What 5 books would I take with me to a desert island?

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Q: You’re packing your bag for a trip to a desert island–the kind with no electricity–what 5 books do you take with you?

A: It would kind of depend on how long I was expecting to be on this island. Since I have the luxury of planning ahead and packing for it in advance, I imagine it will be for a bit of an extended stay. In that case, something with lots of pages and a lot of information sounds like the best choice to me.

An alternative to cinema-style ratings for Web sites

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Apparently members of the British government have been talking with members of the U.S. Obama transition team to come up with some new thoughts on how to censor (protect children from) the Internet. As with many of the past suggestions, most of these thoughts are not well thought-out, would be nearly impossible to implement, and, if implemented, would cause many more problems than they would resolve. I explain why, and a couple of things that would actually help.

Lifestyle Choices

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[A] bumper sticker on a Toyota Prius read, “Draft SUV drivers first”… Discriminating against SUV drivers…is discrimination against a lifestyle CHOICE, and avoiding that discrimination is as easy as choosing a different vehicle to drive. This is very different from discriminating against someone based on height, ethnicity, handicap, or religion. But what about sexual orientation?

“ps = I wonder whether ‘weblog’ is masculine or feminine?” Response

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Matt Webb wrote on his blog, Interconnected:

20 February, 2000:
Posted at 23h56. Permalink.
ps = I wonder whether ‘weblog’ is masculine or feminine?

Response by Will Murray:

Weblog” should be gender neutral in a general sense. Since blogs are reflections of their human creators, I think the gender of the noun aligns with the gender of the blogger. It therefore would have the potential to be either masculine or feminine.

That really wouldn’t be a problem in English where words are gender neutral all the time. It also wouldn’t be a problem in German, where there are masculine (“der weblog“), feminine (“die weblog“), and neuter (“das weblog“) forms (one of the few cases where three genders actually makes the slightest bit of sense!). It would be the languages that divide everything into only two possible genders, masc./fem., that would have a problem. I’d still say that gender of the noun should follow the gender of the blogger, so “le weblog” and “la weblog” or “los weblogs” and “las weblogs” would both be correct (within their various languages) assuming that the genders matched the blogger. If the blogger’s gender is unknown, probably a masculine form would be the default, as it is in many ambiguous cases. Likewise, for plural forms, mixed gender blogs would use the masculine, but a group of women’s blogs or for topics relating to women (Everyone knows that October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month in the U.S., right?) should be referred to in the feminine.

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The Right to Live and Die

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A bed in a hospitalA basic philosophy that I hold dear is that every person should have the right to do essentially anything that he or she wants to do, as long as it doesn’t cause harm, except possibly to him or herself. Causing harm in this case includes physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual damage to people or animals, as well as damaging the environment, including the land, air, water, and plants.

Obviously, any kind of sweeping statement like that is going to be fraught with challenges. For example, at what point does caring for someone with a chronic condition turn into harmful, prolonged torture? I doubt there is an answer that could satisfy everyone, and any law attempting to dictate such standards must allow for exceptions that will come up occasionally.

It is said that from the moment they are born, people have the right to live. Benjamin Franklin stated that “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes” (Letter to Jean-Baptiste Leroy. November 13, 1789. Wikiquote/Benjamin_Franklin). Hopefully, there is much that happens to a person in between birth and death: primary and secondary education, romance, love, procreation, fulfilling work, charitable contributions, and the formation of a personal value system. Just as nobody’s path through life is the same, nobody’s personal value system can develop identically. Every person feels a little differently about what is ethical and what is not.

It is possible to poll the consensus of the collective population and find the majority opinion on a range of topics. In a democratic society, the election process puts that possibility into practice. It is important to remember, however, that the views of a person holding a minority opinion are every bit as valid as the opinion of the majority. Something that seems outrageous to many, might be the clearly ethical choice given an individual’s unique personal value system.

Take the case of a vibrant, 44-years young educated linguistics professor, who ends up in a bicycle accident resulting in full-body paralysis and the loss of speech. She has to stay on a ventilator to breathe. While she may not be able to express verbally her utter despair in words to her loving husband, he can see the pain in her soul. The doctors have informed the husband that his wife will never regain her speech, leave her hospital bed, or be removed from the ventilator, but she is otherwise in remarkably healthy condition and should “live” for many years to come.

