Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Is it ever okay to experiment on people if they know the risks and the risks are low?

I watched a movie the other day called Extreme Measures.  *movie spoiler alert*  A famous doctor was taking homeless people and performing experiments on them to find a procedure to allow parapalegics to walk again.  The ethical delimna was whether he should sacrifice these few homeless people in order to help thousands of people who are unable to walk.

It made me think about the issue.  Science sacrifices animals all the time to determine if a medicine or medical procedure is safe and can then be used on humans.  The animals cannot be asked if they wish to be part of the experiments.  But humans can.  The doctor in the movie was obviously wrong in using people without their knowledge.  In the movie, he states that he is rather old and doesn't have time to wait years for experiments on rats and monkeys.

Is it ever okay to experiment on people when the odds of survival are slim to none?

Obviously, taking people, homeless or not, is unethical.  But what if you asked for volunteers?  If you spelled everything out to people and showed them the risks and benefits, to them and humanity, would that be okay?  I am of the mind that if people are in control of their mental faculties, they can make any decision they wish.  If someone asks for volunteers and someone steps forward, they can all sign the appropriate paperwork (and maybe be overseen by a 'oversight committee') then the doctor and volunteer can proceed.  I can imagine there would be a few people who would want to do this.  There are always a few individuals who will volunteer for anything.  But would they get the right kind of people?  Would they get volunteers who fit the criteria they needed?

But what if they can't get enough volunteers?  Maybe the odds of success are too low.  Would it be okay to pay for volunteers?  If people were offered a substantial amount of money, would it be appropriate?  I can certainly see more volunteers stepping forward.  Money can be a strong motivator.  And even if the odds of success are low, the money could be given to their family.  If the volunteer was of sound mind, would this be okay?

I am of the opinion, that if someone is capable of making decisions for themselves, then they can volunteer for any and all procedures that are offered.  But money should probably not enter the equation (maybe living expenses?).  It makes the reasons for volunteering more difficult to ascertain.  And I like the idea of an oversight committee.  A group of medical professionals (and laypersons?) who make sure that what the scientist/doctor is doing needs volunteers and that the volunteers are not being coerced.

The needs of the many outweight the needs of the few, or the one.  As long as that one understands the risks involved.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Bless you! Gesundheit! Salute! Na zdravlje!

Someone next to you sneezes.  What do you do?

  1. Stare at them.
  2. Run for your life.
  3. Ignore them.
  4. Say "Bless You" or "Gesundheit".
The usual answer by people is #4.  I have several family and friends who always, always say "Bless you" (to your health).  They can't conceive of someone sneezing and NOT say it.

Why do we say Bless You (or Gesundheit or Salute or Na zdravlge or others)?

In 'olden times' people would say God Bless You to ward off evil spirts when someone sneezed.  Some thought that a sneeze released the spirt monentarily and evil spirits might make off with it.  Or that the sneeze got rid of evil spirits and they Blessed you in the hopes the evil spirits would not return to your body.

During the Black Death, some thought sneezing was a sign the person was sick, so they Blessed them, wishing them a speedy recovery.

Other thoughts were that the heart stopped when a person sneezed, and someone would Bless you in hopes your heart would start back up.

Bless You in other languages would be Gesundheit (German) or Salute (Italian) or Na zdravlje (Croation).

Contemporary responses

As noted above, many, many people still say Bless You when someone sneezes.  But not everyone.  The office that I now work in used to say it when I first joined them.  Now, only one or two people do it, and it is subdued.  Once in a while NO one says anything.  And while I haven't said Bless You in years, it still feels like something is missing.  The tradition still lingers.

I am not a superstitious person.  I don't believe in astrology, numerology, fate, destiny, or bad luck from black cats crossing my path or breaking mirrors.  A few years ago, I looked up Bless You and the reasons for using it, and found the superstitions listed above.  So I stopped Blessing anyone.  Sometimes, depending on the company I am with, I might say 'geez' or some little something, because I feel like I have to say SOMEthing.  I grew up around some family and friends who not only said it themselves, but expected to hear it when they sneezed.  So I haven't completely given up saything something yet.

