Thursday, August 26, 2010

Stem Shell Game

On Monday August 23, 2010, Judge Royce Lamberth of the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. issued an injunction on the use of federal funding for embryo-destructive stem cell research. The New York Times’ (for one example) reaction to the announcement was one of stunned indignation:
"The ruling came as a shock to scientists at the National Institutes of Health and at universities across the country, which had viewed the Obama administration’s new policy and the grants provided under it as settled law."
What the Times failed to note in its story was that Judge Lamberth was not the first federal official to strike a legal blow against President Barack Obama's stem cell policy and thereby block federal funding of embryo destructive stem cell research. The first such move actually occurred on March 11, 2009. That move was made by ... President Barack Obama.

The fact is that Judge Lamberth's ruling is perfectly consistent with the law. While the administration, with great public fanfare, claimed to have "lifted the ban" on ESCR with his March 9, 2009 Executive Order (EO), Mr. Obama quietly overrode his own EO just two days later when he re-signed (as has every president since 1996) the Dickey-Wicker Amendment to a federal appropriations bill (as Scott noted in his post on the subject). The Dickey-Wicker Amendment bans public funding of research that destroys human embryos. Mr. Obama signed it. He didn't call a big press conference to herald the occasion because doing so would not fit the narrative he is trying to sell about his forward looking faith in science as opposed to the Luddite opponents of ESCR.

The dirty little secret here is that the stem cell research EO Mr. Obama and those who are carrying his water have called "policy" and referred to as "settled law" is a hollow document that carries no legal force. His signing of the Dickey-Wicker Amendment into law is binding and the unquestionable basis on which Judge Lamberth rendered his decision.

The reality of that fact is something pro-lifers need to soak in. Though it is becoming a fading memory, it serves to remind us of another EO Mr. Obama issued during the health care debate. In exchange for the votes of so-called "pro-life Democrats," Mr. Obama issued an EO proclaiming there would be no federal funding of abortion in the health care bill. They bought it. He signed it. And now we are left with an EO on abortion that contains the same amount of legal power we find in his EO on stem cell research.

None.

Judge Lamberth's ruling is also perfectly consistent with basic ethical reasoning. Where adult and Induced Pluripotent Stem Cell (IPSC) research have produced more than 75 successful therapies, embryonic stem cell research has produced exactly zero. Yet, Mr. Obama continues to push for the latter. And while they may be smaller and less developed, the embryos he wants to use are distinct, genetically whole, living human beings. That fact is scientific, not religious. There is no ethical justification for taking the life of a defenseless human being -- no matter his/her size or level of development -- for the benefit of another.

The truth is that adult and IPSC research constitute the common ground that Mr. Obama claims to seek. They are more successful and they do not entail the destruction of human beings. This is a political win-win. Mr. Obama could claim the successes of these therapies while at the same time assuaging the ethical concerns of those who hold them. Yet, for some unknown reason, he never undertakes a single action that would further his claim to seek that common ground.

Given Mr. Obama's political nature and the political power he wields as the most powerful man on earth, one has to wonder why he wouldn't take advantage of the political win-win being offered. That he doesn't do so tells us that his motivations on this issue aren't political. And if they're not political, one has to wonder just what his motivations really are.
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Saturday, August 21, 2010

Kids Do The Darndest Things

The July, 2010 issue of Scientific American contains an article that Peter Singer and his fellow materialists may find in curious opposition to their infanticidal belief system as it relates to the (so-called) personhood -- or lack thereof -- of those they see fit to eliminate. In direct opposition to earlier research that described children's thoughts as "irrational and illogical, egocentric, amoral and with out any concept of cause and effect," new studies and techniques instead "look at what babies do instead of what they say." The results are fascinating.

Without going into detail here (you can access the entire article at: "How Babies Think"), I'd like to summarize a few of the discoveries that behavioral psychologists have previously "never thought possible."

