Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Bad Day for Reproductive Rights and Religious Liberty in Indiana

I've previously written with regard to Indiana Senate Bill 3 and Indiana Senate Bill 146. Unfortunately, on January 29, 2008, the Indiana Senate voted 30-18 to pass SB3 and 39-9 to pass SB146.

Two things are worth mentioning. First, SB146 was passed without any debate on the floor of the Senate. I wonder if all of the Senators voting for SB146 really understood its full implications, especially as related to religious liberty issues. Second, the article "Senate votes to pass drug dispensing measure" (The Indianapolis Star, January 30, 2008) states:

[Senator Jeff] Drozda said the bill does not apply to birth control pills, and he is open to clarifying the proposal as it moves through the House. He had earlier opposed an amendment to underscore that the bill did not affect contraceptives.

If Sen. Drozda is "open to clarifying" that SB3 does not apply to birth control pills, why did he oppose an amendment that would have said just that? Just for the record, among the many amendments offered to the Senate committee that heard SB3 were amendments that would have revised the language by stating that:

  • This section does not apply to contraceptive drugs and devices that have been approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration to prevent pregnancy; or
  • This section does not apply to a drug or medical device that: (1) has been classified by the federal Food and Drug Administration as an oral contraceptive; and (2) is not classified by the federal Food and Drug Administration as an abortifacient.

Thus, it appears that Sen. Drozda had the opportunity to clarify that SB3 was not intended to apply to birth control bills but chose not to do so.

Now it is up to the Indiana House of Representatives to keep these bad bills from becoming laws.

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Monday, January 28, 2008

Live Blog: State of the Union (& Democratic response)

I've decided to try to blog about tonight’s State of the Union as it happens. As a preliminary point, let me quote Entertainment Weekly’s (February 1, 2008) preview of the State of the Union: "Light at the end of the tunnel! Still, it’s a tunnel."

(Note that I took notes as I watched, but I've gone back through my notes to make my thoughts readable and meaningful; thus, this is only a "sorta-live" blog.)

State of the Union (President George W. Bush):

9:05 pm
Here we go. The President has been introduced to thunderous (well, at least reasonably loud) applause and a standing ovation. I've always wondered if this is a moment to be proud of or not. On one hand, it shows the entire Congress coming together and honoring the President. Think how different that is from much of the rest of the world. On the other hand, think of the hypocrisy involved as people cheer a President they fundamentally disagree with, and in many cases, despise, because they want to be sure to be seen as patriotic. I guess at the end of the day (night?), I like the idea of applauding the office, even if you're not applauding the man.

9:07 pm
Barack Obama standing and chatting with his new biggest supporter, Ted Kennedy. Interesting. (For those who didn't follow today's news, Kennedy endorsed Obama earlier today.)

President Bush hands envelopes (I assume that they contain copies of his speech) to Vice President Cheney and Speaker Pelosi, but then has to switch which envelope he’s giving to whom. Why?

9:10 pm
President Bush comments about "hard decisions about peace and war" and the need for "vigorous debate". Too bad the debate about whether to go to war in the first place wasn't based on good, solid evidence.

President Bush claims to recognize that politicians are sent to Washington to do the "people’s business". I wish that I could believe that he included himself in this (and not just Congress). But the way that the administration has supported certain industries and companies (can anyone say Haliburton and the energy industry), not to mention how he seems to think that he can ignore laws that he doesn't like, makes me think that this high-minded statement was addressed only at Congress.

9:11 pm
President Bush says that the parties can "compete for votes and cooperate at the same time". Another good sentiment; too bad he hasn't used his soapbox to preach this in the past. Remember, this was the man who claimed that he would be a "uniter, not a divider", yet just listen to the way he talks about his political opponents.

9:12 pm
President Bush acknowledges "concern about our economic future". Why does it feel like he just noticed that there might be a smidgen of a problem?

9:13 pm
President Bush calls for Congress not to load pork into the economic stimulus package. Good idea; however, we need to remember that pork to one person may be a vitally needed component of economic development to another (would that be bacon or ham?). I'm against silly earmarks as much as the next guy, but we just need to be careful about lumping the bad with the good.

President Bush call letting "tax relief" expire a type of tax increase. His attempt at humor (the IRS accepts checks and money orders) was clearly aimed at Bill Clinton but was misplaced; the people who need the tax breaks aren't getting the help and relief that they need. Instead, we keep spending more and giving unnecessary tax breaks to those most able to whether economic slowdowns. I note that when President Bush calls on Congress to "make tax relief permanent" half of the room stays firmly seated.

9:15 pm
President Bush threatens to veto any bill that raises taxes. OK. So are we cutting war funding to pay for domestic programs and tax cuts?

President Bush's budget will suggest cutting 150 programs with a surplus by 2012. I note that he didn't remind anyone that when he took office, we had a surplus. Nor does he remind anyone that with his proposed budget, we won't see a surplus until the end of the next President's term. In other words, what President Bush is really doing is putting off the hard work for the next President and next Congress.

President Bush makes some good points about earmarks (especially the lack of debate and vote on some). Again, he threatens to veto any earmarks. The problem is, some earmarks are actually good. Perhaps he should review each earmark before he vetoes a bill and tell Congress which particular earmarks he objects to. Even better would be a law that requires each funding request to be voted on separately from all others, so that only the "best" earmarks would make it through the process.

9:17 pm
President Bush says that he will direct Executive Branch agencies to ignore earmarks that were not voted on. I see. Apparently, the Executive Branch now has the power to ignore Congress when the President doesn't like the Congressional procedures under which a bill was passed (and which the President signed). Another example of President Bush failing to understand the proper role of each branch (if he doesn't think that a bill was properly passed, he shouldn't sign it or he should take it to the Judicial Branch for resolution). But, acting in that manner would be the responsible, Presidential way to do things, and time after time, this President prefers to act as if he is the "Dictator-in-Chief".

9:18 pm
The call to help the mortgage crisis sounds good, but most people won’t understand what he’s asking for. But, at least he can say that "I proposed something to help".

Why does Senator Clinton have a sour look on her face when President Bush mentions the idea of health care that is affordable to all?

9:19 pm
President Bush wants people and doctors to make medical decisions? Laudable. But why not take power away from insurance companies? Why not allow the government to negotiate with drug companies? Why not end support for laws that allow the government to come between a patient and doctor on medical decisions like abortion? In other words, he wants the government to stay out of the doctor-patient relationship ... except when he doesn't.

9:20 pm
No Child Left Behind has caused test scores to go up. Are test scores really the way to gauge success? Does he plan to fund NCLB? He wants scholarships to let poor children attend private (mostly faith-based) schools. That raises all sorts of Constitutional problems, not to mention a further eroding of the public school system. Then, President Bush says that he wants $300,000,000 for this. Where exactly is that money coming from? Remember, he said that he would veto any tax increase. Perhaps we should spend some money to fix schools and hire more teachers (at a higher salary, but with associated performance standards), instead of sending kids to faith-based schools. Remember that a faith-based school, unlike a public school, can pick and choose which students to admit; thus, the best students will get the scholarships and private education, while the deteriorating public schools are left to educate the worst performing kids. Which means that test scores will erode further, thus continuing the downward spiral.

9:24 pm
Is the whole "free trade with Columbia" and "democracy leads to a better life" aimed at Hugo Chavez?

9:25 pm
President Bush wants us to further reduce dependence on oil and calls for more clean coal. What about other types of clean energy?

9:26 pm
He did it (I knew he couldn't make it through the speech without doing it). OK. Here is one my simple rules: You cannot be President of the United States of America if you cannot pronounce the word "nuclear". Mr. President: You went to Yale, you owned a baseball team, you've been a governor, your dad was President, and you've President for 7 years. Have you not noticed that there is no "u" between the "nuc" and the "lear"?

The President mentioned lots of treaties and agreements about the environment, but I never heard him mention the Kyoto protocol.

9:27 pm
Did President Bush just acknowledge global climate change? Does he now admit that global warming is real? I hope that he sends a memo to the naysayers in his party. Maybe he'll ask Al Gore to give them a PowerPoint presentation.

President Bush wants us to trust the skill of scientists. But doesn't he ignore scientists with whom he disagrees? He forced the EPA to revise a global warming report because he disagreed with its conclusions. He also wants more money for physical sciences research. Great. Where’s that money coming from? (Once again, remember that he is vetoing any tax increases.)

9:28 pm
President Bush next says that we should respect moral boundaries in scientific research. Great. Whose morals? We lost years of research on embryonic stem cells waiting for the breakthrough he talked about. So he upheld his morals; but many others held a different moral view on this. What happened to trusting the skills of scientists? President Bush also claims that all life should be "treated with the dignity it deserves". Why do anti-abortion advocates talk about respecting the dignity of life when addressing an embryo or fetus, but ignore the dignity of life for the living, especially children, the poor, the homeless, the mentally ill, and the terminally ill. I've never understood why a fetus should be entitled to more dignity than a terminally ill patient in excruciating pain. President Bush also says that he doesn't want cloning. That sounds easy, but what about tissue or cell cloning (as opposed to an actual human). What would be wrong with finding a way to clone kidneys or eyes or hearts?

9:30 pm
According to President Bush, the Constitution "means what it says" and judges should follow the "letter of law, not the whim of a gavel." Yikes. I have way too many things that I could say about that one, not the least of which would be that this President owes his very presidency to the "whim of a gavel..." He also complains about his judicial nominees being delayed. I don't recall him complaining when President Clinton's nominees were being delayed. Nor do I see President Bush trying to pick nominees that might be more acceptable to the broad spectrum of society instead of ideologues (but then he never has understood that whole separation of powers concept). I note that even President Bush appeared to chuckle at the facial expressions of the Democrats as President Bush made these last points.

