A Canadian poll on abortion

I thought Canadians had more sense than this: an MP, Jeff Watson, would like to know if you’d like a complete ban on all abortions. Right now, 37% of his constituency seem to think that’s just fine and dandy. Maybe he needs some global input?

Which best describes your position:.

I support fully taxpayer-funded abortion, at any time in the pregnancy, for any reason at all; 41%

I support some legal restrictions on access to abortion, for example restricting full access to abortion to the first trimester of pregnancy; 11%

I support abortion for any reason but it shouldn’t be taxpayer-funded; 2%

I support creative policy options and supports that help women with unexpected pregnancies keep the baby; or 7%

I support a complete ban on abortion. 37%

Don’t let Catholics run hospitals

Imagine if you lived in a town where the only hospital was owned by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and you were in a car accident — you’ve got a ruptured spleen, you’re bleeding internally, and your life is at risk. The surgeon is going to go in and stitch up and cauterize everything, but you’re warned that they don’t keep any kind of blood supply in the hospital, and they refuse to do blood transfusions — they have an in-house professional ethicist (who is a Jehovah’s Witness, of course) who rejects the morality of exchanging sacred blood, and the administrators have signed an agreement with the church to never, under any circumstances, carry out blood transfusions.

If you need a blood transfusion, they say, don’t worry, the ambulance will take you to a different hospital…50 miles away. You, unfortunately, are in shock, you’ve got a gusher pouring blood into your body cavity, and this is not an option. You get to die.

We would not tolerate this situation. That hospital would have a change of ownership as fast as the public could drive it, and if anyone did die because of that kind of criminal neglect and refusal to follow standard medical procedure, a malpractice suit would be the least of their worries. Someone would be going to jail.

So why are Catholics allowed to buy up and impose Catholic dogma on hospitals? Is it because their ignorant dogma does the greatest harm to women (especially those slutty ones who have sex) and bizarre rules about reproduction don’t directly harm men?

But Catholics are buying up hospitals all over the country. They’ve got declining attendance, they’re closing churches, they’re having trouble recruiting priests, but they’ve still got buckets of money, and they’re using that money to impose control in another way — by taking over your health care.

Catholic institutions across the nation are merging with secular hospitals, clinics, and even small private practices at an unprecedented rate. Optimists explain that the consolidation and shared infrastructure help reduce costs. Pessimists point out that the aggressive mergers come at a time when Catholic bishops are exerting and expanding their authority. “I see it as a conscious effort to achieve through the private market what they failed to achieve through the courts or at the ballot box,” says Monica Harrington, a San Juan Island resident who’s spent the last year fighting a Catholic hospital in her town.

Three of the largest health-care systems in the Northwest—PeaceHealth, Providence Health & Services, and Franciscan Health System—are Catholic entities, and they’re busy making new deals in our state. According to MergerWatch, a nonprofit that tracks Catholic hospital mergers across the nation, there was a record-breaking 10 mergers announced in Washington State in 2012.

It’s a chilling story. Catholics can’t get their way in popular opinion, so they’ve followed another path, buying up and limiting health care options so that you have no choice but to follow their ancient biblical rules. The linked article is an examination of the growing move to limit your medicine to Catholic medicine in the Pacific Northwest, but it applies everywhere. They interviewed doctors who reported on their constraints.

Three physicians working in Whatcom County eventually agreed to speak with me. PeaceHealth bought out the secular hospital in 2008. Since then, PeaceHealth has systematically bought up nearly every specialty clinic in the area, from cardiologists to pediatricians, hospice to oncology. The physicians who agreed to meet me for coffee talked about the mindfuck of being raised Catholic, turning to atheism, and excelling in medicine—only to wake up one day with the church as your boss. The first physician joked grimly about the religious directives being “medieval torture porn.” He talked about the struggle of trying to balance his duty to patients with the edicts of a Catholic hospital.

These religious directives are nightmarish. They aren’t always followed — these really are rules laid down by religious fanatics who have no experience or connection to the actual practice of medicine, and conscientious doctors try to find workarounds — but what limits them now is competition. If Catholics get a monopoly on health care in an area, then the trouble really begins.

To understand Catholic health care, it’s important to know the rules that guide Catholic hospitals, otherwise known as Ethical and Religious Directives (ERDs). These directives are drafted and tweaked by the rotating cast of mostly white, mostly celibate bishops couch-surfing at the Vatican. ERDs operate like a code of conduct that medical staff in Catholic hospitals agree to abide by, regardless of whether or not a particular staffer is Catholic. For the most part, the directives aren’t suggestions—they’re prescriptive.

