Saturday, March 19, 2005

all about me

When someone takes a week-long hiatus from something (blogging, say) that they were sort of addicted to before, it's tempting to assume they were involved in some dramatic life-altering event, or at least something interesting. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I just finished an 8-week stint of work wherein I had at least one day of travel (ie, onsite) consulting every week. I was in Pennsylvania, DC, Texas, California, multiple times and not in that order. I'm happy to report that all of those states/districts are still there. Pennsylvania was *extremely* cold (I looked for a witch's tit to warm myself up on, but no luck...)

This week I've been doing remote support from home, trying to catch up on invoicing, bills, correspondence, marketing, home chores, etc. I'm also looking for a new pickup truck and I've almost finished my 2004 taxes.

My hockey team sewed up 1st place in our division with a victory against a team that had been our nemesis (they represented two of our five losses this season). I have three games next week, then playoffs start.

I only shouted at my daughter three times this week. Sounds bad, but if you'd seen how rude, uncooperative, and irresponsible she's been, you might understand. I love her like crazy, but I still want to kill her sometimes.

On one of my flights last week I sat next to a guy who sort of seemed like my separated-at-birth twin. He's also an IT guy, used to live in Canada, has a very similar sense of humor, knew all the same obscure comedy sketches, liked to do accents, spoke Ukranian (which I don't, but my parents live there sometimes, and I do speak a little Russian)... We spent the whole time cracking each other up. Rarely do you meet someone you connect with that well. Made me think of what one of my brothers said one time: "Sometimes I think it would be great to be gay, except for the gross parts..."

Now that I'm 40 and probably near death, I've started getting serious again about diet and exercise. Been running 6 miles a day, eating healthy, etc. My diet is this:
- minimal sugar (occasional fructose in fruit juice)
- frequent small portions
- more protein, more leafy greens, fewer carbs
- don't eat late at night
- regular exercise
- regular sleep
That's it. It always works for me. In the last 8 days, I've lost 3 lbs.

In a completely self-indulgent display of shallowness, I got my back & shoulders waxed for the first time ever. It wasn't that painful (I'm not *that* hairy yet), but I can't imagine doing my face or bikini line. I like how it feels now, and I think it looks a lot better.

In a couple weeks I start traveling again -- hopefully I can maintain my exercise/diet regimen thru that. It's always harder to eat right on the road.

So that's my story -- nothing interesting, just basically trying to get my life in better order. Hopefully I will be able to resume ranting and complaining soon about things I really have no idea about...

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Heresy about teacher salaries

It has been stated that we dont' value the teaching profession as we should, and that we don't pay teachers enough. In general, I agree with this.
However: I have some experience with school districts -- they're currently the majority of my clients -- and some of teachers' problems are absolutely self-inflicted. Specifically:

a) teachers' unions consistently resist attempts at performance-based evaluation of teachers. in many districts it is extremely difficult to get rid of lousy teachers, and IMHO the unions are largely to blame for that.
if we can't get tell who's a poor performer and who's a good performer, and as long as we have guaranteed contract renewal, then raising the salaries of existing teachers won't make them better teachers; we need to raise to entry-level wage to attract bright new people into the field. which brings us to

b) in my state, teachers at the upper end of the pay scale do quite well, thank you. it's the beginners who suffer. but when districts offer X dollars in wage increases, the high-end teachers (who are on the bargaining committees) block any attempt to raise the lower end of the pay scale by more than the rest of the scale, so the inequities persist. (and the unions continue to have those pathetic entry-level wages to parade before the public.)

c) finally, as i said before, teachers *are* underpaid. but the wages we see are *never* grossed up to the equivalent of a 12-month wage. A teacher making $42K/yr typically works 180 days, minus holidays and various types of professional enrichment days. An engineer with an BS degree typically works 260 days minus holidays and 15 days of vacation. So if that teacher had a full-time job instead of getting the summer off, he/she would be making somewhere around $57K.
Furthermore, published salaries never include the incentives many unions have bargained for -- from federal grant $, to stipends for special duties, to -- in some cases -- extra money apparently just for breathing.
That all makes the total wage picture not nearly as bad as it seems at first, and teachers do the public a disservice by not telling the whole story.

you're so articulate...

I came across an article called The Soft Bigotry of Loose Adulation, written for by William Saletan. In it, he said:

...If you're black, Hispanic, or a member of some other group often stereotyped as incompetent, you may be familiar with this kind of condescension.
It's the way polite white people express their surprise that you aren't stupid.
They marvel at how "bright" and "articulate" you are. Instead of treating you the way they'd treat an equally competent white person—say, by ignoring you—they fuss over your every accomplishment. When James Baker and Brent Scowcroft do their jobs, it's a non-story. When Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice do the same jobs, it's a newsmagazine cover.
To which I say: Okay, wait just a second here. I’m completely aware of how frustrating it can be to be underestimated. No one likes being condescended-to. And there’s nothing wrong with educating people about how their words are perceived, how sincerely-meant compliments can sound patronizing. But if we’re going to scorn people just for thinking that someone is “exceptionally articulate”, I think it might be good to consider what exactly it is we’re asking for.

Consider the context here: in the conversation about Race in America, we have established some givens, including the fact that non-whites struggle against a legacy of oppression. Limited opportunity, shortage of role models, and lack of access add up to the absence of an educational tradition. Racially-focused support organizations on college campuses around the country make no bones about the fact that for non-whites a college degree is often a very big deal. It’s still far more common for a non-white student to be the first in his/her family to earn a degree than it is for a white student.

