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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Kill the d*mn insects

After reading this story, I have no qualms about using strong methods of eradicating the vector. It's bad enough we have to accommodate Lyme disease and West Nile in this country. But this Chagas disease is nasty and it's spreading.

Check it out: http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/lookout/chagas-tropical-disease-really-aids-145745645.html

I read somewhere about a guy who invented a genetically altered mosquito whose males are normal but whose females are wingless. Wingless females cannot bite animals, which they need to do for fertility. So they don't reproduce. So the males mate with winged females. And the population of mosquitoes plummets.

But mosquitoes pollinate the poor monkeyface orchid. So millions of humans have to die to keep a flower from possibly (not surely) becoming extinct.

How many people have to die before we say the insects have to die instead?

We need to kill these vectors of disease and suffering.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

I'm not the only one afraid of tyranny

In an earlier post, I talked about the use of drone aircraft by local police as an inroad to eventual tyranny and the government spying on private citizens. It turns out I'm not the only one thinking along these lines. Over at IEET, they are thinking the same way as me.

On the one hand, I don't know what to think about that. Perhaps I have to rethink my whole argument about the spy drones. I suddenly wonder if I erred in my conclusions.

On the other hand, people with faulty reasoning ability sometimes end up at the right conclusion. I guess they and I both worry about "who" will be controlling the invasive, tyranny-fostering technology. I worry about people like them oppressing people like me. They worry about people like me (or what they imagine people like me to be like) oppressing people like them. So it just goes to show that a) governments should be small and relatively powerless, just large and powerful enough to do their essential tasks, but otherwise be impotent to do any harm; and b) the weapons of tyranny should be kept out of everyone's hands. There is no such thing as a trustworthy government, because you never know who will be running the government down the road.

So my reasoning is this: People have a right not to be spied upon unnecessarily. The government could easily misuse spy drones, just as they have in the past misused phone taps and other investigative techniques. Therefore, this is a technology that should be kept out of the hands of regular law enforcement. No government should have the power to watch its citizenry like that. It's about human freedom and the right role of government.  I suspect (but cannot prove, and I'm about to engage a little sarcasm besides) that the reasoning of the folks at IEET would be more like this: I have a right not to be spied upon. The only people who would want to spy on me are those backward naysayers that are always looking on new technologies as witchcraft. Those people might come to power and are just slavering to oppress me. I'd feel different if I could be sure such people could be kept out of government. In other words, if I act in a way that I know the government approves because I am a fan of the government, I have nothing to worry about by the government spying on its citizens -- it is only the prospect of a government coming to power that disapproves of what I do that makes me say the police should not use spy drones. It's about my freedom, not human freedom generally.

We end up in the same place. The reasoning is different. And I have to say, the IEET didn't actually offer any real opinion on the matter or any reasoning to any conclusion. My remarks are based on the reasoning they tend to employ on other issues and some comments in the combox. So maybe I was unfair. For instance they do argue for their own freedom and right to pursue trans- and post-humanism, not for human freedom generally, for they have no concern for their mutant/modified creatures' freedom.

My objection to the death penalty is reinforced. Considering the kind of people who might come to power one day and their willy-nilly definitions of "person" and "non-person" (and you can kill non-persons, after all), then I think the government should not have the power to kill anyone. Ever. If governments are more and more prone to abuse their power, then all the more should they have limited power.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Obama Halo

It's not just me. Do an image search for "Obama halo" and see what comes up. DOZENS of different pictures of Obama with a halo. Sometimes it's his O logo from his campaign. (By the way, that O logo is brilliant from a marketing standpoint. I dislike the brand intensely, but as a marketing professional, I have to admit that it was ingenious. Republicans, take note. I'm not saying you need an R logo, Romney, I'm just pointing out they got smart marketers working for them.) Sometimes it's the presidential seal. Sometimes it's just a glow. And sometimes it's an actual halo. Very few were jokes. The rest were serious.

I thought perhaps that it was common to do that with presidents, so I searched "Bush halo" for comparison. There were a few. Very few. Half the results were Obama halos. And of the ones that did show Bush, half or more were jokes. One made the halo glows look like Mickey Mouse ears, for instance.

"Clinton halo" did not turn up a single Bill or Hillary with a halo.

