Thursday, October 2, 2008

I am so sick of this debate!

You know what? Screw it. I say we overturn Roe v. Wade and let the states decide if they want to outlaw abortion.

Of course, the mother has the right to self-defense in every state. So that means that if there is a risk to her, she has the right to defend herself against an attacker. Now, one can probably say that the basic, healthy pregnancy does not involve risk to the mother; of course, healthy can become unhealthy very quickly, but I digress. Let's just look at the factors that can increase the risk to the mother, and say that if she had such a factor, she would have the right to abort, because she COULD be in danger, even if she wasn't already. After all, I can shoot someone coming at me with a gun, even if they haven't already shot at me, if I am threatened by them.

So that means that any increased risk would be a reason for the woman to feel threatened. Increased risks like having ever had cancer or an abnormal PAP, having diabetes or a family history of it, pulmonary, thyroid, heart, or kidney disease; sickle cell anemia, a blood clotting disorder, epilepsy... Or women who have had more than 3 live births, or women who need to take category C, D, or X drugs, or women who have a previous infant who weighed more than 10 pounds, or women with any kind of uterine or cervical abnormality...

Since once could EASILY say a C-section or very long labor poses a risk to the mother, anything that might cause a large baby, difficulty giving birth, or fetal distress would be a threat to the mother. Plus there's smoking and drug use, which can complicate pregnancies for the mother as well as the fetus. In fact, anyone who drinks in early pregnancy is at risk for the fetus having fetal distress, which means that they could wind up having to have a C-section, which means they are at risk. Plus anyone under 20 and over 35 is high-risk, and anyone who has a BMI less than 18.5 or greater than 30, they're high-risk, too. All of those women are at risk for serious complications and would be defending themselves by preventing a birth.

So yes, let the states ban abortion. They are perfectly free to ban it for very healthy women between age 20 and 35, with a BMI between 18.6 and 29.9, a normal uterus and cervix, no family history of diabetes or childbirth complications, less than 4 births (all of which infants were less than 10 pounds, delivered vaginally without serious tearing, none of which were past 42 weeks and none of which involved preeclampsia or post partum depression), have not had any trauma to the pelvis or abdomen in the pregnancy, have not been exposed to and agree to avoid dangerous chemicals, and who agree to abstain from drugs or alcohol. Meanwhile you can't actually restrict any of their other rights, as long as what they're doing is legal for adults their age, because that would be discrimination considering that there is no way to remove the fetus without killing it.

Good luck with that. I'm sure the five women who have had absolutely no risk to themselves in their pregnancy will be very sad to learn that they will now have to go drink a few beers if they want an abortion.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Palin and Abortion: A Part of the Debate I Just Don't Get

I don't understand Sarah Palin. I really don't. Because she claims she is pro-woman, and yet, she wishes to deny women the right to defend themselves from an attacker.

What am I talking about? Of course, she supports gun ownership. Anyone who can shoot a person attacking them, they can defend themselves.

And yet, she says: "I am pro-life. With the exception of a doctor's determination that the mother's life would end if the pregnancy continued."

Yes. If the mother's life would end. If it would END. Not, mind you, if she would wind up brain-dead or on a ventilator. Not, mind you, if she was left permanently and debilitatingly physically injured. No, the woman's life has to END.

Which means that if a man stabs me in the arm, well, I can shoot him, because he's threatening my health and safety. But if I'm pregnant and I discover I have cancer, and if I wait nine months, I'll live but I will have to get a double masectomy that I could avoid by earlier treatment, I can't be rid of the being that is threatening my health and safety. In fact, I could kill a man-- or even a child, really, it's still self defense-- because he cut off my breasts but I can't kill the child inside me that is preventing me from being able to get treatment.

Or if I have a condition that means I can't go under anesthesia or that I am allergic to an epidural, and I have placenta previa and need a C-section, well, I would survive a C-section without anesthesia, but at what cost?

Or maybe I am severely bipolar, and I wind up hurting myself or someone else because to take my medications would result in the death of my fetus?

I do understand when people argue that Roe vs. Wade should not include social and economic concerns to the woman's well-being. I get that, I really do. I don't agree with it because I believe the baby's soul enters the baby much later in pregnancy, but I do understand the concern, and would probably feel the same way if I believed the baby got their soul earlier.

But you can't limit it to life or death. There are so many things that are actual, real, physical or mental concerns (and by mental I mean psychiatric) that would mean a woman's safety and sometimes the safety of those around her would be in danger if she continued the pregnancy. Even if her life wouldn't end, she could suffer permanent disability, or kill someone else.

As long as there is a self-defense charge, a woman must have the right to abort if her health is in danger, even if her life is not. To do otherwise is to deny women the right to protect themselves from harm. We allow people to use the self-defense charge when they kill someone even if the person was psychotic, not aware they were harming someone, or did so on accident, so the argument that a baby is not being malevolent does not hold up. If the woman's health or safety is in any danger, it is self defense and must be legal. And if you think otherwise, you really can't call yourself pro-woman.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs Fails

According to Maslow's hierarchy of needs, we will focus all our energies on the lowest level of needs that are not met. For example, if we aren't breathing, we will not care about anything else but breathing again.

The thing is, though, besides breathing, homeostasis and excretion, it doesn't really work that way in certain people. Once we get past the lower levels, we will always care about the highest level we've achieved even if we start to fail on lower levels, but we're supposed to still put the lower levels first. For example, we will care about having friends even if our health is very bad and we lack health security, but we're still supposed to put our health first.

And yet, so many people today don't function like that. I know a girl who lacks security of health, of resources, and of property and at times even the physiological need for food. And yet she still cares more about self-esteem, respect of others, and spontaneity. She's focused at the top of the pyramid when she should be focused at the bottom.

Anorexics lack food and homeostasis and still care more about self esteem and respect of others. Many, many people today forgo sleep for security of employment and of property, or even just for friends. Many others forgo sex and sexual intimacy for confidence and respect of others; indeed, respect and achievement in out culture surpass almost all other needs. Why? Are we a culture of the mentally unbalanced? What drives us to forgo our basic needs for higher needs? If one actually acheives self-actualization and enlightenment, I can understand losing the need for all but the most basic needs, and of those they could even lose the need for sex. But the people I spoke of above, they aren't Buddhist monks. They're ordinary people who get their priorities screwed up. How does a person get to that point? What wiring in their brain comes undone?

My father always told me my priorities needed to be as follows: My health (physiological and security of health and body needs), my schoolwork (to provide, eventually, security of employment, resources, and property), then my friends and family. Is it so hard to follow?

The girl I mentioned above is allowing herself to suffer and potentially either cause irreparable harm or die (though I suspect when the need to breathe and maintain homeostasis kicks in she will reconsider how much the respect of others matters to her) because of pride. Pride has ruined more lives than any other emotion. I don't object to pride on principle, there's nothing wrong with being proud of yourself, but when we let it get away from us... The results are devastating.

Priorities. Come on people.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

A little followup... this post on circumcision.

A new study has shown that male circumcision has a even higher rate of protection against STDs and HIV than expected, at 59%. It was previously thought to be about 50%. Of course, the argument about this meaning that circumcised men will not use condoms, thinking they are safe, has been trotted out again. Obviously condoms are much more effective than circumcision at preventing the spread of HIV and other STDs. They have about a 10% failure rate for HIV transmission in normal use-- meaning there's a 10% chance that a man who uses a condom every time and has sex with an HIV-positive woman will get HIV anyway. But a circumcised man who doesn't use condoms has a 41% chance of getting HIV from an HIV-positive woman. In addition, condoms protect women from HIV-positive men and circumcision does nothing for them.

This clearly means that circumcision shouldn't be touted as an answer to HIV, right?

Well, no. But those who are against circumcision aren't really looking at the real information here. Of course you can't tell a person who is circumcised that they are fully protected, they aren't. BUT. An uncircumcised man using a condom has a 10% chance of getting HIV from a positive woman. A circumcised man using a condom has a 4.1% chance. So an uncircumcised man is more than twice as likely to get HIV from a woman who is positive. That's pretty significant, and it could be used to argue that much the same way as people should use condoms AND hormonal birth control if they want to protect against pregnancy, because the risk is so decreased (condoms have a 14% failure rate, the pill has a 5% failure rate, so when you use them together there's only a 0.7% failure rate), men should both be circumcised and use condoms to prevent HIV.

However, even that's not the full story. Let's say you live in the United States, where 0.6% of adults (which we are assuming is your dating pool) are HIV positive. That means there's probably about a 0.6% chance that any given partner of yours would be HIV positive, if you don't know their status and you don't know if they have any risk factors, obviously the numbers would change if they were a drug user or something and obviously they would change in the other direction if they were a virgin.

Now, the risk of infection for an uncircumcised man from one exposure to an HIV positive woman without using a condom is 3%. So the risk for an uncircumcised man of getting HIV from a woman of unknown HIV status, without using a condom, would be 0.018%. The risk when using a condom would be 0.0018%. The risk for a circumcised man, using a condom, with a woman of unknown status, would be 0.000738%. Both are pretty low rates and the difference is actually only 0.001062%.