Furthermore, who represents non-white America to the rest of the country in our media? Is it thousands of educated, intelligent non-white Americans? No, because they’re normal and boring just like everyone else. Instead of their voices on TV, we hear rappers and professional athletes -- neither group being notoriously well-educated. Crack addicts and car thieves being arrested on COPS are not known for their articulateness, and have you noticed the racial breakdown of the perps those programs show?

We are reminded over and over -- in fact, we’re almost beat over the head with it -- that the playing field is drastically tilted in the white man’s favour. That Non-white America receives sub-standard education in run-down inner-city schools. That the numbers of those who “make it” are pitifully small, and that the majority is still being left behind. That X% of black men are incarcerated at some point in their lifetime. That the forces of overt and institutionalized racism work together to keep the person of colour from achieving success in the white man’s world. That such success is a tall order, and requires exceptional talent, hard work, and serious dedication.

And furthermore, traditional “black speech” is non-standard English. It shares many traits with the speech of uneducated, “inarticulate” whites (double negatives, non-standard verb conjugations, restricted vocabulary, etc). It’s difficult for Mr White Man – who’s spent years learning to fit his speech to very specific rules – to imagine using “Ebonics” on purpose, and it’s extremely difficult for him to view its use as particularly articulate. It doesn’t matter that some of the most clever use of language ever is found in the impromptu rhymes of rap battles – Mr White Guy never sees that. To him, "black speech" sounds uneducated, ungrammatical, and extremely limited. (And in point of fact, compared to the English language as a whole, it IS limited – it’s a dialect, not a language in itself. There are millions of words that one can use as part of standard English that don’t fit into Ebonics.)

So now we come to the individual who -- against all odds -- has succeeded. He or she has braved the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune to take his/her rightful place in society. And now the rest of America -- over-privileged, under-challenged White America -- is suddenly, bizarrely, supposed to think it’s no big deal.

To expect White America to have the same reaction to Condi Rice as it does to Brent Scowcroft is ridiculous. It’s asking that everyone forget everything he/she has ever heard about Race In America. It’s asking people to operate under an extraordinary level of pretense (or self-delusion).

Does anyone imagine Black America in general isn’t proud of Rice? (Or even of Powell, charges of Oreo-ness notwithstanding?) Rational people recognize that their level of accomplishment (and "articulateness") is noteworthy for anyone, and that it has all the more significance because the people in question are black.

So when Mr. Oblivious White Man acts surprised that you’re bright or articulate, it’s not because he expected you to be stupid -- just not so educated. Yes, he’s a bit of a moron for letting it show, but it doesn’t mean he’s a racist.

Articulate and intelligent white men are rare enough -- and they’ve had all the advantages. To ask people to act like highly educated, articulate, successful black men are the norm is a little like asking them to believe the race issue is over, the good guys have won, and The Dream has already come true.

i've got friends...

I have a friend named Mark. We talk on the phone every year or so. He has health issues, and sometimes his treatment or meds get messed up. He owns a lot of guns. He has always been a good friend to me. Once in a while I get an email from him...
The NRA gives me 68$ a year for a procedure I get for free for cancer to have a cancer exam because I am just too valuable at least to some people who are on my side. My aversaries are simply fat slobs like rosie who are not only ill informed, an illigetimate mom and one of the bad guys on us is giving us garbage because we believe in the contstitution--- the heck you say!!! Yes the slob and welfare trash that are her discipletes are filthy disgusting pukes who pee and moan about everything are the trash ruining this country, tune into JBS.ORG my guys. we will not have our freedom relented as long as we breathe, its nice to at least have a belief in something when all my test scores are constanty usually 88% smarter than the rest of the population and we protect you and your rights of your kids all
the time even though you dont know we are here. Fly the Flag forever.


Log on to, every month 200 Americans are arrested overseas for garbage they didnt even do, they think of us as rich, especially in Mexico, I have a daugther myself in Mexico, Americans are taken into prison especially in Mexico under the most hellish conditions, and if they will not give us our people back, I say we take them by force. Be careful where you vacation, and I cant believe this still goes on and the marines or anybody by a show of force has said give us back our people right now. We are the BEST, and way most powerful country, if you have troulbe with our citizens we should move in with full military force, take no prisoners, just give us our citizens back now!!!! I am sorry I am too old now to be a tailgunner with a .60 caliber machine gun fly with a fleet of choppers and and listen for the order, lets take them or they can surrender, they will know never, ever to mess with Americans.Remeber in church on sunday to thank God the Nra, the Military and Police all pull together for America because we do!!! We just have the wrong folks in office now, and be careful where you vacation because you arent thier top priority hopefully Bush will change all that immediately,.The Government should stick up for you more on your vacation. And I say we get the hell out of the Un the worthless bunch of idiots we dont need anything from any country at all, and should walk tall as Americans check out the (Jon Birhch society) because we will have no insult to the constitution now or ever, its funny to shut up and say I am too busy but your rights are constantly stepped and raped especially in our state. Lets make the rest of the world shake when we identify ourselves as Americans and veterans because we are the only hope this country ever has.

So what does one do with that? There's not much I *can* do, other than be a point of stability. It seems like that's what is needed, so that's what I do. But sometimes I shiver a little...

Monday, March 07, 2005

fun with ADD

ADD stands for Attention Deficit Disorder, and also for Accidental Death & Dismemberment. This is not mere coincidence.

