Shots Across the Bow

A Reality Based Blog

 
Friday, February 01, 2002

Sent to me in an

Sent to me in an e-mail this morning....I'm a sucker for stuff like this:
In a supermarket, Kurtis, the stock boy, was busily working when a new
voice came over intercom the asking for a carryout at check register 4.
As he approached the check-out stand, a smile caught his eye; the new
check out girl was beautiful. She was an older woman (maybe 26; he was
only 22). Later that day, after his shift was over, he waited by the punch clock
to find out her name. She came into the break room, smiled softly at
him, took her card and punched out, then left. He looked at her card: Brenda.

Next day, he waited outside as she left the supermarket, and offered
her a ride home. He looked harmless enough, and she accepted. When he
dropped her off, he asked if maybe he could see her again, outside of work.
She simply said it wasn't possible. He pressed and she explained she had two
children and she couldn't afford a baby-sitter. He offered to pay for the
baby-sitter. Reluctantly she accepted his offer for a date the
following Saturday.

That Saturday night he arrived at her door only to have her tell him
that she was unable to go with him. The baby-sitter had called and
canceled. To which Kurtis simply said, "Well, let's take the kids with us."
She tried to explain that taking the children was not an option, but
he wouldn't take 'no' for an answer. Finally, Brenda, brought him in
side to meet her children. She had a cute older daughter. Then Brenda
brought out her son, in a wheelchair. He was born a paraplegic, with Down
syndrome. Kurtis told Brenda, "I still don't understand why the kids can't come
with us." Brenda was amazed. Most men would run away from a woman with two
kids, especially if one was disabled. Her prior husband, the father of
the kids, had done that.

That evening Kurtis and Brenda loaded up the kids and went to dinner
and the movies. When her son needed anything, Kurtis took care of him.
When he needed to use the rest room, Kurtis picked him up out of his chair.
The kids loved Kurtis. At the end of the evening, Brenda knew this was the
man she was going to marry and spend the rest of her life with.
A year later, they were married and Kurtis adopted both of her
children. Since then they have added two more kids.

So what happened to the stock boy and check out girl?

Mr. & Mrs. Kurt Warner now live in St. Louis, where he plays quarterback
for the St. Louis Rams. Kurt won the NFL MVP award this year.
He'll be playing Sunday in the Superbowl.

Posted by Rich
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Thursday, January 31, 2002

Glenn Reynolds is feeling like

Glenn Reynolds is feeling like a chump and wants to know if this is a problem.

Nope, not a chump, and no, this doesn't indicate a societal problem, and here's why.

Ethical behavior is based on the proposition that there are higher standards of behavior than 'dog eat dog'. This proposition is unprovable, and quite possibly wrong, but appears to be universal. This belief that we are more than animals drives us to act in ways that are not directly beneficial for our survival. We can easily demonstrate that ethical behavior results in the ethical individual competing at a disadvantage to those without ethics. The fact that we are consciously acting against our own best interests causes the primitive part of our brain, the part closest to our animal origins, to revolt.

Survival dictates that we act in our own self interest at all times. The primitive portion of our brain cannot appreciate complex concepts like enlightened self interest, personal honor, or integrity. Therefore it sends a message back to the conscious brain basically saying "You IDIOT! Don't you EVER do something like that again!" All that gets through in most cases is a mild feeling of sheepishness, or feeling like a chump.

Consider the alternative, though. We have a name for folks who listen to their primitive brain. We call them sociopaths.

Cheer up Glenn. You're in good company!

Posted by Rich
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Very interesting! Shortly after posting

Very interesting! Shortly after posting my blog on cloning, this story appears. Kinda points out the whole contradiction in our current view of abortion. Prenatal care is for the baby, not for the mother, but simple recognition of this fact causes tremendous distress to the pro-choice movement, as it invalidates one of their prime arguments, that the fetus is not a person until the head clears the birth canal.

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Cool! News, sports, weather, and

Cool! News, sports, weather, and commentary all in the same day. I must be on talk radio!

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The demolition of Mike Tyson

The demolition of Mike Tyson is now complete.

I first started following Tyson when he was boxing for Cus D'Amato. I was stationed in upstate New York at the time, so the local sports folks were covering Tyson well before the national media picked up on the story. As Tyson climbed up the ranks towards his first championship, it was clear that he had the skills to be the greatest heavyweight in history. He focused on his opponent and dissected him with precise punches, while defending himself ably. Then D'Amato died, and Tyson the boxer died with him.

