Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Be his lawfully wedded gay husband (or else)!

Just a brief quote before bed. Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council writes:
Last week the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (the same court that imposed "gay marriage" on Massachusetts' citizens last year) rejected the final argument...
I have a humorous mental image of old people in black robes lasso-ing citizens on the street and forcing them to marry people of their own gender.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Are embryos persons?

I've double-posted this to Fake Barn Country. I've been blogging about stem cell research recently, and last week I expressed some sort of standard derision at the idea that leftover embryos from IVF have the moral significance of persons. I pointed out that President Bush & co. do not seem to have a problem with the widespread destruction of leftover embryos, so it's inconsistent of them to oppose research on them instead. An anonymous internet-user asked the following in the comments thread:
Can someone explain to me why, exactly, it is so obviously absurd to grant human rights to a human embryo? I've had people explain this by means of reiteration, as though mantric repetition would prove persuasive, but it hasn't. I don't hold that view, but I'm at a loss for any really good reason why I can reject it. President Bush's inconsistency on this is, quite frankly, irrelevant. We don't oppose him when we agree with him simply because he's inconsistent; we oppose him because we disagree with him. So, leaving ad hominem arguments and mantric repetition behind, can someone explain to me why, exactly, an embryo is so obviously not a candidate for moral consideration?
I think that this is a very important question, and deserves more exposure than it'd be likely to get deep down in a comments thread on my blogspot blog, so I thought I'd bring it up as a new post. Admittedly, I haven't yet thought this one through as rigorously as I might like. So, following are a few considerations I think are relevant. I'd like to see discussion of these, and more considerations on both sides as well.
  • The most important argument for me against the personhood of embryos relies on a burdon of proof sort of move: why should we think they're persons? And no response to that question seems compelling. Every instance I've encountered of an argument from "potential to become a person" seems to be very metaphysically confused. And I really haven't seen many other arguments.
  • Embryos are not sentient. They have no experiences, and there's "nothing that it is like" to be an embryo. One can make arguments to this effect, if need be, but for now I'll assume that we agree about this claim.
  • Destroying an embryo hurts no one. This is formally question-begging, but it seems to me at least to be obviously true.
  • Here's an attempt to turn my ad hominem argument into an argument on the merits of the view: President Bush & co. are not morally concerned about the widespread practice of fertilizing many more eggs than a given couple needs, and destroying leftover embryos, and they're right not to be concerned about this morally innocent practice. If embryos were persons, they would not be right about the acceptability of this practice. Therefore, embryos are not persons.
I'm feeling a little tentative about all of this, so I'd like more thoughts from others.

Anti-Gerrymandering Bill

There's a nice editorial in today's New York Times about an anti-gerrymandering bill in Congress, sponsored by John Tanner, a Representative from Tennessee. It sounds like just the sort of thing that could have a long-term positive impact in U.S. Politics, and consequently, the world. And sadly, it sounds like just the sort of thing that doesn't have a prayer. Well, it has one from me, anyway. Links:

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Good news in Texas Politics

Here's a piece of genuine good news from the Texas Legislature. They've been working hard on SB 6, a bill that would reformulate child protective services in Texas. Houston Chronicle coverage of the bill is here. It's been the focus of some controversy in Austin, and the House and Senate were having difficulty reconciling their respective versions of the bill. One key difference was a ban in the House version on homosexual and bisexuals as foster parents. The amendment, proposed by Robert Talton (R-Pasadena), is quoted in the House journal for April 19 (scroll about 3/4 of the way down, or search for "Amendment 60"). The language is pretty shocking. Here's the amendment, which was passed by the Texas House:
Sec. 264.1064. FOSTER PARENT DISQUALIFICATION. (a) The department shall require an applicant who is applying to serve as a foster parent or a foster parent whose performance is being evaluated by the department to state whether the applicant or foster parent is homosexual or bisexual. (b)If the applicant or foster parent states that the applicant or foster parent is homosexual or bisexual, the department may not: (1) allow the applicant to serve as a foster parent; (2) place a child with the foster parent; or (3) allow a child to remain in foster care with the foster parent. (c) Notwithstanding an applicant's or foster parent's statement that the applicant or foster parent is not homosexual or bisexual, if the department determines after a reasonable investigation that an applicant or a foster parent is homosexual or bisexual, the department may not: (1) allow the applicant to serve as a foster parent; (2) place a child with the foster parent; or (3) allow a child to remain in foster care with the foster parent.
This would prohibit even bisexuals who are in monogamous heterosexual marriages from adopting children -- or from keeping children that they have adopted. Personally, I'll stand up for the right of a single person, or a homosexual couple, to adopt children. I know that this is somewhat controversial. But I don't think it's controversial that a person who is married, who also happens to be attracted to people of his own gender, can be a very good parent. To deny this is an even worse sort of bigotry than I'm used to seeing, even in Texas Republican politics. If you scroll down in those House journal records, you can read the debate about the amendment -- almost completely about procedural issues having to do with how much the bill would cost. Apparently, it takes a lot of millions of dollars to thoroughly investigate into foster parents' and potential foster parents' sexual preferences! Happily, the amendment, which did not go into the Senate version, didn't go into the conference committee version either. So if the bill passes, it will pass without the homosexual and bisexual adoption ban.

