Saturday, November 29, 2008

PAS?

Anti-choicers have long claimed that abortion causes PAS - Post Abortion Syndrome. They claim that women suffer anxiety, depression, substance abuse, etc, etc, after having an abortion. This is a highly contentious claim. The anti-choicers justify this claim by referencing the anecdotal stories of women who are unhappy with the choice they made, and regret it (I wonder who made them feel bad? Could it be all the idiots insisting that they are cold hearted if they don't regret their decision? Could it be all the zealots calling them murderers? As I've discussed before, the anti-choicers might be partially to blame in this).

But now the Dakota Voice (a right wing news source) is reporting on a new study has been released claiming a correlation between abortion and various anxiety and substance abuse issues. While I can't actually get into the study itself, and hence can't assess its worth, it's being published in what I take to be a decent peer-reviewed journal. Of course, given the other studies which deny this claim (linked to from the Voice article), and given the fact that statistical science is the least reliable of the sciences, it's still not clear that PAS actually exists.

And honestly, I wish the anti-choice crowd would stop pushing this. It's just another indication that they are completely devoid of any understanding of basic critical thinking skills. Even if abortion carried with it the risk of PAS, that does not make it any less a legal right. Children of religious nuts might vary well suffer psychological damage, but that doesn't mean we should make it illegal to teach your children that they are inherently worthless and evil and are headed for fire and brimstone. Many women suffer post-partum depression, but that's no reason to make having children illegal. Many of the choices we make carry with them risks to our persons - both physical and mental - but that doesn't necessarily mean that those choices should be made illegal. You've got to make an argument for that.

But that's just the thing. The anti-choice crowd lacks any reasonable argument for their position. They rely on religious dogma and emotional appeals to convince people. And that's what they are doing with PAS - attempting to use it to frighten women away from making a choice that might actually be best for them in their situation.


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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

I'm on Amazon!

My one and only "publication" (and those quotes are really important) is up on Amazon.com. Of course, it's unavailable at the moment, and they don't know when it'll be in stock. Probably never. Who would want that?


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God Trumps!

These are great. Collectible religion cards. Awesome. I have to say, though, I wish there were more in the set. The wiccans, spiritualists and Mormons all really deserve a spot.


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That Didn't Take Long

The election was just a few weeks ago, but the Democrats have already ticked me off. They've allowed Joe Lieberman to retain his chair of the Homeland Security and Government Oversight Committee.

There were a lot of voices from the left calling for Lieberman to be punished for being a turncoat this past election cycle. That's not why I think Lieberman should have lost his chair. I've no desire for revenge on Lieberman for supporting John McCain and saying what he undoubtedly really thinks about Barack Obama. Lieberman is a zionist and a warmonger who happens to be liberal on social issues. Of course he supported John McCain. What I have a problem with is allowing a warmonger who supported the "war on terror" tactics of the Bush administration to continue to chair a committee on homeland security. What I have a problem with is allowing a man who failed to look into the governmental failure in handling Hurricane Katrina to continue to chair a committee on government oversight. Lieberman is very likely to lose his seat in 2012, so I really don't care about punishing him. The people fo Connecticutt will deal with him as they see fit. What I care about is having someone whose not crazy and incompetent running important committees.


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Monday, November 10, 2008

Lame Duck on a Rampage

Think you're finally done with Dubya's idiotic run of our country? Think Dubya can do no more damage? Think again.

In the spirit of so many leaving administrations, the Bush Administration is quickly instituting - via executive order - things that might take us years to be rid of. Here's a few of the sampling the Houston Chronicle reported on:

A proposed Justice Department regulation would allow local and state law enforcement to collect and share sensitive information on citizens even when they are not suspected of involvement in criminal activity. The Americans with Disabilities Act would be weakened by permitting state and local governments to make only a fraction of their facilities accessible to the handicapped.

A Department of Health and Human Services rule change would deny federal funds to family planning organizations and clinics that refuse to hire staffers who will not provide birth control to patients upon request. The regulation would also define forms of birth control as abortion, allowing physicians and others a legal basis for declining to provide family planning counseling that includes birth control techniques.


That's right, Bushie boy, take your last few days to make life worse for the handicapped, damage our civil liberties even more, force employers to hire people who refuse to do their job and enshrine legally your unscientific, medically inaccurate, religious boogaboo definitions of birth control, pregnancy and abortion. That'll do wonders for your legacy.

We're not done with Dubya yet. I just hope he doesn't do too much damage that can't be undone.


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Did I Say The Word?

That question was asked by Joe Scarborough a few moments after he accidentally dropped the F-bomb this morning, live on MSNBC. (Video below for the morbidly curious)

He apologized for the slip after realizing (or being informed by co-hosts) about his mistake, and the cute question from his wife via email was apparently "How big's the fine?"

The sad thing is that we may not be far off from a place where there is actually a rather hefty answer to Mrs. Scarborough's question. The Supreme Court just recently heard arguments over the possibility of penalizing "fleeting expletives", that is, dirty words that slip out on live T.V. - words that the FCC doesn't like.

I personally believe the FCC does way too much regulating already, but I can understand why we would want to keep things that are offensive to many and probably shouldn't be heard by young ears off primetime, shared airwaves. (the shared bit is important - cable, etc, shouldn't be regulated since there are unlimited resources there - broadcast tv and radio are limited resources, owned by the public). But honestly, do we really think it would be fair to fine poor Morning Joe for his slip of the tongue? To use Scalia's word, I think that's gollywaddles.


For those with a philosophical bent - does it matter that it's only a mention?


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Mark Lilla's got it right

I recently tried to give Republicans some advice. Mark Lilla isn't advising, but he does give a great explanation of what the conservative movement seems to have done to itself. Check it out. Although, if he's right, then it's the Republican intelligentsia that caused this problem in the first place. According to Lilla, the intellectuals of the conservative movement are the ones who fanned the flames of anti-intellectualism that now haunt the Republican party.

If that's true - and I've no reason to question its historical veracity - then I am wrong to hope that the intelligentsia will turn away from this "populist chic" and toward making the conservative movement amenable to intellectuals rather than opposed to them. That's sad for them, but it's also very sad for the country as a whole.


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Sunday, November 9, 2008

There's Something Out There....

We all know that the universe is expanding, but a recent study has revealed evidence of a different movement - a movement at a steady speed in one direction. This indicates that there is something, well, pulling on our universe. But what?

It might be another universe, which would mean that our universe is just one bubble afloat in a sea of universes - one part of a multiverse. Pretty cool, huh? As a philosopher I love it, since a multiverse might mean that, with modification, the possible worlds theory of modality that has given metaphysics, philosophy of langauge, and epistemology so much to work with might be concretely realized.

But nothing is certain yet. This result still needs to be confirmed by other scientists. And even if it is, that doesn't necessarily mean that what's pulling on our universe is another universe. It could be... um... something else.


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Saturday, November 8, 2008

The Republicans - In Ten Types

After my rather serious and heated post advising Republicans on what to do next, I thought a little fun would be in order. So, here they are, the 10 types of Republicans:


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Advice for Republicans

The Republican party has some decisions to make at this point. They have to remake themselves. The infighting, on an ideological level, that occurred during this past election season, and the high profile defections of Republican intelligentsia reveal a party in crisis. The Republican party is a rather large tent. The three basic pillars of the Republican party - old guard fiscal conservatives, religious whack jobs (aka "moral majority), and warmongers (neocons) - are going to have to come to terms with one another. And it's going to have to become clear just who will take power.

For the past 8 years, the Republican party has been controlled by an alliance between the religious whack jobs and the warmongers. They have won popular appeal by embracing "populism", which to them has meant embracing the common and vehemently rejecting all things "elite", including education, intellect and success based on merit. Think about this - 8 years ago we elected the man you would want to have a beer with. He's a bumbling idiot - but for many he is the sort of person you can identify with. This time 'round, we had GI Joe and the ditsy prom queen - people you love for their story and for the way that you identify with them as real people. But here's the thing - when it comes to those people making decisions - you need the elite. You need intelligent, well-educated individuals who know what the hell they are doing.

