Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Here Be Monsters

In the final years of the twentieth century, we turned the key and threw open the door to the mind-boggling world of genetics, the four colors of Legos that when combined in a specific order tell the body to become cockroach or human, wolf or sheep. The men and women who have forged the paths in thi unkown territory are the Copernici, the Galileos, and the Keplers of our time. They are exploring something completely new and unheard of in our time, and just like those early astronomers, taking the first steps into understand the solar system, they are earning the ire of the superstitious masses that cling to the darkness of ignorance for fear of the light. Instead of being dubbed heretics, they are accused of monumental hubris, of creating "Frankenfood" or of "playing God". Loaded insults that do little to acutally explain a position are usually the refuge of the simpleminded. Lets look at the real pros and cons of genetic research.

In the human sphere, the worry seems to be that a power-tripping scientific community will create monsters in their sterile labs, or that the tampering with the human genome will somehow cause a chain reaction that will kill or ruin mankind for generatons to come. When it comes to the former, we have so many ways to customize our bodies already, tattoos, piercings, steroids, hormones, and surgeries. Surely the ability to choose the height or your child cannot be THAT awful. I wish my parents had been able to correct my vision before I was born, or to nip out a gene that leaves me predisposed to heart disease (I sure hope I didn't get that gem from Grandpa.) What is the real reason that people are horrrified by the concept of altering humans? I can see two. The first is that it could be used as a rationale for bigotry and hatred, pruning out lefties, or blacks, or other diversity. The second, and I think this is the likely issue, is that people are still caught up in the myth of religion. The phrase "playing God" in and of itself displays this prejudice. The objection is that we are somehow straying into "forbidden territory" when we manipulate the genome. Even, if I were so inclined, if I granted that a god did exist, and that S/He/It created everything and is all powerful, do the scriptures not claim we are made "In his image" and given dominion over the earth and all the creatures on it? This sounds to me like we were "given" the intelligence and creativity and drive to bring forth new life in mimicry of the original creation, but we were also given implicit permission to do so, if not in humans, than at least in the plants and beasts.

Yet we still hear that tired claim about animal and plant manipulation. The efforts of scientist across the world have allowed us to continue to feed the burgeoning population of our planet. Estimates in the 70s predicted that the Indian subcontinent would not be able to sustain 100,000,000 people. Now, thanks to science, they are supporting ten times that number. Is it a good life? Not for most, but it is important to look at it from the correct standpoint. The peoples of that area would have continued to reproduce until the ecosystem there could not support them, and then they would have fucked some more. Instead of mostly starving, people would be ACTUALLY starving to death en masse. Genetic engineering is not the problem, it is the little boy with his finger in a dike. Across the world, ignorant people who need SOMETHING to rail against are trying to get GE foods banished, burned, and banned. What is their rationale? That it "pollutes" the gene-pool of wild populations. This does not stop them from eating fruits and vegetables every one of which is the end result of millenia of crude genetic engineering. It doesn't stop them from owning pets, dogs and cats are almost unrecognizable from the animals they were genetically engineered from. It doesn't stop them from driving cars, or using electricity, activities that actually pollute the environment. The worry is that somehow, somewhere down the line, the GE crops will lead to mutations and cancers that will, again, devastate the population. Has anyone ever done any studies that link drought-resistant wheat to mutation? I would doubt it.

     The objections to genetic engineering have been heard before, they were very common centuries ago. The fear of the unknown is itself, very well known. The worrys and concern were written down for us to see today. They did not appear in medical or scientific books, but on maps and sea charts, the three words that sum up the objection to genetic engineering:

"Here be Monsters"

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Sticks and stones...

Parents and teachers the world over have a saying that borders on a reigious mantra. I goes something like this: "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words..." well, you know the rest. Personally it offends me to even complete that statement, it Brodie is so offbBase that it takes higher education and "sensitivity training" to actually believe it. No one who has been teased or taunted, excluded from a group, or outright harrassed could take that "advice" as anything but an insult. I know that it may sound somewhat extreme, but the behavior of people who suffer severe harrassment often suffer from symptoms reminiscent of post traumatic stress disorder.

