Mutually Beneficial Culture War

Mutually Beneficial Culture War

So the Susan G. Komen Foundation has withdrawn its financial support of Planned Parenthood. Wailing and gnashing, wailing and gnashing. Erica Greider, my colleague at The Economist, offers an evenhanded overview of the dust-up, and she concludes:

As for the Susan G. Komen grants, they added up to about $680,000 last year. I wouldn't be surprised if Planned Parenthood raises more than that from private donations in the wake of this announcement.

It seems certain. Planned Parenthood raised 400 large in the 24 hours following the news of Komen's decision. And New York mayor and super-one-percenter Michael Bloomberg has personally pledged $250,000 to PP. So, there you go, just about.

You know, I'm not a big fan of Komen's brandification of breast cancer, I dislike seeing pink ribbons plastered over everything, and I think Planned Parenthood is real swell, abortions and all. So I'm not especially inclined to come to Komen's aid. But I'll be damned if this doesn't look a bit like PP throwing it's weight around, knocking a few pieces of china off the shelves, sending a message to its other donors: "Nice foundation you got there. Wouldn't want anything to, you know, happen to it."

The Susan G. Komen Foundation maintains this has nothing to do with abortion, which is the politic thing to say, and completely ridiculous. It is about abortion. Which is why I have a hard time believing this teacup tornado will put a hitch in the race for the cure. On the contrary. My friend Mollie Hemingway illustrates, with a personal tale, why its Planned Parenthood grants were a fundraising problem for Komen:

Allow me to share a brief story. The woman I called my grandma (out of great affection rather than actual familial ties), died of breast cancer in 2004. Her awesome son made a goal of walking in all 14 3-day Susan G. Komen walks in 2011 (a goal that was almost derailed when Grandpa H. died on the eve of one walk in mid-November). He succeeded in that goal and you can read about it here or watch him talk about it here. When he started his fundraising, I offered some ideas and put a note about the goal on Facebook with a link to his donation site. Instantly, I was bombarded with alarmed notes from friends and family. Did I know, they asked, about Komen’s grants to Planned Parenthood? They gave me links and documentation and I shared them with my friend. He felt that the money offered to Planned Parenthood would not go to support abortions and therefore was not a dealbreaker. I could not in good conscience support a group that supported Planned Parenthood, even though I really wanted to support him in honoring his mother. Now, I can (and already have and will continue to do so). See, Planned Parenthood is an extremely controversial organization that inspires strong feelings from those who support it and those who don’t. If you were familiar with Susan G. Komen for the Cure but weren’t familiar with the fact that this funding arrangement was extremely controversial, something is off.

As Matthew Schmitz summed up Mollie's piece, "As it turns out, killing unborn children is actually really controversial. Who would have thought?"

I'd bet good money Komen rakes in record sums this year as highly motivated abortion foes turn their pockets inside out to ensure everybody knows that deciding to withdraw financial support from abortion providers is not something for which charities should expect to suffer.

By itself, the predictable way this episode has everyone hunkering down in the familiar culture war trenches is completely boring. What's interesting is that Komen and Planned Parenthood are both largely admirable organizations doing necessary and urgent work for women's health, and this controversy is going to work out well for both of them. Had Planned Parenthood and the Komen Foundation colluded to profit by riling our culture's warring tribes, they couldn't have done it much better.

[Preggers belly ribbon image courtesy of Shutterstock]

A brief history of human dignity

What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.

Credit: Benjavisa Ruangvaree / AdobeStock
Sponsored by the Institute for Humane Studies
  • Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
  • That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
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Urban foxes self-evolve, exhibiting Darwin’s domestication syndrome

A new study finds surprising evidence of the self-evolution of urban foxes.

A fox at the door of 10 Downing Street on Janurary 13, 2015.

Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images
Surprising Science
  • A study from the University of Glasgow finds urban foxes evolved differently compared to rural foxes.
  • The skulls of the urban foxes are adapted to scavenging for food rather than hunting it.
  • The evolutionary changes correspond to Charles Darwin's "domestication syndrome."

How much can living in the city change you? If you were an urban fox, you could be evolving yourself to a whole new stage and becoming more like a dog, according to a fascinating new study.

Researchers compared skulls from rural foxes around London with foxes who lived inside the city and found important variations. Rural foxes showed adaptation for speed and hunting after quick, small prey, while urban fox skulls exhibited changes that made it easier for them to scavenge, looking through human refuse for food, rather than chasing it. Their snouts were shorter and stronger, making it easier to open packages and chew up leftovers. They also have smaller brains, not meant for hunting but for interacting with stationary food sources, reports Science magazine.

Interestingly, there was much similarity found between the male and female skulls of the urban foxes.

The observed changes correspond to what Charles Darwin called the "domestication syndrome," comprised of traits that go along with an animal's transition from being wild, to tamed, to domesticated.

The study was led by Kevin Parsons, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Glasgow.

"What's really fascinating here is that the foxes are doing this to themselves," Parsons told the BBC. "This is the result of foxes that have decided to live near people, showing these traits that make them look more like domesticated animals."

The researchers are not suggesting you should go out and get a fox as a house-pet just yet. But they are seeing the evolutionary process taking place that's moving the urban foxes along the path towards becoming more like dogs and cats, explained the study's co-author Dr. Andrew Kitchener from National Museums Scotland.

A fox beneath a tree in Greenwich park, south east London

A fox beneath a tree in Greenwich park, south east London on May 14, 2020.

Photo by Glyn KIRK / AFP

"Some of the basic environmental aspects that may have occurred during the initial phases of domestication for our current pets, like dogs and cats, were probably similar to the conditions in which our urban foxes and other urban animals are living today," said Kitchener. "So, adapting to life around humans actually primes some animals for domestication."

The specimen came from the National Museum Scotland's collection of around 1,500 fox skulls.

You can read the study in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

fox sleeping beneath stadium seats

A fox at the LV County Championship, Division two match between Surrey and Derbyshire at The Brit Oval on April 9, 2010 in London, England.

Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images

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Credit: Adobe Stock / Big Think
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