“Personhood” Amendments

The following amendment is up for a vote in Mississippi this year:

“SECTION 1. Article III of the constitution of the state of Mississippi is hearby amended BY THE ADDITION OF A NEW SECTION TO READ:

Section 33. Person defined. As used in this Article III of the state constitution, “The term ‘person’ or ‘persons’ shall include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning or the functional equivalent thereof.”

Friendly UterusThis would ban all forms of hormonal birth control, IVF, and make pregnant women who have miscarriages or who have fertilized eggs that fail to implant be criminally liable for murder.  Pregnancy doesn’t occur until after implantation, which doesn’t occur in up to 70% of fertilizations.  If a fertilized egg doesn’t implant, do these people really think that that is a death?  Am I committing manslaughter if my uterus just isn’t a friendly enough host?

Pregnant women have been arrested on murder charges for attempting suicide while pregnant and for having miscarriages, it’s absolute insanity.

Gibbs became pregnant aged 15, but lost the baby in December 2006 in a stillbirth when she was 36 weeks into the pregnancy. When prosecutors discovered that she had a cocaine habit – though there is no evidence that drug abuse had anything to do with the baby’s death – they charged her with the “depraved-heart murder” of her child, which carries a mandatory life sentence.

And there’s this awesome fact from my home state:

South Carolina was one of the first states to introduce such a foetal homicide law. National Advocates for Pregnant Women has found only one case of a South Carolina man who assaulted a pregnant woman having been charged under its terms, and his conviction was eventually overturned. Yet the group estimates there have been up to 300 women arrested for their actions during pregnancy.

Now, I admit that I am extremely pro-choice.  I don’t believe that anyone should be forced to be pregnant if they don’t want to be.  If the fetus isn’t viable, this means access to abortion, if the fetus is viable, this means access to inducing labor.  Regardless of the personhood status of a fetus, I don’t believe in enslaving one person to keep another person alive.  And if you think that’s a ridiculous analogy, explain to me “pro-life” people who believe in exceptions for rape and incest — these people don’t think abortion is murder, or they wouldn’t allow exceptions, they believe it is a punishment for women who have sex.

Being pregnant is a dangerous condition — to force someone to take on the risks against their will is cruel.  Women develop chronic diseases like hypertension and diabetes, they die from complications, they are bankrupted by the high medical costs (it can cost $7000 for a birth without complications, premies can cost upwards of $100,000), and they are much more likely to be beaten or murdered.

And while maternal death rates in the US are lower than in the developing world, we’re 50th in the world.  Meaning there are 49 countries where a woman is less likely to die from being pregnant than in the good old US of A.  And for “each death, experts estimate, there are about 50 instances of complications related to pregnancy or childbirth that are life-threatening or cause permanent damage.”  Why don’t you Google Image Search “fistula” and “vaginal prolapse”?

But even if you’re against abortion — and I hesitate to use the term pro-life here because I feel like that term should only apply to people who are also against the death penalty — surely you are for women not constantly being pregnant, right?  All those things I just listed are much more likely to impact women who get pregnant many times, surely birth control is a wonderful compromise that allows fewer abortions, fewer pregnancies, and more wanted children, right?

So why this insane amendment that says life begins before pregnancy does?  And if you’re so gung-ho pro-baby, why an amendment that makes IVF illegal?  And if you consider yourself pro-life, don’t you want doctors to be able to save the life of women with ectopic pregnancies?  Shouldn’t our government be trying to improve the economy and get people jobs, not trying to simplify personal moral choices into completely cartoonish slogans?

Rachel Maddow does a heroic job here of explaining the problem:

75 Books 66-70: Colfer, McGinniss, Hancock, and Jillette

Aren't I fabulous?

66. Artemis Fowl 5: The Lost Colony – Eoin Colfer

I loved this one — there’s a new character called N°1 who I like even more than Artemis.  N°1 is a demon.  Imagine a world ruled by Tim Curry in Legend and then imagine a really dorky, kinda sweet misfit teenage demon who just can’t seem to hit puberty.  There are parallel stories of Artemis learning how to time travel and N°1 escaping the demon realm, discovering that he’s a warlock, and trying not to get killed.  But it’s really less about the story and more about how adorable N°1 is. A

67. The Rogue – Joe McGinniss

You really have to admire McGinniss, I have no idea how he survived the research and release of this book.  Palin released her rabid legions on the poor guy because he rented one of the only available houses in Wasilla when researching this book.  And that house happened to be right next door to Palin, and somehow living next door to someone you’re researching makes you a stalker.  Palin is a childish bully, a middle school mean girl, and McGinniss shows that clearly and calmly.  The best part of the book has little to do with Palin herself, however.  McGinniss knows Alaska in an intuitive way, I feel like I’ve lived there now.  You really get a sense of what living in Wasilla is like, and it’s both not as bad as you think it would be and very depressing.  A+

For surviving the onslaught of Palin hate, McGinniss really deserves:

