October 2012 Archives
October 2, 2012
Extremely bad recent HHS ruling
Ed Whelan at NRO takes down a recent really bad ruling against an employer who sued over the HHS mandate. I assume the ruling is being appealed. ?? Hopefully we'll get more justice at the next level.
I don't have time to make a lot of comments, but here are some salient points from Whelan's column:
The judge, Carol E. Jackson, says that refusing to pay for a healthcare plan that covers contraception can be an exercise of freedom of religion under the all-important (to this case) RFRA, but her actual ruling contradicts that. Essentially, her ruling says that because what employers are being told to do is to pay for a plan that only might end up paying for the services in question, depending on the independent decisions of other people, making them do this can't substantially burden their freedom of religion. But that could only be true if refusing to pay for such a plan is not really an exercise of freedom of religion.
If that's accepted by the legal establishment, then all exemptions, including the very narrow ones already allowed for a small number of religious institutions, could be removed, and abortion or any other "procedure" could be added to the required benefits, and that would also not be a substantial burdening of anybody's freedom of religion. Whelan points this out.
October 5, 2012
Staying unconfused, not unfocused, on iPSCs
As Wesley J. Smith reminds us here, it looked like the embryonic stem-cell wars might be close to being over beginning in 2007, not because of any ethical conversion on the part of advocates of ESCR, but because of a scientific breakthrough in making pluripotent cells without any damage or harm to embryos. The new technique produces cells known as induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPSCs. Since then, research using them has simply flown. See here for a wealth of articles about iPSC successes in producing various types of cell groups all through reprogramming adult cells. In one experiment, scientists introduced iPSCs directly into a mouse's heart, without reprogramming them, and allowed the surrounding heart cells to do the reprogramming and turn them into heart cells. It worked. Here is a story about producing nerve cells from the skin cells of a patient with Lou Gehrig's Disease (ALS). ALS is a subject about which we have heard a lot from the ESCR crowd; iPSCs have given us what they were hoping for, without destroying embryos. Browse around in the articles to learn more about iPSC research.
The scientific excitement surrounding iPSCs was very well justified. Because they were pluripotent, they had the potential to give us everything that embryonic stem cells were supposed to give us. Pluripotency was exactly what was desired from ESCs, only the ESC research required tearing a tiny embryo to pieces in order to obtain the pluripotent cells of the inner cell mass. Nor does the iPSC creation technique involve cloning. iPSCs could be made from a creature's own adult cells, which would mean that if treatments can be developed using pluripotent cells, there would be no risk of tissue rejection as there would be if the cells were obtained from a non-cloned embryo. Previously, scientists' hope for obtaining such a perfect match came from clone-and-kill.
Now, right at the outset it needs to be said, loud and clear, that both iPSCs and ESCs carry a great big problem that arises from the very feature that makes them so desired--namely, pluripotency. Pluripotent cells obtained from either source have the serious potential to form cancers in the body of mammals into which they are injected. However, insofar as ESCR was hyped as possibly providing a route to treatment for illnesses, iPSCR deserves equal hype, with the additional utilitarian advantages of no tissue rejection risk and no need to work out the remaining practical kinks in cloning.
Moreover, when it comes to plain research on specific diseases (such as this), without re-injecting the cells into a patient's body, iPSCs give us the pluripotency that is desired from ESCs for creating cell lines of various tissue types.
No wonder Smith repeatedly used the headline "lead into gold" when describing iPSC research.
October 8, 2012
Patient saved from dehydration in Texas
The story of young Zach McDaniel, who was almost another victim of Texas's futile care regime, has a happy ending. The entire story, including the haste of the futile care board (now are we permitted to use the phrase "death panel"?) to declare Zach to be in a "persistent vegetative state" only a short time after his injury and to remove his food and water, the secret DNR in his file, the parents' alert and prompt action, and his eventual successful transfer, is in the first linked article. I'm pleasantly surprised that the parents were able to find a transferring facility. Zach is now talking and receiving physical therapy and is expected to make something close to a complete recovery.
One of the great oddities of the Texas situation is the fact that the 10-day window in which to try to transfer the patient usually does no good, as other facilities refuse to accept the transfer. Kudos to Children's Medical Center in Dallas, which accepted the transfer of Zach.