I'm kind of the opinion that the benefits in preventing HIV and other STDs is sufficient to outweigh the risks of any complications from the procedure itself, but probably not enough to warrant doctors encouraging patients to do so, so ultimately, it should neither be considered necessary nor harmful and should be up to the parents and their cultural and religious needs, until more evidence is in. Still, I find it interesting how the studies are being manipulated to support one side or another.

Also, if you are going to post comments, please be aware that I don't really care to hear middle-aged men blame their lack of sexual prowess on their circumcision. If your significant other hates your sex life, then however convenient it might be to blame something you had no control over, your time and energy would probably be better spent giving her a massage and engaging in some roleplay.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

And if you think HIV doesn't cause AIDS, I'll probably laugh in your face.

Apparently the HIV virus is most effective in people of African descent due to genetics.

Add to that the fact that a parasitic worm common in contaminated water sources, like in third-world countries, can increase the effects of AIDS and I am beginning to see why so many people in Africa, and African-Americans, think that HIV was engineered to kill black people.

Think about it-- it targets one race, a race that has a long history of being subjugated simply because they were unlucky enough to live in a region of the world that can't support agriculture and domestication of animals well enough to give them a competitive edge. The people who are most affected by it are Africans/African-Americans, poor people, people who have multiple partners, drug users and homosexuals. It's incurable, only treatable with expensive and complicated drug regimins, and can even pass to children from mothers. Basically, if there was a designer illness made up by right-wing mad scientists (right wing because it targets promiscuity and homosexuals), HIV sounds like a pretty good bet.

Of course, I don't actually beleive it is, for two reasons-- first of all, we already figured out that the original HIV was in monkeys and passed to humans through hunters in Africa handling monkey blood. Second of all, there are major flaws in the design from a mad-scientist perspective. First of all, it's got such a long dormant period. While a certain dormant period is required for a disease to be successful, 10 years just to have the first symptoms is pretty excessive, and in that time people can successfully reproduce, and there's a chance that their kids won't get it-- not a super chance, but a chance. Also, it can ONLY pass through blood or semen, so it's limited to people who are exposed to those things coming from multiple people. Doctors and nurses who handle open wounds and needles are a high-risk group, which doesn't make much sense from a mad eugenicist's perspective because we need doctors and nurses. And because of rapes, many people who the eugenicist probably wouldn't want to wipe out have been dying.

Basically, it's too slow to transmit, too slow to kill, and too easy to affect people you actually want to keep around. Besides, if any government or organization was actually racist enough to commit such a heinous crime they'd probably have it attack Native Americans, Asians, Indians, Arabs, etc as well. Or some up with a different disease to do that.

Still, it's really no wonder why so many conspiracy theorists and even normal people believe HIV is man-made. Oregon State University did a study in 2002-2003 that said 48% of African-Americans believed HIV was a man-made virus, 27% thought it was made by the US government and 15% thought it was designed as a form of genocide. I'm sure this new research will probably only fuel those opinions, and I can understand why they persist, no matter how detrimental they are to public-health campaigns.

I'll go put on my tinfoil hat now...

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Delicious, nutritious frankenfruit

And in continuation of my last post... GMOs.

Genetically modified organisms. For consumption. The HORROR!

Actually, I strongly support GMOs for several reasons. First of all, I have no squick factor about eating something that's not "natural," in fact, I hope they come up with lab-grown meat soon. After all, pretty much nothing we eat is remotely close to it's original state unless you are a hunter, or a naturalist. Corn was originally a tiny grain, teosinte. Tomatoes? Bred to be bigger, meatier, and redder. In fact, most of the food we put in our mouths has about as much in common with their untampered ancestors as a pug has with a wolf.

But surely genetic modification is different!

Plant breeding is genetic modification. The only difference with GMO vs. heavy selective breeding is that GMO allows us to introduce gene combinations that we want, rather than waiting for them to appear at random. So if we want a papaya that won't get attacked by a certain fungal infection, and the fungal infection doesn't attack pineapples because the pineapples have a certain chemical in their skins, we don't have to wait for a random mutation in the papaya to protect it, we can simply make the papaya produce the pineapple chemical. Then, we can test the fruit and make sure it's safe and still tastes the same, and if it does, voila, problem solved.

We can genetically modify food so there's much less unusable waste, so it takes up less space, and so it has less impact on the environment. We can make it so it doesn't need pesticides or fungicides. We can even make it more nutritious and grow in poor soils or where there's not much water, so people in third world countries can grow them and thus fight famines.

The only reason we aren't already doing such wonderful things with GMOs is that they are all patented by the corporations that designed them, and what's more, those corporations program their plants with a "kill" gene that makes them die after a year and their seeds useless. As a result, farmers keep having to go back and buy more, which is good for the company but sucky for the farmers, and impossible for poor subsistence farmers.

So I love GMOs in theory, and I certainly wouldn't hesitate to eat a GMO crop-- they're pretty heavily tested before going to market. But what I think needs to change is the following:

1. Some government funding going from international food aid to developing GMOs that are nutritious, safe, and grow in extremely poor conditions-- and have no kill gene.

2. Require companies that develop kill gene GMOs to pay taxes to go to the above.

3. Regulate, regulate, regulate. Test everything. Not that they don't do this already, but it's still a good idea.

4. Encourage GMO companies to contribute to a pro-GMO public awareness campaign talking about safety etc. They'd do it in a heartbeat, I'm sure.

5. AS much as I hate to admit it... require GMO labeling. If there's GMOs in it, the consumer should know. It's only fair and it makes it look less sneaky and dishonest.

But regardless of the issues, I don't get the anti-GMO crowd. It's not going to kill you. In fact, it might be healthier for you. Get over it.

Monday, July 7, 2008

The organic problem...

There are few things I understand less than people who buy organic food when they can't really afford food, period.

Nonaestima is like that. She's currently unemployed and ran through most of her savings, and since she's fresh out of college she wouldn't qualify for unemployment. Ryter is paying her part of the rent, a fairly hefty financial burden, and she can't get on the lease yet because she's not employed. And yet, she insists on eating organic foods only.

Let me clear something up first of all. For people who do not have a history of bad reactions or allergic reactions to pesticide traces, who wash their foods before they eat them, there is NOTHING WRONG with non-organic fruits, vegetables, and grains. There is NO SIGNIFICANT DIFFERENCE in health benefits or quality; the environmental impact is slightly better but you're even better off sticking to local and seasonal foods.

Pesticides on fruits and vegetables shipped to or used within the US are tested for safety. The only time non-organic pesticides should be a concern is if you have a small pet, like a rodent or a lizard, that eats the veggies or fruits, because such a small animal might have a theoretical problem from eating foods with pesticides. Do I agree with pesticide use? Not entirely. I don't like many pesticides, as an ecologist. But I also know they won't hurt ME, and that the current organic labeling system is bullshit. So I'd buy organic meats, maybe, and certainly organic liver; organic farmed fish are preferable as well; but for fruits and veggies, I'll buy what looks freshest, what's local, and what's in season (because that means it's not shipped from the Southern Hemisphere).

But I don't fault people who buy organic food in general. It's not my problem if you want to spend more for the same thing with a pesticide derived directly from plants instead of from a chemical derived from a plant or mineral extract. My beef is with people who insist on buying it when they could barely afford the non-organic version.

A can of regular beans is what, 40 cents? Organic beans are closer to a dollar, and almost never on sale. So basically people are deciding to take in half as many calories, but they're "better" calories somehow? Despite the fact they come from the same species of bean, canned in the same way? Sure, many people are overweight and can benefit from eating fewer calories, but in my experience, the poor young professionals who insist on organic-only are also the skinny types who really can't afford to be skipping meals. And in the case of Nonaestima, she's also recovering from abdominal surgery and a recent hemorrhage. Not the time to lower caloric intake.

I've even read about people complaining that the WIC offices don't allow organic foods. Now, I have a few issues with the WIC food lists, namely that as far as I can tell they only seem to include crappy, sugary, heavily packaged foods and a person living on them probably wouldn't get anything near proper nutrition, which is supposedly the point. But ORGANIC foods?

Know the term "beggars can't be choosers?" Call it un-PC, but if you can barely feed yourself normal food, you don't get to be picky. I want to see things like seasonal, inexpensive fresh fruits and veggies included on WIC lists, but it's completely irrational to expect them to let people who clearly need food aid desperately enough to qualify for WIC (and it's not just based on income level, there's a bunch of qualifiers) buy expensive organic foods that really have no difference. And people will refuse food that isn't organic! FREE food! Call me a penny-pincher but I always like free food, even if it tastes like crap. Oy.