68. Artemis Fowl 6: The Time Paradox – Eoin Colfer

This may be my least favorite of the series so far.  I’m not a big fan of time travel stories, especially when the story becomes about how it all makes sense because things couldn’t have happened the way they did if people hadn’t gone back in time.  I mean, it’s fine, but I just don’t particularly dig on it.  The best part of the book was seeing older Artemis, who is a better person now, interacting with young Artemis, who is a bit of a sociopath. B-

69. The Humanist Approach to Happiness – Jen Hancock

I did a very long review of this earlier, but the summation of it is that I disagree strongly with her perspective on sex and relationships.  To quote myself:

But when she says things like women who hate their dads transfer that hate to all men; and people who dated can’t really be friends and shouldn’t contact one another for at least a year; and, no matter what they say, women who say they’re OK with a solely sexual relationship are really just looking for an emotional relationship, whether they know it or not; and people who watch porn lose sense of reality and it’s a catalyst for bizarre violent activity and it’s addictive… when she says things like that, it is all I can do not to punch the screen.

There’s some good stuff in the book about embracing who you are and being a dork, but I really can’t say I recommend it.  There’s just something so gallingly sexist about her belief that women can’t have sex for its own sake or that a woman’s relationship with a man is based on her relationship with her father that the rest of the book just loses any worth for me.  D

70. God, No! – Penn Jillette

This book is basically a collection of personal stories loosely connected to the idea of a different, more humanist ten commandments.  Most of the stories are funny, but a few are really touching, particularly when he’s talking about his family.  I think the anecdote that most stuck with me was when he was talking with his friend and his sister about the Unabomber being turned in by his brother.  They were discussing what it would take for you to turn in your sibling and his sister said she wouldn’t do it, not ever, no matter what Penn had done, even if he was going to destroy the entire planet, she trusted Penn.  The book, in the end, isn’t really a book about atheism so much as it is a book about Penn’s life and personal beliefs and how they impacted him.  Go into it looking for stories about Penn Jillette, and you’ll enjoy it, but don’t go in expected anything like a Dawkins, Harris, or Hitchens book.  A-

75 Books 61-65: Dawkins, Colfer, and Dillman

A real actual photo of Richard Dawkins. I know, right?

61. Internet, Mail, and Mixed-Mode Surveys – Don Dillman

I had to read this for grad school. If you have a major need to understand the intricacies of how to create a survey, this is the book for you. Actually, it was fairly readable and not nearly as dry as one might expect such a book to be. There was no unnecessarily obtuse language, which has so far been quite rare in PhD World. A

62. Artemis Fowl 2: The Arctic Incident – Eoin Colfer

Like Harry Potter, the first book of this series is brilliant and the following books are slightly less transcendent, but still quite good. The difficulty of these books is that Artemis’ defining characteristic is that he’s a schemer, a not very nice guy, a baby Hans Gruber. And unlike Harry Potter, he is exceptional. So you have the double problem of how do you maintain an interest in a character who is constantly become more good and how do you keep his genius believable but still have obstacles. This book manages pretty well, but it also gets rid of so much character motivation and conflict at the end that you sense the series has to change drastically for it to work. A-

63. The God Delusion – Richard Dawkins

I enjoyed this book, but I can’t help but compare it to God is Not Great by Hitchens, and this is just not nearly as brilliant as that. It should be said that the two books have different primary arguments; The God Delusion is primarily about why belief in God is incorrect while God is Not Great is primarily about why belief in God is harmful. It’s a very good book, there was just nothing in it that I didn’t already know and Dawkins really reaches his heights when talking about science, not philosophy. A-

64. Artemis Fowl 3: The Eternity Code – Eoin Colfer

This book opens strongly but weakens as it goes. Colfer is good at having many wildly divergent stories come together perfectly for the end, something like Ocean’s 11. But part of that trick is withholding information to prevent the reader from being able to fully guess what is going on — unlike a mystery, where it’s possible to reach the conclusion on your own, it’s very action-adventure in making sure the end is a reveal. Sometimes that feels forced, and I felt like it did in this book especially. It’s difficult to write very smart characters who seem omniscient and then not have them explain how they’re two steps ahead of everyone. It’s lazy writing. B

65. Artemis fowl 4: The Opal Deception – Eoin Colfer

Artemis loses his memories at the end of the previous book which allows Colfer to make him more of a bad guy again, rather than a reluctant hero. It’s fun to watch him transform back into Hans Gruber, but the tone of this book is very different from the original. The series becomes less about outsmarting and unraveling and more about just action-adventure, relationships, and Artemis’ inner-life. B+

(The amazing photo is from this: http://digitaljournal.com/article/267416)

Hemant Mehta Apparently Knows Something About Math

I had the great pleasure of hearing Hemant speak this weekend, the Pastafarians of USC brought him in to talk about, strangely enough, math.  It turns out that Hemant has some sort of day job that doesn’t have anything to do with being an atheist.

