Playing silly games

27 07 2015

I have not been shy about my dislike for Boston.

Hell, I even had one of the main characters of my first novel smack down the joint.

But this, this I can respect:

Boston’s troubled effort to host the 2024 Summer Olympics has come to an end, the U.S. Olympic Committee announced Monday.

“We have not been able to get a majority of the citizens of Boston to support hosting the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games,” USOC CEO Scott Blackmun said in a statement. “Therefore, the USOC does not think that the level of support enjoyed by Boston’s bid would allow it to prevail over great bids from Paris, Rome, Hamburg, Budapest or Toronto.”

. . .

Monday’s decision was met with relief from the broad coalition of residents who have been fighting the bid since the beginning. “We were very pleased to hear the news that the USOC has finally decided to pull Boston’s bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics,” Jonathan Cohn, co-founder of the opposition group No Boston 2024, told ThinkProgress via email. “This victory for the people of Boston is the result of tireless work of numerous activists and residents across the city, region, and state speaking up against this anti-democratic land grab.”

The orneriness of the Hub of the Universe was finally put to some good use.





Same as it ever was

26 07 2015

Medical research is gross.

No, wait, scratch that: biological research is gross.

There’s blood, and guts, and sawed-through bones. There are transgenic creatures, creatures which have been induced to glow, and shall we discuss fecal transplants?

Terribly useful, yes. But also gross.

And you’ve all seen the photo of the mouse with the ear on its back, right? Mother Jones helpfully compiled a list of weird experiments with mice, and while the naked ear-ed mouse doesn’t bother me, I cannot look at that last picture.

I just, I can’t, and you can’t make me. (This is me squinching my eyes tight.)

I find it profoundly disturbing.

So, on some level, I can empathize with those who are profoundly disturbed that Planned Parenthood donates fetal tissue for research. It sounds terrible.

Of course, much of the uproar deals with the alleged sale of said tissues and organs—an act which, if true, would be terribly illegal—but there is little evidence to indicate that Planned Parenthood has or does sell tissue.

They do charge for storage and maintenance, which fees are quite legal. The whole business is quite legal.

See Public Law 103-43, passed into law in June, 1993, in particular, Part 498A (a):

(1) IN GENERAL – The Secretary may conduct or support research on the transplantation of human fetal tissue for therapeutic purposes.

(2) SOURCE OF TISSUE – Human fetal tissue may be used in research carried out under paragraph (1) regardless of whether the tissue is obtained pursuant to a spontaneous or induced abortion or pursuant to a stillbirth.

There are important sections on the conditions of a licit donation, auditing of procedures, research and state law, and then:

PROHIBITIONS REGARDING HUMAN FETAL TISSUE SEC. 498B.

(a) PURCHASE OF TISSUE– It shall be unlawful for any person to knowingly acquire, receive, or otherwise transfer any human fetal tissue for valuable consideration if the transfer affects interstate commerce.

Some statutes can be written in such a way as to obscure their meanings, but this one is not: fetal tissue sales are illegal.

(In fact, the sale of any human organ or tissue (with the exceptions of gametes, blood, and plasma) are illegal in the United State; only Iran (currently) has a legalized organ trade. It is a matter of serious ethical debate whether such sales should be allowed, but, again, under the current Uniform Anatomical Gift Act, they are prohibited.)

But what of the prices discussed? Scroll down to subsection

(d) DEFINITIONS – For purposes of this section:

. . .(3) The term valuable consideration’ does not include reasonable payments associated with the transportation, implantation, processing, preservation, quality control, or storage of human fetal tissue.’.

Et voilà: charging for fetal tissue is not illegal.

Again, this might be disturbing to those who are generally unaware of how biomedical research is conducted in this country (or around the world), or of the bloodiness of medical practice generally.

Jen Gunter, an OB/GYN and pain specialist, responded bluntly to the alleged wrongs revealed in that Center for Medical Progress sting video:

Hearing medical professionals talk casually about products of conception may seem distasteful to some, but not to doctors. Medical procedures are gory by nature. Surgeons routinely cut skin, saw bones, and lift the uterus out of the abdominal cavity and then put it back in. We stick our hands inside people and it is messy. We handle broken limbs, rotting flesh, and cancers that smell. We talk about this calmly because this is what we are trained to do. It doesn’t mean that we are heartless; it means we are professionals and this is our norm for a clinical conversation. There is no reason a conversation about products of conception requires more or less reverence than one about a kidney or a biopsy specimen.

Furthermore,

Hearing medical professionals negotiate with a private buyer over the price for collecting tissue may also seem distasteful, but there is indeed an expense involved for the donor (in this case, Planned Parenthood). FactCheck.org contacted several researchers who work with human tissue, and the price range mentioned in the videos—$30 to $100 per patient—is on the low end. “There’s no way there’s a profit at that price,” Sherilyn J. Sawyer, the director of Harvard University and Brigham and Women’s Hospital’s Biorepository, told the website.

