Monday, October 29, 2012

Living History - Hurricane Sandy

Right now, we here on Long Island are getting battered by Hurricane Sandy.  Residents of the barrier islands like Fire Island and Long Beach on the South shore were told to evacuate.  Watching on the news, most places on the South Shore and the East End have been flooded.

I'm fortunate to live near the midway point between the North and South shores, so I am not concerned with flooding.  What is causing devastation for those of us who live away from the coasts is the high wind speeds that are knocking down trees.  For me, it is an issue of special concern because we have a large tree in the middle of our back yard that has already lost many large branches that have struck our house and battered a section of the chain link fence between our yard and our neighbor to our immediate right.

I went outside a short while ago, first to inspect the exterior of the house and then to check out the immediate neighborhood.  Thus far, my house has suffered some minor damage, but nothing to get terrible upset about.  A falling branch took out a light bulb near our back door and dented a small portion of the gutter.  Our deck and behind our garage is littered with large branches.  On the front of the house, I espied a couple of missing roof tiles and a portion of the siding lining on the front of the house has gotten unattached and is swinging in the wind.  It wouldn't surprise me if the entire thing comes off before the night is over, unless the wind slackens.

The biggest concern is that the entire tree may come down.  When the wind blows especially hard, you can actually see the ground on one side rise up as the leaning of the tree to the other side creates an upward tug on the roots.  I can only hope that the tree either remains standing, or if it falls, that it will fall directly westward and miss both my home and my neighbor's home.

After surveying my house, I walked up and down my block in both directions.  Across the street, the homes are without power.  While the lights have flickered on and off at times here, we have been lucky that we have not lost power.  I am prepared for that contingency though, having an ample supply of glo sticks and flashlights.  One of my neighbors across the street, an elderly Italian man who lives alone, had a whole section of his siding torn off on the east side of his house.  I gave him one of my glo sticks.

Further down the block, a large tree in the front of one of the houses came down across the front lawn, though the house itself appears to have been mercifully spared..

And that's how things stand in my little section of the world tonight.  Depending on conditions tomorrow, I will see if I can take some pictures of the damage for a follow up post.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Oh, The Horror Of It!

USA Today has an article about the results of a survey by The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life that show that the percentage of Americans who do not affiliate with any religion has risen to 20%.

I haven't read the The Pew Forum's report yet.  What amused me though is the reaction of some of the religious persons quoted in the USA Today article.

First up is Rev. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptists Theological Seminary, who frets that "Today, there's no shame in saying you're an unbeliever, no cultural pressure to claim a religious affiliation, no matter how remote or loose."

Right, how dare we be open about being atheist, agnostic or just spiritual!

Then from North Dakota we have Wanda Melchert, who in response to The Pew Forum's report declares "we're praying about this. We feel there's a great need for people to turn back to God. When we lose that, it's dangerous for our country."

Really?  How so?

What is potentially dangerous is the possibility of violent religious reactionaries lashing out at a society that they feel they can no longer control.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Shit Anti-Choicers Say - The Gift From God

The October 2, 2012 edition of Newsday, Long Island's major newspaper, featured a letter-to-the-editor from a Marc de Venoge, who decried what he refers to as "[d]ecades of values-free... government and school policies" that "fail to treat the root cause" of teenage pregnancy.

The solution, according to de Venoge, is "to teach the basic notion that...any pregnancy is a God-created gift from the moment of conception." (Emphasis mine).   Of course, what de Venoge means by "any pregnancy" is every pregnancy, even if it results from rape or incest.

This echoes what former senator and failed Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum said in an interview with CNN's Piers Morgan earlier this year:

"I believe and I think the right approach is to accept this horribly created — in the sense of rape — but nevertheless a gift in a very broken way, the gift of human life, and accept what God has given to you."

Let's set this straight right away.  Pregnancy is not a "gift from God," it's the consequence of a biological process.  Here are a few excerpts from WebMD's slideshow on conception:

"A man may ejaculate 40 million to 150 million sperm, which start swimming upstream toward the fallopian tubes on their mission to fertilize an egg. Fast-swimming sperm can reach the egg in a half an hour, while others may take days. The sperm can live up to 48-72 hours. Only a few hundred will even come close to the egg, because of the many natural barriers that exist in a woman's body."

"The fertilized egg starts growing fast, dividing into many cells. It leaves the fallopian tube and enters the uterus three to four days after fertilization. In rare cases, the fertilized egg does not leave the fallopian tube. This is called a tubal pregnancy or ectopic pregnancy and is a danger to the mother."  (Emphasis mine).

Does de Venoge believe that God is monitoring the progress of each sperm cell and intervening where necessary so that the favored sperm reaches and fertilizes the egg?  And if it is such a divine gift, what divine purpose is served by an ectopic pregnancy?

There's also a flip side to this "Gift from God" argument.   According to the CDC, as cited in this pregnancy fact sheet, "About 10 percent of women (6.1 million) in the United States ages 15-44 have difficulty getting pregnant or staying pregnant."  de Venoge and his ilk are basically saying that women who are unable to conceive apparently are unworthy of such a gift from the Supreme Being.

Well, thankfully, at least for some women who have trouble getting pregnant the old-fashioned way, there's help that does not require divine intervention.

From the same fact sheet:

"Infertility can be treated with medicine, surgery, artificial insemination, or assisted reproductive technology. Many times these treatments are combined. In most cases infertility is treated with drugs or surgery."

That's right.  Where God fails, human ingenuity can sometimes fill the gap.

But even if I were willing to entertain the claim that human pregnancy is a gift from God, what about pregnancy that results from sexual reproduction in other species?  Or does it only apply to humans?

Todd Akin, Republican nutbag member of the House of Representatives from Missouri, who is currently running to be a Senator from that state, not long ago notoriously said that during a "legitimate" rape, a woman's body has the means of mounting a biological defense against the rapist's sperm to prevent a pregnancy.

Seriously though, if our anatomy was truly the result of the handiwork of an Intelligent Designer, then the human female could have been designed to either accept or reject a man's sperm regardless of whether the sexual encounter was consensual or coerced.  Just imagine, there would be no problem of teen pregnancy or abortion!   Now that would be a really useful gift.