Monday, June 30, 2008

Great Apes are People, Infants Aren't

Recall Peter Singer, the Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University? He who argues that, "Simply killing an infant is never equivalent to killing a person", and that perfectly healthy, normal infants can be killed if their parents want to?

Well, despite those troubling stances, he is probably more known for his animal rights activism - particularly that of great apes. He has written extensively about affording legal rights to chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, and orangutans and is part of a group called the Great Ape Project (GAP).

This group recently achieved a major advancement in Spain, where:
"Members of parliament's environmental committee urged the government to comply with the "Great Apes Project", backed by scientists and philosophers who argue man's closest genetic relatives deserve such accords."
The law is likely to pass, giving our closest genetic relatives basic human rights - meaning they can't be used in experiments or be killed.

How genetically close to humans are they? According to GAP Board Member, Dr. Pedro A. Ynterian,
"Between the two of us we could even have a 0.5% difference in our DNA. The difference between a Chimpanzee and us is only 1.23%. Human blood and Chimpanzee blood, with compatible blood groups, can be exchanged through transfusion. Neither our nor the chimps blood can be exchanged with any other species.

We are closer genetically to a chimp than a mouse is to a rat."
Which is all well and good, but how is it that Peter Singer is so concerned with the life of a non-human (but genetically close to human) and simultaneously show such unconcern with 100% genetically actual humans - infants. He is part of a group that has lobbied for 14 years to get world governments to recognize the right to life of chimpanzees, while at the same time advocating the permissability of killing a 2 day, 2 month, even 2 year old child.

All because of his stout defense of what makes a person a person.

Here's hoping someday I don't fall out of this ethics professor's definition.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Woloquoi Davis

From the United Nations Population Fund:

Woloquoi Davis was just seven years old when the conflict in Liberia broke out. Rebels slaughtered his uncle and grand uncle before his very eyes. Forced to flee for his life, along with his few remaining family members, Woloquoi ran as fast as his young legs would carry him. Throughout his search for safety and freedom, he witnessed rebels killing innocent civilians and looting and burning the houses and property of his community members.

The Liberian conflict, which began in 1989, displaced hundreds of thousands of people and devastated the country’s economy. In 2003, the conflict came to an end and communities have had the opportunity to focus on the rebuilding of homes, neighbourhoods and basic infrastructures. But in a country where ritual murder, systematic rape, and torture were commonplace for more than a decade, some have found it hard to leave behind the habit of violence. After so many years, the thread of violence has become intertwined with the culture.

Woloquoi, now 25 years old, is trying to change his world by advocating for Liberia’s young people in the fight to stop all forms of the violence that he says “is destroying the social and moral shape of Liberia”. In his self-appointed role, Woloquoi volunteers for the United Youth Movement against Violence, an organization based in Paynesville City in the outskirts of the country’s capital, Monrovia. The Youth Movement, which teaches young people living in impoverished communities about issues such as gender-based violence through sports, art and other recreational activities, is supported by UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund.

In an interview during the Reproductive Health in Emergencies Conference, Woloquoi talks about how participating in the recreational activities helped him heal from the painful experiences of his past and empowered him to change the course of his life for the better. He also addresses some of the key issues affecting young people in Liberia today, such as the lack of education and the problem of prostitution and he explains why it is beneficial for communities and organizations to invest in young people early on.

What are some of the key issues affecting young people in Liberia today?

First is the lack of educational opportunities. Throughout many communities there are few or no schools. And if there is a school, most young people can’t afford it as there is no one to pay the fees since many have lost their families in the conflict. If a young person has completed primary school, there is hardly a secondary school. Higher education is purely a luxury. That is the problem I am facing myself, as I have finished high school, but can’t afford college now.

Other problems include violence perpetuated both by and against young people such as armed robbery, gender-based violence, teenage pregnancy, sexual exploitation and the threat of AIDS. Also related to these problems is the acute poverty in the country which leads to hunger, deprivation, and a high rate of prostitution for both males and females.

What role has education played in helping you to get where you are today?

There is a saying that “ignorance leads one into the deep pit”. I am not in that pit now because of the little education I have received. I have always seen education as my ultimate goal. And even though I have not had a constant flow of support for this goal, I have fought and will continue to fight to get to the highest level that I can possibly reach. This is what motivates me.

As for now, I use the limited education I have. The teaching job that I am doing in the community primary school gives me the small salary that I depend on every day for survival. I have the opportunity to teach and meet great people because of my education. If I was not educated, I would simply not be where I am today!

Can you explain how the United Youth Movement Against Violence was established and what its objectives are?

