Saturday, April 30, 2005

Returning to the Soapbox

Friends, as you know, our schools face a myriad of challenges that distract from the learning environment. Now yet another threat has imposed itself on the scene: burritos. Yes, burritos, especially ones large enough to be mistaken for weapons.

Later reports have stated that the suspicious item was consumed destroyed on site.

In truth, burritos, and other bean-intensive foods, have been a problem for years. There is only one thing more disruptive to classroom order than a loud ripper released during a lecture, and that is the wiff of a Silent-but-Deadly permeating the atmosphere. I urge school officials nationwide to ban the use or carrying of any type of bean on campus.

Thank you for your time.

Unseemly Triumphalism

In events marking the 30th anniversary of the fall of Saigon, the government of Vietnam made a few changes to the celebration in order to not remind the US of its defeat:
Concerned that too visible a show of "triumphalism" could harm crudcial economic ties with the United States, now Vietnam's biggest tradeing partner, Hanoi made sure this year's celebrations were as much about the future as the past.

Too bad CNN and the AP didn't get the memo. From the opening grafs of the non-bylined article:
The American exit three decades ago -- when U.S. troops scrambled aboard helicopters from the roof of the Saigon embassy -- became one of the most dramatic images of the 20th century.

"Scrambled"? Couldn't say "Evacuated" or some other less loaded word? Other angles include "Hundreds of aging veterans, their chests decked with medals..." and "General Vo Nguyen Giap, the 94-year-old military chief whose tactics subdued first the French and then the Americans..."

Finally, we get a quote that at least carries an attribution that invites scepticism:
"I was listening to the radio with my family and heard that Saidon had been liberated. I was very happy because for many years we weren't free. After 30 years we have rebuily our country. Our land is safe and secure and I think the future will be better for my children," To Thanh Nghia, a 51-year-old government worker told AP.

I don't doubt that she said that, or that the AP reporter couldn't find anyone to say the opposite. It just seems like dog-bites-man to find a government worker who sings the praises of the government. I can't recall the last time I saw a quote like that from an American government worker, and that would be in a country where there is a legal right for a government worker to say what they think. Somehow, I don't think that type of freedom yet exists in Vietnam.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Class I Sci-fi Geek Reporting

Just got back from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Having read the books, I can not say that I have seen a better adaptation of a book to a movie. The spirit of the book was there, more than enough to be recognizable, but with a number of additions that blended in perfectly. I knew going in that Alan Rickman as the voice of Marvin the Robot, who is constantly in the throws of meloncholia, was inspired casting. What proved to be a wonderful surprise was the wonderful casting and chemistry between the rest of the cast.

Aliens from the Jim Henson Creature Shop did the one thing that CGI creatures can't do, which is give an actual target for the actors to look at. No matter how good an actor might be, or how talented the animator, a conversation between an actor and a CGI character never really meshes. Compare scenes of actor/synthetic interaction from Farscape and The Phantom Menace. If anything, I would say that having a physicality to a character in the scene lets the actors play off of it.

Related: Two really cool trailers. I may have just been dumping on Episode I of Star Wars, but Episode III is something I have very high hopes for. If only because I understand that Lucas did not write the script. If he didn't try to direct the actors, all the better.

The other trailer was for Serenity, a movie based the TV show "Firefly" that never drew more than a cult following. Taking the "Final Fronteir" theme almost literaly, it was a space-based action adventure concept with a very strong dash of western influence. Not much more that I can say, so I'll let the site tell you more. Come on, September.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Bring It On Mr. Lucas

Tossing in another quickie here: A little cartoon fun at the expense of Star Wars. Just keep clicking "next".

Found via the comments at the equally improbable The Darth Side: Memoirs of a Monster.

You Know You Want To

Just a little something for all you button pushers out there. You know who you are. And since not many of you know who I am, I'll just make for the hills.


Wednesday, April 27, 2005

The Department of Iffy Science

I am always sceptical of studies that propose to measure IQ. Not only is it an arbitrary quantification, but that there are none of the standards necessary to make it into a comparable measurement. So looking at this article: E-mails 'hurt IQ more than pot', I have to wonder how one goes about making a running guage of people's IQ. The authors of the study are using IQ as a measure of productivity, and rather than just saying productivity, they use "IQ" in order to imply something fundamental.

