June 19th, 2012


Recent studies on Emergency Contraception.

I had occasion to listen to a good Episode of Science Friday on NPR this week, which had a substantive interview with Kristina Gemzell

(her credentials)

The meat of it was, that Levonorgestrel based Emergency Contraception (Of which Plan B is an example) does not, despite various claims, have any effect that prevents the implantation of a fertilized egg. Rather, its only effective action is to prevent (or delay) ovulation, which prevents conception.

The relevant studies are linked here and here . They show that there is no statistically detectable pregnancy preventing effect if Levonorgestrel is given post-ovulation. She goes on to say that, should Levonorgestrel be taken post-ovulation, and/or post-fertilization, that it has no effect on the uterine lining, no effect on implantation, and no negative effect on the progression of the pregnancy or the health of the eventual fetus.

Interested parties can listen to the podcast here:

And there is more good information at the show's blog, here:

In a nutshell, so far as it can be scientifically determined, Plan B is a pure contraceptive, and not an abortifacient.

Obviously, those who are opposed to birth control in general will still be opposed to Plan B. But I am very interested in seeing the reaction of certain social conservatives who go to great lengths to couch their opposition to Plan B (and even the more typical oral contraceptive pills) as opposition to abortifacients. Framing, as they do, their opposition in terms of "Life Begins at Conception", will they change their tune, I wonder, when there is clear evidence that Levonorgestrel based Emergency Contraception indeed acts to prevent conception, and ONLY to prevent conception? Some may simply deny the science, and maybe others will even move the goal posts from "Life begins at conception" to "Life begins at insemination."

I think this can be an important litmus test to detect politically motivated insincerity and hidden agendas. Many (including myself) have always harbored the suspicion that "ensoulment" arguments are cynically used as a public relations tool, since 'protecting life' is a far more palatable justification than 'enforcing pregnancy'. Those who continue to typify Plan B as an abortion pill, in the teeth of evidence, reveal the actual unimportance of 'ensoulment' to their political goals. Continued opposition would be yet another small verification to those who believe that the real motivation behind it is the desire to reinforce traditional gender roles and sexual mores by recreating the traditional penalties of sex.
My Update Portrait

Politics as Unusual


I'm totally down with insurrection in the street. I've had a great time with that over the years. Insurrection in the voting booth is the other part of the equation. - Jello Biafra

Hi. It’s me. Your idealistic moderate Democrat who feels the government essentially works like it should. It may not be to your liking, but then, that’s democracy for you. Just when you think you’re getting everything your own way, everybody else in the country comes along and pisses on your parade.

[So, what's the alternative?]

I am hearing more and more that people don’t want to vote in elections because, either their favorite candidate was defeated in the primary or they feel the two separate and distinct parties are exactly the same. The evidence they cite for this is the practice of one president providing some continuity from the prior administration so that the country isn’t in a constant state of turmoil.

It is said that the states are the laboratories of democracy. If that’s the case, apparently California is the mad scientist. They are experimenting with non-partisan primaries in an attempt to relieve the partisan legislative gridlock in Washington. Instead of the parties having a runoff in the elections, the top 2 candidates by popular vote will face off in the election regardless of party affiliation.

According to Pew Research over the last 25 years, our divisions aren’t necessarily by party, but ideology. The primary point of disagreement is the role of government vs. social safety nets, not Republicans vs. Democrats.

I am hearing recurrently that a 3rd party can really shake things up in our political system. Well, there’s been encouraging news. Peter Ackerman is a venture capitalist that was pumping millions of dollars in a party called Americans Elect. The purpose of this party was to draft a presidential candidate, any candidate that could give Americans a true choice in the next election.

The problem is that they couldn't get a credible candidate to run for their party. They were hoping for a field of choices like Ron Paul, Chris Christie, Michael Bloomberg, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell or even Hillary Clinton. Instead what they wound up with was a field that seemed a little less than presidential.

These include prospects like Kenneth Domagala, who wants to make Cuba the 51st state, and Dwight Smith, who has been running for president for the last 52 years. Americans Elect had already gotten their party on the ballot in 28 states. They felt they had the momentum to get on all 50. The only thing that seemed to be missing was a plausible candidate. This party claims to provide the solution that all of America seems to be screaming for as an alternative to politics as usual.

I am not surprised that peculiar people are coming out of the woodwork to run. If this community shows anything, it is that everyone is trying to shape politics in their own image; even to the detriment of everyone else. There is little, if any regard for the one-size-fits-all solutions that are inherent to a federal government structure. Even self-described centrists are straying from their regular temperament in the opinion pages of our news media.

The funding was there. The infrastructure seemed to be there. What was missing? You tell me.


Rendering Unto Caesar: Transcending Roman Feminism‏

It is important to give credit where it is due. As such, I would like to thank Cardinal-Deacon Lavada's merry band of inquisitors for banning a work of Sister Margaret Farley of Yale Divinity School. Had they not done so, I probably would not have researched the woman's work. When the Vatican attacks an author or a work of literature, they do a great service to us all. They give a boost to the author by spotlighting the work and they shine a light in a corner of the intellectual world that might otherwise go unnoticed. According to The Guardian, sales of the book have since spiked.

