belief vs. fact

A couple of hours after the elation of yesterday’s court decision upholding home rule in New York State, came the utterly convoluted US Supreme Court decision in the Hobby Lobby case. While there are thousands of words of talk and text on this ruling out there already, the aspect I want to weigh in on the collision of belief and fact that is in evidence in the decision.

The family that owns Hobby Lobby believes that a few of the forms of birth control mandated for coverage under the Affordable Care Act cause abortions. (They apparently didn’t believe this prior to the ACA when their employee health insurance plan covered these same items, but that is a different story.)

The fact is that these forms of birth control are not abortifaciant. The morning after pill will not abort a pregnancy. The IUD works chiefly by disrupting the activity of sperm. One of the best brief explanations of the facts I have seen is from Jamie Manson, writing in the National Catholic Reporter, here.

The US Catholic bishops make the same factual error in their public pronouncements in condemning the ACA because of the contraception mandate. It’s probably not a coincidence that the five Supreme Court justices who formed the majority in which belief trumped fact in the Hobby Lobby case are Catholic men. On the other hand, Catholic woman on the court Sonia Sotomayor and female-led Catholic organizations NETWORK, a national Catholic social justice lobby, and the Catholic Health Association, the largest non-profit health provider in the US, recognize that these contraceptive methods are not abortifaciant. NETWORK and CHA would never have advocated for the ACA’s passage if abortion were part of its provisions.

I am Catholic and well aware of my Church’s teaching on so-called artificial means of contraception and assisted reporduction. I also know that the vast majority of US Catholics reject these teachings and act according to their own consciences in making these personal decisions.

If one believes that contraception in general is immoral, that is your right and that is the choice you make for your own life. Employers – or anyone else for that matter – should not mandate assent to their personal religious belief on others. It makes absolutely no sense to inflict that belief on anyone when it flies in the face of scientific/medical fact.

I fear for our society when belief trumps facts. I hear this over and over in the “debate” on human-induced climate change. The science is settled. It is happening. There are reams of data showing it. Yet some persist in a belief that the world is cooling instead of warming and that the cycle is a purely natural phenomenon.  Their belief does not change the facts/science. They are demonstrably in error.

That the five Catholic men on the Supreme Court decided a case on a mistaken belief is highly disturbing. We can only hope that our dysfunctional Congress will enact legislation to correct the Court’s error before more damage is done.

 

An OB/GYN writes to George Will about college rape

Dr. Jennifer Gunter wrote this powerful response to the recent George Will column about rape on college campuses. It’s easy to tell who is the wise voice of wisdom through personal experience and who is the voice of ignorance.

Dr. Jen Gunter

Dear Mr. Will,

I read your recent column on the “supposed campus epidemic of rape, a.k.a. sexual assault” and am somewhat taken aback by your claim that forcing colleges to take a tougher stand on sexual assault somehow translates into a modern version of The Crucible that replaces witchcraft with rape hysteria.

I was specifically moved to write to you because the rape scenario that you describe somewhat incredulously is not unfamiliar to me. Not because I’ve heard it in many different iterations (I have sadly done many rape kits), but because it was not unlike my own rape. The lead up was slightly different, but I too was raped by someone I knew and did not emerge with any obvious physical evidence that a crime had been committed. I tried to push him away, I said “No!” and “Get off” multiple times,” but he was much stronger and suddenly…

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A Solemn Thought for Saturday

This is from an Austrailian blogger whom I follow. The Wilde quote applies across many times and places, including now in the US with rising poverty and income inequality while rich individuals and corporations don’t pay their fair share in taxes and receive subsidies and other tax breaks. Meanwhile, cuts are made to needed assistance for housing, food, education, and other services for the low- and middle-income folks.

Unload and Unwind

hypocricayThank you to Asylum Seeker Resource Center here in Australia for this quote.

I find it apt considering the circumstances surrounding the current budget and even more so considering the resources you provide that should be provided by our government.  So thank you for this quote and thank you for the work that you do.

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Buffalo News fracking story comment

We are watching a recording of the Eurovision competition, so I decided to write a fracking comment on this:  http://www.buffalonews.com/city-region/environment/a-border-tale-of-boom-and-bust-20140510

I live in Broome County in a town that borders PA. This article is misleading on a number of fronts, a few of which I will point out.