Don King appeared on the scene, and Tyson was isolated from Rooney, his last link to D'Amato. While his ferocity increased under King, his skills did not. He became a brawler, abandoning defense in favor of an all out offensive blitz. Surrounded by King's handlers, his personal life fell apart. Tyson always had demons, but the fact remains that under D'Amato and Rooney, he was able to control those demons. Under King, the demons ran free.

This does not excuse Tyson from the consequences of his actions. He should not be allowed to box again, and very probably will spend most of the rest of his life in jail. But we do have to be aware that the blame for this doesn't end with Tyson. The blame also rests on the man who made it all possible: Don King. If Tyson should not be allowed to box again, then certainly Don King shouldn't be allowed anywhere near a boxing ring or a boxer ever again.

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I drove home from work

I drove home from work yesterday with the top down. In January. How sweet it is!

Forcast high for today 75
Forcast low for tomorrow 28

Enjoy it while it lasts!

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Thoughts on the State of

Thoughts on the State of the Union Address:

I think we can do without the programmed applause.

I kept thinking during the address how much President Bush has grown since the election. I know he held back some during the campaign, but he seems to have mastered the job now. He runs it, instead of it running him. This is what people are responding to, and why he has such high approval ratings.

He has accomplished his goal of bringing a new atmosphere to Washington. While there are still partisan battles, and should be, the bitterness of the Reagan/Clinton years is slowly fading. A few die hards are trying to keep the rhetoric flying, but most are realizing that it is much more effective to work with the President, than against him. The education bill is a case in point. Neither side got everything they wanted, but they hammered out a workable compromise.

One thing I noticed was the lack of negativity towards his opponents. Rather than scolding the Senate for failing to act, he encouraged them to work to match the House. Granted, the warning was there, although veiled, but the old proverb that you catch more flies with honey than vinegar works in DC as well as everywhere else.

The major thing I noticed was he put our enemies on notice, and named them specifically. Iran, Iraq, and North Korea have been put on notice, and in front of the whole world. I really would have liked to see the Saudis added to the list.

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First topic for today, Cloning.

First topic for today, Cloning.

It seems that the consensus so far is that cloning for harvest of embryonic stem cells, or for research is OK, but cloning for production of a human is not OK.

Anybody have a clear explanation of what the difference is?

Glenn Reynolds offers another blast against the banning of cloning for experimentation, yet he never has explained why experimentation and research is OK, but production of humans is not.

Well, let's take a closer look. One argument is that the embryo is not a human being until it is born. Supporters of this argument use current abortion rulings to back them. If we fully extend this argument though, we quickly reach an area that most proponents of cloning would not accept. Right now, it is acceptable to abort a third trimester fetus for the health of the mother. 'Health of the mother' is a designation which has been left completely up to the doctor in charge to determine. So, we have a situation where a cloned fetus could gestate for the full nine months, then be legally aborted, extracted, and used for research. In fact, with just a tiny stretch, we could extract the clone in the ninth month, destroy the brain prior to extraction, taking care not to damage the autonomic nervous system, and have the perfect tissue bank for organ harvests, autologous blood transfusions, skin grafts, etc. If you balk at this possibility, then the abortion standards are not the right way to go, as the foregoing is completely within the established precedents.

Another argument is intent. These people argue that since the intent to create a human is not there, the resulting embryo is not human. This is a favorite position of right to life politicians who wish to justify supporting the more popular embryonic stem cell research. What should be obvious is that this is a completely specious argument. How many pregnancies are unintentional? Are the resulting babies less human as a result?

A third argument deals with development of the embryo. This argument says that the embryo is not a person with rights until a certain stage of development. The problem is that nobody is willing to specify a point of development at which the fetus becomes a person. Roe v. Wade specified the point of viability as the point at which the right of the state to protect life balanced the right of the woman to privacy, and set that point at the end of the second trimester. Susequent decisions eliminated viability as a consideration. So when does a fetus, cloned or not become a person? The two traditional ethical tests for personhood, self sufficiency and autonomy, are not appropriate tests in this instance. Some ethicists say personhood, or identity, or self awareness does not exist until the brain has developed enough to allow it. Not only is this a circular argument, cognitive researches and pre natal development specialists have not been able to pin this moment down. Working strictly from what we do know, it would seem that the first moment when all the necessary components for human development are present is the only definitive moment for biologically assigning identity. Of course, that moment is conception, which rules out cloning, embryonic research and so on. Apparently development is not a good place to hang our hat either.

