29 January 2014


"One measure of a truly free society is the vigor with which it protects the liberties of its individual citizens. As technology has advanced in America, it has increasingly encroached on one of those liberties—what I term the right of personal privacy. Modern information systems, data banks, credit records, mailing list abuses, electronic snooping, the collection of personal data for one purpose that may be used for another—all these have left millions of Americans deeply concerned by the privacy they cherish.

And the time has come, therefore, for a major initiative to define the nature and extent of the basic rights of privacy and to erect new safeguards to ensure that those rights are respected.

I shall launch such an effort this year at the highest levels of the Administration, and I look forward again to working with this Congress in establishing a new set of standards that respect the legitimate needs of society, but that also recognize personal privacy as a cardinal principle of American liberty." 

- Richard Nixon 1974 (note: Nixon also talked more about health care in that speech than Obama did last night). 

It's great that Obama keeps saying he's going to reform the surveillance state, but unless he actually starts doing things that don't remind me of Richard Nixon, then he's just as full of shit as Tricky Dick was. Mostly I found his brief mention of the surveillance debate to be highly misleading. He's spent most of the time explicitly rejecting the recommendations of his own executive branch critics, to say nothing of civil libertarian objections and Congressional opposition and general popular confusion and disdain. 

The same deal applies to the comments on drones and the general IR agenda. He talked about things happening... but didn't outline a general responsible approach for his administration that could be easily and clearly implemented. It was not encouraging that a Libya repeat isn't in the cards. And probably the biggest thing going on overseas that might be a cause for concern for Americans (other than negotiations with Iran maybe, nobody cares about Syrians fighting) is the China-Japan spat over some rocks in the Pacific carrying out the argument with ships in close proximity at times. I don't think that was mentioned at all. 

And how about that Drug War, Mr President? Nice of you to mention there's some problem with it in passing a week ago and ignore it here in the context of remarks broadly in favor of taking executive action without consulting Congress. Which the drug war is somewhat firmly an executive project already (President can change the schedule status of drugs with some leeway, can pardon and reduce sentences, issue directives to the DoJ not to enforce or pursue minimum sentencing statutes, etc). 

About the only things I liked in the speech:

1) Iran. It's probable that I'm far closer to Obama than most of Congress on this issue, in that I really don't see the point of further sanctions when sanctions have "worked" to bring about the prospect of an agreement on nuclear proliferation issues. Actually, I do see the point of such sanctions, in that they're intended to prevent negotiation and haste the prospect of an attack. But since I think an attack is counterproductive and likely to be ineffective at advancing our goal and interests here, I don't follow the point. Talking and side actions are more likely to be useful than attempting to change the government of Iran by external means of force. 

2) Mention of climate change was encouraging. I'm not sure there's much agreement between Obama and someone like me on what we should do about it, but it's at least good it comes up as a topic. It's a little more pressing than what kind of health care plan I could buy, although I'm certainly not that pleased with that either. I'd prefer more debate ongoing here but Republicans seem... less useful. It might help though if every time there's this thing called "winter", so many people didn't run around saying "what global warming?". Yes. Still cold out there. I get it. Still winter. I remember a March with 90 degree temperatures here in Ohio not that long ago and a summer that was persistently near or over 100 degrees. I think that's a little more prominent than whether or not there is snow and ice on the ground in January. There's supposed to be snow and ice on the ground in January; that's the climate here in the Great Lakes/Rust Belt region of the country. The climate isn't supposed to be setting record high temperatures for weeks in a row. One of these things is not like the other. 

3) Immigration. I'd favor them doing something on this, but by "something" I would mean "open the border already", rather than "put in billions of dollars of defence contractor pork for border security", which mostly won't work anyway. I am not optimistic that in an off-year election anything will be passed on this even if Boehner thinks something will and Obama wants something to sign. But if something is, it will take a form much too similar to the bill that was proposed and eventually died last year with such handouts and excessive fortifications as a key selling point. It will have to. Too much of the Republican (and Democratic) base is opposed not just to a more open borders society with large amounts of migration as an option, but even to the relatively free and open borders we have right now for anything else to be passed. 

The general focus on inequality is nice, but mostly it seems was inaccurate. The causes and factors and vectors here are much more complicated than "let's raise the minimum wage", which is almost entirely useless for that project, or "increase the set of intellectual property rights", which is mostly a boon to existing infrastructure rather than a job creation system (indeed, it's probably an economic suppressor rather than a necessary protection of innovation). 
Quivering breaths
Shiny objects, dangling
Warmer. Getting. Warmer

Foggy the room gets
Fierce flying object

Dialogue forgotten

Shocking. Discoveries
But impossible to warm.

A timer down
Slower. Faster. Done
Slow. Fast. Done.
More. Done.
Over and over.
Endless ticking
To reach in.
The open door.

No prize awarded
For running nowhere
Faster. Slower. Done.
Exhausted. Disgusted
At dragging

Rain comes down
Wind burns the chest
Faster. Slower.


Never sleep

Just dream.

A poisonous thing.
Some words.
And a promise

Mirrored on the glass
Frozen expressions
molded. As a mask

A mask that smiles
Another to frown.
Crinkled at the brow

The water in the room
Flooding. Empty spaces
between the glass

Beneath or behind
Drowns the sinking ship
in a wake of brilliant lights
Stirred up by a paddle

Fleeing faster.
The alchemist turns the air
to mud
Where no one can follow.

Scorched bridges behind
No where to hide
from piercing glances
That never came.

Blank. Divided. Gasping
gulping in the mud
tastes of lavender

The mirror wasn't always empty
Open eyes walking
Bumping into things

In circles.
circles. Repeated words

Never sleep

Just a dream

23 January 2014

basketball, briefly

Not that briefly actually.

NCAA rankings first
1) Arizona 9-0

2) Louisville 3-3 Back up here fast. Most of the B10 schools have been losing.
3) Creighton. 10-3 Yes. Creighton is very high. Their offence exploded after that blowout over Villanova, in Villanova. Villanova had a pretty highly ranked defence. And yes, Creighton was not ranked coming into the week in the AP.
4) Iowa          6-3
5) Michigan St 11-1
6) Oklahoma St  7-3
7) Pittsburgh     8-2
8) Kansas 10-4

9) Duke        5-4
10) Syracuse 9-0
11) Ohio St    7-4
12) Villanova   10-2
13) Wisconsin  9-2-1
14) Wichita St  5-0
15) Kentucky   7-4
16) Michigan    6-3-1
17) Iowa St    7-3
18) Virginia     7-4-1

19) Florida      5-2
20) Cincinnati  5-2
21) UCLA       3-4
22) Gonzaga   5-3
23) Florida St

24) Xavier  8-3-1
25) SMU    2-4

In general, I think the two "new" conferences, the Big East and the American Athletic are somewhat underrated, along with the Pac-12. It looks like the Mountain West (as usual) and the Big 12 are the overrated conferences right now (outside of Oklahoma St and Kansas).

30) San Diego St 6-1
31) Massachusetts 8-1-1
26) Saint Louis 2-2
37) Kansas St  6-3
41) Memphis    3-4
49) Baylor      3-5
40) Oklahoma  6-4

In other sporting news. The NBA announced its all-star voting for the starters.

G Kobe
G Curry
F Griffin
F Durant
F Love
I guess Kobe's some sort of farewell vote, because otherwise I'm not sure I follow. He's played in 6 games. The one problem there in the West is that the most obvious omission as a starting guard is Chris Paul, and he's hurt right now too. Even with the time missed, he's still the second or third best player in the conference after Durant and maybe Kevin Love. Westbrook would have also made the team if he hadn't been hurt too.

The other four starters are quite good.
This would be my set of reserves
G Harden - Houston
G Conley - Memphis (note: I don't think he'll make it).
F Dirk - Dallas
F Aldridge - Portland
C Howard - Houston
F Davis - New Orleans
C Duncan - San Antonio

A case can be made for Ty Lawson and most likely Damion Lilliard over Conley, but Conley's been very, very good. Problem is Memphis has been mediocre overall. The best case for a snub other than him will probably be Dragic out in Phoenix. San Antonio seems to be doing the whole thing with a committee of very good players but other than Parker, nobody's that great statistically, and other than Leonard, nobody's been that lights out on the analytical stats. I would bet that means Duncan gets on the team.

G Wade
G Irving
F LeBron
F George
F Carmelo
I'm not sure about Irving getting voted in here. I guess he's more of a highlights scorer who fits well for an all-star game, but his team is terrible and he hasn't actually been that great himself (contrary to say, Carmelo in NY). The reason he gets in: the entire conference is terrible. Especially at the guards slot. He's still been good enough to make the team, but shouldn't be starting over Wall. Everybody else makes perfect sense.