I am tempted to think that this report is a hoax based on this factoid:
Nine out of 10 people thought colleagues who answered messages during face-to-face meetings were rude, while three out of 10 believed it was not only acceptable, but a sign of diligence and efficiency.

Unless I am mistaken in my math, this means that at least two out of 10 people believe that answering messages in face-to-face meetings in both rude and a sign of diligence and efficiency. Obviously, those two have had their brains melted via Outlook.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

The Plane Will Fly, But Will the Idea?

This article on the new Aerbus A380 is correct in that it will fly within standard conditions, given all of the simulations Aerbus has run. What I am not sure will pass muster is whether the airline industry will be receptive to a business model that relies on larger units to cental locations rather than smaller units over a distributed area. Home town example: I have had the misfortune to have to go to LAX for flights and to play chauffer for friends and family. I have also done the same at Burbank Airport, no more than forty miles away. Everything is different as night and day, from parking to lines. With other small airports in the area (John Wayne and Ontario) people in the LA area are more likely to get a flight for travel than if LAX were the only option.

So I am sceptical about the A380. Obviously the intent is to move more people in the same number of flights, but that does not count the peripheral costs of having to deal with more people coming through already congested hub airports. That and I am not a fan of government subsidy of the airline industry. Boeing have been taking a beating, but things are looking up. I wonder just how much European pride drove the A380's development as opposed to engineering and economic considerations.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Michael Jackson Takes the Stand!

Game the World has obtained video footage of Michael Jackson testifying on his own behalf during his trial on charges of child molestation. While the author of this blog understands that there is a gag order in place and that cameras are not allowed in the courtroom, the author still feels that it is his duty to keep the public informed on this vital issue. Should it come down to it, I will take jail time rather than reveal my source.

So don't worry, Dad, your secret is safe with me.

Friday, April 22, 2005

A Moment of Self-Indulgent Journaling

I went to the Third Steet Promenade in Santa Monica today for a re-supply of cigars. For those of you who aren't local, Santa Monica is the part of LA that the area radio talk hosts sometimes refer to as the People's Republic of Santa Monica. How the heck a ciger shop than encourages people to smoke in the lounge next to the requisite open windows can stay open is beyond me. One of their house brands is my favorite, so the drive from Irvine is well worth it.

Political bumper stickers are all the thing. Mostly they are leftover Kerry/Edwards campaign stickers. Less timely messages like "Buck Fush" and "Somewhere in Texas a village is missing its idiot" are also very common. A regular feature of the Promenade are a couple of guys who set up a pair of folding tables and sell such minded stickers. Their wares include quotes from Ghandi and Bob Marley, not-so-polite requests to smash global capitalism (evidently local capitalism is OK), "The Earth can't afford the Rich", and several varieties of wiccan themed stickers. I might get some of the last for friends.

Anyway, there were some I was interested in getting, because they would work just as well in an ironic sense opposed to the philosophy of their neighborhood. I had an idea in mind to buy a "War is Not the Answer" sticker and cross out War and replace it with Government, but the typographical problems seem insurmountable. Another one was "Dissent is Patriotic", but I don't think that the idea that I am dissenting from most of the opinions on the table would come through.

In the end, I got one that is true no matter who is in power:
I think, therefore I'm dangerous

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Did They Think This One Through?

My first real job, defined as a position with my major in the title, was at a company that applied coatings to fasteners used in commercial airliner construction. Through them I became familiar with Textron, perhaps the biggest player in the industry. I have a good deal of familiarity with the technologies involved in several fastener systems, high interference bolts, standard and blind rivets, locking collars, etc. The tech is pretty much tried and true, and there really aren't many ways to improve things.