Violence was established in 1995 to gather young people to stand up against all forms of violence that had infested our community and country as a whole. Unfortunately soon after the group of young participants was mobilized, the community was attacked, and we were all isolated from one another. .

Today, the United Youth Movement Against Violence consists of about 150 members in Monrovia and has now spread to 7 of the 15 counties of Liberia. Is objectives are to involve young people in all levels of society where decisions for the future are made and to sensitize young people on the problems that stem from all types of violence, including physical, family, sexual and gender based violence. We also concentrate on mobilizing young people to take action against violence and other youth related issues like education, AIDS, sexual and reproductive health and culture.

What are some other ways United Youth Movement Against Violence works to motivate young people to take a stand against these types of violence?

We encourage young people by using drama, sports, cultural performances and musical concerts that incorporate our key messages, and we involve community leaders in our activities. We also distribute materials such as flyers, posters, T-shirts, banners, stickers, and wrist bands . And we use the media to get positive messages out in a youth-friendly way.

What are some positive changes you have seen in the attitudes of young people participating in the United Youth Movement Against Violence’s activities in regards to sexual and gender-based violence?

In Liberia, girls and women are at constant risk of all sorts of violence in their communities. Some are intimidated and afraid of their community members. Others have decided that sex means nothing and are now involved in prostitution which they consider to be a sign of strength and defiance. In fact, a good number of girls and women are afraid or reluctant to marry because of the violence that exists in the homes with husbands. Gender-based violence is destroying the social and moral shape of Liberia.

However, a good number of girls have benefited from our programme and have decided to abandon prostitution. They no longer see it as a viable alternative. The young men who participate also talk more about protecting themselves and their communities against violence. Many of our activities revolve around these topics and also sex and condoms. As a result, our participants have become leaders in their communities and therefore they have to live by what they preach.

Why is it important that young people in crisis situations have a space to be able to participate in sports, art, theatre, dance and similar recreational activities?

Through these activities, I have been encouraged to move on, to dream, to compete and to succeed. These recreational activities have motivated, empowered and given me a reason to live up to my responsibilities again and to feel human in the midst of my inhuman experiences. Right now, I have my own children’s football team that I coach to be able to help other children that have to deal with such difficult circumstances and have hope.

Why is it important for humanitarian aid organizations to include young people in all stages, such as the implementation and design, of projects that support them?

Young people are resourceful , and I believe that young people are the hope of tomorrow. Therefore if you invest in us, you will have a useful society. Also, if a vulnerable young person does not have help from anybody then he or she will feel that nobody cares for them and will engage in activities that will be detrimental to themselves and their communities.

Woloquoi, how will you work to help young people overcome hardships and find hope in the future?

After I lost my father in 1993, when I was just ten years old, I had no structure or society to turn to, and I wanted to give up. I know I had a choice to sit and dwell over my past and the loss of my family or to do something to make my late father proud of me. So instead, I decided to face life’s challenges and to stand up as a young man and move on.

Now, I want to complete my education. I want to go all around the world and preach messages that will help young people who are dealing with difficult circumstances to know that they can survive and change their lives for the better. I want to be able to say to them, ‘‘Hey, I have gone through terrible situations which are probably worse than most of yours. But I have overcome them and you can do the same my brothers and sisters! If I can make it, so can you!”

-- reported from New York by Shannon Egan

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Minimum Wage

Last year, amid some controversy, Congress passed an increase to the national minimum wage. There was the usual nonsensical political gamesmanship of course, but also something interesting. For the first time, American Samoa was included under the US minimum wage law. Until that point, their minimum wage had been determined by a Labor Department committee with significant input from local elected officials and business leaders. Every two years the wage was revisited and adjusted if called for by local conditions.

American Samoa's congressional representative, Eni Faleomavaega, argued that by raising the island's minimum wage Congress was ruining its economy. You see, much of the population is employed by the tuna industry, and should labor costs rise exponentially, those factories will shut down. An industry spokeswoman agreed with Representative Faleomavaega, as did a Department of Labor study. Sadly, no one in Congress paid attention.

What was so interesting about this whole episode were the economic principles on display. American Samoa's economy is far different than California's, and for decades they had been able to set their own wages according to their unique needs. But, isn't Utah's economy different than California's as well? In fact, doesn't Utah have varying mini-economies within its own borders? Then why shouldn't we be allowed to set our own wages?

As we ponder what happened to the American manufacturing industry, and why we call India for tech support, and wonder why our jobs were shipped overseas, maybe we should take a closer look at American Samoa. It appears there is an economics class being taught there in real life.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Quote For Friday

Teach a child to be polite and courteous and, when he grows up, he'll never be able to merge his car onto the freeway.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

War Protesting, War Undermining

Another gem from Orson Scott Card:

"Lincoln, facing probably defeat in the election, called together his cabinet and handed them a sealed memorandum, which he directed that they should sign as witnesses, so that when, after the election, the document was opened, they would know that this was what Lincoln had written at that time.

