Monday, March 28, 2005

"Dealing with reality"

The AP reports that a priest who visited Terri Schiavo and her parents over the weekend say her parents are "dealing with reality" as their daughter nears death. I don't think so.

In fact, I think it's the Schindler's failure to deal with reality that has exacerbated this entire situation. Their daughter has been essentially brain dead for 15-odd years now. She's not cognizant. She's not aware of what's going on around her. She's not coming back. Their clinging onto hope that she might miraculously snap out of it has gone beyond futile to pathetic.

I ought to have more sympathy for Ms. Schiavo's parents, but at some point you just have to recognize reality and deal with the situation. The Schindlers are not dealing with it. That's the problem. (Along with opportunistic pro-lifers and politicians, of course.) Hundreds of thousands of others have faced the same situation of letting a loved one die, and have dealt with it -- compassionately and privately. The Schindlers would earn more respect by doing the same. Their daughter left them a long time ago. It's time to accept that and move on.

Friday, March 25, 2005

More "pro-life" inconsistencies

A few posts back I ranted about the inconsistency of the so-called "pro-lifers" in opposing Terri Schiavo's right to die while supporting the death penalty and our government's killing of tens of thousands of civilians in Iraq. There's more where that came from, unfortunately.

In almost any discussion of abortion, what you end up arguing is the rights of the not-yet-born fetus versus the rights of the already-born mother. Now, I'm not a bioethicist, but if it comes down to choosing one or the other, I'd go with the already-born mother who's spent twenty or more years living on this Earth, versus the lump of unbreathing protoplasm that hasn't yet to think its first coherent thought. This is one instance where age and experience takes precedence. Let's face it, a fetus at this stage is nothing more than a parasite feeding off its female host; it should be the host body that calls the shots.

That might sound a bit unfeeling to some, but think about it. The mother can live without the fetus; the fetus can't live without the mother. The mother, serving as the fetus' host, is in control. The fetus lives or dies at the whims of the host. Does the fetus have any rights? Perhaps, when viewed separately. But the rights of the mother take precedent. (That's one of the few good things that come with being the host.)

Besides, I don't think it's my place to tell anyone what they can and cannot do with their own body. Nor is it government's place to do so. A woman should be in charge of what happens to her body. That type of personal liberty trumps almost everything else. No government official should be able to tell any woman that aborting a pregnancy is wrong -- or right, for that matter. No one else can make that choice except for the person who's carrying that baby. Not the church, not the government, not me, not you. It's a truly private and personal decision.

It seems to me that to many pro-lifers, the heir is more important than the vessel. That might sound a little King Henry VIII-ish, but it's the vibe I get. The rights and desires of the woman aren't important; only the baby is. And that's just wrong. Women have more use than just carrying children, or least I'm pretty sure they do. The fundamentalists' focus on carrying the child to the exclusion of all else has a barefoot and pregnant quality to it. Doesn't matter what the woman wants, as long as she delivers those young'uns. You don't have to be a radical feminist to be offended by that sensibility.

Then there are those that argue, quite sincerely, that abortion is tantamount to murder. It's killing a living human being, they say. The trouble with this argument, as I see it, is deciding when life begins. Is it when the child exits the womb? Or when the sperm first fertilizes the cell? Or at some indeterminate point in between? If science can determine that viable life actually begins at an identifiable point sometime in gestation, and that that life is cognizant and has a soul, then I'll start to buy the "abortion is killing" argument. Until then, your guess as to when life begins is as good as mine -- which isn't that good at all.

Further to the point are those radical fundamentalists and every-sperm-is-sacred Catholics who believe that any chance of life is worth preserving. Hence their opposition to all forms of birth control. This is just plain loony, if you ask me -- and even if you don't. Is it a mortal sin to have sex without conceiving, even if you don't use birth control? Are infertile couples evil? Will I go to hell by wasting my boys when I masturbate? We might not be able to agree when life begins, but I think we can agree that it isn't quite that early.

