Friday, May 26, 2006

Prison or Pulitzer?

Earlier this week, my brother Brad forwarded me an editorial from the LA Times, Weak on leaks by Gabriel Schoenfeld. The editorial makes a compelling argument that the reporters from the NY Times who broke the story about the government's wiretapping of international phone calls (and won a Pulitzer Prize for it) should be prosecuted under the law.

Schoenfeld compares two laws. The first, Section 793 of the Espionage Act, is currently being used to prosecute two officials of the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee for passing on classified information. Schoenfeld describes Section 793 as "vague" and "sloppily drafted". I found the text of the law in question, and the link to it is above. Read it, and see if you agree with Schoenfeld's analysis. I do.

The second law is Section 798 of the act, which has a different history. Here's how Schoenfeld describes it:

One of the more extraordinary features of this comint provision is that it was the fruit of a compromise, drawn with the very purpose of protecting public discussion of national defense material from more draconian restrictions. In 1946, a joint congressional committee investigating the attack on Pearl Harbor had urged a blanket prohibition on the publication of government secrets. But Congress resisted, choosing instead to carve out an exception in the special case of communications intelligence, which it described as a category "both vital and vulnerable to an almost unique degree."

With the bill narrowly tailored in this way, the comint statute not only passed in Congress but, astonishingly in light of contemporary attitudes in the media, won the support of the American Society of Newspaper Editors. Unlike Section 793 of the Espionage Act, this comint statute is a model of clarity. If you publish classified information pertaining to communications intelligence, you have broken the law; it is nearly as simple as that.

Again I read the law in question, and again it appears to me that Schoenfeld's analysis is accurate. Here's the relevant aspects of the law:

Whoever knowingly and willfully communicates ... any classified information ... concerning the communication intelligence activities of the United States

Is there any question that the NY Times broke this law? It seems pretty clear-cut to me.

Is this law, or at least this particular case, a First Amendment issue? In January of this year, the Weekly Standard ran an article discussing primarily that issue. It discusses the 1971 Pentagon Papers case, and other cases that seem to apply to the situation, in more detail that I will attempt to recount here.

This all raises three interesting questions for me. (1) Are the NY Times and/or their reporters prosecutable under current law and precedent for their actions? (2) Should the NY Times and/or their reports be prosecutable, in light of the First Amendment? (3) If your answers to both of the first two questions are yes, would you recommend that the current administration carry out that prosecution?


Friday, May 19, 2006

Daddy Ducky (or "How Steviepinhead Spent Mother's Day Weekend")

On the Friday evening leading into the Mother’s Day Weekend, my son Lars's girlfriend Christine was in town visiting from NYC, where she’s a writer/reporter for CBS and occasionally the Village Voice and NYT. The two of them very thoughtfully invited Celia and me to come over for dinner (to my own house!) for spaghetti. We brought red wine, beer, etc., and they did the cooking. Once we got there, I realized it was time to change the cat litter. Celia, for some reason (probably not wanting to be "abandoned" to the two younger people at the outset of the visit) insisted that she would do the cat litter chore, but I put my foot down. (I know, your reader-ly intuition is already going, “Dong, dong, dong! You should always listen to your girlfriend!”) So Celia took herself out and down to the parking strip in front of my house, where I long ago built a treated wood planter box. There she meant to just take in the pleasant evening until I was done with litter duty and we could jointly socialize with the young folk.

So, as Celia’s innocently sitting on the edge of the planter box, along comes a peeping sound. At first she thinks it's a bird flying overhead, and she's craning her neck to try to spot it, but then it turns out to be a little three-inch high duckling, waddling its way through the grass of the parking strip, with no Mama Duck or string of babies anywhere in sight. It was a cute mallard duckling, all down-covered, with a dark brown mohawk running from the base of the beak over the top of its head to the back of the neck, where the darker color merged with the dark brown coloration of its back, an "undercoat" color of yellowy-tan along the sides of the face, body, and belly, and two cool darker horizontal "racing stripes” running back across the eyes to the back of the head, and stubby wings. The little guy was not naked anywhere, but was not yet starting to "fledge out" with full-blown feathers either.