I can count on my left thumb the times Samantha has done her chores without being reminded. And when I say "reminded", I really mean hounded, nagged, browbeaten, and harangued. What's worked best so far was to threaten to beat her with a rolled up newspaper. You think I'm joking. I’m only sad that my concept of positive parenting doesn't allow me to use that again.

And don't get on me with this "consequences" stuff -- I've tried everything. I have taken away privileges and given rewards like you wouldn't believe. The problem with that is that she has zero ability to think ahead, to evaluate future consequences. She operates strictly on the basis of pleasure vs pain in the next 60 seconds, so it doesn’t matter what the consequences are, or the rewards –, they make no difference (if she can even remember them at all) because they’re not happening right now.

Job charts? Schedule books/calendars? PDA? Tried ‘em all. She absolutely cannot seem to be able to prioritize any time period but the immediate present.

Missing out on a reward doesn’t motivate her to do better next time – it just cements the idea that she is a screw-up who can’t earn any privileges, so why try? When she receives a negative consequence, the message she takes is “I’m a stupid person who deserves bad things because I can’t do what I need to do.”
It’s maddening, and would heartbreaking if it weren’t also so frustrating. The problem is that it’s mixed in with a generous helping of teenage rebellion and rudeness, so it’s a little bit difficult to be patient about it.

And when she messes up, she tries to shift blame onto anyone but herself, to contrive a situation where she bears no responsibility for events. Here are today’s conversations:

CONVERSATION 1 - Samantha calls me to say she’s having trouble getting the monitor to work on the computer:

Me: Sam, did you do your chores?

Samantha: I just need to send an email and finish burning a CD for Ilsa first.

Me: No, you need to do your chores. No Gamecube or computer until chores are done. You know the rule. If I come home and your chores aren’t done, the consequences will be unpleasant from your point of view.

Samantha: That’s not fair, you could come home in five minutes and my chores wouldn’t be done. It takes longer than five minutes to do my chores, you know. [What kind of perverted logic is this? She’s turned my admonition to do her chores into an imaginary secret desire of mine to rush home to catch her out and punish her.]

Me: Okay, let me re-state: if I come home and your chores aren’t done AND YOU’RE ON THE COMPUTER OR GAMECUBE. Understand?

Samantha: Fine, whatever. (Hangs up.)

CONVERSATION 2 – 5pm. I come home to find her in the kitchen baking cookies.

Dad: Hi hon. Didja come down to do the dishes and get sidetracked with some baking?

Samantha: No.

CONVERSATION 3 - 9pm. I find that the dishes still haven’t been done, and Sam is playing Gamecube.
Dad: Hi, hon (attempts to kiss back of Samantha’s head).

Samantha (contorting her body out of the way): DON’T!!

Dad: Okay, well, I love you. And because you’re playing Gamecube, and the dishes still aren’t done, your Gamecube and computer time is over for today and tomorrow as well. Do you understand?

Samantha: Mom said I could get on the Gamecube.

Dad: I don’t care what Mom said, you knew you had to do your chores. You had no business going to Mom to ask if you could get on the Gamecube.

Samantha: So what am I supposed to listen to? If Mom says one thing and you say another, am I supposed to just ignore whatever Mom says?

This kind of crap – trying to shape events so that she appears to be a helpless pawn – absolutely drives me up the wall. I launch into a furious two minute rant here, during which Samantha starts to walk away (twice). It ends with me telling her to stop talking and get her butt downstairs and do the dishes.

I ask Hannah if she indeed told Sam she could use the Gamecube. Hannah says she said nothing remotely like that. I go downstairs to confront Sam about the lying. The dishes are about 5% done. Sam is sitting in a chair reading a magazine. I tear it in half and throw it away, give her another two-minute lecture about lying, and leave.

I have become an angry, frustrated, lousy dad, and my daughter is a lazy twit who refuses to take responsibility for herself and relies on
a) other people, and
b) lying
to get out of work.

Anyone want a slightly used 14-yr-old? Needs work. Best offer.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Everything but the kitchen sink

Question for the day. Wait, two questions:

1) How many people put garbage (or plates with food on them) in the kitchen sink?
2) Why?

At my house, I find soda cans, food wrappers, cat food containers, chicken bones, plates of food, etc, in the sink. Why does my family do this? They weren't raised in a pig sty, or even in rural Arkansas.

My mother does this, yes, but it's understandable. Mom's not really peaked in Housekeeping -- her talents lie more in being kind, warm, loving, and artistic. She could be put in a concrete isolation chamber -- nothing but 4 walls and a hole in the floor -- and 5 minutes later it would be a shambles. We call her Entropy Woman. In Mom's sink, I wouldn't be surprised to find tax returns, or shoes, or maybe a lawn mower.

But Mom's kind of a special case. My wife is also artistic, but was raised to believe that cleanliness is next to Godliness, and clutter is the work of Satan. She takes two showers a day. She spends more time primping in a day than I do in a week. So I'm completely at a loss as to why she (and now the kids) can't be bothered to open the cupboard below the sink (it's 10 inches away, for pete's sake!) and put their trash in there.

When you put crap in the sink, or when you put dirty plates in without scraping/rinsing them, it means that:
a) somebody has to move the garbage twice
b) the sink clogs up, so you have 4" of scummy cold water surrounding your dirty dishes
c) the food congeals onto the plates, making cleanup ten times as difficult

What is wrong with these people? We all have to do dishes at one time or another, so you'd think they'd grasp that they're making their own life harder, but apparently not.

I guess I'm doomed to live with Moonbeam McSwine and the Garbage Pail Kids for the rest of my life. Any insight would be welcomed.

