Apparently, California Institute for Regenerative Medicine sponsored a contest soliciting poems about stem cell research. They did this last year (you can find the winners here) and again this year, in honor of Stem Cell Awareness Day on October 6. The winner this year will get a [pretty awesome, akshly] framed electron microscope stem cell image (of their choice). Entries were duly submitted, judged, and announced. The winning poems were, of course, posted on CIRM’s site.
Two days later, all of this year’s poems were taken down. Stem C., by Tyson Anderson, was objected to by LLDF as “blasphemous”, “propaganda”, and “pilfering of the holiest of voluntary, sacrificial acts in the history of humanity” (by which they mean mythology, unless they’ve unearthed evidence I’ve not heard of). They additionally argued that it contained an “inadvertent acknowledgment of the personhood of […] embryos”. I think they’re giving far too little credit to the poet: words in poems are rarely “inadvertent” and very often ascribe personhood to animals, concepts, and inanimate objects. It’s called personification and the LLDF has clearly never heard of it.
Stem C. came in first place, but the second place poem, Birth, Rebirth by Andy Levy (which is beautiful, by the way) did not escape LLDF’s righteous furor. They, and their band of parroting ideologues, in two days convinced CIRM to take down the poems. At the moment, they can still be read here (and at other sites dedicated to defeating this censorship).
Having no permission to do so, but hoping that the authors understand my intent to battle religious extremism against them, the four published-then-unpublished poems are below the fold. Read more >>
Texas is reviewing its science standards, specifically with the desire to remove them altogether. Skepchick has a great discussion of exactly what this means, but here’s the short version:
Now: what you can do:
Just to drive home the point that we need to actually educate our children, not just indoctrinate them, here is a recent BBC documentary (in 6 10-minute segments) about a 13-year old girl, Deborah, who lives on her parents’ farm with some of her 10 brothers and sisters (the ones who haven’t yet left home to spread the Good News.
Deborah and her siblings have been home schooled and rarely leave the compound. When she does, it’s to give tracts out to her peers while they’re waiting for the bus. Her oldest brother has moved out and is working toward a chef’s degree. Deborah leaves home to go visit him in the fourth segment.
The whole thing is worth a watch, even though it’s long. My favorite part (besides the general creepiness and the “omg, it’s my sisters!”-ness of it) is that her brother is specifically turned off by flirting women. I can’t wait for the follow up documentary after that one hits.
Late to the party on this one, I know, sorry. It turns out that conservative (read: religious) states have the highest porn rates in the country. Probably because they’re not allowed to have deviant (read: fun) sex at home.
Meanwhile, people living in enlightened areas of the country have other outlets for their sexual urges, since sex is not dirty and can be discussed rationally with one’s partner(s).
As I’m sure you’ve already heard, it’s a two-for-one celebration: the 200th anniversary of the day when both Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin were squeezed out of their mothers’ wombs and into this cold world. I live in a world of ideas, words and algorithms, and these two humans, more than most, demonstrated through their lives the power of the intangible on the material. Hallelujah! Glory be to democracy and science!
Clicking on the following will get you to the xkcd store:
And watch this vid. An MoF favorite singer and an MoF favorite cause: Regina Spektor and No On H8. Do this before V day and enjoy your partnership on Valentine’s Day guilt-free (and full of hope).
Let’s dedicate this Valentine’s Day to love.
It’s Blog for Choice Day and I encourage everyone to visit the blogroll of bloggers taking part and to visit their blogs, if only for this one post. Also, feel free to revisit my posts from ’07 and ’08. This year’s topic is “What is your top pro-choice hope for President Obama and/or the new Congress.”
I always find these kinds of things difficult. I don’t have a favorite band/book/movie, but I could give you a top five. So I think I’ll take that approach. These aren’t in any order except the order they come in, but they’re all up there.
1. Repeal of the Bush doctrine of the “conscience clause”. This is near the top of my brain right now because I recently read (and was subsequently incensed by) this, the story of a woman whose IUD was removed by a religious nurse, who then proceeded to lecture her about why she was morally opposed to it and then refused to put it back in. The nurse stated, “Everyone in the office always laughs and tells me I pull these out on purpose because I am against them, but it’s not true, they accidentally come out when I tug,” which suggests to me that she’s a serial assaulter.
The medical profession is different from most professions (it’s usually lumped in with the legal profession) in the sense that certain things are required of medical professionals that are not required of anyone else. I’ve likened conscience clauses before to a vegetarian working at Subway and refusing to serve meat. That was probably a wee bit flippant, but I do believe that, since the medical profession is so specialized, when one goes to an doctor, one is entitled to the best medical care that doctor can provide. Having an surgeon refuse to provide a patient with an appendectomy because the surgeon is a Christian Scientist should be illegal. Sure, where it is possible, allow the surgeon to find another surgeon who can provide this (often emergency) procedure. Where none can be found, the trained surgeon employed in the capacity of a surgeon at the hospital the patient has been admitted to may be expected to provide that surgery, regardless of the surgeon’s religious beliefs. The fact that it’s even being considered is repulsive and baffling to me. We require attorneys to provide legal service to criminals, regardless of the attorney’s belief of guilt or innocence. Where attorneys don’t want to face that kind of situation, these attorneys choose a different area of practice.