9:32 pm
President Bush does something smart by asking Congress to come up with proposals to fix broken entitlement programs. I was worried he was going to tell them to pass his proposals that failed before.

9:33 pm
President Bush also calls for a lawful way for foreign workers to come and work. Good idea. Too bad his own party is against him on this one. This was followed by his best moment of the night when he said that we must find a "sensible and humane way" to deal with those here illegally and that we must treat illegals in accordance with our highest ideals. I hope that people on all sides of the immigration debate will at least acknowledge this fundamental truth as we work through how best to resolve the immigration issue. I wish that the last 7 years would have seen more of this version of President Bush.

9:35 pm
According to President Bush, our foreign policy is based on the notion that "if given a chance, people will choose freedom and peace". Like Iraq? The Palestinian Authority? Gaza? Venezuela? The problem is that people may choose freedom, but may not choose either peace or something that we agree with. Not that I'm saying that freedom or democracy are bad, but I'm not sure that his simplification of the basis of our foreign policy makes sense.

9:36 pm
President Bush says that since 9/11 we’ve taken the fight to terrorists. While that may be true (or may have been true) in Afghanistan, it is not a justification for the war in Iraq. Al-Qaeda wasn't in Iraq before we showed up. By the way, have we caught Osama Bin Ladin yet? We've dropped the ball there, haven’t we? But we have lost plenty of soldiers in Kirkuk and Tikrit and Sadr City.

9:37 pm
When President Bush discussed the "defining ideological struggle" of the 21st century he thankfully included the Palestinian territories among those places with political terror.

While Afghanistan may not be a safe haven for Al-Qaeda anymore, it appears that they may have just moved next door to Pakistan.

9:40 pm
And now we finally come to Iraq. President Bush makes it sound like things are great there.

President Bush extends the "gratitude of the nation" to those serving. Absolutely. Too bad Republicans don’t understand that a true patriot can support the troops without supporting the war itself.

9:42 pm
President Bush credits the surge for the reduction in violence. I'm sorry, but I'm just not convinced.

9:44 pm
Are the members of Congress applauding President Bush's statement that terrorists "will be defeated" or his statement that the "surge is working"? I suspect that you would get a different answer depending on which side of the aisle the answer was given from.

Next President Bush describes a military policy of "return on success". He makes it sound like the troops are coming home because they've won. I thought that the plan for the surge was to bring troop levels down by this spring because the military couldn't sustain that level for so long. This is one of those moments where I really felt like the President was not being candid or was just pandering.

9:45 pm
President Bush next tells the military that they will have "all you need to protect our nation". I agree with the sentiment. But let’s protect our nation; not Iraqis who don’t want us there. Let's be sure that when we send our troops into harm's way, we know why and we have fully thought through the consequences. Let's be sure that those troops are properly equipped and trained. Let's be sure that they are not being asked to serve tours in excess of what the military says is wise. The President's call to "fully fund troops" sounds great, but it is such a loaded phrase. What exactly does that mean? Does that include fully funding the VA?

9:47 pm
President Bush says that further troop draw downs will be based on the recommendations of commanders. However, if I recall, last time that the general in charge of Iraq articulated a strategy that the President didn't like, that general was "reassigned".

9:48 pm
President Bush notes the process of reconciliation in Iraq and says that the Iraqi people are taking control of their future. But then he says that a free Iraq denies a safe haven to Al-Qaeda. First, Al-Qaeda wasn't looking at Iraq as a safe haven before the war. Second, why do we necessarily think that a "free" Iraq won't align itself with Al-Qaeda? The Palestinians continue to ally themselves with terror. Venezuela appears to be cozying up to Iran. Freedom does not necessarily mean stability; nor are all free countries our friends.

9:50 pm
Senator Luger looks pleased. Maybe it's just because he knows the speech is almost over...

President Bush says that he won’t rest until the enemy has been defeated. So let’s go get Osama Bin Ladin. Let’s go after Wahhabi extremists and make Saudi Arabia understand that they can't have it both ways.

President Bush also claims that Mahmoud Abbas recognizes that confronting terror is the key to peace. Does he really? While Abbas may give lip service to this idea, it doesn't appear as if his acts really back that up. President Bush says that he hopes to see a democratic Israel and a democratic Palestine, living side by side in peace. Let’s hope that President Bush is able to achieve some of the success so many others have tried, but failed, to attain.

9:52 pm
President Bush claims that Iran continues to develop the ability to enrich uranium. Is he threatening Iran? I like the sound of what he said, but I'm concerned about engaging in yet another war without all of the facts...

9:53 pm
President Bush wants us to take every lawful and effective measure to protect our country. I like the "lawful" part. His administration has been very good about following that goal with policies like illegal wiretapping, holding American citizens as "enemy combatants" without the benefit of a lawyer or hearing, destroying e-mails, documents, and video tapes of interrogations, and "outing" an undercover CIA operative. Noble words that have not been backed up by noble deeds.

9:54 pm
President Bush complains about the revised FISA provisions ending on February 1. I don’t believe that the ability to track terrorists is weakened; the government can still get a warrant after the fact. In the 20+ years that the FISA court has existed, only minuscule fraction of warrant requests were turned down. What is so hard about asking a Court to issue a warrant, especially when the law gives the government a grace period to ask for the warrant after the wiretapping has been initiated?

Why should companies that acted badly get a free ride? The idea of retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies that gave up private information without forcing the government to comply with the law is simply wrong.

9:56 pm
President Bush says that the United States opposes genocide in Sudan. Terrific. So do something! He also says that the United States supports freedom for lots of countries. Do something! Words or hand slaps at the United Nations are not enough, especially when people are dying in the deserts of Sudan, the streets of Myanmar, the slums of Kenya, or the jungles of Congo. We may not be the world's police force, but we should be able to pressure our friends into taking on a share of the load to insure that genocide does not reoccur.

9:57 pm
President Bush notes that half of the world’s food aid comes from US. Very good. But why don't we also work to end hunger in America! He wants to cut malaria in Africa. Great! Why don't we make health care more affordable in the US? We'll help Africans with drugs for malaria, while Americans have to re-import drugs. What is wrong with that picture? President Bush wants to spend $30,000,000,000 (that's Thirty Billion Dollars) to fit HIV/AIDS. Great! But let’s stop restricting the recipients of that money to those NGOs who don’t mention abortion or give out condoms.

9:59 pm
President Bush wants to reform the VA to meet the needs of the new war. Does this mean that soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder will finally be treated fairly and not kicked out of the military with a loss of benefits? NPR has done a brilliant series on this issue over the last few months.

10:00 pm
President Bush wants to expand childcare for military families. Great. Why don't we do something similar for the working class Americans who can barely afford to make ends meet.

President Bush next offers one of those small, but great ideas that Congress could and should adopt immediately: Allowing soldiers to transfer their education benefits to their spouse or children. Offhand, I cannot see any downside to this proposal.

10:01 pm
Was it just me, or did the President have an odd smirk on his face when he mentioned that the "nation honors" our soldiers?

10:02 pm
President Bush finished with a very high-minded discussion of the founding of our country. It was an interesting way to draw to a close. Let’s hope both President Bush and Congress (both parties) take to heart the idea of doing the "people’s business".


I mostly ignored what the pundits were saying following President Bush's speech, but two things did stand out:

  • One commentator noted that Senator Obama and Senator Clinton had not shaken hands all night, even though seated near each other.
  • Another commentantor noted that more Democrats than Republicans stood to applaud President Bush's calls for immigration reform.


Democratic Response (by Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius)

10:16 pm
Is it just me, or is she wearing a rather low-cut top. Interesting. Is she trying to be the Anti-Hilary? Maybe I'm just getting tired and slap-happy.

10:17 pm
Gov. Sebelius suggests that most Americans are not as divided as politicians suggest and that we roll our eyes at what the pundits talk about. Nice. I also liked her claim to be offering an "American response" instead of a partisan response. We’ll see. She does seem to have a facility for turning a good political phrase or soundbyte, to-wit: "wake up call to Washington" and "time is running out to meet our challenges and solve our problems".

10:18 pm
Gov. Sebelius says that a temporary economic fix isn’t enough. She wants Congress and the President to make domestic challenges "top priority".

10:19 pm
Gov. Sebelius directly calls for the passage of CHIP (Children's Health Insurance Program) which was previously vetoed by President Bush. Let's see if the Republicans will finally stand up and override the veto (recall that the bill received bipartisan support).

10:21 pm
Gov. Sebelius seems to be asking President Bush to become an environmentalist. Somehow, I just don't see a post-White House George Bush doing PowerPoint presentations with Al Gore.

I particularly liked her call to fight a "more effective war on terror".

10:23 pm
Gov. Sebelius also argues that we can’t meet challenges at home (for example, a lack of National Guard troops to help a tornado-ravaged Kansas city) because our resources are committed elsewhere. She also rightly notes that we need to rebuild our standing in the world. After 9/11, the US was very highly admired. Now, 6+ years leater, President Bush's policies seem to have squandered that good will.

10:24 pm
Another good soundbyte: "No more patience with divisive politics."

10:25 pm
Interesting that on the day that Ted Kennedy endorsed Barack Obama, Gov. Sebelius closes by harkening back to JFK when she said that she is tired of leaders who ask nothing of us instead of asking what we can do for our country. Her final idea of focussing on the "common good" should also resonate. But, then, what exactly is the common good?

Well, that's it. I can't say that either speech was particularly interesting, but then an unpopular, lame duck President isn't really in a position to offer many new, big ideas. Nevertheless, I enjoyed watching the State of the Union address. To me, it is an annual tradition, a sort of rite of citizenship.


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LibraryThing: Finished copying old reviews

Over the weekend, I finally finished copying all of my older book reviews from my personal website to LibraryThing. I'll continue to update my personal website with movie and theater reviews and I'll note books that I've finished, but for now, all new book reviews will be stored just on LibraryThing.