At least I feel better for ranting about it.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

How's it goin, Sport?

Someone was complaining about being called "Hon" or "Sweetie" by people they don't know. They felt quite put upon, and had a lot to say about how it annoyed them. I think they need to lighten up.

People are going to treat us badly -- whether on purpose or not. It's a fact of life. As I see it, we can consider others' bad behaviour toward us as falling into one of five arbitrary tiers:

Level 5: Torture, Rape, pillage, murder.
Level 4: Mugging, assault, stalking, destruction of property.
Level 3: Threats, insults, trash talk.
Level 2: Subtle social putdowns, intentional rudeness masquerading as courtesy.
Level 1: Being called Buddy, Guy, Pal, Chum, Chief, Hon, Sweetie by well-meaning but clueless people.

If your life is so great that all you have to worry about is Level 1 offenses -- or even Level 2 or 3 -- then be grateful and move on ahead. Life is short, and then you're dead -- so don't worry, be happy.

Disclaimer: The above sounds very smug and self-satisfied, like I'm always completely level-headed and nothing ever annoys me. I am pretty calm, but we all have little stuff that bugs us, and I'm no exception. But I just can't see getting my knickers in a twist about something like this, that's generally so well-meant and innocuous.

family values

Recently someone made a comment about the animated movie Lilo & Stitch – specifically that “The message about what constitutes a family is a very good one for everyone, especially certain [right-wingers], to learn.”

For those who haven’t seen it, the family in Lilo & Stitch consists of two orphaned sisters and a violent alien whose anti-social instincts are tamed by the love of the two girls.

Anyway, the statement reminds me of the flap Dan Quayle got into about Murphy Brown, etc. back in the 80’s. Dan’s point, as I remember it, was that Murphy’s choice to have a kid on her own was an example of how TV and movies contribute to the disintegration of traditional family values. Quayle took all kinds of heat for that. If memory serves, the show opened the next season with an in-your-face-Dan-Quayle episode, wherein lots of alternative family structures were trotted out, and the basic message was “And are *we* not a family? Huh? Huh? I’m talking to YOU, values-boy!”

Anwyay, I’ve been trying to figure out how to express what it is about this issue that frustrates me. Not sure I’ve got it yet, but below are some things I think are true.

First of all, nobody said alternative family structures aren’t families. The key ingredient for a family is love, defined (by me) as concern for others’ well-being, interest in and commitment to their welfare, and emotional closeness – shared experience, thoughts, and desires. Also important (and overlapping) are respect, attention, physical caretaking, support, etc. These items are a lot more important than how many parents/kids/grandparents/uncles/aunts/cousins/pets are involved. BUT…

Parents have a responsibility to their children to give them every reasonable advantage in their quest to become physically, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually healthy people. It seems to me that creating a new life intending from the get-go that the child will have only one parent instead of two is not fully living up to that responsibility. I’m not saying that the child is doomed, or that the choice is evil – just that the issue should be acknowledged. I feel it is irresponsible, just as it would be to conceive another child with my wife if I knew I were terminally ill and she had no means of support after my death. I think there would need to be a lot of other counter-factors (extended family support, financial security, etc) to outweigh this issue.

Something that’s very valuable to children as they grow up is STABILITY. I don’t mean living in the same house/neighbourhood (although that can very comforting for a kid), or even going to the same school (although that’s also very nice if it can be achieved). I’m talking about a kid having a feeling of safety and security – that the people around them will be consistent and reliable in their love and care and availability.

This is of extreme importance, and is a major reason why divorce is so hard for kids. The most important – and heretofore permanent – figures in their lives are suddenly only there one at a time. No matter how amiable and convenient the custody arrangements, the kids now only get half their love and stability ration at any one time. The two things they loved most are now incompatible. And if Daddy went away, who/what else might go away?

Man and women tend to pair up – it’s how we’re made. A male-female couple is the most natural and usual structure for conceiving and raising children. It is preferable to a father-only, mother-only, father-and-uncle, or two-mommy structure. The traditional configuration is to be desired, to be encouraged.

Kids benefit from having both a father and a mother – to set examples of what to be and what to look for. I have seen many single-parent kids make crappy choices in a spouse because they have nothing to measure the opposite sex by. Girls without dads seem especially weak on how to judge men (maybe that’s just the samples I’ve seen rather than an actual trend.) A two-parent household has many advantages that a single-parent household must do without. This isn’t about putting down single parents; they’re to be applauded for what they accomplish. But when one has a choice, one should choose what’s best for one’s children.

And how does one discuss these issues without seeming to imply condemnation of other people or other arrangements? Most divorced parents have already gone through some measure of misery and guilt and difficulty – they’re often good people making the best of a bad situation – so who am I to bring this issue up? Divorce happens – it’s a fact of life. Some family situations are already toxic; separation is a blessing. In my opinion, it takes two to keep a marriage working – if one partner has checked out, it’s a rare situation that the other one can hold things together for everyone.

And we’re trained to think about life as a series of opposites: good/bad, black/white, yin/yang. If it’s not good, it must be bad. If it’s not evil, it must be okay. If I don’t say your situation is the best, I must be saying you’re no good. If I don’t agree with your choices, I must be condemning your entire life. It’s very difficult for us to see that much of life just IS – the past is gone, and we are where we are – any value judgment comes with what we DO about it from now on.

For the record, I support single people or gay couples adopting children. The benefit to the child (having a family) far outweighs the disadvantage of not having one parent of each gender – the two-gender thing would just be icing on the cake.