The Republican party has been ruined by its "populism". It's been ruined by its warmongering neocons and its bigotry filled, anti-intellectual, religious whack jobs. The ruin of the Republican party is nowhere more apparent than in the selection of Sarah Palin as VP candidate. I don't care how many times you try to cover for her. I don't care how many minutes of this or that interview are on the cutting room floor (so are many minutes of many other interviews with prominent figures, and they still don't sound like 6 year olds). I don't care how much you think the recent comments about her believing Africa to be a continent and not a country are media bias (reported by FOX) or bitterness from her campaign. Just listen to the woman talk and you'll discover all you need to know. She doesn't have the slightest grasp on the English language. She doesn't seem to understand that the conjunction "also" should not be used as filler. She can't string a coherent sentence together - not even a simple one. Given that no one has indicated to me that she suffers some sort of impediment impacting her speech and not her mental prowess, I can safely assume that her inability to utilize basic speech is a signal of an empty head.

And my assumption is backed up by the fact that she didn't know what the Bush doctrine is, believes the earth is 6,000 years old and that humans walked with dinosaurs, and still doesn't know what the vice president does. This is the Republican party - power thirsty, war loving, ignorant, religious nuts. The conservative intelligentsia needs to rid themselves of this "populism". For the sake of the country, and the sake of their party, they need to abandon the religious right and the neocons and return to the party of fiscal conservatism and small government. They need to turn away from Sarah Palin and turn toward something else.

Sadly, a recent poll indicates that 64% of Republicans want Palin to run in 2012. Here is my advice for Republicans - don't let that happen. It may work. You may get Bush with lipstick in 2012, but you will damage the Republican brand, and the country, even more than you already have.


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Prop 8, Race, and Religion

You may have heard that Prop 8 - an amendment to California's Constitution banning gay marriage - passed. You may have also heard that its passage was at least in part due to record African American turnout - 7 in 10 blacks voted to ban gay marriage.

I normally wouldn't have anything to say about this, other than shame on you California. We all know religion was the main force behind the votes to strip rights away from gays in California. Or at least, that's what I thought. But I've been hearing a lot from blacks claiming that it's actually the gay community's fault that blacks voted to take away their rights. Jasmyne Cannick's op-ed in the LA Times is, I think, a prime example of this claim:

I don't see why the right to marry should be a priority for me or other black people. Gay marriage? Please. At a time when blacks are still more likely than whites to be pulled over for no reason, more likely to be unemployed than whites, more likely to live at or below the poverty line, I was too busy trying to get black people registered to vote, period; I wasn't about to focus my attention on what couldn't help but feel like a secondary issue. The first problem with Proposition 8 was the issue of marriage itself. The white gay community never successfully communicated to blacks why it should matter to us above everything else -- not just to me as a lesbian but to blacks generally.

The way I see it, the white gay community is banging its head against the glass ceiling of a room called equality, believing that a breakthrough on marriage will bestow on it parity with heterosexuals. But the right to marry does nothing to address the problems faced by both black gays and black straights. Does someone who is homeless or suffering from HIV but has no healthcare, or newly out of prison and unemployed, really benefit from the right to marry someone of the same sex?

Did you get that? According to Ms. Cannick, the reason blacks don't care about equality for gays is that they have their own troubles. And apparently, it's the responsibility of the gay community to make it the case that their ability to excercise their rights does something to help the black community. Let's call this what it is, without pulling any punches - absolute and utter bullshit.

I'm not denying that blacks in this country still face nasty poverty and discrimination. I live in an area of the country that is still in many ways de facto segregated, with black areas, hispanic areas, and white areas. That disgusts me to no end. And I can certainly understand why changing that would be a priority for Ms. Cannick and others. But that is no reason to deny anyone else their rights. Prop 8 didn't have to be the priority for the black community, although apparently Ms. Cannick doesn't understand the difference between pushing a button to secure the rights of others and making a life long cause of something. The gay community wasn't asking blacks to turn away from their fight to eradicate discrimination and poverty in minority communities. They were asking blacks to push the "no" button when they walked into the voting booth.

Apparently, though, Ms. Cannick believes that there isn't any reason to support the rights of others if doing so doesn't give you any benefit. That's absolute crap. And if that reasoning held, then no rich white person would have any reason to give a damn about the plight of blacks in this country. But they do have reason - they have a reason more significant than money or fame or glory or feeling good. It's called justice. Justice is important whether or not you or your community see anything good out of it. Justice, like any other virtue, is good for its own sake. And it should be supported whether you get anything out of it or not. Justice is why all people, not just minorites, should care about making sure that minorities are not discriminated against. Justice is why people should care about poverty. Justice is why people should care about whether or not gays can marry. Gays shouldn't have to make their right to marry something that helps the black community in order for it to matter. The denial of rights should matter to each individual, whether that denial has any impact on them or not.

Of course, in addition to claiming that the black community isn't going to care about gay rights until they personally see some benefit from those rights being recognized, Ms. Cannick also claims that gays didn't actually make an effort to connect with black voters and convince them to vote no. She claims their efforts with the NAACP weren't enough and were poor strategy, given that the NAACP is "outdated". Melissa Harris-Lacewell, who I have enormous respect for, says something similar (video below). Now, it may very well be true that the NAACP is outdated, and it may well be true that other groups should have been contacted. But I think this is where the real reason that blacks voted yes on prop 8 comes out.

Which groups would you think you should contact in order to make ideological inroads into the black community? My first guess would be the churches. But guess what, the churches are the reason that blacks voted yes on prop 8. The bigotry displayed by their vote (Harris-Lacewell said it first) is a product of religion. Just go look at what some black voters had to say about their backing of prop 8. Apparently pastors were telling their congregants to go vote yes on 8. Even Cannick briefly mentions this:

But the black civil rights movement was essentially born out of and driven by the black church; social justice and religion are inextricably intertwined in the black community. To many blacks, civil rights are grounded in Christianity-- not something separate and apart from religion but synonymous with it. To the extent that the issue of gay marriage seemed to be pitted against the church, it was going to be a losing battle in my community.


Exactly, Ms. Cannick. It's not a matter of the gay community adding a few benefits to the black community to any recognition of gay rights. It's not about white gays being afraid to go into certain neighborhoods (that dig, by the way, was unwarranted, and continues the false conflation between fear of poor neighborhoods and fear of black neighborhoods). It's not because, as was mentioned in the LA Times article linked to above, "the gay community was never considered a third of a person". It's about religion. A community that has endured the most insufferable violations of rights, the most degrading treatment, and terrible blocks to advancement. A community that, sadly, still has to fight for equality and still has to endure the ignorance of racism that swims under the surface in this country has fought to take away rights from others. They didn't do it because justice isn't worth fighting for if you don't get something out of it. They didn't do it because they have endured worse treatment than gays have. They did it because a man in a pulpit told them that big sky daddy hates gays. Contrary to what Ms. Cannick thinks, social justice and religion are not intertwined in the black community. Social justice for some and religion are intertwined in the black community. And, as with religion in any community, it is also intertwined with hatred and injustice. Now, would you even bother to spend your money and time trying to convince people who believe on faith that you deserve fewer rights than others to vote in your favor? Could it be that the coalition for "No on 8" thought it would be a waste of time to fight the church in the black community?

I may be wrong. Perhaps there were inroads other than the church that the gay community could have, and should have, utilized. I'm willing to leave that an open question. But I refuse to believe Ms. Cannick's assesment of why blacks voted yes on prop 8. I refuse to believe that the black community only cares about justice when they benefit from it. Instead, it seems clear as day to me that the black community is influenced by the church, a church that teaches bigotry and hatred, a church which teaches that justice should only be given to some. The black community in California has been infected with the same poison that infects white communities in Lousianna and Indiana and hispanic communities in Arizona and Nevada - the poison of hatred spewed from the pulpit. Don't blame the gay community for the passage of prop. 8. Don't claim that it passed by attributing self-serving motives to those who have shown no sign of such shallowness. Put the blame squarely where it belongs - the church.

Princeton's Melissa Harris-Lacewell, being her usual brilliant self on the Rachel Maddow show:


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The Election Is Over. Now What?

At a few minutes past 11 here on the East Coast, the media called the election for Barack Obama. And I began to cry. I cried out of pride for my country. I cried out of relief that the extreme right wing of the Republican Party can no longer ruin this country. I cried out of happiness.

But now the dancing in the streets is over. The firecrackers have burned out. Now it's time to find out if the hopes that Barack Obama managed to bring to this cynic, and others around the country, will actually be fulfilled.