If you're interested in my book reviews, you can subscribe to one of the LibraryThing RSS feeds for my catalog: Click here to subscribe to a feed of my recently added books (for now it will show mostly older books that I've just added, but going forward will show new books as I add them) or here to subscribe to a feed of my book reviews. Note that I try to add new books when I start reading them, occasionally offer an "in progress review" when something seems worth mentioning, and then finish the entry for the book (with a "full" review) when I finish.

If you read lots of books, give LibraryThing a try; it's easy, fun, and free (at least for the first 250 books).

I've also started experimenting with sites similar to LibraryThing for movies: Spout (my page) and I Heart Movies (my page). So far, there are things that I like and dislike about both of these sites and I'm not sure which, if either, I will continue to use. If you have experience with either site, let me know what you think of them.


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Friday, January 25, 2008

LibraryThing: "Protect and Defend"

I have updated my LibraryThing catalog with a review of Protect and Defend [Mitch Rapp #8] by Vince Flynn. I actually did this back on January 21, but forgot to note it here.

I'm now reading The Alexandria Link [Cotton Malone #2] by Steve Berry.

Also, I've used a temporary fix so that only the 10 most recently finished books are show on this blog.


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The Onion Finds a Reader in Indiana

This one was simply too good to pass up...

Area Eccentric Reads Entire Book

The Onion

Area Eccentric Reads Entire Book

GREENWOOD,IN—"Instead of spending hours on YouTube every night, Mr. Meyer, unlike most healthy males, looks to books for gratification," said one psychologist.

Thanks to LibraryThing for alerting me to this article.


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Keep Your Religious Doctrine Out of My State's Laws

A few days ago, I wrote about Indiana Senate Bill 3. As troubling as SB3 may be, it pales in comparison to Senate Bill 146. As originally introduced SB146, provided for several additions to the law of the State of Indiana:
  1. Before a woman can consent to an abortion, she must be told that the fetus "might feel pain";
  2. "Human physical life begins when a human ovum is fertilized by a human sperm"; and
  3. A physician who performs an abortion must have privileges at a hospital in the county or an adjacent county to the where the abortion is performed.

Several amendments have apparently been adopted to "soften" some of the original language. After adoption of these amendment, provisions 1 and 2 have been modified so that they now provide:

  1. Before a woman can consent to an abortion, she must be told that "there is differing medical evidence concerning when a fetus feels pain"; and
  2. An "embryo formed by the fertilization of a human ovum by a human sperm immediately begins to divide and grow as human physical life".

Again, let's take these components of SB146 in order:

Fetal pain

I'm not a doctor. Biology isn't my strong suit. Nor, for that matter, is science. So, I don't claim to have any answers on the subject. But... According to numerous sources that I was able to find online, according to all available scientific evidence, a fetus cannot feel pain, at least not until substantially late in the gestation process. (See, e.g., Wikipedia [I know, I know...but it does have a nice introductory discussion and some links], "Can a embryo or fetus feel pain? Various opinions and studies", and "The Facts Speak Louder than 'The Silent Scream'"). I understand that this is a very emotional subject. But I have a hard time requiring a doctor to tell women facts that are not scientifically valid or widely accepted by the medical and scientific community. There is nothing wrong with telling the truth, but when the State of Indiana inserts itself into the world of science, all in the name of scaring women out of having an abortion, then I see a major problem.

So what's wrong with telling women that there is "differing medical evidence"? First, there doesn't appear to actually be any evidence suggesting that a fetus might feel pain early in pregnancy; rather, there appears to be speculation. And we don't require doctors to provide detailed information to patients regarding all other areas where there is "differing medical evidence". Many conservatives want to rely upon abstinence only sex education curricula, and oppose noting that there might be different evidence as to the efficacy of abstinence-only programs. Similarly, there are numerous other medical procedures where we expect that doctors will provide sufficient information for the patient to make an informed decision without the necessity of the state intruding and requiring the doctor to provide certain additional information. There is no medical evidence linking autism to childhood vaccines, yet there appears to be plenty of anecdotal evidence of unfounded concern; yet we don't require doctors to warn parents, prior to vaccinating a child, that there is "differing medical evidence". That some people might want it to be a fact does not create a difference in evidence any more than the existence of The Flat Earth Society provides evidence that Earth is flat.

It is also worth noting that the embryo does not become a "fetus" until the eighth week following conception:

Fetus: The unborn offspring from the end of the 8th week after conception (when the major structures have formed) until birth. Up until the eighth week, the developing offspring is called an embryo.

(Taken from; other online dictionaries have similar definitions.) Yet, SB146 doesn't appear to recognize this distinction, so a woman seeking an abortion very early in her pregnancy is almost certainly getting scientifically unsound (or at least irrelevant) information.

And I'm curious: Before helping a woman give birth naturally and without anaesthesia, must a doctor or midwife tell the woman that there is differing medical evidence as to whether the fetus might feel pain (and thus recommend anaesthesia or a C-section to avoid the pain)? Before performing any other invasive procedure on a pregnant woman, must she be warned that the fetus might feel pain? Before allowing a woman to eat a bowl of spicy chili, must a waitress tell a woman that the hot peppers might cause the fetus pain (after all, the fetus is being fed whatever the mother ingests). And what about a woman having an abortion to terminate a pregnancy caused by rape, incest, or to protect the woman's life. Isn't she in a difficult enough situation, without having this additional burden placed upon her?

I have lots of issues with some of the abortion "consent" requirements. Let's not add to the burden by requiring doctors to provide scientifically unsound information.

Hospital Privileges

On its face, this part of SB146 seems relatively innocuous. Yet, much like SB3, it all depends upon your frame of reference. This provision is probably not much of an issue in large cities. But consider the smaller cities and towns around Indiana. Most do not have a full time abortion clinic. Women often have to drive to a neighboring town to have an abortion performed. A number of the clinics around the state that do perform abortions don't have a full-time physician; instead, one or two physicians may make the rounds of the clinics and perform abortions one day a week or every other week. And therein lies the problem with the bill.

I have no idea which counties have clinics or full time physicians in those clinics (I've read that only 5 out of 92 counties have full time abortion clinics, but I don't know this to be true). But just consider the case of rural counties without a full time physician (assuming that they even have a clinic). That physician might have his or her full time practice in Indianapolis, Fort Wayne, or Evansville, but travel to the small town every so often. If SB146 were to pass, that physician would have to be granted privileges at hospitals in numerous counties around the state, just so that the physician could perform abortions at the clinic. But this could be expensive and/or time consuming for the physician as many hospitals require physicians with privileges to be on call a certain number of hours or days each month. Thus, in order for the Indianapolis-based doctor to perform an abortion in a rural county, that doctor might have to be on call in the rural county, even on days when the doctor is not at the county's clinic. The net result of this requirement (and the underlying intent of the bill) would be to dissuade physicians from going to those rural clinics to perform abortions.

With regard to this requirement, it is worth asking whether doctors performing other types of surgical or semi-surgical procedures at out-patient clinics around the state have a similar requirement. If a plastic surgeon performs liposuction at a rural clinic, must that surgeon have privileges at the county's hospital? If a opthamologist performs a LASIK procedure, must he also have privileges at the county's hospital? What about an oral surgeon performing a root canal? The list of procedures performed at out-patient clinics around the state goes on and on. Yet, so far as I am aware, in none of those other instances must the doctor have hospital privileges. Only in the case of abortions would the law add this requirement. And just to be clear, by comparison, abortions are not the most dangerous of procedures (at least when done in clinics and not the back alleys of the towns and cities where it is virtually impossible to find a doctor to perform an abortion). Many more dangerous procedures are performed in out-patient clinics without the state getting involved.

In essence, this provision of SB146 is yet another thinly disguised attempt to keep abortions legal while making them impossible to obtain.

Beginning of human physical life

First, what exactly does "human physical life" mean? I think that it is supposed to mean human life as opposed to the mere potential for human life found in either a sperm or an egg. Thus, if SB146 were to pass, it would be the law of the State of Indiana that life begins at conception (however carefully or obliquely worded the statute may be). I have several problems with this statement, one of which is far, far more important than the others: While some religions may hold to this belief, others do not. More specifically, Jewish theology, developed over thousands of years (beginning long before the birth of Christ), holds an absolutely contradictory viewpoint! According to Jewish law and tradition, a fetus is not a person. According to the Talmud, the fetus is deemed to be a component of the pregnant woman's body, no different from her thigh. Moreover, Jewish rabbis and scholars have been debating, literally for millennia, when "ensoulment" occurs. Even after this millennia of debate, no firm answer or opinion has emerged; thus, this is one of those issues of faith that is viewed as one of the "secrets of G-d". Yet, apparently, Senator Miller and Senator Drozda know this answer and are willing to tell Jewish scholars that their belief is wrong while the religious belief espoused by Senator Miller and Senator Drozda is right.

It is also absolutely critical to understand that according to Jewish law, the life of the mother takes precedence over the life of the fetus until birth. Allow me to quote, in part, some of the testimony offered in the Indiana House of Representatives in 2006 by Rabbi Dennis C. Sasso (with regard to another abortion-related bill):

Writing into state law what is essentially the doctrinal view of a particular segment of the faith community would impair the freedom of religion of Hoosier citizens whose religious traditions and ethical stances call them to a different understanding of when does human personhood begin. It is regrettable use of political and religious ideology to trump science, threaten pluralism, assault tolerance and encroach on the privacy of citizens.

The issue is not "When does life begin?" Life exists even before conception. The sperm is life. The ovum is life. Every cell and organism is a living entity. Adherents of the Eastern faith, Jainism, gently sweep the path in front of them as they walk in order to avoid stepping on living creatures.