The bigger problem with the anti-birth control crowd is that this stance works counter to their efforts to stop abortions. As history has proven, outlawing abortions doesn't stop abortions -- doesn't stop the killing, as the pro-lifers would say. The most effective abortion deterrent, it has been shown, is sex education and the use of birth control. Plain and simple, if you want to reduce the number of abortions -- or lower the "murder" rate, if you will -- you have to put condoms in the hands (or on the genitals) of America's youth. By preaching abstinence and making birth control harder to obtain, the alleged pro-lifers are actually increasing the number of abortions. Kind of counterintuitive, don't you think?

Along similar lines, most of the public isn't aware of the fact that the abortion rate has actually increased during George Bush's term in office. During the Clinton era, the number of abortions decreased; during Bush's regime, they went back up. Why? Because Bush's economy deteriorated, and poor economic conditions force more young women to decide against having babies. If they're broke, they can't afford the kids, and abortions ensue. So adamant pro-lifer George Bush has been contributing to a higher abortion "murder" rate. Ironic, ain't it?

Here's where all Americans should be able to come together. We should work to decrease the abortion rate, by using those methods that we know work best. We should increase spending on sex education, make birth control easier for youngsters to obtain, and work to improve the economic conditions of poor females. Those efforts would result in a dramatic decrease in the number of abortions -- and isn't that what the pro-lifers want?

Anyone opposed to these methods must have another agenda. And, frankly, I'd like to see those hidden agendas made public. Do the pro-lifers really want to reduce abortions? Or are they really opposed to liberal sexual values? Or empowering women? Or something else equally anti-Deluvian?

As President Clinton once said, abortions should be safe, legal, and rare. Let's work towards that -- rationally and compassionately. (And, BTW, props to Bill's wife Hillary in trying to find some common ground on this issue; it's a sane and sympathetic approach that should appeal to everyone in mainstream society -- except, perhaps, the radical religious right.)

But that's just my opinion; reasonable minds may disagree.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

More right-wing hypocrisy

While the Terri Schiavo case continues to ignite the passions of the extremist right, these same allegedly "pro-life" activists have wholly ignored a true case of government deciding to pull the plug on ill citizens. This particular case involves a Texas law called the Advanced Directives Act, signed by then-Governor George W. Bush in 1999, that allows hospitals to disconnect patients from life-sustaining systems if a physician, in consultation with a hospital bioethics committee, concludes that the patient's condition is hopeless. In other words, if the doctor or hospital decides it's not worth the expense to keep a patient alive, they can pull the plug -- no matter what the wishes of the patient's guardian, or of the patient himself.

And if you think this law represents a mere hypothetical, think again. This week, while the right-wing Congressional curs and national media have been obsessing over Ms. Schiavo in Florida, they've paid virtually no attention to a somewhat-parallel case in Houston, where a local hospital cut off life support for a badly deformed six month-old baby -- against the wishes of the baby's parents. The baby died almost immediately.

So what's the difference between the Florida woman and the Texas baby? Why does the first case elicit such passions and the second case get almost completely ignored? Is it because Ms. Schiavo is a middle-class white woman and the Texas baby is a poor Hispanic? Is it because the latter case took place in Texas under a law signed by the far-right's favorite more-or-less elected official, George W. Bush? Or is there something else?

Seems to me the pro-lifers should be as concerned with the Texas case as they are the Florida case -- if not more so. Frankly, the Texas law worries me. I don't want some hospital administrator deciding to pull my plug because it's not financially worthwhile to keep me going. The Schiavo case hinges on an individual's right to die, based on her expressed wishes beforehand; the Texas case appears to be a clear-cut instance of state-sponsored killing, against the wishes of the baby's parents.

Why is the media not reporting the Texas case? Why is Bush's hypocrisy in signing the Texas law and then signing the Schiavo legislation not being reported? Why does the public put up with such overt hypocrisy from our elected officials? There's more going on here than meets the eye...

But that's just my opinion; reasonable minds may disagree.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Pro-lifers: A little consistency, please

The continuing case of Terri Schiavo certainly gives one pause. The pro-lifers say that life is more important than anything, but that ignores the issue of quality of life. In Ms. Schiavo's case, there is no quality of life. By all accounts she's brain dead, essentially a vegetable, her body an empty shell. There's no thinking, feeling mind there, no soul left. Her husband argues for her right to die, a mercy killing that the pro-lifers view as killing, period. Her parents continue to hold hope for some sort of miraculous recovery, although doctors say that isn't possible. It's a messy family matter, writ large on the national stage; the perhaps-irrational hope of the parents versus the reluctant acknowledgment of the sad reality by the husband.