Obama wins the halo award.

I just want to say that we live in a world that believes that if we say something it becomes reality. I mean, if we "say" that a fetus is a non-person, it IS a non-person. If we "say" euthanasia is about the right to die, then it's not about the right to kill. If we "say" the word marriage can include same-sex unions, then it does. If the lawsuit by 43 Catholic organizations is about contraception and not religious liberty, then that's what it's about.

So if we show Obama with a halo, he is thereby a saint.

Um. No. Sorry. Reality really doesn't work that way.

Remember, the lawsuit is about religious liberty

It's funny how the media portray the lawsuit of 43 Catholic entities, which joins earlier lawsuits involving Catholic and non-Catholic religious organizations. I leave it to you to find all the myriad errors in the reporting and comboxes.

I will say this, though, that the media try to portray the lawsuit as being about contraception. First, that is only partially true. It is about contraception, sterilization of women, sterilization of men, surgical abortion, abortion drugs, in vitro fertilization, and artificial insemination. Second, it is about contraception only insofar as the government has illegalized health insurance plans that do not cover it (and the other products and procedures) and thereby forced religious organizations that object to these products and procedures from paying insurance companies to cover them.

They will talk about the "accommodation," and that Catholic (and other) organizations are not paying for the coverage, because it's on the insurance companies. I and others have dealt with this canard before, so I won't go much into it now.

They will talk about how the Catholic Church has become the unabashed tool of the Republican party. What they really mean is that they're ticked off that the Catholic isn't bending over for our "First Gay President" like good little tools of the Democrat party should. Remember how shrill Planned Parenthood became over the Komen Foundation and how they bullied and bullied Komen until Komen caved in to the bullying? Remember how Dan Savage (so aptly named) bullied kids to stop bullying gays? We should expect to be bullied and called all kinds of names, "Republican tool" being a rather tame one, because we're not falling in line behind Obama.

What they won't talk about, except as opinions of the Church hierarchy, is that this is really a religious liberty issue. People should be free to EXERCISE their religion. I suppose it's a matter of how one defines "free exercise." If by "free exercise" you mean freedom to do what the religion teaches during religious services inside a church building or perhaps a private home behind closed doors, but at any other time, no one has a right to act in accord with his religion, then well, I guess, the government is totally not violating the Constitution at all. But if that's your definition, your definition, well, frankly, sucks. I mean about the "free" part. "...nor restrict the free exercise thereof..." means Amish can drive horse-drawn buggies, not serve in the military, not have government mandated insurance at all, and all the other things that I really am not all that familiar with about the Amish but which set them apart from the rest of Americans. I think they're kind of strange, but you know what, I'm darn glad they're there.

No, "free exercise" means the government can't restrict me from acting in accord with my faith at any moment in my life. I can live and act in accord with my faith without government restrictions at all times. PERIOD. Don't like it? Fine, have the First Amendment repealed through the proper process. Then the Constitution will say something different, then you can do what you want. But for now, the Constitution says what it says, and until it says something different, this lawsuit is about religious liberty and how the man who swore he would uphold the Constitution has violated. He probably violated it with Obamacare (we'll soon find out, anyway), but he certainly violated it -- wantonly -- with this Mandate.

Yes it's about contraception. In pretty much the same way as an electric car is about using batteries. It is about contraception, but anyone who makes it look like that is the whole story is:
A) Lying
B) Trying to fool you
C) Thinking you're too much of an idiot to understand complex things like politics, so you should leave it to professionals like them and just listen to what they say
D) Hiding something
E) About to bully you if you disagree
F) Irritated that ANYONE could DARE oppose OBAMA and obey GOD instead
G) Ignorant
H) All of the above.

Maybe, just maybe, the government should let religions do what they want, unless it involves human sacrifice, assault, murder, theft, rape, or anything universally considered crimes by civilized people.

Monday, May 14, 2012

How Tyranny Chips Away at Your Liberty: MORE

From Foxnews.com:

Speaking about unmanned aerial surveillance drones:

"They're not going to be used for constant surveillance -- typically they can stay in the air for about 30 minutes, so they're only going to be used for specific missions," said Gretchen West, executive vice president of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International.
So, the government, which has only your safety and well being in mind, will never use surveillance drones to monitor private citizens, which would violate the Constitution. No! Of course not! Impossible!