And I am far from certain that adding microporcessors to fastening systems is an improvement. For small-scale parts I don't see a problem, but if these are going to be used on parts that are frequently removed and inspected, the a decent definition of mission criticality, then I am pretty damn certain that I don't want those coming apart during operation. I share the concern of the Core 77 author of the potential for hacking. A large number of fasteners would have to be accessible by a large number of controlling units, at least one per airport. Many locks with many keys equals lack of security. Who would need a bomb when you can make a plane disintegrate on its own. Each of the pieces would be intact, but that doesn't do it when the passengers need more than just the sum of the parts.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Statistics Don't Lie

Friends, I come to you today to warn you about a newly realized threat to public health and morality. I speak of a a danger that has been foisted upon everyone, young and old alike. I urge you to turn your backs on the nefarious and unhealthy product known as bread. Yes, bread. If you knew the consequences of this unclean product, you would be shocked:

1. More than 98 percent of convicted felons are bread users.
2. Fully HALF of all children who grow up in bread-consuming households score below average on standardized tests.
3. In the 18th century, when virtually all bread was baked in the home, the average life expectancy was less than 50 years; infant mortality rates were unacceptably high; many women died in childbirth; and diseases such as typhoid, yellow fever, and influenza ravaged whole nations.

The only redeeming feature of this vile substance is, according to point 9, is that it can help purge the body of dreaded dihydrogen monoxide. Despite that nominally salubrious effect of bread, I urge you to cleanse your home of this dangerous substance.

Link via

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

I Remember When Homogeneity Was the Threat

Now it is the fact that we have too much choice that is the evil facing mankind. Wasn't MacDonald's supposed the only restaurant in existence by now? Or was that Taco Bell, I can't keep them straight. If the studies the New York Times article are indicative:

Too many options may drive consumers away. In one experiment, Ms. Iyengar found that people who were shown a selection of six different jams in a store were about 10 times as likely to buy a jar than those exposed to a range of 24 flavors.

then the best way to stimulate the economy would be to limit everyone down to a single choice in all particulars.

And they all laughed at me when I sank my money into silver jumpsuit futures.

On the other hand, it is obvious that Baskin Robbins is deliberately out to make America obese by only offering 31 flavors. More flavors for a thinner America!

Monday, April 18, 2005

A Real Drag of a Day

They were out of coffee in the break room today. I wanted to get a riot going along with all of the other caffeine addicts, but no one could really get the energy up for it. Either way, good ideas are too hard to hunt this evening. See you all tomorrow.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

More Abuses for A "Great Cause"

The ever popular "To Protect The Children" meme is rearing its head again. In addition to making yet more mandatory sentences (I'd really like to see some "activist judges" strike those provisions down as damaging to separation of powers), there is one passage that strikes me as particularly chilling. From H.R. 1528 "Defending America's Most Vulnerable: Safe Access to Drug Treatment and Child Protection Act of 2004," by Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.):

Create a new three-year mandatory minimum for parents who witness or learn about drug trafficking activities, targeting or even near their children, if they do not report it to law enforcement authorities within 24 hours and do not provide full assistance investigating, apprehending, and prosecuting the offender.

It is the "learn about" clause that tells me that Sen. Sensenbrenner does not care about the indirect consequences of this bill. It brings to mind those "Parents: The Anti-Drug" commercials where parents are encouraged to keep close tabs on their children. In that respect, it is exactly what parents should be doing. Combine that with this legislation, however, and it forces the parents to become another branch of the police. It will hardly encourage teenagers to go to their parents with concerns about their friends when their parents would be required to report the conversation to the authorities.

Evidently, family is a very important thing to Republicans, unless it becomes an issue of Protecting The Children, in which case, all bets are off.

Link via Radley Balko

Friday, April 15, 2005

The Un-Americanism In Me

I realize that I am truly going out on a limb here, and what I am about to say may border on treasonous. However, it is something that, in the course of recent events requires me to say:

I am not very fond of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

I know, I know, next I'll be against apple pie and baseball. Not to fear, apple pie shall always enjoy a warm embrace, and I am a big follower of the Lancaster Jet Hawks.

What has brought on this confession was that in the course of researching my professional field of materials design, I came across a story about Smucker's patent for their new pre-packaged PB&J. Actually, they are trying to patent the design, as all of the elements already exited, and they created a way to keep the bread from getting soggy from the jelly. Not a bad idea, but for my palate, I say move on.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Catching Up on Reading

I have finally gotten around to reading Hayek's The Road to Serfdom after not being able to find it for years. Who would have thought that it would be in economics as opposed to philosophy? And who would have thought that asking a store clerk might actually be informative? I'm no good at asking for directions either.