First, the PA counties are much more sparsely populated than the NY counties. Even if NY permitted HVHF, the number of jobs gained would be a drop in the bucket in terms of unemployment rate and might be offset by jobs lost in other sectors, such as tourism. The population density also would cut down how many wells could be drilled because there would need to be a lot of setbacks from homes, businesses, water sources, etc. In Broome County, the only part of the county that might be viable as methane prices rise is the southern part, which also has the highest population density and is served by a sole source aquifer.

Norse did not go bankrupt because of failed Marcellus leases. Most of its leases were for the Utica and other non-shale formations.It was engaged in vertically fracked wells and conventional wells; it just wasn’t very successful at it.  http://www.cedclaw.org/news/norse-energy-whats-happening . Also, remember that vertical fractured wells in the Marcellus could have been drilled. A company could even have applied for a horizontal well if it had completed a site-specific environmental impact statement at its own expense, as other kinds of companies do for their projects.

Because I live on the PA border, I’ve seen the impacts on PA neighbors. For people who have lost their water wells, who have been driven out of their homes due to health impacts, whose homes have lost value due to noise and other kinds of pollution, who have been unable to re-finance mortgages or sell their homes because banks won’t take the risk of drilling operations to the property value, who have seen their royalty payments drop by 50, 70, even 90% due to companies’ deducting large amounts for expenses, discovering that mechanic’s liens have been placed against their deeds because drilling companies failed to pay their sub-contractors, who were victims of the increased traffic accidents, especially with industry trucks, who were victims of the increase in crime, including sexual assault, who lost their long-time rental home when the rents tripled – no statistics on job growth can make up for the losses they have suffered. I don’t want those stories repeated in my New York community.

Bayou Corne sinkhole

I have been following the Bayou Corne, Louisiana sinkhole story since it began in 2012. Here is a link to a story on it from earlier this month from a local source:  http://www.examiner.com/article/louisiana-s-bayou-corne-sinkhole-eats-well-pad-people-next

This morning a story about sinkholes was on CBS This Morning, which is a US national network news broadcast. They were doing a story on sinkholes and talked about the Bayou Corne sinkhole as though it was typical of other sinkholes around the country. They had to reference it in the report because research done in conjunction with it may be helpful in predicting ordinary sinkholes, but they should have pointed out that Bayou Corne is an industrial accident featuring hydrocarbon storage and a salt dome collapse, not an “act of God.”

My comment sent to CBS This Morning:

I am watching CBS This Morning on Thursday, April 24. You just aired a piece about sinkholes that twice referenced the Bayou Corne sinkhole in LA. You should have pointed out that this sinkhole was caused by the collapse of a salt dome being used for hydrocarbon storage. This is a totally different mechanism than the typical limestone dissolution and collapse that causes sinkholes in places like Florida. The Bayou Corne sinkhole is an industrial accident, which was preceded by tremors and release of methane and other hydrocarbons. It has resulted in the evacuation and now permanent re-location of 300 people. It is in no way just another sinkhole; it is a criminal act causing huge environmental damage by an irresponsible company, not a natural process. You should have pointed this out in your report.

Fifth Anniversary of the ACA shootings

Last night, when the news broke about the shooting at Fort Hood, the first thought many people had was “not again.” Not again at Fort  Hood, and not again in general.

The timing was especially poignant for those of us in the Binghamton NY area, because today marks the fifth anniversary of the American Civic Association shootings, in which fourteen people died, including the mentally ill gunman, and four were wounded.

Despite the tragic loss of life, the ACA shooting is usually not present in the list of mass shootings that gets recited in the media when the next horrible shooting comes along. Columbine. Virginia Tech. Aurora. Newtown. Fort Hood.

I am not saying that we should not be remembering these other mass shootings. We should, and we should be doing more to avert similar deaths and injuries in the future.

What I do find disturbing is that so many have forgotten about the ACA tragedy. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out why.