...because McClellan was running with the pledge to let the South have its victory in the Civil War after all, the Confederacy based all its hopes on prolonging the war long enough for McClellan to become president."

"This morning, as for some days past, it seems exceedingly probably [sic] that this Administration will not be re-elected. Then it will be my duty to so cooperate with the Government President elect, as to save the Union between the Election and the inauguration; as he will have secured his election on such ground that he cannot possibly save it afterwards."

Card argues here that enemies of the United States listen to public opinion and presidential candidates and adjust war strategy accordingly - namely, they try to hold out long enough for the American public, and by extension American politicians, to tire of the effort and quit. What the Democratic Party has done the last five years is undermine the war effort. Which shouldn't be surprising, since that's the express purpose of their protests and non-binding resolutions and campaign stump speeches. They want to leave Iraq, so of course those groups fighting for control of that country need only wait long enough for US policy to change with the new prevailing winds.

I've written on this topic a few times:

'Jane's Back: The Effect of War Protests'
'Thanks For The Support, Dad'
'Render Them Hostile to Bush'
'Speak Up And Speak Out: The Portland Protest March'

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Bill Simmons

I really like this guy. He's a huge Boston sports fan, loves basketball, and writes a good column. From his latest:

"for the Lakers' fans to have the gall to question any other NBA star's character is three times as insane. In retrospect, Pierce's only mistake was not diffusing the Lakers fans before Game 3 by settling with his right knee out of court and buying it a $4 million diamond ring."

"For the final shot of the first half, Kobe spotted Salvatore on the right side in front of the Lakers' bench, then drove right so he could be as close as possible to the ref if there was any contact. ... Of course, Salvatore obliged with a quick whistle for him. When a referee is affecting basketball decisions specifically by his particular place on the court, you know he has accomplished something special in life."

"here's a guy with a can't-miss 20-footer, superb footwork on the low post, great passing skills and legitimate athletic advantages over every Laker who will defend him in this series. Is there any reason Garnett shouldn't be averaging 30 a night? I can't think of one. Either way, there isn't a more fascinating character in the 2008 Finals with the exception of Kobe, who might end up killing Lamar Odom with his bare hands if the Lakers lose this series."

"All I can say is I sat close to the court for Games 1 and 2 and can confirm everything -- the glares, the yelling, the extended staring, the poisonous body language and everything else. If this had been pickup hoops, some of Kobe's teammates would have intentionally thrown a game just to get back to the sidelines, then done the "No, I'm running with these four guys" routine when he came over to ask if they wanted "Next" with him."

"Kobe is a wonderful basketball player. We all concede this point. Just don't keep trying to sell us on the fact he's a good teammate. We have a decade's worth of evidence that says otherwise. When the going gets tough, he goes into "me mode" and it's way too late for him to change. Sorry."

"Here's what I'm trying to tell you: Not only has the table has been set for a dramatic, memorable basketball game Thursday night, I think it's going to happen. After three choppy games, these teams are about to bring out the best in each other. Now, if they could only do the same for the Laker fans, we'd really have something."

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Alternative Energy Sources

From Orson Scott Card:
The correct solution to the oil problem, according to the Puritans, is to have fewer humans. Now, I haven't noticed them volunteering to lessen the population starting with themselves; nor have I seen their heroes bicycling everywhere (environmental ayatollah Al Gore's plane being a legendary instance).

But they do systematically resist every solution that doesn't involve wrecking the American economy and destroying the American way of life.

No insecticides! But also no genetically altered crops with enhanced resistance to insects and disease!

No coal-fired power plants! But also no clean nuclear plants! (Even though France has proven that standardized nuclear power is safe and relatively cheap.)

Yes, you can build windmill farms -- but you can't put them anywhere.

Solar collectors? Excellent -- but don't put them anywhere, either, because they interfere with the natural ecology -- even in the barest desert. (God forbid that lizards should have more shade.)

Collect solar power in space and beam it to Earth? Fine -- except that you are forbidden to actually receive the power anywhere because it's too dangerous.

Hydroelectric power? Great idea -- except that you can't build a dam anywhere because it transforms a surface environment to an underwater one, which, naturally, annoys the squirrels. Squirrels, being natural nonsinners, take precedence over evil, sinful humans, the only animal that is forbidden to act according to its nature.