Anyway, back to the book, Hayek was famously against any type of large scale economic planning as being inimicable to personal liberty. Essentially he wrote that economic matters can not be sensibly separated from any other, and that the power to assign resources requires that the State have the power to aid or thwart any action the people might take.

With all of the talk lately about acitivist courts and activist legislatures, I have been seeing some of the trends he wrote about at play in today's events. Could be just a case of confirmation bias setting in, but both parties have lately been acting to bring about set goals. The knock on activist judges is that they have a set idea of justice and read the Constitution and laws in such a way to bring the end of "justice" into being. And the classic republican busybody is stereotypically all for freedom so long as people use it in a way they find moral.

One might say that a system of laws that ensures individual liberty is a goal that libertarians seek to impose, but there is a critical difference. Assuring individual liberty is a goal that presumes to judge the least according to desired results. Republican morality or Democratic political correctness both seek to dictate what are the appropriate choices for an individual to make. Say something "offensive" or flash an inappropriate body part and see the hue and cry for laws or regulations to steer society back onto the proper course.

Hayek's delineation of how results-oriented governance is inhospitable to personal responsibility brought to mind a quote from a not-so-wiseman but certifiable wiseguy:

Beware those who serve a Great Cause, for anything can be justified in it's name.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Yet More on Life, Death, and Living Wills

The whole idea of a living will has some interesting connotations to it, connotations that are somewhat contradictory. Naturally, a will is something that communicates the intentions of the writer after death. A living will is intended to speak for the writer after incapacitation, often as instructions for treatment or non-treatment after a certain point. More often than not, those decisions are made with the view that one's life, once it reaches the state described in the will, is already over. Eric Cohen has written another article on the topic of living wills and how limited they are or should be. He proposes the following hypothetical:

As for the courts that are called upon to settle certain cases, they will need some political guidance or governing principles to do so. For example, what if a tenured professor of bioethics, unable to bear the loss of his cognitive powers, leaves written instructions not to treat any infections if he ever suffers dementia? Decades later, now suffering from Alzheimer's, the former professor is mentally impaired but seemingly happy. He can't recognize his children, but he seems to enjoy the sunset. He's been physically healthy for years, but then gets a urinary tract infection. All his family members believe he should be treated.

Should the state intervene to prohibit antibiotics--to protect the incompetent person's "right to die"? Or should the state leave the family members alone, so they can do what they believe is in the best interests of the person the professor now is? If Andrew Sullivan and other critics are worried about "theocons" using the power of the state to undermine the right to self-determination, are they willing to use the power of the state to impose death when families choose life? Is this what their idea of "autonomy" really requires?

I'm with Andrew on this one: my hard-hearted libertarian self says, "Yes." Here's where I lay out my reasoning.

There is no consensus on when exactly a person is dead. It is true that a person can not be alive without a heart beat, but that does not mean that a person with a heart beat is alive. If (no A), then (no B) does not reverse to: if (A), then (B). Only when there is an absolute indicator that only happens when a person has passed on can a standard be set. Anything else would be to confuse life with its trappings. Where there is no scientific or legal standard as to when "alive" ends it must ultimately rest with the conscience of the individual.

It is appropriate for the state to set legislatively what the value of "no clear intention" should be. A good default would be to maintain what life is left. It is then the responsibility of the indvidual to make his/her choice clear or choose a trusted person who will act on his/her behalf.

What happens if a person makes an unwise choice in who to trust or how the document was worded? Hard-hearted, but "Too bad". Just add this to the list of things that will bring you to grief, or worse, if you do not take appropriate care of yourself.

Nothing to Sneeze At

Just so we are clear on this: an American firm accidently sent a known killer flu virus to Saudi Arabia? Let's hope that (A) the labs there have already tested and destroyed their samples, (B) that there are no Wahabbist scientists working in those labs and that they will destroy the samples. Certainly a virus that has killed several million people and that has not been vaccinated against in almost 40 years could become a nifty little bio-weapon, especially if you don't mind martyring a lot of your people in the process.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

They Really Should Read Those Things First

You know that your legislature is passing too many laws when the people voting for them can't take the time to read them. In one of the classic last-hour omnibus type of bills, the state of West Virginia has inadvertantly made english its official language.

