It's a very thoughtful, nuanced post in general, but includes this statement:
I believe life begins scientifically at the moment of conception when new and unique DNA is created when the egg and sperm meet. Except in rare cases, like ectopic pregnancies and other circumstances in which the zygote can't become a fetus and then a born baby, life will continue from that point unless interrupted.
I've heard something very similar from many "pro-lifers", including some here. The problem with this paragraph is that it claims to be about "science", but is made up of errors or falsehoods.
1. "Scientifically" life does not begin, it is transmitted. There is no non-living link in human reproduction. The scientific answer to "When does life begin?" is "Three billion years ago." For "When does human life begin?" the answer is "About 100,000 years ago."
2. Not all humans have new and unique DNA: identical twins are people, too. The process of splitting one zygote into twins is not instantaneous, and frequently the identical embryos recombine to form a single individual. At what point do you say "there are two human lives here"? If they recombine (or one absorbs the other) after that point, has there been a death? (I wrote about this point and the next 4 years ago, in A single cell is not a person: the problem of twins, but because I am basing my opinions on science, they've changed a bit since then.)
3. Conversely, some individual humans are chimeras: they contain two different sets of "new and unique DNA", when two distinct embryos (in your thinking, two distinct human lives) have merged in utero. If you start with 2 human lives and end up with one individual, does this mean that one of those human lives ended? Which one?
4. The statement that life will continue from the point of conception to birth "except in rare cases" is false. On the contrary, it's been estimated that only 30% of human conceptions progress to live birth. About 25-30% never make it to implantation (which is the start of pregnancy), another 30% die during the first week or so, 10-15% are recognized as miscarriages, and 1% are stillbirths.
It turns out that a large percentage of human zygotes are not capable of developing to the point of birth because they don't have a "clean" set of chromosomes. This is extremely surprising, and so far unexplained--though obviously a hot topic for research. It's surprising because in other well-studied mammals (mice, for instance), 90% or more of zygotes are good to go. It's also surprising because conception and early embryo formation are "mission-critical" for living creatures. Natural selection will act most strongly, random mutations won't be tolerated, and we expect the biochemistry to be very conservative and slow to change.
And yet, human reproduction seems to be *incredibly* buggy, much more so than for chimpanzees. My evolutionary-biologist instincts suspect this didn't evolve via natural selection, but is a mistake solidified by inbreeding during a severe population bottleneck at some point well before the evolution of Homo sapiens: from 200,000 years ago back to maybe 1.5 million y.a.
Regardless of cause, right now the reality is that most human zygotes cannot lead to a live birth. They're all human and alive, but only a minority of them are capable of becoming a human person. Most are not "babies", even potentially.
5. Saying "life will continue from that point unless interrupted". No, without the active support of a human uterus the death rate for human embryos is 100%. An embryo's life doesn't just "continue", it needs ongoing contributions from the mother to stay alive.
Even on the biological level, these contributions aren't automatic. It's becoming clear that the uterus isn't just an accepting and supportive environment for embryos, it's a testing ground. The uterus chooses (there's that word again!) which embryos are worth growing, and aborts the rest. That's why so many human embryos die in the first week or so after implantation: some are too buggy to make it any further and die on their own, but others are killed by the lining of the uterus.
It's been plausibly suggested that this is why humans menstruate--unlike the other great apes and almost all other mammals, which thriftily re-absorb the uterine lining instead. Costly, messy menstruation is worth it for humans, to clean out defective embryos that have embedded themselves in the uterine lining. It's the natural equivalent of a post-miscarriage D&C each cycle.
Science-based arguments can be made for putting "the start of respectable human life" at a number of different times during development: conception, heartbeat, movement or "quickening" (traditional), brain formation, brain development, birth (another traditional point), etc. Some of these arguments may well be stronger than the ones for conception. And that's aside from the point that Christians should really be talking about immortal souls, not biological lives, and are using "when life begins" as a kind of rhetorical stalking-horse for "ensoulment", which is clearly not a scientific term.
