I became insane with long intervals of horrible sanity.
Edgar Allen Poe
The trouble with fighting for human freedom is that one spends most of one's time defending scoundrels. For it is against scoundrels that oppressive laws are first aimed, and oppression must be stopped at the beginning if it is to be stopped at all.
- H. L. Mencken
Many people would sooner die than think; In fact, they do so
What I have been telling you, from alpha to omega, what is the one great thing the sigil taught me — that everything in life is miraculous. For the sigil taught me that it rests within the power of each of us to awaken at will from a dragging nightmare of life made up of unimportant tasks and tedious useless little habits, to see life as it really is, and to rejoice in its exquisite wonderfulness. If the sigil were proved to be the top of a tomato-can, it would not alter that big fact, nor my fixed faith. No Harrowby, the common names we call things by do not matter — except to show how very dull we are ...
-James Branch Cabell
March 08, 2012 - 10:41 a.m.
Yesterday was an epic at not getting accomplished. I hate days like that. Grading the test proved very difficult. Seeing what they did made my brain bleed. These are college precalculus students and the vast majority had no idea how to work with parentheses and the order of operation. When the first thing that I see is (x)(-y)=x-y I want to cry. This wasn't one student it wasn't a few, it was the majority. This is not them not working in my class, ti's them making the same mistake since at least middle school, maybe 4th grade. It's the math equivalent of not knowing how to spell cat. I don't know how to grade it I should have just taken off full credit but I didn't. I'm a softy.
The closest thing I did to being useful is walking over to Duane Reade to buy breathing strips. I haven't been able to breathe at night without them. That was actually the highlight of my day. Not because of the strips but because of the guy I met on the way home. As I walked through the tiny park someone commented on my Mets ski cap. I saw he had a camera with a huge lens. I asked about that and found that he was a wildlife photographer working in Queens! This was one of the best conversations with a random stranger I ever had. Did you know we have bald eagles near me! I didn't. He saw a snowy owl in Rockaway. He pointed out all the birds of prey as we talked. This is why you have to be open to talking to strangers. Most are boring but there are some gems too. We ended up talking for 45 minutes. I really should have gotten his contact info at least his FB. As I was walking home I was thinking that if he were an attractive woman I'd have spent a lot of time working up the courage to ask for it and then probably be shot down. He lives only a few blocks from me so I'm sure I'll be seeing him in the park and cemetery when I take walks. I'll also be spending more time looking up at the trees and at the sky. My area is so developed I never guessed it a great bird watching area.
I told him how I used to walk up by the water in Bayside and he told me that his friend saw a pod of dolphins there! I walked there so many times and never saw that. I'd have been so excited if I had. One of the great divides is people who appreciate nature and those that don't. He told me walking through the grounds of Monhonk Mountain House and finding a group that spent their time on those gorgeous grounds concentrating on their electronic devices not the wonders around them.
It's so nice meeting a kindred spirit. I even know his name, Jeffrey. Maybe you'll read about him again some time.
For dinner I had a blast from the past. I have a freezer filled with chicken breast filets and I'm running low on other things so I'll be eating lots of variants on it. I went back to how I used to mainly eat it, with barbecue sauce on a roll. Next time I'll try chicken cordon bleu. The ham will be Taylor of course.
Now for a total change of pace; I'm going to talk about abortion. What I want to do is to get you to actually think about it and not just believe what you think you are supposed to believe. I'll get myself to think about it too. It's one of the topics people eschew reasoning the most about.
First notice I said "abortion" not pro choice or pro life. I dislike both phrases; they are marketing slogans not positions. Who can be against choice? Who can be against life? They are designed to make you not think. Not thinking is the first step on the road to perdition.
I of course have a strong opinion on abortion and as policy at least most of you agree with me at least on broad outlines. The simplest way of stating my opinion is that I believe the rules set up in Roe v Wade are essentially what we should be using. What makes it work is that it isn't a black and white set of rules. It doesn't say, Abortion is always legal! Abortion is never legal! It's a sliding scale based on how far the pregnancy has progressed and that's the heart of rational discussion of the matter so that's where we are going to start.