It may not seem like much, but to children, even the basic torments of other kids can be psychological torture. If I may offer a bit of personal, anecdotal "evidence," I was teased when I was younger. A lot. At least once a day, sometime before school usually at recess, I got tormented for how I looked, that I read too much, who my friends were... Just about everything. I was told repeatedly by my parents and teachers that I was to turn the other cheek, that retaliating was unacceptable. Of course, the others never got in trouble, after all, it was "just words." To this day, when I think about it, it still hurts me. Just words, and twenty years later, it still cuts me deep.

If I had punched one of those kids in the nose, or pushed them down, they would have been better in a few days. If I had actually broken bones, they would have been better in a few months. I would have had to have actually mutilated them, paralyzed them, or killed them to still affect their lives. So, a bloody nose for a few days is still worse than psychological damage for two decades?  Can this really be true? Brodie Panlock might not have thought so. I'm not saying that violence is THE answer, but it's time we acknowledged that mental abuse can easily be worse.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Is that really legal?

Imagine if you can, a cult of zealots who lure children into their homes, then psychologically torture them for several hours. They show them gruesome, bloody scenes of people just like themselves. At the end of the ordeal the kids are given a choice, "join our death-cult, or you will be tortured just like this" If they join, they are ushered down a hallway of smiling faces, reinforcing their decision; if they refuse, it becomes a gauntlet of derision instead. If you heard about this, you would call the police, or child protective services, right? What if you heard they worshipped the ghost of a man who lived in a small group of villages for his entire life, and demanded his followers abandon their families and livelihoods. Suppose they engaged in ritual cannibalism at their meetings. Suppose they venerate a tool of torture used to bring pain and miserable deaths to countless people. Now imagine they teach their cult to follow orders blindly, abandon all freewill, and never EVER question ANYTHING! Have enough red flags been raised?

I'm very sad to say, this murderous cult exists in your town, perhaps one of your neighbors, or even your family is a member. The name of the cult?


Preparations are beginning all across the country for the making of Hell Houses. For those who are unfamiliar with the term, a Hell House is like a haunted house, those harmless things full of fake cobwebs and a bowl of spaghetti for brains. Unfortuantely, the Hell House's goal is a little different. It is designed to shock and horrify children, some barely ten years old, by showing them over the top images of "sins". In one room, a teenage girl with a vacuum cleaner up her skirt sits weeping in a puddle of fake blood and gobbets of meat, her sin, abortion. In another, a staged car crash shows the dangers of drinking (Good message, bad medium, folks!) A girl is raped by a group of men, then falls into a depression and kills herself, who goes to hell here? (I'll give you a hint, they don't have a cock.) In the penultimate room, all the "sinners" are writhing in hellfire and torment, screaming in agony, then a bearded guy in white steps in and 'saves" some of them. The kids are given the choice to convert/reannouce their faith if they so choose. regardless of their (public) decision, the only way out of the room lies down a gauntlet of Christ enthusiasts, and you can guess how they react if the kid chose wrong (or right in my book).

Were this not done under the umbrella of religion, you can be sure the jails would be a little fuller on Halloween night. Unfortunately, you can get away with anything if you claim religion.

So next month on Candy Night, play safe, don't drink and drive, have a pack of black and orange condoms, and stay the FUCK away from the religious folk.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Please, learn to respect yourself

