Everybody knows the deal is rotten, 14

16 11 2014

The Greek state is caging children:

Nine-year-old Jenny stands and rocks backwards and forwards, staring through the bars of a wooden cage.

When the door is unlocked she jumps down on to the stone floor and wraps her arms tightly around the nurse. But a few minutes later she allows herself to be locked back in again without a fuss.

She is used to her cage. It’s been her home since she was two years old.

Jenny, who has been diagnosed with autism, lives in a state-run institution for disabled children in Lechaina, a small town in the south of Greece, along with more than 60 others, many of whom are locked in cells or cages.

Fotis, who is in his twenties and has Down’s syndrome, sleeps in a small cell separated from the other residents by ceiling-high wooden bars and a locked gate. His cell is furnished only with a single bed. There are no personal possessions in sight anywhere in the centre.

“Are we going on a trip?” is this wiry young man’s hopeful refrain whenever he sees anyone new. But with barely six members of staff caring for more than 65 residents there is rarely an opportunity to leave the centre.

They have no money to care; they cannot care without money.

Efi Bekou, who looks after the institutions in the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare, states that

the economic crisis means that the Greek state is bound to rules set by its lenders in the EU and IMF, including a moratorium on hiring new staff – as a result, she says, it would be impossible to employ the number of staff needed at the centre.

Is this the fault of the Greek state? It is a poor, and poorly-run state, so probably yes.

But not only the state’s fault: the Greek crisis was set in motion by the global recession in the fall of 2008—the same global recession which saw Americans lose their jobs and their homes and blamed by financial analysts for their lax fiscal morals.

And so, too, have the Greeks been blamed by the European Union for its lax fiscal morals, from which they, the EU, must sighingly rescue them yet again.

No word on any rescue for children in cages.

h/t Filipa Ioannou, Slate





If you decide to make the sky fall

9 10 2014

I am not a Christian, Muslim, or Jew.

I am not Hindu, or Buddhist, or Jain, Taoist, Bahá’í, Wiccan, Yazidi, Shinto, Zoroastrian, Sikh, or any sort of pagan or animist.

I am not spiritual, and believe in neither demons nor angels nor supernatural vibes of any sort.

I am agnostic, which means I lack knowledge, along with faith and belief. I do not know if none, one, some, or all of the above traditions holds any or the entirety of truth. I do not know if some other tradition holds any portion of truth.

And I’m all right with that. I call myself a “doubter”, and that doubt works for me.

I’m also all right with others who have do have faith in some tradition or another, and, contra Hitchens, do not believe that “religion poisons everything”.

Or should I say, that religion uniquely poisons everything. I think religion is a powerful human invention and thus, like any powerful human invention, may poison its adherents or the course of events, but not that it necessarily or always does so.

It is also possible that religion (l.a.p.h.i.), may serve as an antidote to other invented poisons.

All of which is a rather long prologue to a rather convoluted post on the rather convoluted topic of the role of Islam in the world today, viz., is it uniquely bad in its effects on co-religionists and non-co’s alike?

There is today far more violence among Muslims and between Muslims and non-Muslims than there is in other world religions*. This doesn’t discount other intra- and inter-religious violence or aggression, nor other less-deadly forms of intolerance, but given conflicts across parts of Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, it’s pretty clear that there are. . . issues in Islam.

Are these issues unique to Islam? A little trip through history points to “no”, and had pundits existed in the 16th century, they may have raised similar questions about the aggressiveness and intolerance of Christianity.

Are these issues endemic to Islam? Whatever the violent history of Christianity, it’s mostly not violent today*, which leads some to note that aggression is therefore not an essential part of Christianity. Can Islam work its violence out of its system as Christianity has, or is supremacism and aggression so interwoven in its scripture and traditions that it cannot transform itself as Christianity has?

Trick questions!

Christianity is a sprawling complex of tradition and change and interpretation which has sometimes been violent, sometime intolerant, sometimes triumphalist, and other times, not. That Christianity is currently not at the center of strife in the world* does not mean that its aggressiveness has been bred out of its system. It’s sidelined, but extirpated? Eh.

Islam is also a sprawling complex of tradition and change and interpretation, and thus like Christianity, can find within that complex support for both aggression and tolerance. It is thus difficult to determine whether any one strand within is always and forever at the center of what it needs to be Muslim.

