Thursday, December 26, 2019

Quote of the Day

"It is through the peasantry that we shall really be able to destroy Christianity, because there is in them a true religion rooted in nature and blood. One is either a Christian or a German. You can't be both."

Adolf Hitler, 1933

The Nazi Master Plan: The Persecution of Christian Churches by Carl E. Schcrake

Thursday, June 20, 2019

The issue of abortion

Abortion has been in the news of late because New York state passed a bill allowing abortion at any time during a pregnancy, and Virginia tried to pass a similar one that some claimed even allowed it immediately after birth if the fetus was critical or terminal. Of course, at that point, it would no longer be called a fetus and it would no longer be called abortion.

It seems to me that both sides are not addressing the right issue here, as vain as that is to say. A lot of people say the question is whether the fetus (or zygote or blastocyst in the earlier stages) is alive. But this is a simple question with a simple answer: of course it's alive. It meets all the scientific conditions for life. For that matter, individual sperm cells are alive, although they are haploids rather than diploids. Nor is the question whether the fetus is human life. Every cell in a human being's body is human life, it's a living cell that forms a part of a human being.

What people are really asking is when does a human life begin? That is, when does a unique individual human being begin to exist? Most pro-choice folk say that it's sometime during the pregnancy (some say at birth or even later), pro-life folk say that it's at conception, when the haploid sperm cell unites with the haploid ovum and a living thing that is not identical to either the sperm or ovum -- nor for that matter is it genetically identical to the father or mother -- begins to exist. Of course, many people say we can't know for sure and embrace the pro-choice side (because it unreasonably restricts what the woman can do with her own body) or the pro-life side (because if it might be a human life, we have a moral obligation to protect it). For that matter, many people say we can't know and remain agnostic on the larger question.

The problem with asking when a human life begins is that is still a simple question with a simple answer: a human life begins at conception. That's not a matter of opinion or value judgment, it's a scientific, medical fact. And I think this is why pro-lifers want to end the discussion here, because they are on solid ground while the pro-choicers are not.

But, as you can probably tell, I don't think that is where the discussion should end, because I don't think that's what the real question is. The real question is a two-sided coin. The first side is when does human value begin, and the second side is when do human rights begin? Perhaps we could say the question is not when a human life begins, but when a human being begins. Of course, pro-lifers will say that human value and rights begin when the individual human life begins, and that's a defensible claim. For value to begin at some other point seems arbitrary: there should be a clear indication, a clear event, which can be identified as when a creature has intrinsic value and the right to life. However, there is an objection that can be made here that can't be made (or made as plausibly) when we're just asking when does a human life begin. The objection, or problem, is that it is strongly counter-intuitive to say that an undifferentiated group of cells is a human being in the full sense that it has human rights and human value. This is what (I think) pro-choicers are objecting to: we have a cluster of cells that are dividing and nothing else, and we're being told that it has just as much right to live as the woman in whose body it is dwelling.

One potential response to this is that the fetus is no longer an undifferentiated group of cells by the time the woman discovers she is pregnant. Organs have been formed, and some are even functioning. The fetus's heart begins to beat at about three weeks gestation. However, it's difficult to say that a beating heart is what bestows human value and rights.

By human value I do not mean utilitarian value, what something is capable of accomplishing. In fact, the concept of human value is one of the very few aspects of Christianity I appreciated when I first became a Christian: a severely mentally retarded person, who spends his life in a hospital bed, never contributes anything to society, is a burden on all those around him -- that person has just as much value, rights, is just as important and as absolutely irreplaceable as the most influential thinker, statesman, or artist who ever lived.

At any rate, as I say, while the fetus is definitely a human life, it is at least counter-intuitive to say that -- at least in the very early stages -- it is a human being equipped with human rights and human value. This doesn't constitute a reason to think it is not, it just means the pro-life side has to produce arguments to counter this counter-intuition. I'm sure they think they already have, and I'm not disputing that. I just want to clear the air on exactly what (I think) the issues really are.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

It's been a while

It's June and this is my first post since January. It's weird because I have a backlog of posts that are 95% done, and I'd like to get them up and running. For now I'll just tell you a story: last Wednesday night I started having some severe abdominal pain. By 3 or 4 in the morning I'd finally had enough and went to the ER where they promptly did an ultrasound and an MR scan and then took out my gall bladder. It was my first time having surgery and I lost a freaking organ. Anyway, I'm doing OK, trying to take it easy, so I'll start finishing those posts for y'all.

Here's a joke I made up in the ER: Why was the liver so nice to the testicle? Because he wanted to make the ball gladder.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

More recent acquisitions

A close relative of mine died recently and I inherited her books. About half of them have made it onto my bookshelves, the other half I either haven't gone through yet or are in boxes in my garage. The following list is just the ones on the shelves, as well as books I got for Christmas.