This is a tragic situation on its own, and it's made more tragic by its elevation to national status. In my opinion, this is an extremely private situation that should be an equally private decision, and shouldn't be subject to the attention and whims of the national public. It's even worse when craven politicians get involved, as our feeble-brained Congress is trying to do. Using this woman's tragic plight for political gain is shameful at best, potentially criminal (in a constitutionally corrupt manner) at worst. Let the husband do what he has to do for his wife; keep the courts and the senators and the congressmen out of it.

Of course, this is a political matter for the religious right, an issue made-to-order to illustrate their take-no-prisoners pro-life stance. It's the flip side of the abortion issue; every life is sacred, the quality of that life be damned. Not that I want politicians or bureaucrats deciding who should live and who should die, but I'm definitely okay with an individual making this sort of personal life-or-death decision. (The Schiavo case is complicated by the lack of a living will, so Ms. Schiavo's own wishes are apparently unknown -- hence the court action.) It's not the government's place to tell me what I can and cannot do with my body, including whether I can or cannot take my own life. For some people, quality of life matters more than simply life itself; I respect that opinion.

I'd have more respect for the rabid pro-lifers if they were at least a little consistent in their views. Killing an unthinking, unfeeling, unborn fetus is a heinous crime, but it's okay for the state to kill convicted criminals -- even youngsters, as it was before the recent Supreme Court ruling. Taking a permanently brain-dead person off life support is criminal, but it's okay for the state to send American troops overseas to kill tens of thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians. If all life is sacred, then so is the life of a thinking, feeling, breathing convicted felon, and certainly that of an equally thinking, feeling, breathing Iraqi civilian. If these hypocritical right-wingnut religious fascists continue to condone state-sponsored executions and deadly military actions, then they forfeit the moral high ground when it comes to abortion, mercy killing, and other similar gray-area issues.

If you're truly pro-life, then you should hold the following positions:

- Oppose the death penalty, in all cases

- Support stronger gun-control laws, since guns kill people -- especially handguns and assault weapons

- Oppose U.S. military action in Afghanistan and Iraq, where tens of thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) of innocent civilians have been killed

Unfortunately, most pro-lifers tend to support the death penalty, oppose gun control, and enthusiastically support murdering foreigners in the name of national security. That's extremely hypocritical, no matter how you look at it.

Personally, I want less government intervention in private decisions, which I suppose makes me a bit of a Libertarian in these matters. I want the right to do whatever the hell I want to to my own body, even if that includes killing myself. The right to die is sacred, and to me defines the term personal liberty. What can be more personal than one's own life?

But that's just my opinion; reasonable minds may disagree.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Gay marriage -- what's the big deal?

I live in the abysmal state of Indiana, whose legislature is just about ready to pass one of those gay marriage ban amendments to the state constitution. This reversion to native redneckness and religious fundamentalism would embarrass me, if it weren't for the fact that this nonsense seems to be a national trend.

Now, since I'm neither married or gay, I should be one of the most neutral folks around on this issue. So the fact that I find it just this side of ridiculous, for a number of reasons, says something.

First, near as I can tell, there haven't been a whole lot of constitutional amendments designed to restrict citizens' rights. The vast majority of amendments, starting with those first few we call the Bill of Rights, are designed to confirm or enhance our rights. The only previous national constitutional amendment that tried to limit individual rights, the 18th amendment, came in the moralistic prohibitionist wave of the 1920s, and was notable for how frequently it was observed in the breach. (And subsequently repealed by the passing of the 21st amendment a few years later.) To introduce a new amendment with the express purpose of limiting the rights of a large segment of our society seems damned anti-American to me.

But, of course, the intent is not to limit rights. No, no, no. The intent is to preserve the institution of marriage. As if the institution needs preserving; as a lifelong single guy, I can tell you that married folks get a lot of breaks in our society, legal and otherwise. Is the institution so endangered that it needs additional, express, somewhat redundant, constitutional protection? I think not.

