Saturday, April 30, 2005

No abortion for you!

I normally try to stay away from politically charged issues, since that isn't the purpose of my blog. But this makes me ANGRY. And when I get angry I get cranky. And I don't want to be cranky on a Saturday.

Apparently, a judge in Florida has blocked a 13 year old girl from having an abortion because she isn't mature enough to make the decision herself.

So, let me get this straight. A 13 year old girl isn't mature enough to decide to have an abortion, even though Florida law says that minors can make that decision for themselves. But she is mature enough to carry the baby to term and raise the child herself?

To me this is like saying that an 18 year old isn't mature enough to claim to be a conscientious objector but is mature enough to be sent off to die in foreign wars. Except it's even worse, because it adds yet another unwanted life to this planet while endangering the health of the 13 year old, since 13 year olds are not generally finished with their development and aren't in the ripe and ready state to become breeding vessels.

Interestingly enough, the American news media hasn't really picked up on this story, and although it has been reported in several places, including the Washington Post, it hasn't captured the heart of our nation the way Terri Schiavo's case did. The story is even sadder as reported by the Washington Post - the girl is living in a state shelter and has run away numerous times. Does this sound like a 13 year old who is ready to be a mother? Do you really think she will regret her decision to have an abortion when she's 19 and has a 6-year-old and probably at least one other kid?

If she's living in state facilities, clearly she isn't going to have a whole lot of parental support to help her care for the kid. How is she supposed to take care of it? Get a job? At 13? Oh wait. She's too young to work. I guess welfare is the only real option. That's great. A welfare mom at 14 who gets held up as an example of all that is wrong with our social benefits by the right-wingers, and whose condition would be due to these same people's meddling in personal affairs.

Even the Bulgarian news agencies seem to have taken an interest in this. Doesn't the judge see how irrational this decision seems to most people? Don't people realize that a 13 year old is not mature enough to make most decisions, should probably not have been having sex in the first place, but is most definitely not mature enough to carry the baby to term?

This makes me angry and disappointed at the same time. I cannot fathom a rational thought process that would lead to the conclusion that since this girl is too immature to have an abortion she isn't too immature to carry it to term. Of course this decision will be appealed, and the ACLU has already become involved. But let's remember that she's already 3 months pregnant. Any decision must be made fast or else she really won't be legally able to have an abortion.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

The biggest news no one cares about

I think I should make this an ongoing feature on my blog. I keep running across stories that to me seem huge but for some reason get somewhat overlooked by the media.

In particular, today's story, about the 90th anniversary of the beginning of the Armenian genocide (following right on the footsteps of the 90th anniversary commemoration of Gallipoli) offers hope for renewed relations between Turkey and Armenia.

According to the article, Robert Kocharian, president of Armenia, "responded with 'let us meet without any pre-conditions' to the suggestion of "establishing a joint commission of historians and other experts" made by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan about the so-called Armenian allegations."

This is huge. The Armenians and the Turks have been unwilling to compromise on the definition of Turkish actions against the Armenians. The Armenians see it as genocide, while the Turks strongly deny its genocidal nature. The tensions between Armenia and Turkey have been centered on this issue for decades.

Of course, the article is from a Turkish paper, and if the Turkish press continues to use language such as "the so-called Armenian allegations," nothing will ever come of discussions.

It is time that Turkey face the unpleasant historical reality of its actions, and while this first step may not lead to any real acknowledgment on the part of the Turks, it is an important milestone in what will undoubtedly be a long and argumentative process. After all, the debate over the nature of the massacre of the Armenians has been going on for decades, and no resolution has been met. But as long as Turkey wishes to be part of the EU, it will have to address this issue and make it part of public discourse.