So, why trick questions? Because what counts as essential has been and is contested in history, and what must be interpreted in this way today may be interpreted in that way tomorrow. That is the condition of all human inventions.

None of this is to shield Islam or any other tradition (or human invention) from criticism, and that there may exist no absolute and eternal standards of how to treat one another doesn’t mean one can’t construct and apply our own provisional and worldly standards.

Which is a rather convoluted way to say: of course Islam may be criticized, as should be those who find in Islam justification for horrid acts.

That Muslims are not unique in their religious—or ideological—justifications is also no barrier to criticism: your mom probably pointed out to you long ago that “everyone else is doing it!” is no excuse for your own bad behavior.

One last turn around: If you’re going to go after an entire religious belief system and its effects on adherents and non-adherents alike, then fer-cryin’-out-loud, look at the entire belief system, not just at what you don’t like.

Is there poison in Islam? Yes. But that doesn’t mean Islam is all and only poison.

Or maybe it is. It’s possibly that after thorough study one might conclude nothing good has ever or will ever come from Islam—or any religion.

But I kinda doubt it.

~~~

*Crucial caveat: people living in countries having bombs recently dropped on them by Christians might contest this notion of Christianity as not-aggressive.

h/t for link to Sullivan, and this entire damned post was set off by the Maher-Harris-Affleck kerfuffle





O the dragons are gonna fly tonight

17 07 2014

I.

I understand the difference between unintentionally and intentionally killing someone, I do.

I understand that Hamas fires off rockets with the intention of killing Israelis, military & civilian alike, and I understand that the Israeli Defense Force fires missiles into Gaza with the intention of killing Hamas fighters, and in so doing, unintentionally kills civilians.

I get it: the purposes are not the same.

But.

When you are aware that your intentional actions will lead to large numbers of unintentional deaths, well, then it’s hard to see how much that lack of intention matters to the unintentionally dead, or to the families of the unintentionally dead.

Or to those of us witnessing the bodies of the unintentionally dead.

II.

If the Malaysian airliner was shot down unintentionally, accidentally, does that make it okay?

III.

I understand, really I do, the thinking behind the statement that Hamas are responsible for the civilian dead in Gaza: were they not to insist upon firing rockets into Israel, it would not be necessary for Israel to fire missiles into Gaza.

But the fact remains: Israel fires missiles into Gaza.

The fact remains: Israelis missiles killed those boys on the beach.

IV.

You may argue, if you wish, both that Israel is morally responsible in its attempts to limit civilian casualties and that Hamas is completely responsible for civilian casualties.

You may argue that, if you wish.

But if Israel is not responsible, then how is it responsible?

V.

I don’t know what I would do, how I would think, if I lived in Tel Aviv, Gaza, Hebron, or Jerusalem, if it were me, transplanted from my junior one-bedroom in Brooklyn to an apartment in Israel or the Occupied Territories.

If it were me, would I call those territories occupied, which they are, or would I call them Palestine, which is what some want them to become?

(Judea & Samaria? No: it is still me.)

How would I understand Israelis, Palestinians? the soldiers, the militants, the terrorists? the politicians? the underpaid academics, the cafe-goers and olive farmers and scientists and tour guides and those for whom the land is their home, their everything?

The kids, the families, anyone at a beach in July: that I understand.

VI.

From where I sit, in my junior one-bedroom in Brooklyn, it is clear: this must stop!

But of course. How obvious is that observation. How useless it is.

How many people disagree, by agreeing to its extremes; who seek for it to continue, without end, until it all can be finally ended.

Who don’t care what it takes to get to that final end, how much and how many will be destroyed.





Stop me if you think you’ve heard this one before

18 03 2013

Oh that Rand Paul, champion of liberty! Look how he’s standing up for freedom now:

“The Life at Conception Act legislatively declares what most Americans believe and what science has long known – that human life begins at the moment of conception, and therefore is entitled to legal protection from that point forward,” Paul said in a statement. “ The right to life is guaranteed to all Americans in the Declaration of Independence and ensuring this is upheld is the Constitutional duty of all Members of Congress.”

Ahh, conceptional personhood: An idea utterly lacking in biological sense.

Charlie Pierce has the right idea regarding the Paul family: His Five Minute Rule  states that, for five minutes, both the son and the father, Crazy Uncle Liberty (!), make perfect sense on many issues. At the 5:00:01 mark, however, the trolley inevitably departs the tracks.

As Pierce notes, with this we are at the 5:00: 07 mark: The trolley has jumped the tracks, tipped over on its side, and is skidding down the boulevard.

I believe I have covered this before, but let’s go over this again, shall we?

There is no such thing as the “moment of conception”.