G Wall - Washington
G Lowry - Toronto
C Hibbert - Indiana
G Stephenson - Indiana (not sure he'd make it, but Indiana should have three probably)
F Millsap - Atlanta
C Noah - Chicago
F Bosh - Miami

I don't think Bosh has actually played up as an all-star either, but again, the conference is terrible.

Another hypothetical debate on ethics.

This question came up in the context of the usual trolling of how crazy Christians are that atheists often engage in for fun (I suppose we do need to blow off some steam once in a while).

But basically the question would be this:
Suppose we can test neonatal fetal development for all manner of genetically disposed conditions or behaviors. So anything from Down's Syndrome as we can already, to autism, to homosexuality, to psychopathy, to alcohol dependency. Anything with a genetic marker and some level of biological natural determinism to it, that somebody might find undesirable. It could be as simple as tall or short children for that matter. (Note: I would not regard the argument that autism is supposedly caused by vaccines as legitimate and sensible or established science, nor apparently do most of the people who advanced that claim in the first place, but this variety of testing were it to be available would likely finally end most of that at least).

What are our ethical defences for justifying and reconciling the legal and moral status of abortion in the scenario where lots of people have this kind of information and begin genetically weeding out undesirable conditions (subjectively determined).

This isn't that far-fetched. Down's Syndrome once detected is nearly universally aborted. Something like Tay Sachs probably should be. On the other end of the spectrum we have already the ability to determine the sex of the developing fetus with some precision. It hasn't been far fetched for some male-dominated societies to terminate female pregnancies in favor of having more sons (or to practice infanticide for the same reasons). The problem ethically speaking already exists. We are already confronting it and many are discomforted by the notion of various issues being, in a sense, eugenically cleansed from society.

My general contention ethically would be that we have no obligation to make our moral revulsion into laws binding everyone to the same conventions of moral revulsion herein, and that attempts to do so would be fraught with the problems of what we might allow but what we might reject as a morally acceptable decision with the same outcomes. Abortion for this basis, but not for this basis eventually resembles abortion for me but not for thee. If somebody really, really wants a son and not a daughter, I'm not about to be able to talk them out of it, I'm not also prepared to prevent them from seeking and conducting the necessary procedures. Similarly with dealing with various mental disorders when raising a child, not every parent seems prepared for that if they could have a "healthy" child instead that I would be inclined to provide legal restrictions for any intense feelings of discomfort at their decisions. I already experience intense feelings of discomfort for many adults as they raise children. I'm not moved to provide significant obstacles to that process either out of some obligation to the species or our modern societies more specifically.

What we can have as an obligation is to try to talk someone out of it who seems inclined to use these kinds of "designer" preferences on their child, to amend or abort. We can try talking to them reasonably and without force or malicious intention at least. That obligation can already exist along side pro-choice attitudes even to the extreme of allowing any abortion at any time legally. We can find that we disagree with or (hopefully) want to understand further the motivations of this other human being as regards their actions. We might even be persuasive enough in our arguments that their fears on some matters are overblown and unjustified; psychopathy for example seems to need an environmental trigger, not just the genetic triggers, while autism is understood as a spectrum disorder with some modestly interesting effects at the low end. Or that their fears can be allayed in some other way; adoption, ease of medical care, cure, or advice for dealing with some more dreadful genetic condition. Coercion is not only a power of the state to apply and we as individuals by alternative to this power can seek to raise objections and concerns with the actions of other people without compelling their compliance through force and penalties of law. This would be like saying that a particular drug or narcotic should be more freely available by law, with few or no penalties for use or sale, but that people still probably shouldn't be high while at work (depending on their work perhaps) or while driving a car or operating heavy machinery or giving the drug to children without some medical reason.

I am not certain I find that all of these objections against abortion or genetic "meddling" are necessarily persuasive, and that there are many such designer preferences that I might have no obvious rebuttals to; where there are physical and severe mental impairments say that could be treated and removed on the more optimistic side of genetic capacities or detected and the potential child eliminated on the more probable end. I do think that our understanding, at least in my lifetime, of genetics is apt to remain limited enough such that some of these will not be conditions of a future child that we could identify accurately and with relative certainty, much less easily change or otherwise improve upon. There are others that will be in that realm of possibility. It behooves us to ask these questions of our ethical responsibilities in a relatively free society, what will we allow, what won't we.

There are already arguments prepared that we should heavily restrict the availability of some kinds of genetic information, not just for these neonatal purposes but for adults seeking knowledge of risks of cancer or other maladies as they advance in age. And that the basis for this restriction is in part to protect us from overcompensating our present wants over our future selves, or to prevent us from making decisions that are too broad and sweeping judgments. In other words, we are apt to make decisions that we would potentially regret later. This is, in some sense, the most powerful of pro-life arguments, though it lacks the certainty that it would be true in all or even very many cases to make it into some legal formulation.

As an example. Autistic children could very easily grow up to be modestly functional adults just as anyone else might, but with peculiar abilities or unique perspectives. We, as a set of prospective parents to this next generation we wish to see and raise, might find a great deal of joy and pride in that. Or we might be nightmarishly tormented by the inabilities of a child to communicate and connect and the resulting physical symptoms of internal anguish. Or both. In this case, I am not persuaded that the average person would, in the time that it would take to establish such testing, view their prospective child's diagnosis as a probable autistic as some variety of hateful and vengeful deity acting upon them and requiring extreme measures to prevent. Perhaps some would. But this does not strike me as the kind of information that would greatly alter many people's choices. My own suspicion is that it would be more like the kind of information that people already inclined to abort or give up a child for adoption would simply mark on the form as their reason. Perhaps I am blinded to the level of bile and hatred available for autism however and in this case this would be a more serious problem for neurodiversity issues. If so, I would submit that this is probably suggestive that we'd have a much bigger problem for biodiversity generally in such an environment where such information is available, and that we would probably want to be careful and restrictive on how available it is or how often it is used.

A similar example: homosexuals, in a society with improving legal recognition and improving social recognition would also be modestly flourishing adults, capable of engaging in relationships, and playing and working among others with decreasing levels of animosity tolerated publicly. The experience of many parents and friends or family members of such children as they mature into adults is to take the same pride and joy in those relationships, achievements, and progressions as they do with any other child, friend, or family member and this has, in time, shifted public opinion away from intolerance and toward a position of modest acceptance. A testing regime would probably disclose to us several things
1) There are more homosexuals genetically than are open in their relationship orientations, though it's also not very common other than as part of a spectrum.
2) This would include some people that we'd probably never have thought were homosexuals, sometimes including family members of virulently anti-homosexual individuals. Sometimes including virulently anti-homosexual persons themselves.
3) Whether pro-life persons are more interested in being anti-homosexual, and anti-human sexuality in general, or whether they are more interested in being pro-life. For some, if not many, this might be a difficult conflict to resolve philosophically and morally.
4) Whether many pro-gay-rights persons are also not all that tolerant and are mostly pro-gay rights because there are gay persons now, but if they could be gotten rid of, they'd be happy with that too. I suspect this too is also possible. Many people find the prospect of homosexual relationships disgusting or repellent personally and have considerable difficulty not transferring the prospect of that disgust onto other people who find it sexually appealing instead or onto others who are more indifferent to the likes and dislikes of other people.

Again, my estimation is that this kind of information will probably not move the needle very much toward more abortions. In a society where homosexuality is more fully shunned, with restrictive rights or even penalties, perhaps it would. And again, my estimation would be this might be suggestive of a larger biodiversity issue within the human population. I'm not aware of many eugenics based reasons that homosexuals would need to be prevented from even existing (for example, homosexuals can still reproduce, even naturally, though it takes some complexities if individually they never take opposing sex partners, those complexities apply also to kinds of infertility that we have overcome scientifically to some extent) and there are genetic and evolutionary reasons that are available in favor of their existence.

We would be on much shaker ground on topics like height or skin tone, at least as a basis for abortion. And we eventually end up back where we are now, where there are a small number of conditions for which genetic testing is available or will be soon and for which abortions are much more likely as a choice taken. The overwhelming preference of potential mothers and parents under circumstances of genetic results pushing into abortions suggests there's a widespread fear of particular conditions. Some of that fear is easily understood (Tay Sachs is universally pretty awful). A whole range of debilitating to devastating conditions are involved here alongside more prosaic concerns like "I'm too young to be a mom", or "I already have a kid and am a single mom" and so on. These reasons of fitness are a little more understood by the public to be "okay" than something like "This is a parasite feeding off my body" but I am inclined to think both are legitimate enough concerns. What is problematic is the near universality of reaction for some conditions implies that other lesser conditions or genetic tinkering would also be near universality.