I like traditions, in general.  I send birthday cards to family and friends.  Presents are opened on Christmas Day, not Christmas Eve.  I go to the local fireworks display every Independence Day.

But I no longer Bless Anyone. 

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Preemptive gift returns

Amazon will soon have a new way to return gifts preemptively.  Seriously.

Amazon patents incredibly heartless and useful idea (NPR)

Amazon has a Wish List where I can put items that I would like to receive.  During Christmas time (and around my birthday?) they don't show which items have been purchased, so I won't know what I'm getting for Christmas.

With this new feature in place, I would know some of the gifts I would be receiving.  Is this progress?

When I read the article, I wondered if this would really happen.  Would Amazon really put this on their site?  Then I started to think of who I would put on my list.

My second thought was what would happen when Wikileaks publishes the list.

My third thought was how many lists *I* would be on.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

It's a man's world

It's a man's world.

Many women reading this would probably say Duh!  While progress has been made to level the playing field, there are still many areas and instances that show there is still progress to be made.

Pay, of course, is a high profile issue and has never been any where near between the sexes.  In 2000, women earned about 76% of what men made for the same jobs.  The gap is smaller now, but not all of it is equality in the work force.  The current recession has hit men harder than women.  Gender pay gap is smallest on record (USA Today).  Another reason women are gaining is more and more are entering typical male-dominated professions.  Almost half of all science and business majors are women.  Census: Women closing in on male-dominated fields (USA Today).

It's not all about money and professions.  Much of our language is not gender neutral.  I understand that 'tradition' plays a large part in our lives.  We still say mankind and Father Time.  We usually say words or phrases because that is what was used before and we grew up with it.  But things are, indeed, changing.  We now say Mail Carrier and Steward and Chairperson.

There are exceptions, of course.  We call ships 'she'.  But for every Mother Nature, there are probably dozens of male pronouns. 

What had me thinking about all of this was a few days ago I was walking my dog around the neighborhood.  A man who was walking down the street saw her and, not knowing her gender said something like "hey there little fellow."  This is usually the way it goes.  They ask "what is his name?" assuming our little Maddie is a boy.  I normally answer "her name is Maddie", giving them two pieces of information at once.  But as with all things, there are exceptions.  About a week ago, someone else in the neighborhood asked "what is his or her name?"  I smiled and simply said "Maddie."

It's progress.

Interesting article on why words should NOT be changed.  Mother Nature (Wordwatch)  Make sure to check out the comments also.  People chime in from both sides of the aisle.

Video: Facebook COO Sheryl Sandbert talks about Why we have too few women leaders (TED)

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

'Tis the Season, for Reason, and Peace. Atheists AND Religious groups

It's Chrismas time.  And God is more prevalent than any other time of the year.  Many homes put up nativity scenes, showing Mary and Joseph around a crib with a baby Jesus, and some have Wise Men and maybe animals to complete the scene.

A local church has an event, open to everyone, of a Bethlehem, including Roman soldiers, a census taker, two inns, a stable (or manger) and animals such as sheep, a donkey, and camels.  They tell the story of Jesus birth and finish with beautiful Christmas music.

Christmas music is heard most everywhere, in stores and on the radio.

Is this a problem?  Should any or all of these be eliminated or 'outlawed'.  Of course not.  These are all done by people and businesses and not mandated by government.

Now look out at the street and look at the ad on the bus going by.  It says "Millions of Americans are Good without God."  Are you offended?  Perhaps.  Does the ad stay on the bus?  Of course.

The Metroplex Atheists of Dallas-Fort Worth placed the ads because "we want to tell people they are not alone."  During Christmas time, many people feel alone or alienated because they don't have someone to share the 'holiday spirit' with.  The Metroplex Atheists are reaching out to people.  "It can be pretty lonely for a nonbeliever at Christmas time around here," says Mr McDonald, chairman of a local Atheist group.