Is that really living? When every passion you love in life is denied to you, can that really be considered living? When a machine keeps your body in a state of artificially maintained life, is that life?Read More »The Right to Live and Die

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A night in the life of a hotel night auditor

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The Front Desk at the Embassy SuitesBack in 1994 when I lived on the Central Coast, I was the night auditor at an Embassy Suites hotel for most of a year. During most of the time I worked there, it wasn’t actually an Embassy Suites, but rather the “Pacific Suites Hotel”. From what I gathered, either the owner did not want to pay the association fees to be an Embassy Suites, or they were not up to Embassy’s standards and lost their accreditation. Shortly after new owners bought the hotel, they reinstated the Embassy Suites affiliation, and then proceeded to replace all the upper and middle management (including me) with their own people. (Oh well.) I was immediately hired by the smaller, but very nice, Best Western Shelter Cove Lodge (now the “Inn at the Cove“; see my update below) overlooking the ocean. While most of the nights at both properties were pretty routine, there were a few wild times there: fire alarms and even a real fire, drunken and domestic fights, medical emergencies, rowdy beach parties, and even a near miss by an airplane.

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Drug use during pregnancy: Conclusions

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A summary of class responses and my own closing thoughts in response to this week’s question: “Does a woman have a responsibility and ethical obligation to avoid drug use during pregnancy? If she does use drugs during pregnancy, should there be punishment for endangering the baby? What are the rights of the mother and the baby?” Read what several students had to say, and leave feedback with your own thoughts in this eight-part series.

Drug use during pregnancy: Abuse of Drugs During Pregnancy

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If you have not already done so, it’s a good idea to read the introduction to this discussion first.

The anonymous student who started this thread asked to not have her words reprinted here. She was the only person who chose to support her arguments using quotes from the Bible, specifically 1 Corinthians 10:23 and Exodus 21:22-25.

I replied on May 8, 2008 2:07 AM:

Hi. It was interesting to find someone using Biblical passages to justify a position. This is not unusual, of course, since people have done that throughout history. It is a little surprising to see it in a class discussion, though.

I am a Christian, and I absolutely do not mean any disrespect to you or your own religious views by entering into a discussion with you on this topic. I both agree with and disagree with some of the conclusions you drew from the particular passages you quoted.

Exodus 21 does not fit in very nicely with our modern sensibilities concerning matters of law and justice. For example, Exodus 21:5-6 states that if a servant was given a wife by his master, and children, when his seven-year period of servitude was over, he could either leave his wife and family and go free himself, or, if he loved them so much that he’d rather stay in lifelong servitude with them, that could be arranged, too. Of course, he would need to have his ear bored through to the doorpost as a sign of his decision to remain and serve his master until the fellow eventually dies. (BBE) (Henry)

Ignoring the fact that lifelong compulsory servitude (i.e., slavery) was acceptable at the time, I still don’t see how this is applicable in today’s society. Most Americans would agree that slavery is wrong (excuse me, compulsory lifelong servitude indicated by driving a spike through the ear). Throughout the Old Testament, slavery and servitude are accepted norms for that highly misogynistic society. Obviously those attitudes persisted well into the history of our own country. We had a civil war over that very matter. Both the North and the South quoted the Bible to support extremely different views on the topic. In the end, our nation decided that certain parts of the Bible were wrong, and it was time for slavery to end.
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Drug use during pregnancy: Why punishing mothers who use drugs does not work

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If you have not already done so, it’s a good idea to read the introduction to this discussion first.

A close of of tiny baby feet with a teddy bear in the backgroundA student who wishes to remain anonymous and did not give her permission to publish her comments replied to me.

She congratulated me on a well executed and thoughtful post. She appreciated that I mentioned that many pregnant women are unaware of their pregnancy for a while, because it does not seem fair to her that a mother should be punished for endangering a baby she doesn’t even know she has. She agreed that guilt for any harm caused to the baby would cover the punishment in the end. She then asked me a few specific questions, which I addressed in my response.