I'm not sure they will be. Recent news about the building of Obama's staff and cabinet have me worried. Rahm Emmanuel - the president-elect's new chief of staff - doesn't bother me all that much. Some are whining that Obama's selection of a Clinton administration veteran is a betrayal of the promise of change we heard from the Obama campaign. I don't see that. Emmanuel is known as an attack dog - the sort of man who bugs others until they do what he wants. That's just the sort of person you need as chief of staff. So while I'm not ecstatic or anything, I'm not unhappy about Rahm.

What I am very unhappy about is the rumors I'm hearing that Obama might appoint RFK Jr. to the head of the EPA and Lawrence Summers as Sec. of the Treasury. Why do I have a problem with this? Well, Lawrence Summers may be a great economist. I don't really know. What I do know is that he is well known for being a sexist. He's had no qualms about saying things like "girls can't do math". Appointing Summers to the Treasury despite his sexism would be a sign of tacit acceptance of his sexist positions. Would the Obama administration appoint him if his comments had been racist or anti-semitic? Of course not. But sexism, oh, that can be overlooked. Well, not by me.

RFK Jr. is even worse. He's an antivaccinationist and pusher of pseudoscience. No one who has so little respect for science should be anywhere near any bureaucratic agency that has to do with science. After 8 years of far right wing anti-science policies, the last thing we need is 8 more years of far left anti-science policies. If you want to learn more about why RFK Jr. shouldn't be near anything having to do with government involvement in science, see here. Why can't our bloody government support reason and evidence for once! Christ this makes me angry.

If it makes you as angry as it makes me, you can actually make your wishes known to the Office of the President-Elect here. It doesn't have to be about these particular appointments. This is at least one sign of change, that the president-elect has actually set up a way for you to give your opinion.


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Monday, November 3, 2008

How Messed Up Is This?


Via Pharyngula (like he needs me to link to him. Ha!)


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Sunday, October 26, 2008

SNL Reveals the Secrets of Don Draper


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How it needs to be done

Forgive me use of internet speak, but THIS:
Obama Pictures and McCain Pictures
see Sarah Palin pictures


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"Life" Protests

I always thought the pro-life protests in which women taped their mouths shut and wrote "life" over them were a little odd. I'm glad I'm not the only one:

Obama Pictures and McCain Pictures
see Sarah Palin pictures


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Freethinkers and Free Will

I recently stumbled upon an opinion in the Des Moines register that I found interesting. The author believes that atheists and agnostics cannot call themselves freethinkers. He has two arguments. The first relies on the fact that the first freethinkers were deists and unitarians. Um, so? Freethought is a manner of belief formation - which beliefs get formed are irrelevant to whether or not you are practicing freethinking. But this plea to history is not the author's main argument. His main argument is the following:


If everything transcendent is mere superstition, then your every thought is determined in minutest detail by a chain of natural cause and effect stretching back to (and beyond) the Big Bang. You can't be an atheist and call yourself a freethinker.

You are obliged to believe that you are nothing more than a machine, freewill is illusion, and your mind is a mere epiphenomenon, a dead-end byproduct of the chain of cause and effect.

Before I get started on this, two side notes - first, being an atheist, even one who embraces philosophical materialism, does not commit you to the claim that your mind is "a mere epiphenomenon". I wonder if the author even knows what an epiphenomenon is. Most (philosophically educated) philosophical materialists believe that "mind" is a description of certain functional system and that in our case this functional system just happens to be instantiated in a physical substrate - the brain. An epiphenomenon is a causally inert emanation of a system. Totally different.

Second, the causal chain does not extend beyond the big bang. Cause and effect are temporally bound - you can't have cause and effect absent of time. Time was a product of the big bang. So, no cause and effect "beyond" the big bang. (I understand that it is difficult to talk about the big bang using a language that is laced with temporal and causal connotations. My use of "product" with respect to the relation between time and the big bang is suspect. But at least get the facts straight)

Side notes aside, in a way, the author is correct that atheists and agnostics cannot be freethinkers, but not in the way he thinks. The thinking of most atheists and agnostics is not free - it is bound by the contraints of reason. This is obviously a constraint the author has not placed on his own thoughts, since his arguments are frought with fallacies (as was the one I just made. But that was for rhetorical force.) First, "freethinker" does not mean "possessed of libertarian free will". It means "one who forms beliefs on the basis of science and reason as opposed to dogma". Since the two terms are not synonymous, the author is equivocating. Even if he were correct that atheists cannot believe in libertarian free will, that doesn't mean that they can't be freethinkers.

Despite the fact that his argument as a whole falls flat on its fallacious face, I'd like to address his claims about atheists and free will. It is a common misconception about atheism that it automatically commits you to "hard determinism" - the idea that the author describes as our being "a dead end by-product of the chain of cause and effect" (although he's wrong about the dead end bit. Your thoughts, etc, are links in the chain). This is false for two reasons.

First, an atheist need not be a philosophical materialist. Since atheism is nothing more than a lack of belief in a deity, it is entirely possible for an individual to be an atheist and still hold that there is something above the physical where libertarian free will resides.

Second, even for those of us who are philosophical materialists, it is possible to believe in libertarian free will. Developments in quantum physics have demonstrated that there is causal indeterminacy at the quantum level. If you believe that the causal indeterminacy at the quantum level translates to indeterminacy at the macro level (say, indeterminacy in which way the neurons in your head move), then you've got yourself some libertarian free will.

So, the author is wrong on two counts. Even if you don't believe in free will, you can still be a freethinker, and it is also entirely possible to be an atheist and believe that we have libertarian free will. I personally don't believe in libertarian free will, but that's just me. Other atheists are free to accept it.


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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Bishops on Reducing Abortions

According to some Catholic Bishops, abortion rates cannot be reduced unless Roe v. Wade is overturned.

You might think that makes sense, but it's false. Guttmacher's statistics indicate that there is no correlation (much less causal relationship) between the legality of abortion and the number of abortions that occur in a country:


while it may seem paradoxical, a country's abortion rate is not closely correlated with whether abortion is legal there. For example, abortion levels are quite high in Latin American countries, where abortion is highly restricted. (In fact, 20 million of the 46 million abortions performed annually worldwide occur in countries with highly restrictive abortion laws.) At the same time, abortion rates are quite low throughout Western Europe, where the procedure is legal and widely available. Also, Eastern and Western Europe have the world's highest and lowest abortion rates, respectively, yet abortion is generally legal throughout the Continent.


In fact, if you put a little thought into it, you realize that the best way to reduce the number of abortions is to prevent what causes them - unwanted pregnancies. How do you prevent unwanted pregnancies? Birth control! And the data bears this out:

Abortion levels are high in countries where the desire for small families is strong but contraceptive use is low or ineffective. For example, in most of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet republics, where desired family size has been small for many years, modern contraceptive methods were not generally available until recently. As a result, women relied on abortion—which was legal, safe and easily accessible—to regulate births. However, as contraceptives have become much easier to obtain in recent years, the situation has begun to change rapidly, and abortion rates in some of these countries fell by as much as 50% between 1990 and 1996.


Of course, the Bishops can't tell you that greater access to contraception will lower the abortion rate in the U.S. because they oppose contraception just as vehemently as they oppose abortion. When will these people let their conclusions be informed by the data? When will they assess the facts on the basis of evidence rather than their preconceived dogma?

Oh wait... they're bishops. Nevermind.


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Brave New Films on ACORN


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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The "Real" America

After the recent comments made by Sarah Palin, Nancy Pfotenhauer, and Michelle Bachmann, I was ready to write out a long post about how this divisive understanding of our country was horribly misguided, insulting, and dangerous to the nation.

Thankfully, I didn't have to. Jon Stewart did it for me.




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Please Explain This To Me

The extreme right wing's justification for their opposition to gay rights has always confused me. I understand why they don't like gays. Their Bible tells them that homosexuality is "an abomination". Of course, it tells them this in the same book which also says that it is an abomination to eat shellfish or wear garments made of two types of fabrics. Putting that aside, though, it's clear what their justification is for thinking homosexuality is wrong - the bible tells them so.

They can't claim that people who do things they consider to be wrong should be denied equal rights, though. That's not how things work, so they've had to come up with anothyer justification for denying gay couples the right to marry - they claim that it is an "attack on marriage" or that they have to "defend the family". And I have to admit, I've always been very confused about that. How does allowing gay couples to marry hurt marriage or family? Seems to me it encourages marriage and family. This right wing position has always left me confused.