I understand that a lot of conservatives are concerned about things like the rising divorce rate, unwed pregnancies, and that sort of thing, and rightly so. But how does prohibiting a large group of folks from getting married solve any of these problems? Hell, I'd think that the pro-marriage bunch would welcome with open arms this new group of people so desperate to be married. Seems to me those gays who want to tie the knot are the real pro-marriage group here. Why wouldn't the current supporters of the institution join together with the gay pro-marriage people to create a larger and stronger interest group (and voting block)?

No, let's address what this really is about. There are a lot of folks out there who are, to one degree or another, uncomfortable with homosexuality. They either have some sort of repressed something or another going on, or are just plain gay haters. Doesn't matter which, the result is the same -- one of the last socially acceptable forms of discrimination in America. Some people might disagree, but they'd be wrong; supporting a gay marriage band is discrimination, plain and simple, and as a progressive (or, more distinctly, a progressing) society, we shouldn't stand for it.

The arguments that marriage is defined by God or country or whomever as a union between a man and a woman are nonsense. A hundred years ago similar arguments were being made in an attempt to outlaw interracial marriage; at that time, they wanted to define marriage as a union between one man and one woman of the same race. It was bigotry, thinly disguised, just as today's arguments are. (As an aside, it surprises me how many African Americans are opposed to this gay marriage thing; you'd think they'd be a little sympathetic, but what do I know?)

And these God-driven arguments ignore the fact that the definition of marriage has changed considerably over the ages. Back in biblical days, marriage was often defined (and condoned by that God guy) as a union between one man and several women. Obviously, that definition has evolved over the years. So why shouldn't it continue to evolve?

The other argument that is so ridiculous that it's laughable (except that I hear it quite often on talk-right radio, and they're seldom laughing) is that the legalization of gay marriage will lead to legalized polygamy and bestiality. I have absolutely no idea how they get from John and Bob taking the vows to John doing the nasty with his pet goat, but there it is. Laughable, I said, but some idiots seem pretty serious about it. I wasn't aware that man-on-goat sex was a looming problem, but maybe I'm just ill-informed.

But then again, I wasn't aware that gay marriage was such a looming problem, either. I mean, with war in the mideast, nuclear weapons in North Korea, genocide in Africa, and who knows how many other earth-shaking dilemmas about, just how did gay marriage get to the top of the crisis list? Aren't there just a few slightly more important issues we should be concerning ourselves with? What's the big deal, anyway?

The big deal is that this is an issue being driven by the religious right -- who seldom are, of course. I'd call these folks a bunch of Neanderthals, except that would invoke the process of evolution, which they also don't acknowledge. (How can you not acknowledge a scientific fact? It's been proven, for heaven's sake!) This sort of thinking isn't new, but it continues to threaten to pull us back into the dark ages. I'm all for tolerance, but I'm extremely intolerant of people who are so intolerant of others. If these throwbacks want to believe and behave in a certain manner, fine; just don't force the rest of us to do so. And don't go about trying to amend our country's constitution in an attempt to infringe our hard-won liberties, in the pursuit of your ridiculous religious ideals. Get real, get tolerant, and get the hell out of my face.

But that's just my opinion; reasonable minds may disagree.

Monday, March 14, 2005

The cell phone thing Part V: People are annoyed by cell phones

So it's not just me. A recent University of Michigan poll found that 6 out of 10 cell phone users say that using a cell phone in public can be "a major irritation," and 4 out of 10 think there should be a law prohibiting people from talking on cell phones in museums, movie theaters, and restaurants. Now, I'm not always a fan of democracy (majority rule equals mob rule, more often than not), but the peoples has spoken. Read the whole story here: Yahoo! News - Poll: Public Cell Phone Use Annoys Most

Sunday, March 13, 2005

The cell phone thing Part IV: U.S. vs. Europe

Us Americans tend to blindly think that we're always on the technological cutting edge. But we're just fooling ourselves; more and more often, we're getting left behind as other countries adopt more state-of-the-art technology. Case in point: Cell phone usage. (And, yeah, I know it's a bit contradictory to grumble about the overuse of cell phones, and then complain that ours aren't as good everyone else's. The food here is really bad -- and such small portions!)