Of course, in an ideal world, you handle a little lost wild creature as little as possible, and try to re-unite it immediately with its own family or (in the case of ducklings) with another mama duck with little ones at the same stage of development.

By this time, I had rejoined Celia and discovered the ducky's plight, but our quick but thorough search of my north Seattle neighborhood that night yielded no sign of a mama with ducklings. My house is about four or five blocks uphill from the "Ship Canal" that runs from Lake Washington to Shilshole Bay on Puget Sound. After canvassing the neighborhood, we wandered on down to the canal, but saw only a group of two or three green-headed male mallards, and no signs of females or little 'uns.

Once we got back to the house, we immediately tried calling Animal Control and Fish and Wildlife, but both had closed for the weekend at 5 pm, before we ever encountered the duckling. The Seattle Animal Control message made it clear that we were supposed to call the state Fish and Wildlife folks for cases of "immature wild animals," so we left a message with that office. We probably should have tried PAWS, too, but I assumed (incorrectly, as it turned out) that they would also be closed for the weekend. In any event, Celia has had problems with them in the past being rather officious (oh, no, we can't accept a lost King County pet, we're located in Snohomish County, that sort of thing).

So the little duckling hung out in Celia's “pile” (spun polypro) vest pocket for the rest of the evening while we chatted and drank with the young folks for a couple of hours, before we headed back to her house. There we contrived a meal of some squished-up wetted bread, then tucked our duckling in for the night in a straw waste-basket fitted out with polypro and wool items, all wrapped in a sweater, and with a light shining on it for warmth (thermoregulation is the most immediate challenge to survival for immature birds).

Celia had a climbing commitment for Saturday, another gorgeous day (she wound up summiting), and I had to do some stuff at work, so I was Daddy Duck that day. I performed some internet searches to try to figure out what to feed it--again, ideally you're not supposed to feed or medicate immature wild critters, but we figured we were stuck with our little duckling for the weekend, at least, and all the internet info we had consulted said that nestling-stage birds need to feed every 60-90 minutes. I was also searching the 'net to try to get a fix on the best strategy for returning our ducky to the wild (with half a chance for success, as opposed to just tossing it into the bushes in a neighborhood filled with outdoor cats and not-always-leashed dogs, or into the Ship Canal with its steady weekend stream of powerboats).

So I took Ducky into work, bringing along a Ziploc bag containing bread crusts, bran flakes, cracker crumbs, and the like, and alternated between holding it in my hand inside my polypro jacket pocket or letting it peck at a plateful of water and water-soaked food particles. (I still have little ducky tracks all over my acrylic plastic desk-protector thingy as I'm typing this!) He sure was a cute little devil, peeping away, "hoovering" up little slurps of water and soaked crumbs, whipping his head from side to side to dismember larger pieces, then immediately chasing after the resulting shower of particles to try to scoop those up too, stretching his body out and waggling his wing-stumps, then curling up in my hand inside the dark, warm pocket, working his way as far upwards as possible (higher up under duck moms presumably being the safest location, like the penguins continually working their way toward the center of the pack in the "March of the Penguins" movie), placing his delicate and awkward-seeming, but incredibly strong and dexterous, webbed feet on my palm and tucking his mini-beak between my fingers...

Celia got home from her climb of Baring Peak in mid-evening, in time to “supervise” our feeding and nesting routine, then we tucked the boyo back in again.

On Sunday morning, we had some plans (picking up Celia's thoroughly-pleasant but mildly-demented mom from the adult care place for a planned Mother's Day brunch, and I had a phone appointment to call a young driver-client who wasn't able to talk for extended periods during the workweek due to his job, to prepare him for an upcoming deposition), so we ate a quick breakfast, went back to my neighborhood, and did a more thorough canvass.