As Moore and Persaud note in the 6th edition of The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology:

Fertilization is a complex series of “coordinated molecular events (see Acosta, 1994 for details) that begins with the contact between the sperm and a oocyte and ends with the intermingling of maternal and paternal chromosomes at metaphase of the first mitotic division of the zygote, a unicellular embryo. Defects at any stage in the sequence of these events might cause the zygote to die (Asch et al, 1995). . . . The fertilization process takes about 24 hours. [p. 34, emph added]

“Process”, Senator Paul, not “moment”. Shall we break it down even further?

  • Passage of sperm through corona radiata surrounding the the zona pellucida of an oocyte.
  • Penetration of the zona pellucida surrounding the oocyte
  • Fusion of plasma membranes of the oocyte and sperm
  • Completion of the second meiotic division of oocyte and formation of female pronucleus
  • Formation of male pronucleus
  • Membranes of pronuclei break down, the chromosomes condense and become arranged for a mitotic cell division—the first cleavage division [pp. 34-36]

There are many more details involved in those stages, but the highlights ought to be enough.

At this point, the zygote is still in the ampulla [middle portion] of the fallopian tube, ambling its way toward the uterus. Beginning around 30 hours post-fertilization, it undergoes a series of mitotic or cleavage divisions, in which the internal cells (blastomeres) divide and become successively smaller. “After the nine-cell stage, the blastomeres change their shape and tightly align themselves against each other to form a compact ball of cells. . . . When there are 12 to 14 blastomeres, the developing human is called a morula (L. morus, mulberry).”  The morula forms about 3 days post-fert, and enters the uterus 3-4 days post-fert. [p. 41]

Okay, 4 days in and the mulberry is still wandering around, unattached, developing away. A fluid filled space called the blastocyst cavity or blastocoel forms, which separates the blastomeres into two parts:

  • a thin outer cell layer called the trophoblast, which gives rise to the embryonic part of the placenta
  • a group of centrally located blastomeres known as the inner cell mass, which gives rise to the embryo [p. 41]

At this point the berry becomes a blastocyst. (FYI: If you are an embryonic stem cell researcher, this is when you’d harvest the inner cell mass in order to cultivate stem cell lines. The blastocyst would, of course, be destroyed in the process.)

The blastocyst continues to float around in “uterine secretions” for a couple of days as “the zona pellucida gradually degenerates and disappears”. [p. 41] With the dissolution of the zona pellucida, the blastocyst is free to bulk up on those tasty secretions, until around day 6 post-fert, when it attaches itself to the endometrial epithelium.

All hell breaks loose now, as the trohoblast differentiates itself and its outer layer, the syncytiotrophoblast, insinuates itself into the endometrial epithelium and into the connective tissue, or stroma. “The highly invasive syncytiotrophoblast expands quickly adjacent to the inner cell mass, the area known as the embryonic pole. The syncytiotrophoblast produces enzymes that erode the maternal tissues, enabling the blastocyst to burrow into the endometrium.” [p. 42]

Although it takes another week for the embryo to implant itself fully into the endometrium and stroma—which further details I will spare you—this is the stage at which one could say a pregnancy begins.

Got it? One day for the process of fertilization, 6 days for sufficient development to begin a pregnancy, for a grand total of 7 days or one week.

Oh, and one more thing: Of all the zygote-morula-blastocysts formed, 25 percent wash out before implantation, and another 35-55 percent miscarry before birth. Only 20-40 percent of those berries results in a baby.

Anyway, if I wanted to be kind to the momentary conceptional folks, I could say that “conception” is achieved after 24 hours; if I wanted to be strict, I could say 7 days, and if I wanted to be a real bitch, I could argue that not until 14 days has the embryo done anything worth considering a “conception”. Even granting a kindness, it’s clear that the moment is, at its shortest, a day.

Why does this matter? After all, for many people who are pro-life, the issue is less the biology than the morality; that the conceptus takes awhile to get itself together does not obviate the fact that the process begins—that human life begins—when the sperm drills itself into the egg. The biology matters only because it is a trigger for something more, not in and of itself.

This, of course, is how you get bullshit proposals like personhood bills and amendments: by treating biology as a chit in the culture war rather than a reality on its own terms.

Human development is an amazing, complicated, and fraught process, one which does not comport itself easily to our moral preconceptions (sorry) about it. By all means, make a moral argument, but don’t pretend that biology tucks up neatly into it.

Senator Paul is free to believe all he wants “that human life begins at the moment of conception, and therefore is entitled to legal protection from that point forward”, but I am also free to point out it is a belief untethered to biological reality.

That trolley done run into nonsense.





Mayan campaign mashup 2012: Stop me oh ho ho stop me

27 09 2012

Brutal:

I almost feel bad for him by the end.

Almost.