Most of the rest of the arguments in favor of cloning for research boil down to the ends justifying the means. "We shouldn't care about a lump of undifferentiated tissue at the expense of those now living," is their battle cry. Of course, once you dehumanize your victim, you can do anything with them, and if our history has proven anything, it has proven that humans are great at dehumanizing their victims.

So, call me a luddite, or an ignorant bible thumper, or what have you. It seems fairly clear to me that cloning, whatever the purpose, involves some very serious ethical issues, and that characterizing the debate over these issues as "an ethical blatherfest" is a shoddy attempt to cover up some sloppy thinking.

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Monday, January 28, 2002

Knoxville is trying to give

Knoxville is trying to give people a reason to come to the city, other than for 6 weekends a year. Their newest idea is a planetarium for downtown. This is the latest in a series of ideas that have really worked well. Unfortunately, they've all worked for other cities. The last example was Knoxville's minor league baseball team. The old stadium was falling apart, hard to get to, no parking, and in the middle of a combat zone. The team asked Knoxville for help in building a new stadium.

This was it! Just the project needed to revitalize the city. Every corner of the city was scoured to find the perfect spot. A full complex was designed, with little leqague fields scattered around the minor league field. Truly, this would be a great thing for any community.

Then, disaster. The NIMBY virus struck with a vengeance. Everybody wanted to go to a game, but nobody wanted it to be located near them.

After being jerked around for a couple of years, the team went about 20 miles up the road....to Sevierville, where they are now settled into a jewel of a stadium. Attendance is way up from the old stadium, and growing, even with an increase in parking fees and ticket prices.

Instead of a baseball stadium, Knoxville is building a new convention center, right nex to the old one that couldn't draw a fly if you smeared it with honey.

Maybe they'll try a bowling alley next!

Note to Knoxville: When you're done jacking around on the planetarium, we've already got a nice spot picked out for it.

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Over 100 of the unlawful

Over 100 of the unlawful combatants held in Gitmo are Saudis.

Big surprise there.

The Saudi government is demending that the detainees be turned over to them for interrogation.

"Please don't throw me in that briar patch," said Bre'r Rabbit.

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I got into an argument

I got into an argument with a lawyer over the internet the other day.

(Yeah, I know, but I was bored.)

Anyway, we disagreed on the pros and cons of the adversarial system. Obviously, he supported it, while I found it to be lacking. It seems to me that any system of justice which subordinates finding the truth to winning the case must be a flawed system. In America, you are better off being rich and guilty than poor and innocent.

Shouldn't both attorneys be true officers of the court, and engage in determining the facts of the matter, rather than trying to be the better spin doctor? Granted, the burden of proof is on the prosecutor, and he is circumscribed by law as to how he provides that truth, and it is the defense attorneys job to ensure that the p[rosecutor makes his case within the bounds of those laws. But defense attorneys are charged to go further than that. They are ethically obligated to do everything in their power to get an aquittal, regardless of the facts. Of course, the same pressure is on the prosecuting attorney. His job is to get a conviction, if at all possible. Now, if all lawyers were operating undr a level playing field, with equal resources, and equal abilities, then this would possibly be a fair system. However, as we all know, the playing fields is not level, and the usual result is not justice, but convenience.

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More cheerful thoughts: A large

More cheerful thoughts:

A large portion of our forces in the Middle East came from the Chinese theater of operations. China will never have a clearer shot at Taiwan than right now. I hope they don't think of that.

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debkanet, a website noted for

debkanet, a website noted for getting its information out much faster than american media, is saying that the Saudis have entered into an agreement with Iran and Iraq, forming an anti American coalition, complete with mutual defense pacts. They go on to note that, the opinions of most Arabian analysts notwithstanding, Prince Abdulluh is on the brink of evicting US forces from Arabia.

Like any other analyst, debka has biases, in this case, rabidly pro Israel, and have been mistaken on some issues. But, they did call correctly the Saudi rejection of US requests for permission to use the airbases, and they called it several days before the story broke in America.

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OK. Let’s sort this thing

OK. Let's sort this thing out.

