You Don’t Get This Sort of Stuff in Scientific Journals

Everyone has that one teacher. You know the one. The teacher that is such an inspiration that you’d thank him or her upon receipt of an Emmy or Nobel. I had several of them. But other than one great chemistry teacher, I can’t say any of them taught science. I’m willing to say that it could have just been me. I had some great math teachers, but they went right past me as well. Had math been taught as a language, my life would have been different, I believe. Math IS a language that explains science. And science is what they do on MythBusters. And I can get down with some MythBusters.

Chuck and I recently watched a PBS program on arctic dinosaurs and learned more about biology and geology in one hour than we learned in 17 years of schooling. Bill Bryson and John Polkinghorne have taught me about astronomy, paleontology, and quantum physics. Mary Roach taught me about cadavers and is now schooling me on the afterlife. Later in the week, she and I will be going to outer space. I get around.

I’m reading Roach’s book Spook, which is about what science thinks about the afterlife. I’ve just finished the section she devotes to ectoplasm. Ectoplasm, as any good GhostBuster knows, is the slime that ghosts leave behind. Or something. Ectoplasm was really big around the turn of the century and on into the 1920s. Your more highfalutin theatrical mediums used everything from cheesecloth to, well, animal entrails to approximate ectoplasm. They would secret away the effluvia to, well, um…here’s an excerpt:

And now I’m going to pass the microphone to William McDougall. For how many chances do we have to hear a Harvard professor hold forth on vaginally extruded extoplasm? “There is good evidence that ‘ectoplasm’ issues, or did issue on some and probably all occasions [from] on particular ‘opening in the anatomy’ (i.e. the vagina),” allowed McDougall in his summary statement for Scientific American. “The more interesting question is–How did it come to be within ‘the anatomy’? There was nothing to show that its position there and its extrusion from that place were achieved by other than normal means.” In other words–please forgive me–she stuck it up there and then she pulled it out.

I’ll just leave it at that, okay? That’s not even the part that struck me as really interesting. It has never occurred to me that conception was “discovered”.  I know, I know. I really SHOULD have paid more attention in science class. I vaguely remember the name Antoni van Leeuwenhoek and, if pressed, could probably have remembered mostly on my own that he had something to do with microscopes. I could not have remembered, however, his sperm work. He and these other science dudes thought sperm contained a tiny, tiny, tiny person. Eggs, well, they were there, certainly. Any farmer knows the importance of eggs, but only as vehicle or incubator. Leeuwenhoek actually tried to peel back the tiny green curtain of  spermatozoa and find the tiny person inside them.

Then a bunch of stuff happens and we learn how babies get here. Please, you don’t read me for my sparkling scientific commentary.

My curiosity was piqued when Roach mentioned a philosopher and Catholic priest, Norman Ford. In 1988, Ford wrote a book called When Did I Begin? I looked the book up and he got my attention in the  first paragraph. Ford writes, “As a lecturer in moral philosophy and in the philosophy of the human person, it has always been important for me to know when a human person begins. In cases of rape it was necessary to know how long after the attack it was morally permissible to attempt to prevent a human embryo originating as a result of violence. This knowledge was crucial in differentiating morally between actions that prevented conception and those whose effect was really abortifacient.”

Wait, what?

Ford goes on to argue that personhood (generally referred to as “ensoulment”) does not begin until the point that identical twinning is no longer possible. That’s about two weeks after conception. For a religious person, the question was what happens to the soul if the soul arrives at conception, but the the zygote goes on to become twins? Ford believes twins need not do with half a soul. Because that zygote could become two distinct people with distinct souls, Ford says, “[T]he cell cluster can best be understood as human biological material but not a unified living human organism.”

Later–and hold on to your garters for this one–he writes, “Any philosophical theory that places the beginning of the human person at fertilization needs to be examined if it appears to conflict with the facts of modern biology.” He says that to uncover the philosophical truth of the beginning of a human person, we cannot be afraid of science.

Look, I know these words can be used against me. In fact Mary Warnock, who wrote a later introduction to Ford’s book, is responsible for the UK’s Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act. Among other things, this law specifies when abortion is legal and banned research using human embryos more than 14 days old.

So what’s my point?

I do not believe I was a person from the moment of fertilization. Let’s assume for a second there is a God or some force God-like. God has made me more than the sum of my parts. I think, I feel. I have emotions. Oh, do I have emotions. (Sorry, honey!!) I have a conscience and I have consciousness. Calling the product of fertilization a person strips away the very foundation of what makes us human. If you want to say life begins at conception, fine. Cells dividing is life. It’s what happens when you grow tomatoes. A living thing, a pistil, is combined with another living thing, a stamen. Do it right and you get baby tomatoes. But do you slice up the flower of the plant and put it on a bacon sandwich and call it a tomato? No, because it’s not a tomato. Could you? Sure. But that’s be a BLF, not a BLT.