~~~~~

There’s a discussion over at Crooked Timber on the morality of leftists voting for Obama (here, here, and here), both in terms of the specific policies of Obama and the general policy approach of the Democrats.

I don’t necessarily disagree with either Henry or Daniel on the consequences of lesser-evilism, but it seems to me that you can’t just compare the lesser-evil to the not-evil, but to the greater-evil as well. They both get that, even if they do, ultimately reject it—largely by erasing the distinction between the greater and lesser evils, and leaving only that between evil and not-evil.

Which leads to one of my peeves regarding this debate: What the hell does morality have to do with politics, anyway?

It’s too late to get into a real discussion of the issue—and I have softened somewhat to the point that I allow the possibility that there just maybe might be some sort of connection—but I can at least ask: What role does one’s own moral stance have to play in voting? Are you meant somehow to be cleansed by voting? Not dirtied?

Shit, I got distracted by a misbehaving cat (Jasper!) and don’t have time properly to set up the issue, but is voting primarily about you, the voter—your complicity or contribution or whatever—or something else?

My gut reaction to all of this is a kind of contempt, but then again, I think guts are stupid. In other words, the issue of the morality of voting for a lesser evil isn’t something I should dismiss out of hand, even if I think that framing the issue as such is wrong.

Dammit, shoulda dealt with this earlier in the evening. . . .





Voices carry

23 08 2012

It’s a joke, but it’s not really a joke.

The whole Abortion Rights Militantthing, I mean. Yes, the capitalization and the ™  are completely unsubtle winks at my sardonic (re)appropriation of what is meant as a slur, but I ain’t jokin’ in my damn-near-absolutism on matters of law.

This absolutism, however, extends only as far as the law; the morality, the sentiment regarding abortion is another matter. I might recognize the decision to terminate a pregnancy as morally licit, but that doesn’t make it easy.

(In fact, the complications of the decision are precisely why legally it is best left to the woman—but I don’t want to sidetrack myself like I did last night, so I’ll just leave it there. Nor will I stray into a discourse on the evolving status of the blastocyst-embryo-fetus. . . .)

Nope, let me give this one over to sympathy for the beliefs of those who think abortion is always or almost always morally wrong, that the termination of a pregnancy means the killing of a child.

I don’t share that view, but it’s not wholly alien to me, either. No, I can’t get too worked up about embryos, but a fetus, the fetus is something else, and the further along the fetus, the more baby-like the fetus appears.

By the second trimester it’s not yet a human being, but it’s so clearly on the way to becoming one that I understand—I feel—a certain sympathy toward this small creature. It’s not one of us, not yet, but it could be, it could be.

If given a chance, she could become a human being; how could I not be moved by that possibility?

In teaching my bioethics course on assisted reproductive technologies, I cover selective reduction of multi-fetal pregnancies. These aren’t technically abortions—the idea is to kill some of the fetuses in order to save the rest, as opposed to ending the pregnancy entirely—but this procedure, generally performed at the end of the first trimester, seems to me essentially tragic. The woman (and her partner) want children, but their best chance of preserving the possibility of having some of those children is to destroy the possibility of some of those children. Again, how could I not be moved by the intertwined possibilities of beginning and end?

And I guess that’s where I both sympathize and part ways with those who are pro-life. I look at a fetus and see possibility; they look at a fetus and see a child, already here. I wonder at what could be; they wonder at what is.

Sometimes I can glimpse what they see right in front of them, sometimes I can imagine that the fetus is a child reacting in terror and pain to the ending of her life, and I can understand why those who are pro-life see abortion as murder, and its legality as a kind of sanctioned genocide. How horrible to think that we in the US allow over a million babies to be murdered every year.