The issue is not "when does life begin", but when is human personhood, that intangible moral and legal category upon which hinge so many privileges and responsibilities of identity and citizenship, established. And on this issue, science offers no answers and theologians and ethicists have and will continue to differ.

While some people of faith may choose to affirm that human personhood begins at conception, at the moment when the ovum and sperm meet, Judaism affirms that personhood begins at birth. In a contest between the fetus and the mother, the Jewish moral tradition will not only permit, but require, that preference be given to the mother.

Until birth, while the fetus is certainly to be cherished and protected, it is not considered an independent legal entity. Judaism honors and protects the fetus. Ours is a tradition that celebrates parenthood and family, but in a contest between the embryo or the fetus and the mother, Judaism preeminently protects the rights of the mother as a viable human person. Both her physiological and psychological needs are to be given preferential status over the rights of the developing fetus.

I want to be clear that on this matter there is universal consensus among all Jewish denominations, from the most liberal Reform to the Conservative, Reconstructionist and most traditional Orthodox.

The Rabbinate of the Orthodox Movement, has spoken as follows:

Judaism ... rejects the Catholic or fundamentalist view of abortion, particularly in those cases in which the life, physical or even mental well being of the mother is threatened.... When the life of the mother is threatened, Jewish law unambiguously prefers the life of the mother. Even when the health of the mother is threatened most authorities would permit an abortion before the onset of labor because the fetus has not yet reached an independent status.

We are fearful, therefore, of government interference with the freedom of the Jewish community to apply its time venerated Torah standards to the question of abortion. The intrusion of government into an issue which so often can be determined only by religious consciousness would involve a grave violation of the first amendment.

Thus, if SB146 were to pass, the religious viewpoint of one particular group of faiths would be enshrined as the law, while other longstanding, honestly held, and deeply personal religious viewpoints would be, by legal definition, wrong.

Let me be absolutely clear on this point: The State of Indiana has no business whatsoever telling me that what I believe, what my rabbi believes, and what Jews have come to believe after millennia of study and prayer, is wrong. Just as the State of Indiana has no right to tell Christians that the virgin birth is a fallacy, to tell Muslims that Mohammad was not a prophet, to tell Catholics that the sip of wine is not the blood of Christ, to tell Hindus that they will not be reincarnated, to tell Native Americans that their spirit ancestors don't exist, the State of Indiana has absolutely no right to tell me what to believe about when life begins. Few things are as central to religious faith and doctrine as questions concerning life and death. No government, especially not a government that is supposed to respect and cherish diversity of religious views, should be in the business of legislating core religious understandings. If we start down that road, we are no different from medieval Europe where scientists were burned for saying that the earth orbited the sun or modern fundamentalist Islamic states where religious police impose their fundamentalist view on all segments of society.

An additional point worth making, is that SB146 likely contradicts the protections and prohibitions of the Indiana Constitution. Yes, I said the Indiana Constitution. While most people are familiar with the United States Constitution (and, in particular, the First Amendment), few people (including, sadly, many of our own legislators) are familiar with the provisions of the Indiana Constitution. Allow me to quote several operative provisions From Article I (the Bill of Rights):

Section 3. No law shall, in any case whatever, control the free exercise and enjoyment of religious opinions, or interfere with the rights of conscience.

Section 4. No preference shall be given, by law, to any creed, religious society, or mode of worship; and no person shall be compelled to attend, erect, or support, any place of worship, or to maintain any ministry, against his consent.

As should be obvious from reading these provisions (and take a look at Section 2, Section 6, and Section 7), Indiana's Constitution is even more protective of the freedom of religion than the United State Constitution. Consider how SB146 fares when faced with the constitutional prohibition on laws that interfere with the "rights of conscience". And, how does SB146 reconcile the prohibition of Section 4 that "[n]o preference be given, by law, to any creed, religious society, or mode of worship"? SB146's pronouncement regarding the beginning of human life gives preference to those religious traditions that believe one thing, while telling others that they are wrong, thereby interfering with the rights of conscience of those who believe differently.

One more point to consider: If SB146 passes and it becomes the law of the State of Indiana that human physical life begins at conception, what protections will be available to that human physical life? Might an embryo or fetus have a cause of action against a mother who smokes or drinks or doesn't wear her seat belt or forgets to take her prenatal vitamins? Is the fetus entitled to health care benefits from the State? Is the mother entitled to a tax credit similar to that for her children? And is a doctor who performs or a mother who receives a legal abortion guilty of murder? While I'm sure that Senator Drozda and Senator Miller would answer this last question in the affirmative, so long as Roe v. Wade is the law of the land, Indiana cannot make illegal that which the Constitution of the United States says is legal.

Senator Miller and Senator Drozda seem to care very much about the well-being of an embryo or fetus, but I wonder whether that same concern is evident for all children after birth. Recall that Indiana continues to defeat bills that are designed to protect children from second-hand smoke from their parents. Perhaps we should take time to be sure that all of Indiana's children are properly fed, housed, clothed, schooled, and receive timely and competent medical care before we spend more of our time, energy, and resources worrying about embryos and fetuses.

America was founded, in part, to protect religious freedoms and liberty. Yet here we are, more than 330 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and some senators in Indiana still believe that they have the moral authority to codify their religious viewpoint in the law. Small-minded bigotry and hatred are rarely so evident. Don't let SB146 become law; don't let the State of Indiana adopt one religious tradition at the expense of others; don't let millennia of theological debate be thrown away in the name of one group's cause. Call your legislator and tell them to oppose SB146; call Senator Miller and Senator Drozda and tell them that you don't appreciate their efforts to enforce their religious viewpoint through the auspices of the law.

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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Should Non-Profits Pay Property Taxes? (Update)

A few days ago I posted my musings on the issue of imposing property taxes on property owned by non-profit organizations. Reader shap expressed some concern that not all non-profits were "truly positive contributors to society" and suggested that because a substantial portion of property taxes go to pay for eduction, it was an assumption that society could not make. While I agree with some of the concerns that shap addresses, I wonder if it is "fair" (loaded word, but what are you going to do?) to tax all non-profits because of some "bad apples" or because some non-profits have a more limited constituency. I suspect far more non-profits do, in fact, offer a positive contribution to society as a whole and it seems wrong to make them pay taxes solely because some non-profits do not.

I also recognize the concern of having some taxpayers, in essence, subsidize religious non-profits that they may either not patronize or categorically disagree with. But what do we do about secular (or semi-secular) non-profit institutions? For example, should the YMCA pay property taxes? What about an art museum? The Humane Society's kennel and bark park? A Goodwill store? A community soup kitchen? (I'm assuming that these institutions don't pay property taxes, but I don't know.)

As the issue moves further away from religious institutions, I think that it becomes even more difficult. Yet I am concerned about using any sort of test as to "how good" the non-profit is or what and how much "community service" the non-profit provides in order to determine whether the non-profit should remain exempt from property taxes. Then again, those non-profits that truly do not benefit society as a whole should probably not be subsidized by that society. But what is the measure of whether the non-profit is beneficial to society as a whole or to just an insular, limited group? How many people must be "touched" by the non-profit for it to be socially beneficial and thus exempt from property taxes?

This musing out loud is kinda fun...


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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Voter ID Law Is Bad for Democracy (Update 4)

I know that I've pretty much beaten this issue to death, but I had to mention the editorial "They still don't get it" in today's issue of Indiana Lawyer newspaper (January 23-February 5, 2008, p. 11). In the editorial, the Indiana Lawyer's editorial staff offers a terrific example of why Justice Roberts' comment that "county seats aren't very far for people in Indiana" ignores the practical difficulty for some people to obtain the appropriate identification. In addition, the editorial makes several others points worth repeating:
It does seem strange that all a resident needs to do to register to vote in Indiana is fill out a form; no photo ID required if the citizen doesn't have one. How does the state validate that the person is who he says he is at the front end? Several justices asked why the state, if it is so concerned about voter fraud, doesn't require a photo ID at registration.
In conclusion, the editorial staff of Indiana Lawyer stated:
[W]e do believe that if our state's elected leaders were truly wringing their hands over the masses of voter fraud they are certain is out there, they could do a little better job of crafting legislation that would keep "fraudulent" voters from registering in the first place. Then they could make it a goal to protect one of the most sacred rights of all our citizens, including the most vulnerable.
I commend Indiana Lawyer for the points made in the editorial.

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Monday, January 21, 2008

Should Non-Profits Pay Property Taxes?

As I mentioned a few days ago, Indiana is in the midst of a property tax crisis. The governor, legislature (at least those legislators who aren't too busy trying to legislate their own religious beliefs), and a blue-ribbon panel have been hard at work looking at ways to resolve Indiana's property tax system. I'm not yet ready to weigh in on any of the various proposals. However, one idea that has received some consideration is to tax the property of non-profit organizations (e.g., churches and synagogues). I've given this a little thought and ... well ... I just don't know.

On one hand, it just seems, somehow, wrong to tax the property of a non-profit organization. Those organizations (whether secular or religious) exist to do some kind of good (at least in theory). More importantly, they generally rely upon charitable contributions to make ends meet. Imposing a property tax upon those organizations would force them to solicit even more funds from their members or contributors. I'm not sure that I like the idea of a charitable organization needing to divert funds away from doing good things in order to pay taxes.

On the other hand, some property owned by a non-profit is not used for non-profit purposes. Take for example, a church that acquires a vacant parcel of real estate with the intent to build a new building some time in the future. That piece of ground is not being used to advance the church's mission, so why shouldn't it be taxed? More importantly, virtually all non-profits rely upon police and fire protection -- services that are usually paid for with property taxes. Should non-profits that benefit from the availability of police and fire protection be absolved of responsibility to pay their fair share?

