Abortion

Birthing (a.k.a. gestation) is a constantly evolving biological process. For obvious reasons, there is no controversy more emotionally charged than that of induced termination of that process.

At the root of the seemingly unresolvable abortion issues is a gap between laws of government and those of the birthing process. Row/Wade partially succeeds in bridging that gap, but the bridge does not definitively span the second and third trimesters.    

[Before I continue, I’d like to tell you about an extremely unusual event I experienced in 1959 when I was 30 years old.]

At that time, most families often did things together, including shared entertainment. One day, my dad took the family to Radio City Music Hall to see the first-run film, North by Northwest, now a classic. When we entered the 5,900-seat theater I was in awe of its cavernous size. We soon found a row of seats that would accommodate all of us and filed into it.

I sat next to what I thought was a doll. When the lights came up for the stage show, I noticed that what I had barely seen in the dark was not a doll: it was a thalidomide baby. Her head was normal, but all four limbs were miniscule and motionless, like those of a doll. I also witnessed a warm and cheerful relationship between her and her family members. I was deeply affected by that event, but ‘pro-choice’ and ‘the right to life’ never occurred to me then.]

My memory of that Radio City event has since resurfaced from time to time.  Currently, that memory has been jarred by the approach of the upcoming general 2020 election. Once again, the relentless din of politicians, commentators, and social media will intensify; once again, acerbic placards will scream their terse messages; once again, there will be hair-splitting debates on federal and state abortion laws: and once again, visceral emotions will supersede reason

I wonder how many people on either side of the abortion issue are aware that “Jane Row” (Norma McCorvey) ironically converted to Catholicism, became a staunch pro-life advocate, supported the Roe No More Ministry (dissolved 2008), was the leader of a protest group of anti-abortionists who gathered in and around Nancy Pelosi’s office (2009), who expressed deep regret for her historic Supreme Court trial for legal abortion, and who said her abortion case was, “The biggest mistake in my life.”

As far as I know, Row/Wade was first to define abortion law by trimesters. Although that definition is generally useful in the monitoring of and caring for the mother and her preborn baby, it is not the principal legal factor in the development of abortion laws. Currently, it appears that whether to abort a preborn baby or not depends on its viability, i.e., when the preborn is able to survive outside of the womb. (Please humor me: though the word ‘womb’ is clinically called the ‘uterus,’ that is a word almost as objectionable to me as the word ‘entrails.’) Viability is generally attained at the last segment of the second semester, the 24th or 25th week of gestation.

Most people equate birth control pills or induced abortion within the first trimester as morally equivalent. Of course that is not true of the Catholic Church, which firmly holds that life begins at the instant of fertilization. (There is a Christian religious sect which sites an Old Testament scripture that at least implies that life begins before fertilization.  That Bible passage reads: “Before you were in your mother’s womb I knew you.” That ambiguous passage is interpreted by many as not necessarily literal or, by others, as a reference to God’s omniscience. In any case, many pro-life and anti-abortionists alike justify their position on abortion with very different answers to the question, “When does life begin?” But that question is a construct designed to accommodate just about any intact position on abortion.    

Until recently, the secular answer to that question was, “Life begins at birth” or, more  technically, “Life begins when an ovem and sperm unite” (fertilization). In the legal and medical world today, that almost universal answer has given way to several new answers, the principal one of which is, “When the baby is ‘viable,’ i.e., when the baby is able to survive outside of the womb.) It legally follows that viability forbids legal abortion, as do Row/Wade and other abortion laws—almost.

I suspect that many viable babies are aborted under somewhat furtive late term abortions that are purported to protect the health of the mother. But whatever guards may be in place to avoid that loophole (including restrictive abortion measures) the Partial Abortion Act is a feeble euphemism for irreversible abortion: a baby is either alive or dead. Often it is the mother and her doctor who decide whether or not the baby is ‘viable,’ or to be precise, whether or not the mother and doctor comply with the law or claim that the mother’s health is endangered.

It is difficult enough to adjudicate the ethical, medical, and moral ramifications of abortion without adding intrinsically chaotic politics into the mix of the abortion controversy. Politics reeks with misrepresentation, greed, and lies. Even Norma McCorvey lied to achieve her right to abort, but she had her baby anyway, after (!) the historic ruling for legal abortion. She later switched to an anti-abortion stance and even considered action to reverse the outcome of the 1973 Supreme Court decision. Those facts alone highlight the conundrum of the abortion controversy.

