Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Pointing Out the Speck in Their Eye

Back in September I wrote a little piece called The Girder in Our Own Eye, which I had intended as a preemptive strike against “ourselves” for the piece that was to follow in the next week or two.

And then a few other things came up, I wrote about other things, and I never got around to it.

Well, now is the acceptable time…even though I have a stack of other things to write about; and having taken a look at the girder in our own eyes, it’s now time to take a look at the speck in theirs.

While I accept the fact that the goals of many in the anti-abortion camp come from the best of intentions, I absolutely hate how they seem to “cook the books” in order to try to reach their goal; and I hate how while using their own religious arguments to demonstrate why abortion is wrong, they don’t take into account other religious arguments that might say that it’s not quite an open and shut case.

I hate their scare tactics. There’s a billboard that crops up on a regular basis that says that “abortion increases breast cancer risk.” Now I’m an open-minded person. When faced with information that I’d never heard before, I don’t immediately dismiss it out of hand…I do a little research. And where best to go for information about breast cancer than the website of the American Cancer Society? What did I find there? I found that in the huge majority of tests, they’ve found neither causality nor correlation between abortions and breast cancer. However, in a very small minority of cases, a correlation was found (not the same thing as causality), and this is the “fact” that this billboard, and others like it, are based on.

Then there’s that famous Planned Parenthood video about them selling fetal body parts. I haven’t seen it, but I’ve heard from people who have, that it’s a really terrible editing job, spliced and cobbled together to make it look like people are saying things that they’re probably not. The only real way to tell for sure would be to have the original “frame codes” showing at the bottom of the screen. Then we’d know when a few important seconds from the conversation were left out, or moved around, in order to change what was said.

But wait, there’s more. When this whole controversy first hit, a friend of mine said, “The same thing happens to fertilized eggs left over from in-vitro fertilization, so where’s the outrage over that?”

Good question.

And a week or two ago, a friend of mine posted a pie chart that purported to compare all the abortion deaths since Roe vs Wade to all the American war deaths since 1776. That includes The American Revolution, the War of 1812, the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, World Wars I and II, Korea, Vietnam, and our various conflicts in the Middle East. According to this chart, abortion deaths were something like 90% of the pie.

But while this may be true, I believe that the case was severely overstated by comparing abortions over a 40-year period to wars that each lasted a limited amount of time. Compare apples to apples. Compare, say abortions during any four-year period from 1973 to now to the total American war deaths during World War II, and then we can talk. It may still be more, but at least the overstatement of the case wouldn’t be stretching the credibility of the chart.

I wrote four years ago about how what may be a good cause suffers in my eyes when they stoop to tactics that either lie outright or distort the truth. I was talking about anti-smoking campaigns at the time, but I think the same can be said about the anti-abortion movement. This is the speck in their eye.

And if we could all stop treating this as a zero-sum game, and instead agree that we’re all going to have to live with a half-loaf, we could work together to reduce the number of abortions without infringing on anyone’s rights.

Or lying.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Of Cancer and Conspiracies

I was in a conversation with a some friends last week who claimed that the reason we don’t have a cure for cancer is because it would work against the interests of the medical and pharmaceutical industries to come up with one. They said that if they make so much money treating people for it, why would they want to cure it, and kill the goose that laid the golden egg?

I didn’t have an immediate answer for them then. It’s hard to come up with good answers for conspiracy theorists, but I do now, and it’s one word.


The medical profession did a full court press to prevent and eradicate polio back in the 50s and 60s, when they obviously could’ve salivated over the prospect of selling more braces and iron lungs.

And if it’s in their best financial interests to have more people get the disease so that they can treat it, wouldn’t they see the anti-vax community as their biggest ally?

But they didn’t salivate over those potential profits in the 50s and 60s. And today they’re strenuously fighting against the anti-vax community. Why? Because despite what my conspiracy theorist friends think, as much money as there unfortunately is to be made in treating diseases, they do actually want to cure them. This treatment thing is seen as a short-term not-quite solution to the problem.

Do pharmaceutical companies make a mint from the products they make? There’s absolutely no doubt about that. But that doesn’t mean that they want more people to suffer so that they can sell more of the product (you’re thinking of the tobacco industry). And to be honest, developing new drugs isn’t cheap…the costs have to be recouped somehow, otherwise the company goes bankrupt, and there goes any further research.

But the other issue is that too many people don’t understand that cancer isn’t like polio or the measles or smallpox. It’s not one disease that can be treated with one magic bullet. It’s more like a group of thousands of different diseases that behave similarly, but very differently; and have a seemingly infinite number of triggers and causes. Something that might cause cancer A to go into remission in Fred might not have any effect on cancer B in Sally. For that matter, what works on cancer A in Fred might not have any effect on that same cancer in Sue.

It’s not that simple. There are just way too many variables involved in the different forms of cancer for there to be a “one size fits all” solution. But if you don’t understand that, if you don’t understand how simple it’s not, you might think that there’s a conspiracy against finding a cure…despite the progress we’ve made in the last 70 years.

But I’ll tell you who we do need to worry about making a mint off of people’s suffering: those who offer false hopes through “alternative remedies” that prevent people from seeing real doctors for real treatments. As far as I’m concerned, there’s a special place in Hell for people who peddle those remedies, and set up websites providing “information” on them. Even worse are those who peddle this information and then falsely attach the American Cancer Society’s name to it, knowing that the average person won’t go to their website, Quackwatch, or Snopes to double-check it.

