Saturday, December 14, 2002

IN CASE YOU'RE WONDERING how I'd rank them, I put it as (1) The White Stripes; (2) The Vines; (3) The Strokes; and (4) The Hives.
I LIKE STUART BUCK. He's intelligent, he's a good writer. But every once in a while, he'll drop my jaw with something shockingly... I don't know, "stupid" is too insulting, and also unfair. But a recent post on abortion shows a viewpoint that is sheltered, to say the least.

To wit, Buck suggests that Democrats should oppose abortion because abortions deprive them of future voters; anti-choice voters will continue to have babies, while pro-choice voters will abort theirs. It's the kind of pat argument I've heard self-satisfied activists make unthinkingly; Buck has done this elsewhere, as when he claimed (incorrectly) that there's never been a home-schooler shooting.

More importantly, it is foolish argumentation on many levels.

1) Leaving aside the fact that it's not quite the case that political viewpoints are inherited, it's also far from the case that there's an inverse relationship between abortion rates and birth rates. Sweden, for example, has far fewer abortions per person than the United States does, but also a lower birth rate. (One of the many ironies of the U.S. anti-abortion movement is that they overlap greatly with the strongest opponents to the sort of reforms in sex education and contraceptive availability that might reduce the abortion rate, with the side benefit of also reducing the unwed pregnancy rate and the social problems caused by that. If you believe abortion is murder, why oppose reforms that would reduce the "murder" rate by millions a year? Especially when those same reforms would also help break the cycle of poverty? It's little wonder that pro-choice supporters view much of the anti-abortion movement with skepticism.)

1a) Imagine the same argument as applied to gay rights. Certainly gay rights supporters are more likely to be childless than those who oppose gay rights, but which way has the trend gone in the last thirty years? Sometimes issues of social justice are resolved on the merits rather than by heredity.

2) Why are Democrats pro-choice? It's an interesting example of public choice theory. Abortion was not always an issue that cleanly divided Republicans from Democrats: it was a Nixon appointee that wrote the opinion in Roe v. Wade, and it was a Kennedy appointee who was the strongest and loudest dissenter. The anti-abortion movement, in conjunction with the Christian right, threw their support to the Republican party, which systematically over the last quarter-century purged its rolls of pro-choice members. It quickly became known that a Republican soft on abortion issues (such as, for example, the 1980 edition of George H.W. Bush) would have political troubles. Quick, name four prominent pro-choice Republicans! Christine Todd Whitman, Arlen Specter, maybe George Pataki, and... um... Laura Bush if you pressed her on the subject, but she won't be running for the Senate in 2008. Pro-choice supporters had little option but to move to the Democratic party, which in turn forced its members to toe the line: Al Gore and Dick Gephardt are among prominent Democrats who have flipped on the issue in the last 25 years as a matter of political survival.

2a) Besides, you know, sometimes politicians, on occasion, stand up for principles because they're right. Shocking, but true.

3) I hereby suggest that the Republican position on abortion is far more cynical, politicized, and unprincipled than the Democratic position. The two principled justifications for government limitation on the ability to have an abortion are (a) enforcing morality in the sense of a belief that sex is only appropriate as a means of procreation, and/or (b) a conceptual argument that to cause the death of a zygote/embryo/fetus is akin to murder. I don't see any Republicans calling for a repeal of the Griswold ban on bans of selling contraceptives; it's safe to say that there's a trend against laws against various forms of fornication, with a strong chance that the infamous Bowers v. Hardwick case will be thrown out this term by the heavily Republican Supreme Court. (The original Georgia anti-sodomy statute at issue in Hardwick has already been struck down by the Georgia Supreme Court, without much public outrage.) Nor are Republicans willing to admit to government legislation of morality calling for a subordinate role of women restricting them to childbearing duties. Indeed, I daresay the majority of rank-and-file Republicans, and even a larger majority of Republican political leaders, support the legalized sale of contraceptives and the presence of women in the workforce.

So that leaves "abortion is murder" as the only principled reason for a politician to oppose abortion.

Except if you look at the Republican platform, and the public statements of every anti-abortion politician from W. Bush on down, there's always an exception: make abortion illegal, except in cases of rape and incest.

Why the exception? Either abortion is murder, or it isn't. If life begins at conception, why does the spawn of a rapist and his victim have any less rights than any other unwanted pregnancy? Buck may find Democratic support of abortion mysterious, but it ain't half as mysterious as the willingness of Republicans to carve out an abortion exception for rape victims.

Okay, it isn't all that mysterious: the answer is votes. Something like 74%-84% of Americans support the right to abortion in cases of rape. Any politican principled enough to stand loudly by the proposition that life begins at conception and rape victims have to carry pregnancies to term would have to answer to the voters.

Say what you will about the Democrats and abortion, but at least they're internally consistent.