A little more than a decade ago, the United States Supreme Court upheld a federal law known as the Partial Abortion Act, which prohibits specific abortion procedures. That is a federal law, as opposed to a state law, because several procedures are now and in the future may be Draconian. The ruling is a departure from past High Court decisions which required that any restrictive abortion law include an exception to protect a woman’s health.

While surfing through state abortion laws on the Internet, I read that a judge was asked a question about the status of a preborn baby’s pain in the 5th week of pregnancy. The judge responded, “We don’t ask that question because the 5th week of pregnancy is prior to viability.”

The abortion controversy is exasperated by contradictions and fueled by fierce political partisanship; e.g., “A preborn baby is incapable of experiencing pain until its neurological cells are at a specific stage of prenatal consciousness!”…“No! You’re wrong, the ‘Silent Scream’ is not just an electrical reflex”…“The heart of the unborn is not destroyed, as you claim. Those pulsating cells have not yet coalesced into a heart!”…“You are parsing words and concepts, those cells are in the process of creating a heart!”  All of the above is heavily laced with expletives. Abortion laws don’t include expletives but most of them further obfuscate the abortion issue with the use of three legalistic double-u words: wherefore, wherein, and whereof.

Whatever rationalizations and arguments are made in defense of or in opposition to abortion, the days, weeks, and trimesters in pregnancy whiz by. Given the uncertainties associated with late-term abortions, I think a woman should decisively resolve her position on abortion apart from and before becoming pregnant, with or without her consent. Of course I agree with the axiomatic premise that a woman has a right to her own body, but it’s disingenuous to deny that there is a point of time in the gestation process when there is a sentient human being in her body. The hypothetical question, “When does a baby become a human being?” is irrelevant: human parents do not conceive gold fish or elephants.

Following are excerpts from the United States Code 1531.

A] Any physician who knowingly performs a partial-birth abortion and thereby kills a human fetus shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both. This subsection does not apply to a partial-birth abortion that is necessary to save the mother whose life is endangered by a physical illness, or physical injury, including a life-endangering physical condition caused or arising from the pregnancy itself.

B] …the person performing the abortion deliberately and intentionally vaginally delivers a living fetus until, in the case of a head-first presentation or, in the case of a breech presentation, any part of the fetal trunk past the navel is outside the body of the mother, for the purpose of performing an overt act, that the person knows will kill the partially delivered living fetus…

[I believe the mother is key to solving problems inherent to induced abortion. I also believe that when she becomes aware that she is pregnant but wants an abortion, her best action is to get an abortion as soon as she possibly can for the good of both the baby and herself. My suggestion is based on the fact that the baby is incapable of experiencing pain in the first semester. That is not so in late-term abortions. The later an abortion, the more likely are abortive complications.       

I suppose I over-identify with other people, including mothers and unborn children. But there is something profoundly disturbing about late-term abortion. I’m haunted by the thought that the last if not only feeling a baby may experiences in its fleeting lifespan may be the pain of abortion.]

Please note: Of course this article is simplistic when juxtaposed to the knowledge and opinions of fine gynecologists and obstetricians. But it is not guided by partisanship. I categorically think that abortion should not be sullied by politics.

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A Max Planck Moment

Sometime during the first decade of my life I wondered exactly what defined the absolute instant  of motion (or stillness) of an object at the microcosmic level. I first pondered about that while being driven in a car. At that time, I didn’t know about the fuzziness and jiggling of electronic ‘clouds’ that permeate matter at the microcosmic level of matter, but I intuitively sensed that an auto was not the proper vehicle for the answer to my ‘deep’ kinematic question. I also didn’t know that Planck had an answer to that question. And, not exactly at the caliber of Einstein’s ‘thought experiments,’ I also didn’t know that my question was the first instance of my lifelong cosmological speculations. There has since been a steady stream of speculation.

The Singularity of the Universe

A few years ago, I read an article that posited the universe would eventually slow down forever but never absolutely stop expanding. The theory is based on the assumption that any length can be divided in half infinitely. Ooops!…there goes Planck’s Constant, where anything beyond its limit is meaningless.