The current "pro-life" movement doesn't date respectable human life from conception because that's scientifically irreproachable (it's not). They *chose* that point for non-scientific reasons, then picked the science to support it. It's dishonest, and follows a tradition of ignorance and bullshiting in the movement. I'm using "bullshit" in philosopher Harry Frankfurt's sense, to mean that they're not consciously lying, they just don't care about the truth.
 I first heard (read) this formulation in the 1980s, in a report about a scientist testifying at a Congressional hearing. I can't find the reference, though.
 I'm using "respectable" to mean "worthy of respect similar to that toward a person". Because I can.
It's strikingly difficult to find a Goddess of Miscarriage in any culture. I can't believe that women didn't pray to *someone* in their religious pantheons: prayer for solace after a miscarriage, prayer to avert another one, and prayer to have one, when a woman was pregnant and didn't want to be. I'm betting that lack of evidence here is because written records come from men, and miscarriage rituals fell behind a heavy veil of Women's Mysteries. Coatlicue is just one possible nominee.
Is it corrupt to profit from your public office if all the profit comes after you held the office? In my professional circles, you can go work for the government for a few years and then leave and go make a bunch of $$ working for an accounting or law firm in the specific sub-discipline you worked in at the government. It is generally understood that you are forgiven for any sins you may have committed against the private sector during your public service, but I sometimes wonder if things are being held back or positions are not taken that might benefit the public for fear of harming future employment prospects.
Also, apparently the 2016 Olympics of Doom Opening Ceremony is, what, today? I think maybe it should take a decade off. When does Usain Bolt run the 100M final? This is still amazing. I hope he's clean.
Any good new music out there? Books?
Golf sucks without Tiger. Go Nats, but bring on the NFL!
Continuing from the previous post about the Best Pro Artist nominees, here are the candidates for Best Fan Artist. Four of them are from the Rabid Puppy slate, one is not.
"Scars", by Matthew Callahan. "A reflection of the fatigue and doubt troopers may have when faced with back-to-back deployments to a combat zone."
Matthew Callahan was nominated by the Rabid Puppies, but is actually doing really good, interesting, novel work. Callahan is a pro photographer and videographer for the US Marine Corps. His SFF art is of posed Star Wars action figures in "realistic" settings, to look like public relations photos or war journalism.
If it weren't for the slate thing, Callahan would definitely be a ranking fan artist as far as I'm concerned. As it is, I'll have him below "No Award" but still on my ballot.
disse86 is a Swedish artist who does brutally ugly digital paintings. He was nominated by the Rabid Puppies and didn't submit any work for the Hugo packet, so he won't appear anywhere on my ballot.
Kukuruyo makes comics and images, mostly soft-core porn and/or Gamergate. He's on the ballot because the Rabid Puppies think we'd hate him, and they're right.
Christian Quinot aka Darkcloud013 is a Filipino artist. Most of his posted work is for game designs. It's not remarkable in any particular way, so I have no idea how he ended up on the Rabid Puppy slate. He submitted nothing for the Hugo packet, either, and won't be on my ballot.
Steve Stiles: "Death Trap", cover for fanzine Askance 35. It wasn't in the Hugo Packet, but I like it better.
Steve Stiles was a Hugo Award nominee as Best Fan Artist in 1967, 1968, 2003 through 2008, and 2010-2015. This year, he's the only Fan Artist nominee who didn't come from the Rabid Puppies slate. He had the highest number of nominations last year, so it's not surprising that he's the non-slate artist to break through the Puppy Wall.
Stiles' work is out of the old fanzine tradition, not the newer web-based art I generally prefer. But he absolutely is getting my vote for Best Fan Artist, as the only "real" nominee. I put down No Award in second place, with Callahan after that as a Not Honorable But Deserving Mention.
Overall, the Fan Artist category is in terrible shape.
Andersen's images are created using rendering or imaging packages (Vue, Renderosity, Poser, etc.), tweaked in Photoshop: he does not personally create most of the elements in the images, nor does he modify them so much that you can't tell where they came from. If you compare them to, for instance, the paintings of Hugo-nominated John Harris, they aren't comparable. Andersen's work takes a trivial amount of skill, creativity, and thought compared to Harris', and I don't think he deserves to be on the Hugo ballot at all -- aside from the question of whether slated works should be there.