But “family values” isn’t about labeling or evaluating or measuring any particular person or family – this is about generalities, about philosophies. It’s about agreeing on what is best, about deciding what we are going to hold as good, what we are going to strive for. Of course we won’t always achieve it. We’ll do our best and fail; others’ choices or outside circumstances will thwart our best intentions, but that doesn’t change what our goal should be.

By all the reasonable measures I can think of, it’s better to have two legs than only one or none. The fact that some people lose their legs, or are never issued any, means neither that they are lesser people, nor that legs are unimportant. Legs are not essential to personhood, but they’re still great if you can get ‘em.

With family values, as with many other social issues, we’re now afraid to state the obvious for fear of making “one-legged” people feel bad. We’ve decided that instead of lauding people for doing their best in difficult circumstances, we’ll pretend that their circumstances are no different or less desirable than any other circumstances. This is stupid and cowardly.

In my opinion, the most vocal anti-family-values contingent is not actually the hardworking single mothers, the grandmas taking care of abandoned grandkids, or even the gay couple with the adopted son. It’s people who want to escape the responsibilities that come with being sexually active, and/or the responsibilities of parenthood. It’s men who want to wander the country scattering their seed in every fertile field they come across. It’s single moms (or dads) who badly want a partner, so they let their boyfriend/girlfriend move in even tho they’re lousy parent material. It’s people who reject the idea that marriage or long-term commitment is best for kids; they want the love that children can give, but don’t want to set up the best possible situation for their child. It’s people who don’t understand the idea of trade-offs: children are wonderful, but you don’t get to have children AND maintain the same lifestyle/habits you might if you were not a parent.

These are the people who pompously spout “Ah, family values. But whose family? Whose values?” as if it were some deep mystery what we’re talking about. As if the fact that there are many opinions automatically means that all the opinions are equally valid, and all standards equally valuable.

Just to clarify for them: when we talk about “family values”, we’re talking about valuing traditional family structure, about commitment to children’s needs, about discouraging early sexual activity, about sexual responsibility -- sexual continence, for pete’s sake. We’re talking about parents making responsible choices in lifestyle and habits (eg, avoiding drug use, late night amateur drag racing, spending the groceries on horse races, running with scissors, hanging out with pirates, etc). We’re talking about committing to marriage rather than bailing just because not every day is a barrel of fun, or because we met someone who rings our chimes a little louder than the one we’re with.

When conservatives rant about decline in family values, this is usually what they’re on about. (Okay, I imagine a certain number of them are just envious because it looks like other non-family-valued folks are having way too much fun – but trust me, that’s not the main issue.)

And even if 90% of family values proponents *were* actually just envious and repressed, that still doesn’t make the other 10% wrong. It’s very easy to dismiss people with “They’re just…”
They’re just pot smokers, so what they say about legalization is wrong.
They’re just religious fanatics, so what they say about morality is wrong.
They’re just perps, so what they say about police brutality is wrong.
They’re just X, so what they say about Y is wrong.
Using that kind of ad hominem approach means we don’t have to address others’ arguments – and when we say “Conservatives are just uptight, hung up, narrow-minded social luddites”, that’s exactly what we’re doing. All very glib and very handy, but also completely dodges the issue of whether “family values” might be worth thinking about.

I don’t know how many single parents won’t be my friend any more after reading this. I don’t intend any disrespect; this is just how things appear to me. I’m ready to be told I’m full of crap if people can back it up.

arguing about abortion. or anything else.

If you want to convince me of something, the first thing you have to do for me is argue the oppposite side. As far as I'm concerned, if you can't do a credible job presenting the opposing argument, then you haven't listened to enough opinions, or thought deeply enough about the issue, for me to take your points seriously.

I said this one time, and someone challenged me to do it about abortion, an extremely emotional topic that's difficult to be dispassionate and open-minded about. Anyway, below is my attempt. I'm sure my bias is not difficult to detect...


1) A woman’s body is hers to control as she sees fit. The woman is the person by whom the physical, emotional, and economic costs of pregnancy, childbirth, and child-raising will almost always be paid. No one can make a better decision about what is right for a woman than the woman herself.

2) Fetuses/embryos are not entitled to the same considerations that human beings are, since before birth they are entirely dependent on the mother. Their relationship is in fact parasitic, and in such a relationship the rights of the host organism trump those of the parasite.

3) It’s better not to bring an unwanted or deformed child into the world; abortion keeps a child from enduring an abusive or painful life. The fact that a woman desires to terminate her pregnancy is evidence that she is not ready to shoulder the burden of motherhood, and should not be forced to.

4) People (in general, men) who want to prevent access to abortion are primarily interested in control and imposing their standard of sexual morality on others, not in saving lives of unborn children. This is evident in the lack of consistency pro-life often displays regarding
a. abortion in cases of rape or incest
b. IUDs and other post-fertilization birth control methods.
c. in-vitro fertilization or other fertility treatment involving selective abortion in cases of multiple implantation
What they’re really about is making women pay a price for having sex outside their rules.

5) Aborting unwanted children reduces the crime rate. A recent paper identifies a compelling statistical correlation between increased numbers of abortions for women in difficult economic or unstable family situations (ie, typical factors that contribute to juvenile crime) and the recent (last 30 yrs) decrease in crime.

6) Making abortion illegal would result in back-alley butchery for thousands of pregnant girls and women.

7) Abortion is wrong for me, but I have no right to make moral judgments that impinge on others’ freedoms.