Again, anyone could reasonably be put off by all of this, just as anyone outside of a particular field may be put off by the behaviors and standards of those in the field. I don’t want to see what happens in even an humane slaughterhouse, and I regularly avert my eyes (when not otherwise avoiding) depictions of animals being killed. I find it distressing.

But just because it is distressing does not mean it’s unethical. Some proponents of the “yuck factor” theory of ethics believe that our reactions of distress and disgust can be signals of a deeper moral response, but I think it more a matter of unfamiliarity and cultural taboo, and thus a rather unsteady guide to moral behavior.

In other words, insofar as I accept that biomedical research and medical treatment are in general both good, and that such practices depend at least in part on research on human body parts, I accept that something that sounds terrible—legal trade in human body parts—may not be terrible.

That said, I do think the tissue market as it currently exists, legal though it may be, is also problematic, largely because it pushes the process of commodification ever further into our bodies. That tissue banks aren’t always upfront about the destination of donated tissues, e.g., that skin may be used for a cosmetic surgery rather than burn patient only adds to the murk of this market.

Most of those reacting strongly to the discussion in the video, however, are less concerned about the legal tissue market (and in fact are convinced that Planned Parenthood is breaking the law) than that this somehow reveals something extra-unsavory about both Planned Parenthood and abortion.

They don’t want to overturn PL 103-43 or the UAGA, aren’t calling for changes to the regulation of the tissue markets, or going undercover at tissue banks. They aren’t concerned about how gross it is to skin a cadaver.

No, this is about abortion, not fetal tissue, not alleged illegal activity, but about how abortion in general and Planned Parenthood in particular are terrible.

In other words, while the issue of fetal tissue donation may be new to some, the message overall is same as it ever was.

~~~

Also worth reading: James F. Childress on the Human Fetal Transplantation Research Panel of 1988. It was the report of this panel which provided the ethical argument in favor of research using fetal tissue.





Small blue thing

21 07 2015

Home:

NASA/DSCOVER satellite

I’ve always said that, if given the chance, I’d jump to hitch a ride on the space shuttle. To go into space!—how could I not?

(Presuming, that is, that I were physically capable of doing so. And that the trip lasted days rather than months: I can control my claustrophobia 0nly so long.)

But while I certainly would want to peer out, to see what I couldn’t see from the ground, I’d bet that I’d probably spend even more time gazing on our small blue world.

You know that old T-Bone Burnett tune, Humans from Earth? It’s actually a nasty little tune about otherworldly colonization, but that title has always stuck with me: this is where we started, as humans, and this is where we live, as humans. We might someday figure out how to be human outside of low Earth orbit, but everything about us, thus far, is grounded in experience living on this astonishing spinning ball of rock and water.

I didn’t always feel this way about Earth, tended to take it for granted. But at some point in my studies of genetics (and with a nudge from Ms. Arendt) I began to take seriously that we were worldly creatures, in the sense that we are shaped by our conditions, the most basic of which is that we are born, live, and  die on this planet.

There’s a scene from a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “The Defector”, in which said defector, a Romulan, is taken to the holodeck in order to “visit” his home planet. At first he delights in the sights, but then he rejects the illusion: this was not home.

Earth is home, to me. I understand, as someone who left her hometown and home state, that where one is from does not have to dictate where one goes; thus, I begrudge no one who might want to make a one-way trip to Mars, or beyond.

One constant of humans from the very beginning of us is that some of stay, and some of us go. So, by all means, some of us should go.

I’ll be waving from the ground.





Ice ice baby

19 07 2015

Last summer I made it alllllll the way through without stuffing the air conditioner into a window.

This year, I made it to July 19.

Actually, I put the a/c up yesterday, knowing I needed to clean it prior to use and thinking I might need it overnight, but nope, not until this morning did I plug ‘er in and turn ‘er on.

Again, not generally a fan of air conditioning, but when it’s over 90 degrees and humid, I am mighty grateful for it.

Of course, I’d been even mightier grateful if the temps would fall so I wouldn’t need the damned thing.

~~~

Once again, a big THANKYOU to P. & T., who bought the thing for me lo’ those many—okay, 6—years ago.





Set them free

12 07 2015

And on the other hand, a call to do work for no pay:

Volunteer Professors. For almost two decades generous volunteers at Southern Virginia University have enriched the lives of students, faculty, and staff in a variety of ways. For example, distinguished retired professors have taught a host of classes in such areas as English composition and literature, classics and foreign languages, creative writing, communications, chemistry, family and child development, and Russian literature. Other volunteers have assisted in hosting guests, working in the library, staffing the career services center, helping out in the Travel Study office, and serving as receptionists. In exchange for their service, the university provides volunteers with complimentary apartment-style housing and five meals a week. In addition, volunteers are welcome to participate in the full life of the university attending concerts, recitals, plays, athletic competitions, and student life events. They are also welcome to use the library and recreational facilities.

“Complimentary apartment-style housing”? What, a dorm suite? And “five meals a week” should really be sold as “complimentary weight-loss plan”.

Now, Southern Virginia University is affiliated with the Latter-day Saints (which you can figure out by reading further down the ad: “On Sundays they usually serve in one of the local Latter-day Saint wards.”), so presumably this is pitched to Mormon professors as a kind of wonderful service opportunity as opposed to a rip-off of their labor.

