Friday, April 18, 2014

Think like a biologist

Handout to the Lincoln Zoo School group that visited Audubon Spring Creek Prairie on Wednesday, April 17, 2014:

Think like a biologist:
(1) In what ways are organisms different in spite of their similarities?
(2) In what ways are organisms similar in spite of their differences?
(3) How do individuals within a species vary?
(4) What evidence is there that individual differences are due to development?
(5) What evidence is there that individual differences are due to environmental influences?
(6) Upon what basis do I make a decision about relatedness?
(7) If I were to choose a single species to study for the rest of my life, what species would it be and why would I choose it?
(8) What features of an organism function to promote geographic distribution?
(9) What features of an organism can be interpreted as evolutionary adaptations?
(10) Do the reproductive structures of an organism function to prevent interbreeding between species?
(11) Do particular species tend to occur together and if so, what environmental factors seem to be working to promote that association?
(12) Do particular species seem to influence the distribution or occurrence of other species, and if so, what features of the first species seem to be responsible for the influence?
(13) How do I best describe the structure of a community (and what does “structure” mean in this case)?
(14) What is the best way to teach others about this particular group of species and the places they live?
(15) If I decided to write a children’s book about this environment, how would I do it and what pictures would I include?

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Open letter to Pete Ricketts, Ben Sasse, and Sid Dinsdale

An Open Letter to Pete Ricketts, Ben Sasse, and Sid Dinsdale.
John Janovy, Jr.

Thank you for sending me your campaign literature in which you promise to vote Catholic, repeal the Affordable Care Act, “advance the culture of life” and “continue to advance strong pro-life legislation.” I’m sure you are all intelligent and rational men, regardless of what the liberals and progressives claim, so here’s a modest proposal, based on the premise that it’s irrational to demand that a public health problem be solved but at the same time be adamantly opposed to the methods of solving it. The public health problem in this case is one we know how to solve, namely, unwanted pregnancy. The methods of solving it are readily available, safe, extensively tested, and found to be effective, at least at the individual level. It’s a well-known and widely-accepted fact that long-term effects of this particular public health problem fall unequally on the sexes, with the female being physically affected, subjected to potential medical complications, and traditionally burdened with nearly two decades of direct responsibility for the care, feeding, and education of another human being, whereas the male’s participation in this responsibility is largely voluntary or, when involuntary, limited to financial contribution. Because the large majority of state legislators are male and claim to understand public policy, my modest proposal is perfectly capable of being carried out at the state level, at least, and should be carried out in those states imposing severe restrictions on elective abortions. You gentlemen are the ideal people to carry out this legislation, especially because in your campaign literature, sent to me this week, you assure me you will advance the culture of life and continue to advance strong pro-life legislation. Well, here, below, is some strong pro-life legislation. The main points are:

(1) Immediately enact a so-called “life tax” to provide for public funding of “life services,” defined as prenatal health care, treatment for medical conditions arising from pregnancy, and care, including medical care, clothing, food, shelter, and both education and special education as needed, for any infant born to a mother who would otherwise have chosen to abort it. Life services would continue until the child is 18 years old.
(2) Establish residency requirements, for access to such support, similar to those already established, for example, for tuition at a state’s post-secondary institutions.
(3) Establish a means test for access to such support. The federal government already has established guidelines for access to other social services, and means testing is already in place for Medicare premiums, so enacting such a test for “life tax” services should be easy to accomplish.
(4) Require DNA testing of mother, infant, and father (when the father can be ascertained) when an infant is born to a mother who would otherwise have aborted it. Costs of such testing would be paid by life tax revenues. If necessary, use test results to identify the father. Require, by law, the father to contribute half of the costs incurred in providing life services to mother and infant, and provide for an 18-year lien on the father’s earnings if necessary, with an extension to such time as the state is re-paid half of the life services costs by the father. Include in this law a provision that the father’s parents are liable for this contribution if the father is a minor.
(5) Immediately establish sex-education programs in all public schools, the curriculum to include effective contraception. Withhold certification from private schools that do not institute such a curriculum.
(6) Immediately provide birth control services for all individuals who want them but are unable to afford them. Pay for these services through the life tax. Services would include oral contraceptives, Plan B, condoms, patches, injections, and all other forms of artificial birth control to individuals over the age of 14. These services would be available in school health centers.
(7) In the event that an infant born to a mother who would otherwise have obtained an abortion requires long-term care or services due to a congenital condition, then such care and services would be provided by the state and funded by life tax revenues.
(8) In the event that pregnancy results from rape or incest, the mother would receive a lifetime stipend for carrying the fetus to term and the state would fund all services resulting from this birth, including counseling, adoptive services, and treatment of any medical conditions, including mental or emotional ones, resulting from the conception and delivery of this infant. In the case of rape or incest, residency and means requirements do not apply.
(10) The overall impact of this program, including life tax and life services, will be reviewed every ten years by qualified consultants from outside the state. Life tax will be adjusted annually to ensure revenues adequate to support life services programs.

I don’t know what the tax base is for Nebraska, but a VERY rough estimate, based on the widely available information on costs of rearing children in the United States, and Nebraska’s population, would fall in the range of $500,000 per non-aborted fetus, if you add in the overhead costs of administering the above program. Nebraska reported 2,372 abortions in 2011, so we’re looking at somewhere in the vicinity of $1.2 billion over the next 18-20 years to provide life services as part of this male legislative action to deal with the problem of unwanted pregnancy for a single year. Alternatively, of course, that $1.2 billion would be paid by those who would have had an elective abortion but could not because of the law or other de facto restrictions on reproductive services, and that’s assuming that the individuals involved actually had the resources to pay these bills.
We have, of course, not even started to consider the social costs of unwanted pregnancy brought to term, and I’m not sure there is any real way to calculate those costs so that the public in general, and male legislators in particular, appreciate their impact on society. We do know that social factors such as lack of education, poverty, and crime are linked at least to some degree, and that “quality of life” factors are important for the attraction of business to a particular region. So in essence, the $1.2 billion should probably be considered a conservative estimate of the overall impact of unwanted pregnancy on the State of Nebraska.



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