I do not think that this concern absolves us of the questions of autonomy for women and families in decisions of parenting and parentage such that the appropriate response is to prevent testing or to prevent the abortions from being performed to respond to this aspect of abortion and its ethical quandaries. I do think the question becomes less complicated if we were ever to develop a gene therapy preventing such conditions but remains equally murky in how it might be resolved at a social level. What seems the direction out is to continue to give people better options and information to deal with what are perceived at present to be very complicated if not insurmountable problems rather than to obscure those options and deny access to information. The short answer here is that we want fewer abortions, for these kinds of reasons at least, then the answer is to overcome the social fears that are acting to constrict the public's reactions toward particular outcomes. On some of these conditions and concerns, that will be a modest but manageable task, on others, it could be monumentally difficult. On these latter, it might become preferable to allow other approaches entirely to enter the field in a socially accepted way if the desired goal is to prevent the abortions from being likely and occurring (say gene therapy, if available, adoption or increased social resources for parenting and education, if not).

Identity, privacy, disclosure.

There seems to have been two internet explosions surrounding disclosure related stories on identity over the last couple weeks. I have some thoughts.

First. I used to write this blog, such as it is, under a pseudonym. I don't know why exactly. My employers haven't cared what my politics are to check up on me, and my (anti/non) religious and political views are fairly well known to anyone who knows me already. I would often share the blogging bits and pieces via feeding it into my facebook page. The blog retains the title, I still often use the nom de puome as a nom de guerre in online games, but I shed the anonymity around the time G+ went live I believe. To some extent, this has meant some other people occasionally glanced at some words I produced. It has not really altered my life in any measurable way that I can see. Maybe this voicing of opinions reduces future employment options, or maybe it doesn't. I haven't looked at it that closely as a consideration given my sometimes radical politics and my certainly unpopular atheism that it could be harmful. But as noted, those were pretty well known to most anyone who talks to me for more than one or two conversations on religion or politics.

And that's most anyone who has talked more than once or twice with me since I'm fine with hammering away at those things people aren't supposed to talk about.

But I recognize I have a fair amount of freedom to say things willy-nilly and suffer the consequences when people start talking about what I have to say (sometimes inaccurately). I have long since come to a certain arrangement when arguing points of contention with some people that I attempt not to be personal about it (sometimes they are not so forgiving of course), and while some people this is still evolving or a new arrangement of sorts, it works reasonably well for the average conversation to remain mostly civil. Occasionally I find it necessary to block people on social media for using argument styles that are designed solely to provoke by diving straight onto insulting ad hominem or bravado style "I'm right, and I have such and such credentials, so I don't have to answer your question" attitudes. These are frustratingly common, but I curiously find it easier to manage on the "Internets" than the "real lifes". Real life doesn't have a block button or a ban hammer.

It would, by dint of my tendency to annoy people and that fact I am no longer anonymous, be possible for someone inclined to assemble information and make more threatening gestures in person. This is unlikely though. I usually aggravate people in argument but not to the point where I've encountered death threats or insinuations of physical violence deemed necessary against me. At some point I just get ignored or they go away for some other reason, or they start slinging insults and they go away because I ignore them.

I am not however a woman, complete with all the thoughts about women and men that supposedly entails, much less working in a field and a profession typically dominated by men. And I am not transgendered. 

I have somewhat less to say on the Dr Isis flap than the Dr V one, at least right now. But I'll get to it in a couple pages...

To put it plainly, atheism is a pretty raw deal in America for the level of disgust and hatred available for it from the average person encountered and their casual understanding and dismissal of the worldviews of atheists anywhere. But at the end of the day, it's also one of those identities that you can shovel up into a closet and nobody notices unless you want them to. Unless I were to look Arabic, which I do not, at least not without dressing very differently to follow American stereotypes of Arabs, nobody is going to follow me around to see where I go to church/mosque/temple. Or even if I go anywhere at all. People might ask and I could easily lie to get by if I thought it necessary, or I could say, as I often do, I'm an atheist and don't go anywhere because I don't see a need. Most people don't ask.

It is not a pleasant class of society to be in. It is not a privileged class in the sense that it isn't Christianity, or even some other people of the book, so to speak. It's not the same to be a WASP to be a "WASA" (much less some other combination of race and atheism). But it's very easy for most WASPs to assume you are one and not ever have to, if one doesn't want to, correct that impression. It can be much easier to dial it back publicly if one moves or changes careers and thinks it might be an obstacle. Or even when one thinks it might be an obstacle in promoting causes such as secularism, or science, or skepticism; causes that aren't necessarily tied to one's religious disinterest and which deserve may deserve strong support and public airing on their own rights.

It is not the same variety of bias and prejudice even as the dark side of the force remains strong in it.

Elsewhere on the intolerance scale. It's a little bit easier for others to discover that someone is homosexual, there's usually a second party to give it away. Bigotry against homosexuals has diminished greatly over the last few decades and is somewhat lessened than that of atheism as a politely acceptable intolerance to express. But it still has plenty of cultural enclaves where it retains an extra degree of viciousness. It is not unusual for a family to fracture over, for people to be beaten or assaulted. It was not that long ago that police forces would use any excuse they could for beatings of this type as official practice, not merely as an unofficial extra kick of injustice. We still do not have team sports with an openly gay athlete playing professionally somewhere. There are open atheists playing. This is reversed with members of elected legislatures, there aren't any open atheists serving in offices at the national level. There are uncloseted homosexuals and have been for some time. But nevertheless, the prospect of being an out of the closet homosexual is not a fun and smooth life relatively free of bigotry or invective or familial distress, or even physical danger. Many people would prefer this aspect of their lives remain private or hidden as a portion of their identity in the same way that an atheist might conceal this feature.

To run through the problems further. Race or ethnicity has typically a visual cue that "this person is different", and that cannot be readily concealed by most, and we still have plenty of social animus associated with this. Gender is usually pretty obvious as well at the glance and we've got lots of cultural and social cues if it wasn't for some reason. And transgendering has a history to it that if somebody wanted to dig into it, they could find out about. Pretty easily it seems. It would from there be simple enough to cast it in a depiction that is less than favorable to the questions of identity involved and not even out of some individual bias or discomfort. That's still the social customs that must evolve as they must still evolve on other implicit racism or misogynistic problems. We should not leap into these unknowns or less-well-knowns with the level of discomfort that we often have.

I have to admit I have not thought as much about transgender issues as homosexuality. I am not made deeply uncomfortable or unsympathetic by either issue. This just isn't on my radar as something I've known about from someone else or talked about that someone has. I've known other atheists most of my life and am one myself. I've known women my entire life and as an adult have formed some of my closest relationships with women, not all of them with the side purpose of exchanging sexual pleasures. I suspect this provides some insights there as well in either case if one is willing to pay attention and listen. I've known people from other countries, people of other racial backgrounds, people in mixed racial relationships, and so on. Many of these cases would be long-time friends or family members to me, and I have witnessed both wonderful things about them and the sometimes awful things about how other people are treating them on the basis of this singular characteristic. I've known people who are homosexual, as well as people who have experimented with their sexuality and sexual orientation or desired to do so, and so on. These are things firmly on my radar as life experiences that I can quickly relate to. These aren't that complex for me to understand even if I am sometimes a little dense at first. They are not my experiences, so I will miss things and have biases. But I will listen and learn.

But. I'm not entirely sure how one writes about transgender as a subject even. I have read some on the subject to know that this is "a thing", that this is certainly a serious problem for how our society treats such people, and interacts with the topic broadly. I have seen the abuse that people, children and adults, take and it seems among our very worst examples of humanity. The Chelsea Manning case alone strikes some rather deep chords that the military was deeply unsympathetic to the idea of a transgendered soldier, and was possibly more brutal in its treatment while in captivity awaiting trial still identified as Bradley Manning as a result. There are dozens more stories and experiences I am familiar with with the piles of abuse from parents and other school children. It's not something I've had direct experience though. Reading about the problems involved is still an abstraction versus a friend who wanted or felt compelled to change gender. I can only go so far with my understanding that way.

I'd like to think I would think deeply, sympathetically, and carefully, if I were writing about someone else's experiences. But I'm a human being subject to biases and (some) respect to social conformity and conventions. I can easily see how a story about a golf inventor that suddenly got more complicated as the inventor misreprsented basic features of their inventive-related skills and credentials would look funny and demand deeper investigation. It is not uncommon for people to assume identities for business purposes that don't actually line up with reality (people lie on resumes, have fake degrees, etc) and for journalists to find that worth reporting on and people worth knowing about. Somewhere along the line, it would be trivial as a matter of investigation to discover that that inventor had changed gender identity. The question then becomes, "what good is that information to the story?"