Friday, May 27, 2005

New England Drivers are the Worst

Rhode Island drivers are the most clueless. Massachusetts comes in second. Thanks to Heidi for the link.

What's wrong with Bush's stem cell policy

The New York Times carried an editorial yesterday criticizing President Bush for his firm opposition to the Congressional movement to use leftover human embryos from IVF that would otherwise be discarded for scientific research. It argues that he is inappropriately imposing his own moral views onto America at large.
His actions are based on strong religious beliefs on the part of some conservative Christians, and presumably the president himself. Such convictions deserve respect, but it is wrong to impose them on this pluralistic nation.
Although I'm about as opposed to the President on this particular policy issue as it's possible to be, I think that the Times's criticism is dead wrong. The problem isn't that the President is imposing moral views that are outside the American mainstream (although of course he is). The problem is that he's imposing moral views that are short-sighted, confused, and just plain wrong. As I've focused on recently, the President's position is either inconsistent or grossly morally irresponsible (or both). And it's also just implausible -- the Times editorial got this part right:
The president's policy is based on the belief that all embryos, even the days-old, microscopic form used to derive stem cells in a laboratory dish, should be treated as emerging human life and protected from harm. This seems an extreme way to view tiny laboratory entities that are no larger than the period at the end of this sentence and are routinely flushed from the body by Mother Nature when created naturally. These blastocysts, as they are called, bear none of the attributes we associate with humanity and, sitting outside the womb, have no chance of developing into babies.
If the President's moral view were correct -- or maybe even if it were merely justified -- then his opposition to this medical research might be understandable, forgivable, appropriate, or morally required. Even if the view were out of the mainstream. We must put the criticism in the correct place.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Good speech

Senfronia Thompson, a Texas Representative from Houston, delivered what seems to be a rather stirring speech against the Texas gay marriage amendment. It's quoted in its entirity here, and it's a good read. UPDATE: Changed link to a registration-free one. Thanks, Shari.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Each embryo has constitutional rights!

Following up the stem cell thing. Here's what conservatives are saying (emphasis mine): George Bush, in the New York Times:
"The children here today remind us that there is no such thing as a spare embryo," Mr. Bush said, amid the squeals and coos of babies cradled in their mothers' arms. "Every embryo is unique and genetically complete, like every other human being. And each of us started out our life this way. These lives are not raw material to be exploited, but gifts." The parents, who worked through a Christian adoption agency, applauded enthusiastically. When Mr. Bush said that "every human life is a precious gift of matchless love," a mother behind him on stage mouthed the word "Amen."
Focus on the Family:
But every time a human embryo is used for research, another snowflake is destroyed, another glimmer of hope for some future parent is dimmed [Huh? Dimmed? How? -J]. Since 1998, there have been more than 80 children born to parents who adopted snowflakes, and 15 more are due. "Each embryo, no matter how small, is an American who has a constitutional right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," snowflake parent-to-be Sarah Cochran said. "And if we murder them through experimentation, we are denying them rights that we wouldn't deny a serial killer."
Tom DeLay, in the New York Times:
"An embryo is a person, a distinct internally directed, self-integrating human organism," Mr. DeLay said, adding, "We were all at one time embryos ourselves. So was Abraham. So was Muhammad. So was Jesus of Nazareth." He went on: "The choice to protect a human embryo from federally funded destruction is not, ultimately, about the human embryo. It is about us, and our rejection of the treacherous notion that while all human lives are sacred, some are more sacred than others."
So let's see. According to the Right, we must oppose federally funding scientific experimentation on embryos that would otherwise be discarded, because embryos are humans, worthy of our protection. So we should just discard them, because they're worthy of our protection. Tom Delay doesn't seem to mind killing the embryos, just as long as that killing isn't federally-funded. He's perfectly happy to have the government stand by and not be involved in the killings. Sarah Cochran doesn't want the embryos to be murdered "through experimentation", but apparently it's ok to murder them through throwing them in the garbage can. If these people are serious about embryos having human dignity, then the fact that they're happily standing by while millions of embryos are being destroyed is morally horrific, in the worst possible way. Bush thinks that there are no spare embryos, and that every one is a gift? Then where's the massive push to bring the number of snowflake babies from the dozens to the millions? This strikes me as one of the most confused positions out there in the American political mainstream today. And that's saying a lot.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Texas Bans Marriage!