Ultimately, I guess if you want to starve yourself rather than eat perfectly good non-organic foods, that's your right. But don't refuse gifts of food, or ask that gifts be organic only, or demand that the government help you pay for your fancy organic food. Because non-organic food won't kill you, and to be honest, most of the time it tastes just as good or better.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Free Range Kids

Here's a promising blog by Lenore Skenazy, author of “Why I Let My 9-Year-Old Take The Subway Alone,” a controversial New York Sun article.

She raises an interesting point. I grew up doing all manner of nasty things, eating snow, playing in the dirt and the woods, etc. I think that's part of why I'm so healthy. And I did "dangerous" things sometimes too-- played in the street and the woods, went for walked by myself... At the same time, there are things that I think get progressively more dangerous each year. For example, my mom rode in a car without a seatbelt and was fine as a kid. However, at the time there were fewer cars on the road, fewer instances of drunk driving, and thus, fewer accidents.

The same is true of certain health concerns. I probably wouldn't want my kids to share toothbrushes or anything. That's not because I think there is anything inherently dangerous about sharing toothbrushes, and I did it sometimes as a kid. However, thanks to antibacterials, the germs today are a lot nastier than they were back then.

Cars are faster and drivers are stupider; I wouldn't want my kid crossing busy streets without me at least watching until I was VERY confident in their judgment. The same thing is true for letting them ride a subway or bike to school. I would want to be very confident that they knew what to do if something went wrong. As for snow and playing in the woods, eh, if the snow is new and I know where the kid is it's probably gonna be fine. It's a question of the world changing. More people close together means more danger. Nastier germs means more danger.

Would I bubble-wrap my kids? Hell no. Especially not as pertains to germs. If my kid eats food that fell on the floor, good for them for not wasting it. If they drink from the toilet, well, I might want to intervene. Washing hands after pooping, clearly a good idea. Drinking from the garden hose? My mom's rule was, don't put your mouth on the actual spout and you're fine.

It's about risk analysis. Fecal-oral transmission is a good way to get a whole mess of nasty illnesses, but the illnesses you get from the kitchen floor, not so much. Antibacterial sprays and soaps are good for daycares (lots of germy kids in one place) and bathrooms; elsewhere they are literally overkill. Helmets are a good idea for biking on hard pavement; they're not so needed for sledding on soft snow. I'm not too worried about abductions, but if my kid is out alone I'm gonna want to give them a cell phone in case they get lost or are out after dark. And yeah, there are a lot of things that were perfectly safe in 1950 that I wouldn't let a kid do today, simply because the world is not as safe. There are more people, thus, more dangers. Playing street hockey on a quiet cul-de-sac is not one of them.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

And none of this means "natural" = "good"

I've been reading a lot of "natural mothering" sites lately, because crazy people amuse me.

Anyway, there's one thing that's been interesting me. The idea of "child-led weaning." Aka, you don't actively wean, you wait until your kid chooses not to breastfeed any more all on their own. Which usually means mothers nursing 4 and 5 year olds. It also leads to tandem breast feeding when new babies arrive (breast feeding your 5 year old, your 3 year old, and your newborn all at the same time).

Now, I don't see anything wrong with extended breast feeding per se, as long as the kid gets other foods, gains weight at a normal rate, and stops before they start school/daycare/major social interactions with peers who think it's weird so as to prevent social issues. And as long as the mother isn't pressuring the kid to breastfeed, either, which some moms seem to do. And I also don't think a mom should wean to formula, unless of course she has to for some reason. Breast milk's always best until the kid can drink cow's milk, if a mom can nurse sufficiently, formula's pretty much useless.

At the same time, what I object to is the idea that child-led weaning is "natural" mothering. Or "natural" at all. Because let's face it. Mammals wean their young. They do. Actively. At least humans don't kick their babies in the face to wean them, like grazing animals do. Natural mothering involves active weaning when the mom decides it's time to end it. If the kid self-weans before the mom was ready, great! But natural weaning means the mom stops the kid if the kid doesn't stop themselves fast enough to suit them.

What's more, tandem nursing? NOT natural. Not at ALL. I mean, obviously tandem nursing occurs for multiple births, and occasionally for animals-- or humans-- who nurse the offspring of a dead mother. But this idea of continuing to nurse the older child while pregnant and then while nursing a newborn? That's not "natural." Animals don't DO that. Humans in hunter-gatherer societies don't do that. IN fact, as far as I can tell, the only people who do that are modern hippie types.

In nature, animals wean #1 pretty much as soon as they can tell that they are pregnant (aka when they've got , so that they will have the energy and food supply for #2. The first child, at that point, is usually developed enough to survive on normal food. Meanwhile the second child needs all the colostrum and breast milk (and energy) the mother can devote to it. To tandem nurse would create a dangerous situation for the mother and more importantly, the new baby.

Now, obviously first-world humans don't have to worry about limited food supply or predators attacking a child. And honestly, if someone wants to tandem nurse, whatever, it probably won't hurt them. But it's not "natural" parenting. It's about as unnatural as it gets. Just saying.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Abortions for some, miniature American flags for others...

A Yale student told the press that she intentionally impregnated herself and aborted the fetuses for an art project.

This of course sparked much outrage, until she revealed it was a hoax. She's a performance artist, and the point was to get a rise out of people. It also sparked much debate, because everyone tended to agree that the idea was sick and wrong, and yet, many of them also supported reproductive rights.

My reaction, before I learned it was a hoax, was not quite the same as some-- I was concerned that she was mentally ill and should be detained in much the same way that a person is detained for attempting suicide, because she was taking dangerous herbal abortifacients without a doctor's supervision. Also, I was appalled that any school would allow the display of an "art" exhibit involving dead human tissue, which is a blatant violation of health codes. So yeah, naturally, I thought she should have been stopped, evaluated by a psychiatrist, and the display destroyed.

But at the same time, most people were claiming that it was unethical, yet declaring they were pro-choice. This confused me, because they clearly thought she was killing something that should not be killed, and yet, they had no problem if it was done for other reasons. Doing it for art was atrocious; doing it for personal reasons acceptable.

It would be atrocious because it would be disgusting and a violation of health codes, and because she would have been purposely hurting herself in the name of her "art." That's obvious. But let's pretend that she was doing it for some other, more acceptable reason, like she was a scientist who wanted test subjects and couldn't get them from a abortion clinic, or something. And then pretend that she wasn't endangering herself, and ignore that aspect. Let's focus primarily on the other argument brought up: that it was immoral.

If you think a blastocyst is a human being, of course you would consider this immoral. You should then think all blastocysts are human beings, and regardless of circumstances think abortions are immoral (or by the same token, IVF clinics disposing of blastocysts that are not needed are also immoral). I do not agree with this, but I can respect this view because it is consistent (of course, if you're one of those who thinks it's only okay when YOU do it, all respect disappears).

And the reverse, if you think it is NOT a human being, you should then consider this strange and disgusting, but not strictly immoral because she's simply expelling tissue she does not need, even if she then has a strange purpose for it. That was my general impression. Now, I don't think it would be the same if she had pretended to abort a 6-month-old fetus, but she was talking about blastocysts, which are basically a bunch of stem cells. I know when I personally think life begins, and I am a firm believer that barring a danger to the mother's life when there is a choice between saving the fetus or protecting the mother, after that point the mother should continue the pregnancy and chose adoption if she is unable to care for the child. For me, that point's somewhere when the fetus has brain activity and could theoretically survive a premature birth.

But many arguing it was immoral are pro-choice, or partially pro-choice (ie rape/incest abortions are okay). The truth is, I have trouble understanding that veiw. Either it's a person at the given stage of development and killing it is immoral, or it is not a person and killing it is not immoral. It's not more of a person because it was intentionally conceived for the purposes of aborting it. It's not less of a person because it's father was a rapist or also it's grandfather. Once a child is born, we don't make those distinctions; why do we make them regarding those in utero?

Of course, some people argue that it's a child, but it's okay to kill children before they are able to form attachments and shit. Like up until a few weeks after birth. I don't agree with that one either, but hey, if that's your moral belief, you are entitled to it. However, since it's fairly easy to adopt out newborns, I would find the idea strange and a bit disturbing that infanticide would be the first option barring serious deformities that cannot be repaired and would give the child a miserable, short life.

I just can't understand those who set standards based on situation. If a fetus is a human being, how is it immoral to kill them because you can't care for them but not immoral to kill them because you were raped? And at the same time, if it is NOT a human being, how is it immoral to create them with the intent of destroying them but not immoral to create them accidentally and then destroy them?

The mother's intent, some say. But by that token, if intentional creation and abortion is murder, accidental creation and abortion should be manslaughter. We punish people for that. You have to research and decide. Where do you, personally, beleive that life begins? At conception, when the genetic code is set? Implantation, when pregnancy begins? When the heart begins to beat? When they can survive outside the womb? But once we decide, we should stick to it, and consider all fetuses at the same age equal barring medical situations.

Also, to clarify, in terms of law, I think that the law should allow abortion until the fetus could survive a premature birth with reasonable interference levels (so no partial-birth or late term). After that, only for medical concerns, and always the mother's life and health should come first. Because of the variety of opinions on when life begins, before the fetus can be removed from the body and given away the law should butt out.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Alternative Medicine and the Great Pharmaceutical Conspiracy

I am, in my heart, a skeptic.