I'm not sure how that makes it a deeper story myself. What exactly does that mean? How did it impact the invention, the business, the relationship with investors. Or did it have nothing to do with those things, or at worst very little. Perhaps this is something that journalists are trained on that I have missed out on, to sensationalize a story by finding the lurid details that can sex it up and attract attention. Or perhaps there are journalistic ethics and standards that govern such behavior and discourage it in favor of other questions. In any case, these details came out in a story, after the inventor's prior identity was disclosed to an investor, and after the inventor commits suicide. And that was a terrible faux pas and was badly handled. But. I do not blame the writer necessarily for the story as reported (there are other ethical questions beyond the reporting and writing). I don't really blame ESPN for publishing it. I don't know how to cover that story either. I'm not sure if the novelty of the situation would have overpowered other more sensible questions. Again, I'd like to think I'd be less distracted by trivialities and still capable of cutting into the bullshit. Or maybe just recognize there isn't any bullshit worth reporting and move on. I do think I'd be more curious than confused and unless I'm given more evidence of destructive and malicious motives, I'd like to ascribe that curiosity to the reporter as it would likely be something I myself would experience. Transgender just isn't a topic that people bring up very often in the public sphere, that we know who this is in our society, and might ask why with an earnest interest in the answer versus an accusatory angle.

Some people don't want or need our curiosity though. And they've got a lifetime of experience showing them why not to let it in. It would be understandable that this would be an intensely private feature for someone, just as someone's homosexuality could be or their atheism. These are not challenging questions of identity that I find it all that important to "out" people who don't want to be, especially if this fact is not of significance to their occupation, or their intentions in relationships business, public, and private. This is a salacious detail and an inconvenience to our story telling at that point rather than a necessary component of the narrative.

What I do think is that we have a society that views this all as somehow very "weird", not normal, strange, and ultimately worthy of fear or hatred or scorn in heaps and buckets, as it does with any other prejudice set. No matter how enlightened people are or think they are, in an environment where a particular group of people are viewed suspiciously, it's not difficult for some biases to creep in. African descended males who are unknown to us personally are feared by pretty much everybody, including other African males, more than other adults and teenagers. Why? I'm not really sure (there are lots of possible explanations, most of which are bullshit reasons when closely examined) except that that's what everybody seems to believe subconsciously so that's what everybody behaves like consciously on some level. I think when people approach the question of how to deal with transgender issues, they don't really pause and reflect on this but that it seems "sneaky" to them intuitively for some reason. Maybe men are uncomfortable with the idea. Maybe women are too. I don't find this convincing but we do have some severe stick-up-ass thinking on sex and sexuality in this country, so it's possible. If when reporting on someone who seemed otherwise sketchy, maybe that seemed important at the time.

Which brings me to the actual moral crime and ethical conundrum here: the outing to an investor during the reporting process. I'm not sure what possible basis that served. Reporting on it, post suicide, maybe not the most tasteful project, but I'm not sure it has a huge moral sin to it either that it needs to become infamous. If anything, it raised the level of discussion to the attention of people like me where it could easily have remained an abstract topic. Outing somebody's private identity and self while they are alive, and without their permission and without really establishing some clear basis for doing so, with the insinuation that it is part and parcel of some broader deceptive trends put forward by this person? This certainly seems quite malicious. I'm not sure that it was. I think it is more likely that it didn't even occur to anyone to ask that it could be. In one sense, that's a progress too. The debate is to be had about the revelations of identity, people decide publicly this is not a good idea, and the debate moves onto other things.

Which brings me back around to the Isis-Gee fight.

The advantage of concealing one's identity or our most private features of that identity is that it prevents personal reprisals and attacks while talking about controversial subjects, ideally those impacting many people. Some of our finest political and moral philosophers wrote treatises under these false and constructed names for consumption by the public to prevent political and legal consequences against their persons and families. Various whistleblowers or informants to criminal actions have attempted to adopt this as protection against retribution by employers and associates. The action of taking on a concealed identity is not without its nobility for being able to tackle challenging subjects, such as gender biases and prejudices within a particular field or industry.

The problem with having a pseudonym, or a projection online of one's persona, and a popular platform to air and voice opinions and musings is that people invariably demand some level of "accountability". They want to validate the agreement or disunion they experience with these writings and musings with a clear face and persona on which to argue. But this often ignores why people have taken on these concealments in the first place, to raise the level of discussion to a particular issue rather than to the person advancing it. Some have, not always implausibly, argued this also makes it easier to make or advance personal attacks upon others, and many have used this cloak to stab away at their rivals and detractors. This does have an effect of reducing the quality of the debate, for which the anonymity was useful.

Nevertheless, we are talking about a rather serious or endemic issue, where many people are at best blind to the possibility of such a bias, or more dangerously, openly hostile to the concept and conversations surrounding such biases. Scientists are not without their personalities and eccentricities, but collectively, if those personalities are pushing out other voices, even unintentionally through a culture of repression rather than skepticism, that's a problem. Not merely for society. For science.

A large portion of why the Dr V story blew up on Grantland and ESPN is that they lacked the voice of someone to ask a very simple question: "Why does this actually matter? We know it's strange and perhaps confusing to you personally, but is it actually material to the reporting we are doing?" Putting women into science and other male-dominated fields isn't important because women are awesomer than men or some such, it's important because more marginalised people are more likely to encounter particular strands of thought via our culture and cultural biases and this can lead for people, in this case women, to ask certain prodding questions when approaching a subject for study. Not addressing those questions can be poisonous to our process of discovery as it might overlook important variables. Not having access at all to the existence of those questions is even worse because we'd probably never bother addressing them in the first place. So it's kind of important. The legend of Aristotle's flatly asserted notion that men had more teeth than women should be instructive here to the quality of our investigations and inquiries into the nature of the world, and in particular the nature of our societies and institutions.

So why does that matter in the context of Isis-Gee? Because the whole point of Gee's disclosure of identity was to try to marginalize someone making this argument. This was done mostly because Gee seems to have found Isis' online persona, if not her personal persona, to be irritating or hostile. Certainly we might be entitled to take some umbrage at the methods or means other people might use to raise the profile of an issue. Even people who agree with the cause of that issue might find certain approaches less comfortable and wish it were done otherwise. It is a fairly common misperception given to atheists, feminists, environmentalists, and so on that they are composed groups of ideas encompassing very radical notions practiced by and espoused by only very radical and thereby very annoying persons, who are by dint of this character defect, worthy of dismissing the entire project of ideas. This despite that many, many people might agree with some or all of those ideas. So presentation matters and people can point out the problems with presentation.

Taking that umbrage to a personal level however, with the idea that we will use it to attack the other person rather than the issues they are trying to address, seems rather antithetical to good science and healthy debate in a society. It is not necessary even to respond if someone makes personal attacks and what we might deem slanderous remarks without the presentation of being openly identified, by attacking them, or demanding and belittling their identity, and so forth. These are not effective methods of improving our own standing and do not make the issues raised go away. We could instead politely return the conversation to its essential features rather than our personal appearance or insinuations of our personal biases and prejudices and if someone else wants to persist in making the conversation about ourselves, we can ignore that person until such time as they wish to have a calm and reasoned argument. This does not mean that all such criticisms are invalid and should be ignored. But constructive approaches should be favored.

Grantland/ESPN seems to have come away from some deservedly withering criticism more knowledgeable. Their error is at least framed as one of ignorance more than maliciousness, and I am inclined, for the most part, to agree that this is a large part of the story. If reasonably thoughtful people like me have not thought much about a particular subject, I do not automatically expect others to have done so or to have much personal experience reflecting on the issues involved and so on. This is hopefully constructive and means that we should expect to see reporting and writing about transgender issues (at least as they relate to sports) in a more positive and participatory way moving forward. That's a laudable result even if it was embarrassing and perhaps unethical in the procession to that progression. We should at least expect that ESPN's coverage would not include intentional outings of identity in the future without the assistance and participation of the person being outed (ala the Jason Collins story last year).

By contrast, Gee seems to have responded by taking to a twitter flame war, eventually burning his account to the ground and fleeing the scene with the promise of vengeance upon his enemies. Or at least that's the way it is being cast. This is likely not a constructive advance for the debate of these issues of gender inequality and advancement in the sciences. The reason for the difference of result is likely that the personalities involved are still alive to defend themselves, and that the personalities involved became a forefront of the debate. That was only possible because one of those personalities made it a point to disclose the existence, the real life existence, of the identity of his interlocutor.

We should learn from this series of events that identity is a powerful, if not overwhelming, force in any topic. While it undoubtedly matters a great deal on some subjects as a worthy side course to our discussions and digressions, it isn't likely to be materially important in many and will often as not distract us from more important questions that could be of far greater benefit to others observing our discourses than our personal feuds and animus.