Had Zach been killed (God forbid), this would have been the first case that I know of (which would not necessarily mean the first case) in the United States in which a hospital had dehydrated a patient to death against the united wishes of the family. It's great not to have that precedent set. It's a disgrace that it was even close.
I Refuse To Sneer
This past weekend the Chicago Sun-Times decided to inform Chicago area readers of the importance of the views of a Congressman from Georgia. Actually, they just decided to run an AP article about this important Congressman, who made important remarks that all the readers in the Chicago area needed to learn about, even though these important remarks were actually about a week old and were made to the Congressman’s church.
October 9, 2012
I pay in blood, but not my own
Two-timing Slim / Who’s ever heard of him? / I’ll drag his corpse through the mud
When you reflect that the corpse in all human history most infamously dragged through the mud is Hector, and that Bob Dylan here in “Soon After Midnight,” the second track on his new album Tempest may be quietly referencing The Iliad; you begin to grasp how his hard and earthy verse, set to the pleasing beats and melodies of the country-blues — Appalachia to the Rockies America — is a real triumph.
I’m sworn to uphold / The Laws of God / You can put me out in front / Of a firing squad
That’s from perhaps the standup track, “Pay in Blood,” a song featuring a chorus so obviously Christian only a popular music critic could miss it:
I pay in blood / But not my own
Meanwhile, in “Duquesne Whistle” Bob Dylan’s ruined voice manages occasionally to resemble an aged Louis Armstrong, toiling gamely alongside an upbeat facsimile of something out of the 1930s or 40s. His voice, to put it diplomatically, may want for real range and tonality; but his band has always compassed musicians of depth, richness and talent. The fact that every listener kind of feels like he could sing Dylan songs better than the man himself conveys part of the charm.
October 11, 2012
Here is a little sweetheart deal in Michigan that should make your blood boil. It illustrates the charming nature of government unions, in case you didn't already know about that.
Under ex-Governor Jennifer Granholm, the state government (without legislative authorization), in cahoots with the Service Employees International Union, created a faux "employer" entity for all the home-based caregivers in Michigan who take care of disabled people and receive state funds through Medicaid. They were then, whether they consented or not, designated as "employees" of this "employer," the "employer" actually being a sock puppet for the SEIU, brought into existence to give the SEIU someone to pretend to "bargain" with. Once this little charade was set up, the SEIU was able to skim off a percentage of the Medicaid funds from the abruptly unionized home caregivers as dues for its "services." Let's get clear in our minds that plenty of these "employees" of the state are actually parents and other family members taking care of disabled relatives in their own homes. The shell state "employer" provides no benefits and cannot give its employees a raise. In fact, since the Michigan legislature moved to defund it, it isn't even operated with Michigan funds. It is phony from start to finish. At one point the union even propped up its "bargaining partner" with some funds of its own! The entire arrangement exists for the evident and sole purpose of allowing the SEIU to grab some of the funds intended for caring for disabled people in their homes in Michigan.
The legislature has tried in every possible way to kill this arrangement, but it is like a zombie--it just keeps coming back. The union even got a federal judge to order its continuation (which is to say, the continued flow of skimmed Medicaid dollars into its pockets) on the grounds that the union had an "existing contract" with the "employer" and that the attempt to stop the arrangement (under a law declaring that these home caregivers are not state employees) would violate the constitutional provision against the impairment of contracts. The Mackinac Institute raises the startling possibility that the "employer" could negotiate a new contract at any time with the union and thus perpetuate the arrangement indefinitely with the help of federal courts.
One hopes this "night of the living dead sock puppet" scenario would not be legally possible, and the union itself seems a tad worried--perhaps by the defunding. So the union is now ratcheting things up a notch by getting Proposal 4 on the Michigan ballot on November 6 to enshrine their dirty little deal in the Michigan State Constitution.
If you are a Michigan voter and you are even a minimally sensible person, you know what to do about Proposal 4 on November 6. If you don't live in Michigan, well, now you know more about those caring people in the SEIU. And you can keep your eyes open for similar scams coming to a state near you. Maybe your legislature can do something preemptive before they get an "existing contract" going that will take money from Mom and Dad caring for a disabled son.
This is scummy.
