Saturday, November 12, 2011

It's a Tax!

The War on Christmas, like the 'Black Friday' sales, began early this year. Faced with the growing difficulty of explaining how paying the Bush Administrations bills makes Obama a spendthrift and how asking for a smaller stimulus package makes him more reckless than Bush while all the time being a communist, Mau-Mau, Fascist, do-nothing tyrant, the need for ever more idiotic distraction generates the need to elevate even more mole-hills to Himalayan proportions. So this year, it's no longer about how that Muslim Obama and those damned Jews and atheists are at war with Christmas, it's about how that damned tax-tyrant Obama is making us pay more for it ( and costing us jobs. ) Welcome to the new act in the Republican circus: the Christmas Tree Tax.

The Christmas Tree Promotion, Research and Information Order, which was first proposed during the administration of President George W. Bush in response to the yapping of agricultural lobbyist Christmas Tree Promotion Now, gave the President authority to add a 15 cent charge to every tree to be used to advertise and promote Christmas trees. The government will not use these funds, the Christmas tree growers will use the money collected from retailers to promote further sales with the intention, or excuse that increased sales will more than offset the cost. It's kind of a capitalist idea, Republican style -- you know, like the $80 million-a-year beef promotion order imposed during the Reagan administration, or the $8 million-a-year peanut promotion order imposed during the Bush administration. But we're not talking about St Ronald or St George, we're talking about that anti-colonial Kenyan/Indonesian killer of African Christians who hates Christmas and white people.

It's a TAX! scream the headlines and the banshee bloggers. How can we expect anyone to hear the whisper of "it's capitalism" from the rational rest of us? Obama Couldn’t Wait: His New Christmas Tree Tax, howls the headline at The Foundry, the blustery blog of the Heritage Foundation hammering out their daily dumps of hammered, beaten, twisted and red hot baloney. Will there be another headline informing us that the President reconsidered the Bush program and cancelled it?

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

To be or not to be human.

58% of those responding to a CNN poll today answered "no" to the question of whether human life begins at conception. Of course such polls are hardly scientific and they do to some extent select for people who have strong enough feelings to bother and of course for those who can and do read.

Evidently the voters of Mississippi who bothered to vote would have answered the same way and in fact they did so by voting down a proposed constitutional amendment yesterday that would grant 'personhood' to a single celled organism and thereby outlaw not only all abortions but many forms of birth control. Do we see in this some evidence of intelligent multi-cellular life in Mississippi?

I think we do see that more women than usual went to the polls this time, but what I don't see is anyone parsing the loaded questions of what constitutes life and what constitutes the humanity thereof. Certainly both zygotes are alive and the unfertilized egg as well as a sperm cell contains all the DNA needed to produce a human being. It's that DNA that makes us human, of course, and not a monkey or a mouse or an amoeba for that matter and we lack only a bit of technology to produce an adult, or at least an embryo from that helical string of chemicals. It's already been done with simpler creatures. Will we push the "conception" notion so far that we consider a shelf with bottles of cytosine, guanine, adenine and thymine a "baby?" Will extremists insist that we put excess chemicals up for "adoption" as they are suggesting be done with unwanted fertilized eggs?

Every question can harbor other questions. This one harbors a legion. Conception of course is the beginning of a natural process that usually results in a breathing infant: screaming, defecating and urinating as well, as some of us know. But we've done things in a laboratory that make me question the idea that this is the Only way to do it. So should we ask whether personhood inheres to the DNA string, to the zygotes carrying it, which are certainly alive? Is any living thing with human DNA a person and if it is, am I aborting "babies" by shaving in the morning (when I bother to?)

Or is a fertilized egg something that can under the right circumstances develop into something we call human -- develop towards it that is? Simple minds, religious minds, want there to be an instant and yet there are few significant instants in the development of life. Most take time; most evolve. Sure, there's a heartbeat within a few weeks but that applies to earthworms and guinea hens as well and it's not a heartbeat that makes us human. It's something ineffable or at least complex and subjective.

The question of just what does do that is one that's hard for religion alone to answer rationally since, after all the Bible tells us that not only life, but personhood, that word for breath: nephesh ( נָ֫פֶשׁ ) which we usually translate from the Hebrew as "soul" actually means breath, as with God's breath into Adam's lungs. Strictly, or at least Biblically speaking, what does not breathe has no breath, no soul, no personhood - that being something conveyed by God in an instant and with the filling of the lungs. Scientifically speaking, human life began quite some time ago and not in an instant. Speaking for myself, personhood is a characteristic acquired over time, just as apes at some time arrived at the point at which thy could ask such questions as we do.