This further investigation (cue the Dragnet theme, dun dun DUN dun) determined that there was a pair of ducks who did return year after year to an area focused about a block and a half away from my house. The female had indeed been seen heading downhill leading a string of ducklings toward the water on Friday afternoon. Our best guess was that there was probably a hidden nest somewhere deep in the neighborhood vegetation, and that the mama duck would be very unlikely to make the perilous multi-block journey to the Ship Canal (across at least two major arterials, one a four-lane wide, 35-mph road, and several other streets) through the gauntlet of traffic, dogs, cats, and crows, more than one time.

Obviously, little ducky must've gotten separated somehow fairly early on--traffic? dog or cat attack? last in line?--and then wandered west (across the hill) instead of south (downhill), for approximately a block and a half, crossing at least one residential street on the way, a journey that probably took him an hour or two of determined navigation and desperate peep-peeping, before he had come to Celia's attention (which is why the rest of the family was long gone by the time we started looking).

The best chance for success of an "amateur" attempt to reunite a lost duckling with a duck family is during the first 24-36 hours, and involves "smuggling" the baby into a crowd of other ducklings while the parents are distracted. But, though we returned again to the banks of the Ship Canal that Sunday morning, and did sight one mated pair of mallards, there were no little ones in evidence. The male mallard showed zero interest in the peeping of our little guy. The female turned her head in our direction, but kept waddling away whenever we tried to approach. And just turning our little peepster loose on the edge of the four-foot concrete embankment, poised above wave-washed rock rip-rap, on the off chance that the probably-strange female might permit him to approach before he fell off into the rough water, did not seem like a good bet.

So ducky spent another day with us, pooping, eating, splashing, getting dried off, getting cuddled, and sleeping or snuggling in pockets or other warm niches. Celia's Mom was extremely sweet and gentle with the duckling--Bridget has capacious hands for a woman (she’s been a lifelong spinner and knitter) in which the duckling felt entirely secure. She sang all the verses of "All Creatures Great and Small" a number of times while cradling our cute little peepster.

We tucked the little boyo in for the night again. When we got up Monday morning, we performed a more diligent job of rounding up and calling all possible phone numbers for animal shelters and similar outfits. The state Wildlife office were jerks ("it's not legal for you to keep him"--duh! we're not trying to hand-rear him as a pet, we're trying to turn him over to you!--"oh, just throw him back in the water"--a sure death sentence with no adoptive mamma mallard, as our duckling began to become hypothermic after only a few minutes of eating and splashing in a quarter inch of water in a plate!--no suggestions for who might be willing to rehab the duckling, a basically worthless tax-wasting bunch of burned-out bureaucrats).

PAWS (the only entry in the phone book that even listed the phrase "wildlife rehabilitation") told us--much more empathetically--that they simply had no more room at the inn for baby ducklings, and that all the likely agencies were probably also full-up with baby ducks, because it was "that time of year,” when ducklings were being herded from nest to water, with the resulting inevitable “attrition." But PAWS did give us the numbers of a couple of wildlife shelter places to try and--while I was in the shower--Celia did hear back from a place up in Arlington, a small town one county north of here, who had told her that they'd be "delighted" to take our little duck!

Celia had the day off, so she undertook to drive little ducky up to Arlington! The place involved was Sarvey’s Wildlife Center, which turns out to have been in operation since 1981. They specialize in rehabilitating avian raptors (eagles, hawks, falcons, owls), but their five-acre facility houses songbirds, deer, raccoons, seagulls, pigeons, coyotes, squirrels--they handle 3,000 animals a year on a budget of around $200,000, 99% of which goes to animal care and only about 1% toward fund-raising and administration. Ducky went into a pen full of other similar-stage well-cared-for ducklings (the property has its own ponds and streams) . Celia took some great photos of eagles, hawks, and owls there.

Of course, we miss our little friend in our hearts, but our minds rest easy, knowing that he’s probably quacking away at this moment, telling his new brothers and sisters all about the virtues of polypro pockets, acrylic desk protectors, and Formica counter-tops (not to mention Bridget’s all-encompassing hands). Doubtless he’s also teaching all his new “siblings” to peep out the tune to “All Creatures Great and Small.”