But then I blink and what I see is not a child but the possibility of a child—and the actuality of the woman. And I think how horrible for the state to take away the control of her life, how horrible for the state to treat women as if they don’t exist.

Thus the final sympathy with those on the other side of the issue: we are each genuinely horrified by the state-sanctioned disappearance of human beings. We just don’t agree on which human beings.





People who need people

23 08 2012

No no no no no no no.

Just in case it wasn’t clear from my last post, I am against any and all laws seeking to limit access to abortion: Waiting periods, mandatory ultrasounds, parental notification, time limits—all of them, every damn one of them.

I come by the label Abortion Rights Militanthonestly.

I have also argued for the morality of abortion, that is, that the decision to terminate a pregnancy is, by default, a moral one, albeit of the ontological sort. In other words, because the woman is a moral actor in making decisions about her life, then the decision of whether or not to gestate a fetus into human being is inherently a moral decision.

On a practical level, however, it’s not necessarily a moral decision. If, for example, the woman feels that continuing with the pregnancy is so unfathomable that there seems no choice but to terminate, that there is no deliberation because there is nothing to deliberate, then it might be said the decision to terminate is amoral or beyond morality. It might even be immoral if, say, a woman chose to terminate in order to punish someone else, but, again, the mere fact of ending a pregnancy, of killing an embryo or fetus, is not, to me, inherently immoral.

Which brings me to Shauna Prewitt.

Huh? you say.

Shauna Prewitt got pregnant as a result of rape and decided to continue the pregnancy and raise the child (now a seven-year-old girl). She wrote An Open Letter to Rep. Akin describing that, yes, pregnancy after rape is possible, and that the belief that it is not may underlie some state laws which allow—unfuckingbelievably—the rapist custody and visitation rights to the child.

Prewitt deserves all kinds of praise for her willingness to rely on her own fraught experience in calling out morons like Akin (and a certain blue-eyed cheddarhead. . .) and for her efforts to change those unfuckingbelievable laws.

But does she deserve praise for carrying the pregnancy to term? I don’t know.

Clearly, if the choice to end a terminate can be a moral one, then the choice to continue a pregnancy can be moral.

That sounds a bit odd, doesn’t it? As if it should be so obvious that continuing a pregnancy is moral that to ‘concede’ the point seems a kind of backwards-day game? But hang with me: Prewitt continued her pregnancy because she felt attached to the fetus:

You see, to my surprise, I did not altogether hate the life growing inside of me. Instead, I felt a sort of kinship, a partnership — perhaps the kind that only develops between those who have suffered together — but, nevertheless, I felt a bond.

She goes on to note that the decision to continue the pregnancy and raise her daughter wasn’t easy, but it was the right one for her. Ontologically, she made a moral decision.

Is it a moral decision in a more day-to-day sense? Sure. Yeah, things are fucked up on this earth, but when have they not been? And while we humans may have played no small part in that fucking up, we’re not all bad; bringing in new people beats the alternative.

Anyway, note as well the role that desire played in her decision: Prewitt decided to gestate the fetus which became her daughter because she felt a bond, because she felt “enlivened” by the life inside of her. She had the baby because she wanted to.

Does action in accordance with the fulfillment of desire nullify the morality of that action? Well, the argument that passion drives reason has a long history in philosophy, but that we act on our desires, because we do what we want does not mean those doings are morally tainted. If that were the case, then morality would have no place for humans, and we would have no place for morality.

So how do we adjudge the morality of decisions shot through with desire and need and fear and hope and confusion? How do we say that this decision to do what we want is moral and that decision to do what we want is not?

I’m not  sure. This blog post has gotten way away from me—I was going to write about my sympathy for the position of those who think abortion is murder and admit of my own ambivalences—so at this point I just want (!) to bring this to a close and go to bed.

I don’t have answers. I don’t even have a way to the answers, beyond that of saying that, perhaps, the place to begin is by paying attention to what people have to say about their own lives, and how they come to live with themselves.

~~~

ETA: It’s now Thursday morning and even though I haven’t had nearly enough coffee, I’m awake enough to observe that I do, in fact, have a way to the answers (or, at least, a way to the way): that’s kinda what the whole “we might as well try” series is about.








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