Then again, if we tax non-profits and they have to cease some of their efforts (e.g. feeding the homeless) because funds would need to be diverted to pay for taxes, then who will shoulder the burden of paying for those services? And where will that money come from? I suppose it might be offset by the taxes received from the non-profits, but that seems a bit circuitous.

But, then, why should people of one faith (or no faith) have to subsidize the existence of private organizations to whom that person does not belong or with whom that person does not agree. Consider that, in some instances, a non-profit can discriminate in who it provides its services to.

One more point that is worth noting (even if only tangentially related): Should the State of Indiana be required to pay property tax on property that it owns? While this sounds like a silly question, it is anything but. Just look at downtown Indianapolis. There are numerous state-owned parcels (the statehouse, monuments, etc.) that occupy very valuable land, require police and fire protection, but do not pay taxes (at least, I don't think they do...). Thus, a city like Indianapolis has to tax the rest of its citizens just a bit more to make up for the untaxed state land. In essence, this means that the taxpayers in Indianapolis are subsidizing the citizens of the rest of the State who own and (at least in theory) benefit from those State-owned properties. Of course, there is another side to this issue, too. After all, those buildings and facilities provide jobs for citizens in Indianapolis (or surrounding communities), which may in turn produce alternate tax revenues.

As you can see, I'm not sure what the best answers are to these issues. For that matter, I'm sure that I've barely scratched the surface of the arguments pro and con.

So, what do you think about the issue? Should the property of non-profits be taxed? Why? Why not? Should the answer depend on whether the non-profit is secular or religious? Let me know.


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Saturday, January 19, 2008

And now for something completely different: Cheerleading

Enough of all of this serious stuff. This afternoon (and tomorrow), my 8-year old daughter will be competing in the Jamfest Cheer Super Nationals cheerleading competition at the Indiana Convention Center. Her team (Cheer World of Indiana, Large Youth Level 2) competes today at 3:50 and tomorrow at 3:30 (admission is free if anyone wants to join us in cheering [pun intended] her on). Her competition comes from all across the US; it is the largest cheer competition in the country!

Go Cats!

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Pleased That Gay Marriage Amendment Is Going Nowhere

I received a pleasant surprise when I sat down with this morning's The Indianapolis Star. Right there, on the front page, above the fold, was an article entitled "Gay-wed ban won't get hearing" (The Indianapolis Star, January 19, 2009). I'll save for another day a detailed discussion of why I oppose the ban. For the time being, let me simply state that as a heterosexual married father of two, I am adamantly opposed to a prohibition on same-sex marriage being written into the Constitution and I am very pleased to see that the Indiana House of Representatives won't be hearing this mean-spirited bill during this year's short session. Representative Scott Pelath is to be applauded for his statement:
The short session (of the legislature) was designed to deal with emergencies. We have a very serious problem with the property tax system, and we don’t have any gay marriages in Indiana.
Unlike Senator Drozda (whom I wrote about yesterday), it is clear that Rep. Pelath understands the role of the General Assembly (especially during the "short session") and that our legislature should not spend its time solving problems that don't exist or inserting religious values of some into the law that governs all.

Those who feel as I do should call Rep. Pelath's office and thank him for his courageous stand on this morally-divisive, mean-spirited issue. His contact information can be found on his official page at the Indiana General Assembly's website.


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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Don't Allow a Pharmacist's Religious Views to Impede on the Doctor-Patient Relationship

Indiana is in the midst of a property tax crisis, we are experiencing more mortgage foreclosures than most other states, crime is (or at least appears to be) on the increase, the Colts lost in the playoffs, and many Hoosiers cannot afford quality health care or health insurance. Yet, rather than attempting to work on addressing these issues that are of grave concern to most Hoosiers, Indiana State Senators Patricia Miller and Jeff Drozda have once again introduced a series of mean-spirited bills aimed at limiting a woman's reproductive rights and inserting the State of Indiana into religious debates and religious doctrine that is thousands of years old.

What exactly have Sen. Miller and Sen. Drozda done? Let's take a look at the two bills: Senate Bill 3 and Senate Bill 146. I'll address Senate Bill 3 today and leave Senate Bill 146 for another day (as it raises even more fundamental and troubling problems that I want to take more time to address).

Senate Bill No. 3 (SB3)

This bill falls into a category of legislation that has been cropping up around the country, referred to alternately as a "pharmacist refusal" or "pharmacist conscience" bill/law. According to the official digest of SB3 (as updated January 9, 2008), the bill provides, in part, that:
a pharmacist may not be required to dispense a drug or medical device if the drug or medical device would be used to: (1) cause an abortion; (2) destroy an unborn child; or (3) cause the death of a person by means of assisted suicide, euthanasia, or mercy killing.

Think, for a moment, what this bill is really saying. Even if a doctor prescribes a particular medication, the pharmacist has the right not to fill the prescription because of the pharmacist's own beliefs. SB3 allows the pharmacist to insert his or her own religious views into the doctor-patient relationship. Just it case it isn't obvious, parts (1) and (2) of the bill are clearly aimed at the emergency contraceptives (like the so-called "morning after pill").

There are numerous problems with SB3. First, how does the pharmacist know that the doctor didn't prescribe one of the medications described in part (1) or (2) as a result of the doctor's concern for the health of the mother? What if the mother is physically frail or suffering from a serious illness and her life will be jeopardized by the pregnancy? Who should really be deciding if this woman can have an abortion. What if the medication were prescribed because the woman was raped or was the victim of incest? It may be difficult enough for her to go to a doctor, let alone go to the pharmacy to get the prescription filled. But now, she has to worry about whether the pharmacist will fill the prescription. Just imagine her anguish as she goes from pharmacy to pharmacy.

This may not really be a major issue in large cities. If the pharmacist at Wal-Mart won't fill the prescription, the woman can walk across the street to CVS or Walgreen's. But what about small towns that might only have a single pharmacy? If that town's pharmacist refuses to fill the prescription, the woman may be entirely out of luck or might have to travel to another city, just to get a legal medication that was legally prescribed for her by her doctor. And consider that, in the case of emergency contraception, time is of the essence. The drug must be administered within 72 hours. If a patient has to "shop" for a pharmacist that will honor the prescription legally given by the patient's doctor, there is a possibility (higher in rural areas) that time might run out.

Which raises another interesting point. Isn't there some likelihood that the woman who is unable to obtain the emergency contraceptive will, instead, seek an abortion? Query which is worse: Providing a prescription which will prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterine wall or forcing a woman to begin an unwanted pregnancy only to terminate it shortly thereafter? In other words, a pharmacist can rely upon his religious beliefs to force a woman into confronting one of the most difficult decisions that any person should ever have to make. Available and effective birth control should lead to fewer abortions, so making birth control harder to obtain makes no real sense.

One other interesting point to note. Sen. Drozda, the SB3's author, claimed during a committee hearing on SB3, that the bill was not intended to cover contraceptives. "Contraception is not covered," Drozda is reported to have said. Yet, according to that same report, after the committee hearing, Drozda is further reported to have acknowledged that a pharmacist could interpret the legislation as protection for refusing to fill a prescription for birth-control pills. Drozda apparently stated that he intends for SB3 to cover the morning-after contraceptive. (See "Senate panel OKs measure to protect pharmacists", The Courier-Journal, January 10, 2008.) So, was Sen. Drozda lying to the Senate committee or to the reporter? And if SB3 is not intended to cover contraceptives, then what, precisely, is it intended to cover? For that matter, what, precisely, is an "unborn child"? At what point does a egg, blastocyst, zygote, embryo, or fetus become an unborn child? And are we supposed to leave that decision up to a pharmacist?

And consider the implications of part (3) of SB3. Recall, first, that euthanasia is illegal in Indiana (an interesting subject for another day...). Just imagine a terminal patient in hospice who is in terrible pain. The patient's doctor decides to prescribe a very, very heavy dose of painkiller to relieve the patient's suffering. But the pharmacist, concerned that the dosage might be too high, can simply refuse to fill the prescription. I would hope that a concerned pharmacist would communicate the concern to the doctor, saying, perhaps, "Gee, I think that the dosage that you prescribed is too high and puts the patient at risk of dying." But SB3 doesn't mandate this kind of communication or even direct the pharmacist to dispense a lesser dosage of the drug; no, SB3 allows the pharmacist to simply refuse, thereby interfering in the doctor-patient relationship and, potentially, allowing the patient to suffer. And if the patient is in a hospice or hospital and the pharmacist is on the staff of the hospice or hospital, how exactly is the patient to get the medication? Are we to exepct the bed-ridden patient to walk down the street to find another pharmacist?

One might ask to whom the pharmacist's duty lies: the patient or the pharmacist himself?

I also note that the website for the Indiana Pharmacists Alliance makes no mention of SB3. All that I can conclude from this is that it is not an issue high on the list of priorities to Indiana's pharmacists. The American Pharmacists Association ("APhA") supports pharmacist refusal provisions, but:
APhA’s two-part policy supports the ability of the pharmacist to step away from participating in activity to which they have personal objections—but not step in the way. The Association supports the pharmacist’s right to choose not to fill a prescription based on moral or ethical values. But recognizing the pharmacist’s important role in the health care system, APhA supports the establishment of systems to ensure that the patient’s health care needs are served.

The American Medical Association's resolution on the subject recognizes that responsibility to the patient is paramount and advocates that, in situations where a pharmacist may refuse to dispense a prescription, that the pharmacist either direct the patient to a pharmacy that will dispense the prescription or allow the prescribing doctor to dispense the prescription. SB3 would allow the pharmacist to refuse without telling the patient where the drug could be legally obtained.