“Any partnership… must respect church teaching and discipline,” one directive states. The church monitors the implementation of these directives through hospital ethic committees overseen by regional bishops like our very own Archbishop Peter Sartain.

Sure, in 43 pages of Ethical and Religious Directives, there’s some common-sense guidance to be found. But they’re also flush with horrifying detail. As you’d expect, the directives pertaining to women’s fertility read like a misogynist romance novel or found art from the Middle Ages: “Catholic health institutions may not promote or condone contraceptive practices.” Emergency contraception can only be given to rape victims, and even then only “if, after appropriate testing, there is no evidence that conception has occurred already.” Vasectomies and tubal ligations are also prohibited. Egg and sperm donors are deemed “contrary to the covenant of marriage,” surrogate motherhood is prohibited because it denigrates “the dignity of the child and marriage,” and doctors at Catholic hospitals can’t help infertile couples conceive artificially—using their own eggs and sperm—because test-tube babies “separate procreation from the marital act in its unitive significance.”

Then there’s this: “Abortion… is never permitted.”

Not even when the egg attaches outside the uterus and puts a mother’s life in danger: “In case of extrauterine pregnancy, no intervention is morally licit which constitutes a direct abortion.”

The short-sighted and selfish male readers out there (and we know we have no shortage of those assholes in the atheist community) aren’t possibly quite as outraged as they should be. These rules affect women, right? I got mine, let them worry over it, it’s not my fight.

Unfortunately, Catholics also have some weird ideas about LGBT relationships. Another set of people who are going to be hurt by this Catholic takeover are those who are in any kind of relationship that doesn’t fit their narrow definition of one man, one woman…and give them the power to flex their ideological muscle, and you might find yourself snubbed if you’re divorced.

So maybe you aren’t gay and your sexual relationships are conservative and conventional. The other big problem is death, which all of us will do someday. Washington state passed a death with dignity law a few years ago, allowing physician-assisted suicide in terminal cases. Guess which hospitals ignore the law and will prolong your suffering indefinitely?

Don’t let Catholics control your hospitals. Keep the church out of your health care decisions. Make Catholic Ethical and Religious Directives (ERDs) illegal — individuals may follow them at their personal discretion, but no health care facility gets to impose them on their patients, especially when they defy the law.

Berkeley meetup et cetera

Having reviewed my schedule for my Bay Area visit, including the fact that Tuesday evening will likely be mainly consumed with helping my Dear Old Mom celebrate her 40th birthday,* I have concluded that I will be having a beer at the Jupiter in Berkeley starting at approximately 5:30 on Wednesday the 27th. The Jupiter is close to the Downtown Berkeley BART station. As the bearded hippie, I will be easy to spot. Hope to see you there.

In other news, I gave my old growth desert lecture a couple weeks back here in town, and a report on that lecture has just shown up in the local press. The reporter, a lovely person, got a couple minor details wrong but I’m always glad for a sympathetic story on desert plants showing up in desert newspapers.

* for approximately the 30th time

Not to mention the excessive reductionism…

Wow. Talk about major failure. A new study out correlates levels of Foxp2 with levels of vocalization in rats: basically, male rats squeak more than female pups when they’re stressed by separation from their mothers, and mothers tend to rescue the rat who squeaks the loudest. They then found higher levels of Foxp2 in males, and also found that reducing male Foxp2 levels in male pups with siRNA also reduced vocalizations. So far, so good; looks like a reasonable and interesting experiment. Then they extended it to humans half-assedly, finding that 4 year old boys have lower levels of Foxp2 in their left hemisphere (the side that largely controls speech) than 4 year old girls; they could not do the siRNA experiment in human children, obviously.

And that’s where it goes so, so wrong. The researchers assumed that women talk more than men, four-year old girls have more Foxp2, therefore their results conform neatly to what they observed in rats.

You know all the times that men complain about women talking too much? Apparently there’s a biological explanation for the reason why women are chattier than men. Scientists have discovered that women possess higher levels of a "language protein" in their brains, which could explain why females are so talkative.

Previous research has shown that women talk almost three times as much as men. In fact, an average woman notches up 20,000 words in a day, which is about 13,000 more than the average man. In addition, women generally speak more quickly and devote more brainpower to speaking. Yet before now, researchers haven’t been able to biologically explain why this is the case.

The only problem here is that that statistic is false, and men and women talk at about the same rate. Oops.


This is so unfortunate. There is evidence that girls on average learn to talk a little earlier than boys, and that would have been a safer correlation, especially since they’re describing different levels in young children. That interpretation is still fraught, though: they haven’t worked out cause and effect, they know nothing about how Foxp2 mediates this vocalization difference (and we don’t even know if it’s a direct effect on vocalization; it could also modulate a stress response), and in humans, we don’t know if different socialization pressures could be causing differences in the expression of this gene.