Electric cars and public transportation? Great idea -- but not until after we've converted all power plants to non-carbon-emitting fuels. (Never mind that it can only ever happen the other way, converting to electric cars immediately, so they're already in place when the oil runs out or, as I hope, we stop buying it because we've met the need in other ways.)

It's so Calvinist, so Jonathan Edwards. To the environmentalists, the only reason we aren't a spider suspended by God's will over the fires of hell is that spiders are natural and don't deserve to be punished.

We have to do something -- the Environmentalists are right about that. But they are so puritan that there isn't actually anything that you are allowed to do because all the solutions are also sinful.

Fantasy Baseball

Fantasy Baseball is where you pick real players to compile your fantasy team and use their stats to compete against other fantasy teams. I have played fantasy baseball for almost a decade and have always done well, finishing either first or second every year. This year I have two teams I'm managing, so based on a decade of experience I had high expectations for how the year would end up.

So here we are, almost midway through June and my teams are in 6th place (out of 12 teams) and last place (out of 8 teams) respectively.

My sixth place team has been as high as second and as low as last. My pitching is weak, largely because I traded my best pitcher for an outfielder who was supposed to solve my stolen base problems. He's batting .215 and has been on the disabled list for a month. I traded that pitcher because he has a history of injury problems. So of course he's completely healthy now - and the pitcher I kept is hurt.

My offense is little better. I have Big Papi as my DH. He's now on the DL. I already mentioned my base-stealing outfielder. The one silver lining was that I have the best player in the game on my team - Albert Pujols. He hits for power and average, drives in runs, and even steals a few bases. He's a lock for the Hall of Fame. Imagine the sunshine that filled my world when I found out this morning he's headed for the injured list with what could be a year ending leg injury.

This is the sort of thing that happens to other fantasy managers. The ones in last place, the ones I dominated for years. I'd go look at their roster and see it decimated by injuries and off years. Poor guy, I'd think. He should have known that those players were injury prone. He should have seen the down year coming. I prided myself on spotting those players and avoiding them. I considered it the secret to my success.

Oh how the mighty have fallen

Monday, June 09, 2008

This Is What We Mean By 'Big Government'

This gem comes courtesy of the Daily Mail in Great Britain. Apparently, their "Environmental Audit Committee" thinks a personal carbon credit system should be made mandatory - meaning the government tells people how much carbon they are allowed to use each year, and gives them a credit card to keep track of it. Every time you buy gas, you'd have to swipe the carbon card to make sure you haven't gone over your limit. Every time your heating bill comes in, it zaps your carbon allotment. The system could even extend to buying food.

Sounds like a great idea! Unfortunately, the rest of the government isn't quite on board yet, saying it's wonderful, but maybe a bit ahead of its time.
A Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs report into the scheme found it would cost between £700million and £2billion to set up and up to another £2billion a year to run.

The scheme would penalise those living in the countryside who were dependent on their cars, as well as the elderly or housebound who need to heat their homes in the day.

Large families would suffer, as would those working at nights when little public transport is available.

It would need to take into account the size of families, and their ages. There is huge potential for fraud.

Matthew Elliott of the Taxpayers' Alliance said the cards would be hugely unpopular. 'The Government has shown itself incapable of managing any huge, complex IT system.' he said.
Or, you could just do us all a favor and end your life now. With fewer of you carbon pigs out there there'd be more to go around for the rest of us.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

NBA Finals

"The Laker fans conveniently forget that Kobe was a GRADE-A CANCER from 2001-2006. He was having probs with Shaq as far back as 1999. Of the 25 greatest players ever - and he's one of them - he was by far the worst teammate over the course of his career. Just because he's settled down and embraced principles like "not showing up guys on the court" and "not being a jerk" doesn't change what happened from 2001-06."

Bill Simmons, ESPN

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Tiananmen Square

Wang Dan, Exiled Protestor
"The Chinese people are not their government. Since 1989, my country and its people have changed much. But the government has changed remarkably little."

On Plaisted & Hibbert

This pretty much sums up my thoughts.

Lifted from the Deseret News comment board:
McDuck | 8:10 a.m. June 4, 2008

Hey, I take pride in my ability to get winded on my walk to the fridge and get beatin off the dribble by 14 year olds in church ball. It elevates my soul when I put icy hot on my back as I sit on a conference call in the office under life draining flourescent lighting. Good luck to Plaisted, he'll get to play somewhere and play better than 99.**% of the people on planet earth, maybe not at the NBA level, but good enough to get paid for it. I'd rather be shooting jumpers than chewing on an office phone. As for the Jazz, Hear! Hear! To another lathargic, unmotivated 7 footer who irritates all fans with his great potential, and less than mediocre results.