Larry Elmore: Cover for Correia's "Son of the Black Sword"; Castalia House
Larry Elmore is a long-time fantasy artist who I wanted to put on 2015 Hugo Art, but I could only find one work published in 2015: the cover for Larry Correia's Son of the Black Sword, published by Castalia House (it isn't even on his site). That explains his connection to the Rabid Puppies and why he was nominated. He submitted no works to the Hugo Packet, so I won't put him on my ballot.
Michal Karcz: Cover for album, "Unicorn Dreams of Electric People"
Michal Karcz aka Karezoid is a Polish digital artist. He appears to combine stock photos and his own photography with other digital effects to create his images, which are exceptionally smooth. Most of the images he submitted for the packet aren't "Pro", as far as I can tell, and those that are (e.g. "Unicorn Dreams of Electric People") are for music, not books. I see no reason for him to be on the Hugo ballot, and he won't be on mine. He's still much better than Andersen, though.
Abigail Larson: Monster in my Closet
Abigail Larson is the only one of the Rabid Puppy nominees I had already included in 2015 Hugo Art. I have no idea what moved them to put her on the ballot.
Larry Rostant: cover for Elliott's "Black Wolves"; Orbit
Larry Rostant is another digital artist, by far the most professional of the digital-art nominees. He takes top-flight photographs of athletes and models, and combines them with digital imagery: heavy on equipment, light on landscape and setting. If you consider this a legitimate form of SFF art, and if you don't mind the fact that he got on the ballot from a slate, I could see putting him above No Award. I won't, but I'll probably still have him on my ballot lower down.
Overall, this is a very poor set of choices. Three are digital artists, none so skilled or creative that I'd call them Artists of the first rank. Elmore is a very good artist who's almost entirely retired (possibly ill), and Larson is what I'd call an Artist of the second rank: skilled and professional, but not transcendent.
Well, now that that's over with let the real campaign begin! Or whatever.
Here's a NYTimes article on deference given to police officers when it comes to the use of force, in particular deadly force. ISTM that a standard "was it reasonable to reasonably fear for your safety" is a bit too loose. And some more sunlight on the internal investigations. Plus vigorous prosecution for lying on police reports and in court (both of which are distressingly common it seems in cases of potential officer misconduct).
Also, and perhaps not quite on the same topic, what's happened to Bryce Harper? And does anyone care about the Olympics anymore?
Since Hillary Clinton announced (via text message!) her choice of Tim Kaine as her running mate, I've seen people say that he was chosen for governing experience, not for what he brings to the campaign; or for some sort of general "pivot to the center" policy quality, without the ability to fire up the Democratic base.
What no-one seems to be pointing out is that Kaine appeals to a specific demographic, and that choosing him is part of a coordinated effort by the Clinton Campaign.
That demographic is Nice White Republican Women. They're risk-averse and conflict-averse, they try hard to be nice, and they're only happy with a political choice if they can say, "they seem like a nice person."
Donald Trump is not a Nice Person. He's angry, he shouts, he insults people, he's crude. He's also specifically threatening to white women because he's almost a caricature of The Guy Who Will Dump You, the man whose loyalty only extends as far as he thinks you're "hot".
Most NWRW will still vote for him, out of party & tribal loyalty or because they hate Hillary even more. But some of them are "Dem-curious", willing to consider breaking their usual habit of voting Republican.
Tim Kaine is, by all accounts, really nice. Notably, many Senate Republicans like him and have worked with him. NWRW hate conflict and wish people could just get along, and they'll find Kaine's collegial track record very reassuring.
Kaine's contribution to the ticket, for NWRW, isn't so much his policies or experience as his personality. He reassures them that Democrats can be nice people, and his niceness makes Trump's nastiness more obvious by contrast. He's also reassuring, frankly, because he's a white male, so will come across as more "normal" and safe to NWRW who are twitchy about breaking ranks.