So no…there is no conspiracy to prevent a cure for cancer from being discovered.

And by the way…for a much better explanation of everything I’ve just said, check out Is There Really a Conspiracy to Suppress Cancer Cures?

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Spin Cycle

A few months ago, in the wake of the shootings at the Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, I wrote a piece on the Confederate Flag Conundrum, and in this piece I suggested that treating the victims of that shooting as fallen heroes of the South, with the Confederate flag flown at half staff for them, might make certain people’s ancestors spin like turbines. I also suggested that those same ancestors might actually be beyond caring by now.

It’s that second point that I want to examine more closely today.

So often, when faced with doing something now that might not have been acceptable to our long-dead parents, grandparents, or other ancestors, we refer to the idea that they’d be “spinning in their graves.” In fact, often, the fact that those ancestors might be spinning with disapproval is given as reason enough not to do things differently…whether that be something as momentous as marriage equality or as trivial as changing the color of the living room in the old family homestead. We consider that the opinions they held while they were with us are still the opinions we should be concerned with, and the opinions we should be trying to honor.

And yet, for those of us who believe in some sort of afterlife, there’s something else to consider…

Perhaps where they are now, they see things from a different vantage point.

Perhaps, where they are now, the color of the living room is seen as something so trivial as to not even be worth considering.

And perhaps those social changes that they fought so hard against while they were among the living, are seen now as changes that can’t happen fast enough. Perhaps with what they know now, they find themselves lamenting all that they did to try to prevent those social changes from occurring. Perhaps if they care about anything at all, it’s about rectifying the many grievous wrongs that they played a part in trying to prolong.

And perhaps, from where they sit now, if they’re doing any spinning at all, it’s because we’re not making the changes that they now know need to be made, because we’re foolishly trying to “honor their memories” by continuing to prolong those injustices.

But what of those who don’t believe in any sort of afterlife? Well, in that case it’s really quite simple…those who have gone before are beyond caring anyway, and have no reason to spin at all.

But quite frankly, I much prefer to look at the situation as being one in which our ancestors, who we hate to think might have been on the wrong side of an issue, are finally in a position to see that change needs to occur…and are urging us to make those changes with all deliberate speed.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Cards Against Conversation

There’s a popular party game called Cards Against Humanity, which a friend once described as “Apples to Apples goes to the dark side.” Today I’d like to talk about a game that I call Cards Against Conversation.

It’s well-known on the Internet that the moment someone throws Hitler or Nazis into a discussion that had nothing to do with Hitler or Nazis in the first place, they’ve dealt the Hitler Card. Dealing the Hitler card is generally a sign that that person had nothing else intelligent to add to the conversation, but could only resort to comparing the person they disagreed with to Hitler and Nazis. It’s a pathetic attempt to try to “win” the argument; but everyone knows that according to Godwin’s Law the person who deals the Hitler Card immediately loses all credibility and forfeits the debate.

That’s the first card against conversation, the most well-known, and one that’s almost universally agreed upon. I’d like to introduce you to two other cards which may be a bit more controversial…depending on who you are.

The first is the Male Privilege Card. This is often thrown out during a discussion of gender issues when a guy says or asks something that doesn’t sit well with one of the women involved. The application of the card is usually done in such a way that there’s nothing the guy can say that doesn’t “prove” him to be a male chauvinist pig. Even trying to explain that the way he was understood wasn’t what he meant, is taken by the dealer as a sign that this is just another guy who can’t shut up and let women be right. In other words, this is the “You’re a guy, you have no right to an opinion on this, so shut up” card.

The second is the White Privilege Card. This works in a similar manner to the Male Privilege Card, and is often thrown out during a discussion of racial issues when a white person says or asks something that doesn’t sit well with one of the African-Americans involved. Once again, it implies “You’re white, and have no right to an opinion on this, so just shut up!”

My problem with these cards is that they both shut down meaningful conversation by making it impossible for the “privileged” party to ask questions or clarify what they meant. They don’t take into account that as clumsily as the “privileged” party may have phrased their comment, there is really no ill will, but just confusion that they’re trying to suss out. Throwing out these cards ignores the fact that meaningful conversation on these issues is going to be hard for everyone, and that everyone will say some awkward things as they try to reach understanding.

And too often I’ve seen these cards dealt out to people who are on the “right side” of the cause, only because they phrased something poorly or were still struggling to reach understanding.

I am reminded of the example of the unfortunate substitute teacher who was left to do a lesson plan on racial prejudice with a class of high school students at my old school. Somewhere during the course of the discussion, she mentioned that because of her upbringing, seeing a black guy like “Robbie”, sitting there in the front row, wearing a hoodie, would cause her to cross the street; but she’s working on getting past that, because she knows it’s wrong.

Well, the class went ballistic. Even the white kids went ballistic. How could she make such a racist comment? How could she have been so insensitive? She should never be invited back to sub again!

And yet…if this was to be an honest discussion of racial prejudice, then we have to be willing to hear people’s honest experiences. The honest discussion of racial issues can’t just be me telling white people how it should be and an honest discussion of gender issues can’t just be women telling me how it should be. There should be equal amounts of give and take as those of us who are motivated to join the discussion in the first place try to understand where the other person is coming from.

That can’t happen if we’re too busy playing Cards Against Conversation.

And if you don’t agree with me, that just proves that you’re a Nazi.