Overzealous anti-gay lawmakers in Texas seem to have gotten carried away! In an attempt to ban gay marriage, lawmakers in the Texas House of Representatives and Senate seem to have passed a constitutional amendment that would ban all marriage! Here is the full text of the newly proposed section of Article I of the Texas Constitution, proposed by HJR 6, which has been passed by both chambers:
Sec. 32. (a) Marriage in this state shall consist only of the union of one man and one woman. (b) This state or a political subdivision of this state may not create or recognize any legal status identical or similar to marriage.
A very radical change indeed! Texas cannot recognize any legal status identical or similar to marriage! I'm not sure what all would count as identical or similar to marriage, but I do know of one legal status that is definitely identical to marriage: marriage! I didn't realize the Texas legislature was so broadly anti-family. Voters in the state of Texas will get a chance to vote on this Constitutional amendment in November. Let's hope that they stand together to protect the institution of marriage from this anti-family Constitutional amendment.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Neural Basis of Sarcasm Recognition

According to the BBC, scientists think they've discovered the sarcasm recognition center of the human brain. Thanks to Erin for the link.

Our troops

The New York Times today carries the story of Dustin Berg, an American soldier under investigation for his role in the death of an Iraqi police officer. Apparently, there's some controversy over the investigation:
In Iraq, these stories have caused bitter resentment and distrust of the troops. Among Americans, they have strained units, leaving some Army supervisors saying troops seem reluctant to carry out their duties, and have led to an outpouring of anger in hometowns across the United States. "These guys go out and do what their country asks them to do, and now they're being told they did it wrong?" said Rich Hendrix, a Vietnam-era veteran who spent a recent afternoon inside the American Legion Hall in Ferdinand, Corporal Berg's hometown of 2,300 in Southern Indiana, where residents overwhelmingly say they support him. "I say they're doing the best they can. You can't even be sure who's your friend and who's your enemy over there, so what are they supposed to do?"
So what did Dustin Berg do? What is it that Mr. Hendrix thinks people are unduly criticizing about?
The soldier, Cpl. Dustin M. Berg, fired three times at his Iraqi partner, Hussein Kamel Hadi Dawood al-Zubeidi, and killed him. As Corporal Berg ran away, he picked up Mr. Zubeidi's AK-47 and shot himself in the side. In the days that followed, Corporal Berg lied about what happened, saying Mr. Zubeidi was the one who had shot him. And for months he went right on lying, after he recovered from his wound, after he left Iraq, even after he received a Purple Heart he did not deserve with his parents watching at a solemn ceremony back home in Indiana.
I can't believe there's a controversy over criticism of this guy. But there is.
"In earlier wars, I don't think some of these homicide cases would be prosecuted at all," said Guy L. Womack, a Houston lawyer and retired Marine lieutenant colonel who prosecuted marines and has represented the Army reservist accused of being the ringleader of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib. "We're second-guessing things we don't need to second-guess."
I wonder what sort of action would be worthy of second-guessing.

Haecceities Transfer?

Here is today's Dilbert cartoon: Is this a conceptual possibility?

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Terrible Advice Column

Emily points me to this "Dear Abby" column. The second-to-last sentence, which I've made bold, is one of the stupidest sentences I've ever read. Here's the column in its entirety:
DEAR ABBY: I moved to the United States when I was 19. A month after I arrived, I met an American boy I'll call "Colin." We have been together for five years. Lately, I have noticed that Colin acts weird. He will only watch boys on TV, and he gets all nervous when my gay friend visits me. One day, I asked my gay friend if he had noticed anything. My friend told me that when I left the room, he got the impression that my boyfriend was hitting on him. The other day I was making the bed and found a gay porn magazine under Colin's side of the mattress. I also found a phone number in his pants pocket. I called the number and a guy answered. Colin and I are supposed to be married in three months. What should I do? Should I ask him if he's gay? - Needs To Know Advertisement DEAR NEEDS TO KNOW: It is highly unusual for straight men to keep pictures of naked men under their mattress. You have given me three reasons why you suspect he's gay, which indicates that your alarm bells are sounding. By all means address the subject with your boyfriend. Although your boyfriend may not be gay, he may be bisexual - and that spells trouble ahead if you marry him. If I were you, I'd put the marriage on hold and listen to your intuition.
Why would bisexuality spell trouble ahead? Are bisexuals bad husbands? Unfaithful? Child molesters? What's this about?