I'm pretty sure the Clinton Campaign, no fools, is targeting NWRW voters with ads like April's Love and Kindness and the recent Role Models. The message expressed here isn't "Hillary will fight for you" or "Hillary will work with you", as she says to progressive supporters. Instead, these ads say "Hillary values what you do: kindness, children, getting along. Being nice."
I sometimes listen to Right wing religious radio in the car when I'm driving around for work. Our "local" FM station is very popular- it's listener supported with donations- some kind of local franchise of a national company.
Anyway, they were doing a wrap up of the convention and a lot of the religious Righties calling in hate Trump and say he's taken over the GOP and made it godless. The callers were like 90% women- one after another. They don't believe he's anti-abortion and they hate, hate, hate that he has multiple ex-wives. Several said his grown children didn't talk about their mothers at the convention. Obviously they probably can't talk about their mothers at the Trump Show with Melania sitting there, but these women thought that was hugely disrespectful- that they didn't mention their mothers.
Most of those callers will NEVER vote for Hillary, they're too strongly anti-abortion. But some of their friends might (though without telling anyone) because they're so repelled by Trump and reassured by That Nice Tim Kaine.
I also noticed this tweet from James Fallows:
Very interesting to watch Fox right now. They are *all* saying Kaine did very well, and voters want to hear some hope.
Roger Ailes is barely out the door, and Fox News is already becoming less all-Republican-all-the-time. If they start to reflect the values of conservative women where they diverge from conservative men--a preference for compromise over anger, for instance--this change could be enormously consequential. Policy is still important, of course, but what voters respond to first is personality and emotional style. Kaine's personality is going to draw some Republican voters over to the Democratic side, and that's a powerful reason he's on the ticket.
"Storm System" by James Lahey, 2006. Maybe our storm is passing.
For those of you who are heartily sick of politics, here's your chance to change the subject. (But you are going to have to do it yourselves.)
We had lots of fun pointing fingers at the things that went wrong (from our point of view, at least) in last week's convention. But here's an opportunity to do the opposite.
Assume that the purpose of a convention is to improve the chances of winning the election in November. What happened this week that would increase the Republicans' chances?
A few opening thoughts:
There were a fair number of minority folks speaking. Almost as many as there were delegates, but what people at home see are the speakers.
They actually had an openly gay (and not ashamed of it) guy speaking. He was clear that he disagreed with parts of the platform, but at least he was up there. (Will the Democrats do likewise?)
Ivanka Trump gave a speech that sounded like she was channeling the Democrats platform, rather than the one adopted by the Republican convention. But nobody except total politics wonks actually reads the party platform anyway.
None of those things may sway a lot of voters. Then again, they might -- or at least convince them to take a look.
The anti-Trump forces have failed in their attempt to force a roll call vote on the convention rules. Featured during the attempt: the person chairing the convention up and walked off the stage for 10 minutes. Didn't bother to try to gavel things back into order. Just left.
Just caught on the radio, this from a delegate on the whole roll call vote effort: "Trump is our nominee. We should just do it, without messing around with rules or anything." Because why should rules, whether Rules of Order or any other kind, be given any notice when what is important is doing what we want? Good to know.
Tonight is the start of a new HBO series, Vice Principals. I'm not privy to the screeners given to pro reviewers, but based on their reports it's the most blatantly racist show that's been on TV in my adult life (and I was born in the 1950s). It sounds like the fictional counterpart to Donald Trump's campaign: against "political correctness" and for the honest, open expression of anti-black, anti-woman, anti-immigrant hostility. The only question is whether the show's racism is due to ignorant cluelessness, honest Trumpism, or cynical courtship of the Trumpist population.
This post contains spoilers, which is OK by me because the show is already rotten.
In the second episode, the two break into her house, smash her possessions, and eventually set her house on fire.