Because they can only stay in the air for half an hour! Cannot be a violation of the Constitution because they lack range!

OK. So. When the technology improves and flight times are extended to, say, 10 hours, what then? At what point does it become unconstitutional? Or is it already?

I only point this out because of the disingenuous line of reasoning. "Don't be absurd! This isn't to establish a police state -- the technology isn't sufficiently advanced for that! Only a fool would be worried and would deny our brave law enforcement personnel the tools they need to go about their dangerous work safely!"


Yeah, I buy it. Uh-huh.


Here's some more about how tyranny works in little ways to accomplish big ends. Today on Foxnews, I saw this item on how a Detroit public works fellow was fired for turning in a gun he found to the police. Yep. Fired.

Here's what happened. The guy was working cutting a lawn, presumably somewhere owned or maintained by the city, and found the gun in the grass. He held onto the gun, expecting the police to drive by on their rounds, at which point he would turn it in to them. Well, it being Detroit, the police didn't drive by, so he held onto the gun, finished his work, went home, and turned it in to his local police station.

Here's why he was fired. The city of Detroit has a rule saying that public works employees are not to carry guns. By retaining the gun, the guy violated the rule. So they fired him, 2 years before retirement. Fired him. OK, so these are the kind of bosses that need rules about their employees carrying guns, but that is beside the point.

Now, what is that rule for? It's for people who own guns legally or possess them illegally from actually bringing them to work with them and keeping them on their person. Is it for people who find guns in the course of their work? Does picking up the gun you find mean you should be fired for carrying a gun? The phrase "carrying a gun" implies that one has the gun because one is ready to use it. If you have a gun because you found it and are waiting for the police, you are not ready to use it and you have it for no other reason that to keep it away from someone who shouldn't have it.

But put this rule into the hands of rabid tyrants who don't want anyone to have guns and you have an excuse to become power hungry and destroy lives of law-abiding, decent, diligent individuals.

I should point out that I don't think the fellow handled the situation properly. He is in a crew that works out in the field somewhere, likely in different locations every day. It is quite possible that he has some sort of means of communication with The Office or The Dispatcher or Someone, say a phone or radio in the truck. He also likely has his own cell phone. He probably should have called the police if he could when they didn't drive by on their rounds and he probably should have let his superiors know what was going on if he couldn't. All that is in addition to handling the thing when it was likely to be evidence in some crime. I don't know how long it was in the grass or how long fingerprints last, but what you don't want is your own fingerprints on the thing.

Still, unless his supervisors have some reason to believe he put the gun in the grass or had the gun on him the whole time, and only claimed to have found it in the grass so he'd have an excuse for carrying a gun, they were out of line for firing the guy. Seriously: What was he supposed to do? Leave it there? Let one of his less reliable co-workers take it?

But to twist a rule like that and use it to ruin honest peoples' lives and then hide behind it as if you had no choice -- that is tyranny in action.

Monday, May 7, 2012

St. Anthony and Bioethics

I was cutting my grass yesterday. Yeah, on a Sunday. I hate to do that, but between the weather and other intervening events on recent Saturdays, and working late during the week, this was the first chance I had to cut the grass all year, and it really needed it. Hmmm. Maybe it's time I taught my older son how to use the machine. I was cutting grass when I was younger than him.

Anyway, I was cutting grass under some low hanging branches, and one of the branches knocked my glasses off. Now, I can see without them, but not comfortably. So I called my boys (ages 7 and 10) over to help. These are great kids, I love them beyond description, but they couldn't find the shoes on their feet if they had to. (I'm exaggerating of course, but you get the idea.) They began helping me but it wasn't going too well, and I muttered something about not being able to find them.

I was getting anxious about this. I can get by without the glasses, but I do really need them, and I wouldn't be able to get new ones for quite a while. Frustrated. So the 7-year-old says, with a musical lilt, "Oh well," and ran off to play some more. I didn't take to well to that, and scolded him, "That's right, so don't help me look for them. Go inside the house. NOW."