Here's what I mean. Check out this great Reuters article by David Lawsky (via Yahoo! News) that compares cell phone usage in the U.S. versus that in Western Europe. The Europeans adopted a single system (GSM) that provides continent-wide coverage, complete with text messaging. The U.S. allowed "the market" to decide, resulting in multiple systems from multiple carriers.

(As an aside, "the market" will be the death of us -- literally, in terms of our "market-driven" health care system. Check out the great article in this week's The New Republic about the business of health care. It's something we have to change.)

Back to cell phones, what is the result of these different approaches to the technology? Europeans have better phones and better service, which inspires wider use by more people. Here in the U.S., our service sucks and not every system works everywhere in the country.

There's also a difference in pricing, in that Europeans are charged by the minute but don't pay for calls received; Americans gravitate towards "all you can eat" one-price plans, but have to pay for all calls and messages they receive. This results in different usage patterns, as you might expect; Europeans are freer to give out their mobile numbers, but also tend to talk less.

Anyway, this just one example of how other parts of the world are surpassing the U.S. in terms of technology. But pointing this out tends to invoke the ire of "patriotic" Americans, with their creed of "America, love it or leave it." Here's the deal: If you really love state-of-the-art technology, you can't love America all that much, or all the time. You have to leave the country to get the latest high-tech stuff. So think on that, Joe Sixpack -- or get used to settling for second best.

But that's just my opinion; reasonable minds may disagree.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

The cell phone thing Part III: Jammers illegal?

According to this story from ABC News, cell phone jammers are illegal in the United States. Here's the relevant quote:

The devices are illegal in the United States, punishable by an $11,000 fine per day and up to one year in prison. The ban is supported by the influential cell-phone industry.

This is almost as annoying as cell phones themselves. How are we supposed to protect ourselves from all this cell phone yammering if we can't jam the signals? This technology is legal elsewhere in the world; then again, other countries aren't quite as under the thumb of the corporate overlords are we are here in the land of the free.

Here's the story: ABC News: Jammers Offer Solution to Cell Phone Disturbances

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Too much Law, too much Order

Seldom do I agree with, let alone read, an article in USA Today, but here's one. In this 2/24/05 article, critic Robert Bianco laments the addition of a fourth show to NBC's Law & Order franchise, and the fact that that particular week the network aired a whopping 12 hours of various L&O programming. (And that didn't include God knows how much more L&O popped up on the various cable networks.) That's a lot of Law & Order, granted, but why would that bother me?

It bothers me because I just started watching the damned show, and I'm obsessively/compulsively trying to get caught up on what I've been missing for the past decade or so. You see, I don't watch much television. Regular television, anyway. Yeah, I thumb through the channels a lot, and have no problem stopping on an interesting documentary on one of the higher-numbered channels or a good movie on TCM, but I really didn't have any "destination" shows that I had to watch -- short of The Daily Show and South Park, that is.

But then, a little over a year ago, I watched an episode of The West Wing. It was a season five episode, which means it wasn't all that good compared to those in earlier seasons, but I didn't know that, and I got hooked. And, being hooked, I had to catch up on the whole thing. Fortunately, Bravo is now all-West Wing, all the time (when they're not showing gay guys playing celebrity poker, that is), so I was to able to get up to speed relatively quickly. (The DVD sets helped, too.) I was only four 22-episode seasons out of date, in that instance.

So now I had a destination show I had to watch. No big deal. One show a week (not counting that Comedy Central stuff), easy enough to schedule things around -- and I had the hard disk recorder as backup, just in case. I could live with that.

Unfortunately, you watch one show, you get sucked into more. The more was an episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent, you know, the one with the autistic/savantish lead detective guy. Kind of liked it. Decided to watch again the next week. Liked it even more. So now I had a second destination show -- and another one to get caught up on.

The easiest way to catch up on past seasons, of course, is via cable -- USA or TNT or whatever. And, thanks to my hard disk recorder, I just punch in the name, scroll through the available showtimes, and start recording. Except that when I punched in "Law & Order," I didn't just get L&O: CI. No, I also got L&O: SUV and the original L&O, and then last week there's this new one, L&O: Trial by Jury. A couple of hours worth every day, enough to fill up my hard disk in a little over a week. That's just too much Law & Order for my tastes. Plus, it gets confusing; the original L&O apparently changed casts every few seasons, and the cable networks don't seem to run the shows in any set order, so you never know who's going to be onscreen when you tune in. It's all a bit mouch, and a huge demand on my time.