8) If they really cared about children, pro-lifers would do something about all the already-born children who are suffering or parentless. We need to address those needs before we force women to bear and raise more unwanted children.

9) The U.S. Constitution guarantees a right to privacy, and this right was extends to a woman’s decision to terminate her pregnancy, as determined by the U.S. Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade.

10) Life presents difficult moral questions and cruel tradeoffs. Because many of life’s questions have fairly straightforward answers, we often get away with brushing aside the sticky ones, or hiding behind simplistic moral absolutes. But the fact is that sometimes we are faced with hard choices. We play God all the time in allocating limited medical resources -- it's called triage. We tolerate a certain percentage of unemployment to prevent inflation; we permit individuals to keep a large part of what they earn (resulting in wealth disparity) in order that there be an incentive to create wealth, which benefits everyone; we set criminals free on legal technicalities to preserve important civil rights; etc. We recognize that life is tradeoffs, and even the pro-life movement is willing to make those tradeoffs, except when it comes to abortion. Abortion is regrettable, but to outlaw it would be the greater of two evils.

11) Nature itself sets the precedent for abortion -- some animals will re-absorb their young prior to birth rather than bring them into an environment where they cannot be cared for. Bringing children into toxic family situations is a crime against nature -- a far greater wrong than terminating a woman’s pregnancy when the “child” is still merely a bunch of cells. Furthermore, a significant number of pregnancies spontaneously abort every day anyway -- we rightly recognize that this was not a tragedy, since there was no “person” involved.

12) The world cannot support the human population of today, let alone that of the future; abortion is an essential part of population control.

13) Many women find themselves pregnant as a result of ignorance, restrictive social rules, abusive situations, male exploitation, etc. The reality is that the choice to terminate her pregnancy is often the only choice a woman will have in the entire process.

14) Although some women may abuse the right to abortion (ie, use it as birth control), that is a small price to pay for access to safe, legal means address the many situations where termination is the most sensible option.

15) We can establish a right to abortion without harming society’s commitment to protection of the weak because of the special circumstances present in a pregnancy
a. the woman’s well-being is intrinsically linked to the decision
b. the benefit to the woman and to society at large is easily articulated
c. a fetus is not a participating member of society and therefore has no claim to the rights and special considerations society grants its weaker members
d. any rights one may attach to a fetus are often difficult to visualize or enumerate
e. there is a consensus about the rights of existing members of society; this consensus does not exist on the question of fetal rights
f. the abortion process is private
g. The question of moral right and wrong is seldom -- if ever -- revealed by the prettiness test. The emotionally inflammatory aspects of the process can be mitigated through our choice of language (“terminate a pregnancy”, “right to choose”) and procedures (no visibility of aborted fetuses). In this way we can avoid clouding the issue with irrelevant sentimental concerns that might encumber clear thought on an already-difficult moral decision.


1) We accept as a moral truth that life -- and especially human life -- has value. Life should not be taken except under special circumstances (when people insist on trying to sell you Amway, for example.)

2) Society -- especially a wealthy society -- has a responsibility to provide for and protect those who cannot defend or provide for themselves. In fact, how we treat the powerless is a reflection of our society’s moral maturity. The unborn are entitled to our care and protection just as the elderly, infirm, and disabled are. Denying basic rights to the obviously weak and needy is a very slippery slope -- how long before involuntary euthanasia is seen as a viable social policy?

3) There is no significant difference between the value of a child’s life in the womb and after birth. All the pro-choice arguments about a woman’s fitness for motherhood, her family/economic situation, the quality of a child’s life, etc. can be made about newborns, toddlers, and small children, but we don’t recognize a mother’s right to end her child’s life after birth. To accept abortion and remain logically consistent, we must either
a. Accept euthanasia for newborns and toddlers, or
b. Identify a significant and compelling difference between born and unborn beings.
Life is most reasonably seen as a process that begins with conception and ends in death. The burden of proof falls upon Pro-Choice to identify another line past which the unborn become “people”, and worthy of our protection. Since very few are willing to draw such a line at birth (ie, support aborting babies five minutes before they’re born), conception is the next most logical place.

4) Just as the prettiness test does not reveal moral truth, neither does the issue of legality. A dozen pro-slavery and pro-Jim Crow rulings tend to diminish the weight of the U.S. Supreme Court’s endorsement of abortion rights.

5) The fact that abortion is now safe, legal, and entrenched in our society (ie, that it is accepted and convenient) is likewise irrelevant; as individuals and as a society we do well to set standards that are above what we typically attain. There are no points for coming up with a legal or moral structure that most accurately represents what we wanted to do anyway -- if everyone began to steal, the answer would not be to legalize stealing. We have taken the idea that “If everyone’s doing it, there must be a reason” and transmogrified it into “If everyone’s doing it, it must be wise and right.”

6) Pro-choice arguments about the welfare of children are spurious in the extreme. One does not help someone or improve their quality of life by killing them.

7) Einstein said “You can’t simultaneously prevent and prepare for war.” This was an exceedingly stupid statement (why do we give such weight to celebrities’ opinions on subjects they know nothing about?), but the point is well taken within the context of the moral values we hold up as a society. Presenting abortion as a safe choice devoid of moral implication cannot have any effect other than to make abortion more common, dull our moral perceptions, and enfeeble our consciences in the face of ethical dilemmas of ever-increasing complexity and importance.