Friday, December 13, 2002

Thursday, December 12, 2002

GOOGLE IS TESTING A new product-search gadget called Froogle. Just in time for Christmas, if you're one of those heathens who celebrate that way.

Eagled-eyed news junkies may remember Orlando Bethel, the subject of the story behind that second link, as the guy who started a brawl at a funeral in June when he finished singing the song he'd been invited to sing and then told everyone the deceased was in hell for being a drunkard and a fornicator.
THE URBAN LEGENDS REFERENCE PAGES are not so sure about the oft-voiced assertion that the high incidence of child rape in South Africa is primarily driven by the belief that sex with a virgin is a cure for AIDS. According to Latesha Treger, an official at a project involved with a recent study of the phenomenon, "The idea that having sex with a virgin cleanses you of AIDS does exist in South Africa and there have been reported cases of this as a motivating factor for child rape, but the predominant evidence suggests that this is infrequently the case."

Wednesday, December 11, 2002

RETRO-GRUNGE NOSTALGIA ALREADY? Well, I guess it is the day after Kurt Cobain Day.

Tuesday, December 10, 2002

A lot of people think they can observe Kurt Cobain day simply by wearing a cardigan sweater to work. When these people die they are going to go to hell.

Solemn and heartful observance of Kurt Cobain day involves three brief, measured rituals:

First, make some French Toast. This is to demonstrate that you know that if Kurt Cobain's ghost came into your kitchen while you were eating French Toast, he'd probably lick his pretty pink lips and say, "Man, I sure wish I could eat some French Toast." Then he'd probably just hover over your table and look really jealous. When you're finished with your breakfast, look up at Kurt Cobain's ghost and say, "Shouldn't have killed yourself, Cobain. Fame might be a bitch, but French Toast is still delicious."
(warning: language stronger than your ordinary bear)
ARCHAIC TECHNOLOGY OF THE most entertaining sort. Can't we revive some of this?
CORSAIR IS WORRIED THAT anti-Americanism will be the next hot fad to sweep South Korea.
"IN SOUTH AFRICA, MOUNTING evidence of al Qaeda links," the WSJ reports in a front-page headline this morning. "Hiding $40,000 in underwear".

Monday, December 09, 2002

CITING SEPARATION-OF-POWERS CONCERNS, a federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit that was essentially a Congressional effort to gather more information about Dick Cheney's energy task force. The WaPo notes that U.S. District Judge John Bates was appointed by President Bush, which means this is a good candidate to be the topic of a future Tom Tomorrow strip.
GOOD PIECE IN Slate about the appalling Rhodes award to Chesa Boudin.
EXCELLENT ANALYSIS OF The Sopranos, and, even better, of the Slate talkfest on The Sopranos. (via Missy)
THE "QUEEN OF MOSCOW DRAG RACING" is also a pink-fingernailed manicurist. Sounds like Instantman's kind of woman.
VENEZUELA'S OPPOSITION IS PLEDGING an indefinite strike against Chavez. Get a load of that photo -- yeah, way to look like an elected leader of a democratic country there, Hugo.
SERBIA HAS ONCE AGAIN failed to elect a president, as too few people showed up to the polls. Too few voters? Is that really a problem?
QUICK TURNAROUND IN THE WHITE HOUSE: Looks like the new Treasury secretary will be John Snow, chairman of the railroad company CSX, who served in the Transportation Department during the Ford Administration, says the WaPo. (Remember when we made fun of the idea of Rumsfeld, another veteran of the Ford White House, being disinterred to serve under Dubya?) The McPaper agrees on the Snow appointment and also reports that former Goldman Sachs co-chairman Stephen Friedman will be Larry Lindsey's replacement; the NYT concurs that Friedman's likely to be the one.
A "TORNADO IN A CAN" might be just the thing to pulverize the byproducts from poultry processing, the WaPo reports.
Whether there are vast riches to be made from pulverizing chicken poop or poultry parts into powder remains to be seen. The trick will be whether the machine can transform the various substances into products worth more than the processing costs.
You mean that's not what comes in the packet with the ramen noodles?

Sunday, December 08, 2002

SO, WHAT DO YOU THINK CHENEY is building in there? Batcave? Particle accelerator? Hef-style "grotto"?
I'VE BEEN LOOKING THROUGH news photos trying to figure out which is my favorite of the Saddam Hussein wall murals that seem to lurk in the background of every public vista in Iraq. I was caught up by this high-contrast shot that seems intentionally reminiscent of that famous T-shirt image of Che, but on the other hand I can't see how any red-blooded woman could fail to be charmed by a lovely mural depicting Saddam as a 1970s barroom lothario. Years after Saddam's regime has ceased to be, do you think companies will make posters of Saddam murals available, just as you can pretty easily buy Soviet propaganda posters today?