October 14, 2012
Our Politiical Form, According to Publius
As a people we presently undertake another effort in our common duty to regulate our polity. I would , over the course of a few posts, like to re-examine what that polity is thought to be, and how we regulate it. Publius (James Madison, in Federalist Papers #39), discusses our republican federal form:
If we resort for a criterion to the different principles on which different forms of government are established, we may define a republic to be, or at least may bestow that name on, a government which derives all its powers directly or indirectly from the great body of the people, and is administered by persons holding their offices during pleasure, for a limited period, or during good behavior. It is ESSENTIAL to such a government that it be derived from the great body of the society, not from an inconsiderable proportion, or a favored class of it; otherwise a handful of tyrannical nobles, exercising their oppressions by a delegation of their powers, might aspire to the rank of republicans, and claim for their government the honorable title of republic. It is SUFFICIENT for such a government that the persons administering it be appointed, either directly or indirectly, by the people; and that they hold their appointments by either of the tenures just specified; otherwise every government in the United States, as well as every other popular government that has been or can be well organized or well executed, would be degraded from the republican character.
The silly-clevers on the subject of babies
Adam Gopnik is a silly-clever at the New Yorker who thinks he has something to teach us all, and especially to teach Paul Ryan, about what Gopnik calls condescendingly "grownup thinking about abortion."
According to Gopnik, Paul Ryan said something very telling when he stated that his unborn daughter looked like a tiny bean on her first ultrasound and said that he and his wife have since then given her the nickname "Bean." This sets Gopnik off as follows:
But Ryan’s moral intuition that something was indeed wonderful here was undercut, tellingly, by a failure to recognize accurately what that wonderful thing was, even as he named it: a bean is exactly what the photograph shows—a seed, a potential, a thing that might yet grow into something greater, just as a seed has the potential to become a tree. A bean is not a baby.
The fundamental condition of life is that it develops, making it tricky sometimes to say when it’s fully grown and when it isn’t, but always easy to say that there is a difference and that that difference is, well, human life itself. It is this double knowledge that impacts any grownup thinking about abortion: that it isn’t life that’s sacred—the world is full of life, much of which Paul Ryan wants to cut down and exploit and eat done medium rare. It is conscious, thinking life that counts, and where and exactly how it begins (and ends) is so complex a judgment that wise men and women, including some on the Supreme Court, have decided that it is best left, at least at its moments of maximum ambiguity, to the individual conscience (and the individual conscience’s doctor).
But what real science has to tell us, of course, very different; it says that life has no neat on and off, that while life may in some sense begin at conception, the moment when the formed consciousness that distinguishes human life from bean life arises is a very different question, not reducible to a dogma or a simple claim. A bean isn’t a baby; a baby was once a bean, and between those two truths it is, or ought to be, every woman for herself.
Wow, Mr. Gopnik, thanks for setting us straight on what "real science" says. Is it really true that "real science" tells us only that life "may in some sense begin at conception"? Does "real science" tell us that there is no "neat on and off" (such as, you know, conception) for the beginning of a new, individual human life? Really? Maybe in Gopnik-world. But in the real world, real science tells us quite unequivocally that at conception a new human being, in the sense of a specific new human organism, comes into existence, and that that specific new human being was not in existence before. That specific new human individual then develops into a more and more mature human individual. This isn't actually that hard. It's real science, but it's not rocket science. It wouldn't even be controversial if we were talking about pig embryos or cow embryos. But since we're talking about human embryos and human fetuses, our pundits tell us, dismissively, that real science tells us only that "life may in some sense begin at conception" and, inaccurately, that science tells us that "life has no neat on and off."
October 18, 2012
My present thoughts on the "contraception prevents abortion" study
No doubt quite a few of my readers have now heard about this study, deliberately released just now with the intent of influencing the election (!), that purports to show that free contraception reduces abortions.
I've entitled my post "My present thoughts," because I anticipate that there will be more analysis on this subject from others as time goes on. However, I have gotten hold of the paper itself (thanks to Serge at Life Training Institute) as well as this Powerpoint PDF from the study author.
Before getting into criticisms of the methodology and conclusions of the study, I want to ponder something that I haven't seen discussed elsewhere. The celebratory article on the study from NBC says this:
The results were so dramatic, in fact, that Peipert asked the journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology to publish the study before the Nov. 6 presidential election, knowing that the Affordable Care Act, and its reproductive health provisions, are major issues in the campaign.
“It just has so many implications for our society,” he told NBC News.