I was so appalled that I went looking for a fuller description, which I found from Willa Paskin at Slate:
Neal and Russell break into Brown's house to try to get some dirt on her. Finding nothing, Russell starts to break stuff: a plate, a mug. He bullies Neal into breaking things too until Neal is overcome by a kind of bloodlust. In a slavering frenzy, the two lay waste to the house, smashing televisions and tables, sticking chairs into walls, slashing a portrait of Brown and her two sons. And then Russell takes a lighter to the curtains; the house burns to the ground. Where Gamby is acting on animal instinct, Russell understands they can't leave the house as is: too much evidence.
In this scene, violence acts as a respite for the violent, a few minutes when they don't have to think, when they answer to no one, when they are kings and can be as destructive as they please. By asking its audience to get caught up in this delirium, Vice Principals wants to demonstrate the lure of this kind of destructive power. I admire the gambit, but I couldn't go for it. Witnessing a temper tantrum that's nearly a hate crime is about as funny on TV as it is in the news.
Let me emphasize again: burning the home of a black person to "encourage" them to leave town isn't "outrageous", "unbelievable", or "over-the-top" -- as it ought to be if it's the stuff of comedy. And it's not a historical relic of the distant past, either: such arsons continue into the 21st century, though at least they're rare, now.
Skimming through reviews of "Vice Principals", most critics don't even mention the racism, and those who do say things like "may be arriving at a less than ideal time for its particular brand of humor" or "utter cluelessness about the times in which we live" -- as though there might have *ever* been a time when "hilarious hate crime" was OK or at least unremarkable.
The obliviousness of most reviewers does lend credence to the idea that McBride & Hill are simply clueless and unreflective about what they've put together. It's also quite possible that they're closeted Trumpists, who share their views without admitting it (possibly to themselves). McBride said, in a Rolling Stone interview where Jonah Weiner tried to push him toward self-awareness:
the idea is that there's this image of alpha-male masculinity that back in the day people aspired to, but in the current social context it's seen as oppressive and narrow-minded. So these characters are trying to behave in the way they think they're supposed to, but the seat at the table for guys like them is disappearing.
The resentment among whites feels both old and distinctly of this moment. It is shaped by the reality of demographic change, by a decade and a half of war in the Middle East, and by unease with the newly confident and confrontational activism of young blacks furious over police violence. It is mingled with patriotism, pride, fear and a sense that an America without them at its center is not really America anymore.
There's a pretty good chance that "Vice Principals" will appeal to such people -- Saraiya says that it seems to be aimed at them:
... in a world where there doesn't seem to be enough empathy to go around, choosing to give these two men in particular so much consideration feels like wasteful confusion, like the most basic kind of carelessness. The focus makes an obvious implication about the intended audience of this comedy. This is a show pitched at the Neals and Lees of the world, not the Belinda Browns.
There's a streak of angry malice running throughout "Vice Principals" that comes out in odd outbursts of slur-ridden insults or especially heinous examples of workplace manipulation. It feels often as if the show cannot contain the anger and resentment it is trying to tap into, and instead of doing the work of converting it into comedy, it has just unleashed unpleasantness into the ether.
Maybe McBride & Hill are cynically appealing to Trumpists. After all, even if Trump True Believers are only 30% of the population and not destined for political dominance, that's one hell of a large demographic by TV standards, a tempting target.
Even if McBride & Hill want to show their protagonists eventually seeing the error of their racist ways, they're doing it wrong. I keep thinking of what the fan lierdumoa said last year in a tumblr discussion of "Mad Max: Fury Road":
there's a great lie we've been told -- that in order for an audience to understand that a character is sexist, women must be humiliated on camera.
The truth is this:
When a male character calls a female character a bitch in a movie, that is not the filmmaker's way of showing the audience the character is sexist; that is the filmmaker's way of showing the audience that the character's sexist point of view is worth hearing.
What McBride & Hill are doing is showing their audience that the POV of violent racist misogynists is worthwhile, and comically amusing. McBride says "my character, Neal, as much as he's a jerk, has a solid heart."
"A solid heart" -- because he didn't really mean to commit a hate crime, it just sort of happened. Please. This is Lee Atwater-ism, and just because McBride isn't saying the N-word doesn't mean his audience can't hear it.