Although I greatly admire Ms Farley for her contributions to medical and sexual ethics, her position on theology leaves much to be desired. For one thing, she considers the material Creator to be a transcendent entity. For her it is the ultimate reality. I am not sure where she got these notions but, with more careful investigation, she could come to understand the basic flaws in such propositions.

Christian orthodoxy was established on the false proposition that the heavenly parent of which Jesus spoke was the same as the deity of Abraham. When we assume that they are distinct entities, references to each take on different sets of meaning. Without that basic tool of inquiry, the material Creator serves to hinder transcendence rather than to promote it. Instead of being a gateway to higher experience, the Creator bars the passage out of the domain of delusion.

One of the reasons that Christian orthodoxy prefers to conflate the two entities is that it facilitates control. Such a conflation limits divinity to a narrow domain under the strict rule of a despotic hierarchy. It puts Jesus into a tightly controlled cage and prevents anyone from following in his footsteps. It has also been used historically as a power tool to maintain Roman hegemony. Roman potentates much prefer to wield the magic of the deity of Abraham than to practice the simple virtues espoused by Jesus. That way, they can continue to live in the lap of luxury and vice.

Farley asserts that the material Creator fashioned the human body. She should reconsider this position. Given the historic evidence, it seems more likely that the material Creator is a fabrication of the human mind. There was a time when it did not exist. People who seek to enslave humanity hold up the idea of the material Creator as a way to terrorize others into submission. Obey their dictates or risk eternal punishment.

Rome is not an eternal city. It was built as a human endeavor. Nothing that has a beginning is eternal. Once we investigate the way that the Roman deity was crafted, we can see that it will not last forever. William Paley made the false assertion that people converted willingly to the Christian religion in contrast to convert-or-die religions. This ignores the fact that people reluctantly subscribed to the Nicene Creed. Heretics preferred death to kowtowing to the Nicene idol.

I admire Farley's work. It is well researched with a strong grounding in classical antiquity. She sheds significant light on the machinations of despotism and its Christian aspect. I hope she eventually transcends the material Creator to experience a more perfect bond with the eternal.

Do you have any concept of transcendence in your political world?

Links: UK Guardian article on the Vatican ban. Margaret Farley on the sources of sexual inequality in Christianity. Margaret Farley on bioethics. Patheos Press blog article on Margaret Farley's reaction to the Vatican action.

(no subject)

Why Smart People Are Stupid

In fact, introspection can actually compound the error, blinding us to those primal processes responsible for many of our everyday failings. We spin eloquent stories, but these stories miss the point. The more we attempt to know ourselves, the less we actually understand.

This is a study that could advance what we know about intelligence, except that it appears they come to a funny conclusion and miss the obvious.

This trend held for many of the specific biases, indicating that smarter people (at least as measured by S.A.T. scores) and those more likely to engage in deliberation were slightly more vulnerable to common mental mistakes.

The bolded parenthetical is the most important part. What this study highlights to me is that how we are measuring intelligence is lacking, because it doesn't take this "feature" into account. A significant part of the problem is that we assume that people who are highly educated or can do well on certain tests are actually more intelligent overall, and what I would say this data actually points out that that isn't the case.

...demonstrated that we’re not nearly as rational as we like to believe. When people face an uncertain situation, they don’t carefully evaluate the information or look up relevant statistics. Instead, their decisions depend on a long list of mental shortcuts, which often lead them to make foolish decisions. These shortcuts aren’t a faster way of doing the math; they’re a way of skipping the math altogether.

A smaller subpoint is that this is not a logical conclusion. Our brain still uses a logical process to get to an answer, it's just using the wrong assumptions. That doesn't make us any less rational.

This post is slightly in honor of panookah, as it's about thinking about thinking, and slightly self-serving, as I can honestly point out that I didn't miss either of the two questions posed in the article (go ahead and test yourself honestly as you read the article). But those are just side points.

This poll is just for fun, if you did test yourself on the two sample questions in the article.

I got the first question (price of the bat)

didn't answer

I got the second question (lily patch)

didn't answer

Too much democracy kills democracy?

Here's something curious. As we know, Switzerland is the country of referenda. Almost any issue of some import is decided by a popular vote. There are half a dozen general referenda every year, and many more on a canton level.

Well, the Swiss voters had yet another referendum the other day, where they decided... that democracy has gone too far in this country. They rejected by a huge majority a proposal for organizing referenda on international treaties before they could be approved by Switzerland.

As usual, the devil is in the details. The right-wing nationalists called this referendum, insisting that the Swiss people should have the decisive say whenever their government had to sign an important international agreement. But not even one of the 26 cantons came any close to voting in favor of the proposal, and the idea was rejected by 75% of the voters.

Most mainstream parties were against the proposal right from the onset, because, as one of the billboards said, "Too much democracy kills democracy". That's kind of funny. Reminds me of an eastern proverb, which says "Too much good isn't good".

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