22 January 2014

"Native" atheism and societal guilt trips

I was a "native", and I'm not so sure this doesn't apply to "natives" as with those who migrated to successfully navigate the social problems of dealing with an intolerant majority or a friend or family member with a particular concern in our affairs. I imagine the problem is amplified for "migrants" of a sort, particularly where their original position was hardened and "xenophobic" as described but it isn't zero for anyone else on this ship either. Lots of social energy is expended on trying to make atheists recant or migrate away on the logic that they should feel bad for "abandoning" other people or their beliefs and that wouldn't it be better to stand with lots of other people. That this is a case for their religion as a social status function might be warranted, but it isn't suddenly a proof for their deity, forms of worship, that other people feel bad because of your lack of subscription to their particular beliefs and systems.

I'm not sure how that warrants the label of "guilt" so much as mutual resentment and animosity that we'd prefer to avoid. Many atheists effectively go underground for this reason to avoid the entire infrastructure where ever possible. I'd say this is a far bigger social problem in the long run than the personal discomforts of families broken apart by faith-related migrations. These individuals bear a measure of social stigma and shame while some others have to deal with divisions in family or social groups. Neither is an acceptable response and individual atheists shouldn't be having to decide which they're more apt to tolerate as a path.

20 January 2014

Liberalism is dead. Long live Liberalism.

Several high quality points to draw out here:

The point being that too many “liberals” are really conservative apologists for the status quo political order, just as too many “libertarians” are really conservative apologists for the status quo economic order. 

- I am no fan of either status quo order, but the "popular" label of libertarian is often a proxy for the latter, agreed. Very few libertarians take up something like a classical liberalism approach (Adam Smith-Friedman) with simple and transparent features to the state just as few modern liberals place many limitations on where that state should justly be operating. Most libertarians take up a defence of meritocracy, which might be fine if we had a system that allowed for it in the first place rather than a structure that is inherently rigged by the current political status quo by powerful agents. 

“Liberal” apologists for the actually-existing criminal state spook actual liberals from the practice actual liberalism by insinuating darkly that any doubts about the liberal legitimacy of the security state probably makes you a loathsome, possibly racist Paultard.

- This is ridiculously common. Greenwald is frequently dismissed as insufficiently liberal by various "liberal" commentators. The guy is practically a socialist on some issues and certainly holds "liberal" social politics, he's just really against the state's use of power too, something which used to be a liberal/leftist ideal and seems to have vanished upon election of one of their own. I have a hard time understanding how that doesn't make him "of the left" myself too. Because occasionally agreeing with Ron/Rand Paul is a cardinal sin apparently? There's a persistent strain of liberal argument that decries any deviation to admit that a "libertarian" has a point, a possibly valid point, and thus a point of argument and even agreement with a traditional "liberal" viewpoint as though there's someone running around saying black is white and up is down and must be cast out as a traitor to the cause, making a previously valid point of agreement over say, the fundamentally illiberal security state, or the enormously outsized size and scope of American military power, impossible to advance publicly without scorn and disdain heaped upon ye. 

It suggests that liberalism is effectively a corrupt form of statist institutional conservatism, and that the democratic justificatory ethos of mundane liberalism has somehow survived within the ethos of “libertarianism,” even if, as an explicit doctrinal matter, libertarians are generally hostile to the ideas of democracy and the legitimate liberal state. It’s nice that libertarians have kept liberalism alive, but it would be even nicer if it were possible for liberals to espouse liberalism without therefore being confused for libertarians.

This would be fun, but I think it places a bit too much importance on the tribal labeling. The major crux of that issue is that it should not be difficult for libertarians to find issues of agreement with the left, advancing those causes by deconstructing the state in places that it need not be operating, or at least not operating in the way that it does. That can be possible in places where the state's power is inefficient and insufficiently useful to any appropriate policy, where the state is propping up existing status quo economic powers, where the state is unjustly limiting individual freedom or liberty without cause (say, most drug laws), where the state is imposing rather than abolishing discriminatory practices, and so on. 

Libertarians often get too little credit for being near or at the forefront of many civil rights issues like racial voting laws or interracial marriage, or same-sex marriage in our time (perhaps because there are libertarians who are spending a lot of time lingering at the rear of those issues and throwing bombs out themselves, though this is not unusual of liberals either). It is not impossible to conceive that these are or were vital and vibrant issues that can be advanced by a seemingly strange coalition of people without the individual pieces of that coalition becoming somehow "corrupted" and worthy of scorn by sharing a cause once in a while. 

But apparently this is so. 

17 January 2014

A last note, for the NSA

I haven't figured out exactly why this isn't a bigger deal with some people. I suppose most people haven't followed surveillance and security state behavior to see what states tend to do with these powers (hint: it isn't to find and arrest "terrorists", or even spies). And I think it very likely most people see the hassles as minor inconveniences at best when trying to travel or wondering about the privacy of their communications and online behavior. Indeed, many people routinely point to Facebook or Google's habits of gathering information on users as a sacrifice of privacy we've already made in this arena that somehow excuses the behavior of government and amends the Constitution accordingly to surrender the need for specific and individualized warrants for seizure of communications and communication data.

But aside from the questionable legal status of the Smith v Maryland ruling taken to its farthest possible legal interpretation to apply to millions of people instead of a particularized subject of a criminal investigation and from one person's phone records to dozens of other forms of communication, the most pernicious and possibly the dumbest defence of the NSA debate that routinely appears is this one: "I have nothing to hide".

To the people still using this argument, I have two words. Fuck. You.

I'm not making that up out of hatred, but anger and frustration that this persists. So don't take it personal in immediate fact. You might just not know any better. I might come to hate you later anyway. But this is not a good start.

The reason I treat this so harshly requires a bit of explanation.

What this actually says is three things:
First, that "I am a privileged white educated person of modest means. I have nothing to fear from police invading my home. It is even possible I violate no major laws, that I am aware of, that anyone could take issue with my behavior in the first place." Perhaps even that your marriage or family life is stable and solid (and that you also would have nothing to hide from a spouse or children that would not attract government sanction). That is all to the good. Congratulations that you are an upstanding citizen of uprighteous attitudes. You may indeed have nothing to fear from suspicious inquiries made by government officials. Good for you. That does not entitle you to say stupid things without angering people who recognize the limitations of that privileged status.

Consider talking to a stranger, and then having to disclose any or all of the following:
a) your income
b) your job
c) your religious affiliation
d) donations to causes of interest to you
e) associates outside of work
f) who you email and text, in order to validate those associates

Now consider you're a Muslim, and not a Christian. Since most Americans are the latter. Or consider that you have Arabic or Indian features and are trying to get on an airplane. Or consider that you are black, poor, and living in public housing. And that this stranger works for the government. And takes this information without your permission. And then try to tell me that you don't have anything to fear from the government's suspicion of you. Regardless of whether you have done anything wrong or criminally possible, your life will be lived under a microscope, your mundane actions questioned, and loyalty or intentions doubted. It will be possible with relative ease to find something which appears questionable to routine analysis; a charity that somewhere, somehow backs a terrorist group in a far-flung country that has a political or religious agenda that has nothing to do with Americans or the person donating to it, an associate who writes radical political treatises in his spare time or who demonstrates at anti-war rallies and the like, an email to an old high school or college friend who has some sketchy legal habits now, any of which can then be spun out of proportion and control by malicious agencies to invade your privacy further and further, to seek of the content of your emails, the contacts for donation, the political content of religious sermons where you were in attendance, and so on. And most of this is occurring without your knowledge,consent, or notice via warrant.

This is way beyond having to take your shoes off to get on airplane. Much of that is information many of us might rightly regard as private. Some of it is turned over to portions of the government for tax purposes, but not for criminal purposes. Others of it are turned over to private businesses, or our employers and associates obviously have access to some of this by the nature of being trusted colleagues (or merely by being present). The NSA collects a portion of this information itself, and collaborates with other agencies who have access to other portions of it. NYPD follows around Muslims by the thousands, so too to a lesser extent does the FBI. The TSA and various border guards or immigration forces don't just hassle white grandmothers and 6 year old children, despite claims of randomness and fairness.

It's not unusual for such people as I've described not merely to be detained and searched at the airport, but to have their homes entered and searched by police (sometimes at gunpoint with pets killed and families threatened), their possessions confiscated, their religious congregations identified and followed, and so on. Consider that hundreds, if not thousands, of people have been detained without trial for years by our government merely under suspicion of such intentions, without proof or conviction. Many of whom were declared innocent, sometimes even by a trial, and still held for additional years. Some of these people were not merely "detained" and imprisoned but tortured or even killed. Others abroad have been killed by the thousands under similarly sketchy logic that they were insurgents or terrorists drawn from limited and often inaccurate information. It seems unlikely that these actions would not create reasonable fears and suspicions in the minds of people who are then targeted by that same government for investigation and are socially cast with suspicion and doubt of their peaceful and civil intentions.