That is to say, I don't tend to form opinions about things before researching them, and I can recognize real research as opposed to the biased stuff.

However, I believe in the power of yoga, massage, and tai chi to improve health, because I understand that such things are relaxing and good for the muscles, and relaxation improves health. I believe herbal remedies often work very well, because honestly, almost every medication we have today was derived from some form of plant or animal product that someone, somewhere, probably used to heal patients. Of course, they're way more useful, potent, and free of toxins in the refined form. I think DOs are a perfectly acceptable alternative to MDs and I would go to a licensed chiropractor for joint and back pain that did not respond to painkillers (though not for anything else).

So when I say I am a skeptic, I'm not the kind of person who thinks that all alternative therapies should be outlawed, or that any therapy that has not yet been tested in clinical trials must be completely useless. The truth is, clinical trials take time and money. Pharmaceutical companies can ensure that they have the safest and most effective product by charging high rates for their medications and trying those medications out on anyone who will volunteer or accept payment for it. It's usually many many years after the invention of a product that doctors even start hearing about it, much less the general public (the exception being new drugs that might cure some horrible and incurable disease, like cancer or AIDs, which the media loves even though it seems like 80% of them turn out to be dead ends).

Meanwhile, "alternative" medicine's inventors and promoters usually have certain traits in common: First of all, they are not affiliated with a licensed pharmaceutical company, usually because they either have decided Big Pharma is evil (a common problem in our society), because they do not have the credentials required to work for such a company, because any pharmaceutical company will look at their idea and say it's not worth the investment because it's so unlikely to work compared to the cost involved to develop it, or, and this is rare, because the pharmaceutical companies do not want the product to be made as it will not make them any money.

For example, medical marijuana? Pharmaceutical companies are just NOW starting to investigate it as a serious pain reliever, and they will never market it unless it is completely refined and processed because they're hardly going to make money if they announce that we can grow an effective painkiller in our backyards with absolutely no need for them. They are a business. Does that make them evil? No. They're still gonna look into it, and maybe whatever they come up with will be safer and more effective than smoking pot and it will be great. But they're a business. And if they weren't a business, where would the enormous amount of money required to research, develop, and test new medications come from? I don't know about you, but I sure as hell would prefer a business in charge of making sure my pain pills work so well that I keep buying from them and not their competitor than the government to be in charge of churning out the cheapest possible medication to shut me up while they lower taxes.

Anyway, back to the subject at hand. Alternative medicine. If a practitioner has decided that Big Pharma is evil, they have shot themselves in the foot, because there are three places that a practitioner can get the money and resources to turn an alternative therapy into a mainstream makes-lots-of-money one: Pharmaceutical companies, universities with a bunch of bored grad students, and the government. Strike out the biggest one-- pharmaceutical companies-- and you can have your research done by the lowest-bidder government or the universities, who have to apply for grants which most often come from-- you guessed it-- the government, or private industry like a pharmaceutical company. As it is, universities do a lot of testing on alternative medicine, but they can't do it in the same organized, methodical way that a pharmaceutical company with a lot of money riding on it can.

Now let's assume that they didn't go into it hating pharmaceutical companies, and instead applied to them and were turned down due to lack of credentials or the compnay thinking it was a poor investment. If they have insufficient credentials, then they should either go back to school and get the needed credentials and see if they still think that chelation will treat autism, or find someone who does have the credentials who is similarly interested. Chances are if they don't have the credentials and can't get them, or get someone with them to take an interest in their work, their work is based on that dream they had last week and not on actual rational thought, and you shouldn't be using it.

But what if they have the credentials, but the pharmaceutical company simply decided not to invest in whatever they are supporting? Well, that doesn't mean that Big Pharma is out to get them. They're gonna spend the same money on clinical trials and effectiveness studies if they are researching a new cancer wonderdrug as if they are trying to determine if Kombucha tea does anything to the body except look gross. They're gonna look through what evidence there is to support the idea, what evidence there is against it, and then yeah, they're gonna pick the investments that appear to be most likely to be worth the cost. And they pick wrong a lot (that's partially why meds are so pricey), but they're more likely to pick wrong if the wrong is supported by previous scientific study than if it's something the promoter pulled out of his ass. Plus, they have to market it to the mainstream, so even if you assume things like vibrational energy are real and most people are simply deluded, if most people will read vibrational energy on their pain pills and think "Uh, yeah, no thanks, that's ridiculous," a company would be stupid to invest in it.

Then, the final choice, the company doesn't want to do it because it's not gonna make them any money. PHARMACEUTICAL COMPANIES ARE NOT CHARITIES. Come on. They have to get their money back somehow, and clinical trials and R&D are expensive. I don't understand why people assume that doctors, lawyers, pharmaceutical companies etc should exist purely to help them, and not ask for anything in return. Honestly, even if the company WAS a non-profit, as many hospitals are, they can't LOSE money. Money does not magically appear because people are sick or in need, unless you're a politician.

The truth is, there are many alternative therapies out there that probably do work well enough that they would pass all the tests and be a worthwhile investment, but they don't appear it on the surface, or maybe they work but the cost outweighs the benefits compared to just taking the current medication, or maybe they work but not as well as (or as safely as) something we already have, or maybe they work but they sound silly and no one would ever buy them. It's a shame, but it's life. Hopefully those alternative therapies can be tested at universities enough to have a legitimate scientific backing to their claims, and maybe they will then be accepted by the more mainstream industries.

However, those alternative therapies are drowned out by the extremes, the coffee enemas, the chelation for autism, the psychic surgery, the fluoridation conspiracy theories-- the ones that quite clearly have no possible validity to them according to anyone who understands science, anatomy, chemistry, biology and in some cases physics. And that's why the potentially good therapies aren't investigated as they should be or accepted by the mainstream. It's not Big Pharma that's causing them strife, it's the fact that they are being lumped in for whatever reason with every other ridiculous and impossible quack therapy that anyone ever made a million dollars off. So alternative therapy practitioners-- stop blaming Big Pharma. Start blaming the snake oil salesmen.


However, at the same time, I don't think that alternative therapies should be restricted unless they are actually dangerous. I think they should have to be tested and approved by the FDA according to the same standards as whatever they claim to be. If they claim to be a medicine or remedy, they should be held to the same safety standards as medicine, and require a prescription or not accordingly. If they are dietary supplements, they should also be tested (the US is atrocious in this regard, we need to have stricter guidelines about labeling and contents of supplements-- I'm sick of guessing if a brand of fish oil tablets will work or not). If it's a food, it should have nutritional information.

And if it's toxic, it should be treated as any other toxic substance. Alternative medications, whether they work or not, can be quite dangerous. At least most mainstream medications contain compounds that are safe in low quantities but will cause you to vomit if you overdose-- you're hardly gonna get that with herbal "supplements." Before alternative therapy can be held anywhere near the standards of conventional medicine it needs to hold itself to the same standards of safety.

Oh, and because I read a story about this on the internet: If your child has an ear infection, GIVE THEM THE AMOXICILLIN, don't wait until their eardrum perforates! Good god, it's an antibiotic, not rat poison. At least, if you must try alternative methods, check in their ear first and don't drop your homeopathic ear drops in through the perforation for several days until the kid is puking and screaming nonstop due to the fact you dumped WATER into their MIDDLE EAR. Good lord, that was horrific to read about.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

New Stuff

I've found a new site to put on my blogroll which is really interesting. Mainstream Parenting Resources debunks all the craziest "natural parenting" quackery, and it's very well written. Check it out.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Circumcision and Medical Ethics

Ah, the circumcision debate.

I've been reading a lot about it lately, which probably isn't good for me, but oh well. I've analyzed both sides of the issue, I watched Penn and Teller's Bullshit on it, I read the medical literature. My conclusion is physically, it's not necessary-- but it doesn't harm them, either.

Circumcision has been consistently proven to not decrease fertility (clearly, Eritrea has a 95% rate of circumcision and they have a population growth rate of 2.5% with 33.97 births per 1000 population), it has been proven to have no effect or a positive effect on sex enjoyment and ability to have sex repeatedly, with all studies stating it had no effect on sex drive, two studies saying it improved and two studies saying it decreased erectile function, with three more claiming no difference, most studies claiming it prevented premature ejaculation, of seven studies, only one claimed it decreased penile sensation, and absolutely no studies claiming it decreased overall satisfaction.

In other words, no impact on sex. At all. No impact on fertility. Complications are very rare (comes from practice all these years) and they can be performed under local anesthesia to prevent pain (and should be, after all, we numb ears before piercing). There's some evidence that they reduce the risk of STDs, including AIDS, but there haven't been enough studies for me to comfortably say that is the case, and anyway, condoms do a much better job. The truth is, medically, there's not really any reason to bother circumcising, and it's just a body modification which we perform for aesthetic and cultural reasons. At the same time, though, it's not actually doing any long-term damage. I think the closest real comparison we have is the idea of piercing ears. Pierced ears are incredibly common, they show up in many cultures, and piercing usually happens when the person is still a child or a teen (ie not a legal adult). They are socially acceptable, and yet, they are body modification-- it is punching holes in a child's body and forcing the skin to grow back around a metal object to produce a permanent hole. They also hurt like all hell if you don't get numbed first.