Also, if you've left a comment over the last several months and it never got posted, I apologize. I've just posted all the outstanding comments and replied to a few.

SF short story collections
Brian W. Aldiss and Harry Harrison, eds., Nebula Award Stories 2.
Isaac Asimov, Martin Harry Greenberg, and Charles G. Waugh, eds., Flying Saucers.
Lloyd Biggle, Jr., ed., Nebula Award Stories 7.
Ben Bova, ed., The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, volume 2B.
Ray Bradbury, The Martian Chronicles.
---, The Illustrated Man.
Avram Davidson, ed., The Best from Fantasy and Science Fiction, 12th series.
Richard Matheson, I Am Legend.
Judith Merril, ed., The Year's Greatest Science-Fiction and Fantasy, 3rd annual volume.
Robert P. Mills, ed., The Worlds of Science Fiction.
Hans Stefan Santesson, ed., The Fantastic Universe Omnibus.
Robert Silverberg, ed., New Dimensions III.

SF novels
Isaac Asimov, I, Robot.
Henry N. Beard and Douglas C. Kenney, Bored of the Rings.
David Brin, The Postman.
Orson Scott Card, Ender's Shadow.
Philip José Farmer, Night of Light.
Alan Dean Foster, Phylogenesis.
Neil Gaiman, American Gods.
---, Anansi Boys.
Tom Godwin, Space Prison (alternate title: The Survivors).
James P. Hogan, Inherit the Stars.
Fred Hoyle, The Black Cloud.
Ursula K. LeGuin, The Lathe of Heaven.
Andre Norton, Key Out of Time.
Tim Powers, Expiration Date.
---, The Stress of Her Regard.
John Ringo, Citadel.
Robert J. Sawyer, Calculating God.
Charles Sheffield, Aftermath.
Allen Steele, Spindrift.
Neal Stephenson, The Diamond Age.
---, Snow Crash.
Jules Verne, The Works of Jules Verne (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea; Journey to the Center of the Earth; Around the World in 80 Days).

Heinlein
Beyond This Horizon.
Citizen of the Galaxy.
Double Star.
Have Spacesuit -- Will Travel.
Orphans of the Sky.
Podkayne of Mars.
The Rolling Stones.
Space Cadet.
Starman Jones.
6 × H (novellas and short stories -- previously titled The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag).
...and there's lots more in the garage.

Niven
Ringworld.
The Ringworld Engineers.
N-Space (short stories, excerpts, and essays).
Playgrounds of the Mind (same).
With Jerry Pournelle, Oath of Fealty.

Books that are actual literature and so I got for my wife
(Some of these are old, so I put the year these particular copies were published in parentheses)
Jane Austen, Emma.
---, Pride and Prejudice.
Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Don Quixote of La Mancha.
Charles Dickens, Nicholas Nickleby (1884).
---, Pickwick Papers (old, but no date on the title page).
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Hound of the Baskervilles.
George Eliot, Silas Mariner.
Gabriel García Márquez, Love in the Time of Cholera.
Graham Greene, The Power and the Glory.
Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms.
Irving Howe, ed., The Portable Kipling.
F.J. Hudleston, Warriors in Undress (1926).
Washington Irving, The Crayon Papers (old, but no date on the title page).
James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.
Rudyard Kipling, Kim.
Richmond Lattimore, trans., The Iliad of Homer.
Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird.
Primo Levi, Moments of Reprieve.
Grant Overton, ed. in chief, The World's One Hundred Best Short Stories, volume 1: Adventure (1927).
---, volume 2: Romance.
---, volume 3: Mystery.
---, volume 4: Love.
---, volume 5: Drama.
---, volume 6: Courage.
---, volume 7: Women.
---, volume 8: Men.
---, volume 9: Ghosts.
---, volume 10: Humor.
Guy Pocock, The Little Room (1926).
Sir Walter Scott, Lay of the Last Minstrel (1898).
---, Ivanhoe.
Shakespeare's Hamlet: The Second Quarto, 1604: Reproduction of the Huntington Library Copy.
John Steinbeck, The Winter of Our Discontent.
---, The Moon is Down.
---, Travels with Charley: In Search of America.
---, America and Americans.
William Makepeace Thackeray, The Virginians (1884).
Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass.
The Complete Illustrated Works of Oscar Wilde.

Nonfiction
John D. Barrow and Frank J. Tipler, The Anthropic Cosmological Principle.
Frederick Copleston, Contemporary Philosophy: Studies of Logical Positivism and Existentialism.
Fred Dretske, Explaining Behavior: Reasons in a World of Causes.