First, let's remember that Dr. Singer, in his book Practical Ethics, defends the parallel notions that newborn infants should not be considered persons until 30 days after birth and that, disabled newborns can be ethically killed on the spot by the doctor who delivers them. With that in mind, consider some of what the SciAm article reports:
  • Babies can detect statistical patterns of musical tones and visual scenes, and also more abstract grammatical patterns
  • Babies can understand the relation between a statistical sample and a population
  • Babies are not completely egocentric -- they can take the perspective of another person
But enough about babies. There is even more that has been discovered about infants:
  • Infants understand fundamental physical relations such as movement trajectories, gravity and containment
  • Infants are born knowing much of what adults know about how objects and people behave
And here's my favorite ... The author of the SciAm article (Alison Gopnik of Cal Berkeley) believes that "the most important knowledge of all is knowledge of other people." While I disagree with her -- the most important knowledge of all is knowledge of the truth -- I understand the point of view from which she makes the claim. In any case, Gopnik reports that Dr. Andrew N. Meltzoff of the University of Washington has shown that:

"Newborns already understand that people are special ..."

If only Peter Singer could re-connect with this innate knowledge that seems to have eluded him.

I have always appreciated Peter Singer for showing us the actual ends to which his naturalistic worldview leads -- speciesism, the moral neutrality of bestiality, justification for infanticide etc. Describing his views to people shocks them into considering not only the horrific conclusions to which his worldview leads, but that it may actually be wrong. But it turns out that the main premise on which he bases his justification for infanticide -- that infants are not sentient and therefore not "persons" -- is false. Newborns actually are sentient after all. They are so sentient in fact, they understand that other people are "special" to a greater degree than Peter Singer does.

Let me be clear. The findings reported in this Scientific American article have no bearing on the case we make at the Life Training Institute. Our claim is that human beings at all stages of development are valuable simply in virtue of the kind of thing they are -- for their intrinsic value. What these newborns can do (their instrumental value) is irrelevant. I just find it satisfying to see that, even by Peter Singer's own dubious standards, his case collapses in light of the scientific evidence.

There is more to this report -- like what the author attributes these findings to -- but I'll save that for the next post.
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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Logical "Choice"

Planned Parenthood Keeps Families HealthyImage by clockworknate via FlickrWhile perusing a story about the challenges to ObamaCare being posed by those who are beginning to realize that the new national health care plan really will provide public funding of abortion, I ran across this little gem in the comments section of the article. I offer it simply to demonstrate the thoughtful deliberation and ethical clarity many on the "pro-choice" side give to the abortion issue. Read it and weep:
"If we have to pay for the smokers and drinkers and drug abusers that abuse their bodies all their lives, then we should pay for abortions. At least if we pay for the abortion we won't have to pay health care on another person. I think they should be offering them on every corner shop. Would solve a few problems."

How do you argue with that?
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Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Group Wink

To follow up on my last post (here), the reality of the possibility of an economic/debt related collapse became even more believable to me after reading about economist Dan Ariely's book, Predictably Irrational a few months back. Kevin Hassett referenced Ariely's book in his discussion about the relationship between moral conviction and economic action. In the book, Ariely quotes the iconic economist Adam Smith:
"The success of most people ... almost always depends upon the favour and good opinion of their neighbours and equals; and without a tolerably regular conduct these can very seldom be obtained."
In other words, as Hassett puts it, stigma matters. People will be affected in their economic decision making by the views that their peers have about them. He goes on to explore the ways in which ethical stigmatization may affect conduct by analyzing an experiment he devised to look at this phenomenon. The results were fascinating and are relevant not only to the purpose of this blog, but to the question of a possible coming economic catastrophe.

In the ethics experiment, several MIT students were given a simple math test to complete in a fixed amount of time, and given a reward for each correct answer they gave. The students were divided into two groups: a control group that handed in their tests to be graded, and another group that reported their own scores (and could therefore change their answers).