8) Since Pro-Choice is always quick to employ ad hominem assertions about the motivations of Pro-Life, let it be said that support for abortion is first, foremost, and above all about leveling the workplace playing field. Acceptance of the natural biological order regarding childbirth would forever doom women to second place in the competition for jobs, promotions, etc. Since gender-based division of labor is anathema to the feminist movement, abortion must be defended to the death. And it is -- to the death of thousands of babies every year.

9) We live in an over-privileged and over-indulgent society where a sense of sexual entitlement has become firmly entrenched, and the awkward idea of costs/consequences is downplayed. Any policy that might suggest a need to limit our sexual expression in any way must necessarily be the work of repressed control freaks, envious killjoys, and fundamentalist religious nuts. (Consider: AIDS, while a terrible thing, is 99% avoidable through behavior modification; this isn’t true of most other serious diseases. But the idea that it’s possible to actually exercise the discipline necessary to avoid AIDS is greeted with scorn and derision. We throw in the towel on the issue of abstinence -- actually, we don’t even show up for the fight -- and move directly to complex post-infection treatments and hopefully, vaccines. Do not pass GO, do not collect one ounce of intelligence or self-control.) The idea of postponing sex until we are in a position to deal with the possible consequences is not on the board. Heck, we don’t even postpone *intentional* conception until a time when we can support a child -- we charge ahead, bonking like bunnies, popping out kids we can’t feed. And why can’t we feed them? Because we all think we live on Friends. Everyone is entitled to a big house, leather jackets, a nice car, and Club Med vacations. Prioritize our lives? Cut back on our lifestyle so that we can spend time with our kids? Screw that. Show me da money, baby. Where are my Caribbean cruise tickets?

10) The relationship between mother and unborn child is special in that it is how (God/evolution, take your pick) has determined that the species is preserved. Pregnancy is, for the mother of a *wanted* child, a time of growing emotional commitment and psychological preparation for motherhood. To liken it to other “parasitic” relationships in nature is to grossly oversimplify, and to speciously discount the aspects that make it different and unique.

11) For some Christians and Jews, it’s significant that the bible/holy books strongly suggest God is aware of people as individuals before birth, and that the unborn have some measure of personhood (Jeremiah 1:5, Isaiah 49:1, Isaiah 49:5, Hosea 12:3, Luke 1:44, etc.)

12) A belief system that gives more consideration to the right to life of confessed murderers on death row than to unborn children is a system based on self-delusion and willful ignorance. (Okay, that wasn’t really a pro-life point, but it needed to be said). In fact, I feel a bit of a rant coming on… RANT ON: I had a university professor who said, as part of a supposedly non-political health lecture, “By the way, it seems odd that most people who are against abortion are in favor of capital punishment.” (Self-satisfied smile at this logical zinger.) This bizarre bit of supreme stupidity or disingenuousness seems to be common! What are these people smoking? What is so blinking difficult to understand about the difference between murderers and unborn children? Have we lost so much of the concept of responsibility that it doesn’t occur to anyone that one’s actions have something to do with one’s rights? I am dumbfounded when pro-choicers bring up this issue -- how much harder is it to defend a belief system that might conceivably allow a late-term partial-birth abortion so that Sorority Suzy can go to grad school, but finds that apparently Adolph Hitler’s life is so precious that we wouldn’t want to deprive him of it even though he’s personally responsible for wiping out millions of people? What is *wrong* with you people? Are you even living on the same planet I am? RANT OFF. Okay, I feel better now. And as an aside, may I say that I support the death penalty in concept, but not as it is currently applied in the USA -- it’s expensive, we convict too many innocent people, and for the wrong reasons. But good golly me, if you can’t imagine a situation where a society might need to impose the death penalty, you must live on Sesame Street.

13) The incoherency of the pro-choice position is evident in its inconsistency. When the mother wants the child, it’s a baby -- killing it is murder. When the mother doesn’t want it, it’s “a pregnancy”, or “cells”. Apparently its worth is entirely a function of how it is perceived by the woman, as if it had no inherent value or moral significance. Five minutes ago, it was a baby; now I’ve changed my mind and I don’t want it, so it’s cells. Oops, wait, now it’s a baby again. Check back tomorrow, and it may be a frog, or perhaps a bicycle.

14) Pro-Choice angrily waves the bloody coat hanger, threatening that the back-alley boogeyman will be destroying the lives of millions of women if we dare to limit access to abortions. But the fact is that abortion is for practical purposes inaccessible to millions of women already, due to their age, family situation, economics, geography, or other logistical problems. In addition, in North America the stigma associated with unwed pregnancy is a mere shadow of its former self. If lack of access to abortion in today’s social climate were going to result in millions of botched back-alley jobs, it would already be happening. Furthermore, the majority of pro-life groups offer significant services to pregnant women, just as pro-choice groups do -- working together toward a society that values life and supports women is infinitely more important and beneficial than doing more and more abortions every year. Finally, even if it were true -- which it is not -- that significant numbers of women would be harmed by illegal abortions, two things would still be true:
a. The harm to the women would be less than the harm (ie, death) to the unborn child, and
b. 99% of the women involved would have had some say, made some choice, taken some action in the process; the fetus has no say whatsoever. This doesn’t mean that anyone deserves to be harmed by a botched abortion. But of the two individuals involved, the woman -- not the baby -- is the one whose actions have resulted in negative consequences.

15) Abortion often carries a significant emotional cost for the women who avail themselves of it. Finding out what a 9-week-old fetus looks like is sometimes a painful surprise. It’s neither irrelevant nor an accident that abortion often brings with it a strong sense of guilt and loss. These feelings are sometimes the cost of doing right; it is worth noting when they are the cost of mere convenience.