And that was my weekend of duty as Daddy Duck!

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

President Bush on Illegal Immigration

Last night President Bush gave a speech to the nation about illegal immigration. This topic has been much discussed lately, though not on this blog. I'm interested to hear what people think.

The text of the president's speech is here.

Do you think the President's plan, if implemented fully, would be productive? How would you modify his plan if you were in his shoes? What flaws do you see?

Do you think it likely that the President's plan will be carried out? If not, which areas do you think are most likely to get sidetracked, and what are the roadblocks in their way?

And remember... this discussion isn't intended for venting, or debating, or arguing. It's a place to share different ideas and perspectives, to ask questions, and to learn from each other. In a discussion like this that evokes such strong emotions and widely differeing opinions, that can be hard to remember. Let's keep it civil, please. :)


Thursday, May 11, 2006


Last night, I watched Gattaca. Yeah, it's from 1997, and I'm way behind the times... but oh well. :)

The movie is part sci-fi concept, part action/drama, and part romance. The sci-fi concept part worked very well. The other two parts... well, I can see why the movie wasn't a blockbuster.

The sci-fi part of the story involves a world (quite believable, from my perspective) where handheld machines can instantaneously evaluate any skin/hair/saliva/etc from a person, identify them genetically, and also print out their genetic probabilities for various diseases, weaknesses, imperfections, etc. Because of this ability, job interviews consist of nothing more than a blood sample... those with the right genetic makeup have opportunities unbounded, those without... are janitors.

The natural consequence of this ability is that nearly all parents opt for IVF. They have a number of eggs fertilized, then have the genetic makeup of the resulting fertilized eggs examined, and select their child from the resulting options based on the child's genetic probabilities... which will obviously determine the child's opportunities in such a genetically-aware world.

This ties in to the recent IVF post, and also has some fascinating connections to an earlier post on my other blog about whether human consciousness is purely biological. The main character is a young man who was not selected from IVF, but was allowed to be conceived naturally. He has physical weaknesses that genetically-selected individuals don't have (such as bad eyesight), but also has a strength of character that sets him apart. Is that "strength of character" something that comes genetically, but which the scientists had not been able to isolate? Or is it something beyond genetics altogether?

If any of you have seen the movie... what did you think? Even if you haven't... does this scenario seem plausible to you? Healthy? If not healthy, what can be done to avoid it?


Monday, May 08, 2006

Breastfeeding and the Pill--Different methods, same results?

A post by Phantom Scribbler led me to this article from the New York Times on Contra-Contraception, by Russell Shorto.

The article discusses the links between abortion, contraception, and a person's view about sex itself. It highlights well the inconstency of being against a morning after pill like Plan B while supporting other forms of hormonal birth control, making the valid point that ALL forms of hormonal birth control, as well as the IUD, have a small chance of preventing the implantation of a fertilized egg.

But the paragraph that Phantom Scribbler pointed out is what really drew me in:

What's more, Dr. Trussell added: "There is evidence that there is a contraceptive effect of breast feeding after fertilization. While a woman is breast feeding, the first ovulation is characterized by a short luteal phase, or second half of the cycle. It's thought that because of that, implantation does not occur." In other words, if the emergency contraception pill causes abortions by blocking implantation, then by the same definition breast feeding may as well.

I found a website about ecological breastfeeding from a natural family planning standpoint that actually cites a study:

"Several studies have indicated that fertility and ovarian activity return step by step (Ellison 1996, p. 326-327):

  1. "Follicular activity without ovulation (No chance of pregnancy.)
    1a. Menstruation without ovulation (This does not always occur--see below.)
  2. Ovulation without luteal competence (After the egg is released, fertilization may take place. During the luteal phase, the uterine lining is prepared for implantation as the egg travels down the fallopian tube and into the uterus. If the uterine lining is not adequately prepared for implantation, the implantation will probably not be successful.)
  3. Full luteal competence (Full fertility -- at this point breastfeeding no longer has any effect on your chance of pregnancy.)"