I replied on May 8, 2008 10:10 PM:

Hi. Thank you for your response and the complement. I certainly hope that maintaining a normal lifestyle until a pregnancy is discovered never becomes a crime. The following response is not directed at [the anonymous student] specifically.

The post contains some of my thoughts directed to anyone who feels that legal punishment toward a drug-using mother is the right thing to do.

I think that many people in the class imagine that drug abuse is a bit like a faucet. While stopping cold turkey is hard, you can just dial back the amount you use over a few days or maybe a week or two, and you’re cured of the addiction. If only that were true!

I’m not saying it’s impossible for women, upon discovering they are pregnant, to decide to quit using drugs and stick with it through the pregnancy (and hopefully beyond). It’s just that the odds usually are not in her favor. First, there is the highly addictive drug itself. They create physical, mental, and emotional hooks into the person. Get one or even two under control (thinking about the baby coming and then flushing the drugs down the drain), and another of the hooks reels the addict back in (a stressful day at work could be unbearable without a fix, and before she knows it, she’s using the drug again).

There is also usually an environmental issue that led the woman into the pattern. Perhaps her boyfriend or husband is a user, too. He tells her she needs to quit, but he continues to use the drug in front of her. Aside from the obvious double-standard, seeing the drug use is like holding a flame in front of a moth. Eventually, she will get burned. If not a significant other, it might be friends that she is around. Perhaps (and this often is an unfair and false stereotype) she comes from a poor urban neighborhood where drug use is rampant. Peer pressure doesn’t suddenly disappear just because you are pregnant. Many pregnant women who used drugs during their pregnancy have babies that appear to be fine. Maybe the odds will favor her, too, just like her friends and neighbors. “This is reality after all, not some scary TV documentary or drama. They make that stuff up just to scare us.” And her friends tell her how right she is. Who is she going to believe? Her peers or some boring old scientists.

On top of the mental and physical distress, a woman who successfully starts to withdraw from a drug addiction, will go through withdrawal symptoms, and, depending on the drug, the symptoms can be quite severe. Sometimes the effects can manifest in physical trauma to the person, sometimes mental episodes, certainly there will be emotional highs and lows. It takes a very strong person to struggle through all of that to beat the drug. Moreover, all it takes is one tiny slip up, and she could end up right back in the addiction again.

I don’t think most addicts are ever “cured”… they remain sober, or not. It doesn’t matter if twelve years pass, being in the wrong situation at a time when the willpower is low, and the addictive pattern can come back in full force to haunt the person all over again.

Punish a woman for continuing to use drugs during pregnancy? She’s already punishing herself.

What exactly is the crime? Child-abuse, or more correctly “fetal” abuse? Perhaps delivery of drugs to a minor with the drug delivery occurring through the umbilical cord after the baby is born but before the umbilical cord is cut? (Johnson v. State) Perhaps the woman should be charged with assault with a deadly weapon, namely the drugs. If the fetus dies in a miscarriage, she could perhaps be charged with feticide, but if the child is actually born and then dies, it would clearly be homicide or even possibly murder. Then there’s always contributing to the delinquency of a minor. These all sound rather far fetched to me, but they have all be used to prosecute women in court over the years. (Marshall)

And what exactly should be done to punish her? Throw her in jail where there are no drug treatment programs to help ease her off the addiction and no prenatal care for the baby? Or do you wait and haul her off to jail right after the baby is born—handcuffed, shackled, and still bleeding from the birth? It happened in South Carolina. (Ferguson v Charleston) (Jos)

Fortunately, the prosecution of pregnant women for drug abuse has been found to be “beyond the intent of the law” and in some cases “beyond federal constitutional limits on state power”. That is according to courts in twenty-four states. (Hanigsberg)

I don’t think that there is anyone who wants to argue that it is morally or ethically right for a woman to use drugs knowing she is pregnant. It is unfortunate that in attempting to protect a tiny spark of a life, we forget about the other person in this situation, often just as much a victim as she is the perpetrator.

Unless we, as a society, enable a woman in trouble to get the kind of help she needs—rehabilitation in a drug treatment program that understands women’s addictions, education and empowerment to rise above whatever dragged her into the low spot in her life where she started using drugs, and a commitment to continue to help her even after the birth of her baby–I do not see how punishing the mother helps. It may make those giving out the punishment feel better, but aside from a sense of justice served, how has the situation really improved for the mother or the baby?