So the question-- medically, neonate circumcisions (usually, barring complications) aren't needed; thus, are they ethical? Well, pierced ears aren't considered unethical. I don't think I'd want to pierce a baby's ears myself, but I wouldn't stop someone who did so to their kid, and it's quite common. And since there is no long-term pain or disability, there's nothing unethical about doing it as an initiation into a religion or something. People do all kinds of weird shit to their kids in the name of religion, and body modification is a common religious practice, so as long as the kid's life isn't really impacted, I see no objection to that. Provided, naturally, that the religious official performing the circumcision is trained, licensed, and willing to use anesthetic.

But what about people who simply think the circumcised penis looks better? Is it ethical for a doctor to circumcise a boy?

Honestly? I don't think so. I don't really like the idea of doctors doing it. However, at the same time, I think we should have people who are licensed and trained to perform circumcisions for anyone who wants it for their son or themselves. The trouble with doctors doing it is it becomes about "healing" the kid somehow. I say take medicine out of the equation, except in the sense that a person performing a circumcision should have training and licensing, same as someone who does tattoos or piercings, and more so because a mistake could be problematic. Or perhaps list it as a form of plastic surgery or something. I think it should be made quite clear to parents that it is an aesthetic/religious, not medical, choice for them to make.

But ethically, I see no problem with them making that choice. It's not like FGM, where a woman can no longer enjoy sex because her sexual organs have been cut out. The foreskin is a small and relatively insignificant part of the genitalia. Losing it does not cause lasting pain, it does not decrease sexual abilities, nothing. In other words, yes, it is a body modification, yes, it is unnecessary, no, doctors should never suggest it or encourage it for medical reasons (unless there actually IS a medical reason, like phimosis), though they should answer any questions as free from personal bias as possible. At the same time, I think that it is still firmly the choice of the parents and there is nothing unethical about allowing parents to choose to do so to their son. If it bothers him that much, he can have it restored as an adult, same as the girl whose ears are pierced can let them grow back together.

And me personally? I don't really care. I don't practice a religion that cares about foreskins, and while I find circumcision more aesthetically pleasing myself, my opinion on the appearance of my son's penis is irrelevant, what matters is what his future girlfriends/spouse thinks of it. What I find more attractive shouldn't really apply to my son's genitals. So I'll probably defer to my husband on the subject.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Paternity Testing

Tennessee has proposed a new bill that would require mandatory paternity tests for all newborns.

OKay, on the one hand, there are a ridiculous number of children out there who are being raised by men who are unaware that their wife/girlfriend cheated on them and did not have their child, which often would indicate a desire for a divorce; also, many men are made to pay child support for children that they are not related to, nor ever made any effort to serve as a father.

Yet I believe that DNA is not important, it's intent. Once a man decides to raise a kid, he should raise that kid, regardless of the kid's actual DNA...

I don't think it should be mandatory. No way. That's a terrible invasion of privacy and automatically assumes fault on the part of the woman, plus it can give men information they don't want to have. I think it should be offered to all fathers (when the mother is not in the room) for free. They refuse it? Fine. They can never contest the paternity of the child again, because they've made that decision at that point that they don't care about DNA (and I applaud them). Even if at a later point the child is determined to be genetically unrelated, doesn't matter, they made that choice.

If they accept the test, and they are confirmed to be the father, great. If not? Well, if they immediately deny responsibility for the child, then they don't have to take it, as long as they never take on the role of father. BUt if they stay with the mother, start to raise the kid, whatever, then the paternity test will become irrelevant.

Also, once a paternity test is completed, all the DNA and records should be destroyed except for a note on the child's birth certificate. LAst thing we want is that shit on record.

Fathers should be offered one chance to know for sure, for free, with or without the mother's consent, if the child is theirs before they bond with the kid or make financial obligations towards them. One chance. That's it. And in exchange, women should get to subpoena men they believe to be the father for a confidential, free paternity test with the DNA information destroyed immediately afterwards. So women won't be left to fend for themselves, as long as they can reel off a list of all the men they slept with about 9 months earlier. Of course, you would have to require that the entire process would be completely confidential unless the man really is the father.

So in summary:

At birth, the man who thinks he is the father is offered a free paternity test. He refuses, he's the father by default, even if later he learns otherwise. He made the decision to be the father.
He accepts and it's positive, he's the father, and can never contest that.
He accepts and it's negative, he's not the father, and he can immediately sever all ties with the kid and the mom and not be held responsible. OR, he can decide to raise the kid anyway, despite that information, and will be considered the legal father even if he's not biologically related-- a relationship he then can't contest.

At any point, a mother can subpoena a guy she suspects of being a father for a paternity test. The entire process is kept discreet and if the man is not the father, he can go on his merry way and not worry about it. If he is, she can request child support from him and insist he take responsibility.

All DNA samples and anything that could be used against a person later is destroyed, as it would otherwise be self-incrimination and illegal to use it at a later point for a purpose other than it was provided for. That would be very important and have to be specifically mentioned in the law in such a way that the entire law would have to be scrapped and rewritten to get past it.

And for Pete's sake, don't make it mandatory (unless someone is attempting to skip out on the paternity checks). Make it free an readily available, sure. But not mandatory. The law should not be intruding into people's lives in that manner.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Too much of medicine is stuck in the 1950s

I have a question/idea.

I'm hoping to go into medicine. So I read a lot of people's opinions of doctors, and their mistakes, etc. You know, figure out what I should keep in mind. One thing I notice is that a lot of people complain that doctors just have a few medications that they prescribe for everything, and that medication interactions are common, especially if you're taking a lot of different meds. It's understandable; there's like a thousand plus medications on the market and doctors aren't perfect.

The thing about this, though, is, I can't help thinking it would be really easy to fix. All the doctors I've seen have a laptop they carry in to their session with me, so they can check my old medical records against my new info, update their records, etc, without having to carry in folders (they print out a hard copy later, I presume, they have files too). Anyway, they have a laptop right in front of them. Couldn't somebody come up with a program for doctors that enables them to enter a medication name and it immediately comes up with what the meds can treat, what they are normally prescribed for, their various approval ratings (government, etc), their prices, any recent recalls or class-action suits, any side-effects, and any interactions with other drugs? And couldn't that same program be modified so that a doctor could enter the diagnosis, say, "chronic joint pain," and would be immediately provided with a list of medications commonly prescribed to treat chronic joint pain? You could maybe even do a cross-referencing program so that doctors could list current medications and the ones with interactions would be eliminated from the list, for people with lots of medication (obviously unnecessary for someone who's taking only a few pills, but if you get an elderly woman with 25 medications she's on...).

Doctors could prescribe generics when people don't have sufficient insurance to cover the name-brand ones, because they would have access to the generic brand names. Of course, insured people would still get name-brands, because they've proven that the placebo effect means name-brands can work better. They could double-check prescriptions very quickly and could learn if a medication someone was on could be causing symptoms. Better care, less problems to fix down the road, insurance companies win. Better care, patients win. Slight reduction in malpractice lawsuits, happier patients, and more memory space to devote to diagnosing techniques, doctors win. Even pharmaceutical companies would benefit because they could get their lesser-known drugs out and prescribed to patients who are always getting their competitor's medication. Okay, that might be a stretch.

But in the end, if the only people who suffer are pharmaceutical companies and only in the fact that they couldn't get doctors who were quite as devoted to them due to knowing of the top of their heads that they didn't have a lot of recalls or anything, I say that's a win. I have no idea why this hasn't been created and put into widespread use yet. It's not like we don't have the ability, there are online sites that basically do the same thing, but doctors are still relying on memory (at least mine are).

If any computer programmer wants to design this and sell it for millions, feel free to steal my idea, no royalties required. I'd be benefiting as much as anyone.

Now, anyone want to tell me why this wouldn't work, or wouldn't be popular, or how my doctors are actually idiots and there already is something like this out there?

Home Schooling and the Law

So California is requiring that all homeschooling parents have teaching credentials.

I'm not sure how I feel about this. On the one hand, there are a lot of crazy whackjobs who homeschool their children so the kids don't have to learn about evolution or condoms. On the other, public schools can really suck, and homeschooled kids whose parents were actually trying to help the kid are going to get penalized.

Clearly there should be regulations for homeschooling. You can't just let people homeschool kids any way they want, because kids aren't able to make their own informed decisions and therefore should not be at the mercy of their parents' every whim. But teaching credentials? Nah. What I think they should have is the following:

1. If a parent wants to homeschool, they should have to register with the state, or their kid should be considered to be playing hooky. That's pretty standard.