Laws can't cope with such things however and since there is no point that defines a yes-no, on-off, either-or condition, we must consider the unborn as we might consider Schrödinger's cat: both human and not human until we must make a decision. And it isn't an easy decision. There is somewhere between unconscious flesh and sentience where we need to make the choice dependent on other things as well, such as the survival of the mother, the survival or survivability of the embryo that enter into the choice. It's at the most obvious ends of that evolution from egg to embryo to breathing of air that we make ourselves stupid, not at points near to that hazy zone in which many things must be considered.

I don't think a cell or a cluster of cells is a "baby" nor does the beating of a proto-heart make a citizen. I think an 8 month foetus deserves some -- much consideration if not a passport. It's in that gray zone that we need to decide and that zone is an awfully dim place for the light of reason as well as the fog of faith to penetrate. We need to have mercy on people making such decisions as well as on something that might be human to some and not quite human to others. Thanks to yesterday's vote, there may at least remain some mercy in Mississippi.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Elective Dictatorship or Leadership?

Ron Paul, I like you - I really do. I like it when you denounce our military adventurism and imperial urges. I share your distaste for prosecuting harmless, consensual acts and I don't think either of us like having a government dictate morality according to some chosen religious standards.

I couldn't agree more that we need to keep the governmental nose out of our personal choices that don't infringe on other people's rights. I think we have an inherent right to be left alone too, but when you assert that that same government can force a woman to continue a pregnancy I find it inconsistent. When you proclaim that President Obama is overstepping his presidential powers by taking action to end a dangerous drug shortage, I'm confused. I'm disappointed. Market forces alone aren't going to induce drug companies to make unprofitable products that some people need to stay alive and if they eventually do, it won't be soon enough for someone's mother or sister or child. There are times when the the noli me tangere market approach does not serve the public interest and times when human life is more important than the sanctity of inflexible doctrine.

Yes, I agree that our government was designed to move slowly, for inaction to be the default action as you said yesterday. I even agree that there is an invisible hand in the market, but I cannot understand how you can ignore the sometimes dire consequences of such slow moving or inert systems in a world that moves at a rate inconceivable in 1789.

Sure, eventually drug shortages will tend to rectify because of market forces. 'Tend to' and 'eventually' are expensive words however and the price is often paid in death and suffering. A car tends to steer itself in a straight line, but you know, sometimes someone has to grab the wheel if staying alive is a consideration.

I have to ask you how much needless death and suffering are you willing to force us all to endure to gild the vision of a withered and minimal state where things move only by themselves and the making of money is the only test of righteousness?

Dictatorship? Seriously? Isn't that a bit like calling the guy who pulls your kid out of a well a kidnapper because he didn't apply to Congress in advance through proper channels?

I believe in Democracy as much as you do and perhaps more. I mistrust radical change and I lean toward Libertarianism in many things, but unlike you, I do not belief in faith over fact. If there is a plague, if a dam breaks -- if that asteroid that passed close to us this morning had landed in Texas, I want someone to grab the steering wheel without having his hands tied by doctrines soaked in the tea of Utopian visions.

I have to ask "why now?" Were you as firm in protest of our previous president's extra-legal activities? The signing statements, the treaty breaking, the torture, the illegal search and seizure and surveillance? The wars that have killed hundreds of thousands, destroyed millions of lives and wasted trillions of dollars? Of course you didn't approve and neither did I, but there is a difference between an asteroid and a sand grain. Are we really confusing necessary course corrections with wanton disrespect for law, due process and freedom?

Why now? Or are you just jumping on the Obama Bashing Band Wagon because you're more of a loyal Republican and less interested in doing what needs to be done before too many people die than you'd like to admit?

Friday, November 04, 2011

We'll to the woods no more

"Pardon me if I disappear in Mexico, wearing a mask and strange suspenders. Puncho Villa. Wandering about, speaking my curious 'spagnol. The trees are coming down, we'll to the woods no more, mad mind and black sun. We'd better find an island quick."

-Lawrence Ferlinghetti-

Good luck finding one. If it's worth being there it's been exploited by Mickey Mammon and overrun by vacationers fleeing from their cubicles, like a yo-yo flees the controlling hand, taking pictures of each other pretending to be free at 24% compound interest. A dancing marionette, and every step the puppeteer's.

And the mad mind -- the madness creeping through the cracks in the woodwork, under window sills and door jambs like black blizzard dust bowl silt, until you choke on it. There's no where to go to.

I try to avoid their eyes, hoping I won't have to hear the mad voices, flee the demon words no one can exorcise: don't you agree, don't you agree, aren't we buddies in delusion, nodding together in unhinged harmony, yearning to breathe free? Do what thou wilt! And drink the tea.

The trees are coming down, the woods decay and fall, hosanna turns to brown and withered leaves; every crumb of satori and all our moments that glow in quiet glory. There's a string at the end of it all and its sharp tug and a strong hand to guide us to the door.