16) Every biological father should fulfill his responsibilities to his children; he should also have a voice in deciding whether his child lives or dies.

17) There are many women who are personally pro-life, but insist that it is important to preserve the issue of choice for other women. But the issue isn’t about “choice”, it’s about lives. By Pro-Choice’s logic, the Missouri Compromise was simply about “choice” as well. NOTE: Pro-Life has the decency to accept Pro-Choice’s choice of label -- we don’t insist on calling you Pro-Death -- kindly show some maturity and drop the infantile and insulting “anti-choice” crap. It’s beneath you, and you should be embarrassed to engage in such blatant mischaracterization of the issue. As if pro-lifers wake up in the morning thinking of ways to reduce people’s choices -- what nonsense.

18) Population control is a non-issue with regard to abortion; preventing conception in the first place is a far easier and cheaper way to reduce population if that’s what you want.

19) It’s true that some women do not have many choices when it comes to getting pregnant. But in North America this is less and less common all the time. The proper way to address this issue is to continue to fight for policies, programs, and most of all personal standards that value people and promote consideration for the rights of others. The answer isn’t to kill more babies.

Some random thoughts:
  • I have to concede that on an emotional level, abortion doesn’t disturb me much when it’s before the point where the fetus *seems* like a child (ie, before it has recognizable body parts). And I can’t reconcile this feeling with any kind of logical system of thought or spiritual understanding.
  • RU-486 (“do-overs for grownups”) and other similar drugs may make this issue almost moot. When there are no clinics to picket, Pro-Life will have nowhere to go. It’s not like people are going to picket your medicine cabinet, or fly to Europe to picket the pharmaceutical companies.
  • Part of the problem with this issue is that neither side is willing to concede a millimeter for fear of losing more ground, even when that millimeter of their position isn’t that easily defensible. So we have Pro-Choice supporting late-term partial-birth abortions, which almost everyone finds abhorrent, and Pro-Life insisting that the morning-after pill is murder, which almost no one really believes.
  • When it comes to human behavior, nothing is simple, and there are fewer absolutes than we may imagine. Every choice has consequences; every policy has costs. As moral beings we need to weigh the consequences of both our actual behavior and the values we uphold. I acknowledge that Pro-Choice has valid points, and readily concede that reasonable people are found on both sides of this issue. And of course, my opinion is still the correct one…

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

To my tongue, with love and squalor

I lived in Calgary, Alberta (for you Americans, that's in Canada) from grades 1-7. Thirty below and thru the snow, I walked to school, home for lunch, back to school, home again at 4pm. In bare feet, with barbed wire tied around my feet for traction.

Okay, the feet part isn't true, but the rest of it is.

Anyway, it was cold. One night my parents had a bunch of people over -- it was loud and hot in the house, and I went outside to cool off. The wrought-iron porch railing had a couple inches of new snow on it, made for licking up, and I did. And like the kid in A Christmas Story, I got my tongue stuck. Except that movie woudlnt' be made for another 10 yrs, so I wasn't copying, don't say I was.

Anyway, my tongue stuck to the railing, and the door was closed. I went "Nnnhh! Nnnghh! Nnnnnggghh!!" for a long time, but everyone was having such a good (ie, loud) time inside, no one could hear me.

I was only wearing a T-shirt and it was snowing, and I was getting cold. I knew Mum would be annoyed to find my frozen body hanging by its tongue on the porch in the morning, so finally I pulled my lips back as far as I could, put my two front teeth down in front of my tongue, and scraped them back along the railing. It felt like I was scraping my tongue off frozen metal with my own teeth.

I left a generous helping of bloody tongue, plus a fair amt of skin from my lips on the railing, but at least I didn't freeze to death. If I'd been catholic, I might have had to worry about the sin of self-mutilation, but I wasn't so I had some ice cream instead.

Later, I grew up and got a blog, where I could take every miniscule, irrelevant event of my life and draw it out to the point that it would probably put Herman Melville in a coma. If he read it, I mean. And if he wasn't already dead, which he is. Anwyay, let it be lesson to you young people.

Iraq again

Well-expressed comments from others about the budweiser ad prompt me to state:

i didn't/don't support the war in iraq.

but now that what's done is done, we owe it to the iraqis to establish a stable govt and infrastructure before we scamper back across the ocean.

i further don't believe the purpose of the war was as simplistic as halliburton/oil/$$$.

i think positive accomplishments in iraq are vastly underreported.

i think time will tell whether our purposes and deeds in iraq were more honorable than dishonorable. i'm willing to wait and see.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

quote(s) of the day

All taken from the web page of excellent photographer Jim Brysen...

Wisdom doesn't necessarily come with age. Sometimes age just shows up all by itself.
- Tom Wilson

A liberal is a person whose interests aren't at stake at the moment.
- Willis Player

What I look forward to is continued immaturity followed by death.
- Dave Barry

Success is getting what you want, happiness is liking what you get.
- H. Jackson Brown

Lots of folks confuse bad management with destiny.
- Kin Hubbard

Each snowflake in an avalanche pleads not guilty.
- Stanislaw J. Lee

It is far more impressive when others discover your good qualities without your help.
- Judith S. Martin

It's a small world, but I wouldn't want to paint it.
- Steven Wright

Everywhere is walking distance, if you have the time.
- Steven Wright

anheuser-busch ad

If you watched the Super Bowl, I guess you saw this ad.
For some reason, it really moved me -- got tears in my eyes when I saw it.