Of course I’m not thinking about an auto, or classical science or quantum mechanics, or a potential breakdown of physics as we know it. I’m thinking of what is usually called, the “fabric of space.” I have no difficulty understanding that we are unable to imagine the very large or very small, but the theory described above lacks reason.  Reason itself prevents me from accepting any theory that contradicts reason no matter what the mathematics. Mathematics can describe reality, e.g., E=MC2, but cannot create it.

Infinity

On January 15, 2012, I posted an article on my website titled Disambiguation (Part 3 of 3). A quote from that article reads: “Trying to [imagine] nothingness is like trying to remember a dreamless sleep.” You will find it impossible to imagine absolutely nothing. Try it.  

Darkness? ‘Nothing’ means no darkness, no anything. ‘Nothing’ is just as unimaginable as infinity.  Given that nothing means nothing, then there would be nothing beyond the fringes of the universe. That would make the universe finite whatever its size. Even an inch is infinite if there is absolutely nothing else other than that inch.

The same is true of infinite space or infinite ‘anything.’ That too, is unimaginable. Yet ─ to the credit of human thought ─ we engage in speculation about space, time, and life.  

By definition, speculation is open-ended, but it is also subject to the dictates of reason, the guidepost for reasonable speculation. It is reasonable to think that numbers are infinite: just add 1 to any number. But that is an exclusively mental construct that has no existence and no finite or infinite number.

However, space and matter are real. So is life. All three are open to speculation. Even if religion is excluded from valid speculation, there remains a plethora of definitions and explanations for the existence of space and matter, let alone their interactions.

Yet, there are those who claim that existence is merely a dream or a hologram of some other reality, as in Plato’s cave analogy. And there are those who claim that our senses intrinsically give us a distorted concept of ‘reality,’ even when enhanced by spectacular technology. In other words, we are blind because we have eyes and we are unable to perceive reality because our brains distort it. Others demand proof that existence exists even though that is the ultimate axiom!

The impulse to write this article was triggered by a graphic on the popular TV show (How the Universe Works) which depicted four separate universes birthed by a central, undefined cosmic progenitor (super universe?).

The concept of a ‘multiverse’ is implied in that graphic although the existence of multiple universes can never be proved. The purpose of the graphic was to posit the theory that the dark energy of the universe is caused by the combined gravitational pull of four separate universes surrounding and tugging ‘our’ universe’s expansion.

By definition, nothing proved about the universe is hyperbole. But theories that categorically cannot be proved, pale in the light of both proved and reasonable theories.   

One More Item

I apologize for my plunge into the excessive writing style of Germanic philosophers of the late 18th and 19th century. Paradoxically, while the Information Age is exponentially bursting with accessibility and distribution of knowledge at a global level, the art of reasoning continues to nosedive. More on that in my next posting.

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Bits and Tips from an Old Man

Eight years ago (2011) a dear friend, Amichai, read an article I wrote. On the basis of that article (and select others) he suggested that I should have a website featuring my articles. When I told him that I liked his suggestion but hesitated to create and maintain a website because of my lack of computer acumen he surprised me with a website a day or two later! He enhanced that surprise with the maintenance of the website for a decade since.

About five years ago he surprised me again. This time he had a book of my articles published! Since the website format is strictly a succession of ongoing articles, Amichai has provided two editions of the original book, each of which includes all past as well as new articles that had accumulated since their preceding edition.

The current edition has an exquisite cover depicting the Hubble Deep Field, that incomparable voice of the universe. Moments before I turned the cover of this new addition, the voice spoke to me: “This better be good!” (I’m always apprehensive when I read something I’ve written which is in print─ the bane of immovable type.) But, as I leaf through this latest edition, I am relieved to discover that I am not at all disappointed with it. It might have been written by a professional author. Certainly, the content is as valid as it was when I wrote it.

Instant electronic text is amazing, but a book exudes a quiet sense of intimacy between author and reader that can’t be rivaled by the Internet. I’m comfortable with the book replica of my website and am very grateful to Amichai for the realization of it in book form. Although I have “no name” (as they put it), I now have a ‘legacy’ (for want of a better word). The book is a faint whisper amid the turbulent din of social media, but will be slightly more visible in some corner of a bookshelf before bookcases are obsolete.