A sperm is a living thing. An egg is a living thing. Together they make a clump of cells. If all goes well, and it’s estimated that it does only 50% of the time, the clump gets implanted. Is it a person? Nope. It’s a zygote. Then it’s a blastocyst. The blastocyst, by the way, has an inner cellular mass that produces the embryo. The outer layer forms the placenta. So if this zygote–this fertilized egg- is a person, why are we getting rid of the placenta? Is it not worthy of exultation too? Some people bury it. Some people eat it. Most of the time it’s incinerated as medical waste. But why? Is that placenta not a person too?

You know why that sounds ridiculous? Because it is. Just as ridiculous as making human life about nothing more than a clump of cells. The question of what makes us human, what makes us people, is not something that can be legislated. If you believe abortion, birth control, IVF is wrong because you define a person as a lump of cellular material, that’s fine. You don’t have to take birth control pills or have an IUD, get IVF should you not be able to conceive by other means, or have an abortion. But don’t tell me that I can’t. It is not your business.

Personhood should be a philosophical question, not a political one. You want to make a fetus a person? Are you going to change the drinking age to 20 and 3 months? Can we now vote at 17 and 3 months? Drive at 15 and 3 months? What if I go past my due date? How do we figure that out then? Will my embryo get counted in the census? Does this mean we get more politicians to represent these zygotes? Because that’s just what we need. We absolutely need politicians who are concerned with nothing but zygotes so we can finally get a few to represent the rest of us. The humans. The living. The tax payers.

BergsieCo Is People

I just read a story from the AP about officials from several states going to the big air show in France. Mississippi, North Carolina, and South Carolina spent more than $100k each–EACH–on the trip. See, they were trying to drum up defense contractor bidness. And the way to do that is taking your staff out for dinners of snails and souffles.

I get it. The Paris Air Show ain’t a bunch of them helicopters that can do flips. It’s where the Big Boys hang out. Dudes who want to sell the government invisible jets that can carpet bomb a country and then be used to make a delightful fruit smoothie. These states want to make those CombiBombers. It makes some sense for them to have a booth at the show. Like such:

Last week, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley said that all government agencies will now answer the phones with, “It’s a great day in South Carolina!” It’s not because she wanted people to feel AWESOME! about South Carolina, it was because she was in France and wanted to know what the weather was like back home.

We used to do stupid stuff like that in retail: We’re havin’ a great day at Chico’s! Thanks for calling Macy’s, how may I provide you with outstanding service? I can’t site a single instance where that kind of bullshit got me more business. But I’m sure those people calling the Great State of South Carolina to try to get unemployment benefits straightened out will totally feel AWESOME! after being greeted with what a great day it is! Personally, any time I’ve called a government entity in the past, oh, 20 years, I’ve gotten an automated system. I think it’s AWESOME! South Carolina has actual people answering phones.

But y’all, the Gubner worked MONTHS on that phone greeting as a way to get people EXCITED! about a state with 11% unemployment. How do you know she didn’t come up with that idea in France, huh? Maybe she was out one night eating prawns and the waiter said to her, “Ohhoho! Eet ees a great day for vous, Madame Gubner, but eet’s not such a great day for zees prawn, oui?”

You just don’t know, do you? No, you don’t. So don’t judge, man.

Big Business and Big Government are different than you and me. For example, it’s the end of a quarter. You’re a salesdude for CombiBomber. You’ve got $500 left in your business entertainment budget. You’re going to spend $700. You have to. If you don’t spend all that and more, you won’t get it in your budget next quarter. You see, you’re forward-thinking.

It’s much more important for states to court big contracting business than to encourage homegrown small businesses. It may SEEM that a state would rather have many of its citizens getting in there, opening businesses, employing many other citizens, growing a tax base, shooting a little adrenaline into the local economy. BUT NO. It’s much better for a state to have ONE contract with ONE company who will import all its brass from other states, bring in families who will not bond with the locals because they won’t be there that long because they’ll be off to Somewhere Else in a couple years when Somewhere Else gives them better tax breaks and gives them land from a family farm that’s only been in that family for 150 years because it’s a much better use of that land to be seized to make CombiBombers than, oh, food. AND let’s not forget that when the government cuts spending and cancels the order for 200 CombiBombers, that business is once again invigorating the economy by keeping bankruptcy lawyers and accountants in business.

What don’t you understand?