Kocharian has made an important concession to the Turks in refraining from addressing the Armenian genocide as a genocide in his letter to the Turkish government, as the article states. Nevertheless, Armenians will not rest until Turkey recognizes that this was in fact a genocide and that public apologies are long overdue and most definitely necessary. It is now the responsibility of the Turkish government to ensure that a dialogue between Armenia and Turkey will be established.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

The Religion of Blood - Spirituality through DNA

Recently, I've been spending a lot of time thinking about my boss' book that we're working on together. His topic is re-imagining God in a multimedia age. His perspective is Christianity.

I've learned a lot about faith, Christianity and true belief in the past few days. But of course, as an agnostic, I cannot help but extrapolate, and think of this topic beyond the limited framework available to a practicing Christian. And as such, I've had a number of interesting thoughts.

In particular, one of the main topics we have been addressing is that of God as communicator - and the changing nature of his communication. This led me to think about the symbolism of Christ on the cross and the bleeding wounds from the nails - as well as the bleeding wounds he incurred in the hands of the Romans, so delicately portrayed in Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ.

This is where the biologist and computer programmer in me take over. I'm not a religious person but I hold some strange beliefs - namely, I believe that DNA is the most exquisite programming language ever, since with only 4 base-pairs it allows us to make people. And what are people if not incredibly sophisticated computers.

Christianity is not the only religion to focus on blood sacrifices - from Hinduism to the ancient Aztec religion to animistic tribal customs, the notion of blood sacrifice has been a central part of religion in all of its guises. Why is this?

I would argue that blood-letting is the most elemental expression of faith - that the DNA contained within the blood that is spilled is the very essence of spirituality and represents the work of a higher entity, if you buy into that sort of stuff.

In that regard, Christianity hearkens back to the old tribal animistic days much more than Judaism does. Christ bids his followers to eat of his flesh and drink of his blood - his blood that contains (if you believe in his divinity) divine DNA. On the cross, his divine DNA is spilled into the ground, and unlike his body, which is resurrected, the blood that is spilled remains in the ground, suffusing the Earth with these lines of code.

Going even further in this bizarre analysis, in Genesis, it is said that God created man in his image. I would argue that (again, if you believe in this stuff) this 'image' isn't a physical manifestation, since God logically doesn't look like a human (hard to be everywhere all the time as a biped), but rather the DNA which was used to create people is made up of the molecules of divinity. God communicates through Christ and through man in the form of DNA - which to early worshippers who didn't understand the intricacies of science was best expressed in the form of blood, a vital part of our survival and a shockingly bright visual reminder of our mortality.

God is a programmer whose language of choice is DNA/RNA. When exposure to UV rays causes a thymine dimer to occur, that's an example of a bug in the code. When cancer cells proliferate uncontrollably, that's an example of an infinite loop. This would indicate that God is not infallible and that all living creatures are part of an incredibly large experiment. Alternatively, we may merely be God's plaything, and God is actually a petulant child playing a DNA version of Sim City.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Star Trek and Theology

So in the process of doing research for my boss on God and communication in the modern world, I stumbled across an article by one Jolyon Mitchell, a professor of theology and communication at the University of Edinburgh. The article is titled "Star Trek and theology."

Oh yeah, that's right. Somebody (The Month) actually published this thing back in 1998.

Just to give you a taste of the content, here is a short excerpt:

"One of the central tenets of Star Trek is that there is a huge diversity of life elsewhere in the universe. As Captain Jean-Luc Picard affirms in `The Quality of Life' (TNG): `Recognising new life, whatever its form, is a principal mission of the vessel'. The discovery of new life is almost a weekly occurrence on Star Trek. This imaginative and fantastical exercise raises profound theological questions. For example, how might Jesus' life, death and resurrection be salvific for beings from other planets? Or would the discovery of life on other planets raise further questions about the uniqueness of the Christ event?"

Yup...that's read it correctly. This is an article that muses about theological aspects of Star Trek, largely focusing on TNG.