2. The parent can't have a history of physical or emotional abuse of the child, or any other kids. Also think that's pretty standard.

3. The parent should have a high school diploma, or a GED. I know, seems like a no brainer, but apparently a very small percentage of home school parents in the US never finished high school. That's probably a good sign that they aren't qualified to teach their kids.

4. Once a year, the kid should be tested against the standards for kids in his or her year. They do better or equal to other kids their age, they can continue homeschooling. I think this is also common. These tests should also include more than just reading and writing-- if it's required learning at school, and it's not gym/art/music etc, it should be required at home. So cover English, math, and history, but also science, health (even sex ed), and basic computer studies, which are neccessary to survive in the modern world.

5. When the kid reaches middle school material (ie stuff they could theoretically have forgotten since they were in school, as opposed to your basic reading and writing and times tables), the parents should have to get a special Parent Teaching Certification. I'm not talking about holding them to the levels of normal teachers. I'm talking about giving them a test that covers the material they want to teach to the kid. They pass the test, they can teach that material. If they don't, community college classes or back to school. That way you won't get people who are unqualified teaching their kids, but it's also not like they have to know Calculus and have a master's degree to teach middle-school algebra.

6. If the kid is mentally disabled (beyond a learning disability or ADHD, I mean really disabled), the parent should have some kind of degree in working with people with disabilities. Those kids need pretty specialized education, and allowing them to be homeschooled, especially since there's no real way to measure their progress like with most kids, is asking for the system to be abused. Similarly, if the kid is blind, the parent should be able to read and create (write?) Braille and if the kid is deaf, the parent should be fluent in sign language. Now, of course, sometimes you get people who are just too disabled to ever really learn anything. If that truly is the case, like they'll never pass a toddler's mental level, then I understand not making them go into a SPED program that basically will babysit them all day. That would have to be decided on a case-by-case basis. But someone with, say, Down's Syndrome can benefit a great deal from a teacher who actually understands how to work with them, rather than an unqualified parent.

And that would be it. Check on the kid once a year (every six months if you want to be paranoid) to make sure something's sticking, make sure their parent is actually remotely qualified to teach the stuff and not some hick who plans to plop their kid in front of the TV all day, and keep track of who's getting homeschooled. That's all you really need. Do it right, and your homeschool kids won't be able to get a worse education than the public school ones, and it'll probably be better. And hey, to address the social aspect, let homeschool kids join sports teams and clubs at the local high school if they want and offer lots of community programs.

But making parents have the same credentials as teachers seems a bit silly. An education course (usually part of the requirement) makes sense if you need to learn how to effectively teach many different children the same thing all at once and maximize learning. For a parent who teaches one or two kids at once, and always the same kids, it's easy to learn what teaching style the kid needs. What's more, effective teaching strategies for 25 kids are going to be very ineffective for 2 kids. This just serves to make it very challenging for parents to homeschool without addressing the real problems with homeschooling, ie, that it can be abused without anyone knowing, and that no one was enforcing the old rules.

Also, maybe, just maybe, California should try to fix the problems in the public school system before wasting time trying to micromanage home schoolers, who on average are more successful than public-school graduates?

Just saying.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Vaccination and Autism

You know what gets me about the whole antivaccine/vaccines cause autism bullshit?

Well, first of all, obviously vaccines don't cause autism, all the evidence has proved this over and over again. Besides, if it was caused by vaccines it couldn't be heritable, and it is (though not entirely). And kids still get autism even now that there's no mercury in the vaccines. Sorry, find a new scapegoat.

But even beyond that-- let's assume the autism really was caused by vaccines. Autism is a) non-contagious, b) non-deadly, and c) present in a spectrum, with most people within that spectrum perfectly capable of living a reasonably successful or normal life, although they're not really socially adept (neither am I, and I survive). Full blown autism is only about one in 1000 people. So in our hypothetical scenario, there is only a 0.001% chance that getting a vaccine will result in an autistic child.

Compare to the alternative, not getting the vaccine. Let's look at the DTP vaccine. Diphtheria has a 5-10% fatality rate in children under 5 years and a 20% fatality rate in adults over 40. Before the vaccine was invented, a person had a 0.002% chance of getting diphtheria. Also, diphtheria is a heck of a lot worse than autism (not that autism isn't horrible, but at least it doesn't involve open sores). And that is a single disease; things like pertussis, measles, and whooping cough add to the chance that an unvaccinated person will get SOME horrible illness. I mean, unvaccinated children living in our modern, vaccinated society manage to get polio, despite the fact that the virus can't easily perpetuate in a population that is immune to it.

So even using the false hypothesis that vaccines cause autism, it's STILL better to vaccinate, because an unvaccinated child has a greater chance of getting an illness that can be prevented by vaccines than a vaccinated child would have of getting autism. Also, most illnesses that vaccines prevent are far, far more painful, dangerous, and deadly than autism is, even at it's absolute worst.


I'm not a huge fan of over-vaccination, which I define as vaccinating against things that aren't actually going to hurt you too much in the long run, like chickenpox (well, unless you're in your teens or older and never had it as a child), or things that could hurt you, but your lifestyle, age, and/or health make catching a bad case unlikely (like influenza for me, but not for my best friend, who often works with individuals who are high-risk for catching it).

But to prevent polio, diphtheria, rubella... there is no excuse for not vaccinating children against those illnesses. Not even religious objections (will God really stop a person from entering Heaven just because they got a shot? Wouldn't it be a worse sin to not get a shot, and catch and spread the illness, killing yourself and another? And can't you atone and describe yourself as some kind of martyr who was forced into it, anyway?).

Certain vaccines are a public health concern, they should NOT be optional. Even if it meant I had to take a flu shot every year, I'd support legislation that would force all parents to vaccinate their children without exception. If they object, force them to watch a movie about Typhoid Mary. When it comes to serious infectious disease, the government has a duty to restrict the rights of it's citizens enough to protect other citizens, and the more people we vaccinate against a disease, the more likely that disease will go the way of smallpox, no one will ever be at risk again, and we won't need the vaccine any more.

The only reasonable and safe way to stop the widespread vaccination of children is to continue it, even increase it, until it is no longer needed at all. Period.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Guns in our schools-- legally

Apparently Arizona is debating allowing concealed carry rights in school zones, in the wake of all the recent school shootings (and there has been a LOT lately, hasn't there?).

Honestly, this... kind of makes sense. It's really sad that we have to deal with this at all, but you know, we live in a country where it's so easy to get a gun without a permit, we kind of need people who are armed as defense.

I'm not so sure about how young this goes, though. I can see letting high school teachers and staff, even middle school teachers and staff, who have permits and are trained in gun use and safety carry weapons, but honestly, when was the last time a first grader shot up a school? They bring weapons in at that young, but they can usually be restrained/disarmed easily. I guess you could make exceptions if there was a particular danger for an individual, like the case in Oregon where a teacher sued the school district because they refused to allow her to carry a gun when she was worried about her ex husband attacking her (he had threatened to kill her).

Maybe tighten up the standards as to who can get a special permit to carry a weapon at a school? I would say that the standards there should be a little stricter, ie, psych evaluation, take classes on gun safety, and prove that you can effectively use the gun to prevent an attacker from continuing (preferably without killing them, but preventing them from using their weapon or moving). And repeat the entire process every 5 years. At the same time, they could teach potential applicants the procedure should police arrive (basically it would have to be that unless doing so would mean serious injury or death, drop to the floor, take your hand off the trigger or slide the gun over to the cops, and keep your hands where the police can see them-- aka, give them all the signs that you are completely on their side).

I doubt I could ever kill or injure something alive with a gun, but I still support gun rights-- partially because it's in the Constitution, clear and apparent, and partially because I think people should have the right to do whatever they want as long as it's not hurting anyone else. Of course, people need permits and training in use beforehand, because guns are a lot more complex with much more variety than when the Constitution was written, plus people are living closer together and we medicate the mentally unstable people instead of locking them up or trying to exorcise them (this is a VERY good thing, don't get me wrong, but it does mean that a random, dangerous person can stop their treatment and wind up on national television). So yeah, there needs to be regulation. Also, because our culture is very different and kids are less mature at the same ages, obviously kids need to be even more regulated in gun ownership than adults, and no kid should ever be allowed to have a gun in school.

As for college students, I'd say you should keep kids from having them in the dorms or bringing them on campus. If they hunt, they can buy a storage locker somewhere. It's not that I don't think college students should defend themselves against attackers, it's just that I am a college student, and I know college classes, and honestly, I'd feel safer if one loner comes to campus and I can't be defended from them than by allowing your average college student to have a gun...

On second though, better ban it for middle school teachers too. I always was amazed that my middle school teachers didn't try the "going postal" route. Clearly, destined for sainthood.

Sorry if that was rambling, what are your thoughts on gun control?

Friday, February 8, 2008

This concept of "wuv" confuses and enrages us

I know this is in Italy and I'm not supposed to be reading the news anyway, but this is ridiculous. A court in Italy decided to severely reduce a 34-year-old man's sentence for having sex with an underage (13 year old) girl because they decided there was "real love" between the pair.