And now, I've got even more to be confused about, since apparently the right is now worried about more than gay marriage. Their new fear is increased penalties for hate motivated crimes against gays. Coral Ridge Ministries recently put this out:


Did you get that? Somehow, hate crimes legislation is a suppression of free speech. Last I checked, beating another human being and dragging him behind your truck isn't free speech. It's a crime. And all hate crime legislation does is give you a harsher penalty if the reason you committed the crime is hatred.

I'm not advocating the passage of hate crimes legislation (although I honestly don't see a problem with it), but I can't see any reason why such legislation would automatically lead to a "criminalization of Christianity". If hate crimes legislation passes, Fred Phelps will still be able to stand out on a corner with his hateful signs and spread his hateful message all he wants. The first amendment protects that right. And laughably, if the government did try to silence bigoted Christians, the ACLU would undoubtedly be the first to step up to defend their rights.

Hate crimes legislation is nothing more than a mandated increase in penalty for crimes that are committed out of hate. Now, honestly, is killing a gay person just because they are gay a tenet of Christianity? If it is, then it's a criminalization of Christianity. But since there are already laws against killing people, Christianity of that sort is already criminal. (Well, I guess maybe it could be a tenet of Coral Ridge's Christianity, but that's certainly not what Jesus would do.)

Can someone please explain this to me?

Oh, and incidentally, if hatred of gays is a tenet of "biblical morality", then "biblical morality" is bigoted. And it's not morality. Hate - true hate - is always immoral. This "biblical morality" that Coral Ridge Ministries is so keen on protecting is despicable. It teaches bigotry against homosexuals, women, adherents of other religions, and adherents of no religion. It condones slavery. Hell, it gives instructions for selling your own daughter into slavery. You want to believe that, well, go ahead. You want to preach that to the masses, well, go ahead. But don't expect a civilized society to cater to your bronze age world view.


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Sunday, October 19, 2008

Colin Powell on the Election

There are very few high ranking members of the Bush Administration that I have even the smallest amount of respect for. The two I do have some respect for are Rice and Powell. I may disagree with them on many policy matters, but both are smart as whips. Powell especially seems to own something that many in the Bush administration lack - a moral compass (Rice seems to have one, but there is a magnet next to it). There are very few Republicans I would have voted for in this election. Powell would have been one of them.

As a result, I was very pleased to wake this morning to this:


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Friday, October 17, 2008

Review: Religulous

I finally got the chance to see Bill Maher's new movie "Religulous". It was hilarious, but would probably only be so to the "choir".

Which "choir" am I talking about? Well, to give you an idea, there were only about 15 people in the theater at the 8 o'clock showing, including the five in my party. What did all the members of my party have in common? We are all atheist or agnostic, and I would bet a large sum of money that they other 10 people in the theater are as well.

A theater filled with 15 non-believers. We knew what we were going to see. And we got what we wanted. Maher practices the Michael Moore technique of crash interviews with all sorts of different religious folks, and he's not shy about expressing his views or asking difficult questions. The comedy often comes from the interviewees themselves, as when a U.S. Senator admits that you don't have to pass an I.Q. test to get into the Senate. Occasionally, the laughs are provided by text or images being spliced into the footage that call out the irrationality or outright craziness of the answers Maher is receiving. The film is sometimes shocking to the sensibilities, and sometimes employs a little silliness, but all of that comes together to provide nearly two hours of laughs, giggles, and gasps at what one of my friends called "the stupid."

Maher's pull-no-punches style would make most religious individuals fume rather than laugh. I can't imagine a devout Christian or Muslim or Scientologist sitting through the whole film unless they were paid to review it. Their core beliefs are raked over the coals, although not on an intellectual level. Maher isn't trying to convince the non-believer; he's ridiculing religious belief. He's pushing a boundary that most in this country insist must not be crossed. That is intolerable to most, if not all, believers. But it's an important task. If we, as a society, are every going to finally evaluate the truth of religious claim on a grand scale - that is, if we are ever going to grow up and examine our beliefs in an honest way, we must first take them off the pedestal they have been placed on. For too long religious beliefs have been given a special position in which they receive no scrutiny and they are not forced, as other ideas are, to brave the brutal gauntlet of the marketplace of ideas. It's time that we put religious beliefs through the same scrutiny, intellectual and otherwise, that all other belief systems must face. That is obviously one of Maher's key goals in this film.

Most of the film is dedicated to clever mockery of religion and some interesting inquiry about the approaches we take to religious belief (particularly Islam). It isn't until the end that Maher's second goal becomes apparent. The last ten minutes of the film are a brutal reminder of the power that religion can have, and the risk we take in allowing it to continue to drive those in power. It was a bit too much for me, to be honest, but I suppose that is exactly what Maher wants, since it is clear that he is attempting to move the non-religious to "come out" and make their own voices heard.

Well, I'm already doing my part. Are you?


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Monday, October 13, 2008

Quick and Dirty

There are exams to be graded, papers to be critiqued, and Bill Maher movies to go see, so I'm a little behind on posting. Here's a few things to tide you over.

The Clintons have come out of their hole to campaign for Obama. It's about time. I'm not one to latch onto conspiracy theories, but I did have moments where I wondered if the Clintons would rather win in 2012 than turn this country around now.

Europeans have presented a relatively unified front on handling what is now a global financial crisis. What a mess this is. Since our banking systems are so interconnected, though, maybe European action on this will help us even if we can't get our act together.

Sarah Palin latches onto one part of the ruling against her while ignoring another. She (rightly) claims that she was cleared of illegally firing Monegan, but neglects to address the finding that she abused her power. The McCain campaign is undoubtedly praying that this will go away, and so far the MSM seems to be answering their prayers.

On a positive note, Connecticut courts have recognized legal gay marriage. Gotta love this quote:

“Once again, you have four unelected judges by a slim margin doing what the people don’t want,” said Kris Mineau, president of the Massachusetts Family
Institute.

Hmm... see, last I checked, constitutional rights (state or federal) aren't a matter of popular consensus. I'm reminded of that tagline from high school government class: "Majority rules, minority rights."


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Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Bill'O - The Early Years


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Lewis Black Makes My Point

Lewis Black is hilarious, at least in part, because he channels our rage for us. In writing this post, I was reminded of a bit of Black's stand-up, and I thought I would share. If you can't handle profanity, I would advise against watching the clip. I would also advise a thicker skin, because you're missing out on a lot of fun.

Lewis Black on "America is #1" (and also on milk)


And, if you liked that tidbit, here's the whole show:


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Monday, October 6, 2008

By Request: The Elegant Argument for Abortion Rights

A silent but much treasured reader has requested that I post on the so-called "Elegant Argument" for abortion rights. Since I'm terribly pleased to have any readers, much less requests from them, I'm happy to oblige. So here goes:

First, don't ask me why they call it the "Elegant Argument". I've no idea. As far as I'm concerned, all logically valid arguments are elegant, so I see no reason to claim special status for this one.

By any name, the Elegant Argument for abortion rights is, to my mind, the strongest argument for said rights. Before we can get into, though, a few things have to be made clear up front. First, for the purposes of the argument, we'll be assuming that a fetus is a person with all the rights that you or I have as persons. The question of whether a fetus is a person is often viewed by people on both sides of the debate as the central issue. As we're about to see, the issue of personhood is actually irrelevant to the abortion debate.

Second, we must keep in mind that there is a clear distinction between what is morally correct and what is legally permissible. It is entirely possible for someone to have a legal right to do something immoral. The homophobe who gets on his soapbox and condemns gays is doing something immoral, but he has every right to do it. It may very well be immoral for you to refuse to help a relative in need by giving him a few bucks. But you have every legal right to refuse. The distinction between the legal and the moral is important to keep in mind, because the elegant argument for abortion rights is an argument for a legal right. It says nothing about the moral status of abortion in general or of any particular abortion.

Alright, enough with the preliminaries. There are three main premises to the elegant argument: (1) There is an inherent human right to bodily autonomy (2) When the right to bodily autonomy is being violated, it is legally permissible to kill in order to stop the violation (3) An unwanted pregnancy constitutes a violation of the right to bodily autonomy. We'll take each of these in turn.


There is an inherent human right to bodily autonomy.

