Showing posts with label Morality. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Morality. Show all posts

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

An Essay on Human Rights

 This is an essay I wrote for admission to a Masonic lodge.
               Opinions differ about what human rights are.  The UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was championed by Eleanor Roosevelt, has 30 articles.  The Declaration of Independence famous statement that “all men are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” has been the sacred statement of human rights for Americans since 1776.  The rallying cry of the French Revolution was “Liberte`, Egalite`, Fraternite`” or “Liberty, Equality, Brotherhood.”  Exactly what Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness or Liberty, Equality, and Brotherhood mean has been the subject of debate ever since 1776.  Do rights mean that one’s life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness should eclipse other’s pursuits?  What is exactly the amount of life, liberty, happiness and equality that is sufficient for humanity?  This debate is an important one to have and is one that could never be fully resolved as new situations arise and as knowledge of the human condition improves.
                Definitions of what human are can be boiled down to basic principles just as Jesus states that all the laws of Moses can be boiled down to two phrases: “Love God with your whole heart, whole mind and whole soul and love your neighbor as yourself.”  For me the question of human rights boils down to a question of justice.  Like human rights, definitions of justice vary from topic to topic.  An early definition of justice is attributed to the ancient Greek philosopher Plato in The Republic which was his vision of the ideal state.  He stated that justice is the harmony between the needs and abilities of individuals and the needs of the state.
                We are all created equal but we are not all created alike.  There are basic human rights that everyone needs such as freedom of speech, freedom of expression, access to health care, education, and information with which to make informed decisions about how to fulfill one’s own rights and the rights of others. 
      There also things that certain individuals need to correct for past injustices such as those which were done deliberately to other individuals such as through racism, sexism or almost any other -ism or those that occur through a mishap of nature such as a natural disaster or through a genetically inherited disease or those that occur through some combination of nature and deliberate actions by other humans.  Correcting these injustices is difficult as people may disagree on what the appropriate corrective measures are.  The debate about appropriate corrective measures should continue as no one individual has access to all of the necessary information that is needed to provide these measures.  This debate should proceed with respect to others with the goal of finding the truth that allows for the appropriate corrective actions to take place.

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Monday, January 21, 2013


This is the phrase that Charlie Sheen popularized when he was fired from his sitcom Two and a Half Men.  We all want to back a winner but we never ask what the price of winning is. Today Barack Obama has been inaugurated for a second term after garnering 51% of the vote over Mitt Romney last fall. He has many challenges coming up on gun control, the economy, Afghanistan, and who knows what else.  He had to raise billions of dollars for his campaign and millions more to pay for the ceremony today.  How many favors will be expected in return?

In April, the Thomas Merton Center in Pittsburgh will be honoring Sheen's father Martin for his peace activism.  I'm not saying he doesn't deserve the recognition but please don't ask him about Charlie.  His activism has not come without a price just like it has for the rest of us.

Lance Armstrong has finally come clean to Oprah Winfrey (but not yet under oath) on using performance enhancing drugs.  I have written before about how abuse of these drugs goes far beyond Armstrong. He is an extreme case of gaming the system.  If he had raced clean and finished in the top 20 seven years in a row in the Tour de France would that have been any less heroic? Sure he wouldn't have had all the money or fame which he so desired but we all wanted a hero for cancer survivors everywhere who suffer with the disease and get no recognition.  I still wear the Livestrong rubber bracelet which he first popularized in 2005 and people ask me why.  Yes Lance is flawed and who isn't.  He can still become a hero even without winning bike races or heads a foundation.  Is the Livestrong Foundation bad because of his extreme bullying to preserve his titles?  Life is full of contradictions that we must negotiate.

So much energy, legal and illegal, is invested in winning.  We need to ask ourselves when is the price worth it?

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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Teapartiers sandbagged by health insurers | MollyRush's Blog and a calculation mortality rates for lack of insurance.

Molly Rush, Pittsburgh health insurance activist and blogger, brilliantly in her blog about how the health insurance companies were giving money to anti healthcare groups such as the US Chamber of Commerce (covertly due to the Citizens United decision by the US Supreme Court) while at the same time negotiating with the Obama administration for the most advantageous deal possible with an individual mandate requiring everyone to buy their product.

Teapartiers sandbagged by health insurers | MollyRush's Blog

Stephen Colbert gives a good review of how the debate went in the past year.

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A Federal judge in Virginia has ruled that the individual mandate is unconstitutional meaning that the US Supreme Court will have to resolve this issue. This ruling may be good news not just for those who want to kill the bill but for those who want to improve it with a public option and single payer alternatives.

In 2009 an analysis by Andrew P. Wilper MD MPH, Steffie Woolhandler, MD, MPH, Karen E. Lasser, MD, MPH, Danny McCormick, MD, MPH, David H. Bor, MD,
and David U. Himmelstein, MD at Harvard estimated that about 45,000 people die due to a lack of health insurance per year. This estimate was cited by Alan Grayson on the US House floor and raised the ire of the right who refused to believe this estimate. I cited this estimate at the height of the debate on my facebook page and many of my conservative friends also refused to believe. I feel the need to recount how they arrived at that estimate now. The whole article can be read at this link.

Health Insurance and Mortality in US Adults

Wilper et al. began with the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III) to estimate mortality rates in those aged between 17 and 64. It is a representative sample (using similar methodology that was used in the exit polling for the 2010 election) of the US population where a vast array of health data was collected on on habits, weight, blood pressure, demographics such as race and poverty, etc. This data was linked to data from the National Death Index to tell the researchers if they were alive or dead at the time of the analysis. Before the data was given to the researchers any information that could identify the participants was scrubbed from the file. The data were analyzed using Cox regression survival analysis and they found that after adjusting for all other potential risk factors for mortality there was an estimated 40% elevated risk of death for those uninsured relative to those insured. Applying this 40% elevated risk to census data for the US population and the size of the uninsured population which is bigger now (50 million) than it was when this article was published (46 million) gives the 45,000 excess deaths estimate which many kill the billers dispute.

Many may still disregard these estimates just as they have in the related post on health care polling below. Anyone who doubt that there is still a crisis of access to health care in the United States should come to a free clinic and talk to those receiving care. Many of whom have not received care in years.

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POLL: Dislike of healthcare law crosses party lines, 1 in 4 Dems want repeal - (But Doesn't Ask Why)

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Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Morality as a Mathematical Equation

Sam Harris, co-founder of Project Reason, has written a book The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values. On The Daily Show last night he argued that science can provide a clearer picture of moral right and wrong than religion can.

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His argument is compelling. Scientific inquiry can shed light on the moral impact that actions have on people's well being. I have some criticisms about an example of Harris' own moral reasoning that he presents.

He talks about how the Taliban in Afghanistan's treatment of women is wrong but does not consider what role foreign powers have had in perpetuating this oppression. Before the Soviets invaded there in 1979, conditions there were better for men and women. Radicals were armed by the United States in the name of defeating communism without consideration of who they were arming. One of these radicals was Osama bin Laden.

We should remember that it was only 90 years ago that in the United States women won the right to vote. In the 19th century it was considered obscene for a women to expose her ankles. They did not gain liberation through violence and, although frustrating at times, generally worked out better than it would have through violence.

Dr. Harris does seem to have a compelling argument for a new moral reasoning but he shows that no one individual, not even me, has a perfect scientific perspective.