The site has a chart with information about these stages, including a notation that a study by Gray showed that 41% of breastfeeding mothers showed "First ovulation without luteal competence"--in other words, ovulation with likelihood of creating a fertilized egg that is unable to implant due to changes in the uterine lining from breastfeeding.

A little further down the page:

"Do I need to wean to get pregnant?
Probably not. If you are still transitioning to full fertility (as discussed above), breastfeeding may affect the success of implantation. Once implantation is successful, breastfeeding should not affect a healthy pregnancy (see A New Look at the Safety of Breastfeeding During Pregnancy for more information). "

An earlier article from the New York Times says,

"Trussell said he supports doctors who say women need to know it's possible that emergency contraception may affect embryo implantation. But that's true for nearly all methods of contraception, he added--including breast-feeding.

Breast-feeding, which can have a contraceptive effect up to six months after the birth of a child, also causes changes in the uterine lining. In that respect, it carries the same possibility of interfering with implantation.

"If you're talking about informed consent," said Trussell, "then it's not right to withhold evidence that breast-feeding may work in the same way."

Here's a summary of a study done on rats, looking at the relationship between lactation and ovulation. They found that if the timing was right, lactation did inhibit implantation of a fertilized egg.

Here's an interesting and thought-provoking paper by a group of Christian physicians that examines the studies and information about various forms of contraception. It analyzes the way hormone contraceptives work and compares that to the way a woman's fertility works when not on the pill. The paper makes the point that studies show "spontaneous pregnancy wastage" at 73% between fertilization and 6 weeks.

The article makes a pretty good case that hormonal contraceptives work primarily by preventing ovulation, then by thickening the cervical mucous, and also thin the uterine lining. There is a small theoretical risk of the pill preventing implantation of a fertilized egg, but numerically this doesn't seem to happen more often with the pill than it does without it.

So, essentially, it seems that progesterone is progesterone is progesterone, at least when it comes to avoiding pregnancy (we know the pill carries other health risks and side effects not entailed in breastfeeding). Breastfeeding apparently prevents conception in the same ways the pill does, because both methods operate by producing hormones that have the same effects. The pill is essentially designed to mimic the effect of pregnancy and/or breastfeeding on the body's response to ovulation and pregnancy.

The difference, of course, is that breastfeeding is almost never done solely for the purpose of contraception, although even Catholic organizations such as The Couple to Couple League actively promote its use and effectiveness as a contraceptive. The pill, though it is often used to treat other issues, and though it can have a positive effect on breastfeeding (causing better milk production, etc), is usually used with the goal of preventing pregnancy.

That seems quite relevant to our earlier discussion on Mark's blog about contraception and the relationship between sex and reproduction. As I mentioned there, if the desire to prevent a pregnancy is in itself wrong (which I don't think it necessarily is), then it could be equally wrong for a person to take an extra-hot bath to try to minimize chances of a successful pregnancy or to time intercourse only during infertile times to avoid having children.

That's quite debatable, as we previously established, and I know there's disagreement among members of this blog on this topic. I'd love to pick up the discussion again about whether intercourse can morally be separated from the goal of procreation or not.

I do tend to feel that purposely preventing the implantation of a fertilized egg is morally wrong, although this information is making me reconsider where I might draw the line on this issue. That has seemed a more clear-cut issue to me than the contraception debate in itself.

But, of course, it could be very difficult to draw a line there, too. There are so many things one could do that might inhibit implantation or cause early miscarriage--including overdosing on vitamin C or parsely, taking ginger or rosemary, having an eating disorder, taking drugs to treat rheumatic disease (such as lupus), having endometriosis, using acupressure/acupuncture, not to mention all the things that people think prevent implantation and really don't--like taking a hot bath or jumping up and down after intercourse. Any of those things would be very hard to regulate or prove damage from, and some are unavoidable.