The right to bodily autonomy - that is, the right to dominion over our person - is so basic that we take it for granted. But the best way to see that we have such a right is by noting that certain actions which we take to be violations of a right have the one thing in common - a violation of our control over our own person. Think about the following case for a moment: you go in to the dentist for, say, a surgery on your gums. He puts you under for the surgery, and when you awake you discover that he pulled a perfectly healthy tooth. Let's say he's got a collection, and he thought yours would make a nice addition. You're still alive, and you're experiencing no pain. Still, you've been wronged, haven't you? The dentist has violated your rights. In fact, we're inclined to say that he's violated you. But what right has he violated? Not your right to free speech. Not your right to trial by jury of your peers. Not even your right to life. You're still alive, after all, and were in no danger of death. You might be inclined to say it's your right over your property. But there is something more to it than that. If the dentist happily gave you your tooth to keep, you wouldn't be deprived of your property, but a violation has still occurred. And we'd feel the same if a different doctor came in during your oral surgery and poked around in your insides, but didn't take anything out. Why? Because you have a right to bodily autonomy - you have a right to say what happens to your own body, and other people can't just do whatever they like to your body without your consent.

These doctor cases are pretty clear cut cases of a right to bodily autonomy, but the right is even clearer in cases of rape. A rapist is most certainly violating the rights of his victim. But what right? None of the standard rights seem to apply. If the victim is not killed, there is no violation of the right to life. And no property is taken. The whole act of rape consists in using another individual's body without their consent. And that is only a violation of rights if we possess the right to be free from non-consensual use or manipulation of our bodies.


When a violation of the right to bodily autonomy occurs, it is legally permissible to kill in order to stop the violation.

Imagine the following (now rather famous) scenario. You wake up one morning to find yourself hooked up to another person. You are immediately told that the person you are connected to is a famous violinist who has a fatal illness. He needs to be hooked up to you, you are told, for the next 9 months so that he can use your body as a filter and nutrient provider. After 9 months he'll be healed and the two of you can go your merry ways. The music appreciation society had looked high and low for someone who would be compatible with the violinist, and just in the nick of time, they found you, seemingly the only person who can keep the violinist alive. Last night, while you slept, they hooked you up to the violinist, who is unconscious and knows nothing of the situation. Here's the question: do you have the right to unplug yourself from him? Note, the question is not "Is is the right thing to do?" or "Would it be wrong of you to unplug him?" The question is "Do you have the right to unplug him?"

If the case is too abstract to get your intuitions going, then just imagine a woman being raped. She has kicked and screamed and bit and hit and done everything she possibly could to get her assailant off her. She's even managed to get ahold of a rock which she's being hitting her assailant with, but nothing short of killing the rapist has managed to get him to stop. Now, does the rape victim have the right to use that rock to kill her attacker to get him to stop? Most people have a very strong intuition that she does.

What these cases are supposed to do is to draw out your intuitions as to whether or not an individual can use deadly force to stop a violation of their right to bodily autonomy. Now, obviously, if the rape victim could get her attacker to stop by using something less than deadly force, then we'd be a bit hesistant about claiming that she could legally kill her attacker. But if she's in a position in which they only way to stop the violation of her right to bodily autonomy is to kill the person doing the violating, then our intuitions tell us that she has the right to do so. Note that I said "person". The rapist is a person, and he has the same rights as any other person - including the right to life. The right to life is not a right that is forfeited by committing this particular crime. We do not execute rapists, we merely put them in jail. Despite his right to life, however, it seems that the rape victim has the right to kill him in order to end his violation of her right to bodily autonomy. Note, too, that it doesn't matter if the rapist is unaware of what he is doing. A rape victim has just as much right to kill a sleepwalking rapist or a clinically insane rapist or a severely mentally handicapped rapist. What matters is not what the rapist does or doesn't know or intend but rather the violation of the victim's right to bodily autonomy.

There is, I think, a reason why bodily autonomy wins over life in this conflict of rights. The right to life is important. But without the right to bodily autonomy, the right to life is nothing more than a right to breathe and eat. In the absence of the right to bodily autonomy, an evil doctor could put you in any number of terrible states, but as long as you weren't technically brain dead, he wouldn't have violated your right to life. In a way, the right to life is best justified by appeal to the right to bodily autonomy, and this is especially true when you consider that your life just is the continued functioning of your body (this is true even if you believe in an immortal soul). If you don't have dominion over that body, then why would you have a right to it's continued functioning?


An unwanted pregnancy is a violation of the right to bodily autonomy

The first two premises usually aren't that controversial. Most everyone sees that there is a right to bodily autonomy, and most everyone agrees that it is legally permissible to kill in order to end a violation of that right (when killing is the only way to end the violation). It's this third premise that strikes up controversy.

We'll start with something clearly uncontroversial. The relationship between a pregnant woman and the fetus is one in which the fetus is using the woman's body. That seems clear enough. Remember, though, that the only way one person's use of another's body is a violation of the right to bodily autonomy is in the absence of consent. In the case of sexual intercourse, for example, consensual sex is not a violation of anyone's rights. It is only when one party does not consent that we have a case of rape. For an unwanted pregnancy to be a violation of the pregnant woman's right to bodily autonomy, then, it must be the case that the pregnant woman did not consent to the pregnancy.

In cases of pregnancy resulting from rape, it is clear that there no consent on the part of the woman. If you accept the first two premises, you automatically accept that abortion is legal in cases of rape.

It's cases of consensual sex that cause controversy. After all, the common pro-life quip is "The woman had a choice. She chose to have sex." Behind this line is a claim that consent to sex is automatically consent to pregnancy. But it's not clear that this is the case. It seems possible to draw a distinction between responsibility for an outcome of one's action and consent to that outcome. If someone drive recklessly, knowing full well that reckless driving leads to accidents, they are certainly responsible for the accident they get into. But did they consent to it? Similarly, I smoke cigarettes (yeah, yeah, I know. Bugging me about it won't get me to quit any quicker). I know that smoking causes cancer. If I get cancer, I am completely responsible for it. But, at least from a subjective standpoint, I don't believe I'm consenting to cancer. Nor do I believe that the person who eats McDonalds on a regular basis, knowing how fattening the food is, consents to getting fat. They are responsible for it, but I don't believe they consented. Similarly, an individual who engages in sexual activity knowing that it may cause pregnancy may be responsible for the pregnancy, but that doesn't mean they consented to it.

This becomes clearer when we add in the factor of "birth control". Imagine that I know there is a prowler about in my neighborhood, and I know that this prowler is going to try to get into my house any way he can. By continuing to live in the neighborhood, I knowingly put myself in a situation in which it's likely that the prowler will get into my house. Now, if I foolishly leave the window open, and the prowler comes in, I'm certainly responsible for his being in my house. To my mind, I didn't consent to his presence. But maybe your intuitions run differently. But what are your intuitions if I put bars up on my windows. If the prowler still gets in, have I consented to his being there? I don't think I have. After all, I've done something to prevent his presence, and this seems inconsistent with consent, even of the tacit variety. Similarly, in cases in which a woman engages in sexual activity and uses contraception, if she does conceive, it seems odd to say that she consented to the pregnancy.

Even if you don't by the foregoing lines of reasoning, and you hold firm that consent to sex is consent to pregnancy, when it comes to bodily autonomy, consent can be withdrawn. If a woman consents to sexual activity initially, her initial consent is not equivalent to consent to the entire act. Consent can be withdrawn at any time. And if a woman were to withdraw her consent mid-coitus, continuation of the act on the part of her partner would constitute rape. By analogy, then, even if a woman initially consents to pregnancy by consenting to sex, she may withdraw her consent at any time.


The Conclusion

Alright, so, to sum up, individuals possess an inherent right to bodily autonomy. If the right to bodily autonomy is violated, an individual may legally kill to effect cessation of that violation. And an unwanted pregnancy involves a violation of the right to bodily autonomy. It follows, then, that a woman may legally kill the fetus - even if it is a person - to effect cessation of the violation of her right to bodily autonomy.

Note that one may only kill if this is the only way to cease the violation of their right. That means that if we someday come up with a way for a woman to be rid of a pregnancy without killing the fetus, then it may be the case that abortion would no longer be a legal option for terminating the pregnancy.

And remember that this argument is only about the legality of abortion. It says nothing about whether or not it is moral. This is why it is entirely possible for people to think that abortion is wrong, and is a tragedy, and also think it is a legal option for a woman with an unwanted pregnancy.

So, that's it. The elegant argument for abortion rights. If any ethicists are reading and find fault in my description of the argument, please let me know.