I'm also worried about the slippery slope that this bill starts our state down. What's next? Might a pharmacist be granted the right to refuse to dispense any contraceptive? What about ED drugs (some might say that would be a good thing...)? What about other medications that the pharmacist doesn't approve of? (Apparently, one pharmacist who testified in favor of SB3 stated that she even refuses to dispense hormones!) What about generics (after all, the pharmacist might make more money only dispensing name brands)? Perhaps a particular pharmacist owns stock in Eli Lilly; could that pharmacist refuse to dispense brands made by other companies? Where does it end?

It is also worth examining the Code of Ethics for Pharmacists (promulgated by the American Pharmacists Association). Below are the relevant canons (emphasis added):

I. A pharmacist respects the covenantal relationship between the patient and pharmacist. Considering the patient-pharmacist relationship as a covenant means that a pharmacist has moral obligations in response to the gift of trust received from society. In return for this gift, a pharmacist promises to help individuals achieve optimum benefit from their medications, to be committed to their welfare, and to maintain their trust.

II. A pharmacist promotes the good of every patient in a caring, compassionate, and confidential manner. A pharmacist places concern for the well-being of the patient at the center of professional practice. In doing so, a pharmacist considers needs stated by the patient as well as those defined by health science. A pharmacist is dedicated to protecting the dignity of the patient. With a caring attitude and a compassionate spirit, a pharmacist focuses on serving the patient in a private andconfidential manner.

III. A pharmacist respects the autonomy and dignity of each patient. A pharmacist promotes the right of self-determination and recognizes individual self-worth by encouraging patients to participate in decisions about their health. A pharmacist communicates with patients in terms that are understandable. In all cases, a pharmacist respects personal and cultural differences among patients.

IV. A pharmacist acts with honesty and integrity in professional relationships. A pharmacist has a duty to tell the truth and to act with conviction of conscience. A pharmacist avoids discriminatory practices, behavior or work conditions that impair professional judgment, and actions that compromise dedication to the best interests of patients.


VI. A pharmacist respects the values and abilities of colleagues and other health professionals. When appropriate, a pharmacist asks for the consultation of colleagues or other health professionals or refers the patient. A pharmacist acknowledges that colleagues and other health professionals may differ in the beliefs and values they apply to the care of the patient.

VII. A pharmacist serves individual, community, and societal needs. The primary obligation of a pharmacist is to individual patients. However, the obligations of a pharmacist may at times extend beyond the individual to the community and society. In these situations, the pharmacist recognizes the responsibilities that accompany these obligations and acts accordingly.

VIII. A pharmacist seeks justice in the distribution of health resources. When health resources are allocated, a pharmacist is fair and equitable, balancing the needs of patients and society.

Compare these ethics to a pharmacist refusing to dispense a prescription because it conflicts with the pharmacist's religious beliefs.

Apparently, some pharmacists have argued that the bill is needed because requiring pharmacists to dispense drugs for purposes that violate the pharmacist's religious beliefs is a violation of the First Amendment. Yet this argument is a red herring because the pharmacist is not taking the medication; rather the pharmacist is simply dispensing a legally prescribed medication. Could a police officer refuse to arrest someone for polygamy on the grounds that the police officer's religion permits polygamy and forcing the officer to enforce the law that he disagreed with would violate his religious beliefs? Could a teacher ignore (or even teach contrary to) adopted state educational standards if those standards conflicted with the teacher's religious beliefs (don't get me started on the whole "intelligent design" debate)?

At the end of the day, we need to recognize that the role of the pharmacist is to dispense the medications that a doctor legally prescribes. If the pharmacist is concerned that the particular medication will be dangerous for the patient (e.g. a drug interaction or allergy), then it is the certainly the role of the pharmacist to raise this concern with the patient and/or doctor. But it is not the role of the pharmacist -- nor should it be -- to tell a patient which prescribed drugs they can or cannot have on the basis of that pharmacist's religious beliefs. Nor should it be the role of the pharmacist to insert his or her own belief systems (as opposed to medical, chemical, and biological knowledge) into the physician-patient relationship.

But the, I doubt that Senator Drozda cares about any of this; his only concern appears to be preventing abortions.

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Monday, January 14, 2008

Voter ID Law Is Bad for Democracy (Update 3)

I know that I'm beating a dead horse (especially given the cold reception that "my side" received in the Supreme Court), but something in this morning's The Indianapolis Star caught my attention. In a featured "My View" editorial entitled "Voter ID law brings integrity to system" (The Indianapolis Star, January 14, 2008, page A9), Indiana Secretary of State Todd Rokita defends the Voter ID law and makes some of the same arguments that I discussed in my previous entries on the subject. However, Rokita offers another new argument that I had to address. Rokita cites a poll that found that "75 percent of Hoosiers support requiring voters to show a government-issued photo ID" and another poll that found that "81 percent of the country favored the requirement". Several thoughts immediately come to mind.

First, I'm curious to know how these polls were worded. I'm sure that most people do support the broad concept of requiring a photo ID from voters. But, did the poll ask people if their support changed if the photo ID might be difficult to obtain (for an excellent example of the difficulty in getting a photo ID take a look at the letter to the editor from Justice St. Rain entitled "Going through ordeal to get mom's photo ID" also published in the January 14, 2008, The Indianapolis Star; and take a look at some of the nasty responses to that letter in the online "TalkBack)? Were those responding to the poll informed that Republicans passed these sorts of laws over the objections of Democrats? Were respondents told that no evidence (at least in Indiana) of voter impersonation at the polls existed? Were respondents told that a corollary requirement of voter ID was not mandated for absentee balloting or voter registration? I'm curious to know how those respondents would have answered when presented with a more robust set of facts and if presented with the arguments for both sides.

Unfortunately, it is too easy to craft a poll with a virtually predetermined outcome, simply by wording the question in a particular way. Pollsters do it all the time. Equally unfortunately, too few Americans really understand how polling works to ask the questions about the validity and integrity of a poll. Thus, results like those Rokita cites are all too common and too many Americans put their faith in what their fellow citizens appear to "believe," all based on polls.

The other, even more troubling, issue raised by Rokita's citation of the poll results, is the idea that if a majority supports something, it must be acceptable. However, that goes against the very framework of a constitutional democracy like ours. I'm sure that a majority of Americans would support a whole host of laws doing one thing or another; however, whether the majority supports them or not is wholly irrelevant if the thing being legislated is protected by the Constitution. I would wager that a large percentage of Americans would favor preventing Muslims from voting or even kicking Muslims out of the country if they are critical of US policy. Yet, we all know that would be prohibited by the Constitution. I suspect that a large percentage of Americans would support a law mandating Christian prayer in public schools, notwithstanding the prohibition on the establishment of religion found in the First Amendment.

One of the greatest strengths of our constitutional democracy is that, while the will of the majority is considered in the formulation of most laws and policies, that will can never trump the constitutionally protected rights of the minority. So, while the majority may favor a law or policy that infringes upon the rights of certain minority groups, the constitutional rights of those minority groups cannot be abrogated or infringed. Voting is a core right (not just granted to particular minority groups); in fact, it is the very foundation of the constitutional democracy. That a majority may feel that it is acceptable to hinder the ability of some small group to fully and equally participate in the democratic process does not justify the imposition of such hindrances.

Todd Rokita is wrong to point to polls as support for his position on a constitutional question. Polls may be fine for whether to adopt or not adopt some broad policy, but they are not valid for determining whether to infringe upon Constitutionally protected rights. Shame on him for not recognizing this and for taking this underhanded approach to a addressing such an important issue.

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Saturday, January 12, 2008

LibraryThing update

I've updated my LibraryThing catalog to include all books that I've read since the beginning of 2005. For the time being, the widget on this page showing recent LibraryThing entries is not showing the last 10 books that I've read; instead, it shows the last 10 books that I've entered into LibraryThing. I'm still working to solve the problem.


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Thursday, January 10, 2008

Voter ID Law Is Bad for Democracy (Update 2)

The United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of Indiana's voter ID law yesterday. For an excellent recap of the issues and oral arguments, please read and listen to this report from NPR's Nina Totenberg (the best legal reporter on radio or TV). Her prior report (from January 7, 2008) outlines the issues and facts. (Click on the Listen Now buttons to hear the reports.)

From Ms. Totenberg's report and from what I've read elsewhere, it does not sound as if many of the Supreme Court Justices were sympathetic to those challenging the law. The most depressing comment that I've read, however, came from Justice Anthony Kennedy, who asked if the plaintiffs wanted the Supreme Court to "invalidate a statute on the ground that it's a minor inconvenience to a small percentage of voters" (quoting The Indianapolis Star, "Justices seem hesitant to toss Indiana's voter ID law", January 10, 2008). Justice Kennedy's query reflects the significant error that many proponents of the law make (whether intentionally or not) when they compare voting to other common tasks for which a photo ID is often required.

Voting is different; it is not the same as flying on a plane, renting a video, or even opening a bank account. Voting is an essential function -- perhaps, the essential function -- of a citizen in a democracy. Minor inconvenience might be acceptable in certain situations, but not situations that go to the very heart of the functioning of the democracy and certainly not when that inconvenience is caused, not for the purpose of preventing an abuse that is not occurring, but rather to disenfranchise certain voters who are more likely to vote for candidates of a particular ideology. Thus, I would answer Justice Kennedy's query with a strong affirmative!

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Wednesday, January 9, 2008

New Hampshire Primary Result Good for Democracy

The results of last night's primary election in New Hampshire are good for democracy. Not because Hillary Clinton or John McCain won, but rather, because the campaign cycle will continue. Some had speculated that an Obama win would signal the end of the Democratic primary contest. As John Edwards repeatedly pointed out in his speech last night, more than 99% of Americans have not yet had a chance to cast a vote. So a contested primary fight that continues past Iowa and New Hampshire (see my prior entry "Obama, Huckabee, and Iowa...Oh My! - Yawn") and, therefore, gives more Americans a chance to participate in the political process is good for democracy. The divided electoral results from the citizens of Iowa and New Hampshire means many other citizens will continue to be able to meet the candidates and hear what they have to say.