Hemant being boss

How is this relevant to a secular group?  Well, I will tell you.  He gave a talk about how, while atheists tend to be very alert about bad thinking trying to take over science or history education, we were less aware that there was a lot of bad thinking in teaching math.  I was surprised myself, perhaps because it just never occured to me.  I started college as a math major with the intention of getting a BS/MS in 5 years.  And I ended up in Film, so, whatever that’s worth.

Hemant made some points about how math is taught, which is that teachers give kids formulas without explaining how they got to those formulas.  See, to me, as a very lazy person, I only ever remembered like 3 formulas and then figured everything else out based on those formulas.  Apparently, that’s actually the better way to learn math because you understand how it works, not just that this formula does this.

I admit that I was being a total teacher’s pet and I knew the answers to everything.  I tried to resist, I swear I did, but it was math and I like it!  We talked about polyominoes, which is like dominos and tetris — you have to put a square next to another square.  I’ll put a picture.

We got assigned a task to determine how many different shapes you can make with 5 blocks and draw them all.  I won a free copy of his book, because I am super awesome.

We also learned statistics from World Series of Poker, that standardized tests only test how well you take standardized tests, math teachers aren’t taught to think or teach critically.  Hemant gave some cool examples of practical things he did in the classroom to teach different concepts — my favorite was memorizing the names of angles in parallel lines and transversals by having kids play DDR and jump into the correct position based on the names given.

Alternate Exterior!!

It all boils down to math is awesome, math should be more about open-ended questions and applying critical thinking, and teaching math should be engaging not boring.

Thank You, Steve Jobs

As I’m sure you’ve heard, Steve Jobs passed away yesterday at the young age of 56. He had struggled with cancer and other health problems for half a decade before he died, so his death was not a surprise, but it was still a major loss for the world. There have been few people as visionary and instrumental in changing the world as was Steve Jobs.

His legacy isn’t just the products created by the companies he leaves behind, which include both Apple and Pixar, but what those companies have done to the world at large. Without Apple, the face of modern computing would be entirely different, Jobs invented the entire idea of a personal computer that was intuitive to use and didn’t require a lot of technical skills to understand. His company brought us personal computing, the iPod, iTunes, the iPhone, and the iPad — he turned gadgets into something friendly and unintimidating.

I am not an Apple fanboy, I do not rush out and buy every gadget that they release. My primary computer is a Mac, but my tablet runs on Android, as does my phone. But both of those wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for Apple constantly pushing the boundaries of what technology should be, what it should do, and how it should be a part of our lives.

Steve Jobs himself was an inspiration to many. He was an adopted child of a working class family who dropped out of college because it was too expensive. Then, after the success of Apple he was summarily fired from the company in the mid 80s and went on to work in other successful companies, like Pixar, before being invited back to Apple. His story was about overcoming odds again and again, and remaining true to his vision while doing so. If anyone had the entrepreneurial spirit, it was Steve Jobs, and if you have a business or want to start one some day, I can think of no better inspiration or reminder that anything is possible.

He gave a much quoted address to Stanford University soon after his diagnosis and said, ”Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.”

Thank you, Steve Jobs, you have made the world a better place.

Why Alternative Medicine Exists

I have been sick for nearly six weeks, there’s something wrong with my stomach.  I’ve been to three different doctors, had seven tests done, each with different supervisors and doctors and nurses.  I am nauseous, if I eat to much it won’t stay down, and my stomach and intestines hurt.  I have lost 20lbs (and part of my brain is all “huzzah” but I’m so tired, it’s not a very enthusiastic “huzzah”).

It’s like overnight my guts mutinied and I can’t get them back under my control.  And, while my doctors have diligently tried to give me things to help, they’ve either not worked or had side-effects so bad that I’ve been unable to take them long enough to see if they worked.  The thing about an upset stomach is that you can still work, you’ll be grouchy and very tired, but you’re awake.  The thing about working when you’ve been knocked out by a drug is that you can’t.

So, of course, when people find out you’re not feeling well they 1. have a cousin/brother/aunt who had the same thing and it turned out to be celiac/stomach acid/cancer and 2. you should try acupuncture/unproven diet/homeopathy, it really worked for my friend/loved one/family member.

And when you’ve felt like crap for six weeks, you’re pretty much willing to try anything to feel better.  Even I, skeptic extraordinaire (I guess) am tempted to do things I know are useless.  I sit here and think, “Well, maybe the placebo effect will help even if nothing else does.”  It’s nutty, I know it’s nutty, and yet I am so miserably sick and there seems to be no explanation or cure forthcoming, it’s hard to say no to something that might possibly work, even through magical thinking.

Here are otters, they make things ever so slightly better.

Conferences

I had some success doing things at the SCA, I spoke at TAM, and I spoke at Dragon*Con, but I’m not sure how one turns a couple of successful speaking gigs into regularly being invited to speak at conferences.

Thoughts?