These are Job Creators, DUH. Do not question their logic. Job Creators are infused with a intellect you and I will NEVER understand, friend.  Touched by the hand of God, they are.

Which reminds me…

Have you noticed how many of  the people screaming about a free market economy are the ones who think creationism should be taught in public schools? What’s up with that? I don’t understand how you can have survival of the fittest in one place but not the other. Oh, wait. Is that a quantum mechanics thing? I don’t get how you can not believe depression may be an evolutionary process to force insight in HUMANS, but totally believe it when a depression causes insight into how the MARKETS work.

But that’s probably why I’m not a Job Creator. I’m just some idiot who hands over a third of her family’s income to her government. I would like Standard Shed to create jobs. Starting with one for me. But I’m hopelessly middle class. I can’t just waltz in to some bank and ask for $3,000,000. Like anyone could, pshaw.

But I have a plan. I’m going to incorporate my ladybits.

I would like to get a better tax rate AND I would like the government to stay out of my womb. SO, I’m thinking I’m going to incorporate my uterus.

BergsieCo IS People!

I think it’s a perfect plan. BergsieCo makes eggs every month at zero cost. Those eggs are pure profit, hoss. Who will buy them, you ask? No one. See, you have to think like a big business. They create products, THEN a market. How else do you explain the cheek scraper on your toothbrush?

Further, it’s a perfect plan to ensure the government does not take an active roll in my family planning decisions. Government doesn’t care what businesses do. It’s a free market economy, dummy! Go wild! Not only will my taxes be cut in half, I’ll be able to have the family I want. And if I have too many kids? No problem! Government LOVES giving businesses handouts. All those Bergsie Juniors will be on the payroll! What’s that? Yeah, I know they’re kids. Haven’t you ever heard of a sweatshop, dumbass?


It’s About Civility In Public Discourse, Stupid

As you may know, I worked in retail for the longest 5, 476 years of my life. There were so many things about it I loved. Dealing with irate, irrational people was not one of them. There is a certain sort of person who is so lacking in power in other areas of his or her life that he or she takes the time to be a complete and total prat to service industry workers. We all know those people. (Not you, dear reader! Anyone with the taste and intelligence to spend time reading MY blog would never be a dick just because you could, RIGHT?)

There’s the guy who will rant about how you ruined his entire day because the mayo was spread too thick on one quarter of one half of his sandwich. The woman who insists you call 74 other stores to find another skirt because the seventeen you have in her size are all clearly mislabeled and are really eights, not twelves. And my personal favorite, the man who comes in the store EVERY MONTH to complain to the credit department–knowing FULL WELL there is no credit department in the store anymore–that he was charged a finance charge even though he paid his bill IN FULL and will not accept the true, rational, and clear explanation that had he paid it within twenty-five days, he’d not accrue a finance charge, but as he waited to the twenty-seventh day, BOOM. Just like it says in very clear language at the bottom of the bill. Possibly the ONLY clear statement on the bill.

Take your average blowhard, add in politics, religion, and maybe an ovary or two and you got yourself a shootin’ match, hoss.

It is in dealing with these blowhards I have learned that the best thing to do when everyone is yelling is to lower my voice in a husky Suzanne Pleshette way. Imagine I’m reading this to you in that voice.

It’s been a tough year for women’s health. At some point, and I must have been absent that day, it was determined that all women’s health comes down to is abortion. And further, as best I can tell, as long as you don’t have one, think about having one, know anyone who has had one, support people who will provide one, or say the word three times while looking in the mirror, your ladyhealth will be stellar!

Here in Shelby County, a federal grant was pulled from Planned Parenthood. I mentioned this briefly the other day, but I want to go into a little more detail. This grant is Title X (as in 10) money that the federal government gives states to use exclusively for family planning.

As part of Title X of the Public Health Service Act (1970), money was allocated to be given to state and local health departments, community health centers, independent clinics, and other agencies. Here are some things this money may be used for:

  • Access to contraceptive services, supplies, and information
  • Breast and pelvic exams
  • Breast cancer and cervical cancer screening
  • STD screening, education and prevention information, and counseling
  • Pregnancy diagnosis and counseling

According to the Health and Human Services website, “The Title X family planning program is intended to assist individuals in determining the number and spacing of their children. This promotes positive birth outcomes and healthy families.” Priority for the use of Title X funds is given to low-income individuals.

The Shelby County Health Department has subcontracted to Planned Parenthood for several years. Back in the spring, Shelby County notified the state that it lacked the staff and facilities to continue the services Planned Parenthood delivered.

So here’s where we run into problems. Hizzoner Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey has made it his mission to put Planned Parenthood out of business. He wanted to end the “shell game” he said Planned Parenthood was playing. Hizzoner and his ilk refuse to believe–even in the face of federal laws and proof positive (entities taking money must keep detailed records and statistics of patients and procedures)–that Planned Parenthood is not using federal money to provide abortions.