I may have been a little harsh in that moment because he stopped helping "me" find "my" glasses, but I also do want him to learn not to give up in the search for lost things. After all, the glasses were THERE somewhere, not down the road, not accidentally dropped in the garbage, not left in some place in my travels. But within a few feet of where we were. Had to be. I suppose I could have made it better, relating it to the Good Shepherd who keeps searching for the lost sheep, and been more explicit about not giving up. I blew it to the extent my reaction was ordered to the material aspects of finding my glasses and not to the spiritual dimension of what could be learned. I felt bad to the extent I blew it, but took solace in that I did try to impart a good lesson.

So I sighed at my imperfections and hoped that God would make up for them in terms of the good lesson part.

Then I prayed to St. Anthony, finder of lost things. "C'mon, St. Anthony, they're here somewhere." And in that moment I turned my head and my eyes landed right on the glasses.

My wife, reflecting on my imperfections in that episode, said, "You're lucky he heard you." I don't doubt that. Thank you, St. Anthony. (Now please get to work on finding my out-of-debt-ness that I lost a few years ago!)

So what does this have to do with bioethics? Just that Reality consists in more than the physical realm. As preoccupied as I am with things like my glasses and my out-of-debt-ness, there's a bigger picture. Bioethics is concerned primarily with human physical well being, but physical well being is not the only good man has. There is a spiritual dimension, too, and bioethics has to account for it.

What good is finding my glasses if I fail as a dad in finding them? What good is a medical treatment or procedure if it reinforces spiritually questionable attitudes and behaviors? IVF, for instance, isn't evil only because it reinforces an inordinate self-love and love for a future child and usurps God's prerogatives. The material process itself isn't any good, either. But the spiritual dimension is part of IVF.

I pray that St. Anthony helps our society find the moral groundings it has lost. The problem is, one has to be looking for the thing one wants to find in order to find it.

As soon as I found my glasses, I told the 10-year-old to go get his brother and tell him he can come out now. Later that evening, I spent a little time playing with him. But he has it in his head that I'm gonna build him a tree fort out of sticks. "It's easy, Dad. Just split those logs in half and nail 'em up." "That's a lot of work. Why don't you cut them in half? I don't think you'd get more than a few inches." The wheels began to turn about how he'd go about splitting the logs.... we'll see where that takes him.

In the meantime, I think me and St. Anthony, we're gonna be good friends.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

"Atheist ethics" is an oxymoron

In my post on how the euthanasia movement robs other people of autonomy in the name of their own, a genial atheist engaged me in the combox. Thanks for stopping by, Reasonable Gentleman. I hope you come back.

However, in that exchange, I began contemplating how atheism is fraught with contradictions like the one above (maximizing "my" autonomy at the expense of everyone else's). It may never be that we theists can prove the existence of God to the satisfaction of atheists. But it may be possible to show that the premise "God does not exist" leads to logical contradictions unrelated to proving that God exists. In other words, we may be able to show that "God does not exist" is false.

So, Reasonable Gentleman asserted that he does not believe in God, but that he regulates his actions based on how they affect other people. He believes laws against euthanasia and assisted suicide are an infringement of his freedom and an imposition of other people's morality on him. In other words, we are violating "his" principle of ethics because "our" policies adversely affect "his" autonomy. Yet, he does not give much credence to the fact that society's acceptance of euthanasia and assisted suicide ("his" policies) puts pressure on others (impedes "their" autonomy) and infringes their freedom to choose otherwise. He objects to others imposing their morality on him, but insists upon the right to impose HIS morality on others.

Note also how he said that laws against euthanasia infringe upon "his" freedom. He did not say they infringe upon human freedom in the general sense, but on "his" freedom. This is telling. Moral relativism -- "it is wrong to tell other people what is right or wrong" and similar expressions -- really boils down to "You have to accept what I want to do." It's not about "people should let others do as they please," but "you should let me do as I please." For if it were about "people" and not about "me," then there would be no complaint about those who believe it moral to impose a particular morality on others, for a moral relativist would have to let them do as they please or he violates his own moral principles.