One side targets combatants, both military and civilian.
The other side targets noncombatant civilians almost exclusively.

One side tries to inimize collateral damage, aiming strikes at known, well defined military targets.
The other side tries to cause as much damage as possible.

One side tries to shield its children from danger.
The other side uses its children as shields.

One side uses the sniper rifle.
The other uses the suicide bomber.

Is there anybody who still thinks that Israel is the problem?

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Friday, January 25, 2002

“The time has come,” the

"The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things."

Lewis Carroll

Let's start with an easy one, shall we?
Let's generate the standard for perfect ethical behavior. Then, after lunch, we'll discuss how to apply it.

First, we have to be sure we are working from the same definitions. For a topic like this, we must be able to speak with precision. It takes a sharp scalpel to hew close to the truth.

Morality--a code of behavior based on external authority, a priest, shaman, god(ess), etc.

Ethics-- a code of behavior based upon observable and predictable effects of that behavior.

Instinct--impulses to behavior genetically encoded through evolution

Knowledge--impulses to behavior learned from experience

Spirit--impulses to behavior from all other sources

Postulate--Assumption which is impossible to prove, but is not contradicted by known facts and is useful in describing and predicting future data.

Evolution--speciation through the combination of random mutation and natural selection

Behavioral evolution--differential ideation through natural selection

All right, that should be enough to get us started.

First, I reject morality as a useful concept, as it is based on authority, rather than knowledge, and as such is hampered by two major flaws. First, it is subjective, relying on the biases and perceptions of the authority figure. This flaw is usually addressed by attributing the authority figure with infallibility (Christianity), or by looking at the universe as arbitrary and capricious (Greco-Roman multitheism, Paganism). The second flaw is that authority is derived from the application of force, either individually, in the case of a tyranny, or in groups, in the case of a democracy. In either case, these flaws lead to internally contradictory moral codes, which make ethical consistency exceptionally difficult.

Second, while I do not reject the spiritual, it is undefinable, unverifiable, and unpredictable, and therefore not a sound basis to found a code of behavior. However, it may not not be entirely co-incidental that there are core principles which do not vary much from faith to faith. As brief example, re-incarnation is often looked at as a profound difference between Eastern and Western mysticism, when in truth, re-incarnation forms the basis for both belief systems. Born again? Resurrection? Life After Death? Aren’t these all different ways to say re-incarnation? But I digress….
So,I look to the ethical mode to determine my behavior. But how exactly do we apply this mode? Isn’t it just as arbitrary as morality? After all, if each person is free to determine the ethics of their own actions, couldn’t we still have a multitude of codes? Apparently we need to determine a sound basis for our ethical construct, one which is rational, observable, and stable. While we still may derive different answers, depending on the weights we ascribe to the factors involved, in most cases, the answers will be close enough that the differences will be tolerable.

Well, first we have to decide what we are trying to achieve.
Is it fairness?
Justice?
Equality?

Well, let’s see….anybody care to take a stab at defining any one of those concepts?

No? (God, I love a bully pulpit!*grin*)

And well you shouldn’t because they are null concepts. There is no objective foundation for any of these concepts because man artificially imposes them on the world around him. Is it ‘fair’ for the cheetah to eat the gazelle? Is it justice when a good man’s house burns to the ground, killing his family while he watches, helpless? Is it equality that I sit here at a computer, well fed, well rested while there are other people on the globe starving, wasting away with disease? Of course not. Perhaps later in the discussion, when we have laid a foundation, we can re-examine these concepts, and see if we can find a basis for them, but as a primary objective, they are useless.

So, what do we have left?

Let’s reduce life down to the basics. We need to eat, sleep, and make babies, just like every other form of life on the planet. Everything else springs from these primal urges, and even these three urges can be boiled down into one more basic drive: our old friend survival. Every organism has encoded within its DNA the drive to endure, to survive. On the most elemental level, this is what makes us tick. Since survival is at the foundation of all of our behaviors, clearly, it should also form the foundation of our ethics as well.

There are two types of behavior. Those that tend towards survival, and those which tend towards extinction. Organisms that adopt behaviors tending towards extinction go the way of the dinosaur, removing those behaviors from consideration. By elimination then, ethical behaviors are those that tend towards survival. Now, does this mean an attitude of “I’ve got mine, screw you!” is the height of ethical behavior? We'll examine that next time.

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