Here’s where we are right now. Shelby County has not been gracious enough to state publicly exactly why Planned Parenthood was jettisoned and Christ Community Health Services was funded in its wake. County Mayor Mark Luttrell said that a six-person team ranked proposals from Christ Community, Planned Parenthood, and Memphis Health Center. County Mayor Luttrell says Christ Community was ranked highest.

I’m not going to knock Christ Community. I believe they are good people doing what they believe to be the Lord’s work. I have an amazing amount of respect for healthcare professionals who work in clinics that provide services for low-income, uninsured, and underinsured patients.

I happen to believe a faith-based organization cannot be unbiased when counseling about family planning and reproductive health options.

In order to take Title X funds, minors must be treated. Let’s say you are a 16-year-old sexually active girl and you have found the courage to do the smart thing and look at birth control options. A Title X clinic must counsel you, recommend the best birth control option for you, supply it to you, and not notify your parent or guardian.

Now let’s say you’re a GLBT young adult who wants to do the right thing and get vaccinated for HPV. You’re marginally employed and uninsured. How comfortable are you going to be going into a clinic with the word “Christ” in its name? Will that deter you from getting vaccinated? Would it deter you from getting a pap smear? What about tested for HIV?

I truly believe the perception of religious bias will keep the poor, the disenfranchised, the people who can least afford to be sick from seeking healthcare.

Beyond that, this is a dunderheaded move by Tennessee Republicans to take control of women’s reproductive rights. This does not make abortion go away. In fact, if a woman who receives Title X services asks for pregnancy counseling, pregnancy termination MUST be included in the discussion along with foster care, adoption, and prenatal care. I wonder how well money from religious anti-choice donors will keep coming in to a clinic which will now be federally mandated to discuss pregnancy termination? Will conservative Christians continue to support a clinic that will be federally mandated to discuss more than abstinence with its young patients?  The anti-choice movers and shakers have accomplished an amazing thing–money for nothing. By putting this money in the hands of an anti-choice, anti-birth control facility, they have rendered this money useless.

But back to my original point: civility in public discourse.

It is near impossible to have debate about reproductive rights without it devolving into a shouting match involving Bible verses, bogus statistics, and name calling. I am not a horrible ogre because I believe a woman has a right to choose whether or not she takes a pregnancy to term. I do not believe you are a moron because you have a moral or religious opposition to abortion. I do believe that what I choose is not your business. I do believe that your religious opposition to abortion does not mean you get to ban it. This is not a theocracy. There is no Sharia Law here. I don’t happen to like that federal money can be used to subcontract to a faith-based healthcare provider–even those with a more “liberal” agenda. But you know what, we don’t need to yell about it.

I’ve been talking to people about these fetal pershonhood amendments. The anti-choice personhood movement has done a great job talking about how they will ban abortion at the state level. They haven’t done such a good job talking about how fetal personhood affects birth control. Why? A conservative Christian couple might never look at abortion as an option, but more than likely they’ve looked at some type of birth control method outside of separate bedrooms. The Separate Bedroom Method of birth control isn’t going to raise a lot of money. Point is, no discussion I have had has turned into a shouting match. The reason, I believe, is that in these conversations we have genuinely been moved to find understanding from the opposite side. I do think that when people are fully engaged in understanding, breakthroughs happen. But if one side of the debate is going in with the attitude that theirs is the only opinion that matters, breakdowns happen instead. When time is spent shoring up an argument rather than reacting to what the opposing side has said, you miss a lot of important information and a chance for understanding. How many times have you fought with your honey and haven’t even heard what he or she said because you were busy planning your attack? I mean, in my case it’s zero, obviously. But I am told this happens with some regularity.

Mr. Finance Charge up there could have saved himself the hassle of coming into my store every month to complain to the non-existent credit department if he had just listened the first time. After two months of not listening, we all just assumed he liked to bitch. I like to bitch, too. Can’t beat a good bitch session for venting. VENTING. Not solving problems other than the need-to-vent problem.

I don’t believe we’re a nation of extremes. I really don’t. Squeaky wheels get press. People who believe passionately in something but who are rational and level-headed don’t get the air time zealotry does. How many people know who Michelle Bachmann is? How many know who Elizabeth Warren is? I’d love to see that poll.

By the way, as I sit here writing this, something interesting came up in my Twitter feed. A CNN poll shows 78% of the country is pro-choice. So it just goes to show you that even though the anti-choice voice might be loud and well-funded, it’s not the majority’s voice.