This brings me to my next point, which is about the superiority of TOS vs. TNG - TNG was filled with new-agey spiritual mumbo-jumbo that Mitchell finds fascinating and filled with theological possibilities - like Data's quest for humanity, and Troi's empath capabilities. Blech. I never much liked the emotional aspect of TNG. TOS was far superior - it involved more guns, more sex, more fistfights and much less namby-pamby evocatively thought-provoking sentimental emotional crap.

Interestingly, Mitchell fails to mention a single episode of TOS in his article, although he does cite some of the movies (which are inferior to either TOS or TNG).

Sadly, I just realized that by writing this blog entry I'm really not much better, because I bother to take the time to vent about Star Trek and, most frighteningly, express a preference for one series over another.

So in short, live long and prosper, and for the record, TOS has much more to do with Judaism than with Christianity (see the Vulcan hand gesture taken from the Kohanim). But that's a topic for another blog entry.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

ASN Conference

The last few days have been fairly eventful.

I recovered from the flu in time to prepare for my presentation at the Association for the Study of Nationalities conference on Thursday.

The presentation went amazingly well - I received a number of compliments and felt that the paper was surprisingly well received. My panel was well attended (people were actually standing throughout the presentations) since the topic is a fairly hot-button one - the politics of Russian energy. I focused on Russia's actions in the energy sector in the Near Abroad. I know it doesn't sound very exciting, but I promise, it's a really neat topic once you start delving into it. I think I'll keep doing research in this area, since it's a field that attracts a number of interesting folks both from academia and from the policy side. I think I may actually have to tackle Central Asian regional electricity grids at some point, although the dearth of information has put me off from the topic for a number of years now.

I've been attending the conference (today is the last day) and basking in the joy of being surrounded by academics. Academics are an interesting breed - many of them lend themselves so easily to mockery, and others bore me to tears (I'm not a big fan of political theory, and there's a fair amount of that at the conference).

I did meet one of the coolest people I've ever met (and I've met a lot of cool people in my life) - Dodge Billingsley. He's the founder of Combat Films and Research, which according to their website is a "small, conflict oriented, think-tank that uses film and video footage as its primary source for research." He presented a documentary on the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline and went into some of his other projects during the Q&A. As his former professor described him, he's something of a 'war fetishist and adventurer' and as a result he had some of the most amazing stories of being in combat zones and sneaking over the border to Chechnya and stuff of that ilk.

Most people would think that he's nuts. I've always been fascinated by war zones and it was great getting to ask some of the myriads of questions I've had for years about non-government affiliated civilians getting into areas of conflict. Basically, he has the world's best job. He gets to traipse around combat zones, make documentaries and go to all of the places I've always wanted to go to. I mean, this is a man who described the Fergana Valley as 'really peaceful' and who's been in the midst of a battle in Afghanistan as well as embedded with troops in Iraq. Some people have all the luck.

At least it gives me hope that someday I too can cross into some of the conflict-ridden regions of the world. Just don't tell my mom.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

The last flu victim

It's at the tail end of the flu season. Everyone who was going to get it has gotten it. Or so I thought.

Throat started tickling badly on Thursday. By Friday I was getting sick. Today's Tuesday and I have been completely unable to move, do anything, or really respond to the world in any proper way since Friday.

Two days off work, and I'm still not feeling much better. I'm just focusing on my presentation for the conference on Thursday and not worrying about anything else.

I've missed one of the most stunning weekends I've seen in a long time, I've sat around in pajamas like a fool, I've popped sudafed and ibuprofen like I was eating sweet tarts, and I've consumed more orange juice than is probably healthy, and I still don't feel better. I haven't been this sick since high school.

I did, however, just run across a perfect description of how I feel - from Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon, which is currently distracting me from my misery:

"He feels kind of the way he does, sometimes, the day before he comes down with a total-body cold-and-flu scenario, one of those crushing viral Tet Offensives that, every few years, swats you out of the land of the fully living for a week or two."

That's it. That's me in a nutshell.