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Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Voter ID Law Is Bad for Democracy (Update)

While driving home this evening, I heard Indiana Secretary of State Todd Rokita offer yet another wholly idiotic defense of Indiana's voter ID law (see prior blog entry for his other argument). According to Mr. Rokita, the voter ID law has given citizens more faith in the democratic process and, therefore, the percentage of people who have voted in Indiana since the passage of the law has increased.

First, I'm not sure about whether the percentage of voters has increased. Second, I'm not sure about whether types of offices being contested has been factored into that percentage calculation. And even if the percentage has increased and been normalized, I still have a really hard time buying the suggestion that more people have chosen to vote because of the voter ID law. We might also be able to conclude that more people have voted because Tony Dungy is coaching the Colts or because Desperate Housewives gives people more faith in the strength of American popular culture or because ... oh, never mind.

Rokita's argument is idiotic; it is simply further evidence that proponents of the law will grasp any idea or rationalization upon which to base the argument that the law is good for Indiana, no matter how specious that argument may be.

The voter ID law, in its present form, is bad for democracy and bad for Indiana. I just hope that a right-leaning Supreme Court values democratic values over Republican partisanship. But then the outcome of Bush v. Gore doesn't really leave me much reason for optimism.

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Voter ID Law Is Bad for Democracy

For the second time in a week, I came across an opinion in The Indianapolis Star with which I agreed. Will wonders never cease? Anyway, take a moment and read Marie Cocco's essay "Indiana's law tests high court". On its face, the voter ID law sounds like a good idea; however, like many other laws, once one begins to dig a bit deeper the good idea breaks down.

First (and most critical) is the undisputed fact that no evidence of voter fraud has been presented to the courts and certainly no evidence of voter fraud that would be prevented by the requirement of a photo ID at the polls. If instances of voter fraud were rampant and the fraud could be stopped via the use of a photo ID, then the law might be seen in a more beneficial light. But when there hasn't been any fraud, what is the real purpose of the law? Proponents say that the law is to prevent (the non-existent) fraud. Yet think about what they are really saying is happening. Someone (lots of people?) are going to polling places, pretending to be someone that they are not, signing a voting log (and forging the real person's signature), and then voting. And, of course, this whole scheme breaks down if the real person shows up to vote. How likely is this scenario? And how many people are we willing to disenfranchise to stop this unlikely scenario?

It is also critical to note that Indiana's voter ID law does not apply to voting by absentee ballot. A voter can get an absentee ballot without a photo ID. Why are two types of voters treated differently? And consider how much easier it would be to engage in a voting fraud scheme with an absentee ballot. I can envision a scheme in which an unscrupulous political hack offers people a few dollars for their ballot. Who would ever know? That seems like a much more likely opportunity for voter fraud than showing up in person at the polling place on election day. Don't forget that many polling places have a sheriff present during all or part of the day; it would only take one polling official that knew the real voter to bring the fraud scheme to a crashing halt.

This morning, I heard an interview with Todd Rokita, Indiana's Secretary of State, in which he claimed that a legitimate purpose of the voter ID law was to prevent identity theft. First, I'm not sure how an identity could be stolen at the voting booth. Second, I don't recall hearing this reason during the legislative debates on the issue. And finally, if identity theft is such a problem (and it clearly is), then shouldn't Secretary of State Rokita support other measures that would reduce the opportunity and need for identity theft? I'm pretty sure that Mr. Rokita would oppose giving drivers licenses to illegal aliens, yet clearly the need for licenses is a reason for identity theft. Just recently, I was concerned that a client's identity might be subject to theft and learned, to my dismay, how difficult the state made the process of obtaining a new driver's license number to stop the potential theft.; unfortunately, I discovered that the process to get a new driver's license number for the client could take weeks and might even involve a hearing! It doesn't sound like preventing identity theft is really that important to the State of Indiana.

For that matter, if an ineligible person wants to vote so badly so as to engage in fraud, how will the voter ID law help? Won't that person simply register to vote using a false identity and then show that false identity ID when voting?

It seems to me that the real problems are with the voter registration rolls, not with who shows up to vote. If Indiana wants to cut down on the possibility of voter fraud, then we should look at ways of preventing a person from voting in two different precincts.

It has also been suggested that using a photo ID is a standard part of modern existence. Examples cited include flying on an airplane or renting a video. However, the advocates who rely on those examples miss an absolutely critical concept: Neither flying nor renting a video are core concepts of our democratic process that are protected by and enshrined in the Constitution. Flying and video rentals are "optional" whereas voting is an absolute core right of every citizen in a democracy. We should make it as easy as possible for each citizen to exercise his or her core constitutional rights.

Some who have not given the law much thought ask the reasonable question: "Why don't people simply get a photo ID?" There are several answers. First, getting a photo ID is not always that simple. Try it sometime (but leave your driver's license at home). First, you will probably need your birth certificate. Do you have one? If not, it can sometimes take some effort (and expense) to get it. And if your name is different now (e.g., you got married), then it becomes much more difficult. Also, many people may have difficulty getting to the BMV (or whatever other office will issue a photo ID). The BMV office is about 5 miles from my house and my community has absolutely no public transportation. If I didn't have a car, I would have to rely upon someone else taking me to the BMV. That may be easy for me, but consider a disabled (but competent) person living in a nursing home or a single mother who works two jobs just to make ends meet (and who doesn't have a car). For those people, obtaining a photo ID can be very difficult, potentially costly, and certainly time consuming. Some of Indiana's less populated counties have even had the BMV offices consolidated, such that a person seeking an ID might have to travel a fairly substantial distance (at least by Indiana standards) to get to an office from which a photo ID could be obtained.

Compare the voter ID law to the old "reading tests" that were administered in the South. On one hand, requiring voters to be able to read seems to be intuitive. However, when one considers both how the law was applied and that the reason for the law was to disenfranchise rather than have a better educated electorate, then the basis for the reading tests falls apart. Similarly, the requirement of a photo ID to stop non-existent voter fraud when easier methods of committing such fraud are not prevented by the photo ID requirement, calls into question the motives of the proponents of the law.

I also question adding roadblocks to voting when we live in an age when so few people vote. Shouldn't we be looking for ways to encourage more people to vote? Right now, in Indiana, polls are open from 6:00 am to 6:00 pm. Why not keep them open much later (as many other states do)? Could it be because people who are more likely to vote later at night are the less well-off in society and (one might speculate) would be more likely to vote for Democrats?

Which brings us to the real issue. It is worth noting that in virtually every instance in which restrictive laws relating to voting have been passed, they have been supported primarily by Republicans. Are we to take from this that only Republicans fear voter fraud and Democrats aren't worried by it (or, as some Republicans suggest, encourage voter fraud)? Or, should we take from this the notion that Republicans are looking for ways to cut down on voter turnout among groups that are predisposed in favor of Democrats (or against Republicans). Perhaps if Republicans showed an interest in making all voting access equal and available, I'd be less cynical. But when absentee ballots are omitted from the law and when other voting access issues are considered, I have a hard time believing that the voter ID law serves any purpose other than keeping some putative Democrats from voting.

Americans love to talk about living in a democracy and how democracy is the greatest system of government yet developed. Yet when some Americans see the ebb and tide of public support moving away from their position, they become somewhat less enchanted with democracy and look for ways to prevent those competing ideas from gaining ground. In this case, it is the Republicans who are working to keep their positions in the fore by potentially disenfranchising others. That is not how democracy is supposed to work; that is not America. Unfortunately, it is Indiana.

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LibraryThing: "The Golden Compass"

I have updated my LibraryThing catalog with a review of The Golden Compass, Book I of His Dark Materials, by Philip Pullman.

Also, please note that I'm having a bit of difficulty with the widget that shows the last books that I've read on the right side of this page. For some reason, I can only get the widget to show the last 10 books for which I've entered a review, not the last 10 books that I've actually read. As I've been trying to go back and copy older book reviews to LibraryThing, the widget isn't displaying the books that I want it to. Hopefully, LibraryThing will fix the widget soon; if not, when I finish inputting old reviews, things should eventually sort themselves out.


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Sunday, January 6, 2008

LibraryThing: "Right to Exist: A Moral Defense of Israel's Wars"

I have updated my LibaryThing catalog with a review of Right to Exist: A Moral Defense of Israel's Wars by Yaacov Lozowick.

In addition, I've added a few more older reviews (so far, all of my books reviews since the beginning of 2006 have been copied to LibraryThing).


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Saturday, January 5, 2008

Obama, Huckabee, and Iowa...Oh My! - Yawn...

So Barack Obama and Mike Huckabee have won the Iowa caucuses. Even though I'm a political junkie I find myself in a state of total apathy about the state of the Presidential primaries. Why? Simple: Because those of us who live in Indiana have absolutely no voice in choosing who the candidates will be. Unless I give money to one of the candidates (and think how much money it takes to make a difference), my voice will never be heard in the selection process. Why? Because Indiana doesn't hold its primary until May, months after the heart of the primary season has ended and the candidates have, for all practical purposes, been chosen. Just think about it: About 200,000 Iowans have voted and at least two candidates have already dropped out of the race. The 299,000,000 Americans (give or take) who don't live in Iowa will not have a chance to vote for those candidates in the primaries. By the time Hoosiers vote, many more candidates will have dropped out of the race and the likely winners will, by then, have probably secured enough delegates to declare victory and make Indiana's primary essentially meaningless. I don't know about you, but that doesn't sound much like the way the democratic process is supposed to work.

