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Since I Never Get the Last Word


Thursday, October 26, 2006
Life Versus Humanity

Robert Williams' latest blog entry, Elections and Stem Cells, together with Rob Gardin’s blog on the Love of God resurfaced in my mind the essential element of the argument. When does human life begin? As I understand it, the fundamental Christian position is that human life begins at conception which makes stem cell research an exercise in abortion. While I have no trouble accepting that life begins at conception, I have great difficulty accepting that human life begins at conception.

Let me attack this problem from Aristotle’s argument in On the Soul. Aristotle claimed every animate being is a living thing equipped with the ability to move itself because it has a soul. Animals and plants, along with human beings, are more like each other than any of them are like any inanimate object, since each of them has a soul. All living beings, on Aristotle's view, have a nutritive soul which initiates and guides their most basic functions, the absorption of food, growth, and reproduction of its kind. All living things also have a sensitive soul by means of which they perceive features of their surroundings and move in response to the stimuli this provides. Human beings, though, possess (in addition to the rest) a rational soul that permits representation and thought.

Okay, let's not into debating the definition of soul; let's just call it a life force and move on.

When I studied biology in high school the determinants of life were ingestion, waste elimination, growth, motivation and reproduction. Aristotle fit very well with that paradigm. Christian doctrine differentiates man from other forms of life by virtue of the reasoning faculty so there is no contradiction here.So there is life and there is human life and the latter can be differentiated from the former but only in terms of its power to reason.

Then, the question seems to me ought to be when does a human become human? When does the reasoning aspect of the soul kick in? There have been societies so accustomed to the non-survivability of children that they did not name the child till one year after birth. In its way, this custom says the child was not yet human. I’m not advocating this position, merely pointing out one extreme end of the spectrum available for determining when human life begins.

I have not studied the gestation process enough to be able to point out a time frame when the brain becomes functional. I know that babies hear and store information on their mothers' voices so I could accept an argument that says humanity begins at the point where this can happen. We know there is a point where the baby'ssurvival outside, no matter how much technology is applied, cannot be assured which is why premature births are so problemmatic; is there a point where the brain will not develop no matter how much technology is appplied? Then, humanity must begin sometime after that point. Prior to that point life happens, life with potential for human life, but until the capacity for reasoning kicks in, it is only potential human life.

And, yes, I think that happens at the other end of the human life as well. I believe there is time when the brain ceases to function; that the power to reason is lost and no amount of technology will ever restore it to any semblance of a reasoning human being, and – at that point – human life has terminated.

Posted by Dan Bieger 2006-10-26 11:14:34


Sunday, October 22, 2006
Ideal Candidate for Public Office

With the U.S. elections drawing ever nearer, the time has come to identify the perfect candidate for public office. This person possesses the following character traits and personal history:

(1) This person boasts no criminal record. This criteria is easy because the constitutions of the U.S. federal government and each of the 50 states bar convicted felons from holding office. I don’t care if they have traffic violations on their record and misdemeanors other than for moral turpitude involving minors do not interest me.

(2) The person is not the incumbent in the office sought or any other public office. Power corrupts and the longer one holds office, the more corruption becomes possible. Politics is not supposed to be a career. A career is something you do for a living; it isn’t possible to do politics for a living without corrupting your principles.

(3) The person can define their qualifications for the job without referring to their opposition’s character or lack thereof.

(4) The person can define their stand on issues pertaining to the office sought, the advantages and disadvantages of their stand, without referring to their opposition’s character or the opposition’s stand on the same issue.

(5) The person answers direct questions directly without referring to the opposition’s character or lack thereof.

I haven’t found this person yet, but, when I do, this person gets my vote.

Posted by Dan Bieger 2006-10-22 09:47:22


Wednesday, October 18, 2006
Mandate Reality

Once upon a time, a President of the USA, having won an election, walked into a press conference to claim a mandate from the voters.

An organization titled the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assitance (IDEA) has a nifty little table purporting to report the voter turnout in all the elections in all countries since 1945. Tha page was last updated 3/7/05. Assuming their data is good, the identify 172 countries that have held elections and the average percentage of turnout of voters for those elections. The statistics are computed for a high of 26 elections held (USA) to a low of 1 election held since 1945 for 32 countries. When considering all the countries and all the elections, the USA has a voter turnout percentage that ranks 139 out of the 172 with a 48.3% turnout. Less tha half our eligible voters make it to the polls. Compare this number to Italy’s 92.5% turnout.

Feeling the IDEA numbers might be skewed to countries with fewer elections, I removed all countries with fewer than five elections. The USA now ranks 71st out of 86 countries. Eliminating all countries with less than 10 elections, the USAranks 44th out of 52.

It seems to me that if you acquire votes from 50% of 92.5% of eligible voters, your claim to a mandate rests on debatable mathematics; if you acquire 50% of 48.3% of eligible voters, your claim for a mandate is just ludicrous. Unless you are invoking the Chinese Heavenly Mandate which applies if you are in power and doesn't apply if you are not. I believe electoral mandates should be distinct from heavenly ones.