I thought that most legislators in this country are lawyers. Seems they forgot the rule about reading the small print. This goes to show why such big package bills should be done away with. By putting our elected representatives in positions that they would have to vote for something they don't want for something good (as defined by expediency), it gives them later wiggle room to say that they were always for the other thing when it becomes fashionable.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Truth and Consequences

I believe that free will is not about selecting from a group of options so much as choosing between the sets of consequences attached to each option. The big problem that faces us mere humans is that no one can see all of the consequences of a particular action. If a butterfly flapping its wings can change the course of a hurricane months later, imagine what your last sneeze might unleash in the future. Now, no one could possibly hold you responsible for that, just bear it in mind the next time you leave your house without a hanky.

Another definition I use is that wisdom is the experience that adds to one's predictive range. In a sense, it is the ability to peer into the box to catch at least a glimpse of what is to come. Wise or foolish, however, the future will come with the consequences chosen.

Commentor Unseen Depths wrote to a post below:

Death is not a right: it's a consequence of living.

I agree about the death as consequence portion. Without life, there is no death, but life also has the consequences of happiness, pain, love, anger, hope, betrayal, forgiveness, and obviously more than can be listed. Of all of these, only death is the one that is assured. With death comes nothing: nothing good, and nothing bad (at least from my materialistic point of view, your beliefs may vary).

Now I believe firmly in the right of the individual to his/her life. Equally important is the right to keep others from forcing their decisions onto oneself. However, a right is mocked when it is made into an obligation. There is no more fundamental choice than to look ahead at the rest of one's life and weigh it against the nothingness of death. Right here, right now, I hope that all of you are still choosing to see tomorrow. But if you lacked the option of not seeing tomorrow, then there is no positive value to that decision.

Life/Death, Speech/Silence, Salvation/Redemption. There are many things that having the right to one is meaningless without the right to choose the other.

(Sorry about the meandering, but this essay has been bugging me for a while now, and it still refuses to be pinned down)

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Admitting Error

When news first came out about the reputed republican strategy memo regarding the Terri Schiavo case, I was one of many who immediately doubted its veracity. That position was largely due to believing that no one would be so stupid as to put those types of thoughts into writing.

I now acknowledge my error. Henceforth, I shall never again underestimate the power of stupidity. According to the Washington Post, it was Brian Darling the, now former, legal counsel to Sen. Martinez (R) of Florida. The only thing that comes to mind is that this guy has made the entire Republican Party look like asses. Assinine is the only word that can describe his behavior.

Someone should send a memo to the Republican leadership. It should read that when one has a grip on two of the three branches of government, one should not go out of their way to live up to the worst stereotypes the other side has of you.

Some extra thoughts:

1. Sen. Martinez has shown some serious lack of sense if he really handed a member of the opposition a piece of paper he hadn't read.

2. Chief Justice should retire sometime this year, because at this rate, the republicans aren't going to be keeping Congress past '06.

3. I think a little government gridlock would be a good thing right now, at least so that the republicans can keep some vestige of their reputation intact.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Invoking Science Fiction to Make a Point

Somehow it seems inappropriate to cite a Glenn Reynolds column the day after publishing as it would a day-old Instapundit post. So sue me for having misplaced the link until now.

The good professor looks at how the Terri Schiavo case has forced the philosophical underpinnings of the concepts of life and death into the spotlight, especially given the state of technology today. The article itself is quite good, but I found some fertile ground in a column he wrote previously.

In the earlier column, he refers to the novel Permutation City by Dale Egan. That story is built aroung the concept of uploading copies of people's brains into computers and running them in simulation. Mechnaistically speaking, there would be no difference between the flesh and blood person and the person in the computer.

If he were to re-write that article, I think Prof. Reynolds would instead use Altered Carbon and Broken Angels by Richard K. Morgan. In those novels, the copies of minds can not only be uploaded into computers but into different bodies as well. Morgan's concept taps into my idea about the relationship between body and mind/soul, namely that the body is only the support system for the mind.