Since when are professional scientific journals openly and proudly attempting to influence political elections by their decisions about publication? Isn't there something a tad unprofessional about that? More than a tad? The study's author, Jeffrey Peipert, tells a news organization unabashedly that he expressly asked the journal, Obstetrics and Gynecology, to hasten the publication of his article in order to influence this fall's presidential election. Frankly, if I ever tried such a thing on a philosophy journal editor, even an editor who had already accepted an article of mine, I hope (and still believe) I'd receive a sharp rebuke. (Not that my philosophy articles have political implications anyway; the scenario is hypothetical.) Such a request should be taken as an insult to the professionalism of the editor. Regardless of whether the article was accepted independently of political considerations, the timing of its release should be decided on the basis of academic and professional considerations, including time for possible revisions and the courtesy owed to other authors whose articles were submitted and accepted longer ago. The utterly unashamed announcement that author and editor colluded to time the article to influence the U.S. presidential election should leave a bad taste in everyone's mouth, especially in the mouths of scientists and scholars, and should even cast a small amount of doubt on the objectivity of the review process itself.
Now, on to content issues.
October 23, 2012
Yes, actually, the leftists do want death panels
At the risk of bringing an unwanted commentator or two out of the woodwork, I've decided that I've put off long enough writing about this: Back in September, Wesley J. Smith drew his readers' attention to this NYT op-ed by Steven Rattner entitled "We Need Death Panels." Don't talk to me; talk to Rattner. Of course, he immediately goes into the, "Heh, heh, folks, no, not really, heh" spiel. After a sudden rush of honesty to the keyboard in the form of the title, his first sentence begins,
Well, maybe not death panels, exactly, but unless we start allocating health care resources more prudently — rationing, by its proper name...
Not death panels exactly. By all means, Mr. Rattner, let's be exact. What exactly do you advocate?
Turns out he advocates, exactly, Britain's system. In the British system the NICE (I am not making up that acronym) uses QALY's--Quality of Life Years--to determine whether a given patient is worth a given treatment. More about QALYs here. Rattner says,
Take Britain, which provides universal coverage with spending at proportionately almost half of American levels. Its National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence uses a complex quality-adjusted life year system to put an explicit value (up to about $48,000 per year) on a treatment’s ability to extend life.
And now for more on Britain's wonderful cost-containment system:
October 28, 2012
Let's be extremists
With apologies to Mr. Goldwater, moderation in the cause of truth is no virtue.
It worries me a bit to see that my fellow conservatives sometimes seem more worried about being considered extremists than they are about simply upholding the truth when it comes to important matters of morality and public policy.
It should go without saying that the liberal media has simply defined "extremism" to mean "whatever conservative positions we are demonizing this week," and that of course they are not actually going to use any objective statistical standard in order to apply the term even-handedly to liberal positions that are held only by a small minority of Americans. Thus we have the sorry spectacle of a country in which the adulated leftist President opposes a legal requirement for the care and treatment of born-alive infants who survive an abortion but is not considered extreme, while a Senator who states that even children conceived in violence are a gift from God is (the media tells us we must think) a dangerous extremist making war on women.
So it goes. But what else did we expect, since those who write the media script just are enemies of the truth on social issues? If I truly believed that pointing out the insanity of the left in their use of a term like "extremist" on life issues would help to fend off the day when all pro-lifers who oppose a rape exception for abortion are held in odium not only among the general public but also among mainstream conservatives and Republicans, I would be happy to trumpet the double standard from the rooftops. But will it? I don't know. Perhaps I am too cynical, but it seems to me all too likely that the only people who are listening to such complaints are fellow "extremists" and that those who think of themselves as moderate will continue to let the concrete content of their moderation be defined for them by the Manipulators and opinion-makers in the mass media.
I don't want in any way to derogate those who are doing yeomanly work pointing out, with justified righteous indignation, the double standards to the public at large, but my own inclination is to use a slightly different tactic--namely, to point out to those who are really conservatives on an issue (who aren't angling for the "moderate" label) how standards are shifting and to call them to vigilance and toughness, even at the cost of being said to be "extreme" by some spanking-new definition which is about as stable as the last of this autumn's dandelion fluff.
Which brings me to the actual subject of the rest of this post, which is not alleged extremism on life issues but alleged extremism on homosexual rights issues.
October 31, 2012
A Post On The Oddities of Place - UPDATED
I thought it might be fun to challenge our readers with the following photo, taken recently with my daughters and their cousins (faces edited out to protect the innocent).
Where in the world was this taken?