And this is merely dealing with the variety of information that is likely, at least eventually, not placing someone in a criminal enterprise or as a terrorist mastermind.

Second. Consider now that someone comes into office with much less noble motives as "counterterrorism", in some foolhardy quest to keep the country absolutely secure. This is not a far-fetched probability launched by a tin-foil hatted person. Vast quantities of the FBI's use of PATRIOT act powers, in particular with NSLs, are for anti-drug purposes, often only tenuously or rhetorically tied to terrorism. The Church commission, J. Hoover, and Richard Nixon, are all within the living memory of many Americans. In case it is not known, this was a time when the intelligence organs of the state were often pointed at political rivals, at anti-war or civil rights demonstrators, at people who said or wrote vaguely socialist sounding things, and on and on. The surveillance powers of the state if given full license to operate on such grounds have only grown larger and broader since that time. At this point, you might indeed now have something to hide. Laws can change. Behavior which was once considered criminal (say, sodomy), is considered legally acceptable now, as we are also seeing with particular drugs. This is a good thing. But the switch does not have to ratchet only in this one direction of permissiveness. It is not beyond the pale that something acceptable now could be punished some years from now in our near future, or already is up for debate as a punishable offense. It is even likely that many people could be unaware of this chance given the vast scope of legal sanctions already available to police, prosecutors, and security state empowered agencies and the general public's inability to memorize thousands of legal codes that could impact their lives. Our ignorance of such changes would offer little comfort or protection.

It is telling that apparently one of the more convincing arguments for people when discussing these police powers is whether or not they trust the President elected to head the branch supervising these agencies most directly. Ask a Republican, and they trusted Bush but don't trust Obama. Ask a Democrat (including apparently Obama who has acted as though he hadn't considered this himself), and they trust Obama but do or did not trust Bush. This suggests that people do fear that they will be powers used improperly or against "the wrong people", in some sense of the term, but that they have favored people they'd prefer to use them against (for example "gun nuts" or "tea party types" for the left, and, basically, "brown people" and hippies, for the right).

That last part worries me a great deal. I'm not sure there are people who "should" be favored for such use, but if there are any, they are usually foreign-sourced or tied threats for which the powers and capabilities of the NSA pre 9-11 seem quite adequate to at least identify. There are further problems with the intelligence community at that point in giving warning of immediate danger or communicating subjects of investigation, but those are not resolved by allowing massive surveillance powers or requiring people to take off shoes and jackets to board an airplane in a long and tedious line (that to me represents what should look like a great target to attack by any terrorist, what with the hundreds of people standing around. We should be grateful nobody decided to do so until this year). If we had evidence these powers were necessary for this one explicit purpose, we should have heard of it by now. Reviews of the program keep coming up with flimsy supports at best, if any at all materialize. Meanwhile the attacks we could have prevented, up to and including 9-11 itself, seem to have plenty of evidence available through routine means.

Which brings me to the third problem with this idea that it's okay if you have nothing to hide for someone to root around in your stuff.

If there's nothing to see, why exactly is the NSA looking for it from you in the first place? Wouldn't it be better served looking at people who are identified as probable threats? What probable cause do they have to look at you? Why are they gathering all of this information, when at best it serves no purpose and at worst it is actively harmful by providing piles of data that have to be sifted through once in a while to get to actual problems they could find without having the extra hay on the stack. To me it isn't just the offensive and potentially illegal intrusion of my privacy, without a proper warrant investigating me in particular for some reason, that is a problem here. It is the waste of time and taxpayer dollars doing something useless and ineffective and by declaring it in the name of terrorism, excluding it from public debate of its effectiveness and necessity. It just continues unabated. This is costing us billions of dollars per year in raw terms. Billions more are wasted in the additional security checks and clearances that delay travelers or push them to use less safe and efficient travel like driving their car (and thus increasing traffic delays and fatalities).

We should demand results, not meekly submit to the probability that someone will decide to check up on us once in a while to assure that we do indeed still have nothing to hide while having no discernible impact on terrorism and state security in general.

So yeah. Fuck you. Go fuck yourself with that kind of privileged nonsense. I'm tired of that bullshit. Don't use it. Don't tell me that. Don't tell yourself that. Do yourself a favor and look outside your own world once in a while and you'll understand that this is the worst form of defence of such activities and is patently offensive to the vast majority of people who we will use it against but who are not like you in some small and measurable way and therefore not worthy of the same protective force field of laws and guarantees of privacy and autonomy. It's not personal, but it's tired and stupid and deserves it. Grow up and look around once in a while.

16 January 2014

Torture and the 8th amendment

Most of my qualms with the death penalty have to do with the expense of using it as an extravagance rather than a necessary penalty for even for the most heinous crimes, as this appears to be. Others would be the high probability that we erred in determining guilt and that I'm not persuaded it is a deterrent.

But taking 10-20 minutes to kill someone sounds like an agonizing experience of suffering not just for the convicted criminal, something perhaps some people would be unpersuaded is a problem, but for the people associated with the execution itself who must afflict it as penalty and witness the results. Torture is not merely an affliction upon the tortured, but also the torturer.

This is little different. There are good reasons why torture and cruelty to prisoners is morally wrong and legally wrong, on top of questions of its efficacy. And a very powerful reason is because of what it does to the people who use it, or what it allows of the people who want to use it in the first place. Watching someone die in a horrible way, no matter what that person did before we encountered them, is an unpleasant experience to have to afflict and bear witness to.

I would expect a strong challenge to the 8th amendment that would hold up that this was in fact cruel and unusual and that the state (of Ohio) will at least have to use some other method of injection or some other means of imposing sentences of death.

NCAA early rankings v2

Top 100 Records after. Losses to non-100 teams are listed after, but not wins.
1) Arizona     8-0

2) Iowa        5-3
3) Wisconsin 8-1
4) Ohio St     6-2
5) Oklahoma St 8-2
6) Michigan St  9-1
7) Creighton    9-2
8) Villanova    9-1
There's a big clump of teams mixed up after Arizona basically.
I'm not persuaded Iowa is the 2nd best team but they're certainly in the top 10.

9) Syracuse 8-0
10) Louisville 1-3
11) Iowa St   7-2
12) Pittsburgh 7-1
13) Kansas    8-4

14) Florida     6-2
15) Duke        5-4
16) Wichita St 6-0
17) Kentucky  5-4

18) Cincinnati 5-2
19) Virginia    5-4-1 (first unranked team)
20) Florida St  5-3-1
21) Michigan  4-3-1

22) UCLA    3-3
23) Xavier   8-3-1
24) Gonzaga   4-3
25) St Louis    3-2

AP Ranked Teams outside 25
29) San Diego St 5-1
45) Baylor        4-3 (should drop further)
30) Massachusetts 8-1
31) Memphis     3-3
40) Colorado      4-3 (best player has ACL injury, so they're going to drop anyway)
44) Oklahoma    5-4

Other than Baylor, who has now lost a couple games in a row, the polls aren't too bad for once. I shudder to think what the RPI looks like though.

A note on the debate over abortion

A more concise point which occurred to me about the entire "Constitution issue" in stark and frequent debate over the last few weeks is the manner it is used as a talisman for "you can/can't do X" rather than an argument for why X is even a good idea in the first place. Many gun control advocates seem more concerned with the things they can do on the basis that they can maybe get them passed and then maybe upheld in court rulings than whether they're all that effective that we need to pass them either. Similar problems arise in abortion restrictions, or the surveillance state. This practice bothers me perhaps almost as much as people ignoring each other's interpretations of Constitutional law and pretending that they do not exist. Suppose for the sake of argument that certain varieties of gun control laws or various commonly overturned abortion restrictions are really that great of an idea, we should be able to construct cases for amending the Constitution to craft these restrictions upon the people and that whole "it can't be done" debate would be kind of moot, if it is really that great of an idea that is, it could be done anyway.

In some respects this is why the balanced budget amendment idea keeps annoying me. If someone's going to sell me on it, it would help if they explained a) why it's needed, what problem it solves and b) what mechanics they'd use to achieve it from our current disparity in deficits or the long-term deficit problem. Why is it such a good idea in the first place? What effectiveness upon these United States would it achieve or attain that we're currently unable to do? What loopholes would be permitted, if any? And so on. It's a brainless or thoughtless way of expressing concern about a problem without really intending to do anything about it. This arises constantly in politics or political debate that signaling concern is more important than the real world effects, anywhere from minimum wage laws to guns to foreign policy. It's incredibly frustrating to see laws passed without much concern for how they would be used, who they really help/target, and so on.