In the meantime, I'm going to go back to working on my paper presentation. Hopefully I can do this without sounding like a dismembered corpse. I've got until Thursday to get myself into better shape. *snork**snork**snork*

Thursday, April 07, 2005

An unexpected evening

It was your standard Tuesday night. I'd come home from work, picked up my laundry, and was sitting around messing around online. Having not eaten all day, I decided to mosey on down to the little Latin restaurant I'd discovered down the street from me, since it looked pretty good and authentic and I love Latin food.

So I moseyed, for what was supposed to be a quick dinner by myself followed by a rapid return home. This was, however not to be...instead, I was going to get another one of those memorable nights that have become a hallmark of my existence.

I found myself strangely outnumbered in the restaurant. The clientele appeared to be mainly made up of working class guys, and everyone spoke Spanish. I ordered my dinner and a Presidente (a Dominican beer - which clued me in to the fact that this was a Dominican hangout). I finished the first beer was about to order myself another one, when one of the guys in the restaurant asked me if it would be ok for him to buy me a beer. I thought for a second then agreed. The beer appeared, my food appeared, and all was well. And then another beer came.

At this point I decided to be friendly, and approached the group of guys. We started chatting. Now, it was fairly clear that most of them had a rudimentary knowledge of English, at best. So when I asked one of them how long he had been in the States, I expected to hear a year or two. Not seventeen years. And this was the moment when I realized that I had stumbled into the quintessential example of an immigrant community.

To cut a long story short, we were there until closing time, chatting, drinking beer and in a way, learning about each other's cultures. It's amazing how little someone can learn about the US when they spend their entire time in New York City, as part of a Latino community that not only sticks together linguistically, but even divides itself on national lines. It's amazing how little a little gringo from the midwest can understand about the life of immigrants in America.

America is a country of boundless opportunities. It is also a country that is so frequently misperceived abroad, particularly in developing countries, that a certain body of folk-legends has arisen around its mythos. As I learned on Tuesday night, they'd like to go home to their beautiful countries, because New York is expensive and their lives are tough, but they can't go home. They can't go home, because no matter how tough life is here, they make enough to send some home, where a little goes a much longer way, and where as a result, people think that America is the land of endless wealth and bounty.

To quote one of my favorite children's movies: There are no cats in America and the streets are paved with cheese...

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Laundry day

I have a multitude of stories to tell from the past few weeks, and not enough time.

So I'll just stick to today's story.

I hadn't done laundry in slightly over three weeks. Shame on me. I was scraping the bottom of the underwear barrel - resorting to digging up thongs with shameless tongue-in-cheek Republican slogans ("Abstinence saves the tart from plunder," brought to you by the GOP).

Therefore, this morning, I finally loaded up my two big sacks of laundry and began hauling them towards the laundromat a few blocks away. Needless to say they were heavier than usual (25 lbs of laundry, it turned out), and my arms started giving way, my hands cramping up, and my grip slipping.

I was approaching the laundromat slowly and unsurely, not entirely certain that I would make it, putting the bags down on my feet every few steps, when an elderly, tiny African-American lady came alongside me, asked if I was going to the laundromat on the corner, and took one of my bags of laundry from me.

I protested, having been raised to believe that I should be the one carrying little old ladies' bags, not vice-versa, but she insisted. I thanked her profusely, from the bottom of my heart, and at the door of the laundromat took my laundry bag back. She turned around and went back the way she came.

It's moments like these that make me remember why I love Harlem so much. Here was this tiny old lady, who extended a hand and went out of her way to help a young, strapping lassie carry her laundry. For no other reason than to be kind. Somehow I don't think that would happen in midtown, or most fancy areas of New York. I might be wrong. Maybe some day I'll take heavy bags of laundry around the city for a day, just to see if people offer to help me.

The sad part is, I think she was in better shape then me, and she couldn't have been a day under 75...