Unbelievable what some people will do.
The pain of loss is intense and can leave lasting, sometimes permanent, scars. So much of our self-image can consist of what other people think of us that when two people part ways, it is often devastating. In times like this it is only natural to turn to someone for help. Some people take solace in friends and family to reassure themselves of their own self-worth; others to therapists to help them stand on their own. These ways of dealing with pain are good and healthy, because they do just that, they deal with it. Some people turn to drugs, alcohol, and other distractions, not to mitigate the pain, but rather to forget it ever existed. This is a stopgap at best, and it often ruins more of their lives, degrading their confidence even more. And then there are peope to which the above article refers, those who try and ignore the pain by whitewashing the future with false promises that shine so brightly they blind them. It is tempting, I will grant you, but it does more harm than good, because putting off the pain only makes it hurt more.
The people who run these establishments prey on the insecurities of everyoe who comes in the door, offering them false hope and promises that can only be kept through the most random of chances. They are predators who decieve their victims through something called "cold reading" a technique that lets a skilled predator pick up on nonverbal cues and responses to questions that give the person a view into the victim's personality and desires. They use this knowledge to fabricate a story that includes everything the victim could want, including the obligitory fairy-tale ending. It take a very clearheaded person to disbelieve something so tailormade for them that is delivered with such certainty.
Thisscenario plays out far too often, all across the world. charlatains know no borders, no ethnicities, and all to often, no limits. This will not stop until people learn to respect one another and not look out only for themselves. Unfortunately, the very concept of society seems to mean excluding everyone else and dehumanizing them, so I don't see hope for this anytime soon. So until then, be aware of what is happening in your friends' and family's lives, let them know you are there for them, and dn't let them face despair alone. I know that kindness and compassion is a lot to ask, but it's easier if you start close to home.

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Saturday, September 17, 2011

Teaching people how to be different

Insensitivity seems to be a rampant problem in America these days. Everywhere you look you see diversity classes and sensitivity training and harassment seminars. The problem is that there is a real difference between everyday behavior and things that are actually harassment. While I would be foolish if I didn't acknowledge that black people are superficially different from white people, the difference is, metaphorically, skin deep. Most people do not need to go to sensitivity training, and most people SHOULDN'T have to. Sane, rational people know what is too far. Sensitivity training cripples people who go through it. Men have to constantly second guess themselves around women, white folks worry about every word they say for fear that it might upset a "minority". What's worse, it makes women and minorities overly sensitive about the enviroment they work in. When it gets to the point that you cannot even tell a joke, it has gone too far.

"How many blonds does it take to screw in a lightbulb? Five, one to hold the lightbulb, four to hold up and turn the blond."

Is that really worth a lawsuit? Of course not. The problem is that people ten to be guillible, and they eventually end up believing the message. So men and women all over the country are tricked into thinking they are different, and that they are too weak to stand up for themselves if they are offended. It's so easy to take a little personal responsibility and either say "Hey, y'mind?" or better yet, learn to laugh at yourself a little. It does us all a lot of good not to take ourselves too seriously. To demand that a certain class of people cannot say or do certain things because of their genitals or the color of their skin is rediculous, a complete mockery of what this country stands for.

What ever happened to "I do not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it?"

What is not alright is the systematic abuse of a person or class of people based on a percieved difference that ends up being merely cosmetic, or in some cases, imaginary. Sensetivity training isn't, however, the only way people learn to put people into groups. Pride days, history months, diversity weeks, all of them celebrate the "differences" between us. For me to say to the black man sitting next to me, "You are different than I am so I will devote a month to saying you are special because you are black" is emphasizing a trivial difference between us. It would be much better to celebrate the fact that we are all thinking, caring human beings; because that is what matters, not the color of our skin, the shape of our face, or the cultures we come from. We are people, and we can rise above that to work together to accomplish truely spectacular things. People should be judged by their actions, not by their features or their beliefs. People who are actually violent because of a percieved difference, whether physically, socially, or mentally, are the worst kind of scum. It falls to us, the regular people, of whatever sex or race, to show the bigots of the world that they are wrong. The way we do this is by acting like a community, a whole, rather than a lump of disparate minorities.

Friday, September 16, 2011

What Pro-Life and Pro-Choice really mean

I'm sure we have all seen the images on the news and in the papers over the last ten years of this not so silent war. From slogans on t-shirts, bumper stickers, and picket-signs, to the smoking wreakage of the women's health clinic in Austin, Texas, it prevades our culture. It is a battle fought not in the trenches, but in the minds of the people, and it is because of this battlefield, the two sides have altered their titles to obfuscate what they are really fighting over.