Here's the catch. The second group of students (who had the opportunity to cheat) were again divided into two groups. One of those groups was asked to make a list of 10 books they remembered reading from high school. The others were asked to write down as many of the 10 Commandments as they could recall. Here are the results ... and also where it gets scary:
  • The control group (who couldn't cheat) averaged 3.1 problems right
  • The group who simply listed 10 books from high school (and could cheat) averaged 4.1 problems right
  • The 10 Commandment group did not cheat, and reported only 3.0 problems right
As Hassett puts it, "thinking about the 10 Commandments put students in a moral frame of mind." They didn't cheat and their performance stayed right in line with the others who could not cheat. The simple act of thinking about a moral standard caused those students to feel an obligation to adhere to that standard.

And that's the rub. Remember from the last post that: "80% of individuals believe it would be "morally wrong" to strategically default on their mortgages." But there is another side to the data and it is this:

People were 82% more likely to state an intention to default if they knew someone who had already defaulted.

Do you see the correlation to the MIT study cited above? Once the mortgage defaults begin, it will become much easier for others to justify choosing the same escape route. Their "10 Commandment" morality will quickly give way to a declining standard that finds it more difficult to absorb the pain of an economic struggle than to simply throw in the towel like the neighbors did.

Lack of stigma matters too.

It is hard to imagine that there is any wrought iron fence strong enough to stop the resulting economic avalanche. I hope I'm wrong, but you tell me: In a society that has already proven its propensity for disregarding rising debt levels in favor of an "entitlement" to have a more comfortable life, more toys, more gadgets and houses they cannot afford; in a society whose political "leaders" will go to great lengths to avoid telling the economic truth, admit to the required economic pain and continue to pass the buck to the next (several) generations; in a society that is perfectly comfortable mortgaging its future at unprecedented levels -- do you think the trend will get reversed or simply continue to accelerate?

For some reason, I'm not optimistic.



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Sunday, August 1, 2010

Economic Immorality

Several months ago, I commented on the possibility that may exist for an economic collapse and a correlated Evangelical collapse. I still don't know what to make of the relationship between the two, but I am just as convinced as ever that both of them are likely to occur. The economic reasons are no less threatening, that's for sure, but I was motivated to address the issue again after I ran across a few seemingly unrelated articles over the last few months.

In case you haven't heard, this country is in a debt crisis that is not going away anytime soon. It's gotten worse since these statistics were published last October, but at that time Kevin Hasset reported that the United States debt level is "higher relative to our national income than it was for the typical middle-income country that defaulted on its debt between 1970 and 2001 ... in worse shape than the typical Latin American country that defaulted" (National Review, October 19, 2009, p. 8).

The trigger for the current debt crisis was a housing/mortgage market that imploded. Since the implosion, politicians (of both parties) have tried to cover up the problem with silly "stimulus" measures and one-time tax credits ostensibly meant to mend the housing market. But this has a similar effect to painting over a rusty wrought-iron fence. It may look pretty from the road but the fence is still rusting.

Today, the Wall Street Journal estimates that 5.3 million Americans are living in homes that are worth 20% less than the mortgage they still owe on them. Of those who took "sub-prime" mortgages between 2000-2007, nearly 60% owe more than their homes are worth. In some places, nearly every mortgage is "under water" in this way -- 94% in Las Vegas, 89% in Phoenix, 86% in Miami. (National Review, March 8, 2010, p. 20)

At the same time the mortgage default rate has been surprisingly low, considering the number who could just walk away. In fact, Hassett reports that 80% of individuals believe it would be "morally wrong" to strategically default on their mortgages.

Remember that number. It tells us that a vast majority of people simply do not want to give up on their mortgages and have attempted to renegotiate them with the help of banks that have been primed by the federal government (more of that "stimulus" money). But printing money for the purpose of pretending that doing so will make everything get better cannot go on forever. And when it stops, all hell will break loose.

More next time ...



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