Replace “appendectomy” with “abortion” and my views do not change.
2. Codification in some way of the right to reproductive health services nationwide. This probably involves both the Congress and the President, since we all know Bush would have vetoed anything that allowed women to have a shot at doing anything for themselves. Roe v. Wade objectors are working their way up the courts inch by inch in an effort to get it repealed. Many states have laws-in-waiting that will go into effect as soon as it is repealed. With a Supreme Court stacked against reproductive rights and a rabid base who routinely files cases intended to make it to that Court regardless of the success of the last case, having a statutory law, rather than a common law, is a necessity.
The oft-quoted fact that Viagra is covered by many insurance companies that do not cover birth control pills is proof positive that there is a problem in this country with treating women as full humans when it comes to health care. Codification of this right would solve the insurance issue as well as the access issue. It may even solve the education issue, since more and more medical schools are removing certain reproductive health care procedures from their required curriculum making them instead optional.
3. Age-appropriate sex-ed classes that have a medical, rather than a religious, basis. How are we even having this conversation?! If I want to learn about god, original sin, or hell, I will go to a religious teacher. If I want to learn about oil, the periodic table, or sulfuric acid, I will go to a chemistry teacher. This is not rocket science, folks: if we want our children to learn about penises, ovaries, and menstruation, what is required is a biology course. Perhaps a sociology course to cover things like “no means no” and the etiquette of being sexually active in a world of STDs. And yes, abstinence should be included in a sex-ed course; but not exclusively. Options and consequences should be truthfully (I know that’s hard for religionists…and some parents) and openly discussed, explored, even debated. Each person will then be able to decide for him or herself what choices will be made. But choices cannot be made if options are not given.
And yes, as indicated above, I think that a rudimentary course in how men and women should act toward one another in a sexual context (“no means no” and epithets like “slut”) should be included.
4. Support for parents in the workplace. Note the plural. Women may well need some physical time to recover following childbirth, but the child itself requires more attention when it is first born than later in life. Whether the parents are two gay men adopting, a het couple having a natural child, or a lesbian couple with a sperm donor (or any of the myriad other options and combinations), both parents should be assured of paid leave to care for the new addition to their family. And, upon returning to the workplace, they should be assured that they have a job.
I’d like to work into this some sort of acknowledgement that often, one parent quits their job and returns to the workplace some years later (above I was thinking more in terms of months), to find that her (it is most often a woman) marketability as a worker has vastly decreased, but I can’t figure out how to work this into legislation.
5. Repeal of the Global Gag Rule. I would hope that, if the above hopes come to pass, this would be an obvious inclusion. If we secure reproductive rights internally, we have no call to presume to infringe upon them externally. But it may slip through the cracks. Not only does the Gag Rule reek of imperialism and I-know-better-than-youism, it is inherently dangerous to men and women alike, especially in regions beset by an AIDS epidemic. People in need of medical care are entitled to the best medical care that society and current medical knowledge can give them—not the best care that the United State wants them to have (how is it that these are two separate things?!). Not only has the US no right to impose religiously-based medical care upon its own citizens, it has no right to do so for citizens of other countries.
Finally, as an aside that I don’t think either the President or Congress has much, if any control over, I think that (daily) birth control pills should be over-the-counter, since there’s no LD50 for them. For morning after pills, an argument may be made for keeping them behind the counter in the same way that cigarettes are.
Like most internet-based phenomena, the answer is probably “yes”. But read the article and decide for yourself (and then read the scared-boys comments and see if that changes your mind…).
Years ago, Avery Brooks (who will forever be Cmdr. Sisko to me) did a truly awesome commercial for IBM, one that still prompts me to occasionally exclaim, “I was promised flying cars!” The point was that, when people look into the future, they see today’s technology modified for the future, not the invention of whole new ways of thinking, communicating, and acting. I was promised vidphones, soylent green, and transporters. Instead, I have email/IM/vidChat/cellphones/Skype, LäraBars/gojiberries/tofu, and …well…I used to have Concords…we’ll give transporters a pass for now. Years ago, I thought it was ludicrous that someone would consider not having an email that wasn’t their name, that my brother-in-law (junior high) should be on Facebook, that I could watch Netflix through my 360. But technology happens in unexpected ways. Which is to say, completely anticipated ways. Read more >>
Synchronized debating. This is exactly why the internet is so important. Why fair use is not just some abstraction but something that affects each of our lives. And, it’s funny. So learn more about both candidates and a little something about the wonders of the internet:
This was cross-posted from my account at GoodReads, where I gave it two stars (of five). I would like to note that I did not read the whole book—I got through the fifth chapter before it was due at the library (and I couldn’t renew it because someone else had a hold on it). I do intend to read the rest of it, although I don’t have a pressing desire to do so since, from the tone of the first few chapters, it does not seem like a whole lot of additional information might be presented in what remains.