First of all:

In Italy, the age of consent is 14, so this is like the equivalent of in the average US state (where consent is usually about 16) a 36 year old and a 15 year old. So sketchy, illegal technically, but don't think of it as quite the same thing legally as a 30 year old and a 13 year old in this country.

HOWEVER, the reason behind the sentence reduction was not "she was only a year away from being able to consent, so we'll reduce it on those grounds" but it was "they loved each other."

Here's the thing. The law says a 13 year old can't consent to sex, she can't consent to sex. Period. Well, she can, but it's invalid consent-- like if a completely plastered girl consents to sex, that's invalid (of course in that case, she may have had a standing consent with a guy that it was okay for him to have sex with her while she was drunk, like if they were dating. Someone who is underage could not have done that, since they have never previously been able to give valid consent). According to the laws of consent, when a person who is underage consents to sex, their words are essentially meaningless, and only affect whether or not the crime is "statutory rape" or just "rape."

And yet according to this Italian court, if the girl "loves" the man (maybe she did, doesn't matter) and he loves her, then her consent becomes valid. Despite the fact that nothing in her brain changes when she thinks she loves the man that makes her judgment better and makes her older.

Ultimately, though, what really bothers me is that this is a moral decision on the part of the judge. According to this judge, sex + love = okay, sex + no love = bad. And even though I personally agree, I don't think that that is a decision the courts should make. This is saying that a teenage girl who has sex with an older man because she thought he was hot and wanted to have sex was somehow coerced and unable to consent, but one who wanted to have sex with an older man because she felt she truly loved him was NOT coerced.

It's saying that women/girls would NEVER have sex willingly unless they loved the man and the man loved them (could also be saying the same for young men, but I doubt it; anyway, that's irrelevant). Which is not true and a moral judgment of women who have sex with people they do not love. If the judge feels that that is immoral, fine, but it shouldn't come into the courtroom. Judges should go by the law, not their own moral codes, if they live under a truly secular government, which Italy claims to have.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Technically I'm not supposed to think about this stuff, but...

I've been thinking about Israel a lot lately.

I used to think that while the Palestinians shouldn't be bombing Israel, it was wrong of the UN to give Palestine to the Jews in the first place, because someone already lived there, and that it was also wrong of the Israeli law to treat the Arabs differently than they treated Jews.

I still think that Israel needs to provide non-Jews with more rights and equality. I abhor a religious state, and while Israel is not at the level of the surrounding nations, not by a long shot, they clearly value the Jewish religion above all else. I would feel differently if, say, the Law of Return applied only to ethnic Jews, as in, people who are actually of Jewish ancestry by blood, instead of this business of "if your mother was a Jew or you converted to Judaism," which is a religious definition, not an ethnic one. I understand that Jews are persecuted worldwide and I understand the value of a homeland. I want Tibet to be returned to the Tibetans, too. But a Jewish state should be a state of ethnic Jews, not a state of Jewish religion. A blonde, white, Caucasian Jewish convert with the last name Smith is not really going to be persecuted on the same level as a dark-haired, olive skinned ethnic Jew with the last name Goldstein. What's more, the Law of Return completely ignores ethnic Jews who are not practicing, or whose mothers were not Jewish.

They also have a tendency to deny residency and immigration rights to Israeli Arabs under the pretext of preventing terrorism, and they tend to place predominantly Jewish towns before Arab towns. Not to mention the whole Dome of the Rock issue. There's a lot of racism and religious persecution, which happens every time a bunch of people who were once a persecuted minority become the majority. So I still think their laws need to change, same as I feel for most countries.

However, I've been looking at their history, and I've changed my mind about whether they should have been given the nation. Was there racism involved? Yeah, I mean, Britain didn't give up their colony in Palestine for years when the native Arabs wanted it, and then as soon as there was a Jewish majority, they gave it up. I have no doubt but that there was prejudice involved on the part of the UN. That said, even though Jews had not particular right to the land simply because their ancestors lived there, there WAS a Jewish majority when Israel was founded. They got their autonomy fairly. The expansion of the state to gain control of water sources was also reasonable. Doing it to gain Jerusalem for religious reasons or to get more land, not so much.

At this point I've basically decided that I don't support either side, but if I had to choose, I'd support Israel. They have less to do before I would consider them to be a reasonable and just nation; Palestine is basically under Shari'ah law. I think they should pull back, stop occupying surrounding territories and focus on defensive methods, and make their nation more secular. I also think that Egypt and Jordan need to open their borders to Palestinian immigration, since many Palestinians are actually Jordians and Egyptians who came to Israel when the Israelis began to develop the land and provide jobs.

But I don't think it's that easy. I think the entire region is very complicated, and both sides are at fault. And that the next time a nuclear weapon is used in war, it's gonna be on Israel.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Random Stuff

I'm not entirely back yet, but I wanted to share.

This is brilliant. There are companies that basically clean up a person's online reputation for them. I mean, I doubt they could do it for someone who was truly everywhere online, like a public figure. But in an age where an ex, a disgruntled friend, or a drunken night out can destroy your reputation, the idea of having a company that can clear the internet for you, or at least get the worst of it, is very appealing. I applaud him, he'll get rich very quickly.


Also: Sperm cells have been created out of the stem cells of a woman. In other words, they've figured out a way for lesbian women to have biological children someday (and they're working on the male equivalent).

I have totally been predicting that this technology is inevitable for years. While I'd rather people adopt than go through a complicated and expensive process to have biological children (also applies to in vitro fertilization, not a comment about sexuality), I do think that if lesbians had their own biological children and the kids grew up fine it might help their case. Also, from a science/biology perspective, FASCINATING. Making a sperm cell out of stem cells is an incredible idea. If I didn't think it would end with a religious nut fire-bombing my laboratory I think it would be fun to go into a career as a stem cell researcher.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

I am working through some personal problems right now and will not be online for a while until I sort them out. Internet use seems to be contributing to them, so I'm on hiatus for a while.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Of course, it could mean more fat people...

So recently the FDA approved cloned meat, and there has been talk of growing meat in labs for years. This has got me thinking about the future of human food production.

I think that we are very close to mass-produced meats that were never attached to animals. And I think that's a good thing for us. Yeah, I'm mostly vegetarian so I think there's a lot of value in meats that did not involve an animal dying, but more than that. Think about it. Factory farming is very cruel but it's currently the only way to efficiently produce food for a large population. Yet with every generation there are more people that object to it and more laws regulating how animals can be treated. Eventually the restrictions will make factory farming nonviable and meat prices will skyrocket to the point where we will be paying $25 for a single chicken breast. That will mean the lower class will not have protein. Lab meat would solve that problem, because it would not have such animal welfare restrictions.

Then there is the sheer burden of all farming. Livestock eat TONS of food. That's land that could be used for growing crops for human consumption, or that could be used for development; or maybe just turned into a nature reserve. Plus they produce methane gas (not the primary cause of global warming but still significant) and tons of waste, only some of which can be recycled as fertilizer. You stop farming livestock for food on the current scale and the environment will be much better off. Plus this could be used for fish as well, helping alleviate the terrible impact fishing has on the oceans.

Our population is still growing; lab-grown meat could be produced on a scale large enough to feed the masses. Plus vegans would stop protesting at KFC, and everyone wants that.

Of course, there will always be traditional animal farming. In areas where there is still subsistence-farming, for example. Or in Europe, where they are rabidly against using science on their food for some unfathomable reason. Animal farming will become a niche outside Europe, though, sort of like organic farming is now. Much smaller scale, much more expensive. Much easier on the environment (and the meat would be safer too, less illness).

But for the most part people will eat safer, cheaper, better-tasting meats (and cheeses and milks, though maybe not eggs, dunno how that would work) made in a lab. That's one future prediction I don't think is unrealistic or naive to make.

And yes, I would eat a hamburger made in a laboratory. I might even add laboratory bacon.

Saturday, January 12, 2008


There was a discussion on Feministing that moved from talking about why men can't cry to a discussion with a single poster about how he, personally, cannot feel emotion and thinks that the human race would be better off without it because they would not feel suffering.

Here's the thing. I believe that there is a powerful value to emotional suffering. We may not realize it at the time, but emotional suffering can give us strength and make moments when we do not feel it all the more powerful. If you never suffer, you never really fully live.

What's more, there is a lot more to emotion than pain. Most emotions are not painful. The poster I was discussing it with says he does not need love, though it's not really a question of needing. When you feel love, anything is more bearable. Starving? That's okay. Poor? You can bear it. Ostracized from society? Sucks, but you can pull through. The emotion doesn't just tie you to a person, it makes all the negative aspects of your life no longer seem as bad while still making you want to eliminate those aspects-- not for your own sake, but for the other person's. And yeah, love can end in pain. But unless it was an unusual amount of pain-- like you break up and they burn down your house and kill your brother, which is why I don't recommend dating people who are batshit insane-- in the end, the remembered emotion and the drive to find it again, to make the parts of your life that you can't control better, makes the pain worth it.