This is why scientists are supposed to be cautious in their interpretations. Especially when trying to explain human behavior, there’s far too much temptation to push the results to fit stereotypes as a kind of unconscious validation.

People suck

I’ve been reading the story of Adalia Rose, a six year old girl with progeria. It makes me sick. Not Adalia, of course, but the fact that when she had fun posting videos on youtube and facebook, the trolls descended.

Sometime in June, Carl Ludwig Sherburne noticed a new "bandwagon," his term for the Internet’s ephemeral obsessions, cluttering his Facebook timeline. The notoriously disruptive 4chan board /b/ had seized upon some evidently sick girl’s Facebook page, and with the Miami Cannibal Zombie meme dying down, the rage among his online peers had shifted to PhotoShopping this child’s veiny, hairless head onto the bodies of famous monsters and extraterrestrials. People pasted her face on E.T., Roger from American Dad, Teletubbies, Land of the Lost Sleestaks, Gollum, Mini Me. There were so many different juxtapositions of this Progeria Girl, as Sherburne would come to call her, that he would start collecting them, like virtual trading cards, and eventually amass more than 500.

After Adalia’s passing, he said, the only online trace of her existence would be these cruel images. “You know whose fault it’s gonna be? It’s not gonna be the millions of people on the Internet who looked at them. It’s gonna be yours for letting these pictures escape,” he stammered, as if Adalia’s baby photos were leaked documents. “You are a sick woman. You are more disgusting and horrible than my fat disgusting ass could ever be.” He was nearly spitting. “You are one stupid bitch.”

Sound familiar? Screaming nitwits howling at a sick little girl and her mother, and then blaming the mother for letting Adalia use the internet. They’re bullies, they can’t help themselves, put something to mock in front of them and it’s their target’s fault that they have to bully them.

I’m sorry, Carl Ludwig Sherburne, but you’re wrong. You’re among the most disgusting and horrible things on the internet, and a woman posting her baby photos doesn’t even come close.

I am so over the skeptical movement

I am so over Ben Radford. I thought he was obtuse before. Now I’m convinced that he’s simply an idiot. He attempts to rebut my criticisms.

Myers admits that I’m technically correct that Ensler’s statistics are not exactly right, but claims I’m being “hyperskeptical,” and states that “One billion women have been victims of ‘homicide, intimate partner abuse, psychological abuse, dating violence, same-sex violence, elder abuse, sexual assault, date rape, acquaintance rape, marital rape, stranger rape and economic abuse,’ confirmed by statistics that Radford cites. One billion women. Radford’s hyperskepticism is so fierce that he objects to Ensler using 3 general words – raped, beaten, violated – instead of 26 more specific words, but is willing to overlook the horrific truth that she is correct and one billion women will suffer for their sex in their lifetime.”

Except that I didn’t; Myers misread it. I actually didn’t write the “one billion” figure that Myers misquotes me as saying; that was Ensler’s number. What I actually wrote (check it yourself) was that “one-third of women [have been victims of] homicide, intimate partner abuse, psychological abuse, dating violence, same-sex violence, elder abuse, sexual assault, date rape, acquaintance rape, marital rape, stranger rape and economic abuse.” (One in three women is not the same as one billion if you do the math, though perhaps that’s just my hyperskepticism.)

I was not saying he was technically correct. I was saying that the figure he’s carping about is actually right, and that his complaints are empty. I did not realize that he’d respond by proudly declaring his innumeracy: I’m sorry, but 1/3 of 1/2 of 7 billion people is actually about one billion.

Worse yet, he then goes on to piously plead that people need to heed the principle of charity in their arguments (I’ve noticed that it’s usually the people who most need charity who are begging for it.) Then — get ready for it — he turns around and writes this appalling piece of ham-handed dreck. Yeah, right. Fuck the principle of charity. No charity for you, Radford.

I’m so over Harriet Hall’s t-shirt. She’s been going on and on, circling around the drain to somehow defend it. It’s simple: she wore it to spite some people she clearly doesn’t like, and to get praise from other people who don’t like Rebecca Watson and the Skepchicks. It’s really that easy. Just admit it and move on. I know it’s hard to admit that you’re that petty, but it would end all this nonsense, and it would be honest. Get over it; the wordy excuse-making is getting embarrassing. Besides, Amanda Marcotte has Hall’s number.

I’m so over Reap Paden. Dear god, he’s so obsessive he’s made another creepy video that says far more about him than me.

The one thing I’m happy to do is publicize these dumbass arguments. Why is it that people who attach themselves to a movement that prides itself on having rationality as its raison d’etre are so godawful pathetic at making a case for themselves?