Having no “name,” I don’t expect more than a handful of readers at best. But my website often appears on the same page as a website maintained by an Italian (film) director who does have a name that is exactly the same as mine. The double coincidence of our sharing the same occupation as well as the same name has been a source of temporary confusion. The chances are that several seekers for his website have begun to read an article I’ve written before they’ve notice that I’m the wrong Mario Martone. On my home page that other director is referred to as “the other guy.”

The original purpose for the creation of my website was to write articles that provide readers with facts and opinions that are not necessarily reflected in mainstream media. More often than not, my articles are counter to the beliefs of most people. As events unfold and discussed on social media, I am often compelled to express my views about them in the context of larger issues that are incompatible with the current dominance of relativism. For example and despite the chagrin of militant determinists, I firmly adhere to the concept and inviolate reality of free will when making moral judgments.

The generic premise of my divergent articles is never intrinsically determinist. Determinism dominates the inanimate world (perhaps even within the chaotic inanimate counterintuitive quantum world), but free will prevails in the realm of intelligence. Consider the following.

I recently viewed an excellent documentary on Einstein, Hawking, and Black Holes. Despite the documentary’s excellence, the commentator’s culminating words powerfully implied that the universe is deterministic. Although there was no hint that human beings are an integral part of determinism, his tone and the author’s placing of that comment at the very end of the documentary powerfully imply that we too are deterministic. I’ve made this point many times in different articles that highlight science, art, and philosophy, the triumvirate of intelligent thought. Now, thoroughly satisfied by an exquisite book, I should probably consider quitting while I’m ahead, at least in my self-judgment.

But there’s a problem: At ninety-two, my synapses are still robustly firing. That compels me to go on with the website despite my obscurity in a colossal sea of words we call the Internet. (I hesitate to ask what the “cloud” does or is about to do!)

But now that I have a book as my ‘legacy,’ perhaps I’ll ask him if I might relieve him of his part in maintaining the site. I can just add new, dated articles that appear only on this document before each article and tuck it into my book, thanks to Amichai!

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Axiom vs. Ego

A masterpiece cannot be improved upon. That’s why it’s called a masterpiece, e.g., the film, The Wizard of Oz, the sculpture, Pieta, the opera Aida.

Yet, there are revisionists who unconscionably ‘create’ new versions of masterpieces. The latest of these is the current production of To Kill a Mockingbird. Reviews are glowing, money is rolling- in, but once again a masterpiece has been assaulted.

In this “adaptation,” the favorite moral axiom of relativists is celebrated. Yes, the crowd that tells us there are no absolutes, has its own absolute.  For just one but significant example, the principal character (Atticus Finch) is written, directed, and portrayed with less integrity than his original character.

The ‘reason’ for that change (and others like it) is that the auteurs involved wanted the play to be ‘contemporaneous,’ the conceit of our time. For them, that means, “we now know that no one can be as morally good as Atticus.” That is the moral absolute of relativists. In this case it is also in absolute compliance with the dominant drum beat of the time. That includes: “If you want approval, stress  racial injustice  beyond that of the original work.” (Or, if possible, beyond reality.)

The greatest injustice about this attitude is that younger people will never know the value of the original work. The same is true of the distorted ‘revivals’ of Fiddler on the Roof  and other great classic musicals. The essence of masterpieces is that they are timeless. Performers and musical conductors assist their longevity by their artistry (just as opera singers do). Changes for clarity are an insult to an audience. To Kill a Mockingbird speaks for itself.

So do The Wizard of Oz, Pieta, and Aida.

The glowing reviews and the money rolling- in for successful classic adaptations is a great injustice supported by unqualified reviewers (not all of them, of course), and audiences that have never seen ─ or even known ─ the original classics.

The ego of directors and producers fuel this cultural travesty. Shame on them.

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Metaphysics 101 Part 10

(Part 10 of Ten)

(continued from Part 9 of Ten)

The unexamined life is not worth living.

—Socrates

When someone comments about a fine work of art, he is likely to say more about himself than the art he observes. When the artists to whom I refer in Part 9 of this article practice their art, their films say as much about the artists’ personal ethics as the story and characters in their films do. There are writers, directors, actors, and producers of films who, from time to time, are in a position that makes it possible for them to blend stories, real events, and characters that enable them to demonstrate that fine ethical behavior is possible under the worst of circumstances.

