29 November 2010

Random bits of strangeness

Lather, rinse, repeat Radley Balko recently blogged that the media is neither liberal or conservatively slanted, but that it is "statist" in its slant, pursuing or defending positions which advance government and state powers. So essentially, when a citizen decides that they do not like government and state power, and object to it visibly and publicly, as Mr Tyner did, there are methods of disabusing the general public from accepting these objections at face value. Depending on the source of those objections, we will often see nefarious claims of left or right wing orchestrated conspiracies backing these developments.

I really don't see how "libertarian" or "Koch" has very much to do with making these claims less valid or the demand for personal liberties any less pressing and important, or at least that these personal liberties should not be so meekly surrendered without the government having to offer far more considerable levels of proof of need for these scanners, searches, along with our generally invasive police powers. In other words, we should demand that we are receiving something far more valuable than the illusion of safety. We should be receiving ACTUAL safety and security, since that's putatively what we're paying the government for here. I seriously doubt we're receiving even the illusion of safety, given that many people are, at each new invasive search procedure, annoyed enough to give up flying and take to the road or trains (and all the attending hazards therein). But I'd be willing to entertain the idea that somehow a particular power makes us safer, if ANYONE was willing to actually demonstrate it with an empirical basis. I haven't seen such attempts, all appeals are short-circuited with a "suppose some terrorist does X, or suppose some terrorist did X, what should we do".

True, this logic is compelling when terrorist incidents are ongoing and occur, as in the wake of 9-11 when many expansive powers were granted with overwhelming public support rather than overwhelming public objection (I, of course, objected). But what we're really doing is submitting that in any activity X, there is a risk of danger Y. That danger may include risks like "some crazy fool will try to light his shoe/underwear/hair on fire and blow up a plane!". I think we're better off simply admitting that yes, there's always a risk of some crazy event Y. That risk is infinitely smaller than almost all people seem to think it is. Just as the risk of being killed by a shark is for example, or the risk of a plane crashing for any reason at all, much less being successfully brought down by a bomb contained in a shoe. If we accept that these risks exist, but that they are rare and small, we should then be able to craft an appropriate level of security or security theater to compensate. A level which is far less invasive and expensive than we currently delegate.

This is the reason that no officials are willing to demonstrate an empirical need for such powers. They can show an empirical need, but that need is much diminished in their bureaucratic authority and in the latitude granted to act against perceived and imagined threats to that authority. But not against actual and possible security threats, which act to INCREASE that authority.

In other news, I was kind of waiting to see how this one panned out. It does not surprise me in the slightest that it's basically a prank carried out by extremists who don't understand the opposing view. I'm aware there are women who get multiple abortions. I'm aware there are women who get them when they probably "don't need" one. But these are, by and large, minority actors. The extensive focus on late-term abortions, partial birth abortions, and other rare procedures does the same obscuring of the reasons and rationales being used by the prevailing population of abortion-seeking women that this stunt does. Namely, that it paints a portrait of such people as those who prefer death to life, "the culture of death". All while blithely ignoring the social conservative's staunch support for the death penalty (which I at best support very marginally, and now usually oppose on cost-benefit grounds) or for needless hawkish and interventionist wars which kill hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians (which I generally oppose). In general, American and European women who have abortions
a) have children, either already or go on to do so
b) have health complications, either themselves or in the developing fetus
c) are of a younger age and feel themselves incapable of properly supporting this new life were it carried to term responsibly.

I'm not sure how this is a view which somehow worships death. It seems like it places a high enough premium on life that it demands that we carry out pregnancies with an eye toward enhancing and even maximizing that future life's probable success. This looks to me like valuing life, rather than valuing and preferring death. In general, there is an at-odds view between the pro-choice and anti-choice camps which is basically stated as follows
1) Pro-choice wishes to enhance life value by having fewer unwanted pregnancies (by advancing issues like birth control use with abortion usually held as an extreme last resort measure resulting from failures or inappropriate decisions prior to it)
2) anti-choice wishes to enhance life value by having more wanted pregnancies (by essentially having the link between sex and reproduction being stronger, and generally rejecting birth control use).
Somehow or another these two goals are seen as being at odds with each other. I'm not sure that they are (it would seem like having more planned pregnancies would result in a higher percentage of "wanted" pregnancies, and even if it reduced the net amount of pregnancy in society it might increase the raw amount of "wanted" over present levels). Still though the central issue of abortion does really seem to be "birth control" or something akin to "a woman's role in society" (as free individuals or only as mothers producing offspring) and not the caricature of "death". Anti-abortion advocates who cartoon their opposition as being pleased and excited by the prospect of having an abortion procedure done because they come from a "culture of death" are doing a grave disservice to themselves as a result because they are effectively ceding valuable rhetorical territory in the middle ground. They're much better off understanding that very, very few people, possibly almost nobody at all, actually wants to end up having an abortion ever in their lives, and in many cases even having to consider doing so, and looking at ways to alleviate that as the issue. That may mean considering birth control as a legal alternative, even if they don't want it considered as the primary option. But primarily it means trying to understand why women have abortions in the first place. It is plain that very few anti-abortion advocates have ever entertained this as a serious thought. Meanwhile it is plain that pro-choice advocates have not done likewise; we do have to engage with the merit behind producing new life being an important value for example (one of the strongest anti-choice arguments). This is done by ascribing slightly different values for existing (human) life over potential (fetal) life as opposed to seeing these as equal values. There are biological and philosophical reasons to do so, and even here, most people who are pro-choice make some arbitrary assessment that at some point prior to birth (~14-24 weeks), that potential life gains some actual value demanding some very serious objections if it were to be extinguished voluntarily (usually serious health risks to the mother or fetus). These are arguments which have to be taken seriously because the margin for certainty is very low. We don't know "when life begins" with any empirical value, and it might be entirely sensible to err toward "as soon as possible" as a result. Where pro-choice advocates differ is that they will also tend to place a great deal of value on the existing life and limited/scarce resources available to attend to it and will extinguish voluntarily life that could not be attended to "properly". Infanticide for these reasons has a long historical and anthropological precedent. Few pro-choice advocates are willing to embrace these as the battlefield positions justifying their arguments. But in the end, what it comes down to is that pro-choice advocates feel that society and the human condition/species is stronger for allowing women to reproduce voluntarily, and in general less frequently is the voluntary wish of women everywhere, rather than as a consequence of any and all sexual contact risking reproduction "involuntarily" and also that producing healthy offspring (or fewer unhealthy) without risking the health of the mother in the process is a net good as well. This leads to examining and debating birth control rather than abortion largely because technology of contraception is advanced enough to make most abortions unnecessary anyway.

It also leads in that direction simply because sex is pretty consistent across cultures. Teens and adults have it for, hopefully, mutual enjoyment. Empirically speaking we're not having any impact on this basic human desire by attempting to suppress it with abstinence only demands alone. So we might want to start talking about what the consequences of these behaviors are anyway.
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