There are several problems with the way the process works (well, maybe far more than several, but that is a much broader subject for another day). First, think how much attention is devoted to Iowa and New Hampshire. I heard a story a few weeks ago (on NPR, I think) in which the reporter commented that by the time of the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary, most interested voters would have had the opportunity to meet at least two of the candidates. By comparison, I don't think that any of the candidates have visited Indiana or, if they have, it has only been for fund raisers open to big donors. Most of us Hoosiers will never have the chance to meet, let alone question, one of the candidates.

Second, just how representative of the rest of the US are Iowa and New Hampshire? Do they have minority populations that reflect the overall minority populations of the rest of the country? Do they have similar left-right distributions of voters? How do the average socio-economic levels of Iowans and New Hampshireites (what exactly is someone from New Hampshire called?) compare to the rest of the country? What about the breakdown of urban to rural voter? Average level of education? Don't get me wrong; the people of Iowa and New Hampshire have just as much right as everyone else to have a say in the selection of presidential candidates (and, by obvious extension, the next president). But do those people have the right to have more input than the rest of us? Look at the electoral college (which, itself, will likely be the topic of another post down the road): According to Wikipedia (checked January 5, 2008), Iowa has 7 electoral votes and represents just 0.98% of the population while New Hampshire has only 4 electoral votes and represents just 0.43% of the population. So, out of a total population of about 300,000,000 people, states with a combined population of about 4,200,000 have a vastly disproportionate role in picking the presidential candidates. While a statistician might accept as statistically significant a survey of those 4,200,000 out of the 300,000,000, I doubt that a statistician would accept that unless he believed that the representative sample was consistent with the rest of the population. Think of it this way: Would you be satisfied if the choice of president was based on 11 electoral votes while the other 531 votes weren't counted? Of course not.

And now, the parties themselves are starting to try to tell states when they can and can't hold their primaries. On one hand that is fine; after all, the primaries are for the parties to pick their respective candidates, so they should be able to do what they want. But, in that situation, the primaries should be solely private functions run and funded by the parties and should have nothing to do with the states and their elected officials. But, as we all know, the parties don't foot the bill for the primaries (I don't know about the Iowa caucus); you and I do through our taxes. I believe that each state pays for the primary just as for the general election. So, if the states are holding the primary as a form of preliminary election, by what right does a private party have to tell the state how and when to hold its election? (Recall that the parties have told Florida that its delegates may not count because the parties don't like that Florida moved up its primary.)

Essentially, the primary process has become a year-long race around the country to get as much money as possible and then to spend that money in just a few states. So, while my money may interest a candidate, my voice, choice, and vote don't really matter.

Finally, let's look at Indiana (which, in the early part of the 1900s actually held one of the first primaries in the country). The most frequently uttered reason for why Indiana won't move its presidential primary up is that the members of the Indiana General Assembly (our legislature) don't want to have a primary for their offices during the legislative session (Indiana's legislature is not a full time legislature; it meets for several months beginning in January). Yet it wouldn't be difficult to have a separate primary for presidential candidates in January or February and keep the general primary in May (I believe that several other states of done just this). The response to this suggestion has been that it would be prohibitively expensive to hold this "extra" primary. First, it is worth remembering that this extra primary would only need to be held once every four years. Second, wouldn't it be worth the cost to give Hoosiers a say in picking the next president? It would seem to me that the cost of a primary would pale in comparison to the value of giving Hoosiers a voice. And finally, even if it is expensive, wouldn't the possible revenue from campaigning activities be a potential boon to the state? Just think of the revenue to the diners and cafes (think of how many pictures you've seen of a candidate in a neighborhood restaurant in Iowa or New Hampshire) and TV networks (I think that I heard the other day that 1 out of every 3 commercials airing in Iowa during the last few weeks was paid for by a candidate).

I'm not sure of the real reason for the ongoing refusal of Indiana's legislators to move our primary; all I know is that by keeping our primary in May, our legislators are preventing Hoosiers from having a say in the presidential selection process. That isn't democratic. I think that it may be time for Hoosiers to start demanding action.

So, congratulations to Senator Obama and Governor Huckabee. Congratulations to the people of Iowa. And congratulations (insert dripping sarcasm) to the rest of America for the loss of true democracy in the presidential primary process.


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Happy New Year! (Update)

I was discussing my previous blog entry (Happy New Year!, January 1, 2008) with some friends the other night. As the discussion progressed, we found ourselves discussing other movies that had some sort of religious controversy. When the discussion got around to Narnia, I mentioned that I had made the decision not to let my children see the film. My friend made a comment that, indirectly, asked whether I was being hypocritical when I claimed that I believed that people should make up their own minds (rather than letting others make decisions for them) while I made the decision not to let my children see the film.

The question caused me to stop and think for a moment. Was my position hypothetical? After reflecting for a few moments, I realized that my position was entirely consistent. I had heard that Narnia was a Christian allegory that could be viewed in some respects as antisemitic. Yet, rather than simply following what others said, I went to see the film with an open mind. (For my brief review of the film, please see my movie review website.) It was only after actually seeing the film and thinking about its content that I decided that it was not appropriate for my kids (at least at the time; as my kids have gotten older and started asking intelligent questions about religion, I'm more inclined to let them see Narnia and discuss some of the issues).

So why is my decision not to let my children see the film not inconsistent with my observation that people should not rely upon others to tell them what they should or should not see? Simple: Because I am a parent and I am making a decision for my children. By definition, children are not old enough to make certain decisions for themselves; that, in part, is the parent's role. Now, were I to have made the decision without having seen the film first, then I would have had no basis upon which to make my decision, and that would have been wrong. In other words, adults should not rely upon others to tell them which films to see or not to see (at least on the basis of content; of course there's nothing wrong with letting a critic offer suggestions as to whether a movie is good or worth seeing), but adults must make those decisions for their children. But, in order to make their decisions, parents should not simply rely upon what someone else tells them.

Which of course brings me right back to the original theme. It is up to each and every one of us to exercise his or her own ability to think independently and make appropriate decisions on the basis of that independent thought. Perhaps that idea is naive and some people simply can't exercise that degree of self-judgment, but if I'm naive in that way, then I guess that makes me an optimist for the power of the human mind.


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Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Happy New Year!

Well, the new year is now upon us. I woke up trying to think about what I might try to add to my new blog as my first entry for 2008. Before I could come up with a subject that I wanted to spend a few minutes with, I found an editorial in my local paper (The Indianapolis Star) that articulated one of my viewpoints very well, and it was written by my own rabbi! Please take a few minutes and read the excellent opinion piece by Rabbi Sandy Sasso.

The first comment posted in response to the Rabbi's piece states that "Liberals are the ones attacking religions." My own response to this idiotic and ignorant comment (the fourth comment to the Rabbi's editorial):
Liberals are not attacking religion at all; instead, we oppose those who would try to use their own religious viewpoint to tell us how to think and act. I have no problem with anyone else's religion so long as it remains their religion and they do not try to force their beliefs on me. I'll believe the way that I want and I'll leave you alone; all I ask is that you do the same. Enjoy your religion in your home and in your church / synagogue / mosque / shrine or anywhere else, but keep it out of OUR government.
I guess religion is as good a point as any to start the year's discussion. After all, so many people allow their every thought to be guided by religion, almost as if they are absolved from needing to think for themselves and make up their own minds. Just witness the furor (well maybe not quite furor, but at least minor fracas) over the movie The Golden Compass which some people accuse of being anti-religion.

First, I would ask the people who claim that the movie is anti-religion whether they've actually seen the film. I have. There was nothing -- I repeat, nothing -- in the film that could be labeled as anti-religion. Perhaps the book is more anti-religious (I'm 75% through the book and so far, other than a few references to the Church and Pope, there is very little about religion in the story). But in any event, one of the central themes in both the book and the film is whether a powerful institution (call it the Magesterium or Church or whatever) should be able to tell people what and how to think. One person's religious doctrine may be another's Big Brother. So people who boycott movies like The Golden Compass are actually allowing others to make up their minds for them. If you go and see the film and dislike what it has to say, then you have made that intellectual decision on your own and exercised the valuable human skill of independent free thought. But if you don't see the film because your pastor or priest told you not to, then you are ceding your decision-making abilities to another. And I, for one, find that to be dangerous.

Religion can play an important part in your life if you want it to. That's fine. That's your decision for how you want to live your life and I commend you for your faith. However, the fact that you have chosen to life your life in a particular way or following a particular faith is your decision and it should be a personal and private matter. Leave me and my beliefs alone. Don't tell me how and what to believe and I won't tell you (well, I might if you read this blog, but you made the decision to come read it; I didn't shove my ideas down your throat).

Which finally, brings us back to the candidates running for office. Frankly, I don't care what religion a candidate is, which church he or she attends, or how often he or she worships. I do care about the issues facing our country and our planet and what each of those candidates would do to solve those problems. And I do care about whether those candidates will make decisions on the basis of their own intellectual prowess and upon advice given by well-chosen and well-qualified advisors or whether decisions will be based upon scripture and religious doctrine. Personally, I'm scared of candidates who fall into that latter category. Last time I checked, we vote for candidates, not for their pastor or their bishop or whoever else may tell them what they should do to properly follow their particular religious dogma.

Well, enough for now. We have an entire election campaign ahead of us and I suspect that I will have plenty more opportunities to discuss my thoughts about religion in the public and political sphere. For now, just think about how many wars have been fought over religion and its interpretation and how many people have been killed in the name of one god or another. That is one of the things that sets America apart from much of the rest of the world. We've managed to grow into the strongest country the world has ever seen because of the enormous diversity in thoughts and ideas. If we start allowing religion to play and become a more dominant and active part in our public political life, we will be starting down the road to being just like much of the rest of the world where religious dispute leads to violence and chaos. And that's not America or American.

Happy New Year.

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