Returning to [the anonymous student’s] specific questions, no, I do not believe in creating new punishments for mothers who drank or did drugs up until the end of their pregnancy. Drinking alcohol is not illegal in this country (if you are of legal age), and there are already many laws on the books concerning drug abuse. If the baby is born with trace amounts of drugs and alcohol in its system, the child should be given a complete examination, and it might have to go through detox. I do not see how any punishment of a baby’s mother is good “for the babies sake.” Instead, I see a society that has failed to help one of its own. Separating a baby from its mother is a very serious matter. Child Protective Services should probably be consulted, and they would probably be the most qualified to determine if the mother is physically, mentally, and emotionally fit to continue caring for the child. I think that is adequate, even though it may not be satisfying.

I’m sure we all agree that there is not easy answer to these questions. I certainly respect your thoughts and opinions, and I hope you do the same in return. That is, after all, one of the benefits of living in a democracy that allows free speech.

—Will
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Drug use during pregnancy: Mothers (should) know best

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If you have not already done so, it’s a good idea to read the introduction to this discussion first.

Happy pregnant womanI started this conversation on May 7, 2008 11:49 PM:

This week’s question is a particularly challenging one. At first, it would seem fairly straight-forward (though obviously politically and ethically charged): Of course a woman should avoid drug use during pregnancy! Mothers are expected take care of their children to the best of their ability, born or unborn. It’s part of the nurturing aspect of motherhood.

A problem arises when the pregnancy is unexpected and unplanned. Often the first sign of an unexpected pregnancy is a missed period. Depending on when in her cycle the woman becomes pregnant, it can be almost two months before she realizes she is pregnant. If she has preexisting health conditions that cause frequent missed periods, it could be even longer before she discovers she is pregnant. During that time, it is unlikely that she will change her normal social habits (i.e., stop drinking alcohol and double lattes; cease using recreational drugs if she is into that). As a result, during some of the fetus’ most important developing months, the mother could, without knowing, endanger the outcome of the pregnancy.

The “obvious” solution, as alluded to in our textbook, is for “women of childbearing years” who may become pregnant to avoid actions that could harm a fetus. That is sound advice for planned pregnancies, but it is still a challenge. There are many substances that act as drugs and can affect a developing fetus including alcohol, caffeine, over the counter and prescription medications, tobacco smoke and second-hand smoke, and auto exhaust just to name a few.

Looking beyond planned pregnancies to the unplanned ones, it means that practically every woman who could potentially become pregnant should refrain from living in our modern world, especially from all the social activities common to “women of childbearing years.”

While well intentioned, creating new laws that punish women who endanger their developing fetuses with drugs only makes things worse. There are already many laws that deal with illicit drug use, and any mother using drugs is already breaking those laws. That should be adequate. Otherwise, any new laws would need to have a safe harbor clause, something that limits a mother’s culpability to decisions made after a medical professional has confirmed her pregnancy.

Otherwise, from menarche to menopause a woman would have to abstain from all situations and use of substances that could potentially cause birth defects or other problems. On the off chance it might cause harm to a fetus, few women would want to risk punishment for enjoying life a bit. Imagine what such a law would do to nightclubs, Starbucks, and roller coasters!

That is a bit facetious, but I do not believe that punishment is a solution. It is a nasty can of worms that creates problems and solves none. Any mother who cares about her child-to-be will act responsibly, and any harm brought about by her inappropriate actions will be punishment enough. Any mother who does not care about a fetus probably will not make a very good mother, and the increased chance for miscarriage may be a natural way to weed bad mothers from the gene pool.

There is also the question that plagues any discussion concerning pregnancies: “When does a developing fetus ‘become’ a child?” It is the question of when a combination of sperm and egg becomes a unique living creature and not just a symbiont within its mother. If a fetus is “born” at the moment of conception, then anything that harms the developing fetus would be harm done to another person. If a fetus remains a part of the mother until it is “born” through the childbirth process, then any harm done to the fetus is harm done to an extension of the mother, not a separate person.