Some religious groups have tried to boycott the buses or get the bus line to stop advertising any religious ads.  But all ads are welcome (excluding tobacco and alcohol).  As they should be.

Mr Edwords, national directory of the United Coalition of Reason says of the money spent on the ads, "That's more brouhaha for the buck than we have seen anywhere."  Which only incites more anger from religious groups.

Both sides need to relax, take a deep breath, and go about their business.  Both sides can advertise to their hearts content, and talk to people, and keep everything on a positive level.

Peace.  What a concept.

Atheist Ads on Buses Rattle Fort Worth (New York Times)

While I agree with the sentiment, the New York billboard, featuring a nativity scene, is over the line.  For the Holidays, an Atheism Billboard (New York Times)  This one is part of a 'war on Christmas'.  Nothing good will come of it.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Give a Gift Card or Money as a present?

As part of our company holiday party, we were to have a White Elephant Gift Exchange (Wikipedia).  This is where everyone brings a gift up to a certain value, wrapped, and we all take turns opening a gift or stealing from someone else.  One of the rules for the game was that no one could use a Gift Card as a gift.

The day before the party, one person offhandedly mentioned they would bring money as a gift.  They were joking, but it made me think about the 'value' of gifts.

We are all used to having gifts to open on christmas morning.  Usually it is something you have expressed an interest in, or it is something that someone knows you would like.  If I don't know what someone would like, then I consider getting a gift card for them, since I usually know at least what type of gift they would like, such as clothing, or comic books, or dishes, or computer-related.  With a gift card, they can get just what they want.  But when I get the gift card, I usually get an amount over what I would have spent on a gift.  In other words, if something I would have purchased for them is $30, I might get a gift card for $40 or even $50.  I think this plays into the 'feeling guilty' that I didn't get a 'real gift' for them.

If I give money, instead, as my co-worker mentioned, I would probably go for at least the gift card amount or even more.  I feel even more guilty, because, now I haven't even given them something in a category, such as electronics at Best Buy or books at Barnes and Noble.  So money in the envelope might be $50 or $60.  There is no thought to giving money.  Sure, they can spend it anywhere, but there is nothing 'special' tied to the giving.

Lastly, I can make a gift for them, which I do on occasion.  I know what the person would like and I make it from craft store materials, usually.  And the cost?  Not normally as much as the gift card.  Maybe $15 in materials, depending on the gift.  But that isn't the point with making a gift, is it?  The point, in case it isn't obvious, is that the gift comes from the heart.  I have given my time to create something special for them.

So, the point?  If you are even moderately creative and know something the person would like, consider making a gift for them.

Not creative enough or can't think of something to make?  The normal 'gift giving' of something the person would like is perfectly acceptable.

Can't think of what to give the person?  A gift card, while not as good as a 'normal gift' is okay, especially if it is someone not as close as a spouse or close friend.

And if all else fails?  Forget the money.  No matter how you dress it up.  Decide on which gift card to give them.

Homemade Christmas Gift (SaverQueen)

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Do we really need more laws?

If you live in California or Illinois (6th district) and you don't think we have enough laws, you can contact a state Senator and suggest a new law to them.  They will take the ideas they think are best and submit them to their state Legislatures.  Since 2001, 16 ideas have become new laws in California.

New laws can range from businesses honoring gift certificates even in bankruptcy to fines for debris falling from trucks with proposed laws such as an energy deduction for companies who supply power for employees electric vehicles.

While I laud this idea I can't help but think of how many laws are already on the books.  Do we really need new laws?  Some of them are 'good laws' such as deductions for this or that, but other are 'punitive laws' such as fines for one thing or another.

Along with 'there oughta be a law' should be 'we oughta get rid of a law'.  There are plenty of laws cluttering up the books that are so out of date as to be laughable (Weird and out of date law in US).

'There oughta be a law' movement lets fed-up citizens write their own laws (Christian Science Monitor)

Illinois Senator Roskam institutes his own There Ought be a Law program in 2008.