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Obama's Terrorist vs Palin's Secessionist

You may have heard about Palin's latest jab at Obama. Dragging up something that was already hammered to death during the Democractic primary race, Palin has accused Obama of "palling around with terrorists". Here's a video of Palin's comments and the CNN Truth Squad's assessment of her claims:



Now, forget for a moment that this charge is super weak. I found it rather interesting that Palin would make these comments given that she's risking bringing up her husband's association with the Alaska Independence Party. She claims that Obama sees the U.S. as imperfect enough to "pal around with terrorists". One has to wonder how imperfect she thinks the U.S. is, since she's married to a secessionist. Apparently, I'm not the only person who had this thought.

All of this, of course, is terribly stupid. So why would they even bring it up? I think I can answer the question of why Palin would drag this clump of mud out of the closet, in spite of the political risk. The McCain campaign is desperate for anything to hurl at Obama that might turn the conversation away from the economy. Why do I smell desperation? Well, first, the McCain campaign has conceded Michigan. Second, according to the Princeton Election Consortium, (great site, by the way), as of 8 a.m. this morning, if the election were held today, Obama would take 353 electoral votes and McCain would take 185. 270 electoral votes are necessary to win. By any standards, that's a landslide. When the economy is the main issue, voters tend to trust Democrats over Republicans. Add to that an unpopular war and a Republican administration that is despised by some 70% of Americans, and you've got a serious problem if you're McCain. I predict that we'll see a lot of mud being slung in the next few weeks. The McCain campaign is going to have to do everything it can to divert attention away from the issues and slime Obama if McCain is going to have a snowball's chance in hell of winning this election.

Of course, that's no reason for complacency. We all know how effective Karl Rove style politics can get. I'll be stuffing envelopes and sporting my campaign button nonetheless. But I might just do so with a little more hope.


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Meet Sam

I'd like to introduce you to this guy I know. His name is Sam. He's really rich, but he's one of those rich people who makes a ton of money and yet can't live within his means. He spends way more than he makes and is in debt up to his eyeballs.

Not only is Sam rich, but he's also the biggest, strongest guy on the block. He's made of muscle, knows martial arts, streetfighting, you name it. He's handsome too. He's a smart dresser and a salesman at heart. He can sweet talk with the best of them.

So Sam's got a lot going for him. He's rich, good looking and strong. He knows it too. As a matter of fact, Sam likes to talk about how strong he his. He likes to talk about how all the girls want to be his girl and how all the guys want to be him. He's always boasting about how he's the richest, strongest, smartest guy on the block. He talks about how great he is with his family and friends. He talks about how great he is just about everyday at work. Sam thinks there is something seriously wrong with you if you don't think he's great too. In fact, Sam thinks he's so great that he wants everyone to be like him, and he can be a little pushy when he tries to convince people to do it his way. His family often gets dragged along for the ride, but other people can find it rather annoying. Sam doesn't understand that, though. He sees himself as the richest, strongest, smartest guy around. How could he be wrong?

Well, richest and strongest he is, but Sam's not necessarily the smartest guy on the block. He has his moments of genius, to be sure, and he's had a lot of really great ideas in his time. Sam used to spend lots of energy learning about science and politics and technology. When he was younger, he always had the best science projects and the smartest answers to the teacher's questions. Now, though, Sam doesn't have a lot of time for science. In fact, he's not sure he believes most of it, since it conflicts with his religious beliefs. And while he still likes to learn about technology, he's gotten behind on the latest advancements. Every once in a while, he'll crack a book about history or politics or economics, but it's just not important to him anymore. Nor is it important to Sam to learn about what's going on outside his own neighborhood. If the economy in another neighborhood were bad, Sam wouldn't know it. If the neighborhood crosstown had been taken over by warring gangs who were killing innocent bystanders in the crossfire, Sam wouldn't know it. And even if he did, he wouldn't really care, as long as it didn't impact him.

Don't get me wrong, there are people in Sam's life that are important to him. He's got some siblings that matter to him, though he doesn't pay too much attention to their personal lives. He's got a mom who dotes on him, though he doesn't pay her much mind, but his relationship with his father is strained. He tries desparately to be nothing like his father, and his father is often dissapointed or flat out fed-up with his antics. He's always been there to help his family, though, and he'd be there in a flash if they ever needed him again.

Sam's got some friends that matter to him, too, though usually it's because they have something to offer him. Sam's definitely the sort of person who will become friends with you because you have a big screen T.V., even if he doesn't really like you. As soon as he's got his own T.V., though, he'll drop you like a bad habit. He does have one really special girl in his life - Izzie. And when I say special, I mean really special. Sam gives Izzie practically anything she wants. Fancy dinners, nice clothes, spending money. You name it. Any guy so much as glances at Izzie the wrong way, and Sam will launch into a tirade of threats and insults. He's not beyond handing out a severe beating on her behalf.

In fact, Sam's not shy about using violence for any number of reasons. Sometimes it's called for, but sometimes it's not. One time, a guy he didn't like moved in next door to his parents, and so Sam marched right over and got into really nasty fight with him. Surprisingly, he didn't win. I guess that happens when you take on someone who's not strong, but has a ton of endurance. Eventually, the fight isn't worth it anymore, especially when you're wailing on someone because you don't like their proximity to your parents. This other time, some jerk who didn't like Sam very much vandalized his house. So Sam found him and beat him up and then he beat up another guy who was just an innocent bystander. Even when he's not beating people up, Sam will often threaten violence to get his way. He's not beyond a bribe, though, either, if that'll get you to go along with him.

Now that you've met Sam, let me ask you something. What do you think of him? Do you think he's the greatest guy in town? Think about how other people might react to someone like Sam. How do people view someone who constantly blows their own horn? How do people react to someone who uses their size to push people around? How would you feel about Sam if you didn't like Izzie?

Have you figured out who Sam is? When I took international relations in college, we were often helped along in our studies by thinking of countries as individual people. I had a habit of taking this metaphor too far, envisioning the U.K as our Mama and France as our Papa, with the U.K's old colonies being our sisters and brothers. Now that the election looms, and the bells of nationalism are tolling, the metaphor returned to me. Heather Wilson's recent comments about Barak Obama (video below) got me thinking even more. What if U.S. were a person? How would other people view it? Not too well, it seems to me. No one likes an arrogant bully.

Now, of course I understand that the U.S. is not a person. But why should people be held to higher standards than countries? And why should we expect people in other countries to view us any differently than they would view an individual who thought and behaved in the same way? Why shouldn't people in the U.S. question the character that their country is displaying in the same way that we think someone like Sam should examine his own character?

In her comments, Wilson implies that liberals, including Obama, think that it is the U.S., and only the U.S., that is the problem. That is a strawman. No one is saying that the problems of the world all rest on American shoulders, and no one is claiming that it is only the behavior of the U.S. that is problematic. Such a view is obviously false. But it is just as false to hold, as Wilson seems to, that the U.S. isn't doing anything wrong at all. That position is not one of patriotism; it's one of blind nationalism.

Wilson insinuates that when people like Obama criticize certain aspects of their country, that makes them unpatriotic. But it's not unpatriotic to question the direction your country is heading. It's not unpatriotic to note that your country has faults. It's not unpatriotic to want your country to be better. In fact, it seems to me that one of the most patriotic sentiments you can have is the desire to make your country better, and one of the most patriotic things you can do is work to improve your country. But you can't improve what you won't recognize as imperfect.

I don't think that the U.S. is a force for good in the world at the moment. Our collapsing economy is going to drag the economies of other nations down with us. We're involved in two wars. One of those wars was completely unjustified and has resulted in destabilizing an already volitile area of the world. The other war could have ended in the capture of Osama Bin Laden after the initial fall of the Taliban had it not been for a pissing contest between Donald Rumsfeld and George Tenet. Instead we're now killing civilians in air raids (and, contrary to what Sarah Palin says, it's not irresponsible to tell the truth). We're fretting terribly over Iran, not because they are anywhere near close enough to nukes to be a serious threat to us, but because Isreal is scared now that our decimation of Iraq has handed regional hegemony to the Iranians. The one place where we should have boots on the ground, or at least diplomats at a table - Darfur - is almost completely off our radar screen. How can we be a force for good in the world when we can't even send a few planes to Africa to help stop a genocide? How can we be a force for good when we have broken our word, violated the Geneva Convention and have taken to torture and extraordinary rendition? How can we be a force for good when we refuse to fund family planning programs that actually work to stem the tide of the African AIDS epidemic?