The conflict over abortion is simple, and if you are on a particular side, you WILL be offended, as many people are when a speaker is blunt. The great Penn Jillete had it half right when he said "Everyone is pro-life AND pro-choice. It's for or against abortion that's the issue." However, it's a deeper issue than that. Pro-life people aren't faceless authoritarian slaves dragging pregnant women into the ranks of mindless drones, and pro-choicers aren't members of a shadowey death-cult intent on bringing about the end of humanity by abolishing births. It really boils down to this. Pro-life activists are operating from a religious background where reproduction is a deity-mandated instruction to every person on the planet. To them, to it is of vital importance to allow the birth to happen so as not to anger the great YHWH. Pro-choicers are motivated by a need to be 100% in control. It is a growth of the women's liberation movement based on the assumption that being pregnant is a matter of servitude to the patriarchy.

That is all bullshit of the highest caliber. These people needn't hide behind the issue of unborn children, that's not neccessary, they can argue their points elsewhere and understand that abortion is just that, abortion.

Abortion is the practice of removing an undeveloped infant from the uterus or fallopian tube of the mother. The crux of the argument is this: Is that lump of cells alive or not? Rational deducters can look at the facts and come to the conclusion. I will be using an imaginary opponent as a foil to illustrate the facts of the case.

The "It's My Body" Argument: This is flat out wrong. It is a seperate entity growing inside of the uterus. It shares half of the genetic code of the mother, as well as copies of the eukaryotic organelles of the mother (The structures in the cell that have DNA seperate from the person, e.g. mitochondrial DNA). However, it also contains plenty of genetic material from the father, and that makes it very definately a seperate organism, rather than a growth like hair or fingernails. The difference in genetic code is one of the things we hold, legally, as a 100% proof that the identities of two samples are from different people, not the same body.

The "Ok, So You Think It Isn't Ok To Remove Tumors?" Argument: This is a bit of a strawman; the fact that it does not share the mother's entire DNA does not put it in the same category as a cancerous growth. For argument's sake though, a tumor is a shapeless mass of cells replicating out of control, there is no order, no sense to it. It is at best, a non-issue to the patient's health, and at worst, fatal. The tumor has no future, it will never become a writer, a scientist, a politician, a worker, or even a homeless drug addict; but most of all, it cannot survive outside of the host and never will. (The first time a tuor pops out of a person and demonstrates intelligence... then we can talk)

The "Ah HA, A Fetus Cannot Survive Outside The Mother Either" Argument: This is true, however,  a newborn, or a toddler, or many adults with neurological disorders cannot care for themselves, and will perish of exposure, starvation, or dehydration. Surely this cannot be the acid test.

So she's out of factual arguments here.  Before any Pro-lifers get giddy at the prospect of a vocal member of their cause, let me burst that bubble with this pinprick:

At this point she falls back to the only valid argument in favor of abortion "You have no right to force me to do this." And she is right. Not because of any of the above reasons, but because it's not my right to tell her what to do.

The Pro-life arguement can ony stem from YHWH's instructions to Noah "Be fruitful and multiply" If these nutjobs really cared about biblical exhortations, surely "Thou shalt not kill" carries more weight than a simple invective to reproduce a once-empty world. Life is anything but sacred to them, if it was, they would be running orphanages and being foster parents instead of shooting doctors. I do not mean to generalize, but the sort of people who tend to be pro-life also appear to be the type of people who tend to oppose social support programs. It does sound like these sort of people only care if you ive or die before you are born an after you are a senior citizen.

It very simple boils down to this; an unborn fetus is a person, pure and simple. They have cellular functions, they proccess ATP to ADP and are fissioning cells and growing; so they are alive. And they have human DNA so they are human. It is also acceptable to kill those people. Euthensia is a mercy in many cases, and an unwanted pregnancy will ruin the lives of both parents and child. To force a child into that is unforgivable. To force a woman into it is unconscionable.

I want to make it absolutely clear. This is a very sensitive issue. I am not providing "Proof" for anti-abortionists. I am firmly pro-abortion and pro-women's rights. I would never dream of forcing a girl to carry a child to term out of some "life is sacred" bullshit.

On that note, less than ten percent of Americans are professed atheists. That means that 90% of Americans are religious. If you believe that life is sacred, how can you oppose free/low cost healthcare for everyone? Does life stop being sacred when you draw your first breath?