Often, a film, e.g., Training Day, depicts life at its ugliest, but the underlying ethic of the film is exquisitely beautiful. Critics who denigrate and ridicule the moral values of a film on the grounds that it doesn’t reflect reality reveal that they know little about ethics, art, and real life.

There are also millions of average people who quietly practice fine ethics. They practice the art of understanding, compassion, and of life itself on a daily basis. Ethics is an art in itself. Its elegant simplicity may be expressed in quiet acts, often wordlessly, and not necessarily acknowledged by others.

Along with film and theater art, literature deals directly with ethics. Advise and Consent and Uncle Tom’s Cabin are works of art that explicitly deal with human behavior. That is why viewers and readers are drawn to make value judgments about both the content and an artist(s) level of achievement. A significant part of their adjudication may be subjective even though the work of art may be objective. For example, a communist may find Advise and Consent ‘non-objective’ because of his subjective fidelity to the concept of communism. A slave owner might have found Uncle Tom’s Cabin ‘non-objective’ because of his subjective belief that some humans were born to serve others. After all, Aristotle and Plato agreed on that point despite their disagreement on just about everything else.

The Hidden Axiom

Before I ever read a word of philosophy I was in love with fine art, especially that of the performing arts. They spoke to me directly, loud and clear. They still do. I hear the tragic sense of life in Rachmaninoff’s Second Symphony; the intense beauty of romantic love in Puccini’s La Boheme; the breadth of passion in Verdi’s Otello (Italian spelling). It’s all there in great music. It’s all there in Shakespeare. It’s all there in all the fine arts. They are life’s greatest expression.

Even though a symphony has no words, several of my friends define Rachmaninoff’s Second symphony as “a tragic sense of life” just as I do. Our separately discovered but identical description of the wordless symphony is not a coincidence. It is one of my many experiences with the arts that tell me art is at least as objective as E=MC2. I don’t believe that ethics and art require “naturalization papers” to be recognized as equals to Natural Science as a major branch of philosophy. Rising above nature does not disqualify ethics and art from being part of the whole truth about human existence: it enhances it.

Early in life I became aware that the deep issues of life are the same now as they were in antiquity. The forms they’ve taken in any society throughout history may appear different from generation to generation, but the essence of human dilemmas remains constant. That’s why philosophy was invented. Its branches successively sway in the winds of the relative and the absolute; its roots firmly grip the soil of the absolute.

The current dominance of relativism leaves less room for absolutes than ever. As breathtaking technology increasingly reveals the functions of brain matter, region-by-region, synapses-by-synapses, the study of ethics and esthetics are left to celebrities on television talk shows. In place of in-depth philosophic discussions about right and wrong (or good and evil) attention is paid on the conflict between the medial frontal gyrus and the posterior cingulate gyrus. The whole human being is lost to digital analysis.

Ironically, there seems to be greater concern about a cosmological end to humanity because of the death of the sun scheduled to occur about 4 1/2 billion years from now than there is concern about humankind’s potential self-destruction in the not too distant future.

There is more speculation about space travel that might take a sample of humanity to another planet or moon in the solar system to escape the cremation of earth and end of humanity than there is an effort to prevent some wandering meteor to finish the job that destroyed the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.

Out of the stars came life. But stars don’t laugh, make music, or love. Humor, art, and love are notas scientists might put it’properties’ of hot stars or cold stones or neurological systems. It takes a sculptor to transform stone into a masterpiece like Michelangelo’s David. And our unrequited love for the stars is in itself testimony that animated stardust fundamentally differs from its physical origin. When I contemplate the origin of the universe and life, life is the greater mystery of the two. I love and am fascinated by cosmology and am in awe of the beauty of the stars, but I don’t look to the stars to understand life.

I have learned to separate what is relative from what is absolute; that free will enables us to shape our unique character whatever our DNA or environment (past or present) might be; that neither poverty nor wealth is what determines character or has a monopoly on what is good and what is evil and what is right or what is wrong; that there is a fundamental difference between arrogance and confidence; that the source of fine ethics and art may be complex, but the reason for them is not, nor are their fundamentals bound to a specific culture, race, ethnicity, and so on; that the development and practice of ethics should not be based on sacrifice to groups but rather on the comfort and peace that honesty and integrity provide an individual who simply and effortlessly lives the Golden Rule; and that the good life is a blend of knowledge, wisdom, and compassion.

I have learned to live life not as it is, but as it should be.

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