Friday, May 20, 2005

Destroying Embryos

Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council distributed an ALERT today with the emphatic subject line, Oppose HR 810 Federal Funding of Embryo Destruction. He writes:
Early next week, the House will consider a bill that will federally fund research that requires the destruction of human embryos. Sponsored by Mike Castle (R-DE), HR 810 will federally fund research on human embryos that supposedly are "leftover" from IVF. Instead of promoting the adoption of these human embryos, this bill would require their death.
Now let's take a look at the text of HR 810(b):
Human embryonic stem cells shall be eligible for use in any research conducted or supported by the Secretary if the cells meet each of the following: (1) The stem cells were derived from human embryos that have been donated from in vitro fertilization clinics, were created for the purposes of fertility treatment, and were in excess of the clinical need of the individuals seeking such treatment. (2) Prior to the consideration of embryo donation and through consultation with the individuals seeking fertility treatment, it was determined that the embryos would never be implanted in a woman and would otherwise be discarded. (3) The individuals seeking fertility treatment donated the embryos with written informed consent and without receiving any financial or other inducements to make the donation.
This seems to me to be a pretty silly thing for pro-life groups to get worked up about. Tony Perkins says that the bill will "fund research that requires the destruction of human embryos." Well, I guess that's literally true; the research that the bill would fund does depend on the destruction of the embryos in question. But, as is very carefully and clearly spelled out in (b)(2) of the bill, those embryos would be destroyed anyway! There is no legislation under consideration that would result in more destroyed embryos. So why the fuss? I don't get it. I did a little googling and came up with an entertaining rant from Rhode Island Right to Life. They recognize the point I made above, but offer a new rationale for opposing the bill:
Though this bill focuses on so called “left over” embryos from in vitro fertilization, it is my understanding that the use of these embryos would not even begin to supply the number of embryos needed to cure the millions of Americans who suffer from disease and injuries. Thus, very soon, the push would be on to federally fund scientific research on cloned human embryos as well. If we allow this research on “left over” embryos from in vitro fertilization to be supported by federal funds, we will have embarked upon the classic “slippery slope.” ... Once the scientific community has used up the “left over” embryos they will turn to creating cloned embryos. I have grave concerns about the victimization of poor women in third world countries that would be paid large sums of money to go through the medically risky procedure of having their eggs matured and harvested in order to create the millions of cloned human embryos needed to cure diseases in America. Many of these women would be surrendering their health and possibly their future fertility for the promise of U.S. dollars. As with abortion, these women would be the victims of a utilitarian philosophy that looks for convenient solutions to societies problems even when human life is in the balance.
This is just one of the worst arguments ever. "If we use the left over embryos, then we won't have enough to do all the things we need embryos for, so we'll have to start doing horrible evil things to get more. Therefore, we should just keep throwing the left over embryos away." Here's a serious question for those who oppose embryonic stem cell research on pro-life grounds: why is there no outcry about the mere fact that lots and lots of left over embryos from in vitro fertilization are thrown away? It would be a weird view to think it's ok to throw them away, but not to use them for scientific research. Update: Bush says he'll veto it! sigh...

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Paper on Dream Skepticism

I'm safe in Houston now, and hopefully, I'll be back in the blogging world. Stay tuned. In the meantime, for anyone interested, here's my new paper on dream skepticism. This is basically a first couple of steps into what I mean to develop into a Ph.D. thesis.

Thursday, May 12, 2005


Well, the semester is finally over. I finished and submitted my last term paper, and the show closed and was amazing. I'm now packing up, and then I hit the road: I'm driving to Toronto for a graduate conference on Values & Inquiry, and then to Houston for my summer job. Email will be sporadic at best until Friday next week. For friends who want to talk to me: I can use my cell phone this weekend while I'm in Canada, but it's expensive. Tuesday I start down to Texas, and will be happy to make and receive phone calls then. Very likely, soon I'll actually return to the blogging world, and start reading and writing again.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Focus on the Family: Soft on Homosexuality

The Rocky Mountain News reports on a demonstration over the past weekend against Focus on the Family. Predictably, there's a gay rights group, Soulforce, involved. But more surprisingly, FotF is under fire from the other side, too:
Opposite White's group will be a handful of demonstrators from Phelps' Westboro Baptist Church, whose members conduct frequent pickets carrying signs such as "God Hates Fags" and "Thank God for Aids." A spokeswoman for the church, Shirley Phelps-Roper, says Dobson's ministry "does not follow scripture" on homosexuality. "They (Focus) enable that sin because they have the big lie that God loves everyone," said Phelps-Roper. "If that's true, then Soulforce is correct, and they should be able to live like the devil himself and still go to heaven," she said. "Soulforce and Dobson are two animals with a slightly different coat. All the parts of those two groups are going straight to hell, and there's nothing they can do about it."