You could say that, technically, when a society accepts euthanasia, someone remains free to turn it down, and that acceptance of euthanasia only increases the options. In actuality, it decreases the options, because people will be ever less able to choose against euthanasia even if they technically remain free to do so. By the same token, where euthanasia is illegal, people still have the power to kill themselves if they really wanted to. Once dead, they don't care about the ramifications of their act being illegal. But where legal, there will be great pressure and coercion to choose euthanasia. Technically, one might be able to speak the word No, but one could see it impossible from a practical standpoint to pursue this desired action. And that is precisely the argument in reverse for legalizing euthanasia. I go into more detail on this phenomenon in that earlier post.

The pro-euthanasia movement is not about human autonomy generally. It is about "my" autonomy trumping other people's autonomy. They retort, Well, that's what the current state of affairs is, but in reverse. My response is twofold. First, if the present state of affairs is unjust, then by your own logic, all you want to do is replace it with the reverse injustice. Therefore, you are not pursuing justice per se, but your own advantage. Second, you're wrong simply speaking. My views are ordered to saving your life, whereas your views are ordered to shortening mine. Therefore, the cases are not simply reversals of each other. My way also gives people more options because euthanasia destroys autonomy altogether once the autonomous agent is dead.

Death has a nasty way of taking away options--of the one who dies. The ones who continue living continue to have options. Actually, the pro- and anti-euthanasia movements agree to that. And that the death of someone else increases the options of those who continue living. Yes, the death of a sick or elderly or otherwise inconvenient person actually increases the options only of the living, and it is those options the living care about. Access to organs for transplant. Access to an estate. Freedom from medical bills, obligations, inconveniences. Think about that when someone makes the autonomy argument. Euthanasia and assisted suicide are about the right to kill and the autonomy of the healthy over the vulnerable.

So there is a parallel between atheist "ethics" and the "ethics" of euthanasia. Let's see if atheism can be about human autonomy generally. Atheism denies God. Therefore, the supreme authority over any individual's life and actions is the individual himself. An atheist society, if it is just, will acknowledge the sovereignty of the individual. It will have one law: It is wrong to impose your morality on others.

Unfortunately, all laws, even that one, are an imposition of a particular morality on everyone and in fact laws are intended to restrict the actions of those who want to act in a contrary fashion. Therefore, even a law that asserts "Let everyone else alone" interferes with everyone and infringes upon their freedom and imposes a particular morality on some who may not share it. It lets no one alone and therefore enforcing such a law violates that law. Therefore, it seems impossible that the individual can be the ultimate moral authority in the universe since there can be no logical and true formulation of that principle that excludes accountability to other humans. To one extent, the individual alone is responsible for his actions, but to another extent, the rest of us have a say as to the rightness or wrongness of his acts--we are the ones the individual is responsible to. Even moral relativists would agree that they are the ones the rest of us are responsible to, that individuals are accountable for their actions to others.

If the individual is not the ultimate moral judge of his actions, then someone else is. If not God, then some human entity. But the notion that other humans should be the moral judges of an individual's actions is contrary to notion that the individual has inviolable autonomy. But inviolable individual autonomy follows logically from atheism. Therefore, atheism must be false. Or, if not, then it is ok to have laws that diminish individual autonomy. It becomes a matter of what those laws say. Whatever the law happens to say is by definition just. And then it becomes a matter of who is in power, rather than some abstract concept of justice.

OK, let's see if we can fix the problem for an atheist society. If all laws are an imposition of a particular morality on others, and it is wrong to impose any morality on others, then the atheist society must either abandon all laws as inherently unjust, or be up front about how some people just don't have the same sovereignty as others. Those in power, who have the power of coercion, will determine who has sovereign autonomy and who has limited or no autonomy. It becomes a choice between anarchy and totalitarianism.

At least anarchy respects the sovereignty of the individual. Nonetheless, some laws would be acceptable, such as traffic laws. Our free use of roadways in general depend on everyone agreeing to limit their freedom in a particular way. A reasonable person will see that if we have a keep-right law, everyone can use the road. Without that law, no one can use the road safely. But that would not be because it is wrong to ram your car into someone else's if you wanted to. It would be merely a social convention restricting some aspects of action so as to maximize freedom of travel. Yet there would be those who say that even such laws are an unjust infringement of their freedom, and they would be right. If no one is coming the other way, one would be free to drive on the wrong side of the road. All laws would be conditional on whether or not the individual breaking the law has a good enough reason to do so. Legal defense would be less about innocence or guilt, and all about plausible rationales to placate those who really have no rightful say in one's affairs.