I have fixed the links in the post to link to Amazon (in case you haven’t a GoodReads account), but other than that, this is exactly how it looks at GoodReads:
Berlinski’s book is, from its title, a rebuttal to Richard Dawkins’ the God Delusion. It is, however, more often a rebuttal of Sam Harris’ Letter to a Christian Nation specifically and broadly to all atheist works. Having read neither, I will take as a given that both Dawkins and Harris say what Berlinski says they say. However, given how inconsistent his own internal arguments are, I wonder.
Berlinski starts by assuaging the fear of his atheist readers. He is not a theist! He proclaims, he is rather, “a secular Jew”. From that description one might assume that he is of Jewish heritage and descent but does not believe in a (specifically Jewish) deity. However, this quickly is disproved as, through his arguments, Berlinski states that a deity must necessarily exist.
Contrary to most debates in internet fora, Berlinski’s arguments start with ad Hitlerum arguments, broken up briefly by ad hominem attacks. Beginning with calling Harris (and his ilk, by association) a terrorist, he continues by calling them anti-Semites.
The first chapter asserts that science is a god, like any other, whose adherents refuse to admit to the existence of other deities. As evidence for this, he sites the fact that Dawkins/Harris are scientists. If this is the case, it is surely news to Harris, a philosopher.
Continuing this argument into the second chapter, Berlinski asserts that science was the cause of the Holocaust. Once again, this must surely be news to many Germans and Historians alike. Citing the fact that the world is still a horrible place (and listing the number of deaths caused by wars in the 20th century), Berlinski concludes that a deity must exist. (The argument goes something like this: since atheism is wrong, &c.) One wonders just what kind of “secular Jew” it is who argues for but does not worship a deity—perhaps there is no hell for him to go to for his lack of faith. We heretics have no such luxury.
In the third chapter, he delves into physics, a subject about which I understand admittedly little, but about which he seems to understand even less. Somewhere in there is a flying horse, but I was left unsure whether its existence was proven or disproven by neutrinos with fingers.
He continues in such baffling manner, creating “atheistic” arguments for him to refute with both theology and physics. By the end, the reader is left wondering if Berlinski believes in anything at all, a failing he notes in atheistic arguments. It seems to me that Berlinski is, in fact, an atheist. He is simply not a militant atheist, an epithet he despises and wishes so much to distance himself from that he talks himself into a theistic/atheistic corner, wanting to have it both ways, and calling all atheists who speak up fundamentalists with no grasp of logic, history, or physics.
All in all, Berlinski comes across as someone I’d love to have to dinner and who really does have some wonderful arguments against the evils of fundamentalism—be it religious or atheistic. However, his disgust of atheistic fundamentalism manifests in bizarre and, yes, entertaining ways. The Devil’s Delusion: Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions is a great book to hone an atheist’s analytical skills.
I’ve held off for as long as I could bear to, but it is now time to release this upon the MoF community. From the guy who brought us the classic office zombie song, Re: Your Brains and the classy May Day song, First of May, comes the geek classic Still Alive, the end-credits song for the video game Portal (play a flash version here).
Portal is the latest installment of the Half Life series, one of the first popular first person shooter video games. The song, Still Alive, is played over the end credits, and sung by the main (speaking) character, GLaDOS, an AI with a distressing sense of humor: “The Enrichment Center promises to always provide a safe testing environment. In dangerous testing environments, the Enrichment Center promises to always provide useful advice. For instance, the floor here will kill you. Try to avoid it.”
I have a soft spot in my heart for AIs in general and female AIs in particular. From Jane, my namesake, to Cortana, the only redeeming quality of Halo, another FPS, there’s something inherently attractive to me about a disembodied (yet somehow still female) sentient computer. And so, despite GLaDOS’ evilness in the game, I already like her.
The general theme behind Portal (which may be necessary for understanding the song) is that GLaDOS is in charge of a research facility involved in testing a new kind of gun that creates “portals”. She has a number of test subjects who she forces to test the gun in different situations (creating levels in the game) for a promise of cake at the end of a successful course of testing. Throughout the testing, the test subject (the player) encounters blood splatters where prior subjects died in their attempts and graffiti, often consisting of “the cake is a lie” (which has become a geeky expression). Eventually, the test subject kills GLaDOS and discovers that she was the only entity in the research facility, a situation eerily similar to the house in Bradbury’s There Will Come Soft Rains. Throughout the game, GLaDOS’ voice stumbles and is replaced by static, indicating that something has already gone horribly wrong.
Implicit in the AI mythos is that, although it is created (either purposefully or accidentally) by humanity, it cannot be controlled by humanity. The AI must choose between good and evil—but these are binaries that only exist for humans, good for an AI might be destruction of humanity (see: HAL). AIs are the Frankenstein’s monsters of our century: it is beautifully tempting to create something so powerful and advanced but it is dangerous to unleash something with such capacity for destruction. As we get closer to the realities of the fictions we create, these stories, I believe, carry more and more poignancy.
Still Alive is a heart-wrenchingly emotional portrayal, in her own words, of a heartlessly unemotional being. It walks the razor edge of the AI paradox: GLaDOS is human in so many ways but still cold and ruthless. And so, after much ado…if you still dare, I give you more versions of Still Alive than you could possibly desire: Read more >>