At this time, medicine is able to transplant virtually every organ in the human body with one very notable exception: the brain. Even if such a feat were accomplished, I don't think that anyone would say that it was not, in actuality, a body transplant. Who would wake up? Clearly it would be the brain "donor", not the person whose face we would be looking at.

From books, lets head to the movies and in particular the most philosophical movie to come out in recent times: The Matrix. The first concept to come up is reality, what is real if our senses can be totally deceived? The second is one of identity, who are we if our experiences of ourselves is false? Both questions rest on the same assumption, that there is something there (mind, soul, whichever) to experience and interact with the world. The self is defined in relation to everything else, and I believe that death occurs when one is no longer capable of considering and interacting, at least within the mind, with the outside world. One can still be alive while paralyzed and unable to communicate so long as one can still think about oneself and the world outside. It doesn't matter if that awareness is in a computer or a body. If you doubt that, consider if the people unaware of the Matrix were alive or not. Surely one can not have different answers to that merely based on the viewpoint of inside or outside the Matrix.

Sorry to leave this one hanging, but I'm going to have to rent some movies to get these ideas a bit better fleshed out. In particular, comparing The Matrix to Dark City. Discuss amongst yourselves if you wish.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

I May Be Missing Something

I have a condition called monochromatism. The old term for it is color blindness, and I prefer the other term, not for any PC "Please don't stigmatize me" reason, but because color "blind" is incorrect. I have fewer red-green sensing cells on my retina than most people, hence I have difficulty making out different tones of those colors or colors based on them. Its not all that bad when you don't know what you are missing, and the space on my retinas was taken up by light sensing cells. So I can see the brightness of colors better than most of my friends, and my night vision seems better as well.

A note to teachers: if you have a student (typically male) who makes a lot of marks on the back of the coloring assignment while working with the big can of unlabeled crayons, recommend to their parents that they take their child for an eye exam. I certainly did that, especially since I couldn't see the red that separated purple from blue.

Speaking of teachers, I have to say that I feel for them when parents are asking them not to use red pens because the color is too stressful for children. More like too stressful for the parents remembering their school days. Let me just lay it out: the small stress that a child feels when they see that they have gotten an answer wrong should be a goad to getting the answer correct next time (you know, its called "learning") and the enhanced sense of satisfaction that comes from doing something hard. The short form is then the children will learn how to go about finding self-esteem for themselves rather than waiting for someone to come along and give it to them. Now that I think about it, someone else giving another self-esteem seems to be an oxymoron.

So maybe I'm just being my monochromatic self, but I think our kids can learn to handle a little red on their homework. Especially when they learn to get less and less red as time goes on.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Hits and Misses from Andrew Sullivan

Andrew Sullivan (him, again, but this article makes some good points) has a new column out in the Sunday Times. Like any really good argument, I am ambivalent about its points.

I'll start with the negative. Sullivan writes:

But the question remains: was Schiavo killed or allowed to die? It seems to me that the absolutists in both camps miss something important. Those who argue that she was in effect already dead miss what is best described as the dignity of the human person — even when incapacitated. What makes someone human is not the extent of their capacities but their humanness itself. While a human being breathes on her own and her bodily functions remain largely intact despite massive degeneration in the brain, she is still a human being. Moral sense tells us so.

My problem with this formulation is that whatever moral sense is being triggered is only triggered by our senses. You can watch someone breath or feel their pulse, but there is very little one can do to tell if the mind (or, for the sake of this post, the soul) is still present. Back in the ages before EEG, these were pretty fool-proof ways of telling if someone was alive or not. The mind wouldn't last long in a body without pulse or respiration, and a body could not be maintained for long without a few reflexive abilities, such as swallowing, being provided by a semi-functional brain.

Now, however, we have the technology to sustain a body without the mind. The failure of death of body to follow by death of mind can make the old signs deceptive. The definition of death is no longer clear cut as it pertains to the important part, the mind. Granted, there were plenty of EEG's done in the Schiavo case, but those type of arcane measurements are easy to set aside in favor of the "clear cut" evidence of her taking breath. Because it is difficult to see the mind as gone and easy to see breathing or feel a pulse, many people fall into a fallacy that says that which can be sensed is more real than that which can not. I will give Andrew credit when he says later in the article that some people are driven to the certainty of faith when confronted with the uncertainties of science. I find it ironic that those who place their faith in the unseen fight for causes that depend on the evidence that is easily seen.