I am afraid that the primary reason is that the gunman and most of the dead were immigrants. Most of them were gathered in one of the American Civic Association’s classrooms, taking a class to improve their English skills, when they were shot. They were from Vietnam, China, Pakistan, Iraq, Haiti, Brazil, The Philippines. Two were in Binghamton as visiting scholars. Others had been resettled in the area as refugees. The ACA is well-known in the area as a gathering place for immigrants to study English or prepare for citizenship tests. Several of those who were shot were employees or volunteers who had embraced this important mission. Somehow, though nearly all of us in the United States are descended from immigrants or are immigrants ourselves, the story of the ACA shootings did not embed itself into our minds as have some of the other tragedies that took place in schools or other public settings. I’m sorry to say that I think people see themselves or their grand/children as being just like those gathered in an elementary school or at a movie theater, but that they don’t see themselves as people from a different country, with a different skin color, speaking with an accent, working toward citizenship.

Five years on, I don’t want these people to have been forgotten. I want them to be remembered – and to be remembered as neighbors, as members of our community, as people like us.

 

My response to EDF’s climate confession email

This message from the Environmental Defense Fund: http://support.edf.org/site/MessageViewer?dlv_id=65441&em_id=35201.0
really upset me. They have been giving cover to the oil and gas industry to keep fracking, so I took their invitation to write to them and sent the following:

I am distressed with your climate confession email because your hopeful graph isn’t telling the whole story. The graph only tells about carbon dioxide emissions from the energy sector. It ignores other sectors and, even more disturbingly, ignores the emissions of other greenhouse gases, such as methane. Methane is a much more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide and is particularly damaging in the twenty year timeframe, which is the critical time period in which we can temper climate change to make it only damaging to the planet and its inhabitants, instead of catastrophic.

It sickens me that EDF has fallen into the trap of the oil and gas industry to push ramping up unconventional fossil fuel extraction by HVHF in the name of helping the climate when what we really need to do is withdraw all support for fossil fuels and convert to renewable energy as quickly as possible.

comment to Nat’l Geographic on “green” fracking

After I had already commented on this article:  http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/energy/2014/03/140319-5-technologies-for-greener-fracking/#, a call went out from a fracktivist blogger that we should also blog our comments, so here is mine:

No fossil fuel can be green. Period. All of the things that are in this article have been around for several years and get trotted out by the industry to try to give themselves cover, but they are not widely implemented and some of them are not widely implementable. Fracking with gelled propane is not only more expensive, it is also much more dangerous and cannot be used close to people because of the explosion hazard. Most of the methane that leaks is not from the wells, although some is, but from processing and underground pipelines. The horrible explosion in NYC recently highlights the deplorable state of methane infrastructure in the US. The only green choice is to stop going after unconventional fossil fuels and use remaining conventional sources as we move to renewable energy sources as quickly as possible.

This week in NYS IBM news

On Monday, Governor Cuomo lauded IBM for keeping 3,100 jobs in the Hudson Valley and adding 500 in Buffalo. On Thursday, IBM carried out yet another round of lay-offs in the US, including Poughkeepsie and Endicott NY. No speeches from the Governor on that.

Endicott, the birthplace of IBM, is just across the Susquehanna from me. In a perverse twist on decimation, IBM now employs less than 10% of the people it once did in Endicott. Decimation would be knocking out every tenth person; instead, IBM has knocked out nine, (usually) keeping the tenth.

It’s happened over time. Sometimes, IBM sold a division to another company. The workers get transferred to the other company, but their employment there doesn’t tend to last very long because the new company wants the contracts, not the experienced workers whom they deem too expensive. Other times, IBM off-shored the jobs. It adds insult to injury to have your last weeks of work spent trying to train a new grad in India to do the job for which you spent years developing your skills. In recent years, it seems to be that corporate America’s answer to everything is to cut costs to drive up the earnings per share, regardless of what this does to your ability to deliver quality products on time. There are only so many cuts you can make before you run into difficulties with not having enough skilled people to complete the job, even though the remaining workers do lots of (unpaid) overtime.

In Endicott, the situation is exacerbated by the fact that IBM has not done much hiring here in the past 20+ years. Most of the cuts now involve workers with over thirty years of experience, who wind up being bridged into retirement. What goes with them are critical skills and knowledge base which haven’t been able to be transferred to younger workers because there aren’t many around.

IBM’s mantra for decades was THINK. The corporate leaders seem to have forgotten that. IBM made its name because it was loyal to its workers and they were loyal to IBM. IBM invested in their training and well-being and the employees innovated, obtained record number of patents, and made great products. IBM on a corporate level is making itself into just another company chasing some number for the next quarter and not thinking about the long-term future for themselves, their employees, the communities, and their customers. Will they remember their heritage before it is too late?