I am a patriot, not because I think my country is a force for good, but because I want my country to be a force for good. I am a patriot, not because I think my country is great, but because I want it to be great. Wilson's attack on the patriotism of liberals in general, and Obama in particular, misses the mark. True patriotism isn't expressed in hollow platitudes about pride in country or blanket statements about how great we are. Loving your country isn't enough to make you a patriot. True patriotism finds expression in those who can see how great their country could be, and love it enough to try and make it that way.

Wilson Attacking Obama's Patriotism


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Thursday, October 2, 2008

First Reaction - Biden v. Palin

Credit where credit is due - Palin didn' totally suck. Kudos to her for surviving the debate and actually getting in some good jabs.

That doesn't mean that the true Palin colors weren't present. As far as mistakes go, she falsely claimed that the commander in Afghanistan didn't say that the surge tactic wouldn't work there. He did. She also got his name wrong. It's McKiernan, not "McClellan". And then there was that completely nonsensical answer on nuclear proliferation (and yes, Sarah, it's "NU-CLEE-UR" not "NU-CU-LAR"). I seriously have no idea what she said on that. It was a flashback to the Couric interviews.

But, given the low expectations that I, and everyone else, had, she did decently. In fact, she reminded me a lot of another republican - George W. Bush. She repeated over and over and over again the lie about Obama's tax policy and his votes on taxes. She lied about the McCain/Palin position on "oversight". We need more oversight, she says, despite the fact that McCain is fundamentally opposed to any economic regulation. Now, if you are against regulation, okay. That's a position that has rational support. But don't lie about it. Then she touted her "executive experience" as a governor and business owner. You know who else had that sort of executive experience? Good ol' dubya. But she did manage to do the politician's dance and spit out the right platitudes at the right time. I didn't expect her to manage it.

As I said to my roommate as the interview progressed, I preferred it when I could laugh at her stupidity and almost pity her. Now I'm scared, because it turns out that she has views. Views that are deadly dangerous. The thing that scared me most? She believes that the constitution gives flexibility in the power of the VP. That's Cheney's view of the vice presidency. In the spirit of Biden, let me say that again, THAT'S CHENEY'S VIEW OF THE VICE PRESIDENCY. Coming from someone who has already shown her bonefides as a politician who abuses power, that's not good.

I think Biden won, but Palin made a very good showing.


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Palin's SCOTUS Gaffe

To her credit, the problem was not that Palin couldn't name any SCOTUS case, it was that she couldn't name one other than Roe that she disagreed with. That's still pretty sad. She doesn't disagree with Kelo? Dredd Scott? Plessy v. Ferguson? I'm pretty sure she disagrees with Planned Parenthood v Casey. You'd think for such a staunch pro-lifer, she could have named that one.

Here is a comparison of Palin and Biden's answers on the question:


Now, I have to say that I disagree with part of what Biden says about Roe. Getting close to a consensus in a heterogeneous society is not the job of SCOTUS. They are there to interpret the constitution, and it doesn't matter what the great mob of our "multicultural society of religious people" has to say.

By the way, what about us non-religious people? Don't we count? Of course we don't. Doesn't matter which side of the aisle you are on, you're never gonna stand up for the 15% of the population who have no religion. And atheists? Ohh boy. We don't even deserve to have our voices heard. Sorry, it just really stinks when there is no political party that will give you a voice. It gets annoying having to vote for people who at best act as though you don't exist and at worst think that you are a scourge upon the earth that must be destroyed. Oh well.

Also, apparently Biden's conservative friends haven't actually read the bill of rights. If I was him, I'd tell them to go read the 9th Amendment and then get back to me.

So I'm not perfectly happy with Biden's answer. But Palin's answer is much, much worse. What worries me most about Palin's exchange with Couric isn't that she can't name a SCOTUS case she disagrees with. That shouldn't be the least bit shocking to anyone who has been paying attention. Anyone who hasn't been watching Fox news knows that she's at least one standard deviation below 100. There is only so much information she can fit in that tiny brain of hers, and I'm sure remembering the crazy names she's given to her ever expanding brood probably takes up a lot of storage space already. And keeping an eye on Putin's head probably requires significant intellectual effort.

Rather, what bothers me is that Palin's answer on Roe seems to indicate that she doesn't understand how our system is supposed to work. She thinks abortion is a states issue. Okay. But then she says there is a right to privacy in the constitution, but individual states can best handle the will of the people on that issue. Um... Sarah, honey, if there is a right in the constitution, then the states can't decide to deny it even if it is the will of the people in that state. The Bill of Rights is there to protect our individual rights from the federal government, and the 14th Amendment expands that protection such that it guards us from state action as well. Welcome to the United States of America, Gov. Palin. If you actually want to rule this country, I suggest you figure out how it works first.

Now I'm really interested to find out what her view of the federal Partial Birth Abortion Ban is. If abortion is a states issue, then the federal government has no business passing laws about it, and so Palin should oppose that ban on the basis of her federalist principles. Something tells me, though, that she has no opposition whatsoever to the ban.

I don't know about you, but I can't wait for the debate tonight. In case you didn't notice, my pickup switch has been moved from "Cold, rational argumentation" to "Mean, sarcastic argumentation". This should be fun.


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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Another Palin Interview

Couric and Palin, again. My comments on the interview are below the video



00:41 - Palin claims she's a feminist who supports equal rights. I don't believe that is possible for someone who is pro-life. Of course, you actually have to have a significant understanding of the philosophical issues surrounding the abortion debate to see that the positions are inconsistent, so I can't fault Palin for thinking she's a feminist. Not many people know the philosophical nitty gritties of the abortion issue.

3:30 - She can't name 1 magazine? If she really read them, wouldn't she be able to name at least one? Wow. That's sad. What's sadder, though, are reports that in part of this interview that hasn't aired yet, Palin couldn't name a Supreme Court decision other than Roe v. Wade. At that's really sad. Without any prepping (which she's been getting constantly from the McCain campaign), here's a few SCOTUS rulings that immediately come to mind: Marbury v Madison, Dredd Scott, Plessy v Ferguson, Brown v Board of Ed., Edwards v Aguilard, Planned Parenthood v Casey, Lawrence v Texas. Oh, and of course, Bush v. Gore. Hello!!! Now, I don't think I'm anywhere near qualified to be VP, or even assistant to the assistant to the VP. But I can crack off a few of the major historical cases in US history. Do you really want a VP who can't name Marbury v. Madison, which gave the court the power it has today, or Brown v Board of Ed., which ended segregation? Christ that's scary.

4:34 - Here's a transcript of what she says: "You know there are man's activities that can be contributed to the issues that we're dealing with now with these impacts. I'm not going to solely blame all of man's activities on changes in climate because the world's weather patterns are cyclical and over history we have seen changes there". Now, I know that no one speaks perfectly. We use run-on sentences and fragments. We sometimes fumble over words. But this woman's speech seems to be a continuous barrage of linguistic ineptitude. To me, that denotes stupidity. Of course, it's statements like that that get me called a "liberal elistist".

What's really scary is that she goes on to say "But it kinda doesn't matter at this point". What?! What caused the problem doesn't matter when you're trying to fix the problem? I kinda wonder how she might fix a leak in her snowmobile if she never looks to see where it's coming from. Incidentally, Palin's nods toward the notion that climate change is partially manmade are not in accord with her previous statements on the issue.

5:25 - She would counsel to "choose life". If that is really all you would do, then no pro-choicer on the planet would have a problem with you. Pro-lifers really need to quit talking about "choosing life". Guess what, if abortion is legal, women can choose to have the baby. If it's illegal, then women have to have the baby. If you are pro-life you are not for women choosing to take the pregnancy to term. You are for forcing them to do it. Period. It's really not a difficult concept to understand.

6:16 - She claims that women shouldn't be put in jail for having abortions. Wait... what? If you're pro-life, it's because you think abortion is the unjustified killing of another human being - you think it's murder. Since when do we not put people in jail for murder? Look, either it is murder, in which case it's illegal and punishable by a long prison sentence or, in this country, the death penalty, or it's not murder. If it's not murder, then why should it be illegal?