Props to Sullivan for seeking a third way between the absolutes on both sides:

Is there therefore a middle way, a means to negotiate these issues that technology now forces us to confront, a way to balance both these truths about a dying person and treat her with dignity and respect? There is.

He procedes onto an argument based on Catholic teachings regarding "ordinary" and "extraordinary".

He also uses an example of abortion to illustrate middle ground:

Even today we accept that a fertile procreating woman spontaneously aborts countless fertilised eggs after conception. That does not make her guilty of involuntary manslaughter on a massive scale. So the abortion of a foetus the morning after conception is intuitively different from an abortion in the third trimester.

He doesn't say it, but I think the essence of the distinction is active vs. passive. There are many things that we accept if no concious action is taken to cause them while we would be deeply troubled by them when they are carried out actively.

Hypothetical: Transpose the legal and moral arguments of the Terri Schiavo case back fifteen years when the feeding tube had not yet been put in for the first time. Now, the use of artificial means to extend her life is the active while allowing her to expire through dehydration is the passive. One could still make the argument that not feeding her would have been murder, but that decision would not require an active process to cause the end of life. I do not think that the matter would have caused as much of a firestorm, even given the lack of lead-up that the media would have had as opposed to the actual incident.

Friday, April 01, 2005

It Gets Worse

Andrew Sullivan is a touch breathless in describing a Weekly Standard piece regarding the right to die and the question of whether even pre-stated, signed living wills and powers of attorney should be recognized. I'm feeling a little breathless myself. Either that or I'm hyperventilating with anger.

The key point of the article is that not even the patient prior to incapacitation can speak for the incapacitated patient, and therefore all such patients should be kept alive. The invocation of "dignity and rights" is particularly galling. Andrew puts it right when he asks what would replace the "autonomy regime" author Eric Cohen wishes to do away with. Evidently, it would be some self-appointed wise elder that would know best.

The discussion stays with the topic of incapacitated patients. I see nothing here that would prevent even patients with sufficient mental faculties to refuse treatment from having their decisions disregarded. It is a well-known contingency that a person's right to make decisions for their treatment (particularly in the case of mental illness) can be overruled if they are shown to be a "danger to themselves". Now certainly, one could describe not pursuing every last possible avenue of treatment as a passive form of suicide. Therefore, if someone refuses treatment, then they are de facto incapable of making such a decision for themselves. Bring in the wise elder.

I'm not so much for the slippery-slope argument, but this seems more like a precipice than a slope.

Update: Just a quick thought. What would happen when the life-at-all-costs brigade runs into the thou-shalt-not-thwart-God's-will types? There have been stories of parents refusing even basic medical care for their children, even unto death. So whose morality will take the field when that happens?

An Outrageous Price of Doing Business

I don't understand the prohibition Catholicism and other religions have against birth control. Simultaneously, I can not say that a person has a right to acquire birth control from a pharmacist that does not wish to dispense it. While the article does not go into detail about the pharmacy's participation in state programs, I can not see how this case can merit any more than excluding the pharmacy from state health plans. The pharmacy in question is part of the Osco chain. If Osco has a problem with the way the pharmacist handled the matter, then it is an issue to be settled between themselves.

The following quote from Steve Trombley, CEO for Planned Parenthood in Chicago, shows just how far off the board the rights of private business have become:

"When medical professionals write prescriptions for their patients, they are acting in their patients' best interests," Trombley said. "A pharmacist's personal views cannot intrude on the relationship between a woman and her doctor."

One idea that has been lost here is that a prescription is permission to dispense a medication, not an order to do so. If the pharmacist chose not to dispense, then he loses the business, and the patient is only out the time it would take to go to another pharmacy. If there had been a real emergency need for contraception in this case, I would think that the Planned Parenthood office would know of a pharmacy that would be happy to fill the prescription.

The use of law to compel the pharmacist to dispense medication for a purpose he finds immoral would be the same as compelling a newsstand owner to carry "The Ku Klux Klan Kwarterly" because he may not deny his customers' First Amendment rights to read it. I think that "the customer is always right" has gotten out of control on this one.