My personal opinions fall somewhere in between the two extremes. As a result, I feel that in the early stages of development, many of the decisions relating to the pregnancy are the mother’s alone to make. At some point, though, the unborn baby becomes a separate life form. This probably happens around the fifth month of pregnancy during the quickening (Kolander, 220). Certainly by the time the child can be safely removed from the womb as an extremely premature baby, it can be considered its own being. From this point on, both the needs of the mother and the unborn baby should be considered. I still do not believe the mother should be punished if her actions harm the baby, because either her remorse will be punishment enough. If the baby dies and the mother feels no remorse, it was probably better off without the woman as its mother. That may sound a bit harsh, but it is the way of things in nature.

In summary, I believe that a good mother does have a responsibility, once pregnancy is discovered, to take reasonable care of herself and avoid harmful situations and substances that could adversely affect the developing fetus. A woman who ignores the fetus’ safety has an increased risk of miscarriage, and that is probably for the best. Punishment is not warranted when a mother endangers her child whether by using recreational drugs, over-the-counter medicines, alcohol, caffeine, second-hand smoke, or otherwise; the mother’s own remorse should be punishment enough. A mother’s rights trump those of an unborn fetus, but once the fetus develops into a separate living entity, its own future should be considered along with the mother’s. Ultimately, decisions affecting a mother and the baby should be left to the mother, with the consultation of qualified medical professionals, and the law should not make matters any more difficult for the mothers than they already are.

—Will

References:

  • Kolander, Cheryl A., Danny Ramsey Ballard, and Cynthia K. Chandler. Contemporary Women’s Health. Third edition. 2008.

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Drug use during pregnancy: Junior and I will take two packs of Camel Lights, please

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If you have not already done so, it’s a good idea to read the introduction to this discussion first.

Two pregnant women comparing their very large bellies Kellie Burns started this conversation on May 6, 2008 10:58 PM (CC-BY-SA-3.0-US Licensed; read more info):

A mother is supposed to nurture and care for her child. The child’s well-being is the mother’s full responsibility. Yes, I believe that if a woman chooses to become pregnant than she should commit to a healthy pregnancy and baby. During my pregnancy, I went as far as to cut out chocolate (which I happen to love). Not only should a pregnant woman cut out harmful substances such as drugs, she should also eat healthy foods that include proper nutrition needed for the development of the unborn fetus. However, not all women are capable of the discipline necessary to avoid harmful substances while pregnant. Legal drugs as well as illegal drugs are exceptionally addictive. It isn’t really a matter of “should a woman quit or avoid drugs during pregnancy?” It is more a matter of “is she capable of quitting drugs during pregnancy?” Drugs cannot be taken lightly. I have seen many friends and family members try to quit smoking cigarettes, and 99% of them have failed. Rehabilitation centers exist out of necessity.

A woman should not be punished for drug use during pregnancy. A law to discipline women during pregnancy would be extremely hard to enforce. As you are well aware, any fertile woman is capable of conceiving. Unfortunately, unlike a driver’s license, she need not venture down to the local DMV to take tests in order to conceive. Therefore, we will constantly have unfit mothers (including crack addicts, alcoholics, and etc.) birthing our children. Although this is unfortunate and sad, it is impossible to regulate. Why stress and worry about something so uncontrollable? To monitor and/or regulate a woman’s intake during pregnancy would be absurd. The resources, time, and money to accomplish this task would be far too extensive. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, there were 4,138,349 births in the US in 2005. (http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/births.htm)

Does it really make it better to blame and punish the woman? Do you think that she will stop using drugs to avoid punishment or consequences? She is obviously not concerned with consequences.

The rights of a mother and her unborn baby lead to a very touchy debate of Pro-Life VS. Pro-Choice. How can you discuss the rights of a fetus and rights of its mother without diving into the topic of abortion? I am uncomfortable with discussing my stance on abortion. People are either pro-choice or pro-life, and they will not change their mind based on an argument that they have heard a million-and-one times over. The rights of a mother and her unborn child are very debatable and subjective. The rights are not “black and white.”

In a perfect world, women would avoid drug use during pregnancy. Unfortunately, that isn’t where you or I live. I’m not going to waste my time worrying about something that I can’t control. If I had a friend or family member that abused drugs during pregnancy, then I would use all my resources available to offer them help.

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