Abortion debates are little different in this respect.

What is different seems to be a deeply rooted question that is only mediated through metaphysics rather than law. When is a life a human being, a person endowed with unalienable rights? The law, through the inherent subjective sloppiness of metaphysics, usually results in an arbitrary divisor of scientific viability. With the prospect of survival of life as a separate object and person from the being which has nourished and carried its development to that point but this says little about the questions that swirl around in the atmosphere of the debate, or for that matter much about the value and purpose and intention of creating such life in the first place.

What we find is that there are still, despite our legal framework, obvious fictions about that framework that pass by into unexpected or unanticipated places in the haste to deal decisively with objections or supports for the procedure itself and its own basis. In other words, nobody actually wants to talk about abortion itself, nobody wants to talk about miscarriages and other pregnancy related tragedies and mishaps, nobody wants to talk about the difficulties of child raising, nobody wants to talk about women and the value of autonomy and privacy of a large percentage of the human population to the economy, the society. Or, perhaps most absent from the conversation, the women themselves. What instead happens is a lot of talking sideways at these subjects as though they are awkward and untenable conversations.

In this way, it is very much like the gun control debate wherein one side presents arguments for regulation that seem mostly based on fears (somewhat rational, but largely irrationally constructed) and the other presents defences against regulation that range dangerously toward fantastical belief in the interests of a mostly complacent fat and happy and aging populace to rise up against any supposed tyranny. But mostly this one in particular.

Much of the pro-life/anti-choice arguments come off, at least to very pro-choice people like me, as "attacks on women", fundamentally. They represent a number of arguments but most of them seem horribly flawed in their understanding of human behavior and the general society we now inhabit. I would say a more accurate assessment is they represent a war on sex, with female sexuality being a primary problem in how women are interpreted by society.

One major flaw is a belief that sex is for reproduction. For humans, it is not. Sex is about communication, intimacy, love, recreation, reproduction, social status, etc. It is not a simple act we undertake only to produce offspring. In fact, it wasn't even this limited to reproduction before we came up with methods to prevent or reduce the likelihood of pregnancy, which have in advanced societies rendered the question as even more of a side line. Human beings just have sex way too often and without any obvious signs of ovulation to be doing so in order to produce progeny effectively from sexual couplings. We can even have sex in positions and methods rendering it impossible to do so, or can self-stimulate, and so on down the line of ineffective sexual reproduction. The "pill", and the condom before it certainly changed the social appreciation of sex, and certainly reduced the probabilities of sexual consequences in a noticeable way. But for humans the process of "have sex=babies" has never been a straight line even before we could put up some walls in the way. This retrograde idea needs to be simply eliminated from the conversation because it poisons the attitudes toward birth control, women, sex, sexuality, and basically the human condition in general, because it is false. It becomes a problem in this debate because there are many people opposed to abortion on the notion that people who have sex must accept the consequences and risks.

Except that those risks can be mitigated, and for most of us, are very, very small. The risks, not the objects we use to copulate with.

The average ratio of pregnancies from sex is around 1% of all sexual acts result in a live birth in advanced societies. If we assume from falling fertility rates that availability and use of birth control reduced this by a factor of 3 or 4, we're still talking about a very small percentage of human sexual activity being used for reproduction. Even considering post-menopausal women having sex or exclude the infertile more broadly doesn't get us to a more significant percentage of our sexuality for this one purpose. We might argue then whether sex ought to be more focused about reproduction and that its other uses are a social distraction, but this creates the practical question (similar to homosexuality and marriage's legal rights and contracts), of what to do about the aged or infertile. To say nothing of that it isn't a natural state of human societies not to have sex for a variety of purposes and that those purposes are equally useful to a vibrant and functioning society as producing and raising offspring.

That doesn't mean that it might somehow become intolerable to suggest or encourage that human beings should form (mostly) monogamous couples or that human beings be aware of the probabilities of pregnancy, or other risks of sexual behavior, and seek to mitigate them as probable risks, but the idea that "sex is about reproduction" is simply false firstly and secondly says nothing valid about the moral status of a fertilized egg, or a developing human embryo or fetus. Rather, it says something about the behavior and moral status we wish to ascribe to the person carrying said egg, embryo, or fetus.

The basis of this line of argument arises in the format of "women can't get pregnant from rape". It is a series of inaccurate assumptions or beliefs about the nature of pregnancy biologically and the nature of human beings sexually; beliefs such as that miscarriages and other pregnancy related tragedies and mishaps are rarer than they actually are (pro tip: they are about as common than abortions) because they are socially stigmatized and too rarely discussed, and a false dichotomy examining healthy adult sexual behavior, even where it might be limited to strictly "biblical" reproductive sex (and thus, in my view, unhealthy, or at least boring adult sexual behavior) and not recognizing that it includes a huge percentage of actions that don't do anything reproductive and probably never will. As a result a foremost problem with much anti-abortion rhetoric is that it characterizes the women involved inaccurately as killers who think having sex is more important than life essentially rather than women who may already have families, women with health complications, fetuses with health complications (that may not come to term anyway, much less adulthood) and so on.

If the character of the person involved is already questionably defined, then we're not going to understand how to reduce a number of abortions through restrictions or bans, assuming that's a goal that many people share. Most people when asked might say they are pro-choice but would not have an abortion themselves or would not want a significant other to get one except under very particular circumstances. These circumstances are not ideal or commonly conceived but can happen frequently. What happens then is that states have used a variety of methods to decline access or place barriers upon access. Waiting periods, mandatory ultrasound viewings, sometimes invasive procedures, parental or guardian permission, and so on, that often do not pertain to most other health procedures in legal forms, and have little to no effect on reducing the number of people who actually get an abortion who want one. What they can do instead is decrease the availability of well-trained and reasonably safe clinicians who provide them or make it more challenging for the people who do actually really want one for some reason. But they don't actually stop the process either. It simply gets transferred downstream to people who have sketchier clinics, or limited skills, or to people who still have these skills but are in limited supply, requiring trips across several states while encountering these invasive restrictions.

This is a major problem with the entire "judicial activism" argument in the first place. In that the question wasn't "what regime prevented women from even wanting to get an abortion" via a legal restraint on their availability but rather "what regime made it safer for them to do so". It is not an easy decision for most people, even as there are often terse and logical reasons in favor of it, these are not always convincing on matters of doubt and uncertainty surrounding the metaphysics of human life, its origins, and so forth, for many, many people. I suspect one of the reasons the "fetal pain" constraints, or the requirements to carry to term by a hospital (even if the mother is otherwise legally dead), and so on are popular is that people are just not comfortable within these morality questions and would prefer to have simple answers, or failing that, excuses that look like simple answers. There are not simple answers. The best we can do is "an infant could possibly survive and continue to grow after this point detached from the mother physically". That's it. Pain doesn't work because pain is a subjective enterprise for adults anyway and doesn't appear to be a scientifically valid prospect before viability anyway through the development of the nervous system. Dead mothers with near-to-term development and penalties for drug use by prospective mothers likewise suggest that we'd rather put up an easy wall than try to answer these questions. We don't want to punish miscarriages, but legal structures are often attempted to put in place that would or could. The reason that goes on is that both miscarriages and abortions tend to happen around the same time. And again, most people don't know miscarriages are pretty damn common, and don't have to be tied to anything obvious as a cause like drug or alcohol use that we should be punishing people who do use mind-altering chemicals during a pregnancy and policing this with invasive state powers.

I find myself constantly baffled that many pro-life advocates not only believe Roe v Wade was improperly decided, which I suppose is a legal interpretation they are entitled to support even as that notion involves a host of other problems for their privacy and agency as individuals, but that they somehow believe overturning it would matter. When for most people, most women seeking abortions, it does not. Even jurisdictional guidance it provided it would matter only for some women as most states would presumably leave them as legally accessible in some fashion. My estimation for the politics given the indefensible nature of some laws that are passed or attempted to pass that do fail is that they would be screwed as they would have to defend all restrictions they wish to make now plus the more ultimate restriction of none at all. Little or nothing would happen legally to shift the politics and such groups would lose their political viability for advocacy just as "traditional marriage" advocates (whatever that's supposed to mean) have steadily lost ground to gay rights movements.

We're ultimately punishing people for going through circumstances with the misfortune of not being ourselves, with the implication that all people should react to such events with the same exact feeling of joy and merriment and glory onto the universe/jesus/allah/buddha as the case may be. I think what this underscores is that it just isn't that easy for everyone to get pregnant, carry the egg through the stages of development to term, deliver the child, love and care for the child, supply for its basic needs and growth, raise the child, and observe and supervise their actions into adulthood as a moderately successful independent human being. Any one of those steps could be far more difficult for someone else that they'd feel a compelling need to make very different choices instead of the ones that we might prefer that they make. In order to override those choices, we should have to have a very good reason, and make that case to them as individuals. This is essentially all the court ruling said, is that there is a compelling reason at "viability" to make this case more broadly and to require a compelling and extreme basis for a procedure at that point, but not before that. Where we would remain free to choose, and also to coerce and influence (without resorting to violence).