The IDEA table looks like this:

Rank……… Country ……………………………………………….. %

1……………….Italy (14)……………………………………………..…92.5

2……………….Iceland (16) ………………………..………………..89.5

3……………….New Zealand (18) …………………………………86.2

4……………….Austria (16) ………………………....……………..85.1

5……………….Belgium (17) ………………………………………….84.9

6……………….Netherlands (15) ……………………………………84.8

7……………….Australia (21) …………………………………………84.4

8……………….Denmark (22) ………………………………………..83.6

9……………….Sweden (17) …………………………………………..83.3

10……………..Germany (13) ……………………….……………….80.6

11………………Greece (17) ………………………...…………………80.3

12……………….Israel (14) ………………………....…………………80

13……………….Norway (14) ………………………………………….79.5

14……………….Finland (15) …………………………………………..79

15……………….Malta (13) ………………………....………………….77.6

16……………….United Kingdom (15) …………………………….74.9

17……………….Ireland (16) ………………………......…………….74.9

18……………….St. Vincent and the Grenadines (12) …..72.4

19……………….Dominica (11) ………………………….…………….71.3

20……………….Argentina (16) …………………………..…………70.6

21……………….Uruguay (10) ………………………………………..70.3

22……………….Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (14) …….69.1

23……………….Japan (21) ………………………........…………….69

24……………….Dominican Republic (11) ………………………68.7

25……………….Costa Rica (12) …………………………………….68.4

26……………….Canada (17) ………………………………………….68.4

27……………….France (15) ………………………....……………….67.3

28……………….Liechtenstein (16) ………………………………..67.3

29……………….Trinidad and Tobago (11) …………………….66.2

30……………….Grenada (11) ………………………………………..64.8

31……………….Luxembourg (12) ………………………………….64.1

32……………….Barbados (10) ……………………………………….63.5

33……………….Nicaragua (10) ………………………………………62

34……………….Bolivia (13) ……………………………………………61.4

35……………….India (12) ……………………………………………..60.7

36……………….Sri Lanka (10) ………………………………………60.5

37……………….St. Lucia (13) ……………………………………….59.9

38……………….Jamaica (12) ………………………………………..58.5

39……………….St. Kitts and Nevis (10) ………………………58.1

40……………….Paraguay (11) ……………………………………..56

41……………….Honduras (12) ……………………………………..55.3

42……………….Antigua and Barbuda (10) …………………..50.2

43……………….Switzerland (13) …………………………………..49.3

44……………….USA (26) ……………………………………………….48.3

45……………….Mexico (18) …………………………………………..48.1

46……………….Brazil (13) ……………………………………………..47.9

47……………….Thailand (14) …………………………………………47.4

48……………….Chile (11) ………………………………………………45.9

49……………….Ecuador (18) …………………………………………44.7

50……………….El Salvador (15) ……………………………………44.3

51……………….Colombia (20) ……………………………………….36.2

52……………….Guatemala (15) …………………………………….29.8

Posted by Dan Bieger 2006-10-18 11:57:00


Tuesday, October 17, 2006
BlueGene

Not a pair of pants, but an IBM supercomputer capable of trillions of operations per second, 280.6 tflops to be precise, is up and working. Sun Systems is delivering a 400 tflops computer to the University of Texas that is supposed to be up and running in June 2007. France AEA has its Tera10 andurban legend Cray has50 tflop machine proliferating around the globe.

Why should we care? Because I am proposing a not-so-secret new society boasting clandestine access to all these machines to run its home grown psychohistory program. Hari Seldon is alive and well and working out of a cookie-cutter $2.5MU.S. cottage in Scottsdale, Arizona, selling the keys to world domination to all takers. His program incorporates game theory, chaos theory, Bruce Alexander, Robert Coambs and Patricia Hadaway’s 1981 radical addiction experiment, the AAAS Atlas of Population and Environment updated in real time, and Murphy’s Law to determine the global effect of specific actions.

If you are the two-bit dictator of a traditionally nondescript third world country, Hari Seldon can give you the key to toppling any of the first world countries. If you are a first world country concerned over the nuclear ambitions of a second world country, Hari can provide you a real time readout of the actions and consequences of the actions and reactions of the suspect country and the rest of the world, very much like Stephen Falken’s W.O.P.R. computer.

Hari’s purpose is to get us to the stars but he acknowledges the nastiness of confusing ends and means. He dismisses same with stark pragmatism: a man’s gotta do what man’s gotta do, he says and seems comfortable with his lot.

Posted by Dan Bieger 2006-10-17 12:04:11


Monday, October 2, 2006
Upon Reconsideration

The Impossible Dream

To dream ... the impossible dream ...
To fight ... the unbeatable foe ...
To bear ... with unbearable sorrow ...
To run ... where the brave dare not go ...
To right ... the unrightable wrong ...
To love ... pure and chaste from afar ...
To try ... when your arms are too weary ...
To reach ... the unreachable star ...

This is my quest, to follow that star ...
No matter how hopeless, no matter how far ...
To fight for the right, without question or pause ...
To be willing to march into Hell, for a Heavenly cause ...

And I know if I'll only be true, to this glorious quest,
That my heart will lie will lie peaceful and calm,
when I'm laid to my rest ...
And the world will be better for this:
That one man, scorned and covered with scars,
Still strove, with his last ounce of courage,
To reach ... the unreachable star ...

...................................................Lyrics by Joe Darion

When first I heard this music, at a live performance of Man of La Mancha in San Antonio, Texas, in 1978 or 1979, I thought that Mr. Dariongot it exactly right. Clearly, simply stated, here was an ideal for the ideal man, a code of conduct above reproach.

Yesterday, listening to an instrumental version, I discovered the lyrics running around my consciousness; I took the time to re-consider them. Still rapt by the music and the words, I am now disenchanted with the message. Today, it seems to me that many young people in the Middle East and elsewhere are living these lyrics precisely, willing to walk into Hell for a Heavenly cause: suicide bombers.

My conclusion: there are no Heavenly causes, no religions people should be willing to die for; there should only be religionsthat help people live together but, I fear,that isn't likely.

Posted by Dan Bieger 2006-10-02 08:11:48


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