Laws against, say, murder might also be reasonable insofar as unless I am safe in society then I am not free to act as I please. But then, what about times I find it necessary to kill? Would killing be immoral, or just illegal? If not immoral, then the law would have to accommodate exceptions. Euthanasia and assisted suicide are the very kinds of exceptions envisioned: If there is a good reason to kill someone, then it should not be illegal. It becomes a matter of defining "murder" not as the intentional killing of an innocent person, but of the intentional killing an innocent person without sufficient reason. Then it becomes a matter of coming up with a plausible rationale, and anyone can kill anyone else. The law against murder will become largely meaningless, since plausible rationales and sufficient reasons are impossible to limit.

Take, for instance, the recent brouhaha about "post-birth abortion" -- which is to say, infanticide. The basic rationale is this: If a living human being can be defined as a non-person, then it's okay to kill him. Let society define "person" as someone with sufficient level of active cognitive ability. Then anyone judged (by others) to lack that ability can be morally killed. Society can further define "lacking sufficient cognitive ability" as holding ideas that are contrary to the social good, say, believing in God. In an atheist society, someone who believes in God would have to be insane. If insane, then lacking sufficient cognitive ability. If lacking sufficient cognitive ability, then a non-person. If a non-person, then he can be killed. Anyone dissenting from the social norm is subject to being killed, because dissent will render him a non-person who can be killed morally, perhaps even necessarily.

If an atheist society enshrines individual autonomy, then it must accept moral and also legal anarchy in everything from regulating traffic to murder. Otherwise, it becomes totalitarian. At first, an atheist society might have a coherent legal system much like what we have now. But it will change as it deals with non-atheists and strives to shut them up as subversive, slowly shedding all concepts of universal justice. Justice will be determined by the powerful. The powerful will define things like "murder" and "person" as it sees fit. And it will have no compunction about killing subversives and dissidents since they are not persons and it's not wrong to kill non-persons.

Think of the great atheists of the 20th Century. Stalin, for instance. Mao. The revolutionaries in Spain. All of the societies that engaged in horrible, bloody oppressions, where people are rounded up in large groups and killed are atheist societies. Except perhaps where genocides are being committed by adherents of a certain Mideastern fundamentalist religion -- but I hold that there are two kinds of people involved in that. One is the leaders who are not really religious but are using religion to control the actions of the underlings and achieve their selfish goals of power and wealth. The other is the underlings who have been duped by their leaders into thinking that genocide is something God wants. Genocide and oppression and totalitarianism are the result of atheism.

Theism can always be held accountable to its principles. Theists believe in justice that applies to everyone. Genocide is inconsistent with justice. If a theist begins to think genocide is something God wants, then he has fallen from theism.

One last note. Theism holds God as the ultimate judge of human actions. Individuals are autonomous insofar as they are the masters of their actions, but they are not autonomous insofar as they are accountable to others for those actions, if to no one else than to God. This does not let theism come up with laws and rules willy-nilly so as to use power to oppress everyone like atheism does. On the contrary, all laws must be just, and in order to be just, they must have reference to an authority higher than the law and higher than other humans. If justice exists as something against which human laws are to be judged, then God must exist, too. If there is no God, then justice is defined by whatever humans are in power. Genocide cannot be unjust if those in power deem it to be just. Theism recognizes limits in human power. Theism protects justice.

And if an atheist says, "Current laws are unjust," then he thereby asserts a concept of justice that depends upon the existence of God. For without God, then the powerful define what is just through their laws. And the current state of the law must therefore be just because the powerful have spoken. It becomes a matter of who is in power and who makes the laws. Atheism therefore tends toward totalitarianism and oppression of subversives and injustice. Atheism is about being in power to do what they want and using that power to silence those who stand in their way.

There cannot be any authentic system of ethics, and therefore no authentic system of bioethics, with the premise "God does not exist." Atheist "ethics" becomes an exercise in silencing naysayers and getting your way. It begins with mere plausible rationales and arguments for individual autonomy, moves to ridicule and bullying of opponents, and ends in holocausts.