Not everyone reacts to a miscarriage in the same way despite that being what must seem to be a devastating event for a woman to go through. Not everyone reacts to a pregnancy in the same way either. The spectrum between "well shit" and "sunbeams of joy on my every footstep" is real and has real consequences in how things are going to be handled, not just on the question of abortion but on questions of parenting or adoption too. The obligations, however desirable, of parenting are vast and should not be taken as lightly as to demand them for every pregnancy that occurs. Nor do we issue such demands for every child that is born of their parents that they be doting and caring and responsible adults. If we have the autonomy available to us on how to be a parent, we ought to have some respect for whether or when to become one. And if this is so, then seeing as a very large percentage of abortions occur for unplanned pregnancy, it might do to focus on ways to make pregnancy more often a planned effect. However best to achieve that; focuses on marriage to prepare people for collective child raising duties, focuses on proper and comprehensive sexual education to reduce unplanned pregnancy rates versus abstinence, which often has a damaging effect on teen pregnancy rates, or subsidies and otherwise expanded access to birth control, etc.

In so far as pro-life people believe the sole and fundamental argument is "its a human being", that's fine for their purposes. Maybe that's convincing enough for some people too. I'd even say that I admire that they make it even I don't think they have enough support to advance the claim. The biggest problem is that I don't think they make it consistently. Rape and incest exemptions to me smack of hypocritical political expediency rather than a logical argument flowing from this basis of an essential humanity, and bear weight directly on the logic that there are circumstantial elements. They apparently just have to be circumstances we approved of rather than more individually valid or autonomous reasons implying any moral agency. But I think this is all fine for what it is worth as a starting point. The problem is that we live in a world that ascribes this a very different legal basis, out of the necessity of pragmatic objections that policing abortions would intrude onto policing miscarriages, and out of the necessity that making these decisions in some other way invites more controversy (for now). Even for the many people that agree this is the metaphysical grounds, and that abortions are in some sense wrong, people may place them on gradients of "wrongness" that are less on par with murdering a child or another adult person than would be the case if they accepted this as a literal fact of humanity. They're complicated questions about personhood and even identity (and to be fair, even the bible's ancient text seems to have passed on this up even a month after birth, and had nothing direct to say about prenatal circumstances). That's why we don't talk about them, we talk around them or we just assume the answer, provide it for everyone somewhat blithely and condescendingly and move on. Pro-choice advocates don't get out of jail free by being correct that these are unresolved questions empirically or even innately subjective questions by nature of their metaphysical source anymore than pro-life advocates get any points by making up an answer and declaring it correct.

People probably should think much harder about what they are doing, both before they get pregnant or get someone else pregnant and then afterward on what they want to do about. These are not insubstantial societal goals. The question is how they should think about, or what do they focus upon harder. Far too much of the debate is divorced from the practical realities. So viability is at question around 24 weeks. Only 1% or so of abortions are performed after that, typically for medical reasons. Most people can say; that's not me. The "fetal pain" question has an answer sometimes made up at 20 weeks, sometimes made up earlier or later. At 20 weeks, it is only about a half a percent higher than 24. These are statistically tiny quantities of people that are impacted directly, so legal restrictions seem easier to design and support. Roughly speaking, only 10% of all abortions happen after the first trimester at all. And among these, we are still talking mostly about women close to the 13-15 week scenario where there may have been accessibility or affordability questions for the procedures pushing them outside the earlier window rather than some other source of delay.

We're talking about abstractions instead of some thousands of actual women per year when talking in this way. I think this diminishes the problems they have, the problems they experience, and the availability of their options as they see fit to exercise them. But it is also necessary to point out that the vast majority of people involved, to say nothing of the general public when asked, apparently see that this is modestly acceptable and appropriate as a decision to make at one point, but decreasingly so as it progresses in time and that they will have varying reasons for why this is so. It is not simple as saying "at conception", or some other nonsensical metaphysics answer for most people, just as it is unsatisfying to say "at 24 weeks" to others. I am something of an extremist that would say "at live birth", whenever that occurs, but I also don't have a womb over which to exercise the decision making. Men seem to be a little more pro-choice after all. But I also recognize my position is at an extreme. It is not a popular convention to hold to and not a popularly practiced ideal. This applies also to its opposite. A restriction of behavior which is commonly performed and not supported by popular will is liable to be a defunct legal fiction rather than an effective and well-enforced law. I could and would not make or advance a claim that a preferred legal structure might impose abortions on families with too many children or for certain kinds of people by the same notions of impossibilities and the impracticality of control of human behavior versus what people want to do in actual behavior. I suppose people could claim this is more serious a moral violation than traffic laws or narcotics use, and certainly it is rarer per capita than either of those, but it isn't demonstrated that it is in fact more seriously destructive to destroy potential human lives versus actual living and breathing human beings' destructive capacity. It should seem at least vaguely plausible that most women could just as easily produce children at other times in their lives instead of being compelled to produce them at any time we as outsiders require they should and this argument seems to be acceptable enough to most.

A much larger societal effect question surrounds issues like Plan B contraception or (incorrectly called this in most cases) abortifacient drugs. It is unclear to me personally and also scientifically why these are a bigger concern and more controversial publicly than abortions generally, even in the first or early second trimester that, aside from the most ardent pro-life advocates, the general public seems fairly blaise about. It is bizarre that birth control generally is treated as some kind of controlled substance, with constraints to access and a social disdain for many of the more effective forms. IUDs have a troubled US history, but they're quite safe now for example. Hardly anybody uses them in this country and they're often targeted by anti-abortion restrictions to be further restricted alongside. Condoms are locked up in some stores or some parts of the country but not in others. Suggesting the problem isn't theft prevention but rather passing a sentence of moral approbation for the devices and their associated uses by otherwise responsible teenagers and adults. These are highly effective objects at reducing rates of pregnancy used properly, which ought to be an object of considerable interest in reducing things like teen pregnancy rates (which have very high abortion rates), or the rates of abortion in poorer or minority communities, also higher than the general public. But the public seems afraid that somehow admitting this is akin to admitting that sex is okay generally and that sex is probably something their children will do. I suppose this is akin to children admitting their parents and grandparents still have sex too and "oh boy" isn't that uncomfortable to consider. But the fact remains, teenagers will do it anyway despite our efforts, schemes, and plans to prevent it. Some effort should be made to accommodate the problems rather than punish people for these actions. Some states still attempt to punish sexual conduct by minors with extreme penalties (eg, receiving a blowjob as a teenager from another teenager of similar age can land people in jail or as a registered sex offender), even as these laws have been struck down for adults. We're still having an ongoing discourse about what to do with these same children sexting with their phones and spreading photos and video of an explicit nature. Treating this as child pornography and its distribution seems no more appropriate than parents and other elders ignoring it entirely from a moral standpoint, but still the idea that it is by itself worthy of criminal sanction at all seems ludicrously popular.

I suspect it would help if we had a broader and more open conversation about what it means to be sexually active, rather than running around pretending everyone who wants to have sex, particularly women, are just horny or slutty. I do not see that conversation starting anytime soon. Indeed, I see people still running as fast as possible in the other direction. 

That leaves us with the unenviable task of trying to explain that large quantities of abortions occur both globally and in this country for reasons that most people find acceptable enough not to object strenuously to, even if they remain uncomfortable with them, and under circumstances that most people are not prepared to object to. And that large quantities of these that do occur could be prevented under circumstances that large percentages of the population already have access to and undertake as precautions and sensible restrictions on their own behavior (proper use of birth control, use of non-reproductive sexual habits in the absence of available birth control, etc). That is not an easy and quick solution to a difficult and controversial problem of course. I tend not to see many easy ways out. Banning the whole thing, or crafting very particular exemptions, isn't politically popular, creates new risks and dangers, and isn't likely to be very effective anyway as a result and naturally so long as there are pro-life advocates, and the issue remains more divisive than gay marriage or marijuana use, it's unlikely to shift significantly that ardent pro-life voters and their more sensible concerns could be, or even should be, ignored. Unfortunately the atmosphere of debate is often clouded by a lot of insensible ranting that has little to do with the problem or becomes counterproductive to this as a central policy goal of reducing the number of abortions to a much lower quantity than is presently done. If in fact those other sources of ire, such as human sexuality or birth control, or female autonomy generally, are more pressing concerns, it does not speak much to the supposed value of human lives that they should be getting in the way.