Even if something is wrong, it is not necessarily right (or even possible) to regulate it by law. That's one of the reasons I see big problems with laws that would prosecute women for causing damage to their baby by taking drugs or drinking during pregnancy. If you're going to prosecute a woman for hurting her baby by drinking alcohol or taking drugs during pregnancy, where are you going to draw the line? Could a woman be prosecuted for drinking caffeine? Eating sushi? Not taking prenantal vitamins? Overexercising? Any of the other myriad things that could possibly be harmful during pregnancy?

Regulating things that prevent implantation is just as problematic. If we make Plan B illegal for that reason, we would also have to make the IUD and hormonal birth control illegal to be consistent. But if we did that, then what about breastfeeding or taking too much Vitamin C?

What do you all think?

Saturday, May 06, 2006

On Swearing

(God) damn it

What do the following words have in common? They all are expressions which are considered by wide swaths of the population to be "profane" themselves or are related to words considered as profane (though the word profanity itself seems to be falling into disuse.) Some of the above words are widely considered profane in other countries, but not in the US (bloody and fanny being two of those).

Should there be a place in the our culture for profanity? If so what is it? Certainly, there are in many cases more

Why do so many in our culture consider the use of some words like damn and shit to be anathema, while not batting an eye at the use of euphemisms for those words like darn, shoot and ticked which themselves carry the same meaning in common Enlish parlance. Growing up I had a youth pastor who would gently encourage the kids to rid their language of all cuss-like euphemisms. He wasn't very successful. Even in subcultures in which cussing is strictly forbidden, euphemisms for cusswords are common.

There used to be very strong prohibitions against doing so in a lady's presence. One coworker I know who commonly swears in the presence of other men, does so much less in the presence of a woman and still apologizes for doing so when a woman is around. The women's movement changed all that for most people. Women are coequals now and are no longer to be sheltered from the unpleasantries of uncouth males, but I digress.

Growing up I used euphemisms for swearing like shoot and darn an awful lot. As I've gotten older and recognized the hypocrisy of this double standard I was holding, I stopped using certain euphemisms to the point that I rarely use them now.

I've also started to cuss more. It started small, a little word here and there. It grew to be more common, and I find myself questioning its benefit.I admit, though, that sometimes it can be hard to stop, especially when one is searching for reasons to do so.

There are some obvious drawbacks to swearing. Some people are definitely offended by it. It turns them off. Sometimes they can get offended and take it personally. In fact, that is sometimes the intent when people swear. Swearing is often used to purposefully offend people when one doesn't desire dialog, but insult. If this happens when unintended, though, it becomes much more difficult then to communicate.

Aside from offending some people, they do have a point that there is always another way to express what one is thinking without resorting to vulgarities. It takes more creativity to express oneself without swearing, but it often is more effective in communicating the facts of the situation.

One thing swearing does convey well is emotion. The problem with this is that swearing is used so often by so many people to express so many emotions that it has almost lost all meaning. A result of this is that one opens oneself up to misinterpretation regarding ones feelings. My own unscientific surveys have found that people who don't swear are far more likely to read very negatively into those emotions, but that all tend to read some level of negativity into those emotions. Since swearing is most often used to express a negative emotion like frustration or anger, sometimes this is the desired result. What happens though, when one's words are taken further than they were intended. Were they an effective means of communication? Was it worth using them in the first place?

It seems to me that swearing can in some cases be effectively used to communicate emotion. However, one must be aware of one's audience and be sensitive to how it is being perceived. I'm not very good at that. I tend to either cuss around most everybody or around almost nobody. As my kids get older, I realize that I am quickly going to have to make a decision whether to continue to cuss at all. My guess is that it will have to go; in fact I hope it does go. I don't want to simply start substituting euphemisms for those words, though. My kids will be old enough to see through that before I know it, and I don't want to send them off on the path I have been on. That means that soon enough I need to make a decision to either accept the occasional cussword around my kids or really bump up the creativity level on my communication. That's something I find to be difficult and something I know precious few people who do. There isn't much societal support for such decisions (can you hear me whining and making excuses).