At what point on the path from zygote to birth does the embryo or fetus because human? The questions behind that are; What justifies that position? What makes a person a person? Those that are against abortion are absolutists. They say that at the moment of conception the zygote is a full-fledged human being with all the rights of a human being. What's the basis for it? Well it's a well defined moment, that's about it. We are talking something that not only has no sentience it has no nervous system. It is not that different from an amoeba except that it doesn't react to its environment at all. I find it hard to believe there is any rational basis for that view. The most common rationale I've heard is that that they represent potential humanity. If cloning were invented then so would every human cell. Would each of them be accorded personhood? When a hair gets pulled out and includes cells would we rush them to a hospital? Would we give funerals to those that died? If not then that isn't what people actually believe. Most supporters of it would give a religious justification but of course there is no mention of it in the bible or any other holy books because when they were written nobody knew how a fetus developed. The traditional religious view was that life began at quickening, when the fetal heart started beating.
So is quickening a reasonable place to start? We are still talking about something with no self-awareness, no intelligence. If you grant it personhood then why not every animal with a heart?
You can keep asking these questions during the course of fetal development and I love the way that Roe V Wade handles it. Dividing things by trimester is somewhat but not totally arbitrary. If new information came along we should be willing to move the limits in either direction to follow the facts not justify our previous beliefs. Does that make you uncomfortable? If it does that isn't a good enough reason to not follow the facts. Now I don't think they are going to change much, but we have to be open to the possibility.
The change from second to third trimester is the tricky one. It is based on fetal viability and at the time the justices thought that was a moving target. It's proved for the most part not to be. By the third trimester we only allow abortion to protect the life or health of the mother. The fetus is not a human but its welfare is given greater weight. We become human, there isn't an instant when a light comes on and we are done. We aren't perked in a coffee maker. It's always going to be subject to discussion and it's unreasonable to think that everyone will agree on the details.
How about partial birth abortion? There is no such thing. That is another marketing slogan. The fact that it is used and not well-defined medical procedures is a tip off that the people against it are not interested in being rational. Laws are technical for a reason and they know it.
But now we do get to the really difficult cases. What if in the course of an abortion a mistake happens and the fetus is expelled from the uterus, in other words born? What then? I have heard right to lifers say that pro choice proponents really want infanticide. That is of course simply not true. But why? Does passage to the outside world change the fetus? Does it make it human? Is it a defining moment? This is where I start getting uncomfortable. This is why I want to write about it. I would never be in favor of infanticide. My current thoughts are that yes, even after a full term birth a baby, yes a baby, not a fetus, does not have a fully working brain. It takes a few more weeks for things to start working right. But it's a baby, it might not be the same as you and me but virtually no one, certainly not me, doesn't consider it human. I think of it as just making sure. There is not a clear dividing line but there are those that are clearly human and it's better to grant personhood to someone that doesn't warrant it then to deny it to someone that does.
So does that argument go right back to the beginning? No. I have no trouble not thinking of a zygote as human. At some point we have to draw the line and putting it at birth is still playing it safe for the fetus/baby and not imposing on the mother at all.
The mother! I haven't mentioned the mother at all so far. That was deliberate. I am writing about when a person becomes a person independent of other considerations. I didn't want that to influence your, or my thoughts. The mother's welfare is clearly of vital importance. The mother's autonomy is what balances whatever consideration that the fetus gets. I could go into that another time but if we say that we can control a person's body for the benefit of someone else could we force people to be kidney donors? If not why not?
By thinking through this I have made myself more open to changes in laws governing late abortions. That's where things are murkiest. I'm not saying I'm against it. I haven't actually changed my mind at all. I just think that I need to do research and get the facts before I make a decision. It should not be a reflex.
If I got you thinking I've accomplished something. Maybe that will bode well for today.
Wow this was long; I better go eat now. Maybe I can even get some grading done.
The Great Scones Mystery - March 07, 2017
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