Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Odd Little Bits

I enjoyed these:

+ Zoo chimp "planned" stone attacks. More evidence that all chimpanzees secretly want to rip our faces off.

+ William Saletan created the mother of all false equivalences when he compared lifting the ban on embryonic stem cell research to supporting the torture of terrorism suspects by American authorities. Normally, the only people who mention false equivalences or other logical fallacies are blow-hards trying to show off. But this Saletan article is such a textbook example of the concept that I can't pass it up.

+ At the end of an otherwise mediocre New York Times review of Alexander Waugh's new book, The House of Wittgenstein, Jim Holt informs us:

"For all their quarreling, madness and self-destruction, the Wittgensteins were at least spared one sort of dysfunction: there is no trace of incestuous impulses among them. The same, alas, cannot be said of the author’s own family. Evelyn Waugh freely avowed feelings of more than paternal tenderness for his daughter Meg. When she announced her intention to wed a young man, her father sadly wrote to a friend, “She wants children, and that is a thing I can’t decently provide for her.” Even Oedipus would blush."

Wait...what? What does this have to do with the book, or with the Wittgensteins? Is this just your neighborly, "Hey there, no incest here! Not like Bob's dad. Who, by the way, committed incest." Intrigued by the idea that a well known conservative Catholic novelist was involved with his own daughter, I did a quick Google search and didn't find anything about incest in the first five Evelyn Waugh biographies I read. One did mention that Meg was his favorite child but that's hardly dispositive.

According to the biographical blurb at the end of the article, Jim "is working on a book about the puzzle of existence." Good luck with that Jim.


ninquelote said...

A - I could have told you that chimps were out to get us. Obviously you haven't read my other blog, www.chimpswanttoabortallhumans.com written under my alias, Ziggy Fairfield.

B - As the crazy, right-wing nut job that I am, I actually support stem cell research. In fact, I could use a few stem cells myself.

C - The incest thing is just weird. Maybe old Holt is trying to project his own incestuous behaviors onto this other guy.

Little Earl said...

At least Saletan admits that his comparison of stem cells to torture is "a similar, though not equal, dilemma." I actually didn't think this one was too bad. I kind of liked this part:

"At their best, proponents of stem-cell research have turned the question on its head. They have asked pro-lifers: How precious is that little embryo? Precious enough to forswear research that might save the life of a 50-year-old man? Precious enough to give up on a 6-year-old girl? How many people, in the name of life, are you willing to surrender to death?

To most of us, the dilemma is more compelling from this angle. It seems worse to let the girl die for the embryo's sake than to kill the embryo for the girl's sake, particularly since embryos left over from fertility treatments will be discarded or left to die, anyway. But it's still a dilemma. And as technology advances, the dilemmas will become more difficult."

He does seem to get worked up over some rather silly stuff however:

"The danger of seeing the stem-cell war as a contest between science and ideology is that you bury these dilemmas. You forget the moral problem. You start lying to yourself and others about what you're doing. You invent euphemisms like pre-embryo, pre-conception, and clonote. Your ethical lines begin to slide."

Yeah, sure, "clonote," buddy. Come on, we know what you're sayin'! But here's where the Big B.O. saves the day:

"If you don't want to end up this way—dead to ethics and drifting wherever science takes you—you have to keep the dilemmas alive. You have to remember that conflicting values are at stake. On this point, Obama has been wiser than his supporters. "Many thoughtful and decent people are conflicted about, or strongly oppose, this research," the president acknowledged on Monday. "We will never undertake this research lightly. We will support it only when it is both scientifically worthy and responsibly conducted."

yoggoth said...

Yeah, but that's not the argument that most people make in favor of stem cell research. Instead, we point out that a fetus is just a collection of cells with no awareness. They are worth nothing, so there is nothing to balance them against when we decide if we should use them to help others through research.

Saletan even admits, "embryos left over from fertility treatments will be discarded or left to die anyway" and then claims that there is still a dilemma in the very next sentence. I would disagree.

To compare using cells that would be discarded to help save lives, in short - forwarding the belief that life is worth more than trash, is the equivalent of advocating torture is absurd.

Then he makes fun of the Rabbi for determining that an embryo isn't human before it is 40 days old. Who is he to criticize that determination, and in an article whining about people criticizing ethical determinations?

yoggoth said...

"To compare using cells that would be discarded to help save lives, in short - forwarding the belief that life is worth more than trash, is the equivalent of advocating torture is absurd."

That sentence makes no sense. I'll try again: Using cells that would otherwise be discarded to help save lives is to value human life more than trash. It is in no way comparable to advocating the torture of human beings suspected of terrorism, and to suggest otherwise is absurd.

Herr Zrbo said...

Let's all go kill some embryos! I hear there's lots of them to smush on the sidewalk after a good rain.

ninquelote said...

Isn't using an embryo that would be discarded anyway, to further stem cell research in effect giving new life to that embryo. A life that it wouldn't otherwise have had.

Herr Zrbo said...

Please stop Ninquelote, you're making too much sense!