Addendum: I didn't really get into taking the Lord's Name in vain on this post. In general it seems that using offensive remarks about people's religion as a form of communication is simply a bad idea. As a Christian, it seems especially egregious if I were to speak God or a revered figure like Mary in a disrespectful and irreverent manner.

Friday, May 05, 2006

No Cross in San Diego

I just came across this news item today. It appears that for over 50 years, the city of San Diego has had a cross erected as a memorial to Korean War veterans. After a 17-year (!) legal battle, the city is finally being required to remove the cross or face stiff financial penalties. The cross, I am guessing, is viewed by the courts as un unconstitutional way for the government to advocate a particular religion.

The Constitution actually says, as we all know: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion". It appears that the courts have decided that a cross as a memorial to war veterans is an "establishment" of religion. That seems like a major over-reach to me.

Aren't crosses a prominent Western cultural symbol, used now for centuries particularly in wartime and in cemeteries? How could using a cross to honor Korean War veterans be an "establishment of religion" if the symbol is a standard cultural symbol of long standing?

Is this tombstone (in Arlington National Cemetery) unconstitutional? Maybe not, because the cross design was chosen by the family of the deceased, I presume.

How about this monument or these memorials (also in Arlington National Cemetery)?

Does this make sense to any of you? Can you explain it to me? Where does it stop... if anywhere?


Thursday, May 04, 2006

We See What We Expect To See

Back in February, shortly after Dick Cheney's hunting accident, Jeff Greenfield wrote an article for CNN titled A political Rorschach test. It's a short piece, centered around this thesis:

What's so striking, I think, is how a story like this becomes an instant Rorschach test, with political predispositions substituting for inkblots. We know the meaning of this incident because we know how we feel about the vice president, or the administration, or the war in Iraq, or the press -- and therefore, we know how to judge the event.

I felt that his statement was true about the majority of responses I read to the Cheney incident, so I saved it. I feel it is also true about a great deal of the political dialog that goes on in our country today. Should Rumsfeld be run out of office, or are the retired generals trying to usurp the authority of the civilian leader of our military? Is Halliburton a run-of-the-mill government contractor, or a way for Bush and Cheney to pay back their big-oil-money backers with under-the-table kickbacks? Are high gas prices the result of standard market processes, or mismanagement on the part of the administration? What kind of pull did Abramoff have... was he able to get broad legislation in his favor using large amount of money to buy politicians? If so, is the problem primarily on one side of the political aisle? Did the federal/state/local government do a relatively good job handling the Katrina situation, or a terrible job? For that matter, did the federal/state/local government cause the Katrina situation?

More and more, it seems to me that we tend to judge these issues based on our preconceptions, what we already think.

Why? I'm not sure, but I think a lot of it has to do with our level of understanding. I don't understand the science behind hurricanes, for instance. Is it plausible that over-development along the Gulf coast or a rise in temperature of the ocean or both is what caused this huge catastrophic scenario? For that matter, was Katrina out of the ordinary pattern of hurricanes along the Gulf coast? I don't know. Depending on which commentator or analyst I read, I get different statistics and opinions that point me in different directions. I could either spend a great deal of time researching it, until I was able to parse the wheat from the chaff... or I could go with my gut feeling, and let my preconceptions rule my determination.

Much of it also has to do with information that we can't have, but that we'd like to have. This opens us up to unconfirmed (unconfirmable) gossip. Was Cheney drunk when he was hunting? Even a little bit? No charges have been brought against him, or will be. All official reports have said that alcohol played no part. But rumor still circulates, speculation and hearsay still echo. I can never go back in time to run a blood test on Cheney as he's out on his hunt, so I can never know definitively, scientifically, whether he had had alcohol or not. I also can't reasonably take his denials at face value, because any sane politician would deny that alcohol was present in that situation if they possibly could. So, I'm left with filtering the inconclusive data through my preconceptions of Cheney, and coming up with a result that fits my preconceptions.

Do you see this trend as well? Are there other reasons for it than the ones I've suggested? Is there anything that can be done to change these tendencies?