So I think I may have to drop L&O from my recording schedule, or just try to catch the newest shows, as much as that runs against my obsessive/compulsive nature. Or maybe I should just concentrate on L&O: CI, or maybe L&O: SUV, or maybe add the new one, too, since there's no catching up to do, or maybe...

Well, you see my problem. Life was a lot easier when I didn't watch much TV.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

The cell phone thing (Part II)

I took my two nephews down to Indiana University on Friday, just to show them around the joint and to get our fill of the world's best pizza. (Mother Bears, in case you're wondering.) The old place still looks and feels like it did when I was there in ancient times, with one notable exception: Every other student walking by had a cell phone glued to his or her ear.

Of course, when I was in college we had to share one corded dial phone between two dorm rooms, so I'm not surprised that technology has advanced. (I also learned computer programming by writing FORTRAN programs on punch cards, but that's another curmudgeonly story...) It wasn't just the ubiquity of the cell phones that startled me, but rather how they affected the student body. When everyone is talking on a cell phone, no one is interacting with each other. The students were walking around (on a beautiful 60-degree spring day, BTW) in their own personal bubbles, seemingly oblivious to all and everything around them. No social interaction at all, none of the guys were checking out the girls (or vice versa), no one even bothered to say hi or howdy do.

What's the point of going to college if you're not going to share the experience? (In fact, it's the shared experiences that make college worthwhile, IMHO...) If all you do is walk around in your own little world, how are you going to expand your world and your worldview to grow as a person? This could be leading to something quite troubling....

The problem with blogs...

Actually, there are several, none of which seem to be affecting their popularity. And I'm not sure why.

The first problem is a practical one. Where does one find time to make daily (or even hourly) posts to one's blog? I see all these wonderful and not-so-wonderful personal blogs online, and they all seem to be relatively fresh and up-to-date. Obviously, many bloggers spend a fair amount of time posting to and managing their blogs. Where do they find the time to do this? Certainly, the average blog post isn't (or isn't often) a lengthy piece of well-thought-out commentary, so I don't imagine the average blogger spending several hours crafting the language and grammar to get it just right. But still, you have to spend a few minutes on each post, and minutes add up. Frankly, I don't have the spare time to carve out a half-hour or more a day to post to this rather anemic blog. Do other bloggers just have more free time on their hands than I do, or do they make the time? Or are they faster writers? (Not bloody likely...) So how -- or, perhaps more importantly, why -- do other bloggers find the time to do this? It perplexes me.

A second problem builds on that "why" question. Why do bloggers blog? And why do others read those blogs? (If, in fact, they do...) The typical blog, of course, is nothing more than a personal diary made public. It's vanity publishing, made easy by 21st-century technology. Does one's every thought warrant public exposure? I think not, not even of my own thoughts. So there's a kind of deluded self-importance mixed up in all this, somehow. It's symptomatic of the creeping me-ness of today's me-dia, where we only read and watch and listen to that narrow blend of ideas and entertainment that cater to our own individual tastes. And what caters more to one's personal tastes than one's personal ramblings, enabled by the blogging phenomenon? All me, all the time... it's a little overwhelming.

The third problem is the old wheat from the chaff thing. With so many blogs cluttering up the blogosphere, how does one sift through and find those few that truly merit attention? Or maybe it doesn't really matter, since we only care about our own blogs -- not about anyone else's. I don't know; I fear missing something important, but I don't really want to wade through the spam-like mass of bloggishness to find it.

Finally (for now, anyway), one has to wonder how long-lasting this whole blog thing will be. Anyone out there old enough to remember the birth of the web (then capitalized, of course), when anyone and everyone had their own personal web page? And anyone know how many of those web pages are still around today? Few, indeed. The novelty wears off quickly; it's one thing to cobble together a web page, another to keep it up-to-date. Perhaps the same thing will happen with blogs. The posts will get fewer over time, and the novelty of the whole thing will diminish. That will solve the quantity problem, no doubt.

But that's just my opinion; reasonable minds may disagree.