And passion, which is literally the driving force behind science, medicine, and art. Why study ecology, for example, especially if you're not doing it for money like most early ecologists? Because you have a passion for nature. You are passionate about what you are learning. Why travel the world and learn about other cultures? Because you care about the people, because you feel awe at the natural and man-made wonders. Most early scientists made no money except what they got from patrons, but they loved what they did, they wanted the prestige of discovery (pride) and they were passionate about their work. Otherwise everyone in Ancient Greece would have been landowners or farming serfs, and there would have been no interest in the arts or science, thus eliminating our basis for modern scientific method. Most of our inventions in daily life are born of necessity, not passion, but they could not have been made without practical application of theoretical ideas that gave no material benefit to the scientist who came up with them-- only the thrill of discovery. And even if you say "They do it because they will get more support from benefactors" keep in mind, what gain are benefactors getting, besides learning more about that which they are passionate about?

To an outside observer, suffering seems to be the most common emotion. And I guess if you're a starving orphan with AIDS in Africa maybe it is. But suffering's not the most common emotion, just the most visible. I feel very powerful love every single day for my family and my boyfriend. That doesn't mean I'm always singing it's praises or doodling hearts in my notebook. I feel passion every time I write or read something I'm interested in that makes me want to read on, but that doesn't mean I'm telling everyone about it. Suffering is lessened when there is emotional support from others, so we complain about it so that others will sympathize. So I guess to one who feels no emotions, it would appear to be the most prevalent simply by virtue of the fact that that's the one we seek support for. That's the one we talk about.

A person who feels no emotions is only living in the biological sense. If you can't see natural beauty, if you can't wonder at the cosmos or feel passion about your work or get angry with a friend about the idiocy of some politician; if you can't lessen the pain you can't fix through love or experience joy when something wonderful happens to you, you're not really living your life. You're just... living.

Monday, January 7, 2008

If you think this sounds socialist, decent sex ed would cut back on the problem all together...

I was reading an article today about teen mothers in Denver, Colorado who are fighting for the right to have excused absences after they give birth to bond with their children and recover.

I don't think high school girls who get pregnant should ever keep their children. Either abort, or if you aren't comfortable with that, arrange for an adoption. Keeping a child at that young an age is selfish and foolish and I intend to teach my daughters that they are NOT going to be ready to care for a child until they are financially independent and gainfully employed. It has nothing to do with age or marital status, it has to do with financial ability to care for a child independently without being a drain on society.

That said... If a girl DOES keep her child, we have to do something for her. Otherwise she'll just drop out of school, and thus, not be able to properly care for her child. Maternity leave is important for their health and the health of the child-- I would say two months after discharge from the hospital, with work packets to keep up with the course load; one month if she gives the kid up for adoption, to heal. Maybe get volunteer tutors to help, or something (And if they don't come back after that, treat it the same way you would treat a normal teenager who skipped school-- go after the parents). Then, have a childcare facility attached to the school, but, have the caretakers of the children in the daycare be a few supervisory staff members/teachers and then students, who are taking a class in parenting skills and childcare. A teaching daycare, basically. Provide a free service to the teen moms (and teachers) in exchange for a unique opportunity to teach students what it is like to care for children, under the supervision and guidance of professionals. That way, kids who take the class won't want to have kids for a LONG time and mothers can come visit their kids, breastfeed them, etc, during study hall and lunch (they could eat lunch with the kids). Teen dads could even come visit their kids and play with them.

And yeah, wealthier families would put the kids into professional daycares rather than have high schoolers care for them, but the point would be that there would be a chance for girls (or teachers) who can't afford regular childcare to have care for their kids. You could even have slots for children whose mothers are working adults in other jobs, but can't afford normal daycare, for a fee that is greatly reduced from the normal cost of childcare. Basically have the same idea as a teaching hospital, just have it be for childcare.

What do you think?

Friday, January 4, 2008

The best isn't great and the worst is downright dangerous.

I am writing something new, a short story about sexual education. It's not going to be published-- it's just to get out my frustration. Because I am frustrated. About the school system in this country, and how they teach lies and blatant falsehoods.

I get the urge to not teach children about sex in public schools. I get it. There's something to be said for parents teaching that sort of thing themselves, making sure that the kids know everything and are prepared. There's something to wanting to protect them from sexual relationships until they are older, even.

But lying? There is no excuse for a teacher to flat-out lie to a student about the subject matter they are teaching. I mean, a math teacher doesn't sit there and say "2+2=17 because I say so, and if anyone tells you otherwise they're lying." An English teacher doesn't say "Verbs go before the subject." Why can a health teacher say that condoms cause cancer?

And then, if they are honest and simply do not tell students the whole truth (ie don't lie, but don't tell them anything besides "it's best to wait"), it doesn't work and the teen birth rate is increasing. "But that means that we need to increase abstinence-only education! It's a failure of the comprehensive sex ed programs!" the abstinence proponents cry. If that's the case, why did teen birth rates drop steadily after the 90's when there was a massive campaign to teach children about sex, birth control and their own bodies, and the rise only happened after Bush implemented the abstinence-only education requirements to schools that wanted federal funding?

So if they teach abstinence, why aren't kids listening? These educators need to turn on the TV. When every channel and every song and every movie and every one of their peers presents sex as the best thing in the world, and their own hormones are telling them to do it as well, it's natural that they should give in. Abstinence-only educators tell kids not to have sex but they don't teach them HOW to not have sex.

Yeah, I know, that seems pretty obvious, right? You just don't have sex. But you'd be stunned how many kids think that anal sex isn't sex (when it has a higher rate of spreading STDs than vaginal sex) and withdrawal isn't sex (when it has a phenomenally high failure rate and there is a chance of getting pregnant even from pre-ejaculate) and that even if they do have sex, nothing can go wrong if their partner is "clean" and they use some ridiculous form of supposed birth control like douching afterwards (which pushes the sperm further into the vagina, thus increasing chance of pregnancy).

And parents don't teach their kids. Some do, sure, but most don't. They wait for the wedding day to tell their daughters to "just bear it" or slip their sons a dirty magazine and hope they figure it out. As a result, many women AND men think that women pee out of their vagina. I'm sorry, but there is no excuse for that kind of ignorance about human anatomy after a kid goes through twelve years of school. Not to mention how few people can find the clitoris, even their OWN clitoris.

So clearly we need comprehensive sex ed. Including, naturally, abstinence. BUT failure rates of abstinence should be quoted (while the perfect-use pregnancy rate of abstinence is 0%, the actual-use pregnancy rate-- the rate at which women get pregnant when they claim they have been abstinent or when they have taken an abstinence pledge-- is more like 54%), and even more importantly, kids should be taught that masturbation, athletics, yoga, etc can help alleviate desire to have sex and help maintain sexual abstinence. Part of that should be explaining how masturbation works, because while you would think it's a no-brainer, you'd be surprised.

We also need to teach kids about pornography, since they already have access to it. Kids need to understand pornography they might see and be taught to separate the realistic, good stuff-- usually amateurs-- from the fake, degrading, horrible porn one can find on the internet.

What else should all kids know, HAVE to know, about sex before graduation?

-Their own biology and the biology of the opposite sex, structure, terminology, function, and how to locate every single sexual part that is on the outside. This should include erogenous zones, etc.

-How attraction works and sexual orientation as understood by science.

-What, exactly, sex is; the advantages and disadvantages of having sex at various points in one's life, the different kinds of sexual intercourse, sexual outercourse,and foreplay.

-What consent is, what rape is, what gray area scenarios are and how to avoid them, what drug-induced rape is, what statutory rape is (including local laws), what intimate partner rape is, why rapes happen, laws about rape, and what someone should do if they are raped.

-What STDs are, how they are transmitted, symptoms, treatments, cures, and prevention with focus on abstinence and condom use, testing, and abolishing common myths

-What pregnancy is and how, biologically, a person can become pregnant; what sexual activities can result in pregnancy; why it's a good idea to wait to become pregnant until you are financially secure and independent; what are the best ways to prevent pregnancy (birth control); what are the worst ways to prevent pregnancy (myths); how to take a pregnancy test, what to do if you are pregnant (discussion of giving a kid up for adoption, abortion, or raising a kid on one's own with a LOT of help from the community and family).

-What to do if they want to become sexually active and how to know when they are ready.

-What to discuss with any and every sexual partner, like consent, age, contact information in case of a problem, STDs testing history, birth control discussion, and a discussion of limits (ie "I don't do anal").

-All about relationships, including what happens and what they should do if a relationship has problems or becomes abusive

When a sex ed class has all of that before a kid graduates or is able to drop out of school, I will consider it to be comprehensive. And I guarantee we would see immediate positive results-- fewer STDs, fewer date rapes, fewer teen pregnancies, maybe even fewer divorces and more tolerance over all-- if such a program could be reliably implemented with good teachers.