6:31 - She's all for contraception. That's nice. Oh wait. It's not true. She opposes funding comprehensive sex-ed. How can you be for contraception if you're against letting people know it's out there? Her answer on the morning after pill also seems inconsistent with this claim. She says she wouldn't use the morning after pill herself. She's also claimed that life begins at conception. Let's put two and two together here. The morning after pill prevents pregnancy the same way birth control pills do (it's just a high dosage of the same hormones). It (1) prevents ovulation, (2) thickens the lining of the cervix, and (3) in rare circumstances, prevents a fertilized egg from implanting. Now, if you believe, as most hard-right people do, that conception=fertilization, then you consider any method of contraception that prevents implantation to be an abortifacent. Given Palin's far right credentials, and her claims here, I find it highly likely that this is her view. If she doesn't believe that fertilization=conception, then why does she hedge so much about the morning after pill?

7:29 - A respect for science? She's a young earth creationist!!!! To seriously believe that the earth is 6,000 years old, you have to reject almost all of modern science! You must reject modern biology because of evolutionary theory. You must reject chemistry because of radiometric dating. You must reject geology because of plate techtonics. You must reject astronomy because of the measured size of the universe based on the speed of light. You get to keep physics, and that's about it. Heck, you even have to reject archeology, since archeologists have found evidence that humans invented agriculture 10,000 years ago. Perhaps Palin had another problem with her words here. "Reject" and "respect" do sound a lot alike.

8:20 - Her friend who is gay "happens to have made a choice" to be gay. So being gay is a choice? Really? I guess that's why Palin believes her "best friend" shouldn't have the same rights as everyone else.

All in all, I think this interview is another bust. Her answers will make the republican base sing "hallelujah", but they will scare liberals to death and maybe a few moderates too. And either way, she still sounded inarticulate and uneducated.


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Monday, September 29, 2008

Pulpit political endorsements.

There have been murmurs for a while that the ADF was going to put together some pastors to risk their tax-exempt status by endorsing political candidates. Well, they've done it:




I love the guy at the end of the video who says that the pastor has the right to let them know that a candidate is not abiding by what the Bible says. I'm assuming your pastor already tells you what the Bible says, but are you really so intellectually inept that you can't find out what the candidates believe and do the comparison on your own?

I know, I know. He was talking about the pastor's right to say what he thinks. Well, the pastor does have that right - he has the right to say what he thinks about the political candidates. And he could endorse candidates all day long around your kitchen table. But a pulpit endorsement isn't a case of the pastor expressing his views as an individual. It's a case of him telling you what the church thinks. Tax exempt organizations cannot endorse political candidates. That's the law. It applies to Planned Parenthood, the ACLU and the local homeless shelter just as much as it does to churches. Now I personally don't have an opinion as to whether tax exempt organizations should be allowed to endorse political candidates or not. But I see no reason to claim an exception for churches. Either all tax exempt organizations should be able to endorse, or none should be able to.

Then again, I don't think that all churches should be tax-exempt anyway. Only non-profit organizations should be free from taxes, since the sole purpose of those organizations is already to put something back in the community. If you've ever seen a megachurch or read a listing of the holdings of the Vatican, you know that not all churches are non-profit. However, while I do hope that these guys lose their tax exempt status, I do feel a little bad. After all, I know the cost will be passed onto the consumer, I mean...uh...the congregation, when it comes time for that tithe. And if the congregations of these churches are so stupid that they can't figure out whether a political candidate is in line with their cherished holy book on their own, then it seems like they've already got enough problems.


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Sunday, September 28, 2008

If Roe Goes...

Linda Hirshman has an excellent piece at the Washington Post examining the question of how far states will be able to take their "states' rights" if Roe v. Wade were to be overturned. In particular, she looks at the issue of whether or not states where abortion would be criminalized would be able to prosecute women who travel to states where the procedure is legal to obtain an abortion.

If John McCain wins the election, we are but a few years, at most, from witnessing the overturn of Roe. It looks clear that at least one, if not two, spots will be opening up on the highest court in the land, and McCain has repeatedly indicated that he will appoint judges like Roberts and Alito. The overturn of Roe v. Wade is a real possibility at this point. So what would happen if Roe was tossed out?

Well, abortion wouldn't automatically become illegal throughout the land. Rather, the issue of the legality of abortion would be left to the states. There are a number of states where abortion would become illegal following the demise of Roe. And just as was the case before abortion rights were nationally recognized, women living in states criminalizing abortion would travel to states without criminal abortion laws to obtain the procedure. "Okay," you might think, "not such a big deal. Women can still get abortions, they just have to travel a bit." A woman living in Missouri - a state which will likely criminalize abortion nanoseconds after Roe is overturned - would just have to travel across the border into Illinois to get the procedure done. No problem (as long as you can manage to get the money together to make the trip). Missouri couldn't do anything to stop her or penalize her for doing something in another state, right?

Well, apparently it's not that simple. It seems silly to think that an individual could be prosecuted in his or her home state for doing something in another state which is perfectly legal in that state. To me, that sounds like saying that the US government can charge you for possession of marijuana because you bought and smoked some in a cafe in Amsterdam. But it looks as though there are some precendents in favor of allowing states to do just that. According to Hirshman,

Under the American constitutional system, a state does have some authority to regulate its citizens' conduct even when they aren't on its territory. The Tenth Amendment and numerous Supreme Court rulings have recognized the broad reach of state sovereignty. In 1792, the Supreme Court approved Virginia's prosecution of a Virginian for stealing a horse from another Virginian, even though the dastardly deed took place entirely in the District of Columbia...

...In some indirect -- but ominous -- cases, the Supreme Court has shown itself to be open to the idea that a state has an interest in its citizens' behavior wherever it occurs. In 1985, the court allowed Alabama to prosecute an Alabama defendant for his wife's murder, even though he had already been tried and convicted in Georgia, where the actual murder occurred. In 1993, the court recognized the interest of a state that forbids gambling in upholding a federal law prohibiting broadcasters from tempting its citizens with advertisements for out-of-state lotteries.

So it looks like a state with an abortion ban might have some Constitutional backing if it decided to bar women from leaving to obtain abortions or prosecute after the fact. And we shouldn't forget that if a majority of five neo-con justices were to include in their reversal of Roe a declaration that the fetus is a person, states might then have the power to prevent women from leaving their boundaries by claiming that such action is necessary to protect the fetus. If the state can take custody of a child for its protection, and the fetus has all the same rights as a child, then the state might argue that it has custody over the fetus, and bar the woman from taking the fetus outside the state. (This, of course, ignores the whole issue of bodily autonomy. But the anti-choice side of this debate never actually addresses that issue anyway)

Thankfully, it looks like there is some Constitutional support for the conclusion that states cannot prosecute women for deeds in other states:

There are, of course, limits to what states can do to stop out-of-state abortions. They have to comply with the restrictions of the federal Constitution, such as the clause saying that no state may deprive any person of life, liberty or property without due process of law. Courts apply this due-process clause to prohibit states from taking "arbitrary" actions. A state's decision to prosecute a woman for an abortion that it holds to be illegal but that was legal where she got it could be seen as arbitrary -- meddling in behavior that's none of its business -- unless that state shows that it has a legitimate interest in the out-of-state act.

Unfortunately, it looks like we've already suggested a way in which a state with an abortion ban might argue that it has a legitimate interest in the out-of-state act - if a SCOTUS ruling contains a declaration that a fetus is a person, then the woman's home state could claim that it has a legitimate interest in protecting the fetus.

In fact, it might not even be necessary for SCOTUS to make the declaration. If the state itself has amended its Constitution to confer the status of personhood on the fetus (as was attempted in Colorado recently), then that just might give the state enough of a ground to claim legitimate interest in the out of state act.

Hirshman looks at this issue from a number of angles in her article, but I think the article leaves out two critical facets of this issue that should be examined. First, while she is keenly aware of the fact that this issue boils down to a question of states' rights, her article fails to bring into the discussion the fact that conservative justices are often staunch supporters of states' rights. Prima facie, this would lead one to conclude that they will be more likely to rule in favor of the states that are attempting to assert their "rights" - that is, the states that wish to prosecute their citizens for obtaining an abortion in a state where it is legal. That should trouble those who are concerned with protecting the right of women to terminate a pregnancy.

Second, I think it important to keep in mind the highly emotional nature, for many, of the abortion issue. Justices are human; they have deepseated convictions and dearly held beliefs just like anyone else. I do not find it improbable that a number of the Justices on the court who oppose abortion rights will select a ruling that matches their dearly held beliefs and then find a legal justification for it, rather than following legal justifications to the ruling. It very well might be that for such Justices, the relevant states' rights case law will take a back seat to preventing women from obtaining abortions.


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