivity thing. It shouldn't come into play. That's not a legal argument. If we need to be sensitive then should we knock down the existing mosque (not community center, like this new "controversial" thing, but an actual mosque) that sits just four blocks from the "sacred ground"? And what should the sacred perimeter be? Ten blocks? Twenty? Slippery slope, anyone?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Dumb Letters: That Robe Is Sooooo Gay

Shall we do a dumb letter? Yeah, it's been a while. We've missed several months of sheer idiocy. Back to the grind.

Here's a lulu from the Boston Globe. I love the title: Judge's Decision on Prop. 8 Tears at Throat of Democracy

It isn't just bad. It tears at the throat of democracy. Ow! Stop! You're tearing at my throat! And I'm wearing white! I have to give them props for the vivid language, as dumb as I think the sentiment is.

Let's just reprint the whole damn thing, shall we?
THE DECISION by chief US district judge Vaughn Walker, who is openly gay, to overturn the voter-approved Proposition 8, which defines marriage as between one man and one woman in California, slices at the jugular of true democracy. His 138-page ruling is nothing more than an exercise in rationalizing without thinking rationally.
Actually, it was one of the most rationally argued decisions I've ever heard, legally, morally culturally and logically. And hey, he's openly gay? (Well, he isn't exactly open, but that's another story.) Two problems with that. First, if he were not gay and he decided the other way, would we then be able to say "A straight man passed this judgment! How dare he!" Second, the "openly" part. Would it be better or worse if he were a closeted gay? I'm not sure. Tell me, please, dear rational letter writer.
Walker bases his conclusion primarily on his ability to divine the “discriminatory intent’’ of California voters when they cast their votes for Proposition 8, but leaves out the possibility of his own preconceived bias as a gay man.
No, he didn't base his conclusion primarily, secondarily or tertiarily on discriminatory intent, although that was certainly in the bill and in its mostly out-of-state pimpers. (Does people in Utah pushing a bill in California "tear at the throat" of democracy?) He based it on equality before the law. Read it. No, really, read the fucking thing. It's about equality and whether the state has a compelling interest in discriminating. And his "preconceived bias" as a gay man seems to pale in comparison to your own, which you are about to show us.
Walker’s ruling illustrates that he does not understand the essential public purpose of marriage, which is to attach mothers and fathers to their children and to one another. He replaces this public purpose with private purposes of adults’ feelings and desires.
Do I even need to respond to this? Really? The public purpose of marriage is as a legal contract between two parties. And this is where equal protection comes in. The private purpose is whatever the crap you or your preferred religious institution want it to be. My dad remarried well after he or his wife had any intention of having children. Not married, they? I have two other sets of friends my age that have no intention of reproducing. Not married, they? My uncle has been divorced twice and widowed twice. He just married Lucky Lady #5. Why? He doesn't want to be alone. Not married, he? He got married for an "adult feeling", perhaps even a "desire". You wanna tell him? And how about people who can't conceive? Not married, they? I feel stupid even writing this, it's so obvious.
It’s time to put a stop to judges who redefine our most fundamental social institutions and use liberal courts to obtain political goals they cannot obtain at the ballot box.
Okay, let's just quit now. Why have judges if they don't have the power to overturn laws? Really, what purpose do they serve if we cannot sue what we consider to be an unjust law? Why even argue the decision on its merits if the ballot box is supposed to be the end of the story?

Howzabout we pass a law saying no one past child-bearing age can get married? Okay? Or maybe no one who has had a letter published in the Boston Globe? Sound good? If we did, I'd support your right to sue to have that law overturned. Because the people don't always know what's best. And they rarely know what's constitutional.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Newt World Odor

I actually agree with Richard Cohen about something.

Well, that isn't that crazy. He's one of those people that makes me nuts by often making sense but just as often being a complete nitwit. (Which, of course, is another way of saying that I agree with him half of the time. You know how that works.)

Anyway, he often blindly defends the Israeli government/military in a manner that I find off-putting. But he's making a play for tolerance here, which is buying him a few benefit-of-the-doubt points in my carefully maintained ledger.

The big issue here is the election-year xenophobia and downright racism being trotted out to get cheap airtime and press and to secure the votes of xenophobes, racists, racist xenophobes and xenophobic racists.

I'll find you some dumb letters about this soon, but New Gingrich is dumb enough for everybody. Well, that's not true. He isn't dumb. He's very smart. Which means that he's lying most of the time. Because he says the same things the dumb people say.

Cohen's column, from the WaPo, is here. One of my favorite bits is how he calls out the use of the scary and ill-defined "they". You know who "they" are. Well, you don't, really. But you do know that "they" are out to getcha. And they will, unless you help to get them first. Or at least vote Republican. You can read that bit for yourself, but here's a nice bit about cultural relativism.

Gingrich noted that there "are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia." True enough. However, it is not the government of Saudi Arabia that seeks to open a mosque in Lower Manhattan, but a private group. In addition, and just for the record, Saudi Arabia does not represent all of Islam and, also just for the record, the al-Qaeda terrorists who murdered nearly 3,000 people on Sept. 11, 2001, would gladly have added the vast Saudi royal family to the list of victims. In recompense, the Saudis would just as gladly apply some dull swords to the necks of al-Qaeda's leaders. It is the way of the desert, or something like that.

I would also note that women are not allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia. Applying Gingrichian logic, it follows that no Muslim women should be allowed to drive in the United States and its possessions and territories -- or, for that matter, use a BlackBerry, since the United Arab Emirates is about to block some of its key functions. I'm sure Gingrich would agree.

The truth here is not that some racist and/or xenophobic people ("they", perhaps?) are afraid of The Terrorists opening up shop near Ground Zero. It's that they're afraid that a center which is meant to promote dialogue and understanding will actually do so. They're afraid that once we see that they are just like us (only, like, different) that we won't be able to call them "they". We need "they" because we are defined by having enemies. And if we don't, then they won't have anything with which to frighten people into doing Newt Gingrich's bidding.