Mom at 63

Patricia Rashbook, a 63-year-old British child psychologist, has announced that she is 7 months pregnant. She and her 61-year-old husband used in vitro fertilization to get pregnant, and are looking forward to raising their child together.

According to this Times article, one of the outspoken critics of this decision is Matthew O'Gorman, from the group LIFE (a pro-life anti-abortion group in Britain), who reportedly said that the child would be "without a mother or father at the most crucial moment of adolescence or when that child is growing into maturity".

In the articles I read, I wasn't able to find any quotes (except from the doctor who did the IVF treatment) specifically affirming the couple in their choice.

What's your opinion? Is this good, bad, or indifferent? Is it unkind to the child to put him in that type of situation? Is it too risky for the mother? Is it something that should be regulated? If a friend of yours was considering IVF at 60+, what would you say?


Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Going Nuclear

[This item was originally posted on my Xanga site]

A couple weeks ago, the Washington Post ran a very interesting editorial called Going Nuclear. The editorial is written by Patrick Moore, one of the original founders of Greenpeace and an active member of the environmentalist community... but it breaks with the predominant environmentalist position in advocating increased use of nuclear energy.
This is a point that has long made sense to me, and I've often wondered why there was such animosity toward the idea of using nuclear energy more significantly. Moore lists a number of possible objections, and gives his refutations of them.

Do you agree with Moore? Should we use nuclear energy more prominently for our nation's energy needs? Imagine electric cars with batteries that recharged with energy drawn from nuclear plants... that would be an excellent way to reduce our dependence on oil. And it seems to me that nuclear power would drastically reduce emissions. Would you feel safe with an active nuclear plant in your vicinity?

Of course, it is impossible to bring up the topic of nuclear energy at present without dealing with the Iran situation. Moore mentions Iran, but avoids taking any direct position. Speaking generally, however, he makes this statement:The only practical approach to the issue of nuclear weapons proliferation is to put it higher on the international agenda and to use diplomacy and, where necessary, force to prevent countries or terrorists from using nuclear materials for destructive ends.

At what point does the Iran situation move past diplomacy, to the point where force is "necessary"? The current scenario is bringing back vivid memories of the build-up to the Iraq war. The US is pushing for strong sanctions, and Europe is half-heartedly going along. Considering the risk, at what point do we assert ourselves forcefully?

For an additional perspective on this, you might read this rather long article that my brother Brad forwarded me last week, called Facing Down Iran, by Mark Steyn. It provided some historical context for the Iranian situation that I was not familiar with, and cast the dispute in the strongest of terms.

I came across another Washington Post op-ed written by Arthur Schlesinger Jr. and titled Bush's Thousand Days. In the op-ed, Schlesinger argues that what he calls "preventive" war is bad policy, and that Bush should "forgo solo preventive war and return to cooperation with other countries in the interest of collective security". He also argues for a policy of "containment plus deterrence" with regard to Iran. Any thoughts? Schlesinger doesn't go into specifics. What might containment and deterrence look like with regard to Iran? What might contain their nuclear abilities, or deter them from developing or using them?

In a more general sense, what is a good way for the international community to encourage the global use of nuclear energy, without enabling widespread nuclear weaponry?



Welcome to this new group discussion blog!

A few years ago, I started a small personal blog on Xanga. I posted random thoughts and observations, and over time a small community developed. It became a discussion room, a place where I could raise a sticky question or difficult issue that interested me, and get feedback and ideas from a variety of different perspectives. I had grown weary of the vitriol that so often accompanies disagreement over sensitive topics, and it was wonderfully refreshing have a small group of people to discuss things with who would interact with respect and humility.

Our core group, who regularly interacted on a variety of topics, have now decided to start this new group blog specifically for that purpose. We can all pose new questions or lead the discussion in new directions, and our blog may reach a wider audience. We would love to have an even wider variety of viewpoints and ideas in our discussions. If you value respectful, thoughtful discussion the way we do, please join in!