Still, when the ad notes that “Preference is given to those who can volunteer for at least two semesters and whose specialty coincides with one of the teaching areas listed above”—which is to say, they want professors who will work for free for nine months in the humanities, business, sciences, and the social sciences, i.e., just about every area of undergraduate education, I gotta wonder how “self-sustaining” the SVU plan is.

And I’d guess it’d just be downright snarky to ask how many administrators are given this wonderful opportunity to volunteer for 2/3 of the year in return for [less-than-] one-hot and a cot.

I mean, who wouldn’t want to staff the career services center for a monthly potluck meal?

~~~

h/t PZ Myers, Pharyngula





I fought the law

12 07 2015

On the one hand, we have someone who wants to get paid without doing the work:

“This morning, I [Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear] advised [Casey County Clerk Casey] Davis that I respect his right to his own personal beliefs regarding same-sex marriages. However, when he was elected, he took a constitutional oath to uphold the United States Constitution,” Beshear said in a Thursday statement. “According to the United States Supreme Court, the Constitution now requires that governmental officials in Kentucky and elsewhere must recognize same-sex marriages as valid and allow them to take place. One of Mr. Davis’ duties as county court clerk is to issue marriage licenses, and the Supreme Court now says that the United States Constitution requires those marriage licenses to be issued regardless of gender.”

Davis said the meeting was “cordial” and that the governor “respectfully disagreed with my position.” However, he said that he would continue to refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

He also wants the governor to call a special session of the legislature to deal with the matter of not wanting to uphold his oath of office, arguing that the estimated $60,000 cost of that session is a “drop in the bucket compared to the cost of what we will lose if we don’t take a stand for what we believe in today”.

Which is, apparently, choosing to run for an office which duties you don’t care to perform.





Show me the color of your right hand, pt II

6 07 2015

I didn’t want to be racist, and knew that whatever good anti-racist politics I might hold, if every black person I saw was every black person, I was a racist.

Cont.

So I figured I needed to get over that, and looked for apartments in, if not wholly black neighborhoods (as in North Minneapolis), then in neighborhoods where black people lived, which at the time included the area around Stevens Square. I took the bus with black people, shopped at stores where black people shopped, hung out in the park where black people hung out, and if I was still the (self-conscious) observer, I was, at least, beginning to see that one black person was not every black person.

It was also at some point in graduate school that I became interested in my own ethnic background, or at least the Irish part of it. I’m more German than Irish, along with Scandinavian, French, and, Polish, but in the 1990s I lay claim to Ireland. It was, I knew, a bit of a pose: I’d been Irish all along, but that had never mattered, and there was nothing particularly Irish about my upbringing, but I loved the Pogues and read Kate O’Brien and scoffed at green beer with the best of them. It was something I chose.

I was Irish. But white? No, that still didn’t make sense, and not in a how-the-Irish-became-white kind of way. It was something I recognized as a social reality—that people would look at me and see a white woman—but I didn’t feel “white”, didn’t know what it meant to be white.

A word about white privilege: I don’t much like the term, not least because it seems to personalize the issue too much, to customize the yawning fabric of white supremacy into a bespoke suit of advantage. It’s not that white privilege isn’t real, but that it isn’t the point: it’s just the final, small echo from the deep, deep well of white supremacy.

White privilege is the erasure of white supremacy, a forgetting that white, too, is a race. To call it a privilege to forget is cast this privilege in the most ironic of shadings: to use the term earnestly, piously, rather than sardonically, savagely, is just another way to dodge one’s own race—to look at the privilege, rather than the whiteness.

What does it mean to be white? What does it mean for me to be white? Again, I can look at social constructions and systems and structures of oppression, but do I know who and how I am as a white woman?

I prefer to talk about ethnicity, these days about how I’m mostly Irish and German, but that, too, is a dodge. I know I’m white, but don’t know I’m white. I see the history of whiteness in the US as a history of negation—this is what we are not—built around qualities and characteristics and people that those who are white are not. It’s not just that, of course, but if I reject the ‘positive’ characterization of whiteness, which is to say, white supremacy, then I don’t know that whiteness has any meaning at all.

I’m not sure about any of this. It seems that I’ve concluded that whiteness (in the US, at least) positively affirmed is white supremacy, that a whiteness without supremacy is a lack.  Is whiteness without blackness a thing of its own? Should it be? I don’t know what a non-supremacist whiteness would mean, that it could mean anything.

I am concerned these days with ontological matters: what does it mean to be? The question ‘what does it mean to be white’ appears as an obstacle, the whiteness obliterating the being. I don’t know if I have to answer this second question in order to get to the primary one. In contrast, I don’t feel as if I have to answer ‘what does it mean to be a woman’, that ‘a woman’ blots out the ‘to be’.

No, there is something about whiteness, a somnolent heaviness which masquerades as weightlessness, a history without a history, which interferes with my ability to make sense.

I’m a white woman, and I don’t know what that means.








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